Tag Archives: Kristen Bell

The Boss (2016)

The-Boss-Poster

Melissa McCarthy was beginning to grow on me after the surprisingly funny Spy last year. Unfortunately, she’s unable the keep the momentum rolling with The Boss, a labour of love she co-wrote with her real-life husband and director of the film, Ben Falcone.

It has again McCarthy playing foul-mouthed, abrasive woman who we will discover, surprise surprise, actually has a heart of gold. This time, she embodies Michelle Darnell, an orphan-turned-millionaire-businesswoman who loses everything and must seek the help of a former employee, single mother Claire Rawlings (Kristen Bell). The “villain” is played by none other than Peter Dinklage, aka Tyrion Lannister.

There are problems galore with The Boss. First of all, McCarthy is playing the exact same character we’ve seen a zillion times already. She’s crass, she’s rude, and she doesn’t take any prisoners. In Spy, we got to see a different side of her as she stretched out perceptions of what she’s capable of. In The Boss, she takes a huge step back by resorting to her stale bag of tricks.

Secondly, the film doesn’t seem like it knows what it wants to be. It’s all over the place. Part of it is the weak plot that basically pieces together a bunch of familiar tropes. At times the movie feels like it’s going for the gross and outrageous, other times it’s going for the cute and sweet. Occasionally it just resorts to cookie-cutter stuff like predictable slapstick or try-hard melodrama. It tries a bunch of different things but nothing sticks.

Thirdly, the central characters are either unlikable (McCarthy) or devoid of personality (Bell). The movie simply assumes we’ll like them because of the actresses who play them, but actually give us no reason to give a shit about their predicaments. And Peter Dinklage…I don’t even know what to say. He totally phoned this one in. I’ve seen him in other comedies like Pixels and Knights of Badassdom, where he’s actually not too bad. Here, he’s more like a Dingleberry than the Dinklage we know and love.

Above all, the movie simply isn’t funny. It was actually quite a surreal experience, because I knew exactly what each gag was aiming for and where it was going, sometimes even prior to it happening or before the punchline hit. But I got no laughs out of any of them. Not a laugh, not a cackle, not even a tee-hee. I wasn’t really frustrated or annoyed, just puzzled as to why I wasn’t laughing. The phrase that best encapsulates my sentiments about the whole movie can be found in that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer starts working for a place he’s not employed at, and when his boss is trying to fire him he references Kramer’s reports, saying, “I don’t know what this is supposed to be!”

I didn’t expect much from The Boss, and even then it still underperformed. It’s rare to see a film filled with so many jokes — and so many types of jokes — but zero laughs. Even the ad libbed jokes and outtakes at the end couldn’t deliver. I don’t know what else to say, because all McCarthy, Bell and Dinklage all have positive track records with comedy. I guess this was just a perfect storm of unfunniness.

1.25 stars out of 5

2014 Movie Blitz: Part I

Man the movies are piling up, so it’s time to my first movie blitz of 2014. Surely it won’t be the last.

13 Sins (2014)

13 sins

This one’s quite an interesting, clever little horror film. If you look at it as a small, self-contained indie flick rather than a US remake of a Thai film (13 Beloved), you might end up having some fun with it.

The story revolves around Elliot (played by Mark Weber, who is married to Aussie Teresa Palmer in real life), a salesman who is engaged to be married but falls into debt and becomes desperate. He receives a phone call from a mysterious game show host who convinces him to perform certain acts for money.  If he can perform all 13, he wins a million dollars.

It starts off innocuously enough, with silly stuff like eating a fly, but of course the tasks soon escalate and become more sinister before everything spirals out of control. It’s a well executed idea that builds up the tension as it moves along, and Mark Weber’s performance delivers that paranoia and WTF feeling this kind of film needs.

It gets bloody at times, but the true horror comes from that claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in a situation you can’t get out of, and there’s no way out no matter which way you turn. There are plenty of improbable and virtually impossible things that happen in the film, but I liked how it only offers bare bones explanation of the game at the end without going into specifics, which allows the suspension of disbelief to continue instead of destroying the entire premise.

I wasn’t a fan of the look of the film, with that gloomy 80s feel, colours and tones, though considering what a low-budget film this is I think it qualifies as a solid DVD rental.

3.5 stars out of 5

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTNtyJIKTXk

Reasonable Doubt (2014)

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It’s never a good sign when I have to Google a film to jog my memory before doing a review. I love Samuel L Jackson, but he’s pretty much become the black Nicolas Cage — ie, the actor who would do any role some cash.

I tried to give Reasonable Doubt some reasonable doubt despite seeing how horribly it rated on Rotten Tomatoes (13%!), but despite going in with an open mind I ended up being bored and uninspired by this dull mess of a film.

Dominic Cooper plays an up-and-coming district attorney who gets himself into trouble after a hit-and-run after a few drinks one night. Samuel L Jackson is arrested for the crime and Cooper, who is assigned the case, feels obligated by conscience to let Jackson walk. But, you see, there’s a twist, and Cooper ends up wondering if he’s actually done the wrong thing.

It’s a fairly typical thriller that was interesting until about halfway through, then it just fell apart and offered nothing new in terms of action or excitement. Neither guy seemed interested in what they were doing on screen and were simply going through the motions as the plot plodded along until a predictable conclusion that was surprisingly tame — and lame.

To be honest I can’t remember much more about this film other than Samuel L doing a lot of yelling and Cooper acting terrified. An accurate comparison for Reasonable Doubt is one of those TV movies you come across one night and end up watching to the very end, and then immediately regret wasting your time on it.

1.75 stars out of 5

Ride Along (2014)

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I haven’t had much of a chance to experience Kevin Hart’s humour other than the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game, of which he is a three-time MVP (fan voted, of course). I thought he was loud and seemed like he would never shut up, but he was generally funny enough to not come across as unbearably obnoxious.

His new star vehicle, Ride Along, was a huge hit in America, which seems to have a market for black buddy movies. Hart is a cop wannabe who is dating the sister of a hard-edged cop played by Ice Cube. To dissuade Hart from joining the police force, Ice Cube takes him on a “ride along” one day and lines up all the worse cases he can find. You can guess the rest.

Hart is like a likable itch you can get rid of, and he tries to channel that persona to the big screen, while Ice Cube plays the straight man who sets up the comedic punchlines for him. The two form a high-energy duo who carry the film – at least comedically — most of the way until it decides to raise the stakes so there can be an action-packed climax of sorts.

If we’re being honest here, Ride Along is not a good film. There’s no shortage of Hart talking and yelling like he always does, and after 100 minutes you’re praying that Ice Cube kills him. I wouldn’t have minded the standard buddy cop movie plot where two guys who can’t each other eventually learn mutual respect and going through some near-death experiences — but only if the film was genuinely funny. However, Ride Along’s jokes are painfully obvious almost all the time (you know, like Hart height jokes) and the slapstick that pokes fun at Hart’s lack of physical prowess gets old in a hurry.

I didn’t have any true “laugh out loud” moments in the film and only had a handful (less than 5) giggle moments. That’s just not enough to sustain a comedy. And yet, I hear there’s going to be a sequel set for release in 2016.

2 stars out of 5

Veronica Mars (2014)

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I never watched a single episode of the TV series, which is why it made little sense for me to catch the movie version of Veronica Mars, set nearly a decade after the conclusion of the show. Still, I think there’s enough juice here for people like me, as the characters and plot are introduced and developed well enough for me to get a general feel of what the fuss was all about all those years ago. And it doesn’t have a bad mystery to solve either. Considering it had a budget of only US$6 million and relied on crowdfunding, that’s quite an accomplishment.

Kristen Bell reprises her role as the titular character, who returns back to her hometown after starting a job as a lawyer in NYC. The reason for her return is because an ex-boyfriend has been accused of murdering his girlfriend, and he knows Veronica is the one person who can help him prove his innocence. I’m assuming a lot of the characters in the film are also from the series, such as her father, played by Just Shoot Me‘s Enrico Colantoni, as well as a bunch of her high school friends. Either way, while I didn’t have the background I was never confused by all the pre-existing relationships.

In essence, Veronica Mars is a neo-noir detective film, but it’s also strongly character-driven and sharply written. Despite some adult themes, the film has that nostalgic high-school drama feel to it, which I presume is handed down from the TV show, but there’s also an added maturity because the characters are no longer kids. The dialogue, which is crisp and humorous at times, reflects that.

I was impressed with how the writers moulded the plot and character development so that the film never felt like a 2-hour version of a TV show. There was a genuine mystery to be solved and it wasn’t a tacky mystery either, though at the same time they didn’t go for anything too ambitious that would have taken the characters out of their comfort zone.

In many ways, Veronica Mars is the perfect 10-years-later film version of a TV show. It brought back the characters, showed us how their lives had moved on since the show ended, and brought freshness with a new mystery that was big but not too big for their self-contained world. Obviously, being a newbie to this world I didn’t get as much out of it as I would have had I been a fan of the TV show, but I nevertheless found it quite enjoyable as a standalone mystery flick.

3.25 stars out of 5

2013 Movie Blitz: Part IV

Dead Man Down (2013)

dead man down

Colin Farrell is back as his gritty self in Dead Man Down, a neo-noir thriller that’s not bad but probably at best a good video/DVD rental.

Farrell plays Victor, a seemingly depressed fellow who works for a ruthless drug kingpin, Alphonse, played by Terrence Howard. Alphonse is receiving death threats, and it seems Victor might not be who he really says he is. At the same time, he starts seeing a scarred woman across the road, played by the original girl with the dragon tattoo, Noomi Rapace. It’s all dark and gloomy; people are scheming, and many of them are going to die.

The cast is excellent, and there’s not much to complain about the aforementioned trio of Farrell, Howard and Rapace. The supporting cast which includes Dominic Cooper, Armand Assante, F Murray Abraham and Isabelle Huppert is also very strong.

I wouldn’t call Dead Man Down boring, but it’s not exactly super exciting either. There are a few moments of tension, but for the most part it’s just a bunch of moody gangsters plotting to kill each other. It’s a dark and serious tale of vengeance, but there’s nothing really helping it stand out from a lot of similar flicks that have been released on the market over the years. There are some interesting plot twists which can be viewed as genius or absurd, depending on your point of view, but at the end of the day it’s just a decent albeit forgettable thriller.

2.75 stars out of 5

Phantom (2013)

phantom

Submarine movies were pretty popular for a while (The Hunt for Red October, K-19, U571), so I was looking forward to seeing Phantom, supposedly based on a classified true story about how Russia and the US came perilously close to coming to blows during the Cold War.

Unfortunately, despite the great cast headed by Ed Harris, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Shredder (William Fichtner), Phantom turned out to be a strangely dull and unfulfilling film that fails to live up to expectations.

The first thing that should be noted is that the story is told from the Soviet’s perspective and all the aforementioned actors play Russians. But of course, they speak English, which already removes a layer of realism to the narrative.

Putting that aside, Phantom struggles because it’s not exciting. Submarine movies are known for their claustrophobic tension and friction between members when critical life-altering decisions need to be made. Phantom has those elements too, but for some reason the film’s pulse is flat and never projects a genuine sense of the scope of the danger. I thought this was perhaps it’s because we know nothing will happen, though the brilliant Thirteen Days, about the Cuban missile crisis, shared the same problem and was absolutely riveting cinema.

And the whole time I was watching the film I couldn’t stop thinking that I was listening to Fox Mulder because even as a Russian Duchovny can’t seem to get rid of that hypnotic voice.

It also has a really bizarre ending that is completely at odds with the rest of the film.

2.25 stars out of 5

The Numbers Station (2013)

numbes station

Is John Cusack still an A-list star? The Numbers Station suggests that he isn’t one any more.

It’s not a bad film, but it’s not a very good one either. Cusack plays a burned-out CIA operative who is sent to a secret US numbers station in the UK countryside. It’s basically a government information station that transmits secret messages via code, and Cusack has to protect it from attackers along with a female agent played by Malin Ackerman.

Of course, the station comes under attack, and Cusack is told that help will come in four hours. Meanwhile, he is given an order to secure the station by killing those related to the compromise. There’s a bigger plot involved that could effectively change the world, but that’s about as far as I’ll go with the spoilers. To be honest I found it a little too confusing and convoluted to remember anyway.

Cusack and Ackerman are good individually, but they don’t develop any genuine chemistry. The numbers station concept itself I also found very interesting, and some of the shootouts are well-executed, but for some reason it just didn’t give off the vibe of a high quality action-thriller. Was it because they were mostly stuck in one place? Was the plot unnecessarily convoluted? Was it just a lack of freshness in the way the story unfolded? Or a little bit of all of the above?

In any case, I felt The Numbers Station was somewhat of a letdown because it had the potential to be a lot more than what it was — which is passable, but forgettable entertainment.

2.75 stars out of 5

The Lifeguard (2013)

lifeguard

The Lifeguard, produced, written, and directed by Liz W Garcia, is an interesting little indie film about a depressed 29-year-old journalist (Kristen Bell in a daring performance) who leaves her life in New York to head back to her small hometown in Connecticut, where she begins working as a lifeguard at the local pool. There she meets a bunch of local kids and begins a relationship with one of them (David Lambert).

It’s a deeply personal film about life’s disappointments, failed expectations and vulnerability that comes from loneliness and isolation. It’s one of those films where you either connect with it or you don’t, and given the closeness in age between myself and Kristen’s character I could definitely feel her pain and frustration.

As good as Bell is in this film, her thunder was stolen a little bit by Mamie Gummer, a high school assistant principal who is coming to terms with the problems in her own life and marriage. The only thing I had seen Gummer in before was The Good Wife, where she plays a really annoying bitch of a lawyer, but here she is a revelation.

On the other hand, I don’t think The Lifeguard is ultimately anything special. There are some mildly amusing moments here and there but I think it would be false advertising to add “comedy” to film’s categorization as a drama. This is a serious film that with a melancholic tone, and as such it’s not easy to develop a lot of enthusiasm for the story. And as is usually the case with such films you have a pretty good idea of how it’s going to end.

Still, I quite liked it, though I also recognize that it probably won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Frozen (2013)

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I’ve always been a little biased against cartoon movies, even when I was a kid. I like the classic stories and cute characters, but for some reason I just prefer movies with real people. There are exceptions, such as Toy Story and Up, but these are clever modern tales, whereas the Disney ones, while enjoyable, don’t have quite the same effect on me.

Frozen is Disney’s latest adaptation of a classic tale, this time The Ice Queen from Hans Christian Anderson. Like the previous effort, Tangled, it features a blend of CGI and hand animation techniques which I think works very well and probably saves a lot of time and money too. The cast features Kristen Bell as Anna, the sister of Elsa, the Ice Queen, played by Idina Menzel, plus Josh Gad as Olaf, a magical snowman.

The plot is fairly straightforward. Elsa has special powers like the Iceman from X-Men, making her afraid that she will hurt the people she loves, such as her sister Anna. One day she loses it and unwittingly unleashes an eternal winter on their home land of Arendelle before running off to live on her own, forcing Anna to go look for her so things can be returned to normal.

As an animated feature, Frozen is done very well, with beautiful animations, likable characters, wild action sequences, and some of the best songs Disney has done in a very long time (who knew Kristen Bell had a set of pipes on her?) and I’m sure Oscars are in store. It’s arguably the best classic animated Disney film in years, and it is no surprise to me that the film has been a hit, especially with the kiddies.

On the other hand, the film is undoubtedly formulaic and doesn’t offer anything we haven’t really seen or felt before. There’s the beautiful princess, the charming and handsome love interest, the nasty villain, and of course the cute sidekick (which in this case is the snowman). The story, however, was lacking in my opinion, and more importantly, I didn’t find the film that funny — an amusing moment here and there, but the jokes are more obvious and less edgy than that from other recent animated films such as say Monsters University. 

This is probably my bias creeping through again so I’ll stop now. Objectively, Frozen is a delight, something both children and family should enjoy, though for me it’s just an above average animated film that doesn’t stand out among some of Disney’s more famous classics.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Couples Retreat (2009)

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Couples Retreat, the new comedy written by and starring Vince Vaughn and John Favreau, gets my vote for the most surprisingly unfunny movie of the year.  How is this possible?  While it is not terrible, it left me wondering how a film featuring a whole cast of brilliant comedians could turn out to be so overlong, tedious and completely devoid of humour.

I’ve been a fan of Vaughn and Favreau since the 1996 hit Swingers, so I had reasonable expectations for this film.  Then when I heard Jason Bateman and John Michael Higgins (two of my favourites from Arrested Development) were also going to be in it, Couples Retreat became a ‘must-watch’.  The rest of the cast wasn’t too shabby either – Malin Ackerman (The Heartbreak Kid), Kristin Davis (Sex and the City), Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Faizon Love (My Name is Earl), Ken Jeong (Role Models), Peter Serafinowicz (South Park) and Jean Reno (The Pink Panther 2) – all actors with comedic experience.

The premise was also very promising – four couples with various relationship problems going to a paradisaical resort.  The opportunities for laughter were seemingly endless.

However, for some unfathomable reason, Couples Retreat simply wasn’t funny.  Sure, some of jokes fell flat, but the bigger problem was that there just weren’t very many jokes in the 113-minute film.  Being Couples Retreat, there was of course a lot of focus on relationships, but it was as though they forgot that this was supposed to be a comedy.  The situations were custom made for laughter, yet the laughs rarely came.  And it was like this all the way through, until the end when the film was reduced to a sentimental mess with painfully forced resolutions.

Without the laughs, it was just a bunch of selfish, annoying, unlikable people being obnoxious in a beautiful place.  Now, being unlikable does not stop a person from being outrageously hilarious or even endearing (eg Homer Simpson, George Costanza, David Brent/Michael Scott, the entire Bluth family).  Unfortunately, not one of the characters in Couples Retreat managed it.  Only John Favreau delivered a few decent laughs and only Malin Ackerman’s character demonstrated mild endearing qualities.

At the end of the day, Couples Retreat was a massive disappointment.  I saw an interview with Vaughn and Bateman when they were promoting the film in Australia and they were absolutely hilarious by just being themselves.  It will forever remain a mystery to me why Couples Retreat couldn’t have channeled some of the hilarity of its wonderful stars into it.

2 stars out of 5