Tag Archives: negative

Rock’s New Comedy Won’t Make Your ‘Top Five’

Top_Five_posterThere is a point at the beginning of “Top Five” when Chris Rock’s character says, “I don’t feel like doing funny movies anymore. I don’t feel funny”. Apparently he accomplished his goal because the movie he’s in isn’t all that funny.

Written, directed, and starring Chris Rock, “Top Five” tells the tale of Andre Allen (Rock), a former comedian who wants to be taken seriously as an actor, all while being shadowed by a journalist (Rosario Dawson) and dealing with the impending wedding with his reality star wife (Gabrielle Union).

Chris Rock is a great comedian, there’s no denying that, and even if he isn’t the greatest actor in the world, he still has produced some funny products the past decade. “Top Five” seems like it should work on paper, with Rock playing almost a version of himself, but it just doesn’t and for a comedy it isn’t that funny.

The cast looks impressive with the likes of Kevin Hart, Tracey Morgan and Cedric the Entertainer all popping up on the poster, but in reality this the Rock and Dawson show, with celebrities stopping by to cameo in one scene. Ironically it is the three scenes with Hart, Morgan and Cedric that each bring a little life and the biggest laughs to the screen, but the moment their characters exit you instantly miss them.

There are some tiny bits of inspired writing from Rock about how maybe we’re too tough on reality stars for having no real talent or how we expect too much from A-list celebrities, but those moments get lost watching scenes that go on for too long or are ruined by an awkwardly out-of-place crude joke.

I kept sitting through “Top Five” waiting and wanting it to pick up momentum and be funny, the kind of funny I know Chris Rock can bring, but it never does, and that is the film’s biggest problem: it is a comedy that just isn’t funny. The film never fully knows what kind of film it wants to be.

It wants to be taken seriously and address a man’s alcoholism? It throws is a montage with Cedric the Entertainer and two prostitutes. It wants to be filled with potty humor? It suddenly flips and makes some characters start a serious argument. Films like “Funny People” perfectly walk the lines of potty humor, drama and genuine laughs, but “Top Five” can’t.

The best part of “Top Five” is when Chris Rock’s character is shown doing standup, which makes sense because these are Rock’s roots. But a few celebrity cameos and a couple smart satirical moments can’t save a film that drags on and then suddenly just ends. I really, really wanted to like “Top Five” more than I did, if not for my sake then for Rock’s, but I could not.

Critics Rating: 5/10

Hoffman Great, ‘Most Wanted Man’ Not

A_Most_Wanted_Man_Poster            Sometimes a performance in a film is so good that it actually takes away from the film itself, and makes you realize how average the movie surrounding the performance is. It happened with Denzel Washington in “Flight” and it happens with Philip Seymour Hoffman in “A Most Wanted Man”.

Directed by Anton Corbijn and starring Hoffman in his last non-Hunger Games role, “A Most Wanted Man” is a thriller based off a John le Carré novel. When German intelligence receives word of a possible terrorist hiding in the city of Hamburg, Günter Bachmann (Hoffman) and his team must act quickly in order to stop a possible threat, as well as bring down a terrorist funding operation. Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe and Robin Wright all co-star.

In my 20 years on this earth, I have found there are two kinds of espionage thrillers:  ones that are non-stop, pulse pounders, and others that are slow-burning and dry. There really is no in between. Unfortunately, “A Most Wanted Man” falls into the latter category, despite yet another immensely dedicated performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Hoffman plays a German in the film, accent and all, but he is never campy. Despite having seen him in over a dozen films, and having personally graduated from the same American high school he once attended, I never doubted Hoffman as a German. He smokes, drinks and growls his way through the film, portraying a man who sticks to his guns, even when every other person around him is doubting the flimsy evidence. When Hoffman is on screen you cannot take your eyes off of him, and when he is not there you instantly notice his lack of presence.

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is not as engaging. The film wants to have you constantly guessing whether Hoffman’s target is actually a terrorist or simply just a misunderstood refugee, yet it only really feeds one side of the argument. You never really feel conflicted or question whether or not Hoffman’s team is making a mistake. You know exactly how to feel about the suspect and that takes away from some of the suspense.

The film also takes a while to get going to where it wants to get going to. Early on it makes it out to seem like the whole film will be a manhunt for a character, but then they quickly absolve that situation and then linger for about thirty minutes before finally realizing the big fish they really want to go after has been there the whole time.

There are worse espionage thrillers out there (just look at “Paranoia”, for example), but “A Most Wanted Man” is nothing special or memorable in its own right, either. The real enjoyment from the film comes from watching Hoffman on screen for one of the last times, and with every scene that passes we are reminded that we truly lost a legend. It is just a shame that everything surrounding Hoffman is nowhere near as interesting as his character. The narrative is just too bogged down and most characters outside Hoffman’s are just too underdeveloped.

There is a part in the film where Robin Wright’s CIA agent asks Hoffman, “What is it you want to achieve here?” I wanted to ask the film the same question.

Critics Rating: 5/10

‘Dawn of Apes’ a Step Down from First Film

Dawn_of_the_Planet_of_the_Apes            It wouldn’t be shocking if the sequel to the second attempted reboot of a film franchise that started in the 1960’s was not any good. In fact, it may be expected. And while “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, the eighth film in the franchise and sequel to 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, is not a bad movie, it is a step down from its predecessor.

Featuring an entirely new human cast, and a new director, “Dawn” picks up 10 years after “Rise”, where a virus has wiped out almost all of mankind (or maybe it was eight years. The film never actually picks a timeline and sticks with it). When a group of human survivors, led by Jason Clarke, comes in contact with the apes, led by motion-capture Andy Serkis, it lights a powder keg that may just begin all-out war. Matt Reeves directs.

I enjoyed “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” because it wasn’t the Tim Burton mess, seemed to know the line to walk between cheesy and serious, and saved its action scene for an emotional climax. While the set pieces and direction in “Dawn” are an improvement over “Rises”, it seems the filmmakers forgot everything else that made the first film a surprise hit.

As with everything he does, Andy Serkis knocks his performance out of the park as Caesar, leader of the apes. Using motion capture, just like he did with King Kong and Gollum, Serkis’ every facial wrinkle and nostril flare are captured, and the man really does deserve an Oscar nomination for something because he has changed CGI in movies. When Caesar is not on screen, you feel his lack of presence, and when he is there he demands your attention.

The special effects are all outstanding and the creative team deserves all the props in the world. You truly believe that you are watching actual apes run around, and every battle scene features glorious explosions. The set pieces are also top notch; whether it is a barricaded ape village or an abandoned human construction site, you are immersed into the world.

Unfortunately, pretty on the surface is really all “Dawn” has to offer. Right from the opening scene, which featured the apes herding deer (or hunting them? Once again, the movie never explains half of what it introduces), I knew this wasn’t going to be the same as the first Apes movie.

First off, the whole thing seems familiar, and not just because it’s a sequel. Whether it is the surviving group finding sanctuary from “Walking Dead” or the encountering of seemingly hostile enemies from “Dances with Wolves”, we’ve seen everything in this film before.

The second thing the film gets wrong is its action scenes. “Rise” knew to hold its action until the climax, that way there is emotional buildup. “Dawn” forces its action scenes, or scene rather, and by the end of the film it seems like it was all pointless to the plot. (Leave pointless action scenes to Michael Bay, please)

The film wants to seem smart and satirical, with its messages of “war is bad” and “let’s all be friends”, but those are both themes most everyone can already agree on. I’m not paying to see a movie that features talking apes riding horses and shooting guns to get any sort of popular propaganda force fed to me.

Serkis is great, and Reeves’ direction and set pieces look fantastic, but the emotion and action, two of the attractions to a movie like this, fall short. There’s going to be a third film, the ending of this one is all but a trailer for it, and I hope the filmmakers can learn from their mistakes and create a solid trilogy (or however long they plan to milk this for), but as it stands now, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is an alright film in a historic franchise.

Critics Rating: 6/10

‘Transcendence’ Nothing Special or New

Transcendence2014Poster            You know those movies that leave the audience with burning questions about real life issues? Yeah, “Transcendence” isn’t one of those movies.

Directed by cinematographer Wally Pfister in his directorial debut, the film stars Johnny Depp as an artificial intelligence researcher who is mortally wounded by a radical anti-technology group. Before he dies, however, his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) uploads his consciousness to a computer. As the radical group approaches to finish what they started, Evelyn must decide if the intelligence claiming to be her deceased husband is who it says it is. Sound confusing? Yeah, you’re telling me.

This film features a rookie director, a rookie screenwriter and an ensemble cast. All three were red flags before the title card in “Transcendence” even showed up on the screen. Pfister is a fantastic cinematographer (he won an Oscar for “Inception”) but maybe he should not quit his day job anytime soon. His first time in the director’s chair, Pfister heads a film with pacing issues and a narrative that ranges from awkward to just plain non-existent. Oh, and the movie really doesn’t know what it wants to be or what messages it wants to send, either.

In the film’s opening act there is a decently thought provoking line about whether man creating artificial intelligence and “playing God” is any different than mankind “making up gods” throughout history. Then they drop that possible storyline for the whole “anti-technology” group. Then yet again the film decides that angle isn’t interesting enough so it goes into whether A.I. is capable of comparing to humans. If you haven’t figured it out yet, allow me to clarify: the film is a mess.

There are some redeeming qualities to the film. Obviously with Pfister being an award winning cinematographer, the movie is shot beautifully; even if half of the cool shots are completely irrelevant to the scene. For example the very first shot of the film shows rain on a window and car headlights blurred in the background. The movie then cuts to a completely unrelated scene and starts the actual story. Was the shot cool to look at? Sure. Was it confusing and irrelevant? You betcha.

The movie does make a couple interesting points about where we’re going and how we may be letting technology get the best of us, but these aren’t things that you haven’t read about or pondered before; go to any website and they’ll tell you to put down your phone and go play outside. You don’t need to pay $10 to have the voice of Johnny Depp tell you.

For what it was striving to accomplish, “Transcendence” fails. It went for broke and came up short, but not horrifically. There are a few interesting parts and for about five seconds you actually wonder if Johnny Depp’s A.I. is good or evil, but in the long run this is a very forgettable film. I guess you could say that “Transcendence” transcends the definition of an average film [I’ll pause so you can laugh].

Critics Rating: 5/10

‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ is Slow and Gloomy


There are some people in the movie industry whose films you just can never seem to like. There people like Adam Sandler who are understandably disliked because they are lazy and consistently put out subpar products. However for me, the person, or persons, whose films I can never seem to enjoy, no matter how hard I may try, are Joel and Ethan Coen. And their new film, “Inside Llewyn Davis” does not help change my opinion very much.

The film follows folk singer Llewyn Davis (Oscar Issac) and the struggles he faces as he tries to make it in 1961 New York City. Carrey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake also star. The Coens wrote the script and direct.

The movie is just about a lot of depressed, angry and/or confused people struggling to make it in the world. There is no real joy to be found, and by the end of the movie Llewyn is no better off than he was at the beginning of the film. If you are going to make a movie that follows one main character, some sort of development, characterization or at the very least resolution is expected. But instead the Coens just travel from scene to scene in an effort to include as many of their trademark abstract characters as they can.

That is one of the reasons I don’t like the Coens. With the exception of “No Country for Old Men”, every one of their movies is about characters who have these quirky or dark personalities, a lot of which are unlike any person you would find in the real world. I just have never been a fan of their awkward and dry humor.

Not everything about the movie is negative, however. The main actor, Oscar Issac, is great. He is the only reason the film is watchable, to be honest. We aren’t sure if we should be rooting for Llewyn or not, because for as sympathetic as we feel for him, we also come to realize he may have dug his hole for himself, but Issac has a sense of charisma that is just too much to overlook.

But my favorite part of the film is John Goodman. In his ten minutes of screen time he has some very funny lines of dialogue and when he showed up I thought maybe the movie would get better but nope. They just abandon him and move on with the film; literally.

The music in the movie is very good; I have to give them that credit. I’m not the biggest folk song fan in the world but my foot started tapping whenever a character would pick up a guitar and start to play. All but one of the songs was recorded and sung live (Les Mis style) and it showed; it didn’t feel forced or fake.

I really cannot recommend “Inside Llewyn Davis”. One great performance and some catchy songs were not enough to overcome a dull script and a plot that doesn’t go anywhere. The highlights of Oscar Issac’s performance will be all over the place come Oscar season and you can look up the songs on iTunes or YouTube, so there is really no reason to see the movie.

I wish the Coens had broken their form and made a coherent, enjoyable movie about music, and instead of this depressing and gloomy picture. There is the patented Coen ending that will leave you confused and rethinking the movie, but unlike their other films, you don’t care if you figure out what it all means.

Critics Rating: 5/10

‘Catching Fire’ Is Flawed Fun



            It is a rare feat when the sequel to a worldwide blockbuster film is better than the original film. “The Dark Knight” was able to overtake “Batman Begins” (in some people’s eyes), while “The Hangover: Part II” was not as good as the first movie (once again, it’s in eye of the beholder). “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” follows an entertaining but flawed first film, and for the most part it succeeds in being better, but it is not without stumbling along the way.

Jennifer Lawrence, fresh off her first Oscar, once again plays Katniss Everdeen, the heroine who, alongside Peeta Mallark (Josh Hutcherson), won the most recent Hunger Games. If somehow you don’t know the franchise’s basic story arch, the Hunger Games are a yearly event where 24 teenagers fight to the death for the entertainment (and symbol of power) of the tyrannical government. The Katniss and Peeta’s victory has sparked a rebellion among the oppressed citizens, making the Capitol target the two and send them back into the Games. Francis Lawrence takes over direction duties from Gary Ross.

The first Hunger Games film was just alright. It was entertaining and somewhat fresh, even if the shaky cam and PG-13 violence held it back a bit. On this second go around the direction is much more fluid (my hat goes off to Francis Lawrence) and we get a little bit more bloodshed, mainly because all the fighters in the Hunger Games have won the event before, so they are 20 and older, not young kids who we can’t show actually get killed.

The film has its share of intense and exciting moments, most of which come from the dedication of Jennifer Lawrence. She throws herself into the role of Katniss, and it is her cunning wit and humanity that makes us follow her on her journey. However I can’t say I was always Katniss’ biggest fan.

The idea of the film (and book) is that Katniss is unlikable and has no real relationships, which is supposed to make her status as the Districts’ beacon of hope more meaningful; that a nobody can be the leader of great change. However when your main character is unlikable, then who are we as an audience supposed to root for? Where is our symbol of hope? There are points Katniss gets upset at people for reasons that are out of their control, and it really just annoyed me when she would break down crying because of what happened to her in the first film. We get it, she witnessed death. We all saw the first film; we don’t have to be reminded of what happened a dozen times.

Some of the pacing leading up to the Games is also a bit awkward and the running time is unnecessary (clocks in at near two and a half hours). And of course they try and force a love triangle because God forbid a film aimed at teenagers doesn’t feature the main character having to decide between two beefcakes.

Gripes about Katniss and the pacing aside, “Catching Fire” is an enjoyable film. The ending that may leave some people uneasy, but it is all to try and build the hype up for part three (well to be technical, part 3a). This sequel is more impressive and more fun than the first film, while at the same time adding layers of drama. The stage is set for an epic finale(s), even if the road to the climax wasn’t always smooth.

Critics Rating: 7/10