“The Grand Budapest Hotel” – Magnificent, Hilarious, Bizarre…

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I believe the most common adjective employed to describe the film-making style of Wes Anderson’s would be quirky, or idiosyncratic. And it’s all fine with me, but I personally would go a step further and call it for what it is – mildly autistic. It’s not necessarily an indictment on my part, but rather a simple observation. Now, I am definitely not a world-renowned expert in Wes Anderson’s work, as only recently I have started colouring in the blank spot that was his filmography, but I am most assuredly a fan of his approach toward comedy. Contrary to what you’d usually see on the big screen nowadays, Wes Anderson’s films are always intellectually stimulating, visually rich, stylistically sound, meticulously shot and executed, (maybe not quite laugh-out-loud) funny, but subversive and filled with unforgettable dialogue. In that, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” – Anderson’s newest creation – is no different and quite cohesively positions itself within his entire body of work. Continue reading

“2 Guns” – because one double-crossing is just too mainstream…

I think it’s official now: the summer blockbuster battle fatigue has just kicked in and I can’t really see myself going out of my way to watch yet another 2.5 hours of destruction porn so abundant in the cinemas over the last two months or so. This is why I refused to watch “Wolverine” and “The Lone Ranger” (plus, a little bird told me that the latter would most likely suck royally), because I was approaching the tipping point, at which I would actively vomit in the cinema. I’ll still catch up with them whenever they’re released on Blu Ray, so no worries.

In order to save myself the embarrassment I have recently decided to undergo a detox of sorts that included picking mostly comedies to see on the big screen. Keeping in mind that there are still some big titles I’m looking forward to see this summer (i.e. “Elysium” next weekend), a course of treatment including some light cinema would freshen up my senses, keep my mind nice and open, and subdue the cynical prick that now lies dormant in the darkest reaches of my mind.

By total accident I ended up extending my latest trend of getting in touch with the buddy variety of action/comedy and added “2 Guns” to the list. I must admit that I ventured to see this particular film with surprisingly limited knowledge about it. Normally I do know certain things, which is a direct result of reading up about film-related news all the damn time, but “2 Guns” have blind-sided me really effectively. Prior to the screening I hadn’t even seen the trailer; I knew only the premise of the film (aka a one-sentence synopsis).

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“2 Guns” is basically a very classical take on the buddy cop comedy, in which we meet Bobby (Denzel Washington) and Stig (Mark Wahlberg) who do some shady business with a Mexican cartel led by ruthless Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos). They sell forged passports and do everything to stay afloat and climb up the ladder in the drug underworld. However, they are both undercover agents (Bobby works for DEA and Stig for US Navy Intelligence) and, to add insult to injury, they have absolutely no clue about their respective identities. (By the way, the lack of communication between federal agencies is simply stunning)

In order to take down Papi, Bobby orchestrates a bank robbery, where they would steal Papi’s dirty money as evidence to help lock him down for good. Little do they know, however, that the money they stole belongs to somebody else, who would stop at nothing to get it back.

Gosh, it’s difficult to summarize this film. Not that it’s overly complex and multi-layered and such, because it is after all an action comedy, but I found it amazingly difficult to write it up without giving the most important plot points away. That’s just how it is, “2 Guns” is a comedy about two guys, who don’t know who their partner is, and they end up being double-crossed while being double-crossed by somebody else. At some point, this film started to look more like an episode of “Scooby-Doo” with all the unmasking, betrayals and what-not.

Even though the plot looks rather convoluted, “2 Guns” plays out quite simple. It’s a very formulaic buddy comedy that takes a lot from “Lethal Weapon” and “Tango and Cash”. But, let’s be clear here for a second: even though the film is filled with witty humor and snappy dialogue, it’s still a pretty violent and action-packed show filled with blood, guns, some mild torture and even a topless chick (Paula Patton) whose breasts serve no actual purpose on the screen other than to tick the genre box. Surprisingly though and thankfully at that, in spite of pairing up Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, “2 Guns” doesn’t rely on racially-influenced dynamics and humor to propel the film. I find it very reassuring that we can now see a decent example of seeing past the cliché black/white buddy cop comedy, because there is only a finite number of puns and one-liners that would fit into that equation, and we’ve seen them all, I’m afraid.

 

Ok, so there are guns (2 of them, snap!), violence, humor, explosions, drug cartels, shootouts, car chases, boobs, money, rogue agents, rogue soldiers, rogue-pretty-much-anybody, fat useless policemen and sexy waitresses. On paper all the boxes are ticked and in theory “2 Guns” should be fantastic. Problem is that it’s all been done. Even Simpsons did it… Therefore, this little film will never be amazing and awesome – it will only be OK. Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast, but it’s not one of the films that will linger in your memory for longer than ten minutes. It’s nice and refreshing, but it has nothing to offer apart from the solid craftsmanship.

“2 Guns” goes down very nicely, even with very predictable twists and turns. It’s perfect when all you need is a break from the heavy-handed blockbusters we’ve been seeing all summer, but it adds nothing to the genre. The actors are OK, the action is OK, the humor is OK – it’s all just… OK. If anything, “2 Guns” takes a few steps towards self-parody at times with the absurd amount of double-crossings and rogue agents that run rampant on the screen. Seriously, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think that US Government agencies have zero control over their employees and assets – that’s how ridiculous it gets by the end. Maybe, for sake of clarity, this film should come bundled with a sign that says “Avoid taking anything in this film seriously… Seriously…” It’s just good fun, but nothing more…

“The Internship” tried to cross the same river twice

Quite frankly, I was initially going to review “The Internship” in a completely different way – maybe even go on a little rant – but after a bit of consideration I decided to restrain myself a tad and come at this film from a slightly different angle. I believe that any genre film deserves a fair trial and regardless of how much I might have disliked it, I’d like to have a look at it in a way that would showcase everything (if any) a given film has to offer. Additionally, since I have been doing virtually the same with horrors and Sci-Fi, in the interest of consequence, I should attempt to apply the same standards when reviewing comedies; that’s the scientist in me begging to standardize and objectify (is that even a word) my world-view…

Now, there are exactly two ways to make a successful comedy, or any genre film for that matter: the film has to either obey the rules of genre and capitalize on all its assets, while confining originality to very focused areas, or to go all-in and think outside the box in hopes to add a brand new idea/angle/sub-genre to the pot. Understandably, the latter is much more difficult to pull off, because not every genre handles freshness well, and not every revolting, new, genre-redefining idea works (more often than not, the idea itself would work, only in a different pair of hands) to create a film worth watching.

So, my personal issues aside, “The Internship” didn’t do a particularly good job at squeezing into either of the two categories. It’s not as if this film failed completely as a comedy, because I did have some fun watching it, and that’s pretty much the goal of any comedy – maybe not so much to make you laugh, but to make you feel a bit better – just as it is any horror film’s goal to disturb you in some fashion. I might add here that since my lovely wife enjoyed “The Internship” quite a bit more than I did, I could consider a possibility that I might have grown too cynical for my own liking. In fact, it is very instructive to see that, based solely on a person’s prior knowledge of the film and/or the actors and film-makers, the film’s perception could vary as substantially. I shouldn’t really disregard the fact that I was fully aware of this film’s reception by the critics and the general populace.

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Nevertheless, I’m sad to say that the newest creation of the Vince Vaughn – Owen Wilson dynamic duo fell short in its attempt to dazzle my senses. For sake of completeness, “The Internship” on its face looks like a full-feature length Google advertisement. Granted, the days of withholding unnecessary product placements in films are long gone with glowing apples being featured in some way or another in virtually any romantic comedy, so it’s not that big of a deal. Plus, Google has become such a big part of the internet revolution that it was only a matter of time before we would start seeing the Google logo everywhere on the silver screen, so I don’t really have a problem with that.

In the film, we are introduced to Billy (Vince Vaughn) and Nick (Owen Wilson), a pair of salesmen who are suddenly laid off work. They immediately realize that the world has changed dramatically and their previous line of work (and the only thing they are good at), bullshitting people into buying stuff, is all but obsolete in the age of the Internet. Therefore, they decide to hop on the web wagon and go on to work for one of the biggest players in the Internet industry – Google. Well, ‘work’ is a bit far-fetched because in order to have a shot at working for the Silicon Valley giant, Nick and Billy need to enroll on an internship (probably unpaid) and compete for the precious jobs with hundreds of young, aspiring and energetic young minds.

I think the main reason I didn’t get as much out of “The Internship” as I would have liked is due to the fact that a single shtick can work only so many times before it goes stale. And sadly, we’ve seen it all before in “Wedding crashers” and “Starsky and Hutch”. While they are different in terms of the formula and plot, I dare say that at this point in time, another Wilson/Vaughn duo comedy could not go down very well. As a result, Wilson and Vaughn in “The Internship” are just doing their thing and when you’re used to doing things certain way, or – God forbid – the director specifically expects you to do what you know best, any creativity goes out the window.

In simplest terms, “The Internship” is a very formulaic buddy comedy with a strong ‘fish out of the water’ theme. Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that, but any genre film needs an element that the viewer will keep in focus and most often we’d like to see a vivid set of characters on screen that run at the forefront of things. While Vaughn/Wilson thing might have worked in the past, recreating the same dynamism the viewers are familiar with without throwing in anything fresh into the fray is a recipe for a disaster.

 

Do you know that feeling when you sit at a family gathering and your dad goes on to tell the same bloody joke he tells every single year? You know everybody knows it… Nobody wants your dad to feel embarrassed, so everybody smiles politely, maybe your uncle chuckles a bit, but for the most part you feel mortified for having witnessed it and deep down your inside voice whispers ‘Oh, God… Dad, please stop…’ But, no! He has to finish the joke and, of course, he’s laughing the loudest while you wish you could turn back time and leave the room.

That’s exactly how I felt nearly every time Vaughn and Wilson were on the screen doing their thing, whether it was singing in the car, or trying to impress the young geeky prodigies – I just wished they would stop. Sure, there may have been a joke or two that I found enjoyable, but their prolonged spiels I found deeply annoying, because the smoke those two were blowing diverted the attention from quite funny and potentially interesting side-line characters.

As a result, “The Internship” has become yet another generic comedy about two guys trying to cope with an unusual situation. Everything about this film is quite predictable and there’s nothing wrong about that, so long as it’s funny. Any formulaic comedy’s success rides on that card, be it through situation humor, or creative use of the comedic characters, or anything else… Without that it’s a bland inedible mush. The fact that the Wilson/Vaughn duo made absolutely no effort to rake in the laughs (after all, we’ve seen it all before) while overpowering the stage with their personas has effectively destroyed every shred of potential “The Internship” might have had. In theory, it could have been a nice and light comedy about the generation gap and older guys trying to ‘geek out’ in order to survive, but because Vaughn and Wilson have been doing their comedy for so long, it’s nigh impossible to see anything refreshing or light in the way they do comedy, unless you haven’t seen them together on the screen before, like my wife. And she loved it.

That’s the bottom line: “The Internship” can pass for a nice and funny comedy. However, if you had seen any comedy with Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in it, you’d better go and spend your money somewhere else, because there’s nothing new in it that would make it worth your while.

“Identity Thief” – A comedy that forgot how to comedy…

How did I end up watching “Identity Thief”? I’m not sure I know exactly how that happened, but it sure resembled something of a compromise. I had been planning for a couple of days already to devote last week’s Sunday Morning Cinema Excursion (which was promptly renamed as Bank Holiday Monday Cinema Excursion) either to “Oz – The Great and Powerful” or “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”. And I have to say I had been leaning towards the latter due to my unresolved childhood attachment to Jim Carrey. Since My Lovely Wife expressed her desire to join me this week, the final decision ended up being more of a collaborative effort with me caving in a little bit. She didn’t quite fancy neither the Sam Raimi’s “Oz…” (I myself wasn’t exactly excited about that one either) nor Jim Carrey’s and Steve Carrell’s comedy, so in order to reach the verdict, we both agreed to like Jason (almost typed ‘Patrick’ there, sheesh) Bateman  and Melissa McCarthy enough to give them a chance to entertain us in “Identity Thief”. I know it didn’t quite garner the best reviews out there, but you only live once, right?

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Now, the story is dead simple: A guy called Sandy (Jason Bateman) is your usual every-man you’d find in a big corporation – an underpaid, silently disgruntled middle-aged desk jockey that hates his job but needs it to provide for his growing family, who becomes a victim of identity theft. I guess he didn’t get the memo that you should never ever ever ever disclose any personal data over the phone. As a result, the thief (Melissa McCarthy) takes a bit of an advantage of Sandy’s female-sounding name (It’s unisex!) and drives his credit account into a morbid debt by binge-shopping and drinking herself into a stupor in night clubs. As a result – as you’d probably imagine – Sandy’s life turns into a nightmare and the only way he could bring it back to normal is to go all the way to Florida and find the perpetrator. I don’t fully understand the logical leap that was taken there by the writers, but I can live with that. Let’s just assume for the benefit of the movie that the police in this fantasy world are even more ineffective than in real life – a scary notion indeed. It’s probably best not to ask any uncomfortable questions, as it clearly seems that this part of the script was written at an ungodly hour, or something to that effect.

I think that “Identity Thief” was planned as a road trip-like comedy and managed to stick to the model for the most part. I have to say that there are some good moments where hilarity ensues and they are mostly owed to Melissa McCarthy’s improvised (?) excursions that most likely weren’t meant to look like that. Sadly, those were few and far between and it vastly diminished the comedic factor of “Identity thief”. Bateman’s character was nicely done – laughable, relatable and cute – but I guess he is more of a one-trick pony in that regard. Nevertheless, his character’s ill-placed logic and down-to-earth attitude were fine additions to McCarthy’s comedy here. If you’ve seen “Horrible bosses”, you’d know what I mean here.

Yeah, we don’t live in a perfect world and those scolding reviews had to have had their foundations somewhere. It turns out that “Identity thief” forgets ‘how to comedy’ half way through the film and turns into a soggy feel-good comedy that lasts until the ending credits… well, almost. But anyway, what could have been a decent picture that had ‘stupid’ written all over it, ended up being the manbearpig of comedy. I can’t really tell whether I just watched a no-holds-barred-sweaty-ass-in-your-face comedy, a sloppy feel-good redemption story or an awkward rom-com that forgot to ‘rom’ in its attempt to ‘com’. Uhh…

All in all, “Identity thief” wasn’t a complete disaster, but it didn’t deliver as well. So, I can’t really decide here, because I loved certain parts of it (mainly the first half of the movie that is more comedic than the other). However, the touchy-feely mood that gradually clouded the film was definitely enough to annoy me. In the end, I’m glad I couple-watched it today with My Wife, because had I been on my own there, I don’t know if I could last until the credits rolled. Then again, had I been alone, I would have watched “Burt Wonderstone” instead, which will have to wait a bit.