Central Intelligence Review: Partners in Crime


Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Writers: Rawson Marshall Thurber, Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen

Stars: Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Amy Ryan, Aaron Paul

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Release date: June 30th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures, Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 107 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Johnson’s loopy performance.

Worst part: The by-the-numbers plot.

One is an African-American stand-up comedy icon turned super-successful leading man. The other is an African-American-Samoan professional wrestler turned multimedia empire god. Both are clever, social media-savvy and 110% critic proof. Seriously, who doesn’t love Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson?! The world is in luck, with the pair teaming up to help breathe new life into the buddy-action genre.

Central Intelligence is the first in, hopefully, a never-ending series of movies starring the two. The movie’s marketing campaign was genius, complete with the self-aware line ‘Saving the world takes a little Hart and a big Johnson’. It kicks off in 1996, with Calvin Joyner (Hart) being recognized for an award at the high school’s last prep rally for the year. Calvin is the graduating class’s most talented, popular, attractive and likely to succeed. On the other side of the coin, Robbie Wheirdicht (Johnson) is an overweight kid, with no friends, prone to dancing in the boys locker room showers and suffering shocking acts of bullying. The movie jumps forward 20 years, and Calvin is stuck in a boring accounting job with only high-school sweetheart Maggie (Danielle Nicolet) on his side. On the flip side, Robbie – now Bob Stone – is a ripped, hunky CIA agent.

Make no mistake, there is nothing new or original about Central Intelligence. Borrowing from everything between Lethal Weapon and Spy, the movie checks almost every turn, sub-plot and archetype off the list. The plot boils down to multiple tried and true buddy-cop and spy-comedy clichés. Perfunctorily, Calvin and Robbie bond before the havoc begins. The spy stuff kicks into gear later than expected, with the introduction of fellow CIA agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan) and her mission to expose Robbie’s suspected rogue operations. If anything, it cares almost too much about the plot. Even this cast, despite effortlessly delivering reams of exposition, can’t make the superfluous spy-mission speak more interesting. However, everything around the plot elevates the movie above expectations.

Central Intelligence is an explosive and hilarious thrill-ride thanks to its cast, writers, and director’s enthusiasm. Director and co-writer Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, We’re the Millers) provides his brand of quick-witted comedy. Like his previous efforts, he balances carefully crafted material and improvisation time for his performers. Aided by writer/actor Ike Barinholtz (Bad Neighbours), he delivers a strong assortment of funny one-liners and memorable moments. Its set-pieces are also top-notch, with Hart and Johnson showing off immense action and comedy skills. Hart becomes an effective straight man to Johnson’s over-the-top character. Johnson is the runaway winner, delivering enough mannerisms to balance between enviable action hero type, sensitive victim, and kooky sociopath.

Despite the familiar feel, Central Intelligence is a spot-on action-comedy with thoughts and thrills. The funky sense of humour, fun set-pieces, clever cameos and cast and crew’s infectious energy separate it from the pack. In addition, the movie’s blooper reel is worth sticking around for.

Verdict: A fun buddy-action flick.

Eye in the Sky Audio Review: Strike or Spare


Director: Gavin Hood

Writer: Guy Hibbert

Stars: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi

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Release date: March 24th, 2016

Distributor: Entertainment One

Country: United Kingdom

Running time: 102 minutes


4/5

Review:

Triple 9 Audio Review: Bad Cop/Worse Cop


Director: John Hillcoat

Writer: Matt Cook

Stars: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul

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Release date: March 3rd, 2016

Distributor: Open Road Films

Country: USA

Running time: 115 minutes


3½/5

Review:

Exodus: Gods & Kings Review: Anglo Apocalypse


Director: Ridley Scott

Writer: Steven Zaillian, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine

Stars: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Aaron Paul, Ben Kingsley


Release date: December 4th, 2014

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Countries: USA, UK, Spain

Running time: 150 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: Bale and Edgerton.

Worst part: The sluggish pace.

A man named Christian plays Judaism’s greatest prophet – now that’s irony! Over the past few months, Ridley Scott’s latest behemoth, Exodus: Gods & Kings, has caused significant controversy. Its casting decisions sent internet comment sections into overdrive, with Caucasian thespians – including Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, and Aaron Paul – embodying ancient Egyptian Pharaohs and Hebrew slaves via spray tans, wigs, costumes, and eye-liner. Sure, there may have been some ‘Hollywood pretty’ people running around this period. However, the production’s checkered history and questionable choices severely damage the immersion effect.

Christian Bale as Moses.

In a press junket, Scott inappropriately claimed the casting of middle-eastern actors would fundamentally stall the project. Yes, this is how Hollywood works today. However, this, coming from one of Tinseltown’s most prestigious filmmakers, is unprofessional. So, forgetting about ethical quarrels for a moment, how does Exodus: Gods & Kings fare? Short answer: Exodus? More like Meh-xodus (too damn easy)! On paper, this project has several  alluring qualities befitting of big-budget entertainment. Ambitiously, the movie hopes to draw people back to the big screen and the Book of Exodus. Indeed, the story of Moses leading 600, 000 Israelite slaves to the promised land from Egyptian rulers warrants significant discussion. The story, known by many as: “that ‘parting the Red Sea’ one”, deserves many adaptations. After all, religion and entertainment mean different things to different people. Scott’s version hurls us directly into the action, for better or worse. We meet Moses (Bale), in 1300 B.C., as a war-crushing, peace-welding general. Moses, fighting the Hittite army, saves his brother/Prince Rameses(Edgerton)’s life (as prophesied) whilst crafting a flawless battle strategy. Moses, favoured by King Seti I (John Turturro), is sent to Pithom to resolve issues between Hebrew slaves and their masters. Rubbing Viceroy Hegep (Ben Mendelsohn) the wrong way, Moses is closely monitored. grizzly slave Joshua (Paul) and elder Nun (Ben Kingsley) inform Moses of his true origins. He, banished from Memphis by the royal family, marries Zipporah (Maria Valverde) and conceives Gershom. God – appearing as a boy (Isaac Andrews) – and the burning bush demand Moses’ cooperation.

Joel Edgerton vs the Red Sea.

Famed director Cecil B. DeMille adapted this tale in 1923 and 1956, calling both The Ten Commandments. Obviously, Charlton Heston is no less Anglo than Bale. However, that version was, literally and figuratively, bigger than Ben-Hur. The sweeping majesty of DeMille’s second shot overshadowed said troubling elements. Sadly, Scott’s slick yet shallow remake/adaptation pales in comparison. His gold-and-chrome-covered extravaganza delivers everything you’d expect from the master historical-epic filmmaker. However, Exodus: Gods & Kings has no idea what it’s doing, saying, or even thinking. It suffers similar issues as his polarising 2010 Robin Hood. Both historical-epics muddy the waters between reasonable explanation and divine intervention/deus ex machina. Invested in every detail, he wants us to dive headlong into the narrative. Convinced 110% of this gargantuan story’s worth, Scott constructs meticulous analyses of each chapter. Pulling his people through the mud, Moses is more reasonable, complicated man than well-meaning saviour. However, before you can say: “Let my people go!”, It lifelessly charges from Moses/Rameses’ brotherhood to the Red Sea parting to Mount Sinai/Commandment carving section. Dedicating it to recently deceased filmmaker/younger brother Tony Scott, he becomes wowed by every grain of sand, speck of dust, and rule in the book. Discussing the physical, psychological, ethical, and religious ramifications, it bites off more than it can chew. Scott, obsessed with the visual aspects of Ancient Egypt, becomes lost in a (Red) sea of bright colours, flashy compositions, glorious scenic vistas, and full-on set pieces. His version – flipping from gritty character-drama to kooky sword-and-sandal-epic to pompous parable – becomes more narratively, tonally, and thematically barren than a North-African desert.

“You say that you didn’t… cause all this. You say this is not your fault. So let’s just see who’s more effective at killing: You or me.” (Rameses (Joel Edgerton), Exodus: Gods & Kings).

Ben Kingsley.

Despite the cast and crew’s best efforts, Exodus: Gods & Kings is more shiny than seminal. This Old testament walk-through delivers several  gripping set-pieces and glorious compositions. It, attempting to please multiple audiences, valiantly re-creates the story’s most  significant events. The banishment sequence reaffirms Scott and classic Hollywood’s ever-lingering glow. This sequence, drawing  emotional weight from this lifeless slog, depicts a painstaking journey from emptiness to salvation. Scott and co. put a unique spin on this age-old tale of masculinity, heroism, and brotherhood. The ten plagues sequence delivers gripping moments bolstered by sumptuous visuals and intriguing concepts. The kingdom’s science expert (Ewen Bremner) breaks everything down logically, citing the link between a blood-red Nile, frogs, flies, and locusts. In addition, the visual effects and production design crews  construct this 40-minute sequence vigorously. Fusing violence, stakes, and visual flourishes, this middle-third-spanning event is worth the admission cost. Scott’s scintillating world-building techniques help crack the whip. The first action sequence, though derivative of Gladiator‘s opening set-piece, establishes the movie’s scope and style. Developing Moses and Rameses as fearless warriors, this sequence separates the men – and kings – from the boys. Scott, unlike most action filmmakers, draws brilliant performances out of ensemble casts. Bale and Edgerton, matching one another in consistency and enthusiasm, excel despite the controversy. Paul, Kingsley, and Sigourney Weaver – overcoming wholly underdeveloped characters – add to the grit-and-blood-stained aura.

Like preceding bible-sized flop Noah, Exodus: Gods & Kings is a bizarre, laughable, yet ambitious re-telling. Modernising one of religion’s most prescient and intriguing stories, Bale and Edgerton save this sword-and-sandal adventure. Despite its valiant attempts, this adaptation appeals to everyone and no one simultaneously. Extending an already expansive tale, Scott walks a shaky line between hyper-realism and full-blown fantasy. Like Moses himself, Scott shuffles from determination to obsession to degradation. It’s his best effort since American Gangster, but – given Robin Hood, Prometheus, The Counselor, Body of Lies, and A Good Year – that’s a low, jewel-encrusted hurdle.

Verdict: A visually impressive yet frustrating biblical-epic.

Need for Speed Review – Crash ‘n’ Burn


Director: Scott Waugh

Writer: George Gatins

Stars: Aaron Paul, Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots, Scott ‘Kid Cudi’ Mescudi


Release date: March 14th, 2014

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 130 minutes


 

1½/5 

Best part: Aaron Paul.

Worst part: The frustrating supporting characters.

Disastrous losing streaks aren’t enjoyable for anyone in Hollywood. They come without warning whilst embarrassing their victims beyond belief. In Tinseltown, losing streaks can happen to directors, writers, and actors. Sadly, Hollywood’s catastrophic run of video game adaptations is officially getting worse. After witnessing exhaustive action flick Need for Speed, I believe Hollywood should throw in the towel. The movie, despite its alluring cast and marketing campaign, isn’t worth the admission cost. Save your money and play the game instead. trust me, you’ll have a much better time. At the very least, you’ll gain some sense of control.

Aaron Paul.

Who’s asking for these video game adaptations, anyway? Everyone wants their favourite games, comic books, and novels adapted into movies. But why can’t people simply enjoy them for what they are? These adaptations, cashing in on a particular brand, prove that some entertainment mediums don’t cross over effectively. The mass divide between video game and cinema mechanics drifts Need for Speed into an inescapable vortex of mediocrity. It’d be simplistic and cheesy to make a significant number of car puns throughout this review. However, the plot, such as it is, relies on its viewers having low IQs, acute nymphomania, and Red Bull addictions. People who refuse to sit through 12 Years a Slave or The Wolf of Wall Street (you know, intelligent movies) will lap up Need for Speeds irritable ticks and predictable turns. The plot kicks off with testosterone-fuelled car mechanics being idiotic. After a sorrowful introduction from renowned radio presenter Monarch (Michael Keaton), we run into notorious grease monkey/street racer Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul). Marshall, running his late father’s garage, is haemorrhaging money faster than he can earn it. Gaining respect within Mt. Kisko, New York’s underground drag-racing scene, Marshall is considered one of the circuit’s hidden treasures. Celebrity driver Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) comes to Marshall for help. Hoping to settle their long-lasting feud, Brewster offers Marshall a spectacular opportunity. Brewster asks Marshall’s crew to fix-up the Ford Mustang acclaimed car designer/entrepreneur Carroll Shelby (don’t worry, I didn’t know who that was either) was working on before his passing.

Dominic Cooper & Dakota Johnson.

Before I go on, I’ll ask Dreamworks Studios and co. just one thing. Dear studios, this is based on a plotless video game, what did you think would happen?! The Need for Speed franchise consists only of uninteresting cut scenes and exhilarating car chases. This franchise, despite reaching the right demographic, can’t deliver acceptable cinematic endeavours. Congratulations Burnout and Gran Turismo, I now have more respect for you! Anyway, the plot takes sharp turns early on. After pitching their work to car dealer Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots), Marshall gets back on Brewster’s bad side. Hindered by Marshall’s efforts, Brewster challenges him and his comrade Little Pete (Harrison Gilbertson) to a race. Using Koenigsegg Ageras, the three speed down the freeway before Pete is killed. With Pete’s sister and Marshall’s old flame Anita (Dakota Johnson) standing by Brewster’s word, Marshall is sent to prison. Before long, motivations, revelations, and speeches bust out of these irritating characters. This revenge plot, controlling this half-assed Fast and Furious rip-off, is as tedious as watching someone play the aforementioned video game. Even before the half-way mark, it divulges into derivative tropes and face-palm-inducing moments. Sadly, thanks to George Gatins’ interminable screenplay, the movie assumes its two or three movies into its own franchise. After its annoying characters are introduced, the movie pushes on without depth, personality, or originality. Separated from the franchises’ eighteen instalments, these characters are simply uninteresting hindrances. Another problem – trust me, there are a lot of ’em – stems from Hollywood’s current trend of adapting useless properties. Stunt coordinator turned director Scott Waugh (Act of Valor) obviously doesn’t care about the movie’s slower moments. Not knowing whether to take itself seriously or take deep breaths, Need for Speed’s jarring tonal shifts become debilitating road blocks.

“Racers should race, cops should eat donuts.” (Monarch (Michael Keaton), Need for Speed).

The cars.

Tripping over the franchise’s baffling ‘mythology’, gullible thirteen year-old boys will be the only ones savouring this tumultuous experience. Deliberating on visions of the future, masculinity, and racing’s raw power, the movie’s spiritual side dampens its insignificant and questionable narrative. Predictably, plot contrivances, cliches, and unnecessary sketches extend the bloated story. Despite presenting itself as a homage to 70s drive-in flicks, aided by overt references to Bullit, the movie sorely lacks pathos, energy, and relevance. Beyond the plot-hole, and pot hole, driven narrative, the dramatic and comedic moments don’t help. The slapstick moments, led by irritating supporting players, are accompanied only by crickets and tumbleweeds. One act of defiance, involving one character quitting his job, is just plain tiresome. Paul, coming off of AMC hit series Breaking Bad, does his best with such immature material. Paul and Poots, developing a slither of chemistry within their Mustang’s small confinements, are charismatic forces in need of better projects. On the other end of the spectrum, rapper Scott ‘Kid Cudi’ Mescudi hampers every scene he coverts. As the movie’s most offensive stereotype (and that’s saying something), Mescudi should stick to his rap career. Somehow, Need for Speed‘s characters are less realistic than the racing sequences. Thankfully, the action set pieces steal the show. Created with flawless technical precision and attention to detail, the skids, crashes, and flips deliver tiny joyful moments. Thanks to immaculate practical effects, Waugh’s exhaustive knowledge of stunt-work pays-off here. Unfortunately, he and the screenwriters stall when it comes to everything else. Why should I compliment this abominable mess? The negatives far outweigh the positives. I could make more car puns and jokes, but they would distract from my anger toward this unending skid-mark.

Here, Hollywood has blessed us with yet another woeful and forgettable video game adaptation. Yawn! Surely, it can’t be that difficult to produce one worthwhile adaption. Up there with Doom, Max Payne, and Prince of Persia, Need for Speed steals this franchise’s rhythmic title and speeds off into the distance. Thankfully, this movie will probably crash and burn at the box office. Trapping Paul, Poots, and Keaton inside a fiery mess, this lazy car-race flick delivers cheap thrills and loud groans. Unfortunately, story-driven games are now being given short shrift. Thanks to the aforementioned franchise killers, the Last of Us, Halo, and Metal Gear Solid adaptations may never happen.

Verdict: A tedious and stupefying actioner. 

Smashed Review – Wasted Winstead


Director: James Ponsoldt

Writer: James Ponsoldt, Susan Burke

Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul, Nick Offerman, Octavia Spencer


Release date: October 12th, 2012

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics 

Country: USA

Running time: 81 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Winstead’s naturalistic performance.

Worst part: Underdeveloped sub-plots.

Everyone, at some point in their lives, is exposed to alcohol. Alcohol is seen as a brief escape from reality. Temptation and redemption are the focus of Smashed. It’s a film that discusses an issue that is normally left alone. Alcoholism destroys lives in multiple ways, but this film is brave enough to delve into one person’s 12 step journey. Smashed is a balanced and thought-provoking study of how anyone can change.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead & Aaron Paul.

The film documents the rehabilitation process of Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Her marriage to Charlie (Aaron Paul) is made up of a love of sex, music and alcohol. Every day is spent drinking like a fish. Their inept decisions lead to unacceptable incidences such as bike-riding crazily through the streets. This inappropriate behaviour, however, changes when Kate lies to, and throws up in front of, her class of 3rd grade youngsters. Dealing with her increasingly offensive husband, her class, and her own internal issues, she decides to become sober. With the help of Vice-principal Dave (Nick Offerman), the 12 step program should hopefully change everything for the better. However, Charlie is actively against everything in this healing process.

Winstead & Nick Offerman.

Winstead & Nick Offerman.

Smashed promotes an alarming message about the effects of alcoholism. It’s a sweet, witty and honest tale of survival against all odds. This realistic issue is delicately emphasised as Kate pushes herself away from normality. From the beginning, the film illustrates Kate and Charlie’s fascination with the deadly substance. Whether she’s drinking in the shower or taking a swig before teaching, Kate is bluntly depicted as a troubled individual. We, however, are never allowed to judge the characters, as they must learn to accept and solve their own issues. It takes an embarrassing convenience store incident for Kate to realise what her affliction is doing. Smashed also smartly depicts why alcohol is seen as, as Homer Simpson puts it, “the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.” It’s lightly comic touch relieves the heavily dramatic weight of this identifiable issue. The laughs come from Kate and Charlie’s increasingly stupefying actions. When she wakes up under a bridge after a big night out, even she knows what has to happen with her life. Her perspective is illustrated with visual flair. Jarring at points; constant focus pulls, handheld camera work and cuts to black depict the heavy distortion created through consumption.

Winstead & Paul.

Winstead & Paul.

A heart-warming and important experience, Smashed also discusses how people are drawn together. Whether they are causing the problem or wish to help, the characters are suitably realistic. Her relationship with Charlie is a sad exploration into how her problems started. This couple celebrates their own inappropriate behaviour. Charlie sits at the back of the bar cheering on his drunken wife. As she belts out a hit song, both her and this appalling issue are placed in the spotlight. Unfortunately, their relationship is barely developed. This is mostly due to the lack of depth given to Charlie. He is simply the ‘enabler’. Smashed  unconvincingly focuses on the struggle between husband and wife, with every revelation being predictable or disengaging. The film succeeds, however, by establishing the importance of Kate’s journey. Studying her broken childhood, cynical mother and care-free attitude, this enlightening story of hope is based on redefining these vital elements of her existence. Several sub-plots fail to develop throughout. This slice-of-life story of survival and repression presents some key relationships but fails to explore them. Maybe this is a necessary decision; leaving us to question where Kate’s story may, or may not, end up.

“I like knowing that every little fuck-up I make is going to be a topic of conversation with a woman that I don’t know.” (Charlie (Aaron Paul), Smashed).

Octavia Spencer.

This grounded version of Leaving Las Vegas is supported by likeable performances from its ensemble cast. The actors filling these roles deliver a necessary amount of charisma. Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. the WorldThe Thing) is an energetic presence on screen. Providing equal amounts of sassiness and sorrow, Winstead delivers in an already solemn role. Her character is a likeable and strong-willed individual lost to temptation. Her humanistic turn is what propels the narrative as she constantly questions the people around her and her own life. Aaron Paul (HBO’s Breaking Bad) delivers in an underdeveloped role. Giving freelance writers a bad name, his character is a sympathetic yet problematic part of Kate’s life. He may be to blame for his marriage’s problems, but he becomes increasingly and sadly unstable without the love of his life. Nick Offerman is essentially playing a toned-down version of his character Ron Swanson from TV series Parks and Recreation. As easily the film’s smartest character, Offerman provides a needed sense of wit and jerkiness. Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) turns her two dimensional role into a memorable part of this story. Her character’s down-trodden past compels everyone around her.

The first step of overcoming any addiction is admitting you have a problem. Kate’s unforgivable actions lead her to become a likeable and realistic character. Smashed  examines the human soul while facing a controversial subject head-on.

Verdict: A humanistic and clever independent drama.