Monthly Archives: November 2014

From Bad to Worse

Things go wrong in ‘Horrible Bosses’ sequel, in more ways than one

Horrible Bosses 2

Horrible Bosses 2

Starring Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day

Directed by Sean Anders

Rated R

If you got a chuckle out of the first one, you’ll probably get a chuckle out of this one. But just because you might doesn’t mean you should. And why don’t you save your titters for something that’s not such a waste of talent, a lazy roll over retreaded gags, and a smutty stroll down a street full of racist, sexist and homophobic jokes?

The first Horrible Bosses, in 2011, set up an initially amusing, over-the-top, screwball comedy: Three hapless schmucks (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day), each so exasperated with their individual employment situations, were driven to an absurdly extreme measure: a plan to murder their bosses.

Horrible Bosses 2

Jennifer Aniston

Their bosses were pretty bad—especially the crooked, conniving business owner (Kevin Spacey) and the rapacious sexual-predator dentist (Jennifer Aniston). Awful, yes—but sometimes awfully funny.

Horrible Bosses 2

Christoph Waltz

Both Spacey and Aniston, as well as the knucklehead trio of Bateman, Sudeikis and Day, are back in Bosses 2. This time, the disgruntled employees have become entrepreneurs—they’re the bosses now—striking out on their own with a prototype for an all-in-one bathing accessory. But when an unscrupulous distributor (Chrisoph Waltz) makes a play to bankrupt them and take over their operation, they devise their own plan for payback—by kidnapping his insufferably spoiled adult son (Chris Pine) for ransom.

Things go “horribly” wrong, of course—in more ways than one. The plot follows the same basic course as the first movie, down to some of the same exact gags. (Hey, they got a laugh the first time, right?) The humor is beyond bawdy—it’s super raunchy, and so blatantly offensive on so many levels, it almost seems admirable the filmmakers tried so hard to maintain such a consistent tone of tastelessness.

To call it “bathroom” humor demeans a lot of bathrooms, especially in one particular scene with a toothbrush, and in another when the discussion in a sexaholics support group turns to a topic that would be shocking even if it didn’t involve underage children.

Any guffaws these jokes get depend on just how far you think it’s OK to go for a laugh, and how closely you care to look at what you’re really laughing at. I’m not sure in what context a reference to the sexual assault of a hospital patient in a coma, for instance, would come off as funny—but here it’s played just that way.  

Horrible Bosses 2

Jamie Foxx

Jamie Foxx returns as a shady career criminal whose obscenity of a nickname can’t be printed in a newspaper but is repeated dozes of times in the movie, and whose flawed advice the would-be kidnappers once again seek.

The first time around, the bosses were terrible, but the movie wasn’t so bad. This time, the “new” bosses turn out to be awful, too, the movie is a disappointment, and the jokes may make you laugh…but you should feel guilty about it when you do.

-Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Hungry For More

‘Hunger Games’ semi-finale is light on action but heavy on build-up

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Philip Seymour Hoffman & Liam Hemsworth

Directed by Francis Lawrence

PG-13

Fans of The Hunger Games will be thrilled because the latest installment—the next-to-last movie, the result of splitting the final book of author Suzanne Collins’ smash trilogy into two movie parts—has hit the screen. But that excitement might be tinged by some disappointment in watching the feisty, girl-power heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) sit out much of the drama on the sidelines.

Mockingjay—Part 1 begins where last year’s Catching Fire left off: Katniss, the victor of the first two movies’ kill-or-be-kill games, has become a refugee from the totalitarian regime’s brutal President Snow (Donald Sutherland), living underground with a group of rebel insurgents and their leader, President Coin (Julianne Moore).

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Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julianne Moore

A revolution is brewing, and the rebels want Katniss to become its poster girl. “We have to have a lightning rod,” says Coin. So Katniss is recruited to make a series of propaganda videos—or “propos”—to spark a rebellion in the miserable masses of Snow’s repressed citizens.

“It’s the worst terror in the world, waiting for something,” Coin tells Katniss. A lot of Hunger Games fans might agree, given that so much of the movie feels like waiting around for the real excitement to start.

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Liam Hemsworth and Jennifer Lawrence

Katniss, the rousing action figure around which the entire franchise is based, appears in only one scene that would quality as an action scene, in which she gets to actually un-sheath an arrow from her quiver and fire it from her bow. But then it’s back to the bunker for more plotting, more prep, and hanging out while other people get down to the nitty-gritty. There’s other action—a big dam blows up, a bunch of forced-labor lumberjacks turn the tables on their “Peacekeeper” guards, and a daring nighttime rebel raid on President Snow’s compound looks like a mash-up of Mission Impossible and Zero Dark Thirty. But Katniss sits it all out.

Director Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer), who also steered last year’s Catching Fire, keeps things looking drab and dreary, to match the mood of repression, doubt and dread. Obviously, he’s holding back, saving the story’s knockout punch for its final act, the big show. OK, I get that—but frequently this warm-up seems like it’s huffing and puffing without generating a lot of real heat.

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Josh Hutcherson

The movies’ main cast returns: Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, and (the late) Philip Seymour Hoffman. Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth are back as Peeta and Gale, the two hunks competing for Katniss’s affections, although the storyline puts them in very different places and situations.

There’s a lot here for Hunger Games fans to digest—political undertones, the drumbeat of war, public executions. And it’s got another great performance by Lawrence, who makes almost everything she does (even playing a bad actress, who struggles to get her propos lines right) fun to watch. She even breaks out in song, a haunting, dirge-like ditty called “The Hanging Tree.” There’s some real dramatic tension, a good deal of emotion, and one heck of a setup for the next movie.

But as for a big, “fiery” showdown that fans have been waiting, and waiting for, well, they’re just going to have to stay hungry a bit longer—until next November.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Older, Not Wiser

Jim Carrey & Jeff Daniels return to roles as grownup nitwits

Dumb and Dumber To

 

Dumb and Dumber To

Starring Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels

Directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly

Rated PG-13

 

It’s dumb, all right, more stridently dumber, even, than its predecessor, which made a dynamic duo of dummies out of Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels playing clueless, nitwit grownups stirring a raging sea of stupidity. Now, 20 years later, Lloyd (Carrey) and Harry (Daniels) are older, but certainly—most definitely—not wiser.

Dumb and Dumber To reunites Carrey and Daniels with the directors of the original movie, Bobby and Peter Farrelly, who turned slapstick, gross-out gags, crude jokes and potty humor into a cinematic calling card in pretty much everything they went on to make, including There’s Something About Mary, Kingpin and a big-screen reboot of The Three Stooges.

When the first movie came out, in 1994, Carrey’s comedy star was already red hot, thanks to TV’s In Living Color and the hit movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Despite occasional forays into semi-serious comedy-drama, he continued to find that audiences connected with him best as a rubber-faced, loose-limbed goofball.

Daniels’ career sent him in a slightly different direction, through dozens of diverse film and TV parts and finally into his current Emmy-wining role in the TV political drama The Newsroom.

Dumb and Dumber ToTogether again here, they’re a pair of 50-something stooges on a cross-country comedy collision course—which isn’t to say that I didn’t find some of it laugh-out-loud funny. (But parents and other concerned citizens, take note: Even though it’s rated PG-13, it seems to be straining to see how far it can nose into R-rated vulgarity without actually going over the line.) There’s a cat that farts bird feathers, a little old lady in a nursing home who tricks a visitor into “feeling her up,” and a steady stream of jokes about poop, pee, boobs and butt cracks. Are you laughing yet?

Twenty years ago, the idea of a couple of adults who acted like 10-year-olds in an otherwise “normal” world seemed like the latest bit of inspired idiocy on a long entertainment timeline running all the way back to silent movies. Now, with characters who’ve aged without maturing, in a story that seems sometimes too lazy to have tried to do much of anything different from the first time around, it just looks sad. And Carrey’s character’s clueless “craziness” now seems cruel and even pathologically twisted, taking advantage and making fun of people, insensitive to everyone and everything—not just dumb, but loathsome, pathetic and truly crazy.

Dumb and Dumber To

Kathleen Turner

Carrey and Daniels are game for just about anything, throwing themselves (sometimes literally) into all sorts of physical shtick. Rob Riggle is a hoot in a dual role, one of them as a special-ops assassin with special concealment skills. Kathleen Turner sends up her “sexy” image from the ’80s. Rachel Melvin, who portrayed Chelsea Brady-Benson on TV’s Days of Our Lives, plays a young woman who causes Lloyd and Harry to set out on a trip to a convention of brainiacs—where, of course, they cause quite a stink

At one point, Lloyd is asked if Harry has Aspergers. “Probably,” Lloyd replies. “I know he doesn’t wipe very well.” If that joke makes you grin, this may be your kind of movie. If it makes you groan, well, steer clear—because there’s a lot more like that where it came from.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Mind Over Matter

Eddie Redmayne is superb as physicist Stephen Hawking

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The Theory of Everything

Starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones

Directed by James Marsh

PG-13

 

You may have seen Eddie Redmayne as the young lovestruck movie production assistant who squires the famous Ms. Monroe around London in My Week With Marilyn, or as Marius, the noble rebel fighter who sings the lovely “Empty Tables at Empty Chairs” in Les Misèrables. Those were fine, standout roles, and they got him noticed.

But this role, as physicist Stephen Hawking, will likely get him an Oscar nomination.

Based on a 2007 memoir by Hawking’s ex-wife, Jane, The Theory of Everything stars Redmayne in an amazing, bravura performance as Hawking, who was diagnosed with motor neuron disease—similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), known as Lou Gehrig’s disease—at the age of 21, while working on his doctorate studies at England’s University of Cambridge in the early 1960s.

His physician delivers the news without much hope; he gloomily gives Hawking only a couple of years to live, during which time his body functions—movement, speech, breath—will slowly, inexorably shut down. Hawking wants to know about his mind.

“The brain isn’t affected,” the doctor tells him. “Your thoughts won’t change. It’s just that, eventually, no one will know what they are.”

How wrong that doctor turned out to be. Hawking, now 72, went on to become a superstar in the world of theoretical physics, writing a bestselling book (A Brief History of Time) that sold 10 million copies, communicating through a speech-generating device and advancing his groundbreaking theories wrapping around time, space, black holes and the mind-bending mechanisms of quantum physics.

As Hawking, Redmayne is phenomenal, starting out as a gangly, chipper young university student, looking for “one single unifying equation that explains everything in the universe,” eventually morphing into the crumpled genius in the wheelchair who can only move one finger…and then nothing but an eyelash.

TTOE_D04_01565-01568_R_CROP1409353846British actress Felicity Jones does a fine, forthright job as Jane, the charming coed who becomes Hawking’s first wife. And although Stephen’s hard “science” doesn’t mesh with Jane’s hopeful “faith,” the movie paints a sweet, sweeping picture of their courtship, marriage and young parenthood, and of the intense devotion that Jane brought to the increasing needs of Stephen’s debilitating physical condition.

It would have been nice for the movie to dig in even a bit deeper to Jane’s side of the story, especially when she’s tugged away to stray from her years of love and sacrifice with the young church organist who becomes the family’s friend and Stephen’s caretaker (Charlie Cox). Likewise, it feels a bit glossed-over and rushed when Stephen falls for the doting nurse, Elaine, who becomes his second wife, in the mid 1990s.

But one thing that’s never less than rock-solid is Redmayne, who makes you believe every minute he’s onscreen that he is Stephen Hawking, with all his genius, wit and determination intact even as his body withers around them. He never quite nails down that one, single unifying equation that explains everything—but this one role may be everything Redmayne needs to take home the first major awards of his acting career.

—Neil Pond, Parade and American Profile Magazines

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Time Warped

Matthew McConaughey stars in mind-bending deep-space yarn

INTERSTELLAR

Interstellar

Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway & Michael Caine

Directed by Christopher Nolan

PG-13

Outrageously ambitious, deliriously far-out and epically geeky, director Christopher Nolan’s sprawling Interstellar is a space movie with one foot on the ground and one in the stars, a story of both humanity and the heavens, with a thumping heartbeat driving its spewing intergalactic fountain of dazzling, digitized special effects.

In this mind-bending yarn about gravity, time and the power of love, Matthew McConaughey plays a family-man space cowboy on a mission to save the Earth. As its story unfolds, sometime in the not-so-distant future, our planet’s resources have been all but exhausted; the world’s a big dust bowl. McConaughey’s character, Cooper, a former moon-exploring astronaut, is selected for a top-secret, last-ditch NASA dash across deep space to chase down a probe signal that may possibly signal a new planetary home.

Big problem: The widowed Cooper will have to leave behind his sage old dad (John Lithgow) and his two young children, teenage son Tom (Timotheè Chalamet) and spunky young daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy). Even bigger problem: Once he takes off, Cooper doesn’t know how long how he’ll be gone—or if he’ll be able to return.

INTERSTELLARCooper tries to reassure Murph—he gives her an old-school wristwatch and tells her that whenever she looks at it, she can know he’ll be looking at his, too, wherever he is, up there in space, for however long, until he comes home. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Nolan, whose other films include the Batman Dark Knight trilogy and the mind-scrambling Inception, sets off an explosion of images and ideas as the tale unfolds both “on the ground” and “out there.” We’re taken through a space “wormhole,” a shortcut expressway compressing and expanding space and time, to a watery planet prone to monstrous tidal waves, where every hour counts for seven years of Earth time, and another that’s so cold, even the clouds are solid ice. We watch as Cooper, whose own aging has been halted by the time-warp of space travel, sees video feeds of his children grown into adults (Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck)—and bitter that their father has apparently abandoned them, “decades” ago.

INTERSTELLARAnne Hathaway plays one of Cooper’s fellow explorers—a key role in more ways than one because of her connection to her NASA scientist father (Michael Caine) back on Earth, and also to someone the astronauts will meet on their journey to the outer reaches of the cosmos.

Along the way, we’re introduced to some lofty concepts: Are we alone in the universe? Is it possible to go backward and forward in time, or to make it stand still? Is love a quantifiable force? Nolan lays out a narrative path between Odysseus, Albert Einstein and Buck Rogers, then paints it with bold cinematic brushstrokes inspired by the masters—Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, John Ford.

It doesn’t always work, but man, is it ever something to see. It gets pretty trippy (and even a bit hokey) in the end, and at nearly three full hours, it’s quite a journey. And this rip-roaring Rip Van Winkle rocket tale is unlike anything else you’ve seen at the movies this year, if ever. Hang on for the ride and you may come out on the other side feeling a bit wobbly and time-warped yourself.

And afterward, you might never look at the tick-tock of your wristwatch the same way again.

—Neil Pond, Parade and American Profile Magazines

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