Tag Archives: John Leguizamo

American Ultra

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

american ultra 2015“Look at us. We’re the perfect fucked up couple.”

Jessie Eisenberg, a man who gets on my nerves but I can never figure out why; a man who only really has a couple of film credits to his name that I can happily watch more than once and while he’s okay in Zombieland and The Social Network, I tend to enjoy the rest of the film in spite of him being in them. Add to him Kristen Stewart, a woman who I loathed while she was making Twilight films. She very quickly got into my good books recently with stellar performances in movies like Still Alice and Camp X-Ray that gave me hope that she would one day become someone who’s films I would actively seek out and watch whenever a new one came around. On paper, those two, in a not-quite stoner comedy about dodgy CIA dealings left me a little skeptical.

Thankfully, a good trailer and years of reading stories about the American MKUltra program and projects like it had me intrigued and a little excited for American Ultra.

So, American Ultra, a comedy about Jessie Eisenberg’s Mike Howell; a stoner who, unbeknownst to him, is really a government agent that has been trained to kill in a million different ways, with a million different things, but has instead been left to his own devices with his pot smoking girlfriend in a crappy town in the middle of nowhere. Left with some dodgy brain programming that gives him panic attacks whenever he goes near a highway or a plane to leave his hometown keeps him locked in this backwoods little place and safe from prying eyes.

Unfortunately, those prying eyes have been watching him repeatedly try to leave the hole they hid Mike in and make the decision to terminate him before he finds his way out to somewhere important where he could cause trouble. Getting a deepthroat style phone call from up on high to warn her of Mike’s impending demise, Victoria Lasseter, the high-level CIA desk jockey responsible for the program that created Mike, heads to West Virginia to try to save him from the CIA kill team that’s been sent for him. Things quickly go wrong when Lasseter – Connie Britton in yet another film to come out this week that she’s great in – tries to “activate” Mike’s training by saying a suitably ridiculous phrase that should end with Mike going from stoner to trained killer in an instant, but instead of shaking up the assassin locked up inside, the phrase appears to fall on deaf ears.

With the pothead chalking up the visit to just another weirdo and moves on, thinking nothing more of it until a little later on when, in an attempt to stop what he thinks are a pair of low-life thieves from breaking into his car, he finds himself going all Jason Bourne with a pot of noodles and a spoon on a couple of CIA tough guys out to kill him.  The magic phrase seeming to have worked, Lasseter seems to have kick started a chain of events that will have Mike, his girlfriend Pheobe and Lasseter not only uncovering the truth of what has happened to him, but on the run from the CIA’s best agents trying to stay alive with Howell’s skills as a super-spy killer type come in immeasurably handy in this endeavour.

In a well-paced 90-something minutes, American Ultra works very hard to convince you that Jessie Eisenberg could really be a quiet bad-ass with a marijuana habit and for the most part it succeeds very well. As the CIA throws everything, kitchen sink included, at Mike to eliminate the threat that the shady agency has invented out of nowhere, Eisenberg dispatches all the would-be assassins with ease in some well filmed and nicely choreographed action scenes that are very convincing in making me believe that the weird little stoner could in fact be a sleeper agent.  Eisenberg plays the part well enough for me to be happy to watch him pick apart the CIA through a haze of joint smoke.  Armed with a brilliant supporting cast, American Ultra doesn’t mess around with the list of talent the film has managed to attract. The seemingly ageless John Leguizamo throws a great comedy turn as Mike’s dealer of all things, not just drugs; considering the man has clocked up over fifty years on this earth, he certainly doesn’t look or act like it as he channels Gary Oldman’s Drexel in a shiny tracksuit. Kristen Stewart is near flawless as the unwitting super-spy’s girlfriend. I don’t think I’ve seen her showing off her comedy chops yet and here, as with everything I’ve seen her in recently, she doesn’t disappoint. Her timing is great and her comedic acting is splendid. I remain blown away by her talent and hope someone high up sees it too. She deserves a shot at something big someday soon.

Special mention has to go to a man that many will know, but not many will know his name. The FX channel’s veteran nut bag from superb shows like The Shield and Justified, Walt Goggins makes a brilliantly twisted and nasty turn as the CIA’s best (worst?) exterminator “Laugher”. I mean, I always knew the man could play a great psychopath but this is the first time I can remember seeing him doing it on the big screen (okay, I’ll give you Predators, but this is a much bigger role) and boy does he relish it. Stealing every scene he is in and making it his own, this veteran of over two decades of film and TV is still working hard to prove just how good he is. I’m convinced, Mr Goggins, I have been for a long time but wow, you were amazing and terrifying here.

American Ultra‘s comedy is more subtle than I expected it would be. But it is, without a doubt, spectacular. Up there with great comedy dramas like Burn After Reading and The Men Who Stare At Goats, whose comedy is brilliant but not really in-your-face like your average stoner comedy. Make no mistake friends, this isn’t Pineapple Express and it isn’t trying to be. In fact, with a little more practice, this director’s (Nima Nourizadeh) films will easily be confused with the Coen Brothers, such is his style. This is in no way a complaint or an insult, it’s a style and brand of comedy that I adore but feel we are lacking nowadays and I, for one, really appreciate that it’s been brought back with a bang, and a boom, and a slightly tinny sound of a frying pan killing a man, in American Ultra.

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The Five Worst Video-Game Movies

Inspired by the imminent release of Hitman: Agent 47, Andrew Brooker takes a look at five of the most infamous movie adaptations of a variety of video games.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

In a couple of weeks, 20th Century Fox will release Hitman: Agent 47 to a world pretty much fed up of video games being turned into awful films and force fed to us. Most that have read some of my stuff, or listened to me on one of the many times Mr. Hughes lost his mind and invited me onto the podcast, know that I love my video games. Behind movies it’s my second biggest hobby (and arguably the most expensive) and every time my two favourite ways to waste time crossover, it should be a reason to celebrate. Sadly, this isn’t usually the case. More often than not, the films we are handed as we are told “it’s brilliantly close to the games, fans will adore it” turn out to be badly written, badly directed dusty clouds of dry spunk. This is where we find ourselves today.

So in a very scientific process, namely me and a buddy bouncing ideas at each other in the office, here are my five worst films based on video games.


5] Doom (2005)

Budget: $60 million

Gross: $55.9 million

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 19%

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dMA8NmdyW4]

So yeah, Doom. The mother of all games. The game that defined forever how we’d play games more than 20 years ago, was shat out as a movie a decade ago starring Dwayne Johnson back when we were just calling him “The Rock” and Karl Urban before he was Dredd.

My biggest gripe with Doom isn’t that it was bad, and it was pretty bad, it was how it took the game’s slight hint at a story and flat out ignored it. According to the game’s instruction manual, you are a lone space marine fighting to survive as Hell’s demons invade Mars and slaughter everyone. This was replaced with a group of space marines fighting to survive as a Mars base’s occupants are infected with a Martian virus and mutated. I mean, neither story is good, but is there really any need to switch out one bland story for another? Where’s the loyalty to the branding for Christ’s sake?

Adding to the terrible decision to make this film, we were treated to a spectacularly rubbish “first person shooter” scene that has us watching the film down the barrel of a gun that, as a fan, is beyond patronising and absolutely ridiculous. No other type of film insists on making us watch them like that. Fancy watching soccer film from the point of view of a stadium visit? With some fat unwashed screamy twat in front of you? No.

Directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak, the man that also brought us:


4] Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009)

Budget: $50 Million

Gross: $12.8 Million

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 6%

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zDsaCalcNE]

Urgh! So yeah, there was definitely going to be a Street Fighter movie on this list. And a film would have to work pretty damn hard to be worse than a film that included Kylie Minogue and a ginger Jean-Claude Van Damme, but The Legend of Chun-Li blows it out of the water.

Intended as the origin story of one of the most iconic Street Fighter characters, The Legend of Chun-Li plays less like a story of how the young fighter found her way in life and instead treats us to a powerpoint slideshow on alienating film fans and gamers alike as more than a few tired old clichés are dragged out from the dusty cupboard they should have been left in. The mention of another key character at the end, hinting that a film based around Ryu was in the works shows just how much they thought they had a franchise starter on their hands and just how out of touch everyone involved in this film actually was.


3] Need For Speed (2014)

Budget: $66 Million

Gross: $203.3 million

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 22%

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYyvKqKwRco]

The one and only film that, at least according to Wikipedia, actually made money, tricking more than its fair share of gullible fools into thinking that it might actually be a good film. Sadly, we live in a post The Fast and The Furious world and a shit movie about a bunch of guys racing nice cars isn’t anything close to engaging anymore. Fast and Furious had to evolve to survive its flagging appeal and somehow Need for Speed still made a killing at the box office doing what Vin Diesel and Paul Walker were doing a decade and a half ago. And that would be ok, if it wasn’t so bloody dull!

Every one of us gamers saw just how bad an idea it was to try adding a story to the Need for Speed franchise with 2011’s disgrace of a game, The Run. So instead of trying something new, they simply put that same story to film, added a less than mediocre revenge story, stunt casted the pretty crap Aaron Paul and made a film that included Michael Keaton as a pirate radio running race organiser channelling Beetlejuice behind a mic.

The fact that this made a killing at the box office is only encouraging more of the same! In the next few years there are plans for a second Need for Speed film, as well as a film based on Sony’s Gran Turismo. And I blame everyone that added to that $203 million for that. It’s your fault!


2] DOA: Dead or Alive (2006)

Budget: $21 Million

Gross: $7.5 Million

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 34%

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luSqcSVGknU]

Dead or Alive, oh how I loathe you. If ever there was a video game franchise that needed to die, it’s Dead or Alive. The franchise so out of touch with modern game playing that it focuses more on jiggling boobs than it does fighting mechanics; and considering the amount of vitriol thrown at game developers at even the hint of a bit of sexism in their game nowadays, how Dead or Alive constantly gets away with it, I’ll never know. Between sex pest levels of gross purchasable school-girl costumes and its volleyball tie-in game, it’s the channel five porno of fighting games and it’s fucking awful.

You would think that this would made perfect fodder for a rubbish straight-to-tv, or nowadays, straight-to-itunes, movie and in that respect, this would be a barely passable film. But to put this awfulness up on that hallowed silver screen is beyond sacrilegious. This film that sold its audiences on appearances from Holly Vallance (remember her?), Jaime Pressley and Devon Aoki. You know, those women absolutely known for their fighting skills and their attention to perfectly choreographed combat and NOT for just being gorgeous. Yeah? Them.

I feel a little guilty for having this film on the list, because the game is just as bad. But Jesus Christ, I’ve never felt so gross playing a game or so skeevy watching a film.

Leaving us with:


1] Super Mario Bros. (1993)

Budget: $48 million

Gross: $20.9 million

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 19%

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAqoB17yQqY]

No one can try and write one of these lists without mentioning Super Mario Bros; not only the worst film based on a video game ever made, but generally one of the worst things ever put to film. An absolute abortion of a film that its star, the late great Bob Hoskins, distanced himself from. Calling the film a “complete nightmare” and admitting that if he had a chance, he’d erase it from his past, Hoskins was never shy about sharing his opinion on this terrible flick. With similar stories from co-stars John Leguizamo and Dennis Hopper, the film has left a legacy of terrible stories of a troubled production and should forever be used as an example of how never to make a film based on a beloved property.

Setting one of the most colourful video games in history in what looks like the underground society from Demolition Man, trying for an adult theme and attempting to make it grounded and realistic is absolutely not the way to do the Super Mario Brothers, or its legions of fans, proud.

Extra special hate gets directed at this lumpy skid mark of a film since Bob Hoskins’ death a little over a year ago. In an attempt to up their click count, video game websites started running stories that the man known for playing Mario Mario had died, shitting all over a stellar career by shining a light on the man’s worst moment in film and not educating an entire generation of players who’ve never seen The Long Good Friday on an amazing actor who deserved much, much better than that.


Dishonourable Mention – Uwe Boll

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VT1J65KHX8E]

I couldn’t decide which of his films to add to the list, so instead I’ll simply mention the man, the myth, the douchebag that is Uwe Boll. A man whose legacy to film includes ruining more than a few outstanding games as he does the filmmaker equivalent of shitting into his own hand and smearing it on our walls. The man’s filmography includes monstrosities like Far Cry, two Alone in the Dark films, three BloodRayne movies and Postal.

Recently, the gaming community breathed a sigh of relief as “Raging Boll” took to YouTube to announce he wasn’t making films anymore.

Good. Because I believe I speak for every game playing film lover when I say “Fuck that guy!”

You can hear the team talk briefly about their favourite and least favourite video game adaptations on our podcast released back in 2013. If you’d like to hear us do a new podcast on the topic, leave a comment below or get in touch with us on Twitter, Facebook or email at failedcritics@gmail.com!

Chef

ChefChef is basically two hours of Jon Favreau working through his issues with the studio system.  Mainly because of this, it’s rather entertaining.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Chef is Jon Favreau: The Movie.  Any pretence that this film is telling a story about characters that have no relation to the film’s writer, director and star is jettisoned the moment Dustin Hoffman swaggers in and orders Jon Favreau’s chef to cook by menu, “play [his] hits,” as it were, and that, if he doesn’t like it, there are a million other people that Dustin Hoffman could easily replace Jon Favreau with as director of the kitchen.  If not by then, then it will most certainly become clear when Jon blows up at a food critic who trashed his cooking, questioning whether he cares that the hurtful stuff he writes genuinely hurts those he writes about.  This is not subtle.  It makes the high school parallels in Divergent look like the lyrics to a They Might Be Giants song.  The film permanently seems five seconds away from actually dropping all of the pretence and having everyone just dramatize Jon Favreau’s post-Iron Man life.

One, therefore, may see Chef as a vanity project and little more, what with its extremely unsubtle real-life parallels, starring role for Favreau that lets him stretch himself beyond ‘funny comic relief guy’ and that he casts both Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johansson as his ex-wife and possible ex-lover respectively (the latter of which outright tells Favreau’s character at one point that he’s the best chef she ever worked with).  And… well… yeah, it kinda is.  The actual character work, and characters in general, populating the film are flimsy and undercooked and, once things head to Miami, nothing ever goes wrong for Favreau ever because he is the world’s greatest chef if people will just LET HIM DO WHAT HE DOES BEST INSTEAD OF CONSTRAINING HIS CREATIVE GENIUS, DAMMIT!!  That being said, I’d recommend not writing off Chef sight unseen.  It’s nothing revolutionary, it’s nothing memorable, but it is mildly amusing, rather entertaining, nearly always interesting and, brace yourself for the big one, it’s a comedy that runs for two hours… that I can’t see cutting down to 100 minutes!

Oh, I have your attention now, do I?

Our story, then.  By the by, I’m going to dispense with much of the pretence and just straight up tell you the “subtext” cos it’s that unsubtle and it saves me time later on.  Jon Favreau is a chef, a very well-respected chef, at that, who caused a splash ten years ago as a hungry guy wanting to make a name for himself.  He’s currently employed at a big, fancy and relatively famous restaurant that’s about to get reviewed by the biggest food blogger in town and he wants to surprise the guy, cook up something original and shocking and biting and all that jazz.  The restaurant’s owner, Dustin Hoffman, thinks that’s not a good idea, being too risk-averse, and orders Favreau to cook by menu, reasoning that people who go to see The Rolling Stones want to hear them play ‘Satisfaction’.  This ends disastrously, Favreau’s heart is clearly not in it and the critic tears apart both the food, which is too safe and generic, and Favreau himself, believing him to be over-the-hill and also fat jokes cos critics are dicks.

Favreau does not take this well, with the review and Favreau’s resulting meltdown at the critic going viral.  Fired from his job for refusing to follow orders, Favreau’s ex-wife (played by Sofia Vergara) convinces him to meet her successful first ex-husband, Robert Downey Jr., and get back to basics.  Gifted a food truck, Favreau decides to take his little low budget venture on the road, making smaller products with more heart that may connect with the public more and revitalise his love for his art.  Tagging along are his son, EmJay Anthony, who doesn’t see his dad much but aspires to follow in his culinary footsteps, and his old workmate, represented here by John Leguizamo, where father and son may just bond together and learn a thing or two about a thing or two.

It’s even less subtle than that, before you ask.  A good 50-60% of Chef really is just Jon Favreau working through his frustrating studio experiences via the thinnest of metaphors.  Not that that’s a bad thing inherently, mind.  A fair bit of the film’s entertainment value comes from just how far the metaphor goes, in much the same way that 22 Jump Street’s appeal comes from just how far that film is willing to push its central joke, “we are a pointless sequel and we’re well aware of that fact.”  It also helps that the execution is rarely cringe worthy or overly blatant, the lone exceptions come during the times when Favreau meets up with the critic that wrote the nasty things about him (embodied by Oliver Platt).  Those times trot out the usual “what you say hurts me! I make art, what do you do?  Just sit behind your computer and vomit words” clichés that typically accompany artists ranting against critics.  (It’s not the heckler bit from Louie, is what I’m getting at.)  Otherwise, the execution remains interesting, it becomes a kind of fun little exercise to see Favreau working through his problems and seemingly rediscovering his love for filmmaking.

See, the film does have characters, which makes this a landmark point in Sofia Vergara’s acting career if nothing else, but they take a backseat, along with nearly everything else that’s not related to the metaphor.  Even the food stuff feels more like an extension of that metaphor instead of a total love of food, there are several scenes where Favreau explains his creative process to his son that come across far more as his creative process to filmmaking than food-making (especially when he mentions that he first goes looking for ingredients and only then decides what he’s going to cook, he doesn’t go in with a fully-formed pl-it’s a reference to the creation of Iron Man, alright).  The whole enterprise feels less like a story that Favreau wanted to tell and more like he just decided to make a film and see if it made him fall in love with filmmaking again.  Such a theory is practically confirmed when it comes time for the film’s ending to occur, which the film practically crashes into and is over before it has a chance to become satisfying.  Again, though, it is fascinating to watch, feeling relatively raw and personal instead of pretentious and whiney.

Look, I apologise for spending so long fixated on the metaphor side of Chef.  I know a lot of you will be able to get past it, or maybe not even clock onto it (although I have no idea how you would, I have seen South Park episodes with subtler allusions and metaphors), but it really does constitute the meat of the film.  Outside of it, you have the barest of plots about a father and son bonding over a shared enthusiasm (if you choose to read it like that and not, say, as the kid merely being a representative vessel for Favreau’s increasing realisation that he does still love making movies) and a very glossed over subplot of Favreau reconnecting with his ex-wife Vergara because… I actually don’t know, it’s that glossed over.  I should note that I’m not knocking the film for these things, I’m just letting you know how incidental the whole thing is.

Besides, there’s really not a whole lot to talk about with regards to the film outside of that subtext.  It’s all fine and pleasant.  There’s a runtime that’s just shy of two hours and though it feels like that at times, the film is paced well enough, and its content serves the whole metaphor point enough, to make it hard for me to find scenes to cut out to reduce that time to 90-or-so minutes.  There aren’t really any big laugh out loud moments and I guarantee that there are no jokes you’ll think back to 12 hours after seeing the film and go “that was hilarious” or some such, but the film is still funny.  It has very charming actors and actresses striking up a great enough chemistry with one another to make exchanges amusing, even if nothing particularly funny is being said.  Praise should especially go to EmJay Anthony who is not only hugely non-irritating, he’s able to keep up with Jo(h)ns Favreau and Leguizamo.  Food, meanwhile, is very often shot excellently, which is a hard thing to do right on film and television.  Not up to Hannibal standards of “mmm, that looks de-licious” but enough that I felt legitimately peckish for some high-quality grub as I left the cinema.  Also, for whatever it’s worth, I really like the film’s soul, Cuban and groove-laced soundtrack; Jon Favreau (and/or his music supervisor) has excellent taste in music.

Yes, I am stretching for stuff to talk about but there’s one last thing that deserves some conversation.  Chef loves social media.  Chef loves social media.  If social media and Chef were embodied by real life people (which the film kinda is, anyway), they would have a hopelessly romantic meet-cute, followed by a whirlwind fairy-tale romance that culminates in a magical beach-side wedding at sunset.  Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Vine, the celebrity gossip website Holy Moly!; all these and more get prominent screen time and are actually relevant to the plot, as well as being the subject of hi-larious gags about how Favreau has no idea how the Internet works (he tweets an insult at the food critic who wrote the negative review cos he thought the service worked like text messaging).  It’s equal parts toe-curlingly awkward, like when your dad posts a “selfie” of himself having a day out in Scarborough, and strangely progressive.  Like, yeah, the film does mine the expected jokes out of Favreau not knowing how social media works and his son being a whizz with it because kids today and their computermabobs, but the usage of social media is actually vital to the plot.  It ends up being utilised as a tool for good, a way for Favreau and his low-budget venture to travel around drumming up buzz and connecting with the people who matter.  It’s refreshingly free of cynicism or confused-dad-“when-I-was-YOUR-age”-ness which, if nothing else, puts it above f*cking Transcendence.  It does officially go too far when 1 Second Everyday comes up for the sole purpose of adding some feels to the finale, but get over the initial “oh, no, Dad’s trying to get down with the kids” response you will inevitably have when it comes up and it’s not actually a problem.

Chef, then, is more of an extended therapy session for Jon Favreau than it is a movie in its own standalone right.  That therapy session, though, is always interesting and frequently entertaining; it’s definitely the most personal thing Favreau has been involved in in a good decade and it’s nice to see him seemingly fall back in love with his art again.  Outside of that, there’s not much here.  There are funnier films available now, there are more heartwarming films available now, there are TV shows with better food porn on the air right now.  On the surface level, it’s a mildly entertaining way to spend two hours.  I would, however, be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy the film for what it is under that surface.  You may too, but that depends on both your knowledge of the film industry and your tolerance for “inside-baseball” stuff.

So, with Favreau having rediscovered his passion for filmmaking by going back to his roots and delivering a deeply personal work, I look forward to seeing what he’s going to transfer that passion into next!  … …“he’s making a live-action, CG version of The Jungle Book for Disney?”  Well, in that case, either he’s a quick forgiver, or I eagerly await the spiritual successor to this in 2020!

Callum Petch saw you standing on the opposite shore.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!