REVIEW: The Boss

6 04 2016

Picture this: a highly successful businessperson, who augments the public’s perception of their wealth by doubling as a skilled entertainer, needs to bounce back after suffering some public humiliation.

This person enters a field knowing little about the profession but finds a way to prosper by exploiting complacency, deriding rivals with unwarranted personal attacks and even inciting violence.

The captain of industry boasts about cruel implementation of shrewd business tactics and remains unfazed when compared to totalitarian rulers.

(Oh, and this individual’s distinctively styled hair never gets dented.)

Did I just describe Donald Trump or Michelle Darnell, the lead character of the new film “The Boss” played by Melissa McCarthy?

The two larger-than-life figures share quite a few similarities, though McCarthy (along with co-writers Ben Falcone and Steve Mallory) could not possibly have known that her burlesqued portrayal of a corporate mogul would hit the marketplace at the same time as an equal ludicrous figure marched towards the nomination of a major political party. Literally, production ended on “The Boss” two weeks before Trump made the infamous escalator announcement. The ill-fated timing of its release makes it play like an inverse of “Zootopia,” this year’s most fortuitous arrival.

The odd parallel here and there between the fictional and the absurd business tycoon is not necessarily bothersome. And, in the interest of fairness, Donald Trump did not spend five months in jail for insider trading like Michelle Darnell. But a line feels crossed when she declares, “We’re participating in the American Dream!”

Out of context, this might seem harmless. However, Darnell utters it right before an all-out brawl takes place between her group of entrepreneurial thugs and the Girl Scout-like troop from which they disaffiliated. How can one find humor in the perversion of the American Dream on screen when a demagogue is ushering in a national nightmare in reality? Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dicator” showed that comedy had a definite place in a time of bullying leaders, though it ought to contain some confrontational element if it is to be anything more than a diversion. “The Boss” comes across as oblivious in regards to the implications of its dull satire.

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REVIEW: Low Down

9 12 2014

Low DownAs a general rule of thumb, I do not walk out of movies – or even turn them off when watching at home.  It’s a general sign of respect as well as perhaps a misplaced optimism.  You just never know when a movie might show the tiniest sign of redemption.

I was recently fortunate enough to receive an electronic screener link to view “Low Down,” which is now among the rare class of movies that I could not bring myself to finish.  The film is not actively, egregiously bad.  It is just never good, save a mildly impressive control of period atmosphere by first-time director Jeff Preiss.

I must have forgotten to hit the pause button when I left to get lunch or something because when I came back, I could not remember where I had stopped the screener.  As I was scrolling through different scenes, I honestly could not recall whether or not I had watched them.  “Low Down” left that soft of an impact on me.

I saw the writing on the wall when a character misquotes a line from Shakespeare (it’s “if music be the food of love,” not “fruit”) and no one, in front of or behind the camera, seems to bat an eyelid.  “Low Down” is a considerable squandering of talent, as it deploys the virtuosic John Hawkes as Joe Albany, a gifted jazz pianist struggling to kick a drug addiction.  Never seen that one before…

There are plenty of talented actors playing characters in his orbit, including Glenn Close as his mother.  But none is more disappointing to see go to waste than Elle Fanning, the talented young actress from “Somewhere” and “Super 8” who is well on her way to eclipsing her older sister.  She plays Joe’s daughter in what could arguably be considered a co-lead performance, yet she has little personality and might as well just be an accessory to her father.

I did, out of the mildest of curiosities, skip to the final scene of the film just to see the ultimate fates of the characters.  Spoiler alert: there’s nothing to spoil.  You know what’s coming, but I dare you to outlast the tedium of “Low Down” to make it there.  C-1halfstars





REVIEW: X-Men: Days of Future Past

12 06 2014

Thanks to the patience and planning of Marvel that culminated in “The Avengers,” now every franchise is rushing to super-size their output by converging as many properties into one film as humanly possible.  Among these stuffed tentpoles, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is probably about as clever as we can expect them to get.  Bryan Singer’s latest entry in the franchise plays to its greatest strength, the strong ensemble cast, to help power what is otherwise a fairly average film.

In 2011, the series essentially rebooted with a cast of rising stars that included James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and Nicholas Hoult as younger versions of the characters.  Not that the original cast was lacking in talent with Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, and Halle Berry.

Since their timeline never really ended (not that this stops the studios nowadays), what better way to bridge old and new than with a little bit of time travel?  And who better to be the intermediary than Jackman’s Wolverine, the only character popular enough to inspire spin-offs?  It all makes perfect sense.

“Days of Future Past” also manages to incorporate Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven/Mystique into the proceedings quite a bit more.  That, of course, couldn’t possibly be because she’s the most loved actress in America at the moment.  It just so happens that she’s the key to preventing annihilation of mutants in the bleak future inhabited by the older versions of the characters.  Wolverine must travel back to the ’70s to prevent her from assassinating defense contractor Raymond Trask (Miles Finch himself, Peter Dinklage) and enabling the creation of the mutant-massacring Sentinels.

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REVIEW: Death at a Funeral

3 09 2010

It’s a funny thing, the remake of “Death at a Funeral.” The British original in 2007 turned the title, which implied the melancholy proceedings of a sacred ritual, into something totally unforeseen – a laugh riot.

There are those of us who think two decades is too soon for a remake, but Neil LaBute turns around the hilarious original for a Hollywood treatment in under three years. Essentially, there’s no reason for this remake to exist other than to make the script more digestible to a mainstream audience. Nothing new is brought to the table, no retooling or adding is done. It’s practically a shot-by-shot remake, claiming that swapping accents is enough to warrant the millions of dollars to produce the movie.

It’s a strange experience to watch these often funny stars, including Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, and Tracy Morgan, running around doing a half-hearted version of the original movie.  In fact, it’s almost like an out-of-body experience as we watch them utter virtually the same lines and run through the same motions as the British actors did – but never come close to matching their comedic brilliance.  Surprisingly, the funniest member of the ensemble is James Marsden, who truly embraces the farcical nature of his character and plays it up to hilarity.  However, we only get to see glances of the zonked Marsden, never prolonged scenes.

I find there no reason to watch this movie when a clearly superior alternative exists.  Sure, this version has a few laughs and is hardly unfunny, but why choose chuckles over the howls that you can have watching the original?  If you had the choice between a rotting apple that looked nice and a fresh apple with a little bit of dust on top, which would you eat?  This “Death at a Funeral” looks nice on a poster, but at its core, the movie is pretty rotten.  There’s no reason NOT to go off the beaten path to watch the British version.  C /