Monday, May 4, 2015

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 - 94 min – PG

I don’t like watching the sequels of films when I haven't seen the original--primarily because they rarely stand well on their own. Call it one of the hazards of the way I do my blog. However this installment of the Blart franchise does a good job of bringing the viewer up to speed on the events of the first one. The down side is that at best this movie rates a cute. It falls short of the green range because of its unoriginality.

Six years after the events of first film Paul Blart (Kevin James) gets divorced from his wife (Jayma Mays) after only six days of marriage before his mother gets run over by a milk truck. There is only so much woe a writer should pile onto a character. He is already a sad character because he is at the pinnacle of his life: a mall cop. Can a main character get a break? There is nothing in his life except his daughter, Maya (Raini Rodriguez). Maya, gets news that UCLA has accepted her at the same time he gets great news that he is going to the Security Officer Trade Association event in Las Vegas. Maya has second thoughts about telling her father she is going away to college because he will be alone. Maya inadvertently witnesses an art heist in the hotel and becomes a hostage. In pure Blarty fashion, Paul takes matters into his own hands and thwarts the bad guys.... again.

This movie boils down to be a family-friendly action film. Aside from being in Vegas and having people holding alcoholic drinks I would say that there is nothing of a questionable nature in the film. The action is completely vanilla in nature and mostly screwball fun. This doesn’t make it a bad film; it just makes it a bland film. Even with all of the gun-play it’s mostly non-lethal and the bad guys just get incapacitated.

The production value, performances, hell even the writing are all ok but below par considering the resumes of the talent. Keven James does a great job bringing this odd duck to life probably because he wrote the script so he has a great understanding of who Paul is. But looking at the body of his work you can see that this is not really his best work.

You can see the director’s (Andy Fickman) style in this film. His films are set in a less sterilized Disney movie of the week range. He is never going to be over the top raw or raunchy but has enough of the real life setting to kick it out of the idealized reality that most Disney films are set in.

The only thing I would recommend to the film makers is stop dumping on Mr. Blart. Too much abuse from life makes the viewer feel bad for him. Pity is not an emotion that you should be aiming for. They did do a good job of resolving the issues between him and his daughter. Having Paul mature enough to see that he is holding his daughter back by being needy is a great story to end with but man, it was depressing getting there. It made me want to go watch a comedy to cheer me up, wait I just got out of a comedy. That’s not good.

I have seen worse films but I have also seen a lot better ones. What other sequels standalone without relying on the original story?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Get Hard

Get Hard - 100 min - R

I'm lukewarm on Will Ferrell's work. His brand of comedy doesn't always match my taste. I was really drawn to it because of Kevin Hart. He is a rising star and his humor has intrigued me. Their collaboration seems to work but the movie had a mix of cringe worthy and full belly laugh moments. More cringe than I care for really. It also had a homophobic vibe. For these reasons I am giving it a yellow light. Will Ferrell fans will like it, I was on the "meh" side.

James (Will Ferrell) is a big shot hedge fund manager who is convicted of fraud. He has a big house and a very expensive fiancee, Alissa (Alison Brie). He knows in 30 days he is going to be serving hard time for 10 years. The only Black person he knows is Darnell (Kevin Hart), the guy who washes his car. Assuming because Darnell is Black, he has spent time in prison, James hires Darnell to teach him how to survive in prison.

The major theme of the story is James not wanting to go to jail. As a character he confuses me. He’s a brilliant trader and can see the trends and makes money hand over fist. I imagine in that work he can link things together. So he completely trusting his father in-law and not suspecting him seems disingenuous. However Will Ferrell plays the completely clueless person so very well that perhaps that is what they were going for.

It was funny watching Darnell abuse James. In his attempt to get James ready for prison, they try and toughen him up. He goes to parks and picks fights with people and tries to physically work out. Nothing seems to work, So Darnell has to level with James. He is going to have to learn to become a bitch. So they go to a gay pick-up spot and because he is faced with his biggest fear, a homosexual act, he find a new motivation to become ready and work harder and becoming... wait for it… harder, pun intended because that’s what the biggest continuous joke is in the movie.

There was a lot of time spent getting him ready for prison and only in the last section of the last act do they think to try and prove his innocence. It really feels like an afterthought on how to tie up the story. It would have been better to have more balance in all of the story lines. One of the biggest things I appreciate in a film is the growth of a character. James does go through a change and walks away from the film with a new point of view.

Darnell is a little under developed. His motivation is to get enough money to get his daughter into a better school district. I totally understand that and as a father I can sympathize with his motivation. He plays along with James to get what he wants but there is nothing that he walks away with no lesson learned.

Kevin Hart can take on more as an actor. This role was a little under his skill level. I saw one of his stand-ups and he is incredible. I guess what kept this movie from a red light were his parts. I think he has the ability to carry the right project.

Do you have a favorite performer who you think is ready to take the next step?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman: The Secret Service - 129min - R

I enjoy the spy genre of films. James Bond films are an institution in Hollywood. I have enjoyed the new gritty realistic standpoint that those movies have taken. Kingsman takes the spy movie to new heights and/or depths depending on how you look at it. I am not fazed by graphic scenes in films and I almost never flinch when someone breaks a bone in a fight scene. This film has found my breaking point for violent images. I liked the film even with the sour feelings it left me. I did want to go home and dust off my Disney collection and watch something wholesome to repair my soul.

Harry Hart, code name Galahad (Colin Firth) takes young Eggsy (Taron Eggerton) under his wing because Eggsy's father sacrificed himself for his team, saving Harry. Harry offers to give Eggsy a chance to try out for the Kingsman. During his training a criminal mastermind known as Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) starts to develop a plan that will have devastating effect across the world.

The film was put together well. It has a nice balance between action-adventure and campy spy gadgets. The performers were all top notch, there didn't seem to be a person out of place or out of their depths with the performance. The touches of humor fit in nicely with the story and weren't overdone. I don't know if they were enough to lighten up the level of violence that really starts off the film and doesn't end until the film is over.

I'm going to talk about the more bloody scenes here so if you are not wanting spoilers please look away, I'm sure you would have in the movie as well.

I think I was past my comfort level about a quarter of the way through the test of Valentine's weapon at the church. You would think that a church based on hate and bigotry would not make me flinch to see them all die horribly, but it did affect me, I was over my violence quotient for a movie. It was completely horrific, the ways that people killed one another in that church. It kept escalating to a darker and more brutal place.

I found it interesting that the movie set the stage for me to not feel bad for the victims as they were intolerant jackwagons, but as the scene continued on I was feeling bad that even intolerant jackwagons didn't need to die that way.

To offset that level of killing there is a scene further in that has a lot of heads exploding. Instead of showing us all of the heads they covered over them with a CGI firework display that took the place of all of the heads. That really softened the blow of the event that took the heads of hundreds of people.

I think that what this movie has going for it is the like able characters. I felt a solid connection with everyone. The fight scenes were outstanding and well-choreographed and the car chase was one of the better ones I have seen.

At its heart it's a really good spy film that has potential. I do hope they will make a sequel. But I also hope that the violence experiment is over and we never ever have to watch a scene like that one in the church again.

Where is your violence tolerance level?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Ex Machina

Confessions of a Sci-fi-fan

Ex Machina - 108min - R

I have always been an easy sell when it comes to science fiction. From the first moment I saw the robotic woman from Metropolis I was hooked on the genre. Obviously this film is going to be rated with an easier eye in my book...

Or so you would think.

Perhaps my love for this kind of film makes me look at it with more scrutiny. I found the movie to be a wonderful idea poorly executed. At best, it's a yellow light. There are some captivating cinematic elements, but the pace of the film kills any tension that it starts building. Plus, some of the messages in the film rub me the wrong way.

Nathan,(Oscar Isaac) is the very creepy owner of Big Blue, the world's largest Internet search engine. He holds a lottery and invites one of his minions - sorry, employees - to take part in a new project. He's creating a woman and wants to see if his employee can be taken in by a bizarre and highly sexualized Turing test.

I have to tell you how uncomfortable I am with the implied subtext in this film: Women are objects that are best experimented on. To make a perfect one, make her unable to communicate and sexually available whenever the need arises. The emotional connection it creates with you is all an act to get something from you and if you do give them any freedom they will kill you.

There, it just had to be said. I know I have a pro-feminist streak but I can’t be the only one who saw this, can I?

The cinematography is perfectly done to bring out the maximum amount of creepy, and the soundtrack works to heighten the tension. The problem is the long stretches of tension are interlaced with characters watching each other staring introspectively. When you have so much tension, your audience gets numb to it so when things happen in the story that should elicit a reaction of surprise or enlightenment they are more likely to respond with "Oh. Well that happened. Finally."

Nathan is ultimately way too creepy from the start. To make the end work better they should have slowly shown us his oddness. It should have started out with him being a fun eccentric. Instead he starts off being someone who would make the family robot say “Danger, Danger Will Robinson!”

Domhnall Gleeson as Caleb, the hapless employee, was a great casting choice. He was the perfect test subject and he played his role really well. Alicia Vakander, who played the robot, Ava, did an amazing job at simulating emotions like a robot trying to... simulate... emotions. Your head can go wonky if you think about it too long. How well a performer does at playing a robot is hard to gauge. Are they doing a good job because they are a great actor or are they simply robotic in their performance? Imaging how confusing that direction would sound like from the director. “Ok do these lines but don't emote because you're a robot. BUT you are faking like you have emotion”.

Comparing her work in Seventh Son and this film gives you a better understanding of her range. She is someone to keep an eye out for. Hopefully we can see her (I can't believe I am saying this) with more clothes on.

Alex Garland is one of my favorite directors. His work in 28 Days caught my attention and I enjoyed Dredd, so I was looking forward to this film. This one is not among my favorites in his portfolio. I know he can do a less disturbing story.

What popular movie has a subtext that rubs you the wrong way?