Movie Review – The Emoji Movie

There’s only one emoji that could describe this distasteful attempt at a children’s film more than words ever could.  You guessed it – the poop emoji.


Corey Hogan

Inside the smartphone of a young boy exists the digital city of Textopolis, where emojis are sentient, for some reason. The emojis live in harmony, content with their singular facial expressions, except for Gene (T.J. Miller), a “meh” emoji capable of expressing numerous different emotions. Finally given a chance in the spotlight to be the selected emoji sent, Gene panics and causes a multi-expressional emoji to appear on screen and make its user think his phone is broken. With viruses after him, Gene leaves the messenger app with Hi-5 (James Corden) and into the many other apps in search of Jailbreak (Anna Faris), a mysterious hacker who might have a code that can fix Gene before the phone memory is wiped and the emojis are erased from existence.

It’s time to confirm what you knew was inevitable from the moment it was announced – The Emoji Movie is bad. Presumably communicating purely in dollar sign emojis when they greenlit it, Sony Pictures – continuing their plummeting reputation as probably the worst major Hollywood studio currently operating – hits a new low with a truly shameless consumerist brainwashing disguised as a children’s film. It could very possibly be the worst widely released animated film of all time.

Last year’s The Angry Birds Movie was just inventive and entertaining enough to scrape by as passable excuse to cash in on a mobile app, but there are absolutely zero excuses here, since The Emoji Movie can barely manage even an iota of that creativity. Much of the problem is sheer laziness perpetuating every facet. The story brings to mind animations that have done similar things much better, like Wreck-It Ralph, The Lego Movie, and most of Pixar’s work (chiefly Inside Out and Monsters, Inc.); it doesn’t take long to work out that Emoji isn’t so much borrowing elements from these films but rather blatantly ripping them off.

The painfully unfunny “humour” consists entirely of cheap puns and so, so much name-brand dropping – get ready for an adventure in which the heroes much beat games of Candy Crush and Just Dance, ride music .wavs (get it?) across Spotify and make it to Dropbox so they can reach the Cloud. It’s not hard to see where the movie got its funding.

It’s no doubt an easy pay check for all of its voice actors; James Corden’s Hi-5 is especially irritating, though he’s just one bit of code in a grating algorithm. Every character is unlikable, has hazy motivations and continually raises questions, like why does one emoji have parents, and how are emojis able to reproduce? How and why would an emoji fall in love? Why do emojis need to be scanned everytime they’re used by the phone owner? Why… oh, who cares? They’re fuckin’ emojis. It’s probably a good thing we feel nothing for these creepily vivified deformities, because that would be deeply disturbing.

The ultimate message – which makes little sense in the context of the story – is some nonsense about being yourself and an individual; deeply ironic given the projectile vomit of product placement and the condemning depiction of every human character using only their devices to communicate with the people around them. You might want to think twice about taking your kids to this one; there’s a strong chance they’ll be bored.

The Emoji Movie is available in Australian cinemas from September 14

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures 

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Classic Review – Blade Runner 1982

Visually breathtaking, even 35 years later, Blade Runner rightly remains a science fiction classic.

Michael Philp 

The year is 2019, and smokestacks spout fire above Los Angeles. Below, the streets are bursting with life. Neon stalls and crowded markets suffer through rain and smog, flying cars purge themselves in filthy alleyways, and the all-seeing eye of an advertising blimp glides between the buildings. Towering above it all is the Tyrell Corporation’s ziggurat – a monument to the god of this new world, Dr Eldon Tyrell, the creator of more-human-than-human replicants.

These are the first images of Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece, Blade Runner, and they are stunning. Better yet, over the next two hours, you get to witness imagery even more sumptuous and intriguing, while connecting with some of the richest characters in science fiction. We will follow grizzled Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), as he tracks down and “retires” four escaped replicants – banned bioengineered androids. We will sympathise with those replicants and their search for life beyond their creator’s intentions. And ultimately, we will sympathise with Deckard as he struggles with a brutal system that cares little for the lives within it.

Visually speaking, Scott never stops pushing his film. From those first flaming stacks to Roy Batty’s (Rutger Hauer) final monologue, near every frame of the movie is a feast for the eyes. The contrasted lighting helps immensely in this, setting a noirish mood that reflects the film’s oppressively dark and dirty world. An early bathroom scene particularly stands out, with a fluorescent tube gorgeously backlighting Deckard. Compare that shot to any number in Drive, and it’s clear that film-makers are still openly copying Blade Runner 35 years later – it’s just that cool.

Aside from the lighting, Scott is constantly filling the frame with detail and symbolism. Look out for numerous instances of eye imagery – a visual metaphor that suggests surveillance, humanity, and knowledge. Or perhaps you’d prefer something more subtle, like the fact that they modelled Eldon Tyrell’s bedroom on the Pope’s – something that immediately highlights the film’s religious themes. These little details all build upon one another, creating a rich tapestry of meaning. All of a sudden, Tyrell’s pet owl – also a bioengineered creation – becomes not only a symbol of his wealth, but also his knowledge and divine aspirations. These are the details that make Blade Runner such a beloved film. Repeat viewings are virtually mandatory for a film with this much depth.

The visuals would be empty though without talented actors backing them up, which is why it’s such a blessing that Blade Runner has one of the best performances of the 80’s in Hauer’s Batty. Larger than life, Batty is a magnificently complex creature. Deeply aware of his looming mortality and disposableness, Batty initially attempts to bargain with his creator, before finally rising above a system that considers him worthless. His bemused resignation at the end – a slight smile as he reminisces about the wonders he has seen – is one of the film’s crowning achievements, humanising him to an incredible degree. The life behind Hauer’s performance is awe-inspiring, particularly when taking into account the fact that Batty has had to fight for its recognition. The world sees him as nothing more than an off-world slave, making it even more powerful to watch Batty shed himself of those chains.

Blade Runner is a behemoth of science fiction, and rightly so. It’s an incredibly rich film that takes science fiction concepts dating back to the original Frankenstein and depicts them with nuance and humanity. What right does anyone have to dictate who is and is not human? What right do we have to create life and then dictate its purpose? These questions are at the core of Blade Runner and are served well by some of the best visuals of Ridley Scott’s career. As we approach the release date of Blade Runner 2049, it’s amazing that the original film can still hold its weight. Here’s to hoping that its moments won’t all be lost in time.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros

Movie Review – Beatriz at Dinner

Rich, powerful white man versus Mexican immigrant… uh-oh, sound familiar?

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan 

Beatriz (Salma Hayek) lives an unglamorous life in Los Angeles as a massage therapist, having emigrated from Mexico at a young age. She drives to the house of her long-time client Kathy (Connie Britton), a wealthy lady about to host a dinner party with her husband; on her way out however, her car is unable to start. Kathy invites her to stay for the dinner, to which Beatriz reluctantly agrees, and it’s not long before she’s doing her best to remain polite around the rich, snobby and racially insensitive guests; in particular Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) a powerful, famous man who unwittingly does his best to make Beatriz feel most unwelcome.

It was only a matter of time in our current political climate before someone made a film like Beatriz at Dinner. Though the trend of political correctness shoehorned into much of what we watch has become commonplace (and frankly, pretty tiresome), Miguel Arteta’s film is one of the first to feel like a direct response to Donald Trump’s presidency and retaliation to his controversial policies, namely his stance on Mexican immigration.

Even if it means well, there’s no shaking that typically self-congratulatory Hollywood liberal stance, here in all its wanky glory; thankfully, screenwriter Mike White invests us with some strong characters and consistently awkward, tense situations that keep the blood pumping.

A lot of the film’s strengths stem from the woman behind the titular Beatriz with Salma Hayek, now in her fifties, stepping back into the serious spotlight after a long run of silly comedies and animation voice acting. Clearly leading a difficult and lonely day-to-day life, but always maintaining a positive, vibrant and optimistic attitude, Beatriz immediately earns our empathy.

It’s lucky Beatriz is fully-fleshed and authentic, because the rest of the guests couldn’t be bigger caricatures of rich, white, racist snobs. Most of them are frivolously polite to Beatriz, but quickly ignore her to gossip about their friends and celebrities, or boast about their own business successes – most of which, of course, happened illegally or at the expense of others. John Lithgow’s practically villainous mogul Doug Strutt immediately assumes Beatriz is a maid and commands her to serve him drinks, then quickly writes her off when corrected.

The real stumble is the film’s climax, which is, without giving too much away, a double-whammy of questionable violence that throws much of its messages up for debate. To his credit, there’s probably no way White could have wrapped this up satisfactorily, but at least he’s crafted an interesting and thought-provoking, if flawed, confrontational drama, and given Salma Hayek one of the best roles of her career.

Beatriz at Dinner is available in Australian cinemas from September 28 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Director Matthew Vaughn returns with another action packed film, but can America and Britain really put aside their egos and come together to save the world from devastation?

⭐ ⭐ ½
Elle Cahill

When the Kingsman headquarters are destroyed, the two remaining Kingsman, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong), travel to their brother spy organisation in the US. The two elite secret organisations must now band together to defeat a common enemy who is holding the world hostage.

Director Matthew Vaughn delivers another adrenaline-filled adventure, following the success Kingsman: The Secret Service, and his early works, Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class. The humour remains as crude as ever, and at times you wonder if it’s he’s trying to create some Guinness World Record for the amount of times the word ‘fuck’ is said in a film, but his fight scenes are some of the best in the comic book genre. Well-choreographed and edited to high-tempo music, these scenes get your heart racing, and you’re more than willing to suspend your disbelief to enjoy the spectacle.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is packed with A-list actors, including Colin Firth and Taron Egerton who return to reprise their respective roles. Firth’s Harry “Galahad” Hart lacks the grit and unexpected crudeness of the first film, purely because his character is criminally underutilised in order to make way for a range of newcomers.

Julianne Moore gives a disturbing performance as the seemingly sweet, yet power-hungry villain Poppy, who has no issue with threatening billions of lives to receive recognition for operating the biggest (unknown) drug cartel in the world. Halle Berry plays the US secret service’s version of Merlin, continually saving the agent’s lives with her nanobot technology, yet finds herself constantly undermined by her US co-workers, and Channing Tatum plays hotshot US spy Tequila. While none of them put in award-winning performances, they all seem to be having a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, the film lacked stability for me. Compared to the first Kingsman,which was slick and filled with dry British humour, this one just has far too much going on. Constant flashbacks are needed to help set up the story, plus there’s the introduction of a whole new spy organisation filled with a number of different characters. Add in the clash between American and British humour, and it all ends up a little bit muddled.

While humorous, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is nowhere near as funny as its predecessor. It relies heavily on a large amount of assumed knowledge from The Secret Service, so good luck if you haven’t seen the first film! The ultimate downfall of this film is in taking the story to the US; its British quirks are completely lost, and the tone shifts into typical, American territory.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is available in Australian cinemas from September 21 

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

 

Movie Review – The LEGO Ninjago Movie

The Lego franchise has previously won audiences and critics alike with The Lego Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie, but could The LEGO Ninjago Movie be the end of its successful run?


Elle Cahill

When the bustling Ninjago City falls into the hands of evil warlord Garmadon, a team of five ninja warriors must go on a journey to discover the ultimate secret weapon to save the city. With the guidance of Master Wu, the five ninjas have to come together to release the power of Spinjitzu and save Ninjago City from devastation.

Following the success of its predecessors, I had high hopes for The LEGO Ninjago Movie… unfortunately what I saw was a film that fell flat on its face. You could argue that I’m not its target audience, but the film just isn’t funny – even for children. The humour is very American and a lot of it is lost on international audiences who don’t have the context necessary for the joke to carry. Most of the jokes rushed to the punchline; before you even realised there was a joke in play, it was over… and the few that did manage to land were very weak, making you feel obligated to chuckle.

There is no doubt that the animation is amazing and its incredible to think how far animation has come in the last ten years, but there’s nothing new here to what we’ve already seen in the other two LEGO movies. There’s also a serious lack of new material surrounding the fact that the main characters are operating in a Lego Universe, which was utilised very well in the first film.

Jackie Chan voices Master Wu, a sort of Mr Miyagi from Karate Kid type, and does the best he can with the material he has been given. Meanwhile, Justin Theroux voices the evil warlord Garmadon, and gives the character as much range as possible, but disappointingly, the character’s arc is very small, despite him having the most to learn given his damaged relationship with one of the ninjas.

In short, the film is a huge disappointment, and a bit of a stain on what was turning out to be a good run for the LEGO franchise. Some parts of the film are sensory overkill, and make you feel like you’re staring directly into a strobe light, while other parts need an audience cue to let you know when you’re supposed to laugh. I would advise parents to give this film a miss this school holidays, or prepare for the inevitable disappointment.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie is available in Australian films from September 21

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 

Movie Review – mother!

The tagline “You have no idea where this movie will take you” says it all – mother! more than earns its exclamation mark.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

A nameless woman (Jennifer Lawrence) lives a life of peace and tranquillity in an isolated country home with her similarly anonymous poet husband (Javier Bardem). Their days are leisurely passed with her painting and renovating the house while he works on his written masterpiece, until one day a stranger (Ed Harris) appears on their doorstep looking for a place to stay. The wife is unimpressed when her husband gladly accepts, and less so when the man’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) turns up to board with him. The stranger’s bizarrely rude and erratic behaviour, and its influence on her husband is just the beginning of her torment: there’s many, many more unwelcome guests to come as all hell breaks loose.

“What the fuck?!” is something you’ll no doubt be exclaiming, or at least thinking a number of times throughout Darren Aronofsky’s mother! That’s right, the master of stressfully intense character dramas is back, and well and truly on form again after the disappointment of Noah. His latest rivals even Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan as his most viscerally extreme, WTF force of nature.

Like those cinematic nightmares, mother! puts its central character through a metaphorical meat grinder, continuing Aronofsky’s recurring motif of naïve women suffering for their optimism and hopeful attitude. It’s slow building, with Aronofsky creating a sanctuary for his two lovers before infesting it with the unpredictable couple that infect their paradise. It’s then that the house becomes oppressive and claustrophobic, practically imprisoning… to say much more would spoil it, but it’s safe to say this is some of the most batshit crazy stuff to come out of a studio film.

It seems almost a shame that its director and star confirmed it as a Biblical allegory, since it really feels like there could be multiple ways to interpret this purposefully ambiguous thrill ride. Aronofsky destroys cinema conventions and genre while twisting them into and abominable horror and satire, while spiritually condemning human beings for their sins; namely their chief sin of existence.

Scaling back to another level though, it’s tempting to view this as a metaphor for the struggles of fame and how destructive and toxic it can be on its subjects. The swarms of people that invade the house have no sense of personal space, secrecy or morality, and are capable of doing awful things to the people they supposedly worship, coming off very much like crazed paparazzi and fans. It’s all too appropriate given that Jennifer Lawrence is at the centre of all this; having faced a similar invasion of privacy as her nudes were leaked a few years ago, it’s no doubt she’s channelled much of her own stress and horror into her performance.

Which brings us to J-Law herself. She’s spent most of her relatively short career in the tween-pleasing feminine heroes of The Hunger Games and X-Men, and roles in self-indulgent David O. Russell Oscar-bait. Finally, she seems to have grown out of the annoying “so-quirky-and-relatable” persona and matured into a real actress, delivering on the excellence she promised way back in Winter’s Bone. Here, she confidently handles the rollercoaster of emotions as hell is unleashed upon her. Lawrence famously cracked a rib while hyperventilating in the film’s climactic scenes; it’s not hard to see why.

Upsetting, shocking, brilliant, abhorrent… there’s thousands of words that could be used to describe Aronofsky’s technical masterpiece of mayhem, but simply, it’s unlike just about anything else out there. There’s no questioning that this is a love it or hate it experience, but regardless of opinion a stunned silence is no doubt guaranteed. That, and exclaiming “What the fuck?!”

mother! is available in Australian cinemas from September 14 

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Lavazza Italian Film Festival 2017

Cinema Italiano returns to Perth for another year! You can catch the festival at Cinema Paradiso and Luna on SX from September 21 to October 11.

Messy Christmas

A nun, a politician and an Arab walk into a bar, and hilarity ensues as Luca Miniero’s Messy Christmas proves.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

September 2017 - Italian FF Messy Christmas_00000

Set on the remote Mediterranean island of Porto Buio, Messy Christmas sees newly elected mayor Cecco (Claudio Bisio) wrangle with the townsfolk over the particulars of the upcoming Christmas nativity scene. With the child who usually plays Jesus having outgrown the role and no new babies born on the island for years, Mayor Cecco must instead ask the local Islamic Tunisian community if they can ‘borrow’ one of their children to play Jesus – not an easy request when so many locals are entrenched in fundamental traditions on both sides of the equation.

A broad and irreverent comedy that never feels mean-spirited, Messy Christmas has a lot of fun wrestling with culture clash and religious differences. Most of the humour in Miniero’s riotous romp is rooted in poking fun at the peculiarities of modern Italy, with its growing multiculturalism and deeply rooted Christian ideals. The film flaunts a large ensemble of kooky characters, from Bilal (Alessandro Gassman), a local Islam convert, his Arabic wife Aida (Nabiha Akkari), who wants to put a distinctly un-Christian spin on her depiction of the Virgin Mary, and Marta (Angela Finocchiaro), a nun who is firmly fixed on upholding Catholic tradition.

Light and breezy, Messy Christmas doesn’t take itself or its subject matter too seriously; sure, there are bound to be a few gags here that might ruffle a few feathers, but the overall impression is one of cartoonish goofiness. While the slapdash effort to stage the nativity scene is fun (at one point an Aladdin-inspired set-up dials up the silliness), the emotional heft delivered by the final act is disappointingly slight. Miniero’s script (serving as both writer and director) lacks the same polish and spirited conclusion one would usually expect from a comedy of this ilk, and instead chooses to end proceedings with a shrug. A shame, but what comes before it is still good for a laugh.

Indivisible

The opening title of this year’s Italian Film Festival is essentially Stuck on You for the arthouse crowd.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

09 September - Italian FF Indivisible

Seventeen-year-old twin sisters Daisy (Angela Fontana) and Violet (Marianna Fontana) both have an extraordinary singing talent, which they put to good use supporting their family by singing at weddings, baptisms and communions. This is, however, a small part of their popularity; the real draw is their other, more unusual charm – they’re Siamese twins, joined at the hip. They’re inseparable, literally and figuratively, until a prominent doctor notices them at an event and offers to surgically separate them.

Edwardo De Angelis faces a dilemma that seems to appear semi-regularly in independent film – an ambitious premise squandered by an unremarkable script and execution. His otherwise enjoyable flick Indivisible suffers from this, sticking far too close to the family drama formula despite focusing on a topic rarely explored seriously and more often than not reduced to comedy or horror tropes.

Luckily it’s rescued by its two stars; real-life sisters Angela and Marianna Fontana, whose twindom easily lends to their remarkable chemistry and effortless back and forth. What’s truly special is how real they’ve made the Siamese trait feel, having clearly put in a lot of practice walking side by side, with prosthetics joining them to make it seem as though they have been stuck together their entire lives.

But they’re let down by the all-too-obvious directions the story takes. Of course a doctor conveniently appears and takes such an interest that he offers to separate the girls free of charge. Of course one sister wants to be divided so she can live a normal life while the other couldn’t bear to be apart from her sibling. And of course their conniving father has kept the fact that this surgery could have taken place long ago from them so he can continue to make a profit off their singing. Despite an interesting idea, it feels like we’ve seen it all before; luckily, its stars make us care just enough to stick with it.

I Was A Dreamer 

First time director Michele Vannucci delivers a dreamy recount of a man returning to life in Rome after prison.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

September 2017 Italian FF I Was A Dreamer_00000
Based on the true story of Mirko Frezza (played by the real life Mirko Frezza), I Was A Dreamer chronicles Frezza’s release from jail and return to his hometown where he finds his community torn apart by rampant drug addiction. Mirko agrees to take on the role of president for the homeowner’s committee, and attempts to set up community based projects to try and rehabilitate the drug victims, however, as his own father falls deeper into addiction, Mirko wonders if the issues faced by his townspeople are too far gone to repair.

There’s strong performances all round from the entire cast of I Was A Dreamer, with Frezza in particular portraying his own internal and external struggles with a beautiful subtlety. Ginevra De Carolis, who plays Mirko’s daughter Michelle, also puts in a powerful performance as Michelle attempts to repair her broken relationship with a father who has been absent from most of her life. Her resistance to her father and her journey towards rebuilding her trust in him is captured in all its fragility.

The film has a dream-like quality to it, almost hallucinogenic, making you feel as though you’re floating through the film, as if in a trance. This dreamy style causes a bit of disorientation, but director Michele Vannucci in his feature film debut, cleverly harnesses this technique to help you see the world through Mirko’s eyes in his feature film debut.

 

There is an an annoying overuse of voice over that is largely unnecessary; it doesn’t support the narrative and is mostly used to reveal Mirko’s inner thoughts at the expense of the film.

Overall, I Was a Dreamer is a sensitive look into a community plagued by addiction. It’s a touching tale and you really feel for Mirko and his feeling of having the weight of the world on his shoulders.

The Lavazza Italian Film Festival is screening in Perth from September 21 – October 11

Images courtesy of Lavazza Italian Film Festival & Palace Films

Movie Review – Victoria and Abdul

Stephen Frears once again dramatizes the past in Victoria & Abdul.


Zachary Cruz-Tan

Like so many movies of this age, Victoria & Abdul speaks about human prejudice and the wanton savagery pre-programmed into our social preferences, but, in fact, I think it is more about the fear of growing old and lonely, outliving all our loved ones and gradually disintegrating into a shell of our former selves. It is this fear of dying that led Victoria to do outlandish things in her later years, like falling asleep during state dinners and keeping a lowly Indian servant as her closest companion.

This is another biographical movie directed by Stephen Frears and headlines yet another effortless performance by Judi Dench, who, as M in the Bond movies, always exercised a firm hand and a sharp tongue. Here, as a withering monarch, she is like M’s great-great-grandmother draped in what looks like doilies. She is caring and inquisitive, but may God bless your soul if you try to cross her.

On the celebration of her Golden Jubilee, she is presented with a ceremonial coin by two Indians, snatched from their home in Agra and shipped off to the land of their colonisers. One of them, the tall and handsome one, is Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal). Almost at once, he catches the queen’s eye and she is stricken by a fearful fascination with this bearded foreign man.

Abdul is charming and intelligent, and beguiles Victoria with tales of his home, a land Victoria’s empire has conquered that she has never visited or even learnt about. She is told of the story of the Taj Mahal. She is taught Hindi and Urdu. She is introduced to Indian spices and fruit. And when she sends for Abdul’s wife, she is startled to find her hidden beneath impenetrable black silk. It’s like stepping over the threshold into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

Victoria’s interest in what her subordinates consider to be an inferior being creates tension in the palace, and soon her subjects and eldest son, Bertie (a somewhat puzzling Eddie Izzard), are threatening to resign. We could debate the merits of their consternation for years, but the central inherent racism of the English aristocracy works, within the confines of the film, to bolster our support for Abdul, who may not be the most upstanding young man but is certainly the right elixir for a waning old lady in desperate need of a strong shoulder to lean on. Dench and Fazal share some real chemistry, and while the bickering between Victoria’s subjects adds spice to the proceedings, it’s the scenes between the monarch and companion that really pop with drama.

Frears has made some delightful and intelligent films based on the lives of real people and seems to have a deft touch when it comes to dealing with the English crown. In 2006 he made The Queen, one of the greatest movies about the fragile relationship between royalty and its people. Victoria & Abdul is not one of his best. It slips sometimes into sentimentality and lacks the professional stroke present in his earlier work, but it is held aloft by the charm and honesty of its two leads, who both see the error of Britain’s ways, but are too caught up in the formidable character of the other to really do anything about it.

Victoria and Abdul is available in Australian cinemas from September 14 

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2017

Movie Review – Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

Exceeding expectations, Captain Underpants is one of the best animated films of the year.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Michael Philp

Full disclosure: I brought some baggage into my viewing of Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. The novels, written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey, were some of my favourites growing up, and I was wary of seeing it turn into another The Smurfs or Trolls – nostalgic Trojan horses that take every opportunity to try and sell you songs and cute merchandise. Imagine my surprise then, when Captain Underpants not only avoided those pitfalls, but also demonstrated a genuine love for the original books.

The film follows fourth graders Harold Hutchins (Thomas Middleditch) and George Beard (Kevin Hart), best friends since kindergarten, and creators of the comic book hero Captain Underpants. The boys are phenomenal pranksters, and often butt heads with their humourless and cruel principal, Mr Krupp (Ed Helms). When one of their pranks gets caught on camera, Krupp sentences them to the ultimate punishment: putting them in different classrooms! The duo, cornered in his office, hypnotise him into believing he is the titular Captain. Hilarity ensues as the dim-witted superhero comes to life and causes chaos around town.

Everyone is at the top of their game here. Middleditch and Hart are a winning combination, matching the energy of the film with ease. The boys’ imaginations run wild, but it never feels indulgent or out of place, mostly because of how well Middleditch and Hart sell it. Few films would handle the line “Separate classes lead to separate lives, which inevitably leads to robots!” as well as this one does. Better still is the joyous energy that Nick Kroll brings as the villainous Professor Poopypants. Played with Germanic exuberance, Poopypants is the perfect antagonist for the film, and Kroll clearly relishes the chance to go a little bit mad and steal every scene he can.

That craziness is served well by the superb animation. Unafraid to experiment with numerous styles and ideas, the film brings Harold’s illustrations to life in a way Pilkey could only dream of. Talking toilets and killer robots all pop with layers of polish and love. Purely on a visual level, it’s hard to imagine a better adaptation of the books.

The cherry on top of all of this is that the film never undercuts itself with unnecessary marketing ploys. The studio could’ve easily thrown in a random dance montage set to the latest candy-floss pop song (don’t they all do that now?), but it never sinks that low. It even keeps product placements to a refreshing bare minimum. The film’s highest priority is in presenting Pilkey’s world with love and verve.

Being sceptical of a film like Captain Underpants would be natural – the director’s last film was the brain-numbingly average Turbo – but rest assured the end product is something worth seeing. The colour and energy on display is infectious, and it’s in service to a wonderful story of friendship and imagination. Captain Underpants takes the spirit of Harold and George’s comics and puts it on the big screen, and I don’t think there’s much more you can ask of an adaptation. By the looks of things, we’ll be seeing a sequel or two down the line, and for once I’m pretty happy about that.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is available in Australian cinemas from September 14 

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Movie Review – American Assassin

With American Assassin, Michael Cuesta explores nuclear war in the most outdated fashion possible.


Zachary Cruz-Tan 

There’s something to admire about Michael Cuesta’s American Assassin, albeit somewhat ironically. This is a movie out of time, a relic of Hollywood’s past shuffled forward to the present without planning or coordination. It’s a story a faithful student of Steven Seagal might’ve wanted two decades ago, but with Steven Seagal instead of Michael Keaton. It feels so antiquated one might be amazed to see it made at all, and yet here it is, proud as a featherless peacock.

It begins decently enough, with a thunderous terrorist attack on an idyllic beach. Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) has just proposed to his fiancée, then she is gruesomely gunned down. Bent on revenge, Mitch takes the only logical step: murder the leader of the terrorist cell himself by taking up martial arts classes and feigning loyalty to the radical caliphate. Uh huh…

His moves are observed by Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan), deputy director of a covert organisation of assassins known as Orion. She hacks his webcam, spies on his chats and paces around one of those secure agency rooms that looks like computer screens have taken over the world with pie charts and graphs. Irene, too, takes the only logical step: Recruit Mitch for her program. Why? Because “I’ve tested them all and he can do things no one else can”. Uh huh. Does anyone else see the crime in using a poor kid’s grief and revenge as weapons for the US government?

This, I suppose, is only the premise, and I think it’s more than what you need to know. The rest involves warring nations, double-crosses and nuclear bombs, which made me think of North Korea, and that, maybe, the plot might have some contemporary relevance. But nothing about Cuesta’s execution supports this notion. His movie is so devoid of energy and so stagnant that even the action sequences seem to unfold in reverse. There is not a word of dialogue with the impetus to develop character. Every line services the plot and nothing else. This is the kind of movie that would work as an academic essay.

There are gunfights and car chases, torture scenes and training montages, fist-fights and a fleet of American warships. And also an explosive crescendo that boasts some of the shoddiest CGI work of recent times. Somewhere in all this is Keaton, who plays a former Navy SEAL like it’s a career-defining audition. He goes balls-to-the-wall and, in a pivotal scene, completely smashes up against it. Keaton’s best when he’s gloomy and brooding, like Bruce Wayne, not when he’s the 21st Century version of R. Lee Ermey.

I think I can appreciate what this film is trying to accomplish, but in an era where the Mission: Impossible and James Bond movies continue to employ new tricks to remain relevant, American Assassin is like that old clown who still thinks balloon animals are what kids want. This is a film that belongs in the ‘90s, and even then it wouldn’t have been verygood at all.

American Assassin is available in Australian cinemas from September 14 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films