Last Flag Flying movie review

For inSing

LAST FLAG FLYING

Director : Richard Linklater
Cast : Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, J. Quinton Johnson, Cicely Tyson, Yul Vasquez
Genre : Comedy/Drama
Run Time : 2h 5mins
Opens : 25 Jan 2018
Rating : NC16

In this comedy-drama, three Vietnam war veterans reunite and rekindle their friendship, but under less-than-ideal circumstances. It is December 2003, and Larry “Doc” Shepard (Steve Carell), a former Navy Corpsman, receives the devastating news that his son Larry Jr. has been killed in Iraq. Doc asks bar owner Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and pastor Rev. Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne), who served in the Marines in Vietnam alongside Doc, to accompany him to retrieve and bury his son’s body.

Doc, Sal and Mueller arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, to receive the body of Larry Jr. There, the trio meets LCpl. Charlie Washington (J. Quinton Johnson), who was Larry’s best friend in the Marines. Sal butts heads with Lt. Col. Willitis (Yul Vasquez), as Doc tries to process the loss of his son and Mueller attempts to counsel him. Despite the tragedy that brought them back together, the three men rediscover their friendship and work through each of their own issues which have been remained unresolved over the last 30 years.

Last Flag Flying is based on the novel of the same name by Darryl Ponicsan, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Richard Linklater. Ponicsan is known for the 1970 novel The Last Detail, which was adapted into a film starring Jack Nicholson, Otis Young and Randy Quaid. While the novel was a direct sequel to The Last Detail, featuring some of the same characters, the film adaptation of Last Flag Flying is a spiritual sequel to The Last Detail instead.

Last Flag Flying deals with some heady themes, including those of loss, faith, patriotism and friendship. It packages this into a male bonding comedy-drama, and winds being a modest, moving film. The film pays respect to veterans without veering into overblown chest-thumping territory. There are times when the film feels hampered by its road trip structure, but the dialogue is well-written and balances interaction between the characters with exposition. Our trio of protagonists must face truths about themselves and confront long-buried secrets, each man at a different point on his respective journey to make peace with himself and his past.

In recent years, Carell has made considerable efforts to push past his comfort zone as a comedic actor, and he puts in a quiet, sombre performance. Sadness weighs on Doc, sadness he doesn’t know how to express. There are times when the withdrawn meekness comes off as an affectation, but Carell is largely convincing in his portrayal of a man in the throes of crushing grief.

Cranston is the movie’s dynamo. As the belligerent, alcoholic Sal, Cranston gets all the movie’s best lines. Sal is confrontational and speaks his mind, and is wildly expressive, giving Cranston the chance to display his physical comedy chops. Naturally, there’s a hollowness at the centre of all this, and Sal is a broken man using humour to cope. He is the instigator of much of the conflict, and keeps things moving.

Of the three protagonists, Mueller is the most at peace with himself, having found God and heeded his calling to become a preacher. Fishburne starts out calm, but there are points when Mueller is pushed to his breaking point. The character often acts as mediator, and it’s to the film’s credit that his faith is treated seriously rather than mocked outright. The arguments that Mueller and Sal have over the existence of God aren’t anything we haven’t heard before, but Mueller’s point of view registers as a valid one.

Quinton Johnson, who recently made his Broadway debut in Hamilton, is warm and likeable as Charlie. Charlie is the only real link audiences have to Larry Jr., as most of what we know about Doc’s slain son is conveyed by Charlie. Veteran actress Cicely Tyson shows up in an emotional, subtly sad scene.

“Every generation has its war,” Sal observes pithily, adding “Men make the wars; wars make the men”. There might not be as much depth here as we would’ve liked, but there still is resonance to Last Flag Flying. It’s a low-key film that can sometimes feel a little slow, but is given life by its trio of protagonists. The screenplay balances sensitivity with ‘guy’s night out’ brashness, never coming across as sanctimonious or preachy even as it deals with serious issues. It could stand to be a little tighter, but there’s warmth, wisdom and just a dash of silliness that makes Last Flag Flying worthwhile and thought-provoking.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Despicable Me 3

For F*** Magazine

DESPICABLE ME 3

Directors : Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda, Eric Guillon
Cast : Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel, Steve Coogan, Julie Andrews, Jenny Slate
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 1h 30min
Opens : 15 June 2017
Rating : PG

Supervillain-turned-doting-dad Gru (Carell) is back, with his wife Lucy (Wiig), adopted daughters Margo (Cosgrove), Edith (Gaier) and Agnes (Scharrel), and yes, the Minions (Coffin) in tow. In this instalment, Gru and Lucy face off against Balthazar Bratt (Parker), a dastardly, bitter former child star with an 80s pop culture and fashion gimmick. Gru faces upheaval when Valerie Da Vinci (Slate), the new chief of the Anti-Villain League, unceremoniously fires both Gru and Lucy. The Minions, longing for the glory days of being on the wrong side of the law, revolt and leave Gru’s employ. During all this, Gru discovers a secret that his mother Marlena (Andrews) has been keeping from him for his entire life: Gru has a twin brother. Gru finally meets Dru (also Carell), who is eager to join his brother on his exploits and attempts to convince Gru to carry on the proud family legacy of villainy. Gru and Dru embark on a quest to steal back a priceless diamond from Balthazar, as Balthazar plots his revenge on the town that scorned him: Hollywood.

We’ll be upfront about it: Despicable Me 3 wasn’t exactly high on our list of summer movies we were looking forward to. One is likely to find more people who are annoyed by the Minions than who find them adorable, but it’s not just that. The first Despicable Me film was weird, inventive, subversive and full of heart. At that point, Illumination Entertainment was still an underdog. Now, with a string of box office successes under its belt, not to mention tons of Minions merchandise and even theme park rides, it all seems to have gone to the heads of producer Chris Meledandri and the other Illumination bigwigs. The studio appears to be heading down the Dreamworks path, and Meledandri has been instated as Universal’s equivalent to Disney/Pixar’s John Lasseter. Early in Despicable Me 3, we get a particularly mean-spirited swipe at Finding Nemo. This can’t help but recall the sly, slightly bitter digs at Disney that were snuck into the Shrek movies.

Kids in general are unlikely to care about animation studios jostling for supremacy, and kids in general are likely to enjoy Despicable Me 3. The animation is energetic, the gizmos and gadgets on display are over-the-top and imaginative, and there is so much slapstick. The main issue here is that the film isn’t character-driven at all. In the first film, the blossoming relationship between Gru and his young charges served as the film’s emotional core. Then, the Minions became the toyetic marketing sensation they are, and that got pushed to the background. One can sense directors Coffin (who also voices all the Minions), Balda and Guillon struggling with the question “how much of the Minions is too much?” For most of this film, the Minions are separated from Gru, accidentally entering a singing competition and then getting tossed into prison, where they spoof Jailhouse Rock. It’s all gag-driven, and there are several genuinely funny jokes here, but it ends up being scattershot.

“Long-lost twin brother” is a plot device screenwriters truck out when they’re all out of ideas. In this case, there’s an attempt to wink and nod at how it’s a bit of a cheat, but there’s still not enough to justify going this route. Carell gets to try a slightly different, higher-pitched voice as the irrepressibly cheerful Dru, and for all of five seconds, it’s funny that Dru has lustrous blonde locks, while Gru is bald. Despicable Me 3 tries for an emotional arc with Lucy struggling in her position as the girls’ adoptive mother, clashing with Margo in particular. While it’s an attempt to add depth to the story, it doesn’t become much more than just an attempt, and the conflict is resolved too easily.

Parker, along with South Park co-creator Matt Stone, has long been the gatekeeper of offending everyone for the sake of comedy. Parker and Stone have been especially savage towards what they view as the Hollywood elites, who will stop at nothing for a quick buck. As such, it seems like a sell-out move for Parker to take a role in the Despicable Me franchise, but the character is amusing. A delusional former child actor who obsessively grasps at the remains of his glory days is a familiar archetype, but the 80s gimmick is enjoyably silly. There are perhaps one too many snippets of songs from the era, including Take on Me, Bad, Sussudio and Physical, though.

There exist more desperate examples of attempts to keep floundering franchises afloat, and there’s still enough wit on display in Despicable Me 3. However, parents are likely to get increasingly impatient with these movies as more and more get made, when there are other animated films out there that older viewers will get more out of.

Summary: if Minions make you miserable, you don’t need us to tell you to give Despicable Me 3 a wide berth. There’s more emphasis on sustaining a lucrative franchise, less heart, and more animated zaniness to amuse the kids and annoy the adults.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Alexander and the Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

For F*** Magazine

ALEXANDER AND THE HORRIBLE, TERRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY

Director : Miguel Arteta
Cast : Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Dylan Minnette, Ed Oxenbould, Kerris Dorsey, Megan Mullally, Jennifer Coolidge, Bella Thorne
Genre : Family/Comedy
Run Time : 81 mins
Opens : 4 December 2014
Rating : PG
Daniel Powter sang about a “Bad Day” in 2005 and in this Disney comedy, we meet someone who’s had his share of bad days, 11-year-old Alexander Cooper (Oxenbould). It’s the day before his 12th birthday and Alexander’s crushed that all his friends will be attending another schoolmate’s party instead. None of his family members will give him the time of day because they’re too caught up celebrating all the things that are going right for them. A dejected Alexander fixes himself a makeshift birthday sundae, wishing that the rest of his family will experience a downer day of their own. The next day, Alexander’s wish comes true: his dad Ben’s (Carell) job interview takes a less-than-successful turn, the children’s book his mum Kelly (Garner) is publishing emerges with an unfortunate typo, his sister Emily (Dorsey) might have to sit out the production of Peter Pan in which she’s starring due to the flu his older brother Anthony (Minnette) has a disastrous driving test and a falling out with his girlfriend Celia (Thorne) and his baby brother Trevor (Elise/Zoey Vargas) ingests a permanent marker. Alexander realises what his wish has wrought and the family band together to make it through the day together.

            This writer is grateful that Alexander and the Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day has as long a title as it does because it will help with his word quota. The film is based on the 1972 children’s book by Judith Viorst, which was earlier adapted into an animated musical special. Being a 32-page children’s book, the film calls for adaptation expansion. So, while the book focused on Alexander’s own bad day, the bulk of the film centres on the bad day Alexander wishes upon the rest of his family. It’s basically Hijinks Ensues: The Movie, with Murphy’s Law in full effect. There’s a degree of schadenfreude to be had in seeing myriad family-friendly calamities befall the Cooper clan. This is best-described as a sitcom episode with a larger budget. It’s really, really silly but you knew that going into it already. Between the least successful stage production of Peter Pansince the one in 21 Jump Street, Steve Carell pursuing a runaway kangaroo through the neighbourhood and strippers showing up for a kids’ birthday party, the comedy set-pieces are lively but stop short of being satisfyingly elaborate.

            Parents make many sacrifices for their children and sitting through cringe-worthy family movies is one of them. Thankfully, Alexander and the Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day isn’t as torturous for the older members of the audience as it could’ve been and it helps that it clocks in at a breezy 81 minutes. Steve Carell’s presence elevates the pratfall-heavy flick – no matter what he’s in, he never looks like he’s phoning it in or that the material is beneath him and he’s been subjected to far more embarrassment in earlier films like Evan Almighty. He’s game for anything director Miguel Arteta throws at him, including being lit on fire at a Benihana-style teppanyaki restaurant. Jennifer Garner’s good in this one too, making for a believable pillar of sanity for the family. The attitudes that both Ben and Kelly Cooper carry are actually quite uplifting and it does bring a smile to one’s face to see this couple try their darndest to remain positive as everything unravels around them in comedic fashion.

            The child actors in the film are competent if not particularly remarkable. Ed Oxenbould has just enough of that “loveable moppet” quality about him without looking like he was assembled in a Disney child star factory. It’s also pretty funny that Alexander is fascinated by all things Australian, and Oxenbould is an Aussie himself. Kerris Dorsey is appealingly loopy as she attempts to play Peter Pan while high on cough syrup. Dylan Minnette is a little stiff as the older brother eager to impress his date and Bella Thorne does bring just enough “mean girl”-ness to bear. Dick van Dyke is a bit of an odd cameo choice – we suppose there’s the Disney connection. Genre fans will also get a kick out of seeing Burn Gorman from Pacific Rim, Torchwood and Game of Thrones show up as the drama teacher.


            Alexander and the Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day has its share of bodily function jokes and other juvenile gags but it’s able to escape that feeling that it should be consigned to the Disney Channel thanks to the two A-list stars playing the parents. The production values are also decent, barring an iffy CGI kangaroo. If you’re at the Cineplex and have got little ‘uns in tow, you could do worse than this bad day.
Summary: It’s a really silly, fluffy family flick, but the gags fly thick and fast, Steve Carell throws himself into the nonsense and it’s all over fairly quickly.
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong