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Failure to Land; ‘Baggage Claim’ (2013).

15 Oct

Baggage Claim posterWatching Baggage Claim is kind of like being slapped in the face with an insultingly wet fish. First off, it expects you to buy the carved-out-of-marble-gorgeous Paula Patton as a hopelessly single spinster. Secondly, it offers a selection of such innocuous jokes, only a toddler might mistake them as comedy. But it’s the film’s odious and distasteful ridiculing of its predominantly female audience that brings Baggage Claim’s crashing out of the sky, not even thirty seconds into flight time.

Montana Moore (Patton) is an incredibly beautiful flight attendant who finds it impossible to get a date. And, to compound Montana’s fuckless life, her younger sister is getting married in a month’s time, thereby beating her to the altar of heteronormative happiness! So, using her airline connections, our drop-dead gorgeous heroine ‘accidentally’ runs into all her past boyfriends in a last-ditch effort to track down the elusive ‘Mr. Right’ and get hitched before her little blister.

If the premise of a thirty-day time limit sounds ridiculously arbitrary, that’s because it is. Nonsensical and dripping with conceit, the self-imposed challenge is so artificially contrived, it’s doesn’t even tick the Looney Tunes comedy box. Why is it thirty days? Dreadful writing, that’s why, complete with unfortunately, frivolous and clunky plot devices that are merely the tip of the iceberg of wrongness that haunts this film.

Baggage Claim compounds all its silliness with an air of childish innocence. Take the character names, for instance: Jill Scott plays Montana’s sexually liberated bestie, Gail (because every black woman’s best friend is named ‘Gail’), whose surname is none other than ‘Best’; while the calm and collected neighbour (Derek Luke) is known as… wait for it… Mr. Right. It was genuine surprise to this writer that the obligatory male flight attendant was called ‘Sam Gay’.

While we’re on the subject, Sam (Adam Brody) is the sole believable character of the whole affair, which speaks volumes because he’s a walking (nay, mincing) stereotype. He remains eminently watchable, which is an achievement in itself given that everyone else, down to the extras, is a cartoon character. When Patton’s not convulsively twitching her face or gesticulating weirdly, she’s running to catch a flight, swinging her roller-bag in the air; just as air hostesses really do. Don’t they?

All of the goofiness would be fine if Baggage Claim was in any way funny. However, the only laughs stem from Taye Diggs’ would-be congressman character. Trying and failing to be the quintessential politician’s wife, before storming out Patton yells: “I don’t trust black Republicans!” A lump of satire floating in a sea of doltish buffoonery, it’s a welcome deviation from the gag-inducing gags that abound in this misfiring comedy.

At best, Baggage Claim is a moronic, profoundly dumb exercise in how to bore an audience for 96 minutes. At worst, it’s an offensive dose of misogyny, hammering home every archaic, outdated and plain ole bad cliché about single women Hollywood ever trotted out. Rest assured, total racial equality in making pointless, terrible romantic comedies has been achieved.

Simon says: Baggage Shame.

[Written for GCN]


A Pirate’s Life; ‘Captain Phillips’ (2013).

12 Oct

Captain Phillips posterMe nerves! Having just recently recovered equilibrium after the tension-fest that was The Call, I’m called upon to review Captain Phillips and thereby jettison my anxiety levels to another extreme, and not for the right reasons. Why do I do this job?

One could also ask why Captain Phillips (aka Tom Hanks) does his job in this decidedly unpleasant, if absorbing film, which unfortunately forgoes artistic finesse for a gung ho, pro-USA mantra.

The good Captain is a seasoned sailor of the seven seas with a knack for clairvoyance. Following a gratuitous ‘he loves his wife’ opening scene, Captain P sets sail aboard a colossal, Kenya-bound freighter. As the ship approaches the Horn of Africa, a gang of Somali pirates swiftly seizes control before speeding off aboard a sealed submarine-like lifeboat, with Hanks on board. A biopic of the real-life Captain Richard Phillips, this movie draws inspiration from his terrifying 2009 ordeal.

Good docu-dramas aim to underpin what the audience already knows with some revelatory or hitherto unearthed information, as expertly demonstrated by 2013’s Academy Award-rumbling Zero Dark Thirty. Although Captain Phillips concerns itself with atomically smaller stakes (ZD-30 shook us with conspiracies and a likely apocalypse; this has an assortment of skinny men), what really sinks this ship is its unflinching dedication to two-dimensionality.

At dubious loggerheads with the rationale that cargo ships are looted to combat impoverishment, or at least for some mix of socio-political reasons,Captain Phillips paints its pirates as mindless, greedy villains. While the boat’s crew and the Navy SEALS display robotic proficiency at their jobs, and the good Captain himself proves to be the sole benefactor of any characterisation whatsoever, the dead-eyed Somalis behave like hyperactive children on cocaine.

Muse (Barkhad Abdi), the commander of the invaders, is granted a few throwaway lines about the bullying nature of larger nations (who overfish in Somali waters) and his duty to local warlords (who pocket the bulk of the pirates’ plunder), but the rest of his screen-time is spent chewing khat leaves, barking orders and generally acting like a monster. The film submerges any humanising of Muse beneath swathes of inexplicable menace, making Hanks look positively saintly by turn.

Director Paul Greengrass is no blinkered defender of world superpowers – his Bloody Sunday is a thoroughly detailed yet impassioned examination of Britain’s negative legacy in Northern Ireland – but here his portrayal of the heroic white American hero’s immeasurable suffering at the hands of antagonistic African thugs comes off as crass. Sure, the movie sticks to the facts, but the choices Greengrass makes are just embarrassing.

On the surface, Captain Phillips succeeds in giving us two hours of stressfully claustrophobic tension, with the sort of melodramatic ‘old white guy in peril’ role that could guarantee Hanks another coveted Oscar. To deny the movie’s gripping nature would be doing it an injustice, but to label it as much more than star-spangled flag-waving would be an even graver affront to the complex truth that lies behind the growing problem of piracy on the African seas.

Simon says: bring some sea sickness tablets.

[Written for GCN]

Frocky Horror; ‘Insidious: Chapter 2’ (2013).

19 Sep

Oh look, another horror film with another number tacked on to the title. Seriously, the movie-going public needs a sequel to 2011’s Insidious about as much as they need an actual demonic possession.

Directed by James Wan and picking up right where the original left off, Insidious: Chapter 2 follows Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne as a pair of petrified parents whose lives are turned upside-down by some rather frustrated ghouls and ghosts. No amount of house-movings, séances or Saw references will quell the undead, so the couple enlist the help of an array of paranormal researchers (including Lin Shaye and Steve Coulter). In doing so, they stumble upon alternate dimensions, ‘shocking’ family secrets, and a lot of other confusing stuff that I can’t go into here, because I’ve already forgotten it all. Deliberately.

The first Insidious was a strange and surreal movie that tried (and failed) to hide its ostentatious ambitions under the guise of a serious horror flick. Its sequel is a similarly madcap romp, but not in a good way. While the original featured a cast of paranormal villains including (but not limited to) The Crow, a zombie drag queen and some bizarre Darth Maul/Spider Man/Freddy Krueger hybrid, this time around a spectral Joan Crawford look-alike is calling the shots. The whole thing feels like a particularly zany episode of Supernatural, and for that it’s oddly endearing, without actually being any good.

One moment it’s trying to shock, but before you get to jump out of your seat one of the bumbling Laurel and Hardy-esque clowns falls over or Wilson trots out a line from a script that’s so B-movie, it’s verging on Rocky Horror territory. Balancing horror with comedy is a tough gig – too many scares suck the humour out, while an abundance of jokes or slapstick negates any empathy with the terrorised hero(es). It takes a truly skillful director to keep both plates spinning, and frankly Wan’s crockery is cracked.

“Boring” is perhaps an unexpected adjective for a such hyped horror, but this movie evokes far more yawns than screams. The peppy exuberance that made its predecessor somewhat memorable has been jettisoned in favour of a head-scratchingly convoluted plot and an avalanche of unnecessary exposition. In a post-Conjuring world (which, bizarrely, Wan also directed), the bar has been raised for this sort of thing. As it is, Insidious: Chapter 2 limbos neatly under said bar, with room to spare, before collapsing beneath the combined weight of a crazy plot, hammy acting and sub-par Shining plagiarism.

Simon says: Egregious: 2 Chapters 2 Many.

[Written for]

Armed and not very dangerous; ‘2 Guns’ (2013).

7 Sep

2 Guns posterOne of my favourite things about summer is the deluge of mindless popcorn movies that should, theoretically, fill the cinemas. Fast 6 remains the pick of the crop, however, as 2 Guns falls flat on its face trying to marry buddy-cop banter with some really rather egregious violence.  Much like director Baltasar Kormákur’s previous film Contraband (also starring Mark Wahlberg), this movie is massively forgettable, though could well be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

A DEA agent (Denzel Washington) and a naval intelligence officer (Mark Wahlberg) team up in an effort to infiltrate an infamous drug cartel. However, neither of them are who they appear to be, and their respective secrets unravel amidst a flurry of betrayals, bullets and bad guys. Can they work together, or is nobody to be trusted?

This movie is as vapid as action movies come; it’s the sort of film that’ll pop up a few months later on Netflix, forcing you to watch the first ten minutes before finally realising that you have, in fact, already seen it. Wahlberg and Washington both put in what’s required of them, and they do their damndest to sell some of the roughest dialogue to grace a major production in ages, most notably the recurring and bizarre motif of “never rob a bank across from the diner with the best donuts in three counties”. It makes Pacific Rim‘s script read like Othello in comparison.

What kills this movie is its gratuitous levels of gore and violence. Make no mistake,  it’s entirely possible to balance snappy dialogue with brutality – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a good example, and Tarantino achieves it to a certain extent. From taking pot-shots at trapped chickens to kneecappings to some rather ugly scenes involving baseball bats, this movie spots the line and pole vaults over it. Although Bill Paxton puts in a fine performance, every time he appeared I knew something awful was about to happen and it completely took me out of it. There are artful ways to demonstrate depravity and accomplishment with firearms; 2 Guns apparently missed this lesson.

An unremarkable, standard-issue action movie that’s about as bland as its name suggests, the random and extremely jarring scenes of unnecessary violence kibosh the whole experience by injecting a lethal dose of discomfort into the already dull affair. Oh, and there are plenty more than two guns, so the cherry on top is that we’re being lied to.

Simon says: not much firepower for 2 Guns.

‘Elysium’ (2013) and the question of the sci-fi allegory.

26 Aug

Elysium posterSometimes, allegorical movies can drive the point home with a gratuitous amount of gusto. Take director Neill Blomkamp; his two major movies thus far have been 2009’s Disctrict 9, and the recently-released Elysium. District 9 was widely praised by critics, though its message was hardly a subtle one. It wasn’t about apartheid – it was about APARTHEID! In a similar vein, Elysium tackles the issue of INCOME INEQUALITYwith the brazenly blunt force of a sci-fi battering ram.

Elysium is a perfectly fine lesson in dystopian sci-fi escapism: Matt Damon is among the millions of poor (literally and figuratively) unfortunates stuck on a dilapidated yet futuristic, advanced yet crumbling Earth, which acts as a gargantuan sweatshop for the fortuitous few that reside on Elysium, an orbiting space station bursting with pomp and luxury. It’s 2154 AD, and wealth disparity has grown interstellar.

Cue spaceships, robots and the reliably unreliable acting that typically graces these sorts of films. It’s all fairly standard – it’s nicely shot and people speak in funny tongues (Jodie Foster in particular sounds like a member of Tom Hanks’ futuristic tribe from Cloud Atlas, what with her bizarre pseudo South African/Oceanic accent). The plight of an underdog versus the elite is an immortal one, captured in many cinematic genres over the years.

But lets get to the allegory for a second. Elysium examines, albeit through a highly dramatised and exaggerated lens, the modern-day notion of the ‘99%’; a social movement, predominantly encapsulated by American capitalism, headed by groups such as Anonymous and movements like Occupy Wall Street. This is a current, modern and ongoing problem. Those who fall into the negative side of income inequality will have a tough time affording healthcare, education and will, therefore, suffer a lower quality of life.

Even this image could be construed in a modern context: be it from the Middle-East or 'Gears of War'.

Even this image could be construed in a modern context: be it from the Middle-East or ‘Gears of War’.

If the teeth of District 9 can be pulled as a result of its tackling of an already-solved problem (apartheid), then Elysium can also be lampooned as an unnecessary allegory. In the past, science fiction acted as cautionary tales rather than analyses of current affairs. Invasion of the Body-Snatchers famously warns of Communism; Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is about the inevitable task of facing one’s mortality; The Andromeda Strain is a look at the threatening aspects of space exploration and the discovery extraterrestrial life. The list goes on.

Elysium is fun for what it is – a picture where Matt Damon represents the proles against their dictatorial robot masters. But to label this as ‘science fiction’ is dubious at best; this is an action movie set against a futuristic backdrop of spacial wonder. Its allegory is unnecessary – if you’re going to make a film about income inequality, make it a documentary, a drama; as a sci-fi movie, it falls flat.

Simon says: Matt Damon blowing stuff up is cool. Plugging in social commentary downgrades the whole experience.

‘Kick-Ass 2’ (2013): Too much Ass, not enough Kick.

18 Aug

Kick-Ass 2 posterIf the original Kick-Ass was the perfect blend of extreme comic book violence with awkward teenage humour, then its follow-up is what happens when a different director takes the reigns, adds nauseatingly gratuitous shaky cam, several framed pictures of Nicholas Cage and a below-par Mean Girls subplot. While newcomer Jeff Wadlow is not exactly inexperienced (his directorial curriculum vitae includes Never Back Down and Cry_Wolf), as he is also head writer of the whole shabang the blame lies entirely with him for the litany of problems that plague Kick-Ass 2.

Set in the aftermath of its predecessor, Kick-Ass 2 again revolves around title star Dave Lizewski, aka Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), though this time Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) plays a much bigger part. Tracking their parallel lives in the build up to a rather explosive final act, the movie is essentially two intertwining storylines: Kick-Ass’s return to fighting crime through an Avengers-like consortium of “superheroes” (led by Colonel Stars And Stripes, or Jim Carrey), and Hit-Girl’s descent into high-school cliquery in an effort to leave her darker, more awesome life behind. But soon a new foe, The Motherfucker, rears his unimposing head, and they must unite once again.

Inconsistencies of tone plague this film like something from the middle-ages. Wadlow very unartfully juxtaposes the 14 year-old toilet humour (mass puking, bathroom sex etc.) with eye-gouging and hand-severing, but his worst crime is the injection of a tired and shockingly out of place school drama. Riddled with post-Mean Girls cliché and featuring a stomach-churning Union J cameo, it’s near total anathema to the outstanding and random violence, which the director juggles with about as much skill and talent as a double-arm amputee trying to do so with his head. On a treadmill.

Although Kick-Ass's character graces the title, this movie really focuses on Hit-Girl.

Although Kick-Ass’s character graces the title, this movie really focuses on Hit-Girl.

All of this could be forgiven if the film was fun, but it’s simply not. Aside from several goofy moments involving Jim Carrey (whom I only recognised through a mental process of cast elimination; he looks so different), the verve and panache of Kick-Ass’s first adventure has been surgically removed by Wadlow. The action sequences, which are probably very well choreographed, are near-totally obscured by the cameraman having some sort of medical episode; he may as well twirl the damn thing on a rope. Extreme violence endeavours to ape the provocative and audacious nature of its precursor, but in the end Kick-Ass 2 is ugly and kind of stupid.

This movie left a fist imprint on my face. Not from assault, but from my dedicated struggle to stay awake. The last twenty minutes are fun, but it’s too little too late. The performances are all great, but it’s too tonally confusing and nonsensical to take seriously.

Simon says: I was promised ass-kicking, not ass-scratching. Lazy.

‘Grown-Ups 2’ (2013) and the wider problem of Adam Sandler.

11 Aug

Grown-Ups 2 posterI’m not going to waste your or my time talking about Grown-Ups 2 in detail, for there’s simply nothing to talk about. Adam Sandler, Kevin James, David Spade and Chris Rock all show up, record themselves dicking around doing absolutely nothing interesting, go home and eventually cash their paycheques. The fart, urine and shit jokes (‘shit jokes’ in both senses of the phrase) are bad enough on their own, but the fact they are rolled out a good four or five times each somehow makes the overall experience even worse. All of the women are there to be ogled, and there’s even a gay panic scene. That’s all one can say about this shit heap.

But today I’m here to talk about Adam Sandler himself. A veritable juggernaut of modern ‘comedy’ films, his movies are a regular staple on cinema listings these days. He trots out roughly one of his own features every year, while lending his goofy visage and characteristic Brooklyn drawl to other roles – often those with his cast-mates in Grown-Ups 2 at the helm. A former host of the immortal Saturday Night Live, Sandler was educated at NYU and previously enjoyed a successful career as a stand-up comic. The man is, according to Wikipedia, speculated to have a net worth of around $300,000,000.

Adam Sandler is a genius. Yep, you read that right; a genius. Why so, Simon? Well, he somehow manages to coax Sony to fork out a good seventy or eighty million dollars to make these movies. From the horrendous That’s My Boy to the frankly terrifying Jack and Jill, with the possible exception of Punch-Drunk Love, his output is categorically awful. Swamped with dreadfully unfunny scatology, a breathtakingly offensive sense of white male privilege and the universal lameness of the “family is important” message, the only thing worse than his films are the low-functioning adults who buy the damn tickets.

He may look harmless, but make no mistake; this man is waging a war against cinema as we know it.

He may look harmless, but make no mistake; this man is waging a war against cinema as we know it.

Despite the guaranteed critical panning, his movies do attract widespread audiences. The original Grown-Ups grossed over $120,000,000 in the USA alone. His rom-com Just Go with It made almost $215,000,000 at the box office, and even the horrifying That’s My Boy, a movie that undeniably normalises and almost glorifies paedophilia, made well over fifty million. While they rake in the dough, their expenditure remains low; all of his productions are filmed on a set somewhere, with minimal use of special effects, so they can’t cost anything to make. Throw into the mix the shameful amount of product-placement in his movies, and that’s another however many mil into the coffers.

Adam Sandler works the capitalist machine to a tee. He’s a smart, suave businessman who knows exactly what the masses want, delivers precisely this with minimal effort and at the lowest costs possible, and makes off like Al fucking Capone. He doesn’t care about the artistry behind film-making or acting. He knows full well that people will settle for this subpar, bonehead humour, and earns a killing in profits as a result. Sandler is literally an evil genius… All he’s missing is a twirlable moustache and a helpless damsel tied to the train tracks.


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