Hunt for the Wilderpeople Review: Kiwi Komedy


Director: Taika Waititi

Writers: Taika Waititi (screenplay), Barry Crump (Novel)

Stars: Julian Dennison, Sam Neill, Rima Te Wiata, Rhys Darby

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Release date: May 27th, 2016

Distributors: Madman Entertainment, The Orchard

Country: New Zealand

Running time: 101 minutes


4/5

Best part: Dennison and Neill’s chemistry.

Worst part: Some forgettable minor sub-plots.

Australia and New Zealand’s film industries have danced around one another since their inception. Playing around with the medium, 1980s and 90s Aussie comedies including Muriel’s Wedding and Kiwi dramas like The Piano broke the mold simultaneously. Nowadays, with heavy Australian dramas in full effect, NZ filmmaker Taika Waititi is delivering some of modern cinema’s most captivating comedies.

Coming off critically acclaimed Boy and What We Do in the Shadows, Waititi’s latest, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, has already set NZ box-office records for highest-grossing opening weekend and highest-grossing first week for a NZ film. Based on Barry Crump’s novel Wild Pork and Watercress, the movie centres around troublemaking city kid Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) being sent by child welfare services to live on a farm with new foster carers Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hector (Sam Neill). Hector, forced to track down Ricky after an escape attempt, fractures his ankle in the green, lush wilderness. As a country-wide manhunt begins, the duo spark-up an odd-couple dynamic.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople, similarly to road-trip comedies like Thelma & Louise, effectively sticks by its familiar premise. Throughout their journey, the rebellious youngster and cranky uncle’s budding friendship provides heavy doses of drama and comedy. Waititi’s abstract sense of humour and unique style separates his vision from that of even Hollywood’s most talented comedic elite (Adam McKay, Judd Apatow etc.). Waititi expertly develops every detail, giving our heroes and those chasing them significant depth and personality. Even the movie’s wacky side characters – including tough-but-misguided social worker Paula (Rachel House), bumbling officer Andy (Oscar Knightley), and Psycho Sam (Rhys Darby) – add to its thematic and emotional heft.

This coming-of-age dramedy is not perfect, with minor sub-plots hinted at but not fully developed. However, amongst the witty lines and slapstick gags, it includes several heart-breaking moments and plot-twists you won’t see coming. Unlike most big-budget comedies, it combines laugh-out-loud humour with messages about paedophilia and mental instability. The movie explores Ricky and Hec’s motivations – running away from the past, present, and future for different reasons into an abyss. Dennison holds his own against Neill, helping us side with an otherwise petulant and unlikable character. Similarly, Neill’s comic timing boosts the character-actor’s most fleshed-out, charismatic role in decades.

Despite the wacky premise and neat cast, Waititi is Hunt for the Wilderpeople‘s shining light. The writer/director’s next project is a small, independent jaunt called Thor: Ragnarok. Let’s hope Kevin Feige and the Marvel Cinematic Universe lets him off the leash.

Verdict: A charming, light-hearted dramedy.

Bastille Day Review: The French Connection


Director: James Watkins

Writer: Andrew Baldwin

Stars: Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte le Bon, Kelly Reilly

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Release date: April 22nd, 2016

Distributor: Focus Features

Country: USA

Running time: 92 minutes


3/5

Best part: Idris Elba.

Worst part: The convoluted plot.

Action-thriller Bastille Day follows formula to the letter. Indeed, the process of watching the movie provides a strong sense of deja vu. However, in coming out on the heels of overbearing superhero flicks and fantasy-adventures, it stands out as a good chunk of ol’ fashioned thrills.

Bastille Day, set on the eve of the titular French commemoration/public holiday, follows grizzly CIA operative Briar(Idris Elba)’s dealings in Paris. Briar – kicking down doors/punching/shooting/grimacing first, asking questions later – seeks to redeem himself after botching a previous mission. Meanwhile, a group of euro terrorists/undercover SWAT officers plan to blow up a political landmark to ignite tensions between the police, activists, and Muslim community. The scheme backfires when pickpocket Mason (Richard Madden) inadvertently steals the bomb bag from Zoe (Charlotte le Bon) and dumps it in a public area seconds before detonation.

The movie, predictably, then turns into a simplistic cross between your average man-on-the-run thriller and somewhat light-hearted buddy-actioner. The plot is certainly cliched, jumping between clues and suspects before the goodies and baddies violently cross paths. With Briar and Mason forced to work together, every twist and turns relies on the former’s brute strength and the latter’s guile and skillset. The movie only briefly touches on the duo’s backstories, intent on sticking with their energetic dynamic. Despite its blissful simplicity, the third act delivers several ludicrous plot twists.

Like similar Luc Besson-helmed/euro-american flicks, Bastille Day‘s tone lurches awkwardly between blissful thrills and confronting sociopolitical discussion. Release mere months after the Paris terror attacks, the movie brazenly depicts the police force, Muslim community, and youthful revolutionary groups as angry hornets nests quick to cause all-out rebellion. Siding with the American lead characters over everyone else, its political edge may rub viewers the wrong way. Elba makes a strong case for being the next James Bond – handling the action sequences, dramatic moments, and humour with aplomb. Madden, known as Game of Thrones‘ protagonist Robb Stark, provides an charismatic yin to Elba’s yang.

Director James Watkins (Eden Lake, The Woman in Black) and writer Andrew Baldwin create an entertaining 90-minute distraction. Fit for a lazy Saturday, Bastille Day skates by on Elba’s charm, bruising action, and solid pacing.

Verdict: A serviceable action flick.

Criminal Review: Title Fits Description


Director: Ariel Vromen

Writer: Douglas Cook, David Weisberg

Stars: Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Gal Gadot

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Release date: May 19th, 2016

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


1/5

Review: Criminal

X-Men: Apocalypse Review: Super-meh


Director: Bryan Singer

Writer: Simon Kinberg

Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac

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Release date: May 19th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 144 minutes


3/5

Best part: The stacked cast.

Worst part: The weak villain.

Halfway through the ninth X-Men franchise installment, X-Men: Apocalypse, four characters walk out of a cinema having just seen Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. One character discusses the A New Hope‘s ground-breaking aura. Another praises The Empire Strikes Back‘s darkness and complexity. Finally, another snarkily retorts: “At least we can all agree the third one is always the worst”. Although a throwaway jab at X-Men 3: The Last Stand, the line perfectly sums up my feelings about this latest entry. Sorry Apocalypse, you shot yourself in the foot.

This series, kicking off back in 2000, set the bar for action-adventure storytelling and superhero cinema with a modest and mature first installment. Since then, the genre has launched into the x-men-6-2bc1b619-fbb6-4faf-9a71-45464932d131stratosphere. The franchise has been on a rollercoaster ride of stellar (X-Men 2), unique (The Wolverine), and terrible (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) entries. Following up the kooky X-Men: First Class and exhilarating X-Men: Days of Future Past, Apocalypse dives into the 1980s’ brightly coloured, discomforting void. The world has grown weary of mutantkind, with the events of Days of Future Past now
etched into modern history. Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has built his college for gifted students in Westchester County, New York. Meanwhile, Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) learns of old frenemy Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto(Michael Fassbender)’s return to the war between them and humanity.

That synopsis barely scratches the surface regarding Apocalypse‘s multitude of plot-threads and character arcs. All-powerful being En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), inadvertently awoken by CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert(Rose Byrne)’s activities, gathers his ‘Four Horsemen’ – Lehnsherr, Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Warren Worthington III/Angel (Ben Hardy), and Elizabeth Braddock/Psylocke (Olivia Munn) – to help obliterate the world. Earth-shattering events draw Dr. Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Michael-Fassbender-X-Men-Apocalypse-TrailerTill), Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) into the battle.

Sadly, X-Men: Apocalypse pales in comparison to trend-setters Days of Future Past and Captain America: Civil War. The movie cherry-picks plot-strands, sociopolitical messages, emotional moments, and memorable sequences directly from earlier X-Men flicks. The overall narrative (end of the world, blah blah blah) is lifted from countless blockbusters before it. Director Bryan Singer (X-Men, X2, Days of Future Past) and screenwriter Simon Kinberg, once again, explore Xavier and Lehnsherr’s push-me, pull-you dynamic, Raven’s wavering allegiances, William Stryker(Josh Helman)’s shady dealings, new mutants brought into Xavier’s school, and recurring characters making googly eyes at one another. It’s not bad, just too familiar. In fairness, thin sub-plots including Lehnsherr’s Polish family life torn asunder and younger maxresdefault (1)mutants becoming friends make for several interesting patches.

At an exhaustive 144 minutes, Apocalypse feels overstuffed, underdeveloped, inconsequential and bloated simultaneously. The nihilistic worldview, washed-out colour palette and dreary atmosphere permeate. Worse still, Despite the terrific Quicksilver, nuclear warhead, and Auschwitz set-pieces, the third act becomes a mind-numbing blend of mutant powers and cataclysmic destruction. For all the bluster of exotic locations, pretty performers, Logan/Wolverine(Hugh Jackman) cameos, and millions of dollars, the movie crumbles thanks to its titular villain. After a blistering opening sequence, depicting Apocalypse’s Ancient Egyptian origins, the character is given nothing but cheesy dialogue and vaguely defined abilities. Isaac, one of Hollywood’s most promising talents, is stranded under layers of costuming, prosthetic make-up, and voice modulation.

The low-three-star Apocalypse survives primarily on its cast’s enthusiasm and inherent charisma. Pulling themselves through silly dialogue, McAvoy and Fassbender are compelling leading men. Imbuing Xavier and Magneto with warmth, both thespians treat the material with respect. Dodging the Mystique maxresdefaultmakeup at every turn, Lawrence brings her deer-in-headlights/contractual-obligation facial expression to an underwritten character. Fortunately, Hoult, Peters, Smit-McPhee, Sheridan, and Tuner get just enough screen time to develop chemistry and lasting impact. However, Munn, Shipp and Hardy barely register in glorified henchman roles.

Despite going through sequels, prequels, and reboots, the X-Men franchise needs yet another shake-up. X-Men: Apocalypse, like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, just cannot compete against the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Less really is more, and Deadpool is starting to look a lot better.

Verdict: A middling, overstuffed superhero flick.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Review: WTF, indeed.


Directors: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

Writers: Robert Carlock (screenplay), Kim Barker (memoir)

Stars: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina

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Release date: May 12th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 112 minutes 


2½/5

Best part: The fun performances.

Worst part: The bizarre sense of humour.

Since sitcom 30 Rock‘s ultra-successful run came to its fitting conclusion, actress and writer Tina Fey has splashed out on intriguing big and small screen projects. Despite mixed critical and commercial success, the Saturday Night Live alumni is commendable for breaking down boundaries for women in Hollywood. With that said, I still can’t recommend her latest gamble Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

This war-dramedy covers the shockingly true events from American international journalist Kim Barker’s memoir The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It begins with a swift, cutting dissection of life for white journalists stuck in Middle-Eastern countries. A loud, debaucherous party halted by a bombing in downtown Kabul during Operation Enduring Freedom. The story then jumps three years backwards. Kim (Fey), covering fluff pieces and writing transcripts Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrotfor newsreaders, becomes fatigued by the desk-jockey lifestyle in New York. Called up by her superiors, she jumps at the opportunity to report breaking news stories on the other side of the globe. Struggling to balance her war correspondent role and long-distance relationship with Chris (Josh Charles), Kim delves into Kabul’s hypnotic environment.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot has a cornucopia of interesting and groundbreaking concepts at hand. True, the idea of following woman in a man’s world has been tried and tested (Zero Dark Thirty). However, the movie aptly attempts to compare the world’s view of feminism today with that of 13 years ago. Also, a story about 21st Century journalism’s ever-transitioning trajectory is always intriguing (The Newsroom). Sadly, it cannot decide what it wants to do with, or say about, such weighty subject matter. Robert Carlock’s screenplay aims for a dark, deeply personal struggle of job stress and life adjustment. However, directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa – known for genre-bending comedies including I Love You, Phillip Morris, Crazy Stupid Love, and Focus –  vie for a blunt, blackly comedic jaunt.

The movie turns into a confused and jumbled mix of war-docudrama and quirky dramedy tropes. Stretched out Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot-2016-Movie-Wallpaper-24-1280x844over an exhaustive 112 minutes, Kim’s interactions with bouncy Australian correspondent Tanya (Margot Robbie), Scottish photojournalist Iain (Martin Freeman), and guide Fahim (Christopher Abbott) play out perfunctorily. Its unique third-act plot twists and biting allure don’t make up for its jarring tonal shifts and lack of depth. Ficarra and Requa’s peculiar sense of humour tars every character with the same brush. The duo’s penchant for out-of-place gross-out gags and unlikable personalities overshadows its arresting premise. Even the US Marines, led by grizzled commander General Hollanek (Billy Bob Thornton), are offensive stereotypes.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot makes a mockery of its war-torn setting, depicting all Afghan citizens as irritable and antagonistic. Worse still, vital Afghan characters including shady government figure Ali Massoud Sadiq (Alfred Molina) are played by British and american actors. Like with Bad Neighbours 2, the drama and comedy rely on the cast’s inherent charisma and commitment. Fey is one of Hollywood’s most likeable performers, with her trademark sarcastic wit elevating the movie’s most whiskey_tango_foxtrot_SD2_758_426_81_s_c1trite moments. Robbie relies on her gorgeous allure, struggling to emote through a patchy British accent. Freeman, coming off several blockbusters, fits comfortably back into his quaint, nice-guy persona. Thornton and Molina are charming despite questionable roles.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot marks the dramedy at its most obnoxious and mundane. Fusing your average war-docudrama with a run-of-the-mill Fey project, the movie combines several great tastes that don’t go well together.

Verdict: An underwhelming vehicle for Fey.

Bad Neighbours 2 Review: On the Fence


Director: Nicholas Stoller

Writers: Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brien, Nicholas Stoller, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg

Stars: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Chloe Grace Moretz

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Release date: May 20th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 92 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Zac Efron.

Worst part: Chloë Grace Moretz.

Comedy-sequels are like Australian Prime Ministers – there is plenty of them, but most of them are completely forgettable and ultimately disposable. For every 22 Jump Street-sized slice of wacky, self-aware genius, we get 50 Zoolander 2/Horrible Bosses 2-level disasters. Certainly, Bad Neighbours 2, or the poorly titled Neighbours 2: Sorority Rising, is far from the worst comedy-sequel Hollywood has pumped out recently. However, it’s still a cynical and mindless distraction unlikely to test the brain cells.bad-neighbours-2-image-1

Bad Neighbours 2 kicks off with married couple Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) in a blissful haze after the birth of their first child. Despite their friendly nature, the pair struggle to act responsibly around their young daughter Stella. On top of expecting their second child, Mac and Kelly must also comprehend the 30-day escrow set prior to selling their old home and moving into their new McMansion. Predictably, newly established sorority Kappa Nu – led by Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz) – moves in next door. Before long, with arch nemesis Teddy(Zac Efron)’s help, Kappa Nu becomes a hard-partying cacophony of post-teen chicks.

My review of Bad Neighbours 2 could best be summed up by replicating my write-up of Bad Neighbours. In true comedy-sequel fashion, this instalment hurriedly turns into a spineless remake of the original. Granted, the 2014 surprise hit showcased the extraordinary talents of its underrated cast and crew. It also provided an enjoyable mix of gross-out gags, fun characters, and thoughtful themes. This time around, director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek) and the 5 credited screenwriters broadly duplicate every plot point, character type, and running gag from the first. Of course, neighbors_2Mac and Kelly unite with married friends Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz) and Paula (Carla Gallo) to drive the sorority out of the neighborhood. This time, however, they team up with Teddy after the sorority turns against him. So that’s…something.

This installment had the potential to be worth more than just the sum of its parts. With such a talented acting, writing, and directing ensemble, the comedic moments should have put it several notches above most comedy-sequels. However, in reaching backwards too often, the comedy is disappointingly hit and miss. Oddly enough, the quick-fire mix of gross-out humor and light-hearted character moments works effectively despite its lame slapstick gags. The sequel also fails to invest in its views on gender equality, age and social status. The women are depicted favourably for feats like becoming mothers, creating the first sorority able to throw parties etc. Simultaneously, the men – including Efron’s character – are seen as too old, square, and ‘rapey’ to function. Although intriguing, the movie continually hammers the same points without quit.

Bad Neighbours 2 relies on its esteemed cast’s charisma and sharp comedic timing. Rogen, surprising effecting in Steve Jobs last year, proves he’s still a charming leading man. Byrne, known for a vast array of drama and comedy performances, once again proves her ability to adapt to any role and genre. Efron is the stand out performer here, providing a mix of arrogance and sympathy to elevate an otherwise wacky screen-shot-2016-01-19-at-60519-pmcharacter. For anyone interested, there is a whole section devoted to his impressive muscular figure. Sadly, Moretz quickly becomes an annoying, whiny presence in what should have been an intriguing role. Like with the original, small turns from Barinholtz, Gallo, Lisa Kudrow, Dave Franco, and Hannibal Buress deliver big laughs.

Bad Neighbours 2, although a slight cut above most comedy-sequels, still resembles a haphazard attempt at capturing lightning in a bottle. Despite a top-notch cast at its peak, the hit-and-miss humor and lack of follow-through makes for an unremarkable and pointless return to the neighbourhood.

Verdict: Another forgettable comedy-sequel.

Captain America: Civil War Review: Braun vs. Iron


Directors: Joe & Anthony Russo

Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Stars: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan

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Release date: April 28th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 147 minutes


4½/5

Best part: The airport showdown.

Worst part: Minor leaps of logic.

Let’s face it, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has eclipsed everything DC Comics/Warner Bros. could possibly hope to achieve. In its 13-blockbuster run, this franchise has set the bar for every other studio now clamouring for their own extended universes. With Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice turning from promising idea into jumbled, obnoxious mess, Marvel is still going strong. Can you believe it’s been eight whole years since Iron Man came out? Neither can I, neither can they.

instaCaptain America: Civil War looks set to be the most fulfilling blockbuster of 2016. The movie succeeds on every level, delivering on its promises and refusing to show fear or cynicism. The plot itself is more intricate and meaningful than your average MCU installment. Following up from the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Civil War opens up with the new, unique Avengers squad on its latest mission in Lagos. Tracking down weapons trader Brock Rumlow/Crossbones (Frank Grillo), their efforts end with multiple civilian casualties.

The world looks set to turn against our troupe of sexy, spandex warriors, convinced humanity is better off without them. Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) are scalded by US Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) for their shocking collateral damage, aiming to push United Nations sanctions into effect. Whereas the team feels justified in their actions, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Vision (Paul Bettany), and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) side with the government. After Steve’s frenemy Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is blamed for a catastrophe, Cap goes on a one-man mission to find answers.insta

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo along with long-standing screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, coming back after The Winter Soldier, have successfully taken the reigns from Joss Whedon. Their latest provides a sense of balance most blockbusters either avoid or can’t quite grasp. Its plot, unlike most cluttered superhero epics, follows one streamlined path from beginning to end. From the prologue and opening action sequence onwards, its character turns and narrative twists remain steady. Like the original Civil War storyline in the comics, the UN bill – titled the Sokovia Accords here – starts a ticking time bomb to the team’s obliteration. The conflict splits the story between both sides evenly – fusing its narrative, thematic, and emotional resonance throughout the exhaustive 147-minute run-time.

Team Cap and Team Iron Man have significant points of view. Cap and co. believe it’s their responsibility to protect the world and bring justice to anyone on the wrong side of the law. Cap – divided between the worlds of yesterday, today, and tomorrow – believes a bit of ‘ol’ fashioned’ goes a long way in this paranoid, surveillance state era. Stark’s troupe, however, points out the mass casualties already caused. The former weapons/tech. giant turned humanitarian warrior puts his foot down, outlining the escalation in worldinstawide violence and shady bureaucratic border-hopping. Both agendas are reasonable, literally and figuratively tearing the franchise’s two most beloved characters apart.

The Russos take on the monstrous task of following on from previous installments and setting up new ones. The pre-established characters and talented performers are given their due, with all sub-plots fitting together like intricate jigsaw pieces. Threads including Steve and Sharon Carter/Agent 13(Emily VanCamp)’s dynamic, Natasha’s diplomatic work, Sam and Bucky’s quarrels, Vision and Wanda’s impending relationship, Stark and Rhodes’ everlasting friendship and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Scott Lang/Ant-Man(Paul Rudd)’s involvement make for numerous light-hearted gags and soul-crushing moments simultaneously. It even throws in new characters including vengeful Wakandan prince T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), spunky youngster Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and scheming, sympathetic human villain Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) with textbook precision.

This globe-trotting, ambitious adventure delivers some of the MCU and modern Hollywood’s most inventive action sequences. The much-talked-about airport set-piece marks the franchise at its absolute peak. This impressive sequence brings our 12 major superhero characters together with aplomb, showcasing the astonishing array of fighting styles, abilities, and personalities. Pouring gravy onto instathis already hearty steak, the opening sequence, car chase, and heart-wrenching finale provide some ass-kicking delight in between the political discussions and character-driven interludes.

Captain America: Civil War successfully highlights Cap’s never-ending conflict with the 21st Century and The Avengers’ struggle to reassure the human race of its importance in the universe. Thanks to esteemed direction, a stacked cast, fun character-actor cameos, big laughs, and even bigger emotional rifts, this is the franchise’s most mature and momentous installment yet. Fingers crossed Infinity War Parts 1 and 2 can live up to our ridiculous expectations.

Verdict: Another rich superhero epic/fulfilling MCU installment.