I have long maintained that Will Ferrell is fantastic in small doses, but simply becomes irritating when he is expected to carry a film. When he is a part of an ensemble, he truly shines, and this comes across in films like Old School and Anchorman. His role was reduced because there was so much talent around him, making him, and the movie, much funnier. When he is forced to carry a movie all on his own, I find that he becomes far more annoying, and difficult to take.
The Campaign is a good example of this. The film is about a congressional election, where Ferrell has typically run unopposed for several terms. This allows him to be a womanizing, idiotic congressman, who does little well, and is quite poor at his job. When finally someone decides to run against him (Zach Galifianakis), the shenanigans of their campaign begin.
And it is ridiculous. But the worst part is, it isn’t funny.
As with most comedies, there is a plot line in here somewhere, something about big business running American politics, and influences from overseas being able to buy whatever they want when it comes to politics. You’re probably not going to be watching this film for the social commentary.
The premise for the jokes is that both of the candidates will do anything to win, and this leads to a slanderous run up to the election, where they have traded stunts along the way that are meant to draw laughter. Galifianakis does a commercial where he gets Ferrell’s son to call him “Dad.” So Ferrell sleeps with his opponent’s wife, and makes the sex tape into a commercial. Hilarious? There is an ongoing gag about a couple of pug dogs. Are they Chinese dogs? Do they make Galifianakis a communist? Ha? Or there is the running gag of Ferrell accidentally punching things he shouldn’t be punching. Like a baby. Or a dog. Is this the funny part?
While this film could have an intelligent, and humorous look at the US political system, it simply leaves us laughless and flat. Bulworth this is not. It’s not even Swing Vote, with Kevin Costner.
This film is a fairly big waste of a couple of comedic talents, in the two lead actors, both of whom work best with a strong supporting cast around them. Instead, they are surrounded by cliched characters and over-actors, not allowing them to truly shine, and forcing them to have to try and carry the movie all by themselves. The film wastes the talents of some pretty funny supporting characters, who aren’t funny in this film (Jason Sudekis, John Lithgow, Dan Akroyd). It gets old fairly quickly, which is too bad. There could have been some potential here, but it is just far too preposterous, and it feels pretty thrown together, to be considered a good movie, or at least, one that is funny.
I’d recommend skipping The Campaign. There are far better political comedies out there, and I simply did not find this one funny or entertaining.
Climbing mountains is scary. Going up to the highest points our world has to offer, facing death and danger with every step, fighting exhausting and the body’s need for oxygen, is something completely insane, but even watching other people do it can be quite the rush.
Forever, scaling Mount Everest was the ultimate human feat, but since then, it has basically become a tourist industry, with hundreds of people reaching the summit each year. The far bigger challenge, is the world’s second highest peak, and it’s most challenging: K2. In history, only about 300 people have managed to climb the mountain, and about 1 out of 4 people attempting to climb it die. Those are crazy odds.
The Summit is a documentary about the deadliest day on K2, when 11 climbers perished due to a bunch of crazy circumstances. It is told by the people who survived that day, and their stories intersperse and cross paths, as we try to understand what really happened that day, and how so many people died on a day when the weather was perfect for climbing.
Other reviews for The Summit have complained of two things: that the story telling is non-linear and makes it confusing, and that the directors are trying to make a hero out of one of the climbers (Irishman GerMcDonnell), who was faced with the choice of descending and saving himself, or trying to save others. I will leave the choice of if he were a hero or a fool up to you.
The story does not follow a straight forward retelling of the events of those days. It starts near the end, then skips around all over the place. There are different groups of climbers, who were on different points of the mountain when everything happened, and all of their tales are heard. It is up to us, as an intelligent audience, to piece together who was where, and what was happening at whichever specific moment. The whole narrative was also spliced together with the first successful ascent of K2 in the 1950’s, and the controversy that surrounded that successful journey, by two Italian climbers, and the forgotten man who brought oxygen up to the fourth camp for them. Perhaps this portion of the film is superfluous, but it is used to show the importance of using a team on K2, and the often selfish nature of mountaineering.
The scenery in this film, as with most films about mountaineering, is absolutely breathtaking. It does a great job of demonstrating the might of K2, the steepness of the mountain, the dangers of the climb, and the crazy risks that must be taken to summit it. We get a true sense of adventure here, as it really is a climb, not merely a hike up to a really high place. The impressiveness of K2 is constantly on display, and the views from the summit are incredible. Seeing the shadow of the mountain, pointing towards China like a massive pyramid, is amazing. K2 is a beast.
The Summit, thanks in part to its non-linear story telling, manages to create a lot of suspense throughout the movie. We know that 11 people are going to die, and the way that the story is told, it is stressful waiting for the moment when they do die, and learning about how it happened. There are a variety of reasons that people died on the mountain that day, and it is quite interesting to hear the different opinions on why it happened. Some will blame poor equipment, or poor training. Some will blame the Korean team for being less than prepared climbers, led by the menacing “Mr. Kim.” Some of it was simply falling off the mountain, or bad luck, or avalanche, or ice falling. It was a mess that day on the mountain, and despite the joy of so many people making it to the top, too many mistakes were made and the descent, where the majority of mountaineering accidents occur, became deadly.
This film provides us with a great story of survival, especially for those who were left on the mountain overnight, while in the Death Zone, and lived to tell the tale. There is the story of heartbreak, as a Norwegian woman watched her husband picked off the mountain by an ice fall while making their descent. And there is the story of Ger, who made the choice to help others, when he knew that it would put his own life in danger. They explain to us that on a mountain, you never put your own life in danger to help another, because the odds of you surviving are next to nothing. But Ger tried. It cost him his life. So is he a hero, or someone who tried to break the first rule of mountaineering, and failed?
Regardless, The Summit is a very strong documentary about K2. The terror of the mountain comes across in every scene, and the use of actual footage from the day makes it that much more real. We get a true sense of being on the mountain with them, and the shots chosen and used really do give a sense of what the mountain is all about.
A great documentary, it is full of suspense right until the end.
Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker changed the world. There is no way to even argue that. With the development of their Napster software in the late 1990’s, they managed to change the way we listened to music, and in turn, they completely changed the music industry, the effects of which are still being felt today.
With the concept of peer-to-peer sharing, users were able to access the hard drives of all Napster users, and download music from them. For free. This allowed people to build up massive collections of mp3s that they would have never been able to afford had they been forced to go out and buy all of that music.
The advent of Napster also created a massive war in the music industry, as some were in favor of people being able to “share” music, while others were completely against it, as it was a form of stealing and piracy. Basically, at its core, Napster was copyright infringement.
Downloaded is a documentary that tells the story of Shawn and Sean, and their meteoric rise to the top of the music world. It is fascinating, how people with no training came up with an idea, then worked endlessly to get it to work, to the point where it had millions of users worldwide. The movie provides us with tons of interviews, both then and now, of the main players in Napster, and the controversy it sparked.
The interviews are insightful, and we get a complete picture of the story of Napster. From its beginnings, to the rise and height of its fame, to the massive fallout when it was shut down by the courts. There are legal ramifications, as well as financial ones, to the point where the music industry began suing thousands of users of the service, usually winning the cases, and collecting an average of $4,000 from users.
I liked that this documentary described what the guys were doing in detail. It doesn’t shy too much away from the technical aspects of it, allowing us to understand how Napster worked. It also uses a lot of archival footage from the time, especially the court battles, which adds more realism to the story telling. This not only allows us to hear people reflect on the impact of Napster, but to see the circus it had created at the time, and how it was, in fact, changing things.
It is also very interesting to learn a few things about the service, such as that the founders never made any money off of it. Creating something that millions of people use usually means somebody is getting rich, but in the case of Napster, it really was only the lawyers fighting for and against it that made any money. The post-Napster ventures of Shawn and Sean are also quite interesting. We know that Sean Parker made his millions from his involvement in Facebook (his involvement is chronicled by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network), and in the end, Fanning was able to make his money as well, in a video game venture. Agree or not with what the two did, and regardless of the validity of the service that Napster provided, it was an ingenious idea, and it was kind of satisfying to see these guys get their money, even if it was for something different. They are very good thinkers.
Downloaded provides a pretty good, unobscured view of Napster. They present both sides of the argument, and even Shawn and Sean are able to see both sides of the argument. They wanted a place where a network of people could share music, and learn about new music, and love new music. They had never planned on it being so massive, and the legal issues quickly caught up with them. It is up to us to decide if we believe that Napster was a good thing, since we got a free product, or a bad thing, because it was essentially stealing from musicians. There could have been more about the artists who openly spoke out against Napster, and those who fought tooth and nail against it. Metallica, Dr. Dre, and Trent Reznor, all have snippets in the film coming out against Napster, but no current interviews were conducted. They all appear in archival footage, which is great (specifically when Reznor is trashing Fred Durst for being an idiot), but it would have been really cool to see their reflections now on the Napster issue, if their views had changed, if they regret anything, and how it all changed because of it. These artists won the war, but they all surely faced fallout in what was perceived as actions against their own fans (I personally don’t believe what these artists did was wrong, they only wanted the credit for what was their hard work).
Now that CDs are pretty much dead, and we get the majority of our music from the Internet, at more legal places such as iTunes, the impact of Napster is plainly visible in our daily lives. Downloaded does a great job at telling the story fairly. By the end, we like the reflective nature of Fanning and Parker, having them realize what they truly had done, and how they overcame the obstacles of doing it in the first place.
As far as documentaries go, Downloaded is great at describing something that is not yet ancient history, but had a dramatic effect on the way the world works now when it comes to music and the Internet. very interesting, and very informative.
First off, it is quite difficult to talk to people you know about how how have recently watched a film titled Asian Schoolgirls and not have them look at you like you are about describe a porn flick you recently viewed. Or a soft porn, for that matter. “No, no, I swear, it’s an actual action movie. I saw it on Netflix!” Eyes roll slightly, and you feel like a bit of a creep, regardless.
But, there is indeed a movie called Asian Schoolgirls on Netflix, and it’s not a porn. Well, there is a lot of nudity. But there are no sex scenes. Well, aside from the uncomfortable, but not graphic, rape scenes. But at least there’s not a lot of overt sexuality. Aside from, of course, the many scenes inside a strip club where the girls put on full dance routines. Or the microscopic skirts they always seem to be wearing. Anyway…
Asian Schoolgirls is an action/revenge movie about four friends who decide to go out to a club one night. Armed with fake IDs, they meet a couple of fine young gentlemen who lure them to an “after party.” The girls are drugged and raped by several men, then unceremoniously dumped on the side of the road, barely remembering anything about the night. The police are of little help to their situation, and the event dramatically changes the girls. One of them ends up committing suicide, and the three remaining vow revenge for the death of their friend, and for the terrible thing that has happened to all of them. This leads the girls to acquire some weapons, and train in order to take down the underage sex ring that was a part of their horrible night. Thus, the revenge, and the piling up of bodies, begins.
Strangely, for a B-movie, I feel like there is a lot to say about Asian Schoolgirls. By no means is this a good movie, but by the end of it…I kind of liked it. I realize that my credibility as someone who loves movies and loves to write about the ones I have seen may be out the window by admitting that, but I’m okay with that. The movie is unbelievably straightforward and predictable, full of terrible plot holes, poor dialogue, and atrocious acting (every male in this film could make up a list of the worst acting performances I have ever seen in my life, but the girls aren’t too awful). The majority of the sets look like it was shot with $50 and a guy who knows a guy who can give them access to a warehouse for an afternoon. The action sequences are often decent, but more often, laughably bad, especially considering how three teen girls learned in a couple of days how to basically be ninja masters, and trained with a variety of weapons, able to take down goons of all types. It takes longer to learn martial arts for real, doesn’t it?
The premise of the film is about empowerment of women, and no longer being the victim. Getting revenge for the horrors that they had to face. Makes sense, and the movie really could have been about that. It could have been, but is it really? The writers and director were too busy finding every way to sexualize the girls in the film, that the message, if they had even intended there to be one, was lost. Sure, the girls want revenge for being raped. And they deserve their revenge. But in order to get money for the weapons they need, they all become strippers for a while. This allows the director to show us how they become strippers overnight, and make a lot of cash. Sure, it is also a chance for us to see them in their underwear and topless, as well, but it’s all about empowerment, no? Even during the suicide scene, where a girl takes her life because of the pressures put on her by her parents and the dismay they feel with her being raped, instead of going for solemn and dreary, the director makes sure that we get a shot up her skirt before she plunges from a building to her death.
There is no question that this film is sexploitation, playing off the school girl fetish held by so many. And even more specifically, the Asian school girl fetish. White blouses with short skirts and thigh high socks. We get it. They don’t even try to hide it, or pretend that their movie is about more than cute Asian girls, given the title, and even the poster, for the film.
At least the actresses seem to be pretty comfortable doing the majority of their scenes in various stages of undress, or even topless. Was that a part of the casting ad?
The three main actresses themelves aren’t too bad. They try. Hannah, May, and Suzy (played by Sam Aotaki, Catherine Kim, and Belle Hengsathorn, respectively) are all innocent, but have an edge that develops over the course of the film, to the point where they are willing to kill to gain their revenge. Look at me, pretending that there is actual character development in the movie! Moving on…
Sam Aotaki is probably the highlight of the film. She has been seen previously in the absolutely horrendous Alpha House (read my review here: https://gatsbyfuneral.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/alpha-house-film-review/), but shows potential that she could be a decent actress when all is said and done. She has a definite edge to her, and we kind of believe that she would be out for the revenge that the girls are seeking. For the role in Asian Schoolgirls, she has a couple of the main features that the directors must have been looking for: she is quite beautiful, and she is willing to take her shirt off. Often. And for no apparent reason, at times. Aotaki has potential as an actress, but with a resume that already features Asian Schoolgirls and Alpha House, it doesn’t look like there will be tons of opportunities for her. She has an edgy look, with her many tattoos and believable sneer, and she did the best of the entire cast with the dreary and cheesy script she was provided with.
I typically don’t like describing specific scenes in a film, but there is one that is so laughably out of place, that it even manages ruin what little credibility this film had at being serious (which is another issue, is this movie supposed to be serious, or comedic? Or darkly comedic? They couldn’t really decide). While literally caged in a basement, one of the girls is hauled away to be tortured. After worrying a little bit about her, the other two girls cuddle up to one another, and then begin to kiss, undressing each other. I may not know much about this stuff, but when your friend is being tortured, and you are stuck in a cage by people who want to kill you, is this really the best time to begin exploring your curious sexuality? No fetish stone was left unturned by the director, and perhaps he was just looking for another way to have the actresses show their breasts one more time before the film ended.
If there had been some time and thought put into this film, it could have been pretty solid. A revenge flick, or girls trying to deal with their past in the only way they know how. It has worked before. But the director seemed to have too much an infatuation with seeing his leading ladies in skimpy clothing to really care about delivering any kind of enduring theme or message. Not that one clicks on Asian Schoolgirls in order to have their life changed. They want cheesy action, and a way to pass an hour and a half. In this film, they get it.
Asian Schoolgirls is pretty terrible. But, at the end of the day, I can’t say that I hated it. When looking for a slice of cheese, I got exactly what I expected from this movie. If you are in the perfect mood to enjoy something terrible and B-grade, this just might be the ticket.
And now, I know that it is possible to write nearly 1,400 words about a movie called Asian Schoolgirls. I guess that is off my bucket list?
The best documentary of the past year, according to the Oscars, is 20 Feet From Stardom, the story of the men and women behind the greatest musical artists of our time: the backup singers.
Living in relative obscurity, these (primarily) women are the voices that we all know and love from our favorite records, but know nothing about them, and too often, never give them a second thought. The most poignant and true line of the film is when someone states that the backup singers are so important, to the point that when people hear their songs on the radio, it is the backing vocals they often sing along with, not the lead singer. And this couldn’t be more true. The backup singers sing the hooks, the parts of the song that we love and remember better than anything.
In 20 Feet From Stardom, we are given the stories of some of the most famous singers of all time, if we only knew who they were. It is absolutely incredible to see and hear the lists of songs that these women sang on, and helped to make great. The film does an incredible job of letting us know how important they were to the great days of soul, R&B, and rock n’ roll music, and giving us their resumes of what they have accomplished over the years. It is also incredible to find out how only a small handful of people were the same ones on hit after hit, songs that we have sung along with on the radio for years.
These women were blessed with some incredible vocal talents, and the innate ability to listen to a song, and figure out what their parts should be, and how to harmonize perfectly along with them. This has created some incredible music, as many of our favorite songs would be nothing without the backing vocals. It is very interesting to see why their careers were as backing singers, and it is for a number of reasons. Some prefer to remain in the background. Some tried to have solo careers, but were victims of timing, or the industry, or bad contracts. Some couldn’t dedicate the time or ego to being a solo artist. The reasons are all over the place, and it is kind of sad to know that some of the greatest talents of our time were stuck singing “Oooh”s behind some of our favorite artists.
One of the more interesting tales is that of the famous Rolling Stones song, “Gimme Shelter.” One of their better songs, it is so inspired due to the wailing female voice that delivers some of the more poignant lines in the song. The story of how it came to be is amazing, and simply gaining an understanding of how important the female voice is to that song is what makes the storytelling in this film so memorable. It does its best to put a name and a face to the voices we all really do know.
As expected, 20 Feet From Stardom is chock full of great music. From Motown, to David Bowie, the Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, it is all there.
This film is an excellent view into the lives of the backup singers. The hardships and the successes, the moments of glory on stage and the great tales of the recording studio. It is very humanizing, and makes us want to hear more from these great vocalists. It does a great job of letting us see behind the scenes in to the music industry, and why none of these women really “made it,” as we would typically describe making it. From the start, it is very interesting, and the movie never really lags in its story. We go from the origins of the backup vocals around the time of Motown hits, to the golden age of rock and roll, where they were given more freedom and leeway. We get to see their reactions to suddenly going from being singers, to being sexualized on stage, to forgotten and replaced by emerging recording technologies. It is a sad story, but one that allows us to see the strength and glory of these women and their accomplishments.
For fans of documentaries, and of music in general, 20 Feet From Stardom is a must-see. You may never listen to your favorite songs the same way again.
Scrolling through Netflix, I came across a documentary that labeled itself as a scenic journey for riders trying to complete a grueling bike journey from Banff, Alberta, to the US-Mexican border, through the Rocky Mountains. I liked the sounds of it, so I gave it a watch.
Ride the Divide is about an annual race that takes riders across the Great Divide in North America, through one province and five states. While they are trying to win the race, they are more trying to simply complete it, something that very few riders have managed to do. The journey is 2,700 miles, and the majority of the riding is done alone, causing the race to be more than a physical journey, but a psychological one as well.
The film itself is an interesting premise, but they miss the mark on many of the things that could have made it incredible, and encompassing of the epic journey these riders undertook.
While we hear a lot of the harrowing trails they needed to ride along, the constant threat and sightings of bears, we don’t get to see any of it. The camera team is only in one truck, and we catch up to riders now and then, seeing very little of them actually riding the challenging trails. The use of a GoPro is only used for a brief moment, and it is perhaps the highlight of the film. Instead of hearing about the stories of the ride, we crave actually seeing them ride, something that the documentary filmmakers severely lacked in the production of this film.
Occasionally we will hear call-ins from the riders, and they tell us about their day. But still, we don’t see anything about it. We hear about their falls, and their emotional and physical trauma that they are suffering through just to make it to the end of another day. But we don’t see it. And this is the greatest failing of Ride the Divide. We hear the stories being told, but there are very few visuals to go along with it.
There is some incredibly beautiful scenery to be seen in the film, as the Rocky Mountains provide some of the most breathtaking sights on earth. Typically, this is with a rider stopped, on the phone, or talking to the crew. Rarely is it us watching the rider gallantly plodding onwards in their quest to complete the race.
The race begins with about 15 riders, and by the end the number dwindles down to about five remaining, the ones that actually complete the race. Yet we know very little about any of them, right from the beginning of the film. So we are essentially following around strangers that we know nothing about, and only get the smallest glimpses into their actual lives. When someone else drops out of the race, the viewer will ask themselves, “Who?”, as we are unclear on who is who, which one of them was the one to drop out. This is another shortcoming of the film. There is a very human story here about perseverance and dedication to something, but the filmmakers again fall flat in telling the story.
I wanted to love Ride the Divide. The idea of the race is incredible, but since we are shown so little of it, it becomes difficult to understand how difficult the race is. Most of the footage we see is of the riders along flat areas. Seems easy enough, right?
This film suffered from a shortage of cameras, and probably a shortage of funding to get it done. There could have been so much more to be done here, to be told. These people are driven by something that the normal person doesn’t understand, yet we get nothing about these stories that would help pull us into the story. I wanted so much more.
Ride the Divide doesn’t really appeal to many groups. If you are a mountain bike enthusiast, there probably isn’t enough about the bikes or the terrain to keep you interested. If you are into the human aspect of the story, there is very little of that as well. If you want to see beautiful scenery, there is some of that, but you could find that with a quick Google image search and save yourself an hour-and-a-half.
While the idea for this kind of film is definitely there, the follow through for the film isn’t, and what we get instead is tepid story telling and not nearly enough footage of what we are told is an extremely challenging course. Overall, this film is pretty disappointing, and could have been so much more.
Right off the bat, it is easy to tell that the majority of people will be comparing Bachelorette to two highly successful films of a similar nature: Bridesmaids and The Hangover.
In order to enjoy this movie, you might as well end the comparisons there. Sure, there are little bits of each of those films interspersed into this one, but it is a different movie, and does not really try to be either one of those, but something on it’s own. There is even a message in this movie, if you care to look for it.
The raunchy comedy stars a really strong cast of Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan, Isla Fisher, Rebel Wilson, James Mardsen, and Adam Scott. The women have been friends since high school, and are brought back together for the surprising wedding of Wilson, whom they all assumed was the least likely to be the one to get married first. Each of the bridesmaids are forced to look at their own lives, which are in various states of disrepair, and they each fill a archetypal role within their group of friends.
Dunst plays Regan, the alpha-female who thought she had done everything right in life, but was still not engaged to her never-present med school boyfriend. Regan is angry and terrifying, becoming the Bridezilla even though she was only the maid of honour in this wedding. She wants to ensure that everything is perfect for her friend, even though she has constant doubts about her own life, by seeing her friend get married first. She has a darker past, as do they all, and her perfect exterior hides secrets such as bulimia. Dunst is quite strong in this role, again showing the promise she had as an actress not so long ago. It seems like forever ago that she was one of the hottest actress on the planet, and seemed like she would be lined up for life with great roles and awards forever.
Caplan, always darkly humorous in whatever role she undertakes, plays a promiscuous party girl who never really sorted things out in the 15 years since high school. Her life is pretty rudderless, and she still pines for the boyfriend she had back in the day. This leads us to several scenes with her and Adam Scott, who are always great together. If you haven’t seen them in the great show Party Down, you are missing out. Caplan has her own issues, such as never getting over an abortion she had to have when she was 16, and a little bit too much love for cocaine.
Isla Fisher plays a role that is fairly similar to the one that she plays in Wedding Crashers, only more extreme. She is a hard partying girl, and as flighty as they come. Her air-headedness provides a good number of the laughs in the film.
The girls main purpose in the film is to try and fix their own lives, while trying to save the wedding dress that they ruined after the bachelorette party, where they indulged in a lot of champagne and a lot of cocaine. They are three hot messes, and they need to fix what could be the biggest mistake of their friendship. They are not good people, but don’t try and come across as such. They are mean to one another, mean to other people, but that is what makes them succeed as friends. They have bonded over their cruelty, and their us against the world mentality.
If you are expecting a comedy that is as slapstick or laugh-out-loud funny as Bridesmaids, you will be disappointed. Many of the other reviews of the film that I have read make this direct comparison, but because the subjects are similar, does not mean that the comparisons need to be made. Bachelorette is much darker than those films, and the humour comes across as such. It is less needing to use the bathroom in the middle of the street, and more insulting strippers and doing so much coke that putting two people in one of your best friend’s wedding dresses seems like a good idea. It is less attacking fountains, and more overdosing on Xanax. The lives of the girls are pretty grim, but that is the point of the film. It is having a dark past, and moving past it, to try and be a better, happier person.
I quite enjoyed this film, because of the darker humour, and because of the women in the three lead roles. They were all pretty great, in my opinion, even if you found it hard to like them because they are such messes, and because they are such bad people. But I liked them because they were deplorable people. It works, and Caplan, Dunst, and Fisher make them all work.
If you can forget about making the comparisons to the other pre-wedding films, there is something quite enjoyable about Bachelorette, and it is well worth a watch on Netflix. You may not laugh out loud, but there are definite humorous moments throughout the film. I’d say it is worthwhile.