Wonder movie review

For inSing

WONDER

Director : Stephen Chbosky
Cast : Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Jacob Tremblay, Daveed Diggs, Mandy Patinkin, Crystal Lowe, Izabela Vidovic, Noah Jupe, Bryce Gheisar, Elle McKinnon
Genre : Drama/Family
Run Time : 1h 54m
Opens : 14 December 2017
Rating : PG

Everyone has felt like at outcast at some point or another in their lives. It seems August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) has felt like at outcast at every point in his ten years alive. Auggie was born with a craniofacial condition and because of his deformity, has gotten used to drawing stares from strangers. Auggie’s parents Isabel (Julia Roberts) and Nate (Owen Wilson) decide that after being home-schooled all this time, Auggie should enrol in a regular school.

Auggie faces his first day at Beecher Preparatory School with trepidation. The principal Mr. Tushman (Mandy Patinkin) has assigned three children to help Auggie feel welcome: Julian (Bryce Gheisar), Charlotte (Elle McKinnon) and Jack (Noah Jupe). Julian relentlessly bullies Auggie and Charlotte can get a little over-excited, so Auggie finds himself becoming friends with Jack. Summer (Millie Davis) also decides to reach out to Auggie.

In the meantime, Auggie’s sister Olivia (Izabela Vidovic), nicknamed “Via”, feels neglected because her parents have shown Auggie so much attention. She develops a crush on her schoolmate Justin (Nadji Jeter), while grieving the loss of her grandmother (Sonia Braga). While adversity has figured strongly in the Pullmans’ lives because of Auggie’s condition, weathering this together also pulls them closer.

Wonder is based on the 2012 novel of the same name by R.J. Palacio. Director Steven Chbosky works from a screenplay he co-adapted with Steven Conrad and Jack Thorne. Chbosky directed The Perks of Being a Wallflower based on his own book, which also dealt with themes of being different and navigating school as an outcast. Wonder is cuddlier and more conventional.

Cynics will be quick to decry it as sentimental and emotionally manipulative and, at times, Wonder tends towards that end of the spectrum. However, it is never so cloying and saccharine as to alienate viewers outright, and there is plenty here that is easy relatable – especially for the parents in the audience. Wonder deals with themes of acceptance, bullying and friendship in a familiar but amiable way. The film shifts between several points of view, letting the audience see the story through a few different perspectives. This device could’ve made the movie fragmented or messy, but the transitions are handled organically, and this approach fleshes the story out.

Jacob Tremblay burst onto the scene with his stirring turn in Room, and continues to prove his chops as Auggie. Crucially, the character has a personality and the film is quick to show that there’s so much more to Auggie than how he looks. Quite endearingly, Auggie is a Star Wars fan, like Tremblay is in real life. A certain Wookiee whom Auggie relates to appears in some imaginary sequences. Auggie is realistically withdrawn, but when he gets to open up to someone, becomes animated. The role is acted with considerable nuance.

Roberts plays the over-protective, stressed-out mum who’s always being pulled in many directions. Many mothers in the audience will recognise the constant frazzled state she’s in, and how Isabel has had to sacrifice her own dreams to care for her children. Wilson plays the cool, slightly goofy dad, and gets a few emotional moments in which Nate professes his love for Auggie.

Izabela Vidovic, who played the daughter of Jason Statham’s character in Homefront, also delivers a credible performance. It is to the story’s credit that one sibling feeling they must step aside for the other is explored in a satisfying manner. The romantic subplot between Via and Justin is simplistic, but is sweet and complements the rest of the film.

Broadway stars Mandy Patinkin and Daveed Diggs provide solid supporting turns as principal and teacher respectively. Hamilton star Diggs is warm, but exercises restraint, such that Mr. Browne does not come off as a standard ‘inspirational teacher’ type. Patinkin brings a soulful authority to the role – every school should be so lucky to have a principal like Mr. Tushman.

Wonder might turn off the jaded, but this isn’t a movie made for them. Sure, the movie has its share of fortune cookie hokum, but there’s a palpable sincerity to it and there are sure to be viewers who’ll find it inspirational and uplifting. It falls short of profundity, but Wonder makes for a good movie to watch as a family and discuss afterwards.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Cars 3

For F*** Magazine

CARS 3

Director : Brian Fee
Cast : Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Armie Hammer, Bonnie Hunt, Chris Cooper, Kerry Washington, Lea DeLaria, Tony Shalhoub, Katherine Helmond, Cheech Marin, Paul Dooley, Larry the Cable Guy, Paul Newman
Genre : Animation/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 49m
Opens : 31 August 2017
Rating : PG

Lightning McQueen (Wilson) was once the fastest car alive, but his days at the top of the heap are numbered. In the third instalment of Pixar’s Cars series, Lightning’s status as a seven-time Piston Cup champ is threatened by newcomer Jackson Storm (Hammer), a high-tech, hothead next generation racer. Lightning’s Rust-eze team has been sold by owners Rusty (Ray Magliozzi) and Dusty (Tom Magliozzi) to the wealthy Sterling (Fillion), who has constructed a state-of-the-art training facility. Sterling assigns trainer Cruz Ramirez (Alonso) to Lightning, who resents the implication that he is old and on the brink of retirement. While initially dismissive of Cruz, the two eventually bond as they go in search of Smokey (Cooper), the former mechanic and crew chief of Lightning’s late mentor Doc Hudson (Paul Newman). With his girlfriend Sally (Hunt) and his friends Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), Luigi (Tony Shalhoub), Guido (Guido Quaroni) and Mack (Ratzenberger) in his corner, Lightning gathers the courage to regain the title and beat Jackson.

The Cars series is not viewed as one of Pixar’s crowning achievements, with 2011’s Cars 2 often viewed as the studio’s worst film. Cars 3 is a definite improvement on the second entry, often sincere and never aggressively obnoxious. However, it’s still difficult to get swept up in the story: the basic plot structure of an aging champion threatened by a rookie competitor brings films like Rocky Balboa to mind. It’s no surprise that co-writer Mike Rich is primarily known for penning sports films, including The Rookie, Miracle and Secretariat.

Lightning’s arc in this film isn’t exactly the easiest for kids to readily relate to. The themes of re-evaluating one’s purpose after getting a wake-up call in the form of a younger, faster rival might not resonate as well with the film’s young target audience as Pixar hopes. There’s also a great deal of sentimentality, with the impact that Doc Hudson had on Lightning, and Lightning’s search for inspiration in his late mentor’s wisdom being a crucial plot point. The adults might get a touch misty-eyed, but this might be lost on most kids.

As expected from Pixar, the animation is top-notch. The Cars are easy to buy as actual characters, and the way the characters shift their weight from one wheel to another is amusingly expressive. We get some gorgeously-rendered backgrounds and realistic atmospheric effects such as sparks and dust. However, Cars 3 lacks memorable set pieces. A Demolition Derby sequence is the most exciting the film gets, and even that falls a good distance short of the creatively conceived set pieces in other Pixar films. The bulk of the movie is spent chronicling Lightning’s training, which is good for character development, but isn’t all that exciting.

Wilson’s easy-going charm makes Lightning likeable even when the character gets caught up on his own success. The biggest thing Cars 3 gets right is the new character Cruz Ramirez. Alonso lends the character an upbeat eagerness and she’s set up to be annoying because she’s standing in Lightning’s way, but the character’s motivations are gradually revealed and the relationship between her and Lightning evolves organically. The dynamic between the two characters is sufficiently different from what we usually see in animated films, and to make another comparison to a boxing movie, is a little Million Dollar Baby-esque.

Thankfully, Mater takes a back seat in this one – arguably the biggest mistake the second film made was elevating him to a leading role. Fillion’s performance as billionaire Sterling is coolly sophisticated and just the right amount of condescending. Unused recordings of Newman from the first film are used for the flashbacks featuring Doc, displaying significance reverence for the legendary actor. Orange is the New Black’s Lea DeLaria has plenty of fun as the sadistic monster schoolbus Miss Fritter. As in the previous instalments, real-life racing drivers and sports commentators making vocal cameos: listen out for Lewis Hamilton, Bob Costas, Darrell Waltrip, Junior Johnson, Daniel Suárez and others.

While Cars 3 has its heart (or engine, as it were) in the right place, it’s far from impressive enough to justify its own existence. It surpasses the low expectations generated by its disappointing sequel and showcases surprising depth, but instead of sending heart rates racing, Cars 3 mostly coasts along.

As is customary for Pixar films, Cars 3 is preceded by an animated short. This one is Lou, directed by Dave Mullins, and about a loveable creature who lives in the lost and found box at an elementary school playground. Built on a charming, simple premise and packing a whole lot of emotion into its six minutes, Lou is a fine example of the storytelling power can summon.

Summary: Despite a story that most kids might find challenging to connect to and a dearth of memorable set pieces, there’s enough amiable sweetness to Cars 3, making it a marked improvement on its immediate predecessor.

RATING: 3 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.

masterminds-kristen-wiig-and-zach-galifianakis

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.

masterminds-owen-wilson-and-kristen-wiig

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.

masterminds-jason-sudeikis-and-zach-galifianakis

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

Zoolander 2

For F*** Magazine

ZOOLANDER 2

Director : Ben Stiller
Cast : Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Penélope Cruz, Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen, Cyrus Arnold, Sting, Christine Taylor, Olivia Munn, Benedict Cumberbatch, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Billy Zane
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 102 mins
Opens : 3 March 2016
Rating : NC16 (Sexual References)

It’s been 15 years since we last saw Derek Zoolander (Stiller) strut his male supermodel stuff. Does that Blue Steel still offer the same structural support? Personal tragedy has driven Zoolander into hiding. A terrible accident that claimed the life of Zoolander’s wife Matilda (Taylor) also damaged the face of Zoolander’s friend and fellow model Hansel McDonald (Wilson), additionally damaging the pair’s friendship. Interpol Fashion agent Valencia Valentina (Cruz) is investigating a string of assassinations in which the pop star victims snap pre-death selfies that match Zoolander’s trademark “Blue Steel” expression. In Rome, she ropes in Derek and Hansel to assist her. The duo is in Italy as the guests of avant garde designer Alexanya Atoz (Wiig) and are hoping to make a comeback on the runway. Zoolander discovers that his estranged son Derek Jr. (Arnold), residing at an orphanage in Rome, is the target of an ancient conspiracy and that Zoolander’s long-time nemesis Jacobim Mugatu (Ferrell), now locked away in maximum security fashion prison, has a hand in this evil plot.


            2001’s Zoolanderhas attained semi-cult status in that it’s too widely known among mainstream filmgoers to be an actual cult movie, but is still sufficiently oddball in its sensibilities. People still quote the catchphrases and attempt the Blue Steel pout. There has been demand for a sequel, but not “tear down the studio gates” levels of demand. As unlikely a comparison it may be, Zoolander 2 reminds this reviewer of 300: Rise of an Empire and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. To put things in perspective, the DVD of Zoolander has Stiller in character narrating how an interactive DVD menu works. With Zoolander 2, it’s more of the same, but ends up being too little too late. Most involved seem to be committed to the silliness, but the vibe that Stiller has switched on “autopilot” mode is hard to shake. It turns out that the flashy production values and a veritable conga line of celebrities making guest appearances serve to distract from the lack of any real invention or comic energy, which is a little sad to realise.

            We have nothing against stupidity in general and if a comedy wants to go all-out, full-tilt dumb in the name of entertainment, we’re all for it. However, it’s been repeatedly proven that one gets more mileage with wit, rather than witlessness, as fuel in the comedy gas tank. Zoolander 2 is not completely unfunny and there are attempts, however half-hearted, at satire – a “completely biodegradable” boutique hotel boasting “farm to table wi-fi” pokes fun at hipster sensibilities. Benedict Cumberbatch’s cameo as the androgynous, unclassifiable modelling sensation known as “All” dares to step on a few toes and laugh in the face of political correctness, but it lacks the same impact that Robert Downey Jr. in blackface had in Stiller’s Tropic Thunder. Tropic Thunder had something to say about Hollywood’s excesses while being outrageous and funny. With Zoolander 2, it seems like “when unable to write joke, default to cameo” was the mandate carved on the production office wall.

            Director/star/co-writer/co-producer Stiller has repeatedly made us wonder “is it still a vanity project if the person whose vanity it serves repeatedly makes a fool of himself?” Short answer: yes. Those who were charmed by Zoolander’s profound lack of intelligence the first go-round will likely be fine with Stiller’s reprisal of the role, seeing how he snaps back into it with such ease. Wilson’s performance lacks energy, but perhaps that can be explained away as Hansel’s more laid-back demeanour. The Oscar-winning Cruz is not exactly known for her slapstick comedy chops, but she gamely tackles the part of the eye candy cop on a mission, displaying sexy confidence in spades as she embraces the silliness. Ferrell has to share scenery-chewing duties with Wiig, who devises an unintelligible, non-specifically European accent for her character.

            If you’re up for a game of “name the cameo” with a group of pals, Zoolander 2 will be a rewarding experience. Otherwise, it’s close enough to the original but too engineered and lacking in spontaneity to reach any heights of humour. When the jokes (zoo)land, they land, but when they don’t, they flop out of the screen with a deafening, awkward thud. This time, the Magnum’s chamber is half empty, and a couple of the remaining rounds are blanks. Still, when it comes to comedies running on unadulterated stupidity, we’ll take this over those painful Friedberg and Seltzer ‘parody’ movies (Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans, Disaster Movie et al) any day of the week.




Summary: If it’s wanton shenanigans and famous faces you’re after, Zoolander 2 has got you covered. But when it comes to actually inspired humour, this sequel comes up disappointingly short.

RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong
           

No Escape

For F*** Magazine

NO ESCAPE

Director : John Erick Dowdle
Cast : Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan, Sterling Jerins, Claire Geare
Genre : Drama/Thriller
Run Time : 103 mins
Opens : 27 August 2015
Rating : NC16 (Violence and Some Coarse Language)
A government will be overthrown. Chaos will reign. Kids will be flung across rooftops. In this action thriller, Owen Wilson plays Jack Dwyer, a water treatment engineer from Austin, Texas. Together with his wife Annie (Bell) and young daughters Lucy (Jerins) and Beeze (Geare), Jack travels to Southeast Asia, where they will live as expatriates. On the flight there, they meet Hammond (Brosnan), a friendly but enigmatic man who might know more than he’s letting on. As a violent coup breaks out and their hotel is under siege, the American family is caught in the thick of the bloodbath and it will take every ounce of determination, every stroke of luck and all the help they can get if they want to make it out alive.
            No Escape is directed by John Erick Dowdle, who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Drew. The Dowdle brothers are primarily known for found-footage horror films, including The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Quarantine and last year’s As Above, So Below. While this is a departure for them in that it’s a straight-ahead thriller, there’s still a very terrifying element to the story, which plays on the fears many of us have of being caught in a dangerous situation in an unfamiliar locale. The nation in which the story is set is never referred to by name and the characters nebulously say “Asia” pretty often. It’s intended to be ambiguous, with Thai-like script and Thai-sounding dialogue, plus the Vietnamese border being across a strait. To avoid offending any sensibilities, great pains are taken to not explicitly refer to the ostensibly fictional country by name, which reminded this reviewer of those seasons of 24where the terrorists are from “the Middle East” and nowhere more specific than that. We’ll refer to the country as “Not!Thailand”.

            While this tiptoeing does take one out of the movie a little, this is actually a largely effective thriller. Straightforward and nothing ground-breaking, but effective. Dowdle manages to create an authentic and frightening sense of chaos with uncompromisingly brutal violence and this reviewer found himself sucked into the plight of the family at the centre of the story. Of course, it’s not supposed to matter so much if everyone else dies, as long as our protagonist, his wife and daughters makes it out alive, but that’s an exigency of films of this type. The film was shot on location in Chiang Mai and other regions of Thailand, which does an excellent job of doubling as Not!Thailand. In the first scene in which Jack realises something has gone terribly wrong, he is stuck in the middle of a clash between the riot police and rebels, and it is appropriately disorienting and scary. The film mostly relies on the atmosphere of the location to do the work, but while the action set pieces are not spectacular, they get the job done.

            There are several traps that are very easy to fall into with “family tries to survive ordeal”-type films. One is convenient ways out where it seems like a guardian angel is working overtime – there are a few such moments here, but it doesn’t neutralise the overall feeling of danger. The other is putting kids in jeopardy as a way to manipulate the audience into feeling something. Lucy and Beeze are caught in some pretty hairy predicaments, but it really helps that the way Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare play them and in the way they’re written, these feel like regular kids and not “movie kids”. Then there’s the predictability of the “get trapped, just barely escape and get trapped again” structure, but things move along quickly enough so that the tension doesn’t fizzle out.
            Owen Wilson isn’t an actor you’d expect to be headlining an action thriller, and he hasn’t done a role of the type since 2001’s Behind Enemy Lines. He’s actually excellent in this, mostly because he’s convincing as an everyman way out of his element. If it were a Tom Cruise (as in War of the Worlds) or a Brad Pitt (as in World War Z) instead, it wouldn’t have as much impact when the character has to draw on everything he has and become a badass to protect his family, because it’s something that would come easier for a Tom Cruise or a Brad Pitt than for an Owen Wilson.

            Lake Bell, replacing the initially-cast Michelle Monaghan, is also believable as a mother who has to be strong for her children in spite of being terrified herself. Annie gets to pull off some impressive physical feats while trying to evade the rebels and Bell, Wilson, Jerins and Geare are quite easy to buy as a family unit. The scenes in which the parents try to comfort and reassure their kids are well-written, which helps to balance out the slightly more outlandish moments in the story. Pierce Brosnan as the helpful, secretly badass stranger is excellent casting. He even gets to tip his hat to the Bond role and when he explains what’s going on, as he eventually must, it doesn’t sound like tedious exposition. Thai actor Sahajak Boonthanakit adds some texture and much-needed levity to the proceedings as the requisite “friendly local”, a driver with an amusing Kenny Rogers obsession.

            No Escape often looks like it was shot for TV, but what it lacks in polish, it makes up for in harrowing, mostly credible scenarios that will have audiences asking themselves “what would I do in a situation like this?” With Owen Wilson doing a really good job as the “everyday hero” dad, a palpable sense of danger present throughout and clever use of the already-existing environments and locations, No Escape is adequately riveting.
Summary: It doesn’t break the mould, but No Escape is a solid thriller with some edge-of-your-seats moments and a central family that’s easy to root for.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5Stars
                                                                    
Jedd Jong