Movie Review: “The Boss”

Starring
Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Ella Anderson, Peter Dinklage, Kathy Bates, Tyler Labine, Kristen Schaal
Director
Ben Falcone

“The Boss” is pitifully lacking in self-awareness. It’s a film that wants to live in Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s universe, where there are real-life news anchor gang wars that end in people losing limbs. To be fair, it’s easy to see why they thought the audience might view the films the same way. “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights” both feature pompous shells of a human being who are humbled on a grand scale, much like Melissa McCarthy’s character here, but that is where the similarities end. What “The Boss” gets wrong is the meanness factor. Will Ferrell’s characters in the aforementioned films are dim and shallow, but harmless, while McCarthy’s character is an unrepentant, hostile sociopath from birth. Worse, the film treats this as a virtue.

Michelle Darnelle (McCarthy) is, by the audience’s viewpoint, a thrice-abandoned orphan who grows up to become a ruthless, filthy-rich business executive. Renault (Peter Dinklage), a former lover-turned rival, gets her indicted on insider trading, whereupon she is sent to prison and loses everything. Upon her release, she arrives at the door of her former assistant Claire (Kristen Bell) because she has nowhere else to go. Claire resents the way Michelle treated her, but because she’s a decent human being, Claire allows Michelle to stay, and as Michelle ingratiates herself in Claire’s life, she sees a business opportunity when she attends a Daffodils meeting with Claire’s daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson), and they discuss cookie sales. Shortly afterward, Michelle tastes one of Claire’s family recipe brownies. Darnelle’s Darlings is born, the brownies are their cash cow, and Michelle is back in the game.

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Movie Review: “Hardcore Henry”

Starring
Sharlto Copley, Haley Bennett, Danila Kozlovsky, Tim Roth
Director
Ilya Naishuller

“Hardcore Henry” isn’t the first movie to be shot entirely from a first-person perspective, but it is the first action movie to utilize the gimmick. While it’s a little surprising that it hasn’t been attempted before in today’s YouTube generation, that’s likely because there was no one crazy enough to try it. Enter Ilya Naishuller, the Russian filmmaker behind the viral POV music videos for his indie rock band Biting Elbows. Though even Naishuller has admitted that he was skeptical about whether a full-length feature using this technique could work, he deserves kudos for delivering a film that’s exactly as advertised. “Hardcore Henry” is definitely hardcore – an adrenaline-fueled, ultra-violent, one-of-a-kind experience that stands as the closest thing to a live-action video game that you’ll ever see. Too bad it’s not any good.

The movie places the audience in the title role of Henry, a man who’s just been resurrected from the dead by a scientist claiming to be his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett). Henry has lost his memory and ability to speak, and can only look on as he’s outfitted with a number of robotic enhancements. But before Estelle is able to activate Henry’s voice module, the lab is attacked by Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), a telekinetic albino psychopath with villainous plans to use the technology inside Henry’s cybernetic body to build an army of super soldiers. Henry manages to escape, but Estelle is kidnapped in the process, so he teams up with a mysterious ally named Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) – who has a habit of getting himself killed and then respawning as one of his many clones – to rescue her and stop Akan’s plan for world domination. In other words, the plot of every video game ever made. (Okay, not really.)

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Movie Review: “Demolition”

Starring
Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Judah Lewis, Heather Lind
Director
Jean-Marc Vallée

Jake Gyllenhaal has really turned around his career over the past few years with character-driven films like “Nightcrawler,” “Enemy” and “Prisoners,” so it only seems natural that he would want to collaborate with Jean-Marc Vallée, the Canadian-born director who led Matthew McConaughey to Oscar gold in “Dallas Buyers Club” and helped revive Reese Witherspoon’s career with “Wild.” Unfortunately, while Gyllenhaal continues his fine form in “Demolition” – Vallée’s third movie in a row to deal with the subject of grief – the film isn’t as good as the performance at the center of it. Though it’s a refreshingly honest look at coming to terms with the death of a loved one, without Gyllenhaal in the lead role, “Demolition” wouldn’t be nearly as memorable.

The actor stars as Davis Mitchell, a successful New York investment banker who’s become so emotionally numb that he doesn’t know how to react when his wife Julia (Heather Lind) dies in a car accident – one that he escaped with barely a scratch. His father-in-law/boss Phil (Chris Cooper) believes that Davis is in shock and just needs time to process it all, but he can’t even squeeze out a tear at the funeral, instead fixated on the hospital vending machine that failed to dispense the peanut M&Ms he purchased shortly after Julia’s death. Over the following weeks, Davis writes a series of complaint letters to the vending company that take the form of cathartic, soul-baring confessionals filled with intimate details about his life under the assumption that no one will ever read them. But when the company’s lonely customer service representative, Karen Moreno (Naomi Watts), reaches out to Davis after being touched by his brutally honest letters, the pair forms an unlikely connection. With the help of Karen and her rebellious teenage son (Judah Lewis), Davis begins to dismantle his old life to understand what went wrong.

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Blu Tuesday: Star Wars and Mojave

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

WHAT: Three strangers from different backgrounds – orphaned scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), conflicted Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) – join forces to stop the evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the First Order, which has risen from the ashes of the Galactic Empire.

WHY: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is an exciting return to form for the franchise that recaptures the childlike sensation of watching the original trilogy for the first time. It’s thrilling, funny and surprisingly emotional. While the inclusion of familiar faces like Han Solo, Chewbacca and Leia is great fan service that also functions as a passing of the torch to the new characters, director J.J. Abrams never lets you forget that this is their movie. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver all shine in their respective roles, although it’s playful droid BB-8 who ultimately steals the show. If there’s one complaint, it’s that Abrams packs too many characters into the story, resulting in several unanswered questions that are dangled in front of the audience like a carrot on a stick. But those kinds of mysteries have always been a part of the “Star Wars” ethos, and “The Force Awakens” is “Star Wars” to the core, blending the old with the new to produce an excellent continuation of the saga that leaves you wanting more.

EXTRAS: In addition to a feature-length documentary on the making of the movie, there’s a behind-the-scenes look at the cast table read, featurettes on creature design, visual effects and shooting the climactic lightsaber battle, as well as some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Mojave”

WHAT: After melancholy filmmaker Tom (Garrett Hedlund) has a dangerous encounter with a homicidal drifter (Oscar Isaac) in the desert, he’s pulled into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse when the stranger follows him back to Los Angeles and continues to stalk him.

WHY: William Monahan may have an Oscar for writing “The Departed,” but you wouldn’t know it based on this pseudo-intellectual thriller, which is both a giant waste of time and talent. Though Oscar Isaac keeps things mildly interesting with a performance that’s so over the top it feels like he’s in a completely different movie, the rest of the cast looks absolutely bored out of their minds. Mark Wahlberg must have owed Monahan a favor; Walton Goggins has maybe five lines of dialogue; and Garrett Hedlund proves yet again why he’s one of the most overrated actors of his generation. The real faults, however, lie in Monahan’s aimless script and some poor pacing. It’s not that the film’s philosophical ideas are lost on me, either – “Mojave” just doesn’t do a very good job of presenting them in an engaging or coherent manner. Perhaps something got lost in translation along the way, but as writer and director, the only person Monahan has to blame is himself.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette and deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to April

april

The upcoming summer movie season promises to be one of the biggest in years, so it’s a bit of a surprise that studios are limping (rather than sprinting) into that period with such a humdrum selection of films. Not even the few blockbusters that have smartly moved away from the summer madness – “The Jungle Book” and “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” – are very enticing, and that pretty much sums up all you need to know about April’s new releases. See a matinee if you must, but you’d be better off saving that money for the busy months ahead.

“The Boss”

Who: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Kristen Schaal and Kathy Bates
What: After she’s arrested for insider trading, Michelle Darnell emerges from prison ready to rebrand herself as America’s new sweetheart.
When: April 8th
Why: The last time Melissa McCarthy and husband Ben Falcone collaborated on a movie, it resulted in the groan-inducingly bad “Tammy,” and there’s not much evidence to suggest that “The Boss” – which sounds like a raunchy remake of the 1989 comedy, “Troop Beverly Hills” – will be any better. If you’re a fan of McCarthy’s over-the-top antics, then you’ll probably love her latest character, because it’s basically just another variation of the same obnoxious and mean-spirited jerk that she’s been playing for years. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very funny the first time, and no amount of ridiculous outfits or wigs is going to change that.

“Demolition”

Who: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper and Heather Lind
What: A successful investment banker struggles after losing his wife in a tragic car crash.
When: April 8th
Why: Jake Gyllenhaal has really turned around his career over the past few years with films like “Nightcrawler” and “Prisoners,” so it only seems fitting that he would team up with Jean-Marc Vallée, the Canadian-born director partially responsible for Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club”) and Reese Witherspoon’s (“Wild”) recent career revivals. Though early reviews for “Demolition” have been mixed, this looks like yet another great showcase for Gyllenhaal as he continues to reinvent himself as a serious actor who’s willing to take risks. The April release date will likely kill any chances for an awards run, but it’s still the month’s best prospect.

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