Focus

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Release: Friday, February 27, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Glenn Ficarra; John Requa

Directed by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

The scent of expensive colognes and perfumes robbing the theater of breathable air undoubtedly seduced me into thinking the new Will Smith movie was better than it really is.

To focus on the negatives in a film that is this much fun is to largely ignore the art of the con, though. As Smith’s Nicky Spurgeon explains nonchalantly, deceit is created by drawing attention away from the action and centering it around something that, at the time, seems significant. That sentiment so easily can backfire in a film that plays it so casually like this one does; in a film that twists and turns until the very last minute, leaving the less hypnotized to question whether the directing tandem actually have an answer to it all or if they’re just making this up on the spot.

Again, logic matters less when compared to sheer entertainment value. The Fresh Prince seems refreshed playing a middle-aged male model alongside the rapidly rising young Margot Robbie, herself representative of Australian beauty. With a pair like this front-and-center, can I please be forgiven for temporarily writing this off as a 90-minute advertisement for Glamour or Vanity Fair? Magazines are indeed falling to the wayside in an industry hell-bent on revolutionizing itself, so why shouldn’t they try their hand in repackaging themselves in celluloid form? This is a great-looking cast enveloped by exotic locations and expensive, even if not believably costly situations. Toss in the audience-supplied bottle of Chanel No. 5, and voila.

Focus comes down to a complicated con between a world-weary pro and his apparent understudy, a pair who have up until the film’s final third been playing chess with one another’s wit and checkmating when it comes to unforced sexual tension. They meet in a night club where Jess (Margot Robbie) attempts to pull one over on Nicky, but is spurned by his advanced skill set. From there it’s a matter of one-upmanship between the pair as they fall into an ambiguous (er, or is that underdeveloped?) romance. Not that the feeling of mutual attraction is to be doubted but the intent behind the attraction sort of is. However, nothing is as apparent as Nicky’s love for the assorted fruits of the rich life, as evidenced in an exceptionally exciting sequence during the Super Bowl in New Orleans. The scene functions to expose Nicky’s true character: he has a major problem with saying no to exceeding what’s already excessive. It’s microcosmic of the trickery that lays ahead of us.

Will Smith hasn’t played a character this engaging since the days when he proudly sat upon a crashed alien craft and, chiefing on a Cuban, greeted its extraterrestrial operator with that famous smile of his and a sarcastic “welcome to Earth.” Nicky Spurgeon is often a lunatic but a calculating lunatic and his ‘partner’ in crime, while perhaps not evenly-matched in terms of recklessness, certainly is with her steely-eyed intensity. And I might be biased, but she’s also better-looking. Robbie is sweet on the outside but internally there burns a desire to settle an unwritten score, to take whatever it is that Nicky has and make it her own.

Scams range from casual pickpocketing to betting millions on the jersey number assigned to a random player on the sidelines during the aforementioned big football game, to tricking an Australian racing club owner into purchasing a bogus piece of equipment for three million Euro in order to allow another team, owned by the shady Rafael Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro), the win. But when you think you’ve figured it all out, the script — and this really would have been easier to predict if I was focused on said plot and not on Jess’ revealing wardrobe — flips the dynamic between the two grifters, leaving us to wonder if there is to be an actual winner and a loser and whether it’s just going to be money lost in the exchange.

There is also a final reveal that comes close to burning Focus‘s reputation for being a non-stop joy ride. It’s one twist too many, one cliché too many and one development that’s nowhere near as delusory as the directors would have us believe given the convoluted network of scams and heists we patiently have sat through. Regardless of the risk involved in the long con, it’s not enough to dissolve the chemistry between Smith and Robbie. The two work from a pretty hastily-written screenplay and yet bubble over with charm and a natural ease with one another. Plus it’s just a lot of fun to see them screw over people deserving of it.

Focus isn’t a film to think about, unless of course your goal is to make your brain hurt from failed attempts at rationalizing plot holes that render the story as swiss cheese. It’ll make you think, but don’t con yourself. It’s a fun getaway but not much more. Not that it needed to be.

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3-0Recommendation: With more twists than a Coney Island roller coaster, this glamorous little romp starts to lose focus (or effectiveness, either way you want to look at it) over time but the performances and high spirit are too great to bring the ride to a grinding halt. A perfectly acceptable Saturday night diversion for anyone looking to see Will Smith back to form and Margot Robbie for another solid lead performance. Theatrical attendance not required, unless you just want to choke on perfume. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 105 mins.

Quoted: “Where are the black people?!”

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

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.”

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

Spring Breakers

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Release: Friday, March 22, 2013

[Theater]

Spring Break forever, b*tches…

This being the mantra of Harmony Korine’s new movie, Spring Breakers begs but just one question: is it hot — or not?

Thanks to impressive performances, a Drive-esque soundtrack and editing effects, and borderline gratuitous nudity Spring Breakers distinguishes itself from other debauch films of its kind — things like Project X, The Hangover, and a whole host of post-American Pie boy-fantasy adventures. James Franco knocks it dead in one of the most unlikely leads I’ve ever seen him undertake (remember, he was on the cover of High Times magazine following his performance in Pineapple Express.) This role is better than him appearing to be the new Hollywood ambassador for potheads.

Then there’s the four girls at the heart of this get-crunk story: Brit (Ashley Brenson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Cotty (Rachel Korine) and Faith (Selena Gomez) who define what hardcore partying is all about, and most of them are rather likable. In films that are thin on morality and all about some “good times,” being able to like the main characters is a big plus. Just for comparison’s sake, Nima Nourizadeh’s version (Project X) suffered from a case of featuring detestable teenage punks, thereby the film became far less attractive. Here, while the bikinis are let loose the sun radiates magnificently, and the drugs, guns and good times simply roll.

If that doesn’t at least intrigue you, perhaps you would not be an ideal test audience for Spring Breakers. But that doesn’t matter. Surface appeal isn’t everything in this film…even though losing clothes does seem to become the overarching theme here. There is a surprisingly wholesome quality in the message being sent by shedding your bathing suits and your inhibitions — in this case, anyway.

These four girls are looking for a way out. Out of the far-too-familiar college dorm; out of the routine existence in their one-horse town; out of their own minds. There is, however, one tiny speed bump on the road to progress: moneh. Having lots of it. So the girls decide they are not going to let anything stop them from having their idealistic vacation and they pull off a crazy heist to ensure that their break is everything they want. The fact that this is the way these girls are starting their spring break is indication enough that the ensuing hour or so of the film will be nothing but insanity. Most of us don’t experience what these girls go through on their first night — for the entirety of our breaks. At least, from what we can remember….

The girls finally arrive at their destination. And because the intro to the film made such an impression — an extensive dream sequence of party guys and gals in technicolor and slow-motion shots getting doused in salt water and alcohol — we are excited that these four have finally found the action as well. By the time Brit and friends join the scene we are well buried in the psyche of spring breakers, and far removed from our normal sense of decency, control and pretty much anything that makes us people. Indeed, this is a more animalistic movie than we’ve seen in a minute. Every fantasy is quickly gratified with the help of a beer-soaked camera angle, a tinge of southern sun flare caught in the lens; and for thirty minutes this is somewhat enjoyable. Obviously, it’s not enough to sustain a film. Good thing Spring Breakers packed for more than that.

A good portion of the film consists of choppy edits that more often than not successfully refocus our attention on more important matters. Despite how grand and chaotic the parties are, there’s a darker element lurking beneath the surface, a strange liquid seeping beneath everyone’s bare feet that slap the hot concrete. The difference between having a good time and remaining safe is constantly blurred, and the trend towards glorifying the party-hard mentality makes for some disconcerting moments. At least two of the four girls are completely hell-bent on drawing the line as far as they can. One of them is not as committed, and the fourth winds up with a close call that makes even her think that this scene is too cray-cray.

If you think about this film being one gigantic party, imagine the first half or so being the actual party and the moment we meet Franco’s rapper dude “Alien” when the four girls get busted at one particularly raucous affair at a hotel, the morning/day after. It’s not so much a tonal shift we undergo in the second half as it is a more forceful approach to the message trying to be relayed throughout. At what point do we stop sacrificing dignity for a good time? At what point do we stop caring about our physical well-being for the sake of things being different for a week?

This is where Franco’s character gets to shine. As a fairly prominent rap star who’s obsessed with money, power and violence (he likes to keep Scarface on repeat on the DVD player) he poses as an interesting, if not off-kilter challenge to these girls’ thirst for spring break excitement. ‘Alien’ is immediately entranced by the fact that these ladies are willing to stick by him and see whatever it is that he does. At first that sinking feeling kicks in: what in the heck are these girls getting into? Why is there absolutely no sense of boundaries or sanctity of any kind in this film? But if you keep watching, you’re bound to find it.

Alien is a very interesting choice for Franco. Despite the fact that you can ultimately tell who it is behind that ballin’ set of gold teeth, the quaff of thin dreadlocks and that infamous Florida-tanned exterior the character is at once hilarious, insightful and something close to charming. This is due wholly to James Franco having the time of his life in this position. I waited for a long time for the dreaded twist to happen where Franco would end up doing something terrible to these poor wayward coeds, but what I got instead was a twist I was not expecting. I’m not sure if anyone expected it. I think Britney Spears helped play a hand in that.

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3-5Recommendation: I would go if you’re even slightly curious about what this movie seems to be about. I almost guarantee you (sorry, no money back) that you will be surprised by the level of social commentary being made in the midst of such youthful jubilation and recklessness. If you’re seeking pure entertainment, then you’re needing a ticket in your hand. Now.

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

Quoted: “Look at all my sh*t!!!”

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