Thursday, 22 January 2015

'The Wedding Ringer' (2015) Review

Romantic comedies are probably one of the most laughed at genres of film out there. The high brow critics will tell you time and time again of their many tropes. Their characters are shallow, their stories are unbelievable and more than anything else, everyone in the theatre is left thinking no one on earth would act like that. I've wanted to scream at a character in a rom-com more so than any in a horror movie. How many times do characters have to overhear conversations out of context, and then for the sake of the plot, refuse to hear any explanation that would provide said context, before audiences say enough is enough?

But the thing is, audiences don't think it's enough. Romantic comedies have been around forever, and the genre is not an inherently bad one. from 'Some Like it Hot' to 'Love Actually', you can always find a good number of gems in the ilk. But even the worst ones get a lot of play, and the clichés that are trotted out time and time again are no more offensive that the ones in your cheesy action flick. In fact, comparably it's even less offensive because as frustrating as the characters might be, their predicaments are at least plausible. It's the plausibility of these stories that makes them so frustration to watch, because it seems like such an easy thing to pull off. All you have to do is craft a good love story between two people, but instead, many opt to go the fairy tale route with caricatures instead of characters and lose their grip on the movie. I suspect however, that just as one turns their brain off to watch Optimus Prime pummel a Ninja Turtle, so too does the rom-com viewer with the latest storybook love story. Yeah, you probably rolls their eyes when romantic comedies come out, but there's always going to be a group out there who adores it. To them, Katherine Heigl and Jennifer Lopez are their heroes, not Jason Statham and Gerard Butler.

Although there may be some overlap there...

'The Wedding Ringer' is the latest rom com to grace the silver screen and it comes with a premise as preposterous as ever. Josh Gad plays Doug. A young, successful, soon to be groom who is about to marry his much hotter fiancée Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting. They're young, in love and nothing could be better, except there's just one problem. Doug is a bit of a loner with neither a best man or a grooms-man in sight. Enter, the Wedding Ringer, Jimmy Callahan, played by Kevin Hart. Jimmy provides a service where he pretends to be the best man to the friendless fiancée. He does this by learning everything he can about his client, fabricating old adventures between the two and providing enough charisma for people to overlook the glaring impossibility of the premise. 

'I Love You Man' + 'Hitch' = 'The Wedding Ringer'

So Doug goes to hire Jimmy to be his best man after his wedding planner notices his side of the Church is noticeably empty. Doug explains that not only does he not have a best man but he has zero grooms-men, which is an undertaking Jimmy has never done before called the "Golden Tux". Jimmy must now put together 7 fake grooms-men to fool Doug's wife and voila, we now have an ensemble comedy. From here we watch a montage or two of Jimmy getting his guys together, his guys learning their characters, and finally trying to fool the family. These are humorous mainly because the original cast is composed of what seems to be, a harlem globetrotter, Hurley from Lost, two potential sex offenders, Joe Dirt in a wheelchair, Fat Albert's disappointed father and a grown up Charlie Brown if Charlie Brown was an actual child star and ruined his life with drugs and alcohol.

I'll let you decide who's who

I've always held that if a film has a ridiculous notion, it doesn't matter how ridiculous it is, as long as it is sold well to the audience. 'The Wedding Ringer' does this by showing Jimmy's numerous clients in the past as well as showing us him on the job itself. However, for some, it may be too much to swallow that the friends and associates of his many clients all suddenly believe that this man whom they have never met is actually the secret life long friend of the groom. As absurd as it might be the movie is actually quite entertaining if you go along with it's absurdity. 

There's a thing in comedy, which is called the "hat on hat" premise, which basically describes having one funny idea and then compounding it with another funny idea, until it becomes indigestible and it no longer resonates with the audience. With that in mind, 'The Wedding Ringer' could be accused of buying out the hat shop as a good chunk of their jokes are predicated on constant build up that doesn't always amount to any pay off. The premise itself is an example of this as we basically watch as this original lie gets bigger and bigger and essentially we're just waiting for it to fail. This is not a new type of comedy as it's been done time and time again on at least 8 episodes of your favourite sitcom.

Yes, even this one. (Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism)

Where the movie trots out the old it also actually has some interesting ways in which it surprises you. There are moments where the movie is making a commentary on the genre itself. Jimmy's business basically represents the romantic comedy industry. He lies in order to make the wedding go perfectly, even though it's all fake. Jimmy fulfils the desire for people to see love as they want it to be, just as rom coms give us false notions of love and human relationships. Aside from that, some of the aforementioned genre tropes are actually turned on their heads in this film. Films like 'Friends With Benefits' attempt to present us with a "different kind of comedy" but ultimately become what they were trying to mock. 'The Wedding Ringer' surprisingly kept it's integrity and stuck the landing in what it was trying to achieve.

To praise the movie more, aside from those awkward jokes that don't go anywhere, the movie is actually pretty funny. I laughed more often than I didn't and that's mostly because the cast works so well together. With the exception of Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting's character, the chemistry between the actors is stark which is why it's absurd premise and grandiose set pieces are so easy to swallow. Gad and Hart are definitely at the heart of the film and carry it for the most part. Their performances are so good at investing you in their characters, that even in scenes that don't involve them, you're picturing their reactions and laughing at their response. 

'The Wedding Ringer' is by no means the next raunchy comedy success story. It's January release almost makes sure of that. What it is, is a movie with more heart than it needed and enough entertainment value to give it the sway over whatever else is on tv at the time. It's not something you desperately rush out to the theatre to see but it's definitely not a waste of your time. I'm glad I got to see it, as a few of the scenes are still stuck in my head a week later. As a film goer, I never like going into a film with negative expectations. As hard as it may be to do, I try to go in with a completely blank slate so that I'm not let down or so that my preconceived notions of the movie don't tarnish the art. Admittedly, I didn't go in expecting much from 'The Wedding Ringer' which is probably why I liked it so much. It surprised me and made me laugh when I expected to be checking my watch the whole time. So with that in mind, it may have been just a decent film but as it stands now, I had a good time.

A.N.R = 7.7

Sunday, 4 January 2015

'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies' Review (2014)

Prequels have enjoyed a resurgence in the last few years. While the more cynical movie viewer will see the movement as a bid to forever milk a franchise dry and then milk it some more, others will see it as a chance to return to the worlds that once captivated them. Regardless of your impressions going in however, what matters is how well the job is done. Prequels however, are notoriously hard to do. Just imagine trying to develop tension for characters that the audience knows are going to survive, or having the crux of the plot be a world ending device in a world that we know remains unended. Not to mention the added pressure of having to connect your film to the original one. As difficult as it may be, it's not impossible to do it, and do it quite well.

Recent forays into the prequel territory are films such as X-Men: First Class and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Both were critical and commercial successes that garnered sequels that came out this very year. These films seemed to have, in a sense, cracked the prequel code. They embrace the fact that audiences are more than familiar with their franchises, even going so far as placing the ultimate destination in the very title. The emphasis of these films rests with the characters and their development, which in a certain sense, is the obvious place to go. The difficulty of building a world for the audience to understand is non existent as they're already well versed in it. We already know where mutants came from, what we don't know is how the X-Men became the X-men and how these characters came to be the larger than life characters we've come to enjoy. The apes were always going to seize the planet, the story comes from how such a feat is accomplished. All of this however is moot without a character to develop these stories through. The Apes film would not have been so enjoyable without the melancholy abrupt maturity of Caesar nor would First Class be worth a damn if not for the rise and fall of Erik and Charles' bromance.

The sexual tension between these two was ca-ra-zy

Which leads us to the third and final film in the Hobbit franchise, prequel to the block busting, academy award winning Lord of the Rings franchise. Cinema cynics will of course take um-bridge with the films very existence, though it's not hard to see why. Aside from being a prequel, the book on which it's based on is merely 300 pages, and was decided to be split into 3 films while production was being done on the 2nd. Add that to the fact that a portion of the story in the films was garnered from the appendices of a different book entirely. Certain characters that exist in the films were not even mentioned in the source material, so it doesn't take a degree in film studies to say that there might have been a slight advantage to the commercial over the creative in the production of this film.
Of course, all of this is speculation, conjecture and largely irrelevant when judging the film as it stands.

Starting off where the last film ended, the movie begins ending. As the Desolation of Smaug ended with the terrible dragon headed to destroy the people of Lake Town, Battle of the Five Armies shows such destruction. As someone who thinks you can never have enough dragons in cinema, I personally thought this scene was perfect. Smaug remains a technical marvel and while his lines are few, Benedict Cumberbatch's performance still resonates as frightening. The issue with this scene is it feels like the ending to the last film, out of place with the larger story of Battle of the Five Armies. Everything after the opener feels a bit like an epilogue. In a sense the whole movie feels that way. The journey which Bilbo was set upon from the outset, was to recover the Lonely Mountain from the terrible dragon for the Dwarves. After the dragon falls, they've pretty much already done that. At least it doesn't have 9 different endings a la 'Return of the King'.

The latest victim of the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition

After recovering the mountain however, the story here is how valuable the mountain is and how much everyone else wants it. The Dwarves want the mountain cause it was theirs to start with, the humans want some of the gold in the mountain because they just had their hometown burned to a crisp by a dragon that was kind of the Dwarves' fault, the elves want these special diamonds that are in the mountain, and the Orcs want the mountain for the resurgent dark lord as it has some special strategic position that is never fully explained. Most of this could be sorted out with a sit down over a nice cup of mead but this isn't called the negotiation of the five figureheads. The battle that commences is mostly due to the fact that Thorin Oakenshield's mind has become corrupted by dragon's disease or the Arkenstone or gold or power, it's never really explained, but whatever it is, it's made him question the loyalty of his company and threaten his oldest friends.

The best way to put it is this. At the beginning of every fantasy movie, there's a segment that's heavy on narration and tells of a battle that happened years ago, smoothly glossing over all the minutiae that led up to such a battle. Sometimes there's a cowardly king or some other element that creates more conflict than there needed to be and the world had to suffer the consequences of that decision. It happened in Lord of The Rings, Thor and this very franchise, the Hobbit. Have you ever kinda wanted to see the movie that showed what that narrator was talking about? That's the Battle of the Five Armies. On that level it works. The Battle of the Five Armies is trying to be a movie all about a huge war, with all the pieces moving together at an inevitable rate. While it doesn't do this as excitingly or as well as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, once the battle is underway, it's engaging and fun to see it escalate. Characters actually feel to be in danger and there are genuine moments I left the theatre remembering. There are a few scenes outside of the main battle that serve as connective tissue to the Lord of the Rings films but they're so forgettable that I can't really comment on them. Thankfully they don't stay long enough to be unwanted, like that one relative last Christmas.

Needs no caption.

The movie does at times feel to be nothing but spectacle. This is not inherently a bad thing, as there are many films that can pull this off. The trick is to have enough weight in your characters to make the spectacle matter. It's why 'The Avengers' is a better film than 'Transformers'. The film is more in line with the latter. Richard Armitage and Martin Freeman both deliver their best performances in the series thus far and the movie is at its core about the strength of their friendship. The relationship drama between Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly and Aidan Turner might be too soap opera-y for most but I found it fit with the over dramatic nature of the film. Top that off with the reluctant rise to leadership of Luke Evans and there is enough character drama to keep the action from feeling empty and thankless like a mindless autobot fighting a faceless decepticon.

Ignorance and apathy

With all this it might seem like the movie has too much going on for any of it to really resonate. This isn't true for the most part, but there are elements of the film that simply feel unnecessary. The scenes involving Ryan Gage's Alfrid are bordering on painful and a good example. His character serves no purpose other than a few visual gags that fall flat. In one scene he's pretending to be a woman to avoid conscription and in another he immediately switches allegiances as a new opportunity favours his selfish desires. I say that I don't understand the point of these scenes but that's a lie. The bellows of laughter from most every child in the audience is the point. They may not be for me, and they may not even be for the movie they're in but those cheap laughs have a purpose. And that's true for many of the scenes that don't seem to work well with the rest of the film, like the ones where characters sound like they are reading from the history of Middle Earth Vol. IX. It's simple exposition that serves to connect the better scenes of the film.

The Battle of the Five Armies is by no means a bad film, but it's not a great one either. It's best moments are cheapened by it's worst ones which can sometimes run consecutively. Massive amounts of impressive action is negated by an overuse of cgi, and strong characters are measured against Alfrid. All of these things may prove to be too much for most audiences. Personally, I didn't find those knocks against the film to be all that strong. The good outweighed the bad and on the whole, the film was worth the price of admission. Of course I admit to some form of bias. I shed a tear for two reasons. One, for a particularly sad scene that the movie had earned, and two, for the idea that this would be the last cinematic venture into the land of middle earth. With that in mind, if you're not a fan of this type of film you're not going to enjoy this picture. That's just science. For what it is, the Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, is a solid film that doesn't amaze but still entertains.

Arbitrary Numerical Rating: 7.2/10