Tag: charlie day

Hotel Artemis


Hotel Artemis (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

Take the cool concept of hotel-exclusively-for-criminals from “John Wick”—but turn the posh setting the opposite way: as grubby as possible without losing the foreboding mood—and set it amidst a political backdrop that involves rioters’ violent uprising against the privatization of clean water in Los Angeles 2028. The result is “Hotel Artemis,” written and directed by Drew Pearce, an action-thriller that offers a few neat ideas but quite underwhelming as a whole. In the middle of it, I wondered if it might have been better off as television show.

Part of its lack of cinematic appeal is the standard disparate characters having to converge at one place. Given that the titular hotel is meant to heal criminals, many of them killers, we already expect for them to drop like flies. It is all a matter of when and in what order. Since it takes on this level of predictability, dramatic gravity must be enhanced to such an extent that we overlook the final destination. Its attempt goes as far as to provide flashbacks of the nurse (Jodie Foster) who runs the hotel, how she found her son dead at the beach due to a drug overdose. Since then she has been in a state of grief—it has gotten so bad that she has developed agoraphobia over the years. She blames herself so much that she has made Hotel Artemis her personal prison, to exist to serve till the day she dies.

Meanwhile, we get snippets of snappy banter among a slate of criminals, from bank robbers (Sterling K. Brown), arms dealers (Charlie Day), to hired assassins (Sofia Boutella). All of them are convincing in their respective roles with the exception of Zachary Quinto as the hotel owner’s volatile son. Every time he utters a line, I felt as though the performer was taken from a completely different picture. It is distracting at best, laughable at worst—especially when the character is supposed to be taken seriously as a major threat against everyone in the hotel. The angry son is given no character development.

The picture is shot against a curious political backdrop but the anger swelling outside of the hotel is used merely as a device. News coverage is shown on televisions inside the Artemis, we hear bombs going off in the distance, and rooftop scenes show aircrafts crashing on nearby buildings. These images are meant to amplify the tension from the outside in, perhaps even aiming to paint a picture of a hellish near-future, but the social commentary, while present, is completely lost. Like its underdeveloped characters, its ideas, too, are undercooked. I felt no excitement or enjoyment from these images.

A cursory approach almost always does not work with high-concept action-thrillers. The point of having ambitious ideas is to explore them in a way that is thoroughly entertaining—that if one were to strip away the action altogether, the viewers would still want to know what would happen because the drama is rooted in something real. “Hotel Artemis” fails to invest emotionally and so only a shallow experience is offered. While not necessarily bad or unbearable, nearly everything about it is forgettable. If there were to be a sequel, which the material nudges by mentioning other hotels with a similar purpose, ideas must be explored first and foremost. Otherwise, what would be the point?

The Lego Movie


The Lego Movie (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Packed with impressive visuals and a witty script that consistently amuses, “The Lego Movie,” based on the screenplay and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, is an animated film that many claim is equal to this decade’s “Toy Story.” Though it is an entertaining work on its own, compared to John Lasseter’s film, Lord and Miller’s work functions on a lower level.

Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) has a proclivity for categorization. Seeing different types of legos from different generations, themes, universes interacting just won’t do. So, he concocts a scheme: by using a device called the “Kragle” (short for Krazy Glue), not even the rebels collectively known as Master Builders—talented lego characters with the ability to assemble a pile of legos into weapons, mode of transport, or whatever they wish to create—will be able to redo or remove what he and his followers have constructed. However, it has been prophesied that eventually someone called the “Special” will rise and put an end to Lord Business’ evil plan. This chosen one turns out to be a very ordinary construction worker named Emmet (Chris Pratt).

The images exude a confident vivacity that is rare in movies—animated or otherwise. Because each lego character has a specific way of moving in one space, from one point to another, and expressing himself or herself, there is rarely a dull moment. We are given time to appreciate the details and we wonder how the filmmakers managed to make every leading and supporting character stand out. In other words, what is shown on screen is not just pretty pictures. It is refreshing when we feel like some thought and effort are actually put into the project instead of relying on vapid cuteness to appeal to the crowd. Yes, I’m looking at you, “Despicable Me 2.”

But the movie is not a completely immersive experience. Many of the jokes that are very funny when uttered or shown once or twice end up being repeated so much that they lose their impact. It tests the patience. More importantly, the romantic subplot between Emmet and Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) is forced and unnecessary. Why is it that so many animated movies these days feel like they must have some sort of romance? I don’t mind—as long as they work. But, really, we should ask ourselves: Do young children really care about the idea of romantic love being reciprocated? If the subplot were targeted for adults, it should have been written smarter, with a little more sweetness, maybe a bit more seduction. I did not care whether Wyldstyle and Emmet would end up together.

As a result, instead of building a steady upward momentum, the film is significantly less interesting when the two lovebirds interact. Why not simply focus on the mission? When I was a kid playing with LEGO bricks and toys, it was all about explosions, surprising twists, time running out, and rescuing captured comrades (or resurrecting them if they happened to have been killed in action). Even with my female action figures, they were not used as crushes or love interests for my male action figures. Why? Because saving the word—in this film, several universes—is more important than holding hands.

“The Lego Movie” really shines in the final quarter. The screenplay takes the characters’ universe and adds another dimension. I was surprised because at times I found myself quite moved with the parallels and differences drawn between one world and another. It was then I knew: the film is dedicated to children around the world of past, present, and future who use their toys as a conduit to their imagination.

Pacific Rim


Pacific Rim (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

San Francisco, Manila, Cabo–the first three cities demolished by the Kaiju, towering monsters from another world that have gone through a portal located deep within the Pacific Ocean. In response to the catastrophic attacks, nations of the world band together and create the Jaeger program. Led by Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), giant robots are sent to exterminate the leviathans each time they surface. For seven years, the program has proven to be a glowing success. However, not only have the aliens turned more massive over time, it appears as though they have learned to adapt.

“Pacific Rim,” based on the screenplay by Travis Beacham and Guillermo del Toro, is propelled by two elements: nostalgia and faultless visual effects. When I wasn’t running around outside with my cousins or collecting bugs as a kid, I sat in front of the television around dinner time and marveled at shows like “Ultraman,” “Chikyu Sentai Fiveman,” and “Chōdenji Machine Voltes V.” When an episode was not dubbed, everything was in Japanese. I didn’t mind; the images spoke for themselves. All I really cared about was the action–especially during the last ten minutes or so when two figures fighting, one standing for good and the other for evil, grow taller than mountains and anything goes from there. I approached the film with optimism.

Fans of sci-fi action will be satisfied. Children, especially most boys, will be drawn to the picture. Themes like determination and heroism are present, but the centerpiece, colossal figures duking it out until an arm is torn off or the target is pummeled to electrical malfunction, allows it to stand out from other movies that showcase robots and superheroes smashing into skyscrapers.

The magic is in the detail and execution. While we are given some time to gape at the giants’ full bodies from a good distance, tight shots that linger are also implemented so we can observe the roughness and scaliness of the creatures which directly contrasts with the angularity and bulkiness of the robots. It is a completely different experience–a pleasant one–compared to other work within the sub-genre in which most of the action is largely composed of quick cuts. It is inviting. Instead of repelling or inundating us with rampant and incomprehensible editing, the filmmakers actually want us to see what two hundred million dollars looks like on screen when it is done right.

Having said that, I am a little older now and action is no longer the only element I care about. The dialogue is not particularly strong especially when the mood takes a serious turn. In addition, trying to steer some of the material toward a dark and dramatic territory is a miscalculation because paths are created but never explored meaningfully. There are ways of creating character development without necessarily making more subplots. For example, since the planet is in a state of cataclysm, it is more appropriate to focus on the decisions the characters feel they must make, how they live with those choices, and what their specific roles mean to them within the Jeager program. By streamlining its scope with respect to characterization, there might have been less scenes that drag or feel forced.

It is not without a sense of humor. I am usually repelled when scientists are portrayed as being so smart that they are unable to relate with anything that has to do with reality, but Charlie Day and Burn Gorman as Newton and Gottlieb, respectively, are so fidgety, you’d think they chugged at least three Red Bulls prior to “Action!” I was amused by simply watching their characters struggling to stand still and keeping their opinions to themselves when their superior demands that they speak one at a time. Scientists with different perspectives on how to solve a problem is nothing new, but Day and Gorman’s performances create an illusion that it is new. Also, I liked looking at their lab. Newton’s side is like a bizarre candy store. That piece of Kaiju brain floating in a tank made me hungry. (I like to eat pork brain.)

Directed by Guillermo del Toro, “Pacific Rim” is made with a love for the medium. It engages us with its visuals without relying on them too much to the point where there is no story. And although the script is somewhat limited, it remains a delight throughout. When you feel that the filmmakers have taken extra steps to create a work that is worthy of your time, especially in today’s increasingly cynical attitudes toward moviemaking, know that what you have seen is a rarity.

Horrible Bosses


Horrible Bosses (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day), and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) were unhappy with their jobs. Nick expected to be promoted by his boss, Dave (Kevin Spacey), because he had sacrificed eight years doing grunt work. Dave ended up promoting himself. Dale, a dental hygienist, was happily engaged but his boss, Dr. Harris (Jennifer Aniston), wanted him to have an affair with her. If Dale wouldn’t accept her aggressive sexual advances, she claimed she would tell his girlfriend that they slept together and she had evidence that they did. Meanwhile, Kurt, who worked in a chemical factory, had to deal with his extremely childish new boss, Bobby (Colin Ferrell), who didn’t care if his decisions endangered people’s lives. “Horrible Bosses,” directed by Seth Gordon, was, for the most part, a disarmingly effective workplace comedy. It started with crackle and pop: within the first ten minutes, we came to understand why the three friends felt the need to hire a hitman (Jamie Foxx) to kill their bosses. Although the comedic situations were wrapped in relatively improbable situations, we rooted for the trio because, in essence, none of them felt respected. We’ve all felt inadequate because someone had told us, implicitly or explicitly, that we weren’t good enough. That frustration builds anger and we could see the anger in Nick, Dale, and Kurt in varying degrees. The bosses had personalities and some were given a chance to shine. Dave was truly nasty because he was the kind of boss who got his way by purposely being blind to the difference between motivation and manipulation. Spacey was perfect for the role because he exhibited charm and sliminess with ease. Meanwhile, Dr. Harris was the definition of a nymphomaniac. She couldn’t function without mixing business with pleasure. Aniston played her character with glee. Her character was an exaggeration. There were times when it worked, especially since Dale was such a colorful guy. However, I wished Dr. Harris had more quiet moments aimed to remind us that she wasn’t just a cartoon character. Lastly, Bobby was my worst nightmare because he just didn’t care about his job. All he cared about was the money he undeservingly received at the end of the day. Farrell is a dynamic actor but his character wasn’t given enough screen time. We only knew three things about him: he was addicted to cocaine, supposedly held a green belt in martial arts, and there was a hint that he felt like an inadequate son. Otherwise, he just looked like a walking bad joke (perhaps because he was balding). Despite the many hilarious one-liners that “Horrible Bosses” effortlessly delivered, it fell short from being great because Dr. Harris and Bobby were more like punchlines rather than real people. Still, “Horrible Bosses” deserves a recommendation because the director took risks in terms of the picture’s pace and tone. It managed to acquire an offbeat rhythm–a key element that less effective workplace comedies could only wish to possess.

Going the Distance


Going the Distance (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Garrett (Justin Long) lives in New York and works for a record company whose main goal is to find bands that have the potential to be popular even though they’re not necessarily talented. Garrett finds his job unrewarding because he genuinely loves good music despite a band being non-commercial. Erin (Drew Barrymore) is an summer intern for a newspaper in New York who resides in the Bay Area with her sister (Christina Applegate). Being over thirty years old, she’s still in school because she once derailed her career plans for a guy. Garret and Erin meet and they get into an initially undefined long-distance relationship. Written by Geoff LaTulippe and directed by Nanette Burstein, “Going the Distance” is without a doubt a commercial romantic comedy but has an edge because it is actually believable in terms of how it’s like to be in a modern relationship. The script contained extremely funny lines and situations, the supporting characters (Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis as Garrett’s best friends) were used in a smart way but never overshadowed the leads, and we believe that Garrett and Erin had something special so we are invested in the story. The small details were the things I appreciated most. I liked how the camera consistently focused on the man–the thoughts that were running around in his head and the pain that he must be feeling because he is very attached to the girl. It stood out to me because there were studies I’ve read about, compared to a woman, a man feeling more pain than he lets on when a romantic relationship is broken. And even though it wasn’t addressed directly, there was probably an age difference (Garrett’s age was undisclosed). I thought about why the two main characters valued certain things over others, their maturity levels, and the pros and cons of being in long distance relationship. Even though, on the surface, Garrett and Erin had a lot in common, they also had a lot of differences but somehow the director was able to highlight what great chemistry they have without resulting to being sappy and so we want them to be together even though not all of the characters believed they would make it. “Going the Distance” is an unexpectedly fast-paced comedy that manages to capture the diversity and the hustle and bustle of New York City (I actually liked the scenes with purposely bad lighting because it felt that much more realistic). It’s an intelligent film that isn’t afraid for both men and women to directly talk about sex and address what they really need in order to be happy. The movie even had time to refer to the economy’s impact the job market. I strongly believe that couples, not just the girl, will find themselves enjoying this laugh-and-loud romcom.