The History of Tom Jones, a Floundering
Tom Jones is a 1963 British adventure comedy film directed by Tony Richardson and stars Albert Finney, Susannah York, Hugh Griffith, Edith Evans, Dianne Cilento, and Joyce Redman. It is an adaptation of the novel, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding, and was nominated for ten Oscars, winning four.
One of the greatest mysteries of the Best Picture Oscar is the ignorance it displays towards comedies, with only a small handful of films that can be appropriately labeled a comedy ever having won the award. Given the dreadful state of film comedy nowadays, I'm not surprised that comedies never win, let alone get nominated. Gone are the days of the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, and Monty Python. Now we must struggle with the likes of Adam Sandler and his Happy Madison devils. That's not to say there weren't bad comedies back then. It's just that good comedy today is something that we look upon as if it were a holy angel that descended from the heavens, blessing us with gifts that we as a human species are not worthy of. But anyway, I digress. If we look way way back at the earliest Best Picture winners, pure-bred comedies are nowhere to be found, with one lone exception, however: 1963's Tom Jones. The film had some notable differences from the novel it was adapted from, but since I haven't read the novel, there would be little to no use for me to go into the whole "compare and contrast the movie from the novel" charade.
Tom Jones is a movie that's been described as irreverent, frantic, and completely tongue-in-cheek, taking on an eccentric comedic style that uses techniques like having the opening sequence presented like a silent film and having the characters occasionally break the fourth wall. Whatever silliness and irreverence are on display in Tom Jones, I saw none of it. Zero. Zilch. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. There was not one single moment during the film's 129 minutes that made me laugh, and I sat in utter confusion as to why I wasn't laughing at anything. This isn't a comedy relying on fart jokes and lame puns. If anything, it's a satire of the British historical class system and sexual politics. But I didn't get satire. No, I got a painful reminder of just how dated and dreadfully boring that too many of these Best Picture winners are. Watching something like Tom Jones is an experience that would be mightily different when watched in 1963 as opposed to being watched in 2017, because oh how dated it is. There is essentially nothing I can do to recommend Tom Jones to a modern audience.
The plot in its silent film opening tells us of a baby that was discovered in the bed of Squire Allworthy (George Devine). Allworthy believes that the child was born out of lust between his barber, Mr. Partridge (Jack MacGowran) and one of his servants, Jenny Jones (Joyce Redman). Allworthy banishes the two and decides to raise the baby, given the name Tom Jones, as if he were his own son. Tom Jones grows up to be handsome and charming young lad, becoming very popular among the female crowd. Jones, however, truly loves one woman, the kind-hearted Sophie Western (Susannah York) who returns his affections. There's a problem with Tom Jones and Sophie Western being together: Tom is considered a bastard, and therefore cannot wed Sophie, a woman of her higher class. Sophie's parents attempt to wed her to the spiteful Blifil (David Warner), but Sophie despises him. Blifil and his men attempt to cast out Tom as a villain, and Allworthy decides to send Tom out on his own into the world, where Tom engages in a series of adventures.
I credit Tom Jones with this: it was certainly something different to see in regards to the story of a Best Picture winner. After you watch so many pure romance stories (a mixture of good and bad ones), it's refreshing to see something more exciting like a medieval adventure. At least, I wish I could say that Tom Jones is an exciting and fun adventure. Aside from a few sword fights and an elongated chase sequence involving dogs and men on horseback chasing a deer, there's nothing in this movie that I can consider exciting.
- Tom Jones isn't necessarily a bad movie, not from a production or acting standpoint. It makes it medieval setting look nice, and I am a little surprised it wasn't at least nominated for Best Cinematography (the winner for Color Cinematography that year was Cleopatra, which doesn't surprise me) that year. Aside from some pleasant visuals, there's nothing else in the movie that I can complement. It was about fifty some minutes in before my brain demanded that I turn the movie off. I didn't listen, even though I should have.
- The main drawback of Tom Jones is how it takes an absurdly long time to get started. Almost nothing important happens for the first hour, except watching Tom and Sophie fall in love. Tom doesn't start his adventures until the movie is about halfway through, and by that point, we are so bored out of our collective minds that it's incredibly difficult to possibly care about where Tom is going and what he's doing. The characters have little to no depth to them whatsoever, and any possible character development present in the first hour is incomprehensible to the fifth degree. Scenes are clumsily edited together with no kind of natural flow, and if it weren't for the narrator giving us updates as we go, I'm not sure how any sane person could keep up with who is who and what's going on.
It admittedly gave me some morbid satisfaction when I read that director Tony Richardson was dissatisfied with the final product. Richardson wrote in his autobiography that he considered the film incomplete and botched in its execution. Strange, because Richardson won Best Director for the film. I could not agree more though about Tom Jones being incomplete and botched in its execution. Tom Jones is a heavily dated film that provides no amusement to anyone who wasn't a fully functional human being in 1963. To the modern audience, it's an incredibly boring and laugh-less slog, hampered by confusing editing and a lack of noteworthy character development. I had painful reminders of Forgettable Best Picture Winners like From Here To Eternity and Cimarron while watching Tom Jones, because it brought out some of the worst feelings you can have while watching a movie: a lingering sense of boredom and the inability to truly care about what you're seeing on screen. Maybe it was a retrospective look at Tom Jones that made the Oscars stop giving Academy Awards to comedies. Probably not. I wouldn't rule it out, though.
Recommend? No. You are better off never watching this film.
Pixar Animation 2017: Loco about Coco
Coco is directed by Lee Unkrich and stars the voices of Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, and Renee Victor.
The meritorious history of Pixar Animation Studios has been one highlighted by films that boil down to finding sentimental charm and clever humor in stories involving non-human creatures who go on adventures that usually involve interacting within the world of humans. Whether it's the toys in Toy Story, the rats in Ratatouille, or the monsters in Monsters, Inc., Pixar has made a living off making us laugh and cry over the relationships and heartfelt emotion it develops between its cute, fuzzy, and charming characters. If we can forgive them for their shortcomings with the Cars trilogy, Pixar has done more than enough to prove that it's one of the few studios out there that hasn't lost its touch.
One thing that Pixar has done that has sort of flown under people's radars is its exploration and presentation of other, non-American cultures. Ratatouille gives a fantastic display of Paris and Brave was a neat look at a medieval Scotland. But however much cultural depth there is in Ratatouille and Brave doesn't come anywhere close to Coco, Pixar's latest adventure that pays much homage to Mexican culture.
The plot of Coco focuses on 12-year-old Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez), who lives in a small Mexican village with his family. The Rivera family specializes in making shoes, but Miguel is interested in playing music rather than shoemaking. We learn that the Rivera family hates music, because the family's matriarch, Imelda, was abandoned and left with her child when her husband left them to pursue a career in music. Despite opposition from his family, Miguel dreams of becoming a musician like the the infamous Ernesto de la Cruz, a popular musician and film star before he was crushed to death by a bell during a stage show. Miguel tries to enter a talent show at the village's celebration of the Day of the Dead, but he has his secret guitar smashed by his grandmother Elena (Renee Victor). Miguel then discovers something secret in the family's picture of Imelda: her husband is holding Ernesto's famous guitar. Miguel concludes that Ernesto is his great-great-grandfather, and so Miguel sneaks away to take the guitar and use it in the talent show. However, after Miguel strums the guitar, he finds that he is no longer visible among the living, having somehow been taken to the Land of the Dead. Miguel meets the skeleton figures of some of his deceased relatives, who refuse to send him back to the Land of the Living unless he agrees to forever give up on his musical dreams. Miguel refuses and runs away to find Ernesto, in hopes of receiving his blessing and return to the Land of the Living with his musical dreams still intact. Miguel isn't alone on his journey; he befriends a stray dog that he calls Dante and he meets a skeleton named Hector while on the run from his deceased family members.
If it sounds like Coco has a busy and heavily detailed plot, it does. I'd say it's one of the most layered plots that Pixar has come out with, being right up there with The Incredibles. Coco pays careful attention to its presentation of Mexican culture, reflected by how the Pixar team made several trips to Mexico to flesh out the story and its characters as much as possible. Director Lee Unkrich has commented on how skeletons being paired with bright colors took over his imagination, although animating the skeletons proved more difficult than animating normal humans, due to the skeletons' lack of a muscular system. But deciphering the skeletons wasn't the hardest part for Disney with Pixar's trips to Mexico. Disney proposed to trademark the phrase "Dia de los Muertos", which is otheriwse known as just "Dia de Muertos", Spanish for the Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead. This trademark was meant to enhance merchandising, but a petition opposing the trademark was signed by over 21,000 people, and Disney cancelled their attempt. Controversy over trademarking should be the last of ones worries while watching Coco, however.
- Coco's animation is simply gorgeous. The human characters almost look as if they were real-live human beings, with extra detail given to important things like facial features, such as Miguel showing off how he has a dimple on just one side of his face. The Land of the Dead is an explosion of beautiful color schemes and active city streets, never ceasing to be a visual feast for eyes both young and old. Honestly, I'm not sure how much better computer animation can get than this, but if anyone can surprise us, it's Pixar.
- As you can imagine, Coco delivers some lovely and memorable music. A song sung near the end is bound to make you at least shed a tear, once you understand the context of where the song is coming from.
- Coco doesn't win any points for originality, because it's near impossible to watch it without Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away or 20th Century Fox's The Book of Life coming to mind (the latter also revolving around The Day of the Dead). I haven't seen The Book of Life, but my understanding is that its story doesn't hold up with the visuals, while Coco's story does stand up alongside its visuals. So you could say that Coco is a better, slightly altered version of The Book of Life.
I wouldn't say that I was blown away by Coco, since you can take an educated guess about what plot twists and turns will happen before they actually happen. Plus, Pixar decided to trade in humor for music this time, as Coco is fairly light on comedic moments. It has them. They're just not laugh out loud funny. Nonetheless, Coco has everything else you'd want from a Pixar film: fantastic visuals and a thoughtful story that is bound to make audiences cry. And while the film doesn't have the innovation of Toy Story or the creativity of Inside Out, it still ranks up there as another Pixar treat that folks of all ages are bound to enjoy.
She hit the road, and drove off a cliff
Tammy is directed by Ben Falcone, co-written by Falcone and Melissa McCarthy, and stars McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Allison Janney, Gary Cole, Dan Aykroyd, and Kathy Bates.
There is no question that well-intended audiences suffer from the anguish of bad comedy. It is undoubtedly one of, if not the worst, type of film, because it is impossible for one to find any form of enjoyment whatsoever in a bad comedy. You can find unintentional hilarity in a bad action film or a bad horror movie, but a bad comedy? Nothing. There is nothing but pain. If there is anything to make us feel better about wasting away precious hours of our lives watching people fail at being funny, it's that we are not alone in our suffering. More often than not, actors and actresses who have proven themselves to be funny at some point in their career sooner or later find themselves starring in a bad comedy that only serve to be an ugly scar on their careers. The list is too long, but in the case of 2014's Tammy, it's Melissa McCarthy whose career as a comedian suffers. She's not completely alone here, though. She drags the likes of Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, and Dan Aykroyd down with her.
McCarthy has proven that she has comedic talent, but none of it is visible in Tammy, a film that McCarthy produced and co-wrote with her husband, Ben Falcone, who also serves as director. According to IMDB, the film was based on a dream that Falcone had about McCarthy, and in the dream, McCarthy worked at a fast food restaurant and her life was falling apart. So I suppose that Tammy was something of a passion project for McCarthy and Falcone, but given the film's mediocre response from critics, I seriously hope it wasn't.
So who is Tammy? Well, all you need to know is that she's having one of the worst days of her life. She hits a deer with her car, resulting in her being late for work. Tammy works at the fast food restaurant Topper Jack's, and when she arrives, her boss, Keith Morgan (Ben Falcone) decides to fire her, as Tammy has been late to work far too many times. Tammy's car breaks down on her way home, forcing her to walk the rest of the way. When Tammy finally gets home, she finds her husband, Greg (Nat Faxon), eating a romantic dinner with their neighbor, Missi (Toni Collette). Tammy storms out and walks over to her parents' house. Tammy tells her mother Deb (Allison Janney) that she plans to take her grandmother's car and leave town. Tammy's grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon), requests to join Tammy, persuading her with a large roll of cash and some alcohol. Tammy and Pearl then hit the road, with no clear idea of where they're going or what they're going to do.
- The only thing that Tammy does that comes even remotely close to being a high point is that it avoids doing the whole "fat Tammy is a fat fatty so let's let all the haters of fat people make rude fat jokes about how fatty fat that fat Tammy is." There are moments in which Tammy stumbles and falls solely based on her weight, but these moments are pretty rare. I am one to believe that McCarthy has kept herself from being considered the female version of Kevin James, and that's largely because any and all bad comedies that she has been in are ones that don't bring much attention to her weight.
- Holy crap, how tonally confused Tammy is. Tammy doesn't try to just be a road trip comedy; it also goes for being a serious, emotional drama. It doesn't succeed at doing either, and the film could've easily redeemed itself if it just stuck to its road trip formula and run with it the whole 97 minutes. The comedy aspects of the film are masterful works of awkwardness, with the scene in which Tammy robs a Topper Jack's restaurant being one of the most awkward scenes in a comedy that I've seen in quite some time. And then you have Tammy going around calling everyone assholes, this being the whipped cream on top of the awkward banana split boat. The cherry on top of this ice cream turd is that Tammy is also kind of a dumb ass, such as confusing the definition of a pattern with the definition of a galaxy. Anyway, the comedy parts suck, and then the movie hurts your head a little bit more when it attempts to make the relationship between Tammy and Pearl seem like Thunderbolt and Lightfoot or Thelma and Louise. There's a scene in which Pearl is passed out one morning on a lawn chair, having drunken a little too much the night before at a party located at Kathy Bates' character's house. Tammy shakes her several times with no response. Tammy, believing Pearl to be dead, rushes back into the house and sobs into the arms of the other women inside. That's when Pearl wakes up and freaks everyone out. This scene is really played out like it's a tragic death scene, only for the film to cut the cord and be like, "Nah, just kidding! She's not really dead! Haha, I got ya!" It was at this moment that I realized that Tammy went from plain ol' garbage to flaming hot garbage.
I wish I had more to write about, but there's really nothing else in the movie that's worth my words of fury. Tammy is a super awkward and painfully boring road trip movie that also fails at being a high stakes drama. The people in this movie are way better than this movie: Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Dan Aykroyd, Kathy Bates. All of these people are talented and funny, but this movie does nothing to tell you that. Every one of them suffers, and in the end, we're all a little worse off; everyone involved in the movie gets a bad mark on their respective careers, and we as the audience are given the opportunity to waste away a precious hour and a half of our lives. Crap like Tammy is why I've never, in my lifetime, gone to see comedies in the theater, and if bad comedies continue to pop up like weeds, I probably never will.
The Emoji Movie is directed by Tony Leondis and stars the voices of T.J. Miller, James Corden, Anna Faris, Maya Rudolph, Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge, Christina Aguilera, Sofia Vergara, and Patrick Stewart.
Let's just cut the crap and get right to it: The Emoji Movie has one of the dumbest concepts for a movie ever and is probably the dumbest concept for a movie that I have ever seen up until this point in my lifetime. I thought Jaws: The Revenge had the stupidest concept I had ever heard of (and it still is very much stupid), but when stacked next to The Emoji Movie, Jaws: The Revenge's concept looks like a creativity goldmine. As the great Roger Ebert once put it, it's not what a movie is about, but how the movie is about that thing. This, unfortunately, does not apply to The Emoji Movie, for it's a movie whose what has no hope, no potential, no dignity.
There is one thing that we do learn from The Emoji Movie: Hollywood's creative thinking tank is officially empty. Anything, and I mean anything, is now fair game for Hollywood to consider making a movie out of. Board room meetings among Hollywood producers and executives now go something like, "Hey, remember that movie that came out a while ago and developed a fan base over time? Let's give it a sequel!" or, "Do you remember that toy or fad that was popular at one point in time? Let's make a movie out of it!" All of the laziness, creative ineptitude, and heartless branding that embody the Hollywood business industry today are on full display in The Emoji Movie, for it is a film plagued by lazy humor, a glaring lack of imagination, and rampant product placement. There are simply too many ways one can go about attacking The Emoji Movie's jet black heart of malevolence and greed, and I'll get to the major ones as we go along this review.
For now, it makes the most sense to discuss the basic plot before I get my hands dirty with all of the horrific wrongs of this movie that I have easily declared the winner of Worst Movie of 2017. The Emoji Movie mostly takes place inside the phone of high school student, Alex. Inside Alex's phone is a world known as Textopolis (not Emojiville or Emojiworld or anything like that and is supposed to be the world inside everyone's phone), where all of the phone's emojis live. Gene (T.J. Miller) is a "meh" emoji living in the phone, but he is capable of making many other expressions besides "meh". The Emojis are brought into cubes where a scanner scans them to send up their information whenever Alex decides to use a certain emoji in a text. Alex is crushing on a girl at school named Addie, and he decides to send her an emoji text. Alex decides to use "meh", and the scanner chooses Gene, who is having his first day in his cube. Gene panics, and the resulting text is a confusing expression. Confronting Gene is the text center supervisor, Smiler (Maya Rudolph), who declares that Gene is a malfunction and must be deleted. Smiler unleashes a group of bots to hunt down and delete Gene, but Gene runs away and meets up with the Hi-5 emoji (James Corden), who tells Gene of a hacker named Jailbreak who could help reprogram Gene into a normal "meh" emoji. The two then set out on a journey throughout the phone, causing issues for Alex in his world.
The first trailer for The Emoji Movie dropped back in December 2016, and it unleashed a fire storm of hatred and disbelief similar to the one brought on by the 2016 Ghostbusters. In the months leading up to the film's theatrical release, people everywhere were anxiously wondering, "Is is really going to be that bad?" Turns out, The Emoji Movie is that bad. It is so bad, that I don't hesitate for a second to call it one of the worst animated movies that I have ever seen. I mean, we all knew it was going to suck based on what the teasers and trailers showed us, but even if we had held the slightest bit of optimism that the film could bring another Lego Movie-esque surprise, it was just a matter of time, waiting and waiting until the movie came out and confirmed our worst fears. As I mentioned already, The Emoji Movie had no potential from the get-go, because how much can you do with those cute little faces that are on your phone and get sent through your text messages?
One thing The Emoji Movie does is blatantly steal from other, better animated movies, but without any freaking clue about how to recapture the magical charm of those better animated films. The animated movies that people bring up the most when discussing what animated films that The Emoji Movie copies off of are The Lego Movie, Wreck-it-Ralph, and Inside Out. Among these three, Inside Out is the big one, as both Inside Out and The Emoji Movie involve two different worlds that know almost nothing about one another, yet the events going on in one world impact what's going on in the other world. In Inside Out, the adventures of Joy and Sadness affect what's going on in the life of Riley. In The Emoji Movie, the antics of Gene impact the state of Alex's phone. There's really no contest when trying to decide which is a more interesting world to explore: a human mind or a phone. As much as The Emoji Movie fails in replicating the success of Inside Out, the other animated movie to mention is Toy Story. Director Tony Leondis has stated how much he loved Toy Story, wanting to do a new take on Toy Story's concept, but with a toy that no one had explored yet. Leondis then received a text message with an emoji, and that was when he decided, "That's it! Emojis are the world I want to explore!" So basically, The Emoji Movie was inspired by someone who watched Toy Story and said, "Hey, that was amazing! I want to do that too!" When your director has mentioned how his inspiration comes from the success of another movie and wanting to duplicate it in a different way, you're in a bad spot my friend.
- Even when you get past the whole "ripping off better animated movies" stage, it is still impossible to forgive just how flimsy and goddamn stupid that The Emoji Movie's script is. The world of Textopolis doesn't have anything remotely interesting about it, and the way the film explains how the emojis work by getting scanned by a giant finger scanner isn't creative in the slightest. In the opening minutes, Gene, in voice over, mentions that emojis are the most important form of communication ever invented. Oh, and if you didn't walk out by that point, it doesn't stop there. Any and all remaining prayers that you might have for The Emoji Movie to be at least halfway decent are shot down when you hear lines like, "What if you get sent out on the phone, making the wrong face?" And then you have the obvious product placement slip-ins ("Don't worry! This app is secure!"), and you are left in further disbelief that fully grown human beings sat down in a room and came up with this garbage. But wait! It gets EVEN WORSE!
- Awful dialogue isn't all the script kills your spirits with. There are two horrendous subplots on top of an already horrendous main plot, one being Alex's attempt to win over Addie, the other concerning the relationship between Gene's parents (we are to assume that emojis are capable of breeding...I refuse to proceed any further with that topic), who I'll just call Mom Meh (Jennifer Coolidge) and Dad Meh (Steven Wright). Everything involving Alex concerns his efforts to send Addie an emoji text, (the film never explains how the two got each other's phone numbers, which would suggest that the two have some sort of prior connection), meaning that the film's human romance story completely hinges on the success of one single text message. I don't know about you, but I highly doubt kids nowadays hook up solely by text messages and emojis. It doesn't make any sense, and it's unbelievably stupid. What teenage girl is going to get together with a guy just because he sent her a neat-looking emoji text? And speaking of romance, the subplot concerning Gene's parents involves the two potentially splitting up. That's right, the lethargic Meh emojis are having problems in their relationship. I mean, it's obvious why it's there. It's all for the sake of a bad joke about near emotionless emojis going through an emotional struggle, and it's driven into the ground until there's nothing but dust remaining.
And, of course, I just cannot end this review without briefly discussing the great Sir Patrick Stewart playing the poop emoji. The poop emoji only appears in the beginning of the film and close towards the end, but he's only there for some utterly lame poop jokes, because, y'know, kids just LOVE poop jokes and the writers just couldn't help themselves knowing that a poop emoji exists. But aside from lazy bathroom humor, The Emoji Movie settles for jokes and references that are more shallow than a dried out kiddie pool, completely devoid of wit and refusing to assume that the audience is smart (actually, the movie doesn't offer any proof that it's respecting its audience at all).
It is not enough to say that I hated The Emoji Movie. I hated every second of it, but hate was not my dominant feeling while watching it. More than hatred, I felt depression, depression that I had to accept the fact that this movie truly exists, depression that a film whose inner mechanics that are made up of bad comedy, product placement, and material shamelessly copied from somebody else's work was released in theaters and targeted at children, depression that Hollywood and the cinema, the latter one of the chief joys of my life, would stoop so low so as to green light a movie about freaking emojis. It is not charming or funny or creative in any conceivable way. No, The Emoji Movie is an experiment in trying to destroy charm and humor and imagination, having the foolish notion that children and their minds are merely confined to the world of their phones and are incapable of being wildly creative and imaginative. Yes, it's true: Phones play a big part of people's lives and, sometimes, a little too much. But The Emoji Movie makes no effort in making a meaningful commentary on the way people are attached to their phones. It takes people's phone addictions for granted and uses them as a platform to advertise waning phone apps while also attempting to deliver a "be yourself" message that is of the most cliched of messages normally found in children's films. I hesitate to say The Emoji Movie is a children's film, because it only causes damage and puts constraints on the curious minds of children, and I certainly wouldn't want any small children that I know to go anywhere near The Emoji Movie. This is a movie that needs to be buried deep into the Earth and erased from the cinema history books for all time. Correction: The Emoji Movie is not even a movie. It doesn't deserve any thin satisfaction from being called a movie; it's a heartless, cynical bag of trash that should be erased from all existence, because the world and everyone in it will be much better off not knowing that The Emoji Movie was ever a thing.
Recommend? What do you think?
The Avengers: Justice Style
Justice League is directed by Zack Snyder and stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, and J.K. Simmons. It is the fifth installment in the DC Extended Universe.
Before I proceed with the review part of the review, it should be mentioned that although the film says it is directed by Zack Snyder, Snyder stepped away from the production after his daughter committed suicide back in March 2017. Joss Whedon took over directing duties and managed the filming of additional scenes that needed to be in the final cut. Warner Brothers stated that Whedon was to write and direct in the manner as Zack Snyder would so as to avoid any noticeable shifts in tone or style changes.
The DCEU stepped away from the danger zone following the massive success of Wonder Woman earlier this year, so while it'd be preferable for the DC franchise to score big again with Justice League, it was not going to be the be all end all. In the ongoing superhero arms race between Marvel and DC, a team up among DC's heavyweights would seem like the natural thing for the DCEU to do after setting the foundation with their modern day renditions of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. If people loved seeing all of the MCU's superheroes team up, how could they not love seeing all of DC's superheroes team up? We live in a time where superheroes are box office gargantuans, and pretty much every superhero that has ever existed has gotten or will soon get a 21st century upgrade. The Justice League was inevitable.
It's incredibly difficult to not bring up the first Avengers movie when trying to talk about Justice League, because that's really what it's trying to be to the DCEU. As we've seen so far, the DCEU is going down a much different path than the MCU, which has largely contributed to why a lot of folks don't believe the DCEU is in the same league as the MCU. The MCU has gone through similar patterns or phases as they like to call it in building up their extended universe; they introduce their heroes to us by giving each of them one or two solo films so that we can devlop an understanding of who they are and what these heroes are likes. Once that's done, all of the heroes come together for the big Avengers assemblage, while introducing new heroes along the way who will later join the Avengers get-togethers. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Hulk all got solo films before the first Avengers, and then they all got another solo film (well, not Hulk for some reason) before Age of Ultron. And as the MCU was getting its characters ready for Age of Ultron, they introduced us to the Guardians of the Galaxy, who will be in Avengers: Infinity War. This has been a process that is still going on for the MCU, and since it's been working for almost a decade now, why would they have any reason to stop?
As for the DCEU, it began with introducing us to the new Superman with Man of Steel, and then the next installment was Batman v Superman. Hold it right there. Only two films in and we're already seeing Batman fight Superman? I have spoken before of how I believed that Batman v Superman was released prematurely, because it tried to do so many things without first establishing all of its relevant characters. BvS was the first time we were ever seeing Ben Affleck's version of Batman, as well as our first look at Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman. Had Wonder Woman and a solo Ben Affleck Batman movie come out before BvS, I would think it would've gotten a warmer reception.
This leads me to what's going on with Justice League. It's the first mash-up of DC's most famous superheroes, but it's our first look at more than half of them. At this point, we're only used to seeing Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Aquaman? Flash? Cyborg? Good luck telling me what kind of characters they are heading into this film.
I've rambled a little too much at this point, so let's get on with the plot. Following the events of BvS, the world is mourning the death of Superman. Sensing fear in the human race is Steppenwolf, an other-wordly being who, along with his army of Parademons, wishes to conquer and remake planet Earth. To do this, Steppenwolf seeks out three devices known as the Mother Boxes which are scattered around the world. Bruce Wayne encounters and fights a Parademon in the film's opening scene, leading him to believe that an invasion is coming. Bruce, along with Diana Prince, begin a recruitment effort for the world's other metahumans in hopes of creating a team that could counteract the incoming invasion. Bruce finds Arthur Curry/Aquaman and Barry Allen/Flash, being able to convince the latter to join. Diana Prince finds Victor Stone/Cyborg, but is unable to convince him to join. Aquaman and Cyborg do eventually join, but Bruce Wayne realizes that they still don't have enough to defeat Steppenwolf. This leads Bruce Wayne to consider the possibility of bringing Superman back to life.
The marketing for Justice League was...strange. The hype for this movie wasn't anywhere near what it should have been, coming along like just another fun, come and go superhero movie as opposed to the next big thing in the superhero genre. Releasing the film just two weeks after Marvel's highly successful Thor: Ragnarok might not have been the wisest decision either. I keep coming back to the fact that half of the Justice League is getting their DCEU debut in this film, and that is what's keeping the film from being right up there with the first Avengers. That doesn't mean the film is bad. It's far from bad. Justice League is serviceable more than anything.
- Any and all questions about Ben Affleck making a good Batman should by now be extinct. Affleck once again shines as a hardened, aging version of the Caped Crusader, successfully giving him the vibe as the Justice League's self-proclaimed leader. And if people were upset by Batman resembling a ruthless killer in BvS, there's basically none of that on display here.
- If there is one thing that Justice League will be remembered for, it's that it has lots and lots and lots of action. So much that it gives the Fast & Furious movies a run for their money. Every Justice League member gets an opportunity to effectively show off their abilities, and the movie wastes absolutely no time in getting from action set piece to action set piece. It's exciting, coherent, and above all else, fun.
- The quality of the villains has been one of the DCEU's strengths over the MCU thus far. This is the first time, however, in which the DCEU has given us a weak, forgettable villain. Steppenwolf is little more than a power hungry baddie who wants world domination, about as stock of a villain character as you can find. It's difficult to sympathize with him in any way, as he lacks any kind of human touch.
- The basic outline of the plot that I described above is really all there is to it. There are no surprises of any kind, and the movie just follows a straight line with its plot and characters, going from Point A to Point B and so on without concerning itself with building up its character motivations or have them undergo any notable changes. The Justice League heroes all come together to fight a bad guy who wants world domination. Simple stuff.
This is a rare occurrence in which I was hoping for a film to be longer than it actually was. Justice League clocks out right at the two hour mark, but I can't help but feel that the movie could have done so much more and be so much more if it had an extra 30-45 minutes to work with. From what I've heard, Warner Bros. gave the film a ceiling running time of two hours, so Zack Snyder and co. had to do the best they could with a restricted run time.
Overall, there are plenty of flaws to address, but Justice League ultimately shows that DC is taking the right steps in its effort to bolster the DCEU and make it a true competitor with the MCU. It's more light-hearted than the DCEU's previous efforts and makes sure you get your money's worth with its boatloads of action sequences. There's a great superhero movie stuck inside of Justice League somewhere, though what we do get in reality is operative. I eagerly await an extended cut if one does exist.
Recommend? Yes. It's fun and worth your time.
There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?
Star Wars: The Force Awakens or better known as Star Wars: Episode VII- The Force Awakens is directed, co-written, and co-produced by J.J. Abrams and stars Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, and Peter Mayhew, all who reprise their respective roles from the original trilogy. New stars include Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Issac, Andy Serkis, and Max von Sydow. It is the first Star Wars film to not be produced by George Lucas.
In my lifetime thus far, there is not a single film that I can say that I have seen that has had more of an intensive marketing campaign than Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Fast food restaurants, grocery store items, shopping malls, commercials, commercials, commercials. You name it, and it would have something telling you to go see Episode VII. And it wasn't like there was any major risk involved with all of the advertising that Disney did leading up to the film's release. Star Wars had long since been established as one of the world's most popular franchises, and contemporary audiences would flood theaters everywhere whenever they would hear those two magic words. To the surprise of nobody, Episode VII broke the box office. No, that's not right. Episode VII didn't break the box office. Episode VII launched an all-out blitzkrieg on the box office, with a force (pun intended) so massive and so deadly that it would have Liam Neeson shaking in his boots and raise an eyebrow from Chuck Norris.
Life for The Force Awakens began pretty much when George Lucas decided in October 2012 to sell his production company Lucasfilm, which included the Stars Wars franchise, to Disney. Disney had been interested in purchasing Lucasfilm for around a year and a half by that point, and Lucas, contemplating retirement, agreed to a deal, explaining that it was his ambition to pass Star Wars on to a new film making generation. Disney announced that it was their hope to expand even further upon the galaxy far, far away, with a new movie to be released every two to three years. And when Disney made it official that there was going to be a brand new Star Wars trilogy, you can imagine the reaction epidemic of fans nationwide. It was as if someone found the cure for cancer; news and excitement spreading like wildfire. True, it was only ten years after the release of Revenge of The Sith, but it really had been the first time since Return of the Jedi in 1983 that the world got a great Star Wars film. The prequels left a foul taste in everyone's mouth, mangling the overall Star Wars story as well as clouding the motivations and overall personality of one of cinema's most recognizable villains in Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. But now with J.J. Abrams in the director's chair and new faces like Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Adam Driver on board, Star Wars was starting up again with an almost clean slate.
Now the ultimate question: Does Episode VII live up to the hype and deliver an exciting, satisfying, and memorable space opera adventure? The answer is: Yes it does. It's not an all-time classic to be placed next to A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, but it does just about everything you'd want it to do: deliver top-notch Star Wars action and recapture the magical bliss of the franchise's glory days, while also infusing the franchise with new energy that is sure to carry over into the future installments.
Episode VII takes place thirty years after Return of the Jedi. Rising from the ashes of the fallen Galactic Empire is The First Order, who seek to eliminate the New Republic. Opposing The First Order is The Resistance, the latter being led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). The film opens with First Order Stormtroopers and their commander, the masked Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), attacking a village on the planet Jakku. Ren and the Stormtroopers are looking for a map that leads to the location of Luke Skywalker, who mysteriously vanished during the thirty years between Episodes VI and VII. Resistance pilot Poe Dameron obtains the map from Jakku village elder Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow), but hides it inside his droid BB-8 when he notices the incoming First Order troops. Poe is captured, but BB-8 manages to escape with the map in hand. BB-8 soon runs into Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger. Meanwhile, Stormtrooper FN-2187 (John Boyega), upon seeing the death and destruction done on Jakku, begins to second guess his allegiance to the First Order. He decides to help Poe Dameron escape, and the two steal a TIE fighter. During their escape, Poe decides to give FN-2187 the name "Finn". The two then crash land on Jakku, where Finn survives, but Poe supposedly does not. Finn eventually finds Rey and BB-8, but the First Order tracks them and launches another attack. The three find the Millennium Falcon in a junkyard and use it to escape Jakku. Not long afterwards, the Millennium Falcon is captured by a larger ship being piloted by Han Solo and Chewbacca. Upon meeting Han and Chewbacca, Rey and Finn learn that the Force, the Jedi, the Sith, and Luke Skywalker are all real (Rey had thought the stories from before were myths).
Almost everything about The Force Awakens is an introduction, primarily giving us our first glimpse into a new host of characters that will serve as the life blood of this new trilogy. Plenty of old faces are back, but it's the newcomers who truly shine. And now with social media like Facebook and Twitter to bolster advertising and speculation about what will happen in future installments, the film would take great care in how it handles the likes of Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren. The magnitude of social media was another thing that The Force Awakens gave Star Wars for the first time ever. And now with two years for the people of the social media world and the Internet in general to work with in building up hype and speculation for The Last Jedi? The box office might as well start digging its own grave.
- Rey is established as the sequel trilogy's lead character, and she absolutely works following in the main character footsteps of Luke Skywalker from the original trilogy. She's a character who's built as tough, fearless, and highly knowledgeable, all due in part to a breakout performance by Daisy Ridley. The film also makes a clear effort in giving Rey that strong, independent woman vibe, such as getting angry when Finn holds her hand not once but twice while the two are running away from the First Order on Jakku. Finn later asks Rey if she has a family or a cute boyfriend, to which she responds it's none of his business. Whether or not Rey is given some kind of romantic story line later on is beyond me. Honestly, it wouldn't surprise me too much if they don't give her one.
- I thought Revenge of the Sith was loaded with action. The Force Awakens easily takes the crown as the most action-packed Star Wars episode yet, with lightsabers, blasters, TIE fighters, Chewbacca's crossbow; almost every weapon imaginable in the Star Wars galaxy is on display here. There's a pleasant balance between action in space and action on the ground, boosted by another solid score from the legendary John Williams and humorous lines to lighten the mood just enough.
- Any and all problems with Episode VII all point their way back to one major culprit: the writing. This is nowhere near prequel-level bad, but there are parts of the screenplay that are lazy and/or lacking in originality. The most frequent critique that I've heard is that the film is derivative of the original trilogy, which I do agree with a little bit. The skeletal structure of The Force Awakens' plot is noticeably similar to that of A New Hope's plot; both films involve the pursuit of a droid unit who happens to hold information that would be vital to whoever could get their hands on it. The main villain is a dark-clothed masked man who is ultimately serving a Supreme Leader/Emperor. Oh yes, and the Stormtroopers still can't shoot, but that doesn't qualify as derivative because no bad guy henchman in the history of film has ever been a good shot. The First Order is constructing another planet destroyer a.k.a another Death Star, easily the laziest piece of the writing. It's described as being much bigger and even more destructive than the Death Star. I remember calling it the Death Star Plus when I saw the film in theaters the first time. That name has stuck ever since. So anyway, there are far too many things in the film to point at and accuse of being shamelessly copied from parts of the original trilogy, mainly A New Hope. I guess if you're going to imitate anything from previous Star Wars installments, the original trilogy is the safest bet.
More than anything, Episode VII proudly declares to the world the epic return of Star Wars, providing all of the gleefully flashy fan service that any Star Wars fan could ask for. And by combining old faces with a bunch of new ones, The Force Awakens successfully provides an entertaining ride that both longtime Star Wars buffs and newcomer fans can get behind and want to go see again and again. I do believe it is entirely possible for one to watch The Force Awakens without having seen any of the previous installments and still find great joy in watching it. And if anything else, it is certain to get you pumped up for the two upcoming episodes in this new trilogy. Given the lineup of robust stars and the anticipation of millions and millions of people all around the world, it's hard to think that the future installments of the Stars Wars franchise will disappoint in any way.
I Blart in your general direction
Paul Blart: Mall Cop is directed by Steve Carr and stars Kevin James.
The Adam Sandler production company that is Happy Madison Productions has been nothing but a plague upon American film comedy since its inception in 1999. It is the unholy sanctuary that houses every possible form of bad comedy known to man, a cesspool whose inner works would have the Marx Brothers and Abbott and Costello rolling in their graves. Adam Sandler may be considered by many to be the Evil Emperor serving as the mastermind behind the recent bad comedy plague, but not for a second should we forget about the almost equally terrible works of all of his partners in crime: Kevin James, David Spade, and Rob Schneider to name just a few. Among all of said partners in crime, Kevin James is easily the closest to being Sandler's best friend, serving as the head of Happy Madison's Department of Fat Men Doing Fat Men Things.
The mean-spirited nature of Fat Men Doing Fat Men Things is on full display in the Kevin James-led Happy Madison Production, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, a film whose comedic execution solely relies on the notion that Kevin James is fat. It doesn't take very long to realize, however, that there is no humor to be found in having someone say to Kevin James, "Haha! You're fat!", with nearly every other joke creating a path that leads back to this insulting statement. Calling someone fat isn't any funnier than acknowledging to a person that they have bad breath or a big nose. But, y'know, fat people are such disgusting human beings that apparently all they're good for is to be mocked and made fun of.
Being made fun of for being fat is one of many life problems for Paul Blart. He has dreams of becoming a state police trooper, but he is unable to pass the exam due to having hypoglycemia, a medical condition that causes Blart various symptoms when his blood sugar gets too low. Blart lives with his teenager daughter, Maya (Raini Ridriguez), and his mother, Margaret (Shirley Knight), and works as a security guard at the West Orange Pavilion Mall in West Orange, New Jersey. He patrols the mall on a Segway to make sure everything is in order, and he trains a new security guard named Veck Simms (Keir O'Donnell). Blart gets the hots for Amy Anderson (Jayma Mays), who works as the vendor for a new kiosk at the mall. It's the early holiday season at the mall, and Black Friday eventually rolls around, easily the mall's busiest shopping day of the year. During the late shopping hours, a group of thugs break into the mall and take several customers, including Amy, hostage. Blart, taking a break by playing games in the mall's arcade, is unaware of the thugs' invasion, until he leaves the arcade and realizes what's going on. Blart attempts to flee the mall at first, but upon finding out that Amy is one of the hostages, he heads back in to stop the thugs and save the mall from their dastardly plans.
Paul Blart is that mild mannered hero that is viewed as a hopeless loser by nearly everyone around him. Anyone in the movie who isn't overweight is either a mean-spirited jackass or a kind soul that takes pity upon Paul Blart's shortcomings. And because Paul Blart: Mall Cop is a film that goes for the "seemingly hopeless but lovable loser gets the chance to show that he really isn't a hopeless loser" angle, it aims to be an uplifting, family holiday experience. It doesn't accomplish this goal, because it's not funny in the slightest, and there's no heartwarming charm to be found. But even with that said, I didn't have it in me to cast a fiery hatred down upon the movie.
- As a whole, Paul Blart: Mall Cop is completely harmless. There's nothing wildly offensive or controversial about it, because, while it isn't charming or heartwarming in the slightest, it at least goes for that type of approach. Out of all of the crime lords doing work for Happy Madison Productions, Kevin James is the one that comes the closest to having some kind of charisma, which I highly believe stems off of his success with The King of Queens. Here, James is by his lonesome self, with Adam Sandler limited to only producer, and the likes of David Spade and Chris Rock nowhere to be found. We get brief glimpses of Kevin James' charisma, but only brief.
- Yes, the majority of the jokes don't land. What is there for me to say about that?
- The one true anger inducer of Paul Blart: Mall Cop is the fact that it turns into a kid-friendly version of Die Hard. This time, it's "Die Hard in a shopping mall." No, Kevin James does not shoot a machine gun and yell, "Yippie ki yay." It's his lucky day, actually, because Paul Blart happens to find himself up against one of the most incompetent group of criminals around. There's a scene in which two of the thugs chase after Blart, and he decides to hide in one of the store's air ducts. However, he gives his position away when his stomach starts making rumbling sounds. Blart then manages to cause the air duct to fall apart, which knocks out one of the thugs. The other thug runs away. You mean to tell me that one of the thugs got scared off by a collapsing air duct, despite knowing full well that the gang's only threat was right there to stop? Blart is also lucky that once he knocks out each thug, there is no chance of them coming back (Blart does incapacitate each thug in some way after he's taken care of them, but that shouldn't bar them from coming back). They even go so far as to rip off the "John McClaine recovering from his wounds" scene. Instead of ripping up his bare feet by walking on broken glass, Blart steps aside to tend to....a small cut on his arm...with a Hello Kitty band aid. It doesn't matter how watered down it all might be. It's still stealing from Die Hard.
I can confirm that I seriously laughed only one time during the movie. It was early on while Blart is riding his Segway to work. A dog comes running after him, barking at the Segway. This humorous moment is shot dead when we hear the dog supposedly get run over by the Segway. I got a weak smile out of a few other moments, but that's it. So while Paul Blart: Mall Cop is by no means an all-time low for film comedy, its over-reliance on fat guy jokes and its obvious Die Hard copycat plot prevent it from being anything really worth watching. It's a Kevin James-led comedy released by Happy Madison that got released in cinema's absolute favorite month of the year: January. That alone should give you a good idea of what to expect.
A Hot Mess
Hot Pursuit is directed by Anne Fletcher and stars Reese Witherspoon, Sofia Vergara, and Robert Kazinsky.
The director filmography of Anne Fletcher contains the likes of Step Up, The Proposal, and The Guilt Trip, all of which fall somewhere on the narrow range of pretty bad to decent. But oh man oh man oh man oh man, when stacked next to the likes of Hot Pursuit, those said films that I just mentioned look like Monty Python or Marx Brothers material. There are more laughs to be had in the first 10 minutes of Step Up (which isn't even a comedy) than in the entire 87 minutes of Hot Pursuit. And if Hot Pursuit is to serve any sort of meaningful function, it's that it marks the bottoming out of a directorial career that never really took off in the first place.
It should be noted that this Hot Pursuit is not a remake of the 1987 film of the same name starring John Cusack and Jerry Stiller. I haven't seen the 1987 Hot Pursuit, but I'd bet all the money in the world that I would laugh more times during that version than this 2015 version. Why? Because I can confidently acknowledge that I laughed exactly zero times during the 2015 Hot Pursuit, and if I were forced to watch it again after having it wiped from my memory bank, I don't know how there could possibly be a different outcome. That is because Hot Pursuit is a steaming hot mess of an action comedy that trades in annoyance for laughs. A bad comedy can be a lot of things: mean-spirited, disgusting, awkward, or maybe some ugly hybrid of all three of those things. Hot Pursuit goes all in for being annoying, which isn't any more tolerable than being mean-spirited, disgusting, or awkward.
The annoyance begins with Reese Witherspoon who plays the obsessively by-the-books cop Cooper. She works at the San Antonio Police Department where her name has become synonymous with screw-ups. Cooper's most famous screw-up was when she set the mayor's son on fire after he yelled "Shotgun!" and she tased him while he was carrying an alcoholic drink. Cooper has been assigned to the evidence locker, as she has proven that she is unable to properly handle field work. Cooper's commanding officer, Captain Emmett (John Carroll Lynch), gives her an assignment to protect Felipe Riva (Vincent Laresca) and his wife Danielle (Sofia Vergara). Riva is to go to Dallas and testify against the drug cartel Vicente Cortez. But while at the Riva home, two different pairs of assassins break into the home and kill Felipe while Cooper is upstairs with Danielle. Cooper and Danielle manage to escape in Riva's car, and the two begin a journey to Dallas, where Danielle can testify against Cortez.
- Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara both have comedic bones in their bodies. Not a single one of them are on display here, unfortunately. No, really, that's the closest thing to a high point that this movie has: Witherspoon and Vergara have comedic potential. This movie doesn't offer either of them the chance to show it, sadly.
- My goodness, where do I even begin about just how freaking annoying this movie is? Well, I did say that the annoyance begins with Reese Witherspoon, so let's start with her. It doesn't take too long to see that her character, Cooper, is all about playing by the rule book, but so obsessively that it isn't even funny. Cooper frequently brings up whichever police code numbers are relevant to whatever situation she currently finds herself in, as well as mentioning to Sofia Vergara that she deals with stress by reciting the code numbers and what they mean. Reese Witherspoon also dons a thick Southern accent throughout the film, and it sounds like it'd be best suited for some kind of Western movie that starred Jeff Bridges. But the annoyance that Witherspoon wholly brings to the film doesn't come close to the annoyance that Sofia Vergara provides. For some odd reason, Vergara's Colombian accent has a certain pitch to it that makes it easily susceptible to sounding whiny. Go figure, because whining is basically all Vergara does during the film. She whines about a suitcase full of shoes that she has. She whines about her clothes. She whines about Witherspoon's by-the-books personality (that one she gets a pass on because it's about the only thing going for her and Witherspoon's odd couple characters). If you take away everything involving Reese Witherspoon mentioning the rules or Sofia Vergara whining, then Robert Kazinsky and John Carroll Lynch would be the lead roles.
- So the annoyance part of Hot Pursuit may seem like the worst thing, and it is. But something else about the movie that is so damn depressing is that it doesn't even seem to be trying. There is not a single scene in this movie that you can watch and see any form of comedic potential. Let me rephrase that. Not one single scene in this entire movie can you watch and say to yourself, "This could be funny if done right." Witherspoon and Vergara's characters get on the news, and there's a running gag in which the news broadcasters screw up their correct height and age number, respectively. The broadcasters mention a shorter height for Witherspoon each time and mention an age somewhere between 40 and 50 for Vergara. It's not funny the first time, and it sure as hell doesn't get any funnier the next three or four times. Hot Pursuit trying to be funny is like a person trying to enjoy getting their wisdom teeth pulled out. It's not going to happen.
- And if there weren't enough problems already, Hot Pursuit suffers from an uneven tone. The first half of the movie is Witherspoon and Vergara on the run, which is supposed to be the "comedic" part of the movie. But then the second half of the movie plays itself like a serious crime drama, and it's impossible to be invested in it in any way because of how we have grown such a disdain for Witherspoon and Vergara during the first half of the movie.
I must say I was baffled by Hot Pursuit. I knew it was going to be bad beforehand, and the annoyance part I was expecting based on other reviews I have read and video reviews I watched. But what really struck me was how the movie doesn't even seem to be making a dedicated effort in at least trying to be funny. The running gag it has throughout isn't funny, and there is not one single thing that I can point to and say, "Yes, that could've been funny." I don't know what this movie was supposed to be or what it was hoping to achieve in the end. How could anyone in the production crew look at this and say, "We have a worthy comedy on our hands here." Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara have proven to be funny in other things. There is just absolutely nothing here for the two to showcase their comedic talents. All that Hot Pursuit accomplishes at the end of the day is putting a dark stain on the careers of Witherspoon and Vergara, as well as marking what will most likely be the bottom of Anne Fletcher's shaky directorial career.
Recommend? Oh God no
(not an F only because Witherspoon and Vergara have comedic talent)
This Town Ain't Big Enough For All The Bad Jokes That Seth MacFarlane Has
A Million Ways To Die In The West is directed, produced by and stars Seth MacFarlane. The film also stars Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Giovanni Ribisi, Sarah Silverman, and Liam Neeson.
I apologize that I couldn't come up with a better, more witty title for this review. I was hoping to go for something like How The West Was Undone, but that didn't sound right after staring at it for long enough.
In this day and age where comedy in film is pretty much dead and buried, it is next to near impossible to see a trailer for a brand new comedy movie and say to yourself, "That looks funny. I think I'm gonna go see it." But if there is anyone out there who is capable of at least creating the slightest glimmer of hope for a new comedy, that would be Mr. Seth MacFarlane. The creator of the ongoing adult animated TV series Family Guy and American Dad has proven that he is adept at finding humor in just about any topic imaginable, whether it's politics, the economy, or religion (and MacFarlane, an outspoken atheist, has been no holds barred when it comes to making fun of religion). So when MacFarlane's first feature film Ted turned out to be a pleasant success, there didn't seem to be any more reasons to doubt MacFarlane's talent.
Then came along A Million Ways To Die In The West, a western comedy that plays itself like it's a satire of western, as MacFarlane spends a good chunk of the movie talking about how much the West sucks. He complains that the likes of famine and disease are running rampant, and even something as mundane as going to the bathroom can kill you. Sure, there were a lot of things about the 19th century American West that sucked. But you know what else kinda sucks? A Million Ways To Die In The West. It's a lowbrow, aimless hunk of junk. I feel pretty bad admitting that I thought about seeing it when it was out in theaters, especially because a good friend of mine who went to see it at the time said that he left the theater in stitches. But my better judgement got the best of me, and I declined to wait until it came out on DVD and Blu-Ray. What a good decision that was.
Seth MacFarlane has his hands all over this film: directing, producing, screenwriting, and being the main character on top of it all. It's not hard to see just how damn proud he is of himself, with his ego shining through like a brand new light bulb while being completely oblivious to the fact that the jokes his movie provides heavily rely on poop, sex, and violent deaths that come out of nowhere. If you like to laugh at stuff that makes no sense and comes out of the blue, then this movie will be right up your alley.
To the plot. Seth MacFarlane is Albert Stark, a cowardly sheep farmer who is dating a woman named Louise (Amanda Seyfried). Louise breaks up with Albert, however, after he backs out of a gunfight. Saddened over getting dumped and believing that the Western frontier has nothing to offer him anymore, Albert prepares to leave to San Francisco. That's when Anna (Charlize Theron), the wife of dangerous outlaw Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson), shows up. Anna runs away from her husband after he kills and robs an old man for a gold nugget. Albert and Anna first meet when Albert saves Anna from getting crushed to death during a bar fight, and the two instantly develop a connection. Albert finds out that Louise is now dating the 'stached, snobbish, rich boy Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), who challenges Albert to a shooting contest at the town's county fair. Albert loses the contest, but Anna steps in and defeats Foy herself. This leads to Foy challenging Albert to a duel in a week's time. Anna then spends the following week teaching Albert how to properly shoot a gun. While all of this is going on, Clinch is roaming nearby, looking for Anna.
- I'm really grasping at straws when it comes to thinking up a high point worthy enough of discussing. The best I could come up with is Charlize Theron. She delivers a solid performance as the sweetheart girl who goes from a bad, abusive relationship to a good, heartfelt one. She is probably the only character in the movie who isn't stupid, annoying, or lacking a purpose for being there at all. That's about all I got on that.
- I must reiterate that Seth MacFarlane is just so damn proud of himself with this movie, as if he thinks he has made the next Blazing Saddles, when, in reality, this movie couldn't hold a candle to Blazing Saddles. The low point is that MacFarlane is unable to sell himself as the sheepish (Get it? Because he's a coward and a sheep farmer? High five!) Albert Stark, because Seth MacFarlane is too busy being....Seth MacFarlane, and he just happens to be wearing a western outfit and pretending that he's stuck in 1882. Even when he's trying to have a serious or dramatic moment, MacFarlane's face always looks as if he's ready to crack a joke or make a snappy remark. This is none more indicative than when Albert addresses Louise after Foy soils himself several times. Albert gives Louise a heartfelt speech about how he realizes that their relationship never really worked and that he's moved on with someone who he knows truly cares about him. He then leaves her with a joke about living the rest of her life "with a pussy full of hair", only to come back and explain the joke to everyone, because, apparently, it's funnier that way.
- There are some awkward editing choices made throughout, such as Albert and Anna encountering a diamondback snake, only to then cut to early the next morning where the two appear totally fine. They must've showed that diamondback who's boss. More often than not, a scene will get its necessary exposition out of the way, and then proceed to cut to a joke that has little to no relation to what's going on, and then we cut to the next scene. One example is when Albert and his friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) notice Louise smooching with Foy, which understandably pisses off Albert (he hasn't met Anna yet). Edward then points out a massive ice block being brought into town. The block then falls onto a man and crushes him. Albert and Edward get grossed out, and then we cut to the next scene. Many scenes are constructed this way, and they fail to ever be funny.
So while the main mystery of this film is why does Seth MacFarlane think we will laugh at poop jokes, sex jokes, and random acts of violence, the other great mystery is why is Liam Neeson in this movie? This sort of raunchy, lowbrow comedy is way beneath his mighty talents, and he is only here to make the main antagonist seem more intimidating by solely relying on the intimidation factor that Liam Neeson magically brings to roles that require him to shoot a gun. Neeson has been in plenty of bad movies over the course of his career, but here, he is just totally out of place.
Easily the best part of the film is a very special cameo that I won't even think about spoiling. Aside from the cameo, A Million Ways To Die In The West offers few laughs and a story that mightily struggles with balancing itself. There's enough talent here for a great comedy, especially when the sheriff is proven comedian Seth MacFarlane. Unfortunately, a lot of the talent goes to waste on lazy jokes that aren't clever in any way. A Million Ways To Die In The West is a flimsy tumbleweed that blows aimlessly through the desert winds, with humor that hits its mark as well as Albert shooting a gun. Seth MacFarlane might think it's hilarious. Doesn't mean we think so too.
Fist Fight is directed by Richie Keen and stars Ice Cube, Charlie Day, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, and Christina Hendricks.
I fondly remember there being exactly two times during 2017 thus far in which I saw a trailer for a new release and said to myself, "That concept's not going work. What are they thinking?" If you need to know anything about movies, it's that it's all about the execution. You can take a lot of movies and break them down to their most naked concept, and they will seem utterly ridiculous. But when the execution part is done well enough, no one will give a damn anymore about how ridiculous the movie's concept may sound. There are very rare cases, however, in which a movie's concept is futile; the concept is simply incapable of being executed in any meaningful way. We have gotten two such movies in 2017. The first and most obvious one is Sony's The Emoji Movie. The second? Richie Keen's Fist Fight, a movie whose entire execution based possibilities revolve around a fist fight. But it's not like Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are getting into a boxing ring and settling their differences. This is a fist fight between two high school teachers, one a hardcore, no-nonsense smack-talker and the other a mild-mannered wimp. Oh, then that must mean it's a story about standing up to bullies...right?
It's the last day of school at Roosevelt High School in Atlanta, Georgia. The students are devising various senior pranks, causing mayhem everywhere throughout the school. English teacher Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) and his fellow faculty members are doing whatever it takes to survive the day. The only teacher capable of making the students behave is history teacher Ron Strickland (Ice Cube). On top of the senior pranks, the school is pulling aside all of its teachers for individual meetings throughout the day to discuss the possibility of the school downsizing its departments, meaning that teachers and some of the other faculty are likely to be laid off. This leaves Campbell incredibly nervous, because his wife (JoAnna Garcia) is nearly due for their second child. During one of his classes, Strickland finds Campbell in the hallway and asks for help with an outdated AV system that keeps mysteriously turning off after a few seconds. Campbell realizes that one of the students named Neil (Austin Zajur) is responsible for the TV shutting off, and Strickland becomes enraged enough that he grabs a fire axe and destroys Neil's desk. Campbell and Strickland are then brought to Principal Tyler's (Dean Norris) office to discuss what happened. Principal Tyler threatens to fire both Campbell and Strickland if neither comes forward with the truth. Campbell comes forward with the truth, and Strickland loses his job as a result. Strickland retaliates by challenging Campbell to a fist fight in the school parking lot at the end of the day, to which Campbell refuses. But the news of Strickland's challenge spreads like wildfire around the school and the local community, leaving Campbell with no choice but to man up and take Strickland on.
It doesn't take long to realize that Fist Fight has basically nowhere to go once the fight is official. The majority of the film is nothing but Charlie Day panicking and doing various things around the school to try and weasel his way out of the fight. Screenwriters Van Robichaux and Evan Susser make it seem like they were thinking things up on the fly, because the entire movie struggles to keep itself occupied until the fist fight can finally happen. Campbell's efforts in getting out of the fight include getting Neil to lie for him to Principal Tyler so that Strickland can get his job back and hiding drugs in Strickland's bag in an attempt to get Strickland arrested. Way too late does the script decide to have Campbell finally decide to man up and stop taking crap from Strickland and the other students, leaving us with an unconvincing sense of completion for Campbell's character arc.
It's a common thing for movies to be based around an eventual showdown between two or more opposing characters. Batman v Superman is titled as so because it's a movie that builds its way up to an eventual battle between Batman and Superman, with each superhero going through different motions that will inevitably bring them together. Conversely, Fist Fight is about one man's "journey" towards a confrontation that will change his life for the better, but that one man, Andy Campbell, spends too much of the film's 91 minutes being a complete coward, killing any and all chances that the movie might have in building up momentum for its titular fist fight. And let me not forget to mention how we must also endure an endless series of lazy and often downright cruel jokes and "humorous" encounters that drag on and on without end.
- Ice Cube is his normal, macho self, which is more often than not a welcome sight.
- The fight between Campbell and Strickland is actually quite amusing. It starts in the parking lot and eventually transitions its way into the school building. Campbell eventually starts utilizing various objects such as a tennis racket and a fire extinguisher to temporarily get the upper hand on Strickland, but as the tougher, more muscular man, Strickland always has the edge. If only the movie had built up to its fight better...
- Charlie Day is incredibly irritating, constantly yelping in a high-pitched voice, and it grows old very quickly. I suppose if you're an avid fan of Charlie Day screeching, then this is the movie event of the year for you. For everyone else, it's an endless barrage of squawking about how he doesn't want to fight. Your ears would puke if they were able to.
- Basically none of the jokes land, but the worst part is how utterly cruel a bunch of them are. Campbell gets frequent help from guidance counselor Miss Holly (Jillian Bell), who talks constantly about how she feels attracted to some of the students and thinks about having sex with them. I'm not sure exactly where the humor is within social conversations about a female adult having sex with high school students, because that's more likely to offend people who work in education as opposed to make them laugh their heads up. Campbell also calls out a student as being gay, a bad joke that allows me the chance to apologize to all of the LGBTQ students out there for having a cruel joke like Campbell's slip in somehow. There's also recurring pranks to suggest that the students have a bizarre obsession with penises, most evident in how two students mow the football field to make the grass look like a giant penis. Oh yeah, and then they mow the grass to display female breasts too, because, you know, just talking about and showing genitalia is so hilarious. It's spineless humor that has no wit or creativity to it whatsoever, and I can confidently say that I failed to legitimately laugh one time during Fist Fight.
If someone is to walk up to me and say, "Comedy is alive and well in movies today." I would proceed to laugh in that person's face before I fall over backwards and bust my sides from laughing so much. Horror has it bad nowadays, but comedy has it much worse. There may be a few rare comedic gems that spring up a few times every year, but those gems are overshadowed by the likes of Fist Fight, a movie with a concept that goes nowhere fast, wasting the comedic talent of good ol' Ice Cube. It's a movie that passes off cruelty as humorous, and is some of the most recent proof as to the kind of schlock that Hollywood has the audacity to label as comedy.
And if you somehow sit through Fist Fight, you might come away thinking that the movie is trying to be a satirical outlook on the public school system, to which I cry bull crap. The most that Fist Fight has to offer is a mildly interesting fist fight, but there's quite a lot for you to endure if you want to get there. The only loser of Fist Fight is us, the audience, as the movie punches you square in the face with a fistful of unfunny jokes, laughing as we sit there crying, knowing that 91 precious minutes of our lives have been taken away.
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