Month: October 2015



When Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) stands in the light of a dewy sunbeam to reveal his sparkling vampire skin, a familiar Rihanna refrain mentally kicked into play. “Shine bright like a diamond….Shine bright like a diamond….You’re a shooting star I see, a vision of ecstasy….Feel the warmth, we’ll never die.” That’s a nice emo tune for a vampire, I think, certainly a way of de-escalating things considering that Edward had just admitted to his human object of affection, Bella (Kristen Stewart), that he was an immortal, blood-sucking being.

But the conversation doesn’t go the pop chart route. Instead it gets weirdly dark and intense, violating so many rules of what a healthy, romantic relationship should be. Leaving aside for a moment that Edward has just dragged Bella into the remote forest interior in order to better bare his soul, and chest, to her, he repeatedly tells the woman he loves that he’s a killer, a creature designed to murder people. If that’s not enough to get your crush’s heart racing, he then waxes poetic and compares her to his “own personal brand of heroin,” because really, what girl doesn’t think of herself as an illegal substance that can lead to multiple organ failure?

At this point in the movie, I’d had enough of Edward’s abusive behavior and was angry that Bella was being set up as a collaborator. For every one of his condescensions or outright threats, she responds with more emphatic trust in his basic goodness, or sexiness – it’s never made clear. After Edward uses his superhuman speed and strength and saves her from an out-of-control car, she begins to suspect something otherworldly about her pale, moody lab partner. He coolly responds that no one’s going to believe her and suggests that the silly little girl just hit her head. When she won’t give up her suspicions, he basically tells her to fuck off if she values her life. Edward’s not always so abrasive though, swooping in to save Bella from some thugs while she’s wandering alone at night down a dark alley. It would have been chivalric had she not been in another town a hundred miles away. In this case, it’s just stalking.

But I couldn’t turn away, and not because I was captivated by Pattinson’s beauty (Long live Cedric Diggory!). It was because I’d naively promised a friend to watch the whole film and because there was actually a plot to this that didn’t involve the tortured lovers spouting fan fiction dialogue to one another. Bella is a newcomer to Forks, Washington and attempts to re-establish a relationship with her father (Billy Burke). She quickly makes a few friends, including a chatty Anna Kendrick, one of the few spots of sunshine in the whole film.

They aren’t nearly as interesting as the lab partner though. For all Edward’s talk about being a killer, he belongs to a “vegetarian” vampire family, led by the town doctor (Peter Facinelli), that feasts on animal blood. This annoys a group – or coven – of itinerant vampires, who also dislike Edward and Bella’s inter-species affair. (Cue Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.”) There’s a showdown and lots of pearly white fangs, but there is also a rush of energy once the vampire battle gets going. Watching people, or vampires, clawing and gnashing at one another is infinitely preferable to watching two people fail at building a healthy relationship.

When the film isn’t setting a bad example for its young audience, however, it takes beautiful advantage of its Pacific Northwest landscape. The movie is saturated in dusky blues and greens and makes living in a place with ancient, towering trees and no sun seem almost dreamy in a supernatural way. At the same time, it weighs down the angsty teen relationship, which may be how high schoolers like it. But for those of us in our mid-thirties and not drawn to vampire films, there are too many overdramatic flourishes that end up being tedious rather than mysterious. There are only so many times we need to see the lovers stare into each other’s soul or try to undress each other with their eyes, whatever they are doing. I’d prefer more Bella and Jacob (Taylor Lautner), her shy admirer who, because he is still human and not yet a werewolf capable of tearing her to pieces, doesn’t get much screentime. Thankfully, there are four more films in this series.

Released: 2008
Prod: Wyck Godfrey, Greg Mooradian, Mark Morgan
Dir: Catherine Hardwicke
Writer: Melissa Rosenberg
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Ashley Greene, Kellan Lutz, Nikki Reed, Jackson Rathbone, Billy Burke, Cam Gigandet, Rachelle Lefèvre, Edi Gathegi, Taylor Lautner, Gil Birmingham, Anna Kendrick, Christian Serratos, Michael Welch, Gregory Tyree Boyce, Justin Chon
Time: 121 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2015

Horrible Bosses

horrible bosses

What’s your horrible boss story? Mine includes a toxic mix of recklessness, immaturity, bullying, homophobia, and blatant disregard for labor laws. The standard cocktail, I assume, with only garnishes to differ. My boss played favorites and regularly treated hers to after-work drinks and once a trip to Oman (ostensibly on business). Those who ran afoul got the cold shoulder or an early termination. The less fortunate received a humiliating, shouty dressing down in front of coworkers and clients; we all ended up with some level of post-traumatic stress disorder. One day I decided I wouldn’t take it anymore, so I did what any person with a horrible boss does – I quit.

Actually, that’s not what everyone dreams of doing. The guys of this dark comedy who don’t have the option of telling their bosses to screw themselves instead take it several hundred notches higher and decide to kill their offending superiors. It’s easy to see why since all can rightfully claim the title of “Most Sadistic.” Harken (Kevin Spacey), according to employee Nick (Jason Bateman), is the total fucking asshole variety of boss, exactly the type I imagine populates high-pressure financial institutions. Meanwhile, Julia (Jennifer Aniston), a dentist, crosses, rather leaps across other lines of workplace decency by sexually harassing her hygienist, the newly engaged Dale (Charlie Day). Only Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) shares a professional and nurturing relationship with his boss (Donald Sutherland), but that disappears when the latter dies from a heart attack, leaving his coke-snorting son, Bobby (Colin Ferrell sporting cinema’s most formidable combover) in charge of the company.

I haven’t figured out if this film is supposed to be a cathartic experience and, if so, for whom. Certainly it delivers the laughs and is uncompromising in its humor. The three friends are no slouches but in the face of persistent emotional and even physical abuse, they don’t end up making the best decisions. Their frustration, and ours, paired with their ineptitude leads to extreme situations that are funny in their absurdity. At one point, Nick and Kurt break into Harken’s house, leaving a coked-out Dale – it was an accident with a dust buster – as the lookout. Naturally, you’d expect Harken to show up, which he does, but the fallout has one of the party clinging to dear life and for a completely unexpected reason.

Where the movie works, it’s thanks to the actors who are relentless about their characters’ mission. That Bateman, Day, and Sudeikis don’t allow these disgruntled guys to look backwards only pushes the story closer to the edge. All three have that look of pent-up paranoia that makes you want to see them safely through to their goal, even if it means some sort of complicity in murder. It helps that Spacey, Aniston, and Farrell also take full advantage of their roles and play truly despicable people who themselves have broken multiple laws.

The lines blur when it comes to the writing, however. There’s a lot of smart comedy, but it hides behind cheap jabs at race, disability, and weight to name a few. Not having the wherewithal to carry out the murders themselves, the guys ask their car’s satnav for advice. There’s a joke about the operator’s unpronounceable Indian name and another about that of their black murder consultant. They end up hiring Motherfucker Jones (Jamie Foxx) after being directed to the most dangerous area in town because, well, you know. Somehow it’s funny that Julia rapes Dale, and his only recourse is to have sex with her on top of his unconscious fiancée or plot murder. Additional jokes about gender and sexual orientation are all thrown in for the sake of pushing boundaries, but many are delivered in a way that gives the audience license to laugh at whoever’s being made fun of. Even if I don’t prefer humor that shocks for the sake of it, I get the attempt and can stomach gags that involve shoving toothbrushes in certain orifices. I just don’t see why filmmakers didn’t make a better effort to offend in that way.

Released: 2011
Prod: Brett Ratner, Jay Stern
Dir: Seth Gordon
Writer: Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
Cast: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Kevin Spacey, Donald Sutherland, Jamie Foxx
Time: 98 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2015

Ride Along

ride along

Ride Along is basically what you’d expect from a movie starring Kevin Hart and Ice Cube about a man who needs his girlfriend’s brother’s approval before they can marry. Ice Cube plays the snarling undercover police officer brother, and Hart bumps around and looks silly as the underachieving, diminutive boyfriend.

The movie has its moments, mostly involving Hart’s character, Ben, as he tries to work his way up from his current position as a high school security guard to the local police force. He is excited when he gets an invitation from James (Ice Cube) to shadow him for the day, hoping the experience will earn him both a future brother-in-law and the goodwill of the department. If you like the actor as I do, his giddiness will have you on the side of the beleaguered boyfriend, who, by all accounts, is a pretty good catch. He’s ambitious, devoted, and involves his girlfriend (Tika Sumpter) in his video game marathons. He probably lets her choose the next movie in his Netflix queue too, which is more than can be said of her brother, who thinks that she’s incapable of making her own life decisions.

Since the couple are so adorably compatible, it’s too bad that Ben has to gain James’s respect and take the audience on a pedestrian 100 minute ride along in order to get it. Even with Hart’s frenetic energy, the film is average at best. It throws a lot of soft punches with easy jokes about shady arms traffickers, misuse of guns, and Ben’s manhood. The plot doesn’t help either, eschewing the thrill of an original story for neatly traced lines over every other undercover police buddy odd-couple film you’ve ever seen. We already know that James is determined to make Ben’s life hell, so it’s not too hard to figure out what tricks he’ll pull (e.g. one with a grizzled biker gang, one with the help of a poker buddy) or that some of his pranks will turn out to be the real deal.

Hart and Cube are both dynamic actors and have a natural chemistry, but that doesn’t help much here. The latter tends to recycle his characters, but that of course gets old, even if people get some thrill out of seeing Ice Cube’s permanent scowl. He used the angry black man persona to better, and literal, effect in 21 Jump Street, but this was thanks to sharper writing and direction that turned each line and look into a powerful full stop. There’s an attempt to correct for this by throwing James some existential angst as he comes to terms with letting go of his sister, but it’s a short-lived emotional ploy. I suppose if you’re a fan of either actor – or Laurence Fishburne, who sweeps in for a cameo and looks like a boss, watch Ride Along to tick off a box, and then move on to something better.

Released: 2014
Prod: Ice Cube, Matt Alvarez, Will Packer, Larry Brezner
Dir: Tim Story
Writer: Greg Coolidge, Jason Mantzoukas, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Cast: Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill, Bryan Callen, Tika Sumpter, Laurence Fishburne, Jay Pharoah
Time: 100 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2015