The Hopper Returns!

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“The Boxtrolls” (2014)

If you’ve read my blog long enough then you know how much I enjoy animated movies. It could be hand drawn, computer generated, stop-motion or claymation. So long as it has some grasp of imagination, creativity and still tell a well-rounded and fascinating story, it is a worthwhile experience. The problem is when the film fails to give the audience a story that is worth watching.

“The Boxtrolls” was created by Laika Studios, who have before brought us “Coraline” and “Paranorman,” both of which are wonderful at balancing that carefree child attitude with terrifying surroundings. While “The Boxtrolls” has an inspiring balance of computer generated imagery and stop-motion, it fails to deliver on every other level and leaves a bittersweet taste.

In the town of Cheesebridge, the townsfolk must continue to deal with the same haunting problem: The carnivorous boxtrolls who hunt at night. The leader of Cheesebridge, Lord Portley-Rind, decides to hand over the task of dealing with these monsters to Mr. Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), who may or may not have plans for these creatures, if it means that he can get his hands on Portley-Rind’s fancy white hat.

This film, much like its predecessors, looks beautiful. The animation is flawless, from the small little details of the city, to the large mechanical beasts that Mr. Snatcher uses. Not to mention, the world of the Boxtrolls is intrigue, detailed and makes perfect sense. They fully use their boxes to blend into their surroundings and are fascinated with machines and wish to build. The scenes where the Boxtrolls are in their home, building up to make a society, are the best scenes in the film.

Where “The Boxtrolls” falls apart is everywhere else, in particular the story. There are so many clichés and repeated scenes from other films that I could predict exactly how the film would go after just twenty minutes. The Boxtrolls aren’t actually monsters, just misunderstood, and the humans are the real monsters by hunting them down and not caring about anything other than themselves. We’ve heard this so many times before that its just eye-rolling by now.

This is made even worse when you realize that the characters development is more flat than the animation. Outside of the main character, a boy who thinks he’s a Boxtroll, no one changes over the course of movie. The villain is obsessed with getting a white hat, for vaguely explained reasons, the love interest insists on telling gory descriptions to stories, and Lord Portley-Rind is the worst offender of all.

One of the main lessons, I think, is that adults are supposed to set a good example for their children to help raise them. Except that Portley-Rind never comes to this revelation. By the end, he is still a greedy bastard who cares more about cheese than the safety of his town and is extremely hesitant to give up his white hat just to save his daughter. Far too much emphasis is put on that white hat without giving the audience a good reason to care about it.

“The Boxtrolls” is a sad movie. I don’t mean that it’ll make you feel sad, but that there was so much effort, dedication and passion put into this film, only for it to be so forgettable and disappointing. On the one hand, the animation and detail is stunning. But on the other hand, the story is bland at best and infuriating at worst. If you wanted to see this one, wait for a DVD release.

Final Grade: C-

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“Tusk” (2014)

I’ve never seen a Kevin Smith movie before today. Now that I have, I’m glad “Tusk” is the only one.

Going into this film, I knew that it would be disturbing and off-putting. In fact, I expected that and wanted to see it more than anything else. But what I got was something far more over the top and unnecessarily disturbing that I left feeling disgusted for all the wrong reasons.

After traveling up to Canada to conduct an interview for a podcast, Wallace Bryton (Justin Long), finds out that the man who went to see had killed himself. Desperate for material, he finds an extravagant letter exclaiming about stories at sea and Wallace immediately wants to meet this man. He travels to a nearby town and meets Howard Howe (Michael Parks), a disabled old man who seems to have a fascination with walruses. As the night goes on, Wallace dozes off until he is face down on the floor and Howard stares over his body, ready to enact his plan.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I adore transformation stories. Tales of people turning into something that is either unhuman or far removed from what they once were are adventures that I can’t get enough of. Movies like “Black Swan” and “The Fly” best personify this, as they show the descent into madness and how their mentality slowly turns to match their new bodies.

“Tusk” may try to be like that, but does not come close to what it aspires to be.

Rather than seeing Wallace lose his mind and sense of self, we get to see Howard torture him and mutilate his body to be the perfect specimen. All the while, Howard reflects on his life experiences and how other people beat him, used him and violated him. That the only compassion he ever received in life was from a walrus, which he in turn does unspeakable things to.

If the film is not attempting to gross you out with what happens to Wallace, then Howard’s stories and justification for his actions are making you feel uncomfortable. I understand this is what Kevin Smith was attempting to do, but I feel that he overdid it.

If you are attempting to gross your audience out and make them feel disturbed by what they’re watching, then you need the right dose of it. It takes the right amount of sanity and insanity to pull something like that off. If you overdo that, it ceases to be entertaining and enters the realm of torture porn.

That’s what “Tusk” feels like. That you are watching someone get brutally beaten and you didn’t ask for that. Some might enjoy how disturbing the movie can be and others will argue that being disgusting is exactly what Kevin Smith attempted. However, “Tusk” has far too much of that and it comes across as unnecessary. Overall, an unpleasant experience.

Final Grade: D

 

The Decline Of Comedies: Are They Funny?

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I will be the first to admit that, over the past few years, certain genres of films have steadily been getting better than they ever have in the past. CGI has now gotten to the point where it is either harder to tell what is real and fake or is just so good that we do not care that it is from a computer, studios are beginning to focus more on having a good screenplay before anything else in the filmmaking process, and audiences are getting smarter and learning to not go see the same types of movies all the time.

But if there is one genre of film that has gotten worse over these last few years, it would be comedies. As Hollywood has pushed more towards the action and thriller genres, films that focus specifically on comedy and laughter have been going downhill and not doing what they’re supposed to do: make us laugh.

I’ve mentioned this in the past, but comedy is an even more subjective subject matter than cinema. What one person finds hilarious maybe boring and dull to someone else. Good comedy, for the most part, comes down to the individual and their personal tastes. If you’d like to see my personal tastes in comedy, check the bottom of this editorial for the types of things that make me laugh.

However, something that has not been making me laugh lately are these film funnies. Last year, for the longest time, the movie that I laughed the hardest at was “Iron Man 3” until “The Wolf Of Wall Street” came along. This year, the only film that consistently made me crack up was “The Guardians Of The Galaxy.”

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Here’s the thing about all three of those movies: They’re not comedies.

The two Marvel movies fall more into the group of action/adventure/sci-fi with some comedy thrown in for good measure. “The Wolf Of Wall Street” is a heavily exaggerated depiction of an actual Wall Street stock broker. Humor is not the focal point of these movies, yet any time the over the top personalities of Tony Stark, Jordan Belfort or Rocket Raccoon are on-screen, I laugh so much that my sides still hurt the next day.

You know something is wrong with the state of comedy when a talking racoon is funnier than most of the big name stars.

Just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here are some of the “funny” movies released over the past few years that did very little for me: “This Is The End,” “22 Jump Street,” “Anchorman 2,” “The Heat,” “A Million Ways To Die In The West,” “Don Jon,” “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” and “Despicable Me 2.”

While I could go on about why each of these movies failed to deliver, they do all share the same major complaint: They failed to make me laugh.

This is not even that hard to do. Just show somebody slip on a banana peel or make a funny face before getting hit in the face with a pie or something. Charlie Chaplin made it look so easy.

Part for the problem might be that these recent farces get too caught up in their own egos. Before the opening credits begin to role, the filmmakers seem to know they’re going to be hilarious and everything they so or do is golden. Like when Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum act like tough gangsters pulling out their guns and posing, or the continuous set up for the slow-motion RV crash in “Anchorman 2.”

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This makes the film seem superior to the audience. That the filmmakers are so much better than you that they don’t even need to be funny to make you laugh.

An example of how to make a fantastic modern comedy is “Hot Fuzz” or nearly any film directed by Edgar Wright. His films are filled with all sorts of hilarious moments, including visual gags, film manipulation, logic loops that make the villains motivation both realistic and hysterical, and still have great one liners with wonderful comedic setup.

Part of what makes Wrights’ films so great to watch is that, not only are there so many jokes going on that you need to watch the film multiple times to see every little detail, but also that every little detail is planned out ahead of time. The way the camera moves, how the scene will be edited, what will be in the background, and most importantly, the script.

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“Hot Fuzz” has one of the tightest screenplays I’ve ever seen. Every scene has a purpose, every character adds something to the story, all the lines of dialogue have a function that makes the film even better. Nothing is wasted, and that makes it stunning to watch.

But with a movie like “The Heat,” you can tell the filmmakers are letting the actors improv most of their lines. Many of the scenes with comedy are not well thought-out or have much of a point to it other than to halt the story and try to make the audience laugh.

To matters worse, from a filmmaking perspective, there is even less thought put into it. Just look at the scene from “This Is The End” where Danny McBride and James Franco talk about masturbation. The camera hardly moves, only keeping the actors in the center of the shot, and very light editing. It is so undynamic that it makes the scene boring.

This makes it less of a movie and more of a improvisational act.

Edgar Wright and “Hot Fuzz” understand the boundaries of a movie and manipulate that as much as possible. You can show the passage of time with a few simple cuts and use of a montage, or have someone completely off screen and out of the viewers vision do something funny, like offer Simon Pegg a piece of cake when he’s criticizing his fellow police officers.

What many of these movies don’t seem to get is that this is not just an excuse to film whatever you consider funny and put it on the big screen. We can get that by watching a stand-up routine or going on Youtube and looking up our favorite clips of “Saturday Night Live.” With movies, you must treat it differently.

I laugh at Jordan Belfort, not because DiCaprio has great improv skills, but because he is so far removed from reality and lives in his own little world where anyone who isn’t the highest possible upper class is living a sad and pathetic existence. The comedy comes from the character and his antics, not necessarily the skills of the actor. This why Melissa McCarthy was funny when she played the loud-mouthed, independent yet screwed up woman in “Bridesmaids” but not the fifth time she played the same character in “Tammy.”

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We’ve seen Ron Burgandy get drunk on live television and be sexist towards women already. We’ve already watched the “Hangover” crew get lost and have no idea what they did last night. We’ve gotten enough of Seth MacFarlane acting like a prick. What else do you have?

Show us something new. Give us comedy that we’ve never seen before. With all the technology and wide range of actors at your disposal, that shouldn’t be too hard. Just be bold, be creative, be surprising, don’t play it safe and do something that you actually think is funny.

Movie Review: “A Walk Among The Tombstones” (2014)

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Sometimes a movies’ biggest crime is being average. Both a good movie and a bad movie can stick with you long after you are done watching them, though for very different reasons. Scenes, characters and story elements stick out to you that either made you excited to see more or were so poorly executed that you could not help but laugh.

But an average movie, one that is neither good nor bad, is forgotten rather easily. Very little sticks out and by the time you are done with your popcorn and walk out of the theater, you already don’t remember the majority of the film. Maybe you’ll remember a line or two or have one scene stuck in your head, but if you were tell a friend what happened in the movie, your description would be vague or scatter shot.

In a way, it might actually be better to be a terrible movie than it is to be an average movie. At least people remember the horrendous works of cinema.

“A Walk Among The Tombstones” falls into the class of an average movie. It is basic, by the numbers and doesn’t try to do anything that would get people to hate the film. Nothing is that bad movie, and the actors do a competent job, but nothing necessarily sticks out or is that memorable. A good distraction for two hours, but not much else.

Matt Scudder (Liam Nesson) is a former New York City cop and Private Investigator, who decides to take on a case about a couple of kidnappers who seem to be taking the wives of drug dealers and holding them ransom for large sums of money, only to murder the wives anyway in gruesome fashion. All the while, Scudder must deal with the man who hired him and his wish for angry revenge and a homeless child who wishes to follow in his footsteps.

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My biggest complaint with “A Walk Among The Tombstones” is that it clearly wants to be dark, edgy, gritty and be taken seriously, but never takes that far enough. The women in the film get killed in the most brutal and gorey way (great way to portray all your female characters, by the way), but we are only told about it. The kidnappers are meant to be sick freaks who do this for pleasure, but we don’t really see them do anything that intimidating other than a few phone conversations. There is shady business being conducted with drug dealing, but we don’t see anyone do drugs or how drugs are making anyone’s life miserable.

It’s like a crime boss who talks a big game and makes a lot of intimidating demands, but never backs it up. That’s not a threat to be taken seriously, that’s a child with a megaphone.

See, last year “Prisoners” did what “A Walk Among The Tombstones” attempted to do and succeeded. It told a compelling mystery set in a world of twisted and perverted people, and it made you want to see more of those insane people try to cope in this equally crazy world. “Prisoners” also didn’t pull any punches with its subject and showed us every desperate step that our characters took to save the lives of these children, even if they did immoral things to get their kids back.

“A Walk Among The Tombstones” however wants to be edgy and disturbing, like other Liam Nesson films such as “Taken,” but at the same time wants to play it safe so that the mainstream accepts it. The problem with that is this ends up pleasing nobody. The story gets watered down by many side characters that don’t add much to the story other than to lighten the mood, and mainstream audiences are thrown off by how disgusting the film can be.

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As I said earlier, the actors do a good job with what they’re given and there are some good moments of suspense and tension, especially building up to the final climatic showdown. It is typical Liam Nesson-fare and we do get some good moments of him being a badass. It is strange how the older Nesson gets, the more he tends to go for the roles where he gets to be the action star who gets to throw punches and break some noses.

But again, “A Walk Among The Tombstone” does not do anything to catch your attention. Many scenes are predictable and clichéd by this point that you know exactly what’ll happen three scenes ahead of time. As such, it’s hard to recommend this film to anybody. If you like Liam Nesson, then you’ll at least enjoy him intimating thugs over the phone. Other than that, don’t expect much out of “A Walk Among The Tombstones.”

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Final Grade: D+