Tag Archives: Sean Penn

The Hateful Eight: Worst Movies of 2015

In all honesty, “The Hateful Eight” has nothing to do with this post.

Director Quentin Tarantino’s latest is bound to be interesting, if not brilliant.

My apologies to Tarantino, but the title just fit. I couldn’t resist. While it’s great to revisit the best films of a given year, it’s even more fun to rehash the very worst Hollywood had to offer.

So without further ado, here are the eight most reprehensible movies I sat through in 2015. (In no particular order of atrociousness.)

Don’t bother streaming or buying them. If you let curiosity get the better of you, you’ll only regret it.

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1. Blackhat: Chris Hemsworth is woefully miscast as a basement-dwelling rogue hacker who also happens to possess Jason Bourne-like survival skills. Director Michael Mann lets the audience down in almost every way possible, from the ridiculous storyline and uneven pacing, to an unconvincing romance and lackluster style.

2. Jupiter Ascending: “Matrix” directors Andy and Lana Wachowski seem to get more and more out there with each film they make. This one is so cartoonishly bizarre, it’s hard to believe someone actually gave it the greenlight: Channing Tatum stars as a half-man, half-dog guardian being and Mila Kunis’ “chosen one” falls for him, while Eddie Redmayne hams it up as the baddie and hopes no one remembers this after seeing “The Theory of Everything.”

3. The Gunman: In a year that brought us Rey and Furiosa, not to mention dozens of other strong cinematic heroines, the oblivious sexism of this testosterone-fueled Sean Penn vanity project is too blatant to be believed. To make matters worse, the thriller is basically “The Bourne Identity” crossed with the extreme violence, silliness and international slumming-it of “Taken.”

4. Black Sea: A movie about a ragtag submarine crew on a secret mission to find treasure at the bottom of the Black Sea sounds awesome, right? Especially if the sub is manned by a crew of sturdy character actors, like Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn. Thanks to a script that piles on one ridiculous, relentlessly dark plot twist after another, this deep sea suspenser proves us terribly wrong, with a little help from Jude Law’s sketchy Scottish accent.

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5. Chappie: The stinky badness of Neill Blomkamp’s latest dystopian drama is harder to bear when you consider how much promise this project held. This is the visionary writer-director of “District 9” we’re talking about. The film features a robot protagonist whose creation is a marvel of visual effects and an endearing mo-cap performance by Blomkamp’s favorite partner in crime, Sharlto Copley. It stars first lady of sci-fi Sigourney Weaver for Ridley’s sake. And yet, “Chappie” is full of insulting stereotypes and just doesn’t go anywhere. It’s a monumental disappointment.

6. Terminator Genisys: James Cameron’s now classic saga of evil cyber villain Skynet and the scrappy human resistance group that fights back was amazing the first couple of times, but does anyone gives a T-1000’s patootie anymore? Apparently, not even the makers of “Terminator Genisys” cared enough to even try to make us care. Aging Arnold Schwarzenegger and his hair plugs are the only ones who bother to inject some life into this slog of a sci-fi reboot.

7. Fantastic Four: Despite an excellent young cast and an attempt to bring some gravitas to the classic comic book foursome’s movie mythology, studio meddling, a tumultuous production, and a troubled young director added up to an epic failure for the lucrative Marvel brand. (In fairness, the film was made by Twentieth Century Fox, not Marvel Studios.) This is going to be a tough mess for the quartet of superheroes to get themselves out of.

8. Southpaw: I’m not the hugest fan of “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua anyway. Subtlety is not his strong suit, but this maudlin mashup of sentimentality and thug-life machismo is his most laughable film yet. You can tell star Jake Gyllenhaal is gunning for an Oscar nomination, but despite his impressively beefed-up physique, he’s more than a little unconvincing as a boxer with a rough background and anger management issues who rises to fame, then falls from it, then rises again after a tragedy as contrived as the movie’s script.

HEADER Southpaw

 

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Oblivious Sexism of ‘The Gunman’ One of Many Misfires

The Gunman
One and a half stars (out of four)
R (strong violence, language, some sexuality)
115 minutes

I suppose we have “Taken” to thank for reigniting interest in testosterone-laden action flicks in which women are little more than objects to be rescued.

A “Taken” wannabe that can’t make up its mind whether it wants to be serious or over the top, “The Gunman” raises this antiquated cinematic trope to troubling new levels of obliviousness.

Sean Penn plays an assassin, posing as a security contractor, who falls in love with an impossibly beautiful aid worker in the Congo (Jasmine Trinca). Annie — even her name implies childlike helplessness — speaks with an alluring Italian accent. Her hair is perfectly tousled, even when she’s pulling an all-nighter at the local medical clinic.

She and Penn’s character, Jim, appear to have little in common — “He’s a hard man,” she tells a friend who questions her taste in boyfriends — but she spends her free time waiting around for him anyway, ready to hop into bed at a moment’s notice. Afterward, she gazes pensively out the window, clad only in a white button-down shirt that highlights her glorious legs.

There are a lot of other things going on in “The Gunman.” Too many things, actually. But director Pierre Morel, the French filmmaker who not-so-coincidentally helmed “Taken,” is inordinately preoccupied with Annie’s suffering and humiliation.

Despite Jim’s professed passion, he is responsible for the increasingly preposterous catastrophes that befall her. During the course of the film, Annie is abandoned, manhandled or worse, passed back and forth like a trophy between Jim and a colleague/rival (Javier Bardem), relentlessly pursued, captured, drugged and in constant need of rescue. The camera lingers on her, trussed like a chicken on the floor, blouse slipping off her shoulders.

Annie’s primary reaction to these circumstances is to fall apart at every turn. The only decisive, independent action she takes is a sexual one and, though she plays a part in the villain’s demise at the end of the film, it is almost entirely accidental. This woman is the insulting epitome of the mindless, passive damsel in distress who has no place in modern cinema.

Penn apparently helped screenwriters Don MacPherson and Pete Travis pen the script for “The Gunman” — working from a novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette — so he is at least partially to blame for this antiquated character. Would someone please introduce him to the concept of the Bechdel Test?

The irony is that “The Gunman” could function decently — indeed, it would be a better film — without the presence of Annie.

The premise is promising, if unoriginal: Ex-Special Forces sniper Jim participates in the assassination of a government minister, whose death plunges the Congo into chaos. Guilt-ridden, he disappears for eight years, before trading wet work for aid work and returning to the Congo, where he becomes the target of heavily armed mercenaries.

To find out who wants him dead, Jim must globe trot to London and Barcelona, confronting his former partners in crime, including point man Felix, played by Bardem, still oozing the scenery-chewing hamminess he exhibited to greater effect in “The Counselor” and “Skyfall.”

Like Liam Neeson in Morel’s aforementioned film, Jim possesses a particular set of skills, resulting in several brutal set pieces, including scenes at an aquarium and a bull ring that should be more thrilling than they ultimately are. In the latter sequence, Morel gracelessly juxtaposes images of Penn and the slaughter of a great, horned beast.

Jim has an Achilles heel, a disorienting mental affliction that makes his vengeful mission all the more grueling. So “The Gunman” is basically “The Bourne Identity” with the extreme violence, silliness and international slumming-it of the “Taken” franchise.

At the film’s halfway mark, Jim jets to Spain, where Bardem sulks drunkenly in an opulent luxury mansion and a lipstick red vintage getaway car conveniently waits in a nearby barn. That’s about the time the movie begins to feel like a James Bondian vanity project.

Penn obviously took this role seriously, a little too seriously perhaps. Buffed up to proportions that would elicit the envy of men decades younger, he’s all desperation and intensity, but this attempt at action stardom is a strange fit. Neeson doesn’t have anything to worry about.

Morel surrounds Penn with a pedigreed ensemble, including Ray Winstone and celebrated British stage actor Mark Rylance, but they’re mostly wasted or miscast.

You know something is off when the excellent Idris Elba shows up in a single scene and all he gets to do is monologue about tree houses.

Photos: http://www.openroadfilms.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travolta’s Face Grab, A ‘Glory’-ious Speech and Other Oscar Highs and Lows

In many ways, Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony was so forgettable, it hardly feels worth rehashing Hollywood’s big night.

It’s not exactly a shock that ratings for the 87th installment of the show dropped to a six-year low. Can you blame viewers for changing the channel during what was often a dull and disappointing evening?

Despite a surprisingly lackluster performance by host extraordinaire Neil Patrick Harris, an abundance of awkward puns and some creepy presenter shenanigans, there were a few moments of genuine delight, including heartfelt speeches and a refreshingly wacky rendition of the song from “The Lego Movie.”

Below, a recap of the low points and highlights of this year’s Oscars.

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The Low Points

The Host: I’m as big a fan of the ubiquitous Neil Patrick Harris as the next person. The classy, hilarious, self-deprecating former child actor is always a welcome sight, whether in “How I Met Your Mother,” the “Harold and Kumar” movies, “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” a Broadway musical or one of his countless stints as awards show emcee.

So Harris’ almost total failure in his first — and probably last — stint as Oscar host came as a crushing disappointment.

It wasn’t really his fault, though. The show was disjointed, badly written, poorly paced and woefully out of touch.

For whatever reason, the ceremony’s writers declined to capitalize on Harris’ strengths, resorting to a series of leaden puns and occasionally insensitive ad-libbed banter. Making fun of a winner’s dress after she just mentioned her son’s suicide probably isn’t the best choice, for instance.

The night’s longest running gag involved a dramatic magic trick that should have been right up Harris’ alley. But enlisting previous Oscar winner Octavia Harris to keep an eye on a locked box all night verged on insulting and, after a whole lot of build-up, the illusion’s finale was a huge letdown, merely a recap of the evening’s hashtag-worthy events.

Yes, there were occasionally funny bits. I liked the part where Harris walked through the audience in nothing but tighty whities, a la Michael Keaton’s “Birdman” character, encountering a drumming Miles Teller along the way, but I’m guessing a large portion of viewers didn’t get the joke since they hadn’t seen the films.

Overall, the evening felt strained and “uptight,” as several guests at an Oscar party I attended remarked. The Academy still has a long way to go to make Hollywood’s most celebrated awards show more relevant and entertaining to its biggest audience — everyone who doesn’t happen to be an industry insider.

As J.K. Simmons’ terrifying music instructor likes to shout in best picture nominee “Whiplash”: “NOT MY TEMPO!”

John Travolta and Other Awkward/Insensitive Moments: I already mentioned Harris’ callous mockery of the dress worn by a producer of a documentary about crisis hotlines, who also happened to be a bereaved mother.

Sadly, Sunday’s Oscars were full of other painfully awkward and insensitive gaffs.

There was Sean Penn’s joke about green cards before presenting one of the night’s biggest awards to “Birdman” director Gabriel Gonzalez Inarritu. There was Terrence Howard’s strange and overly emotional introduction of “The Imitation Game.” There was Harris’ mispronunciation of “12 Years a Slave” star Chiwetel Ejiofor’s name.

However, the most jaw-dropping embarrassment occurred in the ill-advised union of “Frozen” star Idina Menzel and John Travolta, who shared the stage to present the award for best original song. As you may recall, Travolta became a Twitter legend after bungling Menzel’s name at last year’s Oscar ceremony, spawning legions of “Adele Dazeem” jokes.

The show’s producers no doubt thought it would be touching, or perhaps funny, to give Travolta the opportunity to extend an olive branch to Menzel, but their meeting quickly devolved into ickiness as Travolta grabbed his co-presenter’s chin in his hand while she vainly struggled to be free of his grasp.

That’s the stuff of ratings and social media fame, but it also left a yucky taste in our mouths.

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The Highlights

The Music: The ceremony opened with a lively, old-fashioned, Sondheim-esque musical number by seasoned showman Harris, the talented Anna Kendrick — dressed as Cinderella, a la “Into the Woods,” and an impish Jack Black.

Penned by “Frozen” songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristin Anderson-Lopez, the piece celebrated the magic of “moving pictures,” poking fun at the Academy Awards and paying homage to classic and popular films.

The lyrics were playful and clever — “I love happy endings. Except for in ‘Gone Girl’ when that lady slit your throat,” Kendrick crooned to Harris — and even got a little edgy when Black crashed the party with a roll call of the industry’s flaws and a jab at modern moviegoers’ obsession with “screens in our jeans.” It was a nice twist on the traditional song-and-dance prologue we’ve come to expect from the show.

Building on that momentum, Tegan and Sara and comedy trio The Lonely Island hit the stage to perform best song nominee “Everything is Awesome” in a performance so surreal and fun, it immediately provided the event a much needed jolt of energy.

“The Lego Movie” may have been snubbed in the best animated feature film category, but it stole the night with a Lego choir, Lego Oscar statuettes, an assortment of costumed dancers, a cape-wearing Andy Samberg, Will Arnett as Batman and cameos by Questlove and Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh.

Unfortunately, the moment didn’t last. The rest of the night’s musical performances were a snooze with the exception of John Legend and Common’s rousing rendition of “Glory,” from the movie “Selma.” The winning song brought the Dolby Theatre to its feet and tears to the eyes of many, including Chris Pine, whose effusive reaction became Twitter fodder.

As for Lady Gaga’s impressive but random tribute to “The Sound of Music,” it was just another head-scratching moment in a ceremony that too often felt confused and cobbled together. Better to have used the time to give host Harris a chance to show his stuff.

The Speeches: In a telecast that lacked humor and energy, with predictable results in all but the minor categories, the winners’ speeches provided brief glimmers of passion, inspiration and controversy.

Accepting the best supporting actor award for “Whiplash,” J.K. Simmons sweetly commanded the viewing audience to call their parents. Best actress and actor winners Julianne Moore and Eddie Redmayne dedicated their statuettes to sufferers of Alzheimer’s and ALS, respectively.

Best director winner Inarritu petitioned for “dignity” and “respect” for immigrants. The adorably enthusiastic Graham Norton, who nabbed a trophy for his screenplay for “The Imitation Game,” recalled a youthful suicide attempt and admonished misfit kids to “stay weird.”

Best song winners Common and John Legend showed us how acceptance speeches should be done with a pair of graceful statements about civil rights.

“The spirit of this bridge transcends race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and social status,” Common said, referring to Alabama’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, immortalized by Martin Luther King Jr.

“The spirit of this bridge connects the kid from the south side of Chicago, dreaming of a better life, to those in France standing up for their freedom of expression to the people in Hong Kong protesting for democracy.”

“Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now,” Legend added.

One of the night’s most talked-about speeches came courtesy of best supporting actress Patricia Arquette, who honored her “Boyhood” character, a struggling single mom, with a demand for equal pay for women. Her statement was met with both enthusiasm — Meryl Streep leaped to her feet to show her approval — and outrage.

Whether you agreed with Streep or not, you had to admit it was one of the night’s most memorable occasions.

 Photos: news.com.au, article.wn.com, robot6.comicbookresources.com.