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The Boss (2016)
Women and slapstick comedy - a mixture that fails abysmally.
What is wrong with this movie? Actually, the question should be: what is not wrong with this movie? First, except for the final scenes, this movie is not funny. It mocks women and even worse, young girls. That is not funny. Second, the movie is poorly acted. Third, the movie experiments with gender role switching with poor results. Fourth, the principal player, Melissa McCarthy just is not funny. She is loud and obnoxious. Actually, it all comes down to this: gals acting like nasty wise-guys just does not work, at least not for this writer. Lucille Ball was funny, Joan Davis was funny, Jean Stapleton was funny, Irene Ryan was funny, Rosalind Russell was funny, Gracie Allen was funny, Shelly Long is funny, Barbra Streisand is funny, Melissa McCarthy is not funny. Women punching each other in the face is not funny. Young girls brawling is not funny. What's worse, the movie early one establishes that McCarthy's character, the Boss, is a rotten person and shows it. She generates no empathy. She does stuff that is really hurtful and nasty. The one strong male character in this movie, played by a midget who actually is funny, despises the Boss and with good reason: she used him to get a promotion and then dumped him. All the interpersonal conflicts in the story are caused by her. In fact, she is intensely disliked, and with good reason: the character is nasty. She is pushy, a hustler, loud, obnoxious, aggressive, and physically unattractive. That alone would not necessarily render her humorless. The problem is that she has no redeeming qualities to make her lovable. She's not warm, endearing, sensitive or even misunderstood by others. Her abrasive personality is as transparent as clear glass. She is not the victim; she is the perpetrator. And that is not funny. What's next: a female version of The Three Stooges (Mai, Lara and Coochie)? Or what about a movie featuring a female version of Harold Lloyd? Or what about a movie about a female Sad Sack (Sadie Sack?) Or what about an all-female version of Gomer Pyle, USMC? (Scene: affable but slow-witted Gina Pyle is berated by her hysterical sergeant, Vickie Carter). Or what about an updated version of All in the Family with Archie transformed into Alma, Edith into Alma's clueless husband Eddie, Gloria into Alma's hysterical son Glen and Mike into Alma's obnoxious daughter-in-law Midge? The rip-off possibilities are endless. Anything for a laugh, right?
Seriously flawed, poorly made movie. Why laugh at one super hero when you can laugh at two?
Combine a muddled story, cheesy acting, gratuitous special effects, canned violence, and an inept script, and what you have is this movie. Unintended laughter abounds as the Bat and the Man of Steel square off for reasons that only a Hollywood script writer testing the limits of credulity could concoct. Replete with numerous defects, which, among its many flaws, includes a wholesale rip off of the conclusion of the King Kong story (albeit with unintended amusing results), the movie struggles to try to pass itself off as serious entertainment. Yet the story is so goofy that after a while it can't help but provoke laughter. That Ben Affleck is able to deliver his lines without breaking into laughter is alone worthy of accolades to his power of self-control. As the movie goes on, and it's a long movie, one soon wishes that Adam West would enter to inject at least a small modicum of class into this messy production. Jesse Eisenberg plays Lex Luthor in one of Hollywood's more egregious, albeit hilarious, examples of miscasting. Yet, the star of the show is Henry Cavil whose cheesy, leaden performance as Superman approaches that of a straight man in a comedy vaudeville act, played badly. Whenever Superman enters the scene it is sure signal that something inane will soon follow. One scene in the story that is especially hilarious (unintended of course) is the one in which while fighting each other, both heroes discover that both of their mothers were named Martha. Why this bit of trite is important to the story will not be revealed here. However, suffice it to say, that this revelation marks the height of drama achieved by this movie. What makes this movie especially noteworthy, however, is how it succeeds in reducing not one but two American comic book icons from heroes to buffoons and achieves this with little effort. Now THAT is an accomplishment. Why laugh only at one super hero when you can laugh at two? Of the two, the one who is more ridiculous is Batman. Without Alfred, there can be no Batman. Superman at least has an excuse - he's not human, so really can't expect that much from him. If you are expecting a serious drama depicting how two troubled super heroes with adjustment issues resolve their squabble and make the world a better place in which to live, then you will be sorely disappointed. But if you like poorly made movies with quirky lines, stagy acting and cartoon-like special effects, then this production will prove immensely satisfying.
Eye in the Sky (2015)
Intense, dramatic story. Alan Rickman stars.
This is Alan Rickman's movie. He is the star, the cast person who carries the movie. The movie itself is excellent. It tells a compelling story and succeeds in building dramatic tension without becoming contrived. The conflict is presented plainly. Every character plays an important role. Yet, Rickman drives this movie. His performance as the general in charge of the operation should earn him at least consideration for the highest official accolades. One can argue that the story is contrived; that in real life the issues presented in the movie would not come up; that the movie, in effect, resorts to cheap theatrics to build tension. That would be incorrect. Decisions like the one dramatized in this movie are made all the time. Priorities have to be weighed; what is expedient is weighed against what is right, producing results that call to question our commitment to the law.
London Has Fallen (2016)
Is this movie supposed to be a spoof?
Gerard Butler gives a performance that can be described in one word: comical. True, the movie is not intended to be a comedy, but it comes off as one. This is the case because the movie is so bad that it can only be judged in terms of being a spoof on action movies. The acting is uniformly mediocre, most likely due to the paucity of quality material in the story, which is about as thin as a sheet of paper. Aaron Eckhardt's performance as a gun-totting POTUS who let's his trigger finger do all the talking may rank among some of the more bizarre Hollywood cinematic creations. The idea of the POTUS and his chief bodyguard running around London dodging bullets and punching out the bad guys is so ludicrous as to give cause to wonder how anyone could concoct such a story. As for the bad guys, well, they're not even bad guys. They're just a bunch of gun dealers who do what entire nations do - sell weapons to whomever is willing to buy. Hollywood; you can do better than this, unless of course, you want to generate some laughs.
Good story, weak drama.
Good story but as a drama widely misses the mark. The movie starts off as a clever detective story but then turns into a story about Jesus, a story that has been told many times before. The issue is: what happened to Jesus's body? Those who believe in Jesus already know the answer. But for a Roman pagan who prays to the god Mars that's no answer. For the Romans, the body is missing, period, and it has to be found. Such a scenario has the potential for generating intense drama as the Romans, searching everywhere for the body, become increasingly frustrated and desperate as their efforts which, unbeknownst to them is an exercise in futility, turn up nothing. They need to find the body to debunk the belief that Jesus kept his promise to return, and thereby destroy the credibility of the preachings of his followers, who the Romans already perceive to be a threat to their power. Instead, the Roman assigned to find the body undergoes some kind of spiritual transformation which, in addition to being totally contrived, renders the rest of the story moot. Not only does the audience know what happened to Jesus, now the Roman knows too. No more mystery; no need for further detective work. He's now a convert; the mystery is solved. Just another conventional ending to what becomes just another conventional interpretation of the biblical story.
The Finest Hours (2016)
Excellent movie. Bring your life jacket.
This is a great movie. Tense story, excellent acting, lots of action and an upbeat theme. The movie keeps the audience engaged and entertains. Now one might write off this movie as being just the latest addition to the natural disaster movie genre but that would be only partially correct. There is little in the story that is contrived. That is, the story has plausibility. It does not seem to be stretching literary license (though some is taken). The heroics are not overblown. Actually, what is depicted is amazing and admirable. Coast Guardsmen conduct a rescue operation in almost impossibly abysmal conditions. Yet it happened. You can look it up. The movie does raise a question: why was the US Coast Guard so undermanned and poorly equipped? This movie gives cause to compare it to the blockbuster Titanic (1997). It compares favorably. Chris Pine and Casey Affleck are excellent as the two principal characters who are most responsible for saving a lot of lives. This movie is worth watching. Just make sure that you're wearing a life jacket.
This movie is excellent. The reason is because it has strong acting and an original story. This movie is not a rip off of earlier Star Wars movies. It is something new. The movie is engaging. It grabs and keeps that audience's attention. The characters evoke empathy. The story contains an element of tragedy. The director, J.J. Abrams manages to avoid using special effects to fill in story gaps. For once, special effects are actually ancillary to the story line. Some scenes contain real elements of drama. Abrams manages to avoid depicting the good guys and bad guys as caricatures. The most interesting character is Kylo Ren played by Adam Driver. The reuniting of Han Solo and Princess (now General)Leia is dramatic without being sentimental. It's good that they are together again. Of course, the Solo-Leia-Ren triad drives the story. However, this movie is not an overblown soap opera. Rather it is a well put together science fiction adventure that provides first-rate entertainment.
People are greedy and not nice. What else is new?
Money corrupts. Not an original theme, yet this is what this movie is about. It lambasts most, if not all, of the major social institutions of modern society. Marriage, commerce, the mass media, work, the law - all are targeted for negative treatment. The problem is that none of this is surprising, new or insightful. Essentially, the movie is a soap opera, and not very good one. All the characters are flawed. Most remarkable is their intellectual shallowness equaled only by their selfishness and greed. The principal character, a woman named Joy, invents something and then immediately encounters difficulties trying to market it. She depends on others who repeatedly let her down. Finally, after repeatedly being ripped off, the light goes on inside her head. She finally realizes that people are not nice. Once she understands that, she becomes a success. Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper deliver strong performances. Robert DeNiro is okay as Joy's stupid father. However, this is not one of DeNiro's better performances. DeNiro tries to give his character some depth, but he fails because his character is simply too intellectually limited.
The Big Short (2015)
Absurd movie, political polemic masquerading as drama.
It's easy to target banks and financial institutions as the bad guys whose only goal is to sell overvalued junk to an unsuspecting public. That is the theme of the movie. The political message of this movie is so transparently obvious that it calls into question the movie maker's motivation for making the movie. Obviously, the maker of this movie does not like banks or bankers. The movie goes so far as to assert that financial institutions deliberately defrauded the American public. That makes for a convenient story because it sets up the banks as the bad guys, which is a conventional and time tested plot device for making movies. Yet the movie also disclaims that it is a work of fiction, which is the only factual part of this otherwise turgid and heavy handed attack on the financial system that drives the economy. The fact is that in the world of financial investing, it is impossible to predict outcome. With every investment instrument comes risks. Every mortgage is potentially a financial time bomb that can lose or gain value. What is considered a solid investment can immediately become garbage. To think that the banks know in advance that their holdings are worthless, and that it's time to sell short, means that they are able to predict the future. Besides, what vested interest do banks have to ruin the entire economy? When people were sold homes which were financed through mortgages, everyone, banks and home owners alike, believed that these mortgages were secure. They believed it because the price of homes was going up. Then the bubble burst and the economy took a heavy hit. To suggest, however, that the banks knew IN ADVANCE that this would happen is stretching literary license to the bounds of ridiculousness. It would be like betting on a "sure bet" at the track and then blaming the track after the sure bet loses on the spurious claim that the track knew in advance that the horse would not win. That's the nature of gambling, which is what speculation is about. The good guys in this movie are four stock brokers. They are the good guys because they have a conscience and know that what they are trading is junk. Yet they still trade, which shows that they are just as greedy as the rest. The premise of this movie is absurd. However, the premise of the story notwithstanding, the movie contains several string performances. Steve Carell dominates this movie. In a performance that goes against his typical kind of role, he plays a stock broker who has to make decisions that put his sense of morality to the test. To learn what he does, watch the movie.
The Revenant (2015)
Fancy cinematography concealing a conventional story.
What kind of movie is this? Under all the grim yet starkly beautiful exterior scenery, there is a conventional story. Although the story is set in the western US of the 1830s, which at the time was wilderness, the movie plays more like an action comic. The main character is indestructible and his nemesis, named Fitzgerald, played by Tom Hardy, comparably sinister (although far less intelligent). Nothing kills the main character, whose name is Glass, played by Leonardo De Caprio. He's shot, mauled, stabbed, starved, frozen, beaten, buried alive, caroms over waterfalls, and lives. And if that isn't enough, he is also cajoled, belittled, humiliated, and mocked without lapsing into despair. This is stretching literary license to the limit. It also takes away whatever suspense there may be as to how the story will end. If an enraged grizzly bear and aggressive Native Americans can't kill him, you know that the bad guy doesn't have a chance. It's just a matter of time. So, the ending of the movie is a foregone conclusion. De Caprio is good as Glass, the man with a mission. He is a metaphor for suffering and self-righteous anger. (Why he is angry will not be revealed here. For that, watch the movie.) This movie shows to what lengths a person will go to survive, at least according to Hollywood. The problem is: we know Glass is going to survive. Regarding Tom Hardy's performance as Fitzgerald, it's part John Wayne doing Rooster Cogburn, part Jeff Bridges doing Roy Pulsipher from R.I.P.D., with a dose of Foghorn Leghorn filling in the rest, except nastier and dumber (even dumber than Mr. Leghorn). There's no way that a dullard like Fitzgerald is going to fool anyone as to his nefarious purposes. He would have done better if he had just worn a sign saying "I am a bad guy." Now, the movie does offer some useful tips on how to survive in the wild. 1. According to the movie, if you happen to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with a dead horse, that horse could still save your life. To find out how, watch the movie. (hint: you must be familiar with a horse's internal anatomy) 2. Never shoot an enraged grizzly bear, stab it instead. (Apparently, for some reason, the movie maker believes that a bullet is less effective than a knife as a weapon.) 3. Never deny a Native American's request for a horse. It could lead to serious problems. (But problems can be avoided if you are willing to trade for a woman.) These are just a few of the many things this movie teaches on how to survive in the wild. Thus, the movie provides a useful public service.