Movie Review – Goosebumps 2 : Haunted Halloween

Not as smart or entertaining as the first, but Goosebumps 2 isn’t a total loss.

⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Against my better judgement, I actually enjoyed the first Goosebumps movie. It was well made, moderately clever with a lightness in its step. Now comes the inevitable sequel – helpfully titled Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween – and whatever innovation and ingenuity that once existed is gone, replaced instead with a blanket of computer graphics and a plot so transparent it can be used to trace over itself. This is not a movie but a product assembled to keep kids distracted.

The plot, such as it is, follows Sarah (Madison Iseman), Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Sam (Caleel Harris) in the town of Wardenclyffe, NY, three kids who discover the magical ventriloquist dummy Slappy from the first movie and accidentally bring him back to life. Slappy, voiced effectively by Mick Wingert (even though he sounds an awful lot like Jack Black), desires a family, so he hatches a cockamamie scheme that involves Halloween lawn ornaments bursting to life and running amok down the streets.

Of course, this happens so the movie’s visual effects artists can earn their paycheques. Many of the visuals are indeed impressive, but they would’ve been more thrilling if they had serviced a smarter plot and done more terrifying things. I think kids want to be frightened, just enough to make them jump but not too much that they can’t sleep. Goosebumps 2 plays more like a parody of scary images. It lacks the conviction to be truly intense.

The screenplay, penned by Rob Lieber, is not particularly well structured but contains several genuinely amusing exchanges I wouldn’t have expected from a fluffy movie like this – “So put on your shoes and let’s go!” “But my shoes are already on!”. It’s the kind of broad humour that’s just narrow enough to be funny. Or maybe it’s not, and I was simply trying to empathise with the mind of a five-year-old.

Naturally, there were a lot of five-year-olds at the screening I attended, accompanied by parents who I’m sure would’ve rather observed a dying cockroach. I think maybe it might be fitting then to evaluate Goosebumps 2 based on how raucous the children were, since I’m clearly not its intended audience. I thought it was foolish but entertaining. The kids, on the other hand, were very quiet. Could it be they were too frightened, or too bored?

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween  is available in Australian cinemas from October 25 

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

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Movie Review – Night School

Night School schools audiences in how to be funny and inclusive.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill 

Night School follows Teddy Walker (Kevin Hart), a high school drop out who never sat his GED. After accidentally blowing up the BBQ store he was set to take over, he finds himself unemployable. When he receives a job offer on the condition he goes to night school and gets his GED, Teddy signs up for lessons at his old school. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as Teddy thought it would be and he’s left to decide just how far he’s willing to go to pass his final exam.

Nigh School is the latest offering from Girls Trip director Malcolm D. Lee. His latest isn’t as crass as Girls Trip, choosing instead to cement its comedy in social commentary and the paths people take after school, with some slapstick thrown in for good measure.

Hart and Tiffany Haddish, who plays the night school teacher Carrie, make a great comedic duo, bouncing off each other in a blur of witty retorts, but it’s the obvious respect that the two comedic actors have for each other that makes them a pleasure to watch. Haddish’s usual comedic style has been stripped back and Hart has toned down his usual style as well, but it works given they’re surrounded by an ensemble of other comedians including the likes of Taran Killam (Saturday Night Live), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), and Rob Riggle (The Hangover) each earning their own laughs throughout the course of the film.

There are a lot of current social elements thrown into this film, like making Haddish’s character a lesbian and portraying Teddy as being more intelligent for having dyslexia. While the representation of learning disorders is handled sensitively, the addition of Haddish’s character being a lesbian feels a bit weird. It seems like inclusion of sexual representation for the sake of it, and it’s an easy way out for Carrie not to be interested in Teddy, rather than just being a woman who isn’t sexually attracted to him.

Overall Night School is a surprisingly funny film with some strong messages, however, some of the jokes fall flat, and there are times when the story becomes impossibly far-fetched.

Night School is available in Australian cinemas from September 27 

Also screening as part of  the RoofTop Movies Program 1 on Nov 17.

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2018

Movie Review – Crazy Rich Asians

John M Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians is the feel-good film of the year and a landmark moment for representation.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe

New York economics professor Rachel (Constance Wu) has been dating Nick (Henry Golding) for just over a year when he suggests they fly to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding and to meet his family. It isn’t until the couple arrive in Singapore that the breadth of Nick’s family and wealth hits home. The significance of their relationship quickly dawns on Rachel too, with Nick’s domineering mother Eleanor (a startlingly intense Michelle Yeoh) taking an immediate dislike to the commoner who has won her son’s heart. Eleanor sets out to get her way and uphold her family’s pedigree, by any means necessary.

Dripping with pizzazz and visual splendor, Crazy Rich Asians is a crazy good time at the cinema. Chu packs the frame with wall-to-wall glitz and glamour, with the set design, costuming and overall production bursting at the seams with colour and culture. The direction, editing and soundtrack combine to create an effervescent affair with pops of energy and electricity. And the ensemble cast is packed with charming performances.

Narratively it isn’t doing anything new – we’ve seen this kind of familial power struggle before in umpteen other romantic comedies. It’s essentially a Cinderella story where a dashing billionaire sweeps a shy girl off her feet. And a lot of the character moments along the way are to be expected. But the familiar storytelling beats shouldn’t detract from the fact that Crazy Rich Asians still offers something fresh, in that it tells a story that doesn’t thrust Asian (or Asian-American) characters to the fringe of the frame and instead explores the complex and contradictory in-between nature of being a Westerner of Eastern descent.

Rather than one-note secondary character tropes, the characters in Crazy Rich Asians cover the whole spectrum and take centre stage. Forget always being a bridesmaid; it’s time to be the bride. Crazy Rich Asians offers important representation to a segment of the audience that often gets neglected by mainstream Hollywood. For that reason alone, Crazy Rich Asians is a must-see. It’s just an added bonus that it’s funny, heartfelt, frisky, profound and an all-round delightful time at the movies.

Crazy Rich Asians is available in Australian cinemas from August 30 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Book Club

Turns out even the post-menopausal are fascinated by Christian Grey’s sadomasochistic bedroom antics. Do what you will with that information…

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Four aging woman and long-time friends, who remain connected through their monthly book club, find their lives changing dramatically when it’s suggested their book of the month be none other than E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey. Titillated and inspired by the book’s raunchy content, each woman attempts to reignite her love life.

Though it’s a Nancy Meyers-type comedy for seniors, Bill Holderman’s Book Club manages to be even more inoffensive than films of its ilk. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. It’s exactly the kind of oestrogen-fuelled, feel-good flick that the 55-and-above XX crowd will adore.

There’s at least a broad appeal here by focussing on the book that’s been making schoolgirls to grandmas giggle and/or groan since 2011. You don’t have to be an adult in diapers to get a laugh out of legendary actresses such as Diane Keaton and Jane Fonda reacting with shock and awe to Christian Grey’s ‘kinky fuckery’.

It’s at its best when they attempt to keep up with what’s trendy and sexy, figuratively getting back on the horse and putting themselves out there. Candice Bergen’s foray into dating via Bumble and Mary Steenburgen lacing her husband’s drink with Viagra bring the chuckles, though the filmmakers play it safe and steer clear of the ropes, whips and handcuffs that would probably give its demographic a heart attack.

Where it doesn’t quite stick the landing is its transition into an overly melodramatic second half, wherein each woman’s happiness is undone by their falling back into old habits. Ending very predictably, it at least leaves a feel-good mushiness that pensioners will lap up. Perhaps most unrealistic is the fact that not once do these seasoned literature aficionados comment on how poorly written their bestseller is. But at the very least, Book Club is a fine time that shows Hollywood’s older gals can still lead a movie and have a good time doing so.

Book Club is available in Australian cinemas from August 23 

Image courtesy of Transmission Films

 

Movie Review – The Happytime Murders

Avenue Q meets Chinatown in the worst film of the year, as Melissa McCarthy stumbles through the latest in a long line of flops.


Rhys Pascoe 

Directed by Brian Henson (son of Jim) and penned by Todd Berger, The Happytime Murders centres around a simple premise; take a generic crime noir that concerns itself with murder, drugs and booze and sub half of the human cast for colourful, fuzzy puppets.

When the trailer for The Happytime Murders first appeared on YouTube, I rolled my eyes at the sheer stupidity of it all. It felt like a parody trailer, like that Crocodile Dundee revival/Superbowl commercial with Danny McBride from earlier in the year or the (admittedly great) spoofs that play before Tropic Thunder – because, let’s be honest, is its premise any less stupid than Tugg Speedman’s Scorcher VI?

Alas, it was a real film.  A real film that stars Melissa McCarthy as a loud, foul-mouthed LAPD detective and Bill Barretta as Phil Philips, a shabby, washed-up, chain-smoking, De Niro-esque private eye puppet, who are partnered together when a vicious killer starts popping off puppets across Los Angeles.

The glaring flaw of The Happytime Murders presents itself within the first 10-15 minutes. Namely, how does a film that essentially uses a College Humour premise sustain itself for a whole 90 minutes? The tone, the gags and the novelty soon wear thin – the only arrow in its quiver is ‘hey, aren’t these crude and horny puppets a gas?!’  The script is boring, the jokes are lame and the puppetry itself is nothing to write home about.

As a tight Saturday Night Live skit, The Happytime Murders would work a treat. Its cast of comedians – Maya Rudolph, Elizabeth Banks, Joel McHale – would no doubt relish the opportunity to sink their teeth into a goofy and crass send up where The Muppets meets LA Confidential. But as a feature film, the only thing less funny than The Happytime Murders is someone sticking his (or her) hand up your ass.

The Happytime Murders is available in Australian cinemas from August 23 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – BlacKkKlansman

A black man infiltrates the Klu Klux Klan? Yep, I’d pay to see that.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill 

BlacKkKlansman is a brilliant, stranger-than-fiction story about Ron Stallworth, an African-American man who managed to successfully join the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s and launch an entire police investigation into the radical group without causing suspicion.

John David Washington stars as the dry-humoured, straight-laced Stallworth. His uncanny ability to capture the white middle-class of America through his phone calls with the Klan Grand Wizard is nothing short of hilarious. Washington gives Stallworth a lot of pride, but also delicately shows the effects long-term racism can have on a person.

Adam Driver is perfect as Flip Zimmerman, the Jewish man who goes undercover as Stallworth when meeting face to face with the Klan. Zimmerman is no-nonsense and blunt, which Drive portrays with ease, but it’s the identity crisis that Zimmerman faces while undercover that is the more interesting side of the character. While the film is largely focussed on African American rights, Driver brings another element to the story, reminding you that the Klan’s hate really has no bounds.

Ryan Eggold and Topher Grace are fantastic in supporting roles as Klan Chapter President and Grand Wizard respectively. They don’t paint the characters as unintelligent – which would have been a very easy to do – instead, they present them as everyday men who truly believe in the values that the Klan install.

BlacKkKlansman is an excellent offering from director Spike Lee, who obviously had a lot of fun making the film. It’s extremely well cast and the importance of the tale being told is certainly not missed. Lee draws a lot of inspiration from the stylistic techniques used in 1970’s television and films that were largely aimed at African Americans, and this adds a nice dynamic to the way the story is told.

The downfall of the film is the sequence of news reel clips in the epilogue. Controversial speeches from Donald Trump, police brutality, black rights marches and the infamous Charlottesville protest all make an appearance, but for me, it was unnecessary. The film had such a strong political message that the need for this end clip was just overkill, especially since it’s only real purpose was to show that the same issues being battled in the 1970’s are still being battled today.

BlacKkKlansman is funny and electric, placing a microscope on the issues that African American’s are still battling to this day. While extremely witty, there is also a sombre tone to it that draws questions towards what it means to be human vs. what colour your skin is. Definitely worth a watch.

BlacKkKlansman is available in Australian cinemas from August 9 

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2018

Movie Review – The Breaker Upperers

Kiwi comedy produces yet another kooky double act in The Breaker Upperers.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe

Were you wooed by the whimsy of Hunt for the Wilderpeople? Delighted by the daftness of What We Do In The Shadows? Although The Breaker Upperers isn’t directed or written by everyone’s favourite Kiwi Taika Waititi (he instead serves as executive producer), his fingerprints are all over this raunchy rom-com from writers/directors/lead actresses Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek.

Sami and van Beek play Mel and Jen respectively, two BFFs scorned by the same man who decide to use their heartbreak as motivation to start a business. The titular ‘break-up’ agency sees Mel and Jen hired by people who want their relationship to come to a swift and irreversible end, which often requires the two ladies to pose as a side chick, mistress or even a kidnapper. However, their job soon starts to get ugly, and a little something called conscience starts to creep in when things go awry.

Sami and van Beek’s film dapples in the same daffy naivety, absurd asides and clever callbacks that audiences have come to know and love from NZ comedy; plus, aren’t some jokes just funnier when told with a quirky Kiwi lilt? A standout highlight of the film is James Rolleston as Jordan, a dim-witted rugby hunk who is terrified of breaking up with girlfriend. Rolleston shares hilarious chemistry with Sami, and his wide-eyed innocence steals scene after scene.

While The Breaker Upperers is distinctly Kiwi in some ways, in others it wouldn’t feel amiss with a name like Paul Feig or Judd Apatow on the poster. The raunchiness recalls Bridesmaids or Girls Trip, while the film literally ends in a This Is The End-esque dance number where all is good with the world once more. It’s Wellington by way of Hollywood.

At a brisk 90 minutes, The Breaker Upperers, like its characters, aims to get in and get out without making much of a fuss. Sami and van Beek write and direct with boisterous panache, so even the jokes that don’t land are a long-forgotten memory after the next five or six. Three stars out of five.

The Breaker Upperers is available in Australian cinemas from July 26 

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment 

Movie Review – Ideal Home

A gay couple on the brink of a public meltdown are swept up with the responsibility of a child that’s not theirs… should be fun to watch, right?

 
⭐ ⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic 

What could have been a quirky, upbeat comedy quickly turns into an average classic romcom in Andrew Fleming’s Ideal Home. While it puts a contemporary twist on the traditional dysfunctional family with its lead, same-sex couple Paul (Paul Rudd) and Erasmus (Steve Coogan), its jokes are anything but new.

Most of the comedy comes from being gay and a lack of knowledge on how to raise a child, but this novelty is relied on far too much, to the point where the movie’s charm wears off and soon becomes downright irritating.

When 10 year-old Bill (Jack Gore), enters the lives of Paul and Erasmus, claiming to be the former’s grandson, he throws a spanner into the works of an already strained relationship. His character is easily the most annoying part of the film, with his constant complaints that he’ll only eat something from Taco Bell.

Thankfully, Steve Coogan somewhat saves the day. Even though he’s fed poorly written lines, he holds a commanding demeanor that fits his overtly gay character, and I would love to see him explore a similar character in a higher quality film.

Ideal Home does have some touching moments, but for the most part, it’s awkward, irritating and not that funny. It’s really only suitable for fans of Coogan, and for everyone else, well… I wouldn’t go jumping at the chance to see it anytime soon.

Ideal Home is available in Australian cinemas from June 21 

Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution 

Movie Review – Tag

Reasonably amusing but completely brainless, Jeff Tomsic’s Tag isn’t enough to get the adrenaline pumping.

⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan 

Tag is almost a movie that is immune to criticism, not because it is good in any way, but because it offers very little outside of what it promises, which is that a bunch of grown men will chase each other across a city.

The movie is inspired by the 2013 Wall Street Journal article about a group of friends in Spokane, Washington, who have played the same game of tag every May for the past 23 years. But it isn’t simply a game anymore. The men have supercharged their methods so that old-lady disguises and surprise leaps from rubbish bins are considered supremely tactical. It’s become a kind of backyard military campaign, and on a very hidden, deeply infantile level, it seems like a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, Tag isn’t as enjoyable, because even though its leading men successfully create the illusion that they’ve known each other for decades, there is nothing else to discover about them. Everything that happens is either a direct result or a direct cause of their game of tag. Even one of their wives, played by Isla Fisher, exists only to adorn the festivities.

Ed Helms is Hogan Malloy, who we first see accepting a job as a janitor even though he has a PhD in medicine. We soon find out his motive: he wants an opportunity to tag his good friend Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm), who is a big executive at the company and is about to be interviewed for the Wall Street Journal by Rebecca (Annabelle Wallis).

And so it goes. The plot is basically a never-ending series of physical gags in which Hogan, Bob and their old pals Chilli (Jake Johnson) and Sable (Hannibal Buress) try to finally tag Jerry (Jeremy Renner), the master of escape who has managed to remain untouched for nearly thirty years.

Directed by Jeff Tomsic, much of the action’s success stems from the actors, who don’t so much perform as yap their way from one sight gag to the next. Nothing they do or say is all that funny, nothing that happens is all that inspired, and by the end all we’re left to wonder is how many brain cells we’ve lost in a hundred minutes.

But there’s something profoundly silly yet utterly charming about watching a bunch of grown-ups run like fools to avoid a simple touch, to abandon all notion of civility in favour of unrestrained fun. I don’t think I would’ve felt that with another cast, but Helms, Hamm, Johnson, Buress and Renner succeed in making me believe they’ve been best friends since childhood, and if you want to deliver a story 23 years in the making, that’s key.

Tag is available in Australian cinemas from June 14

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Incredibles 2

The Incredibles are back facing a new enemy, but unfortunately this long overdue sequel doesn’t match the charm of the original.

 ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic

Incredibles 2 is a blatant rehash of the original animated family comedy, following the exact same beats as the first film. There’s no doubt that it’s a very well-made film, technically speaking. It’s got some great voice talent (Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson) and some competently directed action sequences from returning writer/director Brad Bird, but otherwise it’s same old, same old.

Without giving too much away, let’s just say that certain roles have been reversed and everything else that follows is basically the same structure that we saw last time. It doesn’t automatically mean the entire movie is a boring experience, but it adds a level of predictability that certainly makes it less exciting.

Nevertheless, Incredibles 2 still holds enough positives to make it a fun ride. Moments of comedy come here and there, but the punchlines often feel slightly awkward, with childish, slapstick humour targeting more of the younger audience members. The best jokes are the ones that poke fun at human behavior or twisted logic, but sadly these are few and far between.

Incredibles 2 is far from the spectacular return I hoped for, but I still have no problem recommending you go and see it. The animation is once again a standout, I just wish the story could have been just as refined as the animation. Fans of the original will be relieved that the essence of the first film hasn’t been lost, but I don’t see Incredibles 2 surpassing its predecessor. Watch it if you’ve loved the original or need a distraction for the kids, but don’t go in with high expectations because you might be disappointed.

Incredibles 2 is available in Australian cinemas from June 14 

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures