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Hot Pursuit (2015)
There are plenty of female driven comedies this summer and this is the one you can skip
2015 is going to be the summer of female driven comedies and I'm looking forward to it. Unfortunately the first of these offerings was a huge miss.
Reese Witherspoon plays Cooper, a hyper active, OCD police officer with the San Antonio police department according to her police uniform. Relegated to a post in the evidence room, she is clearly the underdog as evidenced by the sexist comments of her male colleagues. When a known drug smuggler has agreed to testify against the head of a large Mexican drug cartel, Cooper is summoned to accompany a DEA lieutenant to retrieve said witness and his wife Daniella, played by Sofia Vergara, and escort them to Dallas. The mission of retrieving the Rivas doesn't go as planned and hence the 'Hot Pursuit' of Cooper and Mrs.Riva ensues.
Sofia Vergara is quickly becoming an objectified one note character. Her character Danielle Riva in 'Hot Pursuit' could be a doppelganger for Gloria from the much loved 'Modern Family'sitcom. Expressing herself in screams and barking orders to Cooper, Vergara is not showing us any other side to her acting that we haven't already seen. She constantly reminds us of her Colombian heritage and many of the jokes written for her are built around her Latin savoir faire.
Witherspoon, who has already shown audiences her acting talents in films like 'Mud' and 'Wild' garners no affection from the audience in this role. At times Cooper seems to be dialing in some of her 'Sweet Home Alabama' appeal and doesn't come close to actually pulling it off.
The jokes in large part aren't nearly as funny as you might think from the marketing on the trailers. The movies tropes around in all the typical gender stereotypes of two women traveling with one another. This is lowbrow comedy at its finest.
There are sequences in the film that feel like they've been directly plucked out of other films. One of the sequences in the third act feels like a total remake of an ending sequence from Sister Act involving multiple look alike extras that disrupt a chase scene. You could also make similar comparisons of 'Hot Pursuit' to other films such 'Tommy Boy', 'Thelma & Louise', 'The Heat','Identity Thief', 'The Road Trip' and 'We're the Millers'. Suffice to say, very little originality or anything novel is offered.
I've already been fortunate enough to see Melissa McCarthy's 'Spy'(June 5) and Amy Schumer's 'Trainkwreck'(July 17) and I have heard positive reviews from people who have seen Pitch Perfect 2 (May 15). Trust me when I say the best is yet to come. My advice is to wait and catch up with this movie later down the road when you can rent it.
The Gunman (2015)
A bloody Bourne look alike that doesn't add up to much
'The Gunman' opens with the BBC footage that civil war has erupted in the Democratic Republic of Congo between rebel militia and governmental forces locked in a bloody civil war for the control of the country's prized natural resources. Enter Jim Terrier (Sean Penn), a NGO worker providing security while an airstrip is being built. In the middle of chaotic Congo, Jim has fallen in love with Annie (Jasmine Trinca), a Doctors Without Borders volunteer. Annie has attracted the heart of not only Jim but also co worker Felix (Javier Bardem). Felix's jealousy is readily apparent and can only spell disaster for Jim and Annie's relationship. Only a few minutes into the film we discover that both Jim and Feliz are living dual lives. Jim is a hired assassin for a multinational mining company, which is set on protecting their interests in the war torn Congo. Felix is the civil liaison for the foreign mining companies and Sean Penn's assassin team. When the Minister of Mining in the Congo nullifies all mining contracts with foreign companies, Jim is activated by his employer who wants the politician assassinated. The team of four assassins is lead by Cox (Mark Rylance) who announces to his sharp shooters that Felix will decide which of the assassins will take the fatal shot and then said assassin will have to flee the continent immediately after. No surprise Felix chooses Jim to take the shot and having accomplished the mission, Jim is forced to leave Africa and Annie without so much as a goodbye. 8 years later Jim has reunited with the African continent as a UNICEF employee drilling wells when suddenly his past assassination comes back to haunt him. For the next hour and a half, Jim must circumvent Europe to track down who has knowledge of his past deeds and understand why he is wanted dead. Without giving any spoilers, the reason 'The Gunman'never gets off the ground is because the film is unable to sustain any intrigue. Jim is a glorified henchman for a multinational corporation, he is hardly the hero that you want to root for. Jim's character is drawn so thin you know very little about him to care enough whether he lives or dies. Additionally his relationship with Annie earns so little screen time before being abruptly halted that you invest almost nothing in the possibilities of Jim and Annie rekindling at some later date. The questions that Jim seeks answer to could have easily been solved with a couple phone calls, but instead his contacts send him on a treasure hunt around Europe. Apparently the information Jim needs is only accessible with a change of location at each turn. Each new venue invites its share of killers and combat. While Jim is on his mission for answers, we catch wind that Interpol, headed by Idris Elba, has Jim on their surveillance. Interpol seems one step ahead of Jim in terms of solving the puzzle, however they are convinced Jim is the linchpin to cracking the case. The final act of the movie is very predictable not to mention familiar and even a bit silly. Sean Penn's physique in the film is impressive and we are constantly reminded how much the actor got in shape for the role considering how much screen time his giant biceps earn. There are hardly any production credits that are distinguishable and worth mentioning here. Ultimately, the film underwhelms and feels like it wants to cash in on the fan base of the retired Bourne franchise.
Certainly not a bad film but I wished I had had a more visceral reaction to it
In her sophomore effort as a director, Angelia Jolie brings the true story of Olympian and veteran, Louis Zamperini , to life on screen. The film is an adaptation of the novel "Unbroken" written by Laura Hillenbrand and has been adapted into a screenplay by the beloved Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan Coen.
Opening in the middle of the Pacific Arena of World War II just before a bombardier aircraft is about to bomb a Japanese target, we are introduced to Louis Zamperini played by the very capable Jack O'Connell ('Starred Up', ''71'). Wonderfully sound mixed, the fighter jets maneuver with precision in airborne combat suggesting a more modern era of war. Successful in their mission, it isn't until the soldiers are back at base following a nail biting landing before casualties can be accounted for. From here things move backward in time into Louis Zamperini's childhood.
A series of flashbacks in the first act of the film offer an inside look into his troubled youth and his introduction to track. As a young boy, Zamperini is a troublemaker disguising milk jars with paint and filling them up with liquor and admiring young girls from underneath their skirts beneath the bleachers. Constantly having to escape authority or bullies on foot, those around him soon notice Zamperini's natural speed. No one more than young Pete Zamperini, his brother, played by John D'Leo, is convinced of Louis' natural talents and begins to coach him. Fast-forwarding through his track career the film stops briefly to explain his qualifying time for the 1936 Summer Olympics in Munich. Trying to build suspense and intensity, Zamperini's Olympic event in Munich quickly paces back and forth between O'Connell's race around a very noticeable CGI populated stadium and his family listening intently by radio back home in the U.S.
Returning to the Pacific, the crew and Louis are only on terra ferme for a short while before they receive new orders for a recovery mission. Over the Pacific things go terribly wrong with their aircraft when both left wing engines fail and a very immediate crash water landing ensues. When the chaos has ended, Zamperini is only one among the survivors that include Phil played by Domnhall Gleeson and Mac played by Finn Wittrock. Deploying two life rafts, the three men settle onboard for what will end up by forty-seven days at sea. Probably the least effective part of the film, O'Connell, Gleeson & Wittrock portray the hopelessness of being caught at sea without resources as best as possible. One scene in particular involving the conquest, carving and consuming of a seagull that leads to nausea overboard appears more comedic than desperate. Rescued at sea by a Japanese naval vessel, the only two surviving G.I.'s are immediately imprisoned.
After being detained briefly in tiny interrogation chambers, Phil and Louis are separated with Louis being assigned to a more permanent prison camp with other allied G.I.s taken prisoner. The director of the camp, Mutsushiro Watanabe and better known as "The Bird" is played by Miyavi, an unbalanced, erratically behaving lunatic that sets his sights squarely on Zamperini early on. The Bird seems intent on punishing Zamperini and breaking his spirit by force rather than deprivation. Miyavis emotionless stare and heartless attempts to break Zamperini propels the last act of the film. By the time the war concludes, the contentious relationship between detainer and detainee has had a subversive effect on Zamperini.
Director of photography, Roger Deakins, has proved to be a master behind the camera creating memorable images in 'Skyfall' and 'Prisoners' most recently. In 'Unbroken' Mr. Deakins seems largely interested in using shadows and angles to dress up the visual content. Certainly one of the greatest working cinematographers around, his images appear too glossy and colorful instead of breathing out the gloom and despair of the Japanese prison camps or the time spent at sea. Scenes of U.S. G.I.'s shoveling coal and covered in coal dust at one of the prison camps appear more like orphans from 'Oliver Twist' than prisoners of war.
Director Jolie, clearly passionate for this narrative, strives to convey the powers of the human spirit while highlighting forgiveness and reconciliation as major themes. Compared to her first feature 'In the Land of Blood and Honey' it is quite clear that Mrs. Jolie's sensibilities lie within horrific human events and the ability to extract a silver lining from within. Her lauded humanitarian efforts strike well within reach of why she chose to make this film. The screenplay lacks depth and is certainly not distinguishable Coen brothers work. The film is largely held up by O'Connell's performance, which is another fine example of this young actor's range and abilities. Focusing mainly on his performance is extremely satisfying if not gut wrenching.
Mr. Turner (2014)
If for nothing else, worth the watch for the cinematography & Timothy Spall's performance
2014 has been a year awash in Biblical epic films and British biopics. Filmmakers this year seemed ever so determined to remind us about famous male, British, historical figures. From Steven Hawking (Theory of Everything) to Alan Turing (The Imitation Game) and finally to William J. Turner (Mr. Turner) everywhere you turned this year audiences were treated to a refresher course in British excellence. Perhaps the finest portrait among these films to emerge is Mike Leigh's ''Mr. Turner''. The revered British director has turned his focus to highlight one of Britain's most important painters of the 19th century, JMW Turner. The film introduces Turner already in height of his career as an established painter and member of the Royal British Academy. Interpreted by Timothy Spall (Harry Potter Deathly Hallows Part I and II), J.M.W. Turner is introduced largely as a middle-class, insensitive, grunting, snorting brute. Living at his residence in London with his father William, played by Paul Jesson, Turner worked in his studio and showcased his work to benefactors primarily all within his home. The central premise of the film spends time detailing the larger events in the quarter-end of Turner's life notably his love affair with Sophia Booth played by Marion Baily, a middle-class, uneducated landlady. Speaking at a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival, Mike Leigh, addressed that the film is not intended to be an autobiographical depiction of Turner. The film does not attempt to instruct the viewer on how Turner designed his compositions but rather focuses heavily on the influences of his canvases. Noticeably Turner weighed on his travels, as depicted in the opening sequence visiting Holland, and later in the seaside village of Margate in county Kent. With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, the film focuses subtlety on the wrestle Turner had with maintaining an old method of portrait and landscape painting with locomotive steam engines and naval gunboats competing as choices for subject matter. Towards the end of his life, his deteriorating health and heightened critique by the young Queen Victoria seems to have contributed to the more aggressive brush strokes and abstract paintings that garnered Turner his radical reputation. Timothy Spall's Turner, offers a portrait of a withdrawn, antisocial painter internally affected by the criticism of his works and unable to express his true emotions. Behind the snorts, grunts and rumblings, that is Turner's chosen style of communication, lays a man with a sensible heart that Spall captures with precision. Director of photography, Dick Pope, creates a tightly knitted canvas of images that are beautifully attuned to the visuals of Turner. Incredibly knowledgeable about Mr. Turner's palate, Mr. Pope chose lighting and landscapes that would suggest each frame of the film could have been paused and produced by Turner himself. The film never builds to an action crescendo, which may dissatisfy some audience viewers, however the film achieves great heights in examining the life of an artistic prodigy. Those who will find the fruits of Mike Leigh's film most satisfying will be those most patient to quietly absorb the narrative.
This Is Where I Leave You (2014)
The laughs in this dysfunctional family comedy feels incredibly familiar
I should preface my comments by saying that the audience that I attended the screening with laughed way, way more than I did. I've also already read four film critic reviews that liked this film much more than I did so maybe I'm a killjoy, but I see so many films and this film really felt like recycled cookie dough to me. Most of the story lines and so many of the jokes are recycled from other family comedies that I've already seen before. The central premise of the film is about the Altmann family. The patriarchal figure of the family has passed away and the four Altmann children are summoned back to their small childhood town to attend their father's funeral. Subsequently, their mother, played by Jane Fonda, tells her four children that their father's dying wish was to practice Shiva, a 7 day mourning period recognized in Judaism. The film then unfolds in a 7 day timeline, which seems a lot longer based on the amount of dramatic points that occur within a 1hr45 minute film. The funeral scene, which happens towards the beginning of the film is the first time all of the Altmann family members appear on screen. The sentiment of this funeral is way more comedic than sentimental that it was hard for me to believe all of these characters just lost a father. It was clear from this scene going forward that the film was aiming for laughs not heart. In my humble opinion you can have laughs in a film when there is heart. When I think of great family dysfunctional comedies I will think of 'Home for the Holidays' 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding,' 'Meet the Parents' and 'National Lampoon's Vacation'. In all of those films the family dynamic is very convincing that as an audience viewer you really lend yourself to experience their joys and their sorrows, which is why the laughs are more enjoyable and amplified. In the case of this film, the family dynamic is totally missing. You really never believe for a second that Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Adam Driver, Cory Stoll and Jane Fonda belong to the same family nucleus. All of the characters have this natural retraction from their family members, but honestly it's hard to understand why. The Altmann's have it pretty good. Each character's own personal drama seem to be more important than anything their siblings or their mother could possibly be dealing with and to show that they basically talk over one another in a giant, theatrical fashion. The biggest laughs in the audience came from a child trying to self potty train, the three Altmann brothers getting high in temple and singing (which was a steal in my opinion from Holly Hunter in 'Home for the Holidays) and Jane Fonda's largely augmented breasts and all the jokes that come with them. I'm fairly certain a couple months from now I won't even remember seeing this film, it's just that forgettable.
Some of the best acting I've seen all year
I can see how potentially audience viewers might be distracted by the nudity and graphic of this film. I can also see how audience viewers could focus on the pace of the film being that it is sometimes slow with the long stills and doesn't have a dialog that adds pulse to the film. What makes 'Shame' such a success though is the raw acting talent showcased by Carey Mulligan & Michael Fassbender. The film, for lack of better explanation, almost entirely unfolds through their facial expressions. In the film Brandon, Fassbender's character, says "Actions matter not words" and that couldn't be more true for this film. What this film does have in dialog it certainly makes up for in superb acting performances.
As an audience viewer you are left watching two very distinct characters heavily embedded in their struggles, very different from one another. As you come understand their inability to break free from the vices that bind them, McQueen is able to add a cathartic tone to this film through the development of his characters.
Brandon (Fassbender) is such a prisoner of his addiction that he is prevented from being able to be anything else but an addict. He can't be someone's boyfriend and he can't even be the brother that his sister desperately needs. Anything requiring Brandon to step away from his carnal desire proves to be too much for him. Watching Fassbender as he emotes this on screen, constantly searching to quench his thirst, like any good addict does, is remarkable. He maintains our attention all the while appearing void and omnipresent in himself. In the end of the film when Brandon is confronted with a life & death situation you want to believe that this been the "kick" he has needed to come to grips with reality, causing him to reform his ways. However, in true McQueen fashion he simply cannot let his protagonist off that easy. Old habits die hard.
The Rum Diary (2011)
I don't like to write bad reviews about films because I have so much respect for the craft of creating one, but i found almost nothing redeeming in this film. I felt that I watched a drunk Captain Jack Sparrow wander around Puerto Rico for nearly two hours only this time no accent, cool costume or special effects courtesy of Disney. There is almost zero story line to this film and you can forget any character development. Not to say that every film has to be indie it's making and cause you to have an emotional experience, but this film wasn't even entertaining. We basically watch Johnny Depp go from one drunken escapade to the next. I have much respect for many of the well known actors in this film and why they would chose to star in such a film is a question I'll never have an answer to. After an hour and forty five minutes I couldn't stand anymore and had to excuse myself from the theater. I couldn't possibly try to recommend this film to anyone in a positive light, which is such a shame.
I can easily summarize this film into short sentences. This film has everything, everything but a plot that is. What you should expect from Burlesque is almost two hours of high powered entertainment. Burlesque is just that, entertaining. If you are going to this film to witness a great storyline unfold don't go see this film. However, if you want to be entertained with great vocals from Christina Aguilera and Cher in addition to great acting from Peter Gallagher, Stanley Tucci, Alan Cummings, and again Cher then this film is a must see. I must say prior to the screening that I attended, I was very apprehensive that I was going to see a product that resembled a "Nine" / "Coyote Ugly" blend of a film, but I was certainly wrong. Burlesque holds itself above the rest of the films in its category. The film obviously cost a lot to produce and I believe that the money was well spent. Cher's performance was excellent. Say what you want about the person, but the actress conveys a confidence level in front of the camera as though she has done this a hundred times. Stanley Tucci is also quite merit worthy in this film. His performance in "Lovely Bones" is still haunting and his role as Cher's right-hand gay best friend/costume designer in this film just shows what incredible range this actor has. The costume design, casting, choreography and set design for this film are also worthy of mention. You can count on this film definitely being nominated in the Best Film in Comedy or Musical category for the Golden Globes in December. This film will also do incredibly well at the box office. I would have no problem watching this film again.
City Island (2009)
I could watch this movie again and still laugh just as hard
When I discovered that City Island has been selected as the Audience Award winner at last year's Tribeca Film Festival, I was already incredibly intrigued to find out why. Then as the film was preparing to be released in theatres across the country I read more reviews that gave it lots of accolades. After having seen this film, I must admit the film merited everyone of them. This film is hysterical and the audience was laughing just as hard as I was during the screening. The casting of this film is fantastic, which is perhaps one reason this film does so well. When I think Andy Garcia I always think of Ocean's Eleven, but this might the film that I reference for the actor in the future. He is fantastic in his role of Vince Rizzo. I think this film is incredibly strong in that it doesn't fight for the audience's laughter. This isn't a slapstick comedy rather the humor is basic, fast-paced, and laden with New York-Italian cultural references. I would definitely recommend this film and I would even include it in my personal DVD collection because it is a film you could easily enjoy watching a second or third time.
Shutter Island (2010)
Of all the movies in theatres to see, this is worth your time
I just saw Shutter Island this evening, just prior to its American release. I have to say this film was full of intrigue. Prior to viewing this film I had built a preconceived notion of what this thriller was going to be like because I was fooled yet again by good marketing when watching the trailer. This is probably not the movie for your average film-goer who wants an easy plot line to follow and little thought required. This movie does challenge the viewer physchologically and definitely holds your attention all the way through. For someone who was never much of a Leonardo fan, his performance is brilliant, so much range to his character. In fact all of the acting in this film is excellent. The directing is probably the best quality to this film. I always enjoy watching a film that is as unpredicatable as this film and where the director has turned the plot line on to his viewer.