My friend and I rented “The Monk” (rated R) because it sounded kind of intriguing: A mix of medieval monks, mystery, and sin. The basic plot is that the main character, Ambrosio, is abandoned at the doorstep of a monastery as a child and raised as a strict Capuchin monk. He grows up into a fervent disciple of Christ, renowned for his splendid, inspiring sermons and his great faith. Then, he gets involved with a woman and everything goes to pot (That’s putting it mildly). It is quite a spectacular fall from grace. The most holy monk of his order goes on to commit a whole litany of sins: fornication, incest, and finally murder.
Overall, the movie was interesting; it kept me engaged even though it was a foreign film and all in subtitles. I’m not sure if I should be annoyed at the portrayal of the religious here (I was raised Catholic). It’s set in the 17th century and the church did do some nasty things (like the Inquisition) in medieval times. Still, I don’t know if they would have starved a nun to death for getting pregnant. Maybe they would have. I don’t know (They certainly wouldn’t do that today!). Anyway, they are portrayed as very strict and sometimes, as in the above example, cruel and heartless. That was the backdrop of the movie, and it makes Ambrosio’s ultimate hypocrisy all the more profound. Satan makes a couple of appearances in the film. There’s dark magic, ghostly apparitions, and profound vice. All the elements of a twisted tale, and a twisted tale it was.
Strengths: the acting was good, the script, although twisted, was coherent and logically sound (assuming you accept the premise of Satan, Satanic witches, and what have you). The downfall of the Monk was portrayed quite well. Weaknesses: I think I saw every one of the twists in the movie coming. I mean, they were good twists, it’s just that they were kind of predictable. Again, I remain ambivalent about the portrayal of the church, but since I’m really not up on the history, I can’t really formalize a complaint. Also, the special effects were kind of lacking. I’ve said it before, special effects alone will not make a movie, but they can add to it. Here, they were obviously low budget and not very impressive. Finally, the ending was a little unclear to me. Part of me (most of me) is convinced that Satan wins, but there is a last fleeting image before the credits that made me wonder.
Anyway, I’ll give “The Monk” three and a half, or maybe four, out of five stars.
“The Heat” is the latest movie featuring Sandra Bullock. In it, she plays a somewhat arrogant, uptight FBI agent named Ashburn. She’s due for a promotion, but all the other agents don’t like her. She’s a smug know-it-all, and her captain knows it. So, instead of promoting her right away, he gives her a mission to prove her worth; he sends her to Boston to find a drug lord. There she partners up with Detective Mullins (played by Melissa McCarthy), a foul-mouthed, street-fighting, rough and tumble cop.
In the beginning, the two do not get along very well. Ashburn steals Mullins’ parking space, and then her case. But Mullins will have none of that. She tries to threaten her way back onto the case—which was originally hers—steals an FBI file, and generally goes about driving Ashburn nuts. Eventually, their superiors pair them together whether they like it or not and they go about looking for the drug lord, fighting all the way. Eventually, though, things smooth out and they become friends. The plot revolves around the ruthless drug lord, a mole in one of the various law enforcement departments, and the developing friendship between Ashburn and Mullins. There’s a few explosions, a few people being shot, and other typical cop-movie activities.
Strengths: the acting was good. The characterization was good. The storyline flowed together well; there were no obvious logical flaws that I saw; and there was plenty of humor. Weaknesses: I’m of mixed minds about the profanity. I just get tired of every other word being an f-bomb. That said, the profanity did serve to characterize Mullins quite well, so perhaps it was necessary. There was also a brief spat where Ashburn swore up a storm, which was kind of humorous. And, again, served the needs of the story. Still, it seemed to be overdone some. Also, the character Sandra Bullock played (Ashburn) was unfortunately similar to the character she played in Miss Congeniality years ago. I’m not sure if that’s a weakness or not. There was also a twist in the movie—not one that was too shocking—actually, it was more an evolution of the plot than an actual twist. You knew there was a mole, revealing who it was wasn’t really too shocking. Anyway, although there were no major flaws in the movie, it never gripped me.
Ultimately, I will give “The Heat” a rating of three and a half stars out of five.
I saw the original “Despicable Me” a number of years ago as a rental at a friend’s house. I remember that I enjoyed the movie, but I don’t remember many of the details: only that the main character, the arch-villain, Gru, had a grand scheme to steal the moon. That, and he turned out to be a decent guy because he started to raise three young girls. “Despicable Me 2” takes up where “Despicable Me” left off. Gru (Steve Carell) is now raising the young girls and has given up his life of crime to try his hand at business (he makes really bad jams and jellies). But he is neither fit for nor destined for the life of a common businessman. It is not long before he encounter Lucy (Kristen Wiig) from the AVL (Anti-Villain League). She captures him and drags him off to a meeting with the AVL. They want to recruit him to help them recapture a powerful chemical that transforms living creatures into horrible monsters. At first, he says no, but eventually he comes around and agrees to the mission.
The story is pretty basic from there: Gru and Lucy are assigned to work together to reclaim the secret chemical compound. They investigate a mall. After a few misadventures, Gru identifies the culprit. Unfortunately, this evil super-villain takes Lucy hostage and Gru is forced to brave his fortress where he has assembled a virtual army of indestructible monsters harvested from Gru’s own vast collection of minions. I’ll leave the rest to surprise the reader.
Strengths: I always enjoy a good kid’s movie. The animation was good. The characters were cute, humorous, and likeable. The storyline held together; there were no logical flaws that I saw on a first viewing, and things were wrapped up nicely. Weaknesses: My biggest complaint with the movie was some of the crude humor. For example, there was a fart gun. It’s hardly a big issue, but, really, I’ve noticed in a number of kid’s movies that we have been reduced to entertaining our children with references to noisome bodily functions. Can’t they come up with something a little more … I don’t know, wholesome, maybe. Must we act like kids to entertain our kids? There were also a couple of veiled sexual references that kids wouldn’t get, but adults would. I suppose it’s supposed to be adult humor, but to me it strikes me more like adolescent humor. Again, can’t we do better? Can’t we do something that is actually clever? That said, those were minor weaknesses. Another weakness was that for some reason or other, the story just didn’t grip me too much. I usually enjoy kid’s movies, but this one was lacking something, I just don’t know what.
Overall, I’ll give it three, maybe three and a half, stars out of five.
Sorry. A day late with this one. Got caught up in other things…
“After Earth” is M. Night Shyamalan’s latest movie creation. It stars Will Smith as Cypher Raige and his son, Jaden, as his son, Kitai. It is set in the distant future. Humanity has abandoned earth; they have encountered and waged a war with a group of aliens who have engineered human-killing creatures called ursas (I think?). Cypher Raige is the commander of an elite group of warrior humans called rangers. They are renowned for their ability to “ghost.” Basically, the ursas hunt humans by smelling the excretions of the human body that come about with fear. A ranger with the ability to “ghost” has control of his emotions and feels no fear. As a result, such a man or woman is invisible to the ursas and can kill them with relative ease.
With the above as the backdrop, the plot of the movie is pretty basic. Cypher and Kitai are on a ship that is bombarded by asteroids, knocked off course, and forced to crash land on Earth, which has become an inhospitable planet filled with vicious wildlife that have evolved to kill humans. As the ship crashes, the tail comes off and lands a good distance (several days travel) from the rest of the ship. Cypher and Kitai are the only survivors in the main section of the ship, but Cypher is seriously wounded. It is up to young Kitai to brave the wilderness, travel to the tail, and retrieve the beacon that will send up a signal that will help them get rescued. Pretty basic. Pretty simple.
Perhaps, too simple.
I found this movie dull, and boring after the first half hour, so much so, I eventually walked out. If I had known it was M. Night Shyamalan’s work, I might have stayed through the full bit. I got as far as Kitai’s arrival at the tail (I guess that’s a spoiler: he makes it to the tail), which I think is a good portion of the movie, but I’d gone to a lot of movies that week combatting depression and I didn’t want to sit through something I wasn’t really enjoying. It’s a shame, but it seems that all the movies M. Night Shyamalan has been doing lately have been unimpressive. It’s been all downhill since “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs.” Oh well.
Strengths: The special effects were good, but special effects don’t make a movie. I think the acting was fine, too, but it was just a weak script. Weaknesses: The movie was boring. I guess it was a coming-of-age story for the kid and all about his relationship with his father, but it didn’t hold my interest.
For that, I’ll give it a whopping one and a half stars out of five.
“Now You See Me” is the latest fictionalization of a magician’s life brought to us by Hollywood. Well, more specifically, it is a fictional story of four magicians’ lives and the FBI agent and Interpol agent who are pitted against them in a game of wits and misdirection. It stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco as the four magicians. It also stars: Mark Ruffalo as the FBI agent and Melanie Laurent as the Interpol agent.
The plot is simple: the four magicians begin the movie performing separate acts but, after a few mysterious encounters, are drawn together by a stranger. They meet in a secret location where they are given specific instructions. A year later, their four separate acts have been combined into one act and they begin going about the work that they have been instructed to undertake: robbing from the wealthy and giving the money they take to the crowds at their shows. They are dragged before the FBI after their first trick where they come to the attention of Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo). After a brief exchange of unpleasantries and a figurative slap in his face, Agent Rhodes is incensed and bent on stopping the magicians. Unfortunately, he must release them … unless he wants to accuse them of teleporting to London to rob a bank! From there it is a game of cat and mouse with the magicians always seeming to have the upper hand and Agent Rhodes always desperately playing catch-up. But slowly, he begins to unravel the mystery behind the magicians, revealing a secret society and a long-planned effort at systematic revenge.
Strengths: the four magicians had a good chemistry, the writing was good, the acting was good, and most everything (most of the magic tricks) were explained in a logical, coherent way. One or two of the tricks were left as mysteries but they weren’t plot crucial tricks to begin with. The special effects were well-chosen and well-used. Weaknesses: I’m of mixed minds regarding the twist at the end. It was an interesting twist, but … it didn’t really have any preamble as far as I could tell—there was no way you could figure it out beforehand, and I think that makes it a weakness. Still, it was an enjoyable movie.
In the end, I’ll give “Now You See Me” three and a half or four stars out of five.