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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies Audio Review: Bennet the Vampire Slayer


Director: Burr Steers

Writers: Burr Steers (screenplay), Seth Grahame-Smith, Jane Austen (novel)

Stars: Lily James, Sam Riley, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth

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Release date: February 25th, 2016

Distributors: Lionsgate, Screen Gems 

Countries: UK, USA 

Running time: 108 minutes


3/5

Review:

How to Be Single Audio Review: Better Off Alone


Director: Christian Ditter

Writers: Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein, Dana Fox (screenplay), Liz Tuccillo (novel)

Stars: Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Alison Brie, Leslie Mann

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Release date: February 18th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 109 minutes


2½/5

Review:

 

Hail, Caesar! Review: Ode to Old School


Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen

Writers: Joel & Ethan Coen

Stars: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes

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Release date: February 25th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 106 minutes


 

3½/5

Review: Hail, Caesar!

Zoolander 2 Audio Review: Model Idiots


Director: Ben Stiller

Writers: Ben Stiller, John Hamburg, Nicholas Stoller, Justin Theroux

Stars: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Will Ferrell

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Release date: February 12th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes


1½/5

Review:

Ride Along 2 Audio Review: Ice-cold Hart


Director: Tim Story

Writers: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi

Stars: Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, Olivia Munn, Ken Jeong

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Release date: February 18th, 2016 

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 101 minutes


2½/5

Review:

Fringe World Interview: Ruven Govender of Comedy Boxing


South African-Indian comedian Ruven Govender is crafting a strong, influential career in stand-up comedy. The comic kicked off his career from an early age, sneaking in to comedy clubs at 16 and 17 years of age before finally being allowed in through the front door. His love of stand-up blossomed, graduating from the Class Comedians program with enough confidence and support to succeed. By 21, he had written and performed 5 shows for the NZ Comedy Festival.

Along with touring solo throughout Australia and the world, invited to TED X last year amongst many phenomenal successes throughout his career, Govender runs Laugh Mob Entertainment with tour mates/co-stars Sam Kissajukian and Kyle Legacy. After hit show The Black, The White, The Beard, Govender and co. return to Perth’s Fringe World 2016 with Comedy Boxing. Govender referees as Kissajukian and Legacy go head to head in a battle of scathing insults. The show puts the ‘punch’ back into ‘punchline’ over several nights of colourful, unique Fringe mayhem.

Reshoot & Rewind recently caught up with Govender about Comedy Boxing, life on the road, and the comedy’s scene’s welcoming aura.

 

9657547How did you first get into stand-up comedy? 

I got selected by the New Zealand Comedy Festival in 2004 through the Class Comedians program. The first gig I thought went horribly but I actually got signed to an agency after my first ever spot in the town hall. Charlie Pickering, the guy who used to be on the 7pm Project, he was actually my mentor and helped me write my first set and get my jokes out.

I got on stage, delivered my lines, and got these massive laughs straight away. I did the first few lines, got big laughs, and got really nervous because I didn’t expect such a wave of laughter. Then, I just forgot everything that I was supposed to say within the first 30 seconds. I then ran off stage and threw up. Everyone was like: “ok, that’s the end of that” and thought I had to get back on to finish my set and save face.

I got some really good gigs to begin with, but the age factor really caught up quickly. It was a challenge to be 16-17 and try to get into a comedy bar, and obviously wasn’t 18 years of age. That actually proved to be a huge problem, but once I was able to walk into pubs, bars, and clubs that’s when things really started to kick.

 

What have been some of the highlights and lowlights of performing on stage?

Last year, I was invited to speak at TED X. That was fantastic, it was 1000 people in an auditorium and an absolutely great gig, that was probably the highlight of last year I’d say.

A low point would probably include when I ventured out of New Zealand, which is a nice, little environment for stand-up, and into a market where I wasn’t well know, didn’t have connections, and didn’t have the backing of the New Zealand festivals. That was when I really got a taste of what it’s like to really do stand-up – hustle for gigs, having to beg, steal and borrow for stage time. That’s when I really got to understand how difficult it can be for comedy, because apart from that everything was kind of handed to me on a silver platter.

Coming into a market where nobody knew my name and no one was willing to really help me that was a big challenge. It’s a necessary evil to get me to start my own rooms, get a set-up, and hold hands with other comedians and local people.

 

Yourself, Sam Kissajukian, and Kyle Legacy run Laugh Mob Entertainment and perform together, how did you first realise your dynamic worked so well?

I actually found Kyle Legacy at a comedy club, I just found him to be a very funny human. I was surprised because I thought: “You’re very funny, you’re English etc.”, but he wasn’t getting any stage time. I saw him at a few clubs, he wasn’t going well, and I had a chat with him about what he’d done, where he’d been. I found out he was a writer for Russell Brand, he was on season 1 of Brand X and junior writer for Brand in that season.

As we did the rounds of the open-mic rooms I bumped into Sam. Was very much anti-working with anyone else, he didn’t want to work with anyone else, and wanted to his own thing. Myself and Kyle thought he was really funny, had a lot of doubts, was very intelligent. He had started comedy after us but got very good very quickly, and I thought: “This guy is definitely going to be a force to be reckoned with”. We started to gig more, wore him down a little bit, and morphed into us three working as a very well-oiled, comedic trio.

 

What can you tell us about your latest Fringe world show, Comedy Boxing?

4790497Comedy Boxing is probably one of the most hilarious, ridiculous shows I have ever seen. Part of running our own agency is, Laugh Mob, is having the creative freedom to do these really wacky shows. If we were assigned to one of the other agencies, we probably wouldn’t have as much creative freedom. The show is basically Sam and Kyle full-on insulting each other in a structured format, which is the best thing. It’s pretty much the ‘why’ of Fringe and it’s just entertaining watching them insult each other.

Now, we have managed to put that format into a structure that everyone can enjoy. The biggest part of the stand-up is making it contextual to the crowd, generally, if people thought they were up there just insulting each other, people would think they weren’t friends and didn’t actually like each other. It’s quite the opposite, all three of us are best friends, and now Comedy Boxing has allowed a format that contextualises that for the audience and that’s why it’s so funny.

 

Diversity in mainstream media has been in the spotlight recently, where do you see this conversation going over the next year?

You’ve got key people that are really pushing for that, people like Kevin Hart – you’ve got people touring and working a lot harder at these things to breach those barriers. I think the non-white market for comedy is ready to explode and ripe for the picking. Seeing people like Kevin Hart, to me personally, is a massive inspiration. Seeing a short, black man go out there and do it and everyone love him gives me enough confidence to think that there is a market for it.

I feel I have a lot of this advantage in the comedy scene – people want to laugh at the racial stuff and when I get up there, whether I want to make fun of Indians or Africans whomever it may be, being South African I feel I may have the range to do that. Having that generally separates me from the crowd, when you go to a comedy club 99% of time it’s single, middle-class white guys complaining about stuff. The more diversity that you add to that I think separates you from the pack and elevates you from the crowd.

 

Comedy Boxing hits The Hidden Bar, Northbridge for Perth’s Fringe World 2016 from February 12th – 21st.

Photo credits: YouTube, Laugh Mob Entertainment

Fringe World Interview: Sam Kissajukian of Animals Attack Me


Sam Kissajukian has led an interesting life, a series of wacky events leading him from ambitious traveller to real ‘stand-up’ guy. The comic, spurred on by those around him, first stepped on stage three years ago. Telling of his experiences with animals, his stories of danger and curiosity quickly gained traction in Sydney’s comedy circuit.

From that first stage experience to today, Kissajukian regularly performs stand-up, long-form storytelling, and emcee work in Sydney. The comic, along with hosting two weekly comedy shows Live Baha and POS Comedy, is an essential part of Laugh Mob Entertainment. He, teaming up with fellow comics Ruven Govender and Kyle Legacy, is fast becoming a staple of Australian and world stand-up.

Kissajukian, fresh off the Melbourne Comedy Festival, Sydney Comedy Festival, and Edinburgh Fringe, is back in Perth for Fringe World 2016. His latest one-man show, Animals Attack Me, tells of life-threatening run-ins with Mother Nature’s most dangerous creations including Sharks, baboons, log-throwing chimpanzees, mountain lions, and the most fearsome of all – ex-girlfriends. This month, Kissajukian delivers seven nights of big laughs and valuable lessons for audience members great and small.

Reshoot & Rewind caught up with Kissajukin about his new show, burgeoning career, and awkward encounters with the animal kingdom.

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When did you realise you wanted to do comedy as a career?

That was actually after I started doing comedy, and fell into it accidentally. The show that i do is about being attacked by a lot of animals, so before I did comedy i was 27 and over the last 10 years I’ve been travelling and going on adventures. Just before I turned 27, we went to a storytelling competition, my girlfriend and I. Someone had dropped out, and she goes: “No, you should go in it, you should go in it”. The organizer was then like: “yeah we can put one more on”.

I went up and told a story about the time I got chased by a baboon with a machete and another time I got attacked by two sharks whilst spear fishing. I ended up coming second in the competition and then people invited me to do other storytelling nights. Then some said I should do stand up comedy and I started doing stand up and after I did that I thought: “This is great, I should just tell stories about my life”, and now it’s three years later and what I do for a living.

 

After your first few times on-stage, did you immediately adapt to it or did it get easier over time?

When I first started I started telling animal attack stories and that was great. Then I thought in stand-up comedy you’ve got to tell jokes, so I started writing jokes and went badly for a couple and then I got the hang of it. For the last two and a half years, it’s been pretty steadily increasing I definitely feel like I was more naturally a storyteller than a joke writer so its natural. I like telling long stories to pull people in, but now I do both – I do the stand-up comedy clubs and personal story shows.

 

What are your most alarming experiences in stand-up comedy?

I’ve had some great ones, one time I did a show, the audience didn’t like me, and I said: “If you guys don’t like me, I’m just going to subject you to dad jokes”. A woman yelled out: “No need, mate. You are your dad’s joke”. I thought that wa a fantastic heckle.

I had one that was very unfortunate, because it almost hurt me. It was in Newcastle, and the audience didn’t like me. I may have made a comment that the audience didn’t like and a woman at the back of the audience threw a bottle at me while I was on stage. It ended up being in the newspaper and became a bit of a hoo-hah, it was quite funny. Lucky it didn’t hit me. It still had beer in it, she threw a full beer at me.

 

You have toured across Australia and the world, how do the varying crowds and comedy atmospheres compare?

I spent a month in Edinburgh last year, I think it depends on the local audiences. Scottish people are so funny, they really are so funny and they’re so vocal and outspoken. I got a lot of heckles when I was in Scotland but they were great heckles. They were just so on point, so funny, and the Scottish people in general were just up for a laugh. There is just a real, fun drunk energy.

In another way, in somewhere like Hong Kong, that’s really interesting too because it’s such an international city. You get people who are expats, so I found that in Hong Kong it was like the comedians that did very well there spoke a lot about different races and sub-cultures in that respect. That seems to be the focus, somewhere like the Melbourne Comedy Festival that type of comedy doesn’t seem to as prevalent.

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How do yourself, Ruven Govender, and Kyle Legacy work together so well?

Comedy is just a lonely game, at the end of the day you’re an island and doing a lot of work alone and performing alone. We just decided that we would have a collective of guys working towards the same goal. We work on project individually but then, at the same time, we do a lot of stuff together. It help work on larger projects that you might not be able to do alone.

We are all very different people and we wouldn’t naturally, possibly be friends outside of comedy. I don’t know how I would have met these guys outside of comedy and, because we are so different, every situation we get into we find we have completely different perspectives on it and we really enjoy those differences. At the end of the day, they’re just good friends and I enjoy watching them succeed or fail on stage.

 

What can we expect from your latest show, Animals Attack Me

I’m delivering about 1o true stories about animal encounters. They are 100% true and I have just spent the last three years honing my craft so that I can tell them in the funniest way possible. I want to make these stories accessible and people that are interested in animals or had some animal experience themselves, there would be time to chat about that. I think everyone has a few in some regards to wild animals and I just want to dwell on the topic and open it up a little bit.

Sam Kissajukian’s Animals Attack Me is on at the Elephant & Wheelbarrrow, Northbridge from February 15th – 21st.

Photo Credits: samkissajukian.com, eveleighcomedy.com

Comedy Review: Colin Ebsworth: Neato Burrito @ DeLuxe


Perth comedian Colin Ebsworth, throughout his burgeoning stand-up career, has had a string of overwhelming experiences. At just 23, he has gone from strength to strength across the country. Delivering his refreshing, in-your-face style of comedy, he returns to Perth’s Fringe World festival – following up sell-out, award nominated shows Western Devil and First Blood: Parts I and II – with his best hour of hilarity yet.

col-eb-photo-by-tom-harfieldPerforming at some of Australia’s biggest stand-up events, and touring with the likes of Claire Hooper, Ebsworth’s enthusiasm and work ethic come off in spades. His latest set hits home; providing a modest, relatable look at early-20s existence.

Opening act Sean Conway, fresh off his latest act Rock ‘N’ Rolla, perfectly got the ball rolling on Neato Burrito’s opening night. Conway, with an impressive beard and bellowing voice, fits the mould of top Aussie bloke. His set revelled in Perth’s don’t-care spirit, poking fun at the never-ending feud between the Eagles and Dockers, Spudshed owner Tony Galati’s trouble with the establishment, and the bogan’s obsession with drugs. Breaking down a stint with steroids, his brief appearance left us wanting more.

Inside Fringe’s Deluxe venue, the audience sweltered in close-knit conditions. Ebsworth stormed onto the stage to thunderous applause from the overwhelming crowd. The comic hit the ground running, launching into self-effacing material about his appearance. Referring to his “Disney villain” face, the friendly, neighbourhood performer pulled the audience into his unique worldview.

Like preceding shows, he called Australia’s bogan-driven culture into question. Ripping apart rat-tails, neck-tattoos, and AFL, his scathing opinions hit the nail on the head. His material ascends to even greater scrutiny, tearing apart the concept of E-Plates on work vehicles for ‘troubled’ drivers. His wrath against Australia delves into very dark waters, highlighting the ridiculousness of our inherent xenophobia and lackadaisical treatment of crime.

Like his preceding Fringe World performances, Ebsworth’s quick wit, rollicking pace, and likeable stage presence stand tall. His observational notes touch on the public’s biggest pet peeves, with vegans, burlesque, pop-up advertisements, and professional DJs are obliterated by the comic’s dark, edgy comments. The audience wandered into the firing line, with the front row chock-a-block with under-18s and half-drunk 40-year-olds.artworks-000064885041-mowt8f-t500x500

Neato Burrito, essentially, resembles a workshop for Ebsworth to test new material, launch into inspired impressions, and gauge audience sensitivity. The light-hearted larrikin immediately picked up the vibe, acknowledging which gags landed better than others. Brushing aside muted reactions and loud heckles; his self-awareness keeps his confidence in check.

Ebsworth’s set provides a unique, heartfelt insight into his professional and personal lives. His routine puts a contemporary twist on relationship material, discussing the varying difficulties of the age gap in the shallow-gossip age. He is aware of their demographic, tearing down everything to do with the first break up, the in-laws, and the relationship’s many perplexing highs and lows. Similarly, his commentary/advice on men and women – gay and straight – rings with a hint of optimism.

Ebsworth reflects upon his childhood and the young-adult phase, aptly describing life in Perth for anyone between 4 and 26 years. From his parents’ yin-yang dynamic to his friends’ unhelpful relationship advice, the comedian’s paints a shockingly relatable and explicit picture of his coming of age. His standout material talked about the bliss of primary school, vividly comparing the classroom politics to gangland warfare and lunchtime in the playground to Shawshank Redemption.

Neato Burrito is one of Fringe World’s gems – an honest, hysterical, and haunting insight into Perth’s best and worst individuals, groups, and cultural touchstones.

Comedy Review: Ben Darsow 2016 @ Elephant & Wheelbarrow


Australian comedian Ben Darsow had a banner 2015, touring his breakout show, Now, before travelling and performing around the USA, UK, and Asia. His stand-up has launched him into the stratosphere, with comedy fans the world over eager for his brand of observational humour and pithy audience interaction. His 2015 Fringe World show sold over 1000 tickets and garnered immaculate critical acclaim.

bendarsowpromoshotHaving toured the Australian comedy circuit for several years, and mega-popular YouTube videos, Darsow’s name is up in lights. Ben Darsow 2016 hits four venues – Elephant & Wheelbarrow, Clancy’s Fish Pub, Comedy Shack, and The Balmoral Backyard – with his sharp comedic style this season.

Kicking off in Northbridge’s prestigious venue, he launched into several jabs about the return to Perth. Delivering an outsider’s perspective, his remarks against the city’s expensive café scene and thirst for fitness rang painfully true. Continuing his funny-because-it’s-true run of gags, the comedian’s anecdote – about a grocery store’s sign for $449 bananas and zero decimal points – sums up the city’s bizarre sense of self.

In true Darsow tradition, the comedian turned to the audience to ask a few modest questions. Chatting to the front row, he chatted heartily with two women about their professions, time in Perth, and the designated driver. His enthusiasm became a significant part of the set, leaping between genuine interest and witty repartee.

Chatting with two miners in the front row, Darsow recalled several baffling stories of his latest tour of the Goldfields. His stories seemed unfathomable, prodding everything from the loneliness of FIFO workers, to Occupational Health and Safety officers, to the mining boom’s impact on Perth prices. Despite forgetting a number of punch lines, his likeability and modesty pushed himself and the audience through.

Darsow’s set became a journey of personal discovery, launching into his professional and personal lives intersecting. His self-deprecating, ironic sense of humour helped him reflect upon his own life story. His stories of New York/Lafayette expenses, a drag queen/bingo night in Sydney, and speeding taxis in Malaysia drew us into the peculiar, unique exploits of a travelling comedian.

The Adelaide comic shared several out-there tales of life on the road and in the fast lane. His anecdotes revealed unique, intricate details about the differences between Australia and the rest of the world. The comedian, paying attention to each gag and response, discussed the success of each joke and anecdote in front of different audiences. His jabs against Ryan Crowley, Jared (the Subway guy), and deaths at Stereosonic elicited a ‘too soon…’ response.

show_page_display.1426490144The comic’s life story rounded out the set, reflecting upon his time as a single, young man. His relatable, self-conscious anecdotes – referring to texting as a single man, the number of sexual partners, awkward dating experiences, and being in long-term relationships – hit close to home for each male crowd member. The climax of the show did not disappoint, with Darsow opening up about several alarming experiences with drugs.

The finale tapped into his wacky side, with Daddy Cool’s Eagle Rock blaring over the speakers. As the audience whooped and cheered, Darsow and another bloke dropped their pants in beer-fuelled celebration, referring to a gag earlier in the set. His latest show is a laugh-out-loud celebration of his highs, lows, and everything in between.

Ben Darsow 2016 is playing across Perth throughout Fringe World – January 22nd to February 21st.

Sisters Audio Review: Family Ties


Director: Jason Moore

Writer: Paula Pell

Stars: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Ike Barinholtz, Maya Rudolph

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Release date: January 7th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes


 

3½/5

Review:

Vacation (Home Release) Audio Review: Down Nostalgia Lane


Directors: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley

Writers: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley

Stars: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins

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Release date: July 29th, 2015

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

 Country: USA

Running time: 99 minutes


 

2/5

Review:

The Rewrite Audio Review: Hugh Talkin’ To Me?


Director: Marc Lawrence

Writer: Marc Lawrence

Stars: Hugh Grant, Marisa Tomei, Bella Heathcote, J. K. Simmons

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Release date: October 8th, 2014

Distributor: Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 106 minutes


 

3/5

Review:

The Dressmaker Audio Review: Tattered, Torn & Trite


Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse

Writers: Jocelyn Moorhouse, P. J. Hogan

Stars: Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth, Hugo Weaving

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Release date: October 29th, 2015

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: Australia 

Running time: 118 minutes


 

1½5

Review:

The Wedding Ringer (Home Release) Audio Review: Beating Hart


Director: Jeremy Garelick

Writers: Jeremy Garelick, Jay Lavender

Stars: Josh Gad, Kevin Hart, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Olivia Thirlby

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Release date: January 16th, 2015

Distributor: Screen Gems

Country: USA

Running time: 101 minutes


 

3/5

Review:

Comedy Review: Michael Workman @ His Majesty’s Theatre


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Review: Michael Workman @ His Majesty’s Theatre

Comedy Review: Luke Heggie @ 720 ABC Laugh Locker


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Review: Luke Heggie – You’re Not Special

Interview: Rory Lowe


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Interview: Rory Lowe

Comedy Review: The Black, White, Beard @ Noodle Palace


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Review: The Black, White, Beard

Comedy Review: Rory Lowe @ Mojo’s Bar


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Review: Rory Lowe @ Mojo’s Bar

Interview: Ben Darsow


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Interview: Ben Darsow

Interview: Colin Ebsworth


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Interview: Colin Ebsworth

Horrible Bosses 2 Review: Two & A Half Stooges


Director: Sean Anders

Writers: Sean Anders, John Morris

Stars: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Chris Pine


Release date: December 11th, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Entertainment 

Country: USA

Running time: 108 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: The three leads.

Worst part: The recycled plot.

Review: Horrible Bosses 2

Verdict: Another middling comedy sequel.

Magic in the Moonlight Review – A Cruel Trick


Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen

Stars: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden

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Release date: September 19th, 2014

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Country: USA

Running time: 97 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: The charming performances.

Worst part: The heavy-handed subtext.

Certainly, veteran actor/writer/director Woody Allen has lived an awe-inspiring, unpredictable, and thought-provoking life. The 78-year-old Tinseltown icon has spent several decades breaking the mould. With game-changing successes in multiple disciplines, his aura, for the better part of a century, has shone brighter than Hollywood Boulevard and Times Square combined. This starry-eyed filmmaker has delivered some of cinema history’s greatest moments. In front of and behind the camera, the tick-laden auteur has given industry hopefuls and impressionists plenty to smile about.

Colin Firth and Emma Stone's peculiar coupling.

Colin Firth and Emma Stone’s peculiar coupling.

Allen, despite being cinema’s most prolific hit-and-miss filmmaker, shouldn’t be insulted for his work. However, despite his merits, his latest effort, Magic in the Moonlight, won’t convert any average film-goers into raging fans. This jaunty romantic comedy, if anything, proves that Allen should take more vacations. Possibly, he should go to some of the many picturesque locations he’s captured over his illustrious career. For now, he’s stuck making witless and confused rom-coms. In typical Allen fashion, the allure of classier times fuels the otherwise bland and uninspired narrative. The story, inexplicably wafer-thin, relies on several key players to push it into overdrive. We start off in 1920s Berlin, with a world-famous illusionist performing his signature act for a packed house. Wei Ling Soo, playing to wealthy audiences, earns his fortune by making elephants disappear from boxes and slicing gorgeous stage hands in half. However, the real illusion is revealed once Soo is back-stage. Revealed to be a snide British man, Stanley (Colin Firth), Soo regularly berates production crew members, journalists, and fans. Debunking fraudulent magicians and mediums in his spare time, Stanley’s narrow-minded worldview attracts business but deters everything else. Given a new assignment by long-time friend Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), Stanley heads to the Cote d’Azur  to mingle with the ultra-wealthy Catledge family  – Grace (Jacki Weaver), Brice (Hamish Linklater), Caroline (Erica Leershen), and her husband George (Jeremy Shamos) – and uncover houseguest/clairvoyant Sophie(Emma Stone) and her mother(Marcia Gey Harden)’s misgivings.

The sublime sights of a Woody Allen picture.

The sublime sights of a Woody Allen picture.

Crafting a star-studded feature every one-or-two years, Allen’s work-horse routine is now cracking under pressure. Sporting a career marred by controversy, the notorious filmmaker should be trying harder to win us over. Sadly, this lifeless and misguided rom-com is a significant step backwards. Sitting well-below recent efforts including Blue Jasmine and Match Point, Magic in the Moonlight calls Allen’s attentiveness, relevance, and tolerance levels into question. Unlike previous efforts, this movie lacks anything resembling subtlety, gravitas, originality, or charm. His signature storytelling tropes, bolstered by real-life events, overcook the movie’s tiresome screenplay. Throughout its brief run-time, as Stanley becomes bewitched by Sophie’s charms, the cliche-meter ticks over. Crafting a whimsical mystery/love story, this nostalgic rom-com shifts awkwardly between each conversation, montage, and revelation. Pulling Stanley and Sophie together with witless conversations and wide-eyed stares, Allen’s latest delivers several discomforting and interminable scenarios. In addition, the narrative makes the unwarranted leap from meet-cute-driven comedy to sweeping romance. One scene, in which Stanley and Sophie’s car breaks down in front of an observatory, almost sinks this light-hearted romp. Throwing in plot-threads, characters, and twists sporadically, Allen’s 96-minute magic trick lands with a whimper instead of a bang.

“When the heart rules the head, disaster follows.” (Stanley (Colin Firth), Magic in the Moonlight).

Hamish Linklater and Jacki Weaver now part of Woody Allen's collective.

Hamish Linklater and Jacki Weaver now part of Woody Allen’s collective.

Obsessed with slight-of-hand story-telling ticks, Allen’s hubris hurriedly takes over here. Sugar-coating each plot-strand and character arc, Magic in the Moonlight discards intriguing concepts in favour of stylistic flourishes and heavy-handed dialogue. Beyond the inflated narrative, the movie never says anything relevant or thought-provoking. Pitting Stanley’s nihilism against Sophie’s air-tight optimism, the movie continually dives into a suffocating science vs. religion debate. Relying on mismatched leads and one-note support, the characters exists simply to echo Allen’s viewpoints. Meddling with infidelity and age differences in relationships yet again, Allen’s personal touch amp-ups the creep factor. However, known to show off the world’s most picturesque locations, Allen’s direction bolsters this archaic and forgettable effort. Aided by Darius Khondji’s pristine cinematography, the movie’s infatuation with France is almost worth the admission cost. Drowning us in his high-society existence, his version of the Mediterranean sports the world’s most appealing vineyards, Great Gatsby-style parties, mansions, and scenic vistas. Allen should also be credited for pulling this remarkable cast together. Bolstering his exhaustive dialogue, certain scenes bow down to these immaculate thespians. Firth, despite his irritating character, admirably sells each line. Thanks to his pithy delivery and effortless charisma, the British icon elevates several sequences. Stone, however, is the movie’s best asset. Her show-stopping looks and raw energy make for an invigorating love interest. Eileen Atkins almost steals the show as Stanley’s wise and advantageous aunt, Vanessa.

Whenever Allen invites a journalist into his home, he always shows off the most important part of the property. He opens a drawer, then pulls out a stack of screenplay ideas from which his features originate. This method, despite the infatuation with cinema, now seems like an act of desperation. Surely, Magic in the Moonlight won’t age well. Thanks to a ridiculous screenplay, wafer-thin characters, and overbearing subtext, this fluffy rom-com highlights the veteran filmmaker’s flaws. Wearing his style thin, the movie makes for a significant misstep within a momentous career.

Verdict: The master filmmaker’s latest fumble.

Let’s Be Cops Review – Bullets, Badges, & Bromances


Director: Luke Greenfield

Writers: Luke Greenfield, Nicholas Thomas

Stars: Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans, Jr., Nina Dobrev, Rob Riggle


Release Date: August 27th, 2014

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 104 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: Johnson and Wayans, Jr.’s chemistry.

Worst part: The banal gross-out gags.

Over a short period, TV  has surpassed film as the go-to form of entertainment. With A-listers including Kevin Spacey and Matthew McConaughey jumping ship, the small screen is developing increasingly more ambitious projects featuring our favourite performers. So, who are the actors jumping from TV to film? Nowadays, this responsibility rests with sitcom stars of varying ages and talents. With Let’s Be Cops, two New Girl leads hurriedly leaped formats. Despite the movie’s flaws, their involvement saves it from being wholly mediocre.

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. leaving their New Girl comrades behind.

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. leaving their New Girl comrades behind.

Obviously, Director Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door) didn’t have to do much to win over New Girl fans or buddy-cop aficionados. Sadly, despite the cast and crew’s hard work, Let’s Be Cops might be overshadowed by recent real-life atrocities. With the Ferguson, Missouri issue concerning the US Government, varying authoritative bodies, and the country’s citizens, this movie’s outlandish premise comes off as tasteless and desperate. With news media calling America’s police practices into question, this action-comedy’s tactless approach may rub some groups the wrong way. So, should we blame this production for trying to have fun? The cast and crew, completing everything before this atrocity took place, deserve a fair assessment. So, with that in mind, does this buddy-cop farce stand up to scrutiny? Definitive answer: yes and no. Unsurprisingly, the story never delves past the title. Former football hopeful Ryan O’Malley (Jake Johnson) and submissive video game designer Justin Miller (Damon Wayans, Jr.) are unsuccessful, thirty-something man-children struggling to face reality. Bafflingly, after an embarrassing college reunion mishap, their elaborate police costumes are far more convincing than expected. Strutting through LA, the immediate acclaim gives them a blissful adrenaline rush. Convinced of this newfound ‘life purpose’, Ryan, ignoring Justin’s concerns, becomes addicted to the gun and badge. Buying a patrol vehicle off eBay, Ryan continually pulls Justin into trouble.

Nina Dobrev as Josie.

Nina Dobrev as Josie.

From the first patrol scene onward, several disturbing plot elements distort Let’s Be Cops’ light-hearted narrative. Obviously, Ryan and Justin’s actions serve to abuse police power. In fact, impersonating a police officer offers up significant prison time and fines. Therefore, with said penalties on the line, the narrative needed to be interesting enough to distract the average filmgoer from reality. Sadly, despite being an enjoyable buddy-actioner, these plot gripes hover above the audience throughout its 102-minute run-time. The story relies on two opposing viewpoints to keep the comedy and drama in line. From the get-go, the odd-couple relationship is hammered across our heads. With Ryan’s oppressive attitude clashing with Justin’s do-gooder personality, this central relationship brings up major questions. In addition, as it transitions from intriguing dramedy to goofy buddy-cop flick, their back-and-fourths become tiresome and dumbfounding. Though Johnson’s character is given suitable, albeit disastrously idiotic, motivations, Wayans, Jr.’s role becomes a series of alliance switches and reluctant decisions. Despite Justin’s desire to become a stronger person, the movie makes him the butt of almost every joke. Failing to get his video game idea, ‘Patrolman’, off the ground, the movie’s mean-streak occasionally weights down this breezy, laugh-fuelled romp. Despite this inconsistent bromance, Johnson and Wayans, jr.’s snappy New Girl dynamic boosts this simplistic venture.

“I feel like Danny Glover before he got too old for this sh*t.” (Justin Miller (Damon Wayans, Jr.), Let’s Be Cops).

Keenan Michael Key without Jordan Peele.

Keegan-Michael Key without Jordan Peele.

Despite the exhaustive improv. sequences, Johnson and Wayans, jr. enliven their stock-standard characters. In this and Safety Not Guaranteed, Johnson proves himself an adventurous and efficient leading man. Conquering the slacker archetype, his likeable presence rescues his conventional character arc. In addition, Wayans, Jr. – stepping out of his family’s shadow – delivers enough charisma and levity when required. Along the way, his comic timing and slapstick gags deliver several laugh-out-loud moments. Meanwhile, Rob Riggle delivers some worthwhile jabs as an enthusiastic yet gullible lawman. Undoubtedly, Let’s Be Cops was designed specifically for our two sitcom-bred stars. Sadly, thanks to hit-and-miss humour, the movie becomes a 21/22 Jump Street rip-off. Despite the potential, its gross-out gags merely degrade certain action beats. The underlying cop-mobster storyline – revolving around Russian mob boss Massi Kasic(James D’Arcy)’s threats against cute waitress Josie (Nina Dobrev) – never sparks any excitement. In fact, this sub-plot exists simply to deliver action, Andy Garcia in another villain role, and D’Arcy’s convincing Ethan Hawke impersonation. Shifting around this sub-plot, the movie’s half-processed skits reek of desperation. Some scenes – featuring our leads strutting into nightclubs, flirting with drunk chicks, and forcing innocent people into uncomfortable situations – add nothing to the story.

Let’s Be Cops – despite the lazy premise and production’s laid-back attitude – overcame several obstacles before hitting the box office. Hindered by a major socio-political scandal, a poor release date, and a derivative marketing campaign (seriously, the image of police partners screaming has been used a million times!), it’s a miracle this buddy-cop flick is even watchable. In addition, Johnson and Wayans, jr. deliver more big laughs than expected. Thanks to their flawless dynamic, these two pull off the uniforms with ease.

Verdict: A charming yet lazy action-comedy.

What If Review – Friend Zoned


Director: Michael Dowse

Writers: Elan Mastai (screenplay), T. J. Dawe (novel)

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis

what_if_movie_poster


Release date: August 20th, August

Distributor: Entertainment One

Countries: Canada, Ireland

Running time: 101 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Radcliffe and Kazan’s chemistry.

Worst part: The slapstick gags.

Some actors, introduced to Hollywood at an early age, find it difficult to stray away from certain character types. Several hard-yards youngsters have tried and failed to stay relevant whilst transitioning from childhood to adolescence. Over the past decade, one ambitious British actor has radically transformed the stigma surrounding him. Daniel Radcliffe, known for the mega-successful Harry Potter franchise, is leaving the boy-wizard aura behind thanks to ballsy entries including The Woman in Black and Kill Your Darlings.

Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan’s blistering chemistry defeats all!

From a distance, cheerful romantic comedy What If looks like the right ingredient for cementing his leading-man status. Backed up by pulpy horror-fantasy Horns, he, his agent, and publicist seem to be making all the right moves. On track to be the next Hugh Grant or Colin Firth, his ambitious acting style is an ever-changing experiment in itself. In this heartening rom-rom, Radcliffe channels everything into he and his leading lady’s dynamic. Wholeheartedly, our leads bolster this likeable effort. The narrative revolves around twenty-something nobody Wallace (Radcliffe). Having caught his unfaithful girlfriend in the act, our medical school dropout can’t seem to move on. After a year of sorrow and rejection, Wallace searches for anything to cheer him up. One night, at his roommate/best friend Allan(Adam Driver)’s house party, he meets quirky dame Chantry (Zoe Kazan). Stuck in a rut, our leads might just work perfectly together. However, there’s always a catch! Out of the blue, Chantry reveals her close-knit relationship with Ben (Rafe Spall). As per the Hollywood rom-com code, Wallace is no match for Chantry’s significant other. Agreeing to be friends, Wallace and Chantry’s bond grows with each chance encounter and coffee-driven meet up.

Adam Driver and Mackenzie Davis lending a helping hand.

Every 3 to 90 year old knows the ins and outs of big-budget rom-coms. From the posters alone, often depicting our leads leaning on one another, it’s easy to decipher every plot-line and character arc. With fantasy overshadowing  quality, these movies rely on desperate singles and eager couples giving Hollywood enough cash to produce more of them. Surprisingly, What If takes several rom-com tropes for a spin before beating and leaving them for dead. Sure, this may seem shockingly morbid. However, the movie wants us to feel this way. Looking down upon sensitivity and  artificiality, this movie asks the age old question – can men and women ever be friends? Throughout most of this enlightening  rom-com, the answer appears to be “yes”. In fact, when Wallace and Chantry act like buddies, the movie crafts its best moments. Indeed, despite the unending meet cutes and fun montages, the movie’s first-two thirds follow a refreshing and respectable trajectory. With the narrative reaching peculiar peaks and troughs, the first-two thirds linger in the consciousness. Unfortunately, the final third, Fuelled by more cliches and contrivances than a Valentine’s Day Drive-in marathon, the climax falls flatter than expected. Throwing in airports, taxis, time limits, confessions of love, and first kisses, the movie drops its realistic glow in favour of studio-driven sappiness.

“99% honesty is the foundation of any relationship.” (Allan (Adam Driver), What If).

what-if-megan-park

Megan Park as the loud mouth sister.

Credit belongs to director Michael Dowse (Goon, Take Me Home Tonight) for crafting a Canadian rom-com with US flair and a dry British sense of humour. Brewing a (500) Days of Summer and Ruby Sparks concoction, What If takes a hefty bite out of typical genre conventions. Shocking audiences with its mean streak, the movie throws in much more expletives and sex talk than expected. Thanks to Chantry’s promiscuous sister Dalia (Megan Park) and Allan’s girlfriend Nicole (Mackenzie Davis) inclusion, this rom-com is unafraid to get down and dirty into hard-earned truths. Discussing sex, loneliness, infidelity, and relationships, the movie earns points for not sugar-coating everything of relevance. In fact, as the sub-plots rise and fall immeasurably, its message makes several must-hear points about love and loss. Sadly, influenced by Michel Gondry and Marc Webb, Dowse’s style adds little to the final product. Repeatedly stating the obvious, his animated flourishes and editing techniques outline already-established points. In addition, running gags and improvised lines extend the running time beyond merit. However, overshadowing its minor quibbles, Radcliffe and Kazan shine in the spotlight. Radcliffe, losing his Potter sheen, is enrapturing as the good egg cracking under pressure. Carrying the movie’s slight shade of optimism, Radcliffe radically bolsters his intriguing role. Meanwhile, Kazan’s inherent charisma and awe-inspiring enthusiasm save certain cliched sections.

Blasting through rom-com cliches and archetypes, What If, for the first-two thirds, is a charming and visceral meet-cute-ridden distraction. Radcliffe and Kazan, proving to be alluring lead actors, elevate every second of screen time. Whether they’re together or apart, it’s difficult to take your eyes off them. As action-horror flicks fester August and September, this romp provides the perfect reprieve from everything around us. In fact, if Radcliffe can escape Harry Potter, we can leapfrog Into the Storm and catch this enjoyable smooch-fest instead.

Verdict: 2014’s most invigorating rom-com.

Sex Tape Review – A Limp Effort


Director: Jake Kasdan

Writers: Kate Angelo, Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller

Stars: Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper

Sex_Tape_(film)


Release date: July 18th, 2014

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 94 minutes


 

 

 

2/5

Best part: Diaz and Segel’s chemistry.

Worst part: The awkward gross-out gags.

Nowadays, romantic comedies follow the most tried-and-true formula in the history of…pretty much, everything ever. From day one, rom-com productions follow a pattern as predictable as death and taxes. Fortunately, these two things are excluded from most laugh-riots. However, unsurprisingly, Sex Tape‘s poster beats the trailer to the punch. By looking at these wall-strung ads, you can predict how this unfunny and tedious farce will play out.

sex_tape7

Jason Segel & Cameron Diaz.

So, with all that said, does Sex Tape live up to my  ‘expectations’? Short answer: absolutely! Spoiling the plot and funny moments within its heinous marketing campaign, this production shot itself in the foot before the controversy-stricken premieres commenced. With Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel lashing out against adoring fans, it seems even the movie’s A-list leads are hell-bent on eradicating this uninspired rom-com from Hollywood’s consciousness. Pathetically so, the movie itself does the job for them. The story, such as it is, latches onto one so-normal-it’s-boring marriage. Meeting in college, Annie (Diaz) and Jay (Segel) spend their study hours gyrating on top of one another. Enjoying passionate sex for hours on end, these youngsters revel in each other’s company. However, with marriage and kids on the horizon, their sex life comes to a slow and painful halt. The movie jumps forward several years, and our once-freakish characters refuse to even glance at one another’s naked bodies. Controlled by momentous responsibilities, Annie and Jay begin to question their marriage’s future. Bafflingly so, this plot is copied and pasted from several well-known comedies. In fact, Sex Tape can’t even inspire fever dreams about similar efforts.

Film-Review-Sex-Tape

Rob Lowe brings the funny…occasionally.

Sticking by its tepid premise, Sex Tape jumps into bed with vigour and gusto. Struggling for ideas, Annie and Jay make a sex tape filled with positions from best-seller The Joy of Sex. Wackily so, after the video syncs up with their friends’ new iPads (adding to the movie’s partnership with Apple and YouPorn), Annie and Jay decide to track them down and destroy them before the video hits the web. Like The Five Year Engagement and Get Him to the Greek, Sex Tape dares to look into a Magic 8-Ball. Despite the A-list cast and kooky gags, these comedies attempt to examine love’s trials and tribulations. With marriage driving the First World, these movies garner exhaustive profits and adorable reviews. However, from any angle, these movies glisten like Cubic Zirconias – pretty yet phoney. Disarmingly, movies like Sex Tape make condescending comments about us ‘lesser’ folk. This gross-out flick is, by the length of Judd Apatow’s run-times, the most transparent and uninteresting one to date. Sporting a by-the-numbers screenplay, the narrative takes every tried-and-tested turns imaginable. Wallowing in its own filth, Sex Tape‘s disgraceful sense of humour, leaps in logic, and conventional narrative don’t stand up to criticism. Questions form around the movie’s sporadic choices, transitioning from dull rom-com to wacky sitcom. Good for only one How I Met Your Mother episode, the outlandish premise doesn’t match the 94-minute run-time. In fact, the movie wears out its welcome before even the 1-hour mark.

“Nobody Understands the Cloud. It’s A f*cking mystery!” (Jay (Jason Segel), Sex Tape).

getimage

Rob Corddry & Ellie Kemper’s big-screen hijinks.

Despite the production’s unadulterated swagger, Sex Tape climaxes way too early. Filling the first third with ‘sexy’ shenanigans, director/co-writer Jake Kasdan (Bad Teacher, Orange County) delivers yet another predictable and shallow improv-fest. Lacking a strong screenplay, this comedy never escapes 22 Jump Street and Bad Neighbours‘ shadows. Like Kasdan’s previous efforts, Sex Tape is raunch for raunch’s sake. Lacking flair or charm, this is a sleazy and dull rom-com lacking the courage to justify itself. In fact, this comes off like a horny simpleton late to the orgy. Wearing the gross-out genre out, Kasdan’s style reeks of desperation and mimicry. Borrowing from Apatow’s grounded perspective, Sex Tape‘s message awkwardly grinds against the unrealistic hijinks. Much of this stems from the cast’s inexplicable lust for expletives and crude one-liners. Throwing in meaningless sub-plots, Sex Tape‘s trajectory is thrown off course whenever its characters open their mouths. Our performers, known for their spritely comedic chops, extend certain scenes just so…the story can happen. One set piece, in which Diaz and Rob Lowe snort coke and leer at bizarre artworks, is more repulsive and bland than the tape itself. Borrowing from previous roles, Diaz and Segel hamper this already grating romp. In peak physical condition, Diaz tries and fails to re-ignite her career here. Meanwhile, sporting a strange physique, a little of Segel’s ‘comedy’ goes a long way. Thankfully, Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper are exceedingly likeable in small roles.

As the cinematic equivalent of a mid-afternoon dry hump , Sex Tape goes limp before it can even say: ” I’m sorry, that’s never happened to me before!”. Sadly, sticking to the big-budget comedy code, this genre shows no signs of slowing down. Pleasuring only itself and its multi-millionaire leads, the movie’s improv-lead humour and plot-hole-driven narrative signify the importance of quality over quantity (learn it well, kids). I applaud Diaz and Segel’s chemistry, but mixing business with pleasure like this has delivered a…flop.

 Verdict: Raunch without joy or thrills. 

22 Jump Street Review – Second Shot


Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Writers: Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, Rodney Rothman

Stars: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Peter Stormare


Release date: June 6th, 2014

Distributors: Columbia Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Country: USA

Running time: 112 minutes


 

4/5 

Best part: Hill and Tatum’s chemistry.

Worst part: Some of the wink-and-nudge gags.

Sequels – we love to hate some of them, and hate to love others. The sequel is undoubtedly the most complained-about trope in Hollywood’s bag of tricks. Extending franchises and profit margins, additional instalments are designed to market big-name brands and draw larger audiences to the theatre. However, overcoming this manipulation of brand-name products, the new, gag-fuelled 21 Jump Street franchise has propelled itself above the competition. Continuing this year’s string of ambitious and alluring comedies, 22 Jump Street tickles audiences and studio bean-counters in the right places.

Jonah Hill & Channing Tatum.

The 2012 original, based on the kitsch 1980s TV series of the same name, was one of that year’s biggest surprises. Busting out of the gate, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Lego Movie) were given permission to tackle anything Hollywood was willing to give them. Taking on bizarre concepts, these two geniuses have leant their skills to two features in 2014. Their second release, though not as charming or consistent as the first, is still a significant step above most big-budget farces. In the original, our lead characters, after graduating from the police academy, had to go back to high school to infiltrate drug dens and contrasting cliques. Picking up where they left off, Lord and Miller’s latest creation places everything and everyone in the firing line. This time around, our favourite crime-crippling and quirk-fuelled cops, Schmit (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum), feel at home in the city they protect. Reinstated to police duty, this partnership is obsessed with making a name for itself. However, their egos nosedive when they’re assigned to follow notorious drug kingpin Ghost (Peter Stormare). After letting Ghost escape their clutches, Schmit and Jenko are thrown to the wolves once again. Conveniently, their ass-kicking unit has moved across the street to, you guess it, 22 Jump Street. Lectured by Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), our two rag-tag cops are ordered to do everything they did the first time around to track down a synthetic drug called “WHYPHY”. Schmit and Jenko, known to play by their own rules, must face their toughest assignment yet: fitting in at college.

Spring Break!

With 22 Jump Street, Lord and Miller were given permission to do anything they wanted. Surprisingly, and efficiently, these joined-at-the-hip filmmakers are retreading old ground. To an outsider reading this review, this might seem tiresome and repulsive. However, this buddy-cop movie fights the biggest villain of all – sequelitis. Lord and Miller, inspired by influential action-comedies and their previous efforts, successfully grapple this sequel’s meta aspects. For the most part, 22 Jumps Street‘s wink-and-nudge gags are refreshing and inventive. From the opening chief-busts-some-balls scene, in which Nick Offerman’s character compares Schmit and Jenko’s new assignment to this instalment’s premise, the movie reflectively takes a stab at its existence, Hill and Tatum’s star power, the budget, and the buddy-cop genre. Not to be outdone, the star-laden cameos, wily plot-twists, and kinetic closing credits sequence bolster this frantic effort. In fact, I dare say this franchise is the worthy successor to the Lethal Weapon and 48 Hours series. However, coming close to breaking the fourth wall, some gags fall flatter than Tatum’s ab-zone. Some jokes, pointing out this sequel’s similarities to the original, hammer home the already overbearing message. On top of the movie’s comedic motifs, this sequel’s quaint subplots occasionally belabour the point. With Schmit falling for art student Maya (Amber Stevens) and Jenko forming a bromance with party-hungry frat-boy Zook (Wyatt Russell, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn’s son), some sequences violently shift the movie’s tone from boisterous, to poignant, then to dour. But hey, as happy-go-lucky cinema-goers, you have a choice between this or A Million Ways to Die in the West (make the right choice, people!). Thankfully, unlike most comedy sequels, 22 Jump Street‘s reoccurring gags work wonders for its hearty subtext. Laughing at its own stupidity, the car chases, wacky villains, and hormone-fuelled settings are welcome ingredients in this potent concoction.

“We Jump Street, and we ’bout to jump in yo ass.” (Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), 22 Jump Street).

Ice Cube.

Ice Cube.

Embracing the college lifestyle, 22 Jump Street even skewers its more impressionistic and idiosyncratic conceits. Hurling poetry slams, co-ed bathrooms, and Spring Break into the mix, Schmit and Jenko’s actions and reactions are equally charming. Beyond Hill’s improvised quips and Tatum’s significant physical presence, credit goes to screenwriters Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman for developing this instalment’s pop-culture-savvy and likeable sense of humour. Conquering modern studio-driven comedy’s foibles, this team’s think-outside-the-box technique pays off. In addition, Lord and Miller’s dynamic visual style keeps the audience entertained throughout its appropriate 112-minute run-time. Utilising valuable camera, editing, and sound design tricks, the duo’s enthusiastic and light-hearted direction propels us through the tried-and-true story structure. Some moments, including Schmit and jenko’s preposterous drug-related freak-out, test their unbridled split-screen techniques. Comparing Schmit’s internal struggle to Jenko’s unbridled optimism, this colour-laden sequence delivers major laughs. Of course, Bouncing off their acting strengths and weaknesses, this series would crumble without Hill and Tatum’s immeasurable chemistry. Establishing a polar-opposites-type connection, these leading men deliver charismatic and modest turns in larger-than-life roles. Lending his writing and acting talents to this series, Hill’s quick-witted personality and distinctive physical features elevate his captivating turn. Coming off his second Oscar nomination, this A-lister works well with anyone and anything. Tatum, bolstering his career with the original and Magic Mike, steals the show as the bumbling jock. Establishing his parkour skills and good looks, some scenes play like Tatum’s superhero-saga audition reel.

Reasonably, everyone expected the original and its sequel to bomb spectacularly for different reasons. Judging by how these series’ normally play out, a sorrowful outcome was expected for Lord, Miller, Hill, and Tatum’s passion project. However, emphatically so, this series has overcome incredible odds to out-class and out-gun the competition. Thanks to its meta-narrative, kooky action sequences, and talented lead actors, 22 Jump Street, despite being a highly-anticipated sequel, is one of the year’s biggest surprises.

Verdict: A hysterical and reflexive comedy sequel. 

A Million Ways to Die in the West Review – The Not So Wild West


Director: Seth MacFarlane 

Writers: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild 

Stars: Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson


Release date: May 30th, 2014

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 116 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: The energetic performances.

Worst part: The turgid gross-out humour.

The American West is a setting continually romanticised on the big and small screens. From the gritty magnetism of Deadwood to the kooky thrills of Cowboys and Aliens, Hollywood makes gun-toting outlaws, violent bar fights, and the Great Plains seem extraordinary. However, the real story of the Old West is a disgusting and questionable one. Pointing out the obvious, mega-successful entrepreneur Seth MacFarlane’s latest effort, A Million Ways to Die in the West, exhaustively and turgidly overlays the point I just made.

Seth MacFarlane & Charlize Theron.

Despite his new feature’s quality, MacFarlane, known for animated TV series’ like Family Guy, American Dad, and The Cleveland Show, is one of pop-culture’s most talented and intriguing figures. Releasing jazz albums and hosting the Oscars ceremony in his spare time, the 30-something celebrity appears to be everywhere at once. Bringing back Cosmos and Star Trek, his likes and dislikes have been plastered across every adult’s frame of mind. Obviously, MacFarlane can create inventive and pacy creations. Here, his ambitious and eye-catching reach drastically exceeds his grasp. The plot, such as it is, proves exactly why Family Guy never relies on plot, character arcs, or thematic relevance. Stuck in the Old West, down-on-his-luck sheepherder Albert Stark (MacFarlane) is forced to talk his way out of a gunfight. Looked down upon by the townspeople, his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) is embarrassed by him. Dumped soon afterward the standoff, Stark throws it in and reveals his hatred of the Great Plains. Meanwhile, somewhere else in the west, vicious outlaw Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) forces his wife Anna (Charlize Theron) to head toward Stark’s hometown.

Neil Patrick Harris & Amanda Seyfried.

Neil Patrick Harris & Amanda Seyfried.

From there, the narrative relies on the most basic of western and romantic comedy clichés. MacFarlane, following up his first live-action feature Ted, has made yet another conventional and unexciting gross-out comedy. Released after mega-hit Bad Neighbours, it’s hard not to compare the two. Sadly, unlike that farce, AMWTDITW takes its conventional premise and never ventures into unfamiliar or even dangerous territory. At this point, MacFarlane, with this and failed sitcom Dads, is only holding himself back. The movie, stretched to an unwarranted 2-hour length, kicks off each scene with lugubrious set-ups and ends them with banal punch lines. The first third, outlining the somewhat intriguing premise whilst introducing vital tidbits, rests solely on its actors’ immense talents. Throughout the first half-hour, the audience is left to wait patiently for the story to begin. Sadly, the story never rises above tedious revelations and inappropriate jokes. After Anna comes to town, she and Stark hit it off over the course of a week. Admittedly, this plot-line is significantly more interesting than the rest. Louise’s new boyfriend Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), Stark’s friend Edward (Giovanni Ribisi) and his girlfriend Ruth are fitted into useless and unfunny sub-plots. With its set-piece-fuelled structure and satire-free agenda, AMWTDITW gets off to a sluggish start. Unfortunately, the movie never speeds up. Lacking flavour and consistency, the twists and turns are visible from a mile away. Speaking of open plains, crickets and tumbleweeds are the only two things that react to AMWTDITW’s absurd and childish sense of humour. Before you can say “pistols at dawn”, the movie’s dick, poop, weed, and fart jokes ware themselves to the bone. Starting and/or ending certain scenes, these mishandled gags only elongate this already tiresome effort.

“I’m not the hero. I’m the guy in the crowd making fun of the hero’s shirt; that’s who I am.” (Albert (Seth MacFarlane), A Million Ways to Die in the West).

Liam Neeson.

Co-written by MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, and Wellesley Wild, this posse throws only one six-shooter of jokes into this banal effort. Aiming to conquer Mel Brooks’ style, this Blazing Saddles wannabe misses the mark well before its climactic finale. Writing itself off as ‘yet another’ dull gross-out comedy, AMWTDITW never forms a unique and satisfying identity. Pushing its racial and sexual humour to breaking point, Django Unchained’s use of the ‘N-word’ seems subtle and dexterous by comparison. Obviously, MacFarlane is the star of this show. Directing, producing, co-writing, and starring in his sophomore effort, all eyes and ears are aimed at him. Unlike Ben Affleck and George Clooney, MacFarlane cannot handle everything at once. Repeating certain jokes and obtaining almost all of the clever lines, his overwhelming influence casts a miserable shadow over the material. Surprisingly, his filmmaking technique has drastically improved. The cinematography, score, production design, and action sequences come together charmingly. Featuring charismatic performers and star-powered cameos, MacFarlane’s latest effort comes close to becoming one of Ricky Gervais’ failures (The Invention of Lying). Fortunately, his actor-direction delivers several light-hearted moments. Despite their underwhelming roles, MacFarlane and Theron develop a significant rapport. Their romance, breezed through via montages, is solidified by their innate charisma and quick-wittedness. Meanwhile, Neeson lends significantly more energy to everything else he’s done this year than to this screwball farce.

Strolling through its period setting, AMWTDITW lacks charm, subtly, and nuance compared to similar works. MacFarlane is stuck in the ultimate ‘emperor has no clothes’ situation here. With his piercing agenda, blinding hubris, and confronting sense of humour tripping him at every turn, MacFarlane is now shooting blanks when he should be firing on all cylinders. Maybe, he should stick to voiceover work.

Verdict: A disappointing and vacuous sophomore effort. 

Bad Neighbours Review – Battle for the Street


Director: Nicholas Stoller

Writers: Andrew J. Cohen, Brendan O’Brien

Stars: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco


Release date: May 9th, 2014

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 97 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Efron’s charisma.

Worst part: Several irritating supporting characters.

Director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek) has, without a doubt, become one of Hollywood’s most successful and bewitching talents. His efforts, raking in major profits and alluring new performers simultaneously, fit a certain formula that modern audiences are infatuated with. His comedies, featuring gross out gags and a hint of sensitivity, reach multiple crowds whilst providing blood, sweat, tears, and fits of laughter. I’m stating this because his new feature, Bad Neighbours, breaks the mould by being more substantial than his previous works.

Seth Rogen & Rose Byrne.

Congratulations are in order for this dexterous filmmaker. Many filmmakers, no matter what their reputations may suggest, descend after their first or second efforts. With comedy being a tough nut to crack (no euphemism intended, I swear), Stoller bounces back from The Five Year Engagement to deliver a smart, electrifying, and consistent comedy. Obviously, neighbourhood feuds are commonplace. Undoubtedly, most of us have come across loud, obnoxious, or even dumbstruck citizens living next door. Therefore, to discuss this issue, Stoller’s latest comedy throws fraternities, major pranks, and legal conundrums at its charming lead characters. Bad Neighbours looks on in horror as a naïve couple, Mac Radner (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne), move into their quaint, suburban home after birthing their lovely child Stella. Watching over the neighbouring houses, the couple’s underlying problems steadily rise to the surface. Sadly, this couple’s pressing situation gets worse when a fraternity moves in next door. The frat house’s inhabitants, led by Teddy (Zac Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco), seek to raise the roof off their comfortable new abode. Inevitably, the frat’s momentous parties throw Mac and Kelly for a loop. Before long, the claws come out and the battle for the neighbourhood begins.

Zac Efron & Dave Franco.

This premise, though ripe with brash jokes and valuable life lessons, does seem predictable and convenient. What kind of Home Owners Association or council group would allow a fraternity to move into a suburban neighbourhood? Confidently, the movie itself never lingers on this issue. Thankfully, thanks to its inherent charm and over-the-top comedic moments, the audience is also able to overlook this problem. From the opening scene, in which Mac and Kelly struggle to have sex in every room with their child watching on, the movie establishes a light-hearted tone and ambitious sense of humour. Despite the tiresome premise, the feud is brushed over by montages and shocking gags. Aware of its own conventional ideas, the movie’s glee-filled surprises and intelligent revelations lend wisdom to this otherwise immature farce. The battle, kick-started by an irritating police officer, allows our misfortunate characters to let loose upon the neighbourhood. Gracefully, the movie achieves a charming glow and memorable moments early on in the first half. Despite the contrived situations and perplexing motivations, the plot, unlike with several of Judd Apatow’s efforts, is never tied down by dour characters or a bloated Length. In fact, like Efron’s character, Bad Neighbours is toned, witty, and ever so slightly unhinged.

“We’re throwing a Robert De Niro party. It should be pretty loud.” (Teddy (Zac Efron), Bad Neighbours).

The ultimate party!

Inevitably, Bad Neighbours, during the kooky and delectable second half, leans on its impatient characters for guidance. Once the major conflicts kick in, the story takes a break to reflect upon each character’s burgeoning flaws. Thanks to this adult/teen conflict, Mac and Kelly look down upon the frat members and, more importantly, themselves. With Mac lurching back into his party-fuelled roots, their relationship becomes tarnished and battered by the neighbouring party-hounds. More importantly, maturity is this party’s overarching theme. Dressing down Efron and Franco’s loudmouth characters, the second half occasionally delves into their touching bromance. Providing the recommended hangover cure for its own party sequences, Bad Neighbours is surprisingly good for the soul. However, the party sequences, amplified to an insatiable degree in the second half, are highlights in this hysterical and unconscionable farce. The fistfight-and-neon-light-fuelled finale showcases several enjoyable gags and the lead actors’ immense chemistry. Relying on familiar ticks, Rogen’s likeable persona and bubbly sense of humour powers this slapstick-laden comedy. Elevating the obvious weed, dick, and fart jokes, Rogen is an enjoyable and empathetic screen presence. Enthusiastically, Efron turns his Brad Pitt-level charisma up to 11. As the frat’s energy-and-denial-choked leader, Efron’s cheerful performance and impressive physique will draw viewers in. In addition, Byrne cements herself as an intricate and expressive comedic force as the troubled housewife.

Dodging Apatow’s irritating and incessant tropes, Stoller’s latest effort, like Efron’s character, stands head-and-shoulders above everything else. With Rogen, Byrne, and Efron carrying this conventional and dodgy premise, the comedic moments and wise speeches lend fits of intelligence to this overwhelming and manic gross-out comedy.

Verdict: A hilarious and breezy farce. 

The Other Woman Review – Cathartic Cat-fight


Director: Nick Cassavetes

Writer: Melissa Stack

Stars: Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Kate Upton, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau

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Release date: April 17th, 2014

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 109 minutes


1½/5

Best part: Kinney and Coster-Waldau. 

Worst part: The awkward slapstick humour.

Ironically, The Other Woman, for a movie about its lead characters rejecting all quarrels and enjoying life, can only deliver a torturous experience. Right off the bat, this rambunctious and simplistic romantic comedy contradicts itself more so than its soul sucking, alpha male antagonist (and that’s saying something!). However, despite failing to reach my particular demographic, I was willing to go into it with an open mind.

Cameron Diaz & Leslie Mann.

Cameron Diaz & Leslie Mann.

So, after the past decade’s serving of forgettable and soapy rom-com junk, why would I be optimistic? Well, despite The Other Woman’s hypoactive/itch-that-needs-scratching marketing campaign, the world’s funniest and most insightful female performers need more screen time. Always highlighted as “the funny ones”, a handful of female comedic actors are chewed up and spat out for our viewing pleasure. We still aren’t sure if they’re being branded as cinematic treasures or extorted for our cynical amusement. To test this, two of these actors, Cameron Diaz and Leslie Mann, have been thrown together for this ethically questionable rom-com. Relax people, I’m not complaining about the performers themselves. I’m simply lambasting the movie they’re stranded in. To kick things off, Diaz’s character Carly Whitten is even presented as a no-nonsense, highly-skilled lawyer. Dating handsome businessman Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), her newfound lifestyle is more enviable than even her impressive office space. Inevitably, with one fell swoop, this confident woman hurriedly turns into a bumbling idiot as her life crumbles. In a ‘hilarious’ turn of events, Carly discovers Mark’s closeted skeletons. His most frightening secret comes in the form of his kooky housewife Kate (Mann).

Kate Upton.

Kate, tracking down and questioning Carly about her husband’s indiscretions, leans on her new confidant for assistance. From the trailer, it is easy to see where the narrative is headed. Aided by Kate’s brother Phil (Taylor Kinney), Carly and Kate investigate Mark’s shady wheelings and dealings. Admittedly, the movie is held up by an intriguing and thought-provoking premise. With infidelity an intrinsic factor in the dating/relationship game, the movie attempts to unpack certain myths and truths valuable to its taboo subject matter. However, falling into sitcom territory, the narrative never questions its character’s startlingly brutal actions or the topic itself. At least He’s Just Not That Into You delved head-first into note-worthy ideas. This rom-com drifts from laughably earnest, to shallow, to bafflingly silly between scenes. Following this tiresome formula, the first half comes off like a series of bland montages. Used to sell its retro-pop soundtrack, the first half’s stroll-like pace is unwarranted. On top of that, the movie throws its half-awake audience into discomforting scenarios. Forced to delve into Carly and Mark’s doomed romance, clichés and underdeveloped characters weigh down an aesthetically pleasing coupling. In the second half, however, the story picks up and takes things to the next level. Forming an alliance with Mark’s second mistress Amber (Kate Upton), Carly and Kate’s uneasy alliance switches from painfully flat to…slightly less so. This rom-com quickly strives for a Horrible Bosses vibe. Noticeably, contrivances and revelations stall the already groan-inducing plot. Every so often, characters do and say bizarre things just so…the film can happen.

“We got played by the same guy…do you want vodka or Tequila?” (Carly Whitten (Cameron Diaz), The Other Woman).

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

A pop-star, a Sports Illustrated model, and Jamie Lannister walk into…never mind. Unfortunately, The Other Woman’s tonal inconsistency avoids charm, wit, and satire. With our three scornful women teaming up to destroy Mark, this sisterhood is supposed to ground an otherwise fantastical adventure. This half-hearted effort fails the Bechtel and laugh tests. On multiple occasions, Melissa Stack’s screenplay forces Diaz and Mann to commit unspeakable acts. Some scenes, setting up punch-line-free sequences, leave it up to the disastrous duo to tussle with and grope one another. In addition, beyond the useless slapstick gags, the gross out humour offends the movie’s already downtrodden audience. Offensive to men, women, and dogs, director Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook, Alpha Dog) abuses subtlety like Kate’s Great Dane obliterates Carly’s apartment. Beyond this fantastical realm of shiny locations and pretty people, its inhabitants lie, cheat, and steal to stay on top. Instead of simply divorcing Mark (like mature adults), the terrifying trio result to spiking his drinks with laxatives and oestrogen tablets. Sadly, this isn’t Diaz and Mann’s first ventures into atrocious rom-com territory. Diaz, delivering touching performances in There’s Something About Mary and In Her Shoes, continues her exhaustive run of critical and commercial bombs. Delving back into the What Happens In Vegas zone, her manic energy grates against the other performers. Worse still, Mann’s high-pitched voice and absurd mannerisms make for an apathetic and irritating presence. In addition, despite their good looks, Upton and Nicki Minaj look like they’re reading off of cue-cards.

I have no problem with rom-coms – every target demographic deserves specific genres to attach themselves to. However, The Other Woman is a forgettable, despicable, and cynical rom-com. With a rotten romance encased in frustrating slapstick gags and a cliche-ridden plot, this farce cements Diaz and Mann as critically and commercially derided comedic actors. It’s a shame, really. Thankfully, Diaz doesn’t have sex with a car in this one.

Verdict: A mean-spirited and unfunny rom-com. 

Muppets Most Wanted Review – Vaudeville Verve


Director: James Bobin

Writers: James Bobin, Nicholas Stoller

Stars: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Steve Whitmire

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Release date: March 21st, 2014

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 107 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: The kooky humour.

Worst part: The exhaustive length.

Before I delve into the latest Muppet instalment, I’ll state one important fact – all Muppets are puppets, but not all puppets are Muppets. To earn this title, a puppet must earn the skills, know-how, and wit to stand alongside Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and Fozzie Bear. Yes, this review already seems entirely earnest. Perhaps, it’s a bit too serious. However, this series deserves significant credit and attention. This franchise carries people through one decade after another. Despite the old-fashioned humour and dated plot-lines, this series still clings onto its undying charm. Judging by Muppets Most Wanted, this series shows no signs of slowing down…again.

The Muppets are back…yet again!

Created in the 1950s by legendary artist and puppeteer Jim Henson, this franchise touches people’s lives. Whenever Kermit runs across the screen, viewers glue their eyeballs to the screen. With The Muppet Movie and The Great Muppet Caper becoming instant classics, these colourful and spirited characters reside in pop-culture’s all-important aura. However, after seven big-budget movies and long-running TV series’, these characters have lost their intended target audience. Younger generations, judging by Muppets Most Wanteds US box office earnings, are neglecting this engaging property. However, 2011’s The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted prove that older generations still stand by these favourable, felt-lined characters. This movie kicks off one second after the kitsch reboot. At this moment, the Muppet cast realises its true potential. Kickstarting a sequel, the troupe still holds its Vaudeville act close to its heart. At the centre, Kermit looks after everyone. Controlled by tour manager Dominic Badguy (pronounced “Bajee”) (Ricky Gervais), the Muppets are pressured into an around-the-world tour. Travelling, by train (a cracking gag, indeed), from America to Berlin, the crew begins to look to Badguy for guidance. However, made obvious by his kooky name, Badguy is slowly pulling on the thread. Escaping from a Siberian Gulag, villainous frog Constantine heads to Berlin to find Badguy and the Muppets. Sporting a brown mole on his right cheek, Constantine plots to steal from European museums and banks. Swapping out Kermit for Constantine, Badguy wholeheartedly wins the Muppets over. Kermit, residing in a harsh Gulag, is watched over by head prison guard Nadya (Tina Fey).

Ricky Gervais & Constantine.

From there, kooky hijinks, strict investigations, and touching revelations steal the show. With this sequel, director James Bobin and executive producer Nicholas Stoller, carrying on from the original, needed to justify this franchise’s existence. With Jason Segel and Amy Adams stepping down from the fuzz-covered mantle, the Muppets themselves are thrown into leading roles. Thankfully, though not as good as the reboot, this sequel makes several successful and impactful strides. The Muppets, including newbie Walter, highlight our immense preconceptions and the narrative’s more obvious tropes. Backing up the evil doppelgänger and prison escape plot-strands, Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) and Sam the Eagle parody European customs agents whilst investigating crime scenes across the continent. From the opening musical number onward, the movie acknowledges its ridiculousness and semi-unwarranted existence. Thanks to meta-textual humour and self-reflexive characters, this instalment answers to each generation’s requests and complaints. Covered head-to-toe in fur-covered nostalgia, this instalment embraces Gen-X’s infatuation with the seminal troupe. Throwing us into an over-the-top narrative and tried-and-true character arcs, we see this kinetic franchise becoming wiser and heartier with age. Fuelled by determination and joy, these cushy characters bop along at a leisurely pace. Fittingly, the movie, for the most part, heartily clicks during the jokes and musical numbers. Unfortunately, the movie’s 113-minute length delivers too much of a great thing. Stretching the conventional narrative beyond reason, the jokes, conflicts, and motivations become tiresome even before the final 15 minutes.

“Hi-lo, Kyer-mit thee Frog heree.” (Constantine (Steve Whitmire), Muppets Most Wanted).

Ty Burrell & Sam the Eagle.

Of course, Muppets Most Wanted relies on humour, visuals, and all-out chaos. The humour, despite occasionally falling flat, controls this instalment like a puppet on a string. the meta humour and slapstick gags work wonders throughout. Gracefully, the rambunctious surprises and pithy one-liners overshadow the more witless moments. Like with previous Muppet creations, the cameos deliver enjoyable, albeit self-indulgent, gags. Here, lacking the original’s glorious sheen, character actors and TV personalities prance across the screen. Christoph Waltz and Salma Hayek acknowledge The Muppet Show’s eclectic veneer. In addition, stuck with Kermit in the Gulag, Danny Trejo, Ray Liotta, Tom Hiddleston, and Jermaine Clement display their musical theatre chops (who knew, huh?). Speaking of which, the musical numbers, though insightful and clever, never ascend above the original’s catchy interludes. Written and composed by Flight of the Choncords’ Bret McKenzie, these bizarre songs maintain his imaginative and hysterical style. The opening number, ‘Do it all Again’, delivers a zany commentary on Hollywood’s infatuation with sequels, prequels, reboots, established properties etc. Meanwhile, Fey’s seminal number, ‘The Big House’, provides several subversive and light-hearted moments. However, more importantly, Muppets Most Wanted brings back our favourite furry friends. Kermit, voiced by Steve Whitmire this time, undergoes a transcendent journey. Like with previous instalments, the world’s nicest frog underlines the movie’s salient points and overarching messages. His doppelgänger is the franchise’s most engaging new addition. Sporting a thick Russian accent and martial arts skills, his mannerisms deliver major laughs. Interacting with these two, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo etc. light up the stage and screen.

Throughout Muppets Most Wanted, this instalment’s cast and crew enthusiastically pat themselves on the back. Elevating this franchise’s already sterling reputation, its self-aware gags, fun musical numbers, and enlightening performances make for a worthy cinematic offering. However, falling short of the reboot’s seminal aura, this sequel proves that, more often than not, original features are almost always better.

Verdict: A rambunctious and honourable sequel. 

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Sitcom Gold or Flash in the Pan?


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Article: 

Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Sitcom Gold or Flash in the Pan?

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues Review – Big News, Bigger Laughs


Director: Adam McKay

Writers: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay

Stars: Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner 


Release date: December 18th, 2013 

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 119 minutes


 

 

Best part: The zany humour.

Worst part: The exhaustive run-time.

Review: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Verdict: A hilarious, zany, and touching comedy sequel.

Delivery Man Review – Vaughn’s Vindication


Director: Ken Scott

Writers: Ken Scott, Martin Petit

Stars: Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt, Cobie Smulders, Andrzej Blumenfeld


Release date: November 22nd, 2013

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 104 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: The fun performances.

Worst part: The repetitive gags.

I let out an audible groan after I first heard about Delivery Man‘s existence. As a remake of the 2011 French-Canadian comedy Starbuck, the premise seemed entirely conventional and cynical. Soon after, I became more disdainful when comedic actor Vince Vaughn attached himself to the project. Somehow, by the powers of Grayskull and tinsel-town, this blatant re-tread turned out to be…genuinely watchable. Delivery Man is a generic yet enjoyably silly and heart-warming dramedy. In addition, Vaughn, though straining, wholeheartedly elevates the final product.

Vince Vaughn.

Despite the inconsistencies and awkward moments, Delivery Man embraces every second of its appropriate run-time. Unlike most Hollywood comedies, the movie contains enough laughs to keep audiences engaged. As seen in the trailers, the plot contains several twists, turns, and bumps. Good-for-nothing slacker David Wosniak (Vaughn) ambitiously strives to obtain a more fulfilling existence. Constantly letting people down, David’s reserve is tested by his frustrated family and friends. If that wasn’t enough, his ‘hydroponic endeavours’ have landed him in an $80 000 debt with local gangsters. On top of that, David’s world is sent spinning when his estranged girlfriend Emma (Cobie Smulders) reveals she is pregnant. With an oncoming child, David admits he is unprepared and outgunned for his life’s next step. Unfortunately, his past comes back to haunt him. Thanks to a whopping 693 sperm donations given during his student years, his samples have created a baffling 533 biological children. Burdened by the strange news, David becomes a wishful saviour for several of the identified children.

Vaughn & Chris Pratt.

With 124 of David’s offspring joining a class action lawsuit against the sperm bank and the persona known only as “Starbuck”, David’s dilemma becomes increasingly stressful. With the help of lawyer and life-long buddy Brett (Chris Pratt), David, known to make poor decisions in high-pressure situations, crusades against the sperm bank. Before this, however, the movie leans too much on predictability and emotional manipulation. Hurriedly laying down every plot-thread, the movie constantly deliberates on David’s ever-expanding problems. Within the first few minutes, this dramedy beats is lead character to a pulp. Thankfully, in trouble with all manner of good and bad citizens, David’s journey contains potential, heart, and relevance. Writer/director Ken Scott gives his original feature a big-budget face-lift. Starbuck, being a sleeper-hit across the globe, highlights suburbia and the first world order’s most iconic aspects. Here, family businesses, parenthood, and the American dream are treated with affection and an attention to detail. Sporting a democratic agenda, Scott’s direction present’s David’s pressing situation as a series of mild inconveniences. Certain story-lines are picked up and dropped without warning. Unfortunately, these sub-plots contain dramatic and comedic potential. The mobster plot-strand is a contrived and unnecessary distraction. However, this optimistic dramedy contains several vital messages. Scott’s perspective, discussing parenthood and responsibility, provides a ray of glorious and gleeful sunshine. Despite the pros and cons of children, relationships, and hard work, Scott still delivers a well-crafted and thoughtful farce. In multiple ways, Delivery Man borrows from other beloved big-budget dramedies. Despite its French-Canadian roots, this ode to Knocked Up and About a Boy becomes a light-hearted and impactful narrative.

“This could be the most be the beautiful thing that could ever happened to me. These kids ned someone to look out for them. They need a guardian angel.” (David Wosniak (Vince Vaughn), The Delivery Man).

Vaughn & the kids.

Here, unlike the aforementioned dramedies, the lead character starts out as a likeable and engaging presence. Unfortunately, his journey becomes increasingly ridiculous and bombastic up until its sweet denouement. David’s questionable antics turn him from a humanistic man-child to a well-meaning stalker. With each baffling twist and turn, the movie steadily loses its dry wit and quaint tone. Despite the overt cheesiness, the dramatic moments elevate this otherwise forgettable remake. Despite the bizarre situation, David’s motivations make for Delivery Man‘s most touching sequences. David, taking care of a young Down syndrome sufferer, becomes a good samaritan. These wordless scenes lend heart and intelligence to this wacky dramedy. Despite its charming sheen, the hit-and-miss humour restrains it. Vaughn’s sarcastic veneer elevates the derivative one-liners and ludicrous slapstick gags. His situation, illustrated by Vaughn’s zany facial expressions and enthusiasm, is made whole by Scott’s kinetic and enlightening comedic timing. As an improv vs. staged gag Hollywood comedy (like most nowadays), the pithy dialogue far outweighs the repetitive physical hijinks. Vaughn is, yet again, playing himself. Despite his overt charisma and rat-tat-tat delivery, he’s embodying yet another spoiled and down-trodden man-child. Learning important life lessons whilst maturing into a responsible individual, Vaughn can play this role in his sleep. Thankfully, the supporting characters save certain scenes. Pratt excels as David’s goofy and unprofessional lawyer. His magnetic screen presence, made whole via Parks and Recreation, boosts this sympathetic and engaging foil. Smulders, known for How I Met your Mother and The Avengers, provides an enjoyable performance as David’s better half.

Despite the obvious issues, Delivery Man is a well-intentioned and charming holiday hit. Vaughn – despite his poor run of comedies including The Dilemma, The Watch, and The Internship – elevates the conventional material. This remake, though unnecessary, becomes a refreshing and comforting flick out-matching most modern Hollywood comedies.

Verdict: A charming and meaningful dramedy.

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa – Golden Oldies


Director: Jeff Tremaine

Writers: Jeff Tremaine, Johnny Knoxville

Stars: Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll, Greg Harris, Georgina Cates


Release date: October 25th, 2013

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 92 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Knoxville and Nicoll’s chemistry.

Worst part: The bodily function jokes.     

Normally, the most successful movies find an amicable balance of entertainment value and intelligence. With Oscar season approaching, we seek out particular movies to inspire and enlighten. However, this season also yields a crop of laugh-out-loud comedies. Sure, these two ‘genres’ clash over viewer interest. However, they each have their overwhelming benefits. This year, MTV’s Jackass crew has returned. Whether their return excites or frightens audiences, its fair to say they’ve had a significant impact on pop culture. Specifically, the stunt crew launched careers and buried livelihoods. This series, appreciated and aped by adolescents throughout the mid 2000s, set records and defied logic. So where to next for this advantageous gold mine?

Johnny Knoxville & Jackson Nicoll.

To keep the phenomenon fresh and vibrant, Johnny Knoxville and the gang needed to take it in a new direction. Despite Knoxville’s character Bad Grandpa already being a fan favourite, the latest cinematic Jackass instalment focuses on this golden oldie throughout its 90 min run-time. This premise is certainly a shaky one. Spending an entire Jackass movie with one character could’ve run this series into the ground. Fortunately, like its main character, Bad Grandpa maintains its high-spirits and enthusiasm. Despite the glorious humour, this instalment starts out on a low note (in a sense). Irving Zisman (Knoxville) sits in a waiting room to hear news of his wife’s health. Creepily studying the suggestive pictures in a waiting room magazine, he is thrilled to hear of his wife(an unrecognisable Catherine Keener)’s passing. With his wife leaving him blue-balled since the 1990s, Zisman is eager to share his love with everyone in existence. This disgusting old-timer, however, is stuck with an irritating dilemma. Thanks to his daughter’s up-coming jail-time, he’s forced to look after his 8-year-old grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll). Labelling him a “cock-block”, Zisman must support his grandson’s endeavours and needs. Striking a deal with Billy’s shady redneck dad Chuck (Greg Harris) to obtain custody, Zisman drives Billy across America to drop him off. Along the way, Zisman and Billy encounter several colourful characters and destructive tendencies. Despite the uncomfortable familial situation (one of many difficult moments here), Zisman and Billy form a surreal and destructive bond.

The big, bad finale.

Part of the mid-00’s surge of mockumentary-comedies, Jackass is a bonafide success. Along with the long-running TV series, the movies quickly reached critical and commercial success. Despite its 13 year existence, the masses turn out each time to witness these concerning individuals and sycophantic experiments. With Ryan Dunn’s tragic death in 2011, Steve-O’s comedy career in full swing, and Bam Margera prominently writing, directing, and skateboarding, the Jackass series was seemingly passed its prime. However, out of the ashes, Knoxville and co. have developed an interesting twist on the Jackass ‘legend’. Believe it or not, a Jackass movie with discernible plot-points and multi-dimensional characters actually exists now! This courageous effort, marked by several baffling stunts and bold performances, may bring this series back into full swing. Despite the societal preconceptions and sickening toilet humour, this series commendably sticks to its guns. Sure to have many bored housewives up in arms (“Won’t somebody please think of the children!?”), Bad Grandpa delivers yet another assault on the senses and brain cells. Despite its disturbing jokes and stereotypes, there is more to this gross-out comedy than meets the eye. Like Sacha Baron Cohen’s material (Borat, in particular), Bad Grandpa aims to ruffle feathers, churn stomachs, and shorten fuses. Despite lacking a satirical edge, the movie explores society’s tolerance levels. Despite social media’s crippling cultural stranglehold, this beer drinking 8-year-old and perverted old-timer aptly test our behaviour toward these two contrasting age groups. Bad Grandpa also touches upon a bizarre and stupefying legacy. Dealing with physical, mental, and emotional turmoil, Bad Grandpa stresses Knoxville’s distorted life perspective. Despite voiding the previous three movies’ major stunts, Knoxville’s optimistic outlook and maturity levels are placed in the spotlight here. The story, mixing zany stunts, a road trip, and a kooky buddy team-up, is filled with been-there-done-that concepts. Despite the predictability, the story soon becomes filler for this instalment’s many elaborate set-pieces. Despite this, certain scenes are surprisingly touching (but not in a creepy way!). Funnily enough, a protective and well-meaning bikie gang provides this movie with some much-needed sincerity and heart.

“Nope! If I was fixing it you’d see me fixing it but, did you notice how I wasn’t fixing it?” (Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville), Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa).

Grandpa & grandson.

Despite the humanistic moments and zippy characters, the humour is strangely hit and miss. Bad Grandpa, going up against Jackass 2‘s terrorist prank and Jackass 3D‘s portaloo flinging sequence, can’t raise the stakes. With significantly fewer pranksters, Knoxville restricts himself to sustainable yet clever set-pieces. Here, Zisman preys upon class, gender, and race, and serves them up on a silver platter. His disastrous antics push boundaries and cause several heated debates. His behaviour, defined by outrageous gross-out humour, places Zisman on a pedestal whilst comparing him to the stunned faces and concerned citizens surrounding him. With Zisman penetrating a vending machine, shoplifting, and tricking people into carrying his wife’s corpse, Bad Grandpa hurriedly launches into awkward moments and kinetic slapstick humour. One scene, involving a dingy strip club, will scar and debilitate viewers. Unfortunately, Bad Grandpa cuts several jokes short before they can reach their potential. In addition, the movie’s marketing spoils several potentially intriguing gags. The Little Miss Sunshine-esque beauty pageant sequence (capping off this instalment) and kiddie ride stunt sorely lack punchiness and nuance. Courageously, Knoxville puts 110% into this slimy yet engaging character. Offering a “serving of Irving” to every black woman within his personal space, Zisman’s inappropriateness and guile help deliver the movie’s standout moments. Move over Bad Santa, Bad News Bears, and even Bad Boys, Irving Zisman now owns that word! Thankfully, Nicoll also provides a charismatic performance. Searching each city for a father figure (one of the movie’s best gags), Billy proves to be a significant foil. Billy’s wit-fuelled and questionable antics provide suitable relief from Zisman’s saggy body-parts and curmudgeonly attitude. The lead characters’ chemistry lifts Bad Grandpa above expectations.

With such disastrously unfunny comedies as Movie 43, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, and Identity Thief released this year, Bad Grandpa is a breath of fresh air (somewhat). Refreshing, shocking, and heartening – the movie, saved by fun performances and clever gags, is a roller-coaster ride of bodily functions, sadistic pranks, expletives, and embarrassing pratfalls. Just avoid the trailers at all costs!

Verdict: A hilarious, surprising, and touching gross-out comedy.

The World’s End Review – Ales & Aliens


Director: Edgar Wright

Writers: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg

Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin freeman, Rosamund Pike


Release date: July 19th, 2013

Distributors: Universal Pictures, Focus Features

Country: UK

Running time: 109 minutes


3½/5

Best part: Pegg and Frost.

Worst part: Its repetitiveness.

I could’ve sworn I reviewed this movie a couple of weeks ago! I recall that it starred a bunch of popular comedic actors whom cracked jokes and banded together to out-live the apocalypse. My point here is that the disaster-comedy I’m describing, This is the End, and the movie I’m currently reviewing, The World’s End, are entirely similar. This disaster-comedy double-up suggests that many big-name comedic actors, producers, and directors, no matter what side of the Atlantic Ocean they are from/on, are fascinated by the apocalypse.

Simon Pegg.

Although it’s a major step up in quality from the aforementioned Seth Rogen-starring farce, The World’s End is a significant step down from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (the previous instalments in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy). Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing creative actors, writers, and directors going out of their way to deliver ambitious movies/TV shows/web-series’ etc. In fact, despite my nitpicks, I gladly admit this third instalment has many unique and commendable aspects. similarly to this series’ previous instalments, The World’s End starts out small. Alcoholic layabout Gary King (Simon Pegg) is blissfully unaware that his best days are far behind him. Sporting the same black, leather coat and manic persona he affably displayed throughout high school, King’s latest idea may forever change his life. King rounds up his old, and now successful, chums – Andrew (Nick Frost), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine), and Peter (Eddie Marsan) – to conquer a pub crawl, they tried and failed to complete back in high school, known as ‘The Golden Mile’. Heading back to Newton Haven (their old stomping ground), the five of them aim to reach the twelfth and final pub, fitting titled ‘The World’s End’, before the town’s inhabitants can halt their quest.

Nick Frost & Paddy Considine.

Writer/director, and pop-culture icon, Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) puts 110% into every project he’s involved with. Similarly to Joss Whedon and Shane Black, his clever and snappy filmmaking style has developed many memorable cinematic moments. He, Pegg, and Frost hit the big time with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. With that in mind, I realise it would be difficult to forge a movie comparable to the two aforementioned cult-classics. Here, Wright and co. have created a kinetic, satirical, and witty sci-fi-adventure romp. Moving at a consistent pace from the wacky prologue to the bizarre epilogue, the movie smartly discusses the biggest and scariest adventure imaginable: life itself. The movie delivers an understandable tale based around friendship, honour, humility, and regret. I’m guessing we would all love to sit back and relax all day, every day (like Pegg’s character). The movie, however, suggests that we should forever be looking for something, and someone, worth fighting for. Along with its positive messages, the movie is an intelligent and reflexive ode to such sci-fi creep-fests as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, They Live, and The Thing. But with Hollywood currently going gaga for nostalgia, The World’s End also proves that reminiscence can be a misguided an uninspired thing. Centred around a damaged yet intriguing lead character, and a Big Chill-esque reunion, the movie states that looking back on the past can grievously harm the present and future.

Martin Freeman.

This enjoyable and hysterical farce takes several dark and demented turns along the way. Despite using the From Dusk till Dawn method of showing first and explaining later, This is the End, unfortunately, isn’t as reckless and surprising as it wants to be. Several plot points are picked up and dropped without warning. Also, the movie has a peculiar reliance on video-game-like action set-pieces and chases. Despite the quality of each bar-room brawl and pulsating montage, there are, perhaps, too many – hurriedly shifting the tone from darkly comic to gleefully silly and vice versa. When the action kicks in, tension and pathos are instantly sucked out of this otherwise heart-warming movie. The World’s End also succumbs to repetitiveness in the second two thirds – rushing from one dingy, small-town pub to another. Despite the movie’s issues, the key ingredients, needed to make an instant action-comedy classic, are all here. The action sequences are expertly shot and choreographed – rivalling many set-pieces from this year’s big-budget extravaganzas. Applying similar directorial ticks to those seen in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Wright’s poised and awe-inspiring visuals illustrate his potential to tackle much larger projects (seriously, when is production on his Ant-Man movie going to start?!). The alien/robot creations, which show up at the film’s halfway point, are also perplexingly nuanced. These blue-bloods may not rule the commonwealth, but they do pack a punch! Speaking of ‘hits’, the laughs also come thick and fast. Despite the movie’s fair share of poignant moments, the clever back-and-forth dialogue becomes the movie’s most memorable aspect.

“A man of your legendary prowess drinking f*cking rain?! It’s like a lion eating Humous.” (Gary King (Simon Pegg), The World’s End).

The big reunion.

It’s obvious that Wright, Pegg, and Frost work extremely well together. Beginning their careers back in the late 90s/early 00s with sci-fi satire Spaced, their shared love of ‘genre’, subversion, and referencing is heartily injected into The World’s End. Here, the references and in-jokes are evenly scattered around each homely, comforting setting. Despite the movie’s cynical and dour outlook, the cast does a grand job of lifting the viewer’s spirits. Here, Pegg shows he’s more comfortable working with Wright and Frost in lowly British towns than being on Starship Enterprise voyages and impossible missions. Playing against type, Pegg proves he can inject likability and quirky charm into any role. His role, as the group’s leader and foul-mouthed, manic man-child, could easily have become grating and shallow. However, Gary’s personality traits, some more pleasant than others, are exposed in an enlightening way. Frost, the yang to Pegg’s yin, is a charismatic and engaging presence. His character is a realist who, fittingly, fights on his own terms. Punching windows and hitting robots with bar-stools, his character becomes a total badass at the opportune moment. Like with Wright’s previous movies, the supporting players are also top notch. Freeman, fresh off his portrayal of Bilbo Baggins, livens up his otherwise conventional role. Character actors Considine and Marsan are refreshingly chirpy. As is Rosamund Pike as Gary’s old flame/Oliver’s sister.

Featuring smash cuts, smash zooms, and smashingly enjoyable moments, Wright and co. deliver a messy yet indelibly creative ode to notorious sci-fi/horror flicks and action-comedies from their youth. It may be the lesser instalment of the trilogy, but it has enough discernible qualities to warrant a trip to the cinema with your mates.

Verdict: A flawed yet pacy, witty, and clever conclusion to the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy. 

This is the End Review – The A-hole Apocalypse


Directors: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg

Writers: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg

Stars: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Danny McBride


Release date: June 12th, 2013

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 106 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: The A-List cast.

Worst part: The gross-out humour.

In the Hollywood Hills resides a bunch of actors who owe everything to writer/director/creator Judd Apatow. This group has spawned numerous big-budget comedies over the past few years – gaining fame and wealth in the process. However, according to horror-comedy and pet project This is the End, these A-list actors are just like us. Their new film is an ambitious yet messy disaster flick that isn’t afraid to place its actors in front of a mirror, and make them face up to what they have become.

Seth Rogen, James Franco & Jay Baruchel.

I’m, of course, talking about such comedic actors as Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel etc. These actors have worked tirelessly together since their hit TV series Freaks and Geeks. They’ve jumped from one project to another – delivering refreshing humour and enjoyable performances. However, they recently have become repetitive and tiresome. In This is the End, these actors/writers/producers/ directors/entrepreneurs admit to their mistakes and defend their greatest works. The movie begins with Jay Baruchel meeting up with his old buddy Seth Rogen. In this movie’s universe, People are so obsessed with Rogen they become hesitant to interact with Baruchel and leave him in the dust (I take it in this timeline no one saw The Sorcerer’s Apprentice either). Baruchel opposes the ridiculous ‘Hollywood’ lifestyle and Rogen’s audacious celebrity friends. To get Baruchel accustomed to Rogen’s larger than life buddies, Rogen brings him to a raging party at James Franco’s enviable new house. Soon after Baruchel becomes bored with the party, earthquakes obliterate streets, a sinkhole opens up in front of Franco’s house, and fires gloriously light up the Hollywood Hills. Stuck in Franco’s house, Baruchel, Rogen, Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride must wait out the apocalypse.

Our ‘heroes’ plotting their way into heaven.

This self-reflexive and amusing disaster flick is about as subversive as it gets. Having seen many of 2013’s generic Hollywood comedies (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Movie 43The Hangover Part 3), It’s refreshing to see a farcical, star-studded movie that’s strange, original, and actually…funny. This clever experiment aims to peel back Hollywood’s slick, glossy layers to reveal the horrific sliminess of the rich and famous. Writer/directors Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad, The Green Hornet) have created an honest and Meta cinematic vision. They push so many boundaries here whilst delivering what audiences want most from them. With this type of project, you either end up with an enthralling and stylish flick (Ocean’s 11), or some ungodly creation that comes off like a Holiday video inexplicably released in theatres around the globe (Grown Ups). Despite avoiding the cynicism and laziness of the aforementioned Adam Sandler romp, This is the End still comes off as a series of improvisational dialogue sequences and wacky, broadly comedic sketches. Certain scenes are hilariously creative when viewed separately from one another and judged on their own terms. Unfortunately, these random, disgusting, and occasionally hysterical moments don’t come together to create a cohesive and interesting narrative. Beyond the first 20 minutes, many scenes go on too long and a lot of jokes fall flat; missing punch lines and/or charm. However, the dialogue/improvised lines are, for the most part, top notch. This easily quotable movie proves just how talented these actors/writers/directors can be.

Michael Cera.

For a first directorial effort, Rogen and Goldberg have done a commendable job. However, it seems that everyone involved had much more fun making this movie than I had watching it. This movie exists solely to tear down some of Hollywood’s most popular people and iconic elements. References to each other’s movies come thick and fast while the celebrity cameos make for some of the movie’s best moments (hats off to Michael Cera). This ‘parody of Hollywood parodying itself’ has none of the verve or intricacies of the similarly subversive Tropic Thunder. With the immense talent on display, and the exhaustive number of apocalypse-based movies released this year, Rogen and Goldberg cleverly dissect the importance of fame, friendship, and the end of days. One of the movie’s many surreal twists and turns involves a discussion of why religion should be commended/respected. It’s brave of these comedic talents to be tackling a topic of this magnitude. It’s in these slower moments that the characters and ‘story’ develop beyond the assortment of dick, fart, weed, and rape jokes. Despite the movie’s outlandish tone, references to The Exorcist and Titanic inexplicably become some of the movie’s most beguiling moments. This warped/stoner version of 12 Angry Men needed a sense of style to separate it from such comedies as Pineapple Express (referenced gleefully throughout this movie). Except for a couple of establishing shots, we see little of the apocalyptic events. Also, several bright flourishes/montages distract from the movie’s Big Brother/The Real World style.

“James Franco didn’t suck any dicks last night? Now I know ya’ll are trippin’.” (Danny McBride (Danny McBride), This is the End).

It’s the rapture!

Obviously, This is the End is bolstered by its expansive cast. Essentially ‘The Expendables’ of modern comedy, this talented array of actors clearly enjoys playing up the public’s perception of ‘celebrity’. The actors’ limited range deems this cast perfect for this premise. Despite always playing ‘himself’, Rogen has an engaging screen presence. The conflict between him and Baruchel may be a familiar and unnecessary plot point, but there’s a significant amount of chemistry between the lead actors. Unfortunately, the movie is told from Baruchel’s perspective. It’s not that he’s a bland performer; it’s that he’s easily overshadowed by the more involving actors around him. Franco and Hill (both of whom Oscar nominated) are the movie’s stand out performers. Franco, known for his crazy ambitions and confusing personality traits, is making fun of his pretentious and manic persona. With many jokes directed towards his homoerotic friendship with Rogen, and the questionable art lying around his swanky house, his smirk-filled, charismatic turn creates many big laughs. Hill does a great job making fun of his ‘high horse’ persona (“Dear God, it’s me, Jonah Hill…from Moneyball”). Featuring an earring and inflated ego, Hill is in scene-stealing mode as this excessive character. Trying to make peace with Baruchel, his phoney attempts at niceties continually garner a huge laugh. McBride and Robinson provide many fun moments while Emma Watson pops her head in at the right time.

Despite its obvious flaws, This is the End has enough alluring aspects to warrant a trip to the movies with your buddies. With its ‘outside the box’ concepts and funny, self-reflexive gags, this crowd-pleasing movie does something many recent parodies/satires have failed to do: it says what we’re all thinking.

Verdict: A messy, over-long yet hilarious frat-boy disaster-comedy.

The Hangover Part 3 Review – Never Drinking Again!


Director: Todd Phillips

Writers: Todd Phillips, Craig Mazin

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong


Release date: May 23rd, 2013

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 100 minutes


2/5

Best part: John Goodman as a sadistic mob boss.

Worst part: Jeong and Galifianakis.

Some film series’ rely entirely on an absence of logic. Much like John McClane in the Die Hard series, the main characters in the Hangover series continually get into disastrous and confusing situations. Hollywood has now sucked both these series’ dry for a quick profit. Much like this year’s Die Hard instalment, The Hangover Part 3 is one of the most unnecessary, repetitive, and preposterous sequels ever made.

Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms.

Part 3 is a stupid and unfunny action-comedy. It’s not terrible, but it needed something special to separate it from the other Hollywood comedies of its type. In this latest adventure, confused and pathetic layabout Alan (Zach Galifianakis) causes a stir when his new pet Giraffe is decapitated on a freeway, causing an epic car crash. As a result, his family and the other ‘Wolf Pack’ members, Doug (Justin Bartha), Phil (Bradley Cooper), and Stu (Ed Helms), stage an intervention, believing that rehab is Alan’s best hope. Their plans are soon cut short by an angry mobster, Marshall (John Goodman). Marshall is looking for Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong), the same man the Wolf Pack has run into on previous adventures. Taking Doug hostage, Marshall orders the Wolf Pack to find Chow and the money he stole from him.

Ken Jeong.

This set up promises that the following events will be climactic and enjoyable. However, from this point on, the film rapidly descends into being awkward and unfunny. This is the biggest disappointment of 2013 so far (and that’s really saying something!). Please don’t think of me as a cynic when it comes to Hollywood comedies. I fell in love with The Hangover upon its release back in 2009. Its bursts of energy and hysterical gross-out jokes helped it become one of the biggest box-office success stories of the last decade. However, in 2011, a carbon-copy sequel took away the series’ enjoyability and thrills. The stench of laziness festering in that sequel is also apparent in this one. I suspect that the public may wish to avoid this new instalment after its predecessor (or at least go into it with extremely low expectations). This cynical sequel is proof that worthwhile ‘R-rated’ comedies are difficult to pull off. This sequel may have deviated, story-wise, from the first two instalments, but it’s still as uninteresting as the second film. It feels like this sequel was made by someone with little to no knowledge of gross-out comedy logistics. Director Todd Phillips (Old School, Starsky & Hutch) has gone from being the king of gross-out comedies and road trip films (Road Trip), to pumping out one disappointing farce after another (Due Date).

John Goodman.

His latest Hangover is more agonising and annoying than an actual hangover. The intrigue and zaniness promised in the fun trailers is missing. The screenplay is one of this sequel’s biggest problems. The original’s witty yet shocking jokes have been replaced with cheap references to the first two films and mean-spirited insults. The comedy consists almost entirely of animal murder and physical violence. Chickens, dogs, and the aforementioned Giraffe are needlessly slaughtered for a quick laugh. Phillips is obviously a big fan of crass/black/frat-boy humour of this type (hence the tranquillised tiger and drug-dealing monkey in the previous instalments). However, the audience I saw it with wasn’t impressed. Jokes fell flat on regular basis, while the strange lack of gross-out gags was alarmingly noticeable. I wouldn’t have minded all this if the movie had a quick pace and some mindlessly fun moments, but these elements are also sorely absent. The negative aspects of this instalment don’t stop there. It inorganically transitions from a gross-out comedy, to an Ocean’s 11-style heist flick, to a trip back to where it all began for the Wolf Pack. Whereas the original seamlessly mixed elements of gross-out comedy and film noir, this instalment has no original or innovative surprises at all. It came to a point where I was inexplicably clamouring for another Mike Tyson cameo!

“My name’s Allan and I bought a giraffe! Oh, my life’s perfect!” (Alan (Zach Galifianakis), The Hangover Part 3).

The Wolf Pack.

The characters here spend their whole time repeating lines and yelling at one another. These characters, that we once found hysterical and endearing, have been reduced to one dimensional caricatures. I will say that I chuckled during the film’s first third. the characters’ charming re-introductions almost convinced me that this instalment would be a breath of fresh air compared to Part 2. However, my hopes were quickly dashed when Chow eats dog food and sniffs Stu’s butt (I wish I was joking!). Worst of all is the sub-plot involving a bromance between Alan and Chow. Galifianakis and Jeong hit the big time after their hilarious performances in the original. However, their crazy antics, seen in this and many other movies, have become increasingly tiresome. Their shtick also becomes repetitive rather quickly. Galifianakis’ character has gone from a well-meaning weirdo to a narcissistic and mean-spirited moron who refuses to change. Alan, Chow’s infuriating Asian stereotype, and Melissa McCarthy’s tough-chick persona are as tolerable as three car alarms going off at once! Cooper and Helms look extremely bored throughout the entire film. Meanwhile, Heather Graham makes a pointless cameo as Stu’s ex-Vegas wife. The only tolerable performance here is from Goodman, acting like he’s in a Coen Brothers’ crime-comedy.

The original set the bar extremely high for Hollywood comedy. However, the sequels have taken that bar, lowered it, then snapped it in half, and used it to mix the crazy alcoholic drinks the Wolf Pack would’ve guzzled down during their wild drunken adventures. I can safely say that I would rather suffer an actual hangover than suffer through Parts 2 and 3 again. Sorry, frat-boys.

Verdict: An irritating, offensive, and disappointing end to the Hangover trilogy.

Warm Bodies Review – Hungry Heart


Director: Jonathan Levine

Writer: Jonathan Levine (screenplay), Isaac Marion (novel)

Stars: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Dave Franco, John Malkovich


Release date: February 1st, 2013

Distributors: Summit Entertainment, Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 97 minutes


4/5

Best part: The chemistry between Hoult and Palmer.

Worst part: The dodgy CGI.

For the past few years, we have been inundated with the works of author and stay-at-home Mormon Stephanie Meyer. The Twilight franchise and The Host have now made the big bucks, but that doesn’t mean they are good. Imagine if a romantic-horror movie for teenagers was actually well written, directed, and acted. I know it seems impossible, but Warm Bodies fits this premise. It’s a fun, witty and heartening examination of life and love.

Nicholas Hoult.

Nicholas Hoult.

The film starts out with narration from a teenage zombie who calls himself R (Nicholas Hoult). He’s stuck in an existential crisis whilst shuffling around a decayed airport. He lives in an abandoned plane and hangs out with fellow zombie M (Rob Corddry). His dull existence is livened up by the introduction of resistance fighter Julie (Teresa Palmer). It’s love at first sight. After R eats her boyfriend(Dave Franco)’s brain during an attack, he saves Julie by escorting her to his hideout. Their relationship slowly begins to blossom, as Julie learns that there is more to the zombified inhabitants of Earth than meets the eye. Many directors have experimented with zombies, romance, and Shakespeare. These topics are popular for many reasons. Despite their vast differences, their elements can easily be woven together. Warm Bodies certainly owes a debt of gratitude to zom-coms such as Shaun of the Dead and  Zombieland.

Hoult & Teresa Palmer.

Hoult & Teresa Palmer.

The movie inventively takes on the zombie point of view. Many people have described Warm Bodies as a ‘zom-rom-com’. It may be a cheesy description, but it fits this movie like a glove. Its story can be summed up with a quote from esteemed poet Maya Angelou. She said that “love is like a virus, it can happen to anybody at any time”. These zombies are murderous yet still have some life left in them. Their dreams and memories are trapped by the infection stewing in their veins. R sees the funny side of his existence whist wishing he had his old life back. He charmingly grunts every word whilst we hear his intelligible narration. His ‘almost conversations’ with M are some of the film’s best moments. The film’s sense of style is subtle yet efficient. The 80s soundtrack, featuring songs by Bruce Springsteen, The Scorpions, and Guns N’ Roses, lends the film a comforting sense of nostalgia. The writing and direction are responsible for the film’s quality. Jonathan Levine is clearly a fan of both zombie lore and romantic-comedies.  With this and 50/50 to his credit, he could be seen as the next John Landis or Ivan Reitman. Both are black comedies that deal with the ugly side of the human condition. Warm Bodies is clearly inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare’s touching story is brought to life in a film dealing with the worst situation imaginable. The film forms its own identity whilst imitating the classic tale. The film subverts zombie clichés whilst conforming to romantic-comedy clichés. It’s a classic ‘Hollywood’ story of two people from different sides of the tracks.

“I don’t wanna be this way. I’m lonely. I’m totally lost. I mean, I’m literally lost. I’ve never been in this part of the airport before.” (R (Nicholas Hoult), Warm Bodies).

John Malkovich.

John Malkovich.

This movie has similar elements to Let the Right One In. However, whereas that film was violent and dark, this is witty and quirky. The relationship between Julie and R is palpable despite their unusual situation. The airport becomes the setting for multiple ‘dates’. They listen to rock music, drive sports cars, and enjoy the spoils of R’s collections. The zombie makeover scene, with the song Pretty Woman blaring in the background, is a stand-out comedic moment. They soon begin to act like a cute couple. This is both a fun comedy and a perfect date movie. The romance is, at points, heavy-handed. Metaphors and cheesy moments are awkwardly thrust into this otherwise tender romantic-comedy. The love-story also leaves many questions without answers. It’s difficult to decipher how and why their relationship can cure the zombies around them. The ultra-dead zombies, known as ‘Bonies’, are also unconvincing. Calling back to the Ray Harryhausen era of CGI, they are uninteresting and prove to be only a minor threat. The film is brought to life by its stellar performances. Hoult overcomes his character’s obvious restrictions to deliver a fun performance. He is a charming and sensitive performer who convinces us to care about his character’s remarkable transformation. Corddry brings wit to his otherwise generic role. Palmer changes from tough chick to soulful love interest with ease. John Malkovich, despite his underwritten role, is charismatic as the cynical resistance leader and Julie’s dad. Franco and Analeigh Tipton are charming in small roles.

With a zany sense of humour and catchy retro soundtrack, Warm Bodies is a surprise hit. Combining so many genre elements and influences, it’s a charming and intelligent interpretation of zombie lore and romantic-comedy mechanics. Levine and Hoult lend their remarkable talents to an otherwise conventional pseudo-Shakespearean tale.

Verdict: A witty and charming zom-rom-com. 

Silver Linings Playbook Review – Dancing with Disaster


Director: David O. Russell

Writer: David O. Russell (screenplay), Matthew Quick (novel)

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker


Release date: November 16th, 2012

Distributor: The Weinstein Company 

Country: USA

Running time: 122 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Dynamic performances from Cooper and Lawrence.

Worst part: De Niro’s slightly obnoxious character.

They say that “every cloud has a silver lining”. This metaphor illuminates the good moments in an otherwise dark existence. This idea is what Silver Linings Playbook explores in great detail. Positivity is the basis of this rewarding and genuine romantic comedy. Rom-coms are normally never this in-depth. But this film is worthy of its Academy Award nominations. Its charismatic performances and solid messages prove that Hollywood rom-coms with real heart and laughs can still be made.

Bradley Cooper & Jennifer Lawrence.

Silver Linings Playbook‘s story picks up with Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) in a mental  institution. He seems fine, yet the doctors and courts insist that he has a problem. That doesn’t stop his stern and comforting mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) from taking him out of the asylum and putting him in her and Pat Sr.(Robert De Niro)’s home. His rehabilitation crumbles as he discovers and is re-introduced to several problems under their roof. Trying to get his marriage back on track, Pat seeks to become a better person and live every day to the fullest. His plans, however, are disrupted by promiscuous young widow Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Her mysterious and intimidating personality attracts him. However, her husband’s death has caused her own severely debilitating mental issues. With Pat’s family and friends, and Tiffany, by his side, he may hopefully find that desirable silver lining.

Robert De Niro & Jacki Weaver.

Whether it’s Jack Nicholson rising up against injustice in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder befriending one another in Girl, Interrupted, instability and rehabilitation prove to be Profound topics to put on celluloid. Much like this year’s hit indie-drama Smashed, a controversial yet painful topic has been discussed with a balance of sorrow and comedy. The humour here comes from a quirky sense of irony and awkwardness. The supporting characters react to Pat and Tiffany with a conflicting array of emotions. Between each psychotic episode, Pat and Tiffany relieve the tension by discovering the positives of everyday life. Silver Linings Playbook is an intimate and detailed examination of the effects of mental instability. It discusses Pat’s mental issues with a warming sincerity. Sidelined with mood swings and multiple restraining orders, Pat’s journey to success and happiness isn’t easy. Pat himself is an unpredictable yet heartfelt human being. His love for his unfaithful wife is what put him away. Unable to feel joy or comfort in things he used to embellish, his freeing quest to find happiness turns his conflicted personality into something worth cherishing.

Cooper & Chris Tucker.

Cooper & Chris Tucker.

The film delves deeply into his life, as multiple sources of his condition are discovered. He wears a garbage bag while jogging through the neighbourhood and throws acclaimed novels through windows. This erratic behaviour promptly alerts the viewer to Pat’s burgeoning diagnosis. Pat still is, however, an inspirational character. Interacting with his family while balancing a keen intellect and bright personality, he soon becomes the silver lining of many people’s lives. David O. Russell wrote and directed this uplifting story. His acclaimed works, including Three Kings and The Fighter, have received deserved attention and multiple Academy Awards. Known for on-set shouting matches with his actors, O. Russell is definitely one of the most keen-eyed and determined directors working in Hollywood today. His delicate direction and witty screen-writing bring life to a predictable story. It’s a story of boy-meets-girl, but peppered with several alarming nuances along the way. O. Russell clearly loves heated arguments (watch The Fighter for a definitive example). Here, every character’s realistic and dangerous problems collide at once. This leads to several breath-taking punches and insults being thrown across the Solitano’s house.

“I do this! Time after time after time! I do all this shit for other people! And then I wake up and I’m empty! I have nothing!” (Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), Silver Linings Playbook). 

Cooper & Lawrence.

Cooper & Lawrence.

Having directed Christian Bale’s outstanding turn in The Fighter, O. Russell is a masterful actor-director. He is able to draw remarkable performances out of actors far outside their comfort zones. Cooper, known as the ‘pretty boy’ in films such The Hangover and The A-Team, deserves every bit of praise for his performance here. Cooper’s facial twitches, wide smile and charismatic personality bring this difficult role to life. Lawrence proves, both here and in The Hunger Games, that she is currently the best young actress in Hollywood. Her enthralling persona, sarcastic tone and inherent sexuality add multiple layers to Tiffany’s damaged psyche. The chemistry between her and Cooper is electric and provides the best on-screen couple since (500) Days of Summer. Recovering from a disastrous run of poor material over the past decade, De Niro is back to his intense best. He proudly and distinctly embodies an irritating character. His character’s obsessive love of the Philadelphia Eagles NFL team is irrationally crazy in itself.

The film is as naturalistic and comforting as its Philadelphia setting. O. Russell proves once again that he can create truly affecting material. Credit also goes to Cooper and Lawrence for proving their Oscar-worthy talents.

Verdict: An enlightening and unique rom-com. 

This is 40 Review – Apatow’s Admittances


Director: Judd Apatow

Writer: Judd Apatow

Stars: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Albert Brooks, Megan Fox


Release date: December 21st, 2012

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 133 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: The chemistry between Rudd and Mann.

Worst part: Its 134 min. length.

What is a defining part of life that is scary and unavoidable? Age. Age and wisdom define who we are as people. This pressing issue affects everyone in Judd Apatow’s new dramedy This is 40. The film is a coming-of-age tale in more ways than one. It’s also a funny, insightful yet slow jog toward one couple’s goals. One can’t help but notice, however, that Apatow’s comedy styling would be best suited to another format.

Paul Rudd & Leslie Mann.

Paul Rudd & Leslie Mann.

This story follows married couple Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) as their lives begin to crumble. With Debbie having turned forty and Pete following suit, they contemplate where their lives have ended up. But bodily restrictions and regrets are far from their only problems. Pete’s record company is failing to gain the attention it needs to stay afloat. While Debbie is convinced one of her employees is stealing money from her clothing store. Also coming to a head are problems with their kids Sadie and Charlotte (Maude and Iris Apatow), as both adjust to their bickering parents and their own inconsistencies. It’s up to Pete and Debbie to band together, before their afflicting issues cripple their marriage.

Rudd, Chris O’Dowd & Lena Dunham.

Apatow clearly loves his own life. Putting too much of himself into each film, all four of his theatrical creations can be seen as pieces of a much greater puzzle. His breakout smash hit The 40-Year old Virgin discuses the ‘first time’ and the importance of adolescence. Knocked Up, the pseudo-precursor to This is 40, chronicles the nervousness that comes with having a child. Funny People is based on the acceptance of death. While This is 40 is about hitting the wall. The norms of society are examined with close scrutiny. Instead of depicting unrealistically happy people conflicted by implausible issues, Apatow’s illustration of marriage and parenthood is smart and appropriately realistic for a Hollywood Romantic-comedy. Pete and Debbie are basically an ideal 1990’s couple forced to deal with the issues of a new century. Feeling out of place and unable to help, their constant arguing grounds this couple in a realistic fashion. They angrily discuss everyday issues such as kids, bullying, friends, parents and, most importantly, money. Apatow’s involvement, to a certain extent, brings out the uncomfortable and jarring elements of this on-screen relationship. With Rudd essentially playing Apatow’s avatar, the involvement of Mann (Apatow’s real-life wife) and their kids unnecessarily hits too close to home. Writer/directors that Apatow has obviously  taken notes from could’ve avoided subjectivity to convey a clearer message and funnier film-going experience. James L. Brooks and Nancy Meyers would’ve improved the material at hand and injected a greater amount of wit into proceedings (watch Brooks’ Spanglish for a strong example).

“We had sex the other night. You should give me some credit for that.” (Pete (Paul Rudd), This is 40).

Megan Fox.

Megan Fox.

Apatow’s effect on Hollywood comedy in the past few years has been exponential. He has resurrected careers and reinvigorated gross-out humour. Here, he has proven just how important he still is. With a Robert Altman-esque love of cameos and a refreshing grasp on reality, he has created an ideal night out for family and friends. He has, however, repeated his biggest mistake in stretching an identifiable story out to an excessive run-time. His involvement in TV, including hit shows such as Freaks and Geeks and Girls, has affected his grasp on concise cinematic storytelling. While avoiding Funny People‘s monotonous pace and unessential revelations, he is still unable to focus on the most important parts of his own material. Subplots are picked up and dropped without a hint of warning or development. Important issues are also unresolved, disrupting this story’s all too vital messages about family values and the joys of life. The comedic tone changes abruptly throughout. Flipping instantaneously from heartening moments to situational comedic hijinks, Apatow’s choices seem to be muddled here. Having said that, many characters are carried by fun performances. Rudd and Mann depict the same loving yet sour relationship they achieved as the same couple from Knocked up. They are two of the most likeable actors in Hollywood, and, despite their coarse attitudes here, its still easy to see why.

This is 40 can be summed up in one scene. Debbie’s gynaecological exam leads to everyone in the room trying to determine her real age. This hilarious yet frustrating game details both the sour aspects of ageing and Apatow’s love of awkward observational comedy. Its a comedy with as much wisdom, bite and tedium as life itself.

Verdict: An enlightening yet tedious look at growing up. 

Safety Not Guaranteed Review – Time Travel Unravel


Director: Colin Trevorrow

Writer: Derek Connolly 

Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni


Release date: December 26th, 2012

Distributor: FilmDistrict

Country: USA

Running time: 86 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The chemistry between Plaza and Duplass.

Worst part: Awkward moments of sketch comedy.

Time travel is a vital element of science-fiction. Time travel films like Looper became major hits last year and ignited heated debates on the subject. In the wake of this blockbuster fare, Safety Not Guaranteed hit the film festival circuit. This indie-dramedy is a sure fire winner, illustrating that low-key sci-fi should strive for recognition. It’s a sweet and inventive look at strange people toying with even stranger possibilities.

Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson & Karan Soni.

Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson & Karan Soni.

Darius Britt (Aubrey Plaza) is a lonely, unenthusiastic college graduate trying anything to get through each day. Failing to qualify for employment at a bar & grill, Darius is heavily and unhealthily reliant on her internship at a local magazine. However, life takes a turn when her boss Jeff (Jake Johnson) responds to an advertisement in a local newspaper. It reads “Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. PO Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.” Darius, Jeff and naive intern Arnau (Karan Soni) investigate the source of this unusual message. Their road trip takes them to a small seaside town, where the message’s author Kenneth (Mark Duplass) resides. Darius and Kenneth become acquainted and their eerily similar personalities draw them together. Safety Not Guaranteed excels at blatant honesty. The well written script, by first-time feature writer Derek Connolly, bases its humour on life’s inevitable restraints.

Mark Duplass.

Mark Duplass.

Safety Not Guaranteed’s weird subject matter may throw some people off, but human interaction is the main focus here. It not simply about how these conflicting personalities clash but how the world responds to the character’s perplexing desires. This quirky drama willingly balances between witty comedy and tragedy. Director Colin Trevorrow’s début feature is a profound journey into the heart and mind. His grounded direction makes this surreal story of time travel, regret and redemption easier to comprehend. Sparky dialogue, unadulterated humour and kinetic montages create a touching love story with a distinct independent film-making style. However, the film switches at points from intimate dramedy to awkward situational comedy. Despite Kenneth’s detachment from the community, his peculiar, and at points criminal, actions uncomfortably stand out in this heart-warming tale. This dynamic ensemble of cynical, immature and sarcastic characters provides an undying sense of charm. The characters are hauntingly real. They see the forest through the trees as their grasp on reality crumbles before their eyes. Fresh out of college, Darius is a rebellious and sardonic individual. The film’s opening scenes depict her solemn exile from the rest of her peers. Normally an unshakeably pessimistic lead character would divert the heart-warming story, but here her attitude is part of the bigger picture. Kenneth is both extremely paranoid and overly confident. Both traits somehow seem necessary for a character this deep into his own startling fantasy. 

“The mission has been updated. I’m going back for you now. All right. Do you trust me?” (Kenneth (Mark Duplass), Safety Not Guaranteed).

Plaza & Duplass.

Plaza & Duplass.

Similarly to Liberal Arts, a controversial relationship is softened by instant chemistry. Slowly building to an imaginatively silly goal, their relationship is enjoyable to watch. Their journey begins with an energetic interrogation. Darius’ intuitive reporter side clashes with Kenneth’s paranoia. They tussle with conflicting emotions and an Andy Warhol-esque assortment of Campbell’s Soup Cans. The horny yet charismatic Jeff and the hilariously shy Arnau complete this diverse cast of characters. Jeff’s reconnection with old girlfriend Liz (Jenica Bergere) is touching in certain scenes yet fails to connect with the story’s core themes. The film is grounded by naturalistic performances from prominent TV actors. Plaza (Parks and Recreation) is arguably the queen of dead pan comedy. She uses her snarky persona to illustrate her character’s misanthropic detachment from the world. Duplass (The League, Your Sister’s Sister) portrays Kenneth with his usual on-screen quirkiness. Kenneth is a tough nut to crack for this group of budding journalists. Is he insane, stupid, or in fact the world’s next scientific genius? Duplass’ Mumblecore roots energise his enigmatic yet sympathetic performance. Darius and Kenneth’s unusual personalities create a shaky yet sentimental relationship. They both have profound reasons for escaping the present. Their heartache pushes them to the edge as their promising relationship builds.

While Safety Not Guaranteed lacks the thrills of big-budget sci-fi, its heart is in the right place. The film poses the question “what would you do if you could go back in time?”, but never abruptly pushes the idea upon its audience.

Verdict: A clever and heartening sci-fi dramedy.

Seven Psychopaths Review – Hollywood Hustle


Director: Martin McDonagh

Writer: Martin McDonagh

Stars: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson


Release date: October 12th, 2013

Distributors: Momentum Pictures, CBS Films

Countries: UK, USA

Running time: 110 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Sam Rockwell’s hilarious character.

Worst part: Underused female characters.

Ever since Pulp Fiction‘s effect on the cinematic universe in 1994, many directors have tried to capture that similar balance of violence, wit and references to classic elements of popular culture. Now among several complex and smartly written gangster/assassin comedies following Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece, Seven Psychopaths sits atop this year’s gritty gangster/assassin character studies above Killing Them Softly, Lawless and Looper. The film is a vibrant and stylish comedic-drama, stretching the credibility of typical cinema tropes in the vein of Get Shorty or even Tropic Thunder.

Colin Farrell & Sam Rockwell.

Martin (Colin Farrell) is a struggling screenwriter living under the famous ‘Hollywood’ sign in middle class Los Angeles. Surrounded by quirky characters while finding inspiration for his latest screenplay, he becomes embroiled in a strange plan helmed by struggling actor Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken). Having stolen the beloved Shih Tzu of dangerous gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson), the three bumbling friends must go into exile before the increasingly vicious Charlie can find them. The three friends run into many troubled characters such as Martin’s frustrated girlfriend, a rabbit carrying sociopath (soul singer Tom Waits) and a mysterious assassin known only as ‘The Joker of Diamonds’. Martin must also overcome writer’s block and discover a knock out idea for his next grand story, hopefully before all three end up on the wrong end of a gun.

Christopher Walken.

From the opening scene, involving a witty conversation between two slimy gangsters played by Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg, director Martin McDonagh quickly becomes the worthy successor to Tarantino. Following his surprise hit assassin-comedy In Bruges, McDonagh has provided a funny, self-reflexive and hyper-stylish crime flick. Similarly to Guy Richie’s Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, Seven Psychopaths reveals so many intricate and fun details in every captivating scene. The film finds the right balance of absurdity and intelligence. The intertwining cast of characters creates a rich narrative, effectively placing the screenplay’s effect on cinema in full view. With strange ideas continually incepted into his alcohol induced mind, Farrell’s character carefully lays everything out on the page. Seven Psychopaths creates a subtle and nuanced separation between Martin’s confusing situation and the ideas flowing through each characters’ minds. Their ideas form several stylish and blackly comedic sequences, including an increasingly elaborate shoot out, an Asian terrorist dressed as a priest and character actor Harry Dean Stanton as a creepy figure dressed in black. Despite the inclusion of multiple stories creating a cohesive whole, each short story sorely decreases the film’s sense of urgency.

Woody Harrelson & Zeljko Ivanek.

Woody Harrelson & Zeljko Ivanek.

The film greatly benefits from the inclusion of McDonagh’s derivative yet engaging style. Identifying every psychopath is a fun guessing game, grounding the film in a solid sense of fun straight after every shocking and outrageously clever act of violence. Borrowing similar stylistic techniques from Tarantino and Richie, McDonagh effectively captures the harsh realities of both a life of crime and the Hollywood system. Gangsters, assassins and serial killers soon end up on the wrong side of our three unlucky ‘heroes’. The film is a wink and nudge to its modern cinema audience, de-constructing and subverting significant clichés in one of Hollywood’s most overused film movements. Target demographics, violence, female characters and climactic final shoot-outs are all discussed in a condescending tone. It’s no coincidence that Farrell’s character is named after the director, as McDonagh displays a profound love for influential crime flicks such as Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde and Natural Born Killers.

“You didn’t think I was what? Serious? You think I’m not serious just because I carry a rabbit?” (Zachariah (Tom Waits), Seven Psychopaths).

Tom Waits.

Tom Waits.

The A-list cast delivers the hilarious and snappy dialogue with a much needed sense of enthusiasm. Colin Farrell has always played the drunken Irish character type with a wave of charisma. He continues this here, providing many hilarious reactions as the innocent screenwriter surrounded by dog kidnappers, assassins, angry gangsters and suffering friends. Sam Rockwell, impressive throughout his career, goes off like a firecracker as the struggling actor with many questionable hobbies up his sleeve. A sarcastic yet scathingly honest character with a love for his friends, he portrays the average Joe with an obsessive love of girls, guns and blood-soaked mayhem. Christopher Walken provides his most enigmatic performance since Man on Fire as the repressed and passive-aggressive con man. Woody Harrelson provides yet another outrageous and deadly turn as the tough-as-nails gangster with an enduring love for his four-legged friend. While Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko, Kevin Corrigan, Gabourey Sidibe and Zeljko Ivanek provide solid turns in thankless roles.

When is all said and done, Seven Psychopaths comes off like a homage to the world’s biggest entertainment hub. Taking the industry for a spin, this crime/gangster-comedy will rough you up, ask for your money, before showing you a good time. Have fun!

Verdict: A smart, hilarious and self-reflexive gangster-comedy.

Ted Review – Bear-able!


Director: Seth MacFarlane

Writers: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild

Stars: Seth MacFarlane, Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Joel McHale

 


Release date: June 29th, 2012

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 106 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: The charming characters.

Worst part: The sitcom-esque story.

With a successful string of raunchy animated TV shows to his name such as Family GuyAmerican Dad and The Cleveland Show, Seth Macfarlane has now successfully converted his controversial comedic style to the big screen. Fans of his popular TV creations will happily devour Ted, while sensitive types will be lost in the referential and explicit comedic translation.

Mark Wahlberg and Seth MacFarlane’s character.

As a young boy, John Bennett was a lonely outsider desperately wanting a personal connection. With everyone, including the victimised Jewish kids in his Boston neighbourhood, refusing to associate with him, John’s desperation comes to fruition after his Christmas present, a cuddly brown teddy bear, comes to life. His new ‘thunder buddy for Life’ soon becomes a child star due to this Christmas miracle. The fame eventually wears off and 27 years later, John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted are pot-smoking, immature slackers. With John’s long-term girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) wanting him to escape the clutches of his fluffy friend, John’s desperation leads him to find a new, independent life for Ted, but not without being continually drawn into Ted’s wild antics.

Mila Kunis.

Mila Kunis.

Macfarlane’s comedic style is not for the faint of heart. His intelligent satirical comedy and quick wit are delivered with the comfortable tones of his thick accent. Voicing Ted much the same as Peter and Brian Griffin on Family Guy, his beloved style will appeal to fans and teenage film-goers, but may inadvertently push away anyone else. Macfarlane isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of skewering popular culture. Much like Ricky Gervais hosting an awards ceremony, everyone is on the chopping block as insulting remarks are thrown at celebrities such as Adam Sandler, Justin Bieber and Katy Perry. Jokes illustrating his stance on religion, ethnicity, politics and society are split between being hilarious, inappropriate or repetitive. The jokes are fired at the audience likes bullets out of a machine gun, with every hit met with a devastating miss, eventually losing the subtle satirical edge delivered in every episode of his hit animated TV comedies. Spelling out jokes as they pass, with Family Guy inspired flashback sequences, constant questioning of cultural practice and disgusting sex humour, feels like Macfarlane’s strong opinion and notorious style being forced upon an objective audience looking for another gross out hit like The Hangover and Bridesmaids.

Giovanni Ribisi.

Giovanni Ribisi.

The many references calling back to Macfarlane’s childhood influences, though important to the theme of transitioning between childhood and adulthood, won’t stick with certain audiences due to an intense reminder of the important artistic works of the 80’s. The many unnecessary references quickly become tiresome by the third Star Wars joke (clearly an already established influence). Macfarlane’s control over his artistic vision qualifies him as a unique auteur. Along with his in-your-face comedic hijinks, his transition from animation to live action has created a fun comedy balancing sensitivity and explicit humour. Using the Marcel Duchamp method of creating artistic meaning out of inanimate objects, his creation of Ted through producing, directing, writing and performing (through motion capture) the titular character has created a satisfying character study out of this unique premise. The direction is clearly influenced by popular directors such as Sam Raimi, Steven Soderbergh, and Oliver Stone. Ted‘s quick cut action and dialogue sequences and fast steady-cam shots are simple yet effective tricks used by Raimi and Macfarlane to create intensity and fast pacing. While Macfarlane’s use of bright colour to create dulcet tones is reminiscent of Soderbergh’s stylish colour coordination.

“No matter how big a splash you make in this world, whether you’re Corey Feldman, Frankie Muniz, Justin Bieber or a talking teddy bear, eventually, nobody gives a shit!” (Narrator (Patrick Stewart), Ted).

More of MacFarlane's animated gold.

More of MacFarlane’s animated gold.

Macfarlane obviously references his influences through cameos from many famous faces synonymous with popular culture from different generations. Ted and John’s fascination with the sci-fi cult classic Flash Gordon leads to a cameo from Flash himself Sam J. Jones, extended long enough to outstay its Welcome. While clever cameos from Ryan Reynolds AKA ‘some Van Wilder looking guy’, Tom Skerritt and Jazz Singer Norah Jones, as a former lover cleverly referring to the lack of private parts on Ted, create culturally relevant humour subverting our idea of celebrity. The ever reliable Wahlberg and Kunis create a charming couple in their charismatic dialogue moments, quickly developing an alluring distraction from the predictable narrative. Community lead actor Joel McHale proves his comedic talent as the slimy boss pining for his female workers. While dramatic actor Giovanni Ribisi is suitably disturbing as Ted’s stalker, essentially re-enacting the Kathy Bates role from Misery.

Macfarlane’s animated TV comedy redefined the expression of a comedian’s perspective on societal/political issues and popular culture. His opinion is expressed in Ted with quick wit and smart direction, but his overwhelming views on important issues may prove costly for a wider audience outside his already huge fan base.

Verdict: A unique, charming yet sickening and over-whelming farce.

Men in Black 3 Review – Neuralyzed!


Director: Barry Sonnenfeld

Writer: Etan Cohen (screenplay), Lowell Cunningham (comic)

Stars: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jermaine Clement


Release date: May 25th, 2012

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 106 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Josh Brolin.

Worst part: The goofy humour.

Fifteen years after the original, and inexplicably popular, Men in Black introduced the world to noisy crickets, neuralyzers and the buying power of mega-star Will Smith, Men in Black 3 proves this series has out stayed its commercially successful welcome. Despite the cleverness of some of its many zany ideas, both sequels have now illustrated that the original was nothing more than a fluke.

Will Smith & Tommy Lee Jones.

Will Smith & Tommy Lee Jones.

The controversy surrounding the unwritten script and muddled ideas thrown into the film’s production has proved costly for the finished product. Its confused story somewhat establishes nothing more than a hate-filled maniac villain and a time travel premise. After the smiley yet deadly Boris the Animal (Jermaine Clement) breaks out of jail, his path leads him to agents K (Tommy Lee Jones) and J (Smith). After K is sent packing due to his murder in the 1960’s, its up to the perplexed J to travel back to 1969 to prevent Boris’ reign over mankind via alien invasion. Enlisting the services of the younger K (Josh Brolin), Boris is not the only thing he may re-discover in an era of outrageous costumes, clunky technology and Andy Warhol.

Jermain Clement & Nicole Scherzinger.

Jermain Clement & Nicole Scherzinger.

Men in Black 3 unfortunately makes many of the same mistakes as the utterly mediocre 2002 sequel. Director Barry Sonnenfeld, director of both previous instalments and Smith’s biggest flop Wild Wild West, shows off his skills and major failings. His biggest fault is the lethally unfunny comedy throughout. Everything feels like the punchline to bad satirical joke. A wink and nudge at the camera may have been fine in the glory days of Ghostbusters and The Naked Gun, but this film straddles awkwardly between sci-fi actioner and slapstick comedy. Sonnenfeld’s tired humour isn’t helped by Smith. Despite delivering his usual alluring charisma, his constant mugging at the camera, given no brakes by Sonnenfeld, quickly tires. Involving nothing more substantial than constant jokes about K’s grumpiness and old age and Smith’s ‘hilarious’ funny faces when faced with the film’s many reaction shots, prove just how uninspired this series has become. The costume design is also a huge letdown. Despite being the work of make-up effects master Rick Baker, the glaringly fake, plastic look of the practical make up also gives the impression of the punchline to a cheesy joke heard too many times before. The set designs and cinematography do however lend an allure of creativity to this otherwise pointless affair. Fluid scene transitions and constant tracking shots are impressive at the best of times, but Sonnenfeld knows how to immerse the viewer in J’s baffling experiences.

“O? No, I call ladies “O”. To me O is feminine, and K is masculine. You know, I see a couple, I’m like, “O-K”.” (Agent J (Will Smith), Men in Black 3).

Josh Brolin.

Josh Brolin.

The stand out of Men in Black 3 is the time jumps. J’s leaps off tall buildings prove to be the film’s ‘highest’ points, as the special effects fluidly transition from one important historical event to another. Its the only time one may ever see the dinosaurs, the end of WWII, and the moon landing placed in the same context. The action set pieces also prove to be a fun relief from the film’s consistent cheesiness and unfunny, conventional dialogue. The unicycle chase through Manhattan streets and the fist-fight atop the tallest point of Cape Canaveral are filmed flawlessly and provide plenty of fun distractions. Thankfully the performances also strive to defeat the film’s conventional yet confusing plot hole filled narrative and character arcs that seem to have ably fallen into a black hole. Despite constantly hearing about K’s issues in the first half, the chemistry between Smith and Jones as partners, with their yin and yang relationship, is still as palpable as it was in previous adventures. Brolin is a standout here as a perfect representation of K and Jones himself. Capturing is speech, facial twitches and chemistry with Smith proves he is worthy to take over the reigns in future time warping instalments. Predictably however, the miscast Clement (one half of Flight of the Conchords) is uncomfortably over the top as the slimy, ugly antagonist; with his Kiwi accent shining through every gravely line.

Coming out a whopping one and a half decades after the original, Men in Black 3 comes off like an unearthed tomb hidden under layers of Hollywood schlock. Sadly, like a lot of sci-fi staples, it’s better to leave the tomb underground. This sequel takes a big step backwards for franchise filmmaking.

Verdict: An underwhelming and unwarranted third instalment. 

Dark Shadows Review – Bad, Bad Burton


Director: Tim Burton

Writer: Seth Grahame-Smith 

Stars: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloe Grace Moretz 


Release date: May 11th, 2012

Distributors: Warner Bros. Pictures, Roadshow Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: Johnny Depp.

Worst part: The underdeveloped characters.

This tale from the crypt proves once and for all that Tim Burton has directorally run out of steam. His use of the same narrative tricks and visual motifs over and over again may please the die-hard Burton geeks, but non- believers may wish to steer clear of his latest white-faced, gothic adventure-comedy Dark Shadows.

Johnny Depp.

Johnny Depp.

Based on the 1960/70s soap opera of the same name, the film begins in 1782 with the Collins’s; a wealthy family leaving Britain for the new world. Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is the bright son of the Collin’s family and their new fortunes in the newly built Collinsport, feeling so powerful he rejects the maid of the Collin’s estate, Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), who has a craving for both which-craft and revenge. She sickeningly murders his family and new love while cursing him forever as a vampire. Awakened in 1972 with a thirst for blood and a fresh start with his once great wealth, Barnabas must contend with the manor’s new inhabitants; his wacky ancestors. With a stuck up head of the family (Michelle Pfeiffer), a rebellious teen girl (Chloe Grace Moretz), a drunkard (Jackie Earle Haley), a hired live-in Psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter) and a strange little boy (Guliver McGrath), Barnabus must deal with clashing personalities, a vastly different time in history, a sexy yet vindictive Collinsport hotshot and alluring new visitor to the manor, Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote).

Eva Green.

Eva Green.

The real name of Dark Shadows should be ‘Tim Burton on auto-pilot’. Everything you think a Burton film involves is here in some sort of slithering form or another. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter show up in important roles, white, sour faces cover the characters in every frame, beautiful set and costume designs and one underused yet significant actor after another. With Burton’s recent slate of uninspiring and unnecessary remakes and interpretations such as Alice in Wonderland, Planet of the Apes and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he can now add this adaptation of the infamous gothic yet satirical soap opera to the list. The story problems stem from Burton’s blatant disinterest in the unfolding of beautiful yet scary events. Much like his other remakes, the story begins with a whisper of promise. The prologue illustrating Barnabas’ violent fall from uptown grace by dark forces, starts Dark Shadows off in a necessarily dark fashion. Soon after however, the film heads to the 1970’s, where one obvious joke on the styles and stereotypes of the 70s, and ironic vampire humour, rise from the grave.

“I have already prepared my counter-proposal. It reads thusly: You may strategically place your wonderful lips upon my posterior and kiss it repeatedly!” (Barnabus Collins (Johnny Depp), Dark Shadows).

Michelle Pfeiffer.

Michelle Pfeiffer.

The hip soundtrack, featuring a blatantly pointless concert performance from Alice Cooper, rings throughout this fish-out-of-water tale, while clashing ideologies between Barnabus and the 70s itself surprisingly click in several of the slow dialogue moments. Several talented actors are forced into small, underused roles. Moretz, famous for her ass-kicking, potty mouth portrayal of Hit Girl, is creepily forced to grow up too fast in her portrayal of a slightly filthy teenager in the era of free love. Bonham Carter is only used to bring colour to many dull moments of character based dialogue. Aussie newcomer Heathcote is charming as the other new introduction to the Collin’s family, while Earle Haley is sadly wasted in a role entirely based on silly slapstick comedy, a real shame after his brilliant and sickeningly disturbed portrayal of the anti hero Rorschach in Watchmen. Burton’s typical auteur symbols do manage to keep the film together. Depp provides his usual charismatic and intensifying abilities as yet another indistinguishable and supernatural character from Burton’s disturbed mind. While Burton’s contrasting style of bright colours and soul sucking darkness in every scene portrays a fitting representation of this supernatural yarn. 

Burton, once considered the breakthrough auteur of Hollywood cinema, has transitioned from Edward Scissorhands to a parody of himself. With Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter holding him down, Dark Shadows solidifies his journey from greatness to messiness.

Verdict: A dull and convoluted fantasy flick.

Mirror Mirror Review – Roberts’ Rollercoaster


Director: Tarsem Singh Dhanwar

Writers: Marc Klein, Jason Keller (screenplay), The Brothers Grimm (fairytale)

Stars: Julia Roberts, Lilly Collins, Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane


Release date: March 20th, 2012

Distributors: Relativity Media, 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 106 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: Lilly Collins.

Worst part: Julia Roberts.

Interpretations of classic fairy tales seem to be part of a new Hollywood trend. Among them comes a surprising number of re-tellings of the Grimm Brother’s story Snow White. With Snow White and the Huntsman out in the coming months, we first arrive at a seemingly lighter retelling with Mirror Mirror. This kid friendly, bombastic affair will remind you of the fun animated Disney adventures significant to our childhoods through the eye popping visual style of special effects master Tarsem Singh Dhanwar (Immortals).

Lily Collins.

A fresh look at a stale story is what we see here as we are told by the stuck up and disgruntled evil Queen (Julia Roberts) that her version of events is far more enthralling than Snow White(Lily Collins)’s. We are thrown into the story as the Queen’s wicked ways push Snow over the edge, to the point of leaving the confines of the castle in search of adventure. The Queen’s destructive rule over the village forces Snow to stand against her. Banished to the woods, Snow recruits seven wacky yet resourceful dwarves, all the while charmed by the presence of courageous yet modest Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer).

Julia Roberts.

Julia Roberts.

Along With Tim Burton and Michael Bay, Singh has a keen eye for visual imagery but is unable to extend his reach towards convincing storytelling. With all the charm and flair of a musical, Singh’s visual direction in Mirror Mirror attains wondrous new heights. Particularly impressive is the ball sequence in which the castle is flooded with patrons dressed as members of the animal kingdom. His style allows the main characters to stand out in bright colours against plain colour settings, such as Snow’s visit to the decayed village in bright yellow, to illustrate the importance of Snow White’s journey of defiance. The costume design by the late Eiko Ishioka, CGI effects augmenting the wacky slapstick gags and zany fight sequences and the set designs uniquely representing the light of the castle and dark of the woods create an ingenious third dimension for the film without the use of 3D. While a cheerful and catchy song and dance number provides an extra surprise for this already enchanting visual splendour. The use of a brilliant 3D animated exposition sequence, keeping one up to date with the legend, will make you question whether displaying the whole film in this style would lift the film above a dull story told by a somewhat incapable director. This retelling makes a fatal mistake in focusing on the evil Queen. Mirror Mirror is noticeably awkward during scenes involving the Queen in all her pampered glory.

“It’s important to know when you’ve been beaten. Yes?” (The Queen (Julia Roberts), Mirror Mirror).

Armie Hammer.

Armie Hammer.

Despite the clever use of the mirror providing a guardian angel in the Queen’s own form, the castle scenes, involving awkward slapstick comedy and unending scenes of dialogue, only add to the desire to return to the classic story of Snow White and her band of height challenged compatriots. Not to mention, an uncomfortably flat performance from Julia Roberts is a clear sign of her inability to be anything more than her usual charming self in films like Erin Brockovich and Pretty Woman. Nathan Lane does however provide some much needed comic genius as the mistreated yet amusing boot licker Brighton. Thankfully, and ironically, scenes involving the dwarves never fall short. With differing personalities than usually depicted in the Snow White legend, their comedic delivery and natural chemistry create the true heart of the film. The training of Snow White in becoming a bandit is handled with the wit sorely lacking in the majority of the film. Both good looking and charismatic actors, Hammer and Lily create a funny and light hearted relationship though their enjoyable performances. The chemistry between Prince Alcott and Snow White works wonders for several of the otherwise bland dialogue sequences while their sword fight may be one of the most engaging and expertly choreographed in recent memory.

Mirror Mirror, piggy backing off the current fairytale adaptation trend, certainly wears its influences on its well-pressed sleeves. Despite the spirited cast and gorgeous production design, a certain aura of unoriginality fills the air throughout.

Verdict: A calculated and misguided retelling. 

American Pie: Reunion Review – Just Like Old Times


Directors: Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg

Writers: Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg

Stars: Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, Sean William Scott, Eugene Levy


Release date: April 6th, 2012

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: Sean William Scott.

Worst part: The been-there-done-that sub-plots.

The first American Pie was an instant box office hit and landmark Hollywood comedy. This infamous frat boy farce fused together high school rebellion, sexual conquests and fall out of your seat hilarity to perfectly implant itself into the minds of horny teenagers and MILFs everywhere. Enter American Pie: Reunion; among many trying too hard to stick the same landing as its influential predecessor.

Jason Biggs & Alyson Hannigan.

The bevy of memorably charming yet wacky characters in this series come together for a fourth time, nine years since the wedding of Jim Levinstein (Jason Biggs) and his bad camp sweetheart Michelle (Alyson Hannigan), to solve their complicated and uncomfortable problems. With thirteen years gone by since their high school graduation, Jim and Michelle accompany old buddies Oz (Chris Klein), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nichols), Stifler (Sean William Scott) and Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) to the reunion. Each relationship, sexual complication and crazy character from years past presents a problem as friendships and attitudes take significant and alarming turns.

Jennifer Coolidge & Eugene Levy.

This piece of the pie primarily suffers from one of the biggest symptoms of sequelitis; it resembles a remake of the original. With every charismatic character and character actor from film’s past, comes one formulaic sex related problem and situation right after it. Despite the fun sense of nostalgia it tightly holds onto for the fans, many of the tropes that make the original stand out are hit and miss here, particularly the humour. the script leaves a too much time open for a needless amount of filthy jokes and shocking pranks. When not handling awkward situations through disgusting means, American Pie: Reunion spends too much time on flicking through its many sub-plots, all of them very familiar. Jim and Michelle trying to rekindle their spark in the bedroom after having a child, Kevin reminiscing with old flame Vicky (Tara Reid), Oz and Heather (Mena Suvari) reminiscing after their break up and Stifler refusing to change are all underwhelming and awkwardly resolved. While one major sub-plot, involving Jim fighting off the advances of the now 18 year old neighbour he used to babysit, quickly strays into plain creepiness.

“Is it an erectile problem? Because sometimes, you can buy a little time… with a well-placed thumb.” (Jim’s Dad (Eugene Levy), American Pie: Reunion).

Sean William Scott.

Sean William Scott.

Fans will ultimately love looking back on a different time (the 90s), mostly due to the chemistry between this beloved cast of misfit characters. Thankfully the five guys we once knew as desperate virgins and loud mouth teens still work well together. Despite Biggs’ irritating Woody Allen-esque shtick, Klein’s uncomfortably bland performance and the large number of useless cameos from fan favourites, the friendship between everyone feels realistic in American Pie: Reunion’s charming moments. A stand out here is John Cho AKA one half of Harold and Kumar, known simply in this series as MILF Guy 1. Him, along with an effective cameo by Neil Patrick Harris, prove to be the film’s highlights, as their comedic abilities are streaks ahead of most of the cast. Credit also goes to Sean William Scott and Eugene Levy. Levy as Jim’s charming yet inappropriate dad always delivers a large amount of likeability. While still resembling the devil on everyone’s shoulder, Scott delivers a significant amount of energy, yet not enough for a film that refuses to go as far as it should or even provide any sense of originality for this already popular franchise.

American Pie: Reunion, without a doubt, is an interesting experiment drenched in nostalgia. Despite the nice cast and fun sight-gags, this sequel seems to exist simply to pay its underworked and overconfident actors. Sorry, 90s kids!

Verdict: A disengaging and crass return to the spotlight. 

21 Jump Street Review – Charismatic Cops


Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Writer: Michael Bacall

Stars: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Ice Cube


Release date: March 16th, 2012

Distributor: Columbia Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Country: USA

Running time: 109 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Hill and Tatum’s chemistry.

Worst part: The bare-bones sub-plots.

The perfect mixture of old and new; 21 Jump Street smartly caters to different age demographics by gleefully commenting on our high school years. Whether 14 or 44, the issues and cliches of high school life are highlighted in a reflexive, relevant and witty fashion. This adaptation of the famous 80’s TV series also works through the electric chemistry of its two popular male leads.

Jonah Hill & Channing Tatum.

A flashback to high school in 2005 provides the basis for the issues of our two bumbling top cops. Schmit (Jonah Hill) is a nerd failing to find a girl for the prom, while Jenko (Channing Tatum) is an obnoxious yet stupid jock living the shallow life he loves. Years later, their bitter reunion comes with enrolment into the police academy. With Schmit an academic whiz and Jenko a lean, mean fighting machine; they work together to complete their police training and become the cops they desire to be. Their crazy, unprofessional antics however get them ousted from the force and transferred to an undercover division revived from the 80’s, down on 21 Jump Street. With an angry police chief breathing down their necks, they must go back to high school to find the supplier of a new synthetic drug sold by students before it spreads like a stupid Facebook message in the public sphere.

Ice Cube.

With an impressive writing, directing and production team under its belt, 21 Jump Street is a strong contender for this year’s funniest comedy. The direction by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs) provides a consistent level of funny gags while finding room for a sincere fish out of water story. The comedy may be hit and miss at points, but what works are the consistent comparisons to high school life between the 1980’s, 2005 and present day. With a slick 80’s edge due to its TV show origins, the film subverts and conforms to 80’s action film and TV clichés; finding a way to make them both entertaining for younger viewers and hilarious to anyone aware of cheesy 80’s conventions. Cameos from two members of the original show, including one of the most beloved and dynamic actors in the world, are handled in a surprisingly effective manner. Its no surprise the script was co-written by Michael Bacall, co-writer of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, as both films find a perfect relationship between believability, cultural relevance and insane fantasy. The stand out gag involving the many stages of tripping on hardcore drugs, provides several hilarious moments and the visual stimulus of ascending levels and pixelated colour patterns of an arcade video game. The screenplay also delivers when depicting the changing labyrinth and factions of present day high school.

“Hey, hey! Stop f*ckin’ with Korean Jesus. He ain’t got time for yo problems, he’s busy wit Korean sh*t!” (Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), 21 Jump Street).

Our cool characters.

Providing suitable groundwork for this story of opposition and adaptation on evolved high school turf, the crazy vision provided depicts a world of environmentally friendly and study hardened popular kids and one type of culturally and technologically advanced hipster after another. Adding immensely to 21 Jump Street’s stock standard story are the performances and characterisations from everyone involved. It’s Hill and Tatum who wholeheartedly commit on every level, not only producing the film but playing on what their own lives may have been like in high school before their current popularity. With Hill’s acting and co-writing talents consistently proving worthy of his recent Oscar nomination, his influence on modern comedy pays off as this re- invigoration of the odd couple relationship provides strong chemistry and believable friendship between Schmit and Jenko. Tatum on the other hand, proving himself to be a very unconvincing actor in previous roles, silences his critics with powerful and charismatic comedic delivery as the jock turned imaginary lightsaber fighting science nerd. The supporting cast also provides a large amount crazy thrills and fun gags. Rob Riggle and Ellie Kemper as wacky members of the faculty, Dave Franco (James’s brother) as the most popular kid in school and Brie Larson as the love interest all provide laugh out loud performances in their small roles. While Ice Cube is a comedic stand out as the Black police Chief strongly embracing his stereotype while encouraging the embrace of stereotypes in others.

Ultimately, the odds of making a truly successful 21 Jump Street adaptation are about one in a billion. However, in this universe, the odds have jumped up to two in seven billion. Our two shining stars make the most of this glorious opportunity and boost their once-ailing careers.

Verdict: A bold and hilarious action-comedy.

Project X Review – Frat Boy Farce


Director: Nima Nourizadeh

Writers: Matt Drake, Michael Bacall

Stars: Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Kirby Bliss Blanton


Release date: March 2nd, 2012

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 88 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: The party.

Worst part: The unlikeable characters.

With the increasing popularity of found footage films hitting theatres, the movement is constantly having to spread into different genres to stay fresh. Recent hits Chronicle and now Project X have both successfully interpreted common genres through the exploration of the american teenager. Project X re-invents the frat boy comedy through fun yet shocking almost apocalyptic events.

Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper & Jonathan Daniel Brown.

With a similar set up to the 2007 cult hit Superbad, we are introduced to three horny, unpopular teenage boys all desperately wanting the life of boozing, drugs and girls so many of their classmates already have. Thomas (Thomas Mann) is forced by his obnoxious friends Costa (Oliver Cooper) and JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown) to throw a huge party for his 17th birthday. With his parents conveniently out of town for the weekend, what should’ve been a small get together soon spirals out of control as their insane desire for popularity and girls leads them into several preposterous situations.

Alexis Knapp.

Catering specifically towards the teenage audience definitely works for this film. It cuts all the crap as rules and curfews are replaced with one insatiable temptation after another. A bevy of topless chicks, drunken debauchery, drugs and even a large bouncy castle are on display, creating the perfect image of an insanely fun shindig. First time director Nima Nourizadeh does a surprisingly impressive job with keeping a tight leash on this documentation of american house parties. One montage after another, accompanied by one hell of a Rap and Hip Hop soundtrack, creates the slow motion turn on for any teenage boy. Bouncing bodies, destruction and instant popularity for geeky teenagers take up every hand held frame. This comes as no surprise from producer Todd Phillips as his directorial efforts (The Hangover films, Old School) illustrate exactly how to party. Every scene of this film is a reminder of the photo montages at the end of The Hangover films as we see what could have happened on both those nights. With the consequences of this off the wall gathering ready to kick in at any moment, the anticipation of what will set it of and where it will go, constantly builds; leading of course to one over the top and destructive plot twist after another. The cinema verite style strives to realistically document the ultimate night for an american public school teen.

“I’m gonna go have a long cry, and then start calling some lawyers.” (Costa (Oliver Cooper), Project X).

The host’s dog.

Though uncontrolled and unfocused at points, the characters behind the cameras manage to stay away from temptation and effectively capture everything going right and wrong for our three dweeby main characters. The hand held style does however feel unbelievable at points. Despite crediting Warner Bros. for the different sources of footage (an over used gimmick in itself), the constant slow motion montages and underwater effects distract from this so called ‘realistic’ version of event documentation. This celebration of bad behaviour owes many of its predictable plot lines and unrealistic characters to comedies such as Superbad and American Pie, with many of its themes of rebellion and positive new experiences paying homage to the Richard Linklater cult classic Dazed and Confused. The three main characters are completely unrealistic. Their views on girls and even each other rings true with Superbad, yet the chemistry between them never reaches the peaks met by the Judd Apatow produced comedy. Costa, remarkably looking like a cross between Jonah Hill and Shia LeBeouf, never shuts up. His sexist attitude towards women pushes it over the edge, while never delivering a feeling of growth for his character throughout the course of events. Thomas and JB however are nondescript to a point of coming off as stupid for following through with every one of Costa’s outrageous plans.

While already outraging many and probably influencing others, The main star of Project X is the party. Even the most cynical part of you will be shocked by how far events go. Vulgar, cruel and hilarious all at the same time, the stuck up critic in everyone will be thrown away at the sight of a midget being shoved in an oven or a neighbour being tasered by a small security guard.

Verdict: An outrageous and stylistic party flick.