Race (2016)

Released: February 19, 2016. Directed by Stephen Hopkins. Starring Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Eli Goree. Runtime: 2 hr 14 min.

Taking on a dual meaning title, Race follows the awe-inspiring story of Jesse Owens gearing up towards his stint at the 1936 Olympics in a Germany under the start of the Hitler regime.

Stephan James (Selma) stars as the pride and joy of Ohio State, Jesse Owens, bringing charm to a legendary figure who wasn’t given enough credit for his achievements at the Olympics because of the time it happened.

Heck, it took him long enough to get the first theatrical film about Owens – about 80 years. Owens did have his own film back in 1984, however, in the form of a made-for-television production called The Jesse Owens Story. But are TV productions real movies? That’s debatable.

Anyway, James captures emotion of the time for a person of colour not having the rights of any white people. He’s great depicting the athleticism and astounding agility of the character. I enjoyed seeing the chemistry between him and Shanice Banton’s Ruth Solomon, as well.

He can take a stand by going to the Olympics in Germany and making a stand for the African American folks, as well as the severely repressed Jewish people, during a time that was just the start of Hitler’s regime.

Race1

Stephan James as Jesse Owens doing the long jump. (Source

With all of its other focuses, this is still very much a sports film, as we’re brought through Owens’ training by star Larry Snyder, portrayed with utmost kindness by Jason Sudeikis.

The feature is also at its best when we go with Owens to the Olympics. This isn’t a spoiler if you know of Owens’ prestige. It’s rousing and inspiring cheering him on.

But the line between sport and politics blur so much that it takes away from Owens’ story at times. It’s like Owens’ story is just used as a frame for a story that is largely about the United States Olympic Committee and how they were able to convince the Germans to allow African Americans and Jews to compete.

Jeremy Irons’ Avery Brundage represents the interest to have Americans compete at the Olympic Games. William Hurt’s Jeremiah Mahoney represented the opposing opinion of boycotting the Olympics for the year – because of the intense segregation.

Joseph Goebbels is portrayed by Barnaby Metschurat. The character is just rather mean, but that’s expected for Goebbels. He’s the political heart on the side of the Germans, as the Minister of Propaganda at the time.

While promoting the Aryan race, he also suppresses documentary filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (portrayed by Carice van Houten). He wishes her to make a film which reflects the views of the German government – while she has to stick it to the man and wants to focus on the success of Owens.

It’s frustrating, but that’s what the filmmakers go for – to frustrate the audience. And later in the film show that, even through so much glory, there will always be discrimination.

The story is almost drowned completely by the politics, and is often in danger of being a political drama.

But the scenes at the Olympics and the inspiring road there make up for it and while the film isn’t as great as Owens’ achievements, it would still deserve a bronze medal. That’s still a winner, right?

Stephen Hopkins (Lost in Space, A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warrior) directs the races with precision and it makes the film entertaining in that respect. The cinematography is stellar in these scenes, the director of photography is Peter Levy who often works with Hopkins, and is still interesting during the more chatty sequences.

The best part of the film is especially James’ performance. He’s inspiring how he captures optimism through a dark time. Hopefully this kick-starts James’ career the same way 42, a sports biography about fellow race pioneer Jackie Robinson, did for Chadwick Boseman.

James depicts the athlete’s dedication to his coach realistically. The chemistry there really works – and captures how lovely the relationship between a coach and a mentor can be.

Score: 65/100

 

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We’re the Millers (2013)

We're the MillersReleased: August 7, 2013. Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber. Stars: Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Will Poulter. Runtime: 110 min.

The opening scene of “We’re the Millers” made me anxious for the movie I was about to see. It opens with some of the most popular YouTube videos of the last few years. It’s somewhat lazy and quite random, so I wasn’t sure if I was about to see a haphazardly-edited, lazy movie. The idea of showing some of the funniest/most popular YouTube videos (“Double Rainbow,” “Surprised Kitty”) is clever, and a great way to get the audience laughing early. It’s clever since it’s not done a lot, and one would think an idea so simple would show up more. The movie is more clever than lazy.

The story follows a small-time veteran drug dealer David Clark (Jason Sudeikis) who finds himself in a tough spot. He gets mugged by three punks who steal his stash (worth $43,000). It’s almost a fool-proof crime. One can’t go to a police officer with a thing like “Some guys stole my weed that’s enough to put me in jail for a long time.” His supplier, Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms), tells him to go to Mexico to get a smidgeon and a half of weed and smuggle it back across the U.S. border. If he does so, he’ll get some money and they’d be even. This job is out of David’s league, and he can’t do it easily because he looks like a drug dealer.

He hires a stripper (Rose, played by Jennifer Aniston), a virgin (Kenny, played by Will Poulter), and a runaway (Casey, played by Emma Roberts) to be his fake family, because no one expects any funny business from families. Sounds easy, right? They’ll have to deal with a few antagonists along the way, because otherwise, the funny ride would be too short.

All of the members of the Miller “family” get their chance to shine, with Sudeikis being the funniest; Aniston being the sexiest. I’m liking Sudeikis more and more in bigger roles. Aniston’s roles have been getting edgy and vulgar, so I can’t wait to see what she does next, even if she isn’t as funny as she is in “Horrible Bosses.” Sexier, yes, but not as awesome. I’d like to see more of Will Poulter. He steals more than a few scenes – as he’s the one needing a family foundation the most. I love how Emma Roberts seems to be trying to shed her goody-two-shoes reputation, and she has successfully done so with her vulgarity – but it’s mostly thanks to a different, crazy role prior to this film. You’ll know it when you see it. All I know, she’s a great young actress.

There’s a host of funny characters throughout. Ed Helms’ Brad Gurdlinger is that one psychopath is an office building who could snap at any moment. (With a white ass name like Brad Gurlinger, I’d probably snap, too.) But he’s the big-time supplier who runs his business out of a big building that could be a more orthodox corporate business. And oh, he’s a big ole nerdy schmuck who has, indeed, killed people.

We're the Millers1The Millers also meet the Fitzgerald family, who’s actually a legitimate vacationing family, led by the always chuckle-worthy Nick Offerman (TV’s “Parks and Recreation,”) and Kathryn Hahn (“Step Brothers”). They come in for some of the funniest scenes, where director Rawson Marshall Thurber (“Dodgeball”) gets to show some of his great skills and ability to get big laughs out of the audience. The actors also help out a lot by having the great timing that they do. And he directs a glorious stripping scene for Aniston, and what a scene it is. (For a movie that has many scenes set in a strip club, there’s a surprisingly low amount of nudity. Though, not many of us are expecting Aniston to get fully nude.)

With comedies, one must ask, “Is it funny?” Hell yeah, “We’re the Millers” is hilarious, with its amusing references and great homages. (The TLC homage to “Waterfalls” gets big laughs.) Another question that will probably weigh on peoples’ minds is, “How original is it?” This movie doesn’t strive on originality. It’s familiar and a lot like every other road trip movie. It’s also the most predictable movie of the summer, outside of “The Heat.” But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a good time. The comedy has a fine comedic momentum. There’s one part in the third act where there wasn’t a big laugh for ten minutes (which comes around the 90-minute mark), but it finds its funny way about it again sooner than later. And the fact that it does have consistent laughs for the first 90 minutes is pretty damn good.

There’s a scene at the beginning where one of David’s old college buddies shows up (Thomas Lennon, who seems to be everywhere), and admits his envy for David’s bachelor, drug dealing life, since he has a wife and kids. In a predictable movie like this, I don’t think I have to tell you the purpose of this nice scene.

There are sentimental and nice scenes (sort-of like that) throughout the movie, between lots of dick jokes, but unlike “Identity Thief,” most ring true. And also unlike “Identity Thief,” you care about these characters. (This almost makes me sad that I gave “Identity Thief” such a high score – 72, to be exact; I watched it once more and it felt more like a 63.) “We’re the Millers” utilizes its simple road trip premise much better than most would think, and produces a hilarious ride.

Score75/100

Movie 43 (2013)

Movie 43Movie 43

Release Date: January 25, 2013

Directors: Elizabeth Banks, Steven Brill, Peter Farrelly (and 10 others)

Stars: Liev Schreiber, Emma, Stone, Richard Gere

Runtime: 94 min

I just watched a version online, and I believe it was the version released in the U.K.; it’s an alternate plot to the U.S. version that doesn’t have Dennis Quaid pitching crazy ideas to a studio. I was not going to spend money on this.

Movie 43 is a haphazardly edited sketch comedy that stars as many A-list actors (including Emma Stone, Richard Gere, Kate Bosworth, Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Justin Long, Kristen Bell, and Elizabeth Banks, to name a few) as the filmmakers could convince that this movie would be lots of fun to make. Charles Wessler achieves his vision: A satire that brings up common issues in the most offensive of ways, and it is the most outrageous comedy ever made.

But it is also one awful movie. If only his passion project (an idea that he’s had for over a decade) wasn’t so silly. Saturday Night Live has okay sketches, good sketches and those rare great sketches. This, however, has awful sketches, bad sketches, and just tolerable, but kind-of funny sketches. Even if you do laugh at some points, it doesn’t stop this from being one bad, bad film. This is still sort-of imaginative and quite original, and unlike anything you’ve seen at the movie theatre before. It’s one of those times where too many cooks in the kitchen (13 directors, a huge cast, 30 writers) really spoils the broth. Apparently, it takes thirteen directors, 102 credited cast members and thirty writers to make a really bad film.

The plot follows three adolescent boys who are searching the depths of the internet for Movie 43, the world’s most banned feature. The two older teens who tell a younger brother, the incredibly irritating Baxter who looks like he’s really ten years old, about Movie 43 are really just making it up because they want some April Fool’s revenge. Little do they know is that the video could very well end the world, somehow.

That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, nor is it explained. It’s completely random and idiotic. This backstory manages to be worse than some of the comedy sketches, to a point where you might actually want to see another bad sketch. This is because the actors in the background story have little to no charisma, and they’re increasingly annoying and bland.

While the idea of sketch comedies in movies is fairly new, this is still trash. The plot is almost as disorganized as every spoof movie out there. If this is compared to Scary Movie 5, this might as well be an Oscar contender. This is definitely not for the easily offended. The humour is thoroughly crude, offensive, absurd, violent, vulgar, inane, insane, sophomoric and rarely funny; but it’s ironic that I’ve seen a lot more nudity in less offensive films. So… Humour that will offend almost the entire world is okay, but extreme nudity is off the table? Hmm.

Out of the movie’s thirteen comedy sketches, there are thirteen stupid and fairly offensive ones. The one with Terrence Howard is hardly funny at all. The sketch showing that people get much too angry with machines and it upsets the kids inside the machines is incredibly stupid, but it’s creative. There are arguably five tolerable ones, but there are none that provide consistent laughs. The ‘Super Hero Dating’ segment with Jason Sudeikis and Justin Long has a few solid jokes, and it’s an imaginative look into the culture of super hero impersonators. It’s the movie’s strongest segment (even if it’s hardly great). The ‘Happy Birthday’ segment with Seann William Scott and Johnny Knoxville also has some good laughs (albeit forgettable), but it is one of the movie’s more violent and vulgar segments. The ‘Truth or Dare’ segment starring Stephen Merchant and Halle Berry is funny in the beginning, but it progressively gets worse until it falls on its face. Suffice to say, the ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘Super Hero Dating’ sketches are my favourite, and they are somewhat entertaining.

SPOILERS FOLLOW IN THIS FUNNY PARAGRAPH, I briefly describe the film’s worst three sketches. It seems as if the movie is designed to have the worst three sketches at the beginning of the film. The first sketch has Hugh Jackman sporting a pair of testicles under his chin and it is unfunny and unwatchable. It’s a one-joke sketch where it seems as if Kate Winslet’s character is the only one to notice the prominent nuts. Though, it does show that society cannot help but judge someone for the way they look. The second sketch features Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts homeschooling their child and mercilessly bullying him to a point where he will definitely need to be institutionalized. The third sketch features Anna Farris requesting Chris Pratt to poop on her (you read that right) because it’s apparently a big step in a relationship. Apparently, it’s okay to poop on women, but it’s frowned upon to sh*t on them. Because if you shit on a gal, it’s deemed very offensive. (Read the next part very sarcastically.) Wow. This is the world of my dreams. I’ve always wanted to live in a world where the norm is to poop on women and have a pair of testicles dangling under my chin. Oh, someone, take me there! I can’t take this society where women bitch about me even farting in their general direction! END OF SPOILERS.

Alas, this movie is awful. (But, I am able to use the word ‘alas’ in one of my reviews.) I’ve seen much worse, but it’s really, really, really, stupid. The laughs are forgettable; but it’s the disturbing sketches that are unforgettable. Much to my dismay, this stuff kind-of just sticks with you… Forever.

30/100

The Campaign (2012)

The CampaignThe Campaign

Release Date: August 10, 2012

Director: Jay Roach

Stars: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis

Runtime: 85 min

Tagline: May the best loser win

After Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) accidentally dials the wrong number and leaves a sexual message on a stranger’s answering machine, his local likeability plummets. Two CEOs, Glenn (John Lithgow) and Wade (Dan Aykroyd) Motch, see this an opportunity to oust the long-term candidate and gain further influence on this North Carolina district. Brady, a man who usually runs unopposed, meets his biggest match yet: the extremely naive and all-too-kind Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis).

 
This is a decent political satire. It may be offensive to some – but it was usually very funny. However, the humour can get very obnoxious. The character of Cam Brady gets a little lame, as all he really cares about is sex and power. Granted, what else can you really expect from a Will Ferrell character? Usually, his characters are funny – but the writing just makes him come off as rude and, worst of all, usually unfunny. However, he does have his moments, and when those come, they’re pretty awesome – because we’re seeing Ferrell shine again. Brady’s campaign advisor, Mitch (Jason Sudeikis), is also rather unfunny. The only really funny characters are Marty Huggins, sometimes Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) and Mrs. Yao (Karen Maruyama), Raymond Huggins’ Asian maid who gets paid extra to talk in a 1960’s black maid voice.

 
While only half the characters are usually funny, the plot isn’t all that amazing. It’s decent, but the political battles are pretty boring. Also, Marty’s change of attitude starts to get irritating after a while – since his life and his family life gets enveloped by the campaign. He doesn’t have much time for his family any more, and he starts to act a bit like the obnoxious Brady. That’s isn’t good, as I have not subtly expressed my dislike of Brady. He is most likeable when he’s enjoying life with his family. Especially near the beginning, one of the funniest scenes is the Huggins’ dinner table confessions. After that, it resorts to a few lame jokes like punching a baby in the face. That scene may have been more effective if they hadn’t shown it in the trailer, because it would have added to the comedy shock factor. It got to a point of tastelessness because it was done in a slow-motion, boxing fashion. However, when a dog gets punched by Brady – that’s hilarious. Does that mean I’m a dog hater? No, that punch was simply done much better because it wasn’t as overdone.

 
The idea of two great comedians – Will Ferrell (who has brought us classic characters like Ricky Bobby and Ron Burgundy) and Zach Galifianakis (more commonly known as Alan from The Hangover because his last name is just so bothersome to spell) – working together on a rude comedy like this is so much better than the end product. And (partly) because of this, the film is not satisfying enough. The Campaign turns out to be a usually funny, but sometimes boring and lame, political satire. There are some scenes that make it worth the watch, but mostly, it’s nothing to recommend wholeheartedly. Regardless of all that, you all better vote Marty Huggins so Chinese factories can be kept out of North Carolina!

60/100