Tower Heist

Tower Heist PosterRating: ★★☆☆☆

“Tower Heist” is a robbery movie like many others. Here is a sub-genre so mindlessly recycled that films within its category are mainly differentiated by the intellectual capacity of its characters. Develop your heroes as smart individuals, and you’ve got a thriller. Gather a group of idiots, and you’re set for a comedy.

The crooks in “Tower Heist” are so hopeless that, to them, the phrase “Like Stealing Candy from a Baby” would be more of a challenge than an idiom. So incompetent are these chumps that they’d fail at conquering a 7-Eleven with a tank. Yet here they are, plotting to rob millions of dollars from a luxury hotel equipped with, and I quote, “the most advanced security systems.” We begin to doubt this claim when we notice nothing beyond the typical surveillance cameras that’s being kept in check by The Preoccupied Security Guard. His watchful eyes beam at the pages of Playboy, instead of the monitors.

Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy in Tower HeistBut forget about the security system. The story, which has potential for a fun, escapist comedy, is let down by lazy writing that ignores the possibilities of its premise. One instance that supports this point is the sequence where our heroes are tasked to shoplift from a store in the mall. Each of them enters a different shop. They look for an item, take it, walk away, and that’s it. We sense that a lot more could have been done with this idea if it were handed to a zanier director, like Adam McKay (“Anchroman”). Brett Ratner, commonly known as a crappy director and a narcissistic asshole, is just showcasing the former description.

“Tower Heist”, directed by Brett Ratner, centers around a deluxe high-rise, the hard-working staff that maintains it, and the wealthy tenant who lives in the topmost floor. The rich man is Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), who is facing legal battle after losing the pension of the hotel’s staff in a Ponzi scheme. The building’s manager, Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller), is enraged. Determined to recover the pension of the employees, including his own, Josh summons his inner criminal mastermind in a mission to revenge steal from Shaw.

In urgent need of a team, Josh recruits the expertise of a clueless concierge and an elevator operator who once worked at Burger King. He takes a long, sad look at his companions. Not good. Josh approaches an experienced thief named Slide (Eddie Murphy), hoping that he could attain some consultation and partnership. The character of Eddie Murphy allows him to relive the kind of humor that established his reputation as a comedian. But the mistake that “Tower Heist” commits against him is that they never give Murphy the screen time he deserves. We get a peak at what he used to be and can be again, but we never really get there.

Michael Pena, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, and Casey Affleck in Tower HeistWe eventually arrive at the day of the heist. In its most crucial and unexpected circumstance, our heroes find themselves facing a dilemma that would stump Danny Ocean. But they press on. Josh, Slide, and team must lower a solid gold car from the top floor of the high-rise.

At one point, we see the car suspended out a window, just waiting to be seen by anyone with functioning eyes. But it seems that nobody ever looks up nowadays. Because these happenings are detached from the rest of reality, very little excitement is accomplished.

If “Tower Heist” offers any consolation, it’s the hope that it brings to the career of Eddie Murphy. It’s about time he stepped away from his fat suits. This aging comedian is headed in the right direction, which is the direction opposite to what Adam Sandler is currently in.

The Change-Up

The Change-Up PosterRating: ½☆☆☆☆

“The Change-Up” is frequently repugnant, occasionally misogynistic, sporadically racist and thoroughly stupid. This is a loathsome movie not because it aims for the lowest form of crass comedy, but because it aims for the lowest form of crass comedy… and misses. Depressingly humorless, the film falls apart at just about the same rapid rate as an Adam Sandler comedy.

“The Change-Up” revisits the drained formula of the Body-Swap movie, where two people of contrasting lives end up within the body of the other, and vice versa. Here, our duo is comprised of hard-working husband, Dave (Jason Bateman), and weed-smoking bachelor, Mitch (Ryan Reynolds). In a night of cursing, fantasizing, and alcoholism, the two head off to the nearest magic fountain to take a piss, one that’s long enough to refill the Fountain of Life. Dave and Mitch wake up the next morning and are distressed to discover a reality similar to the fate of the heroes of “17 Again”, “Freaky Friday”, “The Hot Chick”, etc.

Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman

Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman

What we have here is a story that requires only about 80-90 minutes to be fully told. Yet the movie doesn’t end until we reach its 105th minute. The reason for this excessive length is that “The Change-Up” doesn’t want to tell anyone a story. It is, in truth, a lame-brained, foul-mouthed machine whose sole job is to throw as much vulgarity and profanity as possible at its audience. If you finish this movie without finding something that upset you, consult your therapist.

Observing my own responses, I came to realize that crudity isn’t my problem with the movie, since I both admired “The Hangover” and the more recent “Horrible Bosses”. I think the problem with “The Change-Up” is its failure to include the slightest amount of intelligence in the delivery of its filthy humor. The movie is so devoid of wit that the only thing left for us to grasp are exactly what’s been placed in front of us, which is a montage of cussing, shouting, and wayward meanness.

"Are they retarded or something' -Mitch

"Are they retarded or something' -Mitch

Most of the movie is a verbal attack on the human race, revealing its abominable attitude towards blessings of universal value. (It shares its hateful thoughts on certain topics, then cowardly retreats at the last minute so things could conclude with a smile.) An example of this would be the movie’s mistreatment of infants as a source of comedy. Dave has baby twins, which are now in the care of the naive Mitch. He drops the F Bomb by addressing them as little F’ers as he vocally wonders if the babies are mentally retarded.

In a later scene, the twins are left unattended in the kitchen, where they play with death through knives and electricity outlets. In what sense is this funny? I felt sorry for these infants, especially for the one who keeps banging his head against a crib, infuriated by the fact that his first movie role is in “The Change-Up.”

Horrible Bosses

Horrible Bosses PosterRating: ★★★½☆

Nick, Dale and Kurt are average Americans with reasonable and respected intentions in life. Some of their aspirations are no different from our own. Nick is the hard-working office employee who is always the first to arrive and the last to leave. He dreams of a big promotion, which he clearly deserves. Dale is committed to the woman he loves. His plan is to marry her, sustaining their relationship through his earnings as a dentist’s assistant. Kurt is content with his role in the chemical company he’s in. He smiles in the thought that he could one day be in charge. Nick, Dale and Kurt are such harmless, typical fellas that, when they agree that it would be best to kill their bosses, we wonder how evil their superiors could be.

The bosses in “Horrible Bosses” are indeed what the title suggests them to be, and more. Besides being horrible, they’re also psychotic, perverted, delusional, and mean. They make other people’s life miserable because they can. They take advantage of their authority by engaging in activities that can only be classified as either immoral or illegal. I describe these bullies from observations I made during office hours. How do these people entertain themselves on a Holiday?

Jason Bateman and Kevin Spacey

The first of three bosses is Dave Harken, played by Kevin Spacey. Dave is so skilled at publicly humiliating others that he might as well host the next Oscars. Dave knows that he can easily make Nick’s dream come true, but won’t. Next up is Jennifer Anniston’s Dr. Julia Harris, the world’s horniest dentist. Julia’s instinctive habit of seducing the nearest conscious male would make an ordinary man rejoice, especially if you’re her assistant, but not Dale. He fears that Julia’s regular sexual stunts will jeopardize his engagement. And then there’s Bobby Pellitt (Colin Farrell), who has recently took command of the chemical company that employs Kurt. Because everything that Bobby touches turns to a strip club, Kurt is not confident that the company will last long.

Charlie Dale and Jennifer AnistonReliable critics claim that, if you want a great villain for your movie, you need to (1) have the right actor play the role, and (2) let him or her have fun with it. It’s easy to say that Spacey, Aniston, and Farrell thoroughly enjoyed their visit on the opposite side of the conflict. In an age where most villainous roles are given to Mark Strong, you can’t blame the three for making the most of their opportunity. Extra credit is given to Aniston who surprises the audience by finally trying something different. It’s about time she took a break from the undemanding genre of the romantic-comedies.

As for the film’s heroes, their comedy is found in the fact that they are idiots when it comes to murder. If these people attempted to fulfill their mission in the real world, they’d be in jail by dinnertime. The movie allows them to be invisible idiots to maximize the gags.

“Horrible Bosses” is a funny movie, but I wouldn’t recommend it to people with ears not used to frequent mentions of private parts. Like many recent R-Rated comedies, it follows the footsteps of “The Hangover”, which proved that dark comedies could be a huge financial success. I’m happy for them, but don’t expect me to support a sequel. I don’t mind if I never get to know what these crazy bosses do on a Holiday.

Just Go with It

Just Go with It PosterRating: ★☆☆☆☆

“Just Go with It” is another step down for Adam Sandler’s career. It starts inside the lethargic world of Sandler and ends within the tired formula of the romantic-comedy genre. It’s a long, slow slide from crudeness to mediocrity. The morons that are the film’s characters are appalling upon the moment of their introduction. Unfunny and mentally incompetent, these people roam around the movie’s dead plot until it’s time for them to learn their life lesson while somehow finding a way to remain stupid.

Most of the film’s first half is devoted to Adam Sandler’s compulsion to fool around. Most of the people are around him should be either a hateful jerk or a dumb stereotype, so his character would blend in with the crowd. He plays a rich plastic surgeon, Danny Maccabee. Danny’s heart was broken many years ago. As a coping mechanism, he pretends to be a depressed loser in front of pretty women. His life is so miserable that the women have no choice but to sleep with him just to cheer him up.

One night, he meets a cute blonde named Palmer. His pre-planned lies result in their physical intimacy. He wakes up in the morning convinced that Palmer and himself are destined to be together… forever. Danny is apparently delusional enough to base his conviction on a one night stand. Coincidentally, Palmer is dumb enough to agree with Danny.

Aniston and Sandler

Circumstances require Danny to settle the case with a non-existent ex-wife before he could advance his new romance with Palmer. He goes to his assistant Katherine and asks her to play the part. She is portrayed by Jennifer Aniston, whose starring role in “The Bounty Hunter” helped it become one of the worst movies of 2010. She offers the same contribution to “Just Go with It”, one of the worst movies of 2011. It’s not that she’s a bad actress. Katherine Heigl– now she’s a bad actress. Aniston’s choice of movies just makes her look like one, which isn’t actually much of an advantage.

Anyway, Katherine has two children who, for a price, have agreed to participate in Danny’s scam. These kids are spoiled, selfish, little liars. The movie makes a phony excuse for their existence by taming them by the movie’s end. It suggests that their bad behavior is the result of an absentee father. But the movie resolves the problem by rewarding them with the privilege to be raised by Adam Sandler. Right. Maybe my dislike for the kids is mostly because none of the jokes associated with their characters work. (To be clear and fair to the kids, none of the jokes associated with any of the characters work.)

Adam Sandler’s next film will be “Jack and Jill”, where Sandler will have the sadistic joy of playing two obnoxious, unfunny characters. The movie looks so bad from the trailer alone that it seems it’s gonna give him more than one step down his career.

Jennifer’s Body (Quick Review)

Jennifer's Body Poster Rating: ★½☆☆☆

I’m pretty sure both of us have more important things to do right now than to talk about this bad movie, so let’s make this quick.

The central character is Jennifer. The woman playing Jennifer is Megan Fox. The entire supporting cast in “Jennifer’s Body” includes:

1.) Megan Fox’s cleavage

2.) Megan Fox’s legs

3.) Megan Fox’s ass

The movie’s title supports my claim. “Jennifer’s Body” can be best described as an exploitive extension and dissection of the picture below.

Megan Fox

                                                                     And… we’re done! Talk to you later!

17 Again (Quick Review)

17 Again PosterRating: ★★½☆☆

The first minutes of “17 Again” are proud to present a shirtless and sweaty Zac Efron. Now observe yourself. Observe yourself, real hard. How did that first sentence made you feel? Did it excite you? Discouraged you? Made you laugh? Anything? I ask you this because that feeling will most likely stay with you for the rest of the film.

Now girls, calm down. I can explain the negative rating. You see, I’m one of the guys. How would you feel if you watched a movie about Vanessa Hudgens with nothing to be about except to remind you that it’s starring Vanessa Hudgens?

Snatch

Snatch PosterRating: ★★★★½

So there’s this stolen 86-carat diamond stone that has recently gone missing. And you can bet that there are quite a number of people who will risk their life and threaten lives in order to acquire this precious stone once news gets out. Except perhaps for one weird gypsy who just wants a brand new caravan for his mama, but that’s a whole other story.

In fact, there are a lot of whole other stories in Snatch. They may not be clear to you at first, and they may not still be clear to you by the end, but who cares? This is a film that is very fun. It is without a boring minute, and it contains dialogue that gives a worthy salute to, dare I say it, “Pulp Fiction”.

Okay, now the stone’s on the loose and people are wearing their ski masks, loading their guns, and hiring their bounty hunters to get it.  Complications arise, adjustments required, deals are made, deals are broken, pigs are starved, pigs are fed, and Vinnie Jones delivers a hilariously unsettling scene where he compares a trio of amateur criminals to male genitalia.

Like I’ve said, this is very fun, and its director, Guy Ritchie, knows how to maximize it. In a span of about a minute, we are introduced to the main characters to this film. I lost count at eleven. After that, things get going, and they get going really fast. These characters are divided by different points of views, and every issue, stake, solution, and their inevitable clash are all squeezed in a running time of just over 100 minutes.

People who didn’t like “Snatch” seem to have a mutual agreement that GuyBrad Pitt as Mickey Ritchie might have overdone his swift style of movie-making. They make a valid point. The fast pacing of the plot makes the movie hard to follow and the great amount of characters just makes things even harder. Plus, a lot of logic was sacrificed in order to arrive at certain situations. I am not a fan of these errors, but today they are tolerated.

For all I care, one can sacrifice all the logic they want as long as they come up with some mighty entertainment. And in Snatch, you won’t just get entertainment; you’ll get to hear Brad Pitt vocalize an accent I won’t even attempt to describe. I’m just gonna say that it’s an accent where one wishes for them subtitles.

The Other Guys

Rating: ★★★½☆

Only in a film by Adam McKay will you see scenes involving cubicle flute-playing, willful self-stabbing, and testicle drum-rubbing portrayed with such passion. And only a man named Will Ferrell will do all these acts just because he can. The Other Guys succeeds in further extending McKay’s and Ferrell’s track record for being the most haphazardly ambitious comedians in Hollywood.

A quarter pound of illegal drugs needs to be recovered, and twelve million dollars worth of property damage later, they are recovered. No thanks are due to New York City’s cockiest detectives Danson and Highsmith, who are uproariously played by Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson. But they are not what this movie is about. Living beneath, far beneath their shadows are Allen Gamble and Terry Hoitz.

Danson’s and Highsmith’s spotlight are later emptied for reasons I shall not discuss, and Terry notices that vacant spotlight and desires to fill it at the first opportunity that he can. But he can’t do it alone, and must first convince Allen to go with him in the field and prove themselves worthy of more than mere paperwork at a desk. Oh, but Allen has different, less dangerous goals than Terry, which inspires some exchange of words, a few dozen fights, and a couple of felonies if I’m not mistaken.

The amount of arguments in “The Other Guys” is similar to that of McKay’s previous film, “Step Brothers”. But here, the fights are less offensive, has less testicles, has more substance, and, dare I say it, has more maturity. Unlike “Step Brothers”, much of the comedy in “The Other Guys” is drawn from how one reacts to the actions or words of the other, and how that reaction leads up to that character’s impending action. A good example of this is a scene where Terry tells Allen how much he hates him. The comedy is not from Terry’s speech of hatred, but by the unexpected counter-speech from Allen.

Allen and Terry are played by Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, who do great jobs at being pissed and pissing the other off. Ferrell is a veteran at this; that is why I’m giving out extra props for Wahlberg, whose moments with Ferrell cause some of the funniest moments of 2010. It is rather regrettable that the final half hour focuses on the plot, which causes a decline in laughs. In a movie like this, thirty minutes worth of plot is twenty minutes too many.

Where the plot is absent the most is when “The Other” Guys is at its funniest, which is its first half hour. Imagine how much funnier this movie could have been if it kept Danson and Highsmith. Imagine if a full pound of illegal drugs needed to be recovered.

The Hangover Part II

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

We’ve been told before to touch not the things that are without fault. Altering that which is already awesome could be a risky act, but repeating it could be even worse, because it shows no diligence and bravery. “The Hangover Part II” resembles its 2009 predecessor so much that it’s probably more appropriate to regard it as a remake, than as a sequel.

The extent of the similarity between the two “Hangover” movies suggests hungry wallets for its makers. When the script is hurried, the shooting will be also. Paychecks are rewarded earlier, and audiences are left to watch a meaner, dirtier, and more offensive version of the same movie. There is a significant increase in violence, coarse language, and public display of privates. To warn viewers that are more sensitive, I would specify which organs to expect, but the setting of the film is Thailand, and if there’s one thing I learned, it’s that we can never be sure of what we see.

The setting is in Thailand because Stu’s fiancée, Lauren, is from that country, and her parents wish that the wedding is to be held there. Phil, Alan and Doug join Stu, which later leads to a beer at a beach with Lauren’s little brother, Teddy. The next morning they uhm… forget it. You know the drill. Our heroes wake up with a lack of memory and a series of questions, and from this point on we are tasked to listen to conversations we have all heard before.

“What did we do last night?”

“Excuse me. Did you know where our friend is?”

“What is going on?!”

Much of the wit of “The Hangover” was caused by its originality and unpredictability, but since both of those elements are no longer here, wit has been replaced by physical humor. It’s no longer about awkward and wacky situations, but separate events where people get constantly hurt. (Although pain isn’t much of a problem for Mr. Chow, the international criminal with a heart for partying and a nose for drugs.  His behavior here calls for the help of the best mental institution in town.)

Even though this is a prime example of Hollywood’s habit of supporting projects empty of originality, the earlier scenes of “The Hangover Part II” gave me something to look forward to. Almost everything before the actual adventure was funny. Alan, who is clearly the film’s star, lives in a world where being a “stay-at-home son” is a position that is to be bragged about. When the film takes an unfortunate turn for the vulgarity, Alan’s facial reactions to the highly R-rated jokes are funnier than the jokes themselves. Zach Galifianakis is the rare comedian who can be funny by just being there.

The relationship between Alan and the rest of the “wolfpack” is entertainment in itself, which is mostly fueled by Alan’s cluelessness and exaggerated allegiance to his buddies. Must they really be drugged into mental oblivion for them to produce good comedy?

Everything Is Illuminated

Rating: ★★★★☆

“Everything is Illuminated” is a movie about memories and the things that certain people do with them. Some treasure each memory with zeal and optimism; others spend a lifetime filtering every dark moment with a hope of never having to suffer in remembrance of it. So many things can happen to us, both good and bad, and it’s not unusual to occasionally wish that we can control our ability to remember, and forget.

Elijah Wood stars as Jonathan, a Jewish-American who is about to travel to Ukraine in search of the woman who saved his grandfather’s life during the Second World War. His eyes are magnified by his thick glasses and his hair is cautiously combed, which rightfully matches his black suite. Our first impression of Jonathan is a man who is curious and disciplined. We are even hinted that he has an obsessive-compulsive nature the first time we see a wall in his home almost completely covered with plastic bags containing items that is there to simply remind him.

While Jonathan is yet to arrive, we are introduced to a Ukrainian family whose business is to help Jews find the place where their ancestors have perished. This is where the movie suddenly adapts a comedic tone. The eldest son is Alex, who is the film’s narrator. His skills in English are lacking in an appealing way. He claims to be a “premium” dancer, and is not very excited to learn that he must accompany his grandfather in “the commencement of a very rigid search.” Because Grandfather, the designated driver of the search, claims to be blind, they bring along Sammy Davis Junior Jr. He is the official “seeing eye bitch”. I kinda love these guys.

When Grandfather and Alex finally get together with young Jonathan, a humorous and moving adventure begins. Soon enough we learn of Alex’s interest in the American life as he cannot stop asking questions from Jonathan. Alex wonders about the mystery behind tips, veganism, and the salary of all kinds of… accountants. During all this, Grandfather is rather detached from all activities.

As the movie draws closer to its conclusion, we notice that it shifts from silly comedy to serious drama. This method isn’t commonly used in the movies, because it is difficult to pull of, but first-time director Liev Schreiber has somehow succeeded. Deeper emotions are revealed. Alex reveals a concern for Grandfather that has been keeping him “distressed.” It’s also surprising how Jonathan’s journey slowly becomes more of the grandfather’s. His own memories are made known unto us. There are some mistakes, but it’s the regrets that are more discomforting.

The more I watched “Everything is Illuminated”, the more I thought about the possibility that the real heroes here are Alex and his grandfather. Perhaps the primary purpose of Jonathan’s existence here is to highlight the characters of the two Ukrainians, which could actually be what the movie got right the most.