One Minute Review: Let’s Be Cops (2014) [3.0]

letsbecops-sideposterLET’S BE COPS // How are people not familiar with Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. yet? Johnson has been the supporting player in several high profile comedies and broke through to most audiences with his unequivocal brand of humor as Nick on Fox’s “New Girl”. Wayans starred in the pilot for “New Girl” alongside Jake but ABC beat them to the punch with their canceled-too-soon comedy “Happy Endings”. With that cancelation, Wayans returned to “New Girl” where he and Jake continue to develop the personas that they have concocted. Now, they star side-by-side in the feature film “Let’s Be Cops,” where they seemingly take those same personas and bring them to the big screen.

Without these strong personalities, “Let’s Be Cops” would be just another fluff comedy. With a premise summed up by the title of the film, the ridiculousness that is involved with two grown men deciding to impersonate police officers and getting involved with some real crimes is almost too much to take. Pulling from the fish-out-of-water storyline in the most basic of ways, these characters are literally down the river without a paddle as dressing up as cops for Halloween turns into a full-time (and completely illegal) gig. But with Jake Johnson playing naive, lovable Ryan and Damon Wayans Jr. playing the wacky, need-to-please Justin, the comedic sequences take on a life of their own. Somehow Justin getting attacked by much-too-old sorority sisters and Ryan screaming in the background is undeniably hilarious. The writers are also not afraid to take the film to its R-Rated boundaries, which is exactly what sets this apart from other fluff comedies while still not delving into raunch. Continue reading

One Minute Review: The One I Love (2014) [4.0]

THE ONE I LOVE // No one is pulling off independent science fiction better than Mark Duplass. In 2012, Duplass starred in “Safety Not Guaranteed,” a psychological sci-fi that played more on relationships rather than the time travel element that made it unique. This year, he stars in “The One I Love,” with Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”) as a couple that heads off to a retreat to try and save their marriage after their counseling sessions with their therapist, played by Ted Danson, prove unsuccessful. At a secluded cottage in the middle of nowhere, they stumble across some unexplainable phenomenon going on in the guest house. Once again, focusing more on the relationship between the characters rather than the science fiction twists, Duplass presents his homegrown, every man’s man aura while Moss takes the reins and produces one of her strongest performances yet.

Without a doubt one of the most original films this year, “The One I Love” never goes in the direction you think it will. Using the character’s emotions of jealousy and desire to mask what is really happening to them, the filmmakers are able to bury their secrets and reveal them at the most opportune moments. Even the ambiguous ending is expertly placed and thought-provokingly vague enough to cause the audience to mull over what just happened long after the credits roll. One of the biggest signs that make this a successful venture is the fact that there are only the three actors in the entire film, and yet somehow, they never grow stale and they continue to carry the weight that a much bigger cast would carry in any other film. Since I cannot talk about “The One I Love” in too much detail without giving away some major plot points, I will leave the rest up to you and your own viewing of the film. One thing is for sure, I will now associate Mark Duplass with uniquely written, independent fare, and his future projects will become must-sees as soon as their trailers hit the internet.

[Directed by Charlie McDowell] [R] [91 min] [8 August 2014]   08four-stars

One Minute Review: A Most Wanted Man (2014) [4.5]

A MOST WANTED MAN // Marking the final leading role for Philip Seymour Hoffman, “A Most Wanted Man” is an espionage thriller from the same author as “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”. Intricate and complex in design, Hoffman delivers a powerhouse of a performance as Günther Bachmann, adding a fervor to an otherwise extremely dense subject matter. Much in the same way that Gary Oldman was the perfect actor to carry the heavy role of George Smiley in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” Hoffman becomes Bachmann almost effortlessly, English accent and all. Bachmann is a German espionage agent in charge of a group of spies that are seeking the whereabouts of a refuge named Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) who they eventually hope to use to flush out a local Muslim philanthropist, Dr. Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi) of whom they suspect has ties to Al Qaeda. In a way that only author John le Carré can, the rabbit hole that these characters wind down is so expertly designed that the film requires an active viewer, taking in the subtle facts and building a case of their own.

Filled with plenty of turncoats and shifting agendas, the narrative, although often unclear, does take shape and packs a punch by the time the credits roll. In the same slow burn way that “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” unfolds, the resolution rewards the active viewer with some highly charged sequences, including several highlights of Hoffman’s career. This being one of his final performances, you cannot help but draw similarities between his character’s struggles and his own, begging the question how much personal baggage an actor brings to his characters. What also adds a different dynamic to the film is the diverse cast of actors and actresses used throughout. Everyone from Robin Wright, who plays an American diplomatic attache, to Willem Dafoe, who plays a banker who eventually cooperates with Bachmann, to Rachel McAdams, who plays an immigration lawyer contacted by Karpov. With these brilliant supporting players creating a solid foundation for Hoffman’s leading role, “A Most Wanted Man” becomes the perfect companion piece for John le Carré’s “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”.

[Directed by Anton Corbijn] [R] [122 min] [1 August 2014]   09fourhalf-stars

One Minute Review: Maleficent (2014) [3.0]

MALEFICENT // The rise of the anti-hero story continues with “Maleficent,” the retelling of the Disney animated classic “Sleeping Beauty,” this time focusing on the villain of that tale and her fall from grace origin story. Angelina Jolie steps into the role of Maleficent, bringing to the surface the conflicting emotions that make her such an interesting character. One of the biggest challenges of this live action film is bringing to life the animated version of the villain, in a natural way while paying homage to what makes this character such a classic. With expertly done costume design and makeup, Maleficent steps out of the animated world and into reality, with Jolie nailing the iconic moments associated with the character, like the wide gaping smile and evil laugh. The second biggest challenge was creating a version of Maleficent that was relatable enough to carry an entire film. The idea of a villain being the main character of a film is still a fairly new concept and to make that character dynamic enough to eventually have an anti-heroes story arc is not an easy element to master. However, leave it to Disney to completely revolutionize their own branding, opening an entirely new world for them to explore with all their previous animated classics.

Beginning the tale with Maleficent as a young fairy that falls in love with a human boy, her humble start gives way to her becoming the powerful protector of her forest home called the Moors. When the king of the humans attempts to take the Moors from her, he falls, opening the challenge to his people to bring him Maleficent dead. Stefan (Sharlto Copley), Maleficent’s young love now grown into a man, takes the challenge upon himself, using his connection with Maleficent to double cross her and to steal her wings, thus driving her to the dark side and creating the villain that cursed his first born child. Along with some amazing makeup and costume design, the production design of the film is a great blend of computer generated imagery and actual decorated sets. Reproducing some of the key scenes from “Sleeping Beauty,” matching the detail of those sets creates its own challenge, with those familiar with the classic film looking to be reminded of the film they first fell in love with. Trust that you will see most of these production elements nominated for some Academy Awards, with some of the best in the business being involved.

Elle Fanning leads the rest of the cast as Princess Aurora, the title character of “Sleeping Beauty”. Not quite commanding the presence one would expect from this role, her innocence is enough to counter the authority held by Jolie. Knowing that Fanning is such a talented young actress, it is a shame to see her talents wasted on a character whose main qualities are smiling and giggling, rather than having any sort of substantial dialogue or presence besides a conduit for the transformation of Maleficent. Copley enters nicely into the role of villain and proves to have a successful future as such, should he decide to take on more roles such as this. The unknown yet talented Sam Riley fills in the supporting cast quite nicely as Diaval, Maleficent’s iconic raven, who is a shapeshifter as well as one of Maleficent’s only confidants. Providing the classic Disney comedic relief is the trio of Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville as Knotgrass, Thristlewit, and Flittle, the fairies that look after Aurora. Their arguing and bumbling, though comedic, is aimed more at the kiddies that will set out to watch this film.

Proving that Disney may have their best days ahead of them, there is something pivotal in the production of “Maleficent,” in that exploring the origins behind their villains, who were originally evil for evil’s sake, may have more to them than meets the eye. Being able to produce stories about their entire catalog of villains could set the Disney company on some new and interesting paths that go beyond reproducing the stories that we already know and love. Much in the same vein as last year’s “Oz The Great And Powerful,” in which we not only got the origin story of Oz, but also got to see where the witches got their start, imagine getting to see updated stories behind other iconic Disney villains like Cruella de Vil (“101 Dalmations”), Ursula (“The Little Mermaid”), or Jafar (“Aladdin”). With “Maleficent” marking not just a revitalization for Disney, but also the return of Angelina Jolie to big screen, this live action fantasy carries much more weight had it starred some else in the title role. Jolie not just steps back in front of the camera, but becomes an icon in and of herself, making “Maleficent” an instant classic in its own right.

[Directed by Robert Stromberg] [PG] [97 min] [30 May 2014]   06three-stars

One Minute Review: Hercules (2014) [3.5]

HERCULES // Never has marketing been more misleading than it was for the new Dwayne Johnson vehicle “Hercules”. With trailers touting the legendary character of Hercules and his Twelve Labors from the Gods, which involved fighting several different monsters including a giant lion, a three headed hydra, and massive boar, most people stepping into the theater to see this film would have assumed this was a majority of the film, filled with CGI beasts and bulging muscles. What you soon find out, however, is that the imagery used in the marketing is actually only pulled from the first ten minutes of the film, where a brief description of the events are sped through to build up The Rock’s character before his first step on-screen. Perhaps this is the sign of great marketing, in selling a small portion of the film and then revealing how much more in depth the film goes. But for those looking for the “Hercules” that they saw in the trailers, do not get your hopes up.

Dwayne Johnson continues his successful career as Hercules, the obvious leader of the men that follow him. With the physique of a Greek demigod, Johnson is a great representation of the legend and even embodies the characteristics one would associate with Zeus’ son. Exploring Hercules’ past, in the loss of his family and the concurring of the beasts, the story also sheds light on his team of followers, and actually rewrites a bit of the legend, involving them in the stories and grounding the trials of Hercules in reality. In his band of mercenaries there is the prophet Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), the knife-thrower Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), the wild card Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), the Amazon woman Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) and the storyteller Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), who is also Hercules’ nephew. Each has their own story for why they follow Hercules and involving each in the Twelve Labors and revealing this fact is what actually makes this film refreshing.

Drawing off many of the stories associated with Hercules, the film has a great time messing with perception, and applying new twists on legends like centaurs and Cerberus, the three-headed dog. Proving how entertaining an action-adventure Hercules film can be, there is no shortage of fight scenes, with Dwayne Johnson expertly leading them all with his battle cry. The eventual revenge storyline is carried out in true action flick fashion where the hero is broken down and built back up with the imaginary of Johnson chained up and breaking free being one of the most memorable scenes in the film. Also starring John Hurt as Lord Cotys, his involvement gives the film a touch of talent that it otherwise lacks. Despite not quite fulfilling what its marketing sold it to be, “Hercules” still wades the waters of a decent action film, highlighting the strengths of its leading man. Becoming a perfect fusion of action, Greek mythology, and bit of humor, I wonder what the marketing would have looked like had they sold the film for what it was.

[Directed by Brett Ratner] [PG-13] [98 min] [25 July 2014]    07threehalf-stars

One Minute Review: Wish I Was Here (2014) [4.5]

WISH I WAS HERE // After a decade since his directorial debut, Zach Braff returns with his crowd-funded darling “Wish I Was Here”. Once again starring as lead, Braff trades in his college student naivety for a more weatherworn adult role, as Aidan Bloom, husband and father of two. Playing the out of work actor, everyone in Aiden’s life continuously asks him when he plans on getting a real job. The long list of people includes his wife, Sarah, played by the stunning Kate Hudson, his father, Gabe, played by the legendary Mandy Patinkin, and even the rabbis at his children’s Jewish school; a school that his father pays for but can no longer afford due to unexpected medical bills. With the ever present distinction that his current state of affairs may overshadow his dreams, Aidan faces the ultimate choice.

Like him or not, Zach Braff has a definite acting and directing style that pairs nicely with independent filmmaking. With most critics not finding any redeemable qualities in his character, I, for one, found an authenticity to his portrayal, allowing the performance to come from a real place. Aiden is a living, breathing character with conflicting emotions and a sense of entitlement that most everyday people walk around with. And life gets in the way. Whether its his daughter (Joey King) shaving her head, his father receiving in-home hospice care, or his wife getting hit on by a creepy guy at work, Aiden takes on challenges that normal people face everyday and for that I respect Braff for taking a chance and telling a story from the heart. And there is plenty of heart, with one of the best emotional speeches this year coming from a heart to heart between Hudson and Patinkin on the discussion of legacy and what Patinkin’s boys (Braff and Josh Gad) need from him before he dies. Hudson and Patinkin both deliver honest and natural performances that highlight the tone of the film.

Unlike “Garden State”, Braff takes “Wish I Were Here” to a much more rich and fulfilling level. Where “Garden State” had quirk and off-beat humor, “Wish I Were Here” has reoccurring themes that provide humor, like casting calls including Jim Parsons and home schooling, plus a strong narrative arc that allows for an emotional resonance. What “Wish I Were Here” does share with “Garden State” is a soundtrack full of powerful popular music from bands like The Shins, Radical Face, Badly Drawn Boy, and Bon Iver, which take the sentimental moments to an entirely different level. Much like his days on “Scrubs”, Braff is unafraid to push the boundaries of his characters in new and interesting ways. He can be goofy but also take things to a serious tip. If you do not see any redeemable qualities in his characters, then maybe you are not looking hard enough. Whether Braff finds himself crowd-funding his next project or stepping back into studio work, as far as I am concerned, he will always have a place in limelight, especially when it comes to this low budget fare.

[Directed by Zach Braff] [R] [106 min] [25 July 2014]   09fourhalf-stars

One Minute Review: Deliver Us From Evil (2014) [3.0]

DELIVER US FROM EVIL // Some day, hopefully soon, horror filmmakers will realize that certain tropes are not scary anymore. One of these tropes is checking under the bed. “Deliver Us From Evil” leaned heavily on this scare in their marketing campaign. Even messing with expectations after checking under the bed is now an overused motif. If there was nothing under the bed, something will provide a scare following the mislead. Obviously, horror tropes exist for a reason and can still be achieved with brilliance, but when films are as lazy about them as “Deliver Us From Evil,” one prays for the day that filmmakers exorcise their own bad habits.

Speaking of overused ideas, “Deliver Us From Evil” is “based on a true story,” which apparently almost every film being made today is printed with the same monicker. In this case, however, the film is adapted from the 2001 non-fiction book entitled “Beware the Night,” written by an actual New York cop named Ralph Sarchie, of whom the film is based. Following Sarchie (Eric Bana) as he encounters some paranormal phenomenon while on duty, the unique element to this film and specifically stemming from the press tour, was actor Eric Bana stating that he was shown photographic proof of an actual exorcism and even stated, “it will be forever etched into my brain”. Owned by the NYPD, that evidence is unfortunately impossible to find on the internet. Chances are that footage is far more scary than anything in this Jerry Bruckheimer produced feature.

The immensely talented Édgar Ramírez portrays Mendoza, the unconventional priest that eventually convinces Sarchie that the devil is at play. Reminding heavily of “The Exorcist”, I begin to wonder whether a film about exorcism can even be made in this day and age, without feeling too reminiscent of the William Friedkin classic. With Sarchie and Mendoza teamed up, they allow for a nice balance between genres, heading an intense cop thriller with a dash of classic horror themes sprinkled in. Had director Scott Derrickson taken some broader steps, this could have easily lived up to notion that it actually happened. But somehow, behind all the fake skin carvings and weak attempts at scares, “Deliver Us From Evil” makes a pun out of its own name by being a completely average, by-the-book horror venture.

[Directed by Scott Derrickson] [R] [118 min] [2 July 2014]    06three-stars