Sing

For F*** Magazine

SING 

Director : Garth Jennings
Cast : Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Tori Kelly, Taron Egerton, Nick Kroll, Nick Offerman, Garth Jennings, Peter Serafinowicz, Jennifer Saunders, Jennifer Hudson, Beck Bennett, Leslie Jones, Jay Pharaoh
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 1h 50min
Opens : 8 December 2016
Rating : PG

sing-posterIllumination Entertainment aims to unite all creatures great and small through the power of song in this animated musical comedy. Buster Moon (McConaughey) the koala is running out of options. After a string of flops, the showbiz entrepreneur’s theatre will soon be foreclosed upon. Moon and his business partner Eddie (Reilly) the sheep mount a singing competition to save the theatre. The contestants include harried housewife Rosita (Witherspoon) the pig, the flamboyant pig Gunter (Kroll) who is paired with Rosita, an arrogant jazz crooning mouse named Mike (MacFarlane), punk-rocker porcupine Ash (Johansson), stage fright-afflicted elephant Meena (Kelly), and Johnny (Egerton), a mountain gorilla who goes against the wishes of his criminal father Marcus (Serafinowicz) by pursuing his passion for singing. As Moon seeks the financial assistance of wealthy diva Nana Noodleman (Saunders), Eddie’s grandmother, this motley crew of animal performers must sing to save the theatre.

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“Hey, let’s put on a show!” is a stock trope as old as Hollywood itself. To save an orphanage/theatre/hospital/school from being demolished, an unlikely group must draw on their talents and mount a fund-raising production. Babes in Arms, starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, codified this formula. Sing adds funny anthropomorphic animals and top 40 hits to the mix, but the results feel rote. Illumination Entertainment is quickly gaining on the big boys like Pixar and Dreamworks, what with the Minions taking over the world and all. Sing is the studio’s second film this year, following The Secret Life of Pets. Sing is probably Illumination’s most Dreamworks-like film yet, with its celebrity voice cast and surfeit of pop tracks. For a studio trying to set itself apart from the competition, perhaps that’s not the wisest move.

Sing suffers immensely for being released in the same year as Disney’s Zootopia. The design of Zootopia was thoroughly thought through, and each frame was bursting with clever, amusing details to notice. In Sing, anthropomorphic animals are plonked into a non-descript coastal city. While some might appreciate an animated film that isn’t hyperkinetic, Sing lacks dynamism and forward momentum. There’s a nicely staged set piece in the middle and the film’s climax is enjoyable, but Sing lacks the energetic visuals and propulsive pacing of Zootopia or The Secret Life of Pets. For a film with lots of dancing in it, it feels oddly static in parts.

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As a tribute to old-fashioned movie musicals, Sing seems half-hearted at best, and the selection of songs isn’t especially inspired. There are shades of A Chorus Line and The Producers, but there’s no thematic cohesion to the musical numbers, and Sing often feels like an animated variety show with a bit of plot tacked on. If you roll your eyes whenever a cheery pop ditty shows up in a Dreamworks movie, prepare to cringe through a good amount of Sing. This reviewer did appreciate that Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure makes an appearance, when it seems more likely that the filmmakers would’ve gone with the Under Pressure rip-off Ice Ice Baby.

To accommodate the large cast of characters, most of the arcs are simplistic. McConaughey delivers an amiable, earnest performance, but seems miscast. There’s the dissonance of a Texan drawl coming out of a koala’s mouth – perhaps Hugh Jackman would’ve been a better fit, especially since Jackman has more of a slick, old-school showman vibe than McConaughey does. It might be difficult for kids to care about a character who can’t pay the electric bill to keep his theatre operational – there’s a difference between mature themes and adult worries.

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Rosita is the overtaxed stay-at-home mom who struggles to care for her 25 children and jumps at the chance to break out of her routine and embrace her inner diva. It’s a predictable arc and Witherspoon’s performance isn’t distinctive. MacFarlane’s character is smug and self-important, with a penchant for big band jazz – we can’t argue with that casting. Johansson’s Ash is spurned by her boyfriend and is out to prove that she can make it as a solo act – shooting quills into the audience while rocking out is pretty punk. Director Jennings’ cameo as Miss Crawley, a senile green iguana with a glass eye who works as Moon’s assistant, might not be a patch on Brad Bird as Edna Mode in The Incredibles but it has its moments.

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The big revelation here is Taron Egerton of Kingsman: The Secret Service fame, who shows off some impressive pipes. We’ve often seen the archetype of a kid who marches to the beat of his own drummer, much to the chagrin of his parents – Johnny the Gorilla is not unlike Lenny from A Shark’s Tale, who wanted out of the mob headed by his father. The Cockney street tough accent sounds right coming out of a gorilla.

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If you were moved by Tori Kelly’s rendition of Hallelujah during the In Memoriam segment at this year’s Emmys, you’ll get to hear her sing it again here – never mind that the song is overused. Since Kelly is the one professional singer in the principal cast, it’s a shame that Meena sings as little as she does. Jennifer Hudson, as the younger version of Nana Noodleman, gets to open the film with a soaring rendition of Golden Slumbers, and then is absent from the rest of the film.

Sing isn’t just clichéd, it’s a gathering of lots of clichés in one place. If singing and dancing cartoon animals are all you’re looking for, then Sing has you covered – but then again, the history of animation is filled with singing and dancing animals. Sing has several entertaining sequences and a talented voice cast, but is too generic for its own good.

Summary: You know how this song goes: Sing’s “let’s put on a show plot” doesn’t offer any surprises, and will inevitably be compared to stronger animated films from this year.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Masterminds

For F*** Magazine

MASTERMINDS

Director : Jared Hess
Cast : Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, Ken Marino
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1h 35min
Opens : 3 November 2016
Rating : PG13 (Some Sexual References)

masterminds-posterMost movies and TV shows would have you believe that criminals need meticulous, elaborate planning to get away with grand larceny. It turns out that some real-life criminals who weren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer made out with a whole lot of cash. This is their story (with additions in the name of comedic license that we trust are minor in nature).

It is 1997, and David Ghantt (Galifianakis) is an armoured car driver working for cash handling company Loomis Fargo. He is engaged to Jandice (McKinnon), but his true affections lie with his colleague Kelly Campbell (Wiig). When Kelly’s friend Steve Chambers (Wilson) hatches a plot to rob the Loomis Fargo vault, they rope David in to do the actual dirty work of making away with the cash. The robbery is a success and David escapes to Mexico, leaving the bulk of the cash with Steve. However, Steve intends to double-cross David, and hires a hitman named Mike McKinney (Sudeikis) to take care of David. Meanwhile, FBI special agent Scanlon (Jones) is hot on the trail of the thieves. With their extravagant spending, Steve and his wife Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) aren’t exactly lying low.

Masterminds is, incredibly enough, based on a true story. The perpetrators stole a staggering $17.3 million, approximately $2 million of which is still unaccounted for. The direction taken by director Jared Hess, best known for cult comedy Napoleon Dynamite, is full-tilt silliness. While said silliness does yield some laughs, it also detracts from the ‘this really happened’ quotient, leaving the realm of strange-but-true and entering the land of over-the-top slapstick hijinks. With jokes that seem like they were written in a hurry, set pieces that are big but not overly complicated and an assortment of wigs and goofy facial hair, Masterminds is wont to remind audiences of Saturday Night Live. Most of the cast members are SNL alums, and SNL creator Lorne Michaels is a producer. Like SNL these days, Masterminds is a hit and miss affair.

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Hess has wrangled a talented, funny cast. This might not be a highlight of any of their résumés, but because the actors seem to be having a fair amount of fun, the audience does too. David is a standard-issue Galifianakis character: the well-intentioned doofus. There’s more bodily function humour than there needs to be and we get a nigh-inordinate amount of Galifianakis bumping into or dropping things, but Galifianakis is charming enough. Maybe “charming” isn’t the right word, but you catch our drift.

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Kelly Chambers seems like a role Jennifer Aniston would be great at playing, which is not a knock on Wiig. Wiig is often cast as awkward, endearing women, and in this film she’s entertainingly brazen and confident. Wilson plays a character with a sinister bent, which is slightly outside his wheelhouse, but not too much is asked of him.

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Sudeikis’ inept hitman is a scene-stealer, but one can’t help but think that the filmmakers missed an opportunity here. If it were an actor not known for his comedic chops, perhaps one closely identified with the action/thriller genres, it would be more novel and surprising. McKinnon’s role is relatively small, but she does provide a healthy number of laughs, playing a somewhat creepy, unbalanced woman. The presence of Jones as a no-nonsense Fed means that three out of four of the reboot Ghostbusters are present and accounted for. Bit of a shame that all three don’t share a scene together, or that Melissa McCarthy doesn’t get a cameo. Ken Marino is at the centre of the film’s most inspired visual gag.

masterminds-kate-mckinnon-and-zach-galifianakis

The film was pushed back a year because of Relativity Pictures’ financial woes. Masterminds doesn’t seem like something everyone was clamouring for, but it ends up being inconsequential rather than egregiously bad. This story of working class folk from North Carolina robbing a bank and getting away with it would make for great satire, but Masterminds settles for the most obvious low-hanging fruit at every turn. That’s not to say it’s completely unfunny, but it is unsatisfying. It’s hard to shake the feeling of “is that it?” as the film concludes.masterminds-leslie-jones

Summary: Even with its funny cast, Masterminds is middling rather than brilliant, passing up incisive social commentary for lazy humour. We will admit to laughing more than a few times, though.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Ghostbusters

For F*** Magazine

GHOSTBUSTERS (2016)

Director : Paul Feig
Cast : Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey, Andy García, Charles Dance
Genre : Action/Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 56 mins
Opens : 14 July 2016
Rating : PG (Some Frightening Scenes)

Ghostbusters posterA new gang dons the jumpsuits and the proton packs in this reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise. Dr. Erin Gilbert (Wiig) is a particle physics professor at Columbia University who had a falling out with Abby Yates (McCarthy), a paranormal researcher who co-authored a book with Erin. Abby is now working with nuclear engineer Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon), and an unexplained occurrence at New York’s historical Aldridge Mansion forces Erin and Abby to make amends. After witnessing a ghost on the train tracks, Metropolitan Transportation Authority worker Patty Tolan (Jones) volunteers to join the trio, rendering in-depth knowledge of New York’s history and geography. The dim-witted but handsome Kevin Beckman (Hemsworth) is hired as the crew’s receptionist, and they come to be known as the ‘Ghostbusters’. The team traces the recent spate of paranormal activity back to Rowan (Casey), an unhinged hotel bellhop bent on unleashing hell on earth. The Ghostbusters take on both malevolent spectres and repeated attempts to discredit them as the city is brought to its knees by the ghastly apparitions.

Ghostbusters Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones

It’s impossible to talk about the Ghostbusters reboot without bringing up the spectre of negativity that has clung to it from the moment the idea was mooted. Across the internet, there were innumerable cries of childhoods being ruined, and dismay that the four members of the classic team had been replaced by women. Vitriol including death threats was spewed at all involved. The cast and filmmakers hit back, with McCarthy opining that all opposed to the Ghostbusters remake were man-children living in their mothers’ basements. It just kept getting uglier, on all sides. The original cast endorsed the reboot and several of them have cameos, but leaked emails revealed that Sony was threatening “aggressive litigation” against Bill Murray if he didn’t promote the film. Murray was famously reticent to appear in 1989’s Ghostbusters II and his refusal to co-operate with Dan Aykroyd was what put the nail in the coffin of a third film in the original series.

Ghostbusters Chris Hemsworth, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy

Sure, some of the arguments against the Ghostbusters reboot have merit, and this is yet another demonstration of how heavily Hollywood banks on recognisable, marketable franchises. It’s not so much that there are no new ideas, but that studio executives largely refuse to put faith in said ideas because they aren’t proven. There’s a lot to strip away, but when one gets down to it, this can’t help but feel like a storm in a teacup – or an ectoplasmic vortex in a ghost trap, if you will. Stop the presses: Ghostbusters ’16 is nowhere near as disastrous as its detractors have been hoping it would be.

Ghostbusters Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon suited up

Director Feig and his cast have a proven track record of bringing the funny, which they do in spades here. The style of humour is brash and in-your-face compared to the more sardonic jokes in the original Ghostbusters films, but a good amount of jokes land. Not all of them, to be sure, but enough of them. Abby, Erin, Jillian and Patty are not merely gender-swapped versions of Ray, Peter, Egon and Winston. An adequate balance has been struck between respectful tips of the hat to Ghostbusters movies past and comedic stylings that are unmistakably Feig’s, with Feig’s and co-writer Katie Dippold’s affection for the source material readily apparent. As such, it is a bit of an ironic shame that so many die-hard fans have long decided to boycott this reboot when more than a few morsels of fan-service are tossed their way. The cameos are generally pretty fun and had this reviewer wanting to see more, but they’re brief enough so as not to be wholly gratuitous.

Ghostbusters Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones on the train tracks

This reviewer thinks McCarthy is funnier when she’s more understated, so it’s great to see her ably take on the position of team leader. This is a cast that absolutely clicks, and we never thought we’d say it, but their camaraderie does rival that of Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis and Hudson in places. Jones’ Patty is plenty loud and sassy and might come off as a racist stereotype, but her character actually feels more like she’s a part of the team than Hudson’s Winston Zeddemore did. And hey, a regular everywoman who’s not a scientist is a Ghostbuster; that’s absolutely fine. It is McKinnon who handily steals the show, getting some of the best lines as the team’s resident wacky wild card. McKinnon’s spot-on impressions of Ellen DeGeneres, Hillary Clinton and Justin Bieber amongst others on Saturday Night Live have garnered her considerable attention, but Ghostbusters just might be what rockets her up the comedy actor A-list, where she belongs.

Ghostbusters Chris Hemsworth

Hemsworth is game and entertaining as the receptionist who’s practically too dumb to function, slightly reminiscent of Jason Statham’s sendup of his action hero persona in Feig’s previous film Spy. The characterisation does seem like it comes from some place of resentment though, seeing as Annie Potts’ memorable Janine from the original films wasn’t an airhead at all. The film’s villain is obviously not where the focus lies, but while Casey’s Rowan is creepy, he doesn’t cross over into being legitimately threatening and amounts to a regrettably forgettable foe. It’s also less than ideal that the film’s climax is pretty much a bog-standard big ole CGI-infused melee in Times Square, the likes of which we’ve seen many times before. It doesn’t hold a candle to the iconic Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man rampage of the first film, or even the Statue of Liberty marching through New York in the second.

Ghostbusters climactic battle

Is the Ghostbusters reboot the best idea to come out of Hollywood? No. But thanks to the efforts of Feig and his talented, watchable cast, it succeeds where many reboots haven’t, as just enough of its own thing. Feig, Dippold and the other filmmakers have been given enough free rein such that this doesn’t come off as just a studio-mandated cash grab. There’s also no indication that there was any desire to supplant the original films or deny their legacy exists. Stick around for extra clips interspersed through the end credits, plus a post-credits stinger to cap it all off.

Summary: It’s not too hot to handle nor is it too cold to hold, but Ghostbusters is largely funny and well-made. Despite being stuck in the shadow of the towering original, it’s pretty enjoyable.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong