Arguably one of the greatest parts of Crazy Rich Asians (2018) is its rather tongue-in-cheek opening scene. The humorous prologue sees Eleanor Young, her sister-in-law Felicity and their two children Nick and Astrid, arrive sopping wet at a London hotel hoping to check into one of its more prestigious suites, only to be turned away. It’s a crucial moment that forms the foundation of the movie, establishing Michelle Yeoh’s character as a fierce woman not to be trifled with, after she winds up calling her husband and, much to the chagrin of the staff, ensuring he buys the hotel. It’s sharp, witty and cleverly-played, but is also somewhat of a social commentary by director Jon Chu, about the way Asian representation on the big screen has played out for years. Casual racism is a prevalent part of our society, so it’s pleasing when the situation is flipped on its head.
Based on the popular novel by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians (2018) follows Chinese-American economics professor Rachel Chu who’s been dating her boyfriend Nick Young for just over a year. Everything seems to be going well until she and her beau jet off to his home country of Singapore to attend the upcoming nuptials of his best friend. It’s then she learns Nick actually comes from an uber-wealthy ‘old-money’ sort of family, with a matriarch that’s hell bent on making sure Rachel doesn’t end up a part of it. It’s certainly not an original premise, the idea of a working-class woman from New York ending up with a proverbial prince from a far-away land. Neither is having his parents disapprove. In fact, almost every aspect of the storyline, from the wild bachelor party to the literal glow-up in her best friend’s bedroom, seems to have been recycled from rom-coms of the past. Including the overblown if not spectacularly-set ending. But where Crazy Rich Asians (2018) differs is in how it gets there. It’s about sacrifice, and as they say early in the film – playing to win instead of playing not to lose.
The cinematography is gorgeous and, in a way, serves as metaphor for the film itself. Flashy and fashionable, but at the same time underpinned by heart and soul. Take the exquisite and endearing set piece of the central wedding, where guests are seated between reeds, the bride enters through flowing water and fireflies, and the soft melodic sounds of ‘Can’t help falling in love’ envelop the whole room. There’s never been a more glorious wedding march moment in the history of cinema. And yet, it’s not the supposed $40 million price tag that makes it great. It’s the short-but-sweet ‘I love you’s’ that are passed between our protagonist’s lips while it’s happening. Gold and opulence continually come second to the smaller moments, whether that be a family making hundreds of dumplings together with a method passed down through the generations, or two women bonding as they bury a dead fish. Wealth doesn’t buy happiness here, and the camera consistently reminds us of it, even when the dialogue doesn’t.
As far as the acting goes, Constance Wu shines as the story’s leading lady Rachel Chu, playing her as both equal parts glamourous and down-to-earth. Not only is her performance refreshing for everyone that’s had enough of seeing blonde, breasty girl-next-door types plastered across theatre screens, but she brings an honesty and unpretentiousness to the tired rags-to-riches archetype. Main-man Henry Golding, meanwhile, provides a wonderful turn in what is hard to believe is his first feature film. The English-Malaysian model is dashing as the Bachelor-esque Nick Young, delivering just the right amount of charm and wit to make audiences swoon. Yeoh brings a brutality to the Tiger mom role of Eleanor, with her unpredictability one of the highlights of the piece. But the scene stealers among the cast are the comedic duo of Awkwafina and Nico Santos, with the former’s college friend Peik Lin Goh the main source of laughs, from her Ellen hair to ‘walk of shame’ car clothes. While the latter is the self-declared ‘rainbow sheep’ of the family, whose flounces and flourishes are a priceless addition to what could have been a run-of-the-mill movie.
At lot has been said about the film’s desire to showcase that minority-led films can be just as good as the mainstream blockbusters starring straight, white men and women. And quite frankly, it’s been a long time coming. I mean, statistics from just two years ago show that around only one per cent of lead roles went to Asian actors and actresses. And you’ll be hard pressed to find a review that doesn’t mention how the movie is the first Western-produced, Asian-led film since Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) and The Joy Luck Club (1993). It’s incomprehensible that films like these are still outliers. Especially when there are hundreds of thousands of people with the same background, ethnicity or skin-colour who should rightfully be able to see people like them on theatre screens. And it’s just not right to say it’s a money thing. Crazy Rich Asians (2018) has raked in more than $130 million at the box office and Black Panther (2018) ended up with a $1.3 billion run. Representation matters, plain and simple.
For me, the best bit about Crazy Rich Asians (2018) is the decision by the film’s creators to pass on a lucrative deal with Netflix. Not only were they reportedly offered a trilogy of movies and artistic licence but were practically guaranteed seven-figure contracts. And still they chose to go with a studio willing to give the film widespread cinematic distribution. They chose the integrity of the audience over their own personal gains. They chose to sacrifice things for themselves so that people around the world would be able to see Asian characters in a place they have every right to be seen in. Like Rachel, throwing away the winning tile in the movies climactic third-act Mah-jong game, they proved that you don’t always have to win to prove you’re the best. Sometimes it’s better to rise above.
Rating: 4 Asian Ellens out of 5
Deadpool 2 Review - Ready your chimichangas and dubstep because you're in for a rollicking round two
After unleashing the first R-Rated anti-hero picture to rave reviews and an unexpectedly large box-office, the idea of a sequel to Deadpool (2016) was less of a question and more of an obvious answer. Because while it would undoubtedly be a cash-grab for the studio, it would also satiate fans of what has come to be a rather unique genre. DC is dark, the MCU is friendly fun, and the X-Men are somewhere between. But until two years ago we were yet to see a foul-mouthed caped crusader ready and willing to push the boundaries in the name of comedy and action. And thank God they did, because audiences were delivered a rip-roaring time and some of the best meta fourth-wall breaks on film. But could a second coming really live up to the hype and the grandeur of the original? Well, for the most part yes, taking down as many other superhero movies and their clichés as it can in the process.
Where part one was billed as a violent, irreverent and unexpectedly romantic comedy, Deadpool 2 (2018) instead serves itself up as a ‘family’ film. Provided your idea of a Friday night kid-flick includes characters dropping the c-bomb, action sequences with severed body parts and multiple, tragic on-screen deaths. To be fair, it’s quite heart-warming too, as our anti-hero Wade Wilson is forced to come to terms with a personal tragedy. After wallowing in self-pity (and indulging in some of the coke he had previously hidden around Blind Al’s place), the Merc with the Mouth is hoping to get out of the game, and life, completely. Cue everyone’s favourite silver giant Colossus, waiting in the wings to convince our protagonist he could be a useful (trainee) member of the X-Men. And when a young mutant with pyrotechnic abilities gets a bit out of control it’s the perfect opportunity for Deadpool to try his hand being a good guy. As you’d expect things don’t quite go to plan, with Josh Brolin’s Cable entering the scene and the rest of the narrative including jail-breaks, truck-convoy chases and even a bit of time travel.
Amid the ‘lazy-writing’ of what is a largely predictive plotline, we are also introduced to the looming X-Force, a bunch of new characters tipped to take over from Deadpool in Sony’s superhero future. Just hold off on getting too attached though, it is still Deadpool’s movie and I wasn’t joking – the body count here is huge. Among the standouts is Domino, whose abilities revolve around being lucky. Think Final Destination (2000) style stuff but in a good way – like a handy get out of death free card. Everyone’s average dad Peter, who became a fan favourite from his appearance in the trailers, also gets his moment to shine despite having no superpowers whatsoever, proving that Deadpool 2 (2018) really does just play by its own rules. Oh, and Negasonic Teenage Warhead is as awesome as ever, generating atomic blasts and finding her first love. As is the wildly imaginative and glorious soundtrack including Celine Dion, Cher and Dolly Parton.
The humour is strong with the sequel, tapping into the meta and finding fresh ways to reinvent what made the first film so entertaining. But don’t be fooled – writers Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and Ryan Reynolds know their niche and play hard to it. It’s a shame too, because despite the sarcastic comedy and laugh-out-loud lines littered throughout, it constantly feels like they are playing it safe (the one exception being an early scene that sets the tone for the flick). Deadpool 2 (2018) is still a superhero showdown and one that perhaps requires more homework than all the others combined, with quips about parents named Martha and mutant related cameos that only those with a litany of prior knowledge could get. Then again, like the MCU, audiences know going in that this isn’t a standalone piece, so brush up or suck it up. Creating depth past the jokes is something the film strangely succeeds in too though, placing the emphasis on heart as much as humour. Overwhelmed by grief, Deadpool is no mere one-directional character, and neither are his foes and friends.
Reynolds, in a role he was clearly born to play, relishes his return to the title character, zinging one-liners left, right and centre. But under the suit there is a vulnerability that’s a step-up from the last film, with the audience never truly certain of his intentions. Meanwhile, scene-stealers Karan Soni and Leslie Uggams, who play Dopinder and Blind Al respectively, are given meatier roles here, gloriously holding their own against ‘God’s perfect idiot’. The same goes for new additions Zazie Beetz as lucky-lady Domino and Julian Dennison as Russell a.k.a. Firefist, who add flair and fun to the controlled chaos. As for Cable himself, Brolin appears much more relaxed and energised here than his recent turn as Thanos in Marvel’s other cinematic universe, something the Merc with a Mouth is happy to remind us of. And thankfully he is given a deeper backstory (or perhaps, just a more redeemable one), not quite villain or hero, but sitting comfortably in the middle alongside Deadpool. It’s a relief to see characters that aren’t perfect and are just happy to be along for the ride, however cliched it can get at times.
Like all good superhero films though, you must wait until the end for the most important moments. And here, that also mean the funniest, with the after-credits scenes tackling Reynolds own history of bad decisions – ala Green Lantern (2011) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). And for a film featuring the most outrageous Basic Instinct (1992) reference ever that’s saying something. Ultimately, if you are up for an entertaining, self-aware, comical and yet excruciatingly violent movie then you will probably walk away with a smile on your face. If not, you need to ask yourself why you are watching this film in the first place? As for future instalments, there’s certainly plenty of potential and more than a little ‘foreshadowing’ going on to make us think Deadpool: The Franchise may never really die, just like it’s hero.
Rating: 4 moments out of 5 (to be a superhero)
Thor: Ragnarok Review - Brash, bold and downright hilarious, this time the God of Thunder is finally a champion
It’s funny, but when Marvel first started on the giant conglomerate that is their cinematic universe, people were eager to jump aboard the train. Good film after great film kept falling in our laps, from Iron Man (2008) to The Avengers (2012) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). And then the sequels, dark and juicy, just like Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014), each providing yet more opportunities to be blown away. But the whole time, one of the quintessential characters of that universe – the mighty Thor - was resigned to little more than a muscle-man stereotype: a guy who talked funny, liked to hit things and was frankly just a little bit dim. Well, it’s so, so, nice to say that has finally changed. Okay, mostly. He does still talk funny and look hot. But in the God of Thunder’s third outing, Thor: Ragnarok (2017) we patient fans are finally introduced to the comic gold we’ve been waiting for. All wrapped up in a fresh, fun and fancy-free bow. Not quite bottled lightning, but pretty damn close. This threequel is a disorienting, dream-like feast. It’s a god damn rebel without a cause. And frankly it’s about damn time.
Ragnarok kicks things up a notch from previous Marvel-verse movies in both style and scale. Perhaps it’s because we don’t have to spend half the film explaining things or carefully crafting back stories. Or perhaps it’s because under Taika Waititi’s control a linear plot gives way to pure, unadulterated fun. But regardless, the film zips along at breakneck pace, bouncing between planets, puns and incredible cameos. It picks up with Thor in a precarious position as he learns of Asgaard’s end of days. Not long after he’s back on his shiny home world discovering his mischievous ‘adopted’ brother Loki is not just alive and well, but has being playing dress-up in his absence. From there the Marvel machine takes hold, as the mythical Hela arrives on the scene plotting – yawn – yet another global annihilation. We get it, okay. But really isn't there a better superhero movie schtick yet? Thankfully, Waititi holds his ground, giving us a reunion between Avenger’s outcasts Thor and Hulk to bring back the human element and take what could otherwise be a banal series of scenes into full-on Gladiator territory. Without spoiling things too much, the remainder of the movie comfortably settles into a cross between psychedelic roller-coaster ride and hilarious buddy-movie flick, as the ‘Revengers’ do battle for heart and home.
Third time round Hemsworth finally gets the chance to flex his comedic chops, whether that be in his joyous interactions with the Hulk or screaming like a little girl when confronted with The Grandmaster. But he also manages to bring a depth and brevity to the role that hadn’t existed before. Thor has grown up a lot since his introduction and there’s plenty of visual reminders too. From shaved locks, to his bond with his brother, and even his trandsformation when having to deal with the destruction of his beloved Mjolnir. Odin’s son is finally living up to his name, in more ways than one. In comparison, everyone’s favourite bad boy villain Loki has had a somewhat slower maturity, creating monuments in his honour after being left to his own devices. It’s clear Hiddleston still relishes the role, part Shakespearean part slapstick and a whole lot of mischievous charisma. It’s no wonder he’s won fans the world over. Hulk meanwhile is sassier than ever, speaking his mind rather than just smashing things aimlessly (although a lot of that happens too). If any of the repeat players fall flat, it’s Anthony Hopkins’ wise leader, who seems like he’s sleepwalking his way to a paycheck rather than handing out sage advice.
The newcomers provide plenty of energy to keep things going though, with Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie both an original and badass addition. Declared the first bisexual character in the Marvel universe, that seems to be the last thing on her mind, with the warrior-woman spending most of her screen time drinking, throwing sarcastic comments her co-stars way and giving off a strong ‘don’t fuck with me vibe’. What more could you ask for in an individual, right? Then there’s Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster, who is a throwback to the eighties if I ever saw one. Not only does he own a spaceship specifically used for orgies, but he also wears blue eyeliner and uses so much hair product global warming should be a problem on his planet. It’s safe to say he’s almost more Goldblum than Goldblum is, and that man played Ian freaking Malcolm. Meanwhile, Karl Urban’s Skurge is much like you’d expect, taking on the traditional villain’s assistant role while maintaining some ‘redeemable’ characteristics. Best of all is Waititi’s own motion capture creature, Korg, a stone alien whose kiwi tongue and soft spoken logic has been sorely lacking from these blockbuster affairs.
When it comes to cinematography it’s a cacophony of colour here, dragging us out of the cold shadows of Captain America: Civil War (2016). But visual aspects play little part in determining the best scene in the film, because while most woman will likely judge it as the moment they can swoon over Hemsworth’s *cough* it’s-probably-in-his-contract *cough* shirtless scene, the hands down standout is Loki’s Tony-Award winning theatrical production. To say anymore would be to spoil the best moment of your year. But suffice to say, the cameos are everything. So what about the worst element then? Well, that must go to the overused, overblown and seriously-can-we-just-do-away-with-this-trope-now plot for Hela to try and take over the universe. Frankly it is really hard to care when Thanos’ master plan is lurking just around the corner. With Infinity War (2018) looming large, the stakes here just can't ever be big enough, meaning we remain almost ambivalent to the villainess (who clearly took her goth phase too seriously). Even the devastating finale piece, full of astounding visual effects, falls somewhat flat as a result.
Coming in as a relatively small-scale director, it’s incredibly empowering to see Taika Waititi bringing his trademark charm, wit and down-to-earth fun to this piece. Unlike the James Gunn’s and the Jon Watts of the Marvel-verse (who have done incredible work, don’t get me wrong), Waititi stands just slightly above the crowd. Because while he brings the same genuine heart and humour like those before him, he also brings a breakaway from the formulaic style Marvel is renowned for delivering. He smashes the idea that the tone, characters and secrets must be carefully formulated because Marvel are watching. He knows but just doesn’t care. Because Waititi is the revolution maker (in both the literal and figurative sense), finding a compromise that fits everyone. It’s an eye for an eye after all.
Rating: 4 Shirtless Hemsworth's out of 5
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review - Where a twig saves the day and the Guardians finally find family
When Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) debuted three years ago it was Marvel’s biggest gamble to date. Assembling a rag-tag team of misfits may have worked for The Avengers (2012), but the studio had six solo films to get to that point. And convincing people that an anthropomorphic raccoon, green ninja woman, scarred alien, self-confessed ‘Star-Lord’ and sentient tree would make the ideal protagonists, was another thing entirely. But convince they did, as then relatively unknown director James Gunn wowed viewers and critics alike with his incredible style and outstanding eighties soundtrack. Offbeat, funny and fresh, the movie surprised all who watched it, resulting in almost universal praise. But it did leave a real dilemma. How does one follows up a film that good? How do you create a sequel that outdoes the best? Well, the simple answer is you don’t. Instead you focus on making a movie that is exciting, humorous and just damn cute. You focus on doing well, instead of constantly trying to one-up yourself. And that’s exactly what Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) delivers.
The film follows a pretty straight-up storyline, whereby Peter finally discovers his origins and realises family doesn’t finish with blood. Since saving the galaxy the group have been settling into their role as protectors, with their latest venture taking them to the Sovereign’s home world to guard their batteries. But when one of the clan live up to their roguish background, golden ruler Ayesha sends her forces after them, driving the group to crash land on a foreign world. Saved by the mysterious Ego, Quill learns that the aptly-titled figure is his father and agrees to go to visit his planet alongside Drax and Gamora to discover more. Meanwhile, Yondu finds himself getting a bigger side-plot this time around, after being exiled by the ravaging community, caught up in a mutiny, and working with Rocket and Groot to try and right his wrongs. And then there comes the third act set piece, full of explosions, heart, cool cameos and enough guitar chords to keep fans happy.
But before delving into the nitty gritty technical elements, one thing I must do is take a moment to acknowledge the incredible opening sequence of the film. Without giving too much away, the equal parts cute and action-fuelled moment is perhaps the best introduction in Marvel filmic history. Not only does it give us the first look at the adorable Baby Groot and his fondness for dancing, but it proves why fight scenes become something else in Gunn’s hands. Slow-motion shots, sounds from Electric Light Orchestra and all filmed from the smallest team member’s point of view. It’s a lot, an overwhelming array of a scene that makes you wonder if your brain will be able to handle the next two hours. But it’s the kind of intense, colourful and enjoyable moment that makes Guardians stand apart from a crowd. And visually, the rest of the film delivers the same dynamic, as every tint and tone pops off the screen like a kaleidoscope of colour. Forget the stone wash of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), or the sombre hues of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Guardians is about the fun and what’s more fun than bringing things back to a classic comic book-style?
As far as the jokes go, for the most part they fall on Dave Bautista’s Drax and Bradley Cooper’s Rocket, who channel the sarcasm and sass with ease. Pom Klementieff’s newcomer Mantis also steps in for support, with Gunn using her innocence as a fantastic front for humour. Sadly, while most of the jokes stick their landing a lot manage to mess up in the process. The toilet humour is strong in this sequel and will leave you wondering why the film felt it had to sink so low. Similarly, a long-running gag about a ravager named Taserface lasts a little too long and falls a little too flat for diehard fans. But the pop culture references are what have always won over viewers and there’s plenty to go around, from Knight Rider moments to mentions of Mary Poppins. And with young Groot learning his way in the new world, there’s just as many ‘awww’ instances as there our laugh out loud moments. Peter’s story may be the heart of the flick, but the young sapling’s is undoubtedly its spirit. I mean, come on, we’d pay the ticket price just to watch two hours of him sitting around, he’s that damn adorable.
Interestingly while Groot’s representation has been stepped up in this flick, perhaps the producers were leaning a little too hard on it. Because while Chris Pratt delivered one of the best Marvel representations in the first film, here he has been reduced to little more than a chess piece in a bigger game, torn between two fathers and two families. It’s every bit the cliché you think it is and leaves him faltering throughout a large part of the film. Thankfully he regains his star status by the final showdown, and it’s almost entirely thanks to Michael Rooker’s surprisingly earnest performance. If anyone deserves praise for the film, it is him. Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista and Karen Gillan all put on a solid show, while Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper again provide fantastic voiceover work. The real drawback though is Kurt Russell’s Ego. Perhaps the character brief was simply one-dimensional, or maybe he felt the need to draw too much on the stereotyped villains of old, but all it adds up to is the weakest link in the chain.
I expected a lot of things from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 going in. And perhaps that’s why I left a little less fulfilled and a lot more disappointed than I was after round one. But that’s my fault and not something I can lump on the film. Critics are, after all, known to become jaded every now and then. But there’s a lot of heart in the second instalment and its powerful focus on family is hard to ignore, especially as we make our way towards the Phase three climax that is Avengers: Infinity War (2018). The series is more personal, more poignant and more imperative than ever. So, it’s important to have some good old fashioned fun before we get there. Guardians style.
Rating: 4 Baby Groots out of 5
About halfway through Disney’s latest epic animated adventure Moana (2016), Dwayne Johnson’s cocky demi-god Maui quips; “If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.” The moment is unabashedly tongue-in-cheek for the house of mouse studio, who, ever since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), have built a global juggernaut status around women being the homemaker, saved by the kiss of a beautiful man. Showing just how far they’ve come, the film’s stubborn and strong-willed protagonist is quick to set the record straight that she is not, in fact, a Polynesian princess, but rather Moana of Motunui, the daughter of the village chief. The distinction is an important one and something that defines the rest of the magical and moving 100-minute journey. As by reshaping their once stringent parameters rather than destroying them completely, the studio craftily creates what could easily be their best film to date.
Drawing on familiar notes of Disney princesses of old, Moana follows a young girl trapped on an island where nobody leaves, imbued with dreams of a bigger and better life. Longing to set sail on the sea, when her island begins to darken and die, Moana’s grandmother tasks her with finding the famed demi-god Maui to make him return the heart of Te Fiti, the mythical Mother Earth goddess. Like those before her, she finds it is no easy task, with the plucky protagonist forced to battle the cute coconut Kakamora pirates, a giant self-absorbed crab and a monster of volcanic proportions, all while plagued with a pretty big case of identity crisis. To offset some of this despair, Moana is aided in her quest by a comical animal companion, her somewhat stupid and clumsy chicken Hei Hei. While Disney-verse sidekicks usually provide help and assistance, Hei Hei bucks the trend with his continual near-death experiences, which would be rather alarming if they weren’t so hilarious, thus making for a refreshing and un-formulaic experience. Adding to the reinvigorated feel is the lack of romantic interests, instead providing us the selfish yet redeemable mentor Maui to assist Moana’s character progression.
With destiny at the film’s forefront and bravado in Moana’s soul, it is hard to argue that our hero’s journey bears significant difference to those that have come before. When looking at the smaller intricacies employed however, including the visuals utilised, it is well and truly in a league of its own. Whether it is the ultra-realistic glisten of the ocean or the trippy The Road to El Dorado (2000) nature of Maui’s solo song, the film frames itself as an incredible piece. Co-director’s Jon Musker and Ron Clements’ years of experience are clearly on show, as they enhance the familiar hand drawn imagery with the endless possibilities the latest CG technology presents. A film set almost entirely on the open ocean can easily become tedious, so it is a testament to the animators that even the smallest movements and motions ebb and flow rather than stagnate. Best of all, the briny deep becomes an entity all of its own here, saving Moana and her pet chicken countless times and reminding us there is a moral to be learned about respecting the climate we call home.
That respect translates to the Polynesian culture at the heart of the film too, from the lush tropical wilderness, to the coconuts and tribal tattoos that abound. Drawing on the teachings and traditions of her ancestors, as Mulan and Pocahontas did before her, Moana reminds us that we should be proud of our heritage no matter what that is. Stereotypes be damned, we are told to embrace and celebrate culture, not hide from it. Bearing curves to kill for and beautiful tanned skin, Moana is a strong-willed, stubborn and true leader, never afraid to give up. Best of all, such a role is treated like nothing out of the ordinary, represented in the moment her father Chief Tui speaks of their village’s patriarchic history, yet never blinks in mentioning her as the obvious successor. Newcomer Auli’i Cravalho imbues the character with her own Hawaiian history and effortlessly ensures her bumbling nature, innocent dreams and youth are instantly likable. With her maturity and kindness, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are big things in that kid’s future, be it in show business or not.
Turning to the music, Lin Manuel Miranda ups the ante once more here after his incredible run with the hit-musical Hamilton, alongside fellow composers and craftsmen Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina. Their songs are fresh, summery and downright catchy, imbuing each line with the sea-breeze and a strong heart. From Dwayne Johnson’s jazzy show-tune You’re Welcome, to the more sombre moments of Know Who You Are, viewers will feel as natural an affinity with the melodies as Moana does with the sea. Then there’s the powerhouse piece How Far I’ll Go, which rolls and breaks into the resounding I am Moana, with both pieces bound to resound with anyone who has ever lived by the ocean. Music is the soul of such movies and ever since Let it Go became the pop-culture phenomenon it did, we have been waiting for a new film to challenge its stance. I’m proud to say, any of the pieces here provide just as strong a message and they do it in a far less annoying way.
While many viewers will likely expect to leave the theatre drawing comparisons between this and Disney’s other delights, the real joy is in how this addition never shies away from its forbear’s problems, but embraces them to become better. While no-one may remember how Brave (2012) paved the way for a more relaxed and independent Disney princess, there should be no doubt in the knowledge that Moana will go down in the history books as the one that helped such an idea become mainstream. A worthy addition to Disney’s ever-expanding gallery of magical movies, it reminds us to find our calling inside ourselves and trust that we are worthy of it. And maybe, just maybe, if you listen to that voice inside you, one day you’ll know, how far you’ll go.
Rating: 4 Clumsy Chickens out of 5
Suicide Squad Review - A shamble of a script destroys one of the superhero genre's most promising blockbusters
When a film as promising as DC and Warner Bros’ latest venture Suicide Squad (2016) winds up as nothing more than a cacophonous burst of light and sound, it can be considered not just disappointing, but downright criminal. Bad pun aside, the fifth superhero offering of the year misses the mark big time with beyond poor pacing, cementing 2016 in the history books as the one for DC’s downfall. While it is easy to praise Marvel’s meticulous control over their films now that they are nearly thirteen pictures deep into their shared universe, what puts their cinematic comic-book adaptations a step above their DC competition is the fact they can hold their own as both standalone and interconnected action pieces. Unable to tread the fine line between pandering to fans and boldly stepping outside the box the studio wants to put you in, the Suicide Squad gang unfortunately wind up more a bland band than dream team.
It’s hard to describe the film’s storyline, as it is at once both painful and pointless. To emphasize this fact we need only look at the first few minutes, with disastrous director David Ayer not even able to figure out where the title should go, splashing it haphazardly across the screen smack bang in the middle of a scene. It only gets worse from there, with the whole first half of the film based around the exposition of our titular team, telling those who have never heard of DC’s ‘Worst. Heroes. Ever’ just how they came to be who they are. We’ve got Will Smith’s straight-shooting father Deadshot, Margot Robbie’s lovestruck fangirl Harley Quinn, Jay Hernandez’s hot-headed El Diablo, Adewale Akkinuoye-Agbaje scaly and surly Killer Croc and Jai Courtney’s beautifully bogan Captain Boomerang. Titled Task Force X, the team are assembled to takedown a nasty ‘terrorist’ in mid-town, who just happens to be an evil entity known as Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). Things only get stranger from there, but by then we’re almost three-quarters of the way through the film and are too busy wondering why we haven’t seen more of the action sequences we’ve been promised.
Sadly, not even a soundtrack that spans Eminem to Creedence Clearwater Revival can save this pieced-together picture. Although it looked bright and stylish in the lead up to its launch, with eighties music blaring in its trailers, ultimately Suicide Squad lacks the same smooth or slick style of its Marvel movie counterparts. Where they ooze charm and clearly have a dedicated group of writers pouring over every last detail, DC instead are rushing their creations right into the ground. So far, the studio has failed to deliver us even one decent film in their extended cinematic universe, trying too hard and focusing on dark and violent tones. Like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) comic timing goes right out the window in this film as well, as jokes hang half-finished in an awkward and agonising silence. Majority of the film’s failures though can be boiled down to David Ayer’s belief that he alone could deliver DC a shining star. Seriously, did no-one in the executive team think to question a script centred on a gang of villains calling themselves ‘family’ after just hours together? Nor ask about the inclusion of absurd story-splaining lines like ‘The Joker and Harley Quinn are gone’?
One thing Suicide Squad does deliver on however is its psychedelic tone. Bright colours pop on screen as the costumes and cars accentuate the comic book origins of the story. If only the film had remained focused on that element however, instead of pushing audiences to their limits with countless flashbacks and slow-motion moments. These are about as confusing as the film’s treatment of women, with the most prominent badass characters, Enchantress and Amanda Waller, both played by what was once the stereotypically ‘fairer’ gender. Despite that, the main marketing girl, Harley Quinn, gets punched and paraded around, part of an abusive relationship that evokes an ethically ambiguous tenor to the film. Even Katana (Karen Fukuhara) who is one of the most normal characters of the bunch is rarely heard speaking for herself, instead smothered into silence and a sidekick role by Colonel Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman).
Despite boasting one of the biggest and best ensemble cast’s in recent years, hardly any of the characters make it out of Suicide Squad as more than one-dimensional set pieces. One character is so neglected the filmmakers forget to introduce him, despite being a prominent part of the marketing campaign, imbuing him with the worst talent imaginable, before he is thoughtlessly killed off mere minutes into the second act. And no, I’m not even talking about Scott Eastwood nameless soldier, who suffers a somewhat similar fate. Notable exceptions to the trend include Robbie’s Harley Quinn, who is delightfully unhinged and loveable at the same time. Similarly, Jared Leto’s version of the Joker is neither terrible nor exceptional, but is instead criminally underused. Crazy and chaotic he has down pat, now all he needs is more development in the way of his clown-y comedy in future films. Best of all though is Jai Courtney’s quintessential Australian larrikin Captain Boomerang. Drinking beers in the middle of a fight, inappropriately asking girls out and brawling bad guys, this movie certainly marks his comeback from critically panned performances in A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) and Terminator Genisys (2015).
In the end, Suicide Squad leaves audiences with only a raft of unanswered questions. Like the who, what, where and why surrounding Delevingne’s Enchantress. And whatever happened to the cute pink unicorn Captain Boomerang carried around? Most importantly though, we are left wondering whether there is any way to get those two hours of our lives back. Perhaps Wonder Woman (2017) or Justice League (2017) can turn the tables back for DC, the potential is undoubtedly there to be tapped into. The only way that will be possible though, is if they stop trying to compete with the Marvel monster and realise there is enough space for two great superhero franchises in this world.
Rating: 1.5 Anti-Heroes out of 5
Finding Dory Review - Disney and Pixar deliver a fun fishy sequel, which just keeps swimming right into our hearts
Nineties kids are a bit judgemental when it comes to Disney films. After all, we were the generation that lived through iconic classics Aladdin (1991), Beauty and the Beast (1992), The Lion King (1994), and Mulan (1998). So when it came time to make a sequel to our beloved Finding Nemo (2003) almost fourteen years after the aquatic crew first swam into theatres and our hearts, many a flag was flown about the potential problems that could ensue. However, those eagerly awaiting Finding Dory (2016) can finally breathe a sigh of relief, because despite our worst fears of another disappointment when it comes to Disney Pixar’s precocious sequels, this time round the studio manages to deliver a fun, fresh and fantastic fishy film.
The piece kicks off with the most heart-breaking sequence since 2009’s Up, teasing Dory’s beginnings in the Jewel of Morro Bay, California. The adorable young Blue Tang is being taught by parents Charlie and Jenny about how to deal with her disability, before an accident sees her lost and alone in the big wide blue. From this flashback we come full circle as Dory grows up, gradually forgets them, and meets Marlin one his way to find his son. Skipping ahead one year, Nemo is back in his anemone home safe and sound as Dad Marlin and best-friend Dory settle into life as usual. That is, until the stingray migration hits town, reminding Dory that her new family might not be her only one. The intrepid trio soon set off in search of her long lost (and long forgotten) parents, winding up at the Marine Institute of California. But with challenge after challenge and no parents to be found, Dory has to dig deep and remember that there really is no place like home.
Finding Dory certainly swims familiar waters, playing out as the reversed narrative of the first film, whereby the lost child seeks out the devastated parents. Sadly, the picture is relentless in its desire to pull on the heartstrings and elicit emotion. Instead of sadness, we receive loneliness, and instead of courage we receive fear. While co-directors Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane smartly tap into these feelings, tearing our hero down only to build her back up again, it just doesn’t have the same ease or endearing quality it did the first time round. Similarly, there is a distance form the first film, with only a handful of returning characters like Mr Ray, Squirt and Crush, who receive far too brief a moment in the spotlight to actually shine. One of the other let downs is the increased reliance on bigger and bolder actions. While it is feasible that a bunch of fish can roll their way to freedom in baggies, it is not quite as believable when a septopus steal a delivery truck and drives it off a cliff.
The newcomers make up plenty of ground though, proving fantastic additions to the elaborate undersea world. Ed O’Neill’s Hank is the breakout hit, as a hilariously cantankerous septopus so hell-bent on living in his own little bubble that he forgot how to have a family. Similarly, Bailey the Beluga and Destiny the Whale Shark are both wonderfully constructed, with humour and heart aplenty. Idris Elba’s Fluke and Dominic West’s Rudder might skew the storyline but they also steal the show, thanks to their brash humour and interactions with silent stars Becky the Loon and Gerald the Sea Lion. What is great about them though is the part they play in helping the film tackle a sensitive subject – that of disability. Not only is there Dory’s iconic short-term memory loss, and Nemo’s bad fin, but this time around we have the disfigured and dumb sub-characters; Becky the literal loon, Gerald the sea lion who never speaks a word, Hank the seven-armed octopus, and of course the pair of sight and sound challenged whales.
So, while at times the film feels as lost as the titular blue tang herself, flitting from one moment to the next, when control is exercised we can truly see why Pixar are a step above the rest. Great care has been taken, for instance, to make sure the Californian water appears notably different from the bright blues and crystal clear imagery we are used to. Similarly, as we delve underneath the surface of the Kid Zone pool we see a war like battle ground erupt, as fishy friends thrash for cover and hands reach down to touch, poke and grab. Just as fish are friends, not food, in Finding Nemo, this surreptitious sequel reminds us they are not cute and cuddly pets either, and should not be treated as such by parents letting children run amok.
Lessons are, of course, the heart and soul of film. From teaching us that even those with disabilities can live life to the fullest, to reminding us we can always find our way back home. However, the most endearing message the film promotes is the idea that it’s okay not to plan your life out. It’s okay to forget things, find a new family in your endeavours, and just go with the flow. For a child struggling to figure out what they want to do with life (or even us nineties kids), nothing could hit home more. So, just like the titular character herself remarks, remember to just keep swimming.
Rating: 4 Fishy Friends out of 5
Now You See Me was the sleeper hit film of the 2013, taking in close to half a billion dollars with its quirky charm and stylish, slick magic tricks. It’s no wonder then that a second film was commissioned, and rumours of a third flick abound. While Now You See Me 2 is more a shadow of its former self than a striking sequel, it’s the escapist fun (quite literally at times) of the cinema-fare of old. Where Harry Potter (2001 – 2011) was all about the ‘real’ magic, and The Prestige (2006) was all about the reveal, Now You See Me 2 plays it smarter and sexier, to make magic seem cool again.
Set one year after the roguish Robin-hood antics of the first film, Now You See Me 2 reunites the Horsemen alongside Lizzy Caplan’s new member Lula, who takes over from Isla Fisher’s Henley by adding some much needed physical humour. After their comeback show is hijacked by a tech genius, the horsemen flee down a shoot only to wind up in China, with no recollection of how they got there. Forced into a shady deal with an even shadier character, the Horsemen must conjure an extravagant plan to steal a piece of technology that could deliver the right kind of information to the wrong sort of people. With the FBI hot on their heels once more and the tables turning as the illusionists become the disillusioned, you’re left wondering if, like the first film, you are playing close enough attention.
The film takes its time finding its momentum and sadly never quite reaches the fever pitched twist turn of its predecessor. Instead it is a different dynamic, with the audience already aware of where Mark Ruffalo’s allegiance really lies and the knowledge that a big reveal will occur at some point in the two-hour roller-coaster ride. It’s a credit to director John Chu that it still manages this, catching even the most cynical of us slightly off guard. As Daniel Atlas quotes in the film, the real power of magic lies in a closed fist and the possibility of the secret that lies within it. Even if the secrets are slightly more lacklustre than last time around.
What raises its status though is the fact almost all the old gang has returned, including Mark Ruffalo as FBI double agent Dylan Rhodes, Jesse Eisenberg as headstrong horseman Daniel Atlas, Woody Harrelson as veteran Merritt McKinney, Dave Franco as the young and energetic Jack Wilder and Morgan Freeman as experienced antagonist Thaddeus Bradley. Two newcomers also bring some fresh-blood to the franchise, with Lizzy Caplan delivering a scene-stealing performance as female-replacement Lula and Daniel Radcliffe’s Walter Mabry proving that even one-dimensional villains can be interesting to watch. Michael Caine is severely under-used however, his big dramatic return overshadowed by the fact he looks like he would rather have phoned in his performance for the payday he pocketed. Harrelson in contrast is the opposite, almost over-used, with the actor playing dual roles as Merritt and his crazy identical tanned twin. That, sadly, is not an illusion, coming as a serious distraction to the authenticity and appeal the first film forged.
The real problem with the film though comes from Ed Solomon’s script. Where his first attempt co-written with Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt was stylish, substantial and genuinely surprising, his sequel script comes off as a convoluted mess with no sense of purpose or real humour. Brief moments remind us of the series inordinate potential, like Caplan’s crazy physical humour involving a sawn off hand, or the genuine rapport between Wilder and McKinney. Outside this though, you are left wishing the line ‘look closely, because the closer you think you are, the less you will actually see,’ wasn’t so accurate.
When the film does hit the right notes though, we are presented with a rollicking ride. The glory of Now You See Me 2 is that it doesn’t rely on heavy special effects, jarring action sequences, or ridiculous romance, but instead focuses on the pure thrill of the unknown becoming known. There is colossally cool card scene that steals the show and pays for the price of admission alone. And that’s not to mention Daniel Atlas’ crazy clothes-changing prowess and god-like powers over rain, all of which remind us that you don’t have to know how a magic trick happens to make it fun to watch, but when you do it can sometimes take it next level. The real magic though is taking four strong solo acts and making them work together as one single organism, something we are promised time and time again, and are delivered by the time the credits roll. Eisenberg, Harrelson, Franco, and Caplan are a great team, even if it feels that the powers that be were too convinced by their ego that they were two steps ahead, when really they were four steps behind.
Rating: 3 Horseman out of 5
How To Be Single Review - The art of being alone even when you're trying really, really hard not to be
For a feature film entitled How to be Single (2016), Warner Brother’s newest rom-com certainly spends a lot of time showing us what it means to be in a relationship rather than alone. There’s a serial hook-up harlequin, a woman who decides to settle down and have a baby, and another young female looking for her Mr Right. None of these however, are our lead protagonist, the one who teaches us the real moral of not how to be single, but the age old question of why.
The story follows Alice, a recent college graduate played by the doe-eyed Dakota Johnson, who decides to take a break from dating her college sweetheart Josh to move to the Big Apple, pursue a job as a paralegal, and find out who she is when she’s alone. Her first day in the office is no walk in the park however, as she is befriended by Robin, played by the boisterous Rebel Wilson, a hilarious desk-mate who acts as the proverbial devil on her shoulder, steering her in the direction of fun, frivolity, and the art of being frisky. After just one racy rendezvous with local man Tom the Bartender, our plucky protagonist sees the error of her ways, squandering the rest of the 2-hour run-time pining after her lost (and long moved on) love, playing family with a widow, and notching up a number of other marks on her bedpost. Rounding out the main quartet is Meg, Alice’s neurotic (not crazy, never crazy…) obstetrician sister, who is seeking neither a baby nor a man at the start of the film, and somehow manages to find both by the time the credits role, and Lucy a woman who has narrowed down the dating pool to a percentage of eligible men equal to that of half a crushed peanut.
Basically, How to Be Single is a film about three women learning how not to be single, playing remarkably like this decade’s version of He’s Just Not That Into You (2009), flaunting a stellar cast, a flimsy script, and a lot of gags to keep you going. In saying that, like the aforementioned film though, it’s not a bad journey. We learn the art of self-discovery, are given a lesson in growing-up, and feel ourselves rise to that sense of maturity we all found thrust upon ourselves at the tender age of twenty-one, when we left home / university / our first job, and had to ask what the hell were we doing? Most importantly, it reminds us that happy endings are not always found in a guy and a girl falling madly in love. Sometimes they are found in madly loving yourself.
Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein and Dana Fox’s screenplay is at times startlingly refreshingly, proving a winner in its unprecedented gender equality. Not only does it imply that girls can party hard, decide to ‘take a break’ in a relationship, or choose to sleep around without consequence, but they reinforce these ideas without making a fuss or calling attention to them. This is the twenty-first century, and for once women are just as entitled as men. Christian Ditter rightly deserves some praise here too for the direction of his second English language book adaptation; however he must also cop some flak for his driftless and formulaic choices. It’s a good film, just not a great one.
Bumping the film up though are the performances of leads Wilson and Johnson, the former bringing the laughs big-time, firing off her now iconic brand of humour with startling precision. Not only does she nail a beautiful sequence in which her character tries to prove she can cure a hangover, get her hair and make-up done, and get to work in less than twenty minutes, but her riffing prowess in describing Alice’s down-town area by referencing Gandalf is legendary. Johnson too is a wonder, proving herself one of the best young actresses around at the moment. No matter how hard you want to hate her for signing on to the Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) trilogy, she is charming and compelling here, if only a little bit bland.
This isn’t a film of blockbuster proportion. Or a smart and sexy indie soiree. It’s a rom-com, pitched as a rom-com, which finds itself… you guessed it… focusing on romance and comedy. Like the proverbial dilemma of who came first the chicken or the egg, How to Be Single teaches you that knowing yourself helps you appreciate who you become in a relationship, and that loving someone helps you learn how to handle yourself when you’re alone. And it’s okay to be alone. To be single. To relish the moment when you are finally not tied by invisible heartstrings to another human being.
Rating: 3 Lonely Hearts out of 5
Let me begin this review by apologizing for its lateness. There are no excuses. It’s really just poor writer-ship. But if I don’t at least start off by listing some possible reasons for the belatedness of this piece, you’ll probably think I didn’t really care about the picture in question, which is 100% not true. So here I go… Number One: The film was so mind-blowing good that ever since I walked out of the theatre, the eloquence of how to describe such an experience has escaped me. Hmmm… too pretentious? Okay, well, what about Number Two: I was simply waiting for people to make up their own minds about the film, instead of forcing my views onto them. Yeah… okay, that’s just ridiculous. I’m a reviewer, that’s what I live for. Oh, I’ve got it! Number Three: The hype speaks for itself. At least that one is hard to argue with. But in all honestly, I’m not prepared to offer up a serious excuse for my delay, when Hollywood studio’s make us wait this long for a fun, edgy, and genre-defining superhero film. Thankfully, unlike both 20th Century Fox and myself, Deadpool (2016) has little to apologize for.
A rom-com, action-fuelled, superhero splice, Deadpool follows the much lauded tale of Wade Wilson, an acerbically sarcastic mercenary who fights crime, falls in love, and winds up facing a bout of terminal cancer. Yep, right in the liver, lungs, prostrate and brain. His last option presents itself in the form of a radical ‘treatment’ program run by a mutant-man named Ajax, so in a bid to stick around a little longer Wade undergoes a dangerous and painful procedure that grants him the ability to regrow limbs and withstand brutal punishment. There’s only one catch – it brings with it a face that ‘looks like an avocado had sex with an older, more disgusting avocado’. And that’s the kindlier version. Stuck with the facial features of Freddy Krueger, and channelling the horror veteran’s rage, the Merc with a Mouth adopts the moniker ‘Deadpool’ and sets his sights on a hazardous, yet hilarious, road to revenge.
Marvel’s mightiest (and mouthiest) anti-hero flick has a lot going for it. From its heavy-handed mocking of Ryan Reynolds previous superhero outings and career *cough Green Lantern (2011) cough*, to informing us we’re watching a Douchebag Film produced by Asshats, and directed by An Overpaid Tool, the film sells itself on its self-awareness. Breaking the fourth wall has never been so appealing and so thoroughly entertaining, throwing shade at anyone who ever dared question whether a second-chance character could excel in the hands of a first-time director. For what it’s worth, Tim Miller pulls the feat off with aplomb, helped along by the ‘real heroes’, writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. The duo craft comedic genius around every corner, reminding audiences that this is no Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Swearing is mandatory here. And with lines as glorious as ‘finish f**king her the f**k up’, you’ll be left wondering why Superhero films have never embraced the chance to stray from their staunch seriousness until now.
Perversity is the name of the game for Deadpool and our hero certainly plays to win, the film daring to reach for the same boldness encapsulated in its insane social media marketing campaign. You know, the one that featured giant billboards adorned with emoji’s of a skull and crossbones, poo, and the letter L. It manages to get there, if only just, working hard against the strain of a crude and at times unfortunately crappy storyline. The film’s biggest big black mark comes from its criminal under-utilisation of a raft of sidekicks and supporting acts though. A preposterous action when it featured fresh and funny faces like TJ Miller's Weasel, Stefan Kapicic's Colossus, and Brianna Hildebrand's cooly titled Negasonic Teenage Warhead. I mean, if you don't think comedic cab-driver Dopinder should have featured at least once more in the film's 108-minute runt-time, than that's fine, but you should just sit there in your wrongness and be wrong.
So while opinions remain divided, box office figures are not, with the film's $600 million dollar success spurring on a sequel and rumours of potential cross-overs in the X-Men cinematic Universe. And while we may never truly know who leaked the Deadpool test footage, fans everywhere should thank their filmic Gods that such illegality occurred. Because without it 20th Century Fox may never have put their money on the underdog. And for all the films (few) failings, it’s the risk we’ve all been waiting for.
Rating: 4 Giant Chimichangas out of 5
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