Get Hard

“I should have seen Home. I wanted to see Home, but the timing didn’t work out. I thought it’d be easy enough to get next weekend instead. I didn’t know why I insisted Get Hard stay on my priority list, but I did. I think it’s because even though the setup sounded awful and the trailers didn’t look too great, I do like Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart. There have been instances where their movies looked bad on the surface, but ended up being awesome (think almost anything in the “”Frat pack”” era). That didn’t happen.

The one thing I will stand by is that Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart are wonderful comedic actors, and with the right material they could make one kick ass movie. This was not the right material. Will Ferrell is convicted of some white collar financial crime and is to be made an example of by spending 10 years in federal prison. Afraid of what could happen to him in a jail with the country’s most hardened criminals, he hires Kevin Hart to help him prepare. Problem is, Hart has never actually been to jail. He just needs the money, so he goes along with the plan. Has any of this sounded like a good idea to you yet?

Yeah, didn’t think so. The guys did well enough, but I just didn’t find most of the material funny. The jokes were obvious and the set up too contrived. I will give the film points for Allison Brie as Ferrell’s fiance, but she was nowhere near enough to save this movie. I honestly would like to see our main duo work together again, but maybe they’ll think a little harder before signing on. At least these guys tend to be so prolific, that this will be quickly forgotten.

Get Hard – \m/ \m/”

Along Came Polly

“I actually almost picked this movie during the last round of scouring the movie wall, but opted for The Good Son instead since it always just missed the cut for my top 100. The reason I’ve been wanting to rewatch Polly is that it’s one of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s rare comedic roles, and this was shortly after his death. I think PSH is why I got the movie to begin with, being curious to see him do funny. After being critically panned it was swept under the rug and ignored by most of the world. Seems like a kinda unfair rap to get stuck with.

Along Came Polly is a rom com that tries focus moreso on the com. Ben Stiller leads the rather respectable cast as risk analyst Reuben. While honeymooning with his new bride (Debra Messing), he finds her in flagrante with their scuba instructor (still wearing their flippers). He returns home where he soon reconnects with old classmate Polly (Jennifer Aniston). Her wild and crazy ways are the exact opposite of his careful and calculated lifestyle. Hilarity ensues. Or tries to.

I get where the derision comes from. There’s a lot of bathroom humor (literally and figuratively) that isn’t very clever. It just seems a feeble attempt to recreate Stiller’s There’s Something About Mary magic. And the rom part of the storyline is a little obvious. However, for me, the cast and characters really sold it.

I adore Ben Stiller, and I’ve always preferred his more down to earth characters (think Keeping the Faith) over his crazy ones (Zoolander, Dodgeball, anything else where his character has an atypical name). Reuben was a very likeable and charismatic character that you couldn’t help but root for. PSH is his wingman Sandy, and I gotta say, I really do love seeing him bring the funny. He may not be the funniest written character, but Hoffman handled it well, reigning him in just enough while still giving it his all. I wish he’d have had more roles like this.

Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer is often credited for causing the recent fascination with the manic pixie dream girl trope, but here’s Jennifer Aniston a few years earlier playing that type of elusive and flakey yet desirable and carefree woman. That type may be a little hard to believe, but she’s always fun to watch and Aniston was no exception.

The other little bit of fun that really amused me was the whole subplot with Sandy acting in Jesus Christ Superstar. His character being a d-bag about it was annoying, but I do love JCS and the context of it brought back happy nostalgia. And Heroes’ Hiro, Masi Oka, was playing Jesus. Or at least he was supposed to, until Sandy kept trying to insist he could play both Judas and Jesus. Oh PSH *tear*”

Insurgent

“I realized a couple week’s ago that this month’s Zipcar credit that I prepay for was gonna expire. Solution? IMAX movie! Duh. And it just so happened that Insurgent was playing this weekend at a time that was wonderfully convenient, especially considering I had plans to go to NYC to see Derek Hough! in the Rockettes show. With a reliable movie buddy in tow, we trekked thru the snow on that first day of spring (?!) to the IMAX. To be fair, it didn’t actually snow until the way back, but the threat was looming all day.

First off, I don’t know that this movie itself would have been worth IMAX-ing if it took any effort. It certainly wasn’t worth the 3D, and not just because mine was just slightly out of focus a lot of the time. I wish I’d remembered my 2D converter glasses which may have alleviated that problem. But there really wasn’t anything that I felt was heightened by the super special screen that would warrant going out of one’s way for it. That said, enjoyable movie plus Fuddrucker’s burgers beforehand plus my favorite theater anyways (ooooh Temperpedic seats with “”butt kicker”” speakers), totally a worthy cause for my Zipcar $.

I enjoyed Divergent enough last year that I quickly went out and read thru the whole series. Similar to my experience with Hunger Games, I enjoyed the first installment most, getting to learn about the status quo of the particular futuristic distopian society, and didn’t care as much about the rebellion to take it down. However, because I’d seen Divergent, I could take my time reading thru and savoring it. Insurgent was the one I couldn’t put down because I needed to know what was next. I read it so quickly that by the time I saw the movie, less than a year later, I couldn’t remember too much of what happened. It also didn’t help that the three books sorta blurred together for me.

What I enjoyed most about the film, was getting to see how the other factions lived: Candor and Amity. With the whole series the differentiations between factions was always what fascinated me, so it was exciting to see it come to life. I was sorta tepid on the characters by this point. The books sorta turned me off of Tris and Four by the end, so it was a little harder to take them seriously. Besides the new faces in big roles that were added (Octavia Spencer, Naomi Watts, Daniel Dae Kim) I most enjoyed Miles Teller’s bad boy turn as Peter. Oh and I still think Jai Courtney looks so much like Maksim Chermovskiy, it’s really distracting.

I mostly remembered the book as the movie played out, but there were definitely some things that felt unfamiliar (later confirmed for me as being additions to the film). Compared to the wealth of information and setting given in Divergent, Insurgent felt a little thin. It was fun, and I still love how dauntless it is (see what I did there) towards death and destruction, but the substance felt lacking. I’d say it’s maybe middle of trilogy syndrome, where it’s sole purpose is to bridge between the initial set up and the exciting conclusion, but I don’t find the conclusion too exciting. Still, very happy to see this franchise doing well. Let’s hear it for the strong young female protagonist in a futuristic dystopian society!

Insurgent – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n”

Brokeback Mountain

“I watched this the other day for the blog, and lazily didn’t write it up at the time. Now, I’m struggling to find things to say.

This is one of the more recent best picture controversies. There was a strong push of people who supported Brokeback as best picture, but given it’s subject matter, it lost out. Had this come out a few years later, it likely wouldn’t have had such an uphill battle. Then again, this movie is part of why the landscape started changing in regards to acceptance of homosexual relationships.

Gay or straight, it is just a beautiful and romantic film. Romance is not usually the sort of thing I go for, but given the strong cast and the beautifully simplistic plot, I do really respect it. And it’s so much more poignant in the wake of Heath Ledger’s death a few years later. I feel it adds a level of sadness to his already tragic character. It’s certainly a film that should be remembered for the ages, much more so than the trite Crash that beat it out for the Academy win that year.”

Fargo

“Some time back, I was talking with my Daddy about movies (as often would happen) and the subject of Fargo came up. He was originally from northern Minnesota, and because of that, he said he couldn’t stand to watch the movie. The accents reminded him too much of where he grew up. Shame really, because this movie is so so \m/ good.

I love how dark it is, with just a bit more than a hint of comedy. Not so much that you’d think of it primarily as comedic, but the balance is incredible. It’s also ridiculously memorable. The characters, the dialog, the wood chipper. I haven’t gotten around to seeing the TV series inspired by it, but it’s something I very much look forward to.

And about that cast, oh my, what an embarassment of riches. Frances McDormand won herself an Oscar, being only the second actress to win gold for a movie directed by her husband. William H Macy scored a nod (and arguably should have beat out Cuba Gooding Jr), which is his only one to date. I think it’s criminal that he hasn’t gotten more Academy love. There’s “”funny looking”” Steve Buscemi in one of his most iconic roles. And I never noticed until now, but that’s Peter Stormare as his accomplice. Took me the longest time to remember his name and not just call him Abruzzi after his Prison Break character.

The other thing I always forget about this movie is that it’s based on a true story. That notice at the beginning floors me every time. I suppose this story is so crazy, it could only be real. *Cue Bad Religion’s “”Stranger Than Fiction””. I assume most of ya’ll are familiar enough with it, but just in case, it’s about a kind of a schlubby guy (Macy) who’s down on his luck. He arranges to have his wife kidnapped, in the hopes that her rich father will pay the ransom. Of course, nothing goes according to plan. He’s in over his head as the situation continues to escalate. Meanwhile a small town cop (McDormand) is on the trail.

I hadn’t noticed before how much of the movie is spent eating, particularly by McDormand. IMDB told me that every scene between her and her onscreen husband (John Carrol Lynch) has them either in bed or eating. Now that’s all I’m paying attention to.”

Cinderella

“Sometimes, movies just end up on my list because they’re the big named release. Not because I’ve really thought about it. That’s sort of what happened with Cinderella. When I was planning for this week, I was just automatically prioritizing this since it was the big movie. With my annual movie night happening on Saturday (and the requisite apartment cleaning all day leading up to it), and the inevitable need to recover on Sun, that meant I really only had Fri for movies. Maaaaaybe I could pull off a double, but I really could only bank on one. It came down to Cinderella vs Run All Night. Now, the new Liam Neeson is def much more my speed, but I also was perfectly fine to hold off on this until it was on sale for Black Friday, as many of his action movies have been. But did I really wanna see Cinderella? I kinda know the story already. Torn, I took to IMDB to do some comparison research. As soon as I saw Kenneth Branagh listed as the director I was sold.

Did I choose wisely? Eh, hard to say. Yes, it was the story we all know. There were a few fun new twists, but for the most part, we know what happens. The cast wasn’t really anything to write home about, well except for Cate Blanchett as the step mother. She was to die for, in a delicious way you’d expect from such a seasoned actress. Lily James may have set feminism back a step, with much of her Cinderella spending the movie sighing wistfully. While on the one hand, I did like that there was an emphasis on kindness, a worthy character trait, she was too much of a pushover for my taste. I’m sorry, but I prefer my princesses to have a little bite.

Now the part of the movie that I would write home about is the production value, particularly the costumes. My goodness they were gorgeous. Such vibrant colors and rich fabrics. Don’t be surprised if this ends up taking some Oscar glory next year. So so beautiful.

Somehow the magic seemed to work. Throughout the film, my head would be telling me that it was dumb, or that characters were annoying. Yet at the same time, I’d notice I had the silliest smile on my face. Something was getting thru my icy cold heart. I can’t explain it. Do I ever need to see this again? No, I’ll be happy to look at pretty pictures and keep watching the animated Disney one (which this movie took many many queues from). But for one evening, happily ever after wasn’t such a bad place to be.

Cinderella – \m/ \m/ \m/”

Unfinished Business

“This summer, I answered a casting cattle call for extras for Ted 2. I wasn’t able to make it work for that movie, but it still got me on an email list where I occasionally receive notifications about other opportunities to be an extra. Sometime this fall, I got one of those.

“”Extras needed for Unfinished Business”” Hmm what’s this movie? “”Stars Vince Vaughn and Dave Franco”” Ooooh that’s cool. Aww, but these things are always during the week and too short notice to take off work. “”Filming this Saturday all day”” OMG, on a weekend! And I have absolutely nothing to do! Yesssss!! “”Must be comfortable appearing in lingerie”” Um yeah no, sorry. Not gonna happen.

I continued getting more emails about that shoot, and kept an eye out for others where they would have wanted fully clothed extras. Nothing ever came of it. Fast foward to now that I’ve seen it, and oh my God, I have never been so happy to have NOT been in a movie. Words I never thought I’d say.

I was so bored and unimpressed, my fitness tracker thinks I was asleep thru half of it. I’m not even joking. In looking over the day’s stats, there were blue spikes (sleep) in the middle of the orange ones (activity) showing during the time I was watching this.

So the aforementioned Vaughn and Franco, along with Tom Wilkinson break off from a major company and form their own competing business selling something with a really funny name. We know they’re pretty bad at it, but I couldn’t ever get my head around what “”it”” was or how they could conceive of starting an independent firm to do that. So that was problem number one. Problem two was that it just wasn’t good. The screenplay was pretty weak, so I guess they were trying to rely on the strength of its stars, but that strategy didn’t work out too well for them either.

You’d think I should have known better than to want to see this, but the truth is I do like Vince Vaughn, or at least I really did at one point. He’s sort of retreated into doing the same schtick over and over again, which has gotten quite old, but I’m always holding out for the hope of another Wedding Crashers or Dodgeball. Remember those were rather unexpected. Because it’s all gotten old, I’m that much more excited to see him in the next True Detective, mostly so he can branch out and remind me why he’s awesome. Cause right now, the memory’s a little hazy.

Dave Franco I’ve recently praised as the Franco brother who should handle the comedy. I still stand by that, but let’s not use this as an example. He commited to his role fully and maintained his awkward character, except every time he spoke, it dragged the whole pace of the movie down. Maybe he could have made some better acting choices, maybe the director could have reigned him in, or maybe the screenplay should have given him more than just one joke (that got increasingly more and more uncomfortable) to play off.

And poor Tom Wilkinson, how badly did he need this paycheck, or did he lose a bet? Was this his alternative to Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel since his character didn’t survive the original? I very much appreciate it when a legit actor tries to cut loose with a comedy, but he really should have picked something far worthier of his caliber.

I should stop now that I’m starting to get a little mean. I don’t like when I do that, especially since I know a lot of people worked very hard on the movie. But they can’t all be winners

Unfinished Business – \m/ \n”

Chappie

“A few years ago, movie goers were blown away by writer/director Neill Blomkamp with his District 9. The scifi allegory on apartheid was a big hit on many fronts. People were eager for a follow up, which came a few years later with Elysium. Let’s just say that the number of people excited for Chappie decreased a bit. I, however, count myself to be amongst them (even if the March release date gives me pause).

The brilliance of District 9 was that as a sci fi, it’s pretty solid to begin with. Add in the layer of symbolism and commentary, and it’s beautiful, especially since it’s not laid on too thick. Elysium had some of the same aspirations, but got kinda lost in itself and its concept. I still rather enjoyed it, but Blokamp himself has admitted he made mistakes, and that it could have been better.

With Chappie, he’s back on his home turf, both figuratively and literally as he’s not only on Earth, but back in South Africa. It might not be quite the same level of allegory as District 9, but it’s still a commentary infused scifi, as this time he tackles artificial intelligence. In the not too distant future of the film, robot technology has advanced to the point of having a full force of police drones out on the street. In the logical next evolutionary step, one of them is reprogramed and becomes self aware and conscious, as the child-like Chappie (so not SkyNet levels of self aware). Chappie must be trained and taught just like a newborn child, and he’s caught up between the life of crime he’s been kidnapped for, the jealous engineer hellbent on sabotaging the drones, and the well intentioned engineer who built him.

What really makes the movie special is Chappie himself, voiced and motion captured (ish) by constant Bomkamp collaborator, Sharlto Copley. He’s just so sweet and innocent, infinitely more Wall-E than T-1000. Regardless of how you take the rest of the film, this title character should be reason enough to watch at least once.

I didn’t really care for the gangster team that Chappie lived with. Ninja was just annoying and by the time Yolandi became endearing, she’d already proven she couldn’t really act. And I’m not sure how I feel about Hugh Jackman. On the one hand, I loved seeing him getting be a villain instead of a tortured good guy, but something about it feels like a miscast. Maybe he just didn’t rock the greasy hair and the tourist father shorts and polo combo that well, but then again, if Jackman can’t make that look work, no one can. I did however enjoy Dev Patel as the genius inventor. It could just be that of all the charaters of course I’m going to associate most with the nerd, or it could be that he was the most realistic and believable one.

This doesn’t quite live up to District 9 standards, and I fear that will haunt Blomkamp the rest of his career, but it also doesn’t deserve the negativity it’s been getting. If nothing else, he has Copley to thank for giving this film some life.

Chappie – \m/ \m/ \m/”

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

“In Spanish, viejo means “”old”” (as both an adjective or a noun). If you modify it to viejitos, you’re saying “”little old people””. It usually has a cute connotation, and is kind of like a term of endearment. I can’t help but smile when I hear the word. The first Best Exotic Marigold Hotel brought me such joy when I saw it, there was no question I wanted to see the sequel to revisit those cute little old people, or viejitos, I loved so much.

In the first film, our elderly troop find themselves in India for a variety of reasons. They end up staying at a hotel run by a good hearted and well meaning if utterly clueless young proprietor, Sonny (Dev Patel). Over the course of the film, they come to think of this hotel as home. Now for the sequel, they find it to be so home-y that none of them ever check out. Sonny has plans to expand into a second location, but of course, there’s a variety of obstacles in his way, including the stress of his upcoming wedding and a suprise hotel inspector that may drop in at any moment. There’s also various side plots involving the rest of the ensemble, but that’s the storyline that connects everything.

Once again, I loved it. I was all smiles and chuckles throughout. There’s this refreshing honesty to it, with its morbid jokes about the impending death of the hotel guests (case in point: the running joke of Sonny taking a role call every morning to ensure no one has “”checked out”” during the night). It doesn’t tiptoe around anything, rather it fearlessly confronts simple facts of life. And it’s also really funny how those jokes are often at the end of an otherwise sweet sentiment. The juxtaposition catches you off guarded, landing the joke with more impact.

Truth be told, some parts of the story were very thin, and some accents were very thick. But at its heart, the movie is ultimately about showcasing this wonderful group of veteran actors (including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Bill Nighy), and appreciating them for who they are. It didn’t really matter that stories weren’t fleshed out, or some dialog was tough to understand. It all contributed to the overall charm of this darling film.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – \m/ \m/ \m/ \n”

Shaun of the Dead

“About ten years ago or so (wow has it really been that long?!) there was a movie that everyone was raving about, or at least everyone in my circles. Shaun of the Dead, the zombie comedy from Edgar Wright that introduced the world at large to Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. So of course, I had to see what the fuss was all about. The next time I was home, in what would be one of our last Blockbuster trips, I rented this to watch with my Daddy (soon after is when we started our 24 marathons). We both kinda sat thru it in silence. As we neared the end, we had a memorable exchange. “”Why did we get this one?”” “”I heard it was good…although, now that I think about it, I don’t really care too much for British humor”” “”Yeah, me neither”” “”Huh.”” “”So why did we get this one?”” There were a few gags that I enjoyed, but for the most part, it just wasn’t for me. And I was fine with that.

Fast forward a little bit, and for my bday or Christmas or some other gift giving occassion, one of my hall mates gives me the DVD. He hadn’t heard my previous story, so he didn’t know that I didn’t care much for the film, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him. Instead, he was so proud of himself for finding a good movie to get me that I didn’t already own. Within the next week or so, I decide to put it on while I’m working on a p-set (MIT homework). He happens to walk by, sees the movie is on, and ecstatically sits down with me. Again, so proud of himself that he thought he had done well with his gift selection. Fast forward a lil bit more, and in chatting with someone, I mention how I usually put movies that I don’t care for on while I’m tooling (MIT studying) so that I have background noise, but I’m not actually obliged to pay attention. The gifter happens to walk by at that point and overhears this, asking if that’s why I was watching the film. I had to break the sad news to him, but assured him that I really did appreciate the effort.

Anyways, I think it’s time I give this another go. This is, after all, the first of the infamous Cornetto trilogy that would reunite Wright, Pegg, and Frost and happen to feature a tasty British frozen treat.

In watching it now, I can certainly appreciate it more. No, it’s still not making me laugh out loud, but I’m at least smirking or lightly chuckling at some of the cleverness. The style of humor may not have worked on me ten years ago, but now that I’m more versed in film, I get its charm. And I do see that it is quite a brilliant film. Keep in mind, this was before the zombie craze that would be brought on a few years later by The Walking Dead.

Also, how did I not know Bill Nighy was in this? That just makes things so much better!

Ha! Martin Freeman! In the one joke that I really liked the first time, where Shaun and co meet their dopplegangers going in the other direction.”