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.

Movie Review: 22 Jump Street (2014)

August 13, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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21 Jump Street, the big screen adaptation of the late-80s TV series that made Johnny Depp famous, is somewhat of a minor miracle. Everybody expected it to suck, and suck badly,  and yet it somehow became one of the surprise hits of 2012, featuring irreverent and self referential humor fueled by the seamless chemistry between the two leads, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.

The film’s unexpected fortune is a fact that the inevitable and obligatory sequel, 22 Jump Street, makes fun of very early on, and it goes even further than that by dishing out pessimistic predictions for what will happen the second time around.

It’s the type of humor and wit that made the first film so enjoyable, but at the same time, it also serves as a self fulfilling prophecy — because admittedly, 22 Jump Street genuinely isn’t as good as its predecessor. That’s not to say that the film is not still significantly better than most comedies that get turned out these days. In fact, there’s a good chance it will end up as one of the better comedies of the year. 

Hill and Tatum return has the ultimate odd couple — one physically challenged and the other mentally — who are thrust back into the undercover business because it’s the only thing they haven’t yet screwed up. And so their superior, Ice Cube, sends them to college to figure out who has been selling a dangerous new drug to students.

The central premise is almost exactly the same except it is set in college, and the writers know only too well the pitfalls of such a by-the-numbers sequel. But instead of trying something drastically different, the film embraces its destiny.

In 21 Jump Street, the film made fun of how high schoolers these days are different to what they were back in the 80s, and it also flipped what we had expected to happen to the characters, making Hill popular and Tatum miserable. Of course, in 22 Jump Street, the roles are predictably reversed once again, with Tatum becoming a football star and Hill failing to catch up because of his physical shortcomings. It’s the old “we know that you know that we know what should happen” joke, if that makes any sense.

Apart from this one big in-joke, the strengths of the sequel are almost identical to that of its predecessor. Hill and Tatum have a legitimate bromance; their chemistry and the weight they feed off each other come across as effortless and genuine. I’m guessing that some of the biggest laughs in the film were probably improvised. There’s also some solid slapstick, farcical action, and of course a lot of trippy craziness. Those who understand Hill’s brand of awkward, outrageous and random humour will likely get the most out of it.

The supporting cast is also very solid, with Ice Cube seemingly (I say seemingly because I can’t remember) given a bigger role this time around, and newcomers such as Peter Stromare, Amber Stevens and Nick Offerman, with cameos from Queen Latifah, Dave Franco and Rob Riggle. The standout, though, has to be Jillian Bell, basically a psychotic anti-version of Jonah Hill. Former pro hockey player Wyatt Russell, who has been in This is 40 and Arrested Development, also does a great job channeling his inner Owen Wilson as Tatum’s new BFF.

There are no major problems with 22 Jump Street except that some of the jokes don’t work or come across as a little repetitive, and the unfortunate thing with having such a great introduction (which this film did) is that there is inevitable disappointment when the rest of the movie fails to live up to it. 22 Jump Street opened with a bang, but there was a lengthy portion in the middle — primarily college life — that sagged, though luckily shifting the scene to Spring Break in Mexico towards the end breathed some much-needed fresh life back into its system.

The verdict? It may not be as witty as it thinks it is and the edges may be somewhat rough and coarse, but 22 Jump Street is definitely still funny and enjoyable enough to warrant a viewing. Considering how badly it could have gone, the end result also passes as a minor miracle.

3.75 stars out of 5

 
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