Movie Review – The House

The House doesn’t do enough to lend weight to the claim that it always wins.

 ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

After both starring in Blades of Glory, The House pairs comedic geniuses Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler together for a raucous suburban comedy about two parents who are struggling to come to terms with their beloved daughter (Ryan Simpkins) departing for college. When a dodgy town council official robs her of a lucrative scholarship, the parents start a casino in their basement (the only logical solution) with the help of their friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas).

Pairing two Saturday Night Live alumni such as Ferrell and Poehler feels like a slam-dunk on the surface. They make for an undeniably funny duo that pop and whizz around like a loose firecracker, but the freewheeling, improvisational nature of the films means some scenes feel flabby and overplayed. Poehler, in particular, always commits to a bit and doesn’t let up, even if sometimes it is a detriment to that specific scene.

The central premise runs its course fairly quickly – after all, its barely enough plot to cover a 23-minute episode of Community, let alone a feature length picture. However, at just a smidge under 90 minutes, The House doesn’t overstay its welcome and is the perfect Friday night romp to shake off the workweek cobwebs. It’s brief, intermittently funny and shocking enough in parts to give in an edge of outrageousness.

The central duo is likeable enough to carry the film home, even if some of the humour strays too far. That being said, Ferrell seems strangely low-key this time around, nowhere near as outlandish as some of his earlier work like Anchorman, Zoolander or Talladega Nights. Like in Daddy’s Home, he’s almost on autopilot in The House.

There are a couple of cool cameos that plump up the fun ­– Alexandra Daddario and, strangely, Jeremy Renner as a rival casino boss. I wish I had more to comment on but The House is just one of those fleeting experiences that flies in one ear and out the other – you probably won’t be reciting quotes at your friends in the car home, let alone in a week or two.

The House is available in Australia June 29

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 

Movie Review – Cars 3

Cars 3 is suitable Saturday afternoon entertainment, but it lacks the drive of some of Pixar’s greats.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Like the first two, Cars 3 is a heap of good fun when it’s switched on and turbo-ed up, but not much of anything else when it’s parked in the driveway. It has a good-hearted story and is populated by charming characters, but the Cars movies have always been at the mindless end of the Pixar production line. It’s like they’re built for speed with little attention given to handling or endurance. I can go back time and time again to Ratatouille (2007) or Inside Out (2015) and feel enriched each time. But with Cars, what you see is what you get. There’s no room for seconds.

What we get this time is yet another racing story that involves the hot-headed Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson). McQueen has been the head honcho for many years, but now he and the old guard are in danger of ceding the track to a new breed of racecar, one built with science instead of passion. This means quicker speeds, sharper cornering, more downforce, better slipstreaming, all that stuff. McQueen is forced out of the races, sinks into lonely depression and despairs of ever finding a way back to high speed glory. He is bought over by a new sponsor who introduces him to Cruz Ramirez, the spunky lab tech who once failed at being a racecar and, alas, finds herself saddled with babysitting the next generation of top racers.

Cruz is the movie’s best character, because she represents the mistakes of the past and is voiced by Cristela Alonzo, that comedienne of such vibrancy we can almost picture her bouncing about with joy as she delivers her lines. She transforms Cruz first into a kind of loveable goofball as a lab tech, and then into a devilish driving machine when she gets a taste of the racetrack. I’ve always found Lightning McQueen to be a bit of a bore as the hero, but paired with the zeal of Cruz’s good nature he’s more tolerable, and she’s way more fun. Some of the movie’s best scenes are when Cruz is the focus and McQueen watches on from the sidelines.

Cars 3, I suspect, will not bore the parents who’ve brought their hyperactive kids to the movies on a Saturday. It is slick and very brisk in parts, especially when Cruz is on screen. But because both Cruz and McQueen have so many introspective issues to deal with, the quieter moments may be too much for the younger ones to sit through. Oh well, who am I to say? I’m neither a parent nor a toddler. I had fun with this movie, but I’m ready for Pixar to wow me once again with something more inspired.

Cars 3 is available in Australian cinemas from June 22

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures 

Movie Review – Despicable Me 3

Much like a team of bumbling minions pulling off a near impossible heist, so too has Despicable Me 3 turned out surprisingly well. 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Cherie Wheeler 

Very few franchises age as well as a good red wine or a vintage cheese; in fact, it’s almost expected that each successive installment in any given series will follow in an ongoing downward spiral, gradually losing appeal and originality. There are, of course, exceptions to this generalisation, and Pierre Coffin‘s Despicable Me series certainly comes close. 

Every sequel strives to up the ante on its predecessor when it comes to spectacle, and in this regard, Despicable Me 3 does not disappoint. This time around, reformed super villain Gru (Steve Carell) travels to a fictitious, European-themed village with new wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) and his three adopted daughters to meet his long lost twin brother Dru (also Steve Carell). From the rolling Tuscan hills, to the deep blue Mediterranean sea, to the quaint, cobbled streets of the village town centre, the set pieces are truly breathtaking, with an exceptionally high attention to detail and an astoundingly life-like visual quality. 

But this latest addition isn’t just a brotherly reunion set against scenic vistas; there’s a wide range of subplots here, from the heartfelt to the humorous, and each one competes for the spotlight.  

While Lucy copes with her new responsibilities as a mother, Gru grapples with his latest arch nemesis, Balthazar Bratt; a failed child TV star from the 1980s who has never forgiven Hollywood for tossing him aside. Although Bratt begins to grate on the nerves by the latter third of the film, he does allow for the inclusion of an epic 80s soundtrack that features Michael Jackson‘s Bad and A-Ha‘s Take On Me among many other hits. The film also tries to squeeze in plot lines for each of the girls with varying success, while also covering the Anti-Villain League and, of course, the minions. 

After the rather anti-climatic Minions movie, these goggle-wearing, yellow critters take a bit of a back seat in Despicable Me 3, and it’s all for the better. Punctuating the story with brief amusing scenes, the minions become an entertaining sideshow as they abandon Gru and go out on their own, but while enjoyable, this is yet another storyline that hampers the already bloated narrative. 

Despicable Me 3 definitely offers up the gags and witty lines that we’ve come to expect from the franchise, but the comedic spark of the past films isn’t quite as bright here. Nevertheless, it’s all harmless, easy to consume fun that the whole family can enjoy.  It might not be perfect, but it’s a pretty solid effort for a third instalment of an animated series.

 

Despicable Me 3 is available in Australian cinemas from June 15

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2017

 

Movie Review – Rough Night

Big budget Hollywood comedies continue their swift spiral into brain-dead stupidity in Rough Night.

⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Written and directed by the Lucia Aniello, one of the creative minds behind Broad City, Rough Night sees five gal pals band together for a raucous bachelorette party in Miami, however, things take a turn for the morbid when the stripper they order mistakenly ends up dead at their hand.

What follows is a freewheeling series of events that sees the quintet of girls – comprising of bride-to-be Jess (Scarlett Johansson), clingy best friend Alice (Jillian Bell), prissy corporate type Blair (Zoe Kravitz), rebellious activist (Ilana Glazer) and kooky Australian Pippa (Kate McKinnon) – attempt to dispose of the body and cover their tracks.

 Rough Night is less a film and more another chapter in Hollywood’s increasingly ludicrous game of one-upmanship with itself through raunchy R-rated comedies. It’s a patchwork quilt of ideas borrowed from The Hangover, Bridesmaids and Weekend at Bernie’s that was been fed into an everlasting gobstopper machine and spat out and shipped off to cinema screens.

Comedies need to achieve two things; firstly, they need to be funny. And secondly, they need to anchor everything by making you feel something. Rough Night fails on both accounts. The comedy is neither witty nor original. It’s derivative stuff that comes across as the poorer version of the like-minded films it’s trying to replicate. And the serious stuff? Woof. I don’t know what angle the filmmakers were aiming for when it comes to the earnest character stuff, but they really struggle to find any resonant through-line to tie it all together.

In fact, the whole film is so scatterbrained that it feels like a first draft that sat on the shelf for a few years before being hastily raced through shooting. Tonally, it’s a mess, veering from Bad Neighbours levels of vulgarity and boisterousness to tired slapstick and ham-fisted sincerity. I’m so tired of seeing characters walk in slow motion, trying to look cool while a recent rap/club track plays in the background. It’s boring, unoriginal and lazy, just like Baywatch was last month and Chips was the month before that. What happened to clever and original comedies?

It’s disappointingly derivative, unnecessarily crass and just plain forgettable. For the amount of talent involved, it’s surprising just how throwaway this film is. Plus, it features possibly the worst Australian accent – courtesy of McKinnon – ever committed to film. For that reason alone, you should give Rough Night a hard pass.

Rough Night is available in Australian cinemas from June 15

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures 

 

Movie Review – Wilson

Though it’s more portrait than narrative, Woody Harrelson shows real commitment to the kooky, aging extrovert at the beating heart of Wilson.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Eccentric, middle-aged man Wilson (Woody Harrelson) spends his days walking his dog and greeting every person he runs into with a good-natured but uncomfortable amount of friendliness. Long-divorced, lonely, neurotic and craving human connection, he’s fallen into an existential spiral, convinced he’s missed out on a worthwhile life and serves no purpose to anyone. One day, he learns that his ex-wife Pippi (Laura Dern) is back in town and seeks her out, only for her to reveal that she gave birth to the daughter he was told was aborted, and put her up for adoption. With that ray of hope in his life, Wilson convinces Pippi to help him track down their daughter (Isabella Amara) and try to be a part of her life.

Director Craig Johnson (The Skeleton Twins) brings another graphic novel of Daniel Clowes (Ghost World) to screen, and the result is similarly amusing, but not quite as successful as either of their previous efforts. While Wilson’s titular character is easy to warm to – or at the very least relate to when he’s spouting nihilistic ramblings – the film as a whole is a little harder to connect with. It seems to aim for the indie comedy field, but it’s less quirky than aggressively strange, and more than a little confronting and bewildering at times. Much of what spills out of Wilson’s mouth is more likely to cause a singular shocked laugh-gasp than a fit of giggles.

It’s a confounding blend of feelings; given that Wilson’s heart is in the right place, he does earn our sympathy in between our grimaces. Thankfully things balance a bit better when Pippi is re-introduced into his life, and he’s given a worn-out and volatile yang to bounce off his kind-hearted ying. It reinforces the fact that Woody Harrelson performs best as part of a double-act (evidenced in everything from White Men Can’t Jump to True Detective). Harrelson and Laura Dern are great together, and when fatherhood is thrust upon Wilson, Harrelson is given more to let him shine opposite his seventeen-year-old, overweight emo daughter Claire (an at-once likeable Isabella Amara). Heart-warmingly, he holds no judgement towards her; he’s just ecstatic to be in her life.

Wilson’s real issue is that there’s just a bit too little meat on its bones to chew on. Outside of its strong central performances, there’s a sense of missed opportunity here to make this a truly compelling take on misfits assembling family. The third act that unravels everything and forces Wilson to start over feels like a misstep; even if it does offer him the opportunity to grow up and complete his arc, it separates the clan just as they’re giving the film its best material. Sentimentality and depth isn’t its strong suit, but Wilson is an entertaining ride, and – with Woody Harrelson on his finest form – worth recommending.

Wilson is available in Australian cinemas from May 25 

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Movie Review – Baywatch

American comedies are stuck in a rut and Baywatch isn’t the solution.

⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Baywatch is the latest in an increasingly long line of self-aware remakes of ‘80s and ‘90s TV shows to be given the Jump Street treatment. Lewd, crude and 100% aware of its own stupidity, this new breed of comedy remakes is following the trail blazed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, only to much less success.

Let me say this straight up; Baywatch is not a good movie in any quantifiable sense. It’s really dumb, aggressively stupid and a blatant attempt to cash-in on the same vein of ‘90s nostalgia that prompted Hollywood to think a gritty reboot of Power Rangers was a good idea. It’s every other raunchy R-rated comedy (Bad Neighbours, Horrible Bosses) redressed, reheated and rereleased into cinemas just like we get every couple of months.

And yet, despite this pervading sense of suffocating mediocrity, it’s incredibly hard to critique a film like Baywatch. Not because it’s a shining star of wit and ingenuity, but because the film and everyone involved are leaning really hard into its own silliness in an awkward and ham-fisted attempt to appear cool or irreverent. They want us to think they’re in on the joke too, almost like they know the film is disposable and just kinda crap but they’re going to roll with it anyway because trying is for losers. Let me tell you, two hours of stifling smugness and self-importance does not make for a good time.

That’s not to say Baywatch doesn’t offer some semblance of entertainment. There are a handful of amusing gags in here, such as the playful banter and one-upmanship displayed by Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron. The former, as always, is immensely likeable and the latter wholeheartedly embraces his meathead typecasting with gusto. A couple of the supporting characters, namely Jon Bass’ Ronnie and Alexandra Daddario’s Summer, deliver some laughs also.

But Baywatch isn’t able to give them much to work with. Efron’s character struggles to find a consistent arc throughout the film, covering everything from sympathetic and washed-up to dim-witted and clumsy whilst lead love interest Summer has next to no discerning character traits whatsoever, tasked instead with spending 80% of her screen time on the fringes of the frame looking bemused and batting her eyelashes.

Maybe I’m just thinking about this too much, but one could make the case that Baywatch is emblematic of everything wrong with mainstream Hollywood comedies nowadays. Underdeveloped on plot, overlong on runtime, overdependent on improvisation and unnecessarily crude for the sake of it, Baywatch really doesn’t do anything other than the bare minimum. It’s got boobs, bums and biceps, some of which are attached to fine specimens like Efron and Daddario. Throw in a couple of lazy cameos, uninspired action sequences and an ending that sets up the sequel and there’s your film.

If you ask me, that’s not nearly enough when it comes to the vast range of techniques a filmmaker could and should employ to make an audience laugh. When your biggest gag is an aroused fat kid getting his knob stuck in a sun lounger, you know something needs to improve.

Baywatch is available in Australian cinemas from June 1

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Movie Review – Table 19

You know it’s bad when your biggest laugh is literally a character falling off a log.

⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Wedding movies are a cute little subgenre that pops up every so often; from Bridesmaids to Wedding Crashers, it’s an arena that has served up several genuine gems over the years. Directed by Jeffrey Blitz (The Office) and written by Jay and Mark Duplass, Table 19 has aspirations of joining these esteemed ranks – but falls woefully short.

The film concerns itself with Eloise (Anna Kendrick), the scorned maid of honour who passes on her duties after being dumped by Teddy (Wyatt Russell), the best man and brother of the bride. Determined to turn up to the wedding and show Teddy what he’s missing, Eloise finds herself unceremoniously dumped at table 19 with the rest of the losers, rejects and hangers-on.

Table 19 is a disjointed tangle of misshapen plot strands and half-baked characters that feel thrown together hastily, as if the finishing touches to the script were still being drawn up as the film entered the final stretch of shooting. Filled with a jealous rage and harbouring a secret, Eloise is supposed to find herself bonding with the rest of her tablemates over their comparable tales of hopelessness – except none of them are satisfactorily explored or explained all that well, save for Eloise.

Kendrick is right at home in the indie surrounds of Table 19; after all, her whole career is built on a solid bedrock of quaint indie comedies like The Hollars, Mr Right, The Last Five Years, Drinking Buddies and The Voices.

And whilst it’s good that Kendrick keeps herself busy, maybe she needs to learn that quality is always preferable to quantity. Table 19 doesn’t give her the platform to put on a show or flex her acting chops. It doesn’t offer room to be comedic or tragic. It doesn’t even provide a coherent emotional arc for her character. Again, like many of the films listed above, her infectious cheer and smiley nature feels like the only thing keeping the film afloat at times.

Serving up the most painful wedding this side of Westeros, Table 19 succeeds in replicating the sheer boredom and chair-shifting awkwardness that comes with attending a function in which you really have no investment. Only a handful of jokes land, the pacing is all over the place and the soundtrack is so cutesy it’s like an elongated Mumford and Sons banjo solo.

However, unlike most wedding receptions, at least Table 19 can claim to be only 87 minutes long. Still, save yourself the trouble of forking out for the gift registry and politely decline this invitation – your time is better spent washing the car, cleaning out the gutters, mowing the lawn or literally doing anything else.

Table 19 is available in Australian cinemas from April 20 

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Movie Review – Going in Style

Perfectly passable in every perceivable way, Going in Style unites a trio of cinema legends for an agreeable heist romp.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

A remake of the 1979 film of the same name, Going in Style is directed by Zach Braff and stars Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin as three lifelong friends who find themselves at a loss when their pension funds are suddenly dissolved. Eager to get their own back on the bank that absconded with their money, the three pensioners enact a plan to stage an audacious heist to reclaim their money and provide for their respective families.

Going in Style is so remarkably inoffensive that the whole affair is rendered totally unremarkable. It’s like a ham sandwich on plain white bread or a vanilla ice cream sans the flake; modest, broad and easy on the palette. It’s middle-of-the-road and ultimately forgettable.

That’s not to say it’s not worth your time. It’s worth a watch just to see these three legends of the screen have a lark while they’re still with us. I’m just saying it’s not the kind of film that is going to subvert or challenge your expectations in any way shape or form. It’s the kind of film you can reasonably expect your grandma to enjoy during a mildly uneventful Saturday matinee session.

Theodore Melfi’s screenplay colours firmly within the lines, not once straying outside the mildly amusing but predictable confines of the formulaic narrative. Overall, it’s fairly one-note and hinges almost entirely on the insatiable charisma and rapport of its lead actors.

But what charisma it is. Caine, Freeman and Arkin are having bundles of fun planning heists, sassing one another and sleeping around in this brisk 96-minute film. One standout sequence sees the trio put their heist skills into practice by experimenting with how many chicken cordon bleu ingredients they can stuff into their suspenders at the local supermarket. If that kind of harmless humour seems like your speed, Going in Style delivers in spades.

At the end of the day, Going in Style has two unquenchably great qualities; it offers spirited heart and soul. The pacing travels at a fair clip and the central themes of friendship through hardship, family and teamwork are hard to begrudge. It’s an enjoyable time at the movies that won’t threaten to offend or unsettle in the slightest.

Going in Style is available in Australian cinemas from April 20 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – CHIPS

Humourless, disorderly and just plain ugly – you really don’t want to watch CHIPS, trust me.

½
Rhys Graeme Drury

From Charlie’s Angels to Starsky and Hutch and 21 Jump Street, Hollywood loves to dig into the past and resurrect dusty 70s and 80s TV shows and give them a raunchy 21st Century spin. Sometimes it works (the Jump Street movies are a hoot) and sometimes it doesn’t (that Dukes of Hazzard thing with Jessica Simpson) – and then there is CHIPS.

I want you to close your eyes and picture the least funny film you can imagine, where each scene is a joyless, jumbled mess of disjointed editing, harried plot details and distasteful, putrid humour. That movie you’re picturing in your head doesn’t even come close to how offensively bad Chips is. To paraphrase the great Roger Ebert, CHIPS doesn’t just scrape the bottom of the barrel – it doesn’t even belong in the same sentence as the worst barrels imaginable.

Hang on a second; I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s circle back to a brief plot synopsis, shall we? Not that it really matters – telling a coherent narrative isn’t just secondary in Chips, it’s situated somewhere outside the top ten when it comes to what really matters to writer, director and co-lead actor Dax Shepard.

As I said, CHIPS is based on a cute 70s cop show about the California Highway Patrol ,(hence the bafflingly nonsensical acronym for a title). Shepard plays Jon Baker, a retired motorcycle stunt rider who enrols in the CHP to win back the affection of his visibly disinterested and disloyal wife Karen (Kristen Bell, who is Shepard’s actual wife in real-life – haha, so meta – this film has so many layers!)

Jon’s partner is undercover FBI agent slash legit sexual predator who needs to be locked up Frank ‘Ponch’ Poncherello (Michael Peña). When Ponch screws the pooch and shoots another office while attempting to foil a heist, he’s placed undercover alongside the hapless Baker and together they need to learn to work together and end the string of heists. Hilarity ensues, presumably.

If only that were the case. Alas, CHIPS doesn’t just fail to entertain as an action-comedy, it pretty much fails in any and all respects. The narrative, as I mentioned, is incoherent at best. For a film with such a simple setup, there are at least a dozen too many characters.

The villains are sketchy (by which I mean they have zero motivation or genuine logical thought for anything), the heroes are either dim-witted douchebags or straight-up sex pests and the reasons for us to care are practically non-existent. The editing is terrible, the action is limp and scenes just lurch from one unfunny joke to the next with no purpose or driving force. I’ve genuinely never seen a major studio film as poorly structured, shot and edited as CHIPS. Worst of all, the humour is just plain mean. Jokes are made at the expense of gay people, people with disability, people with Crohn’s Disease, women in general – the list goes on and on.

If you’ve gotten this far and are still considering checking this film out, you deserve every second of excruciating pain coming your way. You have been warned.

CHIPS is available in Australian cinemas from April 6

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – The Boss Baby

An extremely energetic film with not much substance.  Bring the kids, but be ready to browse your phone.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Cody Fullbrook

Imaginative only child, Tim Templeton (Miles Christopher Bakshi), has his life thrown into chaos when his new baby brother (Alec Baldwin) is dispatched. Not born – dispatched. He investigates the decreasing love for babies in this modern age; a deceptively real issue nowadays, and one which could have been handled more genuinely if the baby wasn’t, you know, wearing a suit!

When talking about any movie, it’s important to know that the audience is easily grasping its message.  The Boss Baby’s message is simply “love is important”.  A passable moral, at least when paired with an engaging story, but the problem is that the concept of love is never explored here.

We’re constantly made to feel stressed about our two protagonists stopping the villain (Steve Buscemi) from making people love puppies more than babies, but it’s unclear as to what exactly is going to happen if they fail to stop him. And if they succeed, all they’ve done is prevent the villain’s plan to catalyse the problem. Not cause it. So, even when they win, the issue still exists.

The Boss Baby’s length and pacing is fine and, while never terribly confusing, Tim and the baby’s actions to achieve their goals are just as vague as the goals themselves. Astral projecting pacifiers, immortality milk and a team of Elvis impersonators all progress the story in appropriately comical ways, like all comedies should, but almost all the tension is constantly sapped from the story when you can assume they’ll have a magical gadget to fix any problem, and that includes literally using Tim’s imagination to beat someone in a sword fight.

Alongside the hysterical image of a baby having Alec Baldwin’s voice, the worlds Tim creates is the highlight of The Boss Baby, easily rivalling the colourful energy of Inside Out and The Lego Movie.  In fact, after seeing all the film’s bizarre events mesh seamlessly with the vibrant imagery in Tim’s head, I assumed The Boss Baby would have a reveal similar to The Lego Movie, where the plot was simply the active imagination of an innocent child who, in his own way, learns how to handle having a baby brother. But, no. There was a rocket ship filled with puppies, a skateboarding bodyguard in a dress and babies come from a factory in the sky.  These things all happened. That is reality. Accept it.

For better and worse, The Boss Baby is just plain silly.  Its lively animation and humour make it a fine movie for children and maybe even young teenagers, made even better with the terrific chemistry and voice acting between Bakshi and Baldwin. Older viewers, however, will find the message and overall plot less than substantive.

The Boss Baby is available in Australian cinemas from March 22

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox