Tag Archives: Lake Bell

Man Up (2015)

man-up-poster

I caught up with my best pal a couple of weeks ago as we both happened to be in Hong Kong at the same time. He’s not exactly a movie buff, but he did recommend a film, Man Up, which he saw during the flight over.

I didn’t expect much when I checked it out the other day. Romantic comedies are probably my least favourite genre, and Man Up is a film that has seemingly received very little buzz. Simon Pegg and Lake Bell also seemed like a very odd couple.

Considering all this, Man Up turned out to be more than just serviceable — it was actually pretty good.

The premise is this: a mid-30s woman (Bell) who has more or less given up on finding love decides to roll the dice one last time when a 40-year-old divorcee (Pegg) mistakes her for his blind date. She goes along for the ride and thus begins a wild night of fun, romance and absurdly embarrassing encounters.

Generally speaking, this looks, sounds and smells like a fairly typical rom-com. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and is filled with outrageous gags that infuse the film with a silly tone and a sense of destiny. But of course, no matter what happens throughout, you know how it will end.

That said, Man Up does everything rather well within the confines of the genre. Despite an apparent mismatch, Pegg and Bell have surprising chemistry, playing off each other’s strengths with great comedic timing. I knew Pegg would be good, so the big surprise here is that Bell is also excellent, not just in pulling off a convincing British accent but in not being afraid to make a fool of herself to get the big laughs.

However, the guy who stole the show for me was veteran British actor Rory Kinnear, a familiar face in the recent generation of Bond films as Bill Tanner, though in my mind he will forever be the prime minister who porked a pig in Black Mirror. Kinnear goes all out in this one as a creepy former high school classmate obsessed with Bell’s character, and he goes over-the-top by just the right amount to elicit the deepest belly laughs of the entire film. Just the voice he puts on is hilarious.

Strong performances aside, the dialogue is sharp and and a little explicit, treading the line between edgy and crude without toppling into the latter. It’s a strange thing to say, but this is a rare rom-com that is actually romantic and sexy and funny.

Though the film never steers full clear of rom-com cliches, and Bell is perhaps too attractive and in too-good shape for her predicament to be realistic, Man Up is confident and lively enough for a jolly good time, even for those not that into the genre.

3.5 stars out of 5

No Escape (2015)

No-Escape-poster-2

No Escape is a really unusual film that will be hard to swallow for a lot of people, even if they find its other aspects appealing.

The plot is simple: Owen Wilson and Lake Bell play an American couple with two young girls who relocate to Southeast Asia to work for an American engineering company. Shortly after they arrive — and get acquainted with a British dude played by Pierce Brosnan — there is a massive riot that has suddenly turned all locals against foreigners. And we’re not talking about peaceful demonstrations here — these Asians are equipped with machetes and machine guns and they’re out for blood.

From one perspective No Escape just a moronic, xenophobic and exploitative film about an American family on the run from a bloodthirsty mob in an unnamed Southeast Asian country that looks and sounds a lot like Thailand (which happens to be where it was shot). The film doesn’t really give a shit why this is happening; it just needed a lot of crazy people who want to kill white people, and I suppose SE Asians were the cheapest to hire.

There’s a feeble attempt to rationalize it all towards the end of the movie, but by then nothing really makes sense. It’s hard to imagine people moving to another country having zero idea that it’s not the most stable place in the world. And if it was semi-stable before the rioting then it’s hard to envisage everything turning to absolute shit at the drop of a hat with no warning whatsoever.

Given the film’s senseless brutality, lack of explanation, and its painting of a group of people with the same brush, it is no wonder that No Escape has been hilariously described as “World War Z with Asians.”

However, from a different perspective — if you can leave all the political incorrectness aside — No Escape is an effectively violent and tense action-thriller that offers a breath of fresh air from all the other Taken wannabe films in recent years (incidentally, Owen Wilson reportedly said in an interview that the tone of No Escape was akin to Taken — personally, I think he might have been shooting a little high there with that comparison).

I have to admit though that the film does have its entertaining moments. That sense of primal fear and panic from the relentless rampaging Asians comes across as genuine, and it’s not hard to put yourself in the shoes of the protagonists and imagine how terrifying it would be. Much of that is thanks to the solid performances from Wilson and Bell, though Brosnan’s character is a little overdone and, along with some ill-timed slow-motion shots, makes the film campier than it ought to have been. One thing I will say, and I’m not sure if I should be saying it, is that I was really hoping for their two spoiled little shits to get killed because they kept stuffing things up by being completely uncooperative. They’re not too young to understand that people will no doubt brutalise and kill them if they don’t do exactly as their parents tell them.

In all, No Escape is terribly inconsiderate, but I wouldn’t say it’s terrible. The film will inevitably have its haters, and let’s face it, most of it is probably deserved. Despite the attempts of the filmmakers (namely director John Erick Dowdle, who last gave us the horror flick As Above, So Below) to appear less like dickheads by making the country unnamed and to mess up the language, etc to not target any specific group of people, there’s no denying that they have essentially portrayed all SE Asians as rabid zombified brutes or meaningless collateral damage. That said, if you can see past all that and accept the film for what it is, then it’s really not a bad action thriller. Having seen my fair share of unflattering, stereotypical portrayals of white people in Asian cinema, I’ve developed quite an impressive insensitivity to insensitivity, and as such I tend to focus more on the film’s positives than its negatives.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Million Dollar Arm (2014)

MillionDollarArm_Banner

As a fan of baseball, cricket, true stories and Hollywood movies, I was naturally attracted to Million Dollar Arm, the biographical sports drama about the discovery of Indian baseball pitchers Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel by sports agent JB Bernstein via a reality TV program.

The true story is out there for people who want to learn about their incredible journey, but for the sake of those interested in watching the movie I will keep spoilers — including whether they actually succeeded or not — far far away.

The film stars Mad Men’s Jon Hamm as Bernstein and comedian Aasif Mandvi as his business partner, with Life of Pi‘s Suraj Sharma playing Singh and Lake Bell playing Bernstein’s love interest. Alan Arkin co-stars as an ancient baseball scout, while Bill Paxton plays real-life pitching coach Tom House.

The premise is that Bernstein comes up with the idea of finding baseball pitchers in the world’s last untapped talent market — India — and convinces a financier to create a reality TV show that can help the winner rake in potential prize money of up to a million US dollars (hence the title). After a long and arduous search, he finds Singh and Patel, and brings them back to the States to train, with the aim of having them participate in a Major League tryout within a year.

What should be noted upfront is that Million Dollar Arm is a Disney production, meaning it’s very pleasant, family-friendly, safe and sappy, with some bits of light humour that won’t risk offending anyone. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but this is not where you will find gritty, hard-hitting drama that pushes the envelope. This is one true story that feels pretty made up.

In some ways, Million Dollar Arm is like a Disney version of Jerry Maguire, where a down-and-out sports agent tries to revive his career with a potential star(s), except he kind of loses his way along the journey and must find himself before it’s too late.

The entire ensemble cast is very good, though there is nothing particularly special about the script or the direction of Craig Gillespie (Aussie director of the 2011 remake of Fright Night), which treads on the safe side in delivering themes and an overall trajectory that will feel eerily familiar if you’ve ever seen any American sports movies.

I found it interesting that the film change the backgrounds of Singh and Patel to make them cricket players, when in real life they were javelin throwers. Perhaps it was a marketing decision to appeal to all the cricket fans in India. Those who want to know just how faithful the film is to real events can check out this very informative link.

Anyway, Million Dollar Arm is what it is — a Disney-fied inspirational true story with likable actors that will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  Despite the overlong running time of 124 minutes, this is definitely a fastball right down the middle of the pitch for those don’t mind the family-friendly feel and the typical sports drama manipulation.

3 stars out of 5