Not a lot of people know who Adam McKay is but he's Will Ferrell's best friend. They met on SNL when McKay was the head writer. He's responsible for such brilliant films as Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brother, The Other Guys and the co-founder of Funny or Die. I love it when he's behind the camera. He seems to put out top shelf entertainment and some of the funniest films ever made. Get Hard has all the feel of an Adam McKay movie but it's not. He just came up with the story and the rest was outsourced to a first-time director and that's where it went wrong.
Will Ferrell is one of the funniest, if not the funniest, people alive today. He could look into the camera and read from the Wall Street Journal and make it funny. He's joined by Kevin Hart in this film (hear my full interview with him below), a king of comedy in his own right. The premise of the film seems hilarious enough -- a millionaire douchebag is going to jail but before he does he hires a black man, he assumes has been to jail because he's black, to teach him how to survive prison. Sure, it's a racist premise but it's not the first time a comedy has been made that set out to poke us in our collective racial sensitivity. But for some reason, this plot just kind of sucked.
Another big problem with the film is that director Etan Cohen doesn't have the experience to pull the plug on a scene before it wears out its welcome. There are moments in Get Hard that are amazingly funny but then go on for another few minutes and that negates whatever comedic progress was made in the scene before that. Not to mention that some bits in the film don't work at all from the very beginning and they go on too long as well. It makes those particular moments especially frustrating to watch. Cohen chooses to go for shock instead of actual comedy for much of the film.
Ferrell and Hart are funny in the film though despite a lousy script. That might be my own bias about them as performers though. They don't have a ton of chemistry but given the nature of their characters, that's fine. Ferrell is known for ad libbing and improvising most of his dialogue and Hart comes across as someone who sticks to the script. I'm not sure how much of that went on in Get Hard but if I had to guess, it was a lot.
I appreciate what McKay and his crew for Get Hard try to do with the social/political message they have in this. I also appreciate how hard they try to get that message across and still create a funny film, which they did for the most part. Get Hard isn't the total disaster that some are saying but it's far from the success the premise could have made it. When you put two of the funniest working comics in a movie together the expectations of greatness should be reached. They're not. And that is the real crime.
Out of all the film festivals, Cannes seems to be the most snooty, at least to me. Maybe because it takes place in the south of France or maybe because the movies that end up making a splash are the kind that most people end up rolling their eyes at when they get a wide release in America. Rarely do horror films get a buzz at any film festival let alone that one. It Follows is the movie that bucked the system. It was one of like five films to come out of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival with a lot of attention. Whenever that happens and it's to a genre that never gets the credit it deserves, I take notice and so should you.
Obviously, It Follows has a cast of unknown actors and all of them are young. The lead is a stunning Maika Monroe who will be in many more films to come; trust me. The film sounds ridiculous but trust me, it's not. Imagine an STD of the supernatural kind. Monroe plays a young girl who has sex with a boy who then informs her that he's passed a curse on to her via sex. The curse is a creature that takes the form of different creepy humans that has one goal until she passes it to someone else...kill her. I know! I know! It SOUNDS stupid but upon viewing the film it feels totally ominous and logical.
For decades, horror films have used sex as justification for the villains. Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees, Freddy Kruger all killed naughty teens after they had sex and/or got drunk and high. It Follows takes that tired plot device and amps it up with a very real feeling of dread and panic. It's a perfect anxiety piece for anyone who has ever had an STD scare or got that dreaded diagnosis in real life. It's way more effective than a masked killer shoving a butcher's knife into your chest. No matter what is happening on the screen at the time, you know that this creature is moving slowly toward Monroe in a deliberate mission to kill her. It never stops its pursuit and you don't know why.
Now, know that this film isn't scary. That's important to get across because that's all some of you want from a horror film and there's nothing wrong with that. Personally, I feel like the best horror movies are the ones that are expertly directed and have an overall sense of dread and creepiness. Writer/Director David Robert Mitchell NAILS it! It Follows is presented to us like Stanley Kubrik's The Shining. It's not the masterpiece that that was but this was also done by a young director on his second feature film. The long, single-take shots, the perfectly-framed angles, the lighting and one of the best horror soundtracks of all time make this a must-see.
If you're expecting blood splattered violence, graphic nudity in steamy sex scenes, a terrifying monster that drools and snarls...this isn't for you. It Follows is the slow burn that never startles but just makes you feel uneasy. It creeps you out and is a clever twist on the morality of horror. It's a film that deserves to be watched and then discussed afterward. It's a display from a filmmaker who's ready for the big time and a leading lady who needs to be cast in more right away. It Follows deserves all the attention it got from Cannes and I just hope that America embraces it for the classic it's sure to become.
My wife and I often get into fights. She says that Dreamworks Animation makes nothing but crap for kids and I defend them. Not everything that Dreamworks Animation has put out has been awful. Shrek, Madagascar, How to Train Your Dragon, The Croods, Kung Fu Panda...these are all great films. My wife's response to that is to point out what their success rate is given how many films they've made. I have to concede that point because she's right; it's not good. Especially when you compare it to Pixar which has made a superb film every single time they've tried, with some exceptions, it does make Dreamworks look sophomoric to say the least. Home is a film that really swings for the fences on hitting you right between the ribs and tug at those heartstrings while still being really, really funny. I hate to say it but it's another example of how right my wife is.
Jim Parsons is the voice of Oh, a member of a lovable alien species who invades Earth to claim it as their own. Parsons has won several awards for his role on The Big Bang Theory but I can't stand him. No matter what I see him in, no matter how far of a departure he takes it from his nerdy character on that show, he still irritates me. His portrayal of Oh is not even remotely a departure and annoyed me from the first seconds of the film until its bitter end. Another casting decision that is unforgivable is Rihanna as Oh's human sidekick. This isn't Rihanna's first film and I'm not sure who told her to get into acting but I hope that person suffers for that.
The only success in Home is Steve Martin, who hasn't been in anything in four years. It is possible for Martin to star in a terrible film but it is impossible for Martin to be terrible in it. This is a prime example. He plays the halfwit leader of the aliens and his hilarious performance is up there in the top ten greatest voice performances of all time. He may be the only thing worth watching in the movie. The only other performance that is amusing is from Matt Jones who you may recognize as Badger from AMC's Breaking Bad.
The biggest problem with Home is that it's dumb. I understand that it's for kids and it's okay if they're silly but it's dumb in a way that makes me mad because it talks down to the audience. Penguins of Madagascar is silly but it's not dumb. Pixar films tend to be the exact opposite and sometimes forget to be silly but they are never, ever dumb. Underestimating your audience is one of the worst things a film can do and director Tim Johnson (Over the Hedge) has a history of doing just that. However, the worst thing about Home is the soundtrack which is 90% Rihanna songs and they fire throughout the movie every five minutes like a rotten jukebox.
Home isn't worth seeing in a theater; it's not even worth renting. It's unfortunate because the scenes that involve Steve Martin are very funny and deserve to be watched. There aren't enough of them though to still justify a viewing of this annoying and aggravating film. I brought my 3-year-old son to my screening. He's an excellent moviegoer, which makes me excited and proud as you could imagine. Home didn't hold his attention, didn't make him laugh, didn't make excited. Either the apple doesn't fall far from the tree or it's simply not a good film for any generation.
There will be a day when young adult novel series will no longer be the bread and butter (along with comic books) of Hollywood anymore. I'm starting to look forward to those days. It's true that some of the series are very good such as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games but most of them are not. I understand that these books might be crazy fun to read but they simply don't make great movies or at the very least are poorly executed. The Divergent series seems to be falling victim to the same issues that all these movies do; working out the kinks in tone and direction as they go along. Twilight did that and by the last two films almost had a winning film on their hands. Divergent was a disaster on almost every level but by bringing German director Robert Schwentke (Flightplan, Red) they might have a winning film next time around.
I am very aware that Divergent is a popular series yet no one has been able to explain to me the basic plot. In the future, the human race is almost gone and in order to keep peace we are born into a vocation based on our DNA. However, if you're not fond of that vocation, you are free to choose another. Some people are born Divergents though and don't fit into any group and these people are a threat to the entire system...for some reason. As long as you don't mind that HUGE plot hole, these films aren't the worst concepts out there. Sure, they're wildly uncreative and unoriginal but what young adult series is? The good news for Insurgent is that that speed bump in storytelling takes a backseat in this installment and more action replaces it.
Shailene Woodley (The Fault in Our Stars, The Descendants) returns with her co-star Theo James (Underworld: Awakening, The Domino Effect). Woodley is a relatively talented actress. James, on the other hand, is one of the worst working actors I've seen. These two continue to have so little chemistry that it makes Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson seem like soul mates. These two romantically lumber around the story making over half of the movie boring and unwatchable due to so much time being dedicated to their relationship. Thank God Miles Teller (The Awkward Moment, 21 & Over) is here to save the day. Fresh off his killer performance in the Oscar-winner Whiplash, Teller wins every scene he's in and gives you something to look forward to.
The other good news for Insurgent is that it has a pretty exciting final act. I was made aware that the ending is a big departure from the book. I don't know what happens in those pages but what I saw on the screen was vital to this franchise making me look forward to anything else from it. Schwentke seems to have his hands on the reigns more firmly than the last guy. If he pulls this series out of certain death it'll be impressive given its clunky and confusing start. I'm not exactly routing for its success considering how over half this film is still awful, but I am looking forward to what it has to offer next.
March is always a tricky month with movies. January and February typically get the worst films of the year released during them but March is different. It's still part of the season that most people stay home because the weather sucks but Hollywood studios still take chances with films they feel like might be a hit during March. It's hard to say whether or not that was the reason for The Gunman's release this time of year. It has the cast you'd typically see in an Oscar-nominated film, an exotic location, a political agenda and a somewhat accomplished director. It also had virtually no advertising behind it which means almost no one knows about this movie at all which is a shame.
The Gunman stars Sean Penn who seems like he came out of retirement for this project. That's actually not true; he was in two films two years ago (Gangster Squad, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty). Maybe that's just my perception since this is his first leading role since winning an Oscar in 2008 with Milk. I like Penn despite the fact that he seems like a self-important blowhard in real life. He's a fantastic and intense actor and that's no different here. Despite turning in a top shelf performance, he also looks freaking amazing! I usually don't give credit to actors for their looks considering that's their job but Penn is 54-years-old and is just as jacked up as an Expendable and more talented than all of them combined.
Starring alongside Penn is Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men, Skyfall), Ray Winstone (The Departed, Noah), an extremely underused Idris Elba (Thor, Prometheus) and Italian indie actress Jasmine Trinca, who's great and makes me wonder why she's not used more often. The whole cast is solid, especially Bardem who puts out one of his most fun and slimy characters since he almost stole the show in Skyfall. As great as the supporting cast is, this film belongs to Penn and you might understand why when you learn what it's about.
Penn is a political activist in real life and has spent a considerable amount of time doing aid work in Africa and parts of the Middle East. That environment lends itself for the birth of the plot. The Gunman follows a covert team of former soldiers that are in different countries acting on corporate interests. What, at first, seems like just security detail quickly reveals sinister agendas such as killing foreign leaders so the corporate interests can keep cranking out billions. Penn plays one of those creeps who has a change of heart after years in hiding and must defend himself when someone tries to kill him. The political message of the film is blunt and on-the-nose about how evil these type of organizations are but it's effective and works wonderfully as a plot for a Hollywood action.
Director Pierre Morel has a history of taking aging Hollywood leading men and making them action heroes again. He tried with John Travolta in From Paris With Love but did it very successfully with Liam Neeson in Taken. In fact, he's the one that kind of gave Neeson his ass-kicking mojo and sent him on this repetitive type of character avalanche that we all can't seem to get out of. He tries really hard to make The Gunman more than just popcorn-comping shoot-em-up faire by giving it the sense of urgency in a very real problem in the world however the confusing plot makes the film hard to follow at times. It wouldn't shock me if this movie comes and goes in theaters in a week or two but it's worth a watch if you're looking for something smart and fun.
Let's not kid ourselves; are you really that excited about a live-action version of Cinderella? Even mega Disney fans, ladies who long to be princesses, people who appreciate classic fairytales...are any of them clambering to see this? When I heard they were doing this I scoffed and rolled my eyes. Disney must've felt that tone in the air as well which is why they put the "sequel" short film to Frozen, their highest grossing film of all time, before it. (By the way, it's as excellent and charming as Frozen was.) I think I'm right about the lack of excitement to see Cinderella which is why I feel the need to shout from the rooftops how excellent it is so people will actually go see it.
I have never seen PBS' Downton Abbey. I've heard from several people that it's excellent and Lily James is one of the reasons why. She stars as the titular fairytale princess and she's absolutely perfect. She's pretty but not too pretty. She's kind but not an annoying victim. She's funny but not overly humorous. She was a perfect casting for Cinderella. That streak of great casting goes down the line for everyone. Richard Madden (HBO's Game of Thrones) is great as the prince. Cate Blanchett (the Lord of the Rings films, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) is a perfect mix of menace and glamour as the Wicked Stepmother. Helena Bonham Carter is delightful, albeit barely used, Fairy Godmother.
The real star of Cinderella is director Kenneth Branagh. He's a famous actor who's been in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Valkyrie and Wild Wild West. What's more impressive than his acting, to me, is his directing. Yes, he's directed films like Thor and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit but he's more known for bringing Shakespeare to life. He's directed (and acted in) five film versions of Shakespeare plays and they've all been great. 1996's Hamlet, however, is nothing short of a cinematic masterpiece. It was one of the last films to be shot in the 70mm process which makes it look bigger than an IMAX film. It's amazing to me that it's not remembered as one of the finest films ever made, maybe because it's four f**king hours long. Thankfully, the scope of what made that film amazing is recaptured in Cinderella.
I'm not sure how Branagh talked Disney into giving him the budget for this but it was worth it. Cinderella cost $95 million and it looks like it cost $195 million. Yes, Branagh uses computer images to punch some shots up but overall, I think, most of this was shot on actual sets that will take your breath away. The costumes are so elaborate that even someone like me noticed them. The scope of the film is epic in every sense and attention to keeping every single shot amazing to look at through angles, symmetry and lighting is astounding.
One of the complaints I've heard about seeing Cinderella is that it's a story that everyone knows and even how it ends. That's true. This isn't Maleficent where the story of Sleeping Beauty was told through a different character so interesting alterations are made. Branagh doesn't do that; he tells the story of Cinderella exactly the way you'd expect. The fact that he still managed to make it big, beautiful and magic is why you go see it. Well, that and to see the Frozen short film...it really is super awesome too!
The year that District 9 came out was a very controversial year at The Oscars. It was the first time that they nominated more than five films and director Neill Blomkamp's sci-fi masterpiece was one of them. It was his first feature film and I considered it the best movie of the year. He created one of the genre's finest achievements in the last decade on a shoestring budget but made it look like a $100 million film. He shot the whole thing in his native country of South Africa and made a parable to apartheid. It was exciting, emotional, and staggeringly epic. His second film was 2013's Elysium with Matt Damon and it was a letdown because it wasn't special and just felt like any other sci-fi action cranked out by Hollywood. I hung a lot of hope on Chappie and it didn't live up to it.
Upon a first glance, Chappie looks like nothing more than a modernized and adult version of Short Circuit. It's not. In fact, it's closer to a modernized, adult version of Pinocchio. Chappie is a police droid that's implanted with a program that is actual consciousness. This process is done by Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, The Last Airbender) in one of his best performances. Chappie then falls into the seemingly wrong hands for the wrong reasons. Gangsters, played by Ninja and Yo-landi of the electronic hip hop group Die Antwoord, use Chappie for a heist to pay back a local crime boss. (More about them later) Chappie is like a child at first and must learn everything like a human does when it's first born. The plot is not the problem; it's simple but interesting enough to hold your interest.
Chappie is played by Sharlto Copley (District 9, Elysium) through motion-capture. His performance is pretty inspired and one of his best. He's already an extremely underrated actor and the fact that he did this through motion-capture simply marginalizes his performance even more in the eyes of mainstream critics, sadly. His ability to be innocent, menacing, hilarious and sweet all within the span of two hours is nothing short of incredible. On the other end of the acting spectrum is Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver who play characters that are incidental and it's Blomkamp's shortcoming to waste such mega talent.
The massive reason why I can't wrap my arms around this film goes back to Ninja and Yo-landi of Die Antwoord. I understand that they're South African. I understand they're friends of Blomkamp. If he wants to cast them in a movie, that's fine. I expected them to have small parts but they actually are the stars of the film. Their acting ability is actually not that bad and I quickly accepted them leading the film. The problem I have is that they play themselves. It gets worse. They listen to their own music throughout the film. They wear their own Die Antwoord clothing. They spray paint the titles of their albums on Chappie. There's so much Die Antwoord advertising in the film that it becomes tacky and completely off-putting...and that's coming from a semi-fan of theirs. It's so distracting that it debases the film.
Chappie looks and feels like District 9 and that's a very good thing. It's gritty, funny, exciting, touching, shocking and has something to say. It also falls short of every aspiration of reaching the level of excellence District 9 achieved as well. I'm not sure what Blomkamp got out of promoting Die Antwoord so much but I hope it was worth it. It's such a massive distraction and there is no way that anyone who saw the film didn't see that. I'm sure he was even warned about it by executive producers. However, this is Blomkamp we're talking about; the guy who got an Oscar nomination his first step up to bat. That carries with it a certain level of ego and I hope the poor reviews of Chappie are going to put that ego in check for his next film...which I still eagerly await.
There was a time when Vince Vaughn was like a comedy God both in ruling box office numbers and in the opinions of comedy snobs like myself. I remember when I was 17 and saw him in Swingers for the first time; it was like he was everything that "cool" and "hilarious" embodied. That was in 1996 though and a lot has happened since then. When sitting in a screening of Unfinished Business, also starring Dave Franco (Neighbors, 21 Jump Street) and Tom Wilkinson (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Batman Begins), I started thinking back to how long it's been since Vaughn was the leading man in a really, really funny movie. Brace yourselves because it's been ten years and that's giving him the benefit of the doubt that Wedding Crashers was really, really funny (which is kinda wasn't). That losing streak continues with Unfinished Business, sadly.
The movie stinks of The Hangover at first with the premise of three guys going on a trip together where you know insanity will ensue but you get the vibe early on that they didn't want to go down that road. I respected that and paid more attention as the story of guys trying to start their own sales company was interesting enough to see where it goes. I was wrong though because it goes down the Hangover road eventually and when it does it's not funny at all and feels so crammed into a story that didn't have it originally that it's like watching a totally different film.
This was directed by Ken Scott, who directed Vaughn once before in Delivery Man, and written by Steve Conrad, who wrote The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and The Pursuit of Happyness. I honestly can't imagine how these guys let a film like this go so far off the rails at times. Watching it is like watching a student film; you can see good intentions and ideas in there somewhere but the execution is just bizarre and terrible. It's almost as if no one saw the film as a total unworkable package until it was released in theaters because no seasoned Hollywood eye could have missed so many unfunny and misguided mistakes.
I'm all for offensive comedy but there are things in the film that are taboo subjects but are not played for laughs and because they're not played for laughs they come across as very offensive. Franco's character is mentally disabled in some way and makes reference to the fact that he has to live in a group home for people with his condition. At the end of the film, he's picked up at the airport by guys he lives with who are clearly disabled mentally as well. This isn't played for laughs at all and is in fact supposed to be sweet. The problem is that we were just given permission to laugh at (not with) his character the entire film so adding that element just makes us feel ashamed. This mistake is made several times over with subjects like bullying, homosexuality and depression.
I'm still a fan of Vaughn and I'm not sure why. He seems to still embody "cool" and "funny" just has chosen a nonstop parade of awful for his movie career. His next project is the second season of HBO's True Detective, which I'm looking forward to a lot. The rumor is that he's going to be the villain and maybe that's where he should be with his career now. Franco will be just fine in what is shaping up to be a career as big as his brother's. Wilkinson is very respected and I'm sure everyone will forget he was even in this or assume he just needed the money. Unfinished Business, however, will go down as a terrible and forgettable film that will go as quickly as it comes and hopefully not sucker too many people out of their money.