The House Review

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Comedies like The House make me yearn for R-rated comedies to succeed in being funny. That is because The House has some entertainment value in there yet not enough of the material translates into laughter, at least not for a feature length film. The House has the acting talent, but the talent is not enough to rise the movie above the repetitive gags.

The story is that (Will Ferrell) and (Amy Poehler) and (Jason Matzukis) are running an illegal gaming operation in order to cover each other’s debts and expenses. This means raising half a million dollars in 4 weeks. Ferrell and Poehler want to get their daughter into college, Matzukis was to avoid foreclosure.

Tell me if you have heard of any of these stock characters before:

1. The cop who is so idiotic that he is not believable in any way.
2. The corrupt leader of the local council who hooks up with his co-worker behind closed doors.
3. The optimistic stoner who is both dumb and happy-go-lucky (every Jason Mantzoukas character ever)
4. The parents who will become overly rebellious when the chips are down.

Those are all the main characters in the movie and the gags are an assembly line of water down gags that are associated with those stock characters.

To be fair to Ferrell, Poehler and especially Mantzoukas, they try to make it work. This was the main reason I could watch this movie to the end quite easily. I have seen comedies in which actors were apathetic and lazy knowing their material was not funny.The three actors have chemistry, but they lack a funny script that translates well on the big screen.

Laughs exist in The House, but they are few and far between. The first 20 minutes beginning does not work at all and I was expecting a trainwreck. Fortunately, things do pick up from there with the best bits starting to come in when the trio start to make some money and it became mildly entertaining for awhile. But The House does not achieve the belly laughs it intended to do.

Sadly, The House does not have enough laughs or entertainment value for 90 minutes. Enough for a TV show maybe. The actors stopped it from being a disappointment, but this movie will easily be forgotten ⭐⭐1/2

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Pirates 5: A Bloated Mess

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Pirates of the Caribbean 5 it a film that is unashamed of what it is. It is a bloated mess from beginning to end. It also waves the middle finger by giving a corpulent wave of unrealised stories that was rushed into the movie before being swallowed up by the gigantic machine of a big Hollywood blockbuster.

I say that Pirates of the Caribbean is unashamed of it grandeur because, near the beginning, Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and his crew rob a bank in front of the public. I mean “rob a bank” literally as in they stole the building and dragged it throughout town via a stream of horses pulling it around like a caravan on a joyride. The movie shows it’s bloated production from the get go.

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That is a bank being pulled by horses with an intoxicated Jack Sparrow on the roof.

In the very beginning of Dead Man Tell No Tales, we do get the main plot (thank God) in which Henry Turner (Brendon Thwaites) is trying to locate the Trident of Poseidon to undo the curse of his father Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). If you do want to see this film, just remember that premise to keep in check as the movie gets swallowed up by subplot after subplot and CGI “extravaganza” after CGI “extravaganza”. After an inundation of overstuffed special effects and convoluted storytelling, I was bored and exhausted after watching “stuff” on the screen.

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A CGI shark. If only it would say “Hello, my name is Bruce”

At least the last two movies of the Pirates franchise has gone noticeably shorter in length, however, with bad pacing it made Dead Man Tell No Tales feels just as long as At World’s End even though Dead Man Tell No Tales is nearly 40 minutes shorter.

Another reason Dead Men Tell No Tales feels so long is that the movie has got nothing interesting to say and only one 45 second guillotine sequence to boot. At least Batman vs. Superman had a couple of well-choreographed action set pieces.

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I admit, the guillotine sequence was unexpected and quite clever.

The faintest praise I am going to give this movie is that it does not sink to the levels or the previous movie On Stranger Tides but not by much. I hate to say this but Dead Man Tells No Tales is an improvement on its predecessor simply because I didn’t descend to apathy as quickly. It’s like Dead Men Tell Not Tales refined On Stranger Tides which is slightly less bad.

They literally had the jumping of a super fake CGI shark which might have been self-referential to the franchise. It would be poetic had it not been so sad that one of the most original (and particular) franchise has slowly turned into a generically dull franchise in the last fourteen years. ⭐1/2

A Dog’s Purpose: It’s Ends :) It’s means :-|

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A Dog’s Purpose is a movie that asks the question “Does the ends justify the means?” that is because A Dog’s Purpose aims what is sets out to achieve: To make people cry. How it’s achieved is somewhat force-fed. Nevertheless, it sort-of worked.

The story is about a dog (voiced by Josh Gad) finding his reason for living and he reincarnates into other dogs when he (sometimes “she”) dies and gathers little life lessons along the way.

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I like sugar just not by itself. A Dog’s Purpose is sugar. At least it’s not shit.

A Dog’s Purpose is the equivalent of a kid constantly cheating to win a game in which he succeeds in doing. It’s a TV movie mixed with Marley and Me. A Dog’s Purpose was straining my emotional investment by using its surgery sweetness and fabricated charm to manipulate me into believing this film is amazing.

For instance, they re-recycled some of the oldest heart-pulling tricks imaginable in the movie For sad scenes, they either prolong the death with music drenched in melancholy or they show the owner in emotional pain while the music is drenched in melancholy.

For happy scenes, it shows the dog gleefully galloping up the hills of the farm to which there is a sunset glistening on the horizon. Or the dog falls in love with a bigger dog which coincided with a romantic relationship between the owners. This movie was so insanely predictable I was surprised that the audience around me was surprised when the various payoffs occur.

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This scene with Dennis Quaid was one of the few scenes I really liked

Nevertheless, the movie sort of works because I was feeling the effects. I have a dog and that probably made me empathize with the movie more, yet I was not fully into its shameless ways of getting me to care. In that sense, A Dog’s Purpose reminded me of the disastrous saccharine that was Mother’s Day but admittedly, A Dog’s Purpose is miles better than Mother’s Day simply because it achieves what it sets out to achieve: To make viewers cry.

So again, I asked myself the question “Does the ends justify its means?”

My answer is “not really”. I always believed in a movie that the ending itself does not matter but how the movie gets to the ending and how well executed the ending is.

Although points do go to the innocent intentions of the movie and it does try to send a positive message without being in any way shocking, sarcastic, ironic or overly negative. I actually somewhat appreciate it’s willingness and defiance to tell the story how they like it. I may not agree with it, but I harbor no animosity for it like I would for a bad movie. ⭐⭐

P.S. I don’t care about the story of supposed animal cruelty angle TMZ showed. This review has nothing to do with it. PETA fell for that news story. TMZ deliberately misrepresented the story for a rating. They succeeded but do their ends justify their means?

Kong Skull Island: A Deliciously Deep Fried Chicken

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Kong: Skull Island is like a delicious piece of fried chicken: Easy to digest, satisfies you for a couple of hours, but not expected be great for you. That is totally fine. I have eaten fried chicken knowing it wasn’t healthy. I eat it because it is delicious. If having a thrill ride is your mantra, Kong: Skill Island will achieve that goal.

The film opens with a montage of war and postwar history from the Second World War to the Vietnam War. This is interspersed with the actor’s names printed on the screen. The way that was shot combined by who was in it (Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson and especially Bree Larson) made me believe that Kong: Skull Island was going to be fantastic. I thought that it would be a perfect blend of action and story.

Is Kong. Is Good.

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Apocalypse Kong

Instead, we get a lot more action than the story here. The action was entertaining to watch and I had fun with it. The story was mildly interesting at best. Ultimately, Kong: Skull Island is a success because it never drops the ball and doesn’t make bad mistakes. Combined with the fact that Kong: Skull Island moves at a brisk pace and never bored me made it a pleasing experience for me as I watched it.

The best thing in Kong: Skull Island was easily the cinematographer and the special effects. What was interesting about the cinematography in Kong: Skull Island was that it took a lot of inspiration (and even copied a scene) from Apocalypse Now. From the bright, musky, orange-red sunsets to the aerial bombing of a jungle while playing on-the-nose music. At least the filmmakers were smart enough to use things from a great film while not using it as a crutch, I just wish it wasn’t done that way so obviously.

The special effects and the action sequences were also done well. It was good but nothing close to spectacular of different. They make a jump scare that was actually frightening and the climatic fight felt visceral and I easily bought it. They had one weird moment where King Kong was eating a giant octopus and the tentacles were hanging from his mouth which was odd. Finally, the best moment in the film for me involved a suspenseful, ingenious scene involving the sounds of flash photography and big bad reptilians.

Kong Be Better Next Time

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Mummy Where’s my Barbie!

The frustrating thing about Kong: Skull Island is that they play so safe that it’s not funny. There is no character development whatsoever despite the fact that the characters were well-established. I got that Hiddleston was playing a hunter and explorer but that was it. Larson plays a pacifist and a photojournalist, but that was it. Knowing how well they established these characters combined with the overall quality of this movie, I know the filmmakers could have easily pulled off a character driven story with great action simultaneously. That would have been awesome. Logan is a movie that did just that while Kong: Skull Island doesn’t. It sticks to the failsafe formula it knows it can achieve: A popcorn action movie.

So overall, Kong: Skull Island is a good movie to watch if you are thinking about watching it. If you weren’t thinking about watching it, you probably won’t enjoy it. If you have time on your hands and want to be entertained for two hours, Kong: Skull Island will do just that ***1/4

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Retro Review

 

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Written by Nelson Cumming

I remember several years ago hearing the news that Disney was going to make another Star Wars film. My reaction was “Dear God no!”. Then I saw the movie and my reaction had changed.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a fun movie. It knows how and when to be serious and fun. Star Wars: The Force Awakens could have fallen into being too dark or atonal like Batman vs Superman but it didn’t.

Instead, Star Wars: The Force Awakens explores what made the franchise popular in the first place. Jar Jar Binks does not play a role, There is no holiday special (Noooooooo) The set up of the lead protagonist is in the middle of a desert, There are battles with flying ships and several key characters returned.

While Star Wars: The Force Awakens retains the acts of nostalgia there are also many elements that distinguish it from the other films in the franchise. The most important of which are several new characters that drive the story.

The two new characters are Finn, a Stormtrooper that has gone AWOL after a battle that changed him, causing him to switch sides to the New Republic (The good guys) and Rey, a scavenger who gets swept up into the adventure. These roles are played by John Boyega and Daisy Ridley respectively

 

 

What makes this cast so good is their believably. When the dialogue wanes, their performances are so good that I believed them anyway. Every actor who was in it didn’t overreact to moments where lesser-made movies would have. It made it easier to watch and avoided my eye-rolling.

The other major aspects of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was their set pieces, designs, and special effects. There was a moment in which Kylo Ren, the main antagonist stops a shot from a laser gun in mid air which was awesome. The action set pieces coupled with the large and fast airships was both thrilling and delightful. They helped provide the film with the action and the fun it needed.

I just love it when large, $200 million blockbusters work. I have found that the good blockbusters are inventive with the special effects they put their money on. Not only that, but these movies know how to moderate it bu focusing on keeping the story simple and believable. That is what a blockbuster needs to do to make the movie immersive.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens ticks a lot of boxes. I laughed, I gasped, I got the story, I believed in the actors and the drama combined with the sheer size and scale made the film a great installment to the franchise ****1/4

P.S. I don’t know why but the best part for me was the introduction to C-3PO. He caught me by surprise. It was a nice surprise indeed. A surprise it must.

 

Nocturnal Animals: A Great Revenge Tale

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Written by Nelson Cumming

If you can get by the first minute of Nocturnal Animals which contains four naked clinically obese women strip-dancing, you will be rewarded (and not in THAT way). This is the second of Tom Ford’s directorial efforts (The first being A Single Man). This time, Ford actually deals with a bit of blood and dirt in addition to his usual clean and tidy environment and costume design. It pays dividends.

In time, I hope people know director Tom Ford by name because he makes great movies that are high art but accessible to casual moviegoers and cinephiles. He gets an actress who fits that category as well. Amy Adams plays the “lead” in this role (she gets not a whole lot of screentime) and she plays a successful costume designer who is married to a successful ivey-league businessman (Armie Hammer).

She gets a copy of a novel called “Nocturnal Animals” a detective western novel written by her ex-husband. She quickly gets immersed in the graphic nature of it. However, the book gets both larger than life and too close to home, making Adams question why she left her ex in the first place.

The Unromantic Couple

 

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In 2016, Adams portrayed either a damsel (Batman vs Superman) or a heartbreaker. She has been good in her portrayals. But if I were associated with her characters in real life, I’d run away.

 

Nocturnal Animals is a great film. I got immersed into the novel as much as Adam’s character was. The main character in the novel is played by Jake Gyllenhaal. He plays his character with both ferocious anger and fragile vulnerability. He plays a father who gets carjacked with his family by psychopaths and is shaken by the experience. He then has to learn how to deal with it. Compared to Adam’s, my first thoughts were “There’s no way he can top her”. He did. I want him to get award nominations for his role.

The person who was alongside Gyllenhaal was, of course, Amy Adams. In this movie, I am still yet to determine if her character was a victim of circumstance or she was just cold hearted. I am leaning toward the latter because she explicitly admitted it in the film. However, it is implied throughout the film that she is a victim of circumstance.

Like in Arrival, she knows how to crush the heart of her significant other. It makes me miss the naïve and innocent princess of purity she played in Enchanted. She was better in Arrival because she gets more screen time there. There wasn’t enough of her in the movie to win anything for this role but she plays the most important role in the story.

Nocturnal Animals does deliver the goods. I think it is better that Arrival. I may re-evaluate if I see Arrival again. Like The Revenant, there were long stretches where I was immersed in the film despite the abrupt scene and location changes. With it’s non-linearity and multiple story arcs, Tom Ford was performing a high wire act and he succeeded in doing so. ****1/2

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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Written by Nelson Cumming

J.K. Rowling has decided to make the transition from an author to a screenwriter, at least for her own book. Is she as good a screenwriter as she is an author?

Well, I think she is a good comedic writer no doubt. I mean that with sincerity. Everything that is meant to be funny is, in fact, funny. The slapstick with the animals (specifically the gem seeking Niffler) provided some comic relief which is backed up by Dan Fogler who plays the only no-maj (a muggle) in the wizarding world who blunders his way through the wizarding world. Fogler was the best performance in the film bar none.

Rowling is also a good writer in expressing the themes and ideas she wishes to explore. A lot of the themes in this movie revolve around political powerplay, divided societies, isolation and repression. She presents that aspect of the story during the first third of the film. I was highly anticipating how it would progress and conclude.

…and then the cliff came.

The one major letdown this film has is that it never comes full circle. All the themes I have mentioned Rowling illustrates. But she doesn’t really progress those ideas further and with all the separate elements of the plot, they never come together.

The subplots: An outline

Without spoiling it. The first thirty minutes is basically plot progression which illustrates the society of witches and no-majs and how divided they are. There no-majs want to eradicate wizards and break their wands. Wizards are forced underground to practice their magic and live with each other.

After that there are comedy skits with the beasts and that element of the story is barely mentioned again. That was disappointing. A subplot involving a boy called Credence and the main antagonist Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) That plot element focused on powerplay, manipulation, isolation, and fear. Yet that subplot doesn’t get a proper emotional payoff by the conclusion.

Rowling also wants the kids to have a good time as well because she wants to show all the beasts that get released and the comedic elements in catching them. The goes for the cuteness factor as well with all the animals. Expect girls and kids to say “awwww”

An Archery Analogy

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Arrows represent the themes and elements to every film. Left is a 5 star movie that hits you to the core. Right was Fantastic Beasts. Yes, they hit, but the elements are never together.

So you can imagine how frustrating it is when all these elements appear in their own scenes but never really come together. This also affected plot progression, traveling from one idea, leaving it behind, and moving on to the next.

All the elements that Rowling decides to dabble into works. That is enough for me to be entertained. But what Fantastic Beasts really suffers from a lack of putting all the plot threads and thematic elements together. That was disappointing for me. It wasn’t about what the story did, it’s what it didn’t do. ***1/4

P.S. The final reveal sucked. It didn’t make sense in both the story and the internal logic in the story.

Arrival- A Thematic Pool

Written by Nelson Cumming

Arrival had a lot of promise. So much so that I paid a lot extra to see it on a wider screen, thinking I would get overwhelmed by the grandiose mis en scene. That didn’t happen. Despite this, Arrival is a very interesting and highly original film.

Oddly, the movie it reminded me of was The Tree of Life by Terrance Malick although it is not anything like it. To use a book title from Douglas Adams, The Tree of Life concerns itself with “Life, The Universe and Everything” whereas Arrival explores the inner-workings of communication, language and pre-determinism. The latter of which I didn’t get until much later after I saw it.

Unpacking the Plot- A headache that was worth it

Adam’s using her linguistic powers to understand the alien language. Initially this was my favorite part of the film.

I’m gonna be honest. I didn’t get the subplot of the movie at all until I did a bit of research. After looking it up I thought “Damn, Arrival was going for the gold” The main plot and subplot are completely non-linear (like The Tree of Life) and I was wondering why the subplot even existed for a while. I’ll outline both the plot and subplot before explaining further.

So the main plot involves Amy Adams who plays a professional linguist sent by the US military to communicate with these aliens that have bordered earth. A lot of the film involves Adams and Jeremy Renner (who plays a theoretical physicist) decoding the language and understanding why the aliens have come to earth.

As Adam’s learns of the aliens language, Adams has visions of her daughter which serves as the subplot of the film. When the twist comes, I was wondering why she was having visions of her child in the first place. The movie raised more questions than it answered for me. It didn’t seem to add up.

That is a broadly specific as I can be without ruining it. You need to know the subplot to fully understand the meaning of the film.

The Tree of Life analogy

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The subplot felt a little spinny to me. It messes with time and space. Only after I saw it did I understand it.

I saw Arrival as more of an atmospheric film about how the intricacies of communication changes meaning and how you need to get both linguistics and the meaning behind language to reach understanding. The best moments for me were when Adams were decoding the alien language, trying to understand their purpose of existence.

Only until after I saw it I realize I was only scratching the surface. It’s like the Tree of Life in that both the plot and subplot are non-linear and one of the plots have to do with the world around us and the other side of the story revolves around a family and with Arrival, the two didn’t stories did not connect well enough for me to understand.

That was until I realised why Adam’s character has all these visions. Once I knew that all of Arrival’s ideas just seemed to connect and fall into place. It really is a thinking movie and I might like it more if I saw it again. It explores the philosophical concept of pre-determinism vs. fate. Unlike most films, Adams choose with her final word in the film when she is asked a very abrupt (almost comical) question.

However, I can only judge based on what I saw initially and I liked it for the cinematography, Amy Adams performance and how the lead characters slowly develop an understanding with the aliens. If I see it again, now knowing the movie fully, I would like it even more. That I am certain of. However, I must rate it based on what I was feeling at the time and while I liked it overall there were a lot of moments I was scratching my head on how she has the conceived of her visions in the first place ***1/2

Amateur Night: No. Just No.

“Based on a true story… mostly” is the subtext of the Amateur Night title card. Once I saw that I knew they were going to use creative license so much that it’s not even funny. I later found out that the story is directed by the people who have involved in the true story themselves.

The key question I asked myself about Amateur Night wasn’t “Is most of this story really based off a true story?” it was “Why did this story need to be told?” because, to tell you the truth, I wish I hadn’t seen it.

So anyway the story is Guy (played by Jason Biggs whose career is in freefall) is an architect who is struggling to find a job and with a baby on the way. He gets a job on Craigslist to drive prostitutes to bachelor parties and acting like a pimp in his pink salmon shirt.

In come the sight gags.

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One of the cleaner scenes of the Biggs cleaning dildos. I decided for the view not to show the zip-lock bag all the dildos came in

So Guy does these things for the prostitutes that only a desperate man would do. He cleans all their dildos and there are a lot; he gets squirted in the face (You can imagine the source of the squirting) and collects all the money and the panties from the floor during the bachelor party.

This is one-half the problem with Amateur Night. They just settle for gross. When an R-rated sex comedy decides to go for the easy laughs it is just so tasteless. A note to filmmakers: the more tasteless you are, the smarter you have to be. When you are tasteless and stupid, your movie becomes horrible and it turns into a pissing contest to see how horrible you can be.

When a sex comedy decides to dabble in bodily fluids just for shock value you get no winners but the most morbid of people. There are piss, vaginal fluid, and lube gags in this movie. None of it comes off as funny. Some scenes like when Guy is cleaning all the dildos are elongated, cringeworthy and painful to watch.

Despite all the unfunny and lazy sight gags, it wasn’t the worst part of the movie.

Yes, you heard me.

The most hateful performance of the year: Janet Montgomery.

Montgomery is just lucky this movie is so small and so forgettable that it won’t damage her career irreparably.

Nikki (Janet Montgomery) is the lead prostitute and I absolutely hated her. From the time she is introduced to the very end, I hated her. I hated her so much. There is a scene in which she blackmails Guy into continuing being the host of the bachelor party. From that moment on I had a seething hate to the point of no return. At the end, the film embodies the “hooker with a heart of gold” cliche in a sad and pathetic attempt to care for her. She was completely mean-spirited with no leanings that she was anything but.

It wasn’t that Montgomery was a bad actress but just her character embodied vile manipulation to the point where I not only detested her but the whole movie. She crossed the line from dumb raunchy comedy to dumb and hateful raunchy comedy. With the combination of dumb sex jokes, bodily fluids, and Montgomery’s performance, Amateur night reminded me of Dirty Grandpa and that’s really saying something.

In my eyes, Amateur Night was merely a vanity project created by a couple to tell their own story and the actors are there so desperate for a paycheck. Biggs hasn’t made a movie in four years and the directors Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse are a real life couple retelling their own experiences living in Hollywood in this hot mess.

At the end of Amateur Night, I thought of a song called “Lost in Hollywood” where the main line was “All you maggots smoking fags on Hollywood Boulevard” because sometimes I wonder how some movies in Hollywood get made. This was just the epitome or a bad sex comedy turned horrible -*1/2

Everybody Wants Some!!

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Out of all the current great directors out there I know very little about Richard Linklater. After some research and finding out he is one of the biggest indie directors of America, I did feel stupid. I have even seen a couple of his movies.

Nevertheless, his Everybody Wants Some!! feels exactly like Animal House. It’s about these college baseball players having fun in a college dorm before the term begins in three days and pays homage to the eighties while it does it.

I felt this movie was just dabbling in Linklater’s youth. The focus was not really on the story so much as the concept of the situation. It was like “What were the funniest, most memorable things I did in the eighties?” and he put it together in film form.

Don’t believe me? Well, the movie title with the two exclamation points at the end is an homage to Van Halen; The college guys go to parties with a variety of cultural groups. They include country party, a punk party, a dance party and a house party. There is a pothead speaking philosophically about music and there is a costume/ roleplay party.

All of this is good because all of the characters are not assholes.

There is one character in it played by Glen Powell. He really makes the movie work. He is a supporting character who is a rare combination of funny, sleazy and open-minded. He is a frat boy with the one ultimate goal in mind: to have the time of his life no matter how stupid or idiotic it would sound.

That is the heart of this movie.

There is also a romantic subplot that works but it really feels secondary compared to the main plot.

While the movie takes it sweet time sometimes and slow down in momentum, there is always a scene in Everybody Wants Some that always pick it back up. While I don’t think it teaches anyone anything and sometimes the story is a little off-kilter there is always bright spots and 80’s nostalgia that makes Everybody Wants Some!! feel organic. ***