Tag: mila kunis

The Spy Who Dumped Me

The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018)
★ / ★★★★

Here is a movie that might have been tolerable, perhaps even deserving of a marginal recommendation, given that it had ended around the one hour mark. But then it continues for another hour even when the screenplay, written by Susanna Fogel and David Iserson, does not have enough fresh content to entertain a spectrum of viewers. The death march that is the latter hour is so desperate for laughs that it forgets it is a parody of spy flicks, chick flicks, and action-comedies. As a result, the joke ends up being itself.

Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon play two best friends who get thrown in the middle of an international plot involving governments and terrorists that wish to get their hands on a device. While the co-leads share convincing chemistry at times, there are numerous instances when McKinnon overshadows Kunis—particularly difficult to pull off because the latter makes it look as though exuding charm and variegated emotions is effortless.

McKinnon’s approach is tank-like: do and say whatever it takes to be the funniest person on screen. She has numerous facial expressions in her arsenal—and she is not afraid to look silly or stupid as long as she is remembered, especially when she is not on screen. I admired her strategy and it works for a one-woman show, but the director, Susanna Fogel, seems to forget that there must be a constant partnership on screen. Because I kept noticing McKinnon’s firecracker physicality and energy, I caught myself wishing that the film was solely about her character, Morgan with too strong of a personality, instead of Audrey, the woman dumped over text by her boyfriend who happens to work with the CIA.

The picture is surprisingly violent—which I enjoyed. However, this element of surprise is not enough to elevate the generic material. Yes, it is a parody of pictures that follow a certain formula, but it does not command an identity of its own. This is problematic, especially during the second hour, because when bullets fly and the characters go on the run, we know exactly how each sequence will play out. It becomes predictable—and isn’t one of goals of parody supposed to point to what is wrong or tired about a subject and attempt to subvert it? It relies on exaggeration—which parodies are supposed to do—but employing this strategy and nothing else prevents it from becoming a standout of the genre.

I dive into movies like “The Spy Who Dumped Me” not to ascertain the contents of its plot, but to see if it could really outsmart the genre it attempts to parody or skewer. While I chuckled sporadically because McKinnon and Kunis manage to sell their lines with verve to spare, the unambitious screenplay leaves a lot to be desired. In addition, notice its wildly fluctuating tone, how out of control it is to the point where would-be amusing moments are placed right next to occurrences that are deadly serious, or vice-versa. Clearly, the screenplay would have benefited from further redrafting.

A Bad Moms Christmas

A Bad Moms Christmas (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

There is a handful of good ideas in “A Bad Moms Christmas,” adding the moms’ moms into the chaotic holiday equation among them, but none of them are thoroughly realized in order to create a sequel that is not only necessary but also a natural progression in terms of mothers’ roles in providing X-Mas cheer to everyone in their familial and social spheres. Laughs are sprinkled throughout, some of them big ones, but for a movie that is supposed to highlight the many struggles that mothers go through during the most stressful time of year, the situational comedy often comes across as superficial, especially those that involve unnecessary slapstick humor. The screenplay requires a bit more soul-searching.

The three mothers introduced are played by Susan Sarandon, Cheryl Hines, and Christine Baranski—the rock ’n roll mom, the mom with an unhealthy attachment to her daughter, and the perfectionist, controlling, type-A mom, respectively. All are written with distinct personalities and the performers are able to find varying notes, often in one scene, as to prevent the characters from becoming stale. One must be singled out. Baranski is a scene-stealer; she can say paragraphs while merely employing sharp looks and an entire essay using a sigh followed by prolonged silence. Every time she is on screen, she commands the room as if she were the lead in the film that was all about her. I want to see a movie that focuses on this character being played by none other than Baranski.

The mothers from the predecessor (Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn) is the less entertaining half. While they are certainly not as over-the-top as their mothers, notice there is barely any evolution to these central characters. Kunis, Bell, and Hahn retain their solid chemistry as a group, but I found the characters to be whinier this time. Consistently, they fail to find resourceful avenues to attempt to solve their problems. Perhaps the reason why their mothers are introduced in this installment is because the central characters have already learned nearly everything they could to be able to raise happy children in the previous film. It is frustrating that the writer-directors, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, have lost sight of the main protagonists.

As far as holiday comedies involving dysfunctional families go, there are effective tear-jerker moments toward the end. Particularly moving is the church scene between Kunis and Baranski. It is impressive how the former is able to shift suddenly toward a more dramatic tone with utmost sincerity. We have seen her in plenty of comedies and some sci-fi, fantasy, and thrillers thus far. It made me wonder how Kunis might fare in classically dramatic roles. It might be interesting because her look and the way she carries herself is so modern. But I think she has it in her to excel in dramatic roles with the best actors in the business.

“A Bad Moms Christmas” is a stocking filled with mixed goodies. But what cannot be denied is the energy behind the performances. At times the actors manage to sell the stupidest jokes and because they try so hard, we laugh anyway… sometimes simply because of how awkward it is. Here is a comedy that is entertaining enough but one that is not as smart nor as pointed as it could have been had the writers taken the time to really hone in on 1) who the main characters are, 2) why this chapter is worth telling, and 3) the connections between points one and two.

Jupiter Ascending

Jupiter Ascending (2015)
★ / ★★★★

There is very little to recommend in “Jupiter Ascending” which is all the more disappointing because it is written and directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski. The story is as ordinary as any cliché-ridden sci-fi action dud to come out of Hollywood in the past two decades, the special and visual effects are so overdone that the images end up looking cheap, and the performances barely have any pulse.

The plot is irrelevant but here it is: Although Jupiter (Mila Kunis) cleans houses for living, three siblings from one of the most powerful dynasties in the universe wish to get their hands on her. This is because Jupiter is the rightful owner of Earth; if she ends up dead or married off, she, by default, will lose her claim. A genetically engineered human named Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) rescues her from an attack and the two eventually develop romantic feelings for one another.

It pains me to write the former paragraph because it sounds like fluff from a D-grade romance novel. Most surprising to me is the fact that great performers like Eddie Redmayne and Sean Bean signed up to appear in this. Did they even bother to read the script? The dialogue is atrocious—often hyperbolic when unnecessary, the futuristic lingo and alien terms sound forced and cheesy, and none of the characters gets a glimmer of complexity. I can imagine a smart and creative high school student being able to write better material than this two-hour dross.

The action scenes, which are supposed to be the highlight of the picture, do not work on any level. Take, for example, shots of a craft moving at incredibly high speed crashing onto another object or building. The impact looks soft as butter because the images, including the background, are plagued with CGI. The artificiality is so overwhelming that we never believe we are watching a real conflict unfold—just a series of pixels designed to look or emulate something that is exciting. It is an empty, disappointing experience. Frankly, I found the images to be ugly, painful to look at.

The romance between Jupiter and Caine begs to be criticized. Kunis and Tatum share no chemistry. The so-called acting is so forced and awkward, watching them is like dropping in during rehearsals. Some scenes entertained me not because of what is happening but due to the fact that I kept noticing Tatum wearing more makeup than Kunis. Moreover, the exchanges between the leads should inspire anger because we know that The Wachowskis can write on a higher level than what is presented. Here, it appears as though they gave up halfway through because the material makes no sense whatsoever or they did not even try in the first place but figured they could use the paycheck.

Sitting through “Jupiter Ascending” is an act of self-punishment. Use your two hours into doing something more worthwhile like reading a good novel, spending time with your family, or engaging in a hobby. It is a mystery to me how this film received the green light from the studio. Right off the top of my head, it is because the Wachowskis hit commercial gold before with “The Matrix” and lightning could very well hit again. While this may sound pessimistic, the final product itself does not give us any reason to react under a more positive light.


Ted (2012)
★ / ★★★★

If I had to name one thing I especially liked about “Ted,” based on the screenplay by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, and Wellesley Wild, it is the surprising move that not one scene is dedicated to keeping the bear–human in every way that it is able to speak, move around, and has self-awareness–a secret from anyone. However, the creativity stops there. The majority of the film is a tired plot surrounding Ted’s thirty-five-year-old owner, John (Mark Wahlberg), and his inability to act like an adult. Since the film is juvenile from start to finish, the jokes–more foul-mouthed than inspired–quickly grow tiresome.

The script targets everybody: racial minorities, gays, people who carry extra weight, forgotten celebrities, celebrities best forgotten as soon as possible, the rich, rape survivors. The fact that they are offensive or are politically incorrect is not the problem. On the contrary, a few lines are clever, but they seem to almost always occur outside the scope of a scene. When a joke draws attention on itself too much, it does not work. Instead, it comes off self-serving and trying too hard to sound smart or witty. What we have here is not a movie but a sketch comedy with one running gag–a teddy bear that behaves badly–and everything else is barely cobbled together.

Let us take the romance between John and Lori (Mila Kunis), his girlfriend of four years. It is mercilessly repetitive: John fails to provide what Lori needs, simple things like a little bit of maturity and respect, Lori expresses her disappointment, John tells her, “I love you” in every way, shape, and form, they start over, and the cycle continues. It stops only when it is convenient for the plot. In other words, when many minutes have trickled away and it is time to get into the syrupy business of John having to choose between his best friend and a potential partner in life.

Here’s a litmus test to determine if a gimmick is simply in a movie to serve as flowery wallpaper: take it away or make a substitution and see if there is a significant change. I argue that if Ted had been a human being, we would still sit through yet another bad movie about a man-child with nothing new or interesting to say about what it means to have an obsessive attachment to a person or thing.

In reality, there is a difference between being childish and being childlike and it is a shame that the screenplay does not bother to tackle them head-on. Instead, many people will be lost in the shuffle, faulting the girlfriend for giving her beau too many chances, that maybe she is also a reason why the relationship is the way it is. The way I saw it, Lori is attracted to John because of his childlike tendencies: his directness; when he knows something is important to her, he gives her his undivided attention; he is tender; he makes her laugh. What she can’t stand is his rampant childishness: mainly his lack of ambition, being far too unmotivated, and always being up for hanging out and getting high. But the comedy, especially this type of comedy, should be simpler than psychoanalysis. We have a talking bear! It is not asking too much to actually do something with it.

“Ted,” directed by Seth MacFarlane, has, at best, fifteen minutes of good material. I did laugh out loud but they are far too sporadic. Some of the later sequels of “Child’s Play” which feature Chucky the killer doll offer more humor than this. And those are slasher films.

Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

On the run from and desperate not to get clobbered by a fellow circus performer, Oscar (James Franco), a magician whose stage name is Oz, gets on a hot air balloon. The ropes are detached which allows the balloon to float away from the impending threat. For a second, Oz thinks he is safe. That is, until he looks behind him and discovers that the wind is carrying his transport toward a destructive tornado and there is no turning back. After praying for his life and making a promise, he is somehow taken to the land of Oz, a magical place filled with vibrant colors and innocuous beings who fear the Wicked Witch.

Although visually spectacular in just about every scene, “Oz the Great and Powerful,” directed by Sam Raimi, is somewhat of a disappointment because its story, while appropriately simple, requires too much time to launch. As it barely chugs along, we are left with no choice but to treat the visuals as a sort of comfort blanket. The longer we look at them, like analyzing a magic trick, we realize that it is not really all that magical. We begin to notice the images’ artificiality and so a significant amount of excitement and curiosity is lost in the process.

When the visuals are used correctly, it makes us want to visit Oz. For instance, the transition from Kansas to Oz, from a black-and-white to a pavonine palette, is executed with the perfect amount of grandiosity and humility. It hearkens to a similar experience of reading an excellent opening chapter of an adventure novel: our heart skipping a beat because we are so captivated and excited by it. We wonder what is in store for us.

As it goes on, it becomes clearer that there is possibly nothing more than what is seen. The screenplay does not allow its characters to become more than caricatures: Glinda (Michelle Williams) the Good Witch is good and sweet, Evanora (Rachel Weisz) the Wicked Witch is wicked and formidable, and Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora’s sister, is naive and, well, sort of boring. Meanwhile, while Oz is not too likable because he is somewhat egotistical, the manner in which his journey is written and executed lacks enough verve and depth. Inevitably, the changes we see in him later on appear disingenuous.

One of the main problems is the lack of detail in Oz and Theodora’s relationship. They meet, converse, and walk together to Emerald City, but they are not given a personal connection. Their interaction is rushed. It does not make sense to spend only about ten minutes out of over two hours to try to establish the crux of the story. Later, when feelings end up being hurt, instead of watching a convincing fantasy-drama, it is like watching a marionette show. The strings controlled by the filmmakers are felt and seen. If anything, the charade is laughable rather than commanding a proper dosage of seriousness when necessary.

I was not convinced that Franco and Kunis are right for their roles. Though I tried hard to see Oz, Franco overacts so consistently that his performance dares us to notice him rather than the character he is playing. Still, I did enjoy that one scene when he slides down a mountain of gold coins. Who doesn’t want to do that? In that scene, overplaying it works. As with Kunis, she does not play it naive enough. Instead, I wondered if it might have worked better if she played Glinda and Williams (who is solid as the Good Witch) played Theodora. There is a difference between being good and being naive.

“Oz the Great and Powerful,” based on the screenplay by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire, has fine touches here and there. For example, there is a nice parallel drawn between the land of Oz and Kansas regarding girls who cannot walk. In an early scene, a little girl (Joey King) so convinced that Oz can really perform magic asks him to heal her so she can walk again. Since all he has is a bag of tricks, of course he is unable to grand her wish. Later, in Oz, the magician encounters a China Girl (voiced by King) with broken legs after her village is attacked by the Wicked Witch’s flying baboons. Though she does not ask him for anything, Oz helps her anyway by gluing the legs back to her body.

But occasionally hitting the target is not enough. We should be aware enough that we deserve to see and experience more than two good hits out of five attempts.

Black Swan

Black Swan (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) was a ballet dancer who was chosen to play the lead role, the White Swan and the Black Swan, by the director (Vincent Cassel) in the upcoming performance of “Swan Lake.” However, although Nina had mastery in terms of technique and grace which were perfect in fully embodying the White Swan, she didn’t know how to let go of control so that, as the Black Swan, she could successfully generate enough anger and edge to leave the audiences breathless. Lily (Mila Kunis) had what Nina did not. Nina began to suspect that she was going to be replaced by the director and slowly she began her descent into madness. Darren Aronofsky fascinates me as a director. I know many disagree with me but I think he has yet to create a masterpiece. But this a good thing because I’ve noticed that he continues to evolve. Aronofsky does a wonderful job establishing a certain look and feel as he did in this film because he had concocted the right amount of realism and fantastic imagery. Blend it with a person on the verge of a psychological breakdown and we’ve got a chilling examination of a character physically pushing herself to her absolute limit. Nina wanted perfection and she had to pay a price. Portman should be commended for her dedication. I knew she was an actress of many talents with a chameleon-like approach in enveloping herself in her roles but I’ve never seen her so sensual and dangerous. Even with the complex dance sequences with booming music and dancers making their way across the screen, I was drawn to her face because the subtlety in her expressions made me wonder what was going on inside Nina’s mind. Sure, pain was involved but I wondered if she enjoyed it, too. The film reached its peak when Nina eventually couldn’t discern what was real and what wasn’t. Since we saw the story through her eyes, we also couldn’t tell reality from fantasy. It was a scary experience especially when she began to see paintings taunting her about her confusion and when she thought she had committed murder and felt the need to hide the body. The last few minutes were a barrage to the senses, completely in a good way, and I was left staring at the screen as the final shot fade to white. I was mesmerized and it left me wanting more. “Black Swan” was an intense experience but I wish it spent more time tying up loose ends between Nina and her overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey). There was an undercurrent of sexual repression inside their apartment which reminded me of Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion.” It begged the question what really drove Nina off the edge: the endless hours of practice or the endless nagging from her mother. Most would say it was both but I believe one factor was more influential than the other. If the director had spent more time highlighting trends between the two worlds, “Black Swan” would have been his best work.

After Sex

After Sex (2007)
★★ / ★★★★

“After Sex,” written and directed by Eric Amadio, took a sneak peek at what several couples talked about right after having sex. The couples were diverse in terms of sexual orientation, race and outlook on life which was a good thing because audiences could undoubtedly relate to at least one character. Out of the eight couples, three worked for me. Perhaps the best was with Zoe Saldana as a lesbian and Mila Kunis as a proud heterosexual who was unafraid to experiment. Maybe it was their strong acting (compared to the rest of the cast) but there was something very real about the chemistry between them. The differences in their characters was not what defined their scenes but the subtle similarities and curiosities they had about each other. In return, their scene was sexy, smart and very relatable. The second scene I liked featured Dave Franco and Natalie Marston as friends who decided to lose their virginity to each other. It was arguably the cutest vignette; they may not have anything particularly deep to say to each other because they haven’t yet experienced life but it worked because it embodied real innocence which the other storylines lacked. Lastly, I thought the funniest one was a discussion between Timm Sharp and James DeBello about gay relationships and there having to be a “bitch” and a “butch” in order for it to work. Their rapid-fire exchange was not only very funny but it also felt real. I could imagine myself talking like the way they did to my closest friends. Out of the eight, Sharp and DeBello’s scene was the one I had the most fun with and I even caught myself laughing out loud. Unfortunately, the other five did not quite reach their full potential. While I thought the bit about the college frat boy’s (Noel Fisher) first experience with another man (Tanc Sade) was at times touching, in the end it was preachy and it did not make me think beyond the obvious. The worst was probably the two older folks talking about fisting and the “good old times.” Not only was it very awkward but it did not make much sense. It was unfortunate because the director could have used them as an argument in terms of how it was like to be in a relationship with someone for years and years and still remain friends/in love because the other storylines were more about younger people barely knowing each other. “After Sex” was a mixed bag but it had some good moments that felt natural. While the title might suggest skin and, well, sex, it was really more about one’s definition of a relationship and identity–which is a good quality because it did not settle with the obvious. In its own way, “After Sex” was quite tasteful and not as awkward as it could have been. (But that does not mean you should watch it with your parents.)

The Book of Eli

The Book of Eli (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

“The Book of Eli” was about a man (Denzel Washington) whose goal was to protect a book and journey toward the west of post-apocalyptic America. Along the way, he met a friend named Solara (Mila Kunis) who was enslaved by a power-hungry leader (Gary Oldman) in desperate search for the very same book that the mysterious man held. The picture started off strong and it immediately looked great. I believed that I was really looking at a world so ravaged by starvation, desperation and a lack of ethical and moral conduct. It reminded me of John Hillcoat’s “The Road” in terms of its tone and sadness elicited by the gray environment. Unfortunately, the middle section felt interminable and it lacked a sense of isolation that the first twenty to thirty minutes had. It was painfully obvious that the film tried to establish a contrast between Washington and Oldman’s characters. For a movie about faith and retaining that faith against all odds, the easy answers came quick so the material ultimately lacked subtlety and I slowly lost interest over time. As for the action sequences, they came few and far between but only one stood out to me. I was impressed with the almost western-like stand-off in and out of the house of an old couple (Frances de la Tour, Michael Gambon) who happened to be cannibals. I wished more action sequences were similar to that scene in terms of tension and delivering dynamic (sometimes awkward) camera angles. Furthermore, I craved more interactions between the protagonists and the couple who offered them human meat to eat as a meal. There was something very sinister during that part of the film but at the same time it felt darkly comic. It would have been nice if Washington and Kunis forced themselves to eat the human flesh just as they felt forced to drink the tea offered to them prior. At the end of the day “The Book of Eli,” directed by Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes, blended into other more recent post-apocalyptic movies with religion as an undercurrent instead of standing out via using similar works as templates to avoid making similar mistakes. I would have liked the movie a lot more if it offered us answers that were vague but surely make us think like haunting ending that Bill Paxton’s “Frailty” had. I just wanted to be challenged instead of spoon-fed.

Date Night

Date Night (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Steve Carell and Tina Fey star as a married couple who decided to go to the city on their date night to get away from the ennui of their busy schedules which mostly revolved around work and their kids. To spice things up a bit, they decided to go to an exclusive fancy restaurant which required reservations months in advance. Since they didn’t make one, Carell and Fey decided to pretend to be another couple–a couple involved in theft and currently being pursued by corrupt cops (Common, Jimmi Simpson) who seemed to work for the mob of some sort. When I saw the trailers for this film, I knew I had to watch it because casting arguably the funniest people in Hollywood right now is genius. What I loved about this movie most was not because of the story–mistaken identities, a couple feeling like their marriage lacked spark; I’ve seen it all before–but because of the chemistry between Fey and Carell. They matched each other’s awkwardness and both had great comedic timing. The two actors managed to pull off genuinely tender moments between them where I couldn’t help but feel touched. They were a believable couple and that’s why I cared about their characters. Written by Josh Klausner and directed by Shawn Levy, the script and the filmmakers allowed the two leads to play on their strengths and let the awkwardness linger to the point of saturation. But “Date Night” was as funny as it was exciting. The scene when the two cars (one owned by constantly shirtless Mark Wahlberg, a conceit I was glad that the actor embraced) couldn’t uncouple from one another was a definite standout. It was so much fun to watch, I wished that I was in that car with them. However, I did wish that the side characters had more screen time. For instance, Leighton Meester as the babysitter, Kristen Wiig and Mark Ruffalo as the couple about to get a divorce, Taraji P. Henson (who I love in those “Tyler Perry” movies) as the honest detective, and James Franco (doing his “sparkly eyes” thing that I’m always impressed with) and Mila Kunis as the weird but hilarious couple involved in blackmail. Nevertheless, the movie was so much fun and the adventures all over New York City reminded me of “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.” Those who are in the mood for good-natured comedy with a spice of action will definitely enjoy this movie, while fans of Fey and Carell will undoubtedly be happy with it.


Extract (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Jason Bateman stars as the owner of a company who had to deal with an increasing number of personal and professional problems after one of his workers (Clifton Collins Jr. who continues his streak of being a chameleon in every role) had a gruesome accident. On one front, Bateman wanted to sleep with another woman (Mila Kunis) with criminal tendencies because his wife (Kristen Wiig) used every excuse on the book to not have sex with him, unknowing of the fact that Kunis seduced Collins so that she could get the settlement. On another angle, with the help of Ben Affleck, Bateman hired a pool boy (Dustin Milligan) to seduce his wife so that he would not feel as guilty when he finally did make a move on Kunis. But Milligan eventually fell in love with Bateman’s wife. Written and directed by Mike Judge, I found myself laughing out loud as I watched the film but when the credits started rolling, I felt like it could have been funnier. Although the situational comedies were so unbelievable because everything felt planned to a tee, I found myself going along with it because the characters were so vibrant. My main problem with the movie, however, was that it didn’t quite know whether it wanted to be a dark comedy, a spoof, or a safe mainstream comedy. It had elements of each of those and that was a problem because the tone did not feel right. I felt like it held back with the politically incorrect jokes instead of really embracing them and pointing the fingers on the audiences. There were some clever writing here and there (like the main character being so unhappy with his life even though a lot of people–people who he was surrounded by–would be more than happy to trade places with him) but sometimes the writing succumbed to typicality–something that we can see on television shows like “The Office” or “Better Off Ted.” There were also elements of “Office Space”-like jokes such as the very idiosyncratic workers (led by the always fantastic Beth Grant) and the very annoying neighbor (David Koechner) who can’t take a hint but such scenes felt like secondary appendages instead of being part of a whole and enhancing the thesis of the picture. Perhaps if “Extract” had not been afraid to be a bit darker and edgier with its material, I would have given this film a higher rating. The movie satisfied but didn’t impress me.