The Bronze (2016)

 

Released: March 18, 2016. Directed by: Bryan Buckley. Starring: Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole, Haley Lu Richardson. Runtime: 1hr, 40 min.

Written by Melissa Rauch (TV’s The Big Bang Theory) and her husband Winston Rauch, The Bronze appears to rely on the idea that since the 4-foot-11 sweet-natured Melissa Rauch is foul-mouthed and aggressive here, it would be so ironic that it would result in big laughs.

The thing is – it’s not funny, and the way it throws a mix of swear words together never amounts to anything hysterical. Which is disappointing, considering it is a passion project.

Rauch stars as Hope Ann Gregory, a local celebrity who brought back an Olympic bronze medal from Rome to Amherst, Ohio. But though she is from Ohio, she has an accent that’s like a bizarre Chicago and Minnesota hybrid.

She gets whatever she wants in the town – from free food to a reserved parking spot next to her favourite diner. She still always wears her Olympic Team USA tracksuit from 2004 – and after an injury ended her gymnastics career, she’s embittered that her 15 minutes of fame is way behind her.

With her life stalled, her former coach commits suicide. (I know what you’re thinking: She doesn’t commit suicide because Hope is such a b–ch, but because it’s needed to advance the plot.) She requests, in her will, that Hope coach Olympic hopeful Maggie Townsend (Haley Lu Richardson) to greatness, and if she does, she will get $500,000.

The Bronze Haley Lu

Not even Haley Lu Richardson’s smile could save this. (Source)

A problem with the film is the fact that Rauch’s Hope Ann Gregory is plainly unlikable. She’s a bratty 30-year-old misanthrope that sincerely acts like she is still 17 years old. The point of the character is for her to be unlikable – but it is never funny.

We first meet the embittered Gregory in an ode to her large ego – in her bed masturbating to the video of her bronze medal win. Her huge ego definitely surpasses her size, and also feels like an ego of a gold medalist – not a bronze medalist. She’s eventually characterized as being scared of being forgotten.

But even with that and a forced love interest, there’s never a moment where where we root for Hope. There was really only one time I liked her on a mild level, when she was teaching Maggie stage presence. She smiles a lot and she is like a different person – which might be why I liked her in that moment.

She’s hard to relate to and she’s mean to her core, a character aspect that doesn’t work for Rauch’s kind demeanor.

The character we’re rooting for is Maggie – depicted as humble and a bit unrealistically innocent. We want her to win because she seems like a genuinely nice girl. Haley Lu Richardson’s performance is super likable and bubbly as the character. Both Gary Cole, Thomas Middleditch and Sebastian Stan round out the main cast – but they can’t even save this turd.

A writing choice at the end of the film turned this from simply a bad film to a disaster for me. It felt like a last-ditch effort to make Hope more likable. Character decisions made me think that the Rauch writing pair either didn’t understand their characters or just wanted to rush the ending. Either way, it made the characters feel more like caricatures of their huge egos – or results of bad writing – than actual people we might relate to.

The Bronze bed

Melissa Rauch as a foul-mouthed, bratty bronze medalist in The Bronze. (Source)

The feature has good cinematography (kudos to the only winner here, Scott Henriksen). I liked the gymnastics of it, but we’re treated to more training scenes and not given enough cool scenes when Maggie is actually competing towards the end.

A sex scene between Rauch and Stan is overtly dark, likely to hide the super obvious Cirque du Soleil stunt doubles for Rauch, and quickly edited and a weaker aspect of the cinematography.

But the coitus feels longer than Maggie’s final display of gymnastics. It threatens to take over the rest of the film in terms of memorable raunchiness – which is saying something.

There’s a lot of raunch from the Rauch couple, but I think the only time I even chuckled was when Ben was having a bad twitch. Otherwise, I was questioning why it was billed as a comedy.

The film itself is mean-spirited overall, with Hope’s actions against everyone. But kudos to Rauch for branching out from her sitcom fame and bringing another unlikable, female antihero asshole to the big screen – as they’re so often portrayed by men. But it just isn’t funny, which is particularly disappointing.

It has none of the (slight) charm that worked for Jason Bateman’s Bad Words. I think that worked to a degree because Bateman actually has the comedic ability and sarcastic wit to believably portray a foul-mouthed, grown up spelling bee contestant.

But with The Bronze, Rauch doesn’t sell it. The language is raunchy, but it doesn’t make it funny. She isn’t believable as being foul-mouthed or aggressive – she looks too innocent. It really fails in almost every aspect and it’s a box office disaster for good reason: It sucks.

Score: 30/100

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Unfriended (2015)

UnfriendedReleased: April 17, 2015. Directed by: Levan Gabriadze. Starring: Shelley Hennig, Will Peltz, Moses Storm. Runtime: 1hr., 23 min.

Deriving inspiration from such suicides as Audri Pott and Amanda Todd, “Unfriended” uses the internet as a platform for its jump scares.

For six high school seniors, life is great – until they join a six-way Skype chat. A year ago today, a high school junior named Laura Barns shot herself on school grounds. The reason: Relentless cyberbullying after an embarrassing video of her was posted online anonymously.

On the anniversary, a mysterious force uses Laura’s Skype account to torment the teens. If they sign off, or unfriend her, there will be dire consequences.

I’ll say off the bat that the exploitative horror film uses subjects like teen suicide and bullying to portray its premise – which feels insensitive to how many people it affects.

But, I understand that horror films exploit so it’s not enough for me to boycott the film. One thing I can’t get past is the lacklustre narrative.

The only development the main antagonist gets is that it claims to be Laura’s spirit, and can make those who get tests from the dead commit suicide and reveal secrets.

Blaire finds this out when she searches ‘texts from the dead’ online and goes to Unexplained Forums – where all the information is in a tidy little package.

The spirit tries to unveil the mystery of who posted the video online, and uses information about them as ammunition to turn them against each other in creative ways.

The cast cries and freaks out a lot. The cast is decent for a film that was originally to be made-for-TV – including Jacob Wysocki from “Fat Kid Rules the World” and Will Peltz.

Blaire (Shelley Hennig, TV’s “Teen Wolf”) is a rather daft main character who’s convinced that the presence must be one of the people in the chat pulling a wicked prank.

The cast, who have to act really anxious, are helped carrying the film considerably by online messages and articles. The film has strong anxiety-heavy sequences and a sporadically unsettling tone, but nothing that terrifies.

The slack narrative doesn’t set it apart from other horror features. Its innovative mock Skype interface that’s used for the frame of the film holds a memorable aspect.

It’s told in one shot on a computer screen. It’s innovative for that reason, but moviegoers can simply watch this from the comfort of their own homes – because the characters never leave theirs.

Score: 60 out of 100

Secret in Their Eyes (2015)

Secret in Their Eyes (2015)Released: November 20, 2015. Directed by: Billy Ray. Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman. Runtime: 1hr., 51 min.

I haven’t seen the original Argentinian film “The Secret in Their Eyes (“El Secreto de sus Ojos”), but the American remake “Secret in Their Eyes” likely doesn’t do it an ounce of justice.

The film concerns Jess, portrayed with raw force by Julia Roberts, a police officer whose daughter is brutally murdered in the height of L.A. counter-terrorism following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

She seeks justice for her daughter and also wants vengeance from a suspect who was able to walk because of political mumbo jumbo that bogs down the plot to a point of frustration.

13 years later, a close friend Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) has tirelessly looked at pictures of convicted criminals all this time. Since he has gone to work for the New York Mets – I assume it’s as the director of security – he is unable to scan the photo into the computer or access face recognition technology. Though, it might have been easier to ask a cop buddy help him out.

The film is told in a needlessly confusing, non-linear flow where one can only tell the difference of the characters between 2002 and 2015 is that Dean Norris is bald in 2015, Chiwetel Ejiofor just has grey in her hair, and Julia Roberts’ Jess looks like a 50-year-old trapped in a 90-year-old’s body.

Seriously: If the point was to convey that this weight of emotional distress or focusing on something you can’t change, brings aggressive aging, they did it well. Kudos, make-up department.

As for Nicole Kidman’s Claire, you have to look at her on-screen partner to see if it’s 2002 and 2015. Nicole Kidman doesn’t seem to age… Ever.

Also bogging down the plot is melodrama between Ray and Claire’s characters – with the “will they end up together or won’t they” plot line. It seems that this is a main attribute taken from the original.

But this melodrama felt out-of-place in something that looked billed as a revenge thriller. It borrows themes from successful revenge stories – notably Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners” – but no success is emulated in this only sporadically exciting thriller.

Sure, there’s a good set piece at a Dodgers game. And the scene where Jess finds her daughter is heartbreaking. Though: I question if her taking off her gloves and holding her daughter in the dumpster tainted the crime scene. There are good performances here, but they’re just as hatefully written and poorly-crafted characters.

While I fully understand Jess’ grief, she is unlikable. She never shows any gratitude to the one man – Ray – who has been trying to find Caroline’s killer and give Jess peace for 13 long years.

Seriously, she seems angry with him. When a central character bashes on the only person not purely fighting for themselves – it truly makes it hard to root for justice.

Score: 38/100

 

P.s., My apologies for the long hiatus there. I’ve been swamped with J-school and other writing so I will try to be more active on here as the month goes along. 

Inside Out (2015)

Released: June 19, 2015. Directed by: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen. Starring: Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black. Runtime: 1 hr., 34 min.

The human mind is a complex thing to dissect. Trying to figure it out and portray it as a comprehensive subject to children, while also making it entertaining for adults seemed to pose to a challenge for Pixar with their latest film “Inside Out.”

And boy, do they do it well. It starts with a question of if we ever wonder what goes on in people’s heads. That’s a question that seems to spark the film’s premise – branching into an original and charming animated feature, where we follow 11-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) and the five primary emotions in her head.

The concept honestly portrays the ups and downs of what an 11-year-old girl’s emotions might be like at a sensitive time in her life – uprooted from her home in Minnesota to a different San Francisco.

The reasoning for the emotions, or lack thereof, is when Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and Joy (Amy Poehler) get sucked into a tube while trying to save core memories.

The tube’s purpose is to ship the day’s memories to long-term memory. Joy and Sadness have to adventure back to headquarters to make Riley happy again.

An interesting concept is that Riley’s core memories power parts of Riley’s personality – called personality islands. They include Hockey, Friendship, Family, Honesty and Goofball. With these hanging in the balance, the stakes complement the narrative with a compelling quality.

The controlling emotions left in headquarters are the hot-head Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). Disgust is so nasty, by the way, she is shaped like a piece of broccoli. Their conflicting attitudes make for some funny scenes and their not-so-delightful attitudes make Riley snippy.

I think the film adds insight to how certain emotional problems start. Since Riley is so snippy, it makes me think that’s how mood swings are triggered. And when Joy and Sadness leave, that’s how you become unlikable – or if the personality islands start to crumble and you become emotionless, that’s how you become a psychopath like Dexter.

My favourite thing created in this world was probably Dream Productions, which puts on little television shows as Riley’s dreams. It’s like her slumber Hollywood. It’s cool. Pixar’s creative new world is something you’d probably envision as a kid, because imagination is so much fun. I think that’s why this is attractive to kids, but also entertaining for adults. The beautiful poignancy at play and the film’s heartfelt narrative could sporadically offers chills, as well as tears, throughout.

The characterization in the film is also great. Riley’s natural reactions and the way she is portrayed is so realistic, she feels like someone you would know. I thought the casting for the emotions was pitch perfect, and their conflicting opinions made for awesome good-spirited humour. The film’s message of not always having to be happy to live a joyful life is also lovely.

Lewis Black’s comedic delivery is anger, and his character is like an everyday dad who reads the newspaper every morning, which has a lot of clever headlines of what’s going on in Riley’s life. Bill Hader has a delivery that suits fear; he’s that one guy who is afraid on his own shadow.

Mindy Kaling’s sarcastic delivery matches her emotion of disgust very well. Amy Poehler’s likable personality and happy-go-lucky delivery is also very entertaining. I thought Phyllis Smith was born to play Sadness, being the most convincing out of the five. The character is like a gentle aunt who wears turtlenecks. Richard Kind offers a delightful performance as Riley’s imaginary friend called Bing Bong. If a man would have played Joy, Richard’s surname certainly could have helped win him the job.

Score: 95/100

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Title: Mad Max: Fury Road. Released: May 15, 2015. Directed by: George Miller. Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult. Runtime: 2 hr.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is the fourth film in the popular Australian post-apocalyptic franchise. It’s a sort-of  reboot and a solo installment, merely referencing films previously in the franchise. It’s a re-imagining from George Miller, updated to where Max’s deceased child is a few years older than in the original.

The child actress is creepy, assisted with visuals – especially when her head flashes into a skull. If you aren’t familiar with the story of Max Rockatansky (portrayed by Tom Hardy, replacing Mel Gibson), he used to be a police officer in this post-apocalyptic world where his wife and child murdered.

George Miller simply portrayed Max’s past in the film’s prologue. It’s a time-friendly idea where we learn that the world is run by blood and oil, where Max operates on the most basic human instinct, to survive and evade the scavengers that occupy hostile territory of The Wasteland.

Max - Fury Road

Tom Hardy as Max. (Source)

Max searches for a righteous cause, which he finds after he is captured by war dogs of the ruthless leader of Citadel, Immortan Joe – portrayed by Hugh Keays-Byrne, who also starred as Toecutter in 1979’s “Mad Max.”

Joe’s a wicked villain – ruling over Citadel’s people with water, which he calls Aqua-cola. It has been in serious decline since the apocalypse, where it has turned his people into dehydrated near-humans. They have decaying skin, something a bit worse than those in “The Book of Eli.”

His motivation is to keep power over his people, which is threatened when Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a war rig driver who takes a run to Gas Town to trade Aqua-cola for guzzaline, betrays him and takes his wives with her. What ensues is an amazing series of chase sequences to get Furiosa and his most prized wives back to Citadel.

Max gets in the mix by also wanting to evade his capturers and was transfusing blood to Nicholas Hoult’s Nux, who steals a few scenes. I also thought the fact that the war dogs wanted to go to Valhalla in the hall of Asgard was a great concept.

Max’s character doesn’t seem to be strictly the Max of the ‘70s and the ‘80s, prolonging the initial chase for about a minute before toppling over and being captured; where the Max of yesteryear would have gave a bigger fight. It seems like a way to preserve time and get right into the heart of the plot. His character is interesting, being hunted by scavengers and haunted by those he couldn’t protect. They come to him in visions, which adds an intriguing quality.

Humour is added to the film occasionally – in the form of simplistic visual gags and one hell of an awesome guitar player called the Doof Warrior (portrayed by musician iOTA), shredding a fully operational flame-throwing guitar on an 8-wheeler, while sporting a red onesie. Suffice to say, the character design is so creative. The score is also super fun.

Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa. (Source)

Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa. (Source)

Even though Max’s name is on the film, Theron’s Furiosa absolutely rules this movie. She’s defiant, independent, and mercilessly bad-ass.

Her intentions are noble – to search for redemption, as well as bring hope and a brighter future to the wives in Citadel that haven’t seen a good life. Their hope takes form in where they’re going, a place called the Green Place.

Furiosa’s an empowering female character and her relationships with the wives and between the wives – including actresses Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Zoe Kravitz and Riley Keough – adds a heartwarming quality that has been absent from the “Mad Max” franchise. Furiosa’s character occasionally reaches poignancy, which is effective for a film with limited dialogue.

That’s because the sole focus of “Fury Road” is being one gigantic car chase, and it’s a cinematic, visually pleasing spectacle, where by the end of the chase, people rarely end up on the same vehicle they started on.

There’s about 15 minutes where someone isn’t in a car and there’s rarely a time to rest from the non-stop action, as even when the rig needs to take a break, the oncoming enemy convoy just makes the need to keep going more urgent.

Some may be turned off by the fact that there isn’t a ton of dialogue. The storyboard and action sequences were created before the screenplay, and then it seems the writers figured out the logistics. But the stunts are magnificent and the narrative is compelling. It’s creative and the ride is pure madness, and Miller’s universe immerses.

4 stars

The Lazarus Effect (2015)

Released Feb. 27, 2015. Directed by David Gelb. Written by Luke Dawson, Jeremy Slater. 1hr., 23 min.

With rushed execution, The Lazarus Effect has a premise taken from Biblical origin that intrigues but an execution and narrative that bores.

Zoe, a sometimes creepy Olivia Wilde, and Frank, Mark Duplass, are the head of an experimental scientific team that originally specialized in studying neurological patterns in coma patients. It quickly turned into an experiment where they revive deceased animals just to perfect a formula that could be a revolutionary innovation for healthcare professionals that could give them more time to bring someone back to life.

It’s an underground formula where they’re experimenting using a government-approved grant, but they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be. It heightens aggression and make animals display bizarre behaviour when they’ve been brought back. In an extreme situation, they bring Zoe back to life out of Frank’s undying love for her.

In its winning horror premise, it’s great on paper. In its execution, it truly doesn’t make a lick of sense. Zoe’s brought back and she starts displaying even stranger behavior than the dogs that have been brought back. She has heightened senses and powers that could be cool enough for a super hero flick – but things quickly go awry.

Donald Glover as Niko. (Source)

Donald Glover as Niko. (Source)

There are ideas of what might lie after death and that’s an interesting aspect of the film, but where Zoe was is only vaguely touched on. The screenplay is predictable in its occurrences and way too rushed for its own good. There are some scenes that are almost good, but way too many that will just leave you scratching your head.

The character with the strongest characterization is the central anti-hero, Zoe. She has these horrible memories that constantly haunt her, which adds something remotely interesting to the narrative.

Something silly in the film is the utilization of an opera song that is meant to instil fear and anxiety in viewers, but just ends up being quite laughable. The film just isn’t scary in the traditional sense, but is alright at building tension. It’s just far too quickly forgettable for its strong cast also including Donald Glover and Evan Peters, playing far too basic characters. Sarah Bolger’s performance is mildly enjoyable, though, and Olivia Wilde a bit too unconvincing.

One good thing that came out of the project is the fact that it at least isn’t filmed in found footage. There is a documenter present, character Eva portrayed by Sarah Bolger, and since the premise did seem promising enough; it was able to get enough funding to warrant a strong production quality. For a demonic flick, it’s one of the more creative premises to come out of the sub-genre, but the god-awful execution can’t save it.

1 star

Run All Night (2015)

Released March 13, 2015. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. Starring Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman. Written by Brad Ingelsby. 1hr., 54 min.

Vengeance and a father’s love pair up on a long December night

Featuring a visually pleasing style and packing a surprisingly emotional punch, Run All Night will please anyone looking for a concise narrative that happens over one long night.

Fate pits best friends Jimmy Conlon, portrayed by Liam Neeson, and Shawn Maguire, Ed Harris, against each other in a deadly situation when Jimmy is forced to kill Shawn’s son to protect his own kin. Maguire’s son Danny, the up-and-coming supporting star Boyd Holbrook (A Walk Among the Tombstones), kills a pair of Albanians in a local gang after he tries to bring drugs to the family business. The entire situation is a product of Danny’s insolence and need for independence – to handle a problem on his own, like his father suggested. Surely, this is not what he meant.

His father is a legitimate business man, also known as a New York mafia boss, who won’t bring drugs back to his city after he had a bad experience amongst his workers once before. Michael, portrayed by RoboCop’s Joel Kinnaman, comes into this when he drove the to-be-murdered Albanians to Danny’s home. He is a limousine driver and family man, with a seriously estranged relationship with his own father – a former hitman for Shawn Maguire.

Now Jimmy is retired, but his nightmares of those he has killed have not rested. He’s drunk and tattered, playing the flawed hero he seems to play at least once a year nowadays, notably in 2014’s Non-Stop and A Walk Among the Tombstones.

Common as Andrew Price. (Source)

Common as Andrew Price. (Source)

Hey, if it works, it works. It feels even more familiar here, however, since this has such a similar style to Non-Stop, which director Jaume Collet-Serra also helmed. It has a different framing – New York circa Christmas time, but it’s about as much of a Christmas flick as Die Hard. There’s also a prominent NHL game in play throughout – the New York Rangers versus the New Jersey Devils, perhaps to display the city’s culture. It later works cleverly into the screenplay, which is written by Brad Ingelsby, writer of 2013’s Out of the Furnace. Similar settings, scenes and tone make this more familiar.

Run All Night isn’t memorable because of its originality, but because of its emotionally interesting narrative. Jimmy will largely do anything to protect Michael and that shows a father’s love for his son, even if they don’t know each other well. However, Michael’s bitterness towards his father becomes so sporadically extreme, that the character is sometimes too unlikable.

Liam Neeson as Jimmy Conlon. (Source)

Liam Neeson as Jimmy Conlon. (Source)

During the quicker action scenes, the editing becomes hectic. That’s one of the weaker technical aspects of the film; but the redeeming cinematography is smooth.  The action scenes work because they are fun and have personality. But there are scenes that don’t work – like uninspired bouts of ruthlessness just so it can show that these characters can be brutal. Or a bathroom brawl for lack of realism, since they make a lot of noise – and how does no one hear the commotion in the commode in a crowded subway station?

A fun antagonist includes a hitman portrayed the Oscar-winning Common. He’s called to be robotic and calculated as Andrew Price, but ends up being the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of assassins, particularly when he’s called to put on his nice guy act, and then he becomes monstrous. Vincent D’Onofrio portrays Detective Harding, an antagonizing, prejudiced officer who has been gunning for Jimmy “Gravedigger” Conlon for years. His assumptions of Jimmy and his son are sometimes downright mean.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra does bring his best action film yet to the table. He expertly deals with themes of regrets in life through Conlon, largely signified through a repeated line with former bestie Maguire, “Wherever we’re going, when we cross that line, we’re going together.” It’s fascinating that a family member’s death because of intense circumstances can cause him to be so vengeful, but the way that writer Ingelsby doesn’t delve into it well enough causes him to be more basic than he could have been. Collet-Serra handles the emotions well and builds great tension throughout.

3 stars