The Heat

ImageThe Heat proves two things: the ‘buddy cop’ genre actually survived Kevin Smith’s Copout and Melissa McCarthy can produce laughs like no one else in the business!  Normally, when a film’s release date is delayed by a studio, it is a bad thing.  However, when 20th Century Fox moved the release of The Heat from an April release to a June release, it is clear they knew they had a hit on their hands that could measure up against the big summer blockbusters.

The basic story involves an uptight FBI agent being paired up with a course Boston police officer in order to take down a drug lord.  Nothing spectacular plot-wise.   Thus, the golden rule for buddy cop movies is “do something to make it better than the last one.”  There are literally thousands of films that use the odd couple cop partnership blueprint, so the only way to ensure success is to continually add improvements.  It goes without saying that hyper-focused “by the book” FBI agent Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) and passionate yet “devil may care” detective Mullins (McCarthy) will eventually overcome their initial confrontation and become an effective team.  Thus, to overcome the clichés inherent in the genre, director Paul Feig capitalized on Katie Dippold’s screenplay by emphasizing the episodic storyline and injecting a bit of dark humor, which also allowed his previous film, Bridesmaids, to work so well. 

The film opens by introducing Bullock’s character as one who does a good job, but with an arrogance that alienates everyone she works with.  Thus, when an opportunity for a promotion arrives, she takes a job where she will work along side the Boston police department and prove to her superiors that she can work well with others.  What she clearly was not expecting is that she would be partnered up with her foil: a foul-mouthed, uncivilized cop, who while rude and vulgar, is also great at her job.  This pairing allows Feig to guide his perfectly casted characters through a series of hilarious episodes where two good cops try to understand why the other’s methods work.  Where Ashburn sucks up to her boss for fulfillment, Mullins bullies and ridicules hers for the very same reason in one of the film’s funniest scenes.  Recollections of Charles Grodin and Robert DeNiro in Midnight Run or Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, and John Ashton in Beverly Hills Cop are hard to deny, but never blatantly ripped-off. 

As mentioned earlier, The Heat strives for being more than a series of gags like McCarthy’s earlier 2013 effort, The Identity Thief.  The Heat is far more violent and crude than some may expect.  However, considering the golden rule, why shouldn’t it be?  We’ve already seen Miss Congeniality where Sandra Bullock learns how to let her hair down.  Now it’s time for her to raid a hidden arsenal in a refrigerator, suit up, and crack some skulls.  The real element of danger, violence, and peril allows the film to outlast its premise not unlike This is the End from earlier this summer where the film’s balance of comedy and disaster made it that much better.  It’s fun to see films mix genres, and this is no exception.  The film moves swiftly and has plenty of strong laughs as well as cringe worthy thrills that may even make you avert your eyes.   

If there’s anything to criticize here, it is that these female characters basically resemble the classic unpolished lifestyles of a million other male counterparts.  The film could have elevated the female buddy cop genre by giving them more girl-power.  An opportunity is missed by downplaying the relationship between Ashburn and her FBI contact, Levy (Marlon Wayans), and Mullins’s romantic life is played off as one big joke because of course, how can such a big woman have a real love life?  Feig was much more successful at developing the relationships among women in Bridesmaids than he is here.  Nonetheless, the film is not offensive towards women and is still very funny.  B+

The Heat is rated R and has the surprisingly long running time of 1 hour and 57 minutes.  However, it never feels overly long or dull. 

The Bling Ring

ImageSofia Coppola’s life of privilege is no secret; I mean she is a Coppola, daughter of Francis, and even appeared in all three Godfather films (she was one year old in the first one).  Privilege is an interesting topic, and the exposure of the jaded nature of the privileged is not a new subject for the film industry.  Coppola has forged this territory before first in 2003 with Lost in Translation, then in 2006 with Marie Antoinette, next in 2010 with Somewhere, and most recently with this year’s release of The Bling Ring.

Based on real events detailed in Nancy Jo Sales’s Vanity Fair article, The Bling Ring is about a group of shallow, obsessive teens who rob celebrity homes in order to emulate their lifestyles.  After using the Internet to track celebrities’ whereabouts, Marc (Israel Broussard) and Rebecca (Katie Chang) begin hand picking the residences of out-of-town celebrities to burgle.  Their three close friends Nikki (Emma Watson), Chloe (Claire Julien), and Sam (Taissa Farmiga) round out the ring of thieves who steal over $3 million worth of property in one year’s time.

This story is ripe for the hands of Coppola.  While known for searching for the sympathetic side of degenerative celeb culture, she is not quick to pardon the acts of these characters.  The Sleigh Bells’ song “Crown on the Ground” plays during the film’s opening credits suggesting the forthcoming loss of innocence and selfish deviance of the characters.   Coppola draws from Sales’s article to construct a twisted Bonnie & Clyde-like story with less-than admirable protagonists.  Here Coppola analyzes youth culture and its influences in an attempt to diagnose what has lead to this overwhelming degradation in the aspirations of young people.

While it is easy to blame Rebecca, Marc, and company for their ultimate predicament, Coppola does not place the blame solely on them.  Nikki and Sam’s mother, Laurie (Leslie Mann), religiously feeds her daughters Adderall because she is too consumed with vicariously preserving her own youth through her children’s experiences.  This pill/pharmaceutical culture is clearly linked to the excessive substance abuse carried out by these young characters.  Furthermore, Laurie lacks the backbone to provide a leadership role in these girls’ lives, yet attempts to home-school them with weak lessons about moral guidance.  This hypocrisy of adults presents an additional element to explain how and why the film plays out as it does.

Coppola also frames her film with confessionals from the “ring” after their inevitable capture.  In these confessionals, the young criminals speak frankly about how their society and surroundings damaged their self-image and consciousness to the point that they were motivated to do something about it.  Coppola proposes the question that with the media’s focus on saturating the market with the glamorous lives of the over-privileged youth who seemingly were handed fame and fortune, how is patience, hard work, and morality supposed to compete?  This is a disgusting question, and one that mature adults can easily answer, but the question is posed to immature, poorly guided young people, thus the answer is archetypically suggested by this film.

It is easy to dislike this film.  However, much like last spring’s Spring Breakers one must see the forest for the trees.  There is a mess here, but it is one often swept under the rug and films like this try to show what happens when too much dirt accumulates.  This notion is most realized when examining the captivating character of Nikki, played brilliantly by Emma Watson.  Nikki utters the film’s last words, which I will not spoil here, but the message is loud and clear and it resonates as Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids” plays during the closing credits.  What I will say is that Watson has a cameo in Seth Rogan’s This is the End, and while that film certainly earns its title – perhaps this film is even more deserving.  The Bling Ring is one of Sofia Coppola’s best films in an impressively growing filmography.  Her subject matter may not vary much from film to film, but she has a knack for finding new, fresh ways to interpret a theme.  It can be a “tough pill to swallow” at times, but the film is an ambitious and well-made social satire that feeds off of the very problems it wishes to expose.  It is a weird yet substantial film!  A-

The Bling Ring is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 30 minutes.  Go in with an open mind and broadened expectations.  Also keep an eye out for Sofia Coppola’s good luck charm, Kirsten Dunst who makes an uncredited third appearance in a Sofia Coppola film.

This is the End

ImageI know this won’t be a popular statement for the 80 or 90 people that loved Freaks and Geeks in 1999, but I’m glad it got cancelled if it led this group of young actors to strive for a level of celebrity that allows for a film like This is the End to be made and to work so well! 

This is the End is another example of pseudo-reality entertainment in the style of Curb Your Enthusiasm, where actors play versions of themselves albeit sometimes deeply ironic versions of themselves; I’m talking to you, Michael Cera – at least I hope I am!  Seth Rogan wrote and directed this film along with his partner, Evan Goldberg, and the film clearly benefits from having someone so close to the actors involved with all parts of the production. 

This is the End opens simply enough with Seth Rogan meeting his friend Jay Baruchel at the airport.  They plan to hang out in LA and eventually end up heading to James Franco’s new house for a big house-warming party.  The opening act of this film is a cameo-filled (Emma Watson, Rhianna, and Paul Rudd to name a few) laugh fest that just piles on the humor in ways that a big-screen comedy hasn’t done since The Hangover in 2009.  The comedy is not just name-dropping cheap laughs though.  Rogan and Franco along with Jonah Hill and Jay Baruchel have permeated their way into celebrity in such a way that they can satirize the entertainment business through self-referential humor.  Rogan has written a screenplay that characteristically paints his characters as corrupted in one way or another by the entertainment industry, and this biting satire plays out far beyond the opening act. 

Rogan also makes a series of wise choices as both a writer and a director that keep this film from quickly growing stale.  Most notably is his decision to play the rest of the film as a true disaster film.  Once the inevitable apocalypse begins, it is not treated as a joke to introduce more absurdity.  Instead, it is used as a backdrop of real danger designed to continue the motif of contempt that has built up in the characters.  That is not to say the laughs stop coming – that is in no way true.  However, the balance of humor and real danger keep the film fresh and alive. 

The apocalypse that hits is quickly discovered to be a literal onset of the Book of Revelations complete with the Rapture and the arrival of Satan on Earth.  Such high stakes force the boys to hole up in Franco’s house along with Craig Robertson and Danny McBride.  Irreverent humor abounds with some of the meanest, nastiest, low-brow, toilet humor imaginable – all of it hilarious.  Occasionally, the film hits a slight snag in terms of pacing and some of the gross-out humor is tasteless and extreme, but it is hardly at the film’s detriment.  The film has a little bit of something for everyone; in fact, even fans of The Backstreet Boys owe this film a tremendous debt of gratitude for preserving a shred of their relevance in cinematic history. 

Rogan and company have truly tapped into a genre of humor that grows along with them.  In one scene, they try to kill boredom by filming crude home-movie versions of sequels of their own films.  Somebody get to work on this exact version of Pineapple Express 2 immediately!  In fact, This is the End would be a great exclamation point at the end of the “end of the world” movie fad that has been so commonly explored in entertainment lately.  However, with World War Z, The World’s End, and Elysium still to come this summer along with fall’s second installment of The Hunger Games series, it’s clear that we are far from done with this genre.  A-   

This is the End is rated R – very, very, very R – and has a running time of 1 hour and 59 minutes.  It is heavy on the raunch, and while I highly recommend it as a comedy, it is not for the easily offended.