Tag Archives: Vince Vaughn

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Say what you want about Mel Gibson, but the alcoholic antisemite nutjob sure knows how to make awesome movies!

I was somewhat wary about his latest film, Hacksaw Ridge, the remarkable true story about a Christian conscientious objector who became a hero during World War II. Given Gibson’s religious leanings, I was concerned that he was going to push that aspect of the movie down my throat, but I guess I didn’t give him enough credit because Hacksaw Ridge is one of the most epic and inspiring war movies ever made. And it’s technically an Aussie film!

Former Spider-Man Andrew Garfield plays Desmond Doss, a young man who felt obligated like so many in his hometown to join the US military and fight the Japanese during WWII. The problem is, he’s a devout Christian who not only refuses to kill but even refuses to carry a weapon. Obviously, if he were simply sent home at this point, Hacksaw Ridge wouldn’t be much of a movie. So you can kind of guess what happens next. And yet, the battle sequences, when they finally hit, are so impactful and devastating that I became totally immersed in the film, such that it didn’t matter if I knew what the story was about or what the outcome would be.

We all know Mel loves violence, and Hacksaw Ridge doesn’t hold back one bit. Bullets shredding bodies, exploding heads, flying limbs — the carnage actually wasn’t too far off from the over-the-top massacres in Rambo (2008), except here it felt terrifyingly real. Well-developed characters you care about and good acting can make all the difference.

Garfield is really, really good as Doss, and I wouldn’t be upset if he snags one of the five Best Actor spots at the Oscars this year (he also could for Silence, though I haven’t seen it yet). It could have been easy for Doss to come across as too self-righteous and obtuse, but Garfield’s performance makes him a protagonist you want to root for. The rest of the cast is fantastic too, including Doss’s abuse, alcoholic father played by Hugo Weaving and mother played by Rachel Griffiths. Teresa Palmer puts in one of her better performances as the love interest, while Luke Bracey and Sam Worthington — two guys who haven’t been great leading men but have been solid supporting actors — are as good as they have ever been as soldiers in Doss’s unit. Vince Vaughn rounds off the stellar cast with also one of his best performances in years as their wise-cracking sergeant, providing the bulk of the film’s humour without at all coming across as jarring or out of place.

Hacksaw Ridge a brutal, harrowing film about the horrors of war, but also an uplifting one about faith and sticking to what you believe in and who you are. You really don’t have to be a Christian to enjoy this movie or be moved by it. You can actually even hate Christianity but love this movie because the themes are universal. Inspiring is inspiring, and a great movie is a great movie.

4.5 stars out of 5

PS: Apparently the film is pretty accurate too. Some timelines are shifted or stretched, but the core facts are verifiable.

Recent Movie Reviews: Part VII

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)

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I had heard some pretty nasty things about The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, the latest adaptation of a successful young adult book series which instantly conjures up images of franchises like Twilight. For maybe the first half hour or so, I was ready to disagree with the critics because I felt it was fairly engaging, but somewhere along the line the film just got bogged down by the weight of its own unnecessarily complexity and desire to infuse contrived romances into the storyline, and from there it all fell apart. In other words, I ended up agreeing with the naysayers: City of Bones stunk.

Starring the eyebrows of Lily Collins (offspring of music legend Phil), City of Bones follows the adventures of New York teenager Clary Fray, who one night realises she is not “normal” and  can see things other people can’t.  OK, I’m just going to say it — this movie is about angel warriors who slay demons on Earth. Fray is indeed special and has special powers, including the ability to use runes.

Anyway, the whole film revolves around the search for the titular Mortal Instruments, and in particular a magical cup. It all got a little confusing for me, to be honest, and I really didn’t care about all the explanations which made little sense. But it does also have vampires and werewolves, and in a bit of a controversial twist for young adult fiction, gay characters!

I did enjoy the start of the film and its urban setting, and the tensions brought about by an endangered protagonist who doesn’t know what the hell is going on around her. But I knew there was going to be a romance as soon as the blonde locks of Jamie Campbell Bower (who plays an angel called Jayce Wayland) appeared on screen, and I hoped that it wouldn’t ruin the movie. Well, it did, and the moment when Eyebrows and Bower shared an awkward kiss in a greenhouse (just as it suddenly starts to rain, by the way) was when I lost faith in the film completely.

I’m not as critical of the film’s fantasy cliches as others, because I don’t have a problem with stealing elements as long as the execution is right. This is harder said than done, of course, and City of Bones failed to get over that hump, though they did have a good crack at it. In the end,  it’s the contrived romance and the unnecessarily convoluted back story that crushed the film for me. That said, I don’t think the series is beyond salvation, and the planned sequel, City of Ashes, could still possess some potential.

2 stars out of 5

The Internship (2013)

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These days you can be pretty certain of what you’re in for when you go to a Vince Vaughn comedy, especially if it also stars Owen Wilson. The Internship is what it is — affable characters you are familiar with, consistent, mildly amusing jokes and gags, and a cliched life message at the end. The only difference between this and other similar Vaughn movies in recent years is that The Internship is also a massive advertisement for Google.

Vaughn and Wilson are watch salesmen who someone get an opportunity to apply for an internship at Google. To get the sought-after job, they must compete against a bunch of young, cocky, highly qualified interns in a teams. And of course, the duo gets put in a team of misfits who are considered rejects by other teams, and they have to find a way to learn from each other and defy the odds. You know how it goes and you know how it ends, but it’s still a semi-enjoyable ride.

Directed by Shawn Levy (Cheaper by the Dozen, Night at the Museum, Date Night) and co-written by Vaughn, The Internship is one of those “safe” and “comfortable” movies that tend to rated better by audiences than critics. There are some interesting insights into Google’s recruitment process (including a Quidditch match), but for the most part it is extremely formulaic and short on original jokes. And of course it is unnecessarily long at 2 hours.

Vaughn and Wilson are likable guys who seem to always play the same characters, so you know what to expect with them. The other interns on their team are stereotypes but the actors who play them do fairly good jobs. Rose Byrne plays Wilson’s love interest and feels like a superfluous character, and Max Minghella is awfully one-dimensional and over-the-top as the dicky villain who bullies them (though I blame it on the script). The standout supporting character is played by Rob Riggle, a hilarious electric cart salesman, and it’s a shame he doesn’t have more screen time.

On the whole, I found The Internship to be a “meh” experience that won’t affect your life whether you see it or not. Apart from a bizarre and strangely adult segment featuring to a strip club, this was about as predictable of a movie as you’re likely to see all year.

2.5 stars out of 5

The World’s End (2013)

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The World’s End is the third film in director Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost  (following Shaun of the Dead, which I liked a lot, and Hot Fuzz, which I haven’t seen). It would be an understatement to call this film a wild, outrageous and unpredictable ride, and I would recommend anyone who intends on seeing it to avoid all spoilers like I did.

The premise pretty much tells you the kind of experience you are in for. Pegg plays a middle-aged alcoholic trying to rekindle his glory days from two decades ago and gathers up his old gang to try and complete the “Golden Mile”, a pub crawl through 12 local pubs in a single night that ends at an establishment named The World’s End. The rowdy group start off the pub crawl as planned, but an unexpected twist throws them into the craziest night of their lives.

It’s hard to say more about the plot without giving key details away, so I’ll stop there, but what I will say is that it features Pegg and Frost at their stinging best. The wisecracks and one-liners come fast and furious, and the physical comedy is also surprisingly effective in a wacky kind of way. The supporting cast, which includes the likes of Rosamund Pike and Martin Freeman, are all excellent and contribute to a highly entertaining and surreal experience where nothing is taken seriously — in a good way.

And on top of it all, The World’s End is strangely heartfelt and pushes through its messages about alienation and letting go of the past extremely well. The film does lose a bit of steam towards the end as the silliness meter is dialled up to the max, but even then you get the feeling that the Wright was in full control of where he wanted to take his audience.

The World’s End is unapologetically crazy, bizarre, and above all, British. I thought it was hilarious.

4 stars out of 5

42 (2013)

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Sports biopics are all about inspiration, and inspirational figures don’t come much bigger than Jackie Robinson, the first African-American player in Major League Baseball. 42 follows Robinson’s journey from talented negro league player to his controversial signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers, where he would become the only black player in a league of all whites, thereby making him the most polarizing athlete in sport.

For those who don’t know much about Robinson and his incredible life, 42 provides a wonderful insight into just how difficult it was for him to be that breakthrough guy who paved the way for racial equality in not just baseball but all professional sports in the United States. It’s a pivotal and very important part of American history that should not and will not be forgotten.

That said, 42 is very much a family film in the sense that it tackles the obstacles and the racism Robinson faced head on but in a somewhat sanitised way that feels like it steered clear of the ugliest and darkest aspects of what he had to endure. This is not to say that the film makes light of what Robinson went through — it’s just that things could have been portrayed in a much more cynical, brutal and disturbing manner. That would have made it a very different kind of movie and that’s not what the filmmakers had in mind.

However, this decision also means that 42 loses some of its edge and comes across as a more stock-standard sports biopic that at times borders on made-for-TV territory. There are the good guys and there are the bad guys, and there are the guys who redeem themselves after initially falling prey to peer and societal pressures. It made things a little too black and white for my liking, but again, this was the path the filmmakers intended on taking.

I hadn’t heard of Chadwick Boseman, the actor who plays Robinson in the film, before, but it’s obvious why he was picked for the role — he looks A LOT like him! I wouldn’t say Boseman was oozing charisma, but he does a stellar job as the man who wears No. 42 on his back. The big name star is Harrison Ford, who plays Branch Rickey, the MLB executive who came up with the idea of signing Robinson — apparently not because he wanted racial equality but because he wanted to win. Other known names include John C McGinley, Christopher Meloni and Lucas Black.

Ultimately, 42 is a fairly unremarkable film that manages to sustain our interest because of a remarkable man. It is a safe production designed for families and younger audiences, and as such it gets the job done, but expecting anything more will likely lead to disappointment.

3.25 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 9

This latest tranche has a political flavour…kind of…

Act of Valor (2012)

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Just the title alone made me sceptical of this film, essentially a US Army recruitment video starring real-life soldiers. There must be people who lapped up the salty patriotism and corny melodrama of Act of Valor, but I was not one of them.

The plot — and there is a plot — is not important, and to be honest, I don’t remember much of it. The story focuses on a team of Navy Seals who have to shot and blow up enemies who pose a threat to freedom in the United States. Terrorists, that is.

The action scenes are well-choreographed, I don’t dispute that. Apparently they are realistic, but the shaky camera movements were too much for me. I had trouble telling what was happening when they had the helmet-mounted cameras and a few of the scenes made me feel nauseated.

But the main problem with Act of Valor, apart from the cookie-cutter plot, is the unintentional Team America: World Police feel that runs throughout the whole film. Much of it stems from dramatic score and the really really really atrocious lines spewed out by the really really really wooden “actors.” They just didn’t feel like real people. It was so bad that it was often either hilarious or distracting, or both. No offense to the soldiers, but it was akin to letting Stallone and The Rock go fight real terrorists on behalf of their country.

2 stars out of 5

PS: The mix of shaky camera movements and over-the-board heroism was enough to do this to me.

 

Game Change (2012)

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A great film for anyone interested in just how stupid Sarah Palin really is. Game Change is based on the true story of the 2008 Republican ticket of John McCain and Palin, and it’s a ripper. Sharp, funny and at times bewildering, it provides a fascinating insight into US presidential elections and the campaign strategies that direct the outcome. And above all, it reveals just how insane the Republicans were to take on a risk like Palin, who was believed to be a potential game changer — and she was, just not the way they wanted.

I loved the Tina Fey impersonations but Julianne Moore is equally brilliant in this more serious portrayal of Palin, who is depicted as an ambitious, self-righteous but incredibly naive and ignorant politician. Most of her most famous gaffes are repeated in the film, and they’re still just as funny. But it was also easy to see why the Republicans were so enamored with her in the beginning and so frustrated with her by the end. They essentially created a monster and didn’t know how to rein her back in.

Ed Harris was surprisingly good as John McCain, who I’ve always liked and was portrayed as a very decent man who really had no idea what he was getting himself into with Palin. The rest of the supporting cast, headed by Woody Harrelson as senior campaign strategist Steve Schmidt, was also excellent. Just a classy production all round.

Of course, the accuracy of the events depicted in the film have been disputed, but I’d like to think it captured the spirit of the campaign. Besides, both Palin and McCain, who said the film was inaccurate, never even saw it.

I really enjoyed it, even though it did have quite a strong TV-movie atmosphere.

PS: Here’s a scene by scene comparison between Palin and Moore.

4 stars out of 5

The Campaign (2012)

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While we’re on the subject of election campaigns, I’d like to review The Campaign, a pretty stock standard Will Ferrell farce about two numskulls vying for a congressional seat in a small town.

Ferrell plays his usual douche self who expects to earn another trip to DC unopposed, but a semi-retarded man played by Zach Galifianakis is somehow manipulated by corrupt businessmen to run against Ferrell so they can profit from a Chinese company (go figure). Retardation ensues as the two start getting down and dirty with outrageous plots to derail the other’s campaign.

If you know Ferrell’s brand of comedy and Galifianakis’s brand of comedy then it’s likely The Campaign will offer few surprises. It’s a lot of stupidity and randomness for about 85 minutes, a welcome length because the film starts to lose steam towards the end.

That said, there are some decent moments in The Campaign, and if you were lucky to have missed the spoilers in the trailers then you might find it rather enjoyable. Many of the jokes are borderline offensive or just plain offensive, but because they are almost always self-deprecating and take jabs at the usual politician antics they aren’t difficult to stomach or even appreciate. Both Ferrell and Galifianakis are in fine form and they do have nice chemistry on screen together.

At the end of the day, The Campaign is a forgettable comedy, but it’s also a pretty damn funny one (for the most part).

3.5 stars out of 5

The Watch (2012)

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Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn were pretty good together in Dodgeball, so I thought would give The Watch a shot. Without giving too much away (and there are potential spoilers), it’s about a bunch of average guys who decide to form a neighbourhood watch when locals start dying under weird circumstances.

The main foursome who form the neighbourhood watch are Stiller, Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade (an English comedian I’ve never heard of). They get up to stupid, juvenile stuff, predictably, until a discovery that puts their lives in real danger. There’s a lot of screaming in feigned fear and plenty of vulgar and sexualised jokes but sadly not a lot of originality or wit. In fact, I found the whole film strangely dull despite all the energetic stuff that was happening on screen.

Part of the problem is that Stiller and Vaughn (and to some extent Hill) seem to be playing the exact same characters with the same personalities and traits in every movie. Stiller is the bumbling nice guy who wants to be something more, and Vaughn is the deadpan specialist, while Hill is the awkward fatty. There’s just nothing fresh about it and they feel like actors playing themselves rather than characters.

I’ll admit, there were a few times in The Watch where the inner juvenile in me found a joke in the film funny — but these moments were few and far in between. As much I as enjoy these group buddy movies as much as the next guy, this one was uninspiring and forgettable.

2.5 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