I was really offended by Get Hard. Not because of the jokes about race or sexuality, I was offended because it was just not funny. A jaw dropping misfire starring two of the funniest actors on the planet, this one feels scripted and forced, with absolutely no chemistry between the two. And who casts Kevin Hart as the straight man? His role is pretty much setting up jokes for Ferrell and those jokes falling flat. Imagine “Trading Places” with Eddie Murphy showing restraint…or Sandra Bullock being given all the jokes in “The Heat”. For whatever reason, Hart gets too few moments to shine. There are a couple genuine laughs…but not enough when these two are the stars. Get Limp is more like it.
Neill Blomkamp showed such promise with his first film. DISTRICT 9 was a fine example of modern sci-fi that was done on a budget, but didn’t look like it. The film was nominated for an Academy Award, so Blomkamp’s future looked very promising. That’s the problem with predictions. Blomkamp has turned into that Mark Fydrich, great rookie year and nothing much since. CHAPPIE is his latest effort to recapture the heart and magic of DISTRICT 9. Keep trying Neill. Somewhere in this morass is a movie with heart, but odd choices by Blomkamp keep the audience from fully engaging. The movie is set in South Africa of the future. Robots invented by Dev Patel have replaced humans on the Johannesburg police force to great success. Criminals are losing the battle. Then there is Hugh Jackman, a rival inventor who’s weapon system has been put on the back burner by the company’s CEO, Sigouney Weaver. Patel isn’t satisfied with his invention, he thinks he can create a sentient robot that can learn. He steals a damaged robot with the intent of making it his guinea pig. But on his way home, he’s carjacked by two thugs who reason that he can shut down all the robots so they can make a big score to repay a debt to a crime lord. Then Patel activates his robot and the criminals name him Chappie and at this point I wish I wasn’t sentient because my brain is exploding. Too many layers. Too much unnecessary plotting. Just too much to keep track of. Blomkamp needs an editor, or someone to tell him when things are going off the rails. Then there is the casting. Two little-known South African musicians play thugs. Ninja and Yo-landi Visser form the band Die Antwoord when not “acting”. In fact the majority of the songs in the movie were written and performed by the pair. But acting? Uh, not so much. The intent of their characters seems to be criminal, but somewhat sympathetic. Ninja and Visser don’t have the chops to pull that subtlety off. Blomkamp also cast another South African actor as the crime lord. His accent is so thick that Blomkamp translates his dialogue on screen so we can understand him. He might have used the same technique with Ninja and Visser because I lost some of their dialogue in the accent. Then there is Jackman. This is easily the worst thing he’s ever done. Bad mullet, bad acting. And why is he even here? His storyline adds to the confusion and is just fodder for Chappie’s climatic revenge scene. Ugh. I’m done. The more I think about this mess the more I dislike it. And that’s a big problem. — Alan Yudman
This moody thriller crawls in on a wave of positive buzz from festivals (it screened at Cannes, Sundance and Toronto among others), and one can see why: it’s the ideal “horror” movie for the latte set, strong on atmospherics and not at all interested in blood, violence or (except for one or two) cheap scares. Teenage splatter flicks have always found a link between sex and death (the first couple to boink is usually the first to die), but here, the demon unleashed by intercourse is more disturbing than a simple cut throat or impalement. There’s nothing religious about it, but it’s as though there’s a lingering (eternal?) price to pay for every penetration, an Original Sin that cannot be expunged or expiated, or even transferred to the next bedmate, try though the victims do. Quietly acted and deliberately paced, the movie would not work as well as it does without the counterbalancing, overheated score by Rich Vreeland (who goes by “Disasterpeace”) which gooses up the emotion even as the characters mostly sit and wait for their stalkers to appear. If this review sounds vague, it’s because IT FOLLOWS is more feeling than story, and the irresolution at the end may leave you frustrated. Or impressed. It’s definitely worth seeing. — Jeff Schultz
I arrived at the Breaking Bad party after it had been on for two seasons. As soon as I got into it I asked myself “How the hell did I almost miss this?”. Talk about deja vu…Hannibal is one of the most original, clever, intelligent, suspenseful, and gory shows I have ever seen on NETWORK television. The fact it’s a prequel about Hannibal Lecter was an immediate turn off to me, I assumed it would be dumbed down for the NBC faithful. ..boy was I wrong! “Silence of the Lambs” fans will not be disappointed with how this series lays the groundwork. Fans of awesome tv have gone to cable to get quality shows that aren’t afraid to take risks and move stories forward even though some of the twists may not be the most popular. Well guess what? There’s a new network show at the dinner party and his name is Hannibal. 2 seasons worth on Amazon Prime with the third starting in June. Save the date!
This animated short based on the mega-hit is attached to Disney’s live-action remake of CINDERELLA (see my review just below). It debuts in theaters on the same day as the studio announced the making of FROZEN 2 and is therefore a swell promotional tool for the corporation that knows how to market as well or better than anyone (even Apple). Built around a catchy new song, it is of course adorable and solidly produced. It’s also shockingly creepy. That’s because the plot surrounds the effort by Elsa to throw a lavish birthday party for her sister Anna. Everything (and everyone — Kristoff, Olaf, Sven the reindeer) is in place at the palace. But there’s one problem: Elsa has a bad cold. And every time she sneezes, tiny little snowman heads come out of her nose. Lots of them… hundreds, then thousands. They just grow and multiply and surround all of those with whom they come in contact. Just like, I don’t know, maybe… GERMS???? Let me not put too fine a point on this: the short appears only three months after a measles outbreak at Disneyland that directly or indirectly affected some 173 people in 17 states and more in Canada, which also triggered a bitter nationwide debate on vaccinations. Disney has turned a pathogen into a fun-filled new revenue stream. Of course, the company is not responsible for the virus. But am I the only one who senses insensitivity? — Jeff Schultz
This fairytale needed less tale and more fairy dust. Directed (by Kenneth Branagh) with the kind of British stodginess you get from Masterpiece Theatre, the movie takes forever to get going, has a couple of bang-up scenes along the way, and ends happily ever after… after taking small children (presumably one of the target audiences) and the rest of us through the deaths of three separate parents, two of them lingering. Talky and slow, it also asks much of the lead actress, whose physical affect on screen falls short in both external beauty and inner glow. We are asked to believe that Lily James would not only make the toothpaste-ad-handsome Prince (another problematic casting) fall in love with her at first sight — but also that she would strike a ballroom filled with hundreds if not a thousand revelers into shocked silence by her ostensibly ravishing entrance. (Admittedly, the gown is lovely.) Evil Stepmother Cate Blanchette chews the scenery, or what’s left of it after her ugly daughters get their fill. Fairy Godmother Helena Bonham Carter is more captivating as an old crone prior to her transformation into a ditsy, unfunny spell caster. In fact, a sense of humor, or at least playfulness, may be what’s most missed in this retelling. And only in the two relatively brief carriage sequences do we get what we love these stories for: pure magic. Changing a pumpkin into a coach, a goose into its driver, lizards into footmen and mice into horses had me finally sit up and enjoy myself. Even more so when the clock strikes midnight — as the finery turns back into animals and plant. Otherwise, it’s just a dutiful ticking off of Cinderella’s story points, with sumptuous if stuffy sets and process shots that reminded me of the Storybook ride at Disneyland. For the most part, the movie avoids the by-now-obligatory feminism of Disney’s animated heroines; it’s pretty straightforward. But where’s the sense of wonder? — Jeff Schultz