FILM REVIEW: GET HARD (2015)

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Darnell Lewis: When life throws you Dick you make Dick-ade!
James King: Dick-ade doesn’t sound like a significant improvement over dick.

Director: Etan Cohen

Starring: Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Alison Brie, Craig T. Nelson

Synopsis: When wealthy hedge fund manager, James King, is framed for fraud he is sentenced to maximum security prison, San Quentin. Worried about how to handle prison life he turns to his car cleaner, Darnell Lewis, who he falsely presumes knows what it’s like to be in prison because he is black. Needing the money to start his new business Darnell agrees to the offer even though he’s never actually been to prison.

A modern spin on the 80s classic comedy ‘Trading Places‘ with Will Ferrell as the stiff rich white man replacing Dan Akroyd and Kevin Hart as the poor black man (this time not homeless but a struggling business owner with a wife and daughter) replacing Eddie Murphy. It’s not officially a remake but it does borrow a lot from that film bordering on copyright.

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This is an enjoyable comedy not in the league of Ferrell’s superior comedies such as Anchorman and Step Brothers but better than most modern comedies. Hart brings his manic energy to the screen and after his hilarious stand up shows he’s beginning to bring that energy to his films after the disappointing Ride Along. Hart and Ferrell work well together but the film relies heavily on dick and rape jokes rather than their stars natural comedic talent.

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Ferrell stars as James King a wealthy hedge fund manager engaged to the smoking hot Alissa (played with wicked delight by Alison Brie). He has it all – gorgeous house, wealth, power and prestige however he soon finds himself the victim of a false accusation and faces time in prison. He turns to his car cleaner Darnell (Hart) for advice on how to survive in prison. He offers him $30,000 for his help. Darnell accepts even though he’s never been to prison. What follows is a series of sketches involving Hart preparing a disillusioned Ferrell on prison life including how to act tough, how to suck dick, and how to fight strangers. Not all of the sketches work and the dick/gay jokes feel dated in 2015. If this film came out ten or twenty years ago it would have been a lot edgier and in your face but after shock comedies such as Borat, Jackass and the American Pie series unfortunately most comedy fans have seen it all before.

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It is an enjoyable time if you enjoy the humour of Ferrell and Hart but unfortunately little else for contemporary audiences.

Rating: 2.5 Stars

FILM REVIEW: TOP FIVE (2014)

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Andre Allen: I am telling you, everything means something.
Chelsea Brown: No everything does not mean something. Okay, sometimes a movie is just a movie. Sometimes a song is just a song. Sometimes a joke is just a joke. Remember those, jokes?

Director: Chris Rock

Starring: Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, J.B. Smoove

Synopsis: A Comedian turned actor discusses the highs and lows of his life of fame with a New York Times writer who happens to share a few things in common with him.

First off, this films title is a running motif throughout the film as various characters list their top five rappers. I’m not a hardcore rap fan however growing up my cousins would blast Tupac, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg through their speakers so I was versed in the genre from an early age. As I grew up I came to love the genre and my current top five rappers are;
1. Kanye West
2. Eminem
3. Drake
4. Tupac Shakur
5. Jay Z
Probably a lot of hardcore rap fans would disagree with my list however since ‘Yeezy’ blew up in 2004 with his album ‘College Dropout’, I’ve loved all of his albums since and haven’t missed one. I’ve also been to his concert when he was out here in Melbourne and he was amazing! I believe his albums have each gotten better from 2005’s ‘Late Registration’ to 2013’s ‘Yeezus’. Also his latest track with Rihanna and Paul McCartney ‘FourFiveSeconds’ is on heavy rotation in my car and iPod. Also Eminem has been my favourite rapper since 2000’s ‘The Marshall Mathers LP’ and was probably my number one rapper through the 2000s. However I think his latest album 2013’s ‘The Marshall Mathers LP 2’ was a disappointment and makes him drop a spot. Just like Yeezy I’ve loved Drake since his debut 2010’s ‘Thank Me Later’ to this years surprise album ‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’. He may not be as prolific as Yeezy, Em and Jay but he is on heavy rotation in my car and iPod and I actually prefer him these days over Jay. However I would be remiss not to include Tupac Shakur who I grew up with and introduced me to the genre and also I love Jay’s flow. I also love a bit of Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, The Notorious B.I.G., Lil Wayne, 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea, and when I’m working out Pitbull.

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However enough about rap let’s discuss Chris Rock’s latest comedy Top Five. Top Five is Rock’s most personal film to date, dealing with a comedian turned popular comedy star who is hated by the critics and hasn’t had a good film yet. Unfortunately this is also true of Rock’s career. He is an amazing comedian, sharp, energetic, powerful and most of all hilarious. With 1996’s hit stage show Bring the Pain the first comedy show I saw of Rock I remember crying of laughter. It was brilliant and he managed to top that with 1999’s Bigger and Blacker. He returned again in 2004’s Never Scared and 2008’s Kill the Messenger. His live shows are all amazing and sadly he hasn’t been able to translate that to the screen. His two previous directorial efforts 2003’s Head of State and 2007’s I Think I Love My Wife were critical and commercial disasters. I’ve enjoyed his films however I’ve only enjoyed moments in them, I don’t think I’ve loved any from beginning to end, including the Grown Up series, Madagascar series, and his work with Kevin Smith. However I think Top Five is the reverse of his previous films where I love it from beginning to end and there are only a few moments I didn’t enjoy.

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As you can see I love stand up comedy and naturally I love films that deal with this subject matter including 2009’s Funny People and Martin Scorsese’s classic 1982’s The King of Comedy. This film deals with Andre Allen (Chris Rock) who is a famous comedian turned popular actor who is about to get married to a reality star Erica Long (Gabrielle Union) (shades of Kanye and Kim) while trying to be taken seriously for his new dramatic film dealing with the Haitian revolution. He agrees to an interview with New York Times writer Chelsea Brown (the luminous Rosario Dawson) to plug his film. At first he is hesitant because of the Times negative reviews of his previous films but reluctantly agrees for the press. He discovers a kindred spirit in Chelsea as they discuss the highs and lows in their lives and their shared experiences as recovering alcoholics. The film has an effortless chemistry between the two stars and they elevate the material and help it grow unlike Rock’s previous directorial efforts. However their discussions of the effects of recovering from alcohol addiction I felt didn’t ring as true as Rock’s analysis of the entertainment industry possibly because he could bring more truth to the entertainment industry rather than being a recovering addict. The film still works as a semi-autobiography and dig at the entertainment industry and what artists will do to have their art taken seriously. It is a fascinating film which also deals with topics (strong in Rock’s stage shows) such as race, politics, family and a real insight into the mind of one America’s best comedians.

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With a kinetic directorial style, sharp and witty writing and excellent performances from Rock and Dawson this is the smartest comedy in years and possibly the best film dealing with a stand up comic. It also boasts an excellent supporting cast and cameos from Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, Kevin Hart, J.B. Smoove, Leslie Jones and Ben Vereen.

Rating: 4 Stars

My Top Five Chris Rock films
1. Top Five
2. New Jack City
3. Madagascar
4. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
5. Dogma

My Top Five Comedians
1. Jerry Seinfeld
2. Chris Rock
3. Eddie Murphy
4. Kevin Hart
5. Louie C.K.

FILM REVIEW: FOCUS (2015)

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Nicky: It’s about distraction. It’s about focus. The brain is slow and it can’t multitask. Tap him here, take from there.

Director: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa

Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie

Synopsis: Veteran con man Nicky teaches a young apprentice Jess in the art of the con. Never lose focus, however as Nicky grows feelings for his apprentice their latest con may become more difficult for everyone involved.

The old school charming Will Smith is back in form in his latest con caper romantic drama, Focus. Smith was the hottest star of the 90s with blockbuster hits such as Bad Boys (1995), Independence Day (1996), and Men in Black (1997). In the 2000’s he began to explore his dramatic side with the biopics Ali (2001) and The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) but still found time to provide blockbusters such as I, Robot (2004) and I Am Legend (2007) however the 10s haven’t been as kind to him with the box office and critical failures such as After Earth (2013) and Winter’s Tale (2014). As a comeback vehicle Smith has chosen a con artist caper film in the vein of Ocean’s Eleven (2001) and American Hustle (2013) however this film is a pale imitation at best.

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Although Smith returns to form with his charming one liners and buff muscles flexing through his stylish clothes, the film has a flawed script which never lives up to the potential of its excellent leads. Matching Smith’s charm is the beautiful Margot Robbie hot off her impressive debut in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). Robbie is not only a sexy foil for Smith but she also has the acting ability to stretch her character from inept pocket thief to a skilled, sexy and appealing hustler. The plot revolves around Smith’s Nicky training Robbie’s Jess into a skilled con artist. Soon enough Nicky falls for Jess and decides to abandon her so he doesn’t “lose his focus” as a skilled con artist who can’t have anything or anyone stop him from completing the long con. Predictably they meet again three years later as Nicky is planning his next con which could make him millions.

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In a film like this I was expecting plenty of plot twists and clever set pieces involving people getting conned. Unfortunately there aren’t many twists and the final act is a convoluted mess which should have left the audience surprised instead of scratching their heads wondering what the point of the last two hours were. With impressive cinematography and good actors unfortunately the script and its surprises aren’t impressive and leaves this film feeling like a waste of everyone’s time.

Rating: 1 Star

REVIEW: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)

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Gamora: We’re just like Kevin Bacon.

Director: James Gunn

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper

Synopsis: A disparate team of thieves and bounty hunters join together to save the galaxy from an evil tyrant named Ronan the Accuser.

Review:

The latest blockbuster from Marvel Studios delivers all of the adventure and excitement of their previous comic book adaptations. A fast and enjoyable ride that will push these Marvel characters into the mainstream. The problem is it also doesn’t improve or transcend the genre either. This is not a complaint as this film not only delivers the thrills of the best superhero genre films but also subverts the conventions with quirky humour and a superb soundtrack of 70s and 80s hits. The only problem is that it doesn’t attempt to move beyond what has come before such as this years Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which delivered breathtaking action with excellent character drama. Perhaps it is too soon to compare this film to Captain America TWS because we have gotten to know those characters through multiple films and this is an origin story which ultimately must follow those conventions strictly to gain a wider audience. The inevitable sequel may use its time to delve into the characters further and create a deeper and more realised narrative. However what we have here feels somewhat rushed and fast paced to the point of shallow character development and more emphasis on special effects, action and humour. For the average movie goer this is sufficient for a good time at the movies and although this film is better than most of the blockbusters this year, including The Amazing Spiderman 2 and Transformers: Age of Extinction, it’s not a game changer either.

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The story begins in 1988 with a child named Peter Quill listening to ‘I’m not in Love’ the smooth 80s ballad on his Walkman, while waiting in a hospital preparing to see his ill mother. A heartfelt opening which is perhaps unlike any opening of a Marvel film we have seen. The heartfelt sequence is soon interrupted by Peter running off and randomly being taken by a spaceship. Cut to the future where Peter is a grown man still listening to his Walkman searching for a lost orb on another planet. We can see shades of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars immediately. Director James Gunn quickly subverts the genre with the Indiana Jones looking Chris Pratt dancing around the planet while he looks for the orb. This is a fun film with lots of humorous moments throughout and possibly the closest we’ll get to a great sci-fi comedy in the vein of Ghostbusters. Chris Pratt is almost a lighter Bill Murray. The film quickly gets into the space action and Gunn films it clearly and allows special effects to dazzle the audience. Peter quickly gets introduced to the other members of the team including Gamora (the sexy Zoe Saldana), Rocket, an anthropomorphised raccoon (voiced by a scraggly Bradley Cooper), the dumb and lovable tree, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and the bulky Drax the Destroyer (played with deadpan humour by professional wrestler, Dave Bautista). The crew come together rather quickly and I didn’t completely buy their immediate friendship based on how they get together. The films biggest fault in my opinion is in their introductions and the fast paced plotting of having them immediately all come together to become friends and ultimately defeat the evil force threatening the world. It’s almost as if the writers thought “Hey, we’ve got a team of badass characters who all have individual quirky traits who need to get together to save the world and then become best friends just like the avengers!” However these characters would have benefitted with more character development in their earlier introduction scenes and also remain individuals by the end. I’m not sure if it was necessary to establish them as a great team by the end because of how independent their backstories are. *Spoiler alert* I have to say I didn’t buy the ending where they all got together to go on another adventure. The film set them up to get together to fight this evil but I didn’t believe that they would always stay together and remain a team because of their pasts. I guess the comic book might have developed the characters better, but I have never read a Guardians of the Galaxy comic and I didn’t quite buy them as a team in this film.

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However these complaints aside I have to say the humour, action set pieces and the characters were all excellent and I did have a great time watching this film. Narrative problems aside this was a fun ride.

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Rating: 3.5 Stars

 

Review: Neighbors (2014) (US Title) aka Bad Neighbours (Australian Title)

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Plot Synopsis: Young new parents Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) struggle when their new neighbours turn out to be a fraternity crew.

Review:

I am a big Seth Rogen fan. I love most of his raunchy comedies from Knocked Up (2007) and Superbad (2007) to last years This Is The End, his comedies all revolve around young men struggling to become mature adults. His characters tend to hold on to their youth. Enjoying video games and weed instead of working proper jobs and supporting their girlfriends/spouses. Recently Rogen has grown up somewhat as last years meta-comedy This Is The End showed a new side to his persona and with Bad Neighbours we see Rogen finally accepting his role as an adult.

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Rogen plays Mac, the average Rogen character, self-deprechating, shallow, smokes weed, loves television and has a hot girlfriend. His character Mac is recently married to Kelly (Rose Byrne, playing in her native Australian tongue) and has a six month old baby. The opening scene introduces the audience to the films raunchy nature right away as the couple tries to have spontaneous sex only to be interrupted by their baby watching. We can see that the two are still struggling with their new lives as parents and yearn for their years of partying and living carefree. When they decide to go out they take so long preparing the baby for the trip that they get tired and fall asleep. Being a new father myself I can empathise with their predicaments.

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Things turn quickly for the couple as their new neighbours turn out to be Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco) two fraternity brothers. They have their fraternity behind them and prepare the house for parties and debauchery. Mac and Kelly worry about the noise they’ll start however don’t want to be the prude neighbours calling the police. What ensues is a game of cat and mouse as Mac and Kelly try and get Teddy and his crew to move out. The ongoing capers that follow are highly enjoyable and anyone who loves Seth Rogen and his previous raunchy comedies won’t be disappointed in what is delivered here.

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Zac Efron  sheds his Disney image by playing the bad boy who is so obsessed with his fraternity and partying that he struggles with deciding on a career path. Dave Franco (James brother) also plays well against Efron and shows his comedy potential after his breakout role in 21 Jump Street (2012). Jerrod Carmichael as Garf provides a great breakout performance and I look forward to seeing him in the future.

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Director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) provides the film with a heavy party spirit. Providing the frat house party scenes with all the strobe lights and club music to make you feel the frat house nature. Overall the film is a success and can be added to the list of the superior comedies over the last few years.

Rating: 4 Stars