Comedy, Reviews

The Interview

The Interview

Copyright © 2014 by Columbia Pictures

Story
Television host for ‘Skylark Tonight’, Dave Skylark (James Franco) and producer Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen) are flown to North Korea for a televised interview with Kim Jong-un (Randall Park). Before departing, CIA Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) has them convinced of assassinating Kim instead. As Skylark befriends the new ruler, his opinion on the autocrat wavers causing a rift between the Americans. Fearing the mission will be disrupted, Rapaport finds inadvertent help within Kim’s despotic administration.

Review
Movies that provoke and mar themselves with controversy more often than not are either applauded for their steadfast believes or resented as a result of manipulating the feeble minded. Good or bad, any publicity derived from the infamy usually means a spike in awareness (and business – for the opening week anyway). Getting embroiled in scandalous acts of violence, gore and graphic risqué affairs in the bedroom is part and parcel for an industry known to stir the pot.

‘All Quiet on the Western Front’, ‘Citizen Kane’, ‘The Exorcist’, ‘The Deer Hunter’ and ‘United 93’ are no stranger to the scrutiny and have made repeated appearances in the ‘Best of’ lists over the years. Faith-based films which dabble beyond the teachings of the holy book are far trickier and have met with a barrage of outraged protests from staunch worshippers (‘The Devils’, ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’, ‘Dogma’ and juggernaut ‘The Passion of the Christ’).

On the other hand, ‘The Day of the Jackal’, ‘JFK’, ‘Munich’ and ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ have walked a fine line between entertaining and usurping the politics without undermining the audiences’ intelligence or abandoning logic in favour of style over substance. Political satires tend to poke fun but not necessarily as a means for any significant revolution in a country’s disparaging regime. ‘Inglorious Basterds’ takes a swipe at Adolf Hitler and witnesses a ‘permanent’ end to his cruel empire.

It is not as parody-worthy as say, ‘Zoolander’, nonetheless, it is Quentin Tarantino’s most acerbic. You do not see Malaysians or Germans being riled up with death threats and cyber-attacks pending their respective wide releases. Why should ‘The Interview’ be any different? Two words: Kim Jong-un. If Evan Goldberg and Rogen have gone the route of the Ben Stiller comedy (a fictional leader instead of an actual person), no one would have given a damn.

Where credit is due, give I will to them for boldly taking on the North Korean head by the horns but is one debacle after another that Sony has to endure worth all the fuss? As with their previous directorial partnership, ‘This Is the End’, crass trumps class. The jokes are uneven and they come in spades, so when they do hit the nail right on the head, you can bet your bottom dollar they will leave you in stitches. Would have been unexpectedly refreshing if the whiff of bathroom humour did not pervade as much as it did.

Marking their fifth time together, Rogen and Franco’s camaraderie serves as solid foundation to the show’s flimsy apex (Kim’s demise, while in slow motion feels rushed and nearly upends its robust start). They are joined by Park’s meek but callous version of Kim, which is only a few notches above Diana Bang who progressed from an allegedly stereotype to a woman disgusted by her ruler’s tyranny. To cap it off, sidesplitting cameos from Eminem and Rob Lowe are featured during Skylark’s sessions with his celebrity guests.

These interviews are exaggerated yet captivating if they are actually true. Anytime for a tell-all than a fake, scripted account of how wonderfully chirpy life in showbiz is. A brilliant concept in humanising (exposing) the supreme leader for his vile deeds. Is it enough to revolt for a change in North Korea? Probably not anytime soon but an eye-opener regardless.

Rating
Entirety: B
Acting: B+
Plot: B+

Rated R for pervasive language, crude and sexual humor, nudity, some drug use and bloody violence

Advertisements
Standard
Musical, Reviews

Annie

Annie

Copyright © 2014 by Columbia Pictures

Story
As a baby, Annie Bennett (Quvenzhané Wallis) is left under the foster care of Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz). She frequents a restaurant hoping to be reunited with her real parents one day. When a Social Services officer pays Hannigan a visit, he accidentally drops a document containing details of all the children. Bennett seizes the chance of obtaining information about her parents’ whereabouts. The search is futile but she is rescued by William Stacks (Jamie Foxx) from getting hurt on the road. A high-powered entrepreneur of ‘Stacks Mobile’ and a challenger in the next mayoral election, with the advice from his political aide, Guy (Bobby Cannavale), decides on being Bennett’s temporary guardian in an attempt of outpacing his competitor. As they spend more time together, his fondness for the child grows and is considering for her to be in his life permanently.

Review
The old versus the new, which one fared better? That is the age-old question, is it not? As I have never seen the Albert Finney and Carol Burnett version, I am happy to report that Wallis and Foxx’s interpretation of ‘Annie’ redux is thoroughly entertaining through and through. Forget what others might say (source material could be a little slight and lacks pizzazz for another remake; a 1999 made-for-television production directed by Rob Marshall whose own competing ‘Into the Woods’ is a stronger contender for musical of the year had heaps of praises from the Primetime Emmys), the songs still hold up, modernised by Sia and Greg Kurstin.

From what I gather, there are not many changes in Will Gluck’s input on the orphan/foster child who meets her billionaire tycoon other than updating its setting for a generation dependently fixated on the latest gadgetry (a digital detox is handy every once in a while). It really does come down to the music and for this alone, the price of admission is worth every dollar. 2014 is quite a year for musically inclined movies, from smaller hits such as ‘Begin Again’ and ‘Jersey Boys’ to the current pair of Golden Globe nominated offerings. Though a diverse bunch, the music is unforgettable.

Fresh from her global sensation, ‘Chandelier’, Grammy nominee Sia collaborated with Kurstin for three original numbers that integrate naturally with classics like ‘Tomorrow’, ‘It’s the Hard Knock Life’, ‘Maybe’ and ‘Easy Street’. ‘Opportunity’ (a nominee for ‘Best Original Song’ in the Globes) is the show’s standout piece performed commendably by Wallis and ‘Who Am I’, a soul-searching ballad reflecting the quandaries of losing one’s identity. Although not prominent and as a means for the film within a film segment, ‘Moonquake Lake’ is a bouncy and cheeky send-up to the ‘Twilight’ franchise.

Putting her game face on, Wallis proves to the world that her Oscar nomination for ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ (youngest nominee for the ‘Best Actress’ category) is no fluke and totally owns the role as our single-minded and streetwise heroine. Clearly, she is having loads of fun; her rapport with her other foster sisters, Foxx and Rose Byrne irons out numerous but negligible kinks addressed in the movie which insufficiently justifies the need in the first place (come on, you would have us believe our gal with the ‘fro cannot read?). For crying out loud, she does go to school as pointed out early on.

Looked like an afterthought but if you thought Diaz could inherit the chops from Burnett or Kathy Bates, think again. She is a fine actress, mind you having taken on challenging choices with aplomb from nominated works including ‘Being John Malkovich’, ‘Vanilla Sky’ and ‘Gangs of New York’. Hamming it up and trying to be mean simply does not cut it. As cliché as it may sound, she is better off cheerfully funny than maniacally laughable. Her ‘Little Girls’ rendition is far from perfect but passable when majority of your colleagues (with the exception of Foxx) share similar limitations. A pleasant trip down memory lane (or the busy streets of New York) and if Stacks manor is your home, I think you are going to like it here as well.

Rating
Entirety: B+
Acting: B+
Plot: B

Rated PG for some mild language and rude humor

Standard
Fantasy, Reviews

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The Battle of the Five Armies

Copyright © 2014 by Warner Bros. Pictures

Story
The concluding chapter sees an infuriated Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) burning Lake-town to the ground. Bard (Luke Evans) escapes from imprisonment and efficaciously kills the dragon with the last black arrow. He is appointed as the town’s new Master and directs his people to the remains of Dale for shelter. Fili (Dean O’Gorman), Kili (Aidan Turner), Óin (John Callen) and Bofur (James Nesbitt) proceed to rejoin with the rest of the Dwarves at Lonely Mountain while Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) go in search of answers in Mount Gundabad. They unearth a secondary Orc army advancing Lonely Mountain which will be combining with Azog’s (Manu Bennett) forces. Back in Erebor, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) who has been plagued with ‘dragon sickness’ refuses to share any of his prized belongings with either the Men or Elves and risks an all-out war between Bard’s loyal followers and Thranduil’s (Lee Pace) vast military.

Review
How the mighty have fallen! I am not only talking about both Orc armies succumbing to an overlong finale that lasts almost an hour but the diminished reputation of a once sterling trilogy. ‘The Lord of the Rings’ revived a terminal genre, satisfied ardent fans, impressed regular-going movie folk and appeared in many critics’ list as among the best trilogies ever to grace the silver screen. Peter Jackson’s name will be etched (mostly) for this monumental feat.

Alas, if only the latest and (presumably) last installment would have ended on a high. Just as I feared, everything about it reeks on a pecuniary level and a sorry excuse for another bladder-testing time in the multiplexes (the shortest in the series but it is still two hours too long). You get the feeling that Jackson and his co-writers are running out of material when dialogues are frequently repeated or similar lines reiterated in slow motion.

We know Thorin has ‘dragon sickness’ or in a more identifiable term, he is consumed by greed (with an endless supply of all things shiny, who would not?) but do we really need to be reminded that much of his dilemma? Fortunately, Armitage’s grasp and understanding of the character ensure Thorin’s heroic efforts in the earlier films are not forgotten by his selfish actions. Quite obviously the most fleshed out, Thorin‘s arc stands as the sole contributor for any semblance to Jackson’s 2000s hits.

There are moments when Evans and Pace looked like they will be given more to do (the former’s rousing battle with Smaug is intense and affecting rivalled only by the majesty of Galadriel – Cate Blanchett, Elrond – Hugo Weaving and Saruman – Christopher Lee’s daring rescue mission) but as we reach the end’s beginning, they are dwarfed in the exhaustive combat (still a technical accomplishment nonetheless) which is alright if it is any other production.

Not if Jackson is helming a treasured franchise. Major players from the likes of Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Legolas and Tauriel are reduced to cardboard characters, the unworkable interspecies romance so underplayed that when it is time for the sniffles, even Howard Shore’s swelling score cannot cut it and expanding Ryan Gage’s Alfrid merely as a comic relief screams of dire desperation. Retaining Stephen Fry could have provided Bard with some needed opposition as the new Master of Lake-town.

And tension seems to be a missing component in every aspect of this expensive and expansive picture. The warring factions of Elves, Dwarves, Men, Orcs and Beasts collide in Dale for the big showdown but it is the individual fights from Legolas and Thorin defeating the two formidable Orcs that pack a larger punch. Peter, why oh why? After all those hard-fought battles over legal disputes which nearly derailed the project, is this the way to go, up in flames rather than with a bang?

Rating
Entirety: B
Acting: B+
Plot: B-

Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images

Standard
Comedy, Reviews

Horrible Bosses 2

Horrible Bosses 2

Copyright © 2014 by Warner Bros. Pictures

Story
In light of the injustice encountered by Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman), Dale Arbus (Charlie Day) and Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis) from their former employers, they have decided to form their own company manufacturing ‘Shower Buddy’, a shower head that dispenses shampoo along with the water. Their invention gets noticed by Burt Hanson (Christoph Waltz) and his son, Rex (Chris Pine). They agree verbally to finance the three friends if the production of 100,000 units is met. The goods are completed on time but Burt pulls out at the last minute, leaving them with a $500,000 debt. In a desperate attempt to recover their losses, the creators hatch a kidnapping plan with Rex’s involvement.

Review
‘Horrible Bosses’ took a relatable situation and turned it into a box office smash, besting the record from previous champ ‘The War of the Roses’ as the highest earning black comedy in history. Office politics, bosses from hell (scheming, vindictive or simply plain idiotic) and the verbal/physical harassments are some of the ‘perks’ any employee will face after the dotted line has been signed on. A conundrum we ‘happily’ brave on a daily basis.

Yet, there are not too many in the past from good ol’ Hollywood that delve into the predicaments of real people. Who wants real life when escapism is so much more marketable, right? Few and far between, impressionable ones linger till this day are ‘Working Girl’ (Golden Globe winner in 1989) and ‘9 to 5’ (disgruntled workers kidnapping their ‘sexist, egoistical, lying, hypocritical bigot’ boss). Sounds familiar? Kind of the premise for the newest (mis)adventures of our three lovable but bumbling buffoons.

And that brings me to my next gripe. ‘Bosses’ mapped out an extremity which would only work in the movies to non-stop hilarity. At a certain point in our careers, I am sure that we have all fantasise more ways than we care to admit of offing our immediate superiors. The trio’s ill-conceived plan was a mess but first murderous outing, yeah, we get it if things did go astray. So, what happened to practice makes perfect? Dim-witted they may be (two-thirds of the group anyway), it is unbelievably outrageous their actions can be this, um…stupid.

Once the breakout star, Day’s shrill and always on edge Dale soon wears thin before reaching any of the film’s juiciest parts. Props to you too if you thought Sudeikis is dumbing down incessantly fearing that he will lose his goofy charm to Pine’s slicker than his slick coiffed ‘do is understandable but pathetic. Only Bateman’s man of reason hits a lucid balance amid the insanity, revved up by Jennifer Aniston, Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey’s scenery-chewing energy.

Along with Waltz, it would have made a ton of difference if the bosses (they are, after all, the ‘distinguished’ faces hardwired into our craniums) are bumped up in the leaderboard and chronicles their many tantalising indiscretions instead of forced and insensitive jokes about race, culture and creed. As far as needless sequels go, this one sits right at the top of the list as a horrible excuse to hold us to ransom for 108 minutes of excruciating, unfunny and offensive writing.

Rating
Entirety: C
Acting: B
Plot: B-

Rated R for strong crude sexual content and language throughout

Standard
Reviews, Thriller

Before I Go to Sleep

Before I Go to Sleep

Copyright © 2014 by Clarius Entertainment

Story
After an accident, Christine Lucas (Nicole Kidman) suffers from a rare form of amnesia where she is unable to store memories for more than a day. Each day she awake with only intact memories up until her 20s. She is sought out by one Dr Nasch (Mark Strong) to help her remember what happened a decade ago. He tells her not to inform her husband, Ben (Colin Firth) about their meetings. As she pieces together her findings bit by bit, Christine realises that one of them could have been the perpetrator for her current state.

Review
It must be a nuisance to wake up everyday believing you are still in your 20s when the next 20 years of your life have come and gone with no memory of living it. While we try to forget the most trying period of our existence, there is plenty to revel if you are at the peak of your game and in a seeming ideal marriage. That is what our amnesiac protagonist supposedly has before her fatal ‘accident’ (never good in a whodunit – you will know what I mean if you have read the book).

After acquiring the rights from writer, S.J. Watson, Ridley Scott has rounded up a talented cast and a budding writer/director to translate the literary verses of Watson’s bestseller. Rowan Joffé who is best known for his writing credits in ‘28 Weeks Later’ (horror sequel to ‘28 Days Later’) and ‘The American’ (a George Clooney European-themed thriller) knows what his actors are capable of and allows all three leads (Kidman is as stunning as usual only because she anchors majority of the film) to usher viewers of each person’s motivations (or motives?).

So captivating by the winsome threesome’s persona that we tend to overlook Joffé’s experience as a director. No doubt he gets the job done adequately but does nothing more to set himself apart from the rest. Thanks largely to Kidman’s willingness to bare it all (her vulnerability and grievances are on full display here, another winning variation of her Oscar-nominated role in ‘Rabbit Hole’ besides flashing a little more flesh than usual) and Firth’s flair for the understated yet unsettling help move the plot rapidly to its conclusion (not nearly as satisfying as its promising start).

If not for Kidman and Firth’s natural on-screen chemistry (second collaboration since ‘The Railway Man’), you probably would erase this unimaginative outing the very next day. The problem lies in Joffé wanting to keep proceedings linear and may have been concerned about the story’s consistency should he employ a less orthodox technique. What ‘Memento’ achieved effortlessly is an uphill battle for ‘Sleep’ to keep our eyes wide open.

While Strong hardly missteps in his movie choices (he even came out unscathed from the misguided ‘Green Lantern’) and is pivotal to Christine’s recovery, he is way underused for a person of his caliber. As good as he can be in the constraints of time, he could have been excellent. As the selfless doctor who has taken upon himself to assist (and a rare occasion Strong is heroic), Joffé opts not to pursue any further in the neurologist’s work and growing attraction towards his patient.

The angle would have provided a change in dynamics over Christine’s lopsided relationship. After the abrupt omission of Dr Nasch, she is left on her own to fit the missing pieces of her violent trauma. Depending on which side you are on, you will either salute its slightly ludicrous account of events or wish for a reset before you go to sleep. I for one will not be dozing off just yet.

Rating
Entirety: B
Acting: A
Plot: B+

Rated R for some brutal violence and language

Standard