7/26/17

GUARDING TESS - REVIEW


Released in 1994, Guarding Tess was a comedy/drama starring Nicolas Cage as Doug Chesnic, a Secret Service agent tasked with protecting stubborn ex-First Lady Tess Carlisle (Shirley MacLaine) despite the fact he desperately wants to quit.

The first time we meet Doug, he's genuinely happy to not be Tess' personal bodyguard anymore and he's keen to move his career forward in Washington due to his relationship with Tess having been a tumultuous one as she's constantly disobeying protocol, making spontaneous demands and telling him off. Unfortunately for him, leaving isn't that easy since Tess can just call up the President directly every time and get him to encourage Doug to stay. This doesn't improve the characters' dynamic much as one of them tries to enforce by-the-book rules and the other makes a point of going against said rules. There's a predictability about this whole scenario: two people can't stand each other, they get to know each other, they start to like each other, yada yada yada, you know how it goes. It's whenever something out of the ordinary happens with Tess that things get interesting as we see Doug having to react appropriately and professionally while still being mostly pissed off.

Both Nicolas Cage and Shirley MacLaine are perfectly cast and very good in their respective roles, Doug and Tess start off as rather two-dimensional characters but, by the end, they've evolved quite a bit. The third act sees Tess actually get kidnapped and there's some suspense there as you wonder whether Doug and the rest of the Secret Service will manage to find her, and if they do, if she'll still be alive. Guarding Tess has its funny moments with Nicolas Cage reliably losing his cool every so often but it never turns into a farce, always prioritising character development. Again, while this is a well-made movie with some great performances, it's mostly exactly what you'd expect based on that type of plot. This is like one of those Oscar contenders you've never heard of but usually wins a Best Supporting Role statuette except this movie doesn't really stand out all that much. It's a well-told story and you do care about these characters, it just needed something a little extra.

There may not be too many huge surprises in this movie but it remains an enjoyable watch as what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in sharp writing, solid performances and sheer likability. There's very little wrong with Guarding Tess, just don't expect to remember it always.

Quite good.

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES - VLOG 25/07/17



I talk briefly about War For The Planet Of The Apes.

7/25/17

HOWARD THE DUCK - REVIEW


Back in 1986, Executive Producer George Lucas brought us a Marvel character in all his live-action glory. That character was Howard The Duck, a talking duck from another planet who somehow gets propelled through space all the way to Earth where his adventure truly begins.

The film was critically panned and a box-office failure but it remains one of those cinematic question marks like Super Mario Bros. or Street Fighter you just can't avoid. For one thing, if you grew up in the 80's, it's unlikely you missed this odd little movie: whether you know the comics or not, the title alone just screams "watch me!". The titular duck was portrayed by Ed Gale with Chip Zien providing the voice and the cast included Lea Thompson as Howard's friend and love interest Beverly, Tim Robbins as their annoying sidekick and Jeffrey Jones as a scientist who slowly turns into main villain Dark Overlord, some kind of space demon. The first half of the film is focused on Howard's duck-out-of-water story as he tries to figure out a way to go home or adapt to his new world somehow. He is helped by rock singer Beverly whom Howard initially saves from a bunch of street thugs using the ancient martial-art of Quack-Fu. The film is packed with countless duck puns and silly set-ups, some of which are sort of amusing but many of which are either wasted or pointlessly raunchy.

The tone throughout yo-yos between adult humour (sex spas, duck condoms, Playduck Magazine) and family-friendly shenanigans and both unfortunately don't really gel leaving us to wonder who this film was for. The second half of the film is particularly hard to sit through as the plot stagnates and we limp to a tired climax that, frankly, doesn't feel worth the two hours spent watching this goofy flick. Half an hour could have easily been excised in editing thereby improving the movie's pace considerably but, as it stands, this becomes a surprisingly watch-checkingly dull movie by the halfway point. On the plus side, the special effects throughout are pretty cool, the puppeteering on Howard is decent and you can tell the filmmakers actually tried to make such a silly concept work. Had more time been spent re-writing the film's plot to make it snappier with the whole Dark Overlord scenario taking place much earlier and quickly developing into a bigger threat for Howard to deal with, we could have had a genuinely fun, if still pretty random, movie.

While not the complete disaster it's often painted as, Howard The Duck certainly doesn't live up to its source material or even its title, despite having its charm. It suggests a lot of funny ideas and sets up some potentially entertaining scenes but it constantly fails to deliver and the result is, quite simply, a missed opportunity.

Disappointingly uneven.

7/24/17

AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. (S.1 & 2) - VLOG REVIEW


I talk about the first two seasons of Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES - REVIEW


After the Rise and the Dawn comes the War For The Planet Of The Apes, the third and last part of the Caesar prequel trilogy in which Andy Serkis' motion-captured ape leads his intelligent kind to battle against the humans once and for all.

Or, at least, that's what the trailers would have you believe. Based on those, you'd think the entire film was all-out war with Woody Harrelson's intimidating baddie facing off against Caesar in one last epic stand. The film is not that at all, it's actually much more subtle than that but "subtle" doesn't exactly make for exciting, bombastic trailers. The war in question is a rogue group of soldiers, led by The Colonel (Harrelson), who are trying to eliminate and/or enslave all the apes living in the forest. The apes defend themselves, of course, but it's not really a war for them, it's survival as they plan to leave the forest for a more peaceful setting. Unfortunately, The Colonel murders Caesar's wife and son so the ape leader sets out with some help to get revenge. There are some action scenes here and there, mostly near the very end, but this is a quiet retribution story with all the moral dilemmas that this entails leading to a Great Escape-style scenario and a Civil War of sorts. War is a much more emotional journey than Dawn so don't expect that level of constant spectacle.

Matt Reeves once again digs deep into his characters' hearts and minds, ape or otherwise, and delivers another serious, intense and beautiful-looking film. Caesar's character arc is an interesting one as revenge blinds him to the point where he is compared to and haunted by Koba, Dawn's arch-nemesis. There are many references to the original Planet Of The Apes movie throughout: a little girl called Nova, a doll, Cornelius, a virus that stops humans' speech. While cute, those nods don't really add up with the 1968 classic so unless the studios are planning to remake that one again, perhaps keeping those references to a strict minimum would have been wise. Besides, remaking the original again would require a completely different ending since the famous twist is irrelevant at this point. War is a much smarter and more dramatic film than you'd expect so, even though it could have done with a lot more action, it's slow at times and Harrelson's not in it very much, it's hard to deny how well made and how compelling it is overall.

A worthy end to a trilogy that started on shaky ground but grew quickly to become well worth a watch. Serkis delivers his best performance yet and Matt Reeves proves himself, once again, more than capable to make potentially silly content look and feel legitimately good.

Solid sequel.

7/21/17

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2014) - REVIEW


Two years before Disney attempted remaking their own version of the classic fairy tale, there was a live-action Beauty And The Beast movie made in France. Since this is a French fairy-tale, this movie had the potential to show the Mouse House how it's done and tell the definitive story.

That said, improving on Jean Cocteau's classic while attracting the Disney audience was always going to be tough but with Léa Seydoux and Vincent Cassel as Belle and The Beast along with inventive director Christophe Gans leading the way, there was a good chance we would get something at least worth seeing. Indeed, this take on the timeless tale is the most visually impressive out there: the art direction, production design and cinematography are beautiful throughout and even the CGI is pretty effective. This is, in short, a fantastic-looking movie and it's certainly worth a look for that alone. A good amount of time is spent introducing us to Belle's family, showing how their money troubles led them to move to the countryside. Unfortunately, this isn't really necessary as Belle's brothers and sisters don't really have much of an impact on the story and this is time that should have been used elsewhere, developing the Belle/Beast romance, for example.

We are finally introduced to Vincent Cassel's Beast when Belle agrees to become his prisoner instead of her father and, at night, Belle is shown his backstory in her dreams. It turns out that he did have a wife back when he was human but he accidentally killed her which prompted "nature" to curse him and his castle because she was, in fact, a forest nymph. There are stone giants, weird-looking CGI beagles and a magic grave in this version so it's a different take on things, to say the least. The main problem with the film is how rushed and uneven the storytelling can be: Belle falls in love with the Beast seemingly off-camera since they basically share no screen-time together and the Beast goes from wild and creepy to caring in a heartbeat. We're given some of his backstory but, after some time, the film stops giving us explanations so we just have to accept random things happening. Because of that, we just don't buy the Beast's kindness or the more surreal aspects of the film.

This Beauty And The Beast is probably the most beautiful in terms of visuals but it lacks coherence when tackling key parts of the story. Apart from that, this is a welcome alternative to the popular musical versions even if I would still recommend Cocteau's superior original instead.

Slick yet flawed retelling.

7/20/17

THE NEW SPIDER-MAN MOVIES - REVIEW OVERVIEW


I talk about The Amazing Spider-Man, its sequel and Spider-Man: Homecoming.

SANDY WEXLER - REVIEW


Happy Madison returns with Sandy Wexler, another Netflix-exclusive release starring Adam Sandler. This time, it's a biopic of the titular talent manager, who managed Sandler among many others. The film focuses on Wexler's discovery of a talented unknown singer he also falls in love with.

While this is a rare genre for Sandler to tackle, we're very much in familiar territory here between his usual team's countless cameos (Schneider, Vanilla Ice, Lovitz etc.), the actor himself doing a silly voice and reliably goofy humour throughout. Essentially, this is your typical agent-finds-talent/talent-outgrows-agent story in the vein of Broadway Danny Rose, except with a corny love story at its heart and a cartoonish tone. Jennifer Hudson portrays Courtney Clarke, the singer Sandy first meets performing in a duck costume for kids in a Six Flags amusement park and she's easily the most likeable aspect of this movie. She's obviously talented and never becomes the diva you expect her to become even when she's super popular. Some of Sandy's other clients include Kevin James' ventriloquist, Terry Crews' wrestler and Nick Swardson's Evel Knievel-style stuntman. They're all pretty ridiculous but help keep the film fun throughout.

Then there's Adam Sandler, who portrays Sandy Wexler as a bit of a goofball, to say the least: he's a messy eater, feeds his clients white lies constantly, has an obnoxious fake laugh, often has poor instincts and speaks like Little Nicky and The Waterboy's love child. The film walks the line between straight-up biopic, cruel roast and pure farce so the tone is equally inconsistent. Ultimately, this is a standard, decently made comedy biopic but with Sandler giving such a broad, unconvincing performance, it distracts from situations we're meant to care about more often than not. Admittedly, there are some funny moments in the film including Sandy exploding a raccoon with a baseball bat, Kevin James' bizarre relationship with his own ventriloquist puppets, Nick Swardson's repeated failed stunt attempts and a random but welcome Beavis & Butt-Head cameo. The idea of having some of Wexler's more famous clients like David Spade, Jimmy Kimmel, Pauly Shore and Weird Al appear in the film is a good one but their documentary-style interviews are purely expositional.

Overall, this is once again a very average Sandler effort that should leave most Netflix viewers feeling indifferent. It's well made, Jennifer Hudson brings some charm and talent to the mix and parts of the film are funny but Sandler's lead performance is so annoying, it almost kills the film.

Not bad but uneven.

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