Saturday, 25 April 2015

Movie Review: Fast & Furious 7 (2015)

I have to admit, as much as my last review may have given the impression that I’ve always loved this series and I’ve been there from the beginning, this is not so. After seeing Fast & Furious in cinemas, and not really being that into it, I didn’t give the series any more mind aside from the triple pack DVD of the first three films at home. However, two big things came through the grape vine about this film in the lead-up to its release that not only got me interested again but made me a bit compelled to revisit the series as I did. The first was the announcement that Jason friggin’ Statham was going to be playing the bad guy, and if you need me to clarify on why this is an awesome casting decision then you’ve probably never seen a good action film in your life. The second was that Justin Lin, who has been in the director’s chair with this franchise since Tokyo Drift, was stepping down and the direction was going to be handled by James Wan, an Australian director better known for horror films like Dead Silence, The Conjuring and most (in)famously Saw and a man who has become one of the new figureheads of the genre in my opinion. Of course, the fact that he has never touched an action film prior to this could also spell disaster, but I’m going purely on the skill I’ve seen him show on film regardless of genre. How does this all equal up? This is Fast & Furious 7.

The plot: After Dominic (Vin Diesel) and his crew took down the mercenary Owen Shaw, his brother Deckard (Jason Statham) killed Dom’s friend Han and is out for revenge against the rest of them. Bringing the gang together for one last ride, they are recruited by government spook Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) for a favour; in exchange, he will help them get Deckard and put an end to his path of vengeance before they lose someone else.

James Wan isn’t officially credited as a co-writer here, and the script is being handled by series regular Chris Morgan, but it is very apparent that something is different about the writing of this film. While I freely admit that the action scenes and car races have kept a pretty good average throughout the series so far, attempts at pathos haven’t been so lucky: Whether it’s through unintentional sexual tension (2 Fast 2 Furious), misguided attempts at accents (Tokyo Drift) or simply through weak dramatic writing (Pretty much all of them), the characters may be able to provide good chemistry with each other but have never really been able to translate that into effective drama. Within the first few minutes, we have a scene with Dom and Letty (Michele Rodriguez) that throw out whatever expectations I had for this film to start with and actually made for some damn good character drama, talking about Letty’s still-present amnesia and how it is affecting their relationship (Sounds kind of stupid when I put it like that, but bear with me on this one). This is just a taste of what the film is going to contain: I’m not 100% certain if the somber tone to the film is a result of the untimely passing of series star Paul Walker during production, but even then that wouldn’t explain why that dramatic moment along with the many others to follow hit as hard as they do. Of course, said tribute to Paul Walker at the end is all kinds of heart-breaking without coming across as too sentimental; it hits that sweet spot of pathos without descending into complete saccharine. The post-production put at work here to compensate for Walker’s absence is exceptionally well-done as well; trust Weta Digital to help create effects that I legitimately couldn’t spot no matter how hard I tried.

Of course, having a good director is only half of the puzzle so it’s a good thing that the cast here carries over most of the series regulars, all of whom have gotten very good at their respective roles: Paul Walker does well at portraying the choice between family life and criminal life, Vin Diesel is the bad-ass papa bear of the crew, Ludacris still gets laughs as part of the techie Tej, Tyrese may annoy at points as Roman but he is still put to good use within the story, Michele Rodriguez continues her stint as one of the few performances involving amnesia that I actually buy into without activating a gag reflex and Dwayne Johnson is still in full scene-stealing mode as before… that is, when he’s actually in a scene. Yeah, this turn some people off, but he gets sidelined for the majority of the film; to be fair though, he does end up coming back for the finale in a way filled with such action cheese that I don’t even want to hint at it; it’s glorious in every way possible. A possible reason for his sidelining, though, might be so that his screen presence didn’t distract too much from those of the new cast members, whom all do more than enough to fill up the gap left by Johnson. Jason Statham, to put it simply, is the best casting choice for this franchise: An action hero with driving experience; honestly, I’m surprised he wasn’t tapped for this sooner. He makes for a great antagonist for the Toretto crew, presenting a far more immediate threat than the series is used to showing and easily making for the best one yet. Alongside him, we also have Kurt Russell, who manages to pull off a G-Man character that actually seems trustworthy through his performance, not to mention getting a damn cool action hero moment on-screen. Even Nathalie Emmanuel as the fairly generic hot hacker chick Ramsey is decent, especially at keeping up with the regulars. Probably the weakest point in the entire cast is Lucas Black returning for a cameo as Tokyo Drift lead Sean, and that’s only because in the nearly ten-year gap between Drift and this movie, his Southern accent is still as horrible as it was before.

But dramatic weight and competency with the acting, as much as I hate to admit it, always places second in this franchise to the action scenes in terms of importance. Now, in the last installment, I thought the series had reached a new height in over-the-top ludicrousness that couldn’t be topped. Anyone who has seen the trailer for this film, complete with parachuting cars, will know that they somehow managed it. There are three main action set pieces in this film: The parachuting cars, a heist that takes place around the midway point and the finale… and the amount of amazingly bonkers moments the filmmakers managed to include within those three is staggering. Seriously, my jaw hasn’t dropped this many times watching a single film in a long while, especially when it comes to the finale. Having Statham in the cast list also means that we get even more fist fights than usual, because thankfully Wan knows better than to waste talent when he gets it, and seeing him in action just makes me hate the thoroughly disappointing Expendables 3 even more; this is what a send-up of classic action movies should look like. Unfortunately, Wan’s inexperience with action movies does shine through in a certain aspect: The cinematography; specifically, the fact that there are numerous shots during the fist fights where the camera will just rotate to emphasize the action. To be fair, this works with the ebb and flow of the action on screen, but the constant spinning of the camera did make me a bit dizzy at points.

What makes the action work even better is that, despite how bombastic it is, it somehow manages to fit together with the more serious character moments without clashing in any ugly fashion. What does ultimately end up clashing with those exchanges is yet another issue with the cinematography, only this time it’s something that been prevalent in the series since the beginning. It’s been a running joke when talking about this series that both the cars and the scantily-clad women on screen are shot in the exact same way: As sexily as possible. In the other films, this hasn’t really bothered me but it seems like the pornographic lens on display has even less restraint than it did before: The constant ass-shots in certain scenes, particularly during the opening drag race and the heist scene, are really distracting. I’m sure that that’s the point of their inclusion in the first place, but it definitely detracts from not only the more serious moments but also from the overblown action beats a bit as well.

The soundtrack feels like it combines the best elements of every other soundtrack in the series together: Worldly hip-hop, more terrestrial trap music courtesy of cats like Wiz Khalifa and Sage The Gemini (and once again, this film provides tracks containing them that doesn’t make me want to vom my guts up like they usually do), hard rock through Brian Tyler’s stellar musical score, bass-heavy dance jams thanks to DJ Snake and David Guetta among others, and a very, very appreciated inclusion of the DJ Shadow joint Six Days which was previously used as the opening song for Tokyo Drift; I also consider it to be the single best piece of music this franchise has ever employed, so bonus points for that one.

All in all, it’s kind of astounding that the Fast & Furious franchise is capable of something like this. The action is gloriously over-the-top as always and manages to reach new peaks of insanity at times and the comedic banter is still in top form, but the dramatic beats hit harder than I ever could have anticipated and made for a very deservedly somber piece, made even better by the fact that these elements fit nicely next to each other. It may be so overstuffed with awesome that it can feel bloated at certain points, but for the most part this is an excellent action flick. It ranks higher than Top Five, unfortunately knocking it out of my top five as the whole ‘liar revealed’ part of that movie makes it lose a few points in the comparison, but it isn’t as high up as Big Eyes, which is a lot stronger emotionally and on the writing front. Much like the rest of the series, this is a very insular film so unless you’ve kept up with the rest of the series (or feel like going through some of the series’ uglier moments in their entirety), some of the more dramatic moments may not have the same impact. However, because of how great the action beats are, I’m still recommending this even if you haven’t seen the rest of the series. Hell, it’s just that good that you might want to check out the rest of the series afterwards anyway.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Movie Review: Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

It’s catch-up time again on this blog, this time as part of the lead-up to my inevitable watching of Fast & Furious 7. I remember getting a triple DVD pack of the first three films in the franchise for Christmas one year and getting a tad obsessed with them for a time, to the point where they got me interested in racing games like the Need For Speed series just to further feed that hunger for high-octane ridiculousness. Honestly, it’s kind of spellbinding that what started out as a loose adaptation of a Vibe magazine article about an anonymous street racer has since turned into the primary action franchise of the 2000’s. The fact that this evolved out of a Rob Cohen film only makes this more confounding. So, before we get into the seventh installment, time to check out the one that came before because it came out post-2012 and any new film I see has to be reviewed or else I end up in purgatory… which will probably mean just watching Love Is Now again and no-one wants that less than I. Anyway, tangent: This is Fast & Furious 6.

The plot: After the birth of Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia’s (Jordana Brewster) first child, Dominic (Vin Diesel) and the rest of his crew retire from their life of crime with the money they got from the Rio heist. However, once a photo reaches agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) of a presumed-dead Letty (Michele Rodriguez), he uses the information to convince Dom to bring the gang back together to help him take down mercenary Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), whom Letty is currently working for.

In keeping with the rest of the series, the cast is a mixture of really damn good and just average. Rest assured, Dwayne Johnson is still the best thing to be found here; his physical presence, charisma and remarkable delivery of some pretty cheesy lines never fails to entertain. Vin Diesel, one of the most underrated actors working today, brings his usual brand of loud actions and effective words to his performance and actually manages to stand toe-to-toe with Dwayne in the majority of their scenes together. Ludacris and Tyrese as Tej and Roman respectively work really well as our comic relief with Luda as the tech-savvy jokester and Roman as the team punching bag, both roles they accomplish equally well. After Tyrese’s extremely man-crushy performance in 2 Fast 2 Furious, he’s at least mellowed out a bit on that front since re-appearing in Fast Five and actually manages to walk down the line between annoying and charming… most of the time; every so often, he will say something that will make you wish he would just shut the hell up, but thankfully it doesn’t happen too often. Sung Kang, who previously made for my favourite character on screen as Han, seemed a little too comfortable in his role and was letting his natural coolness slip away a bit but he’s still playing Han; he’s still the coolest guy in the room, even when he’s outside. Luke Evans, whom would have really needed to impress me here after seeing him in the lametastic Dracula Untold and the rather disappointing Hobbit finale, is really effective here as the main antagonist; he carries the character’s underlying disdain and yet begrudging respect for the mains equally with his calm and collected criminal business sense and makes for a great enemy for the Toretto crew. Honestly, when compared to everyone else here and even despite how well he himself plays the role, Paul Walker comes out comparatively weaker against the others. Oh, and don’t even get me started on Gal Gadot; the fact that this is supposed to be the next Wonder Woman baffles me to no end and I’m not even going to try and feign optimism about how well she’s going to play the character, if this is anything to go by.

The Fast & Furious series hit a rather bizarre milestone with the fifth installment, which lead to a shifting in focus from street races to just about any other ridiculous car stunt showcase they could scrounge up. Now, while I could call out Justin Lin and Chris Morgan for selling out and abandoning the concept that the series was built on, that would be implying that the series didn’t take a gigantic leap forward in quality with that decision. Not only did this expansion in the variety of action scenes add a lot to what the series had to offer, it also gave a way to a general feeling of “We just want to make a fun movie” and not wanting to let little things like restraint get in the way of that. This is Bugs Bunny personified, circa High Diving Hare when he said “I know this defies the laws of gravity but, you see, I never studied law.” One of the bigger problems I had with the first few films, and also with a large amount of Rob Cohen’s post-2000 filmography, is that they tried too hard to convince the audience that what they were doing was cool; with Fast Five onwards, they just knew that it was cool and focused more on just showing that off. This is especially true for the car play action scenes, which almost read like self-parody of the testosteroverdosage that is modern car culture that only increases the closer to the end it gets, where we get the Toretto crew squaring off against tanks and airplanes. It’s kind of glorious how over-the-top it gets, and the fact the filmmakers are completely aware of it makes it even more fun to witness. Also, one of the great advents that came around with Dwayne’s inclusion into the main cast is that fist fights started featuring more prominently, with Dwayne and newcomer to the cast Gina Carano throwing down to amazing effect. Hell, I’d slate Carano’s two fight scenes against Rodriguez as the best moments of the film (and no, the word ‘catfight’ doesn’t factor into why that is) because of how well they are choreographed.

A side effect that came around with this shift in the paradigm is that the character dynamics have grown stronger than ever before: The banter and general interactions between the characters have a new peak here, probably because the new found sense of fun has led to more of an emphasis on funny dialogue for Chris Morgan to write and the cast perform it very well. Another result of all this, bizarrely enough, is that the emotional connection to the characters has increased as well: The main crux of the story revolves around the return of an old ally, and her scenes with Vin Diesel make for some properly touching stuff. Sure, Letty’s entire character sub-plot concerns that age-old soap opera cliché of amnesia, and her mere presence in this movie opens up all kinds of plot holes , but this film handles it surprisingly well considering and has it work to the film’s advantage. One of the major themes of the film, and by extension the series as a whole, is that of family and looking out for one another; the fact that the characters work this well together really helps sell that notion.

As a kind-of obsessive hip-hop head, I have always loved the Fast & Furious soundtracks and this is no exception. I mean, I normally can’t stand 2 Chainz and Wiz Khalifa at all, let alone on a track together, but them combined with some truly banging production from The Futuristics make for one hell of an opening song, especially when set against the recap montage at the start. I’ll admit that I have definitely grown to like the more international track selection of the last few installments, which this unfortunately diverges from, but there’s still a decent line-up here: deadmau5, Peaches and The Crystal Method all provide good content, and the inclusion of the Ludacris track Rest Of My Life was definitely a nice touch.

All in all, this has somehow taken the last film’s lack of restraint and gone ever further with it, making for a damn fun watch. The action scenes are over-the-top fun, the acting is mostly good with some interesting characters who all have really good chemistry on screen together, the writing leans on clichés at points especially with one of its main plots but for the most part it works out, and the soundtrack is up to the series’ standard. It ranks higher than Wolf Children, which may be better written but I personally found this more enjoyable overall, but it doesn’t fare as well as Pacific Rim, where the scope and effects work won out. This is a very close-knit series, meaning that it is pretty much required to have seen the previous films before checking this one out to get the full effect; some of the earlier films may not be all that great, but I sincerely mean it when I say it is completely worth it if it means going into this film fully prepared. Or, if you can take the action scenes on their own merits and don’t really care about the characters, check it out now. Either way, I highly recommend this one.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Movie Review: The Gunman (2015)

Sean Penn is one of those legendary Hollywood actors that even if you’ve somehow managed to never see anything that they’ve been in, you most certainly know the name at least in passing. As someone whose knowledge of cinema mostly consists of what came after the year 2000, it should come as no surprise that I’m not as familiar with Penn’s work as I should be. Outside of some surface knowledge about his relationship with Madonna and how badly that ended up, I’ve only seen him in one other film to my knowledge: 2013’s Gangster Squad, where he was exceptionally awesome as the enemy gangster Mickey Cohen. In fact, that performance was just that good that I’m actively excited about this based on that alone. So, how does Penn turn out in what looks like an attempt to Takenize him, what with this being directed by the same guy who made Neeson a modern day action fixture? This is The Gunman.

The plot: Eight years after carrying out an assassination in the Congo, Jim (Sean Penn) finds himself targeted by his former employers. With the help of his mentor Stanley (Ray Winstone) and his old girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca), he has to track down his liaison Felix (Javier Bardem) to get some answers, provided that the hitmen sent after him and his on-going head trauma don’t get to him first.

This is a damn good cast, plain and simple. Sean Penn is stone-cold brilliant in this thing, working with his mentally-damaged in several respects protagonist and making it fit great with the bad-ass mercenary; if the rumoured Kane & Lynch film ever gets off the ground, Penn would be my draft for Lynch based on well he does here. Javier Bardem has built a pretty healthy pedigree for playing bad guys (yeah, *spoilers* I guess) in films like No Country For Old Men and Skyfall, but here he portrays more of a pathetic-drunkard class of antagonist and still carries it with the same conviction he did with Anton and Raoul, even if his accent occasionally fails him. Ray Winstone, who has a definite knack for British gruffness, does his man-of-few-words thing here to great effect and makes for some really good interactions with Penn. Probably the only weak point in the cast, unfortunately, is Idris Elba as Interpol agent J Barnes. Not to say that he’s bad here by any stretch, as Elba is and will always be awesome; it’s just that he isn’t the film nearly enough, which is weird considering he gets second billing in the opening credits next to Sean Penn. It’s definitely misleading, but Elba manages to get the most out of the one-and-a-half scenes he’s given here so I’m at least glad with what we got.

A quick look at the plot synopsis, and I’m not sure about anyone else but one thing immediately came to my mind: 80’s action movie. Seriously, ‘mercenary who gets betrayed by his employers’ is one of the all-time biggest clichés of the genre, right up there with one-liners and never needing to reload your weapons. It hits some of the same beats from an awful lot of straight-to-DVD action fodder, like the numerous betrayals that occur, and yeah I’d be lying that if I said this didn’t feel derivative. Actually, even beyond the plot similarities, this film also carries some of that genre-weirdness that I associate with the action scene from back then. Some of it shows up in Elba’s initial scene with Penn which is filled with that hackneyed metaphor-laden mock dialogue that got eye-rolls back then and, despite how well he performs it, gets eye-rolls now. The rest of the odd moments come out of the finale, which takes place at a Barcelonan bull-fight (yeah, they don’t do those anymore, but the film admits that itself to be fair): Between the juxtaposition of Jim with the bull, to the way that the big bad guy is dispatched at the end, it can get more than a little goofy at times.

However, despite the admittedly samey plot and dopey moments, what ultimately makes this film work is the writing of Jim’s character and Penn’s excellent performance as him. One of my bigger issues with last year’s American Sniper was the rather weak portrayal of the titular character’s PTSD, and this movie further proves that point by doing it so damn well. Between the editing, sound mixing and Penn’s acting chops, the way Jim’s head trauma is shown to be affecting him throughout the film is headache-inducing in all the right ways. The reason why Penn’s performance is as good as it is is that he is able to balance this rather debilitating aspect of his character with the side of him that can hold his own in a fight without it coming across as disjointed in any way. Penn may be getting on in years (I commented as soon as I left the theatre that Penn looked great for his age, until I found out that he was actually younger than I thought he was) but he’s still in great shape and he looks like the kind of guy who can kick mass amounts of ass (and does, amazingly well); more so than Liam Neeson can in any of the films I’ve seen him in, at any rate. Actually, while I’m on a mild tangent about Taken, director Pierre Morel seems to have pulled off the same trick he did with Neeson and unlocked some dormant action hero in our lead actor; if this ends up being the start of a similar career revival for Penn, this certainly shows a lot more promise than Taken ever did.

All in all, this marks my first proper diversion from the critical consensus: I really enjoyed this film. The acting is top-notch, even if Idris Elba is kind of ridiculously underutilized, the action beats are brutal and visceral fun and the depiction of Jim’s head trauma worked exceptionally well to add to the overall work. It may have a pretty clichéd plot and more than a few out-of-place moments, but the production handles both of these lesser points remarkably well; this isn’t about having a deep and involved plot, it’s about seeing an action protagonist mow down his enemies while clearing his own name, while fighting his own mental ailments. It’s better than Jupiter Ascending, as the script problems here are nowhere near as plentiful, but on that same note it ranks below the similarly-maligned Manny Lewis, which had more emotional weight to the main character than is found here. I may be in the minority for this one, but I am recommending checking this one out regardless, especially for those who have a taste for action but are getting tired of Neeson’s output.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Movie Review: The Age Of Adaline (2015)

When it comes to speculative fiction, there are a number of narrative ideas that are fairly universal across that rather nebulous umbrella: Totalitarian regimes that are only slight exaggerations of the governments of today, using intergalactic aliens as an analogy for illegal aliens, taking the idea of those who don’t learn the past are doomed to repeat it to its logical extreme, fashion in the future will only continue to get more ridiculous, etc. One of the ideas that is surprisingly common is that of the immortal lover: A romantic interest that has far less or far more of a lifespan than your own and the consequences of having a relationship with them. Anyone who has experienced the now-faded scourge of the vampire romance, or watched Doctor Who since the 2005 reboot, will be more than familiar with this idea so telling it in a way that won’t just be digging up old narratives is difficult. Hell, it’s been used that many times that even I’ve written about it before (Shameless plug, I know, but check it out here; it was as part of a crowd-sourced book on the idea of Immortality). So, how does this take hold up? This is The Age Of Adaline.

The plot: After a car crash that should have killed her, Adaline (Blake Lively) can never age and could potentially live forever. As her visage starts to attract attention, she creates a plan to constantly keep moving to avoid being found out, a plan that inevitably means that she can’t stay attached to anyone save for her daughter Flemming (Ellen Burstyn). However, when she happens across the hopelessly romantic Ellis (Michiel Huisman), she thinks that she might have found someone that can make her stop running.

The film’s genre classification as ‘fantasy’ is fitting to both the premise and tone of the film, but it’s also jarringly inaccurate at the same time because of the narration that bookends the film, along with adding some clunky plot exposition to the middle. The bookending largely serves to give a somewhat scientific explanation for the incident that caused Adaline’s eternal youth, but this ends up serving as a triple-edged sword. It does work at adding some believability to the premise, but the way in which they explain it is more than a little puzzling, to the point where a seemingly small line of narration ends up being a lot bigger than I think even the writers intended. It uses a bit of pseudo-future-science to explain how the lightning strike affected Adaline’s DNA, and without getting too technical about what is most likely complete nonsense, the narrator mentions that humanity will discover the effect naturally on their own in the near future. The idea that humanity will just happen upon the means to continue the human lifespan indefinitely in a few decades opens up so many questions that it would probably require a whole other film at the very least to answer them. It honestly would have been a far better idea to explain it as being straight-up magic, or better yet not explain it at all and just leave it at a bolt of lightning that could be interpreted however the viewer wants to.

The third effect of this, and as much as I play up the implications of the explanation this is easily the most important, is that the attempt at realism clashes with the rather whimsical tone the rest of the film takes. This is mainly an issue with the dialogue, which to put it bluntly is too witty for its own good. Not to say that it’s bad, as it’s entertaining for the most part but it doesn’t sound natural. The dialogue, for the most part, feels like it was written specifically just to be clever and didn’t take into account that its effect is lessened by the fact that this doesn’t feel like real human conversations. Normally, I would blame this as an adaptation issue, given how this kind of speech is common in novels but doesn’t translate so well to screen, but this is actually one of the rare few films out right now that is a true original. Then again, a quick look at the writers’ credits might explain this: J. Mills Goodloe, co-writer of the romantic slop of The Best Of Me, and Salvador Paskowitz, whose only prior writing credit is for something called Nic & Tristan Go Mega Dega; your guess is as good as mine on that one. Actually, J. Mills Goodloe’s involvement might explain why the romance elements are a bit rocky in terms of progression: Ellis is shown at points exhibiting serious stalker behaviour with the usual routine of tracking down Adaline’s address without her knowledge and the like. I’m guessing that this is a hereditary character trait because Harrison Ford as his father is… quite unsettling in most of his scenes with Adaline. Seriously, he looks like he wants to dissect her for his own pleasure with how far he pushes the unintentional crazy here. Oh, and there’s one exchange between Adaline and Ellis involving a miner that Ellis works with that is so rom-com that it’s entirely out-of-place in this movie.

What makes the dialogue feel even more bizarre is that the rest of the writing is actually extremely good.  The majority of it is filled with refreshing subtle touches to portray some pretty significant aspects of the story, usually those involving Adaline’s actions and her reasons for them. Sure, the dialogue detracts from that a little with how on-the-nose it can get, and the narration literally spelling things out doesn’t help either, but I genuinely love how this film has enough faith in its audience to not have to spell everything out for them, which ends up making the overall experience that much better despite how uneven it can get. The most uneven point of the whole thing though, outside of Adaline’s relationships with the men in her life having a few too many conveniences to buy into entirely, is the ending. Without getting into *SPOILER* territory too heavily, it wraps everything up too neatly for how heavy the situation is and at too coincidental a point within the story; honestly, it would have hit harder emotionally without the convenient wrap-up of the premise. It doesn’t help that this also shows the narration at its most pretentious, something that it thankfully managed to evade prior to that point.

As much as I have ragged on some of the characterization, the actors themselves are very good: Ford and Huisman may be playing creepers at points, but ultimately they do expertly with their romantic material concerning Adaline, and Lively portrays the confidence, heart-break and overall strain of an extended lifespan like the best of them. However, the definitive highlight goes to Ellen Burstyn who gives an outstandingly layered performance that suits her character perfectly. Flemming is Adaline’s daughter who looks like she should be Adaline’s grandmother; it’d be a shock if she didn’t have a bizarre connection with her mother. Whenever they are on-screen together, Burstyn acts like she is Adaline’s daughter, mother, grand-mother and best friend all at the same time. I’ve talked before about mindfragging, where an aspect of a film can cause several conflicting emotions to be felt at the same time and leave the brain in a state of pleasant confusion, but I haven’t come across a performance that is itself mindfragged before now; I’d question how intentional this all was, but I honestly don’t care to look into it. If anything, knowing that this kind of weirdly natural brilliance was unintentional kind of makes it that much better.

All in all, this is a rather nuanced take on an old idea, with great acting, writing and production values. However, the overall quality of the film is hurt by the less-subtle moments of both dialogue and plot development, the narration that could have easily been left out as the visuals would have explained what it would have said even better than the narrator could have and the occasional disjointed romantic elements. This is a love story that, at its core, has so much more to offer than a distressingly large number of more romantically-inclined films of late; even with how flawed it is, I still recommend checking it out if you have any liking for romance. I put it higher than Run All Night, as the eternal lover premise isn’t nearly as worn-out as Liam Neeson as an action lead, and it goes just below Leviathan, whose writing I found to be a lot more meaningful despite this film’s best intentions.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Movie Review: Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (2015)

I’ve made fun of Jai Courtney serving as a human signpost that what he’s involved in will most likely be crap, but that’s small potatoes compared to some production companies out there that say the same thing. Namely, the production studio behind today’s outing: Happy Madison Productions, also known as Adam Sandler’s production company. Now, as much as many parts of me want to jump onto the anti-Sandler bandwagon, given how little regard I hold for films like That’s My Boy, the fact remains that his films took up a rather large portion of my childhood: Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, 50 First Dates, even Little Nicky are all on good standings with me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll happily call them out when they screw up, and they do so with surprising relish and on a colossal scale, but if my defense of Blended proves nothing else than it at least shows that I have some mercy in my heart for the man and his stable of friends after all this time. So, where does their latest offering land with me? This is Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.

The plot: After a series of rather unfortunate events befall him, Paul Blart (Kevin James) receives an invitation to a security guard convention in Las Vegas and takes his daughter Maya (Raini Rodriguez) with him. However, he finds himself on call again after discovering a plot by a group of thieves led by Vincent (Neal McDonough) to rob valuable art from the Wynn Resort.

As part of my usual preparation for the films I check out for reviews, I watched the first Paul Blart film. I could easily just write it off as a lame attempt at a Die Hard parody and leave it at that, but since that film showed no mercy in inflicting pain on me, I will respond in kind. Kevin James may be quite likeable and I’ve certainly enjoyed him way back when with The King Of Queens, but he plays one hell of a annoying, incompetent (when the plot requires him to be) and obsessive stalker that is saddled with painfully awkward and badly timed schtick that never once served to please and always served to annoy the ever-loving piss out of me. Aside from a nice old-school rock soundtrack, there isn’t a whole lot I can recommend unless you’re that big a fan of Die Hard that anything even remotely close to it is your thing. I bring this up because this is a pretty definite example of Sequel Rule #34; I’m guessing that since the first film was a Die Hard spoof, they should follow that series and have the sequel largely be the exact same thing as the original.

All of my gripes with the original are here in full force. First off, the jokes long out-stay their welcome: Either the jokes themselves are delivered with such dullness that a lot of them don’t even register, and at times come across more depressing than funny, or the few jokes that actually are funny are continued beyond the punchline and flip right back into being irritating again. The fact that a lot of these jokes revolve around the main character’s weight and rarely deviate from that only makes things worse. Secondly, there are quite a few jokes that are delivered through ADR. This is bad enough on its own, until you notice just how bad the audio mixing and editing here is; I’ve seen straight-to-DVD films with better consistency with their sound than this movie, something that extends even beyond the voice-over dialogue. To cut a potentially long rant short, a Wilhelm scream should never be as prominent in the mix as it is here. To round all this off, this is a gag-oriented film where the plot takes a back-seat to the comedy. Now, this isn’t always a bad thing, but it becomes increasingly so when the Vegas heist plotline and the small-time security guard plotline not only clash like dark and fluorescent colours, but also make the villains look so much more interesting than our lead that I wish this film was an Ocean’s Eleven spoof instead. Of course, had this film gone in that direction, it would have likely fizzled out considering how little story there is for this script to utilize. There’s one scene in The Garden Of Meditation which is not only baffling on various levels, but ultimately serves no purpose other than to confuse people and somehow be funny because of that confusion alone; how nice to see someone taking a page out of the Tim & Eric comedic playbook(!)

However, even with all that in mind, I can safely say that this isn’t as bad as the first film and for one simple reason: There are moments in this film that actually work on a comedic level, although I’m not entirely sure how intentional some of these were in their efficacy. When Blart rides a specialized vehicle that was to be unveiled at the security convention, it results in something so stupid looking and over-the-top goofy that I think I went into a fit of hysteria with how much I was laughing at it. What made that scene even weirder was that, from then on, the film seemed to pick up a bit. Between the fight scene with mall guards wielding various lamps to attack with, which features some decent choreography, and the literal crazy-off between Blart and Vincent, there is a surprising amount to like here. Sure, there’s still a lot of Blart’s overlong dialogue and sub-par action one-liners that I think were meant to make fun of them but they fail so badly that it’s hard to tell, and beyond that the plot never really picks up at any point and leaves quite a few plot threads hanging; but I’d be lying if I said that this film had absolutely nothing to offer.

All in all, this may not be as bad as the original but that’s not exactly the most difficult thing to accomplish in this case. It carries a lot of the same problems that that film had, like the weak plot progression and the horrible comedic timing, but it at least succeeds at having a handful of moments that are legitimately funny for one reason or another. In terms of Happy Madison’s pedigree, as annoying as this thing is, it would still rank pretty high among their recent efforts; I can only hope that this isn’t the best they have to offer this year, considering their interesting if highly derivative co-production Pixels is coming out later this year. It’s better than Unfinished Business, as this film at least has a pulse of some description, but while it has the same consistency with the jokes, Get Hard only just stays above this one on the list. It may have some decent elements to it, but I’m not going to pretend that they are anywhere near enough to save this thing; maybe wait for it to come on TV at some point, but otherwise this is a safe bet to skip.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Movie Review: Cinderella (2015)

Choosing to remake one of the classic Disney Princess films was a risky decision, bordering on suicidal considering how poorly the last attempt at this was taken. Sure, I may not have disliked Maleficent as much as other people, in fact I honestly think it was pretty decent, but in terms of the bottom line that is the almighty dollar, this is kind of lopsided. It is also completely understandable: Cinderella is one of the most recognizable fairy tales of all time, to the point where Cinderella as a term is fully ingrained in the human lexicon, and releasing a new version of the tale is always going to draw attention. But just because they are able to convince a lot of people to see their movie doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be fulfilled upon leaving the cinema. So, time to see what a person in the completely wrong demographic for this film has to say about it to help you make your mind about it, because that makes all kinds of sense: This is Cinderella.

The plot (for the two people out there who have never heard it before): After the death of her parents, Ella (Lily James) is left in the care of her stepmother Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) and her daughters Drisella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) who turn her into their personal servant. Upon hearing that Prince Charming (Richard Madden) will be holding a ball where he will pick his bride, Tremaine and her daughters go while Ella is forbidden to. But with the help of her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter), she goes to the ball in the hopes of winning over the heart of the Prince.

This is a Kenneth Branagh film, which means two solid things when it comes to the casting: Colour-blind and stellar. The role of Cinderella is a difficult one to pull off without making come across like a completely wilting flower, but Lily James imbues it with so much life that her naivety becomes realistic through the performance. Cate Blanchett, by absolute contrast, plays Lady Tremaine as venom-filled and spiteful as it is possible for a human to be without just exploding under their own power. This is another example of an actor being too good in a villainous role but, since Tremaine is one of the archetypal bad guys when it comes to these classic fairy tales, it only serves the production well. McShera and Grainger are grating as their roles required, only it never ventures into the realm of annoying to see on-screen bizarrely enough. Hell, I’d argue that they act exactly how a younger version of Lady Tremaine would. Prince Charming is a bit of a punchline for cocky but bland romantic interests but Richard Madden, along with having good chemistry with Lily James, isn’t so naïve as to be completely stupid as so many iterations of him are, which greatly helps making his portrayal of the character work. Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother is exactly how it sounds: She’s a little annoying but thankfully her appearance on-screen doesn’t run for too long and the time she does spend on-screen is well used; although, I will admit that it’s a bit distracting how different her screen persona is to her narrative persona, considering Carter also narrates the film. Nonso Anozie as the Prince’s best friend and Captain works really well alongside Madden and makes for one of the few times I could ever stomach the word ‘bromance’ to describe a pairing because these guys have certainly got it. Oh, and Rob Brydon as the painter just steals every frame he’s in, which may only be in a single scene but he easily makes for my favourite character because of how smugly he plays it.

Branagh may not be making Shakespeare like he did way back when, but the man still has a certain flair for films with more flowery language; it’d take a very persuasive person to convince me that picking Branagh to helm the eloquent Asgardian tale of Thor in 2011 wasn’t the best option possible. Thankfully, his bread-and-butter with more opulent works serves him well here as this is a gorgeous looking film; the costume and set design are that good that even the more poverty-stricken areas of the kingdom looked great, the cinematography is tight and stays on point and the music is grandiose as both the fairy tale story and the royal setting call for. That is, the music that is heard in the film proper and it is here that I make a slight addendum to my review of The SpongeBob Movie. During the credits of that film, we had not one but three N.E.R.D. songs written specifically for the film and all of which were pretty damn good. We get a similar situation here, where two pretty big songs are delegated to the end credits for one reason or another: A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes as sung by Lily James, which despite the hokey title is a rather beautiful song, and Bibbity Bobbity Boo performed by Helena Bonham Carter, which is cute but not exactly something that warrants repeated listens.

As I mentioned earlier, this is an extremely well-known story but also one that is difficult to tell in a way that is still interesting, given how many iterations of the story and allusions thereupon exist out there. It is also, in my humble opinion, a fairly vapid story as well; even if the main character didn’t come across so much like a commentary on 1960’s hippie culture with how into peace and love she is without irony, there’s also a certain holier-than-thou attitude to be dealt with concerning the story as well which I can easily see rubbing people the wrong way. However, even with all this in mind, I have always kept Cinderella in a certain place within the Disney Princess canon mostly because of its villain, the step-mother Lady Tremaine. The reason why is because, more so than Cruella De Vil, more so than Jafar, even more so than Maleficent, Lady Tremaine is my pick for the greatest of the Disney villains. But why, I can already hear readers question: She has no special powers, no great plan, not even that defined of a motive; what makes her better than all those other great antagonists? Honestly, exactly those things. This isn’t a villain that uses magic spells to do their bidding; this is a person who uses her sway and hold over another person to, essentially, crush them under her foot and make them subservient to her. This is an evil that actually exists in the world and shows the evil that people are more than capable of doing themselves, if they aren’t already; Lady Tremaine is evil because she shows what jealousy and spite can do to a person, and the sheer depths that they can sink a person to. Having a story where not only is that side played expertly well by Blanchett, and not only is her opposition done well thanks to Lily James, but the story itself has a surprising amount of meat to it considering the original subject material that makes their conflict have that much more impact. Don’t get me wrong, this is still the archetypal wish fulfillment princess fantasy, but the relationships developed between the characters do a lot to help anchor this film’s premise in a weird state of reality. It doesn’t hurt that seeing Lady Tremaine get the verbal put down from Ella might be one of the most cathartic cinematic moments I’ll get all year.

All in all, this is feel-good fulfillment at its core but it is exceptionally good at doing that. The acting is great, the production values are up to Branagh’s standards and show that his Shakespearean days aren’t as far behind him as it may seem, the music is good even if one of the better songs is hidden in the end credits (Good reason to stick around for them, then) and the writing, while still carrying Disney princess vanity slung over its shoulder, provides enough weight to both the dialogue and the actions of the characters for it to ultimately work out. It’s better than Far From Men, as there is no crushing disappointment that ended up plaguing that film for me, but it doesn’t rank as high as The Gambler, which may not have been as entertaining but certainly gave me a lot more to think over after watching it. This is may not be the most clever or nuanced film out there, in fact it can be extremely shallow at points, but as a bit of pretty escapism, it gets a decent recommendation.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Movie Review: Home (2015)

Comedies and kid's films are the two genres with the highest probability of failure, as the former can't bank on ironic enjoyment as well as others and the latter typically has less thought put into them because filmmakers tend to think that all children are idiots that will watch anything. Now, whether or not that statement rings true in any respect is not for me to say, but with the rather high quality of family and children's films we've been getting lately, I'd say that that probability factor isn't as crucial as it once was. Of course, get the actor who played Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, or The Geeky Minstrel Show as I call it, to be your lead and any optimism I have will go straight down the crapper. But is this kind of cynicism warranted? I mean, Dreamworks have more than proved that they can hold their own against their competition; maybe this won't be so bad... but somehow, I really fucking doubt it. This is Home.

The plot: The Boov, in yet another attempt to escape the violent Gorg, find a primitive planet to liberate and call their new home: Earth. After relocating all the humans into a colony and moving themselves in, a mistake made by the bumbling Oh (Jim Parsons) could lead the Gorg right to them once again. While on the run from the leader of the Boov, Captain Smek (Steve Martin), he comes across a human child called Tip (Rihanna) who wasn’t sent with the other humans to the colony and are forced to work together to save the day and reunite Tip with her mother (Jennifer Lopez).

Right off the bat, one of the more glaring issues with this film is right there in the plot synopsis: A family film based on a proxy for Indian Removal; this in no way sounds like the plot to a kid’s film. Within the first few minutes of the film, it is extremely different to the film as described by the trailer, which made it look like Oh was going to be the intergalactic fish-out-of-water and the only one of his kind on Earth, and if you aren’t prepared for it like I wasn’t it takes a while for it to sink in. Now, this premise might have worked out if handled differently; hell, it could still be a family film and, under the right crew, this could stand next to the works of Don Bluth in terms of depressingly dark yet child-friendly entertainment. No such luck here though, as you can no doubt tell from the kiddified nomenclature; this is aimed directly at child audiences, along with the occasional adult that gets caught in the crossfire. It doesn’t help that this is full of so much literal toilet humour that it validates every shot fired at Dreamworks Studios for being lowbrow schlock in comparison to Disney/Pixar, a comparison that I personally hate because Dreamworks has made many a great animated film in the past.

Despite my misgivings about Jim Parsons as the lead character, he isn’t all that bad in this movie; then again, no-one in the cast is really all that great to begin with but Jim Parsons isn’t the problem here as I suspected he would be. Steve Martin is flat-out wasted in this thing, Rihanna is decent but only by comparison and J. Lo is such a bit role that it isn’t even worth mentioning save for completion. No, the problem with Jim Parsons here is the character he’s playing, who is now on my prestigious shortlist of film characters I actively wanted to see die while I was watching the movie; I’m not usually that vindictive but that is just how infuriating this character is. The first reason for which is the framing around him: It’s a difficult task purposely writing an annoying character that the audience is supposed to like in the first place, but it’s quite another to write a character who is annoying in-universe, what with the joke in the trailer about how Oh got his name. However, it seems that the writers forgot that in order to make a character like that work even slightly, they need to have redeemable traits and/or be funny. Here, the closest I got to feeling sorry for this insufferable moron is when he accidently signals the Gorg through an incredibly stupid design flaw in the Boov’s communicator/technowhatsit where the “Send All” option sends message across galaxies to everyone within range. There’s a race in the Star Trek canon called the Pakleds, who are essentially an entire race of aliens that are special needs and I wish I was exaggerating that, but at least one could argue that their innocent appearance could fool unsuspecting ships into getting captured by them; the Boov aren’t even that good, if this and so many other things in this film are to be believed. I get that this is part of the joke, that the Boov aren’t nearly as smart as they think they are, but much like with making Oh annoying, they succeeded… but said success only serves to make the film worse.

The other main reason why I found Oh to be so insufferable is also the biggest fault with the movie as a whole: The dialogue. I get the writing convention of having English-speaking alien races have grammatical and syntax quirks to show differences in societal norms, but the writers got seriously carried away with this one. The best thing I can say about the Boov’s dialogue is that it is surprisingly easy to convey how bad it is without anyone else having to go this movie themselves: If anyone reading this have a Twitter account, pull it up and go to the language settings. Pick the LOLCATZ language option and save; now, look at the text that has been translated. Now, imagine if every tweet in your feed was translated into this and being read aloud to you phonetically by your computer; that’s how every single exchange in this movie involving the Boov sounds like, and considering a Boov is our main character, that is an amazingly bad move. But even with that in mind, this could have worked in smaller doses, but then there’s also the fact that these dialogue ticks never let up. Not even during the emotional scenes. Yes, even during the moments that are supposed to be taken seriously, the characters still sound like they trying to invoke memes out of their dialogue. Words cannot describe how irritating this gets in record time, to the point where I was legitimately considering walking out of the movie. Well, technically I was considering throwing my Coke bottle at the screen, screaming obscenities at the movie (Yes, even with all the kids in the audience) and then walking out, but still it is rare for that to even become a viable option for me. Then again, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I did that, and considering how horrible this movie is, I didn’t want to give it the dignity of being the only film I’ve walked out on since I started properly watching films.

All in all, this is the kind of movie where, had I not seen far superior family films like Shaun The Sheep, The Book Of Life and even The SpongeBob Movie recently, I would start losing faith in the art of cinema much like Planes: Fire And Rescue made me do. The animation is okay if a bit spotty, the set design looks neat and the actors do an okay job with their material, but said material consists of a premise that is not in any way whatsoever handled suitably for a kid’s film, characters that are either stock or just plain stupid and dialogue that is among the most consistently annoying I have ever heard full stop. As much as I thoroughly disliked The Wedding Ringer, that at least had a ten-or-so minute stretch of decent content; Home doesn’t have a single moment that actually had me engaged in any respect, be it intentional or otherwise, making this a new low for the year as the current runner for the worst film of 2015. Yeah, not recommended to say the least; even if you have children or younger siblings who want to see this movie, for the love of all that is good in the world, take them to see anything else

Monday, 13 April 2015

Movie Review: The Longest Ride (2015)

On the list of red-flag genre listings, at least as I see them, romantic dramas are a few rungs above romantic comedies. The reason for this is the irony factor: Romantic comedies are already trying to make the audience laugh, so any hopes of getting laughs out of how bad it is are slim at best; romantic dramas, on the other hand, are perfectly viable in that regard. I bring this up because, since this film is adapted from a Nicholas Sparks book much like The Best Of Me was, I suspect that the only way I can possibly enjoy this movie is for less than genuine reasons. The best I can realistically hope for is that this doesn’t aggravate me as much as that film did, which shouldn’t be too hard but I’ve been proven wrong before. Let’s hope that isn’t the case this time: This is The Longest Ride.

The plot: Art student Sophia (Britt Robertson) meets championship bull rider Luke (Scott Eastwood), but after their first date together they come across an off-road car crash and rescue driver Ira (Alan Alda) from the wreckage. As Ira is recovering, Sophia offers to read him some of his old letters to his wife that detail his budding early relationship with her. Inspired by their story, Sophia is determined to make her relationship with Luke work, even if Luke’s dedication to his work may one day see the end of him.

This cast is nepotism like I have never seen before, or at least this concentrated. The majority of the main cast are all related to Hollywood royalty, with the exception of Britt Robertson as far as I can tell and Alan Alda, who flat-out is Hollywood royalty: Scott Eastwood is the son of the fabled actor/director Clint, young Ira is played by Jack Huston, the nephew of both Danny and Anjelica Huston, and young Ruth is portrayed by Oona Chaplin, grand-daughter of the late, great Charlie Chaplin. Damn! Maybe that would explain how oft-kilter the acting is for the most part. Britt Robertson is relatively okay in her pretty stock city girl in the country role and Scott Eastwood is as Southern as a country song. By that, I mean he’s about as Southern as a modern country song, where the desperation to stay relevant has resulted in the majority of it being heavily watered down to the point of not even being country anymore. Sorry, tangent, but I don’t buy this Manterey-born Californian as a Carolina kid. Jack Huston may look like a less-than-successful attempt to clone Johnny Depp, but he fits in rather well with his 1940’s backdrop, and Oona Chaplin… okay, I admittedly don’t talk to many people from Venice, but somehow I doubt that they sound like a British accent that had a head-on collision with the rest of Europe. Seriously, it is painfully distracting hearing her accent wavering as much as it does here, something I’m guessing is hereditary as the actress playing her mother has a similar problem, only she isn’t on-screen long enough for it to become as big an issue. It should come as no surprise that the best actor here is Alan Alda, whose performance as Ira was the closest I got to being connected to a character.

If a romantic film is going to succeed in any regard, it has to have something that separates it from the pack or at least makes it stand out. In short, you need a gimmick and this film’s got one: While we follow Sophia and Luke’s budding romance in the present day, we also get a parallel story following young Ira and Ruth in the 1940’s. Now, I actually like this idea in theory, as the filmmakers can have the two arcs intertwine, contrast and complement each other to add to the film’s overall narrative about star-crossed lovers, and given how clichéd said narrative is, it needs all the complementing it can get. But this doesn’t work so well in practice for a number of reasons. First off, the script is nowhere near nimble enough to place equal dramatic weight into both stories, even with as much effort is put into such things surprisingly enough: Without directly lifting scenes wholesale from each other, both romance plots follow similar themes that are placed right next to each other; this shows a certain complexity that I don’t normally get from this kind of fare.

Of course, this leads into the next problem with the idea: The two stories follow each other too closely. Even without copying whole scenes, it still feels like we’re ultimately watching the same story twice because of how familiar they feel to each other. It gets to the point where both stories end up with the male leads getting an undisclosed relationship-threatening injury that puts a rift between them; that’s how closely they follow each other. It kills the tension on either side because the audience will anticipate what the supporting scene will entail based on the previous one. Not that the specifics of the story would have been all that great without this device anyway, as the main plot involving Sophia and Luke is written with the subtlety and maturity that I have come to expect from a Nicholas Sparks work. From the minor things like the rather stereotypical portrayal of female sorority houses to the hideously dumb dialogue like “Even an accident has purpose” to the brain-crappingly stupid ending that defies every bit of realism possible within the story, it never stops stepping into potholes as it walks and it never stops being hilarious as a result. I watched this the same day I did The SpongeBob Movie and even that didn’t make me laugh as much as this. For just a taste of how saccharine and pandering this gets, there’s a scene where Luke walks to the door of Sophie’s sorority house is backed by the song I Feel A Sin Comin’ On by Pistol Annies. Don’t get me wrong, the song itself is good but the lyrics and the obvious female gaze-tinged feel of the scene combine into something completely ridiculous and bordering on parody, and that’s not the only time this happens either. Sex scenes in the shower are one of the classic romantic film clichés, but the contrivance behind the one in this film gave me one of the biggest laughs so far this year.

Not that it’s all funny, though, as some of it is just plain pathetic and most of that is because of how poorly Luke is written. His character arc is a standard fallen hero climbing his way back to the top story, and normally this framework is fine if said reason for the fall is given the weight needed to make it work. However, in a later scene at the doctor’s, he tells Luke “[he] need[s] to stop playing down the severity of your condition” and that is the problem in a nutshell, which because of the symbiotic nature of the parallel love stories is also an issue with the 1940’s plot as well. Throughout the film, we see Luke having to deal with nerves in facing Rango, the bull that hospitalized him a year prior, as well as the aforementioned undisclosed injury, but it's so bizarrely glossed over that it exists in some weird Schrodinger's Plot Point space where it is important and not important at the same time. That isn't helped by how poorly the conclusion to Luke's arc is handled; *SPOILERS* maybe if Luke didn’t end up winning against Rango and becoming the number one bull rider in the world, then his decision to stick with Sophia would be more effective; as it stands, though, it feels like the writer tried to have it both ways and ended up failing at both of them, much like with the romances. Of course, this is paired with Sophia’s subplot about her future career in art, which is also concluded pretty badly but to an even bigger degree than Luke’s. It concludes with Ira and his wife’s art collection being auctioned off and, after Luke bets on a single painting, Ira’s attorney states that the will stipulates that whoever buys that single painting automatically gets the rest of the collection. This is such a moronic plot resolution that we would be here all day if I explained exactly why in every way possible, and it’s at that level of moronic that I can safely assume that I don’t need to explain why it is.

All in all, this is at least better than The Best Of Me but that’s only out of how laughable it gets whereas the former just annoyed me to no end. The chemistry between the couples is decent, even if the acting is a tad askew, and the bull riding scenes are shot decently (even if it resorts to out-of-place head-mounted cameras) but the overall production is so cheesy and fails to properly portray anything resembling genuine romance that it will, on a whim, induce both cackling and gritting of teeth. The dialogue is hokey, the soundtrack choices are extremely on-the-nose at points, and the otherwise admirable attempt at storytelling in parallel ends up working against itself before too long. It’s better than Seventh Son, which also had terrible script issues but the failed attempts here make for better entertainment value, even if it is entirely unintentional. However, by that same token, The Interview may have also failed at writing a more complex script than we ended up getting but it failed slightly less so than this. If you have a high tolerance for romantic schlock, or if you can somehow get to a cinema where only you and a few friends are in the audience and you can heckle out-loud, then maybe I could suggest checking this out; otherwise, save your money for something more worthwhile.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Movie Review: The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water (2015)

Ah SpongeBob SquarePants, that irritatingly cute, yellow and porous friend of children, stoners and meme creators worldwide. While I freely admit to having watched The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie a lot as a kid and played the hell out of its video game tie-in on PS2, I’ve only watched a handful of episodes of the show proper and none of them are all that recent. Chalk it up to mostly sticking to the classic Cartoon Cartoons when I was a kid, but I never really got into them as much as I probably should have. That said, the show has its appeal… through being completely bonkers, even for a kid’s show, and having a more adult edge to its sense of humour on occasion much like the other show creator Stephen Hillenburg worked on: Rocko’s Modern Life. So, a little over a decade after the first film hit cinemas, the promotional campaign behind this latest offering reached our ears and even with my pretty surface interest in the show, I was hyped to see this thing. Well, enough yapping (or, rather, typing): This is The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water.

The plot: Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) is trying to steal the secret formula for Mr. Krabs’ (Clancy Brown) Krabby Patties, but after a scuffle with SpongeBob (Tom Kenny), the formula is stolen from them both by the pirate Burger-Beard (Antonio Banderas). Forced to work together to bring order back to Bikini Bottom, Plankton joins SpongeBob, Mr. Krabs, Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke), Squidward (Rodger Bumpass) and Sandy (Carolyn Lawrence) as they venture to the surface to recover the formula.

Or, rather, this is the plot as far as the trailer would have audiences believe. The story as shown there only makes up about a third of the overall film, an action that I would call misleading if it wasn’t the most sensible thing to do. Why? Because the sense that the remaining two-thirds don’t make is staggering. Now, while I have bagged out other films in the past for what little sense they make (*ahem*), I oddly don’t have a problem with it here despite how much it feels like three or four scripts for episodes of the show were stitched together with acid-laced dental floss. The first reason for this is that the film doesn’t take itself seriously enough for that to be a genuine issue; hell, there’s a moment in the film that almost feels like an attempt to critic-proof it. The question gets brought up about how SpongeBob and the other are able to breathe on the surface, and then they begin to summarize how they got up there in the first place. It’s as if the writers were actively telling the audience “You want to find logic in the movie where all this is happening? Seriously?” The second reason for this is that, for as many tangents as the story takes itself in, there’s a rather bizarre feeling of cohesion throughout the whole thing. Seemingly random moments from earlier scenes come back to resolve moments in the film’s present, a startling feat considering so many of them feel like they shouldn’t even be in the same release year as each other.

The third reason, and easily the most important of them all, is that this film’s humour is so pervasive that minor things like logic and rationality ultimately don’t matter. Yes, the over-analytical douchebag who takes pride in reading into as much subtext into films as possible is saying that logic doesn’t matter this time around. *SPOILERS* It’s kind of difficult not to laugh at set pieces like the opening epic food fight scene or the superhero chase in the streets, but the constant onslaught of puns and bizarrely written dialogue makes the script feel like a boxer trying to induce punch drunk laughter. It doesn’t hurt that said funny moments are delivered by a damn nice cast of voice actors, all of whom have had several years of practice spouting complete nonsense for the franchise that shows well here; oh, and Antonio Banderas as well, bringing yet another performance just brimming with maniacal glee. Whether their work here, or the film in general, matches up to the show or if it even should match up to it given the backlash towards the show nowadays from its fan base, I honestly can’t say but all I get from this is that it sounds good to me.

That said, though, I can’t help but compare this to the previous SpongeBob film and unfavourably compare it at that; this film’s greatest strength, its care-free need to have fun, is also its greatest fault in this regard. While this film is just pure fun, that film had a far stronger script to back it up. It may have dipped into generic fantasy territory with its main plot, but its core theme of holding onto one’s childhood was surprisingly potent and culminated in what I still consider to be one of the most badass film climaxes I’ve seen with the Twisted Sister parody I’m A Goofy Goober. Nothing in this film really reaches that same level of awe, or at least the warped geeked out feeling that fills in the hole awe usually resides in within my brain.

Since this is a largely animated film, and we’re nearing the end of this review (I know, I’m sad too), I guess I should talk about the animation quality here and not only is it pretty good across the board, there are some nice varieties of it to be found here as well. We have the higher-quality version of the show’s look with the scenes set in and around Bikini Bottom, we have the computer animated scenes on the surface that genuinely had me fooled at a couple of moments and then we have the trippy and almost psychedelic time travel transitions (Yeah, there’s time travel in this movie too; and intergalactic overseer dolphins!) that will cause more than a few head tilts with just how… I don’t even the sequences can get. There’s also the scene set inside SpongeBob’s mind, and major props to the animation department there for making such a bright and cheery scene that unsettling and kind of creepy; I’d be screaming too, if I had to see all that.

All in all, this movie is a big jumbled mess of something resembling a narrative, but the humour and overall sense of fun that permeate every aspect of the production, from the voice acting to the animation, bizarrely makes up for all that. I can’t say that I prefer this over the first film, but it definitely fits in with what I remember of the show in terms of entertainment value. It gives a feeling of ease and euphoria that will definitely stick with you for a while after watching it… which probably explains why this review is a bit zanier than I usually write. Oh well, it’s not as if I edit these or anything! This ranks higher than Paper Planes, which I like for similar reasons that I do this but my approval of the film comes from a less guilty place than it did with that film. However, this goes below American Sniper because, as much as this film makes up for its lack of cinematic artistry with sheer joy, I still like me some artistry at the end of the day. If you like the show in any regard, then chances are you’ll like this one; if you don’t, then I doubt that this will convert you.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Movie Review: Insurgent (2015)

With the severe case of sequelitis Hollywood has been suffering from for the last several years, getting to sequels/remakes of films I’ve already reviewed is inevitable. Of course, there’s two sides to that coin and I’ll end up seeing follow-ups to both the good and the bad. This time around, we are very much in the latter with the sequel to what I listed as the worst movie of 2014: Divergent. Now, this is a listing that I question from time to time, considering it beat out utter trash like the Annie remake and God’s Not Dead for that coveted placement, but out of sheer incompetence in creating a world for the story to exist in, I feel it more than deserves that spot. I usually go back to older films for a refresher in cases like this… but screw that noise, let’s just get into this thing already: This is Insurgent.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Movie Review: The Book Of Life (2015)

Guillermo del Toro will always have a spot on my list of favourite filmmakers: Between his equal mastery over artistic ventures like Pan’s Labyrinth and Cronos as well as more popular works like the Hellboy movies and Pacific Rim and his flexibility past the world of cinema with his Strain trilogy of novels and his upcoming team-up with Hideo Kojima on the latest Silent Hill game, I’d classify him as one of the few creative minds out there that legitimately has something for everyone. It may seem odd that I start this review out like this, since del Toro only produced this, but the man’s influence is such that it can be felt when he’s attached to films in less than obvious roles: Serving as a consultant on Kung Fu Panda 2, Cowboys & Aliens as well as the great cinematic roadblock that is Edge Of Tomorrow, and even though he isn’t directly credited for consultation on films like Puss In Boots and Rise Of The Guardians, there’s definitely some traces of his sense of imagination to be found in all of it. So, with his name pretty much synonymous with quality regardless of his role (Unless we’re talking While She Was Out or last year’s dismal Battle Of The Five Armies), how does this film pan out? This is The Book Of Life.

The plot: On the Mexican Day Of The Dead, Xibalba (Ron Perlman) and La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), the rulers of the Lands of the Forgotten and the Remembered respectively, decide to make a wager after Xibalba expresses discomfort over where he reigns: If Xibalba wins, the two swap dominions. They bet on who will win the hand of Maria (Zoe Saldana): The strong-headed but noble Joaquin (Channing Tatum) or the kind-hearted but clumsy Manolo (Diego Luna), both of whom have been friends with Maria since childhood. However, it doesn’t take long for the stakes to be raised even higher, leading Manolo on a journey to set everything right again.

I’m not going to beat around the bush on this one: the animation is absolutely stunning. The vibrant landscapes of the lands of the dead and the town of San Angel and the marionette character models that fill them are gorgeous and make for an especially lively visual experience. The closest I can get to a reasonable comparison is if Luis Cook from Aardman Animation (check this out for an example of his work) did the movie adaptation of Grim Fandango, this is what it would look like right down to the designs for the faces that look like Dali’s wet dreams; throw the base model for The Masked Unit for good measure too. While the Western-esque vibe of San Angel is awesome on its own, the bright colours and atmosphere exuded from the Land of the Remembered is incredible; this might be the most appealing vision of the Afterlife I’ve seen in a very long time, if not ever… or, at least it would if the option of being stuck in the dark and dank underworld of the Land of the Forgotten wasn’t there, but still it looks really nice. The care taken with the animation extends into the action set pieces, like the numerous bull fights that could add to the argument of bull-fighting as an art form with how graceful the movements are here, or the climax that… is just that good that I’m not even going to hint at its contents.

I’ll refrain from making a joke about this film being full of colourful characters because of the animation style, but the cast of characters in this film are genuinely among some of the most fun I’ve watched, animated or otherwise. Diego Luna as Manolo imbues the character with certain adorkability to be sure, but he still has the right charisma to carry himself off as both a nimble bull-fighter and a competent mariachi. Speaking of mariachis, the Rodriguez brothers played by Gabriel Iglesias, Cheech Marin and Ricardo Sánchez work great as the comic relief and all manage to balance annoying and funny perfectly. Zoe Saldana as Maria is refreshingly assertive, although I’m not sure if that says more about the films I watch or the films that have been getting release dates of late overall, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she ended up in discussions of strong female characters before too long; I would argue that such discussions shouldn’t be needed in the first place, but that’s a rant for another day. Del Toro BFF Ron Perlman brings his awesome presence to the role of Xibalba and makes for a damn good villain, pulling off the playful and at-times hostile banter with Kate del Castillo outstandingly well. Del Toro himself has a surprisingly memorable cameo role as the wife of the ferryman in the Land of the Remembered; without a doubt one of the funniest gags of the film. Manolo’s family is full of eye-popping names from Machete himself Danny Trejo to Plácido fucking Domingo, all of whom do a great job at filling even the smaller bit roles to the brim with personality; it’s rare that an entire family is as memorable as the Sanchez’s are here. Even Ice Cube is great here as the celestial Candle Maker; the recognition of his voice is a bit off-putting at first, but the man’s natural commanding presence and charisma work greatly in the role’s favour. Honestly, the only real chink in the chain here is Channing Tatum as Joaquin, and that’s not because he’s bad in the role as while the director may have used the same ‘actions speak louder than words’ approach that served Tatum so well in Foxcatcher, Tatum himself does just fine with the dialogue he’s given. No, the reason he’s the weakest link is because, quite frankly, he is the most out-of-place sounding of the whole lot; he’s too white, is what I’m saying, and it gets distracting at times to the film’s detriment.

On the surface, the story may read as a pretty generic story concerning a love triangle and a re-working of the second half of Monkeybone… and, to be honest, it kind of is but there’s more than enough thrown into the mix to keep things interesting. A lot of that, though, has to do with the characters and the fact that more care has been put into them than what is usually seen attached to this kind of romantic tale. We get the usual bells and whistles like the female lead being pressured into marriage for one reason or another, the growing resentment between the romantic rivals and even the preferred mate being ‘predisposed’ to artificially increase the tension, but the actions made the characters and the way they’re written helps ease through all of that which has been seen before. Joaquin may be the stereotypical cocky rival but he genuinely feels like he has been friends with both Manolo and Maria for as long as he has and shows that level of familiarity with them, right down to signs of a conscience for some of the actions later on in the story. Maria flaunts being a tomboy like nobody’s business, making for a nice change of pace from the damsels in distress that we are still getting for Frith knows what reason. And while Manolo goes through the standard arc of trying to find his own path while being under pressure to follow the family legacy, the way the arc pans out actually makes for some decent drama, not to mention a damn good fight scene. The weakest part of the story, though, is the framing device wrapped around it involving a bunch of kids at a museum being told this story by a tour guide. Not only do the interjections of reaction shots from the kids feel out-of-place every time they come up, as well as not adding anything worthwhile to the overall story, the fact that their bobble-head character designs look that much different from the puppets used in the main story keeps this movie from feeling completely smooth.

This film is touted as a musical, so it seems like I have to bring up the music regardless of how infrequently I do so normally. The musical arrangements are very well done; the Mexican flavoured instrumentation adds a lot to the covers shown throughout of Mumford & Sons’ I Will Wait and Biz Markie’s Just A Friend, among others, that add a lot of heart and humour to the film respectively. Hell, I still have the mariachi version of Just A Friend stuck in my head as I write this review. Gustavo Santaolalla moves away from the moodier scores he’s done for media like The Last Of Us and cuts loose here with some really fun tracks, not to mention a nice rendition of The Ecstasy Of Gold. Some of the love songs are a little too cheesy even for this romantic story, like Elvis’ Can’t Help Falling In Love and the Paul Williams-penned I Love You Too Much, but overall this is a good soundtrack.

All in all, this is a serious triumph of style over substance. The story may be flat in places and some of the songs are a bit too goofy, even considering we have a cover of Do Ya Think I’m Sexy in the tracklist, but the characters are so much fun to watch and the animation is such a treat for the eyes that whatever faults this film might have can be easily overlooked. That, and while this may be style over substance, that’s not to say that the substance we get is bad; far from it, as the emotional moments hit home more times than not. I rank it higher than Shaun The Sheep Movie, as the laughs gotten from the dialogue here outweigh the artistry of the largely-silent animation for me, but it isn’t as good as Top Five which is a lot tighter on the writing front. Nevertheless, this is a great family-friendly watch with some awesome animation; I highly advise checking this one out and I can only hope that Jorge Gutierrez continues his venture into the world of the big screen.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Movie Review: Tinker Bell And The Legend Of The Neverbeast (2015)

It’s times like this when I’m really glad that the critical bug bit me at such an early age, because seeing these kind of movies on my own is a risky enough prospect as is. If I were to still be watching these movies well into my 30’s or even my 20’s, chances are I’d end up on some sort of government watch list before too long. Then again, as a person who has a form of opinion on the Internet, I’m assuming that I’m on several of those already. I actually saw last year’s entry in the Tinker Bell franchise as well with The Pirate Fairy; despite my understandable apprehension about the thing, I thought it was a nice little movie, if pretty forgettable. Didn’t hurt that it blindsided me a bit as a prequel to the original Peter Pan, but nevertheless it was an okay watch. I can only hope that this one is on the same level: This is Tinker Bell And The Legend Of The Neverbeast.

The plot: Fawn (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a good-natured animal fairy who is just trying to do her best to help the other fairies in Pixie Hollow, even if her love for animals frequently gets in trouble. When a nearby comet awakens the mysterious creature The Neverbeast, Fawn wants to study it while Fairy Scout Nyx (Rosario Dawson) believes that it is an ancient threat to all of Pixie Hollow. With the help of her friends Silvermist (Lucy Liu), Iridessa (Raven-Symoné), Rosetta (Megan Hilty), Vidia (Pamela Adlon) and of course Tinker Bell (Mae Whitman), she hopes to protect the Neverbeast and prove that it isn’t a threat.

The animation is done by DisneyToon Studios, one of the big cogs in Disney’s sequel-making machine that specializes in direct-to-DVD fare with only a select few films that have been released theatrically. Since those few include not only the last few Tinker Bell movies (and even then, only in select countries) but also the abominable black holes of time and effort that are the Planes movies, I don’t have the highest opinion of them already without even looking at the animation itself. Said animation, though, is TV-grade at best. Not to say that this necessarily a bad thing, as it’d be rather unfair to expect every piece of animation to be of equal quality, but at the end of the day, this is not of sufficient quality to be shown in a cinema, regardless of its limited release. Between the plastic sheen to it all that comes with most cheaper-produced CGI, the bobblehead character design, the jittery movements that seem to show up in television shows (usually) and the cold, dead eyes on the characters, particularly Fawn, that never ceased to creep me out, this is a pretty ugly looking production and seeing all of those minute details on the big screen only makes its flaws all the more glaring. If I can at least be fair, though, DisneyToon has had plenty of practice with depicting fairy flight and it shows here as the flying scenes look pretty good.

For a film with Tinker Bell right in the title, Tinker Bell is in about 5-10% of the overall production; Fawn is well and truly the main character here and while that isn't really a problem on its own, there’s something to be said about the potentially misleading title. Then again, that’ll happen when you title your franchise after one of the characters instead of calling it “Fairies Of Peter Pan” or something like that in case of releases like this. This is just nitpicking though, which is more than I can say for the rest of the story. This is an extremely basic story about a misunderstood creature that only the lead character can see for what it really is; it hits all the same beats that you’d expect except this film doesn’t even go so far as to provide any real connection to the creature in question. Hell, there’s that little connection made between the audience and the Neverbeast that I would have entirely been on Nyx’s side had I not seen this story played out so many times and seeing her character role being wrong every time. And then there’s the ending, which… okay *SPOILERS* just to be on the safe side, but after the Neverbeast saves everyone, it has to go back into hibernation for another 100 years until next time it’s needed. This is treated as a big emotional scene, with the fairies saying that they will never see it again, except… maybe it’s just because I’m a big geek and thus have a natural need to maintain continuity, but I thought one of the big things about Neverland was that no-one ever aged. Sure, it may be a long time, but they would be able to see the Neverbeast again; this ending may be sad, but not for the reasons that we’re given.

All in all, I don’t really have a lot to say about this thing: This is a straight-to-DVD or straight-to-Disney Channel film that shouldn’t have been released to cinemas. The voice acting is admittedly decent, even if the more than talented cast isn’t given anything useful aside from basic character archetypes, and the animation has its moments but this is still a DisneyToons production; there’s nothing all that impressive or entertaining to be had here. I’d recommend this to parents with very, very young kids who could use a bit of mindless distracting to get on DVD, but even then there are far better films that can serve that purpose. At least The Pirate Fairy had some pretty interesting ideas as well as some decent set-up as an unexpected prequel to Peter Pan; this, on the other hand, doesn’t deliver nearly as much and considering what I’ve heard that this is the last film to be made in the franchise, this is a pretty weak note to end on. It ranks higher than The Interview, as this doesn’t have the same feeling of wasted potential purely because it didn’t try nearly as much, but it ranks just below Dumb & Dumber To, mostly on the basis of how good the ending to that movie was. I may not have liked, but I don’t hate it because of how ultimately harmless and inoffensive it is.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Movie Review: The Duff (2015)

I’m going to guess that this is because I didn’t go to high school in the U.S., but labels were never really a thing when I was growing up. Sure, there were certain cliques but we only really had three of them in my year: The geeks, the smokers and everyone else. Yeah, I was a definite geek and I had great friends within that circle but I was never completely driven away from everyone else though; I would frequently talk with the others and while I made a few frenemies along the way, I was relatively comfortable with everyone in the year. If I did have a label that I wasn’t aware of, aside from the nickname “Vol-Cain-O” that I earned due to my short temper, it would have probably been “entertainer”, “show-off” or possibly “sideshow attraction”; I loved being the center of attention and trying to make people around me laugh. It didn’t always work out that way, and I would occasionally get laughed at but in retrospect I’m at least glad I got some kind of reaction. With this in mind, movies about high school life never really clicked with me aside from the rare outlier like Ben X. Well, we’re already on the subject of hipster-ish choices for movies, so let’s get started with today’s pick: This is The Duff.

The plot: Bianca (Mae Whitman) has her entire school social life thrown into question when jock Wesley (Robbie Amell) points her out as ‘The Duff’ among her friends: The Designated Ugly Fat Friend; someone approachable to make her friends look better by comparison. After internalizing the label, and deciding that that isn’t what she wants to be, she asks Wesley for help in getting a date with musician Toby (Nick Eversman) in exchange for helping his failing grades. As Bianca is put through her paces, mean girl Madison (Bella Thorne) wants to keep Bianca away from her on-again-off-again boyfriend Wesley and put her in her place.

In teen comedies, the cast flies or dies by how relatable and/or identifiable they are in their roles, and on that front this is a superb cast. Mae Whitman may be largely known for her voice work, most famously as Katara in Avatar: The Last Airbender and most recently as Tinker Bell in the surprisingly decent Tinker Bell & The Pirate Fairy, but she is great in the lead role. She may be playing Juno-lite, right down to the love for cult horror movies (I will admit though, that poster for Lucio Fulci’s Zombie in her room as a nice touch), but nevertheless she’s funny, charming and full of indie-brand quirk that audiences love so much (apparently). Robbie Amell delivers Wesley’s blunt and occasionally dickish lines just right to pull off the likable jerk that could have gone a lot worse in a film like this, not to mention have amazing chemistry with Mae in every one of their scenes together. Bella Thorne essentially brings back her role from Alexander And The Terribly Long Title and dials it all the way up, creating one of the meaner mean girls I’ve seen on film; perfect Two-Minutes Hate material every time she’s on screen, if that’s your thing. Everyone else in the cast does really well, but the biggest surprise for me was Ken Jeong as Bianca’s teacher Mr. Arthur. After being so deeply annoyed by this guy in films like The Hangover sequels and Transformers 3: The Rise Of Deep Wang, seeing Ken Jeong being this genuinely funny is kind of shocking. Sure, his first scene as previewed in the trailer is awkward, and not in a good way, but he works really well as a sort of confidante for Bianca as well as portraying one of the more realistic high school teachers I’ve seen of late.

If you have any idea what an indie-style high school romantic comedy looks like, then chances are you know what this movie will be like as well. What ultimately kind of sucks about this movie, unfortunately, is that it isn’t anything all that groundbreaking. As much as it likes to flaunt how subversive it is, the fact that it is one of many movies doing exactly that shows that it is still just following the crowd, albeit a slightly smaller crowd. The whole social mentor thing, especially in a high school setting, is nothing new and without a doubt will have audiences guessing the ending right from the trailer, it’s been used that much. Of course, that’s not to say that the message they’re trying to convey is worthless or anything, it’s just that we live in an age where everyone is pushing for body positivity; whatever day you see this movie, chances are you will have come across at least three items telling you to be proud of who you are. I honestly can’t help but tilt my head at people who are already calling this a potential cult classic like Mean Girls, because not only is that not how cult classics even work but this isn’t even as biting as Mean Girls in the first place. It tries to make similar kind of observations about the social system within high schools and where people fit in, but honestly the most poignant thing said on that front is during the opening narration when Bianca brings up how the cliques are changing, like how jocks are now gamers and the like. This whole changing perceptions of how stereotypes actually look admittedly does lead to a few very funny moments about what Bianca thinks pornos are like nowadays, but the insight given overall isn’t all that… well, insightful.

It just ends up falling into the same trap a lot of other teen comedies focusing on the whole labelling thing end up doing: Trying to denounce the idea of labels and how they don’t matter while also trying to make their own label popular, something that inevitably happens by film’s end and makes the lead-up feel rather hollow. It doesn’t help that the entire set-up for the film is the idea that people are friends with Duffs with that label in mind, which… yeah, I just don’t get that at all. That’s not to say that this doesn’t have anything new or interesting to say, though. While the set-up is a tad questionable, the film itself makes the smart move and instead treats the label ‘Duff’ largely as something that feeds Bianca’s insecurities and makes her question herself. There’s also a very good scene with Mr. Arthur and the principal where they are discussing how to deal with a video about Bianca that has gone viral in the school. Mr. Arthur actually makes the most reasonable suggestion I’ve seen a teacher make in one of these movies: Deal with the matter quietly, because doing it out in the open will only make Bianca more of a target. The hideously out-of-touch principal doesn’t follow this, because at least some of the school faculty stereotypes have to be followed, but it’s a greatly appreciated addition nonetheless. Even outside of the attempts at commentary, the main couple work that well together that, despite the predictable path they go down including the obligatory red herring love interest, they draw attention away from the film’s faults and make the experience fun on their own. To be fair, though, said red herring Toby is a White Guy With Acoustic Guitar, so I highly doubt that it would’ve worked out regardless of the story structure used.

All in all, while slightly generic and coated in standard indie sheen, the cast is very good with a very cute and likable main couple and while the writing may not be that good with its commentary, it is damn funny in a lot of places. You might not leave the cinema with anything all that meaningful, but you certainly won’t leave it feeling like you’ve wasted your 100-or-so minutes watching it. It’s higher up than Foxcatcher, as this had me more consistently attached to the characters involved, but it does rank just below Paper Planes which, however ironic it may have been, gave me more entertainment value overall. If you have a thing for teen comedies or could just use a bit of a funny diversion, then this is worth checking out.