Keeping Up with the Joneses Review: Bad Neighbours


Director: Greg Mottola

Writer: Michael LeSieur

Stars: Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot

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Release date: October 20th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 105 minutes


2/5

Best part: The starry cast.

Worst part: The bland comedy.

Comedy is one of modern entertainment’s most subjective genres. One man’s trash is another’s treasure; what some may perceive as humor may deter or anger others. 2016 has seen big-budget messes like Bad Neighbours 2, the Ghostbusters reboot, Zoolander 2 and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates come and go without impact. Keeping Up with the Joneses, sadly, continues this laughless downward spiral.

Before I attack Keeping Up with the Joneses mercilessly, I will say the premise is wholly compelling. The movie follows suburban married couple/loving parents Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis and Isla FIsher). Sending the kids to summer camp, the pair are stuck in a rut. Jeff lives for his meaningless HR department position at a local, government-affiliated company. However, Karen becomes restless and bored at home. Her freelance interior decorator role fails to satisfy her itch for excitement. Soon after, attractive couple Tim and Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot) move in next door. Of course, they aren’t who they seem.

Keeping Up with the Joneses, like so many Hollywood comedies, collects elements from several, much-better movies. Similar action-comedies (Mr and Mrs Smith) aptly balance the humour and set-pieces. Overall, there is an army of better movies out there. Writer Michael LeSieur does not even attempt to reinvent the wheel. The story, such as it is, is as bland and banal as expected. Indeed, everyone involved seems not to care about it. It is a shock to the system when the plot kicks into gear. Thanks to laughable exposition and plotting, the director and actors seem to switch off at seemingly important moments. Despite the premise, the spy-work is never shown on-screen. Tim and Natalie’s mission is lost in favour of cheap set-pieces and bad dialogue/gags.

Keeping Up with the Joneses, in true Adam Sandler fashion, is condescending and sweet to its audience. The first half mocks suburban lifestyle, painting the men like cretins and women like nagging shrews. Unable to commit, the movie’s half-assed turn makes everyone and everything cheesier. The comedy is shockingly hit and miss. Director Greg Mottola forgets what made his earlier flicks (Superbad, Adventureland) so engaging. Here, his comic timing drags down the performers. The jokes feature excessive awkward pauses rather than punch-lines. The cast do their best with woeful, unimaginative material. Galifianakis, a hit-and-miss talent himself, is fine in his small-town-hero role. Meanwhile, Hamm is a force of charisma and likeability. Fisher’s screechiness ruins yet another role. Sadly, Gadot is yet to master anything beyond kicks and punches.

Keeping Up with the Joneses doesn’t deserve a one-word review, let alone all the words written by the world’s bloggers/reviewers. Like most 2016 movies, this lazy action-comedy evaporates from memory before leaving the theatre.

Verdict: Hit-and-miss spy-comedy.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Review: Punch drunk


Director: Edward Zwick

Writers: Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz (screenplay), Lee Child (novel)

Stars: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh
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Release date: October 20th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Cruise’s charisma.

Worst part: The daughter subplot.

A-list megastar Tom Cruise has had a career most actors could only dream of. He has led some of the 20th and 21st century’s most compelling films, delivered multiple killer one-liners and lifted forgettable material. The man puts 110% into every role and production. However, his off-screen antics -Scientology, failed marriages etc. – have made him a polarising figure.

Since his last marriage’s decline, he has turned his attention to the silver screen. Almost every year since, he has delivered one critically and commercially viable actioner after another. 2013’s Jack Reacher, based on Lee Child’s seminal book series, delivered whip-smart dialogue and gritty drama. Sadly, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is merely a serviceable action-adventure. It begins with our titular character (Cruise) on the lam. Shifting between assignments, he finds solace in his and Major Susan Turner(Cobie Smulders)’s phone calls. He heads to Washington DC to take her on a date. However, Turner is arrested for espionage after botched military dealings in Afghanistan. Predictably so, he takes the case to uncover the truth.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back has little to do with the original. The events of that film are not even thought about here. Instead, like Child’s books, this is a pure standalone adventure. Sequel and blockbuster fatigue set in like rot. From the get-go, the story delivers limited stakes or tension. The opening scene defines Reacher: a superhuman with nothing to fear or even be mildly miffed about. The screenplay provides broad, simplistic characters and plot points. Reacher switches clunkily between personalities. As the plot kicks in, and more baddies show up, he becomes more powerful and stoic. On the other hand, after meeting his potential daughter (Samantha (Danika Yarosh)), he turns into a wise-cracking buddy-cop archetype. The mystery plot-line is infinitely less interesting, defined only by rushed flashbacks and exposition.

Director Edward Zwick once excelled with action sequences and tight story-telling. Many of his works – from crime-thrillers (The Siege, Blood Diamond) to historical-epics (Glory, The Last Samurai) – are compelling. The original set the bar for deftly handled fist-fights and shoot-outs. However, despite having worked with Cruise before, Zwick brings nothing new to the table here. The sequel’s set-pieces are few and far between. Worse still, it commits to quick-cut, shaky-cam hand-to-hand combat. The movie’s biggest flaws rest on the villain’s ultra-white shoulders. The movie delivers an even-blander Jai Courtney clone (The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger)) and nondescript military/government figures. Thankfully, Cruise and Smulders elevate said woeful material. Their back-and-forth sparring is suitable. Meanwhile, Yarosh is stuck with an idiotic, unlikable character.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, like most of 2016’s blockbusters, is forgettable but not terrible. Cruise’s raw intensity turns a tough-guy cliché into a fun lead badass. However, Zwick and co. drop the ball. The movie’s bland action, story and characters make for another disappointing sequel.

Verdict: A serviceable action-thriller.

Inferno Review: Hanks for nothing


Director: Ron Howard

Writer: David Koepp (screenplay), Dan Brown (novel)

Stars: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Ben Foster

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Release date: October 13th, 2016

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 121 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Tom Hanks.

Worst part: The confusing flashbacks.

Some franchises are truly baffling. The Twilight, Transformers and now Da Vinci Code series’ warp source material and fan interests for a cheap buck. Despite making serious coin, they all gain negative attention from critics and wider audiences. Yes, this is mean. However, you could feed millions of African children with each installment’s budget.

Of course, taste is subjective and makes for good discussion. Even for the majority of author Dan Brown, Director Ron Howard, and Star Tom Hanks’s biggest fans, however, trilogy-capper Inferno could be a franchise killer. This one, based on Brown’s fourth (latest? who cares.) franchise novel, does kick off promisingly. Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Hanks) wakes up in a hospital in Florence, Italy. Langdon – armed with a spotty memory and gash across his head – and Dr Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) quickly escape from an assassin. Meanwhile, transhumanist scientist/multi-billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) commits suicide before unveiling his master plan to obliterate half the world’s population.

Inferno is yet another 2016 sequel no one asked for. 2006’s Da Vinci Code and 2009 sequel Angels and Demons resembled baffling and bloated extended episodes of Criminal Minds. Here, Howard and Hanks were (allegedly) contractually obligated to return before world’s end. Inferno, indeed, is a waste of the cast, crew and audiences’ time. Like previous installments, Brown’s shaky understanding of history and religion shines. Aiming for Indiana Jones‘ rollicking thrills, it forgets one thing – simple equals effective. The plot, thanks to screenwriter David Koepp, sporadically jumps from A to B to C.  Its non-linear timeline sees Langdon and the audience piecing everything together. The mystery-thriller elements deliver a myriad of contrivances and plot holes. It quickly becomes bogged down by World Health organisation agents (Omar Sy and Sidse Babett Knudsen) and spooky government facilitators (Irrfan Khan).

Howard is a hit-and-miss filmmaker with little to say. Beyond 2013 smash Rush, the past decade features these flicks, The Dilemma and In the Heart of the Sea. Inferno sees Langdon and co. in some of the world’s most beautiful locations. Florence, Venice and Istanbul get their due (and I’m sure everyone had a blast making it). Howard’s stylistic flourishes are eyeball-achingly obnoxious. Throwing in visions, flashbacks and narration/exposition willy-nilly, he delivers an equally rushed and sluggish product. As the trailers suggest, it also features a half-baked commentary on overpopulation. the actors put 100% into woeful material. Hanks shuffles to yet another pay-cheque. Jones, waiting for Rogue One‘s December release, is just fine. Sy and Khan elevate cliched roles. Sadly, Foster is wasted in flashbacks and YouTube clips (Easiest. Payday. Ever).

Inferno is yet another 2016 uninspired sequel/reboot/prequel release. The two-and-a-half-star rating is definitely not a recommendation. However, thanks to the overabundance of terrible blockbusters, this ain’t too bad. Hanks and Howard certainly deserve better.

Verdict: A franchise killer.

The Girl on the Train Review: Pretty people problems


Director: Tate Taylor

Writers: Erin Cressida Wilson (screenplay), Paula Hawkins (novel)

Stars: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux

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Release date: October 6th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 112 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Blunt’s miasmic performance.

Worst part: The predictable plot twists.

Beach-reads and airport novels are central to the literature business. The genre, packed with international best-sellers, cater to multiple audiences and basic desires. They are simply easy to indulge in – throwing in debauchery and plot twists willy-nilly. Romance, crime and drama have gotten the beach-read/airport novel treatment. Crime-thriller The Girl on the Train is…yet another one.

The Girl on the Train, written by Paula Hawkins, became an overnight sensation last year. The best-seller got movie-adaptation honours mere months after release. The book was revered and criticised for its twisty-turny narrative and gender politics. The movie version tries to reach those grand heights. It  chronicles divorced alcoholic Rachel (Emily Blunt). She spends every second in a booze-fuelled rage, taking the train from the suburbs to New York City and back. Whilst on the train, she peers into two particular homes. One belongs to her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). The other belongs to sexy married couple Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan (Haley Bennett). One day, Rachel flips out after seeing Megan having an affair with her psychologist Dr. Abdic (Edgar Ramirez).

The Girl on the Train resembles several much-talked-about erotic-thrillers. Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction and 2014 smash Gone Girl provide intriguing set-ups, unique characters and unsettling twists. Sadly, this novel adaptation lacks the finesse of said movies’ writing and direction. The movie lingers on Rachel’s misery in the first third. Her repetitive lifestyle is fascinating and sickening simultaneously. Her actions – bumbling in front of concerned train-goers, filling her water bottle with vodka etc. – fit standard full-time-drunk tropes. Her dynamic with frustrated roommate Cathy (Laura Prepon) gives the character added depth. However, the novelty eventually wears off. Of course, Megan becomes a missing persons case. As Rachel delves into the mystery, plot turns and red herrings keep popping up. Screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson makes every character creepy and decrepit. The ‘drama’ merely involves women crying while the men grunt and scowl.

Director Tate Taylor(The Help, Get On Up)’s po-faced adaptation makes conventional choices at every turn. Thanks to the limited number of characters, it becomes obvious who the culprit is. The character’s sinister entrance and peculiar behaviour make it all too clear. Pointless flashbacks and exposition further dilute the plot. Despite the predictable structure and lack of thrills, it delivers a fine commentary on alcoholism. Rachel’s plight is arresting. However, with a better script and director (David Fincher, maybe?), it could have been so much more. Blunt’s performance is the standout element; rocking gently between drunk mess and sincere being with aplomb. Ferguson and Bennett re-introduce themselves to modern audiences in underwritten roles. Character-actresses Allison Janney and Lisa Kudrow provide valuable performances. Theroux and Evans are still completely lifeless!

The Girl on the Train lacks the keen-eyed direction and whip-smart writing of similar fare. Despite Blunt’s solid performance, the movie’s ultra-serious tone and bland performances distort an otherwise intriguing premise. The all-too-predictable narrative makes it yet another 2016 disappointment.

Verdict: A meandering, disappointing melodrama.

Deepwater Horizon Review: Rolling in the Deep


Director: Peter Berg

Writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Matthew Sand (screenplay), David Barstow, David Rohde, Stephanie Saul (book)

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez

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Release date: October 6th, 2016

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 107 minutes


3½/5

Best part: The strong performances.

Worst part: The slimy BP characters.

Docudrama/disaster epic Deepwater Horizon chronicles one of the 21st Century’s most devastating true stories. The Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig explosion and fire, on April 20th, 2010, killed 11 people and spilled 210 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The investigation pointed the finger at petrol conglomerate BP’s lackadaisical actions before and after the incident.

Director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg, re-teaming after 2013’s docudrama Lone Survivor, deliver the second in their unofficial based-on-a-recent-true story trilogy. Later this year, the duo re-team again for Patriots Day – based on the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and seceding manhunt. Here, Berg and co. divert their attentions to oil drilling. The plot chronicles the professional and personal lives of driller Mike Williams (Wahlberg). Kissing his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) and daughter goodbye, Williams hits the Deepwater Horizon for a mission seemingly like any other. Supervisor Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) scalds BP supervisor Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) over dangerous shortcuts. Engineer Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) looks after the nitty-gritty details. In addition, youngster Caleb (Dylan O’Brien) and Jason (Ethan Suplee) protect the drill itself.

Deepwater Horizon, from start to finish, delves into core drilling’s ins and outs. Screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand drew inspiration from Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours (written and researched by three people). Clearly, they and Berg became infatuated with the event in question. Like Lone Survivor, Berg’s latest effort is almost too infatuated with the topic. It pars down the drilling and engineering jargon for a wider audience (the A to B to C explanations are worthwhile). However, slower pacing was still required. The walking-down-hallways moments see characters bounce jargon off one another. Although realistic, the gobbledygook is difficult to comprehend. With that said, the effort is greatly appreciated. In fact, the first half shows every square inch of every department on said monolithic structure.

However, modern audiences aren’t interested in engineering discussions or BP representative/stock market drivel. All hell breaks loose once the second half ticks over. Berg – an action-direction master thanks to Welcome to the Jungle and The Kingdom (and difficult to trust after Hancock and Battleship) – ratchets up the tension to 11. Of course, this story deserves respect (Hollywood gleam is a little unsettling here). However, the explosive moments are worth the admission cost. The second half/final third is one extended rescue mission. Gripping set-pieces and solid practical effects turn it into edge-of-your-seat entertainment. Berg and the cast pay respects to all involved. Wahlberg expertly portrays the everyman hero. Russell, back with a vengeance, is at his charismatic best. Rodriguez and O’Brien overcome generic characterisations. However, Malkovich lends his bad-guy schtick to an already absurd role.

Deepwater Horizon is almost a great movie. The action, special effects and direction got me excited for Patriots Day and Berg’s ongoing future. More so, the cast sink into their roles and pay tribute to all whom served. However, broad characterisations and messages almost ruin good work.

Verdict: A tight, taut docudrama.

Joe Cinque’s Consolation Review: Basic Instinct


Director: Sotiris Dounoukos

Writer: Sotiris Dounoukos, Matt Rubinstein (screenplay), Helen Garner (book)

Stars: Maggie Naouri, Jerome Meyer, Sacha Joseph, Gia Carides

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Release date: October 13th, 2016

Distributor: Titan View

Country: Australia

Running time: 102 minutes


3/5

 Review: Joe Cinque’s Consolation

 

The Magnificent Seven Review: Good Ol’ Gunslingers


Director: Antoine Fuqua

Writers: Nic Pizzolatto, Richard Wenk

Stars: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio

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Release date: September 29th, 2016

Distributors: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 133 minutes


3½/5

Best part: The starry cast.

Worst part: Sarsgaard’s wacky villain.

The buddy/team-up flick typically goes one of two ways – disgustingly enjoyable for embarrassingly terrible. The better ones give audiences a grand ol’ time. 2016 has delivered several inconsequential team-up flicks (TMNT: Out of the Shadows, Suicide Squad, Now You See Me 2). The latest Magnificent Seven remake breaks that string of flops and never looks back.

The Magnificent Seven is as cool, calm and collected as everyone in front of and behind the camera. The John Sturges-directed/Yul Brynner-starring 1960 original is, of course, a remake of the 1954 Akira Kurosawa/Toshiro Mifune classic Seven Samurai. The story centres on law-enforcement helper/bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington). Vengeance-seeker Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) tasks Chisolm with destroying her husband(Matt Bomer)’s killer, mining giant Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). Chisolm recruits six badasses – gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Mexican Outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier) – to save Rose Creek from Bogue’s evil regime.

This badasses-banding-together premise is as tried and true as Hollywood itself. Seven Samurai‘s legacy influenced westerns, actioners and A Bug’s Life. Also, 1950s westerns pitted good-goodies (whitehats) and bad-baddies (blackhats) against one another. Similarly, this remake is smart in its simplicity. The aforementioned premise takes over the first half. Given 133 minutes, screenwriters Nic Pizzolatto (True Detective seasons 1 and 2) and Richard Wenk linger on Chisolm’s audition process. The introductions, on their own, aren’t particularly interesting. Horne’s opening scene is a highlight, showcasing a rare glimpse of old-era violence. The script provides vague glimpses at their backstories (Chisolm and Robicheaux’s, in particular). However, it explores the ensemble more than any particular member. The drama and comedy rely on blissful character interactions. Steadily, our titular crew assists the town and take on the snivelling bad guys. If it aint broke, I guess.

Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer) takes the Washington-actioner reigns from the late Tony Scott. Fuqua’s slick style and pulsating action hit with brute force. Of course, our leads dodge bullets and hit their targets every time. However, its pacing, practical effects, and score amp up the thrills. The climax delivers an extended miasma of bullet holes and explosions. Like his other popcorn-chomping distractions (Olympus Has Fallen, The Shooter), it delivers slight twists on convention. Most importantly, it’s an advertisement for multiculturalism and gender equality. Overcoming limited dialogue, the Asian, American-indian, and Mexican characters give their African-American and caucasian counterparts a run for their money. Bennett delivers a scintillating, eye-opening introduction to wider audiences.

This newer, fresher Magnificent Seven is cinematic macaroni and cheese – clichéd but insatiably enjoyable. Despite the flaws (broad characters, twists etc. galore!), the cast and crew are worth the admission cost. Thankfully, I had as much fun watching it as they had making it. Sadly, the epilogue does not work!

Verdict: A cool western-throwback.