Kathryn Bigelow: Eclipsing the boys at their own game


Winner for Best Director and Best Pictur

Profile – Kathryn Bigelow: Eclipsing the boys at their own game

Pet projects: Why they go wrong


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Pet projects: Why they go wrong

Film Retrospective: Planet of the Apes (1968)


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Film Retrospective: Planet of the Apes (1968)

Interview with Two People Director Rob Livings


 

07-july-2017-two-people-interviewInterview with Two People Director Rob Livings

All Eyez on Me Review: False Note


Director: Benny Boom

Writers: Jeremy Haft, Eddie Gonzalez, Steven Bagatourian

Stars: Demetrius Shipp, Jr., Kat Graham, Lauren Cohan, Hill Harper

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Release date: June 15, 2017 

Distributor: Summit Entertainment 

Country: USA 

Running time: 140 minutes


2/5

Review: All Eyez on Me

 

Minority blues: Juan embodies Moonlight(2016)’s impact


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Every so often, a movie comes along that changes my perceptions of cinema and the world. These flicks let us see directly into the characters, their lives, what they like/dislike and how they act in or react to the events of the narrative. For their run-time, they deliver everything cinema should offer on a regular basis. Moonlight is one of those delights. Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unpublished play, Moonlight proves every frame can be essential to the overall effect.

Sadly, Moonlight is the movie now synonymous with Academy Awards stuff-ups. This $1.5 million independent feature went up against a musical, docudramas and war epics during this year’s Oscars ceremony. The lead-up was spectacular, with the film gaining industry recognition for its depiction of the gay-black experience, life in lower-class America, and familial conflict. However, thanks to one Price-Waterhouse Coopers’ representative’s folly, this and La La Land are tied together eternally.

rs_1024x683-161212061514-1024.Moonlight-Mahershala-Ali-JR-121216This article is not saying La La Land is not important, exciting, interesting etc. Indeed, the movie is notable for being the exact opposite of moonlight. Its reach-for-the-stars vibe  balances out a melancholic ending with scintillating effect. Moonlight is nothing like this. From the opening sequences, this narrative smacks of realism and heartache. It’s in these opening moments where director Barry Jenkins places his feelings on his sleeve (for the audience to take in). If you’re squeamish, head out of the theatre and head straight towards the nearest blockbuster (you may feel safer there).

We meet drug dealer/kingpin Juan (Mahershala Ali) dealing drugs in Miami’s Liberty City. The opening shot is propulsive. Jenkins never talks down to anyone or simplifies anything for the audience. Juan’s body language and tone proves he rules the roost. The neighbourhood responds to Juan’s presence with glee (in the saddest way possible). Yes, he’s a drug dealer. Aware of his presence, the area loves him because of what he supplies. He is seen as the businessman, the top dog and enviable leading man type all rolled in one.

Is after this initial introduction, we feel his presence throughout the movie. Juan finds the protagonist of this story, Chiron “Little”, hiding from bullies in an abandoned block of flats/crackhouse. Juan first comes off as the hero, a strong man saving a young boy from bullies and the dangerous environment around them. Juan overcomes his stoicism to do what he knows is right. By the five to ten minute mark, one of Moonlight‘s supporting characters has shown a depth and range rarely seen in mainstream lead characters.

Juan wants, in this instance, to make a valuable first impression. He knows Chiron will run away or ignore him if the truth came out. These glimpses add to Jenkins’ and co. arresting vision. Even a sparsely utilised supporting character ties intricately into everything else. It is in this moment we meet his significant other, Teresa (Janelle Monae), before Chiron is taken back to his crack-addicted mother, Paula (Naomie Harris). To become a role model, or at the very least more likeable person, Juan sets Chiron up with a mini-family. The Juan, Teresa and Chiron embody the father-mother-and-child vision of American life. The characters hold onto their time together – envisioning shiny, new lives and aiming to overcome or even step away from their current status’.

ad_234908624-e1487004604539Throughout their time together, Jenkins develops a beaming, ultra-positive father-son dynamic between Juan and Chiron. Juan, despite his life choices (profession), seeks to keep Chiron from the ugly truth and divert him towards a better future. Juan helps Chiron with the ‘basics’ (learning to swim etc.) to increase his intelligence and abilities. Our father figure, thinking of his own regrets, contemplates his role in Chiron’s life. A wordless Chiron listens intently to Juan’s story. Juan recalls of an old lady talking to him, saying black boys turned blue while running around in the moonlight.

It is here Juan gives Chiron the ultimate, coming-of-age ultimatum – “At some point you’ve gotta decide for yourself what you want to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you”. Juan passes on whatever knowledge of the world he has onto Chiron. Although giving only slivers of information, Juan pushes Chiron to find a new path through the ghetto and adulthood. The mystical-magical-negro type – depicted in many films as providing younger, better looking white characters with inspiration – is now a lower-middle class man filled with regret and sadness on the inside, with only a tough exterior guarding people from knowing the truth.

Juan is the ultimate supporting character – on-screen for short periods and continually making an impact. His frustrations and weaknesses rise to the surface whenever Paula comes into the mix. In their first meeting, Juan explains Chiron’s disappearance overnight. Paula, seemingly threatened by Juan’s fatherly affection to Chiron, rejects Juan’s assistance. Overcompensating for Chiron’s lack of father figures, Paula acts with full-throttled anger. Instead of listening to or thanking Juan, she stares him down and snaps at him until he leaves. The lioness asserts her dominance, to Chiron’s detriment. Her dominance and choices make for an unsettling near future for Chiron.

“At some point you’ve gotta decide for yourself what you want to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you,” Juan (Mahershala Ali) – Moonlight, 2009.

Juan and Paula’s next encounter shows Ali and Harris to be two of Hollywood’s most esteemed character-actors. Juan confronts Paula after seeing her smoking crack with one of his regular customers. Channelling his deep-seeded fatherly love, Juan stands up for Chiron. His interrogation, in another film, could potentially change Paula’s point of view and make for change. More sugary fare might lead Paula down more redemptive path and, possibly, into Juan’s arms. Here, however, Paula once again establishes her raw, untethered emotion.

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She berates Juan for coming into their lives, convinced she is protecting her son’s best interests. Paula, thanks to her issues, is a threatening presence for everyone in her path. Paula shares her true feelings of Chiron, convinced his homosexuality has led to isolation from peer groups at school. She says Chiron, against the norm,is cast aside and punished by the majority. In such a tough area, his skin does not help him blend in. The bullies look beyond anything concerning race; seeing only an outsider and threat to their way of existence.

Juan is overwhelmed by Paula and her attitude to parenthood. He, after discovering Chiron’s mother’s lack of care or consideration, is convinced the truth may in fact scare the boy into going down the right path. Juan, Teresa and Chiron sit together at the table, aping the appearance of the family unit sharing quality time together. Juan attempts to understand Chiron’s plight, discussing Chiron’s sexual orientation as acceptable. Juan here represents the understanding, tolerant parent (like Teresa and less like Paula). Chiron, however, focuses only on Juan’s profession and way of life. Chiron, disappointed in Juan for selling drugs to Paula, leaves the home. The pair never interact again, with Juan hanging his head and crying in his last scene.

Ali and Jenkins deliver a powerful, subdued supporting character. Though starring in only the first third, Ali conveys an entire emotional and psychological arc with just a handful of expressions and scenes. Unlike many supporting actor/actress winners, Ali chooses subtle, quiet performance over loud, brash eccentricities. Instead of drawing eyes towards him, the actor allows us to soak up his role and the frame around him simultaneously.

Juan encapsulates the movie’s undying affection for Chiron. Ali and Jenkins subvert the stereotypical poor, negligent dad type. Whereas Chiron’s biological father appears to be long gone, Juan attempts to get closer. Realising he could be something greater, Juan sees an opportunity and tries to take it. He turns from drug dealer to father figure, with the audience sympathising and empathising with him throughout his and Chiron’s time together.

Belated sequels: Why they go wrong?


The belated sequel is, for all intents and purposes, a sign that Hollywood is close to running out of ideas. The plan is simple: take a famous property, convince everyone it needs to come back, deliver a final product and pray that old and new viewers show up. The basic elements of this system are designed to prey on an audience’s basis desires. The studios, obviously, think audiences and average moviegoers will devour anything with recognisable packaging wrapped around it.

anchorman2The marketing departments rule the roost here. The studios, like with every other movie, TV show etc., tell their marketing departments to coerce audiences to attend. From the get-go, these departments have advantages at their disposal. Due to immense coverage/ speculation/rumours by fans and the media, studios, producers, actors, directors etc. are seemingly coerced into dusting off old projects.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues – out in 2013, nine years after the 2004 cult-hit original – was sold on getting the band back together. Will Ferrell, Steve Carell and Paul Rudd had moved on to leading man roles and engaging movies after the original’s underwhelming release. Their career trajectories, along with Anchorman‘s slowly growing fandom, drew interest for the long-awaited follow-up. These three leading men were hounded for years over the movie’s delayed development.

The industry’s reliance on brand recognition over star power slowly diminished Anchorman 2’s chances of critical and commercial successes. The sequel was released to mixed reviews from audiences and critics. Its cast’s energy was seemingly nowhere near enough to save the finished product. Fortunately, the three have gone on to Marvel Movies, Oscar-calibre material and truckloads of paycheques. Despite their talents and charm, Ferrell and co’s movies have made smaller profits and diminishing returns compared to earlier efforts. Ferrell, in particular, has gone from bad to worse of late. Get Hard and Daddy’s Home swung for the fences and missed spectacularly.

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Many belated sequels were not worth the wait. Dumb and Dumber To was the result of Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels being hounded for the better part of 20 years (and we all know how that turned out). Super-flop Zoolander 2 stuck too close to the original, but left the comedy (and actors’ dignity) behind. The stinker was sorely missing the original’s slew of memorable lines and fun performances from once-fresh-faced comedians Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson.

The past two years have seen numerous belated sequels including My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Independence Day: Resurgence, Bad Santa 2, Finding Dory, Alice Through the Looking Glass and Inferno. A large number of these suffered due to pure laziness. They coast on the originals’ success and didn’t come close to creating something worthwhile. The rare recent exception is Danny Boyle’s T2: Trainspotting. The follow-up to the 1996 cult classic sees its characters come home to roost and accept who they are with entertaining results.

o1XC96sFsE-5Q2Fpp4HQ6g___tmp_11_715_The audience sees the cast (Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller etc.) and filmmaker return to this beloved property. The original was an out-there crime-thriller against the establishment, the ever-expanding United Kingdom and popular culture. Since its release, McGregor and co. have starred in some of Hollywood’s biggest movies and TV shows. Meanwhile, Boyle has picked up a Best Director Oscar and made a slew of hits. They have since become The Man.

T2: Trainspotting pokes fun at everything from new-age drug culture to social media without being overbearing. In this character-based drama, our leads are older, tireder, full of regret and ready to take their anger out on one another. Unpredictably, Renton (McGregor) is far from the fulfilled, reformed man we first think he is. The movie’s big revelation – Renton admitting to his failures, lack of worldly experience etc. – turns him into the loveable loser he was back in the day.

The sequel comments on its own belatedness, with every character questioning themselves and the world around them throughout. Whereas most belated sequels rehash character arcs, story beats and jokes, T2: Trainspotting reflects on the length of time between drinks. The movie is informed by, but not entirely reliant on, our general knowledge of the significant social, political and cultural changes between the mid-1990s and today.

ID4RHEADER-1The majority of belated sequels – comedies especially – rely almost 100% on a copy-and-paste formula for a quick fix. In fact, many feel like little more than hubris and laziness blended together. However, the better examples are aware of their own peculiar existence, commenting on the movie’s world and the real world without nudging us too violently. It is not so much who is involved and what they are doing, by why we should be watching that matters most. With numerous belated sequels scheduled (Wedding Crashers 2), this trend is not slowing down. I wonder which movies out today will get follow-ups 20 years from now. An Emma Stone/Ryan Gosling re-team for La La Land 2: Still Tapping maybe?

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Top of the Tube: The best YouTube movie critics


Since its inception into popular culture in 2005, YouTube has become a pioneering force for worldwide video sharing. The service has since surpassed several key entertainment mediums to become the go-to source of entertainment. The past decade, indeed, was a mixed bag for entertainment mediums and modes of all shapes, sizes, and functions. But YouTube moved with the times.

As print formats continue to descend into the darkness (or online), YouTube is bolstered by comedy, drama, and action videos shared by anyone – many of whom long for their 15 minutes of fame. Even Hollywood has come on board with the phenomenon, with eager filmmakers picked from obscurity after uploading their work onto the behemoth site (see the original Pixels short).

Nowadays, trailers, clips, and behind-the-scenes videos are only a couple of clicks away. The rise of the YouTube film critic has been huge for many Generation X and Y-ers. They provide heads-up examinations of each new movie and TV show. My chosen critics have stepped up to the microphone; hitting well above their weight and higher than the competition.

photoThousands of hits, spiteful comments, and copycats later, they have evolved into becoming some of the most influential critics/citizen journalists working today. The self-employed film buffs including Jeremy Jahns, Chris Stuckmann and Schmoes Know have enough range and charisma to attract the attention of viewers and advertisers. So, how exactly have these critics and filmaholics broken away from the scores of YouTubers currently blogging, vlogging, and flogging?

Jeremy Jahns, pronounced many different ways by many different people, is a one-man machine working from home. His YouTube channel, launching in mid 2009, was a sure-fire, quick-witted response to the CGI-induced nightmare that is Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Since then, Jahns has been uploading his opinions on everything including movies, trailers, video games, and TV shows.

The YouTube sensation’s style can best be described in one word: Laymen. Beyond the cool suits and calm attitude, the man speaks like you and me. He delivers each video like a guy talking to you in a bar. That’s what makes him so approachable and interesting – his ability to analyse each movie, communicate his ideas, provide witty humour and deliver a final blow within each short, concise video. Jahns is a one man 3-D experience (and not just because he stands so close to the camera).

maxresdefault (1)Chris Stuckmann is of a similar breed of heavy-hitting YouTube stars. This other thirty-something has embedded himself in popular film criticism and social media. Popping up on Screen Junkies and across the internet, his friendly face and welcoming personality pull you in. More so, his analyses are memorable and thoughtful enough to keep you around. Like with every YouTube critic, his biggest videos focus on the year’s most anticipated movies. Every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie review connects to the audience whilst informing everyone else. His hilariocity reviews and in-depth spoiler discussions always provide something new. Prometheus and Drive are seen in a different light thanks to Stuckmann’s deft approach.

The best of the best critics break through language divides to create original and entertaining discussions. What the Flick?! is one of the milestone achievements of online and YouTube film criticism. The four leads – Ben Mankiewicz, Christy Lemire, Matt Atchity and Alsonso Duralde – are part of Los Angeles’ broadcast and online film journalism elite. The four star in video reviews with each other and/or a slew of similar guests.

Their reckless energy keeps eyes glued to the screen no matter the subject at hand. It is a unique skill – conveying charisma, charm and immense knowledge in a modest fashion. The crew’s reviews, opinion segments and interviews are worth the subscription. Their reviews of Marvel/Netflix shows Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist explore each episode, character, storyline and underlying element with ease.

Screen Junkies takes the cake for modern online criticism and entertainment. Sprouting from humble beginnings several years ago, the group kicked off with the uber-successful Honest Trailers along with interviews/kooky segments/other hosted by Hal Rudnik. Their sundance-news-sj-universe1entries continually break the mould – providing fun and funky ideas for their audience to bounce off of and have a good time with. Since then, movie fights and honest trailer commentaries have become part of their ongoing campaign for online ratings. Screen Junkies News is the cherry on top of the sundae. The News channel’s array of hosts and topics (movies, TV etc.) appropriately balances expert opinion and laughs.

A lot of people think it is easy to become a YouTube/internet sensation. Video apps are chock-a-block with people pointing cameras at themselves, surrounding themselves with cool backgrounds and spewing their opinions for the masses to devour. However, it is almost impossible to connect with viewers and maintain a high level of interest from them. The aforementioned channels and organisations prove talent in front of and behind the camera – along with blood, sweat, tears and dollars – are needed to make YouTube careers go from dreams to reality.

Deepish Thought: The Line Between ‘Director’s Cut’ and ‘Final Cut’


In 1982, sci-fi-action-thriller Blade Runner polarised critics and audiences. Acclaimed movie critic Roger Ebert tarnished whatever reputation it had, becoming one of the strangest Hollywood projects of its decade. The film tanked, forcing Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford to reconsider their options.

Directors-Cuts-Scott-072015Blade Runner ‘Final Cut’ came out after several re-jigged versions of the 80s smash, removing everything Scott and Ford disliked. The move kicked off the rise of extended/special/director’s cuts in home entertainment. Today, it is considered one of contemporary Hollywood cinema’s most ground-breaking blockbusters. The film shaped an entire generation of filmmakers, convinced the film was the pinnacle of Hollywood potential.

Over cinema’s history, there has been a strong divide between the director’s cut and theatrical version. A film’s producers, refining the run-time and content to fit the rating system and avoid ambiguity, typically decide the theatrical cut. The director’s cut is longer, broader, and more explicit than the theatrical cut, presented as the director’s approved copy.

The director’s cut refers to what is decided on in the editing process. This particular copy comes between the rough and theatrical cuts, leaving in everything the directors they accepted and endorsed. Many of these are released after the original version, with ‘Director’s Cut’ or ‘Extended/Special Edition’ DVDs selling like hotcakes and attracting increased critical attention.

Many theatrical cuts exist to fit in more screenings per day at the cinema complex. However, with most blockbusters stretched to two-and-a-half-hours, the call for more cuts and minimal directorial control may be necessary. There are two key examples of how studio, director, and producer dynamics have transformed some projects into some of the most memorable productions in contemporary cinema.

avengers-age-of-ultron-team-noscaleThe Avengers: Age of Ultron is a packed middle chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whilst telling its own story – introducing a new villain, protagonists, settings etc. – the 11th franchise instalment forced director Joss Whedon to set up future flicks including Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther, and Thor: Ragnarok. To achieve his vision, Whedon set his sights on a four-hour cut to complete this monumental task. The move would have potentially split the instalment into two parts, fleshing out each element to its full potential.

However, the film was designated as one instalment by MCU/Disney heads – receiving mixed reviews from critics and fans for pushing too much into one production. Here, Whedon and the studio clashed head on. Whilst Whedon’s idea would have provided more bang for your buck, the MCU’s plans for future movies would have been stalled. Age of Ultron left the director and studio butting heads, leaving the debate over Whedon’s vision up in the air.

Whereas Age of Ultron blurred the lines between Whedon and the studio’s visions, Ridley Scott’s features make a clear distinction. Scott, from Blade Runner onwards, has had several projects flipped and switched by the studios. For the 2003 re-release of Alien, Scott agreed to create an alternative cut to satisfy 20th Century Fox directly. However, with films including Gladiator, American Gangster, and Black Hawk Down, Scott and the studio’s vision matched directly. All three were released as extended/special editions for DVD editions.

df04719ef97e67c26eb87ab73301ed5fOf course, the most common version of the director’s cut is adding more scenes to extend its run-time. The theatrical version of Kingdom of Heaven was met with mixed reviews and dim box-office returns upon release in 2005. Despite being considered a failure, Scott stood by the project throughout its production, release, and reception. The underrated crusades-epic was given the green light, with Scott developing a director’s cut for release several months later.

Screened at the Laemmle Fairfax Theatre on December 23rd, 2005, the director’s cut is approximately 45 minutes to one hour longer than the original. As the version Scott wanted for release, the director’s cut – at 194 minutes – includes a more thorough, fleshed-out version with an overture and intermission. The film received a much stronger reaction from critics, praising Scott for sticking to his original vision. The film, thanks to Scott’s version, is considered one of the filmmaker’s best movies.

The debate between theatrical and director’s cuts has pros and cons on both sides. Big-name, visionary directors including Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg have final cut privilege over their films to positive results. On the other hand, producers, taking advice from focus groups and people involved, have good reason to change the edit, understandably protecting their investment to gain commercial success.

5 Interesting and Slightly Quirky Filmmakers


Critics and audiences cannot stop talking about noir-thriller and Oscar-hungry art-piece Nocturnal Animals. Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal star in this twisty-turny thriller guaranteed to create conversations lasting long after the credits have rolled. The movie’s performances from Adams, Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (of all people…) are second to none. However, credit goes to writer-director Tom Ford for creating a living, breathing slice of psychological-horror as american as apple pie and July 4th. Ford was the high-end fashion designer turned acclaimed filmmaker. You have to take out a second mortgage to afford even one piece of attire!

Conquering fashion and filmmaking, he now has a fearsome reputation. The man has more money and power than a large chunk of the world’s population. It’s not simply that he is extremely rich, ambitious and good-looking…it is that he actively tries to develop new and exciting projects. Admirably, he wants to break down barriers and create as many original works as possible. I looked up a slew of underrated filmmakers soon to reach extraordinary levels of coverage.

5. Gareth Edwards – Godzilla, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

godzilla-gareth-edwards-bryan-cranston-set-photo.jpgGareth Edwards burst onto the scene with sci-fi-thinkpiece Monsters back in 2010. The British filmmaker shot to the top of the most-wanted list in the early 2010s. His next film defined his style and vision. 2014’s Godzilla was a mixed bag of unique but frustrating choices. The movie (spoiler) loses points for killing off Walter White in favour of Kick-Ass. The elephant in the room cannot be ignored – the titular creature appears in 10 minutes out of 2 hours. Citing Bruce the Shark’s involvement in Jaws, the filmmaker wanted us to wait with anticipation. Sadly for him, audience members felt the distinctive sting of blue balls throughout the run-time. When announced as the director of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, film fans voiced concern. However, Edwards’ intentional pacing and hyper-serious tone suited the story. Focusing on war and despair, Edwards crafted stakes and thrilling moments in spite of a conventional story.

4. Gareth Evans – The Raid: Redemption, The Raid 2: Berandal

la-1797711-ca-0313-raid-gareth-evans-jlc-03c-jpg-20140331This young Welsh filmmaker became an overnight sensation in 2011. The Raid: Redemption  took the film festival world by storm. The movie mixed conventional story with a brand new attitude. Set in Indonesia, the movie sees a SWAT team infiltrate a high-rise tower in the middle of a lower-class district. Of course, nothing goes according to plan. The movie lets the cast and crew to showcase their strengths. The movie brought intricate martial art pencak silat into the public consciousness. More so, it’s a ferocious and lightning-quick action-thriller with unlimited tension and spectacle. The lead actor, Iko Uwais, was a silent, vicious action hero throwing a million kicks and punches per second. The Raid 2: Berandal upped the ante, borrowing from a slew of asian martial-arts epics and American crime-gangster flicks. Should be make his Hollywood debut or stay in Asia and continue his run of manic action/martial arts projects?

3. Robert Eggers – The Witch

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American writer/director Robert Eggers went from obscurity to public notice in 2016. Critically and (surprisingly) commercially successful horror-thriller The Witch sent horror fans and general audiences into a frenzy. One of the year’s biggest surprise hits focused on a Puritan family in 17th century New England, banished to the woods in the outer districts. The family, in true horror-period fashion, are terrorised by evil forces and their ever-increasing paranoia. Eggers stuck to the essential elements, focusing on the family throughout its tight running time. As the forces of evil and each family member collide, the atmosphere becomes increasingly uncomfortable. Exorcisms, jumpscares and chases include an array of unexpected surprises. His style helped to deliver powerhouse performances from newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy and Kate Dickie. The Nosferatu remake is in the best hands possible.

2. Rian Johnson – Brick, Looper

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Writer, producer and director Rian Johnson could be the next great saviour of big-budget cinema. The filmmaker burst onto the scene with neo-noir/teen adventure Brick. Brick introduced a whole new generation to noir whilst shooting Joseph Gordon-Levitt into the stratosphere. Johnson followed it up with The Brothers Bloom, giving Adrian Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz etc. a fun crime-comedy to work with. In both movies, Johnson showcased a pulpy directorial style, unique sense of humour and solid connections with actors. 2012’s Looper launched Johnson into superstardom. The sci-fi action smash gave us the last great Bruce Willis performance (a feat, in itself). The movie effortlessly balances sci-fi tropes with strong emotional heft and exhilarating action sequences. His next, Star Wars Episode VIII, is sure to give him a wider audience and freedom for future pet projects.

1. Denis Villeneuve – Sicario, Arrival

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French-Canadian writer/director Denis Villeneuve is one of Hollywood’s weirdest and most wonderful filmmakers. He turned heads with mystery-drama Incendies. The movie’s dark, sickening tone and thrilling twists turned heads. 2013 crime-drama Prisoners gave Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal meatier roles. Thanks to Roger Deakins’ cinematography and tough source material, the movie shot to many critics’ top-10 lists. Along with hypnotic 2014 flick Enemy, 2015’s Sicario gave Villeneuve even more attention. The movie saw Emily Blunt as a SWAT team member fighting a losing battle in the war on drugs. Recruited for a top-secret spec-ops program, she delves into sick, twisted world of bureaucracy, lies and murder. Villeneuve, re-teaming with Deakins, delivered a tight, taut crime-thriller about the government/security’s darker shades. More so, this year’s Arrival is a haunting and thought-provoking snapshot of our times. Blade Runner 2049 should pay off in spades.

Reshoot & Rewind’s Bottom 10 of 2016


My love of cinema extends to the good, the bad and the ugly. Always, I want to walk into a movie and walk out more excited than before. I want to be continually blown away by the majesty and wonder of cinema. However, 2016 gave me only a handful of those moments. Over and over again, I saw sequels, reboots, prequels etc. fail to live up to their potential. Many movies showcased clear mistakes that could have been avoided by script polishes and a few more people saying ‘no’. This year, more than almost any other, highlighted Hollywood greed at its most cynical and detrimental. The movies on this top 10 list made me angry and upset. It pains to see so many talented people involved in such woeful, misguided material. I suspect several A-listers will go back to the drawing board in 2017.

10. Gods of Egypt 

gods-of-egyptDirector Alex Proyas used to make seminal genre pieces like Dark City and Crow. Even I, Robot is an entertaining experience. However, Knowing and now Gods of Egypt illustrate a sharp decline in quality. This action-adventure shows an artist at the end of his tether. This once-great filmmaker has seemingly used up his energy and ambition throughout earlier projects. Gods of Egypt is yet another laughable and anachronistic sword-and-sandal epic. A top-notch cast – including Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Gerard Butler, Elodie Yung and Chadwick Boseman – struggle through an abhorrent screenplay and sluggish direction.

9. Point Break

pointbreakver8xlgjpg-c73302_1280w1991’s Point Break, directed by Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty), exists to show off sun, sand and it’s leads’ pure charisma. Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze deliver fun turns in a wild, unrestrained action flick. Sadly, its sheen fails to rub off on the remake. Unknown director Ericson Core directs a 2-hour Red Bull commercial without the cheap thrills or any style. Truly, this has no wings. Luke Bracey and Edgar Ramirez, although excellent in other movies, struggle to provide any enthusiasm. Both look like they are being held at gunpoint whilst reading off cue-cards simultaneously.

8. The Divergent Series: Allegiant

allegiant-movieThe Divergent Series: Allegiant represents the last gasp of air taken by the Young Adult genre. The studio made the ultimate, and evil, decision to split the last book into two big-budget movies. Thankfully, this movie bombed exponentially. A dwindling fan-base and lacklustre execution forced the final instalment into straight-to-TV exile. The third installment is somehow worse than Divergent and Insurgent. It commits several crimes. Most of all, it steals wholeheartedly from Harry Potter and The Hunger Games  without hiding it. Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ansel Elgort and Miles Teller are hindered by silly material and confusing plotting.

7. Bad Santa 2

"Bad Santa 2" Day 23Bad Santa 2 is one of two atrocious comedy-sequels on this list. About 10 minutes into this one, I began contemplating where my life was headed. Billy Bob Thornton’s newfound fame – thanks to Fargo and Goliath – spurred on the creation of this mindless wreck. Like most comedy-sequels, this copies and pastes whole scenes, plot-lines, character arcs and jokes from the original. Tony Cox returns to highlight the downward slope his career has taken. In addition, Kathy Bates joins the cast as Thornton’s mother (talk about fantasy!). The original’s shock-value is replaced with deeply unfunny and offensive gags.

6. Sausage Party

maxresdefaultProducer/performer Seth Rogen re-teams with creative partner Evan Goldberg for another loud, brash comedy. This time around, the pair take aim at Pixar/Dreamworks with disastrous results. The movie’s premise, although intriguing, runs out of steam early on. The movie blatantly copies Toy Story‘s living-inanimate-objects gimmick without the fun, boisterous style. The joke wears out quickly. The comedy is reduced to expletives and lazy sexual references. At this point, Rogen and co. should know better. Worse still, the finale delivers the worst off all worlds for a tasteless orgy sequence that feels 10 hours long.

5. Criminal 

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Criminal represents the very worst of action cinema and blockbuster filmmaking today. Talented A-listers including Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Oldman are dragged down by this lame, despicable and mean-spirited sci-fi/thriller/actioner. The far-fetched premise is driven into the ground by the execution. Costner plays a borderline-disabled prisoner selected for a secret-operations program involving another person’s memories being planted into his brain. From there, his horrific lead character injures and kills innocent people without quit. Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot are also stranded thanks to wasted material.

4. Mother’s Day 

mothersday_trailer2The late Garry Marshall rounded out his career with one regrettable project after another. Valentine’s Day, New Years Eve and Mother’s Day turned audiences into suckers, taking everyone’s money and offering nothing in return. Like the preceding holiday-themed movies, Mother’s Day follows multiple plot-lines and characters over one particular day of the year. The movie’s lack of focus or emotional heft is obvious. Marshall’s latest is hamstrung by the budget, looking almost like a student film. Basic filmmaking rules are squandered, while the cast cashes their egregious paycheques. Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston and co. barely escape with their careers in tact.

3. Grimsby

13-grimsbySasha Baron Cohen’s career started promisingly thanks to Ali G, Borat and Bruno. His shock-fuelled humour and faux-documentary stylings made for hilarious adventures. However, The Dictator and Grimsby prove he has nothing left in tank. Like Adam Sandler, Cohen pulls out the cliches for a paycheque and vacation to an exotic paradise. This time, he drags noted character-actor Mark Strong, wife Isla Fisher and knockout Penelope Cruz down with him. The movie throws out a collection of preposterous gross-out gags and mediocre pop-culture references. Digs at Donald Trump, FIFA and Daniel Radcliffe are borderline offensive without being even vaguely clever.

2. Zoolander 2

titleWriter, director and actor Ben Stiller spent years listening to requests for another Zoolander installment. This follow-up to the 2001 sleeper hit showcases the A-lister’s cynicism and fatigue. Stiller stars as everyone’s favourite dumbass male model, re-teaming with Hansel (Owen Wilson) to take on Mugatu (Will Ferrell). This lazy, shallow cash-grab shows off just how little these actors care. Wilson and Ferrell are stranded thanks to contractual obligation. Like many sequels, this one slouches through an uninspired spy-caper plot minus joy or laughs. Stiller’s pet project resembles Hollywood greed turned up to 11. This parade of celebrity cameos, cheap gags and dull performances is excruciating.

1. Dirty Grandpa

maxresdefault-1Veteran performer Robert De Niro, over the past 20 years, has delivered a string of flops. The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle birthed a new era of veteran actors taking quick paycheques. Dirty Grandpa is the epicentre of awful. De Niro and Zac Efron look to be destroying their own careers. De Niro shouts out harsh, vulgar, inappropriate, sexists and homophobic comments every milisecond. Efron is pushed to the sidelines as the 73-year-old embarrasses himself and becomes a shell of his former self. This hate-filled movie is pure, unadulterated and uncut anti-cinema.

Dishonourable mentions:

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, The Legend of Tarzan, The Boss, The Danish Girl, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Now You See Me 2, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Mr Right, Warcraft, Ben-Hur, Independence Day: Resurgence, Inferno, Keeping Up with the Joneses, The Bronze, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Me Before You, London Has Fallen, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, Why Him?.

Biggest Disappointments:

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Jason Bourne, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Concussion, Bad Neighbours 2, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, X-Men: Apocalypse, How to Be Single, Money Monster, Office Christmas Party, The BFG, War Dogs, Free State of Jones, Snowden, The Girl on the Train, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, The Accountant, Keanu, The Finest Hours, Jane Got a Gun, Ride Along 2, The Infiltrator, Pete’s Dragon, Allied, A Bigger Splash, Joe Cinque’s Consolation, Kung Fu Panda 3, Trumbo, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

Reshoot & Rewind’s Top 10 Movies for 2016


2016 was a year shrouded in darkness. We faced Donald Trump’s presidential run and eventual win, Brexit’s rise to prominence, natural disasters and a slew of major celebrity deaths. In addition, cinema from across the globe had a year we would like to forget. The majority of the comedies, blockbusters and most-anticipated entries were met with a collective shrug. It seemed there was no light at the end of the tunnel. Thank God it is over!

However, this year’s gems lay below the surface. Independent cinema and high-profile dramas became part of a mini-renaissance. Oscar contenders including Room, Spotlight, Carol, Steve Jobs and The Hateful Eight launched 2016 in a positive direction. Musicals including La La Land, Moana and Sing Street put a spring in our steps and flutters in our hearts. Animated features Zootopia, Kubo and the Two Strings and Finding Dory received glowing reviews. Meanwhile, action flicks like Captain America: Civil War, Star Trek: Beyond, and Deepwater Horizon gave us hope.

This list pulls together the best of the best (from my point of view, of course). My picks are based on cinema experience, genuine enjoyment factor and overall quality. In a divisive year overall, these films stood above and beyond the competition to make decent critical and commercial responses.

lead_96010. Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water provides a glimmer of hope that the western genre can stay relevant for years to come. The movie sees two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) robbing banks throughout middle-of-nowhere America to stake their claim over their deceased mother’s patch of land. This western-drama was significantly more exciting and meaningful than most (if not all) of 2016’s blockbuster fare. Its gritty aesthetic and bleak outlook on the future combine with aplomb. Director David Mackenzie and writer Taylor Sheridan come together to develop a tough, morally-ambiguous and compelling look at middle America in the midst of tough economic and social times.

maxresdefault9. The Nice Guys

Writer/director Shane Black, fresh off of Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise viagra Iron Man 3, comes back home with fun and enlightening and tough neo-noir/buddy-cop entry The Nice Guys. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling portray bumbling and cynical private investigators assigned to the same investigation. Their journey then turns into a bright, wondrous miasma of twists and turns. Despite a silly plot, the movie thrives thanks to Black’s imaginative style and snarky attitude. Every line of dialogue progresses the plot and adds depth to each character. In addition, his use of colour and lighting fits the time period. Crowe and Gosling are worth the admission cost alone.

8. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

1200Hunt for the Wilderpeople, undoubtedly, proves New Zealand has one of the most unique and intelligent cinema industries working today. This action-comedy follows a juvenile delinquent’s move from the inner city to lush, green farmland. Forced into a faux-family situation, he becomes accustomed to his new foster parents before heading off on a grand adventure. Writer/director Taika Waititi (Boy, What We Do In the Shadows) brings his fun, vibrant brand of humour to the table. Julian Dennison shines as the aforementioned minor forced between a rock and a hard place. His story aptly highlights the transition from reluctant anti-hero to optimistic youngster. Sam Neill also entertains as the old, crotchety foster dad along for the ride.

7. Captain America: Civil War 

captain-america-civil-warCaptain America: Civil War illustrated the ambitiousness and brute strength of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The 13th MCU installment sees Captain America and Iron Man divide our favourite superheroes into two distinctive factions. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo develop two evenly matched sides with important things to say about the core themes. In addition, their action sequences are top notch. The airport and hallway smackdowns will go down in history as instant classics. In addition, the ending throws our likeable band of characters up in the air. More importantly, this installment easily eclipsed similar fare including Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad and X-Men: Apocalypse.

6. Chasing Asylum

7470054-4x3-700x525Chasing Asylum delves into the darkest depths of Australian foreign policy and refugee statuses. The movie provides unrequited access to some of the country’s most controversial and secretive offshore processing centres. Producer and director Eva Orner delivers never-before-seen footage, covering everything from refugee mistreatment to security negligence. More impressively, she finds and uncovers a slew of whistle-blowers and experts to speak out about the issue. The movie, of course, despises the Liberal and Labor Governments’ decisions over the past 15 years. However, Orner and co. refuse to condemn anyone in particular. Chasing Asylum covers the biggest and smallest details to create a harrowing portrait of said monstrous issue.

5. La La Land

19212016121340pm1Writer/director Damien Chazelle, at the tender age of 31, has already directed two high-profile features securing Oscar consideration. Following up sublime 2014 drama Whiplash, Chazelle delivers a fun, bright ode to the history of Hollywood cinema. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling re-team for the tale of a struggling actress/writer and jazz musician coming together and falling apart spectacularly. The movie plays out in two halves. First off, our leads begin a prosperous relationship to the tune of sunshine and optimism. However, the eventual decline is equally thrilling and resonant. Several musical numbers – including ‘Another Day of Sun’ and ‘City of Stars’ – become earworms worthy of multiple listens.

4. Hacksaw Ridge

andrew-garfield-hacksaw-ridgeTo quote South Park: “Say what you want about Mel Gibson, the son of a bitch knows story structure”. The controversial actor/director returns with Hacksaw Ridge, chronicling history, religion, and courage with verve. Andrew Garfield shines as Private Desmond Doss, a soldier in World War II who never picked up a gun. The movie covers every important detail of Doss’s extraordinary journey. His romance, conflicts with military personnel during training and eventual battlefield heroics are captured effortlessly by Gibson and co. With something to say and even more to do, Hacksaw Ridge proves war movies are still as prevalent and entertaining as ever. Sublime supporting performances by Vince Vaughn and Sam Worthington round out this harrowing epic.

3. Nocturnal Animals

nocturnal-animalsWriter/director/high-end fashion designer Tom Ford returns to filmmaking, after critically-acclaimed first feature A Single Man, with raw psychological-thriller Nocturnal Animals. Amy Adams, fresh off Arrival and Batman v. Superman this year, plays an art gallery curator tired of her boring, flat existence. Struggling to maintain her business and marriage, she dives head-long into her ex’s latest manuscript. This is only one part of the movie. The movie soon turns into a nasty, gritty revenge tale. Jake Gyllenhaal pulling out all the stops as a victim turned vigilante. Ford’s sublime direction extends to the performances, visual style and overtones. Thanks to his unique eye, each frame is coated in glorious colours and patterns throughout.

2. Arrival

arrival1The majority of alien-invasion movies either resemble loud disaster epics (Independence Day) or bright, fun fantasy flicks (ET: The Extra Terrestrial). Arrival is a new, thought-provoking and inspiring brand of Hollywood feature. Amy Adams (having a cracking 2016) plays a noteworthy linguist assigned to a top-secret military outpost to communicate with the inhabitants of an alien spaceship hovering above the ground. The story, characters, effects and themes combine effortlessly throughout Arrival. The movie lives and dies on Adams’ character, forcing herself into trouble to assist herself, her colleagues and humanity. Director Denis Villeneuve’s bleak, atmospheric style separates him from the majority of blockbuster filmmakers. The movie’s questions leave room for intense discussion from audiences the world over.

1. Spotlight

spotlight-movieDocudrama Spotlight overcame The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road and a slew of other acclaim-worthy competitors to win the Academy Award for Best Picture earlier this year. Writer/director Tom McCarthy delivers a grueling and truly satisfying look at one of the world’s most prominent professions. The story chronicles the Boston Globe’s investigation into a slew of sexual misconduct cases involving the Catholic Church throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. The movie dives into an uncomfortable topic with class and textbook precision. McCarthy’s subdued style looks at the meat-and-potatoes of newspaper journalism in an era of immense transition. Most importantly, performers including Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and Liev Schreiber perfectly portray these true-life superheroes. Spotlight is essential viewing.

Honourable mentions:

The Edge of Seventeen, Deepwater Horizon, The Witch, Don’t Breathe, Sing Street, Star Trek: Beyond, Goldstone, Everybody Wants Some!!, Steve Jobs, The Founder, Midnight Special, Zootopia, Miles Ahead, The End of the Tour, Room, Brooklyn, Carol, The Hateful Eight, SullyEye in the Sky, Weiner, Moana.

Pleasant surprises:

Rogue One: A Star Wars StoryFinding DoryThe Magnificent Seven, Bad Moms, Central Intelligence, Where To Invade NextThe Conjuring 2, Bastille Day, The Jungle Book, 10 Cloverfield LaneThe Legend of Barney Thomson, The Big Short, Green Room, Eddie the Eagle, Deadpool, Doctor Strange, Hail Caesar!, Triple 9, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Barbershop: The Next Cut, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, The Shallows, The Purge: Election Year, The Light Between Oceans, Ghostbusters, Blood Father, The Daughter, Anomalisa, Looking for Grace, The Revenant, Sisters.

Why I’m not on-board the Redmayne Train


It is easy to confuse three of Great Britain’s best actors working today – Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne. Cumberbatch, thanks to everything from Doctor Strange to 12 Years a Slave, has developed a sterling reputation. His weird and wonderful performances showed off a bright personality. Indeed, over the past few years, the actor has starred in almost everything. Along with his star-making turn on Saturday Night Live last month, the performer has stepped out of his heroes’ shadows and become a solid A-lister.

Hiddleston is a multi-talented performer and all-around jokester. Like Cumberbatch, Hiddleston’s internet fame relies on gifs and memes. His turns as Loki in the Avengers flicks, along with numerous independent flicks and out-there character-dramas, have also assisted the British Thespian. Admirably, Hiddleston and Cumberbatch have extended their talents to London’s West End (whenever they get time off from tinseltown).

Redmayne, on paper, has yielded critical and commercial acclaim. Statistically speaking, very few actors ever have had everlasting success in Hollywood. He deserves praise for achieving what so many try at and fail to accomplish. However, does he deserve it? On the one hand, his earlier performances in My Week With Marilyn and Les Miserables are noteworthy. The performer once turned seemingly indistinguishable characters into charming rogues.

In those performances, his off-screen charm came to the fore. On the Graham Norton/late night show format, Redmayne provides (coasts by on) a fresh smile and cute stories about his career. More often than not, his appearances are worth tuning in to. He also engages with the other guests better than most seasoned A-listers do. His Graham Norton Show appearances alongside the likes of Jennifer lawrence and Bryan Cranston make for series highlights.

So, what is going wrong on screen? For one, he is continually sidelined with woeful material. On paper, Jupiter Ascending, Fantastic Beasts, The Theory of Everything and The Danish Girl are interesting choices. In execution, they all suck. In his defense, even the best actors could not save those particular projects from their woeful direction and messy scripting. Maybe it’s his agent’s fault after all…

The four aforementioned stinkers have turned me away from Redmayne as a performer. Jupiter Ascending is, of course, an inconsequential mess of biblical proportions. The Wachowski siblings have only deliver one worthwhile movie (The Matrix…17 years ago). Since then, their pride and ambition have continually tripped them up. Jupiter Ascending is the worst of the bunch. Redmayne’s tiresome performance sums it up – laughable and over-the-top without purpose. Taking a turn into villainy, Redmayne makes (theoretically) interesting choices. Some lines are whispered, others are screamed in a high-pitched wail. His waspish, wimpy persona makes for a stereotypical Gary Oldman-villain turn without anything going on beneath the surface.

Of course, The Theory of Everything placed him directly in the spotlight. He picked up the Oscar for Best Actor and never looked back, leaving Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) star Michael Keaton without that elusive golden statue. As you could probably guess, I believe Keaton should have won it that year. Keaton poured his soul into that performance – expertly playing a washed-up, over-the-hill performer with one more breath left to give. Despite the mixed reception to the movie, everyone praised Keaton’s magnetic performance and return to A-list status. Of course, typical docudrama/Oscar bait saw Theory of Everything‘s star cross the line first.

The Danish Girl was even more egregious and disastrous than the latter movies. Director Tom Hooper, fresh off overrated misfire The King’s Speech and slightly-better Les Miserables, wanted to grab another golden statues with both hands. He failed spectacularly. In this case, Redmayne is underserved, nay obliterated, by Hooper’s annoying direction and the screenplay’s pure sappiness. Redmayne is thrown into a wholly underwritten role. Playing a transgender, true-life figure, his role and performance should have knocked it out of the park. However, the IT-actor is left to give an array of over-the-top flourishes.

Of course, Redmayne is a rich, acclaimed actor working on his own career and life. Hollywood is certainly a treacherous stretch of terrain for everyone, and he seems to be handling fame well. Future projects may indeed give Redmayne his first 100% beloved performance. However, he is currently walking a tightrope between sensitivity and a sub-par Hugh Grant impression. For now, we’re left to fear what franchise or hot property he will be involved in next.

Arrival Review: Inner space


Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writer: Eric Heisserer (screenplay), Ted Chiang (short story)

Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg

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Release date: November 10th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 116 minutes


4½/5

Best part: Adams’ compelling performance.

Worst part: Some dodgy CGI.

In Hollywood, aliens typically come in two forms. Sometimes, they are tentacled monsters hell-bent on obliterating humanity (Predator). Other times, they remind us about peace and love (ET: The Extra Terrestrial). The movies either resemble popcorn-fuelled blockbusters or more calming fare. Arrival undoubtedly falls into the latter category.

Arrival leaps away from stereotypical alien-invasion material. The movie, vying for critics’ recognition over box-office dollars, is worth the largest audience imaginable. It’s worth extended hours of discussion and contemplation. The plot follows university linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) stranded in the present. crushed by her daughter’s loss and ex-husband’s neglect, her cynicism reaches breaking point. However, on a seemingly normal day, twelve extraterrestrial spaceships hover over key sites around the world. Nicknamed ‘shells’ by the US military, the ships do little besides open their doors every eighteen hours. Their reasons for landing are wholly unclear. Louise is recruited by US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to form a team to clarify the aliens’ intentions. Joined by theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), the team studies a shell hovering in Montana.

Besides 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow, viewers must travel back to the 1970s and 80s for a truly engaging and interesting invasion epic. Arrival resembles the type of cinematic masterpiece seldom replicated by filmmakers or seen by audiences today. Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario) and screenwriter Eric Heisserer grasp short story author Ted Chiang’s original material (Story of Your Life). The two deliver the year’s most thought-provoking blockbuster; a movie with enough to do and say simultaneously. Villeneuve and Heisserer’s shared vision immediately kicks into gear. The deliberate pacing and tone may deter wider audiences looking for shootouts and explosions. Here, conversation and action are equally important. The story explores the values of incisive decision-making and processing. Louise and Ian, continually entering the ship and contacting aliens ‘Abbott’ and ‘Costello’, craft a plan to understand the otherworldly language. Its professionals-doing-their-jobs narrative is utterly compelling.

Villeneuve’s atmospheric direction delivers some of 2016’s most compelling sequences. His version of time travel works wonders. Unlike similar fare (Interstellar), the leaps in time and space are never distracting. Louise, experiencing flashbacks to her daughter’s slow demise, sees a puzzle forming in her mind. By the third act, she compellingly connects the dots to find her way. The movie develops several well-rounded perspectives. Along with Louise and Ian’s glowing optimism, we see wise alien beings, careful military types (led by Weber and Agent Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg)), fearful, right-wing soldiers and foreign military prowess. Like his previous works, Villeneuve draws phenomenal performances from Hollywood élite. Adams, with this and Nocturnal Animals, earns serious Oscar contention as the movie’s heart and soul. Renner and Whitaker deliver likeable turns in smaller roles.

Villeneuve and co.’s vivacious approach separates it from all other 2016 blockbusters. Arrival is a bleak yet optimistic dissection of humanity. Right now, like the movie’s events, the world is on the brink of anarchy and despair. If there was ever a need for intelligent discussion, it is now.

Verdict: A groundbreaking journey.

The Light Between Oceans Review: By the sea


Director: Derek Cianfrance

Writers: Derek Cianfrance (screenplay), M. L. Stedman (novel)

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz, Bryan Brown

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Release date: November 2nd, 2016

Distributor: 132 minutes 

Countries: USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand

Running time: 132 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Fassbender and Vikander’s chemistry.

Worst part: The exhaustive run-time.

American writer-director Derek Cianfrance is one of Hollywood’s most idiosyncratic creative talents. His breakout hit, Blue Valentine, threw Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams into a nightmarish journey. His relentless style makes for limited repeat viewings. However, The Place Beyond the Pines is one of the past decade’s most underrated treasures.

Cianfrance turned said dark and gritty dramas into major talking points come Oscar time. Now, he returns with romantic-drama The Light Between Oceans. The plot fits with that of his earlier work. It follows introverted World War 1 veteran Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) travelling to a foreign land after dischargement. Sherbourne is hired as a lightkeeper for an isolated lighthouse on Janus Rock, off Western Australia’s South West coast. His physical isolation makes life difficult. He and local girl Isabel (Alicia Vikander) form a budding relationship during his brief periods on the mainland. The two, after marrying several years later, look to start a family and everlasting life together on the island. Of course, what goes up must come down.

Hollywood romantic-dramas range from sweet and playful to downright soggy. The Light Between Oceans, based on acclaimed author M. L. Stedman’s best-seller, provides its workhorse writer-director with plenty to chew on. Cianfrance’s screenplay develops two wholly fascinating lead characters. He paints a detailed portrait of Sherbourne’s physical and emotional torment. His narration reveals every major and minute shade. With each high and low, Cianfrance strands us by Sherbourne’s side. Sherbourne, planning to leave for another endeavour, is continually interrupted by fate. The audience and Sherbourne are immersed in windy nights, gorgeous sunsets and sadness. Fortunately, before becoming dour, the movie shifts focus to Tom and Isabel’s relationship. Like his other films, Cianfrance seamlessly combines fantasy and reality. Their journey feels wholly authentic. The discomfort reaches critical levels after Isabel’s second miscarriage in just three years.

Cianfrance delivers an old-fashioned story with world-class execution. Before the tone plummets even further, The Light Between Oceans takes several interesting turns. After multiple tragedies, Tom and Isabel discover a dead man and live baby floating off shore in a dinghy. Compassion pushes them to break legal and ethical boundaries. Morals are questioned after the dead man’s wife/baby’s real mother Hannah (Rachel Weisz) comes into frame. Like David Lean’s works, whole sequences explore character and scenery over plot and pacing. Cianfrance develops Tom and Isabel’s points of view. Whereas Tom sticks by honour and truth, Isabel sees the baby’s arrival as inspiration. Sadly, the movie’s 132-minute running time hinders everything. By the third act, the romantic interludes and mournful exchanges are overbearing. Nevertheless, Fassbender and Vikander’s connection, leading to a real-life romance, is palpable. More so, cinematographer Adam Arkapaw effortlessly captures the picturesque coastal setting.

The Light Between Oceans illustrates Cianfrance’s obsession with character, story and scenery. The cast and crew ride the material’s soaring highs and crushing lows. However, this tearjerker may strictly be for older audiences.

Verdict: A sweet romantic-drama.

Hacksaw Ridge Review: In good faith


Director: Mel Gibson

Writers: Andrew Knight, Robert Schenkkan

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Teresa Palmer

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Release date: November 3rd, 2016

Distributor: Summit Entertainment, Icon Film Distribution

Countries: USA, Australia

Running time: 131 minutes


4½/5

Best part: The battle sequences.

Worst part: The CGI vistas.

Over the past decade, actor, director and trainwreck Mel Gibson has had massive highs and lows. His homophobic/sexist/racist/anti-semitic comments and unapologetic attitude destroyed his reputation. However, to quote South Park: “Say what you want about Mel Gibson, the son of a bitch knows story structure”. The controversy magnet is back in the spotlight with war-drama Hacksaw Ridge.

The once-great leading man was the king of 1990s and 2000s action-drama. 1995 Best Picture winner Braveheart, adding to his preceding successes, paved the way for A-list actor/directors like Ben Affleck, George Clooney and Jodie Foster. His other directorial efforts, Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto, were also major talking points. Hacksaw Ridge a necessary jolt of adrenaline for Gibson’s career. This war-drama covers a shocking true story. Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), after a violent incident involving brother Hal years earlier, lives a peaceful life in Lynchburg, Virginia. Desmond and Hal’s father Tom (Hugo Weaving) is haunted by World War I. The boys’ religious Mother Bertha (Rachel Griffiths) bares Tom’s wrath. The boys, much to their parents’ disdain, enlist to fight in WWII. Desmond falls for local nurse Dorothy (Teresa Palmer) before being shipped off for military service.

Hacksaw Ridge develops multiple unique and intriguing identities. Screenwriters Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan provide solid groundwork for Gibson and the cast. The narrative itself is split down the middle. The first half develops Desmond as both lover and fighter. Gibson depicts Des’s home life with short, heart-wrenching moments. Des, essentially, is middle America’s more content side. Whereas Hal jumps at the opportunity to leave, Des contemplates everything and everyone before making fateful choices. His relationship with Tom is utterly necessary. That all-important decision – whether to join up with his comrades or leave other young Americans to fight – defines their dynamic. Our hero (despite being your average white, religious young protagonist) is never cloying or irritating. He is a blank canvas for everyone to project their views onto. Unlike many Hollywood-ised war-dramas, Des and Dorothy’s budding romance never jars with the tone.

After the brisk first half, Hacksaw Ridge takes swift turns throughout the second. Gibson and co. keep the politically-and-socially-charged fires burning. Throughout basic training, Des’s religious, anti-violent beliefs – as a conscientious objector following the Sixth Commandment of the Old Testament – rustle many feathers. In particular, Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Captain Jack Glover (Sam Worthington) seek to eject him on psychiatric grounds. Gibson’s handling of tension and drama is sublime. He gives each party their due whilst fleshing out Des’s training and court proceedings effectively. Also, interactions between Desmond and fellow soldiers are tightly wound. The movie soars during its Battle of Okinawa recreations. Each set-piece is shockingly violent, throwing buckets of blood and guts in our faces. Within seconds, machine gun fire and grenades obliterate whole battalions. Gibson fills every frame with stunning practical effects and stunt work.

Overshadowing 2016’s slew of bland blockbusters, Hacksaw Ridge provides genuine chills and thrills. Gibson is let off the leash here. Thanks to his command, the drama, comedic moments and action never distort one another. Indeed, his cast and crew bring their A-game to every scene. This could win big come Oscar time.

Verdict: A triumphant war-drama.

The Accountant Review: Crystal math


Director: Gavin O’Connor

Writer: Bill Dubuque

Stars: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J. K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal

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Release date: November 3rd, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 128 minutes


3/5

Best part: Affleck’s subdued performance.

Worst part: The third-act plot-twists.

The Accountant is the latest in the never-ending line of middle-budget action flicks. It – Like John Wick, Jason Bourne and Jack Reacher – lives in bigger-budget movies(superhero flicks, space-operas etc.)’s shadows. At best, they deliver cheerful call-backs to 1980s/90s action-thrillers. At worst, they seem cheap and desperate. This year’s Bourne and Reacher franchise extenders resemble the latter.

The Accountant, unlike Jason Bourne and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, is still a good movie. The marketing and movie itself revel in A-lister/talented filmmaker Ben Affleck’s renaissance. This is his second action-hero/intelligent savant role for 2016 after Bruce Wayne/Batman. Of course, despite the flaws, this is Citizen Kane next to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. It follows highly functioning autistic and small-town accountant Christian Wolff (Affleck). Head of strip-mall firm ZZZ Accounting, he lives a secluded existence in suburban Illinois by day. By night, he un-cooks the books for assassins, drug cartels, money launderers etc. His latest mission may be his most puzzling. Living Robotics’ accountant Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) finds irregularities in the company’s finances. Wolff monitors executives Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow), Rita (Jean Smart), and Ed (Andy Umberger).

The Accountant is the busiest and most complex of 2016’s action-thrillers. The central plot-thread is difficult to crack or even explain. Bill Dubuque(The Judge)’s screenplay throws together lists of names, dates and figures associated with said fictional company. In the second act, as the whodunit mystery unfolds, the scripts opts for confusing jargon over clear explanations. More so, the financial-decoding is never cinematically appealing. Even Dubuque loses interest, adding multiple plot-strands and characters around it. On top of said industrial espionage, the script includes a buddy-cop sub-plot led by Treasury Department director of financial crimes Raymond King(J. K. Simmons). His story-line – blackmailing analyst Marybeth (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) into tracking down Wolff – leads nowhere. Meanwhile, an assassin (Jon Bernthal) is hired to dispose of Wolff. The eight-movies-at-once feel hinders an otherwise engaging premise.

The Accountant, although not succumbing to blockbuster fatigue, still feels dated and formulaic. Along with said meandering subplots, director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior, Jane Got A Gun) wrestles with flashbacks to Wolff’s childhood and dealings with jailed accountant/fixer Francis Silverberg (Jeffrey Tambor). By the third act, O’Connor struggles to pull everything and everyone together. Plot-holes emerge as the set-pieces and revelations kick in. However, like with Warrior, O’Connor’s rustic, gritty aesthetic pays off. His peculiar camera angles and movements provide nuance, while the action sequences are fearsome. Thanks to Affleck’s committed performance, the autism spectrum disorder angle never feels forced. The character’s professional and personal lives are well fleshed out. The movie’s stacked cast give unique turns in generic roles. Bernthal, deliciously over the top here, is the breakout star.

The Accountant, like many of 2016’s blockbusters, delivers maximum potential and mixed execution. O’Connor and his cast enthusiastically grapple with the material. However, 128 minutes is simply too long for this story.

Verdict: A diverting action-drama.

Hell or High Water Review: High Plains Drifters


Director: David Mackenzie

Writer: Taylor Sheridan

Stars: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham

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Release date: October 27th, 2016

Distributor: CBS Films, Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes


4/5

Best part: Pine and Foster’s chemistry.

Worst part: The two-dimensional female characters.

The western has experienced several overwhelming highs and lows. In Hollywood, the genre thrived on manliness and simplicity. Later on, it turned to existentialism and revisionism to illustrate its points. More than any other genre, western fiction reflects fact. Hell or High Water is only one shade away from reality.

Hell or High Water is a rare gem: a 21st-century western. 2016 has delivered a couple to mixed success. The Magnificent Seven was a fun but flawed action extravaganza. However, Jane Got A Gun threw its prominent director and cast under a stagecoach. This movie’s promotional material seemed entirely samey. The independent-drama feel marked it as ‘yet another’ straight-to-Netflix project. Indeed, Chris Pine’s Star Trek Beyond paycheque is probably worth double the budget. It follows brothers Toby (Pine) and Tanner(Ben Foster)’s pitiful existences in middle-of-nowhere Texas. Toby, a divorced dad, lived with their mother throughout her fatal illness. Tanner, fresh off a ten-year prison sentence, always finds trouble. With the house in reverse mortgage, the two must find cash before Texas Midlands Bank carries out foreclosure.

Hell or High Water immediately launches into the action. Rather than building to it over the first act, writer Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) hurls us into their first bank robbery. His script is an ode to good ol’ Hollywood’s western/crime filmmaking style. Here, unlike with most heist set-pieces, everyone acts and reacts like real people. Hilariously, their first robbery is almost bungled by poor timing and preparation. Like classic western/gangster flicks, the movie evenly develops the cops and robbers. In reality, Toby and Tanner’s actions are despicable. Here, however, they are rebels with a cause. Toby, discovering the family’s land has struck oil, pushes to support his ex-wife and kids. Tanner, with nothing better to do, simply wants to help. Of course, Texas rangers Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Brimingham) view the brothers’ antics as detrimental. Dutifully, Sheridan never makes us side with either party. His approach unveils both parties’ wants and needs throughout a tight cat-and-mouse game.

The movie’s fusion of western, crime-drama and heist-thriller elements flows. It handles several conventions (the ranger close to retirement, the partner with a target on their head, the criminals fighting against the system etc.) with slight twists. Playing with Sheridan’s sparkling dialogue, director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) could be Hollywood’s next talent goldmine. His style balances dark-and-gritty and enjoyably comedic. Thanks to the talented ensemble (in front of and behind the camera), each scene delivers intensifying moments. Whenever the brothers’ quarrels reach critical mass, Bridges comes along with a witty retort. However, its few female characters resemble nagging ex-wifes, one night stands, and sassy waitresses. Mackenzie and cinematographer Giles Nuttgens capture an unenviable plethora of one-horse towns and indian casinos. Furthermore, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ score is nightmarish yet addictive.

Hell or High Water delivers more substance, thrills and laughs than most of 2016’s major releases combined. The marriage of cast and crew works wonders. Pine, Foster and Bridges showcase leading-man charisma and character-actor class simultaneously. This throwback proves some still make films the way Hollywood used to.

Verdict: A tight western-thriller.

Doctor Strange Review: Cosmic craziness


Director: Scott Derrickson

Writers: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill

Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton

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Release date: October 27th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA 

Running time: 115 minutes


3½/5

Best part: The energetic performances.

Worst part: Another weak MCU villain.

Unquestionably, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is an unstoppable machine. Disney won big after purchasing the comic book/movie juggernaut. Since the series’ humble beginnings, with 2008’s Iron Man, Disney and co. have delivered mini-franchises, spin-offs and origin stories without quit.

Doctor Strange is the latest B/C-list character – following Iron Man, Ant-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy etc. – to receive a breakout blockbuster. The opportunity gives Marvel characters new time in the spotlight. The franchise’s latest adventure delivers yet another major superhero origin. We meet egotistical neurosurgeon Dr. Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) conducting a miracle procedure. The award-winning, super-rich professional places reputation ahead of connection. On his way to a presentation, Strange is mangled in a horrific car accident. Nerve damage prevents Dr. Strange from continuing his life’s work. He heads to Nepal, convinced the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), and secret compound Kamar-Taj, can cure him. Whilst working alongside side-mentor Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and librarian Wong (Benedict Wong), Strange meets dark-magic-afflicted former student Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen).

After 14 installments, the MCU formula is more pronounced than ever. Almost all of them feature a cocky hero brought down by a tragic experience, re-building themselves with money and powers, encountering a plucky love interest, finding the villain/s responsible and destroying the world-ending/blue-beam-in-the-sky threat. Doctor Strange follows said template to the letter. In fact, this one cherry picks specific elements from each movie. Like Iron Man, the first third develops our lead character as being super smart and even more unlikable. He can do anything: pick and choose intricate surgeries, bound around with a boisterous smile, list every song and its history etc. Director and co-writer Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Deliver Us From Evil), along with fellow writer C. Robert Cargill, expertly depict his rise and fall via heart-wrenching, somber montage.

Doctor Strange‘s multitude of realms and abilities is overwhelming. Derrickson and co. continually transition between origin story tropes, training montages and exposition. They revel in trippy dream sequences and flashbacks. However, the astral plane/mirror dimension sequences are jaw-dropping. As Strange delves deeper, Derrickson provides more time-and-space-bending set-pieces. The prologue provides a kick-ass introduction to MCU’s cosmic ether. The Ancient One and Kaecilius fragment London streets. From MC Esher city sequences to impressive production design, the movie truly reaches for the stars. Its A-list cast give nuanced performances in out-there roles. Cumberbatch is a welcome addition, down-playing every note with verve. Swinton and Ejiofor are charming in valuable roles. However, Mikkelsen is the latest white, middle-aged character-actor portraying a forgettable MCU villain.

Doctor Strange is a hyperkinetic and enjoyable MCU extender. Derrickson wrangles a starry cast, falls into line and fits Jon Favreau’s breezy tone. It provides enough nuances to stand out from the pack. However, this franchise might just have peaked with Captain America: Civil War.

Verdict: Another enjoyable MCU instalment.

 

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.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children Review: Bumbling Burton


Director: Tim Burton

Writers: Jane Goldman (screenplay), Ransom Riggs (novel)

Stars: Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Chris O’Dowd, Allison Janney

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Release date: September 29th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 127 minutes


2/5

Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

Snowden Review: Story half told


Director: Oliver Stone

Writers: Kieran Fitzgerald, Oliver Stone (screenplay), Luke Harding (book), Anatoly Kucherena (book)

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto

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Release date: September 22nd, 2016

Distributor: Open Road Films

Country: USA, Germany

Running time: 134 minutes


3/5

Best part: Levitt and Woodley’s chemistry.

Worst part: The sluggish pace.

There are many words to describe whistleblower Edward Snowden. Descriptors like patriot, terrorist, rebel, whistleblower and tyrant have been used by all manner of people. In spite of finger pointing and name calling, there is no doubt this is a fascinating tale. 2014’s Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour exposed the truth behind one of the 21st Century’s most alarming leaks of classified information.

As Citizenfour proved, the fiery debate over cyber-security, privacy and whistleblowing rages on. So, with the documentary and internet providing maximum information, what does docudrama Snowden do differently? Not much. We first meet Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) being kicked out of special forces for dodgy legs. A devastated young Snowden joins the CIA under Corbin O’Brian(Rhys Ifans)’s watchful eye. The computer genius rises up the ranks and delves further into the system. He finds the government and security agency NSA’s secrets. His discoveries affect his and long-term girlfriend Lindsay Mills(Shailene Woodley)’s relationship. Years later, he reaches out to documentarian Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen McAskill (Tom Wilkinson) for help.

Obviously, Snowden finds the dirty details, steals secrets then leaks them to the press before going into exile in Moscow, Russia. This ongoing story is far from reaching a peaceful conclusion. A better docudrama would have detailed the journey’s ethical, emotional and psychological toll. Sadly, like The Fifth Estate, Snowden becomes a straightforward, useless stunt. Unlike Citizenfour, or anything the internet would provide, its delivers little information about Snowden’s identity, job or life-changing events. Each sub-plot and conflict merely blurs together. Set to a sluggish 134-minute run-time, it shifts lackadaisically between life moments. Instead of building drama and dread, he moves between jobs and countries without any impact. For better or worse, the narrative explores the nitty-gritty of analyst/spy work (finding contacts, moving between outposts etc).

Oliver Stone is a veteran director out of his league. He began with jagged-edge thrillers (Wall Street, Natural Born Killers) and war-dramas (Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July). However, his last few (from Alexander through to Savages) have bitten the dust. Like the latter efforts, Snowden drags a top-notch premise and cast through the mud. Being one of Hollywood’s most opinionated filmmakers, Stone’s interest in Snowden seemed promising. However, his paranoia is almost laughable. The second act, when not languishing in Snowden and Lindsay’s relationship politics, delivers extended montages about cyber-security. His old-man-yells-at-cloud approach broadly targets the US Government, multi-million dollar corporations and those behind the scenes. Stone clumsily attempts to jazz up desk-jockey work and hacking with flashy visuals. Levitt and Woodley escape unscathed, delivering stellar impersonations of real-life counterparts.

Snowden had potential to tell a detailed story, bring Stone back from career suicide and showcase a quality cast. Instead, it’s a meandering, boilerplate procedural with little insight or even basic information. Stone’s out-of-touch direction and point of view deliver a snooze instead of a success.

Verdict: A wasted opportunity.

Pete’s Dragon Review: Flying High


Director: David Lowery

Writer: David Lowery, Toby Halbrooks (screenplay), Malcolm Marmorstein (novel)

Stars: Bryce Dallas Howard, Oakes Fegley, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban

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Release date: September 15th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country:USA

Running time: 102 minutes


3/5

Best part: The dragon.

Worst part: Urban’s kooky antagonist.

Disney is a cash cow, able to take serious risks without losing large sums. The company – cashing up on Marvel, Star Wars etc. – is handing remakes of 20th century animated gems to interesting, independent-minded filmmakers. Jon Favreau and Kenneth Branagh dived into The Jungle Book and Cinderella before. Pete’s Dragon is the heavyweight studio’s latest satisfactory experiment.

Pete’s Dragon is based on one of Disney’s most eclectic animated works. The original is a miasmic tale of a boy and his pet. It delves into strange places – leaving some viewers scratching their heads. This version is more straightforward but less interesting. It begins with Pete finding Elliot the Dragon by chance. The story jumps years ahead, and Pete (Oakes Fegley) is a child running, jumping and living alongside his magical friend. One day, Pete stumbles upon park ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) in the forest. After finding him and taking him in, Grace – along with her partner Jack (Wes Bentley), Jack’s daughter Natalie (Oona Lauence) and Grace’s father Meacham (Robert Redford) – learn more about Pete’s story and way of life. Jack’s brother Gavin (Karl Urban) has dastardly ideas for Elliot.

Like J. J. Abrams-helmed Super 8, Pete’s Dragon showcases Steven Spielberg’s long-lasting legacy and overall influence. This nostalgic fantasy-family epic lives and dies on director/co-writer David Lowery(Aint Them Bodies Saints)’s love of the classics. The opening scene encapsulates his style and storytelling prowess. This three-minute sequence is worth the admission cost. It glides through multiple emotions, a tragic event, our lead’s isolation and discovery of the big, green father figure. Indeed, the epilogue depicts love and loss effortlessly. Afterwards, the movie is fairly mundane. Lowery borrows every Spielberg convention (Spielberg face, country town charm, kids connecting with creatures and magic etc.) without quit. As other central characters come into play, the movie’s story and pace slow drastically.

The characters, of course, change from simple-minded to wide-eyed and adventurous as craziness occurs. However, none of them matter. Howard continues her run of underwritten characters flip-flopping between courageous and outrageous. Even her red hair and gorgeous looks cannot save her. Bentley is given less development as the concerned nice-guy. Redford’s charm pushes him through silly dialogue. Urban is given one of 2016’s most baffling characters; woefully switching between gruff redneck, hunting champion and slightly mentally challenged. Lowery spoon feeds his love of middle America. The twangy soundtrack and gleaming cinematography clumsily convey regional bliss.

Pete’s Dragon resembles every other 2016 blockbuster – easy on the eyes but hard to connect with. This year, this Spielberg admirer performed better than Spielberg himself. The cast perform admirably despite two dimensional, wacky material. The dragon himself is the runaway winner.

Verdict: A quaint family-adventure.

Blood Father Review: Mad Mel’s Mission


Director: Jean-Francois Richet

Writer: Peter Craig, Andrea Berloff

Stars: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, William H. Macy, Diego Luna

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Release date: August 31st, 2016

Distributor: SND Films

Country: France, USA

Running time: 88 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Gibson’s committed performance.

Worst part: The gangbanger villains.

2016 marks big, bad actor/director Mel Gibson’s shiny return to the big screen. Is it ok to accept the artist despite the controversies? Should we forgive and forget despite serious – and possibly unresolved – social problems? Whatever the case, Gibson is back with action-thriller Blood Father and directorial effort Hacksaw Ridge.

Blood Father kicks off with American war veteran and ex-hardened criminal turned convict John Link (Gibson) in a mediocre existence. Thanks to his parole officer’s orders, he is unable to drink, do drugs, or leave the state. Stuck in a dead-end tattoo business, housed in his caravan home, he longs to find his missing daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty). Lydia’s life goes from bad to worse. Influenced by her drug-running boyfriend Jonah (Diego Luna), she joins his assault on tenants occupying cartel-owned homes. After an accidental shooting, she runs off and meets up with Link. The cartel’s baddest are hot on their trail.

Obviously, Blood Father lacks the big-budget prowess of Gibson’s 1980s/90s hey day. The veteran performer can do ‘dark and gritty’ this in his sleep. Director Jean-Francois Richet (Public Enemy #1, the Assault on Precinct 13 remake) boils everything down to essential elements. This little known director tackles one of Hollywood’s best (watch Braveheart and Apocalypto for confirmation) and gets his way. His style provides Gibson some meat to chew on. The drama builds slowly throughout the first half. As Link and Lydia steadily come together, the story delves into their broken lives. Richet and co. revel in Link’s dour existence. As Link and Lydia team up, the man-on the-run thread lightens the tone. That slight elevation from depressing to gritty builds the excitement.

Make to mistake, this is comfort food cinema. The ‘heroes are bad, villains are worse’ plot works well here. While the violence raises the stakes. Peter Craig and Andrea Berloff’s script provides fun surprises and an off-beat sense of humor. Their witty one-liners and lean sarcasm balance the jarring tonal shifts. The opening scene is a highlight; laughing at America’s lackadaisical gun laws. Link’s friend Kirby (William H. Macy), on the surface, is an nice-guy/target archetype. However, the writers and Macy make us care. His nasty gags and protective nature are worthwhile attributes for an otherwise throwaway supporting character. Gibson is the stand out performer – proving he still has the charisma and ferocity to pull off meaningful roles. Moriarty, however, is somewhat bland.

Blood Father recalls Gibson’s action-movie good ol’ days. Discussing the icon’s past, present and future, it is much deeper than most may give it credit for. At the very least, it is worth at least one Saturday afternoon viewing on Netflix.

Verdict: A fun, lazy-afternoon watch.

Sully Review: Soaring Above


Director: Clint Eastwood

Writers: Todd Komarnicki (screenplay), Chesley Sullenberger, Jeffrey Zaslow (book)

Stars: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Laura Linney, Anna Gunn

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Release date: September 8th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 96 minutes


4/5

Best Part: Hanks’s reserved performance.

Worst part: The occasional flashbacks.

Two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks is a national acting treasure and all-around nice guy. Since the late 1980s, he has mastered roles of immense passion and of varying genres. His down-to-earth attitude and raw charm engage audiences across multiple generations. In an age of brand recognition over movie-star prowess, the 60-year-old still delivers results. His work in Sully is no exception.

Sully centres on a story about an American hero, told by an American hero whilst starring another American hero. Hanks teams up with Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood for this 21st Century tale of hope. It details the events before, during and after the famous ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ incident. On January 15th, 2009, Airline pilot Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger began his day at work like any other. He and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) boarded US Airways Flight 1549 from LaGuardia Airport, outside New York City, with ease. However, three minutes into the flight, a flock of geese tore apart both engines. Unable to make it back to LaGuardia or to any other airport, Sully and Skiles made a forced water landing on the freezing Hudson River and saved the 155 souls onboard. Witnessed by New York and the world, the rescue efforts included the pilots, cabin crew, passengers, ferry/coastguard crews and police.

Docudramas generally involve war, conflict, and heartache to create drama and begin discussion. So, how could anyone make a Hollywood feature out of said good news story? Sully resembles a detailed and fascinating piece of investigative journalism. Eastwood and screenwriter Todd Komarnicki, adapting Sullenberger and Jeffrey Zaslow’s book about the event, capture the biggest and smallest details. The pair raise the tension and stakes with every new detail. Eastwood’s directorial filmography includes several hits and misses. The 86-year-old filmmaker and outspoken Republican puts everything aside for ol’ fashioned authenticity. His previous directorial efforts, from docudramas (Letters From Iwo Jima, J. Edgar) or character pieces (Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino), steadily portray the ins and outs, from go to woe. Here, he crafts a peculiar non-linear sequence with painstaking intensity.

The opening scene is a twisted dream sequence. Setting the audience on edge, the scene hurls us into the hero’s inner turmoil. It leaps between the incident, Sully’s loneliness, the air crash/insurance investigation, his wife back home (Lorraine (Laura Linney)) and flashbacks. Sully could have been a long and meandering mess preying on basement-level fears. However, the movie sways gently between intensifying dread and hope against the odds. Eastwood and co. present the incident itself from multiple points of view (a mother and daughter, golfers late for the fight etc.). The entire set piece makes for, arguably, the year’s best movie moments. This flawless recreation proves truth really is stranger than fiction. Hanks may get his latest Oscar nomination. Prone to playing nice guys and real-life heroes, the legend provides raw passion and cutting humour.

Sully showcases some of Hollywood’s best in fine form. Eastwood’s silky-smooth direction pays off tremendously. Meanwhile, Hanks and Eckhart bounce off one another with ease. Like its titular hero, the movie is a tough, powerful and interesting ode to human spirit.

Verdict: Heroes talking about heroes.

Don’t Breathe Review: Dance in the Dark


Director: Fede Alvarez

Writers: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues

Stars: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang

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Release date: September 1st, 2016

Distributors: Screen Gems, Stage 6 Films

Country: USA

Running time: 88 minutes


4/5

Best part: The cinematography.

Worst part: Daniel Zovatto’s character.

2016 is the year of bottle-film/horror-thrillers. Movies like 10 Cloverfield Lane, Green Room and Don’t Breathe feature helpless people, trapped in small spaces by complete psychopaths. Of course, the drama relies on their repeated attempts to escape. This peculiar resurgence delivers the goods. Don’t Breathe, although not the best of them, makes for an exhilarating 88 minutes.

Don’t Breathe is more thrilling and fun than most of 2016’s blockbusters. Maybe, the lack of expectations helps smaller-budget/independent features become more fulfilling experiences. This horror-thriller kicks off with three criminals – Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto). The trio burgle high-end residences secured by Alex’s father’s security company. Saving up to leave Detroit for Los Angeles, they get word of a one-last-heist opportunity. The three track down a blind war veteran (Stephen Lang) said to have $300,000 in his home in an abandoned neighbourhood. The man, whose daughter died in a car accident, was supposedly paid off by the culprit’s family. Obviously, the mission does not go smoothly. Upon entering the house, they discover the blind man’s taste for murder.

Writer/director Fede Alvarez (the Evil Dead remake) delivers a gruelling and tightly wound horror-thriller from frame one. Don’t Breathe subverts every overplayed horror-thriller trope. The blind man’s house, although filled with darkened crevasses, features minimal jump scares. He and cinematographer Pedro Luque veer away from shaking cameras or gratuitous clichés. Its set pieces throw young, spritely protagonists against a formidable villain and a vicious rottweiler. The infra-red sequence provides plenty of edge-of-your-seat thrills. Like Panic Room, the situation, characters and plot collide without excessive violence or gore. However, due to the second half’s disturbing plot twists, it turns from David Fincher thriller to Park Chan Wook stomach-churner.

He, alongside screenwriter Rodo Sayagues, focuses on character and story depth. Although similar to many anti-heroes, its three leads are fully developed from the opening scene. In reality, they are purely despicable. Here, their code of ethics and goals make sense. The first heist sequence, with limited dialogue, establishes their rules (not stealing over $10,000, making it look authentic etc.). After entering the blind man’s realm, the movie’s tension and stakes spike drastically. Although depicted in the trailer, Money’s brutal death makes for a crucial scene. The cast throw themselves into ostensibly schlocky material. Levy and Minnette are two of Hollywood’s most dynamic young actors. Lang, known as Avatar‘s scarred-up baddie, is a force of nature. Sadly, Zovatto’s gangbanger stereotype does not work.

Don’t Breathe – beyond creating #turkeybaster – is one of 2016’s most visceral cinematic experiences. Alvarez deserves the leap from indies to blockbusters. His relentless style and screenwriting touches flip genres on their heads.

Verdict: A tight horror-thriller.

The Infiltrator Review: Bryan the Boss


Director: Brad Furman

Writers: Ellen Brown Furman (screenplay), Robert Mazur (book)

Stars: Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Benjamin Bratt, Diane Kruger

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Release date: August 25th, 2016

Distributor: Broad Green Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 127 minutes


3/5

Review: The Infiltrator

 

Free State of Jones Review: Captain Confederacy – Civil War


Director: Gary Ross

Writer: Gary Ross

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, Keri Russell

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Release date: August 25th, 2016

Distributor: STX Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 140 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Matthew McConaughey.

Worst part: The courtroom-drama sub-plot.

No other Hollywood A-lister has experienced more critical and commercial ebbs and flows than Matthew McConaughey. The man’s man went from dumb action flick/romantic-comedy lead to crime-drama superstar. True Detective Season 1, Killer Joe, Magic Mike, Wolf of Wall Street and Dallas Buyers Club showcase his range and commitment. Free State of Jones continues the McConnaissance’s post-Oscar run.

Like Interstellar and Sea of Trees, Free State of Jones is sure to divide critics. Based on an inspiring true story, it’s another docudrama more necessary than worthwhile. The plot chronicles the timeline of events in Jones County, Mississippi during the American Civil War and following years. As a Confederate Army battlefield medic during the 1862 Battle of Corinth, Newton Knight (McConaughey) becomes desensitised by bloodshed and chaos. The former farmer snaps after his nephew Daniel’s death. He defects and returns to his homestead and wife Serena (Keri Russell) before befriending slave girl Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).

The best docudramas explore one part of a famous person’s life, expanding upon their social and cultural relevance. The worst ones, however, stretch from birth to death. The latter approach makes Free State of Jones one of 2016’s biggest disappointments. Based on two major texts, its reach well exceeds its grasp. Sure, writer-director Gary Ross’s pet project has good intentions. Stories about Civil War history, important historical figures, slavery in America and American politics resonate with wide audiences. This one is a high school student’s ultimate cure for insomnia. Ross captures enough material for a HBO mini-series. The plot takes multiple turns after Knight’s return home. He, seeing poor men fighting a rich man’s conflict, plans revenge on his former army. He, fellow defectors and runaway slaves take down Confederacy taxation agents and give back to local farmers. As a mix of Defiance and Glory, the first half is peaks the interest levels.

However, the second half features several underdeveloped subplots ripe for parody. The three-way romance – between Knight, the slave, and his frustrated wife – is worth its own movie. Worse still, the courtroom scenes – chronicling Knight’s ancestor fighting for rights in the 1950s – adds nothing to the narrative. The Ross packs in an exorbitant array of dot points including the Ku Klux Klan’s formation, freedom and voting rights for slaves, the Census etc. His stylistic choices merely pad out the running time. Title cards, delivered every 10 minutes, halt proceedings to display real-life footage and paragraphs’ worth of text. However, the battle scenes unleash an eye for period detail and unflinching violence. The performances also shine. McConaughey, bouncing off quality character-actors, is a charismatic force.

Free State of Jones is an example of potential ruined by execution. Stuck between gargantuan historical epic and TV mini-series, it contains too much and too little. McConaughey still gets away Scot-free. 

Verdict: Disappointing but worth watching.

Ben-Hur Review: Sword and Sorrow


Director: Timur Bekmambetov

Writers: Keith Clarke, John Ridley

Stars: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Morgan Freeman, Nazanin Boniadi

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Release date: August 25th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Country: USA

Running time: 123 minutes


2/5

Best part: The chariot race.

Worst part: The sluggish pace.

Hollywood has latched onto organised-religion crowds for greater box-office returns. Movies including God’s Not Dead, although strange to most, appeal to a large segment of the population. Tinseltown’s most talented are also getting on board, with Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings also aiming for that market. 2016’s Ben-Hur remake may single-handedly destroy this trend.

Actually, this is not the first ever Ben-Hur remake. The William Wyler-directed 1959 version is the quintessential version. The huge budget, Charlton Heston’s vigour, chariot race and epic scope helped it score 11 Academy Awards and become an instant classic. Surprisingly, there were multiple Ben-Hurs in the early 20th Century. This version never strays from convention. Here, Jewish nobleman Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and adoptive Roman brother Messala (Toby Kebbell) grow up together in Jerusalem’s higher class. Messala, despite his affections for Tirzah (Sofia Black D’Elia), feels alienated by matriarch Naomi (Ayelet Zurer) and the family’s faith. After his enlistment and time in the Roman Army, he returns to warn Ben-Hur of oncoming threats. From there, the two butt heads and become fearsome foes.

The 1959 hit influenced Gladiator and sword-and-sandal epic in between. This Ben-Hur begs the question – Why now? No matter what the studio, cast, creatives etc. created, nothing would have eclipsed the 1959 version’s quality, exhaustive length, touching religious commentary and revolutionary tricks. Writers Keith Clarke and John Ridley (the latter behind 12 Years a Slave) deliver irritating and alienating dialogue. The first half relies on religious discussion between the characters, grinding the pace to a screeching halt. Non-religious folks will despise the movie’s feckless stance on faith and history. Sadly, director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) is not fit for the material. Lacking Ridley Scott’s deft touch, the schlock filmmaker appears bored by everything besides the action, special effects etc.

Ben-Hur follows the long line of laughable, anachronistic and feeble-minded modern historical/mythical epics. The movie never diverts from the standard revenge-drama narrative. It’s predictability is almost cowardly – the good guys are sweet and vanilla, the love interest – Esther (Nazanin Boniadi) – is whispy, the bad guys snivel and twist moustaches, Morgan Freeman plays the wise cracking mystical-magical black man etc. Jesus Christ (Rodrigo Santoro) pops up to deliver bumper-sticker lines. This version may be remembered for its South American-looking depiction of the famous carpenter. Bekmambetov, halfway through, appears to wake up. The slave-ship sequence, training montages and almighty chariot race are particularly inventive. The grand sound design and fun action beats reduce the tedium.

Ben-Hur, like most of 2016’s blockbusters, is unnecessary, generic and borderline offensive. This useless remake squanders a fantastic cast, capable director and momentous resources. Attention Hollywood: Not everything should be remade!

Verdict: Pointless and unnecessary. 

War Dogs Review: Bros in arms


Director: Todd Phillips

Writer: Todd Phillips, Stephen Chin, Jason Smilovic

Stars: Jonah Hill, Miles Teller, Ana de Armas, Bradley Cooper

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Release date: August 18th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 114 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Hill and Teller’s chemistry.

Worst part: The derivative structure.

Director Todd Phillips exists in the same realm as Michael Bay and Zack Snyder. He began his career with adult-comedies Old School and Road Trip before delivering smash hit The Hangover. However, with the Hangover sequels and Due Date, his career fell over. Now, he’s back with something completely different and exactly the same.

War Dogs provides more meat to chew on than his earlier works. This docudrama, black comedy, war, crime flick chronicles one of the 21st Century’s most baffling true stories. Based on Guy Lawson’s Rolling Stone article and book – Arms and the Dudes – its follows twenty-something layabout David Packouz (Miles Teller) being put through the ringer. David is a disappointment – spending maximum time smoking pot and tending to rich clients as a massage therapist. After quitting his job, his one-man bed sheet business fails spectacularly. At an old friend’s funeral, he reunites with former partner in crime Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill). Diveroli is also a pot-smoking loud mouth. However, he is also a gunrunner/arms contractor for start-up AEY with ties to the US Government and troops overseas.

War Dogs resembles a blender with all-too-familiar ingredients thrown together. This sloppy and inconsistent mess is slow-moving-car-crash fascinating. Phillips, evidently, idolises Martin Scorsese and the Coen Brothers. Similarly to Bay’s 2013 sleeper hit Pain and Gain, it’s an assortment of excessive visual flourishes and questionable decisions. With any docudrama, ethics and moral quandaries come into play. Phillips – along with two other screenwriters – beef everything up for cinema purposes. The frat-boy humour and serious material never congeal. It follows the rise and fall narrative structure at every turn. Of course, the first half depicts the dynamic duo’s transformation from slackers to successes. Phillips becomes indulgent, even borrowing whole sequences from The Wolf of Wall Street, Goodfellas and Boiler Room.

Compared to the genre’s aforementioned big-hitters, War Dogs struggles to keep up. Phillips floats between admiring and despising the lead characters. Seriously, what does his movie say about these events? Does it salute young entrepreneurs slipping through the cracks? Or condemn Cheney’s America and the military-industrial complex? Nevertheless, he makes no apologies for their behaviour. Packouz, despite being the audience avatar, starts off as an unlikable schmuck and gets worse. He either blindly follows his crazy business partner or lies to his pregnant girlfriend, Iz (Ana de Armas). Despite the first half’s many fun moments, the second trudges towards the predictable dénouement. If anything, it proves Teller and Hill are charismatic enough to escape with their reputations in tact.

War Dogs is the gym junkie of rise-and-fall movies – tough and mean with little depth. Phillips’ latest places him on thin ice. This, essentially his version of a ‘serious’ effort, is The Social Network and The Big Short evil, immature brother.

Verdict: A middling docudrama.

The Shallows Review: Shark Bait Ooh Ah Ah


Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Writer: Anthony Jaswinski

Stars: Blake Lively, Oscar Jaenada, Sedona Legge, Brett Cullen

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Release date: August 18th, 2016

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 86 minutes


3/5

Best part: Blake Lively.

Worst part: The CGi shark.

Sharks are fearsome and fascinating members of the animal kingdom. Jaws, since its 1975 release, has scared people from going into the water. The Steven Spielberg classic is essentially an expertly crafted B-movie. It also paved the way for many shark-related thrillers from Deep Blue Sea to Sharknado (sadly). The Shallows is…yet another one.

Although better than most of them, The Shallows is Hollywood’s perfunctory return to the sub-genre. Its marketing campaign relied on two things – the monster in question and Blake Lively’s stunning post-pregnancy body. If that sounds appealing, this survival-thriller is cinematic gold. It follows former medical student turned permanent traveller Nancy (Lively). Nancy’s trip through Mexico includes a secluded beach her mother had once visited. Whilst surfing throughout the afternoon, she meets two beefcake surfers (Angelo José Lozano Corzo and José Manuel Trujillo Salas). Catching that one last wave, she is stranded 200 metres from shore.

Of course, a massive Great White Shark forces her between a rock and a hard place. In shark-thriller fashion, The Shallows balances between genuine moments and silly plot twists. The central premise is simple – placing one person in one dangerous place/situation for 90 thrilling minutes. Like your average survival-thriller (Life of Pi, 127 Hours, Gravity), the drama pinpoints our basic fears. Lively and director Jaume Collet-Serra (Non-Stop, Run All Night) stick by the simple-yet-effective formula. Collet-Serra handles the loneliness-in-a-large-space set-up expertly. The first third sees Nancy connect with the picturesque setting. It’s easy to lose one’s self in the blue sky and pristine ocean vistas. However, its surfware-commercial style and fetishistic butt-shots extend this sequence several minutes too long.

Screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski tries and fails to develop Lively’s character. Her back story – her mother’s death, dropping out of medical school, daddy problems etc. – has been done countless times before.  However, once the mayhem begins, Collet-Serra and Lively elevate the material. The movie devotes time to the lead character’s intelligence. Developing multiple survival strategies, Nancy is a fun and interesting character by the third act. Monitoring the shark’s behaviour, She puts her medical skills and tenacity to the test. The movie’s most exciting moments see her rushing between the reef, nearby whale carcass and buoy. The third act is a schlocky, over-the-top thrill-ride between obstacles. Lively puts her impressive physicality and neat comedic timing to good use. Sadly, her shark co-star never looks convincing. The gleaming CGi aesthetic undercuts opportunities for jump scares.

The Shallows may be one of 2016’s most entertaining blockbusters. Its simple-yet-effective formula overshadows the dumber elements. It lacks the pretentiousness, cynical attitude and haphazard storytelling of most of the year’s bigger-budget efforts.

Verdict: A silly survival-thriller.

Sausage Party Review: Limp on arrival


Directors: Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon

Writers: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir

Stars: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader

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Release date: August 11th, 2016

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 88 minutes


2/5

Best part: The stellar cast.

Worst part: The racial stereotypes.

Writer/director/producers…actor…Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have made some of Hollywood’s most controversial gross-out comedies. Superbad explored teenage sexual angst, This is the End skewered Rogen and his friends’ fame, and The Interview almost kicked off World War III by pissing off North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un. So, What next?

How about an animated sex-comedy about food? Sure, why not. Now, Sony will let them get away with anything. Sadly, Sausage Party proves studio notes and executive decisions are sometimes worthwhile. The movie’s plot is bizarre and simplistic. Hot dog Frank (voiced by Seth Rogen) and his girlfriend – hot dog bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig) – live next to one another in grocery store Shopwell’s. Frank, alongside fellow sausages Carl (Jonah Hill) and Barry (Michael Cera), believes they will be chosen by the gods, taken to ‘The Great Beyond’ and set free. However, the plan goes awry after an argument with feminine hygiene product Douche (Nick Kroll) leads to a spill, and mass casualties, in the isles. Frank finds out their situation isn’t as it seems.

Sausage Party and Suicide Squad are part of one of 2016’s most irritating trends. Both, featuring wholly predictable plots and characters, are covered in a nasty, immature allure catering to cheap desires. They also feature unique and interesting premises butchered by abysmal execution. Make no mistake, Sausage Party would have made for a kinetic, cutting short movie. Rogen and Goldberg are talented and interesting enough to know better. The final result leaves much to be desired. It lingers between parody and cheap dig at Pixar. Despite the allure, the basic plot follows Toy Story’s friends-finding-one-another story-line step by step. The twists and turns are wholly predictable and lack depth.

Sausage Party relies on the MA15+ rating and the filmmakers’ sense of humour. The comedy is pitifully hit and miss, relying on expletives and sexual references throughout. Every frame features lazy sex, fart, and weed jokes and food puns. If the first three-quarters weren’t haphazard enough, the finale takes some distressing and demeaning left turns. The movie, nowhere near as smart or interesting as it thinks, delivers a broad commentary on organised religion. The food products, convinced of the gods’ kindness, deliver a loud, brash musical number each morning about their fate. However, after that small splash of genius, we’re given borderline-offensive stereotypes from Woody Allen-esque bagel (Edward Norton) to angry Arabic lavash (David Krumholtz). Oy vey!

Sure, Sausage Party has a stellar voice cast and neat ideas. It’s clear Rogen and Goldberg had a clear vision from day one. However, their self-indulgence has gone too far. This may be 2016’s biggest disappointment.

Verdict: A sorely missed opportunity.

Bad Moms Review: Domestic Badasses


Directors: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Writers: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Stars: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Christina Applegate

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Release date: August 11th, 2016

Distributor: STX Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 100 minutes


3/5

Best part: The leads’ chemistry.

Worst part: The love-interest sub-plot.

Gender equality in Hollywood: four words guaranteed to cause discussion. Pioneering actresses, directors, and writers have spoken about the pay gap, better roles and more opportunities. From Meryl Streep to Jennifer Lawrence, women are taking over tinseltown. If Bad Moms says anything, A-list actresses are already taking over mainstream comedy.

Bad Moms follows in the tradition of movies with ‘bad’ in the title. It begins with young mother Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis) struggling to balance kids, work, marriage and everything in between. Her manchild husband and two children, Jane (Oona Laurence) and Dylan (Emjay Anthony), make matters hellish. One day, after a shocking revelation and an even worse day after, Amy quits the modern-working-mother lifestyle. Befriending frantic stay-at-home mum Kiki (Kristen Bell) and slutty layabout Carla (Kathryn Hahn), Amy discovers that it feels good to be bad. However, Parent Teacher Association head-honcho Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), and her sidekicks Stacy (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Vicky (Annie Mumolo) plan on ruining the fun.

Bad Moms criticises everything cruel and demeaning about Hollywood. On the heels of Bridesmaids and Ghostbusters, it’s another example of big-screen female prowess. Writer/Directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, part of the Hangover trilogy, expertly balance relatable character beats and R-rated hijinks. The opening showcases the working-mother’s everyday obstacles. Amy is continually run off her feet; late for everything and underappreciated by everyone. Like most Hollywood comedies, the first half is chock-a-block with stupid and unlikable supporting characters. Of course, the movie’s intended goal is to switch  on-screen gender stereotypes. However, the male and child roles are borderline offensive. Amy’s dalliance with widowed dad Jessie (Jay Hernandez) survives on the actors’ chemistry.

It provides a touching message about motherhoods’ highs and lows. Despite their drastic turns, our lead characters are never unlikable or unhinged. Its endless montages and girl-power moments are wholly  infectious. The supermarket sequence is hysterical. Shot in slow motion, our dynamic trio performs a series of heinous atrocities to food, drinks and staff members. In addition, the house party scene provides gross-out humour and unexpected surprises. The movie relies on Kunis, Bell and Hahn’s more-than-capable shoulders. Kunis balances frazzled and snarky with aplomb. Her sharp comedic timing and charming smile fit the character. Bell, known for tough-chicks in series’ Veronica Mars and House of Lies, is delightfully twee. Hahn propels herself into A-list status; delivering laugh-out-loud bites as an irresponsible badass.

Bad Moms is a sweet, carefree chick flick and intelligent, gross-out farce. Kunis, Bell, Hahn and everyone else elevate such harmless material. The writer-directors’ grand comedic timing makes for a pleasant time. Above all else, the closing credits sequence adds a nice touch.

Verdict: A fun, breezy distraction.

Suicide Squad Review: Not-so-supervillains


Director: David Ayer

Writers: David Ayer

Stars: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman

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Release date: August 4th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 123 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Will Smith and Margot Robbie.

Worst part: Jared Leto’s Joker.

Nothing in modern cinema is more divisive and distressing than the DC Extended Universe. Man of Steel divided critics and audiences but made enough coin to kick off the franchise. However, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was a laughable misfire and fundamental misunderstanding of the genre. The series relied on Suicide Squad to pick up the ball and continue running. Sadly, it hits the ground with a deafening thud.

Suicide Squad is a prime example of overwhelming potential obliterated by underwhelming execution. Writer/director David Ayer, despite being given 6 weeks for the screenplay, had reportedly made a cracking flick. However, after BvS’s disastrous critical response, the studio went into overdrive with reshoots and marketing schemes. DC’s latest misfire sees Ballbuster Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) dusting off a unique idea to combat the Metahuman threat kick started by Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman etc. Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and Katana (Karen Fukuhara) task supervillains/Belle Reve Penitentiary inmates including hit man Deadshot (Will Smith), deranged chick Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), pyrotechnic ex-gangbanger El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Aussie thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), monster Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and mercenary Slipknot (Adam Beach) with completing a deadly, government-sanctioned mission in Midway City.

Suicide Squad begins with several interesting concepts and fun moments. Ayer – whose previous efforts include WWII-thriller Fury and LA-gangland movies like End of Watch – is suited to its team-up premise. The movie hits a rollicking pace during the first third. Kooky character bios, flashbacks, narration and music cues deliver thrills and funnies. However, studio meddling quickly overruns Ayer’s lean-and-mean vision. Attempting Guardians of the Galaxy-style action-comedy, it’s light, breezy tone undercuts the ugly narrative and themes. The story jumps between past and present, warping an otherwise straightforward men-on-a-mission story. The tone lurches wildly from black comedy to action-thriller without relevance between scenes. Endless montages – Waller’s character introductions, getting the team together etc. – delay the mission itself. The mission, however, boils down to generic plot twists, a thin story structure, and an underwhelming villain. Dr June Moone/Enchantress(Cara Delevingne)’s plan, to resurrect her deity brother Incubus to take over the world, makes her 2016’s most uninspired antagonist.

Suicide Squad also disappoints fans of the Joker and DC’s broad range of superheroes. The famous antagonist appears randomly in flashbacks and action sequences. His and Quinn’s nasty relationship, worthy of its own feature, is wedged in. Jared Leto’s portrayal compares poorly to Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson’s. The broad, irritating mannerisms and ghetto bling/gangbanger style are baffling. Ben Affleck’s Batman and Ezra Miller’s Flash appear briefly to connect instalments. Ayer’s tough, brawny direction extends to the visual style; cramming fluoro colours, grimy exteriors and wacky costuming into every space. Ayer shoots and choreographs the action with textbook precision. His creation is partly salvaged by its actors’ raw enthusiasm. Robbie conquers Quinn’s first cinematic appearance. Smith, after several bland performances, is back to his charismatic best. Meanwhile, Davis, Courtney and Kinnaman succeed in underdeveloped roles.

Suicide Squad represents everything good, bad and ugly with Hollywood. The talented cast and filmmaker put 110% into every wild and wacky second. However, studio meddling and lack of depth make it one of 2016’s many ‘dark and gritty’ blockbuster disappointments.

Verdict: An ambitious misfire.

Jason Bourne Review: Blunt Instrument


Director: Paul Greengrass

Writers: Paul Greengrass, Christopher Rouse

Stars: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel

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Release date: July 28th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 123 minutes


2½/5

Best part: The action sequences.

Worst part: The heavy-handed messages.

The Bourne franchise has powered through several fits and starts. The first three – Identity, Supremacy and Ultimatum – set the bar for modern action cinema. The meme-worthy franchise is praised for its story-lines, visual style, and iconic elements. Many people cannot tell the difference between them. However, everyone knows the Jeremy Renner-starring Bourne Legacy is a waste of time and energy. Sadly, Jason Bourne doesn’t re-kindle the flame.

Jason Bourne is easily the least impressive of the four Matt Damon-starring Bourne flicks. This slice kicks off with a disgruntled Bourne (Damon) living off the grid, after discovering the truth behind his past 9 years ago. He feels lost within our bright, shiny world. However, in this post-Snowden and post-post-privacy era, the former psychogenic, amnesiac assassin is watched by agency spooks. He is brought back into the war by former CIA operative Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). Parsons, after hacking into CIA secure files and stealing Black Ops secrets, uncovers new details about Bourne’s role in shady outfit Treadstone. Bourne’s latest mission leads to revelations about those chasing him and his father’s involvement.

Damon and writer/director Paul Greengrass (Supremacy and Ultimatum) refused to return unless a strong vision was presented. Bourne birthed – and continually utilises – specific plot-points, iconographic elements and character types. Each flick follows a familiar pattern – Bourne goes on the run, discovers strands of his back story, is tracked by CIA reps, defeats a shady border-hopping agent, and exposes an older agency representative as the real villain. This one is a bland, uninspired retread of the four preceding entries. The miasma of mysterious settings, Bourne’s reserved demeanour, quiet female characters and shady CIA dealings feels all too familiar. However, the introduction is still intriguing. Bourne’s one-to-four punch fighting style is glorious. Despite minimal dialogue and plot development, his first few scenes develop a fascinating character study. However, Bourne’s involvement leads to several underwhelming revelations. Like with Legacy, the questions are given silly answers.

Jason Bourne is hampered by Greengrass and co-screenwriter Christopher Rouse’s laughable depiction of the 21st century. Their vision delivers a fear-inducing, out-of-touch view of surveillance states. The CIA sequences are truly baffling. The CIA crew – led by CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), cyber head Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), and an asset (Vincent Cassel) – look at a screen, perform Machiavellian feats with GPS/identification technology and become hyper-aware. Their God-like powers continually lower the stakes. Whereas previous entries created enthralling cat-and-mouse missions grounded in reality, this one is stranded in a sci-fi realm. The social-media subplot, featuring app-founder Aaron Kalloor’s dealings with the CIA, is given little development. Like the other entries, the action is top-notch. Two set pieces – the bike chase through Syntagma Square and the car chase/fist fight in Las Vegas – deliver Greengrass’ enthralling quick cut-shaky cam style.

Despite glorious action sequences and locations, Jason Bourne turns a tried-and-true formula into bland mush. Damon and Greengrass coast on goodwill, leaving the remaining cast and crew in the dust. This installment, like its lead character, resembles a tired, haggard and pale shadow of its former self.

Verdict: A disappointing installment.

Sing Street Review: High Note


Director: John Carney

Writer: John Carney

Stars: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Aidan Gillen

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Release date: July 21st, 2016

Distributor: The Weinstein Company, Lionsgate

Country: Ireland, USA, UK

Running time: 105 minutes


4/5

Best part: The musical numbers.

Worst part: The parents’ subplot.

Two of cinema’s most polarising genres are the musical and the dramedy. Both tug at specific parts of the brain and heart, they relish the freedom of fantasy and, most importantly, they light up the screen and our lives. However, their high-on-life energy and emotional-rollercoaster stories repel people. Sing Street is a very rare gem – bringing both genres together with class and textbook precision.

Sing Street is 2016’s beacon of hope for independent cinema in the big, wide world of movies. Film buffs everywhere are praying it receives the attention it deserves. Come awards time, it could be this year’s Brooklyn. This Irish musical-dramedy takes us to south inner-city Dublin in 1985. The Lalor family, lead  by Robert (Aiden Gillen) and Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy), is falling apart. The film’s protagonist, youngest son Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), is thrown from private school into a rough public institution. Sister Ann (Kelly Thornton) eldest brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) are difficult to connect with. Worse still, Synge Street CBS is the new hell. Conor’s run-ins with bullies, rules and mean catholic headmasters play out before he, Darren (Ben Carolan), instrumentalist Eamon (Mark McKenna) and several other rip-roaring youngsters form a rock-pop school band.

Writer/director John Carney has had an interesting career; Once gave the indie-drama a new face lift. However, Begin Again was a mushy, middling dramedy saved by its cracking cast and soundtrack. Make no mistake, Carney refuses to stray from convention here. His script follows similar plot, character and emotional beats as his previous efforts. Like the aforementioned flicks, Sing Street sees a white man struggling with his psyche and emotions, meets a pretty girl (Raphina (Lucy Boynton)), creates some music before getting his groove back. His focus on words over action recalls the early days of Woody Allen and Cameron Crowe,  without leaning too heavily on them. Its subplots and side characters elevate it above similar musicals and dramedies. Conor’s interactions with Raphina have a refreshing, bittersweet glow. However, he and Brendan deliver the movie’s most light-hearted and witty chunks.

Carney’s frenetic and captivating style overwhelms the screen. Every rhythm, beat and flourish highlights his palpable affection for music. The drama leaps effortlessly between the band’s rise to prominence and the family’s swift decline. Lingering sequences move through every aspect of songwriting, recording, music video producing and touring. However, his dialogue is a little too on the nose – prophesising like a hippie at Woodstock. References to Duran, Duran, Spandau Ballet and everyone in between showcase his  glowing sense of nostalgia. In fairness, the period detail, settings and costumes light up every frame. The young cast members also add to the movie’s gripping comedic timing and pure enthusiasm.

Sing Street is, from go to woe, is a comfortable, optimistic jaunt between two genres. Carney, for better or worse, has a style and philosophy worth considering. His latest effort delivers a stack of youthful performers, luscious visual flourishes and 80s numbers.

Verdict: A boisterous musical-dramedy.

Star Trek Beyond Review: Thrusters on Full


Director: Justin Lin

Writers: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung

Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana

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Release date: July 21st, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA, China

Running time: 122 minutes


4/5

Best part: The central cast.

Worst Part: The villain’s convoluted plot.

In its 50th year, Gene Roddenberry’s creation Star Trek is one of pop-culture’s most lucrative and unique franchises. Its run has been extended by TV series’, films, comic books, fan fiction and everything else in between. The Trekkies and Trekkers have helped the series become an ever-changing organism. With nerd being the new black, the franchise must bend and warp to gather as many fans as possible.

The newer Star Trek instalments have, for the most part, done a bang-up job. The 2009 reboot introduced a new timeline and cast. Fans grew to love the younger crew members, director J. J. Abrams’ love of lens flares and the USS Enterprise’s shinier aesthetic. The Sequel, Star Trek into Darkness, fumbled the ball. Star Trek Beyond, the third feature in the Kelvin timeline, sees the crew in the third year of a five-year mission to explore strange worlds, meet new beings and bring order to the galaxy. Flying peacekeeping group the Federation’s flag, Starfleet captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) feels lost in the deep, dark void of space. Key members including Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), chief medical officer Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban), communications officer Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana), chief engineer Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg), helmsman Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) and main navigator Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) also hit the wall.

Of course, a movie about the crew hanging up their skivvies 10 minutes in would be deeply unsatisfying. Receiving a distress call from the nebulous zone outside Federation base Yorktown, they are ambushed and captured/disbanded by warlord Krall(Idris Elba)’s drone/alien army. The first third balances cute comedic moments and high stakes threats. The opening scene is a blast – detailing how some missions go better than others. The aforementioned ambush sequence is electrifying, with the Enterprise and its crew torn apart with devastating velocity. The second act takes a peculiar turn, splitting the lead cast into twos. Pegg and Doug Jung’s script provides greater insight into each key member. Although the plot and momentum stall, the middle section delivers infinite character development and wit. In true sequel fashion, new characters including alien warrior Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) create several surprises.

With Abrams off on Star Wars duties, director Justin Lin (Fast and FuriousTokyo Drift through to Six) takes control of the ship. Not to be underestimated, he balances between the original series and this franchise’s bold, blockbuster-y direction. The exhilarating filmmaker piles action sequences on top of one another in the third act. The motorcycle set-piece clicks with the movie’s tone and close-quarter scope. The finale combines a high-flying spaceship battle, clever banter and a Beastie Boys’ track with aplomb. Meanwhile, the fist-fight finale injects pathos and resonance into an otherwise light-weight story. Assisting Lin’s breezy direction, Michael Giacchino’s score is as slick and dynamic as the Enterprise herself. The talented, good-looking performers aptly bounce off each other. Pine and Quinto snuggly fit into their famous roles. Urban, Pegg and Boutella are standouts. Meanwhile, Elba is let down by the character’s befuddling backstory and master plan.

Star Trek Beyond ventures where the franchise both has and has never gone before. Credit belongs to the performers, living up to the original cast’s crackling chemistry. Lin and co. have refueled and beefed up the Enterprise for future adventures. Most importantly, Yelchin and Leonard Nimoy are given touching send offs.

Verdict: An exhilarating thrill-ride.

Goldstone Review: Bitin’ the Dust


Director: Ivan Sen

Writer: Ivan Sen

Stars: Aaron Pedersen, Alex Russell, Jacki Weaver, David Wenham

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Release date: July 7th, 2016

Distributor: Transmission Films 

Country: Australia

Running time: 110 minutes 


4/5

Best part: The strong cast.

Worst part: The pacing.

Film noir has taken on many shades and turns since its beginnings in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Of course, everyone knows the heavy hitters including The Maltese Falcon and Touch of Evil from way back when. However, plot, character, theme and visual elements have stuck with cinema throughout generations. The genre has also made its way to the great southern land of Oz.

Goldstone is the superior follow-up to writer/director Ivan Sen’s 2013 surprise hit Mystery Road. Mystery Road‘s electrifying noir-western fusion, cracking cast, haunting locations and genuine chills overshadowed the diluted missing-person plot. Goldstone keeps the good stuff and improves on the poorer elements. Set several years after the original, the sequel returns to the scintillating landscapes of rural Queensland. After exposing corruption within his home town, Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen) is assigned to investigate the mining/pit-stop town Goldstone. After being arrested by local naïve cop Josh (Alex Russell), Jay coaxes Josh into helping him track down a missing Asian girl. Scummy mine supervisor Johnny (David Wenham) and corrupt town mayor Maureen (Jacki Weaver) are soon hot on his trail.

Goldstone continues the trend of compelling Australian crime-thrillers with numerous nuances and twists. The movie expertly balances larrikin black comedy and dark, dreary epic elements. Unlike Mystery Road, it does not rely on long-drawn out pauses for dramatic effect. Every plot-point and twist is painstakingly etched into a taught, clear-cut vision. In true film noir fashion, its period setting alludes to  today’s social and political climate. Sen leaves nothing to chance – the good guys look tough and strong, the baddies are slimy and pale. Although a little too obvious, Sen’s love of classic cinema is chiseled into every detail. Like Chinatown, the crux of it boils down to a spiritual and financial battle between opposing forces. The tussle between greedy mining giants and small indigenous communities, led by strong-willed elder Jimmy (David Gulpilil), sets off a deadly chain of events.

Sen’s latest effort is a character-based, disturbingly intense noir-western with style and substance.Sen captures the outback setting with an array of visual and sensory flourishes. Every explosion, gun shot and line of dialogue rings out with whip-cracking precision. The quieter moments highlight its intellectual and emotional heft. His new-twist-on-old-tricks approach stands out during tender moments between Josh and Asian sex worker May (Michelle Lim Davidson). The contrast between Jay and Josh is vital. Jay, suffering one loss after another despite doing the right thing, is disillusioned by the endless desert void. Josh, however, is enthusiastic but afraid to make a real difference. The performances showcase Australia’s rich variety of talent. Pedersen and Russell delightfully toy with one another. Weaver and Wenham are suitably hammy, while Gulpilil provides true class.

Goldstone, although filled with elements we’ve seen 1000 times before, is a worthwhile flick from start to finish. The movie falls short of reaching the standards set by Australia’s best crime-thrillers (Animal Kingdom). However, it provides a tough, arresting look at the land down under.

Verdict: A tough-as-nails modern western.

Ghostbusters Review: Girl Power


Director: Paul Feig

Writers: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig

Stars: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones

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Release date: July 14th, 2016

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 116 minutes


3/5

Best part: The four leads.

Worst part: The cameos.

No movie in cinema history has faced as much anger as 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot. Prior to release, it was showered in searing hatred. Delusional fanboys attacked it for coming near the 1984 original’s lasting legacy. Misogynistic creeps resented the all-female leading cast members. With all that said, it’s best to judge Ghostbusters for what it is and not what certain factions might want.

It has to be said – Ghostbusters is much better than most of 2016’s other blockbusters. The franchise kickstarter follows a familiar structure. Dr Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is a geeky professor at Columbia University just short of gaining tenure. However, a book about paranormal beings in our realm – co-written by herself and Dr Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) – gets in her way. After reuniting, Gilbert and Yates reluctantly team up with wacky engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) to tackle a reported ghost sighting. After getting fired, the trio turn into a full-time ghost-catching group looking out for New York City. Joined by streetwise MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) and ditzy receptionist Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), the group face an army of ghouls and naysayers.

The original delivered big laughs, unique visuals and intelligent heroes for geeks everywhere to look up to. The 2016 version follows a wholly specific formula from script to screen. This one also features an array of Saturday Night Live alumni coming together, proving everyone wrong and saving the world. Writer/director Paul Feig overcomes the barrage of hate and uncertainty with ease. This – like earlier works Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy – is a pleasant, crystal-clear experience free from anything ‘dark and gritty’. The plot itself boils down to everything you’d expect from a modern supernatural-comedy. The first and second acts revolve around the origin-story dynamic – building up and then shaking the team’s foundations. Of course, the third act is reserved for the underdeveloped villain’s master plan. Ghostbusters doesn’t change the game, but certainly gives it a little push.

Feig and co-screenwriter Katie Dippold make their characters human and understandable in spite of the ensuing chaos. For the most part, the humour is a mix of clever references and light-hearted one-liners. The four leads, having worked together before on many projects, make the jokes, sci-fi gobbledygook and touching moments work effectively. However, Feig’s direction occasionally lets them down. Awkward editing choices and sluggish pacing keep this reboot from reaching its true potential. Sadly, the third-act action extravaganza delivers bland, CGI-laden visuals rather than unique flourishes. Worse still, cameos from Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and the rest of the original troupe stop the movie dead in its tracks. The score also fails to impress, partly due to Fall Out Boy and Missy Elliott’s rubbish remix of the original theme.

Ghostbusters valiantly highlights the best women in contemporary Hollywood comedy. The cast and crew deliver many laugh-out-loud moments, engaging performances and effective reminders of the franchise’s appeal. However, it can’t decide whether to stand on it own or cling to the original.

Verdict: A quaint reboot.

The Legend of Tarzan Review: Joke of the Jungle


Director: David Yates

Writers: Adam Cozard, Craig Brewer (screenplay), Edgar Rice Burroughs (novel)

Stars: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz

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Release date: July 7th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 110 minutes


2/5

Best part: Samuel L. Jackson.

Worst part: The inconsistent visual effects.

Dear Hollywood, no one on Earth was asking for a ‘dark and gritty’ reboot of Tarzan. In fact, everyone is sick of those words being the basis for every reboot, reimagining and rejigging from the past ten years. 2016 in film, so far, proves tinseltown is having a major identity crisis. Almost every sequel has bombed, the smaller genre flicks have gone gangbusters and we responded to Zac Efron’s comedies with a collective shrug. What an age we live in!

Like The Lone Ranger and The Man from U.N.C.L.E, The Legend of Tarzan brings an old-school franchise into the 21st Century. Sadly, it resembles the former – a bloated, out-of-touch product that should have stayed hidden. Based on acclaimed author Edgar Rice Burroughs famous stories, this reboot does start promisingly. After the Berlin Conference, the United Kingdom and Belgium divided up the Congo. The Belgian government is close to bankruptcy and left with a useless railroad and other infrastructure. King Leopold of Belgium II sends Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) to claim mineral deposits including the diamonds of Opar, protected by Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou). Meanwhile, the British Prime Minister (Jim Broadbent) and US envoy George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) convince John Clayton III/Lord Greystoke (Alexander Skarsgard) to return to Africa and become Lord of the Apes once again.

Tarzan – despite leading multiple films, books, serials etc. – came from a more ‘innocent’ era in the Western world. This version attempts an elaborate balancing act between classic action-adventure and revisionist perspective. It’s a refreshing premise; throwing us into a world already aware of Tarzan’s existence. Screenwriters Adam Cozard and Craig Brewer manufacture false drama from the outset. The first act spins its wheels as the Tarzan rejects the offer, mulls it over with wife Jane (Margot Robbie), and agrees to tag along. From there, the movie leaps between plot-holes and overused plot-points. Its colonialist overtones are wholly uncomfortable, with every scene showing this impressive white man coming to native Africa’s rescue.

Despite mediocre results, director David Yates (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to The Deathly Hallows Part 2) swings for the fences. The director juggles Tarzan’s backstory (his parents’ deaths, an upbringing helped by apes, reason for leaving etc.) at inopportune moments with narration and flashbacks. His vision forcefully compares the Belgian Congo and American Civil War’s atrocities. The mix of fictional aura and historical events calls Hollywood’s racial politics into question. Yates’ visual style distorts every frame with anachronisms, confusing camerawork and sepia tone, while the action sequences and CGI are shoddily handled. Worse still, bland performances by Skarsgard, Robbie and Waltz are inexcusable. Jackson, thankfully, provides some much-needed levity and charisma.

The Legend of Tarzan, like the many animals in starring roles, is a fascinating but destructive creation. Despite the cute comedic timing and aim-high attitude, this reboot/reimagining/whatever proves a worthwhile director, cast and budget can falter spectacularly.

Verdict: A limp, uninspired reimagining.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Review: The Dating Game


Director: Jake Szymanski

Writers: Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brien

Stars: Zac Efron, Adam DeVine, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza

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Release date: July 7th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox 

Country: USA

Running time: 98 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Efron and DeVine’s chemistry.

Worst part: The characters’ sheer stupidity.

Hollywood has made multi-million dollar creations out of other movies, TV shows, video games, board games etc. and now true stories based around Craigslist ads. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates comes from a strange and concerning place in popular culture from the past few years. With that said, the movie could have actually been a lot worse. Objectively speaking, however, it definitely should have been better.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is actor/female Viagra Zac Efron’s third comedy of 2016 after Dirty Grandpa and Bad Neighbours 2. In fact, this one fuses the other two’s best and worst elements. It kicks off with Mike (Adam DeVine) and Dave Stangle (Efron) ‘winning at life’ as slimy liquor salesmen. The pair – living and working together – survive on hormones, drugs, expletives and danger. Parents Burt (Stephen Root) and Rosie (Stephanie Faracy) call for an intervention, blaming them for causing disasters at all family gatherings. Their little sister Jeanie (Stephanie Beard) asks them to bring dates to her wedding to Eric (Sam Richardson) in Hawaii. Their Craigslist ad, and appearance on morning TV, attracts attention from women everywhere, including Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick).

Anyone who’s seen the poster can beat-by-beat predict the plot. Unsurprisingly, Tatiana and Alice are more adventurous, disgusting and psychotic than Mike and Dave. Handling this many purposefully unlikable characters, the director and screenwriters are forced to create a series of increasingly unfortunate events. This scenario grinds this gross-out comedy to a screeching halt. It copies almost every plot point from Wedding Crashers without achieving the same hilarious results. It also boils down to repulsive, strung-together sequences and slapstick gags. The trailer even spoils the movie’s biggest set-pieces, landing with a thud in the final cut.

The humour is bafflingly hit and miss. Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien’s screenplay delivers many funny lines and cute moments. However, thanks to first-time director Jake Szymanski, the actors are given too much improv leeway. Mike and Dave’s dynamic is still effective. Efron and DeVine’s winning chemistry elevates the majority of their scenes. Dave, sporting potential compared to his shrewd older brother, is a sympathetic presence in amongst the screwball antics. He and Alice develop a somewhat sweet relationship – proving Efron and Kendrick deserve better material. However, the movie is hamstrung by DeVine and Plaza’s grating schtick. DeVine pulls out Kevin Hart’s arsenal of fast-taking monologues and screams. Plaza is weighed down by her over-the-top, personality-free character.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is the prime example of potential undercut by execution. Like Efron’s other 2016 comedies, the actors put 110% effort into a mediocre product. If anything, these young and charming cast members might be motivated to move on to bigger and better things.

Verdict: A mildly amusing frat-comedy.

Everybody Wants Some!! Review: Fraternity Foolishness


Director: Richard Linklater

Writer: Richard Linklater

Stars: Blake Jenner, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, Glen Powell

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Release date: June 23rd, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 116 minutes


3½/5

Best part: The kick-ass soundtrack.

Worst part: Some minor  supporting characters.

No matter what decade, fraternity movies are almost all the same. From Animal House (the one that defined the genre) to Bad Neighbours (the one with Zac Efron’s abs), this type of flick serves as wish-fulfillment for some and something to laugh at for others. The best frat movies break through multiple demographics and make us laugh and think in equal measure. Everybody Wants Some!! is one of those.

Everybody Wants Some!! is the ‘spiritual sequel’ to acclaimed writer/director Richard Linklater’s cult classic Dazed and Confused. This ‘installment’ sees him return to a world of few responsibilities, fewer rules, and maximum fun. Set in the 1980s, the movie follows college freshman Jake (Blake Jenner) three days before the start of semester. Once the hotshot pitcher of high school, he must contend with a frat house full of boozy, womanising Southeast Texas Cherokees baseball players. Housemates Finnegan (Glen Powell), Roper (Ryan Guzman), McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin), and Dale (Quinton Johnson) grow accustomed to Jake and fellow newbies Plummer (Temple Baker), Billy (Will Brittain) and Brumley (Tanner Kalina) and transfers Jay (Juston Street) and Willoughby (Wyatt Russell).

Linklater exists in the realm between Hollywood and Austin, Texas – combining studio and independent sensibilities for projects including the Before (Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight) trilogy, School of Rock, Bernie, A Scanner Darkly and Me and Orson Welles. Coming off coming-of-age drama/12-year cinematic experiment Boyhood, Everybody Wants Some!! returns to the laid back feel of early career favourites Dazed and Confused and Slacker. Is he darting off in a new direction or simply taking a breather after Boyhood? Answer: a bit of both. The movie indeed follows a familiar structure; strung together by conversations, bonding moments, and set-pieces throughout a steady 116-minute run-time. Linklater painstakingly emphasises every tiny detail – including meditations on music, weed, art, philosophy etc. – throughout.

Everybody Wants Some!!, like Linklater’s other movies, awaits tragic events that never arrive. The plot ebbs and flows ever so steadily. The music blares and good vibes become infectious when our characters party or get laid. However, as the drama of college and the future kicks in, tensions slowly bubble to the surface. Its darker shades – ego, masculinity, racism, misogyny etc. – cleverly highlight identity issues. The countdown to class, shown on-screen multiple times, comes off as a blessing and a curse. Surprisingly, Jake’s dalliance with arts student Beverly (Zoey Deutch) and baseball are only small parts. Thankfully, Linklater and the cast make these characters somewhat likeable. Its period detail is flawless, providing a snapshot of the 1980s’ clash of disco, punk, and country-western cultures. The cracking soundtrack may cause rockin’, 80s-themed singalongs on the ride home.

Illuminating the divide between college life and everything else, Everybody Wants Some!! looks at the optimism, realism and cynicism of a wholly different time. Jocks, nerds, nice guys, cool girls and those in between are all likely to find something to enjoy here.

Verdict: A good ol’ time.

Central Intelligence Review: Partners in Crime


Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Writers: Rawson Marshall Thurber, Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen

Stars: Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Amy Ryan, Aaron Paul

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Release date: June 30th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures, Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 107 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Johnson’s loopy performance.

Worst part: The by-the-numbers plot.

One is an African-American stand-up comedy icon turned super-successful leading man. The other is an African-American-Samoan professional wrestler turned multimedia empire god. Both are clever, social media-savvy and 110% critic proof. Seriously, who doesn’t love Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson?! The world is in luck, with the pair teaming up to help breathe new life into the buddy-action genre.

Central Intelligence is the first in, hopefully, a never-ending series of movies starring the two. The movie’s marketing campaign was genius, complete with the self-aware line ‘Saving the world takes a little Hart and a big Johnson’. It kicks off in 1996, with Calvin Joyner (Hart) being recognized for an award at the high school’s last prep rally for the year. Calvin is the graduating class’s most talented, popular, attractive and likely to succeed. On the other side of the coin, Robbie Wheirdicht (Johnson) is an overweight kid, with no friends, prone to dancing in the boys locker room showers and suffering shocking acts of bullying. The movie jumps forward 20 years, and Calvin is stuck in a boring accounting job with only high-school sweetheart Maggie (Danielle Nicolet) on his side. On the flip side, Robbie – now Bob Stone – is a ripped, hunky CIA agent.

Make no mistake, there is nothing new or original about Central Intelligence. Borrowing from everything between Lethal Weapon and Spy, the movie checks almost every turn, sub-plot and archetype off the list. The plot boils down to multiple tried and true buddy-cop and spy-comedy clichés. Perfunctorily, Calvin and Robbie bond before the havoc begins. The spy stuff kicks into gear later than expected, with the introduction of fellow CIA agent Pamela Harris (Amy Ryan) and her mission to expose Robbie’s suspected rogue operations. If anything, it cares almost too much about the plot. Even this cast, despite effortlessly delivering reams of exposition, can’t make the superfluous spy-mission speak more interesting. However, everything around the plot elevates the movie above expectations.

Central Intelligence is an explosive and hilarious thrill-ride thanks to its cast, writers, and director’s enthusiasm. Director and co-writer Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball, We’re the Millers) provides his brand of quick-witted comedy. Like his previous efforts, he balances carefully crafted material and improvisation time for his performers. Aided by writer/actor Ike Barinholtz (Bad Neighbours), he delivers a strong assortment of funny one-liners and memorable moments. Its set-pieces are also top-notch, with Hart and Johnson showing off immense action and comedy skills. Hart becomes an effective straight man to Johnson’s over-the-top character. Johnson is the runaway winner, delivering enough mannerisms to balance between enviable action hero type, sensitive victim, and kooky sociopath.

Despite the familiar feel, Central Intelligence is a spot-on action-comedy with thoughts and thrills. The funky sense of humour, fun set-pieces, clever cameos and cast and crew’s infectious energy separate it from the pack. In addition, the movie’s blooper reel is worth sticking around for.

Verdict: A fun buddy-action flick.

The BFG Review: Spielbergian Schmaltz


Director: Steven Spielberg

Writers: Melissa Mathison (screenplay), Roald Dahl (novel)

Stars: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement

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Release date: June 30th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 117 minutes


3/5

Best part: Mark Rylance.

Worst part: The uneven pacing.

If you have even a mild interest in cinema, you cannot go past Filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s excellent multi-decade career. It is so hard to believe the director of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws, ET: The Extra Terrestrial, The Indiana Jones franchise, Jurassic Park, The Colour Purple, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and Munich is the same guy!

Spielberg is the best action/drama/comedy/family-adventure filmmaker in cinema history. He can transport millions to other worlds thanks to his style, command of the system and collection of regular collaborators. He returns with the adaptation of one of Roald Dahl’s many seminal children’s stories. The BFG begins with miserable child Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), living in an orphanage fittingly labelled ‘The Orphanage’, wandering the halls until 3am. Sophie unexpectedly sees the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance) traipsing the streets of 1980s London. The BFG, seeing Sophie seeing him, takes her well north of Great Britain to Giant Country.

Spielberg, despite immense critical and commercial acclaim over an extensive career, has been a little hit and miss throughout the past decade. For every Lincoln or Adventures of Tintin, there’s a Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or War Horse. The BFG is certainly one of the filmmaker’s lesser efforts. Unlike his children’s classics, it never finds the balance between comedy and drama. In love with the late Melissa Mathison’s screenplay, the director leaves little on the cutting room floor. After a brisk opening, this fantasy-adventure plods through its first two-thirds. Sophie and BFG spend an exorbitant amount of time in and around his multi-layered home. Restricted to a handful of settings and characters, it sorely cries out for a more epic scope and tighter pacing. Although the focus on conversation over action is intriguing, the story and characters aren’t quite interesting enough for a 2-hour run-time.

The antagonists – some much bigger and nastier giants including Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) and Bloodbottler (Bill Hader) – show up to cause trouble. One set-piece focuses on the book’s arresting themes. Sophie can only watch on in horror as the bigger giants needlessly pick on BFG for being kind and subdued. To a certain extent, Sophie and BFG’s core dynamic is quaint. The movie finds a new lease on life when the two meet up with Queen Elizabeth II (Penelope Wilton) and servants Mary (Rebecca Hall) and Tibbs (Rafe Spall). Slapstick hijinks and fart jokes galore, Spielberg dives into new territory here. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and composer John Williams once again serve Spielberg’s vision with aplomb. Rylance, backing up his Oscar win for Bridge of Spies, returns to Spielberg’s realm with a fizzy mo-cap performance. However, Barnhill immediately veers into over-the-top-child-actor mode.

The BFG, unquestionably, provides a warm and fuzzy time at the movies. Its chases, dream-catching sequences, and commendable cast make for several memorable ‘Spielberg Face’ moments. However, the woe and whimsy trip Spielberg over; failing to delve deeper into the material’s darker shades.

Verdict: A light-hearted, hollow adaptation.

Independence Day: Resurgence Review: Apocalyptic Entertainment


Director: Roland Emmerich

Writers: Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, Nicholas Wright, James A. Woods, James Vanderbilt

Stars: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Maika Munroe

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Release date: June 23th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox 

Country: USA

Running time: 120 minutes


2/5

Best part: The old cast.

Worst part: The new cast.

Belated sequels are like political campaigns – the build-up takes too long, but they’re always intriguing. Hollywood has delivered many much anticipated (Creed), slightly anticipated (Tron: Legacy) and not-at-all anticipated (Alice Through the Looking Glass) sequels. The Independence Day franchise has waited 20 long, arduous years to return to the big screen. Was it worth the wait? Hell no!

The original Independence Day took the world by storm back in 1996. The lively mixture of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the wacky guy from Jurassic Park and a cracking marketing campaign helped it smash box-office records and become an instant action/alien invasion classic. That famous shot – depicting a laser beam destroying the White House – is more iconic and stylish than anything we’ve seen in 2016. Humanity  has overcome the original’s world-shattering events and developed a peaceful and technologically advanced global society. International community faction Earth Space Defense, situated on the moon, is led by hotshot pilots including Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), his rival – and Will Smith’s character’s step-son – Dylan (Jessie Usher), and friend Charlie (Travis Tope).

Independence Day: Resurgence is a bland and overstuffed shadow of its enjoyable predecessor. Shockingly, I’ve barely scratched the surface in relation to the number of underdeveloped plot-lines and characters. The first third develops an excruciating build-up whilst leaping erratically between everyone involved. We have David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) dealing with an old flame (Charlotte Gainsbourg), President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) suffering as his daughter/Jake’s fiancée Patricia (Maika Munroe) watches on, David’s dad Julius (Judd Hirsch) helping some teenagers, an African warlord (Deobia Oparei) paired with the comic relief (Nicolas Wright), Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) waking up from a 20-year coma, and some guys on a boat. Indeed, each story-thread is more useless and boring than the one before it. At a certain point, you begin to root for the alien queen and her Atlantic-sized ship.

This belated sequel honours the original’s scale and spectacle with more city-levelling events, dogfights, and alien-on-human gunfights. However, in true Emmerich style (Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012 etc.), the movie’s relatively small cluster of humans represents the entire race. In the midst of mass hysteria and neverending explosions, its plot-threads – part of a lacklustre script by FIVE writers – intertwine due to baffling contrivances. Predictably, many characters develop telepathic links with the antagonistic alien species. Worse still, this cliche becomes even more egregious when another alien race shows up (picture a mix of white snooker ball and Wall-E’s love interest Eve). The movie also leaps between taking itself too seriously and a wacky, awkward sense of humour. Its older characters provide breaths of fresh air, and it’s nice seeing Goldblum, Pullman and Vivica A. Fox in the mainstream again. However, the younger cast members are void of life, personality, or joy.

Despite interesting concepts and a professional visual-effects team, Independence Day: Resurgence proves bigger definitely doesn’t equal better. Its lacklustre material, disappointing cast, sequel-bait finale and pandering to Chinese audiences elicit more groans than cheers over the drawn-out run-time. This July 4th, go see…anything else, really.

Verdict: 20 years too late.

Finding Dory Review: Beyond the Sea


Directors: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane

Writers: Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse

Stars: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill

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Release date: June 16th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 103 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Ellen DeGeneres.

Worst part: The familiar story.

Disney is one of the world’s most powerful companies, capable of ruling over the box office from here to eternity. Along with Star Wars and Marvel, the company also owns Pixar Animation Studios. Setting the bar for animated cinema, the studio makes us laugh, cry, and question our place in the universe. Finding Dory, although not quite up there with Pixar’s best, continues the studio’s penchant for unique voices (in front of the microphone and behind the scenes).

Finding Dory is the much-anticipated sequel to 2003’s smash-hit Finding Nemo. The original’s fun visuals and sense of humour helped it become one of the past decade’s most memorable movies. As illustrated by the title, the sequel focuses on sidekick turned fan favourite Dory (Ellen DeGeneres). Set one year after the events of the original, the movie explores the Blue Tang’s struggle with short-term memory loss. Despite growing close to Clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence), Dory begins having fragmented dreams and flashbacks to life with her parents, Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy). After regaining some of her memories, she feels a sudden urge to find them. In true Pixar fashion, our heroes head off on a literal and figurative journey over hundreds of miles.

There are two versions of Pixar: one creates game-changing and thought-provoking adventures appealing to all four quadrants. The key examples – the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters inc., The Incredibles, Wall-E, Up, Ratatouille, and Inside Out – exceed all expectations. The other side of the coin includes polarising/cash-grab entries including the Cars movies, A Bug’s Life, Brave, and The Good Dinosaur. Like Monsters University, Finding Dory lands somewhere in the middle. Don’t get me wrong, I would take Dory over the Minions any day. This time around, the crew – heading from the Great Barrier Reef to straight to the Jewel of Morro Bay, California – meets a school of new and eclectic characters stuck in a marine park. Although a new setting is always welcome, the plot largely resembles that of the original. Despite the overall familiarity, however, the stellar visuals and rollicking pace are worth every second.

Whereas the original laughed at Dory’s short-term memory loss, Finding Dory hangs its emotional and psychological weight on it. The movie’s twists and turns revolve entirely around her, continually switching from wacky comic relief to sympathetic lead character here. Along with Dory, several supporting characters carry varying physical, psychological, or neurological conditions. Sidekicks including near-sighted whale shark Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and nervous beluga whale Bailey (Ty Burrell) are cute and concerning simultaneously. Although kooky seal Gerald and batty bird Becky are borderline offensive, ill-tempered Octopus Hank (Ed O’Neill) and sea lions Fluke (Idris Elba) and Rudder (Dominic West) are hilarious.

Emotionally resonant fish (?), Sigourney Weaver (?!), Car chases (?!!) – Finding Dory delivers some of Pixar’s many wacky ideas. Yet again, Pixar respectfully provides a light-hearted look at life’s darker shades. However, is familiar feel makes it more appropriate for easy, care-free home viewing.

Verdict: A fun, pleasant sequel.

Warcraft Review: Dungeons and Dullards


Director: Duncan Jones

Writers: Duncan Jones, Charles Leavitt

Stars: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper

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Release date: June 16th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 123 minutes


2/5

Best part: Toby Kebbell as Durotan.

Worst part: The human characters.

Hollywood has had a difficult run of adapting video games to the big screen. Over the past two decades, each entry has become a critical and commercial bomb. Sure, the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises are enjoyable, but not well made. The ins and outs of even the most popular video game properties appear to be lost on modern movie audiences.

Warcraft has stepped up to the plate, hoping the achieve what Max Payne, Doom, Prince of Persia, Need for Speed, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Super Mario Bros., Hitman (twice) and every fighting game franchise failed to do. Does it succeed? Nope, not even slightly. It merely adds to the long-line of silly, pitiful video game adaptations. It kicks off with the Horde, as the orc chieftain of the Frostwolf Clan, Durotan (Toby Kebbell), his pregnant wife, Draka (Anna Nelvin), and his friend, Orgrim (Robert Kazinsky), prepare to leave dying orc realm Draenor. Led by warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) and dark magic known as the Fel, the orcs leap into human realm Azeroth via portal and soon wreak havoc.

From conception to execution, Warcraft presents all of Hollywood’s worst and craziest impulses. Writer/director, and long-time WOW fan, Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) has worked on this adaptation for the past few years. Jones’ intentions are admirable, attempting to turn this franchise into the next Lord of the Rings-sized cinematic experience. Indeed, thanks to his unique style, it features several unpredictable twists and turns. In particular, the action sequences are directed with enough physical and emotional impact. Throughout its exhaustive 123-minute run-time, however, those unrequited with the lore will struggle to keep up. Marketed as an origin story, the movie exists entirely to set up a potential franchise. Jones is a little too infatuated with the world of Warcraft, throwing together a plethora of sub-plots, characters, and specifics from the franchise without explanation.

Similarly to Avatar and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the movie provides a hands-on look at a whole new civilisation. The orc characters are fascinating, making rational decisions and showcasing their impressive brute strength in equal measure. However, the human characters are reduced to one-note performances and stereotypes. Vikings actor Travis Fimmel fails to make Military commander/lead badass Lothar appealing. Despite vague attempts at humor, he suffocates under the dour, self-serious tone and artificial backdrops. Charming actors including Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga, both from AMC series Preacher, deliver monotonal, deer-in-headlights performances. The Mage characters are laughable, with Ben Foster and Ben Schnetzer providing little else beyond out-of-place American accents. A miscast Paula Patton is buried under green paint and awkward prosthetics as human/orc warrior Garona.

Warcraft marks yet another failed attempt at adapting a video game into the celluloid medium. Despite Jones’ best intentions, the impenetrable exposition, stale performances, and lack of excitement make for one of the year’s most forgettable movies. Here’s hoping Assassin’s Creed, out on Boxing Day, can break the curse.

Verdict: Another woeful video game adaptation.

The Conjuring 2 Review: London Calling


Director: James Wan

Writers: James Wan, Chad & Carey Hayes, David Leslie Johnson

Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe

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Release date: June 9th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 134 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Farmiga and Wilson.

Worst part: The familiar story structure.

The horror genre has gone through some strange and rocky times over the past several decades. The genre was once a cinematic paradise of trend-setters (Jaws,  The Exorcist) foreign treats (Suspiria) and franchises (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th etc.). Nowadays, thanks largely to Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes juggernaut, horror has been swallowed up by reboots and remakes. Thankfully, the Conjuring franchise is here to show its fellow Hollywood counterparts how it’s done.

2013’s The Conjuring was the first movie to receive an R18+ rating based entirely on terror rather than nudity, violence, or explicit language. The original has your classic ghost/demon story – a family is terrorised, a young girl becomes possessed, crucifixes are bared, and the power of Christ compels the spirit back to hell. This time around…all of those elements occur. Set in 1977, this sequel follows a family stuck in lower-class Enfield, North London. Single mother Peggy (Frances O’Connor) Hodgson struggles to keep everything afloat. Making matters worse, The family – youngest daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe), in particular – are hampered by spirits wandering their dilapidated council house. Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), made famous by their involvement in the Amityville massacre investigation, are assigned to the Hodgons’ concerning case.

Like many of 2016’s sequels, The Conjuring 2, despite closely resembling the original, falls just short of recapturing the magic. Director/co-writer James Wan, coming back to horror after Furious 7 and before Aquaman, delivers his trademark style of graphic supernatural-thriller filmmaking. The Australian-Malaysian director’s vision is fascinating – introduced with the original Saw flick, built upon with projects like Death Sentence and the Insidious franchise, and perfected with the original Conjuring. Here, however, his direction far outshines the screenplay. Developed by Wan, Chad and Carey Hayes, and David Leslie Johnson), the script stretches standard horror-thriller/ghost story/exorcism conventions over a tiresome 134-minute run-time. This installment is a tad predictable; carrying tropes including an overpopulated family, a rundown house, and questions about faith over from the original.

Wan continually establishes himself as a hyperkinetic and intensifying filmmaker. Free from studio constraints, he lathers every frame with his unique and uncompromising vision. Wan is the jumpscare master – toying with our expectations whilst building to moments of unrequited dread. Joseph Bishara’s relentless score flutters in and out at opportune moments. The composer’s screeches and strums ratchet up the tension throughout its many set pieces. Don Burgess’ impressive camerawork floats through hallways and in between rooms with textbook precision. Wan’s eye for period detail, costume and set design balances between bold and subdued. Adding to the movie’s flair, Farmiga and Wilson blend into the narrative and make for a believable married couple.

Featuring demon nuns, possessed children and Elvis Presley sing-a-longs, The Conjuring 2 is equal parts fun and frightening. Wan’s unique and kinetic direction overshadows the familiar screenplay. His latest blood-curdling jaunt is a contender for 2016’s best horror flick and most successful sequel.

Verdict: A chilling horror-sequel.

Mr. Right Review: Hitman Hysterics


Director: Paco Cabezas

Writer: Max Landis

Stars: Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, Tim Roth, RZA

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Release date: April 8th, 2016

Distributor: Focus World

Country: USA

Running time: 92 minutes


3/5

Review: Mr. Right

Money Monster Review: Wall Street Woes


Director: Jodie Foster

Writers: Alan Di Fiore, Jim Kouf, Jamie Linden

Stars: George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Jack O’Connell, Dominic West

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Release date: June 2nd, 2016

Distributor: TriStar Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 98 minutes


3/5

Best part: Clooney’s charm.

Worst part: The third-act twists.

Unquestionably, actor/director Jodie Foster is a Hollywood legend of unrivalled industry recognition. With a sterling reputation in front of and behind the camera, the 53-year-old deserves to spearhead her own projects between now and infinity. However, her critical success – based on unique and interesting projects – has never led to major box-office returns. Old-fashioned hostage-thriller Money Monster won’t attract any new fans.

Money Monster presents the high-ego, low-emotion world of financial television. Host Lee Gates (George Clooney), star of TV phenomenon Money Monster, can influence the stock market’s peaks and troughs. The loud financial guru lives and dies with his wacky persona and highfalutin lifestyle. Longtime show director, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) has had enough, leaving the studio for one across the street. On her last day, during Money Monster‘s latest live telecast, delivery man Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) shuffles into the studio. He pulls a gun, holds Gates hostage, and forces him to wear an explosive-laden vest. Budwell had placed his life savings and deceased mother’s inheritance ($60,000) on IBIS Clear Capital stock after Gates’ endorsement. Now, with a trading algorithm glitch costing investors $800 million overnight, he wants answers.

Money Monster ambitiously blends Dog Day Afternoon‘s intensifying hostage-thriller vibe with Network‘s biting media commentary. Foster, coming off Mel Gibson flop The Beaver, delivers a more approachable and straightforward hostage-thriller than expected. The central premise, staging a hostage crisis for the world to see in high-definition, is certainly prescient. The first half is intriguing, developing Gates and Budwell’s uneasy dynamic with Fenn and the production crew watching on. Foster balances light and dark moments throughout, finding a funny side within the madness. However, The second half becomes a derivative and baffling espionage-thriller devoid of tension. The plot is a jumbled mess – throwing in IBIS chief communications officer Diane Lester(Caitriona Balfe)’s investigation of CEO Walt Gamby (Dominic West), bumbling New York police, South Korean programmers, Icelandic hackers, and South African mining strikes.

Money Monster‘s third act delivers several nonsensical twists and turns, lessening the overall impact. More so, Foster pushes a topsy-turvy political agenda. Gates, at first, represents the snobbish and shallow 1% behemoth standing on top of us. However, after some personal confessions, he suddenly turns into the ultimate saviour for the little guy. On the other side of the coin, Budwell kicks off his crusade with a mission – to prove Wall Street jargon cannot pull the wool over our eyes. As his back-story unfolds and antics turn foolish, it becomes difficult to like or feel sorry for him. Thankfully, Clooney is still a charismatic and jazzy leading man. Despite limited screen time together, he and Roberts develop a nice rapport. However, O’Connell delivers an over-the-top performance and laughable ‘New Yawker’ accent.

Sitting between the technical precision and resonance of Inside Man and silly terribleness of Man on a Ledge, Money Monster never transcends or even reinvigorates the hostage-thriller genre. Despite the unexpected little twists, Foster’s latest effort gives strong performers little to work with.

Verdict: A tight yet flawed hostage-thriller.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows Review: Shell of its Former Self


Director: Dave Green

Writers: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec

Stars: Megan Fox, Stephen Amell, Will Arnett, Brian Tee

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Release date: June 9th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 112 minutes


2/5

Best part: The skydiving set-piece.

Worst part: The weak villains.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows encapsulates everything cheap and monotonous about modern Hollywood. It is not simply that it’s rote, or confused, tiresome etc., it’s that there is just nothing special about it. Despite the aim to please the core franchise audience, it fails on the basis of completely ignoring everyone else. This instalment is a poorly-handled and forgettable waste of significant filmmaking resources.

Despite the harsh words, Out of the Shadows is nowhere near as obnoxious and amateurish as the 2014 original/reboot. The original threw together focus-group logic and studio-executive desire into a soulless melting pot. The sequel sees our four reptilian warriors – Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) – wary of the humans around them. Afraid of exposure, the troupe – with Master Splinter(Tony Shalhoub)’s help – carefully choose opportunities to explore the outside world. Meanwhile, plucky journalist April O’Neil (Megan Fox) investigates renowned scientist Dr. Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry)’s dealings with Shredder (Brian Tee). Shredder, escaping custody with the Foot Clan’s help, hires fellow escaped convicts Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen ‘Sheamus’ Farrelly) to execute a world-destroying plan.

Out of the Shadows cherry picks characters, plot-lines, iconography, and imagery from the TMNT movies, cartoons, comic books, merchandise, and video games. This instalment is strictly for die-hard fans, spending most of its 112-minute run-time on fan service and selling toys. Alongside the turtles and April’s antics, sub-plots including Vern Fenwick(Will Arnett)’s newfound fame, cop-turned-vigilante Casey Jones(Stephen Amell)’s revenge mission, and alien baddie Krang(Brad Garrett)’s assault on Earth rear their ugly heads. The movie never allows its sub-plots or characters to develop beyond one or two dimensions. Its tone is almost unbearable, throwing in too many wacky elements at once. Intriguing ideas, including the turtles’ desire to become human, are overshadowed by bright lights and bubblegum.

Like with most blockbusters, Out of the Shadows‘ screenplay – written by TWO so-called ‘professionals’ – is overstuffed and weightless simultaneously. However, this movie is not for the critics. Developed and marketed for children, the target audience won’t mind the gaping plot-holes or lack of originality. The action is enjoyable, combining state-of-the-art motion-capture performance and technical wizardry. The cargo plane sequence adds several layers to this otherwise lifeless affair. The direction, special effects and humour combine effectively for this all-too-brief rollercoaster ride. The humans are more lifeless and irritating than their CGI counterparts. Fox, once again, delivers a flat performance guided by pure sex appeal. Amell provides a charmless Chris Pratt impression and toothy grin for the female viewers.

Out of the Shadows mines this once-popular franchise to the brink of collapse. For all the bright colours and flashing lights, this sequel proves only one thing – popularity and quality are not the same. The installment embarrasses the redeemable cast, hard-working production crew, and studios.

Verdict: On the brink of extinction.

Now You See Me 2 Review: Limp Trick


Director: Jon M. Chu

Writer: Ed Solomon

Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco

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Release date: June 2nd, 2016

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 129 minutes


2½/5

Best part: The stacked cast.

Worst part: The convoluted plot.

Now You See Me 2 is one of at least 13 unwarranted sequels released in 2016. The 2013 original reached baffling commercial success thanks to…actually, I still have no idea. Now You See Me is a clichéd, preposterous action-heist-thriller with a nonsensical string of third-act twists. Sadly, the sequel is similar in almost every way. The Now You See Me franchise has quickly become more mediocre than almost any other. However, the coupling of an all-star cast and unique premise keeps audiences coming back for more.

The original (spoilers) concluded with a plucky troupe of magicians known as the Four Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, and Isla Fisher) conquering the entertainment world, Magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) jailed for stealing millionaire banker Arthur Tressler(Michael Caine)’s funds, and FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) pulling the strings. The sequel, picking up one year later, sees fan-girl magician Lula (Lizzy Caplan) replacing Fisher’s character and joining returning Horsemen Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg) Merritt McKinney (Harrelson), and Jack Wilder (Franco) for the return. Rhodes, now watched by fellow FBI Agent Natalie (Sanaa Lathan), oversees the group on behalf of secret magician society The Eye.

In true sequel fashion, Now You See Me 2 delivers another uber-convoluted plot, more characters, and a larger scope. This time, in a shameless attempt to cash in on the rising Chinese audience, the journey leaps hastily from America to Macau. Ed Solomon’s clichéd screenplay sticks by a collection of heist and action clichés. Predictably, the drama all comes down to a macguffin, set up by a snivelling tech magnate (Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe)), needed to clear the protagonists’ names. The movie immediately rushes through its convoluted plot, muddying the waters with endless exposition about its multitude of plot-points and characters. It struggles to catch up with itself, stuffing an assortment of baffling twists and turns into an indulgent 129 minute run-time.

Like the original, Now You See Me 2 blandly combines illusion, performance and fantastical CGI wizardry. The movie’s set-pieces and gorgeous international locations put the budget to good use. In fact, many sequences feature interesting and thought-provoking concepts. However, director Jon M. Chu (G. I. Joe: Retaliation, Step Up 3D) bungles the execution. One action sequence, featuring Rhodes subduing several henchman with slight-of-hand tricks, becomes lost in quick cuts and shaky-cam. However, although ridiculous, the opening and closing set-pieces are blissfully entertaining. The assortment of sexy, young actors and Hollywood’s finest thespians somewhat elevates the material. Jay Chou is suitably charming as a snarky operator of Macau’s oldest magic shop.

Now You See Me 2, by adding more of everything, messily devolves into yet another silly and forgettable tentpole. Like many of this year’s blockbusters (so far), its biggest accomplishment is the ability to disappear without a trace.

Verdict: Yet another unnecessary 2016 sequel.

Alice Through the Looking Glass Review: A Depp in the Wrong Direction


Director: James Bobin

Writers: Linda Woolverton (screenplay), Lewis Carroll (novel)

Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway

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Release date: May 27th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


2/5

Best part: Sacha Baron Cohen.

Worst part: Johnny Depp.

A-lister extraordinaire Johnny Depp has had, even by his standards, a bizarre past twelve months. On top of hilarious run-ins with foreign governments, the actor was forced to confront his mother’s passing, a costly divorce to Amber Heard, allegations of domestic abuse, a dwindling worldwide fanbase, and a string of critical and commercial flops. His latest misadventure, Alice Through the Looking Glass, has done nothing to part the dark clouds hanging over his current predicament.

In amongst misfires like The Lone Ranger, Transcendence, The Tourist, Dark Shadows, and Mortdecai, 2010’s woeful Alice in Wonderland and its sequel add to the actor’s ever-growing list of crushing cinematic hiccups. Part of 2016’s collection of sequels nobody asked for, this installment continues ‘acclaimed’ filmmaker Tim Burton’s bright, shiny, unwarranted vision. This time around, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is an accomplished ship captain coming home after over a year on the high seas. Cast out by her bitter ex-fiance (Leo Bill), she falls back into Underland with a thud. With help from the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), Absolem (Alan Rickman), Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), Bloodhound (Timothy Spall) and Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucas) among others, Alice seek to cure the Mad Hatter(Johnny Depp)’s sadness.

Alice Through the Looking Glass is an unnecessary and underwhelming homage to Alice in Wonderland‘s legacy. Based very loosely on Lewis Carroll’s seminal works, the movie delivers few original ideas or twists. Plot-points including the Hatter’s long-lost family and the Red Queen’s backstory fail to justify this sequel’s existence. Although covered in Burton’s grimy fingerprints, director James Bobin (The Muppets) is left to pick up the scraps. This time around, the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) returns from exile with a new antagonist – Time himself (Sacha Baron Cohen). So that’s…something. Despite said talented cast and crew, everything about this production – From the typecasting to its overwhelming reliance of style over substance –  comes off as pure self-indulgence.

Alice Through the Looking Glass haphazardly toys with several intriguing ideasTime’s dungeon-like domain is operated with textbook precision. Each person’s soul is encapsulated by a stopwatch, with human life determined by Time’s current mood. Leaping between his own motivations and Underland’s well-being, the character – supported by Cohen’s Werner Herzog/Arnold Schwarzenegger impression – provides a welcome spark of life. Sadly, the movie delivers a mind-numbing assault on the senses. Packed with unconvincing green-screen vistas and brash CGI characters, the experience is more tiresome than entertaining. In this day and age, over-the-top performances from Depp, Carter, and Hathaway are no longer interesting. Meanwhile, talented actors including Rhys Ifans, Lindsay Duncan, and Geraldine James are underutilised.

Like many of 2016’s new releases, this fantasy-adventure reeks of sequelitis’ unbearable stench. Dragging a talented cast and crew through the mud, the uninspired direction and leaden screenplay make this yet another strike against Depp’s once-glowing reputation.

Verdict: A useless, mind-numbing sequel.

Chasing Asylum Review: The Real Truth


Director: Eva Orner

Stars: Mark Isaacs, Martin Appleby, Michael Bachelard, Malcolm Fraser

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Release date: June 2nd, 2016

Distributor: Cinema Plus

Country: Australia

Running time: 96 minutes


4½/5

Review: Chasing Asylum

The Nice Guys Review: Pitch Black Comedy


Director: Shane Black

Writers: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi

Stars: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer

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Release date: May 27th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 116 minutes


4/5

Best part: Crowe & Gosling’s chemistry.

Worst part: The shaky third act.

Writer/director Shane Black is one of modern Hollywood’s few remaining pioneers from generations past. From his 1980s and 90s jaunts (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout) to today, the visionary wordsmith has set the bar in terms of plot, character, tension, and dialogue. After ostensibly being thrown under bus after The Long Kiss Goodnight and The Last Action Hero‘s commercial failings, his spectacular work on Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and Iron Man 3 brought him back. Tinseltown loves a true underdog story.

His latest venture, The Nice Guys, takes us back to a time of bright colours, questionable antics, and political strife (judging by those qualities, nothing much has changed). Set in 1977 Los Angeles, the movie chronicles underground lowlife Jackson Healy(Russell Crowe)’s tiresome existence. Busting heads for a living, Healy’s post-divorce, cheap lifestyle takes a severe toll. Meanwhile, sketchy private detective Holland March (Ryan Gosling) has crawled into a bottle after his wife’s death. Prone to drinking and scamming helpless elderly clients, March is a bad guy pretending to do good. His 13-year-old daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice) is beginning to despise her old man. After an unfortunate run-in, Healy and March must team up to solve the head-scratching mystery of missing girl Amelia (Margaret Qualley).

The Nice Guys combines buddy-comedy’s good-natured thrills, neo-noir’s lingering hopelessness, and Black’s shocking sense of humour into a riveting adventure. Admittedly, it’s nitty-gritty plot-threads involving murder, the pornography scene, and Detroit car industry muddy the waters in its second and third acts. Overshadowing the slower moments, the first act sets up the intensifying atmosphere and Black’s idiosyncratic style. The writer/director lives and dies by sharp tonal shifts, with every frame unapologetically pushing violence and sex appeal. Black and co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi craft a shaggy-dog script chock-a-block with funny lines, intriguing plot-points and fun characters.

Black, in all three trips behind the camera, proves himself as one of today’s more meaningful and bold filmmakers. Black dives into a 70s aesthetic of pastel patterns, sleaze, and unadulterated flair. The movie’s biggest set-pieces, in true neo-noir/buddy-cop fashion, showcase the glitz and ‘glamour’ of the era’s pastel interiors, porn parties, and car conventions. Touching on 70s hangups (i.e. smog, crushing political corruption), Black never drops the snarky attitude. Provided with a sensory feast and meaty material, Crowe and Gosling develop crackling chemistry whilst hurling themselves into slapstick shenanigans. Rice delivers strong dramatic shades to balance out her co-stars’ wacky antics. Genre fans will also enjoy appearances from familiar faces Matt Bomer, Keith David, and Kim Basinger.

Featuring big laughs, over-the-top stunts, anthropomorphized bees, foul-mouthed kids, nudity, and shocking violence, The Nice Guys is anything but friendly. This neo-noir/buddy-comedy is a lean, mean ode to a bygone era. Its writer/director and spectacular cast deliver one of the year’s most entertaining popcorn flicks.

Verdict: Shane Black in rip-roaring form.

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.

Article: Actor Focus: Luke Thornley


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Article: Actor Focus: Luke Thornley

Article: 1940s: The Beginnings of Bogart


Humphrey Bogart, from the archive

Article: 1940s: The Beginnings of Bogart 

Article: The Victors & Victims of Game of Thrones


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Article: The Victors & Victims of Game of Thrones

 

Midnight Special Review: The Boy Wonder


Director: Jeff Nichols

Writer: Jeff Nichols

Stars: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver

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Release date: April 21st, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 111 minutes


 

3½/5

Review: Midnight Special 

Article: Docos: In Cinemas This Month


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Article: Docos: In Cinemas This Month

The Jungle Book Review: Bill’s Necessities


Director: Jon Favreau

Writers: Justin Marks (screenplay), Rudyard Kipling (novel)

Stars: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba

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Release date: April 7th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 105 minutes


3½/5

Review: The Jungle Book

 

 

 

The Huntsman: Winter’s War Review: The Ice Queen, The Hunk, His Wife, and the Sequel No One Asked For


Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

Writers: Craig Mazin, Evan Spiliotopoulos

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, Charlize Theron

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Release date: April 7th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Countries: UK, USA 

Running time: 114 minutes


 

2½/5

Review: The Huntsman: Winter’s War