Mini-Reviews: THE DICTATOR, MEN IN BLACK 3, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN

I don’t have time (of the desire, really) to do full reviews for each of these recent flicks, but I did want to throw my two cents into the fray. Aside from The Avengers, summer 2012 is off to a fairly slow start, both at the box office and from an overall quality standpoint. Let’s hope Ridley Scott can inject some life into June tomorrow (or tonight if you’re gong to a midnight show!).

I went into The Dictator with semi-high hopes, because the trailers and advertising had been really good. I like the fearlessness of Sacha Baron Cohen‘s comedy, and I thought this kind of character perfectly suited his style. While the movie does have several laugh-out-loud scenes, it doesn’t fully come together in the way that Borat did. Unfortunately, aside from Cohen’s Admiral General Aladeen character, there isn’t a whole lot going on here. Thankfully though, Cohen is in almost every scene, so this doesn’t become a glaring issue. My favorite gag is the scene in the helicopter where Aladeen and his associate are taking a tour of New York, and making the middle-aged white American couple across from them go from friendly to uncomfortable to paranoid to fearing for their lives. I won’t spoil it, but suffice to say he somehow manages to make September 11 humor work, something I can’t imagine more than 1 or 2 other comedians even attempting. There are a few funny recurring bits and some good fish out of water jokes once he’s stuck on his own in New York City. I thought Cohen injected some of his own political views (shocker, he’s a lefty!) with the subtlety of Thor‘s hammer (there are a few painfully obvious Bush/Cheney jokes that weren’t funny 5 years ago, let alone now), but at the same time he uses his character to effectively mock Anna Faris‘ activist, all-natural, terrified-to-offend store manager, so there is some balance. To give you a sense of how far Cohen is willing to take some of the jokes, at the end of the film, when he and Faris are married happily ever after, and it’s revealed she’s pregnant with their first child, he asks her, “Are you having a boy or an abortion?” Needless to say, I laughed. Because fuck political correctness.

It may already be too late to see this in theaters in many areas, but it’s definitely worth a rental down the road.

The good:

-Sacha Baron Cohen

-the helicopter scene

-the non-p.c. jokes

The bad:

-completely wasting the talents of Ben Kingsley and John C. Reilly

-anytime Sacha Baron Cohen isn’t onscreen

IMDb rating: 7/10

Did anyone actually want this movie to be made? 10 long years after the hugely disappointing MIB II, Will Smith and “I couldn’t look more bored” Tommy Lee Jones return for another massive paycheck helping of comedic alien fighting hijinks. Yay. This film reportedly cost $250 million to make, which is fucking preposterous. Then again, at least $50 million of that went to towards the salaries of Smith, Jones and director Barry Sonnenfeld. Regardless, that money is NOT on the screen. You will never see a movie this expensive with such boring visuals. Sure, there are lots of visual effects, and they all look pretty good, but because Sonnenfeld is such a bad director of action, there’s zero sense of scale. The movie is shot in these dull, centered, square frames that remove almost all interest from the scene. We’ve seen countless examples of how great cinematography can enhance a scene, but here we have a rare example of how boring cinematography can drain the life energy from even an action scene. Seriously, Sonnenfeld should either work exclusively in TV, or not be allowed to do effects and action-driven films going forward. His last movie was the Robin Williams “comedy” RV in 2006, and I’ve missed him about as much as I missed the MIB franchise, which is to say not at all.

Now, is MIB 3 bad? No. It’s certainly better than MIB II, but that’s not exactly a high compliment. The problem is it didn’t need to be made in the first place (much like other recent franchises who took a decade or longer between movies like Scream 4 and Indiana Jones and the Fucking Thing Was Awful), and that’s painfully obvious as you watch it. This was not a story screaming to be told, and it’s sad that this was all they could come up with. Smith gets some funny moments and one-liners, but nothing memorable. The highlight of the film is Josh Brolin‘s spot-on impression of Jones once the film jumps back in time. He is spectacular, and his younger Agent K scenes are 400% more interesting than the scenes the real Tommy Lee Jones appears in. I thought the movie’s villain, Boris the Animal (played by Jemaine Clement) was fucking lame. He doesn’t get a single cool moment in the entire movie, except the part where he gets the pleasure of making out with superhot Nicole Sherzinger at the beginning of the film. I can’t remember a single thing he even does other than shooting poison darts at people. This is something you’d expect out of a Bond villain, not some supposedly badass alien. I thought Emma Thompson did a pretty good job as Agent O, the new head of MIB. Her younger version in the past is played by the beautiful Alice Eve. There’s a funny cameo by Bill Hader dressed up as Andy Warhol, but other than that, there isn’t much even worth commenting on. The movie is the definition of average, which is incredibly frustrating. How many other, far more interesting films could have been financed if this had remained on the shelf?

Many people have made mention of the film’s poignant ending. Yeah, it’s a pretty cool twist, but unfortunately, because the rest of the film isn’t nearly as good as those few seconds, the impact of that moment is lessened dramatically by default. I liked it, but I’m not gonna say, “Bring some tissues!” like a lot of other critics have been suggesting. Puh-leeze. It wasn’t that good.

It’s funny, once you’ve seen the movie and how simplistic the plot is, it’s unfathomable that the production had to take a 5-month break in the middle of filming because they were struggling so much to finish the script. I can’t recommend seeing this in theaters, and you sure as hell better not pay EXTRA to see it in 3D. If you’re still curious, it’s worth a rental.

The good:

-Josh Brolin

-looking at Nicole Sherzinger during her cameo at the beginning of the film

-pretty good ending

The bad:

-Barry Sonnenfeld’s piss poor direction

-an uninteresting, unnecessary story

-the stupid villain

IMDb rating: 6/10

Note to Universal: “From the producer of ‘Alice in Wonderland'”? Not the best selling point.

A lot of people were interested in seeing this movie (including me), which is why it had a pretty good box office opening this past weekend ($56.2 million). The trailers looked cool, and it was certainly a different take on the Snow White legend. It just looked…cool. However, it seems most people (including me) left disappointed and underwhelmed by the end result. Huntsman marks the feature directorial debut of Rupert Sanders, best known prior to this for directing a popular live-action commercial for Halo: ODST and numerous other commercials. Universal apparently thought these things indicated he could handle a $170 million period summer extravaganza. Well, the movie certainly looks nice. The visuals are above average, and Sanders clearly had a vision for the film, which is good. The locations are beautiful, the costumes are superb, the effects are very good, the creature design is interesting, and the sets are gorgeous. The problem with the movie is that the script is absolutely atrocious. And it pains me to say that, because one of the 3 credited screenwriters is Hossein Amini, who adapted Drive from book to film. The dialogue for the most part is awful, scenes just end randomly, and characters just sit there at an apparent loss for words, when in any real universe they would take action or say something. It was really, really awkward at times. It’s almost like whenever they couldn’t figure out how a scene should end, the policy was just cut to the next scene, no matter how much it screwed up the pacing of the film.

The performances are okay, because I believe you can only perform what’s on the page. Charlize Theron is by far the highlight of the film as the evil Queen Ravenna. She looks amazing, and if anything, I wished she were in the film more. Thor‘s Chris Hemsworth is good enough as the rough and gruff Huntsman, but never really has anything particularly interesting to do. There’s eventually a cheesy love triangle that brings in Snow White’s childhood friend William (played by Sam Claflin), but nothing comes of it, and most annoyingly, she never actually chooses one of them. And the she, of course, is the goddess of charisma, Kristen Stewart. I’ve been pretty harsh on her for years now, but in fairness she does what she can with this role, and I didn’t think she was bad. It’s certainly a more challenging role than that cardboard box she plays in The Twilight Saga (P.S. calling that a “saga” is an insult to the word). She’s okay, but again the script is terrible, so I can’t totally blame her for what’s lacking in the character. There’s a particularly cringe-worthy scene where she has to give a rousing battle speech, and it’s easily the worst scene of this type you’re ever likely to see. Kristen Stewart, Warrior Queen? Gimme a break. It was cool seeing some of our best Brit actors (Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost, Ian McShane, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan) playing the dwarves (great effects work again), but because the script is garbage, their otherwise significant talents are completely wasted. In fact, it’s the scenes with the dwarves that often suffer the most from the poor writing.

Another thing that annoyed me was the battle scenes. It’s incredibly tough to make PG-13 sword and axe violence believable, and this film fails miserably at it. The CGI baddies are fun to watch, but when people are stabbing and slicing at other people it’s sooo cheesy, between the sissy sword swinging and the editing, which cuts away from all strikes that would normally draw blood. I wish they’d had the balls to make this an R-rated movie, as there would have been much more potential to all aspects of the story with the more creatively liberating rating.

If you were interested in seeing Snow White and the Huntsman, I can recommend it for a Netflix/Redbox rental. Even though the visuals do look great on the big screen (it has a very good sound mix as well), I found myself repeatedly checking my watch because I was not at all invested in the story or any of the characters. Make of that what you will. I think Rupert Sanders has clear potential, but like all directors who specialize in great visuals, he won’t realize that potential until he’s paired with a decent script.

The good:

-The visuals (effects, locations, art direction)

-sound design

-Charlize Theron

The bad:

-The script

-Dull, uninspired performances caused by the terrible script

-Kristen Stewart attempting to be a warrior, leading soldiers into battle

-limitations of the PG-13 rating

IMDb rating: 6/10

Before we go, let’s get to a couple of hot-off-the-presses trailers worthy of my reaction and your attention.

First up is the teaser trailer to Quentin Tarantino‘s next film, Django Unchained. This is one of my top 10 most anticipated movies of the year, primarily because QT’s last movie, Inglourious Basterds, won my Best Picture award 3 years ago. That is without a doubt my favorite Tarantino film to date (I’m still debating whether it’s also his best movie). For his followup, he’s once again got an amazing cast (Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Basterds centerpiece Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington). Just the idea of a Leonardo DiCaprio-Quentin Tarantino collaboration is a movie geek’s fantasy, but when you add the fact that this will be DiCaprio’s first villain character and I’m drooling eagerly. This doesn’t strike me as a “Christmas movie”, but no doubt it’s being released in December in order that it can be a prime contender come awards season. This trailer is supposed to be playing in front of most showings of Prometheus this weekend, but I’m not gonna complain about getting to see it a day early. As always I recommend switching the video quality on YouTube trailers to at least 720p.

Second, we also got the trailer for the next Robert Zemeckis movie…and it isn’t a motion capture movie! That’s right, Zemeckis returns to live-action filmmaking for the first time in 12 years! Yes, Cast Away was the last time Zemeckis, one of my heroes, put real human beings in front of regular cameras. His comeback movie is Flight, and it’s his first collaboration with Denzel Washington. One of my all-time favorite directors paired with my second favorite actor? WINNING. It’s interesting (and entirely coincidental I’m sure) that his next live-action movie after Cast Away is another film that prominently features a plane crash. I think the concept of this movie is very interesting, but I’ll let you watch the trailer and see for yourself. Below is the YouTube version, but I suggest watching it in its full HD Quicktime glory HERE.

COMING SOON: A full review of Prometheus (probably after I’ve seen it twice- once in 3D and in 2D, assuming it’s worth seeing twice), as well as my semi-annual feature Ten Movies That Turn Ten, which celebrates the most memorable movies released a decade ago.

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