Saturday, August 15, 2015

Straight Outta Compton (R/147 Min.)

Before this past Tuesday if you’d asked me what I knew about N.W.A., my answer would have been, “pretty much nothing.”  I went to see Straight Outta Compton with a friend who I was pretty sure would be interested in the film.  I went not knowing if I would like it but wanted to give it a chance because I'm a sucker for true story movies.  Unless gore is involved.  Or Truman Capote.  Then, not so much.  This movie was not what I expected.  I liked it, my friend liked it and, judging by the comments I heard as people were leaving the theater, almost everyone else liked it too. 

Straight Outta Compton is the story of N.W.A. from their start to their breakup to their attempt at a reunion and everything in between.  I wasn’t quite sure how this movie was going to play out.  I couldn’t imagine how it would be anything other than an angry rap movie (yes, I know I’m going to hear about that statement in the comments) but it was so much more than that.  It was funny.  It was serious.  It was sad.  It was all of those things but, mostly, it was a well-made movie.

Let’s talk about the music.  I am so not a fan of rap but I couldn’t help moving to the beat.  And it was all rap, all the time.  Well, except for the Tears for Fears that was snuck in.  Talk about being out of place.  I still don’t care much for rap but I do appreciate the talent behind it a little more than I did.  Dr. Dre especially.  I’m not sure if they meant to make him the most appealing of the entire group or if that’s just how he was/is.  My friend made sure to tell me exactly how successful Dr. Dre is.  He must be doing something right.

As mentioned at the beginning, I knew almost nothing about this group. The only one of them I’d known much of anything about before this was Ice Cube.  I thought the actor who portrayed him was spot on.  He looked like him.  He seemed to have his mannerisms.  Then I found out who he is.  Well, that explains it.  Because of my lack, I’m unable to tell you how close to portraying the real people the other actors were but from what I heard during the movie and after it was over, they apparently did a really good job.  The only other actor I can say much about is Paul Giamatti.  I have to say up front that I cannot stand him.  I just can’t.  I’m beginning to wonder, though, if my feelings are because he’s so good at playing creepy, jerk-y, non-likable characters.  I’ve talked to a lot of people who think he’s a great actor.  Maybe I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe not.

I know I usually do a breakdown but, if you already know about the group, you probably already have some idea of what you’ll be walking into.  I’ll make this simple.  There’s a reason for its R-rating.  Yes, there was a lot of cussing.  If you're familiar with their lyrics, this should come as no surprise.  There was also drinking, drugs, sex and nudity.  And not just a little of each.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Despite everything mentioned in the paragraph above, I really liked this movie.  It was well-written, well-produced, well…everything.  I was so lost to my surroundings that they even had me shocked at their treatment by the police which made me stop and consider my reaction.  Was I taking their side?  Not at all.  Was I taking the side of the police?  Nope.  Not them either.  I went into this with the understanding that there are two sides to every story.  This story was just so well told that every bit of it was easy to believe.  Please consider that even though the police presence is noted, it was not the be all end all of the film.  There was so much more to the story.

If you have any interest at all in seeing Straight Outta Compton, I’d recommend it.  Aside from that, I’m not sure who I’d recommend it to.  Please understand also that this is not a feel-good movie.  If you're trying to choose a movie as an escape, this is not the movie I'd choose to do so.  I would love to hear from those of you who know more about N.W.A and who appreciate the group and rap as a whole, more than I do.  I’m quite sure you could say it better than I have.

P.S. Just another reminder that some of my readers are of the younger generation.  If any comments contain obscenities, they will not be posted.  If you can disagree in an intelligent manner, I will gladly post what you have to say. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service (R/129 Min.)

This movie was not what I thought it was going to be.  Sure, I expected some violence because it is a spy movie. I expected some humor because I did actually watch the trailer this time.  And finally, I expected some cussing because…well…Samuel L. Jackson.  What I didn’t expect was how over the top some of this was going to be.  

Kingsman: The Secret Service tells of a British super-secret spy organization that has just lost one agent and is looking for a replacement.  Meanwhile, our villain is plotting to take over the world.

Sounds pretty generic, huh?  That’s about the most blasé’ part of the movie.  It all goes haywire from there.  Eggsy is the new recruit brought in by Agent Galahad.  Eggsy has had a bit of a rough life after losing his dad 17 years prior.  He’s highly intelligent but appears to have given up on any chance to get himself out of his current situation.  Since Galahad is the reason Eggsy’s father died, he takes the young man under his wing and brings him into the program.  If you’ve seen the trailer, not much of this is new information.  If you haven’t…sorry. 

Since we can’t have a spy movie without a villain, they brought us Valentine, a multi-billionaire who has decided to take over the world through brain manipulation.  He was an okay villain but his henchman…er…woman, Gazelle, was the real evil behind the man.  It’s almost hard to say that either was truly evil though because they were so comical at times.  Valentine spoke with a lisp and Gazelle was so “Duh!” about some things.  If she’d just quit killing people I’d probably like her.

Taron Egerton was Eggsy.  He was okay but didn’t really stand out until later in the movie.  If you have trouble understanding British accents, he’s going to give you fits on occasion.  I can usually do all right but even I was having trouble at times.  I took Leann with me and had to ask her what was said every now and then.  She didn’t know either.  Taron’s got a boyish charm about him and the movie people really played it up at times.  I don’t know that I could have cast this character any better though so I’ll just leave it at that.

Colin Firth was Agent Galahad.  Sigh.  Oh Colin.  It was nice to see you again but it was not so nice to see some of the things you did.  I expect better from you.  If you don’t already know of Colin Firth and his acting abilities, my question for you is, “Why not?”  Galahad made such a huge mistake 17 years prior to our story and he’s still being judged because of it.  At the same time, he also seems to be well-respected.  It was a tad contradictory.  

Mark Strong was Agent Merlin.  My gosh he’s easy to look at.  He was very deadpan through a good portion of the film but was still very likable.  Merlin was in charge of training and testing the recruits.  He told it like it was and there was no arguing about it.  He also piloted the [American-registered] aircraft for the organization.  Didn’t think anyone would catch that, did you, movie people?  I pointed that out to Leann and she seemed very underwhelmed.  Oh well.  I impressed me anyways.  

Samuel L. Jackson was Valentine, our villain.  The one thing I couldn’t stand about his character was that he had a lisp.  Now, if you have a lisp, don’t get your knickers twisted.  There’s nothing wrong with having one, it just did NOT work here.  I’m pretty sure they were going for comedic affect but big, bad Samuel L. Jackson does not lisp so it was awkward.  And I could never quite see him as Valentine so it was difficult separating the actor from the character.  He did have his funny moments though.  He plays a villain who can’t stand the sight of blood.  It makes him gag.  And the food served at his dinner was definitely unexpected.  Made me think of Pulp Fiction.

Finally, I want to mention one more actor who was only in the movie for a few brief moments.  When we first saw him, he was tied to a chair, awaiting the boss of his kidnappers.  He looked very familiar to me but I couldn’t quite place him.  And then it hit.  Apparently it took other members of the audience a second too because all of the sudden we all loudly whispered, “IT’S LUKE SKYWALKER!!!”  Talk about being known for one character and one character only.  I couldn’t even remember his real name.  Sorry, Mark Hamill, but you will always be Luke to me.

Now, as to why this movie is rated R.  Let me just explain…

Sex/Nudity – We saw a woman’s behind and we knew she was about to “get to know” someone else but we didn’t actually see it happen.  

Cussing/Cursing/Swearing – Whatever you want to call it, it happened.  Yes, I kept track.  Stop shaking your heads.  Some people actually want to know.  This time, the big winner was the F-bomb.  I counted a grand total of 83 which is actually less than I thought there would be considering the villain.  Nothing else came close to that number but I don’t think many of the “good” ones were left out.

Drinking/Drugs/Smoking – I don’t recall seeing any drugs.  There might have been one scene that had smoking but I’m not quite sure.  There was definitely drinking because a few of the scenes were in a pub.  We also saw a few decanted drinks and, of course, there was the obligatory drink switch that must happen in a good, or not so good, spy movie.

Violence – The trailers seemed to have left out any allusion to the violence you will actually see in this film.  Yes, we all saw the funny little scene in the pub with Colin Firth and the bullies but that is NOTHING compared to the rest of the film.  There were more shots to the head than were in the movie, “The Departed” and I was thoroughly sickened by the end of that film.  We saw people stabbed in the eye.  Knives into the tops of heads.  Bones breaking. People cut in half.  People’s heads exploding.  Oddly enough, the blood was kept to a minimum.  And it was absolute overkill.  No pun intended.  These scenes just went on and on and on.  Kind of like my blog posts.

Stomach turning – If you manage to make it through all the death and mayhem but can’t handle vomit, just a warning.  It’s in there.  Just once though.   Thank goodness.

After the movie was over, Leann and I talked about who we would possibly recommend this to.  We couldn’t come up with anything.  If you like Colin Firth, don’t go see this movie.  If you like spy movies, you might enjoy the few actual spy parts if you’re okay with the violence.  If you like more action than violence, this is not the film for you.  If you like watching a bunch of people kill each other, this movie is for you but you should probably watch something much calmer instead.  

If you’re from Westboro Baptist Church you might not want to see this movie.  Or you might want to go picket it.  Or both.  Yes, they changed the name – Southglade Mission Church – and the state – Kentucky – but I’m pretty sure most of the audience figured out at who this was aimed.  I wouldn’t be surprised at all to know that the filmmakers hit the nail on the head with the sermon.  It’s almost sad that what happened to the congregation was more amusing than disturbing.  And it was pretty disturbing.  Oh!  If you’re the current President of the United States, you might also want to avoid this film.  They made Mr. Movie President so similar to you that quite a bit of the audience cheered when something bad happened to him.  This was definitely not the theater to be in if you wanted to surround yourself with admirers.

While there was quite a bit of humor in Kingsman, I just couldn’t stomach the violence.  I will not see this movie again.   

I would like to take a minute to give a quick shout out to the AMC Crossroads 16 theater.  Not only did one of your employees turn on the overhead can lights about halfway through the film, they were left on despite a complaint by yours truly.  Thank you for that extra distraction.  Isn’t it bad enough that a lot of people are afraid to go near your theater but then you have to add little annoyances?  I do have to admit that it was nice to be able to see my notebook to be able to write legibly this time.  But, aside from that…

There is a little snippet after the credits come up but once that has passed it’s all credits and nothing but the credits.  I did find a little bit of humor in the Cast of Characters list.  It was done in order of appearance and the first character seen was a terrorist that had about a 30 second role and who would normally be relegated to the way very end of the list.  He beat out Colin Firth by seconds.  Well done!

After all that we saw with this film, we left with one question and one question only.  What happened to the dog?!?!?!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Blackhat (R/133 Min.)

I am sitting here trying to think of a way to start my review of Blackhat and I’ve already hit a wall.  A couple days ago I asked my cousin if she wanted to go to the pre-screening with me.  She asked what it was about.  “Thor is a computer hacker dude or something like that.  I think it’s action-y or thriller-y,” was my response.  She didn’t even question my mention of Thor.  We’re cool like that.  As for the rest, I try not to watch trailers because they completely ruin movies so I didn’t really know what this was going to be about.  I did watch the trailer after I got home last night and, even knowing how it actually was, I decided that I still would have gone to see this film based on the trailer alone.  Darn trailers.  

In Blackhat, Chris Hemsworth is Nicholas Hathaway, a hacker who has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for hacking a bank…or four.  When another hacker uses his powers for evil and blows up a power plant in China and then messes with the US stock market, Nick is temporarily released to hunt him down.

Though I didn’t see the trailer, I heard enough buzz about the movie to know that Nick was going to be released so my initial question was whether or not he was really the only hacker in the entire world who could save the day.  The movie does actually explain why only he could do it but I still think some other uber-experienced hacker could have done the job.  But, then again, I know only enough “computer” to make it through my normal office work day.  Maybe I’m wrong.  And, if someone else could have done it, the movie would’ve been completely different.  Also, I’m willing to bet that China won’t be too pleased that we made their computer systems look way weaker than those in the US.

Okay, I’ve decided to try to say a few good things about this film.  First…Chris Hemsworth.  I believe the movie peeps think that he alone will give them the opening weekend box office take they’re hoping for.  This morning when I told a co-worker about the movie, she asked if he took his shirt off.  I actually had to think about it but, yes, he did.  That should get some butts in the theater seats.  Second, I loved the city shots in China.  I don’t remember exactly what city they were in but I can’t even imagine living in a place that jam-packed with buildings and people.  Oklahoma City is a tad more spread out.  It was fascinating to see though.

The acting was so dry through most of the film that I’m only going to talk about a few of the actors/characters.  Let’s start with Chris.  What on earth was with his accent?  It’s like he went to the Sylvester Stallone School of Speaking.  It was not easy on the ears.  And his hacking scenes were lacking.  Hacka-lackin’?  Anyway, I’ve seen other movies in which the hack scenes are fun to watch because they get so intense.  He types for a few seconds and voila!  I just really didn’t believe it.  And he supposedly went to prison because of hacking banks but he has all these cool fight moves that might possibly have been explained in one of the scenes but a past bar fight and time in prison do not a Jason Statham make.

Wang Leehom is Chen Dawai, a friend of Nick’s from MIT.  It is by his request that Nick is released from prison.  Leehom does a passable job but wasn’t given much of a chance to shine.  Even when he tries to argue for a cause, he just doesn’t seem invested.

Tang Wei is Lien Chen, Chen Dawai’s sister and Nick’s girlfriend.  She did show some emotion on occasion but, for the most part, was a lot like her brother.  She and Chris have a completely unnecessary sex scene.  It felt…awkward.  Not in the I’m-watching-two-people-have-sex sense but in the we-need-sex-to-bring-in-the-female-viewers-but-we-don’t-know-where-to-put-the-scene-so-let’s-just-stick-it-here sense.  If we knew that they’d been together before he went to prison then it would make absolute sense.  But!!! They made a point of mentioning that she’d only seen him in pictures her brother showed her.  It just didn’t fit.  

Moving on.  I gave you the positives earlier so now it’s time for the negatives.  I feel I should warn you that if you go see Blackhat you might want to avoid the front section of the theater altogether.  The opening scene will mess with your eyes.  It’s like one of those movies where they make you feel like you’re flying and they soar you up and down, over and around mountains and such.  It was a tad dizzying.  They also did the shaky camera thing throughout the film to make you feel as if you were running with the characters instead of just watching them run or as if you were actually participating in a fight.  I’m not sure who decided this was a good idea but it did get hard to follow at times.  During one chase scene it looked like the characters were chasing the camera man.  And then he’d jump behind and starting chasing them.  

The sound was wonky in one of the prison scenes.  A line of subtitle was missing when Chen Dawai was yelling at the Chinese Major.  Unless it really did take him that long to say the word “Major!”  During an aerial shot when Nick and Lien drive to the middle of nowhere Malaysia, on the left side of the screen you can see a reflection from inside the cockpit of whatever they camera people were filming in.  Apparently, Indonesian and Chinese hotels use the same kind of window décor.  There was a blatant shout out for Android phones.  Nick is a tall, blonde man and the movie peeps act like he blends in with the inhabitants of China, Indonesia and Malaysia.  Not so much.  My cousin pointed out the oh-so-masculine doilies on the back of the chairs in a scene in the conference room in China.  Either they were odd enough or the movie was slow enough that they were distracting.  And, finally, I believe that Nick’s tracking anklet switched ankles a couple times but I’m not going to swear to that.

My favorite part of the entire movie was the unintended laughter by the entire audience during a death scene.  The reason for the laughter is that the death was so unexpected and happened to such a well-liked character that many people in the audience gasped, inciting laughter from everyone else.  I thought another death scene was pretty interesting.  Not because people died but because we got to see the damage a claymore causes.  I saw the bad guy set it and then I sat in my seat and cringed; waiting for the BOOM!  That does not look like a fun way to die.

As this review is progressively becoming longer than the movie, let’s move on to why this movie is rated R.  

Sex/Nudity – Yes to sex.  No to nudity.  Unless you count Chris’s naked chest.

Drinking/Drugs/Smoking – A little drinking and smoking and I’m not quite sure what was being smoked in the Malaysian market scene.

Cussing/Swearing – It was kept to a minimum.  I counted maybe 6 altogether.  They were doing so good staying away from the F-bomb and then hit it twice in the same scene closer to the end.  It could’ve been a lot worse though.

Violence – Definitely.  A couple of the deaths were difficult to stomach.  One guy had a piercing headache and another guy didn’t just get stabbed; he got STABBED!!!  Two of the deaths showed the pool of blood forming around the body.  It was not pleasant, but, then again, it shouldn’t be.

I would not recommend this for young children.  The deaths are just gross.  If you like Michael Mann’s other films then you’ll probably like this.  If you’re looking for a cool hacker movie, this is not your best bet.  If you’re going just to see Chris Hemsworth then probably nothing I say will sway you.  I will not watch this movie again and don’t really know who else I would recommend it to.  To those of you who are going to send me nasty comments, please note that this may just not have been my bag.  I like cyber thrillers but this just didn’t seem to hit the mark.

P.S.  We did go ahead and stay through the credits but there was nothing else to see. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Wedding Ringer (R/101 Min.)

“Anybody’s best friend for a price.”

What do you do when you’re a tad homely, you have no real friends, you’re getting married, you’re not hurting for money, and you need fake friends to be your best man and groomsmen?  You hire them, of course!

Josh Gad is Doug Harris, sweet but socially awkward.  Doug is marrying the woman of his dreams in just a couple of weeks and has no one to stand up with him.  Enter Jimmy Callahan, played by Kevin Hart.  Jimmy runs a company that specifically caters to the friendless groom.  Doug hits him with the number of groomsmen need and the two set off to achieve the impossible.

I couldn’t help but like Doug from the moment I saw him.  He was just so…alone.  His desperate pleas to past acquaintances, many of whom don’t even remember him, to be his groomsmen was almost painful to watch.  But, I did.  Then we met his fiancee’, Gretchen, and understand his desperation.  Of course he wants this woman to think he has real friends.  In his eyes, she is all he’s ever wanted.  And because he is such a lovable dork, you know that’s what she sees in him too.  Right? …Right?

Doug turns to Jimmy for help and an unrequited bromance (Yeah.  I said it.) ensues.  Jimmy knows how to play people.  He knows what to say, what to do, what to be to make his grooms look their best on their wedding day and the days preceding the event.  Jimmy has a bit of a problem though.  Were he to get married, he’d need to hire his own company to fill out the wedding party.  Sad, but true.

After reading all that you’re probably thinking, “That doesn’t sound very funny.  Isn’t this supposed to be funny?”  Yes, it is.  And…it is.  Kevin Hart and Josh Gad just gel.  They played well off each other and made me believe their characters.  When Jimmy isn’t all business, he has an almost frat boy sense of humor.  And when Doug finally loosens up it is a relief.  

The dance scene is hilarious.  The party scene is fun but cringe-worthy.  The groomsmen are an odd but amusing assortment.  Doug and Jimmy were all kinds of fun.  The bride?  Not so much.  I liked this movie.  It ranks up there with 21 Jump Street.  The movie…not the TV show.  I warn you, though.  It’s rated R for a reason.  It didn’t quite hit the number of cuss words that were shared in 21 Jump Street but it wasn’t far behind.  There was brief nudity.  Lots of drinking.  A scene with a dog that I’m just not going to tell you about.  If I had to experience it; you have to experience it.  You’re welcome.

If you like Kevin Hart, go see this movie.  If you like movies like American Pie: The Wedding, you’ll probably like this.  It’s rude.  It’s lude.  It’s socially unacceptable.  Go see it!