Movie Review: Paddington (2014)

July 11, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

paddington_bear_ver6

If you had asked me to jot down the 10 major releases of 2014 that I had no interest in seeing, I’m fairly certain that Paddington would have been on that list, and near the top too.

Paddington bear is beloved in children’s literature, which usually means disaster when it comes to big screen adaptations. Besides, I don’t know much about the character myself, don’t care much for it, and I don’t particularly like family or children’s films. Throw in the typically overrated Nicole Kidman in the cast, and it’s no surprise Paddington barely registered a peep on my movie radar.

And yet, the 98% Rotten Tomatoes rating enticed me to give it a try when I had nothing else better to do. I still didn’t expect it to be good because I figured the positive reviews were judging it from the standpoint of a family/children’s film.

I was of course wrong. Even taking into account my low expectations, Paddington turned out to be one of my surprise hits of 2014. It’s not a groundbreaking family film by any means, but the humour and tone are so well-crafted that adults might end up enjoying it more than the kids.

The plot is formulaic: an English-speaking Peruvian bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) somehow ends up in London and is adopted by a typical family who name him after the station where they found him. The mother (Sally Hawkins) and her two kids welcome Paddington with open arms, but the dad (Hugh Bonneville from Downton Abbey), a risk analyst, can’t wait to get rid of the troublesome bear.

As you would expect, there are fish-out-of-the-water experiences for Paddington as he tries to acclimatise himself to human life, baddies (led by Nicole Kidman) who want to stuff him, and opportunities for the dad to accept Paddington into his family and his heart.

None of this is mildly surprising. What is surprising is that Paddington is genuinely funny and filled with feel-good fun. Much of the brilliance stems from the decision to have everyone in the movie accept the existence of a talking bear with a non-chalant, “so what?” attitude. No one he comes in contact with is shocked, and the reaction is typically more one of disdain for his scruffy appearance. This durable gag is backed up by a plenty of deadpan humour, especially from Bonneville, who strangely reminded me of a likable version of Piers Morgan. He is absolutely fantastic.

It’s a shame the lovely Sally Hawkins doesn’t get to do much here, though other characters, such as Nicole Kidman’s villain and Peter Capaldi’s grumpy neighbour, manage to pick up the slack. Most of the laughs in this film are light, but they are mostly witty and come regularly. I never expected to laugh this much in a family film with a CGI bear.

At the end of the day, Paddington is still a formulaic family film with a bear whose cuteness has no influence on me. But despite not being my cup of tea on paper, I ended up having a blast because comedy does not discriminate. Funny is funny no matter what genre. I’m glad I gave Paddington a chance and I hope everyone will too.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Spy (2015)

July 10, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

spy-poster

I won’t lie. I initially had zero interest in Spy, the new comedy directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat) and starring his favourite collaborator Melissa McCarthy. The poster just made it look generic and lame, and I always thought Feig’s earlier films were overrated.

Just shows we shouldn’t judge a movie by its poster or preconceived notions based on the past. Because Spy is really funny. Hilarious stuff. Laugh-out-loud gags with a progressive slant. In my opinion it’s easily the best film either Feig or McCarthy have been involved in.

It doesn’t have a mindblowing plot — McCarthy plays a former teacher-turned-CIA-agent who acts as the eyes and ears of the agency’s top spy, played by Jude Law. She’s meek and awkward and disappointed with how her career change has turned out.

Naturally, an opportunity arises in which she is thrust into dangerous undercover field work, and this brings out the hidden beast in her as she tries to track down a lethal nuclear weapon.

All the kudos in the world for having McCarthy as the undisputed female lead and a kickass spy, an absolute rarity in sexist, beauty- and weight-obsessed Hollywood, but none of that would have mattered if Spy turned out to be a stinker.

Fortunately, Spy smashes the six-laugh quota for a decent comedy with ease thanks to a variety of factors. First and foremost, McCarthy, who gets the opportunity to show her range by playing essentially two personalities — the meek, and the snarky one we’re used to seeing from Bridesmaids and The Heat. 

In the former, she’s funny in the hesitant, awkward manner she’s very capable of pulling off. However, she’s at her ripping best in the latter, firing off quick-witted, sharp, acidic one-liners and well-placed profanity to elicit the chuckles. I always found this crude version of McCarthy funny, but too much of it felt grating and exhausting. Feig’s decision to give us half a film of it ended up being perfect; just the right amount of familiar McCarthy.

Rose Byrne, who seems to be in absolutely everything these days, once again displays her  ample comedic chops as the stuck-up villain with the posh accent. She’s not afraid to make fun of herself and go head-to-head wih McCarthy in the profanity stakes; I believe this could be as funny as she has ever been.

Jude Law, who has been out of the limelight in recent years, returns as a James Bond spoof of sorts, probably a nod to the fact that he was almost picked to be the iconic spy years ago. He’s clearly aged and appears to have gotten some plugs, though the charisma is still there. He gets to joke around the least as the tongue-in-cheek straight-man of the comedy but takes the role in stride.

Up to this point, Spy is already a fairly decent comedy. What takes it to the next level, however, is the presence of Jason Statham. As the most bankable martial arts action star of today, Statham has only been on the fringes of comedy, and by that I mean wisecracks and one-liners in between beating people up on screen. He finally gets to show off his incredible self-awareness and untapped comedic timing in Spy as a disgruntled rogue agent who steals just about every scene he’s in.

Statham’s character is British, but he’s also crass, profane, arrogant, mysognistic and hyperbolic. He reminds of a hardened version of Kurt Russell from Big Trouble in Little China. His hilarity is undeniable, and it adds an edge to the film I doubt anyone else could have offered.

I thought after Kingsman: The Secret Service the year’s best action-comedy had been set in stone, but now I’m not so sure. Spy isn’t nearly as stylish or visually impressive, but it’s much more of a pure comedy in that it generates bigger and more frequent belly laughs. I had an unexpectedly good time.

4.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Get Hard (2015)

May 27, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

get hard

Will Ferrell plus Kevin Hart. On paper, putting together two of the world’s biggest comedic stars should be a no-brainer, but Get Hard, their highly anticipated buddy-movie collaboration, turned out to be lesser than the sum of its parts.

Ferrell plays yet another version of himself, this time as James King, a highly successful financial prodigy engaged to the beautiful daughter (Alison Brie) of his boss (Craig T Nelson). King knows how to make loads and loads of money with hedge funds, but he’s a bit of a douche and practically retarded in all other aspects of life, much like all of Ferrell’s other characters. When he is sentenced to 10 years in a maximum security prison for a white collar crime, King seeks the help of his car washer, Darnell Lewis (Kevin Hart), to help him “get hard” in 30 days so he won’t be (anally) destroyed in prison.

The majority of the jokes in this movie stem from two things: King’s numbing stupidity, and the fact that Lewis, who has never even been to prison, is black. While Get Hard uses the pun in the title a couple of times (as you would), the film is basically a conveyor belt of fairly typical racial stereotype jokes, mixed in with some prison rape jokes and gay jokes, and a whole lot of standard Will Ferrell idiocy. Kevin Hart plays the “straight man” this time, and as a result he doesn’t get to do nearly as much as Ferrell does, though he does have one decent scene in which he shows off his talents by pretending to be several different prison factions at once.

Get Hard has been savaged by most critics, largely for being offensive by relying too much on race and gay jokes. I’m actually quite shocked that people were offended by it. I mean, seriously, this is Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart. What else did people expect from a comedy with these two called Get Hard, in which a black man tries to teach a white man how to survive in prison?

The real problem with the movie is not that the jokes are offensive, it’s that they are not funny. Or at least not funny enough. I probably giggled a couple of times and grunted a handful of others, which falls way short of the “six laugh rule” for a good comedy. A lot of the attempts at laughs were cliched and lacking in imagination, and while I applaud Ferrell and Hart for pushing the boundaries, none of the comedy felt as edgy as it could have been.

Ferrell can be lame and Hart can be grating, but when they are on their game they are undeniably laugh-generating machines. They actually have fairly good chemistry in this too, which is why it ultimately feels like Get Hard was a complete waste of their respective talents. To be fair, it’s not horrible — there are much worse comedies being made these days — though there’s just no getting around the fact that this should have been much much funnier.

2 stars out of 5

PS: At least Alison Brie was surprisingly hot in this.

Movie Review: The Cobbler (2015)

April 16, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

TheCobblerBig

The Cobbler looked promising in the trailer. A cobbler played by Adam Sandler realises that he can turn into different people (in terms of physical appearance) by wearing their shoes. On its face, the film seems like a fable about what it means to walk in another man’s shoes, though in reality The Cobbler is just a dull comedy-drama that’s neither very funny nor very dramatic, and much shallower than the premise suggests.

Sandler plays Max, a traditional neighbourhood cobbler who lives with his elderly mother. It’s a sad existence for him, getting by alone in his workshop day to day, abused by clients with more money and better lives than him, and still wondering why his father (Dustin Hoffman) left him and his mother years ago. His only friend is the barber next door, played by the legendary Steve Buscemi.

So when one day Max discovers that he can turn into his clients by wearing their shoes, he decides to live the life he wishes he had. He becomes a dashing Brit (Dan Stevens), who has a stunning girlfriend and still gets plenty of attention from the ladies. He tries his hand at being a Chinese man, complete with an accent when he speaks English. But it’s when he attempts to be a criminal that things start spiralling out of control.

Despite an interesting premise, The Cobbler fails to flesh it out, instead going for cheap ideas, bizarre sentimentality (that borders on creepy) and a boring final act that revolves around a nasty property developer (Ellen Barkin). Rather than teaching Max how to sympathise with others by walking in their shoes, he abuses the power for his own benefit before becoming a cliched benevolent superhero of sorts. Everything is on the surface only, and this is confirmed by a predictable and silly ending.

There were plenty of opportunities for humour that went to waste, delivering at most smirks rather than genuine laughter. There also wasn’t much drama to speak of, and the only legitimate attempt involving Max’s father completely weirded me out. Thank God for Steve Buscemi, the only guy who really brought any life to the film with the exception of Method Man, who was menacingly good as a thug.

Having bagged the film out, it’s still probably one of Sandler’s best efforts in years. Seriously, his list of films before this one are all colossal critical flops: Men, Women & Children, Blended, Grown Ups 2, That’s My Boy, Jack and Jill, Zookeeper, Just Go With It, and Grown Ups. It’s frustrating, because anyone who has seen Punch-Drunk Love knows Sandler can act and isn’t exclusively confined to shit movies. The closest thing I can compare The Cobbler to is his 2006 film Click, which is also a magical fantasy comedy supposedly trying to teach a life lesson or two. But while Click at least had a few funny moments and some surprisingly touching scenes, The Cobbler doesn’t even have any.

It wasn’t so bad that it made me want to stop watching, but when you start feeling that a 99-minute film is too long it can’t possibly be very entertaining.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Let’s Be Cops (2014)

January 27, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Lets-Be-Cops-poster

With all the cop scandals around the United States lately, it kind of a very strange time for a film about two losers whose fortunes get turned around when they start impersonating police officers. But shit title aside, Let’s Be Cops is just a typical screwball buddy comedy that’s probably a little better than you thought it would be. Not that it’s saying much, but I actually think it’s better than Kevin Hart’s Ride Along.

The story follows two loser buddies, Justin (Damon Wayans Jr), a video game designer, and Ryan (Jake Johnson), a washed up college quarterback. Justin can’t catch a break in his career, while Ryan still tries to relive his glory days by dominating kids at the park. One thing leads to another and the two start to impersonate police officers, first as a joke, but when it turns them into popular dudes they decide to keep the charade going despite committing a very serious crime. Of course, they also end up getting caught up in real police work involving dangerous mobsters and all hell breaks loose.

I’d say the strength of the film likes in the chemistry between Wayans Jr (damn I feel old knowing that Damon Wayans has a son who is acting in movies of his own now) and Johnson. If this were Harold and Kumar, Wayans would be Harold, the straight-faced and more uptight of the two, while Johnson would be Kumar, the mischievous one always getting them into more trouble.  So the humour comes from the same type of dynamic, with Johnson’s daring acts setting up outrageous situations and Wayans squirming to get out of them.

There are a few fairly funny gags in the film, but really nothing particularly witty or memorable. The rest of the stuff is mostly lame, though unlike Ride Along it never gets irritating or grating. The film doesn’t swing for the fences and is perfectly happy settling for mild, cliched humour that will give audiences a few safe chuckles but nothing more. I guess it’s both a blessing and a curse to say that Let’s Be Cops is pretty harmless entertainment.

I really like Rob Riggle’s deadpan face and deliver, so it was good to see him playing patrol officer Segars, a poor sap who is convinced that Wayans and Johnson are real cops despite all the hints to the contrary. Andy Garcia makes a shocking appearance as a corrupt detective, shocking because I didn’t realise he had become a “keep gettin’ ’em cheques” actor. And smoking Nina Dobrev from The Vampire Diaries proves that she isn’t quite ready to make the leap to the big screen as Wayan’s love interest.

It’s easy to shower hate on Let’s Be Cops because it sounds and looks like a tame, formulaic B-grade comedy. But because that’s exactly what I expected, I actually came out of it thinking it wasn’t that bad for a conventional buddy flick. Like most films of this kind, the set-up was relatively strong and the final act grew weaker and weaker, though on the whole I didn’t have any major problems with it.

2.5 stars out of 5

 
%d bloggers like this: