“Ted” (2012) Review

This has happened to all of us at least once. You’re a little kid having fun with your friends on the playground then out of nowhere, another kid shows up and does something incredibly stupid like throw your tennis ball on the roof or pee into the sandbox. And when you all begin to hurl insults at this kid for his lack of intelligence or intuition or appreciation for Emilio Estevez (that’s something you can be teased about right?), he kind of just shrugs and goes, “Yeah, so what?” No matter how many times you tell this kid he’s an idiot, he stands there unfazed with a goofy grin.

Some men just want to watch the world burn.

Ted is that kid. It’s stupid, but it knows it and it flaunts it. It’s self-aware to the point that much of the criticism it deserves is rendered completely futile. Ted knows it has a bizarre premise and makes sure to address this numerous times. It’s not uncommon for the characters to stand back and comment on the ridiculousness of the scenes they’re in. Even some of the more trivial shortcomings of the film are defused by acknowledging their existence, such as the fact that its titular character (voiced by director Seth MacFarlane) sounds like he’s doing a bad Peter Griffin impression. It’s because he is. Like that dopey kid on the playground, you can’t really beat down a movie like Ted because it will just turn around and say, “Yeah, but it’s a movie about a teddy bear that comes to life. Were you expecting Citizen Kane?”

“Rosebud!”

While Ted‘s self-awareness certainly leads to some humourous moments and takes the edge off of some of the more groan-worthy jokes, it doesn’t change the fact that the movie falls short. Watching Ted feels a lot like watching a 100-minute uncensored episode of Family Guy, MacFarlane’s animated television show (just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last 10 years and didn’t already know that). This is both the best and worst thing about the movie. We’re treated to most of the same conventions: a blend of clever and idiotic jokes, obscure pop culture references milked for everything they’re worth, numerous celebrity cameos, a supporting cast of characters who are each built entirely on one gimmick, something that shouldn’t talk but does, and at the centre of it all is a dumb yet benevolent manchild (played surprisingly well by Mark Wahlberg in this film). Several Family Guy regulars also appear including Mila Kunis, Alex Borstein, Patrick Warburton, and Walter Murphy resumes his role as composer. Even the self-aware tone of Ted is borrowed from Family Guy. This is everything we’ve come to know and love about the show and now we get to experience it all on the big screen without that pesky FCC ruining everyone’s fun.

But that’s also the problem with Ted.  Sure it’s incredibly funny and enjoyable, but it isn’t given a chance to be anything more than that. I truly feel that MacFarlane had a chance to prove his versatility with this film, but instead opted to give the audience exactly what they expected. A massive selling point of Ted is that it’s the first motion picture from the creator of an acclaimed television series. The naive part of me was wishing for MacFarlane to take this hyped-up opportunity to break out into a new medium and make something completely different and original, but like American Dad! and The Cleveland Show, he just gives us more of the same. It’s quite disappointing.

While Ted may be able to deflect a lot of its criticisms with “It’s stupid, so what?” it also runs the risk of undercutting much of its praise simply because it is a rehash of stuff we’ve already seen done better. It’s funny, so what?

I give it 3/5.

“The Amazing Spider-man” (2012) Review

I don’t typically start reviews by bluntly stating my opinion, but I feel that in the case of Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-man, no amount of flowery adjectives and complex rhetoric can accurately capture my feelings more than just flat-out stating “good God, this movie is a mess.”

I’m usually the first to defend a Spider-man movie. I’m a huge fan of Sam Raimi’s trilogy starring Tobey Maguire. It’s action-packed and highly character driven without taking itself too seriously. And yes, I know that Raimi’s Spider-man films have gained infamy for their silly moments (or in the case of Spider-man 3, silly hours), but I still feel like they did the character justice and offer everything you would want from a comic book movie. Plus Bruce Campbell’s in them, which is icing on the cake.

Awesome, manly icing of badassery … and chin.

Even with all my admiration for the previous films, I find myself hard pressed to come up with anything in this movie that really works.  If I were to describe Amazing Spider-man in a word, it would be contrived. There’s a feeling of artificiality that plagues the whole film with plot developments and character attributes being forced on the audience simply because they move the story along. While the film does a good job building up to Spider-man (Andrew Garfield), his ultimate transition to superhero is abrupt and awkward. Everyone knows by now that it’s the murder of Uncle Ben that drives Peter Parker to a life of crimefighting, which initially manifests itself in donning a mask and hunting the killer, but the whole superhero angle comes off as an obligatory afterthought. The journey from Peter to Spider-man simply feels like going through the motions. He adopts this attitude of “this is what superheros do, so I guess I have to do it too.” There’s one especially frustrating scene where he’s sitting on the bleachers with his girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and basically shrugs and goes “I suppose I have to go protect innocent people now.” It could not be any more disingenuous and fake.

Speaking of fake, I need to talk about the Lizard (Rhys Ifans) for a moment. He’s your stereotypical “villain with a God complex” and though a bit dull and predictable, he proves to be a competent adversary for Spidey. However, he looks pretty silly. It’s to the point that his character design and CGI effects actually undermine his ability to pose a threat. I know that the Spider-man films aren’t exactly held in high regard when it comes to designing their antagonists, but after a Green Goblin that looks like a Power Ranger and a Venom that looks like Topher Grace, you think they would’ve learned by now. It’s hard to take a villain seriously when he looks like the goofy cousin of  Toad from the Super Mario Bros. movie.

“Duuuuuuuuuuuuuhhh!”

I also found the relationship between Peter and Gwen to be very forced and surreal. It’s as if the filmmakers took for granted the audience’s expectations that Peter and Gwen would get together and therefore put no thought into the development of their relationship. The movie establishes that Peter has the hots for Gwen and Gwen at the very least respects Peter, but when he finally asks her out, it’s awkward and comes completely out of left field, and she practically leaps at the chance to date him despite no previous indication that she had any interest. Their dynamic as a couple is anything but natural. One minute Gwen’s horrified by Peter’s wounds from a run in with the Lizard and the next, they’re joking around and making out. One minute they’re having a serious talk about the implications of being a superhero then out of nowhere, Peter blurts out, “I like kissing you.” Their whole relationship plays out like a scene from The Room, but without the humour of  knowing they genuinely tried to get an emotional response from the audience.

“I should fight crime. Anyway, how is your sex life?”

What disappointed me the most about Amazing Spider-man, however, is that it seems like they kind of missed the point of the titular character. At best, Spider-man is inconsistent. At worst, he’s an insufferable little snot. One thing that I always appreciated about Raimi’s films is Peter’s inherent goodness and selflessness. His personal life suffers dramatically because of his higher calling as a superhero and he struggles with the temptation to just do as he pleases, but that famous theme of great responsibility accompanying great power remains consistent throughout the whole trilogy. This is who Spider-man is supposed to be. People often make fun of Maguire for portraying Spidey as a meek little crybaby, but at least he captures the moral essence of the character.

Besides, only real men cry tears.

They try to establish the Peter of this film in a similar way by showing him sticking up for his bullied peers at the beginning of the film. Even when he gets the ever-loving tar kicked out of him, he doesn’t shy away from doing the right thing and the audiences knows this is a superhero in the making. Then it just disappears. Like any Spider-man origin story, when Peter first gets his powers, he gets a little corrupted and tries to capitalize on his newly-acquired abilities. Then dear Uncle Ben is killed by a thief that Peter could’ve easily apprehended earlier, but refused because he was too proud. In most cases, Peter is devastatingly humbled by this realization and through his own guilt, he learns of his responsibility to protect the innocent even if it means sacrificing his own pleasure.

This doesn’t happen in Amazing Spider-man. Peter refuses to stop a convenience store robbery, which results in Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) getting killed when he attempts to stop the thief, but the way in which the scene plays out ends up crippling Peter’s ability to develop properly into Spider-man. In most other Spidey origin stories, Peter is not present when Uncle Ben is killed and he flies into a vengeful rage when he finds out. It’s only when he finally tracks down the criminal that Peter realizes the murder was indirectly his own fault and he experiences the emotions necessary to put him on the path towards becoming a superhero. In Amazing Spider-man, Peter witnesses the murder and his immediate desire for revenge overpowers those essential feelings of remorse and accountability. To make matters worse (MINOR SPOILER) Peter never ends up finding Ben’s killer, so there’s no closure and he can’t move on. As mentioned earlier, he ends up becoming Spider-man kind of inadvertently and once he takes up the superhero mantle, he’s still driven largely by personal reasons rather than a responsibility for the safety of his fellow man. Sure, he saves the occasional innocent bystander if it’s convenient for the plot, but this Spider-man is not about protecting the innocent. He’s just out to take care of his own problems so he can feel better. Because he’s driven by selfish reasons, Spidey becomes a selfish character, who seemingly puts more people in danger than out. For example, a key reason why Spider-man keeps his identity secret is so he can protect his loved ones from his enemies. It’s noble, it’s selfless, and it’s what a superhero would do. In this movie, however, Spider-man carelessly reveals his identity to pretty much everyone under the sun, completely unaware of the dangerous burden he’s placed on them. He only hides behind a mask to protect himself because after all, Spider-man only exists in this movie so that Peter Parker can sleep better at night.

Sweet dreams, jerk!

You’re probably wondering if there’s anything I actually enjoyed about this movie. There are a few things. I really liked the action scenes. They’re well-filmed and the choreography is remarkable. With the exception of the unholy offspring of the Rancor and Barney the Dinosaur that is the Lizard, I thought the visual effects were stunning as well. The acting is quite decent. I found Andrew Garfield to be pretty awkward at times, but everyone else does a good job. I especially commend Martin Sheen and Denis Leary for their portrayals of Uncle Ben and Captain Stacy respectively. Both characters are far more fleshed out than their previous film incarnations – most notably Ben, who died in Raimi’s trilogy before my Yogen Fruz melted – and both actors rise to the occasion. Unfortunately, this isn’t enough to compensate for all the film’s weaknesses.

The Amazing Spider-man misses its mark on so many levels. It’s like they were so desperate to get from point A to B, they didn’t put any thought into what happens in between. So much of what goes on in this film feels shoehorned in and the pacing leaves much to be desired. The film can’t decide how to handle its titular character and ends up making him a self-centered turd, who only lifts a finger for others when the script calls for it. The supporting cast, while enjoyable, are ultimately reduced to a bunch of Yes Men, who exist to keep reminding the audience that Spider-man is in fact the good guy because the film does such a poor job of showing us. When a superhero movie has to resort to this, it has failed.

I give it 2.5/5.

“Rock of Ages” (2012) Review

Unfortunately, I missed the 80s by a hair, but thanks to period pieces like Rock of Ages, I now have highly accurate insight into the hustle and bustle that was life in 1987 Los Angeles. I had no idea that Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory” and Extreme’s “More Than Words” were huge hits back then despite neither song being released until the 90s. Or that behind the Hollywood sign was the “it” place to take a girl on a date, completely ignoring the fact that besides the Moon, the Hollywood sign is the most common place for supervillains to hide their secret lairs. Who knew that many of the decade’s biggest hits were in fact written and recorded by Tom Cruise? Though I wouldn’t put it past a man who can also fly and eat planets.

Do NOT underestimate this man’s powers.

All kidding aside, Rock of Ages is incredibly entertaining with an energetic cast, some memorable laughs, and a soundtrack that somehow managed to not instantly spark Nam-level flashbacks of the one time I watched Glee. The acting, while over-the-top, is consistently enthusiastic with extra credit going to Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, and Russell Brand for their hilarious performances.  The musical numbers, which are largely popular rock songs from the 80s, are big and enjoyable, despite being highly manufactured covers performed mostly by non-singers.

Oh great, now I’m having that flashback.

But for all its entertainment value, Rock of Ages struggles with major fundamental flaws. As most of you already know, it’s based on the Tony-nominated stage musical of the same name. As much as I don’t want this review to be a comparison of the film to its stage counterpart, I don’t think you can effectively talk about the problems with Rock of Ages without discussing the problems of its source material.

I saw Rock of Ages on stage a couple of months ago in Vancouver and while I commend it for the same energy and humour I commend the film for, I didn’t feel like it worked. In my experience, I’ve noted the existence of two types of musicals. The first is a story with original numbers tailored specifically to compliment it. The songs exist for the sole purpose of making the story stronger, notable examples are in the bajillions, but think Oliver, Wicked, Little Shop of Horrors, etc. The second type of musical takes an already existing list of songs and attempts to craft a story around them. Sometimes these two elements are very compatible as is the case in musicals such as Mamma Mia. Other times the result is a weak, disjointed plot that awkwardly tries to accommodate a plethora of unrelated songs, forcibly altering many of their meanings and contexts in the process. Rock of Ages is an example of the latter case. Sure, the music is great, but everything in between is almost unwatchable.

Replace “music” with “action” and I just reviewed Spider-man 3.

Basically, because Rock of Ages doesn’t work as a musical, it doesn’t work as a film either. Yes, the film does make some improvements, most notably cutting back significantly on the number of songs in its soundtrack. This allows for less characters, more development of the remaining characters, and an overall more simplified plot, which has its upsides. Rocker Stacee Jaxx (Cruise), for example, gets a total facelift from being an unlikeable, one-dimensional minor character in the play to being a large focus of the film with more dialogue, in-depth exposition, and some redeeming qualities. He turns out to be a highlight of the film. There’s also more room to experiment with the antagonists, which I found interesting. Unfortunately, these changes don’t amount to much for the film doesn’t correct or even address the basic problems with the musical. The story continues to take a backseat to the musical numbers, which still feel awkwardly shoe-horned in much of the time. The stage version is actually very self-aware and tongue-in-cheek, often breaking the fourth wall and making constant meta jokes. This partially compensates for the weak, convoluted relationship between the plot and the songs it accommodates because the cast is basically throwing up their hands and saying, “We know it’s messed up too.” The film, on the other hand, plays the whole thing pretty straight, which makes the song/story incompatibility even more glaring.

The film also adopts the pacing of a stage musical, which leads to some problems. It’s a whirlwind of actions and events that often have little build-up or resolution. It’s forgivable on stage because it’s a small group of people confined to a few hundred square feet and the audience has to use their imagination a little bit. On film, however, there exists the resources to show the audience everything they need to see. Unfortunately, Rock of Ages doesn’t do a good enough job with this. As a result, a lot of what occurs in the film seems to come out of nowhere, feels rushed when it arrives, and then leaves without being followed up on. The film also can’t seem to decide at times whether or not it is a musical. What I mean by this is there’s an inconsistency as to whether this is a world where everyone randomly breaks into song and then goes back to their daily lives without so much as a blink or if these big musical numbers are infrequent occurrences and something to be marveled at. Sometimes, the characters do a song like it’s just another day at the office and other times they’ll go into this huge, energetic number and at the end, all have this look on their faces like “Holy crap, did we all really just do that?”

Rock of Ages is fast-paced, energized, and worth a few good laughs, which overall makes it a very fun film, but anything beyond that falls flat. Rock of Ages is already an incredibly flawed stage musical and while the film makes some positive changes, it ultimately just draws more attention to already-existing problems. It doesn’t work on stage and it doesn’t work on film.

It gets 2.5/5.

PS. No review next week for I will be away on holidays. Check-in around July 5th, for my review of The Amazing Spider-man.

“Prometheus” (2012) Review

I didn’t understand the hype that surrounded Prometheus. I know it’s supposed to be an Alien prequel or at least take place in the same universe as those movies, but the Alien movies haven’t been remotely good since the 80s. I get that there was excitement over Ridley Scott’s return to the series, but you’d figure that by now audiences would be more skeptical about the pioneer of a successful film franchise coming back to make a prequel.

Case in point.

I guess you could attribute a lot of anticipation to the film’s viral marketing campaign, which was thorough to say the least.  It attempted to legitimize the fictional universe of the film through fake ads and infomercials, a TED talk with one of the film’s characters, and a fully-functional Weyland Industries corporate website. While everything was well done, I felt like it didn’t really get you hyped up for the film itself so much as the idea of it. What I mean by this is the campaign focused solely on immersing the audience into the world of Prometheus instead of actually telling us anything of relevance. It sort of followed the stream of logic “If we make them think it’s real, they won’t know if it’s bad.”

This is a term I’m coining “Trekkie Logic.”

Whether you hyped yourself up for it or not, Prometheus is disappointing. The irony of the viral campaign is that the film is actually rooted in a pretty weak idea, but it’s one that’s impressively executed. First of all, it’s visually stunning. Ridley Scott, if nothing else, is an incredible visual director and is at his best in this film. The environments depicted are expansive and awe-inspiring, the action big and intense, the special effects impeccable, and if you’re going to shell out any extra cash to watch a movie in 3D or UltraAVX, you’ll get your money’s worth with Prometheus.

The acting is also quite commendable. Noomi Rapace plays scientist Elizabeth Shaw and her boyfriend Charlie is played by Tom Hardy … I mean, Logan Marshall-Green. Both give solid performances, but neither character is all that interesting. Michael Fassbender totally steals the show as the android David. It’s ironic that a soulless robot is the most interesting character in the whole movie, but Fassbender is so talented, he brings a sort of life not only to David, but to the entire film. His performance was definitely a personal highlight. Charlize Theron adopts a far more controlled approach to portrayal of Vickers, which is a breath of fresh air from the all-you-can-eat scenery chew-a-thon that was her performance in Snow White and the Huntsman. In fact, I would go as far as to call her performance in Prometheus a bit wooden, but this may have been intentional because it’s sparked a bit of debate as to whether or not Vickers is an android.

You know … just in case you forgot this was a Ridley Scott movie.

Guy Pearce dons pounds of age make-up to play the elderly Peter Weyland of Weyland Industries, who sponsors the intergalactic voyage of the Prometheus ship to discover the origins of mankind (note how subtly I inserted the film’s plot this time). Pearce does an okay job, I guess, but I don’t know why he was cast. Usually when they get young actors to play older characters, they intend on showing us their younger, more easily-marketable selves at some point, but such is not the case in Prometheus. They hired a 44-year-old actor to exclusively portray a character in at least his nineties, which totally begs the question why not just get an older actor? With no more than 15 minutes of screentime, Weyland is far from the lynchpin of the film, so it’s not like they needed a big-name actor and Pearce was all they could get. And yes, I know that Pearce appears sans-make-up in the TED talk, but that’s part of the promotional materials and not featured at all in the actual film. I’m not cynical enough to believe they hired Pearce just so they could market the film more easily, so why?

Why, goddammit, WHY?!?

In fact, ‘why’ seems to be a question that consistently pops up during Prometheus and is ultimately its undoing. This is almost entirely due to choices made during the writing process. Prometheus is the collaborative effort of Damon Lindelof (famous for writing Cowboys and Aliens and co-creating LOST) and Jon Spaihts (famous for writing  … this movie) and the resulting script is flawed, to say the least. Firstly, there are too many characters, which consequently hinders all of their abilities to develop or in many cases, establish who they even are. Even the most praiseworthy performances in the film are restricted by this and a number of major characters are rendered bland and disposable. As a result, the audience has little insight into the characters’ personalities and motivations and will likely find themselves constantly questioning many of the characters’ actions and deductions, which often come off as random and abrupt. Furthermore, the film’s plot isn’t so much a story as it is a rapid sequence of events. Things just sort of happen void of build-up or exposition and pretty much nothing is explained. The film raises several important questions over its course and they’re only answered with more questions, which is very frustrating. Gee … an abundance of characters, random events with no explanation, dozens of questions that don’t get answered … doesn’t this remind you of a certain TV show? You know, the one about castaways on an island?

Yup, that’s the one!

Despite this, I still think Prometheus is worth seeing. The spectacular visuals and few standout performances (especially Fassbender’s) are enough to at least keep you well entertained. Scott directs the film very well considering what he had to work with and it’s certainly less of a train wreck than most Alien movies.

Oh God, why?

I give it 3/5.

“Snow White and the Huntsman” (2012) Review

Snow White and the Huntsman has been regarded both in its marketing materials and by critics as “Snow White with a twist”. She’s been updated for today’s audiences and tries to reach out to a whole new generation. I guess that sounds appealing in theory. After all, Snow White has appeared in nearly 100 films and television programs since 1913 and counting this film, the classic Brothers Grimm story has been adapted four times in 2012 alone. Not to mention, Snow White is currently a prominent character on the ABC show Once Upon a Time and continues to appear in countless subsidiary media, such as books, games, and of course the infamous ride at Disneyland based on the 1937 animated film, where you can subject your child to three straight minutes of ambush by creepy witch puppets!

You know, for kids!

Films like Snow White and the Huntsman need to distinguish themselves among the sea of existing Snow White media texts and be edgy and different. How do we do that in Hollywood today? You guessed it – a gritty reboot! This film is certainly a much darker retelling of the story than most other films, complete with death, blood, torture, and poverty. It’s close to the original Grimm tale in tone, but with some obvious content omissions, such as at the end of the story where the evil Queen is reprimanded for her actions by being forced to wear red hot iron shoes and dance until she dies.

You know, for kids!

Where this film makes the biggest strides according to the reviews I’ve read is this new-found notion of “girl power” in Snow White. The damsel in distress is yesterday’s news. The charming Prince, who swoops in at the last minute and fixes everything, is obsolete. We’re looking at a new and improved Snow White, who calls her own shots, fights her own battles, and relies on no man, paving the way for theatres full of young girls to follow suit.

As a film, Snow White and the Huntsman is watchable. It’s certainly nice to look at, with expansive environments and impressive visual effects. The cast is also composed of beautiful people such as Charlize Theron as the wicked Queen Ravenna, Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman, and Kristen Stewart as Snow White. But its beauty is only skin deep. The film severely lacks substance in everything from its characters to its themes to even its promotion of the strong, independent woman it’s received so much recognition for.

The characters are generally bland and the acting does little to improve the situation. Stewart, who has become the butt of all “bad acting” jokes since Twilight, stays true to form in this film. Theron is certainly more lively as Ravenna, but I found her delivery to be very forced. She overacts throughout the whole film and I got the impression that she was simply trying too hard to be menacing. Hemsworth, who was clearly inspired by Jude Law’s 2004 career because he is now in EVERYTHING, probably delivers the strongest performance. As the film’s title implies, the Huntsman’s role is really beefed up from earlier adaptations, so there is a certain enjoyment to rediscovering a character we previously knew so little about. The “Prince”-figure in this film is a nobleman named William (Sam Claflin), who is Snow White’s childhood friend. He’s naturally stripped of all importance, but of course there’s still an awkward love triangle involving him, Snow White, the Huntsman because God forbid any woman should have to choose between Chris Hemsworth and this James Franco lookalike.

I’m personally on Team Huntsman.

The bigger issue, however, is character development. Long story short – there isn’t any. Snow White and the Huntsman is a highly plot-driven film and the protagonists are more or less just there to react to what’s happening around them. Sure, they’re all suffering at the beginning, but it’s because they’re victims of Ravenna’s oppressive regime, not due to any particular flaw in themselves. As a result, their actions in the film feel like they’re simply going through the motions rather than growing and developing as characters. There are no inner struggles, no challenges, no “one rule” they have to break in order to triumph over the villain, and in the end there is no learning, making it incredibly difficult for me to care.

The theme of “fairness” is very prominent in the film as it should be in any Snow White adaptation. All conflict stems from the desire to be the fairest in the land. But for such an important and established theme, the film does a poor job of explaining exactly what it means to be fair. It can’t be based on vanity because there is no universe in which Kristen Stewart is more attractive than Charlize Theron. The Magic Mirror tells Ravenna that it is Snow White’s innocence and purity that will be the undoing of the Queen, but I also have a hard time believing that. Over the course of the film, Snow White is imprisoned, seduced, has an axe held to her throat, watches a horse drown, watches loved ones die, threatens, mains, and even kills. You applaud her bravery and resourcefulness, but in film’s quest to “toughen up” Snow White’s image, they kind of missed the point of the character. She’s supposed to be the epitome of innocence and uncompromisable goodness. She’s supposed to be morally pure even if it renders her naive at times. This is what makes her so fair. Otherwise, John Rambo would be fairest in the land.

“Mirruh! Mirruh! On de WAWLL!”

I would hardly call Snow White and the Hunstman an empowering film either. The girl power message it tries to deliver is shallow and contradictory solely because the movie doesn’t explain what it means to be a powerful woman. The insignificance of the charming Prince and the countless promotional materials that feature Snow White clad in armour certainly imply that she no longer needs a man to protect and save her. Alright! Girl power! But wait, Ravenna doesn’t need a man either. In fact, she states several times in the film how men are just idiotic leeches that get in her way. This is presented as a major flaw in her character for she ends up completely alienating herself from everyone around her and it ultimately leads to her demise. So I guess that doesn’t work. Oh, I got! There’s a scene in the movie where Snow White and the Huntsman stumble upon a village populated entirely by women, who have mutilated themselves so not to be preyed upon by Ravenna for their beauty. They sacrifice their own vanity to ensure their continued survival and independence. Yeah, there it is! Making sacrifices for your own freedom. Girl power! Effin A! Oh, hold on. The villagers explain how all of their husbands are at war and that they live in a continual state of desperate vulnerability, which is almost immediately demonstrated when Ravenna’s army attacks the village and the whole thing burns down in five minutes. Crud, I’m back at square one again…

Snow White and the Huntsman isn’t intended for the young, impressionable girls it claims to reach out to. When I went to see it in the theatre, the audience comprised mostly of older – largely middle-aged – women. I’ll do my best to avoid inductive fallacy, but if this is indicative of the film’s larger audience, it’s very telling as to why this movie exists. This isn’t the audience segment that is meant to identify with Snow White and be inspired by her journey. These are the Twilight Moms, who need something to pacify them until next November. They whoop at Chris Hemsworth’s body and glare at Charlize Theron with envy. Nothing wrong with that, but it exposes the film for what it truly is – eye candy. This would explain why it often feels like little thought was put into anything outside of how the film looked. What you see is exactly what you get.

I give it 2.5/5.

“Men in Black III” (2012) Review

Films such as Men in Black III are rare these days. With Hollywood out remaking … I mean, reBOOTing every franchise of the last 50 years, when a film series like Men in Black stays quiet for over a decade, one can only assume Columbia couldn’t possibly work with the franchise in its current form any longer and we can all expect a reboot in 2014 starring Liam Neeson and Donald Glover.

Which would be awesome … so long as no one tells Michael Bay about it

But MIB III is the result of one of those uncommon instances where the conditions for a sequel were perfect. Will Smith’s been absent from the big screen for nearly four years. Tommy Lee Jones is suddenly relevant again after appearing in Captain America. Doctor Who is currently one of the biggest sci-fi shows on the planet, so aliens and time travel are hot topics. Punch that into the machine and POOF! we get MIB III – Smith and Jones reunite in another alien-fighting adventure … now with time travel!

Granted, it wouldn’t be the worst thing to ever ride on Doctor Who’s coattails.

The Men in Black movies have always been fun, exciting popcorn flicks and the third installment in the series is no different. Barry Sonnenfeld returns to direct and delivers the expected dose of action and comedy. As a sequel, MIB III is not necessary. There are no burning questions that the first two films left unanswered and it’s no dramatic conclusion to the MIB trilogy. It’s just there to entertain. Nothing more, nothing less.

The most serious the acting gets is when Will Smith
busts out the latest version of his “Aw, hell naw!” face.

While MIB III is certainly enjoyable, is it any good? Well … kind of. Jones and Smith once again give great performances as Agents K and J respectively and the dynamic between the two of them continues to be where these movies shine in comedic terms. Emma Thompson is believable stepping into the role of O, the new head of MIB. The gallery of aliens is as colourful as ever with several fan favourites returning as well as introduction of some interesting newcomers. The movie is also loaded with cameos from stars such as Will Arnett, that girl from the Pussycat Dolls, and Bill Hader with a hilariously ironic portrayal of Andy Warhol.

It’s Josh Brolin as young K who steals the show, however. Brolin does an impeccable Tommy Lee Jones impression and he truly disappears into the role. Even though Jones’ screentime is comparatively short, Brolin ensures you still feel K’s presence strongly throughout the film, even down to his witty arguments with J. Excellent casting, excellent performance.

Gold star for you!

Of course, MIB III is not without its flaws. The problem with the mindless fun of popcorn flicks is if you even think for a second about what you’re watching, you’ll realize it makes absolutely no sense. The truth is, MIB III is not a very well-written film. The premise itself is nothing beyond comprehension – J has to travel back to 1969 to stop a time-traveling alien named Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) from killing a younger K and dooming planet Earth. But the time travel angle is where it all falls apart, leaving the otherwise basic story full of major plot holes and glaring inconsistencies.

Naturally, this raised a few questions for me…

If characters travel back in time, can they meet past versions of themselves or do they just take control of their bodies at that point in history? If K recruited J to MIB in the first movie, how is J still a member in the alternate timeline where K is dead? Is J’s trip to 1969 a temporal loop that was always in place? Minor spoiler: J’s plan in 1969 is to convince young K to kill the 1960s version of Boris to stop 2012 Boris from going back in time and killing K in the first place. But in doing so, future Boris wouldn’t be alive to go back in time meaning J wouldn’t have to go back in time either, so there would be no one there to tell young K to kill young Boris, which would make him both dead and not dead at the same time. Wouldn’t that make the whole thing a massive time paradox?

I get it, time travel isn’t real, so you can basically do whatever you like with it in fiction. But you have to establish rules and you have to be consistent with them. MIB III does neither. And this isn’t me overanalyzing things – the writing just feels lazy. The movie treats time travel as this smörgåsbord of convenient plot devices that are haphazardly employed to move the story along even if it means contradicting what the audience already knows. And the inevitable confusion that results is dismissed by the careless argument “because it’s time travel, dammit!”

I also didn’t care much for the villain Boris the Animal. He’s an interesting enough character on paper. He’s the last of a hostile alien race called the Boglodites, which are basically the MIB universe’s answer to Daleks (just in case you still weren’t convinced this movie is cashing in on Doctor Who’s popularity), and has a lot of cool powers, but he’s pretty weak in the long run. I love Flight of the Conchords and I love Jemaine, but this film isn’t his finest performance. Unfortunately, he chews the scenery throughout the entire film, which gets very annoying very quickly. He can’t take all the blame, however, for Boris isn’t a very well-written character. He’s shallow and over-the-top, his motivations are often unclear, and he’s slapped with this stupid gimmick where he freaks out every time someone calls him an animal. Who is this guy – John Merrick? Is “animal” some kind of racial slur on … Bogloditeland or whatever? What’s also very frustrating about Boris is that you never know how he figures things out. Even with J going back to the 60s and influencing the course of events, Boris always seems to be one step ahead of the protagonists, consistently arriving at the right place at the right time, and we have no idea why or how. Again, this isn’t Jemaine’s fault, but is once again chalked down to problems with the script.

Meanwhile, Bret McKenzie was winning Oscars.

Men in Black III is fun. The actors deliver solid performances for the most part and there are plenty of laughs, action, and special effects to be enjoyed. It’s everything you’d expect from a Men in Black film. But it’s a popcorn flick in its purest form. It’s riddled with continuity errors, gaping plot holes, and convenient devices that will drive you mad if you can’t turn off your brain. An overall decent movie that partially salvaged an overall flawed script.

And love it or hate it, I guarantee that god-awful Pitbull song will have you running from the theatre the second the credits roll.

I give it 3/5.

“The Dictator” (2012) Review

When discussing Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest film The Dictator, I am met with two temptations. The first is to compare this film to Baron Cohen’s other big screen excursions 2006’s Borat and 2009’s Brüno. I find this comparison to be a bit unfair because The Dictator is not a mockumentary like its predecessors, but the plot is fundamentally the same: a man from an Eastern nation travels to America and subjects the audience to a little over an hour of gags that poke fun the incompatibility of his culture with that of the US. Even Larry Charles, who directed both Borat and Brüno, returns for this film, so one can’t help but draw parallels. The second temptation is to review this film through a political lens. This, however, I will not do. Admiral General Aladeen (Baron Cohen), ruler of the fictional North African nation of Wadiya, has obvious allusions to politicians such as Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein and the film is clearly intended to be a political satire of these figures and their respective styles of governing, but it ultimately fails in this regard.

Nowadays, the terms “parody” and “satire” are often used interchangeably and The Dictator is yet another example of a confusion between the two. Parody is more or less mimicking an already existing source for the sake of humour. Think of Weird Al or the Airplane! movies. Satire, on the other hand, is humourous, but also carries some kind of message with it. The confusion comes from the fact that satire often uses parody to deliver this message, today’s most popular examples including The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. On its most essential level, however, satire is a critique that is meant to not only generate laughs, but also spark critical thought and discussion. Such a critique is largely absent from The Dictator. The film is rendered merely a goofy parody of modern dictators that doesn’t leave much room to talk about it in a political context. There are a couple of nuggets of true satire in the movie, such as Aladeen’s monologue about if America was a dictatorship, but for the most part, the only “message” The Dictator delivers is “Being an oppressive jerk is wrong … so don’t be one …”

Dictatorships are bad, m’kay?”

I know, you can’t slam a film for not generating intelligent discussion or else nothing would ever get made, but even as a comedy alone, The Dictator is generally ineffective. The characters are surreal, one-dimensional caricatures whose actions and humour surrounding those actions are very predictable. In this respect, I feel like the film goes for the easiest possible laugh every time. Aladeen is a dictator so all of his gags are about belittling other races and genders, constant references to how he’s friends with other dictators, and (when the writers can’t think of anything) replacing random words with throaty Arabic noises. The leading lady Zoey (Anna Faris) is super-liberal so all of her jokes have something so do with feminism or anti-capitalism or how she doesn’t shave. Oh, and the two of them clearly fall in love because they couldn’t possibly be more different. It gets old quickly and I swear more thought is put into an episode of Two and a Half Men.

There’s nothing quite like ending a rant about easy laughs with an easy laugh.

It’s in its characters where the film departs the most from Borat and Brüno. Yes, Borat often goes for obvious “backwards foreigner” jokes and Brüno for gay jokes, but the humour largely comes not from the jokes themselves, but the fact that they are inserted in real life situations, generating real reactions from real people. Because of this inherent realness, characters in both films must give off certain human qualities in order to be believable to both the people they encounter in the film and the audience. With this believability comes opportunity for sympathy, admiration, or even relatability from the audience, but that ship sails within the first 10 minutes of The Dictator.

Not pictured: a believability ship

While the acting is naturally over the top, it is satisfactory. Baron Cohen pulls off another solid performance and generates a number of laughs from his delivery alone. Anna Faris also does a decent job as well since parodies are within her comfort zone. In fact, the film features a few big-named actors such as John C. Reilly, Megan Fox, and … Ben Kingsley? Really? SIR BEN KINGSLEY?!?!? Unfortunately, Kingsley’s recent career can be best described as a tragic fall from grace. The man became known for his amazing performances in Schindler’s List, Twelfth Night, and Ghandi and next thing we know, he’s popping up in an endless string of notoriously bad films like The Love Guru, Thunderbirds, and stuff directed by Uwe Boll. I thought he either fired his agent or got his finances in order when he gave a redeeming performance in last year’s Hugo, but then I see him in THIS and am now convinced he’ll be in absolutely anything.

In fact, catch Ben this summer in a zombie flick I’m shooting
in my backyard on an iPhone.

The Dictator’s worst enemy, however, is its marketing. I’ll admit, I initially had high hopes after the red carpet publicity stunt where Baron Cohen showed up to the Oscars in character and spilled Kim Jong-il’s ashes on Ryan Seacrest. Little did I know that any subsequent publicity such as trailers and Baron Cohen’s talk show circuit would recycle virtually all the film’s decent jokes. While I found the The Dictator’s humour to be generally obvious and at times uncomfortably tasteless, some of it can be clever. But it’s simply not funny the second time around and cannot match the hilarious irony of the fact that they spoiled all the best jokes in the film in order to convince you to go see the film itself.

Overall, The Dictator is an unfunny, unintelligent film that sadly had the potential to be the opposite. It wants to be a satire, but comes off as a dull parody that opts for predictable jokes, shallow characters, and any remaining humour is spoiled by its marketing materials. At first I thought I had simply missed the point of the movie, but now I’m not sure if there was a point to miss.

I give this a 2/5.

PS. Those of you who actually do want to see a truly hilarious satire of dictatorships, check out 1940’s The Great Dictator, starring Charlie Chaplin.