Frozen 2 review

For F*** Magazine

FROZEN 2

Director: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Cast : Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Sterling K. Brown, Evan Rachel Wood, Alfred Molina, Martha Plimpton, Jason Ritter, Rachel Matthews, Ciarán Hinds
Genre : Animation, Musical
Run Time : 1 h 43 mins
Opens : 21 November 2019
Rating : PG

In 2013, Disney’s Frozen, based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, became a worldwide phenomenon. The film was a critical and commercial success, becoming the highest-grossing animated film (until this year’s remake of The Lion King, if one defines that as ‘animated’). “Let It Go” became all but inescapable, winning the Oscar for Best Original Song. It seems like making a sequel would be a no-brainer, but the filmmakers took some time before committing to making Frozen 2, beginning work in earnest in early 2015.

Elsa (Idina Menzel) is settling into her role as the queen of Arendelle, but a mysterious voice that only she can hear beckons her to journey beyond the castle. Elsa initially resists, but when she realises that this voice reminds her of a lullaby her mother Queen Iduna (Evan Rachel Wood) used to sing, she is compelled to venture forth. Elsa’s sister Anna (Kristen Bell), Anna’s boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), the snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) and Kristoff’s reindeer Sven join Elsa on her journey. They travel to the enchanted forest of Northuldra, which has for years been shut off from the outside world by a thick veil of mist. Revelations come to light as Elsa reckons with the secret origin of her cryokinetic powers, and the sisters learn truths both beautiful and hard to face about their family history.

One can see why directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee were initially hesitant to make a sequel to Frozen, because it has become difficult to separate the phenomenon from the movie itself. Frozen’s immense popularity brought about backlash and cries that it was overrated, and it’s easy to forget how good the movie was. Frozen 2 does not merely do everything the same, and is about something.

It is a spoiler to say what exactly some of Frozen 2’s themes are, but it does address the ideas of growth, change and maturity. After everything the characters have been through in the previous film, there is a sense that they’ve arrived, but the events of Frozen 2 push them further along in their character arcs. The sisterly bond between Elsa and Anna remains the beating heart of the film and there are genuinely emotional moments between them, especially when Anna feels that Elsa is still not trusting her fully.

The animation is superb, and the movie features multiple set-pieces in which the animators get to flex their prowess. Water and hair, elements that are notoriously difficult to realise with computer-generated imagery, are rendered beautifully in the film. The forces of nature feature heavily in the narrative, with wind, water, earth and flame all imbued with a dynamism and a consciousness. Also, the costumes in this movie are gorgeous – Elsa is given several show-stopping outfits that look like the world’s classiest figure skating dresses.

There is also a very cute salamander named Bruni, who is like a smaller, happier distant cousin of Tangled’s Pascal. He is very Pokémon-esque and we want one.

While it is commendable that Frozen 2 tackles heavy themes, the movie sometimes strains under the weight of this and is not fully able to support the exploration of those ideas, which requires nuance and time. There is a conversation about the movie’s themes of how history is framed to be had between parents and kids, and not every parent will be up to the task of explaining what Frozen 2 is really about in a kid-friendly way.

While Frozen 2 tries new things and is not a straight re-tread of the first film, there are times when it seems like it’s obligated to deliver what audiences love about the first. We’ll talk more about the songs next, but there are a few that feel like analogues of songs from the first movie and can as such come off as derivative.

Frozen 2 puts great emphasis on the characters from the first film and gives Elsa, Anna, Kristoff and Olaf more to do. However, this is sometimes at the expense of the newer characters, such as the likes of Northuldrans Yelana (Martha Plimpton), Ryder (Jason Ritter) and Honeymaren (Rachel Matthews) and Arendellian Lieutenant Mattias (Sterling K. Brown) feel somewhat perfunctory.

If you weren’t a fan of Olaf in the first one, Josh Gad is ever so slightly more annoying here, but there are several moments involving the character that work.

Music is arguably an even bigger part of Frozen 2 than the first one. Songwriting team Kristen and Robert Anderson-Lopez return from the first film, alongside composer Christophe Beck. The songs are a mixed bag: some are good and others feel somewhat derivative. The big number “Into the Unknown”, which is pitched as this movie’s “Let It Go”, can’t help but feel like inherently less than “Let It Go”. Thematically, it is the ‘refusal of the call’ stage of the archetypical Hero’s Journey in song form. It does feature a good use of countermelody, with Norwegian singer Aurora giving voice to the mysterious entity that calls out to Elsa.

The filmmakers seem to have realised how woefully underused Broadway star Jonathan Groff’s singing voice was in the first film, and as such have given Kristoff more songs. He gets what is arguably the film’s best number, “Lost in the Woods”, a playful riff on 80s-90s boyband ballads that is reminiscent of Peter Cetera’s “Glory of Love” and “You’re the Inspiration”.

The haunting lullaby “All is Found”, performed by Evan Rachel Wood, is analogous to “Frozen Heart” from the first film. It conveys a sense of foreboding but is also an emotional anchor to the piece.

The end credits feature pop versions of the film’s big songs: Panic! At the Disco sings “Into the Unknown”, Kacey Musgraves sings “All is Found” and Weezer sings “Lost in the Woods”. Brendon Urie’s famous four-octave rage gets showcased nicely in “Into the Unknown”.

There’s an authenticity to Frozen 2, which is respectful of the Nordic culture that is its inspiration. The filmmakers were unable to take the customary research trips for the first film, but made it a point to visit Iceland, Finland and Norway during pre-production on Frozen 2. One of the most interesting elements of Frozen 2 is itself an elemental, an entity called the Nokk that takes the form of a horse and with which Elsa has a dramatic encounter. The contrast between the fairytale-like Norway and the ancient, mythic Iceland is meant to represent the difference between Anna and Elsa.

Part of what’s interesting about Frozen 2 is the battle between being its own thing and being the sequel to Frozen, and the filmmakers have mostly struck a good balance here. Stick around for a post-credits scene.

Frozen 2 has a lot to live up to and delivers both breath-taking animation and a substantial story. While the strain of the weighty themes can sometimes be felt and some of the songs feel like also-rans versions of songs from the first film, Frozen 2 is mostly a lively and engaging experience.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Murder on the Orient Express (2017) movie review

For inSing

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017)

Director : Kenneth Branagh
Cast : Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Tom Bateman, Olivia Colman, Lucy Boynton, Marwan Kenzari, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Sergei Polunin
Genre : Drama/Mystery
Run Time : 116 mins
Opens : 30 November 2017
Rating : PG

Murder-on-the-Orient-Express-posterIn western literature, three characters vie for the title of ‘the world’s greatest detective’: Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and Batman (yes, comics are literature too). This film sees the return of the middle character to the big screen.

It is winter, 1934. Renowned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) has just solved a case in Israel, and is looking forward to a holiday in Istanbul. His break is abruptly cut short when he’s summoned back to London on assignment, and must board the Orient Express. Poirot is invited on the luxurious train as a guest of the train’s director Bouc (Tom Bateman), Poirot’s friend.

The train is derailed due to an avalanche, and a passenger, shady businessman Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp) is found dead. Poirot gathers the other passengers, who are all suspects in the murder. They include: Ratchett’s butler Masterman (Derek Jacobi), Ratchett’s accountant Hector MacQueen (Josh Gad), Austrian professor Gerhard Hardman (Willem Dafoe), Russian Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench), the Princess’ personal attendant Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Colman), missionary Pilar Estravados (Penélope Cruz), Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr.), governess Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley), widow Caroline Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer), car dealer Binamiano Marquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), Count Rudolph Andrenyi (Sergei Polunin) and his wife, Countess Helena Andrenyi (Lucy Boynton). As the passengers are trapped in a snowy mountain range, awaiting their rescue, Poirot faces what just might be his most difficult case yet.

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Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express is one of the great whodunits, and has been adapted for film and TV several times. The best-known adaptation is Sidney Lumet’s 1974 version starring Albert Finney as Poirot. Making another big screen adaptation of the venerated novel seems like a tall order, and most of the negative reviews of this film have deemed it “unnecessary”. While it’s hard to say for certain that the world needed a new Murder on the Orient Express movie, this reviewer was mostly entertained.

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There’s an old-fashioned charm and grandeur to the film, which is sumptuously, handsomely photographed in glorious 65 mm film by cinematographer Harris Zambarloukos – some of the cameras had just been used to shoot Dunkirk, in which Branagh had a supporting role. There’s a painterly quality to the computer-generated backgrounds, and everything looks luxe and inviting.

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Branagh pulls double duty as director and star. This is a vanity project, and while it teeters on self-indulgence, Branagh is a delight as Poirot. Sporting that magnificent moustache, this looks like the most fun the thespian has had since playing Gilderoy Lockhart in the Harry Potter movies. He is always the centre of attention, relishing every moment he’s onscreen – of which there are many.

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The supporting cast is exceedingly impressive, stacked with an assortment of talented actors. They characters don’t come off as characters, so much as ornaments that Branagh arranges around himself. However, there is an art to said arrangement, and the casting is uniformly strong.

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Depp is appropriately sleazy and unlikeable, while many of the other actors play on popular perceptions of them based on most of their roles. Pfeiffer’s turn is deliciously witty, while Cruz is almost comically stern as a buttoned-down missionary. While Josh Gad tones down his usual comedic schtick, he still sticks out among the cast.

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Ridley brings English proper-ness and a fresh-faced quality to the Mary role. Dench’s Russian accent is a mite too subtle, but it’s clear that she too is enjoying the affair. Odom, best known for originating the role of Aaron Burr in the hit musical Hamilton, is a serious and taciturn Dr. Arbuthnot, who is a composite of Col. Arbuthnot and Dr. Constantine in the source material. It’s super easy to be suspicious of Dafoe, because he is, well, Dafoe.

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As far as celebrity cameos go, Polunin’s appearance as Count Andrenyi isn’t as out of place as it could’ve been. The renowned ballet dancer cuts a slim, severe figure as the haughty count. Lucy Boynton, breakout star of Sing Street, doesn’t get too much to do as the Countess.

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It’s difficult to put a fresh spin on a story as established as Murder on the Orient Express, and there are times when Branagh’s struggle in assembling the film is evident: there is little genuine suspense to be generated, and some moments, especially during the big reveal, are unintentionally funny. However, there is so much talent involved, with said talent looking to be having great fun, and the film looks so splendid that one can readily overlook some of the bumpiness experienced on this ride.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017)

Director : Bill Condon
Cast : Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor
Genre : Musical/Fantasy/Romance
Run Time : 2h 9min
Opens : 16 March 2017
Rating : PG (Some Intense Sequences)

You know how this story goes: Belle (Watson), who lives in a provincial French town with her father Maurice (Kline), is misunderstood by the townsfolk because she’s intellectually-inclined and doesn’t conform to the norms of the time. Belle catches the eye of the boorish Gaston (Evans), always accompanied by his sidekick Lefou (Gad), but Belle rebuffs Gaston’s advances. When Maurice loses his way in the woods and is held prisoner by a frightening Beast (Stevens), Belle volunteers to take her father’s place as the Beast’s captive. The Beast was formerly a handsome prince, who has been cursed by an Enchantress for his haughtiness and unkindness. The household staff of the castle were also cursed: the suave head butler Lumiere (McGregor) is a candelabra, fussbudget majordomo Cogsworth (McKellen) is a clock, and matronly head of the kitchen Mrs. Potts (Thompson) is a teapot. Belle must fall in love with the Beast to break the curse, but when Gaston learns of the Beast’s existence, he will stop at nothing to kill the Beast and take Belle for himself.

These days, the foundation stones of the House of Mouse are nostalgia. Beauty and the Beast is a remake of the landmark 1991 animated film, which was in turn based on the 18th Century French fairy tale by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. It’s easy to be cynical about the practice of live-action remakes, a practice Disney is keen on continuing. While there are elements to this lushly designed, beautifully photographed live-action remake that are worthwhile, it does hew closely to the venerated 1991 version. Director Bill Condon, who earned his musical cred with Chicago and Dreamgirls, dutifully assembles a work of prefab nostalgia.

This is not to say Beauty and the Beast is not enjoyable. This reviewer had goosebumps through much of the film, and there’s a novelty in seeing flesh-and-blood actors (alongside multiple computer-generated characters) telling this tale. There is an effort to stick a little closer to the original story. For example, the Beast imprisons Maurice because Maurice plucked a rose from the castle gardens, Belle having requested her father bring a rose back from his travels. That’s in this version. Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos’ adaptation of Linda Woolverton’s screenplay includes flashes of rib-tickling wit.

The production design by four-time Oscar nominee Sarah Greenwood is sumptuous, with lots of dizzying details to take in. Jacqueline Durran’s costumes are similarly beautiful, but the friend whom this reviewer saw the film with noticed that the gold leaf details were printed onto the dress rather than sewn on. It’s also fun to parse when exactly this is set, given clues like Gaston having fought in “the war”, Belle reading Shakespeare to the Beast, the powdered wigs worn by the aristocrats, and the mention of the black plague, historical markers that were absent from the 1991 version.

Much of the nostalgia factor is directly linked to the music. The songs from the 1991 film, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by the late Howard Ashman, have been etched into the collective consciousness. In this iteration, there are lush orchestral arrangements and some very pretty harpsichord parts.

However, this reviewer couldn’t suppress his disappointment that the songs from the stage musical adaptation, including If I Can’t Love Her, Home, Me and Human Again, are conspicuously absent. Instead, Menken has re-teamed with Tim Rice, the lyricist for the additional songs in the stage musical, to write a few new numbers. These include the Beast’s solo Evermore, which is a sweet torch song but is an also-ran replacement for If I Can’t Love Her, and Days in the Sun, a more melancholic take on the wistful Human Again. It seems odd that given how this started out as a direct movie adaptation of the stage musical, those songs are all gone. Menken and Rice are plenty talented, so the new songs are good – just not as good as what we had on Broadway.

Watson has stated that the character of Belle was a big influence on her when she was growing up, and as such she’s honoured to get to play her. While Watson is fully convincing as a feisty bookworm, since she spent around ten years playing one earlier in her career, there seems to be something missing. Perhaps it’s how iconic the animated Belle is, that it’s hard not to see Watson the actress/activist when looking at this Belle. Her singing voice has also been autotuned into oblivion, disappointing when compared to how lively and engaging voice actress Paige O’Hara’s performance was in the 1991 version.

Stevens sounds remarkably like the Beast’s original voice actor, Robby Benson. This version makes multiple attempts to render him as sympathetic as possible, to tamp down the icky Stockholm Syndrome connotations. As such, the Beast is never really fearsome, even when he’s locking up Maurice in the beginning. At times, his computer-generated visage seems suitably animalistic, and at others, it looks like hair has been digitally flocked onto Stevens’ face. He also looks more than a little awkward while singing.

Gaston steals the show, as Gaston is wont to do. Evans flings himself into the part with great aplomb, seemingly channelling Hugh Jackman, who played Gaston on stage in the Sydney production. Much has been made of how Lefou is “officially” gay, and it can’t help but seem like a marketing device to generate controversy more than anything else. Gad is ideal casting and a fine complement to Evans. Maurice is less of the clumsy, absent-minded elderly man he was in the animated film, Kline lending the character warmth and a degree of grounding.

The all-star cast extends into the actors voicing the enchanted objects. McGregor seems to be putting in the most work, affecting a French accent and having fun with the role. He shares great vocal chemistry with McKellen, whose voice sounds apt emanating from a stuffy, unyielding worrywart. Thompson does a full-on Angela Lansbury impression, which is quite charming. This also marks a reunion for Hermione and Prof. Trelawney. Stanley Tucci voices a new character, the court composer-turned harpsichord Cadenza. Broadway star Audra McDonald voices the wardrobe Mme. Garderobe, and gets to perform an aria that seems awfully like Prima Donna from The Phantom of the Opera. The enchanted objects must’ve been the biggest stumbling block in translating the animated film into live-action, and there are several moments which work much better in the 1991 film, Be Our Guest being chief among them.

Beauty and the Beast will charm and entrance large sections of moviegoers, but it seems preoccupied with hitting its marks, glancing down at the floor on occasion. Things get lost in translation, and Disney devotees will be locked into continuously comparing this with its animated forebear. Still, it will be largely futile to resist gasping when each petal falls off the rose, even though we know how it’s going to end.

Summary: While it’s largely bound by an enforced slavishness to the now-classic 1991 animated film, more than enough delights await within this refurbished castle.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

A Dog’s Purpose

For F*** Magazine

A DOG’S PURPOSE

Director : Lasse Hallström
Cast : Josh Gad, Dennis Quaid, Britt Robertson, K.J. Apa, John Ortiz, Juilet Rylance, Luke Kirby, Peggy Lipton, Bryce Gheisar, Pooch Hall
Genre : Drama/Family
Run Time : 1h 41min
Opens : 2 March 2017
Rating : PG

a-dogs-purpose-posterThere is a wealth of movie-related resources online. Beyond the obvious review sites, one can peruse elaborate fan theories, read up on how a biopic measures up against historical fact, or check if a given film passes the Bechdel Test. DoesTheDogDie.com catalogues movies in which animals are put in peril. Here we have a movie which is predicated upon the dog dying several times.

 

Josh Gad provides the internal monologue of a dog’s spirit. In 1961, we meet this dog as the Golden Retriever Bailey. 8-year-old Ethan Montgomery (Gheisar) convinces his parents Jim (Kirby) and Elizabeth (Rylance) to let him keep the dog. They become best friends, and several years later, Bailey remains by the now-teenage Ethan’s (Apa) side as he falls in love with his classmate Hannah (Robertson).

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After Bailey dies, he gets reincarnated as Ellie, a German Shepherd K-9 who is paired with police officer Carlos Ruiz (Ortiz) in 80s Chicago. In her next life, Ellie becomes a Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Tino, who is taken in by an Atlanta college student named Maya (Howell-Baptiste) and accompanies her as she starts a family. Finally, Tino is reincarnated as a St. Bernard/Australian Shepherd mix named Buddy, who is neglected by his trailer trash owners Victor (Primo Allen) and Wendi (Nicole LaPlaca). Buddy is eventually dumped in an abandoned lot, and seeks a place where he belongs and after many lifetimes, comes to understand what his purpose on earth is.

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A Dog’s Purpose is adapted from the novel of the same name by W. Bruce Cameron, who is also one of the five credited screenwriters. Director Lasse Hallström, who also helmed the canine-centric Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, has put together an unabashed tearjerker. A Dog’s Purpose is geared towards anyone with even the slightest affection for dogs and advocates adoption and rescue. The problem is that people who love dogs generally don’t want to see dogs in pain or die onscreen, and there’s a great deal of canine misfortune, packed in with cutesy shenanigans. The emotional manipulation is plentiful and blatant, and because of the film’s episodic nature, the relationships between the human characters are largely simplistic.

Then there’s the elephant in the room, the infamous leaked video taken on the set of the film that showed a German Shepherd named Hercules being forced into rushing water. This drew sharp outcry, and while an investigation conducted by an independent animal cruelty expert concluded that proper safety measures were taken and that the video had been manipulatively edited, the damage was done. The film’s Los Angeles premiere was scrapped and A Dog’s Purpose will forever be tied to the abuse allegations. It’s possible that animals are often coerced in the making of movies and TV shows, if not mistreated, and this has further fuelled the debate of whether animals should be made to perform for the sake of human entertainment. It dates back to the days of circuses, and we’ll go out on a limb and say that animal actors in Hollywood are generally treated far better than circus animals.

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A Dog’s Purpose is ambitious in that the story spans several decades, and it features a convincing if sanitized re-creation of nostalgic Americana in its first segment. Bradley Cooper was originally cast as the voice of the dog, and was replaced by Gad. Gad has the wide-eyed earnestness down pat, but the voiceover is a big part of why the film is as heavy-handed as it is. Apa, currently playing Archie on Riverdale, makes for a decent teen heartthrob, while Robertson is appealing as she usually is. Quaid, the film’s most recognisable star, doesn’t get all that much to do. Both Ortiz’s Carlos and Howell-Baptiste’s Maya are likeable in their own ways, but suffer from the thin characterisation necessitated by the film’s vignette format.

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A Dog’s Purpose is filled with especially adorable canines (our screening seemed particularly taken with that Corgi), but its sentimentality is relentless and comes off as patronising. The plot of A Dog’s Purpose needs multiple dead dogs to make its altogether simple point. There are charming moments and large swathes of moviegoers will get misty-eyed, but A Dog’s Purpose often forgoes meaningful storytelling in favour of emotionally-manipulative shorthand.

 

Summary: There’s little profundity to be found in this tearjerker, though some will find its syrupy aw-shucks wholesomeness appealing. And, naturally, the dogs are really cute.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Angry Birds Movie

For F*** Magazine

THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE 

Director : Fergal Reilly, Clay Kaytis
Cast : Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Peter Dinklage, Kate McKinnon, Sean Penn, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Blake Shelton
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 97 mins
Opens : 26 May 2016
Rating : PG

Red feathers at morning, pigs take warning. In this animated comedy, we become acquainted with Red (Sudeikis), a resident of Bird Island who has trouble keeping his temper in check. After a particularly bad flare-up, Judge Peckinpah (Key) sentences Red to anger management classes. The classes are conducted by Matilda (Rudolph), and Red eventually befriends the jittery Chuck (Gad), Bomb (McBride), prone to literally exploding when he gets upset, and the gigantic, constantly growling Terence (Penn). Out of the blue, Bird Island receives visitors in the form of green pigs, led by Leonard (Hader). Claiming to be peaceful explorers, the newcomers are received with open arms by all of Bird Island’s residents – apart from Red, who harbours his suspicions. Red is proven right when it turns out that the pigs intend to steal and eat all of the birds’ eggs. Red, Chuck and Bomb seek the advice of the Mighty Eagle (Dinklage), a mythical hero whose glory days are far behind him. In retaliation, the denizens of Bird Island stage an attack on Piggy Island to rescue their unborn offspring.

            The Angry BirdsMovie is an adaptation of the mobile game developed by Rovio, which became a cultural phenomenon around 5-6 years ago. Beyond the point that this might be flapping its way into theatres a tad late, there is another elephant bird in the room. Large swathes of the internet are convinced that the film is a thinly-veiled anti-immigration screed. It seems far-fetched that a kids’ movie based on a puzzle game might be politicised, but it’s not absurd on its face. The villains are insidious foreigners with a hidden agenda, their leader is sporting a curly beard, they arrive bearing gifts and the promise of peace, and our hero is the one guy who suspects all is not as it seems. Alternatively, it’s an anti-colonialist message, with the pigs as the conquistadors who have arrived to bamboozle the locals and make off with their resources. Naturally, the makers of the film won’t confirm or deny the hypotheses outright. It slingshots right over the heads of the young target audience, but it’s something to mull over – or just chuckle about – all the same.

            Past the possible political commentary, Angry Birds is very much a serviceable, run-of-the-mill animated comedy. There are reasonably well-known comic actors in the voice cast, cloyingly cutesy baby characters, getting-crap-past-the-radar jokes to make the adults snicker, and the inclusion of pop songs aplenty. The birds might be flightless, but a surprisingly high number of the jokes land. Amidst the more questionable gags, like a Fifty Shades of Grey reference and scatological humour, there’s a litany of groan-inducing puns – think “Kevin Bacon in Hamlet”, “Calvin Swine underwear” and “The Birds and the Bees Fertility Clinic”. Screenwriter Jon Vitti is a Simpsons alum who also penned the first two Alvin and the Chipmunks movie, so one kind of knows what to expect jokes-wise. There is a niggling sense that a lot of the jokes were cooked up by a writer’s room of stand-up comics roped in to do a last-minute punch-up. It’s also not terribly original: one scene borrows the “most annoying sound” joke from Dumb and Dumber, while another lifts the Quicksilver kitchen sequence from X-Men: Days of Future Past wholesale.

            Angry Birds may be markedly unsophisticated, but its protagonist does go a good way to making it work. Red is flawed, a bitterly anti-social loner whose deep-seated issues stem from a childhood of neglect (he was orphaned) and bullying. Sudeikis doesn’t phone it in and ends up being pretty engaging as Red, allowing the viewer to sympathise with his myriad frustrations. Gad essentially reprises Olaf from Frozen, while McBride is reasonably cuddly as the gentle giant who just can’t help his outbursts. Dinklage is an absolute hoot as the Mighty Eagle, a widely-admired Wizard of Oz type who turns out to be out of shape and comically ineffectual – wait, the Bald Eagle is the national bird of which country, again?

            Hader could stand to be a little – yes, we’re going there – hammier in his role as the big bad of the piece. Leonard and his fellow pigs want to consume unborn children – it would’ve been interesting to see the movie acknowledge just how dark this is. And hiring Oscar winner Penn to grunt and growl seems even more puzzling than having Vin Diesel’s only lines be “I am Groot”. Penn taped all his, uh, “dialogue” in one recording session and co-director Clay Kaytis openly admits it was stunt-casting. Apparently, the film’s executive producer David Maisel is a friend of Penn’s and reached out to him. Penn, enjoying an early cut of the film (and probably not wanting to pass up the incredibly easy pay cheque), signed on.

            Angry Birds is sufficiently colourful, fast-paced and funny, such that parents won’t be tearing out their hair – though it’s likely they won’t genuinely enjoy it. It is what it is, a franchise-ready animated movie made by committee, and it really could’ve turned out significantly worse.



Summary:It’s an animated movie as ordered via corporate mandate, but The Angry Birds Movie does pack in the jokes and some lively animation. Have meaningful post-movie discussions with your kids about the supposed anti-immigration sentiment in the movie at your own risk.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Pixels

For F*** Magazine

PIXELS

Director : Chris Columbus
Cast : Adam Sandler, Michelle Monaghan, Josh Gad, Kevin James, Jane Krakowski, Peter Dinklage, Brian Cox, Ashley Benson, Sean Bean, James Preston Roger
Genre : Comedy/Sci-Fi
Run Time : 106 mins
Opens : 13 August 2015
Rating : PG

Beloved characters from days of gaming past are no longer confined to arcade cabinets, rampaging through the streets and tearing across the skies in this sci-fi action comedy. When aliens invade earth in the guise of classic arcade characters like Galaga and Pac-Man, President Will Cooper (James) calls upon his childhood best friend Sam Brenner (Sandler) to combat the threat. Brenner was once a Pac-Man champion, but was beaten at Donkey Kong by his rival Eddie Plant (Dinklage), who is provisionally released from prison to help fight the aliens. Rounding out the team is the mal-adjusted conspiracy theorist Ludlow Lamonsoff (Gad), who has an unhealthy obsession with buxom video game character Lady Lisa (Benson). They answer to Lieutenant Colonel Violet Van Patten (Monaghan), who has helped develop cutting-edge light ray guns to use against the invaders. Brenner and his team, branded “The Arcaders”, are all that stands in the way of the disintegration of the planet. 

Pixels is based on Patrick Jean’s 2010 short film that quickly became an internet sensation. It’s not the first good idea that has been completely mishandled by Adam Sandler and his Happy Madison production company, nor will it be the last. It’s an utter disappointment that Sandler got his hands on this – it may seem fashionable to hate on the actor/producer, but it’s completely understandable that many filmgoers are not swayed by his frat boy humour and his penchant for varying shades of prejudice in his movies. His lack of popularity is such that there have even been only semi-joking conspiracy theories that his films are elaborate money laundering schemes. Director Chris Columbus does not have a spotless track record, but having directed the first two Harry Potter and Home Alone movies, is more successful than Sandler oft-collaborators Dennis Dugan and Frank Coraci. This gave this reviewer a glimmer of hope that Pixels would end up better than other Sandler movies. This glimmer was quickly extinguished. 

This is especially a shame considering the technical polish with which Pixels is made. The visual effects work, supervised by Matthew Butler and produced by Denise Davis, is excellent and some of the imagery is eye-catching and inventive. A battle against the Centipede from the Atari game of the same name is an absolute blast and the film makes great use of stereoscopic effects, with visual gags like the game scores floating off the screen. The sequence in which our heroes hop into kitted-out Mini Coopers (with the license plates “Pinky”, “Inky”, “Blinky” and “Clyde”) to fight Pac-Man in a high-speed skirmish on the streets of New York is plenty of fun as well, even if it owes a huge debt to Ghostbusters

This might have worked with a different plot and different characters, because the characters are generally very unlikeable. Sandler stars as a ne’er-do-well home theatre system installer, his ego overwhelmingly apparent as he’s cast himself as the underdog who is “the only man for the job” and is eventually adored by the public as an international hero. Kevin James is the least believable movie president since Charlie Sheen in Machete Kills. Granted, it’s supposed to be a joke, but the casting of a credible actor as the President would have given the film at least some grounding, because if it’s all a joke, then the stakes are diminished. 


Josh Gad plays the stereotypical basement-dwelling, mouth-breathing nerd, who actually seems to have some very serious issues that we’re supposed to laugh at instead of be concerned about. It’s a shame that the character is as loathsome and unimaginative a caricature as he is, since Gad has displayed a fair amount of charm in other roles. Peter Dinklage is similarly wasted as the show-boating Eddie Plant, who was apparently modelled after real-life Pac-Man and Donkey Kong champion Billy Mitchell. Dinklage is clearly having a lot of fun in the role, but his character is so repulsive that’s it’s difficult to enjoy his performance. Part of Eddie’s terms in order to help the government fight the aliens is that he gets to have a threesome with two unlikely female celebrities, a joke which is followed up on instead of being treated as an absurd and offensive request. 

This brings us to the lead female character, Michelle Monaghan’s Lt. Col. Van Patten. We’re left picking at scraps, and at the very least, this reviewer is grateful that there’s a woman in a position of power in the film and Monaghan carries herself with as much dignity as she can. Of course, there’s an inane romantic subplot involving Van Patten and Brenner, complete with the “they start out hating each other!” romantic comedy arc. Ludlow’s slobbering obsession with the Red Sonja-esque Lady Lisa is nauseating, and one of the takeaways of the film is that women are trophies who can be won and owned. On top of that, there are multiple casual sexist remarks, such that the film’s atrocious attitude towards women is impossible to ignore. Not content with being flagrantly misogynistic, Pixels also tosses in a stereotypical portrayal of Pac-Man creator Toru Iwatani (Denis Akiyama) and a nigh-incomprehensible, buffoonish British Prime Minister (Penelope Wilton). A scene set in India takes place in front of the Taj Mahal, because how else are audiences supposed to recognise that it’s India otherwise? 

Pixels is Adam Sandler’s attempt to hop on the geek bandwagon in a bid to cash in on the retro nostalgia trend. The film bombed upon its opening in the U.S., another blow for Sony just as the studio has been reeling from a massive cyber-attack. This could have been excellent in the hands of someone with a genuine love for classic arcade games, a passion that was palpable in Wreck-It Ralph, which was fuelled with lots of heart and had jokes that were actually funny instead of offensive and cringe-worthy. Animated sci-fi comedy series Futurama also did the “aliens attack earth in the guise of video game characters” plot way back in 2002 – and, needless to say, far better. It’s truly a shame that all Pixels amounts to is Adam Sandler hurling barrels at the audience for two hours. 



Summary: Pixels has Adam Sandler’s grubby fingerprints all over it, smearing a fun premise and some engaging visuals with crass, tasteless jokes and unlikeable characters.

RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars 


Jedd Jong 

The Wedding Ringer

For F*** Magazine

THE WEDDING RINGER

Director : Jeremy Garelick
Cast : Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting Alan Ritchson, Cloris Leachman, Mimi Rogers, Ken Howard, Affion Crockett
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 112 mins
Opens : 29 January 2015
Rating : NC16 – Some Coarse Language, Sexual References and Drug Use
   

        It’s an old chestnut – the wedding may be the best day of the bride’s life, but it rarely is the best day of the groom’s. In this comedy, tax attorney Doug Harris (Gad) is about to marry Gretchen Palmer (Cuoco-Sweeting), whom some might say is out of his league, and all seems to be going as planned. However, with ten days to the wedding, Doug finds himself in something of a pickle when he realises he has no close friends he can get to be his groomsmen. In a last ditch attempt, he enlists the services of “wedding ringer” Jimmy Callahan (Hart). Callahan has built a successful business out of posing as a best man to any groom who can’t find one of his own. This time, Callahan needs to pull off an unprecedented con, the “golden tux” – recruiting a motley crew of six misfits to pose as Doug’s groomsmen. Taking on the identity of military chaplain “Bic Mitchum”, Jimmy has to prove he’s worth the $50 000 price tag and pull the wool over the eyes of all the wedding guests.



            There was a time when R-rated comedies that weren’t American Pie were not viable commercially-successful propositions. It all makes sense when one discovers The Wedding Ringer was written in 2002, then known as “The Golden Tux”. Todd Phillips was attached to produce – he would go on to direct The Hangover. The Wedding Ringer feels like a pale imitation of films like The Hangover, never fully committing to the hijinks, the gags never feeling as inspired and genuinely outrageous as in that film. Stale and silly rather than shocking, it’s hard for a comedy to feel fresh if it leans so heavily on gay jokes and fat jokes. 

            We’re going to use all the hedged statements we can here: this could have worked if it had been made earlier. We’d be lying if we said it was completely unfunny and the high-concept premise of a best man for hire is, on the premise level alone, somewhat plausible. Very often, the main characters in R-rated comedies aren’t particularly likeable. Both Josh Gad and Kevin Hart work well enough off of each other and Gad is sympathetic as a stock loveable underdog. Kevin Hart, among the most sought-after comedians of the moment in Hollywood, is dangerously close to overexposure and his shtick can grate on the nerves. However, he is, on occasion, genuinely charming and some viewers might actually want to root for Doug and Jimmy’s sham friendship to eventually become a real one, though Jimmy is clear that it’s all “just business”.

            Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting’s Gretchen is peripheral to the bromance between the two male leads. All of the ad-hoc best men are one-note stereotypes, to be the subject of pointing and laughing and nothing more. Character actor Ken Howard is suitably despicable as the stock “disapproving father-in-law”, with a heaping helping of homophobia. Olivia Thrilby is appealing as Gretchen’s sister Allison, who begins to detect all is not as it seems with Doug’s best man. And lastly, why cast Cloris Leachman as Gretchen’s grandmother when all she’s there for is a cheap sight gag?

            The Wedding Ringer is largely predictable and imagines itself to be far cleverer than it actually is. It also spends most of its running time lurching from one painfully-engineered over-the-top set piece to another, the most noteworthy of which being a car chase which tosses in an homage to E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial for no discernible reason. Thankfully, The Wedding Ringer does save the best for last, its last line being a pop culture reference that works exceedingly well.

Summary: The chemistry between Kevin Hart and Josh Gad isn’t enough to offset The Wedding Ringer’s lazy, lowest-common-denominator humour and its uninspired comedic set-pieces, especially in a post-Apatow comedy landscape.
RATING: 2 out of 5Stars.
Jedd Jong