Friday, June 28, 2013

F-bombing, raucous Melissa McCarthy dominates ‘The Heat’

By Steve Crum

Were funny man Steve Allen still alive, what would he think of Melissa McCarthy? Two of Allen’s best selling books analyzed comedians, and his last book, Vulgarians at the Gate, blasted the deterioration of comedy and the mass media overall due to...well, vulgarity. In the 12 years since that book was published, foul language has become commonplace on TV and in movies. Just what Allen feared.

The Heat, starring Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock as law enforcement buddies, is McCarthy at her bawdiest. The f-bomb isn’t just used, it is part of McCarthy’s character’s breathing process. Frankly, after the 38th f-you, it had gone beyond boring. The word itself is used an incredible 190 times, so put that in your Guiness Book. Yet there were many at the screening--puzzlingly, mostly women--who howled with laughter each and every time McCarthy blasted profane. 

Katie Dippold’s cop buddy movie plot is saved only by director Paul Feig’s choice to let McCarthy veer from her lines to improvise, which is her forte. That the improvisations tend to build in crassness is also her forte. They sound spontaneous because they are, making Melissa McCarthy the Robin Williams of the potty mouth set. She’s not as outright sleazy as standup Lisa Lampanelli, but she reaches. Feig undoubtedly knew McCarthy’s manic schtick talent before he directed her in Bridesmaids. Her penchant for pratfalls is unique among female comics, reminiscent of rotund comics Chris Farley and Fatty Arbuckle.

So goes The Heat, in which McCarthy’s bar fighting and wrestling with seedy bad guys are punctuated by endless f-bombings. McCarthy portrays Boston undercover Detective Shannon Mullins, whose daily regimen includes stakeouts and takedowns of local drug pushers. FBI Agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) is tracking an elusive Russian drug lord centered in Boston, so the two law enforcers are teamed up. The impetus of the story is that Ashburn and Mullins are total opposites in style and personality. 

Ashburn is straight laced and by the book. Her arrogance and showboating have made fellow agents avoid her as a friend or colleague. She is bucking for promotion to head of her division, but even her soon departing boss cannot stand her braggadocio. “No wonder she’s single,” an agent tells another. Her existence is a mundane private life without any close friends. 

Then there is Officer Mullins, who is raucous, instinctive, and bullies her suspects. She is so macho she snacks on large, red peppers. Well known and respected in her community, Mullins is pretty much out of control down at her precinct. She has little respect for her captain. In fact, a scene inside the captain’s office develops into Mullins’ tirade about the size of his testicles...shouted in a lengthy McCarthy riff that is shamelessly hilarious. Yes, I laughed. 

It becomes clear why Detective Mullins acts the way she does. Her large family behaves the same way. We first see them gathered around the dining room table, cursing, shouting, and punching each other. 

From the get-go, Mullins and Ashburn despise each other. I will not divulge their relationship at film’s end. If you’ve seen other buddy cop movies, you will predict the conclusion as I did. 

Did I mention the movie’s gangster rap soundtrack, heavy on f-bombs? Consider it mentioned.

GRADE on a Scale of A to F: D+
The edited trailer to The Heat:

Friday, June 21, 2013

‘World War Z’ is ‘A’ budget zombie flick deserving ‘B-’ rating

By Steve Crum

It used to be that a make believe foot race between a mummy and a zombie would pretty much be a dead heat, per se. Now, thanks to the zombie-redux thriller World War Z, any zombie could beat a slow shuffling mummy, gnarled hands down. In fact, a WWZ zombie can run, dodge, and jump as fast or faster than its terrified human prey. Talk about motivated flesh eaters! 

Understand from the outset that I have never been a zombie movie fanatic. However, I consider 1968's Night of the Living Dead a genre classic, and it still elicits chills groping down my back. Zombie productions, including the mega popular TV series The Walking Dead, dwell on blood and gore close-ups of the many ways to kill a zombie. The bashing and slashing of a zombie’s cranium resembles comedian Gallagher’s Sledge-O-Matic crushing of a ripe watermelon. It’s not my cup of joy juice. 

World War Z certainly includes its share of zombie violence, but it is lighter on graphic imagery such as gray matter spattering. Its director, Marc Forster, has made his reputation at the helm of such diverse, non-horror titles as Finding Neverland and The Kite Runner. Based on Max Brooks’ best seller of the same name, WWZ has a narrative that emphasizes the central human characters, particularly Brad Pitt’s Gerry Lane, during the race to contain and hopefully eliminate the worldwide zombie takeover. 

Screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof have restructured Brooks’ anecdotal novel into a cohesive, traditional story line. Whereas the book borrowed its segmented style from Studs Terkel, the film is structured with a clear beginning, middle, and end. It all works quite well with enough jumping out of the shadows, teeth chomping scenes that should satisfy the mainline zombie fan. Ultra zombie-ites, however, might be disappointed with the lack of grossness. 

One of the half dozen set pieces, in fact, includes a nightmarish scene directed at viewers’ nerve control center. It takes place in the World Heath Organization’s building, wherein Pitt’s Lane is entrapped inside a lab while an especially obnoxious zombie guy leans outside the door glass. He wants to get at Lane so much that he makes rapidly chattering bites with his disgusting front teeth. It is horrifyingly funny. 

My favorite sequence occurs aboard a packed airplane, and our hero and central character Lane is aboard. (His wife and two young daughters have been left on a military ship, sailing the ocean, for safety reasons. Don’t zombies swim?)  Without ruining any surprises not already divulged in the previews, let us say that WWZ  segues into Zombies on a Plane. No doubt other critics will make the same reference, which proves we have no shame. The scene, however, is pretty terrifying, relying on innate fears for many of us: airplane flight + claustrophobia. Mix in a heap of zombies for bad measure.

Not that it greatly matters, but Lane is an agent of the United Nations assigned to find a reason and cure for the world’s zombie pandemic. Not only do these living dead things run, but they have super sensitive hearing, which makes hiding from them daunting. Immediately after being bitten, the victim transforms to zombie and so on and so on. Scenes of thousands of zombies on the move, even climbing on top of each other, to form a squirming ladder to scale high walls, are disturbing, memorable visuals.

Seeing WWZ in 3D will add little to the overall viewing experience. In fact, it is hard to recall any particular scene that pops into one’s eye space. 

As for acting notables, it is pretty much a draw between Brad Pitt and the zombies. Extraneous cast members Mireille Enos (portraying Lane’s wife), James Badge Dale (as Captain Speke, Lane’s friend and boss), and David Morse (a psychotic prisoner) are given sparse scenes and lines. 

Pitt plays out as the cool hero who steps up to battle zombies when necessary, while never exhibiting much fear. His character could use some Kevin McCarthy/Invasion of the Body Snatchers frantic demeanor.
GRADE on a Scale of A to F: B-
Zombies live! Proof is in this trailer:

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Summer movies I want to see, kind of want to see, and don't want to see...Part 2/June 2013

By Steve Crum

Objectively reviewing a movie is a misnomer. Try as I try, personal preferences and influences affect the viewing of any film. Call it being human. Reviewing has always been an “in my opinion” process, so why not admit it? Of course, I am aware there are many tastes out there who turn to a movie review for information and guidance. There needs to be a word for the film critic who falls between subjective and objective. Come to think of it, that should describe all film critics. 

That said, if I had to pay to see summer movies, instead of screening them for free, I would avoid these repugnant-to-my-taste film factors: coming-of-age/teen romance-sex “comedies”; animation; martial arts; anything Seth Rogen; sequels, particular the 5th or more; slasher horror; and zombies. True, I often exist outside the mainstream bubble. 

Of 109 summer releases, my list happens to include 29 subjectively chosen titles. Opening dates, in parenthesis, might change. The June sampling:

AFTER EARTH [Originally slated for June 7, but released May 29] 
Real life dad and son, Will and Jaden Smith, were effective in The Pursuit of Happyness, so this sci-fi yarn should benefit as well. After crashing on an angry planet (Earth), the two encounter life threatening challenges. This is co-penned by director M. Night Shyamalan. (I wrote and rated this before viewing the film, and would now place it in the So-So viewing category.) 
Sofia Coppola directs Harry Potter’s Emma Watson in a fact-based crime drama involving teens teaming up to steal jewelry from celebrity homes. The real story is the kids’ obsession with their own reality show-like celebrity, criminal as it certainly is. 
Morgan Neville’s documentary focuses on the unheralded backup singers who make pop stars like Mick Jagger and Sting look and sound even better. I could care less about pop stars like Jagger and Sting, so why would I be interested in their assistants? (OK, I’m a little interested.) 
WORLD WAR Z [June 21]
Producer-star Brad Pitt’s six-years-in-the-making, $170 million sci-fi spectacular is all about a virus killing millions, and their reanimation into calculating, fast stepping zombies. The Running Dead. Maybe I could truly enjoy a zombie movie after all.

Those partial to Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson (like me) should enjoy this Shawn Levy directed comedy that pits two jobless pals as competitive interns at the Internet’s tech central, Google. Probably good for at least a Google giggle. 
Before Sulley and Bill (voices of John Goodman and Billy Crystal) buddied up in Monsters, Inc., they attended Monsters U., when they were not yet buds. This animated comedy prequel is referred to as a Pixar-esque Revenge of the Nerds
THE HEAT [June 28]
Since her comedic breakthrough two years ago in Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy has embellished her popular, starring comedies with pratfalls and crude laughs. Here teamed with Oscar winner Sandra Bullock, it is a flip of the tried and true male buddy cop movie, featuring two females. 
 Jamie Foxx plays the President, with Channing Tatum his Secret Service guy (sort of). The real draw here is director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day), who orchestrates a White House under siege by mercenaries. 

NO-NO's...only one sticks out
Seth Rogen always appears to have a tobacco chaw behind his lower lip, which is the funniest thing about him. And that's not funny at all. Rogen, the force behind the disastrous The Green Hornet, directs and stars in this star-laced comedy. Look for Judd Apatow/Freaks and Geeks grads James Franco and Jason Segel as well as Jonah Hill and Emma Watson. They’re together at a wild party somehow connected to the world’s end. The title says it all. If they live through it, it could be Hangover 4. For joy.
This trailer for This Is The End reinforces my expectations: