Review: Focus

focus-600x321 The heist film genre is one that isn’t easy to pull off these days. The Oceans' movies worked well to piggyback off the style of the original Rat Pack; good looking people wearing great clothes and looking cool. However, what George Clooney and Brad Pitt re-established in 2001, directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa aimed to bring back one more time. With a light touch, serious levels of intensity, and great twists and turns Focus accomplishes just that and perhaps a little more.

Focus tells the story of career con-man, Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith), and resident newcomer to the criminal world, Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie). The two meet early on during a “job” and gain a level of mutual respect. Soon afterwards they part ways as Nicky goes off to do his annual job during the Superbowl. Unsurprisingly, Nicky and Jess reconnect and he adds her to his crew of associates. All the while, Nicky is falling head over heels for Jess, and the feelings appear to be mutual. Their love story adds an extra element to their dynamic that is pulled off quite well.

There are series of events that show off the skills of the two, and the cast of associates they work alongside. Farhad (Adrian Martinez) and Horst (Brennan Brown) are long time partners of Nicky’s and they work excellently as a source of levity. Speaking of levity, the comedic timing of all the actors is pretty spot on here. The movie shifts seamlessly from intensity to laugh out loud moments more than the trailers would suggest. Will Smith really hasn’t been this well received in a comedic capacity since the first Bad Boys film.

So like all heist films there is always the big job that has to be done to push our heroes to their limits, Focus is no exception. Nicky agrees to work a con for man named Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro). Garriga wants Nicky to sell a fake device to his competitors so that he can continue to have an advantage over them. The plan has some twists and turns, especially when Nicky discovers that Jess is currently with Garriga. Playing up the notion of choosing the con or the woman is a pretty standard trope, but Focus is able to put an interesting spin on it to keep our interest.

In conclusion, Focus is just plain fun and should definitely not be passed up. Will Smith makes a triumphant return after this last science fiction father/son flop. Smith is as cool as ever and reminds you of why he is considered one of the few big movie stars left. Margot Robbie is a surprisingly goofy, vulnerable, and balanced partner to Will Smith’s Nicky Spurgeon. The chemistry between the two is fantastic, they play back and forth with an ease that drives the film into a new space. Along with a great supporting cast, Focus might just be one of the sleeper hits of the year.

[easyreview title= "Review of Focus" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.0" overall= false]

Review: After Earth

After Earth

I’ve always had a weird relationship with M. Night Shyamalan movies. For every one movie I think is pretty good, there is another I don’t like. For every Sixth Sense and Unbreakable there is The Happening and The Last Airbender. Two steps forward, two steps backward. In the case of After Earth, there isn’t a step at all. It’s not good but not horrible, just there. In the movie, the earth as we know it can no longer sustain human life and mankind has colonized a new planet, Nova Prime. For hundreds of years humans have been at war with the native Ursas who don’t take too kindly to mankind just settling on their planet. The Ursas can’t track humans by sight but can “smell their fear” in order to hunt down their prey. One legendary soldier of the Ranger Corp, general Cypher Raige, played by Will Smith, has perfected a technique called “ghosting” in which he (and only he, apparently) is able to suppress his fear enabling him to become invisible to the Ursas. Cypher brings his son, an up and coming Ranger named Kitai (played by Will Smith’s actual son Jaden) on a mission in hopes of mending their rocky relationship. The mission goes awry and Cypher and Kitai are marooned on Earth. Kitai must travel across the dangerous planet alone to locate a distress beacon so that he and the injured Cypher can be rescued.

Will Smith has become a very accomplished actor, a far cry from his Fresh Prince days. You wouldn’t know that from this movie, however. Both he and Jaden come off as robotic and wooden. The uneasiness that Cypher and Kitai display around one another makes sense in the context of the flimsy story but it but none of it feels natural. Part of this is due to the horrible accents that everyone has. I don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to have everyone do a horrible impression of Morgan Freeman doing a British accent but it will take you out of the movie.

Shyamalan sets up a world seemingly fraught with danger yet I never really felt as if our protagonist was in any real peril. At the same time, the film is very safe and predictable. The action sequences are ok, even though there aren’t many of them and we spend the majority of the movie watching Kitai run around the forest.

The best thing I can say about this movie is that it is indeed a movie. One hundred minutes of mediocrity. It’s completely watchable and somewhat enjoyable, but you won’t give After Earth an afterthought. The film feels like another Smith Family self-indulgent buisness project (story by Will, starring Will and son, produced by Will and wife and brother-in-law) but, if the Obamas of Hollywood are determined to make Jaden a superstar, they have to do a little better than this.

[easyreview title= "Review of After Earth" cat1title="Micah's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="2.5" overall= false]

Review: Men in Black III

In Men in Black III we have the return of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as Agents J and K. If you have seen either of the other two films from the MIB franchise, you are well aware that J and K work for a top-secret organization established to monitor and police alien activity on Earth. The concept was derived from the Malibu Comics book of the same name which was bought out by Marvel.

The plot is based on time travel or in this case time jumping. Agent J (Will Smith) has to travel back in time to stop a world changing event from occurring. This world changing event is the death of agent K. Using quantum theory as a way to address time in general, the movie banks on the butterfly effect. The smallest event can change the course of history. This is of course the watered down version, but it makes its somewhat clunky point.

The villain in this film is played by Jermaine Clement. In this film he plays the part of Boris the Animal. Move over Macho Man Randy Savage, there is a new Slim Jim man in town! Boris is part of an alien race known as the Boglodites. Boglodites are an aggressive and brutal alien race known for devouring worlds...think Klingons meet Galactus. Boris has been imprisoned on a lunar prison built specifically for him. This is where the story begins.

Emma Thompson replaces Rip Torn in this film as "O" the head of the MIB. However, Josh Brolin makes this film. His portrayal of a young Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) is impeccable. He plays K with a little softer edge. This is because Brolin's K has not yet faced some of the hardships of Jones' K. You learn a lot about the MIB universe in this film, even if some of it is pretty predictable from the first scene. You also get some insight into the relationship between J and K that you have not had before.

All in all, the box office numbers of this film will suffer and not because it is that bad of a movie. The stigma of the stinker that was MIB II still hangs in the air. Would I recommend going to the theater to see this film? I will put it this way, if you can disregard that the second film ever existed and you are a fan of the first film...go see it. It makes a decent sequel to the first film. If you are not a huge fan of the first film, wait for Redbox or Netflix streaming.

[easyreview title= "Review of Men in Black III" cat1title="Matthew's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="3.0" overall= false]