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11/14/17

TASTIN'... WONKA EDIBLE GARDEN


I try a Japanese Wonka bar.

BRIGSBY BEAR - REVIEW


Every so often an indie movie comes along to confuse your typically blockbuster-filled theatres and give you a bizarre yet refreshing alternative. Brigsby Bear certainly fit the bill with its unusual posters and trailers suggesting this would probably be this year's Gentlemen Broncos.

The film follows a family living in some kind of bunker home, a couple played by Mark Hamill and Jane Adams with their son James, played by an excellent Kyle Mooney, who is obsessed with an educational sci-fi kids' show called Brigsby Bear. He owns every VHS tape of it, chats to others about Brigsby on forums and even records his own review show on his computer. One day, while sitting outside the bunker wearing a gas mask, a bunch of police cars show up and he finds out that none of his life was real including his parents and his beloved TV show. Turns out his "parents" were in fact kidnappers who kept him locked up underground and made a show just for him. James is therefore finally reunited with his actual family but all he seems to care about is Brigsby so adjusting to his new reality isn't exactly working out. Much to his true parents' dismay, he decides to somehow make a Brigsby Bear feature film and starts getting people involved in the incomprehensible project including new acquaintances, family, even cops.

Initially, the film is a little hard to get into since we are thrown into this strange world James lives in without any context. That's intentional of course as it mirrors his own confusion once he is later thrown into the real world. This is a clever, very funny little movie with a sharp script and a solid cast that includes Greg Kinnear and Claire Danes among others. The Brigsby Bear show itself is a goofy retro gem and the humour throughout is drier than you'd expect from a project made by an SNL segment director and co-produced by Andy Samberg. This is the type of random comedy you'd expect from Jared Hess with the bad taste fashion and out-of-sync characters but this film feels different enough that it never becomes too familiar. The fish-out-of-water post-bunker scenario isn't completely original but it's handled in its own unique way and this is a funny and well-written enough film to get away with being a tad derivative. Besides, it feels somewhat more relevant as it pokes fun at a society stuck behind a computer and confused about everything else.

All in all, Brigsby Bear is the perfect antidote to overblown big-budget Hollywood fare: it's small in scale yet it hits all the right notes and it makes a lot of bigger, more star-studded comedies look shamefully lazy in comparison.

Really good.

WHY HIM? - REVIEW


Because Christmas wouldn't be complete without an obligatory raunchy holiday-themed Hollywood comedy, 2016 gifted us Why Him? starring Bryan Cranston and James Franco as a mismatched potential father and son-in-law who finally meet around Christmas time as hilarity supposedly ensues.

The plot sees Stephanie (Zoey Dutch) invite her parents to meet her older boyfriend Laird (Franco) for the first time after it is revealed via a disastrous Skype call that they were seeing each other for a while. As it turns out, Laird is not only the super rich CEO of a video game company but also an eccentric, impulsive weirdo who just says and does the first thing that pops into his head. Having such a wacky character clash with the comparatively uptight and square Ned (Cranston) should have been an easy way to bring some laughs to the table, much like how Planes, Trains and Automobiles did back in 1987. One big problem becomes apparent very quickly, however: neither Bryan Cranston or James Franco have anything to work with. Their characters are so inconsistent, unconvincing and altogether poorly written that the former is reduced to constantly mugging at the camera and the latter just says random stuff in the hope that some of it sticks and gets a chuckle. Ultimately, though, this is an embarrassing effort for all involved, even Tina Fey who looks frankly ashamed to be in this.

Although there are obvious exceptions, Christmas comedies are rarely all that good and even the decent enough ones like Elf suffer a bit from the holiday's inherent cheesiness. Standards are therefore generally low when it comes to that genre and I, for one, don't ask for much from a Christmas comedy, only that it's entertaining. Why Him? could be forgiven for having almost no story, for its one-dimensional characters, even its reliance on toilet humour but, at almost two hours long and with not one laugh coming out of it, it soon becomes a chore to sit through. If there was a finished script for this, it did not seem to understand its own jokes and that kills any sort of humour it tried to set up. Indeed, there are funny situations being introduced here but none of them deliver and scenes awkwardly cut from one to the other after a joke has inevitably fallen flat, as if the film was giving up on itself while it was going on. There are enjoyable trashy Christmas comedies and this is not one of them: it drags throughout, it wastes its appealing cast and it's painfully unfunny.

Don't be fooled by the big names involved, Why Him? is much worse than you think it'll be. It looks like dumb fun but it's actually intelligence-insultingly bad, about as funny as a dead reindeer and it's frankly lazy, even for a throwaway Christmas film.

Just awful.

11/13/17

THOR: RAGNAROK - REVIEW


As the Justice League gets ready to finally unite in DC's latest crossover, Marvel delivers its third Thor movie: a neon-lit campy roller-coaster ride through the galaxy that sees the God of Thunder lose his beloved Mjolnir hammer and much more.

The trailer for Thor: Ragnarok promised a colourful Flash Gordon-style fantasy epic with tons of over-the-top action, larger-than-life characters and a rocking soundtrack. Taking a page out of Guardians Of The Galaxy, this was set to be the inter-galactic adventure we wanted to see from Day 1. The good news is that Marvel wasn't lying and we got exactly what we expected: a ridiculously fun, action-packed comic-book sci-fi romp which should please the fans and effortlessly entertain everyone else. Chris Hemsworth has a lot of fun (perhaps too much fun?) as Thor and, even though he's much more bumbling than he probably should have been, he remains charming and likeable throughout. The plot sees Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death and Odin's first born, come back to reclaim Asgard as both Thor and Loki find themselves stuck on some random planet, the former having to battle enemies in an arena for Jeff Goldblum's fabulously sadistic Grandmaster's amusement.

When we last left Asgard, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) had assumed the throne by impersonating Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and the payoff to that, which I won't ruin for you, is very funny here. In fact, a lot of the jokes do hit the mark in this movie from all the tongue-in-cheek Avengers references to Thor's "strange" encounter with one of Marvel's newest heroes and his rocky relationship with Loki and The Hulk. Mark Ruffalo is once again very good as the latter and his alter-ego Bruce Banner, sadly reminding us that this is probably the closest we'll come to a new solo Hulk movie. With Natalie Portman's Jane Foster having dumped Thor off-camera, we are introduced to new potential love interest and alcoholic bounty hunter Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson): an Asgardian badass with her own score to settle with Hela. She makes a good addition to this movie's unlikely team.

The real strength of this third movie is its charm and visuals: whenever Thor and the others are fighting bad guys, it's a gorgeous spectacle and there's never a dull moment. The Thor/Hulk fight is a thrill, as is the opening confrontation with Surtur, the Star Wars-style spaceship-hopping escape (don't ask) and, of course, the final face-off with Hela. The colourful action sequences never disappoint and it's refreshing to see the God of Thunder actually use his lightning powers properly for once. Some characters are sidelined for time like Heimdall (Idris Elba) and Odin but both are given enough good moments that they never feel too underused. As for the villains, Cate Blanchett is excellent as Hela despite the fact that we really don't spend that much time with her, which is a shame as she could have easily been one of Marvel's best foes. Jeff Goldblum is a joy from start to finish but you get the feeling that there was plenty more Goldblumey goodness shamefully left on the cutting room floor. Karl Urban has a minor role as an Asgardian guard-turned-executioner but he makes the most of it.

There's a lot to like about Thor: Ragnarok yet it's not without its flaws, the main one being the writing. By making every single character crack jokes left and right in every scene, everyone starts to sound exactly the same and this can be frustrating, especially when it extends some scenes that really didn't need to be that long. This kind of jokiness doesn't really fit some of the characters and the more serious aspects of the story having to do with Odin's departure, Hela's revenge and Asgard's fate get lost in a sea of comedy routines that hit the mark sometimes but often don't. Tonally, this is a bit of a mess even if, mostly, it's a light-hearted watch. I would have gladly replaced some of the overlong jokes with more character development and filling up small plot holes. Then there's the CGI which is both very beautiful at times (Valkyrie's painting-like flashback) and just not good enough at other points: Korg (voiced by director Taika Waititi himself) is a fun character but makeup effects would have been much less distracting for him and Hulk's CGI is frankly a bit hit-and-miss.

To cut a long review short, let's just say that Thor: Ragnarok is a visual treat with lots of funny moments, likeable characters and some thrilling action making it another worthy Marvel sequel and arguably the best Thor movie to date. It's also perhaps too silly for its own good and another, more sensible draft of the script could have improved it a great deal.

Hela fun.

BATMAN AND HARLEY QUINN - REVIEW


This year saw the release of yet another DC animated feature as Batman and Nightwing reluctantly team up with a reformed Harley Quinn to track down Poison Ivy and Floronic Man who are planning to turn everyone into plant people for whatever reason.

With a reliable voice cast including Kevin Conroy back as the Dark Knight and an animation style akin to Batman: The Animated Series, Batman and Harley Quinn looked like a fun throwback with a lot of potential for an interesting Harley Quinn storyline. Melissa Rauch voices the character and she does a decent job capturing just the right amount of feisty madness, not to mention delivering an unexpected rendition of Blondie's "Hanging On The Telephone". Unfortunately, that's about where the praise ends for this thoroughly disappointing and misguided DC outing. Story-wise, this is an often distracted mess with an unconvincing and uninspired maniacal Poison Ivy plan at its heart, some of the worst jokes in any DC movie, Batman and Nightwing taking a back seat to a scene-devouring Harley Quinn and an anti-climactic ending that'll make you regret the past hour and a half you spent giving this movie a chance.

The writing is the main problem with this film as Bruce Timm and Jim Krieg drop the ball constantly by having the overall tone yo-yo between juvenile goofiness (including fart jokes) and more raunchy adult themes (the Harley Quinn and Nightwing sex scene) throughout. It doesn't help that everyone seems to be acting out of character with Batman hiring Harley Quinn seemingly just because he couldn't be bothered to do any actual detective work, and the plot is underwritten to say the least. The characters' motivations are inconsistent and the film really feels like filler which is a shame because using the same solid visuals and basic plot, you could have made something worthwhile. A last minute Swamp Thing cameo is wasted and the film ends on an embarrassingly cheesy note. It's like we were promised Batman: The Animated Series and what we got was Batman & Robin... but somehow worse.

If Batman and Harley Quinn is not the worst of the DC animated films, it's right up there. There is really no reason to watch this silly, lazily put together effort. Maybe see if you can find the Blondie clip on YouTube but, otherwise, nothing to see here.

Pretty bad.

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