Get Hard

 

Get Hard is a crude, rude equal opportunity offender: Blacks, Whites, Gays, Latinos, etc. Not for the thin-skinned.

Get Hard is a funny movie that gives Kevin Hart almost as high a profile as Will Ferrell. Obviously, the film’s producers are trying to hit the urban market as well as the general market and I’m guessing they’ll have some success.

James King (Ferrell) is an L.A. money trader who is beaucoup rich. He’s engaged to his boss’s smokin’ hot daughter (Alison Brie). Darnell (Kevin Hart) is the hard-working owner of a luxury carwash whose customers include James.

When James is busted for fraud and sentenced to ten years in San Quentin, he hires Darnell to get him hard enough to survive his time behind bars. James has mistakenly presumed that Darnell has been in jail. Since he offers Darnell money he needs, Darnell lets James believe what he wants.

Darnell turns James’s mansion into a fake prison. The tennis court becomes the prison yard, the setting for a memorable scene in which Hart portrays black, Latino and gay prison types. Bravo, Kevin!

This cross-culture journey takes James and Darnell to a gay restaurant, a “crib” in the ‘hood and a white power motorcycle club’s hangout. There are moments that are uncomfortable for James, Darnell or both, as well as for the audience. But, again, there are laughs to be had.

Ferrell’s character is a Harvard grad who knows his way around the world of investments. Still, he is buffoonish in a Burgundyesque sort of way—enough so that he’s the goofy Ferrell we know and love.

As big star Sandra Bullock did with the lesser-known Melissa McCarthy in 2013’s The Heat, so does big star Ferrell allow Hart plenty of room to showcase his strong talents in Get Hard.

If you can handle the offensive nature of much of the Get Hard’s script, you’ll find some funny stuff here.

Also in the cast is Craig T. Nelson and singer John Mayer. This film was directed by Etan Cohen, not to be confused with Ethan Cohen of the Cohen brothers directing team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home

 

If aliens do ever invade earth, I hope they resemble the Boovs who occupy our planet in the new film Home. The Boovs, represented in the film mainly by the enthusiastic and lovable Oh (Jim Parsons) and the bumbling leader Captain Smeg (Steve Martin), are cute and purple—or red, blue and even green, depending on what they’re feeling.

The Boovs first move upon arriving on our planet is to relocate all the humans to Happy Humanstown, allowing the Boovs free access to all the good stuff left behind. (I thought immediately of the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, but I’d guess most members of the film’s target demo will not make that connection.)

The Boovs manage to transport folks by turning off gravity and, as humans rise skyward, grabbing them to go for a little ride. But one human manages to avoid the Boov move. She’s young Tip, voiced by Rihanna wih her Barbadian accent. Of course, she and Oh meet up and take off in her car.

As Oh and Tip (and Tip’s cute cat called Pig) travel the world looking for Tip’s mom (voiced by Jennifer Lopez), they come to form a solid friendship.

While Home doesn’t approach the level of a Pixar film or other Dreamworks animation efforts like the Shrek, Madagascar and Dragon movies, it’s a decent effort that should satisfy kids and parents looking for harmless animated fun. Not a must-see, but not bad.

Maybe the best thing I can say about Home is that it kept a theater full of kids attentive to what was onscreen. Often, at Saturday morning preview screenings, the young ones get restless and chatty at some point during the movie. Not that they were laughing all the way through, but the crowd checking out Home appeared to be absorbed in the film. That’s a good thing.

 

 

Insurgent

 

Insurgent, as the 2nd film of a quadrilogy, is like a middle child in a family. The eldest and the baby get more attention and certain perks, so the middle children have to work hard to be noticed.

The main task of the second film of a series is to set up the final films. At the same time, there must be a few hooks to give the film an identity of its own. Insurgent manages to hit its marks on both counts.

Insurgent offers cool dream sequences (apparently inspired by Inception) and the addition of Naomi Watts (as a brunette!) to the cast. Not to mention… the two main characters act on their mutual attraction.

To refresh, civilization in this dystopian version of Chicago is based on all people being selected for one of five factions, according to personality testing. Those who crossover into multiple categories are referred to as Divergent. In the 2014 film, Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), after being pegged as Divergent, chooses the Dauntless faction, where she meets and falls in love with Four (Theo James).

As we pick up the action in the new film, Tris and Four are living on the run, away from the city, where political turmoil is wreaking havoc. Erudite faction leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) is now in charge. Upon their return to the bombed out landscape of Chi-town, the pair meet up with Evelyn (Watts) who leads the factionless brigade. She is also revealed to be Four’s mother, though their relationship is far from warm.

The film’s highlights include trials conducted by Candor faction leader Jack Kang (Daniel Dae Kim) with heavy doses of truth serum injected before testimony. Later, the sequences that occur after Tris turns herself into Jeanine for more faction testing are fun to watch as Tris’ mind goes through weird dreams. They are even trippier than the effects that present the opening production logos.

Woodley, Winslet and Watts are the acting stars among a large cast that also includes Miles Teller, Ashley Judd and Octavia Spencer.

As a fan of dystopian future settings, I like this one. (Although it seems odd that most of the bombed-out building shells are still standing 200 years after the destructive war.) The POV flight through the dried-up Chicago River bed isn’t quite as thrilling as the zipline ride from the top of the Hancock building in Divergent, but it does present a creative vision.

While Divergent focused on introducing the characters and the scenario, Insurgent seems more concerned with advancing the storyline. The film, which is violent throughout, ends with a bang as a new political coalition stands by to be fully realized in Allegiant—Part 1. That film will comes to theaters in March 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

 

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel does what a sequel is supposed to do. It advances the storylines set in the first film, offers a couple of new tweaks and doesn’t try to reimagine the scenario the earlier movie delivered.

Plus, Second does not contain the high volume of old, corny jokes that were littered throughout the first Marigold.

Why do a Second? Well, 2012’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel grossed over $136 million worldwide (about a third of that in the U.S.). And there are not that many films that are targeted to older moviegoers.

In Second, the crew from the first (Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup and Diana Hardcastle) are back at the hotel. After being lured from Britain to India by visions of a paradise and finding a dump in the first film, they stayed and reset their lives. The message of both films is that older people have lives, loves, dreams and libidos.

Meanwhile, hotel manager Sonny (Dev Patel) has visions of adding a new hotel to his portfolio while getting ready to marry Sunaina (Tina Desai). When new guest Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) arrives for a stay at the hotel (and to provide eye candy for female moviegoers), Sonny does all he can to impress him (presuming Guy can help him fulfill his real estate ambitions).

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a bit too long. Director John Madden diagrammed several dance scenes on his telestrator and, while they add some sizzle and color, they add to the fatigue factor that sets in about three-quarters of the way through the two hour film.

I think the best reasons to see this film are Maggie Smith and Judi Dench. These two 80-year-olds (Dench is 3 weeks older) and their characters are just fun to watch. We should appreciate them while they are still alive and gracing movie screens.

Another reason: TSBEMH is a perfect film for the 70-something, 80-something or 90-something in your family. Take ‘em!

 

 

 

Focus

 

Focus is like meatloaf and mashed potatoes—solid, satisfying and filling but no “wow” factor. Sure, Will Smith is a box office giant who we all love. And Margot Robbie is unbelievably gorgeous (and talented). The trailers for Focus hinted at something special. But, alas, that is not the result.

This story of con men and women is told in three acts: Nicky (Smith) meets Jess (Robbie) in a hotel restaurant in NYC. He shares tips on picking pockets, advising her to shift a mark’s focus somewhere other than where the watch, ring, wallet, purse, etc. is being lifted.

Act two takes them to New Orleans for the “big game” in the Superdome. (The film takes special care not to mention the NFL, its teams or trademarks. The game, by the way, features the Miami Sharks versus the Chicago Threshers.) Jess joins the team of crooks who reap a major haul. Meanwhile, the duo’s relationship heats up.

Nicky and Jess attend the game in the luxury suite of a wealthy Chinese businessman (B.D. Wong) who they engage in a series of risky bets. Nicky keeps losing and the businessman keeps raising the stakes. The scheme concocted to dictate the outcome of the final bet is ludicrous, as is carrying over a million in cash to a football game in a satchel.

Act three happens three years later in Buenos Aires where Nicky is involved in a scam to steal software from one auto racing team and sell it to each of the other teams. At a reception Nicky acts surprised to see Jess hanging out with race car driver Garraga (Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro) whose software is about to be compromised. Likable TV mainstay Gerald McRaney has a significant role in this third act.

In your better confidence scheme movies, the reveals tend to elicit a “Whoa!” from the viewer. In Focus, the reveals made me say (to myself), “Hmmm. How about that?”

It’s certainly great to see Will Smith redeem himself following his After Earth vanity project. And Margot Robbie keeps the momentum she created in Wolf of Wall Street going. Focus is a decent movie, though not a mind-blower. Set your bar at mid-level and your expectations will be met.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2

 

Let’s time-travel ahead 5 years to this 2020 vision: It’s 3:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning. After a night on the town, you’re winding down by flipping through cable channels. Most are running infomercials for weight loss supplements, Bowflexes, etc. But, alas, Comedy Central has a movie!

It is Hot Tub Time Machine 2, which you have never seen. In a manner similar to that of a morbidly curious person staring at a horrible car crash, you are transfixed by the film’s awfulness. When a commercial comes on, you travel back in time by rewinding your live DVR and rewatching the previous 10 or so minutes to confirm that you actually saw what you thought you saw.

This film is unfunny and not at all entertaining. The story, of course, is absurd and hardly worth mentioning. But that was not a surprise. The shocker was the appropriate absolute silence from the preview audience in response to much of the movie’s script. Low comedy is okay; unfunny low comedy is a bore.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is a movie that, for me, stirred one particular emotion: pity. For the cast and crew whose names will be forever linked to this stinker via IMDB. Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Adam Scott, Jason Jones and Chevy Chase have all done worthwhile work, but HTTM2 is a shameful mess. Clark Duke is a lesser-known actor but he, too, like the aforementioned men, should’ve known better.

(Should you watch the above red band trailer, you’ll note that it says “This Christmas.” Apparently, somebody knew better than waste valuable holiday theater screens on this turkey.)

Okay, back to your future: On that late Saturday/early Sunday in 2020, you finally come to your senses and flip from Hot Tub Time Machine 2 to that Bowflex ad. And you are a happier person for having done so.

 

 

Kingsman: The Secret Service

 

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a ton of fun! It’s action-packed and full of surprises. It moves at a frantic pace and never slows down until its final postscript. Like last year’s Lego Movie, Kingsman: The Secret Service is a better movie than we usually get in February.

Harry Hart (Colin Firth) aka Galahad is the dapper, well-dressed ops director of the secret spy organization that works out of a men’s clothing store in London. The versatile Firth is, as the British say, “spot on” in this role.

Following the death of a colleague in a 1997 mission, he gives a medallion and contact information to the man’s young son Eggy. Years later, now in his early 20s, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) needs help getting out of a jam and calls Galahad who takes care of the situation. When Kingsman agent Lancelot (Jack Davenport) is killed in action, Galahad recruits Eggsy to try out for a position. The competition is tough and Eggsy works hard to succeed.

When the film’s villain Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) is introduced, he is apparently a good guy, an environmental warrior. But his method for saving the planet involves eliminating much of the world’s human population. He scores good will by giving the entire world free wi-fi and internet—but there’s an evil motive to his generosity.

Galahad consults with Kingsman chief Arthur (Michael Caine) who suggests Galahad learn more about Valentine. At their first meeting, the dinner scene is a classic. (I’m tempted to share more, but… alas, no spoiler from me.)

K:TSS recalls early James Bond films, but in a more appreciative fashion than the Austin Powers movies did. As Q does in the Bond films, Galahad introduces Eggsy to amazing spy devices. Villain Valentine has an impressive mountaintop lair, complete with an airplane landing strip in a cave. And there’s the promise of a sexual payoff for the story’s hero, a la 007.

Kingsman: The Secret Service contains numerous memorable and bloody fight scenes. They are cartoonish and, in many case, quite funny. Director Matthew Vaughn (who also directed X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass and Stardust) has created a film that looks good and has plenty of clever bits. Like the woman with the lethal Oscar Pistorius prosthetic feet, the exploding opening credits and the high-speed chase scene where the car being chased travels in reverse.

Kingsman: The Secret Service delivers the goods. I like it a lot.

 

 

Jupiter Ascending

 

Big dumb movie. There’s a reason Jupiter Ascending’s release date was pushed back from July 2014 to February 2015: it’s not very good.

Co-directors/co-writers Andy and Lana Wachowski make movies that contain gorgeous, imaginative visuals. But their stories and their storytelling abilities leave much to be desired.

Here’s the Jupiter Ascending scenario: Jupiter (Mila Kunis) is a Chicago housecleaner, just an ordinary (if beautiful) schlub whose 4:45 a.m. alarm gets her moving into another day of the drudgery of cleaning toilet bowls. Turns out that she has in her DNA some special stuff that several folks on a distant planet want.

Jupiter is transported to this faraway place where she encounters three siblings who are interested in her. Played by Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth and Tupence Middleton, the three Abrasax nogoodniks do their evil while good guys Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) and Stinger (Sean Bean) line up on Jupiter’s side.

Redmayne should probably have his recent Oscar nomination rescinded based on his overacting in this film. Tatum, with goatee, resembles Will Ferrell’s character in Zoolander. Kunis looks good, if occasionally baffled, throughout the film. The wedding outfit she wears as a bride-to-be is nothing short of stunning.

For what it’s worth, Jupiter Ascending, presents a welcome positive view of Jupiter’s U.S. extended family of Russian immigrants. (Several films of the past few years have depicted Russians as evil, treacherous people, often worse than the Cold War Russians.) Maybe this portrayal is a result of the Wachowskis’ eastern European family heritage. (A subtitle in Jupiter Ascending revealed a Russian curse that I may include in my repertoire: “Stalin’s Balls!”)

The effects are spectacular, the battles are amazing. But, ultimately, Jupiter Ascending fails. It’s a shame that the TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000 is no longer being produced. Jupiter Ascending, I think, would be an excellent candidate for an MST3K treatment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Or White

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to hug Octavia Spencer.

Black Or White is a message movie, yes, but not as heavy handed and unrelenting as many such films tend to be. There’s humanity and love here to counterbalance the resentments and grudges.

Elliott Anderson (Kevin Costner) is an L.A. attorney. He and his wife have been raising his mixed race granddaughter, following his teen daughter’s death during childbirth. When Elliott’s wife is killed in a car crash, leaving grandpa to raise the girl by himself, the other grandma (who is African-American) Rowena Jeffers (Octavia Spencer) decides to seek custody.

A key element of Black Or White’s charm is the little girl Eloise (Jillian Estell) who is the subject of the custody battle. Estell is cute and she’s a good actor.

While the relationship among the grandparents has been respectful if not warm, Elliott still has hard feelings against Rowena’s son, Eloise’s father, Reggie (André Holland) who he blames for his daughter’s death. When Reggie joins in the custody battle, things turn ugly.

Complicating the situation is Elliott’s heavy drinking. In fact, he drafts Eloise’s tutor Duvan (Mpho Koaho) to serve as his driver when he’s too drunk to drive.

The always great Anthony Mackie is attorney Jeremiah Jeffers, representing Rowena and Reggie. Standup comic Bill Burr is surprisingly good as Rick Reynolds, Elliott’s friend, law firm partner and courtroom attorney.

Black Or White could have easily slipped into the talky melodrama of a Hallmark or Lifetime TV movie, but with a busy plot and timely comic relief, it keeps up a good pace that should keep audiences engaged. Costner is the big star here, but Octavia Spencer is a joy to watch onscreen. Her takes are priceless.

This is a movie that Costner helped bankroll. He came to St. Louis, where racial polarization continues to bubble under, to promote the film and its message. Costner’s character says things that some white folks may have felt but never articulated. Rowena and her extended family are people who are easy to admire and respect. Black Or White presents a story that should entertain as well as provide a few things for everyone—black or white—to think about.

Why Is American Sniper Kicking Ass At The Box Office?

Cooper Sniper

  1. An excellent marketing campaign. A heavy TV schedule in December and January emphasized the tension of the sniper’s mission.
  2. Good awareness of real life sniper Chris Kyle’s story from his book and media appearances.
  3. Discussion of the film has become politicized, drawing praise and criticism from conservatives and liberals. People on both sides (as well as those in the middle) are anxious to see what all the uproar is about.
  4. Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper. Eastwood’s recent efforts were misfires, but he’s delivered many crowd pleasers as a director. Cooper is a likeable actor who has several solid performances in the recent past.
  5. The competition at the box office has been weak, even for January films.
  6. The six Oscar nominations helped drive attendance (more than for other nominees), because they were announced on the day before the wide opening.
  7. The weather has been mild for January in many parts of the U.S.
  8. American Sniper is a good, if not great, movie. It focuses not just on combat in Iraq but also on Kyle’s life and family back home.
  9. The film’s sad postscript has had an emotional impact on many who’ve seen the film (and then posted about it on Facebook).
  10. Kyle is portrayed as a hero. America likes heroes.
  11. It appears to be drawing people who rarely attend movies in theaters. (In the tradition of Forest Gump, Titanic, Avatar and others.)

Even though American Sniper has sold most of its tickets in January, because it was released in four theaters on December 25 of last year, it is officially a 2014 movie. Experts predict the buzz will continue and American Sniper will go on to top 2014’s box office leaders The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 and Guardians of the Galaxy.