Tag Archives: Justin Timberlake

2013 Movie Blitz: Part 1

I’m trying my best to get through as many 2013 movies as I can so I can complete my best and worst lists for last year. And since I’m scheduled to be a consultant again at this year’s TTV Oscar’s broadcast, I better get a move on and finish watching the last few movies outstanding on the Best Picture nominee list. Don’t worry, it’ll be done. In the meantime, here is the first batch of my 2013 movie blitz!

Movie Review: The Lone Ranger (2013)

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Guess what? One of the biggest flops, not to mention most-panned films, of 2013, The Lone Ranger, is actually a fairly decent film. I don’t know why critics hated it so much, whether it was the well-publicized budget cuts, the high expectations or weird Johnny Depp fatigue, but to be honest I enjoyed it as much, if not more, than most of the Pirates of the Caribbean films from the same director, Gore Verbinski.

Armie Hammer (both of the Winklevii in The Social Network) is John Reid, a scrupulous lawyer who would eventually become the titular character. His sidekick is the more famous and higher-billed Johnny Depp, who plays a Comanche Indian by the name of Tonto. Together they try and take down a notorious outlaw played wonderfully by William Fichtner. Strong supporting cast includes Tom Wilkinson, Helena Bonham Carter, Barry Pepper, Stephen Root and James Badge Dale.

Now I know the film’s name does not make sense considering the Lone Ranger clearly does not act alone, but that doesn’t stop it from being a solid piece of entertainment fuelled by the chemistry of the two charismatic leads.

I can understand if people are sick of Depp playing these oddball characters, but he’s funny as Tonto in the same quirky way that people love him as Captain Jack Sparrow. In fact, the entire film has that same adventurous, them-park-ride vibe running through it like the Pirates franchise, and it baffles me how people can love that but hate this.

The action is extremely over the top as well, but it’s done well in a surreal kind of way, and my main complaint is the bloated length of 149 minutes, but I said the same thing about all the Pirates movies too.

It’s nowhere near one of the top movies of the year, as Quentin Tarantino rated it, but The Lone Ranger is definitely a lot better than what most critics would have you believe. I enjoyed it for what it is – a light, comedic action popcorn blockbuster.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Grown Ups 2 (2013)

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Grown Ups was yet another new low for Adam Sandler, one of the worst films of 2010 and the nastiest comedy I had seen in years. It was basically just a bunch of dicks (I mean, comedians) being mean to people less fortunate than them, and it wasn’t funny.

I don’t know what possessed me, but I ended up watching Grown Ups 2, which brings back Sandler and his group of friends such as Kevin James, Chris Rock and David Spade, with Salma Hayek and Mario Bello playing two of the wives.

And make no mistake, Grown Ups 2 is a horrible movie – something I knew from the opening scene when a wild deer pisses over everyone in Sandler’s family – BUT you know what? It’s actually better than the first one.

I can’t believe I just wrote that, but it’s true, despite the fact that Grown Ups 2 has not discernable plot and simply follows Sandler and his buddies around as they carry on with their daily lives back in Connecticut, where they grew up.

There are some puerile and downright awful attempts at comedy as expected, most of which are pee pee, poo poo and lame sex jokes. Having said that, this time around the characters are not as mean-spirited as they were, and are in fact more the butt of the jokes than the ones dishing them out.

There are two reasons why laughed a few times. The first is the always legendary Steve Buscemi, who has a slightly meatier role this time after a light cameo in the first film. The second is the surprisingly comedic Taylor Lautner (of Twilight fame), who is perfect as the douchey fratboy alongside a nearly unrecognizable Milo Ventimiglia (from Heroes).

Grown Ups 2 is still a crap movie, but fortunately, and sadly, it’s better than its predecessor.

1.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Runner Runner (2013)

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He’s talented and charismatic and not afraid to make fun of himself, but he’s still Justin Timberlake, so I need to dislike him on principle. Throw in Ben Affleck, one of my favourite directors but least favourite actors, and I knew the chips were stacked against Runner Runner from the beginning.

Timberlake plays this college kid called Richie Furst, a genius with numbers (yeah right) whose greed gets him into trouble and leads him into the world of online gambling. I’ve always been sceptical of these online gambling sites, and fair enough, Richie discovers that he’s being cheated by the system. However, instead of going to the authorities he takes his find to the web casino’s owner Ben Affleck, who ends up taking Richie under his wing and introduces him to the high life.

As these stories typically go, Richie discovers that not everything in the high-roller world is roses and must find a way to redeem himself while fleeing the inevitable danger. To add to the cliché is the potential love interest played by Gemma Arterton, who just happens to be Affleck’s ex-lover.

It’s not that Runner Runner stinks (okay, maybe it does a little), it’s just that we’ve seen this type of story so many times that nothing comes as a surprise. Paranoia, which also came out in 2013 and stars Liam Hemsworth instead of Timberlake, is pretty much the exact same movie but with a slightly different setting. You know there will be an initial high but then everything will fall apart and things will look hopeless until a “twist” involving a stroke of genius allows the protagonist to escape unscathed. Valuable life lessons are learned along the way, of course.

It’s better than Paranoia, which was even more boring, but RunnerRunner is at best a barely passable DVD rental if you have nothing else to choose from or if you really like Justin Timberlake.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Only God Forgives (2013)

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I love Ryan Gosling a lot. Maybe not as much as some heterosexual women, but he’s up there in my list of favourite actors, plus he seems to keep churning out excellent, edgy films such as Drive and The Place Beyond the Pines. I was hoping that Only God Forgives, a crime flick set in Bangkok written and directed by Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (who also directed Drive), would be more of the same, but unfortunately I have to tell it like it is and admit that this was a terrible misstep for Mr Gosling.

Brutally violent, deliberately paced, surreal and downright bizarre at times, Only God Forgives treads a fine line between art and pretentiousness, and in my opinion falls to the side of the latter.

Gosling plays Julian, an American ex-pat who runs a muay thai kickboxing gym in Bangkok that is really a front for a family drug smuggling operation headed by his sadistic brother Billy and his even crazier mother Kristin Scott Thomas. When Billy rapes and murders a local prostitute, it sets of a series of bloody events driven by revenge and Julian is unwillingly caught in the middle of it.

It’s a strange film that mixes sexual fantasies, violent visions, extended karaoke performances, gun fights, fist fights and swinging sword decapitations. There is a certain stylishness and visual flair about Only God Forgives that brings back memories of the brilliant Drive, but it’s also far more confusing and far less gripping. We get bursts of emotion from the characters but they don’t feel anything like real people, and their interactions are too minimal and deliberate to come across as genuine drama.

The result is a film that is very difficult to describe and understandably polarizing. Because of Drive I will always remain interested in what Refn has in store for audiences next, but on this occasion I think he missed the mark with Only God Forgives.

2.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

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My love for the Cohen brothers is profound. They may have had some misses over the years, but when they hit the mark the sky’s the limit. Their latest effort, Inside Llewyn Davis, a comedy drama about a struggling folk singer, is not a miss, but it’s not quite a spectacular hit either. It features some of that trademark Cohens quirky humour that I love and plenty of wonderful music, but the story itself is not quite engrossing enough to keep me drawn in for the entire 105-minute running time.

Set in New York in the 1960s, Llewyn Davis (played by Oscar Isaac) is not doing too well. We can tell from the opening scenes that he’s a pretty good signer, but his solo album, which shares the same name as the film, isn’t selling, and he is forced to sleep on the couch of a friend’s family. He’s not a horrible guy but he’s not exactly likable either and often comes across as a bit of a dick who’s not afraid to speak his mind regardless of how offensive his words  may be.

It’s a bit of a meandering film with no real direction, one that follows Davis around for a week as he tries to land gigs and score performances to earn himself some dough. We see him looking after a ginger cat, get hassled by his casual girlfriend Jean (Carey Mulligan) and taking a road trip with some interesting people. His personal life is in a complete mess and his relationships are all over the place, and his existence is more or less one misadventure after another, and the majority of them are his fault. It’s not exactly a riveting plot, and at times I wondered what the heck it was trying to say, or whether it was trying to say anything at all.

And no, it’s not one of those poignant dramas either. There’s no touching message about life or underlying beauty. It’s just Davis being who he is, for better or worse, battling to survive in a tough industry where artists often find themselves making compromises to make ends meet. I actually prefer that, though I wish there was more of a focus and a proper story to tell.

The strength of the film lies in the offbeat comedy that the Coens are masters of, and much of it comes from the sharp conversations between Davis and the people in his life. There are plenty of witty and dumbfounding lines that elicited chuckles from me throughout the movie, though not many huge belly laughs like the ones I got in Fargo.

I had never heard of Oscar Isaac before but he’s terrific in this — both his acting and his singing. And I had no idea that there were so many big names in supporting roles, from the aforementioned Carey Mulligan to Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F Murray Abraham, Max Casella (Doogie Howser’s buddy!) and Girls‘ Adam Driver. All of them stand out in their own way, especially Mulligan, whom I didn’t think much of before but was thoroughly impressed with here as the straight-shooting and ball-busting ex. She was very funny.

In the end, I don’t really know what to think of Inside Llewyn Davis. I enjoyed this finely crafted film and found it highly amusing, no doubt, and I also surprisingly liked the music a lot. But at the same I was a little disappointed with it and wished I could have liked it more. It’s a strange experience that will probably polarize viewers, but if push comes to shove I would probably still recommend it, especially to people who enjoy a good Coen brothers project.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: In Time (2011)

I am more accepting of average sci-fi movies than most, primarily because I believe having an intelligent, creative premise means you’re almost halfway there.

In Time, the new star-studded sci-fi action film written and directed by Andrew Niccol (best known for Gattaca and Lord of War), has what I think is a brilliant premise — at some time in the future, genetic engineering has enabled humans to stop ageing physically past the age of 25, and the phrase ‘time is money’ has become literal.  All currencies have been replaced by time, which can be earned, spent and gambled just like money.  Everybody has a clock on their forearm that counts down towards zero, and when it hits zero, you die.

Naturally, people want time, and they’re willing to do just about anything to get it.  However, like money, some people have more than they know what to do withy, while others are living day-to-day, not knowing where the next minute or second might come from.  Though not entirely unique (Logan’s Run, for instance, has a similar premise), I found that to be a very compelling idea brimming with potential.

And so I was excited about In Time.  Sure it had Justin Timberlake (the hero from the ghetto), but it also had Amanda Seyfried (the poor little rich girl), Cillian Murphy (the ‘Timekeeper’), Alex Pettyffer (that’s Mr I Am Number Four, as a time stealing thug), Olivia Wilde (I’ll keep her role as a surprise) and that guy from White Collar (Matt Bomer).  Call me optimistic, but I was hoping that it would be this year’s Inception.

Well, I was wrong.  While In Time was not the painfully horrible piece of crap some critics have labelled it to be, it was undoubtedly a frustrating waste of a promising premise.  There were so many interesting places they could have gone with this film, and instead they went down an utterly bizarre path, one that completely underutilised the concepts the premise afforded.

I could forgive all the half-assed sci-fi concepts and stuff that made little sense and had no explanation (like the time transfer mechanism and the whole point of the system), but what I couldn’t ignore was all the false hope that the film built up in the first third but failed to deliver.  And my goodness, the loose ends they just kicked to the curb (Timberlake’s dad, anyone?)!

Timberlake and Seyfried make a cute couple and there are some slick action sequences, but the further the film went along the more disappointed I became in the generic direction it was heading.  Just because there is an emphasis on action and romance doesn’t mean the film cannot also be intelligent and challenge audiences to use their brains a little.

Then again, I suppose if all you’re looking for is a forgettable action sci-fi romp with sexy stars, then In Time might be enough.

2.5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Friends With Benefits (2011)

You know what?  I am quite certain that at some point I vowed to never see Friends With Benefits (you might even be able to find it on this blog).  But as Estelle Costanza once asked her son George, ‘Why, George?  Why?’, I have the same answer: ‘Because it’s there!’

At the end of the day, Friends With Benefits is a movie, and one that has had surprisingly decent reviews — so I watched it.  Had I seen it before the inescapable comparison film No Strings Attached (with Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher), I might have liked it better than its predecessor.  But how is that possible when the two films have virtually the same premise and I like Portman and Kutcher a lot more than Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis?  I know the two films were in production simultaneously, but the fact is one came out before the other.

Like No Strings Attached, Friends With Benefits tells the story of two friends who decide to have a sexual relationship without becoming boyfriend and girlfriend.  Timberlake is Dylan, a Los Angeles native who moves to New York for a job procured for him by headhunter Jamie (Kunis).  The two quickly become friends, decide to become friends with benefits, realise that the arrangement produces problems, and yada yada yada, you know the rest.

To be fair, Friends With Benefits does have its strengths.  It has sharp dialogue, great chemistry between Timberlake and Kunis, a few clever laughs and, as usual, a scene stealing performance from Patricia Clarkson.  The raunchiness and nudity (despite body double involvement) exceeds No Strings Attached, which I suppose is a plus considering it’s a movie about sex.  The film is directed by Will Gluck, who also helmed the surprise comedy hit of last year, Easy A, so you know the quality can’t be too bad.

That said, predictable is predictable.  That wouldn’t have been so bad if Friends With Benefits was super funny, but it’s not.  I’m not sure if it was because they were trying too hard to be witty, but at times it certainly felt that way.  I also had trouble buying the premise that they were genuine ‘friends with benefits’ — to me they were a couple right from the start that just didn’t want to admit they were — or maybe that was the premise?  Maybe I’m nitpicking.

Technically, Friends With Benefits was probably the stronger film, but as a matter of personal preference, I thought No Strings Attached was funnier and had more heart.

2.75 stars out of 5

PS: Is this a continuation of the Black Swan dichotomy involving Portman and Kunis?  After all, No Strings Attached is more naive, slightly dorky but with more heart, whereas Friends With Benefits is naughtier and cooler.

Movie Review: Bad Teacher (2011)

When I first saw the trailer for Bad Teacher I recall leaning across to the person next to me and saying, ‘This might as well be called Bad Movie.’  It certainly looked like it — a title and concept ripped off from Bad Santa (the one with Billy Bob Thornton) except with a teacher played by Cameron Diaz, who I personally think has the least attractive face of any A-list Hollywood female star in recent memory.

Nevertheless, with nothing else on at the cinema that I haven’t seen (apart from Larry Crowne, which looked like a snoozer), I accompanied my sister, who was visiting from out of town and works in education, to watch it.

And you know what?  Bad Teacher is not Bad Movie.  Not great, somewhat forgettable, but when all is said and done a slightly above average, highly inappropriate comedy that had some decent moments.

Diaz plays Elizabeth, a mean, selfish and nasty middle school teacher who wants nothing more than to find a rich man to settle down with.  She doesn’t give a stuff about her job or her students and is more focused on making money whichever way she can to pay for cosmetic enhancements.  It’s set up as your typical ‘bad person eventually becomes good’ scenario, except, to the credit of the filmmakers, it doesn’t quite play out like one.

Despite my prejudices towards Diaz, she’s actually quite good here, and clearly does not have a problem with playing a total bitch.  For me, however, the true stars of the film were her co-stars: the marvellous Lucy Punch as the arch rival Amy Squirrel, Phyllis Smith (from The Office) as the sidekick, John Michael Higgins (my favourite lawyer from Arrested Development) as the principal and Justin Timberlake and Jason Segel as the potential love interests.  They were all brilliant and quirky in their individual ways, and Timberlake in particular surprised me with his comedic timing and willingness to make fun of himself (for a second almost making me want to break my vow of avoiding Friends With Benefits like the plague).  Segel was also excellent with his one-liners, delivering some of the best laughs of the film, but unfortunately his role was smaller than it should have been.

Having said these nice things, Bad Teacher is nothing special.  It has a few funny moments and one-liners but hardly anything that tips it towards ‘hilarious’ on the laughter scale.  While it is raunchy and risque in some parts, it could hardly be considered pushing the envelope in this day and age.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing given some of the crap films of late that try to shock more than amuse, but I had a feeling that, given the potential of the premise, a lot more could have been done to make the film much much funnier, and consistently so.

One thing that needs to be said about Bad Teacher is that it’s a film targeted firmly at adults who can appreciate inappropriate and black humour.  Having seen the doco Waiting for Superman, I understand that there are undoubtedly teachers just as bad as or worse than the ones depicted in this film, but one should remember that it’s all supposed to be this out of control and farcical.

Ultimately, Bad Teacher was nowhere near as horrible as I expected it to be, but at the same time it left me strangely disappointed because I knew it could have been a lot better.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Social Network (2010)

Admit it.  When you first heard that they were going to make a movie about Facebook, you thought it was going to suck too.  I certainly did.

But throw in Fight Club director David Fincher, producer Kevin Spacey and The West Wing writer Aaron Sorkin, base it around a nonfiction book by Ben Mezrich (who shot to fame with Bringing Down the House, which was made into the movie 21), and cast a bunch of young rising stars, and The Social Network suddenly becomes one of the best films of the year.

It is probably important to note upfront that accuracy of specific events may not have been a priority for screenwriter Sorkin when he wrote The Social Network, so don’t watch the film believing it to be entirely true.  However, we do know for a fact that certain things did happen.  We know that Mark Zuckerberg, a former Harvard student, created ‘Thefacebook’, a phenomenal social networking site that now has more than 500 million active members around the world.  We also know that he was sued by a few people — the identical Winklevoss twins for allegedly ripping off their idea, and his former best friend Eduardo Saverin, who Zuckerberg completely screwed over.

That’s all I’ll say about the plot, but believe me when I say it is a cracker.  The tone is set in the very first scene.  The characters are fascinating.  The relationships are compelling.  The dialogue is razor sharp.  And it’s surprisingly funny too.

Jesse Eisenberg is brilliant as Zuckerberg.  He is mesmerizing to watch, and really makes you believe Zuckerberg is a genuine prick.  While Justin Timberlake has received mixed reviews as Sean Parker, the co-founder of Napster, some believe he is being tipped for a Best Suppporting Actor Oscar nomination.  Personally, I don’t think it weas an Oscar-worthy performance, but it was very good, and definitely better than what anyone was expecting.

The rest of the ensemble cast was terrific too.  The standout for me was the new Spiderman Andrew Garfield (Saverin), who grows on you as the film progresses.  But I really can’t poke a hole in any of the performances.  I think in years to come, The Social Network will be remembered as a classic that featured actors who went on to become superstars.  It’s already got Eisenberg and Garfield and Timberlake (all of whom should go on to bigger roles), not to mention Rooney Mara, Hollywood’s new Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Armie Hammer, who plays both the Winklevoss twins, was hilarious, a great contrast to their more serious business partner Divya Narendra, played by Max Mingella (son of the late and great Anthony).  Even Brenda Song, who has a small role as Saverin’s girlfriend, was dynamite in a couple of scenes.

The Social Network is captivating drama at its best, and I’ve already seen it twice.

4.5 stars out of 5