Monday, 29 June 2015

Movie Review: Inside Out (2015)

At the time of writing this review, my watched list of films for this year seems to be making a grander statement about the film industry than anything I could ever write here. At one end of the list is Disney’s Tomorrowland, a film that managed to make even a jaded cynic like me see the bright side of things; on the other end is Dreamworks’ Home, a film that made me want to chew on the seat in front of me at the cinema just so I could get the syrupy taste of Oh’s dialogue out of my mouth. Now, instead of this just showing off how much better Disney is, since I still stand by my statement of Dreamworks are given more flack than they really deserve, this serves as a neat barometer of what family films are capable of: Some of them may stick to the traditional child-friendly formula that serves no purpose for anyone whose age reaches double digits, while others can showcase better production qualities in both screenwriting and general filmmaking than films made for more ‘mature’ audiences. Given Pixar’s recent pedigree concerning Cars/Planes, a franchise so wretched that it has left a permanent scar on the face of family films, today’s film could honestly go either way in my opinion. So, where does this film fit on the scale? This is Inside Out.

The plot: Inside the head of Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) resides the emotions of Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling), whom monitor Riley’s surroundings and create her memories. While Riley is trying to cope with moving to a new place, things go haywire in Headquarters as Sadness tries to find her place amongst the other emotions. When Joy and Sadness end up stuck outside of Headquarters due to Sadness’ meddling, they have to work together to make it back before Riley’s mind starts to fall apart.

This is the kind of cast list that makes SNL junkies froth at the mouth in manic glee, along with casting decisions that rival only Marvel Studios in terms of dead-eye accuracy. Even with my misgivings about Pixar thanks to crap like Tow Mater, having Lewis Black voice the personification of Anger is about as perfect as you can get in terms of fitting an actor to a role, to the point where the filmmakers probably had that locked in before literally anything else about the film. On top of that, we have the typical ditzy and giddy Amy Poehler as Joy, who rubs against the grain just enough to give the effect needed and still be entertaining; Phyllis Smith manages to do the impossible and portray being perpetually glum and not have the terms ‘emo’ or ‘self-pitying’ applied to her at any point; Bill Hader fit nicely as the skittish Fear, easily making for the funniest scene in the film where he essentially riffs on Riley’s dreams; Richard Kind as Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong managed to make me invested in a cotton candy animal, so he must have been doing something right; and Mindy Kaling as Disgust results in one of the few times that I can recall that a Valley Girl character actively improved the story. Seriously, that last one ventures on genius voice direction in how much it accomplishes, making it well and truly clear that the director of 2009’s Up hasn’t rested on his laurels with this one. Alongside our mains, we also get Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan as Riley’s parents who do well in their relatively minor roles, as well as some nice cameos from veteran comedians like Paula Poundstone, the crew voicing a few parts which given how this is a Pixar film shouldn’t come as any surprise, even getting the legendary Muppeteer Frank Oz himself as a guard arguing about hat sizes… yeah, even in a role that insubstantial, he still leaves an impression.

As much as I love a good comedy, it’s kind of rare nowadays that a film will let me leave the cinema remembering any of the jokes. When the cast is this full of stand-up and sitcom comedians, all of whom have their timing down pat, it comes as little surprise that that is an exception to that rule; literally every joke here is said at just the right moment for maximum impact, right down to the long-lost art of the running gag involving an earworm of a commercial jingle. Not only that, as much as I loathe the word these days due to misuse, the jokes themselves hit that truly ‘cerebral’ level that make for some of the cleverest humour this year has had to offer as well. A definite stand-out for me was Joy and Sadness knocking over boxes labelled ‘Facts’ and ‘Opinions’, then commenting on how similar their contents look. However, having such a high pedigree for funny moments is a double-edged sword where the more somber and/or dramatic moments are concerned. Some gags barge in during the heavier scenes and take the bite out of things for a short time. I emphasize ‘short time’ though, since while the tone of the film may stumble, it never falls.

The animation is done by Pixar, which means that it’s awesome. They clearly had a lot of fun with the ideas presented by the concept of ‘the world inside our heads’ and took advantage of the possibilities it presented, from the dream film set to the library of long-term memory to a surprisingly experimental section involving abstract thought. The character designs for the people inside Riley’s head have a very plush look to them, complete with frayed bits of fabric hanging off of them, which I’m on the fence about: It definitely helps the film look distinct, but it also has a faint whiff of “we designed them with the toys in mind” about it. The fact that, prior to the film, there was an advert for the Bing Bong toy doesn’t help that assumption. On the flipside, Riley and the rest of the outside world have a more subdued to them and are weirdly realistic looking by Pixar standards, which also adds greatly to the visual aesthetic.

At the foreground of all of this is what is basically a fetch quest involving Joy and Sadness having to return Riley's most important memories back to Headquarters. With this, the writers put a lot of thought and care in portraying how people deal with their emotions, or rather how their emotions deal with them, and making it resonate as hard as possible. For starters, the child-friendly design of the emotions is balanced out by the fact that Riley isn’t the only head we get inside of as we intermittently go into the minds of her parents as well as a few other people, each with their own variations on the core idea. Some of them make for good pathos, while others make for really good one-off gags, but they all ultimately show the kind of variety that not only proves that a lot of ideas were being brought to the table for the film, but also shows quite a bit of potential for expansion of the film’s universe. I swear, if Larry The Cable Guy as a faux-secret agent generates a spin-off and this doesn’t, it might be time for some serious reevaluation but we’ll leave that for the sands of time to deal with for now. The other major sign that the writers knew exactly what they were doing is that it takes quite an intelligent stance on how people emote and the nature of how we recall our memories: Every emotion needs its outlet, since even the perceived ‘bad’ emotions have their place, and they all exist within our memories in one way or another; it’s just a matter of what we focus on. Not only is it a rather nuanced idea but it is one that is executed amazingly well through the dialogue and character development through the film, particularly involving Joy and Sadness and even a bit for Bing Bong as well.

What the film is at its purest is the showcasing of two plots running in contrast to each other: While Joy and Sadness are having a rather madcap adventure through some pretty fantastical settings, sprinkled in with bits of pathos here and there, what is happening in the ‘real’ world with Riley is, to put it bluntly, one of the most accurate portrayals of clinical depression I have seen in fiction, film or otherwise. A common misconception concerning depression is that it just involves being sad all the time; take it from someone who knows all too well, that isn’t the case. Instead, I would describe it as a feeling of being completely hollow like every emotion you have has been emptied out of you, putting you in a state where you don't even have it in you to feel sad about anything and you are just unable to accept help from anyone regardless of how right that advice may be, as is shown when Riley’s parents try to reach out to her. It is the point where all that is left behind on the inside is a void that sucks everything else into it until there’s nothing but a shell that once was a person. Not to say that emotions are never shown at this time, as these will usually just spring up sporadically, but that doesn’t mean that they necessarily correspond with what the person is actually feeling. What makes this film as effective as it is is that it is able to portray this kind of emotional state using only a few key moments that only take up a few short minutes on their own, and yet it’s kind of chilling how effective they are within that small time frame.

All in all, the fact that the emotions of Joy and Sadness are at the forefront of the film should clue you into the general tone of the film. It will make you fall out of your seat in laughter one moment, and then have you crawling in tears right back into it the next. It’s a serious gut-buster of a film with an impressive cast to deliver very witty and well-timed gags and jokes, along with Pixar-quality CGI to bring the whole high concept idea to life. However, even with its overly jocular nature, at its core lies a film that shows a lot of understanding for the ways emotions and memories can affect people. I may take umbrage with some of the design choices, as well as a few bits and bobs concerning things that don’t end up resolved by film’s end, but they ultimately aren’t important enough to detract from how amazing this film is as a whole. Hell, the tonal issues aren’t even that big a deal, since these quick turns from giddy to glum moments fit in with the film’s overall idea of emotions literally running amok. If I ever get asked to try and explain how it feels for me and so many other people out there to be in a state of deep depression, I’ll point them to this film to articulate it a lot better than I ever could; the fact that it can deliver such a heavy idea while being this hilarious is something that doesn’t come around every day, or even every year. I may not like the idea of dethroning Tomorrowland so soon after having reviewed it, but this is the kind of movie we’re dealing with here as knowing that this film is capable of shedding on something that is that close to me pushes it over the top. Even if you have absolutely no interest in the psychological depths of the thing, I would still highly recommend this film as one of the funniest sits this year so far.

Oh, and since I don’t want to leave this stone unturned like I did with Cinderella and Frozen Fever (although, in fairness, that one was pretty good), here’s a quick bit on my thoughts about the Pixar short Lava that precedes the film: It seriously felt like it was trying to make me hate it with that stupid lava/love pun being repeatedly so damn often, but it nevertheless is a nice little love story with a soothing ukulele soundtrack. I also like the design for the male volcano as well.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Movie Review: Going Clear: Scientology And The Prison Of Belief (2015)

Scientology is an unfairly marginalized religion that works for the betterment of mankind, and their members are all upstanding moral citizens that do nothing but good for the people.
You think they bought it?

I mean, I’m reviewing a film that is highly critical of the church that sci-fi built (and no, the Trekkies don’t count) that has a well-known reputation for its attitudes towards its critics; at best, this gets astroturfed and all of 3 people will ever read this online, and at worst my horseshoe fetish gets revealed to the public and I am disgraced to the point of never being employed again. Do forgive me if I have a bit of fun while I let my paranoia get the better of me and check over my shoulder constantly for the black vans. However, my need to be critical often outweighs my need for self-preservation, so I’m just going to proceed with the review regardless. This is Going Clear: Scientology And The Prison Of Belief.

The plot, or rather the premise this time round: Through the use of interviews with former Scientologists, archive footage including interviews of L. Ron Hubbard himself and dramatic re-enactments of events within the church, this documentary is a look into the Church of Scientology. It details the church’s history, as well as Hubbard’s humble beginnings as a pulp sci-fi author, its ‘religious’ practices and its treatment of its members, both for good and for bad.

Okay, all jokes aside, Scientology has always been a near-constant mindfrag for me. I grew up listening to jokes about e-meters and thetans and how insane Tom Cruise was (and still is), but at the same time the idea that a movement this massive could sprout up out of works of fiction (again, Trekkies don’t count) legitimately frightens me. So, imagine my surprise when, upon leaving the cinema, I felt I had gained a certain understanding for Scientologists and could actually sympathize with them. The film might not be completely comprehensive, but it is nevertheless highly detailed when it comes to the church’s methods, particularly with the infamous e-meter and the auditing. The way that the interviewees detail their own experiences on both sides of the audit, as well as showing Hubbard’s own philosophies that went into the original Dianetics, reveals something that I hadn’t even considered before: A lot of people equate Scientology to being like any other cult; another Jonestown or Heaven’s Gate that is run and comprised of complete whackos. However, the really crazy thing is what separates Scientology from those groups, aside from its longevity: Their methods actually work. Sure, the explanations about thetans and engrams are still total cross-eyed badger spit, but the roots of the audits are basic psychiatric therapy, which does work. When Paul Haggis, Jason Beghe and the other interviewees talk about their initial experiences with the church, along with the reasons they initially joined, the film does a surprisingly good job at making the audience understand why they would do so.

Of course, that feeling starts to warp a bit as the film progresses. The film uses the church’s history as its timeline, starting with Hubbard writing his sci-fi stories for magazines, continuing through the popularization of Scientology during the 80’s and then into the tenure of David Miscavige. As weird as this may sound, while the film doesn’t portray Hubbard as anything to sympathize with, it does do a damn fine job of deconstructing his methods and actions to establish some reasoning behind the church’s tenets, such as the auditing and its heavily critical stance against psychiatrists and psychologists. Hubbard really comes across like a man whose writing was so captivating that he managed to fool himself, so he went on to create a ‘breakthrough’ in mental health and did his best to hide the simple truth that what he did isn’t new in the slightest, even from himself. David Miscavige, on the other hand, looks a hell of a lot like Nicolae Carpathia from Left Behind and has about the same level of moral fibre; the film makes no bones about it. It depicts the history of Scientology as a misguided self-help cash scam that, under Miscavige, evolved into the monster we know it as today and it makes it a point of not putting the blame on its followers but on the ‘clergymen’; where the blame deserves to be put.

The testimonials given by the ex-Scientologists cover a pretty good sample space: Filmmaker Paul Haggis details his skepticism about the church’s patently absurd theology concerning Xenu and all that good stuff but also his willingness to go along with it out of devotion to the church; actor Jason Beghe gives an everyman view of the whole experience, not to mention making for a great scene of him talking about the spokesmen faking their way through appearances juxtaposed with footage of Tom Cruise; Mark Rathbun and Mike Rinder, both former higher-ups in the organization, talk about the deeds they committed for Miscavige and just how far the organization’s influence goes; and Sylvia Taylor, former liaison to bigwig Scientologist John Travolta, talks about her encounters with the actor as well as detailing how she escaped the church, making for easily the most dramatically affecting point of the film. That’s saying something considering how genuinely depressing this film can get, from the footage of indoctrinated Scientologists plainly lying to protect their church to the depiction of The Hole, the church’s version of rehabilitation that makes Orwell look like an optimist. However, there’s something about the choice of interviewees that I can’t help but question: During the third act, there’s a montage of news footage showing that they have all come clean about their involvement with the church prior to this. Not only that, the only celebrities that are brought up when it comes to those that heavily endorse the church are Travolta and Cruise. There’s an unfortunate ‘surface’ feeling to all this, like director Alex Gibney didn’t dig as deep as he could have. An inclusion of one or two people who were less public would have helped, but don’t consider this a mark against the people who actually are in the film as their stories all coalesce to build the story this film wanted to bring forward.

All in all, this well and truly exceeded my expectations. Going beyond simply detailing the church’s history and methodology, which it certainly does and portrays very well, it also manages to humanize the members of the church and help separate them from the higher-ups that are truly worthy of scorn. I always thought it was either richly stupid or stupidly rich people who bought into this malarkey, but through the interviews and archive footage of Hubbard, I actually feel like I have a better understanding of why the whole process would be ever be appealing; that, and it revealed that even the church’s members didn’t take the whole Xenu thing seriously in the first place. This film may have forever ruined my ability to listen to Bohemian Rhapsody, Staying Alive and Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) without cringing, but it is nevertheless a very well-done piece on the church; major props to editor Andy Grieve for some truly masterful editing work here and to Gibney for bringing everything together as well as he did. I rank it higher than Rosewater, as the proximity of the threat posed here hit closer to home for me personally and made for a better connection, but despite its production missteps, Still Alice still hit harder emotionally. If you have even a passing interest in Scientology, then I recommend checking this one out.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Movie Review: Hot Pursuit (2015)

Buddy comedies have been around since the idea of ‘comedy’ was given a name and a tangible concept. Hell, buddy cop movies have probably been around for longer than actual police enforcement, the idea is that old: Write two characters that are diametric opposites of each other, put them in a situation that forces them to work together to reach point B; instant comedy… supposedly. The fact that Danny Glover’s immortal line “I’m getting too old for this shit” has since gotten more screen time than Glover in his entire filmography should be a good indicator that, if you’re going to attempt this kind of story nowadays, you absolutely have to bring something new to the table. The last buddy film I watched was last year’s Let’s Be Cops, and the less said about that bit of unfortunate release timing, the better. The last good buddy film I remember watching was Hot Fuzz, which pretty much skewered every action film trope it could find and managed to outperform a large number of them at the same time. Based on the trailer and premise of today’s film, something tells me that we won’t be so lucky this time around. This is Hot Pursuit.

The plot: Rose (Reese Witherspoon) is a police officer who follows police procedure to the letter, to the point of being extremely awkward around people. Her reputation after setting a man on fire with a tazer doesn’t help with that. She gets called in to escort Felipe and his wife Daniella (Sofía Vergara) to Dallas so that he can testify against drug kingpin Vincente Cortez (Joaquín Cosio). When Felipe and Rose’s partner both get gunned down, Rose is forced to take Daniella to Dallas herself despite her protests.

Even if the trailer jokes didn’t fill me with confidence, I definitely like the cast list for this movie. Witherspoon’s performance in the amazing Wild is still fresh in my memory in terms of efficacy and Vergara was fun in the episodes of Modern Family that I’ve seen not to mention films like Chef, which I had misgivings about but certainly not about her. On top of that, I spotted a couple of underdog stand-up comedians in the form of Jim Gaffigan and Mike Birbiglia in the film. Unfortunately, Birbiglia may be doing his best but he’s given a pretty badly written character that’s only in the movie for about a minute of screen time, if that much, and pretty much all of Gaffigan’s role is in the trailer, although I will give credit to him for being one of the few characters in this film that had a semblance of a head on their shoulders, at least for a little while. Then we get to our mains, and it is here that the whole buddy thing completely collapses in on itself. Witherspoon, for whatever reason, is sporting a pretty atrocious Southern accent that sounds like what redneck stereotypes make fun of themselves, but then again that might be to distract from how flatly her character is written. One of the big missteps with films like these is that, instead of personalities, characters get given jokes to associate with, which largely results in getting a lot of repetitive dialogue that centers mainly on those jokes. Rose is an uptight cop and a tomboy, while Vergara is Mexican and shrill; write dialogue based solely around those traits, with maybe one or two lines each detailing backstories that are actually surprisingly similar to each other’s, and you’ve got your movie in a nutshell. I would attribute the similarities to being an attempt to show some kind of connection between them, but quite frankly these writers are nowhere near clever enough to do that on purpose.

In terms of plot progression and jokes, the writing is so stock that Ed Wood would rise from the grave just so he could splice it into his next film. If you’ve seen any films starring cops before, chances are you’ll be able to pick out every step the film takes right down to the ‘shock twist’ of who the dirty cops are. The jokes hit that usual trough of not only being telegraphed to the point of reaching anti-spontaneity, but also drag on far beyond their welcome, making the film look like a desperate stand-up who is being held at gunpoint to make the audience laugh at any cost. And then there’s the rampant sexism on display as well, no doubt something to be expected when one of your writers worked on Two Broke Girls. As much as my Fury Road review may disagree with me on this, I generally don’t like talking about gender politics as a whole because it is a serious minefield to navigate through and I don’t usually consider myself intelligent enough to say the ‘right’ thing when discussing it. Usually. Then in walks this film and tries to outdo whatever kind of progress we’ve made as a species in terms of men and women having any kind of understanding of each other. I knew things were going to be bad from the gag in the trailer about over-explaining what a period is to gross out the cops, but had I known that the actual scene would be longer, I would have counted my blessings. This is the kind of mentality that thinks jokes about men shopping for tampons is still a fresh idea and not something that died back in the 90’s. Not to say that men are the only ones badly represented here, lest the MRAs rear their ugly head yet again, as Rose and Danielle set feminism back about 50 years or so as well. You like jokes about how women be having lots of shoes, or how the uppity one needs a man in her life to stop being so uppity? Well, you’re in luck because we have all that right here.

Watching this film, I felt like my head was going to explode from all the dead air generated by the jokes. The feeling of watching a comedy and just not laughing ranks up there as one of the worst feelings there is that doesn’t involve literal death, and with this one it felt like I was being physically assaulted with how vapid it all was. And yet, as I write this review an hour or so after watching the film at the cinema, I’m finding it surprisingly difficult to recollect anything specific about it. Details about the plot and the stupid jokes just started sapping away from my memory as soon as I left the cinema, to the point where I get the feeling that I’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg in terms of this film’s problems; it’s just that I literally cannot recall the rest of them. As much as I consider a film that induces anger to be far worse than a film that just bores the viewer, there’s a definite amount of fail present in the notion that you can sit down and watch a film for an hour and a half, and then completely forget it moments later and effectively having wasted your time even more than if you just hated it.

All in all, this is all kinds of bad. The writing is uninspired, both in terms of plot and humour, the actors have little to no chemistry with each other on screen and the jokes don’t realize exactly how antiquated they really are and just trot on screen with no real effort put into making them work. However, as awful as this film is in the moment, it is extremely forgettable at the same time, meaning that you won’t even remember most of it within moments of leaving the cinema; it’s like an attempt to recreate the Two Minutes Hate and stretch it out to feature length. It’s worse than Aloha, as I state above that an anger-inducing film is worse than a film that’s just numbingly boring, but even with all of its rampant sexism on both sides of the fence, it still didn’t offend me as much as Hot Tub Time Machine 2 so it ranks just above that. As much as I would love to champion a film with female leads, considering how under-represented they are in action films, I implore you to check out something like Spy or Mad Max: Fury Road instead if that’s what you’re after; this is the biggest waste of film time so far this year, and easily one of the worst offenders in that regard since I started listing these movies.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Movie Review: Entourage (2015)

Some days, I just don’t like doing intros for these reviews. I make it a point of trying to make these intros have some point beyond just opening each review like discussing certain topics like film trends or giving backstory on the creative teams behind certain works. However, given what’s on the chopping block this time around, I get the feeling that I would just end up trying to type out a weird abstraction that, when read aloud, would approximate the sound of a cat being crushed by a meteor so as to simulate the experience of how unpleasant it is to recollect this thing. But even then, such an image could at least make for something funny with the right emphasis or caption added to it, and this film and ‘funny’ are barely on speaking terms with each other. Time to get into the review before this ramble keeps going, even though it allows me to put off talking about this thing for a bit longer and my, the sky outside my bedroom window is probably the clearest I’ve… dammit. Alright, this is Entourage.

The plot: Vince (Adrian Grenier) has been offered the lead role in a blockbuster by his former agent Ari (Jeremy Piven), but he will only accept the role if he also gets to direct the film. Sure enough, the film goes over budget and Ari has to placate his Texan investor Larsen McCreadle (Billy Bob Thornton) and his son Travis (Haley Joel Osment) in order to secure more funding. Between this, and all the happenings that occur to Vince, his friends E (Kevin Connolly) and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) and his half-brother Drama (Kevin Dillon), it looks like getting the film finished is going to be more difficult than any of them thought.

I have never watched an episode of the show proper, so I’m not going to be making any comparisons between this and its source. However, I know enough about film adaptations of TV shows to know how the formula goes: It’s just like the show, only feature-length and with a bigger budget. While avoiding stepping into any pigeonholes, I will at least make the statement that if that is indeed the case here, then my decision to not watch the show might be the wisest decision I’ve made since clicking on that one YouTube video all those years ago that lead me into doing these reviews in the first place. The film, far as I can ascertain, is meant to be some kind of satire of Hollywood life, its pitfalls and its excesses. Now, I’m by no means against this idea but I am very against the way it’s done here. There’s a very big difference between satirizing excess and just plain exploiting it, the key point being that satirizing is done with some form of point in mind, some statement that it wants to make. Or hell, it could just be about shooting barbs at every aspect of the lifestyle that it can aim for. What we get here is basically a lot of showing and not a lot of telling: We’re shown four incredibly prickish guys who do incredibly prickish things to people, but we’re not really told why this is supposed to be funny or even why we’re supposed to like these people. They’re all womanizing, insincere assholes, making the star-filled ‘o’ in the series logo take on a weird symbolic meaning, and I’m guessing we’re supposed to find it charming. Sorry, no dice. Between E’s rampant womanizing, Turtle’s sorry desperation and Drama’s mere existence, not to mention how much of a complete blank slate Vince is, I have nothing but contempt for these assholes.

It doesn’t help that they keep surrounding themselves with plots and people that I would rather be paying attention to, in yet another weird attempt to overload the rule about referencing better material. One of the few things I do know about the show is that it has a thing for cameos, and there’s certainly no shortage of those. Credit where it’s due in that quite a few of them are actually funny, but every time they pop in it’s like getting sucker-punched given how often it happens in this movie. This does get a bit confusing when there are recognizable actors, like Billy Bob Thornton and, arguably, Haley Joel Osment, who are in actual roles within the film. Then there’s the matter of the film-within-the-film that they’re fighting for: Hyde. It gets a little obvious with its poking fun at the current insurgence of superhero films, and admittedly some of that poking is deserved, but all it ultimately serves to do is make me want to see that film because it looks like it would either be really good or a colossal train wreck that I could laugh at, neither of which ends up happening with this movie.

The big offender in terms of ‘things I wish this film was actually about’ is, oddly enough, one of its main characters: Ari. This is weird because quite a lot of the film does indeed center around him, and Jeremy Piven makes for easily the only consistently good thing about the entire production, but there’s always that feeling that his scenes will soon be over and we’ll be stuck with the douchebag brigade and wondering who they’ll annoy/drug/try to bang next. Actually, maybe it’s the sympathy factor that Ari has to deal with these guys all the time, and that he seems to be the only one among them with a level head, that makes him as endearing as he is. And while I’m the mood for being positive about the film, the other guy who pulls in a good performance is Osment as Travis. His role, the spoilt rich kid who tries to meddle with the film because it’s ‘his money’, is the closest this film gets to succeeding at any kind of barb-throwing that actually lands. Maybe it’s because I know that people like this exist in Hollywood today, and keep ruining potential greats like Walking With Dinosaurs, but his pettiness is the kind of grounding that this film needed more of. Sure, the way his subplot ends is kinda-sorta infuriating in how badly it’s dropped, but in the moment it works.

All in all, this very clearly wasn’t made for someone like me. That said though, between the grating attempts at being funny, the aggressive onslaught of out-of-place cameos and the wonky plot progression across all 9 billion of the running subplots, I can still look at this somewhat objectively and still say that it isn’t good; Jeremy Piven may be very funny in this film, but he just isn’t enough to save us from everything else to be found here. When Michael Bay does a better job than you at commenting on American excesses, something is seriously wrong. This is better than Zhong Kui: Snow Girl And The Dark Crystal, as at least this is coherent in its writing, but even though The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel may have had wasted characters, they were a lot more likeable than the ones we get here.