Recent Movie Reviews: Part VII

November 14, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)

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I had heard some pretty nasty things about The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, the latest adaptation of a successful young adult book series which instantly conjures up images of franchises like Twilight. For maybe the first half hour or so, I was ready to disagree with the critics because I felt it was fairly engaging, but somewhere along the line the film just got bogged down by the weight of its own unnecessarily complexity and desire to infuse contrived romances into the storyline, and from there it all fell apart. In other words, I ended up agreeing with the naysayers: City of Bones stunk.

Starring the eyebrows of Lily Collins (offspring of music legend Phil), City of Bones follows the adventures of New York teenager Clary Fray, who one night realises she is not “normal” and  can see things other people can’t.  OK, I’m just going to say it — this movie is about angel warriors who slay demons on Earth. Fray is indeed special and has special powers, including the ability to use runes.

Anyway, the whole film revolves around the search for the titular Mortal Instruments, and in particular a magical cup. It all got a little confusing for me, to be honest, and I really didn’t care about all the explanations which made little sense. But it does also have vampires and werewolves, and in a bit of a controversial twist for young adult fiction, gay characters!

I did enjoy the start of the film and its urban setting, and the tensions brought about by an endangered protagonist who doesn’t know what the hell is going on around her. But I knew there was going to be a romance as soon as the blonde locks of Jamie Campbell Bower (who plays an angel called Jayce Wayland) appeared on screen, and I hoped that it wouldn’t ruin the movie. Well, it did, and the moment when Eyebrows and Bower shared an awkward kiss in a greenhouse (just as it suddenly starts to rain, by the way) was when I lost faith in the film completely.

I’m not as critical of the film’s fantasy cliches as others, because I don’t have a problem with stealing elements as long as the execution is right. This is harder said than done, of course, and City of Bones failed to get over that hump, though they did have a good crack at it. In the end,  it’s the contrived romance and the unnecessarily convoluted back story that crushed the film for me. That said, I don’t think the series is beyond salvation, and the planned sequel, City of Ashes, could still possess some potential.

2 stars out of 5

The Internship (2013)

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These days you can be pretty certain of what you’re in for when you go to a Vince Vaughn comedy, especially if it also stars Owen Wilson. The Internship is what it is — affable characters you are familiar with, consistent, mildly amusing jokes and gags, and a cliched life message at the end. The only difference between this and other similar Vaughn movies in recent years is that The Internship is also a massive advertisement for Google.

Vaughn and Wilson are watch salesmen who someone get an opportunity to apply for an internship at Google. To get the sought-after job, they must compete against a bunch of young, cocky, highly qualified interns in a teams. And of course, the duo gets put in a team of misfits who are considered rejects by other teams, and they have to find a way to learn from each other and defy the odds. You know how it goes and you know how it ends, but it’s still a semi-enjoyable ride.

Directed by Shawn Levy (Cheaper by the Dozen, Night at the Museum, Date Night) and co-written by Vaughn, The Internship is one of those “safe” and “comfortable” movies that tend to rated better by audiences than critics. There are some interesting insights into Google’s recruitment process (including a Quidditch match), but for the most part it is extremely formulaic and short on original jokes. And of course it is unnecessarily long at 2 hours.

Vaughn and Wilson are likable guys who seem to always play the same characters, so you know what to expect with them. The other interns on their team are stereotypes but the actors who play them do fairly good jobs. Rose Byrne plays Wilson’s love interest and feels like a superfluous character, and Max Minghella is awfully one-dimensional and over-the-top as the dicky villain who bullies them (though I blame it on the script). The standout supporting character is played by Rob Riggle, a hilarious electric cart salesman, and it’s a shame he doesn’t have more screen time.

On the whole, I found The Internship to be a “meh” experience that won’t affect your life whether you see it or not. Apart from a bizarre and strangely adult segment featuring to a strip club, this was about as predictable of a movie as you’re likely to see all year.

2.5 stars out of 5

The World’s End (2013)

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The World’s End is the third film in director Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost  (following Shaun of the Dead, which I liked a lot, and Hot Fuzz, which I haven’t seen). It would be an understatement to call this film a wild, outrageous and unpredictable ride, and I would recommend anyone who intends on seeing it to avoid all spoilers like I did.

The premise pretty much tells you the kind of experience you are in for. Pegg plays a middle-aged alcoholic trying to rekindle his glory days from two decades ago and gathers up his old gang to try and complete the “Golden Mile”, a pub crawl through 12 local pubs in a single night that ends at an establishment named The World’s End. The rowdy group start off the pub crawl as planned, but an unexpected twist throws them into the craziest night of their lives.

It’s hard to say more about the plot without giving key details away, so I’ll stop there, but what I will say is that it features Pegg and Frost at their stinging best. The wisecracks and one-liners come fast and furious, and the physical comedy is also surprisingly effective in a wacky kind of way. The supporting cast, which includes the likes of Rosamund Pike and Martin Freeman, are all excellent and contribute to a highly entertaining and surreal experience where nothing is taken seriously — in a good way.

And on top of it all, The World’s End is strangely heartfelt and pushes through its messages about alienation and letting go of the past extremely well. The film does lose a bit of steam towards the end as the silliness meter is dialled up to the max, but even then you get the feeling that the Wright was in full control of where he wanted to take his audience.

The World’s End is unapologetically crazy, bizarre, and above all, British. I thought it was hilarious.

4 stars out of 5

42 (2013)

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Sports biopics are all about inspiration, and inspirational figures don’t come much bigger than Jackie Robinson, the first African-American player in Major League Baseball. 42 follows Robinson’s journey from talented negro league player to his controversial signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers, where he would become the only black player in a league of all whites, thereby making him the most polarizing athlete in sport.

For those who don’t know much about Robinson and his incredible life, 42 provides a wonderful insight into just how difficult it was for him to be that breakthrough guy who paved the way for racial equality in not just baseball but all professional sports in the United States. It’s a pivotal and very important part of American history that should not and will not be forgotten.

That said, 42 is very much a family film in the sense that it tackles the obstacles and the racism Robinson faced head on but in a somewhat sanitised way that feels like it steered clear of the ugliest and darkest aspects of what he had to endure. This is not to say that the film makes light of what Robinson went through — it’s just that things could have been portrayed in a much more cynical, brutal and disturbing manner. That would have made it a very different kind of movie and that’s not what the filmmakers had in mind.

However, this decision also means that 42 loses some of its edge and comes across as a more stock-standard sports biopic that at times borders on made-for-TV territory. There are the good guys and there are the bad guys, and there are the guys who redeem themselves after initially falling prey to peer and societal pressures. It made things a little too black and white for my liking, but again, this was the path the filmmakers intended on taking.

I hadn’t heard of Chadwick Boseman, the actor who plays Robinson in the film, before, but it’s obvious why he was picked for the role — he looks A LOT like him! I wouldn’t say Boseman was oozing charisma, but he does a stellar job as the man who wears No. 42 on his back. The big name star is Harrison Ford, who plays Branch Rickey, the MLB executive who came up with the idea of signing Robinson — apparently not because he wanted racial equality but because he wanted to win. Other known names include John C McGinley, Christopher Meloni and Lucas Black.

Ultimately, 42 is a fairly unremarkable film that manages to sustain our interest because of a remarkable man. It is a safe production designed for families and younger audiences, and as such it gets the job done, but expecting anything more will likely lead to disappointment.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Midnight in Paris (2011)

January 5, 2012 in Best Of, Movie Reviews, Reviews

It’s 2012 already but I’m still trying to finish off my 2011 movie reviews so I can do my annual top 10 list.

I still have a quite a few to go, but I’m pretty sure Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is going to be on that list. Starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Michael Sheen, Kathy Bates and co, Midnight in Paris is one of those rare, magical delights that I just couldn’t help but fall in love with.

Even though I had seen a couple of trailers, I mistakenly thought Midnight in Paris was one of those lazy, forgettable romantic “dramedies” with a bit of predictable quirkiness and lots of pretty scenes of Paris.  While it is indeed a quasi-love letter to the beautiful city, I couldn’t have been more wrong about everything else.  Without giving too much away, I would classify it as a “fantastical” romantic comedy.

It tells the story of Gil (Wilson), an engaged Hollywood scriptwriter working on his first novel, who travels to Paris on a vacation with his fiance Inez (McAdams) and her wealthy parents.  By chance, they bump into Inez’s pompous, insufferable friend Paul (Sheen), who loves to grab the spotlight and take the wind out of Gil’s sails.  Feeling rejected and dejected, Gil decides take a solo stroll through the streets of Paris one evening, thus beginning an unexpected and mystical adventure  involving a whole cast of fascinating characters.  I didn’t know about this aspect of the film so it came to me as a wonderful surprise, and being a writer made it even more glorious.

Despite the scandals in his personal life, it’s hard to not admire Woody Allen as genius filmmaker.  He has made some pretty decent but flawed films in recent years (Whatever Works, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Scoop and Match Point, to name a few), but Midnight in Paris has to be one of his best in quite some time.  The characters are rich and the dialogue is sublime.  The one-liners are hilarious.  And the idea itself is brilliant.  At just 94 minutes, the film is short and sweet, allowing a swift pace.  It might not be a particularly deep film, but the sweet, light-hearted and wondrous vibe that Allen threads throughout the whole film makes it a joy to watch.

The role of Gil was made for Owen Wilson, and he shines here as the affable, slightly dorky Gil.  McAdams is also very good as the spoiled, irritating finance, and Michael Sheen is, as expected, marvellous as the pseudo-intellectual douchebag Paul.  Marion Cotillard is sexy and alluring, but for me, the one who steals the show in a minor role is French actress Lea Seydoux (who was recently an assassin in MI4).  But with the likes of Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody and French First Lady Carla Bruni, it’s hard to pick any holes in the cast or performances.

Midnight in Paris is by no means a perfect film, but I connected with it in a way I never thought I would.  As far as short, witty, memorable films are concerned, this one is right up there in my personal pantheon.

5 out of 5 stars!

Movie Review: Hall Pass (2011)

March 10, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

When I was still at school, my friend and I decided to go see a movie after class one day.  But for whatever reason, we missed the film we intended to see, and there was only one other film available, a film neither of us had even heard of.

That film was called There’s Something About Mary, and I don’t think either of us have laughed as hard in a cinema as we did that day.  It was one magical movie experience that I’ll always treasure — zero knowledge of the plot, zero expectations, and an unexpected classic of a film.  The name, the Farrelly brothers, was also ingrained into my brain.

Fast forward to present day, and as chance would have it, my friend and I had another opportunity to catch a film together.  Naturally, we decided to go see Hall Pass, a Farrelly brothers movie starring Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis (only recently watched him in 30 Rock), Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate and Stephen Merchant.

The premise is outstanding and full of potential.  Two friends in slightly rocky relationships with their wives are given a “hall pass” from marriage for a week.  Effectively, a licence to cheat.  What will they do?  What kind of mischief will they get up to?  Will it be hilarious?

Sadly, I have to report that Hall Pass didn’t pass the grade.  The Farrelly brothers’ magic from There’s Something About Mary is well and truly gone.  Their last two films, this one and The Heartbreak Kid (with Ben Stiller) are both duds in my opinion.  It just shows how hard it is to make a strong comedy film, and just because you’ve succeeded once doesn’t mean you know the secret formula.

The problem with Hall Pass is that it’s not particularly funny.  If you’ve seen the trailer you would have seen half the jokes, because most of them are the same, and the rest are relatively predictable. Not to say that it isn’t funny at all, because there were a few good moments (my favourite was in a massage parlour) that made me giggle aloud, but on the whole there were too many jokes and gags that were met with complete silence or worse, cringes.

Another problem I had with it is that, like so many ‘comedies’ these days, being loud and obnoxious, filthily disgusting, and having shock value are taken as a proxy for humour.  Where are the good old jokes that comes from cleverness and wit and irony?  And my goodness, masturbation and racial penis size gags really are getting old these days.

It’s unfortunate because Hall Pass had so much going for it as an idea, but the development and execution let it down.  There were shades of Mary in there in a couple of scenes, and you could almost sense that they were trying to recreate what had worked for them in the past, but for whatever reason, it failed.

At the end of the day, Hall Pass is what it is.  A great idea, a solid cast, a few good jokes, a lot of lame ones, and a dash of sweetness at its core.  Probably better than most of the trashy gross-out comedies that get pumped out these days but still not very good.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Little Fockers (2010)

January 10, 2011 in Movie Reviews

Meet the Parents (released in 2000) is one of my favourite comedies.  The 2004 sequel, Meet the Fockers, was silly and disappointing, despite the added star power Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand.  And so I was a little wary of the third film, Little Fockers. Any time a franchise reaches its third standalone film (ie not a planned trilogy), there’s a risk that the jokes will start wearing thin.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened here.  Even with the whole gang back (Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Tero Polo, Blythe Danner, Owen Wilson, Hoffman and Streisand) plus a surprisingly good Jessica Alba inserted (along with Harvey Keitel and Laura Dern), Little Fockers failed to capture the essence of what made the first film so good.

This one, as the title suggests, takes place several years after the second film, with Greg Focker (Stiller) and his wife Pam (Polo) raising twins, who are about to celebrate their birthdays.  Of course, Greg’s father-in-law and former CIA agent Jack (De Niro) is still around making Greg’s life hell, and the majority of the movie revolves around several subplots — Greg representing an erectile dysfunction drug (which is where Alba comes in), getting his place ready for the birthday party (enter Keitel) and the trying to get his kids into a prestigious kintergarten (enter Dern).

I won’t deny that there were some good moments and funny one liners, especially with Wilson, Alba and Dern, but on the whole there were too many stale, lame jokes.  The cleverness and the subtlety of the original have been thrown out the window in favour of unoriginal cheap laughs and sex gags, especially towards the end.

While Little Fockers is definitely a level or two better than the disaster that was Meet the Fockers, it nevertheless continues to damage the goodwill of the original.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)

March 5, 2010 in Movie Reviews

I really enjoyed Up and I thought Coraline was pretty good, but I still don’t consider myself a big fan of animated films.  However, Fantastic Mr Fox is making me reconsider that stance once again.

Initially, I had very little interest in seeing Fantastic Mr Fox – at first glance it looked like one of those weird, unappealing, low-quality stop-motion animations – but a couple of friends told me it was fantastic, and after all, the film is based on the book by Roald Dahl, just my favourite author growing up.

So I watched it, having no recollection of the book (which I am pretty sure I read years ago), and laughed harder than I ever thought I would. 

Fantastic Mr Fox (directed by Wes Anderson – The Darjeeling Limited, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) has my type of humour.  It’s dry, deadpan, random and crazy.  It’s quite Simpsonesque in many ways.  There’s a few clever recurring jokes that never seem to get old, and it’s a film that fully utilises the stop-motion animation techniques to maximise the hilarity.  Who would have thought jerky movements could be so funny?

George Clooney is perfect as the titular character Mr Fox.  His deadpan delivery and voice, which sometimes irritates me, was spot on here.  Supporting Clooney is a wonderful voice cast, including Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, Owen Wilson and Willem Dafoe, though none stand out as much as Clooney does.

At the end of the day, it’s really just a weird little story with some weird big laughs, but I have a feeling Fantastic Mr Fox could become a classic in years to come.

4 stars out of 5!

 
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