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

Movie Review – Fist Fight

Come for the comedy. Stay for the swearing children. Leave feeling empty inside.

⭐ ⭐
Cody Fullbrook

Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) is a kindly English teacher who informs the school principal (Dean Norris) of the violent behaviour of another teacher, Ron Strickland (Ice Cube).  Filled with rage and betrayal, Strickland challenges Campbell to a fight after school, sending him on a frantic quest to escape his inexorable beating.

Even with the power behind Ice Cube’s intimidating line delivery, it’s impossible to suspend your disbelief, as Mr Strickland never would have gotten this job. Ever. Smashing a student’s phone is something I can picture a teacher doing, but tipping over a bookcase, breaking a television and chopping a desk apart with an axe is something else.

Strickland is essentially a criminal before the plot even begins, and it exposes the premise as being completely implausible, including his petulant response to Campbell doing the right thing.  Even Campbell takes the fight way too seriously, and goes to enormous lengths to prevent a situation he could literally just walk away from. It leads him to suburban shops, jail and a pointless child’s talent show which, granted, adds necessary amounts of adventure to a stagnant story, but still leaves the movie feeling totally disingenuous. It’s difficult to enjoy any moment in Fist Fight when you consider that none of this would ever happen.

Charlie Day’s anxiousness and Ice Cube’s forcefulness steal the show, but only because all the supporting characters contribute nothing but mildly humorous quips in isolated scenes, as if they fell out of a failing Saturday Night Live sketch. The surprisingly unfunny post-movie blooper reel makes it clear that the plot is simply a foundation for scattered moments of comedy, but with a nonsensical premise and pathetic attempts at humour, Fist Fight falls short at both.

It’s ironic that this film doesn’t impart any wisdom, given the setting, however the concept of failing schools is haphazardly referenced near the end of the movie, attempting to motivate the audience into caring about the school system, even though we just saw Ice Cube get blasted with a fire extinguisher. There are a few funny moments, but the plot is just too messy to not have you leave the cinema feeling like you wasted your time. It really is like High School. I give it an E+.

Fist Fight is available in Australian cinemas from February 23

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Ballerina

Did you see the trailer for that animation about the orphan who wants to do ballet? You didn’t? Well you’re not the only one…

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Chantal Victor

Ballerina, also known as Leap! in some countries, is a beautiful little animation about two best friends who break out of an orphanage to pursue their dreams. Félicie’s (voiced by Elle Fanning) passion is to be a prima ballerina in Paris and Victor (Dane DeHaan) wants to become the next best inventor, so the two escape using one of Victor’s crazy winged contraptions and set off on an adventure. Think Annie meets Centre Stage for children.

There’s nothing particularly ground-breaking about this film. The story is fairly stock standard and the animation quality is decent. There is a beauty in the visuals depicting Paris, however; from the Eiffel Tower under construction in the 19th century era, to the creative colour palettes in the Opera House where Félicie hopes to perform.

All the usual themes are on display here as the two leads try to defeat the odds and push themselves to reach their full potential. The film preaches that you can be good at anything you put your mind to and that dreams do come true… not the most realistic message, but neither is a clown fish talking to sharks, so who am I to judge?

Having said that, Ballerina does what it needs to do for its audience. All the children in the cinema were laughing and seemed to enjoy every minute on screen; never losing interest or becoming distracted, which is an achievement for any family movie these days. Although it’s definitely aimed at the younger ones, us adults do occasionally need a ‘believe in yourself’ boost, so it’s uplifting in that respect.

Overall, I genuinely enjoyed this film. It was great to sit back and disappear into this sweet little world for 89 minutes and to actually walk out of a cinema in a positive frame of mind for once.

Ballerina is available in Australian cinemas from January 12th 

Image courtesy of Studiocanal

Movie Review – The Edge of Seventeen

Open, honest and awkwardly charming – what’s not to love about The Edge of Seventeen?

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

The coming-of-age teen comedy genre is not short of memorable movies filled with delightful characters; most notably, John Hughes’ 80s catalogue is held in high regard to this day. Well, you can go right ahead and add Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen to the list. It’s got everything you could want and need, with all the maudlin bits expertly sliced out to leave behind a tight and sharp film with brilliant writing and some even better performances.

Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is a bang average student struggling to find her place in the social hierarchy of high school. With her loyal BFF Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) by her side, Nadine has settled into being one of those snarky outsiders with a penchant for sardonic wit, Converse sneakers and baggy sweaters. Her world gets flipped upside down when Krista drunkenly decides to hook up with Nadine’s older brother Darian (Blake Jenner), an action that forces the two apart. Disenchanted and alone, Nadine seeks comfort in the seedy arms of Nick (Alexander Calvert), but doesn’t realise that dorky friendzone dweller Erwin (Hayden Szeto) might have been more her cup of tea all along.

What makes The Edge of Seventeen such a rip-roaring success is that it both instantly feels familiar and fresh at the same time. Serving as both writer and director, Fremon Craig has crafted a film that both follows a formula and actively works to subvert your expectations at every turn. Her film is a heartfelt open book that will feel all too real for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider during recess. It doesn’t sugarcoat school but isn’t a total downer – somehow, she finds space in the tight 104-minute runtime for fully-fleshed shades of both.

Plus, not only is the writing sharp as a whip, its also complex and layered. Played wonderfully by Steinfeld, Nadine isn’t seen as the epitome of wit like we’ve seen in the past with characters like Ferris Bueller. Nadine is actually sort of a shit person; she doesn’t think of anyone other than herself, she is forever pointing the finger at other people and she pushes anyone who tries to help away.

Y’know, like an actual teenager? This isn’t a movie where the cast of teens race around and make the adults look like fools – it’s more realistic than that and doesn’t shy away from the harsh truth that actually, like Nadine, we can all be a bit of a crap friend or family member at times.

Steinfeld is radiant as Nadine; we buy into her teenage angst from the get-go and she handles the rapid transitions from jokes to anguish with ease. It helps that she melds well with almost everyone else in the cast, particularly Woody Harrelson’s hilarious history teacher and Szeto’s dorky and whimsical love interest.

Fremon Craig aims to surpass the limitations of the average coming-of-age film and wholeheartedly succeeds. Her film easily finds itself in the upper echelon of recent angst-ridden teen films, up there with the likes of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Sing Street and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Like those John Hughes films in decades gone by, it has a little bit of something for everyone.

The Edge of Seventeen is available in Australian cinemas from January 5th 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Office Christmas Party

It’s exactly what you’d think it would be… but it’s still not what you’d want.

⭐ ⭐
Cody Fullbrook 

Office Christmas Party is yet another blip in a long line of soulless Christmas themed movies, and with so many specific references to the year 2016, it currently has a shelf life of about 9 days.

Zenotek employee, Josh (Jason Bateman) must convince client Walter (Courtney B. Vance), to work for the company.  To impress him, Josh, alongside careless branch manager, Clay (T.J. Miller) and unnecessary love interest, Tracey (Olivia Munn), must throw the most amazing Christmas party ever. Wackiness ensues. Also, please don’t ask what Josh’s specific job title is or even what Zenotek does. It doesn’t matter.

If it wasn’t obvious by the film’s blunt title, the party is the star of the show, serving as a continuously chaotic backdrop to the main character’s scenes. It also allows for quick cutaways to re-energize the viewing experience, like slapping yourself to try and stay awake. I begrudgingly accept that Office Christmas Party is essentially a Jackass movie, with a plot sauntering through the mayhem, but the story, characters and even the jokes are too half-hearted for anything to truly succeed.

Virtually no obstacle or progression is directly caused by the characters, with every event being an inadvertent action instigated by unrelated characters.  Whether it’s Josh and Tracey accidentally locking themselves on the roof, unrelated weather delays or Walter being blasted by a cloud of cocaine, the story is as aimless as the party it haphazardly orbits.

It wasn’t until the end of the climactic car chase that I realised that, without any of the party’s spectacle, there is literally nothing holding the movie up.  Even Jennifer Aniston’s engaging portrayal of cold Zenotek CEO, Carol Vanstone, is but a mildly bright star atop a pine tree that’s decorated with shattered glass, urine and a 3D printed penis model.  The story ends as soon as the party does, forcing the movie to pitifully crawl its way to the finish line.

What could have been a clever and snarky office comedy was instantly ruined with its obligation to be shocking. The gross-out humour had my cinema in constant laughter and groans, so it obviously has its audience, but that doesn’t excuse a messy story amid an unrealistically apocalyptic party. Either it was a ridiculous exaggeration of what office parties are like, or I just hang out with shy nerds. Probably both.

Office Christmas Party is available in Australian cinemas from December 8th 

Image courtesy of eOne Films

Movie Review – Moana

Set sail on Disney’s latest sweeping animated adventure with Moana.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Moana follows a young Polynesian girl (Auli’i Cravalho) who embarks on a stirring sea voyage in search of a long lost demigod called Maui (Dwayne Johnson). With her village under threat from encroaching doom, Moana needs to recruit Maui to return a mystical jewel to its original resting place, thus defeating an ancient evil and breaking a dark curse. Rounding out the cast are the voices of Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Temuera Morrison and Alan Tudyk.

Whether it’s a Mad Max-inspired action set piece with vicious swarms of pirate coconuts aboard floating fortresses, a bedazzled undersea crustacean that lights up like a disco ball, or biceps tattoos that spring to life, Moana fizzles with a fresh energy and wild imagination that makes for some truly eye-popping and creative scenes. The story follows a familiar formula – Moana is a princess in the same mould as Mulan or Merida rather than Anna or Elsa – but the visual design, vivid colours and rich animation go more than far enough in creating a unique experience in this latest adventure.

The soundtrack, which Broadway sensation Lin-Manuel Miranda co-composed, is another winner that serves up at least two all-time classic Disney ballads in ‘Where You Are’ and ‘How Far I’ll Go’. Whether they have the staying power and viral potential of ‘Let It Go’ remains to be seen – but the emotional heft is the same if not greater in Moana. On more than one occasion this film will bring tears to your eyes – it’s a very beautiful tale that sees our protagonist torn between her duty to her people and her hunger for adventure on the open seas. Again, it’s classic stuff that feels similar to something like Mulan – but Disney bring enough new stuff to the table to make this another excellent arrow in their quiver.

The musical delights aren’t confined to the two aforementioned tracks though – Johnson and Clement both get their moment to shine respectively in ‘You’re Welcome’ and ‘Shiny’, the latter of which is a Bowie-inspired disco pop track accompanied by enchanting fluorescent colours. Johnson (who knew that guy could carry a tune?) gives such a charismatic voice performance that it practically seeps off of the screen – simply put, he’s a hoot. It helps that the writing between Moana and Maui is so good as it brings out the best in Johnson and his newly discovered co-star. Their relationship is kept purely platonic and the movie is infinitely better for it.

The icing on the cake is how the film employs 3D; it adds another layer to the fluid animation, immersing you in Moana’s voyage. If one film demands to be seen in 3D this year, it’s Moana.

Riding the wave of success Disney has enjoyed these past few years, Moana is yet another stellar sing-a-long for the whole family. Kids of all ages will love it; parents and grandparents will be equally as enchanted. Book this in for a family Boxing Day bout right away and thank me later.

Moana is available in Australian cinemas from Boxing Day 

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Movie Review – Sing

Illumination’s second talking animals movie of 2016 is best left for just the kids to enjoy.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Sing is an animated musical comedy from Illumination Entertainment that sees idealistic koala Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) put on a music show to reverse the fortunes of his dilapidated theatre. The weird and wonderful inhabitants of the town soon flock to Buster’s theatre in the hope of scoring a slice of the $100,000 prize, with a ragtag bunch of unlikely superstars soon forming a talented ensemble.

Unfortunately for all involved, Sing arrives at the tail end of a year filled to the brim with talking animal movies. Pixar delighted us all with Finding Dory, Disney broke new ground in Zootopia, Dreamworks got feisty in Kung Fu Panda 3 and Laika moved us with Kubo and the Two Strings. Sing, much like Illumination’s earlier 2016 effort The Secret Life of Pets, is neither original nor particularly engaging; it’s generic and doesn’t pack the same punch as the multitude of these far superior films.

You see, Illumination is just content with regurgitating well-worn archetypes and uninspired clichés to maximise their audience. You’ve got Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), the downtrodden and underappreciated stay-at-home mum; Johnny (Taron Egerton), the thuggish youth with a heart of gold; Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a punk rocker with a broken heart; Meena (Tori Kelly), a shy introvert afraid to put herself out there; and Mike (Seth McFarlane), a sleazy crooner who busks on the sidewalk.

If you feel like you’ve seen this one before, you’d be right. Sing doesn’t break new ground at all – even its soundtrack is uninspired and carefully cultivated to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. Taylor Swift (‘Shake It Off’), Carly Rae Jepsen (‘Call Me Maybe’), Katy Perry (‘Firework’), Nicki Minaj (‘Anaconda’) – it’s like listening to a So Fresh CD at the zoo.

Furthermore, Sing fails to make good use of its anthropomorphic animal motif. The world surrounding Buster and his motley crew looks just like our own. It isn’t a patch on the rich world of Zootopia and there is genuinely no reason for the film to be populated with talking animals aside from the added appeal to hyperactive rugrats.

It might sound like I’m being a bit critical of a film that is ultimately not aimed at me – and you’re partially right. At the end of the day, Sing will be smash-hit with kids – the bright colours, funny characters and zippy pacing will keep them glued to the screen for the whole 108 minute runtime, a trait that will no doubt provide dishevelled parents with a splendid respite over the Christmas break. Plonk them down in front of the screen with a jumbo bucket of popcorn to share this Boxing Day and you’re golden.

Sing is available in Australian cinemas from Boxing Day 

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2016