July 24, 2013

35 and Ticking (2011)

Kevin Hart, Nicole Ari Parker, Tamala Jones, Meagan Good, Jill Marie Jones, Darius McCrary

I didn't grow up watching a lot of movies with predominately African-American casts. I never even saw the movie Friday until after college. So when I watched and reviewed (and liked!) Think Like a Man, I thought I had discovered this untapped resource of quality romantic comedies. So I started surfing BET for prospects. As it turns out, bad romantic comedies know no racial boundaries.

I don't know even know where to start - with the awkward timing of split screen usage, the slow motion close ups, or the shaky camerawork throughout the first 30 minutes. Or how about the fact that the movie had the absolute worst movie score of all time? Seriously - worst of all time. Not only were the song choices frequently inappropriate for the tone, but the music also haltingly started and stopped as if controlled by some twenty-something who "deejays" in their free time. (You know who I'm talking about - all those people who think owning an Apple laptop and a music collection of more than one genre suddenly makes them a deejay.)

To say this was not a comedy wouldn't be a fair statement, though. I mean, sure, there were a few jokes in the movie and even less that were actually funny, but I laughed throughout almost the entire thing. Laughed because the dialogue and camerawork was so awful, but laughed nevertheless. So I watched the entire thing. I felt there had to be an ending that would make me understand why so many famous actors had signed onto the movie. **Spoiler alert - there was not.**

At this point, I'm ready to treat all "ensemble cast" movies with nothing but suspicion. I'm pretty sure the only reason a movie gets more than a couple famous people is because the actors get together and decide to do a movie together, no matter the topic or quality of the script. Which is how a movie like This is the End gets made. It's also how I've had to sit through movies like this, this, and this.

Final word: Think made-for-TV movie. Then think a level below that.

July 19, 2013

Lola Versus (2012)

Bill Pullman & Debra Winger are the only recognizable people in this movie, but have been relegated to the hardly seen, dreaded "parent" role to random unknowns (except one of those unknowns is now on The Newsroom, which is unfortunate, because he does not add any attractiveness to the cast)

There is a reason Sex & the City was such a huge phenomenon - woman can relate to it. In every woman, there is a little bit of proud Samantha, conservative Charlotte, smart Miranda, and Carrie - a hot mess. Watching other women struggle with the mundane and ridiculous somehow makes our lives seem more...validated. TV characters! They're just like us!

This movie delivers a bit of what the Sex & the City Movie couldn't - a real-ness the series had, but somehow morphed into rich, forty-year old women that were suddenly much less relatable to my twenty-something life that still featured ramen noodles on occasion. In contrast, this movie highlights the relationship mistakes so many of us make when we are young and stupid. Or old and stupid. But either way, stupid, relationship-wise. I'm not saying I can personally relate to every single cringe-inducing choice Lola makes, but I can certainly remember my friends making similar decisions... and having similar reactions...

What keeps the movie from becoming a depressing narrative on being single at 30 are the sharp, quick-witted remarks and awkward exchanges that keep it in the realm of comedy. A wry, tortured comedy, but comedy nevertheless. It's a pretty unknown movie (at least it was to me), but should be watched on girl's night, through a happy haze of cocktails and chatter about poor dating experiences.

Final word: I don't normally like the term "chick flick," but if ever there was one...

July 15, 2013

Monsters University (2013)

Billy Crystal, John Goodman

It's a fine line between making a movie funny and interesting enough that an adult can sit through it while still maintaining a clean sense of humor and teaching good values to kids. TV shows illustrate this perfectly: on one side, there are the sassy, back-talking, scheming kid shows that make you wonder if the show is even for kids at all. Take SpongeBob Square Pants. I mean, the entire premise is about a stoned sponge! How, exactly does that qualify as a kid's show? On the flip side, there are shows that do nothing but preach values and learning to the point where they are unwatchable by anyone with a mental maturity beyond the age of five. Think, Care Bears or a number of other shows I've never bothered to pay attention to but I'm sure exist.

What sets most Disney movies apart is its ideal combination of child humor and adult humor. I recently read a Slate article on the fact that kids and adults often don't like the same movies. This is obvious, and probably didn't need a whole article written on the subject, but it does illustrate the fact that many movies fail to achieve this balance. Case in point: CarsCars is probably the worst Disney movie ever made (and yes, that includes both Aristocats and Pocahontas). And yet... a sequel was made. And an entire theme park at Disneyland. And a new Disney movie called Planes that looks exactly like Cars, but features airplanes instead (p.s. kudos on the imaginative title). It's inexplicable.

Monsters University straddles this child/adult line well. It's cute and includes cheesy jokes that kids will understand, wrapped into a sports-type plot that anyone could follow. But it also smacks of Old School with its loser fraternity of outcasts and "mature students" which appeals to adults. And frankly, anything that can remind me to say, "You're my boy, Blue!" is a winner in my book. Of course, this movie is rated G, so the streaking, drinking and KY jelly wrestling all take place off screen. JK It's still a kid's movie, after all.

Unfortunately, my favorite part of the movie is its ending, but I can't write about it! It made me desperately want to break my rule of not spoiling movie endings so I could talk about it, but alas, I have principles. Sigh.

Final word: It's cute, but not amazingly creative, especially compared to the original.

July 8, 2013

Cloud Atlas (2012)

Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Hugo Weaving

A hypothetical story (in case the FBI happens to be a fervent reader of my blog) - while I was in China, I might have been convinced by a video salesman to purchase an illicit copy of this movie. I would never have heard of the movie, so I would be unimpressed by Tom Hank's tattooed face on the cover and the promise of an "ensemble cast" (we all know how I feel about those). However, say the salesman guaranteed I would like the movie, or I would be allowed to return it. Considering the usual return policy in China (someone either laughs in your face or just yells at you until you leave their store/booth), it would have seemed enticing to me. But had I purchased the movie, I would have discovered that it was dubbed in Korean, with Chinese subtitles. Sigh.

So I am back in America, and legally rented this movie, in English. I had little additional information about the movie, except that it had been nominated for a Golden Globe and that one of my readers recommended it. Of course, this same reader recommended such gems as In Time and Looper, so you can see what took me so long to get around to watching this.

That being said, the movie isn't terrible. In fact, I don't really know how to describe it except to say that it's weird. In sci-fi, you're always expecting a little weird, but this movie is pretty out there. I appreciate the effort to cover a diverse range of time periods, but the futuristic storyline where Tom Hanks looks like he's recreating his wardrobe on Castaway really misses in the linguistics department. Perhaps language will have deteriorated into a hot mess of dangling modifiers and misplaced prepositions (as if it isn't already?!?), but watching Tom Hanks and Halle Berry trying to speak pidgin is not just wrong, but painful.

My biggest problem with the movie, however, is that it sustains a complex and intelligent theme throughout the first 2 hours and oh, 20 minutes of the movie, only to throw in the towel and summarize the entire meaning at the very end in a voice over narrative. Either the audience is smart enough to figure out the meaning of the movie, in which case they don't need the recap, or they're not, in which case they would never sit through the whole 3 hours of this movie. All I'm asking is that a writer and director trust their skills enough to convey a message without having to spell it out for its viewers. Otherwise, don't try to make a smart movie.

And by the way, it certainly did not need to be 3 hours long. I know we're living in an age of increasing ADD with the constant stream of entertainment and I spend a considerable amount of time complaining about people's inability to focus on anything for longer than 10 minutes, but honestly, 3 hours? I can't think of a single movie that needs to be 3 hours long. Even Citizen Kane is under 2 hours.

Final word: You need a lot of patience and possibly an existential crisis to make it through this movie, and I imagine even more so to make it through the book upon which it was based.

July 4, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

Bruce Willis and only Bruce Willis because apparently no one even remotely famous would tie their name to this tragedy of a movie

Die Hard was an excellent movie. Die Hard 2 was a good movie. Die Hard: With a Vengeance felt like it was overcompensating with the title. Then came Live Free of Die Hard, which is not only ridiculously titled, but was a completely unnecessary addition to the "franchise" and movies in general. 

And yet, here were are with the 5th movie, A Good Day to Die Hard. I'm not sure if the creators thought, 'If Fast and Furious can make 6 movies, we can too!!,' but I'm pretty sure it was a factor. Except here's where I defend the Fast & Furious movies over the Die Hard movies.
  1. Fast & Furious (with the exception of Tokyo Drift) doesn't come up with ridiculous ways to incorporate the original title into the sequels so that people will know it's supposed to be a sequel.
  2. Fast & Furious keeps the same plot and all the same characters and actors throughout the movies (again, with the exception of Tokyo Drift, in which the director subbed Paul Walker for some other nondescript, acting-challenged white guy and Ludacris for Bow Wow, as though all black rappers are equally interchangeable). This is what makes it a sequel, as opposed to the later Die Hard movies, where the only similarity is that Bruce Willis' character is named John McClane and stuff gets blown up.
  3. Bruce Willis is considered to be a legitimate actor. He once won a Golden Globe! The same cannot be said for, well, anyone in the Fast & Furious series. (I mean Vin Diesel did win an MTV Movie Award for "best team" with Paul Walker for the first Fast and Furious...) The point is, people don't expect the Fast & Furious movies to deliver the same cinematic quality as a viewer would from an actor like Bruce Willis and a movie spawned from a classic like Die Hard. Which is, I guess, why the creators are able to continue cashing in on the name.

To put this all in perspective, 25 years have passed between the first Die Hard and its latest sequel (I'd love to say it's last sequel, but sadly, I cannot). In the meantime, Bruce Willis has made movies like Red and The Expendables (with a sequel of its own), both of which portray him as an old hit man. To make movies that are so obviously age appropriate, then make this movie is a bit like an athlete moving from the regular tour to the senior tour, then trying to make a comeback, competing against 20 year olds. Except in movies, experience is not a helpful factor in pretending to fight bad guys. That's why Hollywood is able to suddenly sell someone like Shia LaBeouf as an action star (Transformers, and its own sucky sequels) as easily as someone like Jason Statham, who actually looks like he might be able to kick someone's ass.

The low point of it all, though, was when Bruce Willis uttered a "yippie-ki-yay motherfucker." It really just highlighted the pathetic-ness of the movie.

Final word: With every bullet fired, I'm pretty sure the writers were conceding "We couldn't be bothered to write a decent plot, so we'll cover it up with explosions."

Related: turning every movie into a franchise

Also, a look into the next 5 years of movies. "Here's a hint: you've already seen it." Ha.