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poster_ghostbustersEvery so often, your childhood memories and innocence is crushed for whatever reason. This time, the reason was a revamp of the 1984 comedic classic Ghostbusters. Despite not having any expectations going into this viewing, I was pleasantly surprised to find the first 30 minutes of the film decently funny. But after a while, things got stale and I just didn’t care for the movie by its end.

Not related to the original Ghostbusters storyline at all, four women start a paranormal investigation and removal business after a series of adverse spirits are released upon the city but an unknown mastermind.

You would think would think with Melissa McCarthy (Spy), and Tv’s Saturday Night Live talents like Kristen Wiig (The Martian), Kate McKinnon (Finding Dory) and Leslie Jones (Trainwreck) this movie would have been hilarious from beginning to end. But that’s about all this film had going for it; comedic star power. The script itself and material needs to be funny. Actors need a foundation to work with, and the foundation for this one was weak.

Strangely, I liked Kate McKinnon. She seemed to have to most fully developed character performance of the principal four. I looked up her career high points, and she’s done mostly vocal work for animated films, but I am eager to see what she can do showing her face down the road. Her character was overdone, but at least it was consistent and developed.

Chris Hemsworth (Thor) also provided a couple of laughs as the group’s dimwitted assistant, but once his character was possessed, the laughs pretty much ended for me. In fact, that’s the point the laughs ended for the entire movie.

I hated the presence of the Department of Homeland Security’s involvement as a subplot. It served no comedic purpose and didn’t propel anything. It was the true definition of a red herring. I also feel any Ghostbusters movie needs a strong villain. Even the sequel to the original Ghostbusters, which was total crap also, had at least a strong villain in Vigo.

What I found most annoying than the creation of a Ghostbusters revamp in the first place what the little tributes to the original film; involving actors from the original cast like Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Annie Potts and Sigourney Weaver in walk on roles only annoyed me further. The appearance of the Stuff Puff Marshmellow Man and having iconic green ghost Slimer also make appearances didn’t help the film a bit. I also hated the revised versions–yes, there were more than one–of the original 80’s hit song to the first movie from Ray Parker Jr. Basically, any link this movie attempted to make to that of the original Ghostbusters didn’t sit well with me. If producers are going to make this revamp their own, they need to make it their own, period.

Lastly, I had a problem with the big throw down in Times Square where these paranormal scientists are fighting and capturing ghosts and spirits. The film showed the foursome go through a minimal amount of training with their equipment. These are scientists. Nerds, basically. They possibly don’t even possess any real self defense training, let alone combat training. However, when the fight comes to them, they turn into this set of sick-ass ninja level ghost fighters which I found EXTREMELY hard to swallow. Even in the original Ghostbusters, Venkman and company never fought anything. They captured and vanquished with their gear, but hand to hand combat was never an option. I would have had the same complaint of that film too if it did the same thing. Firefighters are trained to be firefighters. Scientists are not trained to be Jackie Chan.

The movie was terrible. McCarthy and Wiig did what we usually see them do. the screenplay lacked motivation and development, and the whole production went stale about an hour into it. I may have to say the movie went stale the moment it got the green light for production.

To read the review of this movie from my Movie Corner co-hort Brian G. Felts, click here.

poster_hellcatsnavyDo you remember that president who started the era of trickle down economics and is the hero of the Republican party? Well, for you younger readers who may not know, this same U.S. President was once a Hollywood actor, and a democrat at that time. His wife, who later became the first lady during his terms in office, was also a Hollywood actor. However, the two only did one movie together, and since the theme for this month of Brian and Benn’s Movie Corner is the U.S. Presidency–and I needed a classic film to review for our month’s criteria of challenges–I decided to make 1957’s Hellcats of the Navy my classic of choice starring none other than Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan.

Hellcats of the Navy, named after the U.S. Naval submarine division specifically used to clear Japanese underwater minefields during WWII, is about sub captain Abbot, played by Reagan (former U.S. President 1981-1989), who finds himself under close scrutiny when his command decisions cost the life of a frogman whom he learned had an affair with his wife Helen, played by Nancy Reagan (former first lady–SAY NO TO DRUGS!). Abbot’s executive officer, played by Arthur Franz, is at the forefront of ensuring an investigation continues of Abbot’s actions, while the two officers and the seamen under their command attempt to carry out missions against impossible odds.

I always have to mention this when I’m writing a classic review. I have no choice but to hold these older pre-1970 films to the standard of filmmaking of which I was raised. Some may say, “You’re being unfair. This film was ahead of its time.” Well, how could I possibly know that if I was born in 1974? I judge films by my own personal criteria, from the era I was exposed to film.

That being said. There was nothing original about this film which would allow me to say it stands out, except that fact that it’s the only movie starring both of these two figures of modern American history. By this, I mean the writing. The script has pretty much every done-before storyline from a war standpoint and a romance standpoint. How many times, even in pre-1970 films have we seen two soliders in love with the same woman? Countless. How many times have we seen stories where two officers are at odds and their troubles cost lives of their men? Countless. This is the main problem I have with this film.

What’s more, not only has this lack of originality forced me to dislike this film, but it has brought down my level of enjoyment for other pictures I have enjoyed. Crimson Tide (1995) is all I could think of when I was watching this film, and how similar it was to the story of the war sequences from this classic. This feature actually made me realize how rehashed Crimson Tide was instead of how original I once thought of it. That’s pretty bad for one film to be so bad it brings down my opinion of more than one movie.

The acting, like most of the films in this era, was horrible. This community-theatre style of acting was so stiff and hard to believe, it’s hard to believe anything else from it, like military technicals and plot points.

The only thing I can say that’s good about the film was it’s special effects of the underwater scenes outside the submarine. They actually weren’t too bad. Of course, it’s 1957 and special effects were all models and slow motion photography, and it’s obviously that. However, I would have to say the effects are no better than what Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) had to offer during the mining cart chase sequence; almost thirty years later and the special effects hadn’t changed. So, based on that, I’d have to say this film impressed me.

Also, the action sequences were pretty well done. I mean, between this submarine setting and those of Crimson Tide and U-571 (2000), it’s evident there are only so many ways for a director to film action sequences in a submarine. Nathan Juran was at the helm of this production, the Academy Award winning Art Director of How Green Was My Valley (1941)–which totally sounds like a porn title. Juran, an Australian talent, was also a WWII veteran with the OSS which put his film production career on hold for those years. However, his most famous credit could arguably be 1958’s Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Regardless of his resume and military background, I felt the submarine action sequences were exciting enough to be impressive where a handful of other war classics from the 50’s have not.

Overall, I didn’t care for this film at all. It wasn’t original. It wasn’t well acted. The production design pretty much looked like any other submarine movie, which I imagine makes it extremely hard for a film to stand out. This was the first time I watched an entire movie with Ronald Reagan in it, and for some reason, it didn’t give me that much of a thrill.

 

poster_firstdaughterAs my review challenge this month, my movie writing cohort Brian G. Felts demanded I watch First Daughter, keeping with our theme of the U.S. Presidency. And that would have been appropriate had the movie used that vehicle to make itself unique, but of course, it did not and simply propelled itself into the outer sanctum of forgettable films.

First Daughter follows Samantha  Mackenzie, played by Katie Holmes (Batman Begins), having grown up in national politics and four years living in The White House, who is now headed to college in hopes of living a more independent life and feeling more like a normal teenage girl. Of course, with the Secret Service breathing down her neck at every corner, at the order of the President, played by Michael Keaton (Spotlight). She makes friends whom she eventually argues with, she falls for a guy at college who turns out to be an undercover Secret Service agent, but of course he falls for Samantha which is supposed to feel taboo but doesn’t because that’s how fruity this kind of movie is in the first place.

Oh man, it’s painful writing about this film already.

Here’s my biggest problem, one of many for this work but this is my biggest, is if you are going to set a film which uses the U.S. Presidency as an impending force on a character like the President’s daughter, there are a TON of issues the filmmakers could address and truly make the thing unique. None of those possibilities happened. Instead, the writers could have lifted the President as her father out of the story and replaced him with a famous rock star, or a famous author, or anyone famous for that matter. This story used its chosen vehicle in no unique or memorable way. Her struggles where not unique to that of someone in the shadow of the U.S. Presidency.

Another large issue I had with the movie was its total lack of empathy for the viewer. We had absolutely no way to empathize with Samantha or her situation. Unless one has BEEN the first daughter, I don’t think anyone could understand what it is like. What’s more, we hardly get to even know Samantha as her own person. If fact, thinking back, I don’t even think the movie told us what her major was, what she wanted to do with her life. What the fuck did she even want to do? Get liquored up and fuck a bunch of frat guys? Was that her dream? Go to college and get sick, wrong and sideways? Because that’s really all the screenplay inferred.

This lack of empathy set the entire film up for failure. We don’t care about Samantha wanting her “normal” life. We don’t care about the President pressured by an election year, and in fact, the only information the material gave us indicates President Mackenzie was doing a terrible job in his first term. Why do we even care about him and his inner motivations? We don’t. We don’t care about Samantha. We don’t care about the President. We don’t care about the terrible cookie cutter Secret Service love interest, played by Marc Blucas (We Were Soldiers). Why even keeping watching? Because Brian made me. Fucker.

My biggest disappointment behind the camera was in Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) as this film’s director. I’m guessing the Academy Award winning actor’s name attached to this project was simply that, to gain the film notoriety rather than use his talents behind the camera. This was the last film he is credited as the director on his resume. Prior to that, he directed Hope Floats and Waiting to Exhale, both of which the strength of those films were in its cast, not directing. So as far as I’m concerned, Whitaker has yet to prove himself in this capacity.

Overall, the film is boring and thoroughly forgettable. There’s no one to care about and therefore I doubt anyone will care about the film itself. I only care about meeting my month’s challenges and thank gawd this one is done and over.

poster_joyFinally, a movie directed by David O’Russell that doesn’t waste every other scene on senseless run time and hopeless attempts to engage. This one is finally legit.

Joy tells the story of Joy Mangano, played by Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games), as she as always been a creative thinker. Divorced and supporting her divorced parents, Joy catches an idea for what later becomes the Miracle Mop and struggles with her investor, marketing and gaining sales, while others involved continuously attempt to screw her over and steal her idea. Eventually, Joy takes her success to the highest level with her own multi-million dollar venture capital company and a major role with the development of Home Shopping Network.

The story was inspiring for one. It encapsulates the American dream of having an idea with which a little luck, risk, proper motivation and extremely hard work can turn into ultimate success.

For the past few films directed by David O’Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) from his own screenplay, the films have been extremely long and littered with useless scenes and dialogue. This one, albeit the timeline shifts started to annoy me, gave us something important in pretty much every scene. The characters were also a dynamic array of personalities, all of which crazy in their own respects, and the development of them particularly in Rudy, Joy’s father played by Robert De Niro (Dirty Grandpa), and her mother Terry, played by Virginia Madsen (Sideways) were a nice example of quality character writing.

De Niro and Madsen were nearly polar opposites and their performances really did support the production into demi-greatness. However, Lawrence being the center character was more than a solid casting choice. She has quickly become one of my new favorite actresses because of the chops she has shown and ability to show depth in her physical performance.

One of my favorite supporting performances was from Bradley Cooper (Aloha) as QVC producer Neil Walker who interested me from both a TV production stand point and a sales stand point. Cooper could have made this character way over the top, but instead he gave a high energy but believable character. I also appreciated how there was room to create a romantic storyline between Joy and Neil but the script didn’t take it that direction. They remains friends, close but friends. I respected their relationship and the movie for that. 

In just a handful of QVC scenes, I found it comical that Melissa Rivers played her mother Joan Rivers who had guest appearances regularly on the shopping network. 

The film left both my wife and I in a conversation about finding the next best thing for a niche market to find success for our family in our own entrepreneurship. Whether that happens or not we will see, BUT that’s just an example of how film and art can touch someone in a positive way and inspire. The movie left us hopeful and thinking creatively while past Russell films left us aggravated, talking about how we just wasted two hours or more of our time on Earth together watching a total pile of dogshit cinema.

Joy is exactly that. However, if I had one complaint it would be how half the time Joy, as a character, fell into this high stress victim mentality and push through it to overcome her next obstacle. She remained quietly getting kicked like a defenseless little bunny but would turn around and stand up for herself and her new business when she had to. The dynamic of her personality contradicted itself at times.

As for being inspired by actual events, Joy takes a small snippet of Joy Mangano’s story and fuses it with stories of other less notable women who struggled to realize a dream and make their invention translate to success. The character of Joy’s half sister Peggy, played by Elisabeth Rohm, was completely fictional but added a brilliant bit of inside adversity to the story. 

Overall, I’m happy with Joy and its director’s choices on this production. However, with so many bad movies to his credit, I’m walking not running into his next one. 

 

poster_specialrelationshipKnow what I liked about this movie? Nothing. Why? Because it was about Tony Blair. And movies about Tony Blair tend to be boring as shit.

And this is the second movie where Blair was played by the same guy.

Prior to the reelection of U.S. President Bill Clinton, played by Dennis Quaid (The Day After Tomorrow), Great Brittain’s labor party takes the Prime Minister’s role after 17 years of Conservatism in the election of young Tony Blair, played by Michael Sheen (The Queen). Blair is welcomed to the world leader community by Clinton who becomes a sort of mentor for the British liberal.

The movie then focuses on three main events while the two world leaders’ terms in office crossed over; Blair’s agenda to begin piece negotiations with Northern Ireland, Bill Clinton and his inappropriate relations with Monica Lewinsky and the liberation of Kosovo when Blair and Clinton we’re finally at odds despite their growing friendship.

First of all, Dennis Quaid does about the worst Bill Clinton impersonation ever. However towards the third act of the movie, there were a handful of scenes that Quaid really gave himself over too. He was in no way a Bill Clinton mirror, however the character he created in an attempt to encapsulate Clinton was really something to see by then.

Michael Sheen, in his second performance as Tony Blair–the first being The Queen with Helen Mirren four years prior–was about as dry as any English after could be. I’m going to guess Tony Blair was a pretty dry fellow. I don’t quite recall seeing a lot of his speeches when I was younger and pretty self involved at the time. But I’m going to say given two performances where he was drier than a cracker in the desert, Sheen’s take on Blair’s personna was probably quite accurate on both accounts. Sheen did have some good moments in the third act as well.

I hated the overall pace of the film. It was slow and not very interesting. The story spent way too much time on Clinton and his penis through the second act. The inner conflict for Blair deciding whether or not to come to Clinton’s support during the controversy, only to find out the president lied in the first place, just took forever to unfold.

Director Richard Loncraine (Firewall, Wimbledon) did his best to make the viewer unsure if Clinton was pricking his intern or if he was under political attack from his Republican opposition. However, anyone who is anyone knows, Clinton gave her the D and was impeached for lying about it, so the sense of mystery was impossible to capture through the second act.

Basically, when you boil it down, the movie is about two liberals who were out to change the face of world politics; one was full of air, the other wasn’t. Unfortunately, the one who wasn’t was Blair who is a stiff Brit who’s level of enthusiasm ranks somewhere between a twig and another Bourne Identity sequel. Even the title, The Special Relationship, could not be more ineffective and uninteresting. The script was penned by the same writer of Frost/Nixon, which I adored, so I am at a loss truly for a person to blame who this lack-luster production.

Overall, I didn’t care for the film. The one glimmer of interest I had in the film were Hope Davis (Real Steel) as Hillary Clinton, who’s portrayal was eerily right in synch with how I imagine Hillary to be behind the curtain, and Helen McCrory (Hugo) as Cherie Blair who served as an important devil’s advocate role and whom ALSO played the same character in The Queen across Michael Sheen as Blair.

Interesting casting, but the movie was not.

poster_gamechangeI sure find this movie hard to believe, but as a work of fiction it was extremely well made and performed, including the best performance I’ve seen from Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights).

In a year when Arizona senator John McCain finally won the Republican party nomination for the U.S. Presidential election in 2008, and his campaign finding itself running against Barak Obama’s American Idol-like campaign efforts, McCain, played by Ed Harris (Apollo 13), and campaign manager Steve Schmidt, played by Woody Harrelson (The Hunger Games) decide to offer Alaska governor Sarah Palin (Moore) the post of his VP running mate. The point was to change the game of the campaigns, but instead, without doing their homework on Palin, the McCain camp soon finds itself in the middle of a nightmare between Palin’s ineptitude towards foreign policy and her inability to handle stress and criticism, the campaign must now shift its focus from the White House to ensuring Palin doesn’t cause the camp to completely self-destruct.

The biggest reason I enjoyed this film was hands down Moore’s career-topping performance. She WAS Sarah Palin, at least the Palin we’ve seen in the public eye. What she brought to the table to represent Palin as a character behind the campaign curtain was–I have to say–bone chilling. The prospect of Palin actually being mentally unstable made this movie so intense and engaging, it’s hard for me to forget it. The performance led her to win both a Golden Globe and an Emmy. 

That being said, it’s extremely difficult to swallow this material as inspired by actual events. Luckily, HBO Films never really labeled it as such. It simply marketed the film as Based on the Book by the same title. So if you are able to set aside the feeling that a couple of liberal Palin haters may have written a book based on conjecture which was turned into a movie, this movie and it’s material are solid entertainment. 

Jay Roach (All the Way) directed this work as part of his politically inspired resume of titles and teamed up once again with screenwriter Danny Strong (Recount), both of whom won Golden Globes for their contribution. Roach really has found himself a niche for this material and I am now a true fan of his. 

Strong’s dialogue is so comically subtle and clever it tickles me. “You know what Dick Cheney said when he found out we picked her?” Mark Salter, played by Jamey Sheridan (Spotlight), said. 

“What?” said Rick Davis, played by Peter McNichol (Ghostbusters II), asked. 

“You’ve made a reckless choice,” Salter said. “When you lose the moral high ground Dick Cheney, it’s time to rethink your entire life.”

I’m sorry, but that’s simply clever dialogue. 

Roach’s style is creative and clean, refusing to harrow down the material with confusing imagery and allowing the focus to be on what the talent needs to produce top performances.

This example provided Harris a Golden Globe win as McCain and a nomination for Harrelson as Schmidt for  a globe and Emmy. Sarah Paulson (Carol) also garnished a Golden Globe as Nicolle Wallace, campaign aide to Palin in the film, who also provided a heavy chop to her character which helped the viewer to truly feel the first hand of frustration with Palin as a character.

The production itself wasn’t without props overall. It took the Emmy for best motion picture in its category, giving Tom Hanks an Emmy as one of its producers. 

However, although the film is extremely well crafted, interesting and engaging to the point of developing a stomach ache of sympathy for Harrelson’s and Paulson’s characters, one’s ability to enjoy the movie I feel rides on a person’s ability to look past the indictments and assassination of Palin’s character. If you can really look at this film as a work of fiction, you will probably find it far more worthy of all its notoriety than if you not.

Now in all fairness, I will mention the real Steve Schmidt had come out after having seen the film and labeled the events depicted and Harrelson’s portrayal as accurate. Regardless of this, as psychotic as Palin is portrayed in the movie, it’s a hard pill to swallow. 

All in all, great film. 

 

poster_storksThere’s a trend of animated movies for the whole family. The trend is a tendency to slip in laughs for the adults who have to endure all the calls from their children for potty breaks and popcorn refills.

However, with this instance for the latest from the studio which created The Lego Movie, now there is a new trend of producing animated movies for adults, to which they can also bring their children. I haven’t held back as far as which movies I show my kids. With Storks, given the amount of violence and basic meanness, I felt guilty for bringing my kids to it.

Ah well, it’s for the future and all their murder victims’ families to decide if I did the wrong thing now. As for the movie…

Storks is about a company of baby-delivering storks which underwent a retooling into a competitive package delivery service like UPS. However, with the ineptitude of Tulip, a teenager who was raised at the factory after her delivery stork went rogue, a new baby was accidentally created and it is up to Tulip and Junior, voiced by Adam Samberg (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping), who has been selected to take over as the managing director to deliver the new baby before any of the higher ups find out.

For the most part, this movie was pretty damn funny. My favorite aspect of the film was the adversity provided by the wolf pack which falls in love with the “little thing” Tulip and Junior were attempting to deliver. When the wolves constantly joined forces to create a new mode of transportation, “In the form of, a submarine,” I couldn’t stop cracking up.

The level of mean from the stork characters towards Tulip, the stork boss Hunter towards the little angry bird looking birds, etc. it all left me embarrassed watching it with my three kids under 6 years old. I certainly didn’t want them picking up any lines of dialogue from those moments and using them with each other. However, if my kids were not with me, I would have laughed my ass off. It’s basically what you would expect from the dialogue out of a Adam Sandler produced Grown Ups movie.

For the array of vocal performances, my favorite came from Stephen Kramer Glickman as the Pigeon Toady, that person we have all either worked with or have been friends with out of pity. Jennifer Aniston (TV’s Friends) shows up as well, which was a nice surprise but she hardly makes the movie worth it just by her vocal presence.

What does make the movie worth seeing, outside its adulterated humor, is the messages it attempts to convey, particularly when it comes to the storyline of the young boy Nate enlisting the help of his workaholic parents to set up a catch-all for his impending baby brother delivery from the storks. This movie wasn’t enough to choke me up or anything, but at least from the screenwriting standpoint, it tried.

If the movie had a fault, it simply didn’t deliver a cohesive production. Inner motivations from characters were muttled at times. It was difficult to swallow Tulip’s backstory. Outer motivations were clear, but the supporting cast of characters weren’t nearly as developed and strong as the principals, Tulip’s backstory aside. It’s also difficult to understand a fictional world where Tulip can arrive on the doorstep of the family to which she was supposed to be delivered 18 years prior and for them to know exactly who she was when they answer the door.

The story simply had too many weak plot points and development to say it was great. It’s a Redbox rental for a decent laugh, but it’s going to be forgotten fast enough.

 

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