Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Review: WTF, indeed.


Directors: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

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

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

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Release date: May 12th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 112 minutes 


2½/5

Best part: The fun performances.

Worst part: The bizarre sense of humour.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict: An underwhelming vehicle for Fey.

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:

This Is Where I Leave You Review – Family Foibles


Director: Shawn Levy

Writer: Jonathan Tropper (screenplay & novel)

Stars: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, Adam Driver


Release date: October 23rd, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 103 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: The dynamic cast.

Worst part: The tedious gross-out gags.

Hollywood’s latest home-for-the-holidays venture, This Is Where I Leave You, strives to speak to, and for, the masses. Promising relatable situations and interesting characters, this big-budget dramedy strains and creaks whilst grounding itself. Crafting a slicker-than-shoe-polish version of reality, these movies, despite their commendable intentions, never convince. How can they be realistic, anyway? They feature ultra-wacky set pieces and ultra-popular celebrities. Even character-actor Corey Stoll, seen in the background of several recent movies and TV shows, has more money than everyone in Kansas combined.

Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll & Adam Driver.

Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll & Adam Driver.

Fuelled by Kings of Leon, American Authors, a relatable concept, and a starry cast, TIWILY‘s egregious marketing campaign highlighted the broad appeal. Given these actors’ big-and-small-screen successes, the formula seemed destined for positive results. The poster, plonking each big-name next to one another, sums up modern entertainment’s pros and cons. Sadly, the words “formula” and “conventional” linger throughout the final product. The movie, the latest in a series of familial dramedies, isn’t any better or worse than August: Osage County or The Judge. Like the aforementioned celluloid distractions, this dramedy’s reach drastically exceeds it grasp. The story kicks off with a wholly fantastical version of New York City. Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) is a radio station manager living the dream. Coming home early from work, he’s shocked to discover his wife Quinn(Abigail Spencer)’s year-long affair with Judd’s favourite shock-jock/boss Wade (Dax Shepard). After three months of excessive remorse, heartache, and beard-growing, the newly divorced Judd is informed of his dad Mort’s passing. The Altman family – rounded out by matriarch Hilary (Jane Fonda), Judd’s sister Wendy (Tina Fey), older brother Paul (Stoll), and youngest Philip (Adam Driver) – come together for the funeral. As per Mort’s last request, the family must sit Jewish mourning custom Shiva. Stuck in their old home for seven days, the Altman’s past and present quarrels collide. Amongst the chaos, several key players show up to further elevate or deflate each family member.

Jane Fonda & Debra Monk.

Based on Jonathan Tropper’s book of the same name, TIWILY feels like an all-too-literal adaptation. Handing screenplay duties over to Tropper, the movie seemingly utilises every page to fill its 103-minute run-time. The original material, perfect for novel length, is lugubriously laid out across this cumbersome script. Like many dramedies, there’s way too much going on. Throwing in more sub-plots and characters than needed, the narrative’s top-heavy structure wains half-way through. The quiet parts, despite straining against the movie’s glorious sheen, deliver subtle and genuine moments. Certain character interactions, bolstered by its engaging cast and witty dialogue, are almost worth the admission cost. Several sequences work efficiently, depicting insults and stories thrown between troubled by fun-loving people. However, crushed under the narrative’s immense weight, the central plot-strands lack emotional weight or sustenance. Bumping into school friend/manic pixie dream girl Penny (Rose Byrne), Judd’s story-line is predictable, soulless, and tepid. Drowning in an ocean of A-listers, montages, and clichés, Bateman explores yet another sad-sack character. This dramedy – lacking the class, bravado, and cockiness of Arrested Development – adds to the comedic actor’s post-TV slump. However, thanks to quick-wit and charisma, the nice-guy lead delivers a measured performance. In fact, Judd, despite his conflict’s tiresome twists and turns, is the most likeable and intriguing character. The surrounding family members, defined by specific traits (new breasts, baldness, immaturity etc.), are mean-spirited and one note.

“It’s hard to see people from your past when your present is so cataclysmically screwed up.” (Judd Altman (Jason Bateman), This Is Where I Leave You).

Rose Byrne.

Rose Byrne.

Director Shawn Levy (the Night at the Museum series, The Internship) applies his hack-and-slash style to this subdued dramedy. Levy – whose  filmography includes Cheaper by the Dozen, the Pink Panther remake, and Real Steel – isn’t known for intelligence, verve, or sensitivity. Touching on adultery, familial strife, and religion, its concepts construct only silly scenarios and corny ramblings. Despite the premise, the family’s Jewish heritage is picked up and dropped without warning. Certain sequences, despite the lack of consequences or emotional resonance, deliver big laughs and nice moments. Getting high in a synagogue, Bateman, Stoll, and Driver’s characters deliver comedic and dramatic shades. Also, Fonda’s ever-lasting figure is given significant attention. Playing an open-minded writer/therapist, Fonda charges through the role. The movie serves to boost its actors’ career trajectories. Fey, known for writing and leading better comedic material, excels despite her underwhelming and manipulative sub-plot. Contending with old-flame Horry (Timothy Olyphant) (suffering permanent brain damage from an accident several years earlier), her character’s conflicts deserve more development. In addition, Phillip’s sub-plot – fighting to keep his relationship with older girlfriend/therapist Tracy (Connie Britton) going whilst fighting off former conquests – serves to kickstart slapstick gags and wild misunderstandings. Furthermore, Paul and his zany wife Annie(Kathryn Hahn)’s attempts to conceive yield even-more-implausible set pieces. Despite the misjudged material, character-actors Debra Monk and Ben Schwartz get enough time to shine.

Biting off much more than it can chew, TIWILY is hindered by a lackluster filmmaker and tiresome screenplay. Tropper, despite handing his own material, misjudges the adaptation process. Crafting too many story-lines, characters, and twists, the book-to-film translation lacks joy, weight, or warmth. Despite the distasteful, A-listers-pretending-to-be-normal phoniness, the cast succeeds. Bateman, despite playing yet another down-on-his-luck loner, is charming and affable. Meanwhile, Fey, Stoll, Fonda, and Driver craft entertaining moments. Ultimately, this self-conscious effort never surprises, inspires, or even convinces. Welcome to Hollywood!

Verdict: A charming yet cloying dramedy.

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.