Tag Archives: Will Smith

Suicide Squad (2016)

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I’ll be honest: Suicide Squad was probably my least anticipated blockbuster of the year. The trailers didn’t inspire me and expectations dropped even further after the disappointing mixed bag that was Batman v Superman. And so I’ll also give credit where it is due: I actually quite liked Suicide Squad.

Written and directed by David Ayer (Training Day, End of Watch, Fury), Suicide Squad is officially the third film in the DC cinematic universe after Man of Steel and BvS. It is an ambitious project that tries to subvert the superhero ensemble genre by making the protagonists a bunch of “bad guys” who have to save the world. It is essentially a bizarro Avengers of sorts, with Viola Davis  playing Amanda Waller, a government official who decides to bring together a group of the world’s most dangerous criminals, some of whom are “metahumans”, to take down a new threat that has become seemingly unstoppable in the aftermath of BvS (no spoilers for those who haven’t seen it). It essentially the Nick Fury role played by Samuel Jackson in the Marvel cinematic universe.

There’s the hired assassin Deadshot (Will Smith), crazy babe Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), powerful ancient witch Enchantress (Carla Delevigne), Aussie bandit Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), mutant Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), firestarter El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and wall climber Slipknot (Adam Beach). Tasked with babysitting the so-called “Suicide Squad” is hero soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), along with his sword-wielding Japanese friend Katana (Karen Fukuhara).

That’s already a lot of characters and a lot of stars, but there’s still more. There’s Jared Leto as supervillain The Joker, Common as a gangster, Scott Eastwood as a lieutenant, and Ike Barinholtz as a sleazy prison guard. That doesn’t even take into account cameos from a couple of from Justice League members.

Despite the plethora of characters, Ayers does a fairly good job in introducing us to all of them and in trying to give each their chance to shine, including the use of an assortment of flashback sequences to reveal back stories for key characters. Of course, no one really gets enough time to become a fully rounded character, but I think it was about as good as you could get considering the running time is only 123 minutes. Even had they extended the film to 3 hours it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.

Perhaps burned by the reception to BvSSuicide Squad had a lot more lighter moments and humorous dialogue where audiences could laugh and relax — predominantly thanks to Harley Quinn. There are still plenty of serious/emotional scenes, and even some scary sequences that would be unsuitable for children, but the film is decidedly not as dark or gritty as Ayers’ previous films.

And the performances are very good all around. I had been one of those people who felt Will Smith’s days as a box office A-lister were long behind him, but this movie shows he’s still got the charisma and presence to carry a film. He doesn’t need to do it here, but he’s arguably the best thing about the movie. I had also thought his character, Deadshot, seemed kinda lame, though I was wrong about that too. The film definitely frames his special abilities in the best possible light so that he can be one of the most impactful members of the squad.

The other standouts for me were of course Margot Robbie, who dominates just about every scene she is in as the sexy but nutty Harley Quinn, Viola Davis, who gets a lot of meat to chew in this film, and Joel Kinnaman, who adds a groundedness to all the mayhem and super abilities. He’s proven with this performance and in House of Cards that he is a fantastic actor who deserves bigger, more challenging roles in the future.

And now, the negatives. Truth is, the film doesn’t make much sense at all from a story standpoint. I can’t go into it too much, but even the very reason why the Suicide Squad was set up in the first place, and who was chosen to be a part of it, doesn’t quite add up. Many of the members of the squad — especially the non-metahumans with the exception of Deadshot — don’t really belong there. Captain Boomerang, in particular, basically offers nothing. It’s one of those movies where you have to put logic aside and go with the flow, because some of these metahumans are so powerful that contrivances have to be forced into the plot to balance out the field for the ordinary humans. Logic aside, and while the editing is far near perfect, Suicide Squad is still a more coherent film than BvS.

Another complaint I have — and it’s the same problem many had with BvSˆ– is that the characters bonded too quickly and too easily. I understand that Ayers had to create camaraderie in the squad, but it was jarring to hear them speak of each other in corny terms after a handful of interactions in literally just a few hours of time together.

The final issue I had with the film was Jared Leto’s tattooed, mobster version of the Joker. Some people may love it, but I hated it. My problem is less with Leto’s portrayal and more with the way the character was written and presented. I didn’t find him creepy or scary, and I could tell that’s exactly what they were going for. If Jack Nicholson’s Joker was iconic and Heath Ledger’s was legendary, then Jared Leto’s Joke is “meh”. It’s almost as though he tried too hard and it backfired.

Ultimately, Suicide Squad is not in the same league as any of the Avengers movies or Civil War, and it’s several notches below X-Men: Apocalypse. However, those movies did have the advantage of not having to introduce their core characters for the first time, whereas for Suicide Squad had a whole bunch of characters most regular moviegoers would not have even heard of. It is not great by any means, but at least it delivers good popcorn fun and some solid action sequences.  I personally thought it was better-made and more entertaining on the whole than BvS.

3.5 stars out of 5!

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

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As a big UFO and alien buff growing up, the original Independence Day should have been just my kind of movie. I remember Will Smith punching out an alien, Bill Pullman doing his cringeworthy Braveheart speech, and Jeff Goldblum doing Jeff Goldblum things, but I don’t remember loving the movie. A reasonably enjoyable popcorn flick is about as far as I would go.

Accordingly, apart from a little dash of nostalgia I didn’t really want anyway, there really was no reason for me to see Independence Day: Resurgence, especially not 20 years later. Sure, they brought back all the main cast sans Will Smith (maybe they refused to let Jayden Smith play his son in this one), but they also brought in charisma wormhole Liam Hemsworth as the new “younger generation” lead and replaced the wonderful Mae Whitman, who played Bill Pullman’s young daughter in the first time, with skinny blonde Maika Monre (even though I really liked her from The Guest and It Follows).

As expected, Resurgence was not very good. I don’t think it’s as vomit-inducing as what I’ve been calling it, ie Regurgitation, but it’s just a silly, special-effects heavy, overstuffed money-grab that fails to recapture any of the “event film” magic of the original.

I’ll start with what I liked about the movie. The end. Just kidding, there was a little bit more than that. I liked how the story built on the events from the first movie 20 years ago, creating an alternate timeline where humans have blended their own technology with alien technology to build a nice-looking future world where people can travel to the moon and back in seemingly minutes or hours (depending on what is most convenient for the plot), and there’s also world peace with no ethnic or religious conflict. That sounds like a much better world than the one we live in now.

The special effects are so very well done even by modern standards, and I’m glad that the film doesn’t take itself very seriously at all. It’s a movie that knows how silly it is and plays along with its tongue firmly in cheek at times without spiralling into a complete farce.

Having said that, Resurgence just doesn’t feel nearly as fun as it’s supposed to be. It gets off to a poor start with Hemsworth establishing himself as a douchey space pilot protagonist dating the ex-president Whitmore’s (Bill Pullman’s) daughter (Maika Monroe), who is now all grown up and a confidant for the current president (Sela Ward doing her best Hillary Clinton impersonation). Oh, and Will Smith’s dead (his photo is on the White House wall as a reminder), but his son (Jessie Usher) just happens to have grown up to be the best pilot in the country (and since this is the United States, the planet, but most probably the entire universe). In other words, the near-apocalypse 20 years ago had no impact whatsoever on nepotism.

The rest of the cast is also impressive, but none of Vivica A Fox, Charlotte Gainsbourg or William Fichtner have meaty enough roles to really offer anything worthwhile. The only guy who really seems to be a genuinely positive influence on the film is good old Jeff Goldblum. Though he churns through the same schtick as most of the roles he plays these days, he at least adds some levity and sense of fun with his quirkiness and one-liners.

Another really annoying part of the movie is the obvious product placement, in particular from China, from Chinese milk beverages to QQ (messaging service) to the somewhat arbitrary inclusion of Chinese actress Angelababy. She’s not bad in this, but her presence is awkward and an unnecessary distraction because her character is poorly written – though that’s pretty much like everyone else.

The biggest issue I had with Regurgitation is its inability to generate a care factor. Director, co-writer and co-producer Roland Emmerich has always had a thing for world-ending visuals (The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, etc), and in this regard he doesn’t disappoint, but his history developing characters worth rooting for has been a lot patchier. Regurgitation is not one of his stronger efforts. Hemsworth is smug, Pullman looks too exhausted for anything except limping his way to an easy paycheck, and Jessie Usher doesn’t come close to exuding even half the charisma Will Smith did.

Consequently, most of the first half of the movie is rather unengaging as we wait for the inevitable alien invasion, serious carnage and of course, famous landmark damage. And when it arrives, most of it is nothing we haven’t seen before. It gets more exciting once the CGI-heavy spaceship battles begin (largely because human technology is much more advanced than what we’re accustomed to seeing), though things eventually plunge into a wild and laughable climatic sequence that tests the limits of how much ridiculousness audiences can bear. I guess it’s no less insane than humans using a computer virus to defeat an advanced alien species like they did last time, but saving grace for the human race this time is telegraphed far too early. Oh, and I love how mere seconds can expand into a seemingly infinite amount of time when the story calls for it. The problem with all of this is that at no stage does it actually make you feel like humanity is in any real danger.

I’m actually less critical of Regurgitation than how I make it sound in this review. The second half of the film is dumb, popcorn entertainment I didn’t really mind. But then again, it might just be because the first half lowered expectations too much.

2.5 stars out of 5

Concussion (2015)

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“Tell the truth,” Will Smith (and Jada)! Concussion didn’t deserve any Oscar nominations!

After all the hoopla about how the Smiths boycotted last month’s Academy Awards because of a perceived snub against the film — and in particular, the Fresh Prince’s portrayal of Dr Bennet Omalu — I decided it was time that I checked out this controversial flick about the deviating effects of repeated head injuries in the NFL.

As the true story goes, Omalu (Smith), a Nigerian forensic pathologist, performs an autopsy on former gridiron great Mike Webster (David Morse), who suffered from terrifying mental illness in his post-playing days prior to his death. He found it bizarre that Webster turned out that way despite his apparent sound physical health, and further investigation and research led him to conclude that repeated head trauma incurred throughout a long career in football was the cause behind a disorder he refers to as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Needless to say, this finding doesn’t go down too well with a lot of people (I thought it was common sense that getting concussed isn’t good for your brain, but whatever), from organisations that make billions out of the brain jolting to casual lovers of America’s No. 1 sport. As you might expect, Omalu is faced with loads of obstacles, abuse and threats, but the determined dude soldiers on to force the NFL to “Tell the truth!”

First of all, I’m going to address the controversial inaccuracies before casting them aside. I didn’t know how closely the film followed real life until I read up about it later, so I’m not going to let that affect my initial impressions. It does appear that Concussion took a lot of “artistic liberties” with the truth, and while some of it can be attributed to the same people who wanted to silence Omalu in the first place, there are several  irrefutable facts that are clearly manipulated for movie purposes. But let’s not pretend Concussion is the first “true story” to have a few fictional elements.

My problem with Concussion is that it comes across as far too neat, far too conventional, and far too shallow for what is supposed to be a complex, explosive, adrenaline-pumping drama about something so many Americans care deeply about. While it is well-made for what it is, the film follows a familiar Hollywood trajectory that hits predictable plot markers all the way through. You know he’s going to find something and you know it’s going to stir up trouble and you know he’s going to fight. There’s really nothing that will catch you off guard.

To be fair, there is sufficient intrigue — largely thanks to the subject matter — to maintain interest, and the performances from the all-star cast add a nice touch of class to what is obviously a top notch production. But the overwhelming vibe I got from watching the movie is “packaged”. Its depiction of the scandal is extremely simple, straightforward and one-sided, and for a story like this you almost need it to be messier and to have more risk-taking.

That scene in all the trailers where an emotional Omalu demands that they “Tell the truth!” is a great illustration of my point. You can tell it’s been set up as Will’s big “Oscar moment”, from the lighting to the camera angles to the fact that Omalu had never been anything close to as animated as he was, making the outburst somewhat jarring. I imagine they had planned for the clip to be played during the introduction of the Best Actor nominees at the Oscars ceremony. You know they did.

Will Smith typically plays characters with clean images, and Omalu is unfortunately also portrayed as a saint, which I believe is to the detriment of the film. He’s a man of God and science, a genius with more than half a dozen degrees, and a perfect gentleman with the utmost manners and integrity. He’s a little eccentric but not socially inept or odd, and the only time he loses his temper is when he wants people to “Tell the truth!”

It’s fine if that’s who Omalu really is, but from some accounts he’s actually quite a flamboyant character who doesn’t mind the finer things in life. Wouldn’t a complex protagonist be a lot more interesting than some boring, lionised hero who always does the right thing against all odds?

None of this is a criticism of Smith, who delivers another stellar performance notwithstanding his lack of physical resemblance to the real Omalu (think a shorter, chubbier version of David Oyelowo, who actually would have been an awesome choice). And you could have fooled me that Smith’s African accent wasn’t shaky because it sounded pretty good to my untrained ears.

The rest of the cast is also very solid, with Alec Baldwin and Albert Brooks being the standouts along with rising star Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who feels slightly wasted in the love interest role.

In other words, the fundamentals of a good drama are all there. Writer and director Peter Landesman also doesn’t press too hard on the audience manipulation, setting up the impactful moments but not shoving the emotions down our throats (apart from “Tell the truth!”). For some, that might actually be a negative, as there are audiences who no doubt prefer to be told how to feel (a la The Blind Side).

Concussion is therefore not a bad film, but it’s also an unremarkable one. While the subject matter and overall quality of the production guarantee a viewing experience of a certain level, the decision to play it safe and stick to the oft-used blueprint for true stories/biopics denies it the opportunity to rise above the pack in the way that Spotlight did. And that’s the truth!

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Focus (2015)

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If it feels like it’s been ages since Will Smith has been in a movie, it’s probably because it has been. The Fresh Prince’s last genuine feature film (if you discount basically cameos in Winter’s Tale and Anchorman 2) is the abysmal After Earth, which practically destroyed his son Jaden’s acting future and put a severe dent in his own.

And so I found it interesting that Smith went for a project like Focus, which is a departure from his typical sci-fi blockbusters (Independence Day, MIB, Hancock, I Robot, I am Legend) and melodramatic “acting” efforts (Six Degrees of Separation, The Pursuit of Happyness, Seven Pounds). The closest things on his resume is probably Hitch, made 10 years ago, which has a consistent vibe and has him playing a similar sort of character.

In Focus, Smith plays Nicky Spurgeon, a con man who takes a beautiful young woman (Margot Robbie) under his wing to learn the tricks of the trade. They scam people, they make money, they have fun. Naturally, there is an attraction between the two, which is a no-no for their line of work. It’s one of those films where you’re supposed to be constantly unsure of the characters’ motivations and just who is playing whom.

Focus relies on the chemistry between the two leads, which is apparently so good that the gossip mags had a field day with all the affair rumors when the film was being made. Smith and Robbie are nice to look at and do make a good team, but I just couldn’t bring myself to like Smith’s character, who came across as too familiar to distinguish from his other roles. It’s always the same  — the “I’m so cool and suave and deadpan” and “I’m always in perfect control and never get rattled by anything” demeanour Smith has been crafting since his Fresh Prince days and perfected through Bay Boys, Independence Day, MIB, Wild Wild West and so forth. The act can be funny and all, but I found myself getting tired of it in this film.

There’s not a lot of depth in Focus, though I admit it had some fun and exciting moments as the stakes kept being raised higher and higher.  Fans of plot twists will also probably get a kick out of the movie because there are plenty of twists and turns all the way through. The problem I had with it was that rather than being shocked again and again, I became prepared for every twist that came my way and grew suspicious each time the plot took another turn. Most of all, underneath all of that, I carried the feeling that everything was going to be just fine in the end, so it kind of rendered all the twists superfluous anyway.

In the end, I found Focus to be forgettable experience. It may be slick and stylish but it wasn’t particularly funny and was only sporadically entertaining. The ending was also predictable and not as clever as it should have been. Chalk this one up as a DVD rental.

2.25 stars out of 5

2014 Movie Blitz: Part II

The movies just keep coming, I can’t stop them. Here’s another batch of films I saw recently.

The Calling (2014)

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This was supposed to be good. Susan Sarandon plays a police detective living in a small Canadian town trying to track down a serial killer with illusions of religious grandeur. The supporting cast isn’t too shabby either, with the likes of Gil Bellows, Ellen Burstyn, Topher Grace and Donald Sutherland. Unfortunately, while it’s not as horrible as some critics have made it out to be, The Calling lacked real suspense, emotion and surprise, and will likely become one of those movies no one remembers in a couple of years.

I initially thought The Calling was going to be a horror in the vein of Seven, but that was expecting way too much. The film started off well, building up Sarandon’s alcoholic character as a troubled but capable detective. Gil Bellows made a good right-hand man, and Topher Grace gave the police station a much-needed spark with his presence, though both of those guys were somewhat under-utilised.

The murders were interesting for a while, but after a while you begin to realise that the story’s not nearly as clever as it wants or needs to be. After a lot of build up in the first half there was a distinct lack of tension or intrigue in the second, as the perpetrator is revealed with very little mystery or conflict. I didn’t have a problem with the story veering towards the supernatural (which most critics tend to hate), but in the end the outcome was predictable and disappointing.

Though it’s one of those films that could have been a lot better, I’m also glad that it wasn’t a lot worse, which it very well could have been.

2.75 stars out of 5

Rage (2014)

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Seriously, trust those American movie producers to change what was an original and intriguing title like Tokarev to a lame and generic one like Rage. But it is what it is, and it’s still a semi-passable Taken-style movie about a former mobster who will do all that he can to find his abducted daughter — a considerable feat considering it stars none other than Nicholas “I’ll do anything” Cage.

Rage was savaged by the critics as an overly-violent, dull action thriller that belongs in Cage’s movie basement, but I personally thought it was OK. Cage has already been in one Taken rip-off, the blatantly titled Stolen, but this one’s a little different for several reasons I can’t reveal. And Cage, despite the tragic hair, is actually pretty good in it too.

The premise is intriguing — Cage, a former criminal gone straight, goes out for the evening with his lady friend (Rachel Nichols) while his teenage daughter (Aubrey Peeples) hangs out at home with her (boy)friends. A bunch of masked men come in and abduct her, setting Cage off on a rampage to track her down through his old contacts, one of whom he believes has betrayed him to his enemies. The journey takes Cage onto a path he can’t return from as we learn more about his dark past.

Rage is indeed ultra-violent, but it doesn’t have the oomph of Taken because it’s mostly just a lot of loud shooting and meanness. Rather than being a skilled badass like Liam Neeson, Cage is an angry badass, which isn’t nearly as exciting. At just 98 minutes, however, the short length does mitigate some of the dullness. The film loses steam towards the end, but I quite liked the ending because there is a tinge of morality among all the carnage.

3 stars out of 5

Sabotage (2014)

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This was supposed to be one of the big movies of the year. A post-politics Arnie back in full swing with Aussie star Sam Worthington by his side, along with a whole host of big names such as Olivia Williams, Terrence Howard, True Blood‘s Joe Manganiello, Lost‘s Harold Perrineau and Josh Holloway, Martin Donovan and Mireille Enos. It’s co-written and directed by David Ayer, best known for penning Training Day and writing and directing End of Watch.

The premise is a good one too — a bunch of corrupt DEA agents, led by Arnie, decide to skim a little off the top of their latest drug bust. But when the money they are supposed to share goes missing and team members start getting killed off one by one in increasingly gruesome ways, it turns the survivors of the once close-knit team on each other.

I knew it was going to be gritty, violent and explosive. And it was. But it also wasn’t anywhere as good as either Training Day or End of Watch. There are plenty of problems to point to, starting from the unnecessary gruesomeness of the whole thing. Sometimes the violence works, sometimes it’s it doesn’t — here it’s just kind of pointless. The other issue I had was with all the characters, none of whom are even remotely likable. It’s hard to watch a movie like this when you think all of them are basically brutish animals and a-holes you won’t mind seeing get whacked.

I wanted to like Sabotage, but there was way too much testosterone to be shared between all the stars, leading to a lot over-the-top swearing, sexism and fake macho stuff that just turned me off the story, which didn’t turn out to be nearly as clever as you initially thought it would be. And it even has this lengthy epilogue that was completely unneeded. Good performances, especially by Arnie, I suppose, but on the whole this is a misstep for Ayer and everyone else involved.

2 stars out of 5

Winter’s Tale (2014)

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What the hell is this? I don’t mind the occasional fable, but Winter’s Tale was way too unconvincing and sappy for my liking. It’s based on the 1983 novel of the same name by Mark Helprin, and tells the story of guy (Colin Farrell) who is raised by a demon (Russell Crowe) and later falls in love with a sick girl (Jessica Brown Findlay) while riding around on a flying white horse/guardian angel. So…yeah.

I kind of get that Winter’s Tale wants to be this epic, sweeping love story that transcends time and space and all that, but I found the package difficult to swallow, starting from Russell Crowe’s bizarre, indecipherable accent to the contrived love story between Farrell and Findlay, and the fact that Will Smith plays the Devil. Fantasy or not, it’s just not sensible stuff.

A film like this needed to give audiences strong, likable characters we can root for, but despite the significant 118-minute running time it felt as though not enough time was dedicated to developing them. The story has a lot of on-screen magic in it but you don’t feel any magic while watching it. The action is also stale, and the romance — though I’ve seen much worse — comes across as forced. And my god, what the heck is Russell Crowe saying?

In the end, I have no idea what this fable is trying to say. Like most flicks of this type, there’s beauty, love, the magic and there’s miracles, but none of it helped to make Winter’s Tale a fantasy I could enjoy, let alone immerse myself in. It might have worked for the book, but it didn’t come close to working for the film.

1.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: After Earth (2013)

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I am…well, was…one of the staunchest M Night Shyamalan defenders out there. I loved The Village and thought The Happening was, er, good (up until the ending) and didn’t think The Last Airbender was as awful as advertised, though Lady In the Water pushed me about as far as my limit would go. And so when I discovered that he was directing Will Smith’s latest sci-fi adventure After Earth (the same Will Smith who does not choose to make bad movies, apparently), I did not run off screaming like most other people.

I probably should have.

After Earth is, plain and simple, a bore, which is an incredible feat considering the semi-interesting premise and how much “action” there is. Basically, humans are forced to abandon Earth at some time in the future after making the place inhabitable, and the new place they decided to settle down has these alien creatures who are blind but can sense fear. Will Smith is some legendary commander who can suppress his fear (and hence practically invincible), and Jaden Smith (his real life son), is constantly living in his shadow. On a final trip to an abandoned Earth, their spaceship crashes and Will is hurt, and the only person who can save them (by trekking through dangerous terrain with evolved/mutated monsters) is Jaden.

So yeah, After Earth is basically a Jaden Smith star-making vehicle produced by his family. Will Smith, who came up with the idea for the movie, is more or less there for the star power and barely moves for the entire film. Jaden’s name even comes up first in the credits (this is living proof of fatherly love).

Apparently the original premise was not sci-fi and was about a father and son duo who are trapped after their car breaks down in the wilderness. That idea might have made a better motion picture, because the sci-fi elements in After Earth don’t really work. Maybe it’s the effects of a hangover from The Last Airbender, but After Earth has a childish feel to it, as though it was made with a Nickelodeon-esque audience in mind. It’s a morality tale and a coming of age story, but there is no nuance or subtlety. Everything is so painfully obvious and predictable. Bland and uninteresting, even when the characters are supposedly in danger. It’s not often that a 100-minute film feels too long. I’m not kidding here, but I think perhaps the film would have been better as an animation.

It’s pointless dissecting Will Smith’s performance because he has so little do to. As for Jaden Smith, I think his acting abilities have regressed from The Pursuit of Happyness (made 7 years ago) and The Karate Kid remake (3 years ago). Maybe it’s the script’s fault, or simply a lack of charisma, because I could not connect with his character at all. The most emotional parts of the film, including a (remote) tearful exchange with his father, felt strangely empty and cliched.

That said, the film is not quite as bad as it has been made out to be. Though clunky, the film tells its story adequately, and the special effects and scale are quite impressive. It’s not the worst of the movie of the year and 11% on Rotten Tomatoes is a brutal overreaction. However, After Earth is still ultimately a huge disappointment and a failed experiment. Maybe it’s time for M Night to retreat into the shadows and get back to the smaller, more intimate projects that made him a respected filmmaker in the first place.

1.75 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 8

Men in Black 3 (2012)

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I still remember the hype surrounding the original Men In Black in 1997, which officially catapulted Will Smith into big screen superstardom. I also vividly remember watching Men In Black II in 2002, and falling asleep during it. So when Men In Black III, which comes 10 years after the sequel, hit our cinemas, I didn’t have much interest, though I did eventually catch it on DVD.

This time, with Tommy Lee Jones quite literally “too old for this shit,” they got Josh Brolin to play a younger version of Agent K to team up with Will Smith’s Agent J in a plot commonly seen for third movies in a franchise — time travel, in the vein of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles in Time (classic film and arcade game).

As expected, MIB III was a tired old affair trying to milk the dollars. It wasn’t horrible, and it was an undoubted upgrade over its immediate predecessor, but there just wasn’t anything that could get me excited. I love aliens as much as the next X-File fan, though in this case they weren’t enough. Josh Brolin was surprisingly good and convincing as the younger Tommy Lee, who still got top billing despite the very limited screen time, though there were just too many Will Smith-esque dry jokes for my liking.

I know some critics found the film unassuming and fun, but I just couldn’t bring myself to like it. And I can’t believe they have confirmed another one.

2 stars out of 5

Ted (2012)

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I keep reminding myself to watch more of Seth MacFarlane’s stuff, especially the sharp and cutting Family Guy, but for whatever reason I just haven’t found the time. I was fortunate enough to watch Ted on a long-haul flight last year, and notwithstanding the effects of my soothing in-flight Xanax, I found the film to be a cracking good time. Not perfect by any means, but different enough and funny enough to make it one of the standout comedies of the year.

Marky Mark Wahlberg plays John, a kid whose wish that his teddy bear — Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) — would come to life. Sure, they are celebrities for a while, but eventually they grow up and have the face the realities of life, including John’s girlfriend, played by Mila Kunis.

At its core, Ted is a buddy movie where one is a screw-up (in this case the teddy) who holds the other guy back from realizing his full potential, but in all honesty the film is all about the laughs and the crude jokes. The script is somewhat inconsistent, but when it comes to generating laughs, Ted delivers. There are times when MacFarlane tiptoes around the edges of good taste (and in some cases steps over the bounds), but it really depends on what your personal limits are. For me, the vast majority of it was fine, and even the ones that were dangerous elicited a guilty chuckle.

MacFarlane does a wicked Ted, with a low, alcoholic voice laced with a thick Boston accent. Marky Mark is also perfect playing his typical dropkick-with-a-heart-of-gold character, and Mila Kunis shines as his sassy girlfriend. Special mention goes out to Giovanni Ribisi, who delivers a hilarious performance as a psycho obsessed with Ted.

In all, Ted is an acquired taste that may leave a bad taste in your mouth, but as warped as it is the film is also undoubtedly funny.

4 stars out of 5

Flight (2012)

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Denzel being Denzel is pretty much how I would sum up Flight, Robert Zemeckis’s (trying saying that quickly three times) first live action film since the awesome What Lies Beneath from 2000.

Denzel plays Whip, a skilled airline pilot who dabbles in women, alcohol and drugs. But when he miraculously lands a crashing plane and saves nearly everyone on board, he is hailed a hero — until the authorities start looking into his toxicology reports. Should the pilot’s state of mind and body be relevant if it wasn’t his fault that the plane was crashing in the first place? Shouldn’t all that matter be the fact that he saved people’s lives? And just how far would you go to protect your reputation even if it isn’t real? Those are the type of questions Flight asks its viewers.

It’s a fascinating story about truth and addiction and one man’s battle against demons that threaten to consume his life. Denzel is of course brilliant as the complex Whip, which is why he got another Oscar nomination, but the one who stole the show for me was Brit Kelly Reilly (I last saw her in the 2008 horror Eden Lake with Michael Fassbender), who plays a recovering drug addict with demons of her own.

Flight is a heavy drama tackling depressing issues, so there was a sense of gloom throughout the whole film, but you know the emotional lift will come eventually after Whip hits rock bottom. In that sense I found the whole thing a little predictable, though I can’t deny the effectiveness of the dramatic sequences and the performances. It’s one of those films you can appreciate but won’t be much more than a fuzzy memory in a few years.

3.75 stars out of 5

Smiley (2012)

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I was surfing YouTube for film trailers one day at work and I kept seeing ads on the right hand column for this slasher flick called Smiley, featuring a killer with — you guessed it — a mutilated smiley face. The trailer looked generic and horrible but I watched it anyway, and it is a decision I will have to live with for the rest of my life.

In short, Smiley is one of the worst movies of the year. Pathetic and derivative plot, laughable acting and zero scares, not even visceral ones. The idea  is a mish mash rip off of Candyman and Scream — that if you type a silly phrase into a webchat three times, Smiley will show up and kill the person on the other side. Of course, some moronic girl, played by Caitlin Gerard, decides to do it, and watching Smiley kill someone traumatizes her. The bodies then start piling up, and surprise surprise, no one believes her and thinks she’s going crazy. This was about the same point I wondered whether I was going crazy because surely the film could not be this abhorrent. But it was.

Caitlin Gerard is pretty to look at but all that crying and screaming and acting scared convinced no one. Even at 95 minutes I wondered regularly if the film was ever going to end. The end.

0.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Karate Kid (2010)

The biggest problem with the 2010 “remake” The Karate Kid is that it’s called “The Karate Kid.”

It so shouldn’t be, and it’s the sole reason that I didn’t watch the film any earlier.  (Okay, that’s a lie.  I also thought the film was a shameless “star” vehicle for Jaden Smith, Will Smith’s kid, as adorable as he was in The Pursuit of Happyness.)

Calling The Karate Kid “The Karate Kid” is misleading because the 2010 film has nothing to do with the classic franchise with Ralph Macchio as Daniel-san and Pat Morita as Mr Miyagi.  It’s not a real remake.  For starters, it’s not even karate (it’s Kung Fu!).  It also happens to be set in China.  Sure, it borrows from the goodwill of the 1984 original and allows them to throw in a few homages to some of the more memorable scenes between Daniel-san and Mr Miyagi, but I think it does a disservice to both the original and the new film to use the same name.  They should have gone with “The Kung Fu Kid” or something like that.

Anyway, as surprised as I am to say it, the 2010 “remake” is actually pretty decent.

Jaden Smith is Dre Parker, as 12 year old kid who moves with his mother (Taraji P Henson) to Beijing, China for some reason.  And of course, he’s not liked by the local kids who all turn out to be little kung fu warriors.  But fear not — enter Jackie Chan as the building maintenance man, Mr Han, who also happens to be a master of kung fu.  So begins little Dre’s transformation from bullied foreigner to kung fu hero.

If the plot sounds formulaic, that’s because it is.  But having said that, The Karate Kid still has a fair bit of heart.  It’s targeted at a younger audience and I think they’ve hit the mark — it has an underdog story, it’s fairly entertaining, lightly amusing, and there’s a good message hidden in there somewhere.  It’s way too long at around 140 minutes, but to be honest I didn’t find it boring.  The kiddy fight scenes were done very well, and most of it looks pretty legit.

Little Jaden is growing up quickly and he’s adequate as Dre.  I heard some bad reviews about his acting but he’s not that bad.  The cute kid routine no longer works but you can tell he works hard, just like his old man.  (He also looks a lot like him from the nose up, as evidenced from an early scene where you only get to see half his face in a van.)

The thing with Jackie Chan is that you always know what you’re going to get.  Charismatic, good jokes, nicely choreographed fight scenes, and the ability to pull the heart strings when necessary.  He’s clearly getting on in age but can still kick some butt when he has to.

The Karate Kid should never be considered a replacement for the original for the new generation of kids who like to pretend they know how to fight.  But still, it’s not a bad film, especially for younger kids.  Maybe they’ll find it easier to relate to a genuine 12-year-old in Jaden Smith rather than a 30-year-old Ralph Macchio playing a 16-year-old (okay, he wasn’t that old…maybe like 23).

3 stars out of 5

[PS: apparently in China it’s called The Kung Fu Dream and several minutes of the film that makes China “look bad” has been cut!]