Wednesday, April 22, 2020

REVIEW - Daddy Day Care

My final punishment movie to talk about.  An Eddie Murphy film that doesn't have much love from movie fans.  At least it wasn't Norbit.  Well, because I don't know what's right for me, I ended up seeing Norbit as well.  Of my own free will.  Not super smart.

It's really hard for me to express just how much I loved Murphy when I was growing up.  Pirated cassette copies of Raw and Delirious got listened to over and over (with headphones, of course.  I couldn't be caught with those).  The sense of humour, the timing, the edge of it all really captured something in me, and he was one of the bigger influences when it came to comedy in my life.

Because of that, it is really hard to watch movies like Daddy Day Care and Norbit.  Everything that I had known about Murphy was gone, and what remained wasn't incredibly special.  It seriously hurts to say that.  Watching one of the mastodons or your past being more generic than an early 2000s McConaughey was crushing.  Thankfully, both Murphy and McConaughey would come back to form further down the line.

Alongside Murphy in Daddy Day Care are Jeff Garlin and Steve Zahn, and I'm huge fans of both of them, and their potential is huge.  Looking at the IMDB page, seeing those three people together should indicate that something special was going to be seen.  Sadly to all, we never get to see the elements that make either of those talents shine.  The generic nature of the film robs us of what they could do, and convinced me that pretty much anyone could have been cast in those roles, because of how stale everything was.

Garlin and Murphy's characters lose their jobs, and while becoming stay at home dads they decide to open a day care.  Men looking after childern?, you exclaim.  But, men don't know how to look after children.  Surely this will all fall apart and it will be super funny, because, you know, the idea of men looking after children is for some reason super funny.  Super funny.  Men, allowed to be with children.  Gosh, what apocalypse has this modern work a day world unleashed on us?

Of course, being generic, there are people who don't want these men to succeed.  Because, you know... already mentioned, 'men looking after children?'  Essentially, this could have been an Adam Sandler movie.  The difference would have been Sandler would have made it for an older audience, and that really feels like the fault of Daddy Day Care.

I'm not suggesting that it needed to be R-rated because of sex and the men accidentally leaving toddlers in an industrial blast chiller.  When I look at the three main people, I think their talents would have worked much better in something that wasn't tailored to the entire family.  Each of them has their own type of delivery, and some of that revolves around a bit more crass than the ratings board would allow in a G-rated movie.  Once again, it doesn't need to be a hard R for extreme reasons, but more for the actions and reactions of the people they chose to cast.

Family friendly movies can be brilliant and wonderful.  I think it takes a huge amount of effort to be able to create something that will please the young and the old, and people should never look down on studios like Pixar because 'they're for the kids.'  However, certain movies shouldn't be made for the whole family, and this is one of them.

Rating - 1 out of 4 stars

Note - no proofing!  I'm done with this nonsense!!!!!

REVIEW: Running Wild

I didn't pick this film for myself.  Once again, a movie that I have to see as punishment for my lack of skill at guessing numbers.  This time, it wasn't the nefarious Christopher Spicer selecting the form of 'The Traveller,' but rather his son, who it turns out can be equally nefarious.  I have made it known that I don't really care for horse movies.  That's because I really don't care for horses.  I don't see them as majestic, but rather four legged factories of nostril discontent.  When a movie seems to assume that me as the audience will bond with an animal and cry at the end when it's often put down, I don't get invested.  There have, however, been some horse movies that I've really loved.  Both Lean On Pete, and The Rider came out a few years ago and won me over, to the point of putting The Rider as one of my favourites of 2018.

Running Wild is pretty much Hallmark territory, which pretty much means it's going to go after that assumed sentimentality towards equine plots.  The level of steady hand around the plot was not there.  Horses are majestic, there are wild ones, and don't we really need to see all the horses on the planet being healthy and saddled?  That's kind of the plot.  There is a rancher who's idiot husband dies, leaving her in debt, and she comes across wild horses that got into her ranch.  Cool.  Nurse them to health, the collective audience screams!  Not cool, though.  Sharon Stone plays a rich lady who for some totally unknown reason has a real bridle in her craw when it comes to wild horses getting medical attention.  So, we have a plot.  I guess.

Stone's character (who shall remain unnamed for now because I can't be bothered switching over to IMDB) just can't stop despising people who do something nice for wild horses.  She's in the camp that they should be moved to her huge sanctuary where they can run free (but also be susceptible to dying from pustular infections).  Director Alex Ranarivelo makes the social climate in the film as one where people are so wound up over what happens to wild horses that they go out and protest and get all up in the press to get their thoughts out there.

Is this really a thing?  Maybe.  It doesn't seem legit to me, though.  That's probably in how it's portrayed.  Movies can make me accept anything from a beloved McDonalds character snapping his fingers and destroying half of all life in the universe to believing that kids can take out monsters by forming a squad.  I'll buy anything if it's presented properly.  Movies are about taking us somewhere, so I'm prepared to go.  In cases like this, I am not convinced.  That comes down to many things, most notably the writing and directing.

I will admit that this is one of the few films that really showed me the connection between people and horses.  This didn't come from either the protagonist or the antagonist, but rather from criminals who had a work program that allowed them to tend to the horses.  The scenes were all cheesy, yet something crept through that gave me a hint of that connection.  Most Hallmarkish films of this nature just rely on you already feeling that way.

This really shouldn't be seen if you're like me.  Or if you are just the kind of person that likes a less than flimsy plot.  There are people who will enjoy it, and I won't fault them.  Different people, different tastes.  When you're someone who doesn't really care about the difference between a horse and a cephalopod, there isn't any kind of bridge that's created to bring you in.  Watch Lean on Pete or The Rider, and you'll have a better experience.

Rating - 1 out of 4 stars

Note - this hasn't been proofread because I'm done with Running Wild

REVIEW: Do The Right Thing

Once again, this is one of those reviews that revolves around the fact that I lost a bet.  The difference with this film over the countless others is that it was chosen for me because it is a classic that I hadn't seen yet.  My podcast co-host, Christopher Spicer, had decided to be a decent human being.  He won't do that again.  Not after I put off watching this movie for half a year.  He has declared mercy to no longer be given me.  I accept that.

Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing turned out to be as much of a classic as I had heard.  The film is a deep dive into cultural identity, primarily looking at the black experience in Brooklyn.  Lee doesn't focus solely on that perspective, and the different elements added to the story make it both more profound and more accessible.

The film focuses on pizza delivery man, Mookie, played by Lee.  Mookie is the vessel that we the audience see the film through.  He is about patience, and yet also about standing up for yourself.  Mookie works for Sal, played phenomenally by Danny Aiello.  Sal has been in the neighbourhood for years, making pizza and feeding the locals.  For him, he is as much a part of the neighbourhood as it's residence.

The locals don't see it that way.  He is white, and they are black.  Within the walls of the pizzeria, Sal has the photos of many of his heroes.  For him, the people he looks up to are Italian Americans who achieved success.  Whether or not the audience is meant to believe is as right or wrong, the residents, in the form of Buggin' Out (Giancarlo Esposito) see it as an indication of the racial divide.  He believes that there should be black representatives shown on the wall, and indication that Sal respects the people he's serving food to.

Is the audience to see it as Sal not respecting his clients?  Should we side with him, or should we side with Buggin' Out?  Does it really matter?  I believe what is being highlighted here is the perceptions people have of each other, and how they identify.  Lee is looking at different cultures and the things that can cause divides.

Well acted and well directed, Do the Right Thing is as important today as it was when it came out in 1989.  One would like to think that society changes a lot as we understand the errors of the past.  I would say that it does change over time, but it is clear that change doesn't happen nearly as fast as it should.  My hope is that in twenty years we will be able to look back at this film as a relic from the past that educates on our history instead of a sermon that still needs to be heard.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

REVIEW: Burlesgue

This is the final film that I have to review for losing a bet, and in four months I will most likely be losing the same bet once again.  For those unaware, on the podcast that I co-host, The Movie Breakdown, a yearly bet takes place.  We do a draft where we each select ten summer movies, and the feller whose picks cumulatively made the most in their opening weekends is the victorious champion.  I always lose.  Thusly, I am doomed to the punishment which is watching and reviewing three movies that are picked to inflict pain.  This is my last hurdle to jump, and if I didn't get it reviewed before the next draft takes place (this upcoming weekend), then I am subjected to a further three films.  Let's jump in then, shall we?

Released in 2010, Burlesque strives to appeal to music fans by bringing together two huge names.  Firstly, we have Cher, an Oscar winning singer and actress.  Seceondly, we have Christina Aguilera, a singer who identifies as a genie in a bottle that you have to rub the right way.  Not to much surprise, one of these people conveys emotion in the film, and the other... well, I guess she sings, so points for her.

Aguilera plays Ali, a girl who needs money (if I remember correctly.  I saw the first half of this film about four months ago and just got around to finishing the darned thing).  Wandering into a club with music and performers, Ali wants in, but Cher's character, Tess, will have none of it.  Ali finally proves she can sing, and then unveils her worth as she points out that the girls in the shows are simply lip-synching, and the product would be a thousand times better if they actually sung the songs.  Well played, because she is correct.  However, the ironic cruelty of this plot point is that director Steve Antin misses the logic in this and the performances in the film are recorded and then lip synched.  There is a much different sound to something that is recorded in the studio and something that would have been recorded while filming.  If you don't believe me, listen to the over produced songs in this and compare it to the songs in A Star is Born.  Honestly, I am fine that they did it that way, it just needs to be brought up when a character literally makes an argument against a technique used by the director.

I forgot to mention that the club Tess owns is in financial trouble, because you can't have a movie like this without that cliche.  Also, SPOILER, Tess ends up not only winning the hearts of her peers, but also saves the club.  Didn't see that coming.  Along the way, there are just so many empty scenes where the film is just doing what it feels it must.  Of course there is going to be a romance that takes a while to blossom before running into trouble exactly with half an hour left.  The tension that separates them (before they reconcile, of course) is painfully forced and lacks any reality or logic.  These moments always happen in films, but they at least need to be believable.

One of my biggest problems in this film is the character of Ali, and how she is written in regards to men.  Maybe I'm the only person that didn't like this, and it could be that I'm creating an issue that isn't actually there.  My problem is that Ali doesn't seem to have her own mind when it comes to the men in her life.  If they want something, Ali goes with it.  When really tired after a day of working and just wanting to go home, a guy takes her purse and says she needs to go out with him to get it back.  A sigh that seems to say, 'oh, those silly boys,' and Ali is off with him.  A guy breaks up with his fiancĂ©, and literally only a few hours later and he wants to get physical, and once again it doesn't seem to be that she has her own mind.  This is a character that is supposed to be strong, but I couldn't get into that when her life seems to revolve around what the men want.  At the end she gets mad and does her own thing, but that's part of the scene that was without reality or logic.

The concept of the film is fine, and while cliche it could have still been a decent enough experience.  Unfortunately the writing is uninspired and tired, just going through the same motions of the better movies that came before it.  Cher is fine, and Aguilera isn't horrible, but it is clear that acting is not her day job.  If you love music, watch it.  If you love music and respect yourself, the choice is yours, but choose wisely.  Don't choose poorly.

Rating - 1 out of 4 stars

NOTE - I always go back and proof read my stuff, but sometimes I am writing and I just don't want to return to it ever again.  This is one of those times.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

REVIEW: Den of Thieves

A good heist movie can be a lot of fun.  There is a lot of entertainment in watching the robbers work through their plan and then seeing the entire, convoluted mess come together at the end.  Of course, a good heist movie also has some sort of twist.  And a moustache.  Well, they may not all have a moustache, but it doesn't hurt the flow of the film when there's a dusty upper lip (Edward Norton knows what I'm talking about).

With Den of Thieves, we don't really have a good heist film, but it isn't bad either.  This is one of those movies that occupy the middle ground, where it just sort of exists and nothing is very memorable.  There is something to say about the well shot action sequences, but what we get outside of those moments is far from compelling.

The film focuses around a group of skilled bank robbers and their big plan to rob the Federal Reserve in Los Angeles.  Leading the group is Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber), a former special forces bad ass that assembled a solid team.  Standing in their way is a group of detectives led by Nick O'Brien (Gerard Butler), a rough and tumble cop who plays by his own rules.  Essentially, he is a super hyped up version of almost as many cliches as you could think of.

Part of the issue with Den of Thieves is that we spend most of our time with O'Brien, and I guess he is supposed to be the protagonist that we should be rooting for.  The problem is that O'Brien is a total Neanderthal.  The degree to with Butler takes the 'manly' aspects of O'Brien are so annoying and irritating that I won't shy away from being redundant in my description.  The pursuit of his alpha-male, top dog performance brings us a lead that is such a dick that I feel he was better suited for kicking sand in people's faces at the beach while belching out the few letters of the alphabet that he could remember.  Honestly, I could not stand this character and I didn't get the feeling from director Christian Gudegast that we were supposed to dislike him.  

One of the villains is a quiet bartender named Donnie (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) that gets kidnapped by O'Brien and his jackass friends who beat him into giving them information.  For some reason O'Brien later makes it clear to Merrimen that Donnie talked.  I believe that Gudegast did this to show some sort of unorthodox style of O'Brien, but it is so enormously stupid.  There are a few times where I think we are being shown the smarts of O'Brien when it is all actually dumb, dumb, dumb.  And stupid.  And dumb.  At the end of the movie, the robbers are stuck in traffic and O'Brien, who knows that the villains have body armour on and that they will be seriously armed, decides that they should engage in a gunfight with so many civilians around.  They are in a traffic jam.  They aren't going anywhere.  Police officers could literally block off the road ahead of them and arrest them, but O'Brien is too smart for the logical options.  Heck, the police could also have just set up lawn chairs and waited for the baddies to eventually get there.

Gudegast is really reaching for this film to be both dramatic and gritty, something that never quite gets delivered properly.  As I mentioned above, the action sequences are well shot.  They are tight, engaging, and look great.  However, because Gudegast is trying for Den of Thieves to be dramatic we have much of the movie being people talking.  I'm not against this sort of thing, but the dialogue needs to be sharp for it to work, and the script for this film isn't up to that level.  The film is an absurd two hours and twenty minutes,  another indicator that Gudegast believed he had more on his hands than just an action heist movie.  Numerous scenes didn't serve the overall narrative and should have been trimmed.

This isn't a horrible movie.  The only real issue is O'Brien is a disgustingly irritating character that ticked me off, making the movie really feel worse than it was.  Other than that, Den of Thieves exists simply in a state of being okay.  It's heft is rather light, and the drama is without impact.  The twist of the movie isn't as smart as it believes it is, and it will probably have you asking questions over the logic of it.  If you are curious about this film then I won't say stay away from it if you have a method of seeing it where you don't have to spend any money on it, such as a Netflix subscription.  If you are wondering if it is worth rental dollars, it isn't.  There are too many quality and intriguing heist movies available that are more worthy of your money.

Rating - 2 out of 4 stars

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Rambo, And Why I Disagree With The Popular Opinions

Sylvester Stallone solidified his name and career off of Rocky, and, in 1982, added another mammoth franchise to his portfolio.  In First Blood, Stallone played the part of John J. Rambo, a Vietnam special forces veteran that makes a mess of a small town.  I have always found it confusing that there is a great deal of acclaim for First Blood, and not much love for the sequel, Rambo: First Blood Part 2.  I'm fine with bringing criticism down on my head by saying the first film wasn't much, and the sequel is an iconic gem.

When I was much younger and I saw First Blood, I couldn't quite tell why it was supposed to be a 'good' film.  Rambo freaks out and snaps under the weight of mild abuse from local cops, beats them all up, escapes, and a giant manhunt ensues.  Not to justify the actions of the police, but Rambo was a bit of a dick and brought a lot of it on himself.  Then, when people get injured and someone dies, Rambo protests that he didn't do anything, making himself the victim.  This never sat for me, as the actions and reactions weren't those of a victimized hero.  The 'antagonist,' a sheriff played by Brian Dennehy, spends most of the film saying very common sense things, and, to tell you the truth, he is the relatable character in the film.

Personally, I think part of the problem is that Stallone seems to like to be the hero.  Ten years ago, when I got around to reading the book First Blood, by David Morrell, I understood why I had my issues with the film.  In the book, John Rambo is not a hero.  He isn't even a good guy.  The story is simply of an escalating vortex that two people, Rambo and the sheriff, find themselves in.  The decision to make Rambo the hero in the film is at odds with the story itself.  In short, this just isn't the type of structure that allows for a straightforward protagonist, and shifting the Rambo character towards being a good guy doesn't fit.

On top of this, we have one of the worst, cheesy, characters of that decade.  Rambo's former superior, Trautman (Richard Crenna) is nothing but a walking billboard for John Rambo.  He can't get enough of gushing over Rambo, and, whenever given the chance (and many often when not given the chance) he dotes over the god like abilities of Rambo.  My eyes roll with almost everything he says, essentially every line equating to, 'it turns out he's not just a cook' (sorry for the reference that some may not get).  It's like a kid who is five years old and finally got to meet Santa at the mall and just cannot shut the heck up about it.  He talks about it the entire ride home from the mall.  He talks about it while in the bathtub.  He talks about it while trying to brush his teeth.  Yes, we get it.  Rambo is tough.  Yes, no number of cops, national guard, or soldiers will even be close to good enough to handle Rambo, John J..  Trautman was in the book, but not like this.  SPOILER, at the end he literally blows Rambo's head off with a shotgun.

Now, the second film, oddly called First Blood Part 2, since there can never be another 'first' blood.  Any blood after that would be, second blood, or Rambo: Yet Another Blood.  Anywho, this is the movie that is in my opinion the pinnacle of the franchise, and one of Stallone's best films.  Sadly, the reason I say this is not for the same reasons that Sylvester Stallone was shooting for with this movie.  The script, penned by James Cameron and Stallone, is a fast moving, tightly told action story about Rambo being sent into Vietnam to take pictures of what is suspected to be an abandoned POW camp. When he finds American soldiers held captive there, he nabs one and makes his way to the extraction point, only to have the slimy suit in charge of the operation, Murdock (Charles Napier), abandon him.  This means two things.  First of all, John Rambo is mad.  Secondly, the only solution is explosions.

The reason why I hold this up as the better movie is that it perfectly represents everything that 80s action films were about, and everything that went along with the 'one man army' story (Commando would be the other film to sum up everything of that decade).  There is super-cool music now (because Rambo is going to explode pretty much everyone and everything).  There are muscle porn shots of his vascular body parts as they are forever in a state of flexing for some reason (well, that reason is because Stallone loves his body).  Our specially trained hero can wildly wave an assault rifle around and droves of villains die instantly.  And, on that topic, for being such a highly skilled and trained warrior, why the heck is Rambo seemingly allergic to aiming down the sights of his gun? Our 80s action heroes like shooting from the hip, because, you know, that's not completely dumb at all when you sit down to think about it.  The poster even goes as far as to show Rambo about to shoot an RPG from the hip.

When I said there were explosions in the film, that statement doesn't do it justice.  EVERYTHING shall explode.  It is this over the top nature that syncs this film with the pulse of that decade.  Bamboo huts?  Yep, they will blow up?  Evil man with a pistol?  Yep, he will blow up, and his boots will remain.  Anything and everything is done in this film to amplify the bad-assedness of John Rambo, and to turn up to eleven all that he is capable of.

Judging by the end of the film, Stallone really thought that there was a serious message to this movie. Really, a serious message to a film where a submerged man can leap straight up out of the water and land with his feet on a helicopter hover about four feet above the surface.  Yes, that is the proper vehicle for making some kind of political statement.  Stallone flexes eternal, Russians and Vietnamese soldiers blow up, and Murdock is the ultimate bureaucrat.  As far as having a suit in a film like this, Napier brings it full force and sets the bar.  Even Trautman isn't as annoying as in the first film, and he has some good exchanges with Murdock.

Many love First Blood, and I don't get it.  A good friend of mine once pointed out that Dennehy's character (who 'cruelly' tries to keep Rambo out of his town) is completely proven right in his worries that Rambo would cause trouble.  The 'hero' causes a poop-storm.  In the second film, under the great direction of George P. Cosmatos (who also directed the awesome Cobra, although once again it was awesome not for the reason that Stallone wanted), we are treated to essentially a live action cartoon.  There is no way at all to take Rambo: First Blood Part 2 seriously, but that's okay.  I am positive that Cosmatos didn't want that.  He created an over the top film that would go on to be a perfect time capsule for an entire decade.  And did I mention explosions?

Monday, January 28, 2019

REVIEW: Mission: Impossible - Fallout

As far as the Mission: Impossible franchise goes, I really didn't get into the first movie.  The fact that the crew got killed off right away with it turning into a Tom Cruise vehicle was disappointing.  I wanted to see the team in action.  The second film I liked even less.  The third was alright.  After that, though, I believe it has become the premier action franchise.  There is a lot of selection in the theatres for popcorn munching good times, but little has come close to touching a franchise that is spitting out near perfect films.

As Mission: Impossible - Fallout starts, there is a good sense immediately that the stakes for this film will be huge.  Nuclear bombs could end up in the hands of a very dangerous person, and it comes down to Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team, consisting of Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg).  As needed in such an impossible mission, there are many twists and turns in the plot, and it needs some mental acrobatics at times to remember who is doing what.  Sometimes I hate when there is too much going on in a script, but writer/director Christopher McQuarrie uses it to enhance the feeling for the audience.  We are watching and knowing that there are so many factors in play, and it really does add to the feeling that this is all an impossible task.

With the consequences of failure being huge, it is nice that there are some personal elements that are treated just as significantly.  Ethan Hunt needs to work through aspects of sacrifice for the greater good, something that crosses his path a few times in the film.  We also have some interesting backstory and motivation for Rebecca Ferguson's character, Ilsa Fuast.  Having these added layers keeps the film from only being about waiting for car chases and explosions, lending to more points of connection for the audience.

Seeing the film, it is hard to notice that this is only Christopher McQuarrie's fourth time directing.  He was also in the director's chair for Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, and that effort combined with Fallout allows him to put on display masterful techniques.  There is such a wonderful, fluid nature to all of the action sequences, and the stunts are mind blowing.  As I watched it, I had no idea for the most part what was done practically and what was CGIed.  There are a few moments where you can detect a green screen moment, but those are tied into really imaginative shots that are wonderful enough that it doesn't matter.

The casting of this franchise is so spot on.  If there is someone in Hollywood who works harder and gives more effort than Tom Cruise, I would like to know who they are.  Despite getting older, the man seems to refuse to slow down, and the lengths he goes to to bring a realism to incredibly technical stunts enhances the film greatly.  Ving Rhames is able to bring a cool demeanour, and Simon Pegg naturally uses his comedic abilities to add some laughs.  The great thing here is that those laughs don't detract from the tension that is happening, and it is used sparingly.  It would be a sin for me to forget to mention Rebecca Ferguson returning to the franchise, and kicking ass just as much as the boys do.

I know that there are a lot of people that have a hard time wrapping their minds around Tom Cruise.  He jumped up and down on a couch and he is heavy into scientology.  I get how some of what he does alienates people.  It can be difficult getting into a movie when the connection you have with a talent is negative.  With that said, I really hope that people are able to put that aside and watch these movies for what they are.  They are a slick combination of intrigue, tense dialogue, suspicious environments, and unparalleled action.

To all of the people that enjoy popping up some kernels and smothering them in butter to sit down to fun escapism, McQuarrie has twice in a row done it better than anybody.  The big names at the box office are all Marvel related, and those are fine films.  Heck, they can be great films.  Are they all consistently up to the same standard as the past few Mission: Impossible films?  I don't think so.  The blending of all the wonderful elements of cinema are done with Walter White precision, and what we get is a perfect experience.

Rating - 4 out of 4 stars

About Me

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I'm smarter than a bat. I know this because I caught the little jerk bat that got in my apartment, before immediately and inadvertently bringing him back in. So maybe I'm not smarter than a bat.