The year of 2016 has seen the rise of “buddy comedies” with several big budget lists entering the fray. Amongst them, Shane Black’s “Nice Guys” starring Ryan Gosling and Russel Crowe in opposite yet complementary roles. The film itself isn’t particularly memorable, apart from its definitive 70’s vibe and color palette, and the very weak plot leaves much to be desired – with a ridiculous premise that doesn’t quite catch viewers attentions. Even so, it manages to become a momentarily funny film that takes advantage of good performances by its main cast: a plus point given to very good dialogue moments throughout. In the end, it might be worth a watch, albeit in a halfhearted way.
War Dogs is an American comedy drama film made by the same director of the three Hangover films. Starring Miles Teller and Jonah Hill as two arms dealers, it subtracts the same “feel-good” sentiment of his previous trilogy, also found in other titles such as “21” or “Ocean’s Eleven”; where an illicit activity is hyped and placed under a stylish spotlight where the protagonists are considered heroes – even though the actual people are horrid (the film fails to show this in any way). Funny and entertaining, War Dogs manages to lure viewers through the buddy-like performances of Hill and Teller, who portray the search for friendship, money, power and fame which can only be achieved through arms dealing (or so the movie says). Sadly, it epitomizes the Hollywood value of amusing an audience above anything else, and while audiences laugh away, millions of damaged individuals are left forgotten amidst the ongoing arms trade.
Stylized after a Van Halen song of the same name, “Everybody Wants Some!!” is a love letter to everything in the 1980’s summarized and constricted into three days of cultural trends, stereotypes, fashion, ideology, music, and dialogue. The college vibe lasts throughout the film, and although there isn’t much substance nor plot to hang onto, it establishes a memorable setting and group of characters. And like in Catcher in the Rye, the three days of partying, alcohol and sex are only exemplifying the lost state of identities in which many of the characters are: between a memorable past and an exciting yet uncertain future. Even so, when the credits roll you kind of wish you could stay a little while longer with the group, as one of them states boldly “it’s going to be a good year”. Linklater’s film is very hard to decode, and its mastery is mostly intangible, and you as the audience can feel this even though you can’t quite grasp exactly what makes the film good (or bad).
After the unexpected success of Now You See Me in 2013, director Jonathan Chu was asked to supervise a second installment in the hopes of garnering even more profits than its first version. With a stellar cast that includes the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, and Jesse Eisenberg it was up to Chu to ensure that each actor fulfilled its potential with meaningful roles, scripts and scenes. Sadly, the film only goes downwards from beginning to end, with an overused plot and main theme that even manages to confuse viewers through a stunted progression. Additionally, poor cinematography and camera direction go side by side with mediocre dialogue to create a painstakingly boring film, albeit with some very few quirky moments. Furthermore, the director assumes that viewers know and remember everything that happened in the first installment, bringing names, places and events to the present with little to no detail; and concludes everything with an implausible and unrelatable roundup that gives audiences little motivation to see a continuation.
In 1967, Rudyard Kipling’s collection of stories was adapted to what we know as the musical animated film “The Jungle Book”. Almost 50 years later, Jon Favreau makes a valiant effort to replace the original’s charm with a live-action adaptation that tries (and mostly succeeds) in staying true to the animated version. Gorgeous CGI visuals teem with life, and though the lush nature sometimes seems just too vivid to be true, it leaves a message for young audiences that resonates in today’s climate of xenophobia and segregation: with Mowgli the outsider in a world he doesn’t quite belong. The voice cast is truly impressive, with the likes of Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, and Christopher Walken amongst others. Sadly, the same can’t be said about the main child actor, who doesn’t quite transmit any “oomph” through his actions or expressions; merely reciting his lines – which sometimes leads to his character feeling obnoxious to audiences. In a case of quality vs quantity, the 2016 film has almost double the running time than the original, yet somehow feels emptier in its story and, case in point, diverges substantially in its ending and presentation of the full cast of characters that the 1967 version had. Even so, it might be worth watching for audiences that haven’t been able to experience any of Kipling’s adaptations throughout the years.
Many films under the comedy genre have garnered attention by critics, but few have had such a lasting impact as The Big Lebowski. Paving the way for future endeavours in TV and cinema, the Coen Brother’s take on a Los Angeles slacker who goes by the nickname The Dude is well shot, clever, and witty. It strives on presenting a unique cast of characters that all gell well in their respective groups, highlighting stereotypes and alluding to extreme social prejudices, and does so particularly well with the three protagonists (The Dude, The Vietnam War Veteran, The Naive well-natured guy) and three direct antagonists (Nihilist Germans). It is, on a basic level, a “first step” in the Coen Brother’s new cinematic line that would go on to create films such as No Country For Old Men, and an experiment (in comedy as well as in artistic vision) that ultimately paid off. A point of particular interest: the division seen between critics and audiences who first catalogued the film as a dud, but as the years passed embraced it with a cult-like following.
Rarely seen on films, and in such an honest and brutal way, 12 Years a Slave explores human trading in an intense tone that carries throughout the movie. From the film’s onset, audiences are presented with a harsh reality: Solomon Northrup’s options are scarce, either fight now or survive by keeping his head low. A scene in particular emphasizes this, as he (the main character) is being talked to by two other characters left and right of him, symbolizing his options. But quickly enough, a character chooses the option to fight and is killed on the spot and thus, a single option remains. The director uses these links often, and through characters he is able to group almost every aspect of slave trading: The ruthless and vile landowners, embodiment of evil yet a reflection of what humankind is capable of becoming under constant circumstances (Fassbender, Paulson). The sad and working slaves, whose lives are forfeit only because of the color of their skin (Nyong’o). The civilized and incurring individuals, who by their own means try to distance themselves from the reality ever so present to them (Pitt, Cumberbatch). The list goes on, and serves to show the depth which the director ultimately achieves, not trying to make his audience sad (by juxtaposing melancholic tunes or tones) but simply showing everyone a reality just as it is; audiences making their own conclusions. He even jabs at the absurdity of it all, when one of the cruellest slave owners shouts out “What did I do to make God hate me?”. In the end, the film achieves a close adaptation of the book by the same name, but leaves a sad message: even if one man is saved, nothing had changed for all the others.