Movie Review: Get Hard (2015)

May 27, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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Will Ferrell plus Kevin Hart. On paper, putting together two of the world’s biggest comedic stars should be a no-brainer, but Get Hard, their highly anticipated buddy-movie collaboration, turned out to be lesser than the sum of its parts.

Ferrell plays yet another version of himself, this time as James King, a highly successful financial prodigy engaged to the beautiful daughter (Alison Brie) of his boss (Craig T Nelson). King knows how to make loads and loads of money with hedge funds, but he’s a bit of a douche and practically retarded in all other aspects of life, much like all of Ferrell’s other characters. When he is sentenced to 10 years in a maximum security prison for a white collar crime, King seeks the help of his car washer, Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart), to help him “get hard” in 30 days so he won’t be (anally) destroyed in prison.

The majority of the jokes in this movie stem from two things: King’s numbing stupidity, and the fact that Lewis, who has never even been to prison, is black. While Get Hard uses the pun in the title a couple of times (as you would), the film is basically a conveyor belt of fairly typical racial stereotype jokes, mixed in with some prison rape jokes and gay jokes, and a whole lot of standard Will Ferrell idiocy. Kevin Hart plays the “straight man” this time, and as a result he doesn’t get to do nearly as much as Ferrell does, though he does have one decent scene in which he shows off his talents by pretending to be several different prison factions at once.

Get Hard has been savaged by most critics, largely for being offensive by relying too much on race and gay jokes. I’m actually quite shocked that people were offended by it. I mean, seriously, this is Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart. What else did people expect from a comedy with these two called Get Hard, in which a black man tries to teach a white man how to survive in prison?

The real problem with the movie is not that the jokes are offensive, it’s that they are not funny. Or at least not funny enough. I probably giggled a couple of times and grunted a handful of others, which falls way short of the “six laugh rule” for a good comedy. A lot of the attempts at laughs were cliched and lacking in imagination, and while I applaud Ferrell and Hart for pushing the boundaries, none of the comedy felt as edgy as it could have been.

Ferrell can be lame and Hart can be grating, but when they are on their game they are undeniably laugh-generating machines. They actually have fairly good chemistry in this too, which is why it ultimately feels like Get Hard was a complete waste of their respective talents. To be fair, it’s not horrible — there are much worse comedies being made these days — though there’s just no getting around the fact that this should have been much much funnier.

2 stars out of 5

PS: At least Alison Brie was surprisingly hot in this.

Movie Review: The Cobbler (2015)

April 16, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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The Cobbler looked promising in the trailer. A cobbler played by Adam Sandler realises that he can turn into different people (in terms of physical appearance) by wearing their shoes. On its face, the film seems like a fable about what it means to walk in another man’s shoes, though in reality The Cobbler is just a dull comedy-drama that’s neither very funny nor very dramatic, and much shallower than the premise suggests.

Sandler plays Max, a traditional neighbourhood cobbler who lives with his elderly mother. It’s a sad existence for him, getting by alone in his workshop day to day, abused by clients with more money and better lives than him, and still wondering why his father (Dustin Hoffman) left him and his mother years ago. His only friend is the barber next door, played by the legendary Steve Buscemi.

So when one day Max discovers that he can turn into his clients by wearing their shoes, he decides to live the life he wishes he had. He becomes a dashing Brit (Dan Stevens), who has a stunning girlfriend and still gets plenty of attention from the ladies. He tries his hand at being a Chinese man, complete with an accent when he speaks English. But it’s when he attempts to be a criminal that things start spiralling out of control.

Despite an interesting premise, The Cobbler fails to flesh it out, instead going for cheap ideas, bizarre sentimentality (that borders on creepy) and a boring final act that revolves around a nasty property developer (Ellen Barkin). Rather than teaching Max how to sympathise with others by walking in their shoes, he abuses the power for his own benefit before becoming a cliched benevolent superhero of sorts. Everything is on the surface only, and this is confirmed by a predictable and silly ending.

There were plenty of opportunities for humour that went to waste, delivering at most smirks rather than genuine laughter. There also wasn’t much drama to speak of, and the only legitimate attempt involving Max’s father completely weirded me out. Thank God for Steve Buscemi, the only guy who really brought any life to the film with the exception of Method Man, who was menacingly good as a thug.

Having bagged the film out, it’s still probably one of Sandler’s best efforts in years. Seriously, his list of films before this one are all colossal critical flops: Men, Women & Children, Blended, Grown Ups 2, That’s My Boy, Jack and Jill, Zookeeper, Just Go With It, and Grown Ups. It’s frustrating, because anyone who has seen Punch-Drunk Love knows Sandler can act and isn’t exclusively confined to shit movies. The closest thing I can compare The Cobbler to is his 2006 film Click, which is also a magical fantasy comedy supposedly trying to teach a life lesson or two. But while Click at least had a few funny moments and some surprisingly touching scenes, The Cobbler doesn’t even have any.

It wasn’t so bad that it made me want to stop watching, but when you start feeling that a 99-minute film is too long it can’t possibly be very entertaining.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Let’s Be Cops (2014)

January 27, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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With all the cop scandals around the United States lately, it kind of a very strange time for a film about two losers whose fortunes get turned around when they start impersonating police officers. But shit title aside, Let’s Be Cops is just a typical screwball buddy comedy that’s probably a little better than you thought it would be. Not that it’s saying much, but I actually think it’s better than Kevin Hart’s Ride Along.

The story follows two loser buddies, Justin (Damon Wayans Jr), a video game designer, and Ryan (Jake Johnson), a washed up college quarterback. Justin can’t catch a break in his career, while Ryan still tries to relive his glory days by dominating kids at the park. One thing leads to another and the two start to impersonate police officers, first as a joke, but when it turns them into popular dudes they decide to keep the charade going despite committing a very serious crime. Of course, they also end up getting caught up in real police work involving dangerous mobsters and all hell breaks loose.

I’d say the strength of the film likes in the chemistry between Wayans Jr (damn I feel old knowing that Damon Wayans has a son who is acting in movies of his own now) and Johnson. If this were Harold and Kumar, Wayans would be Harold, the straight-faced and more uptight of the two, while Johnson would be Kumar, the mischievous one always getting them into more trouble.  So the humour comes from the same type of dynamic, with Johnson’s daring acts setting up outrageous situations and Wayans squirming to get out of them.

There are a few fairly funny gags in the film, but really nothing particularly witty or memorable. The rest of the stuff is mostly lame, though unlike Ride Along it never gets irritating or grating. The film doesn’t swing for the fences and is perfectly happy settling for mild, cliched humour that will give audiences a few safe chuckles but nothing more. I guess it’s both a blessing and a curse to say that Let’s Be Cops is pretty harmless entertainment.

I really like Rob Riggle’s deadpan face and deliver, so it was good to see him playing patrol officer Segars, a poor sap who is convinced that Wayans and Johnson are real cops despite all the hints to the contrary. Andy Garcia makes a shocking appearance as a corrupt detective, shocking because I didn’t realise he had become a “keep gettin’ ’em cheques” actor. And smoking Nina Dobrev from The Vampire Diaries proves that she isn’t quite ready to make the leap to the big screen as Wayan’s love interest.

It’s easy to shower hate on Let’s Be Cops because it sounds and looks like a tame, formulaic B-grade comedy. But because that’s exactly what I expected, I actually came out of it thinking it wasn’t that bad for a conventional buddy flick. Like most films of this kind, the set-up was relatively strong and the final act grew weaker and weaker, though on the whole I didn’t have any major problems with it.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Sex Tape (2014)

January 7, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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Knowing that it will probably be shit has never stopped me from watching a movie. And so I watched Sex Tape, the new “sex comedy” (I didn’t even know this sub-genre existed) starring Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel, and was justifiably rewarded with a shitty experience.

The premise, as those who have seen the trailer will know, is about a couple who make sex tape to spice up the bedroom but then unwittingly uploads it to “the cloud”, or in other words, every iPad they have ever given away as a gift.

I admit I did enjoy the set up of how a couple goes from having copious amounts of sex to not being able to have any at all thanks to their kids, but Sex Tape fails the smell test right out of the gate. I know we’re probably not supposed to think about how much sense a movie like this makes, but I can’t understand why the video would be uploaded for everyone to see unless they had been giving away secondhand iPads with their account still logged in on them. The culprit was supposedly some “powerful” app, but that doesn’t make sense either. And seriously, who gives away so many iPads as gifts? We’re supposed to believe that a family that doesn’t have $25,000 in their bank accounts would be giving away iPads to the mailman?

Anyway, even leaving these head scratchers aside, Sex Tape fails because it doesn’t achieve either of its aims — to be funny or titillating (well, at least, in the words of the great George Costanza, to make “it move”). Because of the sweet awkwardness of Segel, who I actually quite like, and the weirdness of Rob Lowe, who plays Cameron Diaz’s “boss”, there are actually a couple of fairly decent moments, though these are rare and have nothing to do with the film’s central idea (they could have come from any other movie). And they aren’t witty or clever jokes either — just really outrageous, stupid stuff good for a cheap laugh. The rest of the gags are generally lame or grossly exaggerated because they don’t have real punchlines. Nearly every time I thought a good joke might be forthcoming I ended up being let down.

I don’t know about you, but one look at Cameron Diaz makes me go completely flaccid (too much info?). Yeah, she’s got a good body, but she’s just so unsexy to me for some reason. As for the ladies (and guys on the other team), I don’t think anyone will put Segel in the heartthrob category despite well-intentioned his weight loss. Maybe it was intended to be a deliberately unsexy film, except we are told by those who have watched the sex tape that it’s hot stuff.

Apart from a dearth of laughs and sexiness, Sex Tape also suffers from a lack of common sense, coherence and tonal consistency. At times the film comes across as a series of unrelated skits, and the attempts at poignancy and giving meaning to the whole fiasco are cringeworthy. On the whole, it’s just a sloppy effort that did nothing to try and make the film any more than what one would expect from its gimmicky premise.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

August 24, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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Wes Anderson films are an acquired taste. I respected and appreciated his previous efforts, most notably The Royal Tenenbaums back in 2001 and the animated Fantastic Mr Fox in 2009, but I have not been able to enjoy them as much as some others, who think his flicks are the best thing since the invention of air conditioning. Anderson’s films are just so tightly-wound and choreographed — to the extent that they come across almost like animations or stage productions — that the surreal air about them often make it difficult for me to engage with the narrative for the entirety of the running time.

Anderson’s latest entry, The Grand Budapest Hotel, has been lauded as a masterpiece, and I went into it thinking that this might finally be Anderson film that I can truly enjoy. And while I did enjoy it a lot, I still don’t consider myself a convert. It’s a finely crafted motion picture full of imagination, confidence, and a ridiculous A-list cast that spews out witty lines at a frenetic pace, and yet it is so whimsical and farcical that its deeper undertones and poignancy tend to be overwhelmed, resulting in one of those fun but ultimately forgettable experiences.

The fictional eponymous hotel, located in the mountains of a fictional European Alpine state, is the setting of this wild madcap caper about the adventures of a concierge, Mr Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), and a lowly lobby boy, Zero (Tony Revolori, and later F Murray Abraham). Mr Gustave is a smooth, fast-talking sleazebag who makes a habit of courting wealthy, elderly women, and when one of them (Tilda Swinton) dies under mysterious circumstances, all fingers are suddenly pointed in his direction — and it is up to Zero to help prove his boss’s innocence. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel is full of twists and turns, most of which are completely unexpected because it runs so fast and furiously that all your attention is spent simply trying to keep up. If you’ve seen any of Anderson’s past films you’ll have an idea of what you are in for, though this one, with cute miniatures and hand-made art, is arguably his most stylish and visually-impressive effort. It’s decidedly meta; there are delicate layers upon layers, stories within stories, the narrative moving from character to character and through different times and eras.

The cast is outrageous — apart from the aforementioned Fiennes, Abraham and Swinton, there’s Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Lea Seydoux, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Tom Wilkinson. Thanks to Fiennes’ superb performance and comedic timing, however, it did not feel jarring to have so many superstars in the one film, often for just a scene or even a second or two. Who knew Voldemort was so funny?

And that’s the biggest strength of The Grand Bupadest Hotel — it’s probably Anderson’s funniest film ever. The wisecracks are razor sharp, and, unlike much of the humour we tend to get in comedies these days, actually witty. The use of well-timed profanity is spot on. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I giggled often and hard.

The first half is funnier than the second half, where my difficulties with the film start to seep through as the story begins to take a slightly more melancholic turn. As often can be the case with Anderson’s movies, the tone can come across as unmistakenly smug. You just get the feeling that it’s getting too smart and witty for its own good — to the point where you react to the jokes with “that’s funny”, but without actually laughing. It wasn’t so much of a problem in the first half of the film because everything was so fresh and frantic and fun, though later, when you can tell the film’s also trying to be poignant and send a deeper, more emotional message, it becomes much easier to see through the contrivances. And once you lose your focus it becomes very difficult to get back on track.

Consequently, the overall package is a mixed bag, albeit one that is weighed heavily towards the positive. I loved the look of the film and the brilliant cast. It was undoubtedly funny and clever; stylish and precision-crafted. And yet its irreverent, artificial feel made the film difficult to sustain an emotional connection for its 99-minute running time.  I like to think of the experience as sampling a series of beautifully designed, tightly controlled set pieces, each of which stands up well on its own, though together the pieces don’t quite deliver something greater than the sum of its parts. Having said that, The Grand Budapest Hotel is an easy film to appreciate and enjoy, and so far it’s my favourite Wes Anderson film to date.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: I have yet to see Moonrise Kingdom and I cannot recall much of Rushmore.

 
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