Category Archives: Genre: Comedy

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

I was a little late to the party with the first Kingsman movie. When I finally watched it after hearing all the rave reviews, I inevitably a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very good movie, full of energy and fuelled with sharp humour and one-liners, plus some exquisitely filmed action sequences (the church one in particular) by director Matthew Vaughn (did you know he’s married to Claudia Schiffer?), who already one of my favourite directors because of Kick-Ass and X-men: First Class. So perhaps my expectations were too high, or perhaps the film didn’t quite hit all the right notes for me — sometimes it just went a little too far for my liking with the crassness. I am one of several people who thought the final gag ended the movie on a sour note.

Accordingly, my expectations for the sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, were therefore significantly lower. It dropped even more after I glanced some pretty unflattering early reviews suggesting the second instalment had lost the magic of the first. For me, the first film wasn’t magical anyway. And so it surprises me to say that I actually enjoyed The Golden Circle. There was a lot I didn’t like about it, but as a popcorn experience, I still felt it had enough entertainment, humour and fresh ideas to make it a fun time at the cinema.

As with most sequels of this nature, The Golden Circle picks up a little while after the end of the first film, with Taron Egerton’s “Eggsy” well into his new career as a secret service agent for the Kingsman. He’s had a lot of growing up to do since the “death” of his mentor (played by Colin Firth) in the first film and continues to rely on the intel offered by agent Merlin (Mark Strong) and good friend Roxy (Sophie Cookson). But a blast from the past comes back to haunt him, along with a brand new, ruthless villain played by Julianne Moore. This eventually leads them to a trip to the United States, where they encounter their American counterparts, the Statesman, featuring the likes of Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Pedro Pascal (Oberyn!) and Jeff Bridges.

It’s a solid storyline that expands on the mythology of the original while introducing fresh faces and ideas. The way the Statesman mirrors the Kingsman is pretty witty, though it’s a shame that we couldn’t have seen a little more of them in action throughout the movie (perhaps in the third film?). The smart gadgets are as innovative as they were in the first film, and the action sequences are generally well choreographed, albeit lacking an iconic scene like the church one from the first film (more on this later). I also admit there are plenty of great jokes — typically sharp one-liners — that made me laugh out loud multiple times.

On the flip side, The Golden Circle is also riddled with problems. The first one arrives very early on in the film: Over-reliance on CGI. I like the camera movements and the pace of the action sequences, but it is so obviously cartoonish that it strips away reality and a sense of genuine tension. The car chase and Julianne Moore’s pet dogs, in particular,  just came across as too fake. Speaking of Julianne Moore, I love her and think she’s fantastic in pretty much everything she’s in, except here. It felt like she was acting in a different movie to everyone else. Part of it is the writing, part of it is the way she portrays the character.

Secondly, there are also quite a few misses with the humour this time around, with another crass idea that went a little too far again and made me cringe (not in a good way). I don’t mind rude jokes, though I don’t think they suit a film like this. It cheapens the otherwise classy feel of the production. There’s also a very famous celebrity who plays himself throughout the movie. The schtick works well at first before he comes back again and again and you realise it’s not a cameo but an idea that has been stretched way too thin.

Thirdly — and I don’t consider this a spoiler because it’s in all the trailers and posters — the return of Colin Firth. I understand the desire to bring him back given that he was an integral part of the success of the first film, but the whole arc containing his character took the sequel backwards instead of forward. When someone can die so comprehensively and then come back with ease, it really takes away from the emotions of the storyline.

Having said all that, I liked The Golden Circle for what it was—a fun sequel that tries to amp up on everything the original provided. I think Matthew Vaughn had the right idea because that’s what sequels generally need to do in order to please the audience, but there were just too many missteps along the way to make it as good as we all wanted it to be. Nevertheless, I grinned, I laughed, and I was entertained. That’s good enough for me.

3.25 stars out of 5

Baby Driver (2017)

Edgar Wright is an awesome filmmaker, but none of his films that I’ve seen — Shaun of the DeadThe World’s End, Scott Pilgrim vs The World — have ever really been at the top of my lists. Very good, funny and wacky, and usually a little different, for sure, but nothing that has truly blown me away. His latest effort, Baby Driver, could be his best movie to date, though it still didn’t quite get there for me — at least not to the extent of the astounding 93% Rotten Tomato rating that it currently holds.

We’ve seen plenty of movies centred around getaway drivers before, with Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (starring Ryan Gosling) being one of my favourite movies of 2011. In a similar vein, Baby Driver revolves around the young eponymous hero of the film, played by Ansel Elgort, who seems to be just a natural at the wheel. He’s not much of a talker and he loves his music (for an interesting reason). Unfortunately, Baby owes a heist mastermind played by the wonderful Kevin Spacey, and is forced to carry out more robberies with a fascinating bunch of characters led by Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx and Jon Bernthal. Things get especially complicated when he gets involved with a pretty waitress at the local diner, played by Lily James.

It sounds like a typical premise and it is, but Wright is able to inject Baby Driver with a really fun, pop-corny vibe that really gets audiences into a groove. I was a little worried at the start when Elgort breaks into a bit of a dance while walking down the street, feeling as though it could be a movie that tries too hard to be “cool” and “hip”. Luckily, Wright prevented the film from straying into trite territory, keeping things light-hearted and slick without tipping over the edge — well, at least not for me.

Of course, there are plenty of car chase scenes and they are all executed marvellously along with a slamming soundtrack that seems to match each beat and shot to perfection (I wish I cared more about music in general though, that would have scored the movie a lot more points for me); however, that’s not what made Baby Driver more than just another typical heist comedy. Despite the cookie-cutter premise, the characters are wonderfully written and performed, with Elgort proving he has what it takes to be a leading man in Hollywood for years and both Hamm and Foxx standing out with a great blend of affability and menace. Lily James was fine, though her character could have offered more in my opinion, while Kevin Spacey always delivers as usual.

Another strong point of the film is the dialogue, which is sharp and snappy, and most of all it brings out the personalities of the characters. There are some great one-liners which made me laugh out loud — the film definitely passes the 6-laugh test for a comedy. There are cliches to put up with, though I felt there were enough surprises to keep the plot from getting stale. For a movie of this type, I also felt it could have been a tad shorter (perhaps 10-15 mins off the 113-minute running time).

In all, I found Baby Driver to be a fun and enjoyable ride fuelled by Wright’s crisp writing and direction and solid performances all around. Is it a little overrated? Probably, if you measure it by the critic metrics available. But that shouldn’t detract from what is undoubtedly an excellent effort that stands as one of the better action-comedies in recent years.

3.75 stars out of 5

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

After years of negotiations, Sony finally did the smart thing and shared its precious rights to Spider-Man with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Because of that, Spider-Man ended up being one of the highlights of the awesome Captain America: Civil War, which got everyone super excited for his first Sony-Marvel solo film, Spider-Man: Homecoming.

The verdict? Pretty damn good. Homecoming was just about everything I had hoped it would be, and many of my concerns about it turned out to be unfounded.

First of all, as promised, Homecoming is part of the MCU but also a standalone film. It helps if you have seen Civil War, where Tom Holland’s version of Spider-Man first appeared, but it’s not imperative. The film uses the famous airport scene as a segway so we don’t have to be reintroduced to the origins story all over again. In that sense, Homecoming feels like a sequel of sorts at times.

Second, Homecoming is, as they claimed, a different Marvel film. They weren’t lying when they said it was a high school movie, a teenage coming-of-age film with a John Hughes vibe. For those too young to know who John Hughes is, think Lindsay Lohan’s Mean Girls or Emma Stone’s Easy A, or Hailee Steinfeld’s The Edge of Seventeen. It’s got a lot of light humour and witty dialogue, not too much heavy drama, and plenty of high school-related themes. In other words, it actually features an environment and issues a high school Spider-Man would be dealing with, like girls, popularity, keeping secrets, etc.

Third, the trailers did not give too much away, as I had feared. After seeing the first couple of trailers, I had in my mind how the movie would pan out, and I’m glad to say it was quite different to what I had expected in terms of progression and characters. There are a few neat surprises and choices I thought worked well.

Fourth, and thank goodness, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) did not dominate the film as the marketing suggested. Iron Man was in all the posters and a good chunk of the trailers, but that was just to sell the movie. This is very much a Spider-Man movie in which Tony Stark plays a small but pivotal role. He has a significant presence, but  Downey Jr doesn’t take up much screen time — more than a cameo but less than a major supporting character. I think director John Watts gets it just right.

The performances are excellent. Tom Holland shined as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in limited screen time in Civil War, and he’s just as good carrying a 133-minute movie. Apart from actually looking like a real teenager, he’s extremely likeable and captures that teenage angst perfectly. He’s my favourite Spider-Man to date.

And thanks to Michael Keaton, who plays his third-winged superhero/villain (Batman, Birdman, and now Vulture), Homecoming has one of the best bad guys in the MCU. I was a bit meh about Vulture before because he felt like just a bad version of Falcon, but Keaton elevates his character, giving not just justifications for his actions but also multiple dimensions to his character. It’s not his abilities or gadgets but his character and demeanour that makes him great. He’s empathetic when he needs to be and menacing and terrifying when wants to be. Kudos to Keaton, because villains have always been the weakest link in the MCU, and now they have a new baddie who can rival Loki.

The minor characters are a bit of a mixed bag. I initially thought going for the diverse casting might end up being a problem, though eventually, it all worked out for the best. Jacob Batalon plays Ned, a new Asian character and Peter’s affable best friend. There were a few times he got somewhat irritating, but that’s what he’s supposed to do. Laura Harrier is Liz, the girl Peter has a crush on. At first I didn’t think she was a good fit for the love interest, but later on, I understood why they chose her. Two bigger names that made splashes when they were cast — Zendaya and Donald Glover — were relative disappointments in that they barely go to do anything. On the other hand, Tony Revolori gave us an interesting and funny version of bully Flash Thompson, while Marisa Tomei did her thing as “hot Aunt May”.

In terms of action, Homecoming is not revolutionary but holds its own in the MCU. I would say it’s on par with any of the action sequences we’ve seen in any of the previous Spider-Man films in terms of excitement and creativity, except with better special effects (the movements of the pure CGI Spider-Man are more realistic). That said, despite some excellent set pieces, I would have preferred a little more action and a better climatic battle. But that’s just me.

At the end of the day, I wouldn’t say Homecoming is one of the best MCU movies, but it’s a very good one targeted more at teenagers and young adults rather than small children and older audiences. It’s a very good Spider-Man movie, a very good coming-of-age movie, a very good high school movie, and a very good comedy, plus it’s got one of the best Marvel villains ever in Vulture (Michael Keaton).  I Throw all of that together and what you end up with is a light, fun and entertaining experience that doesn’t quite add up to “great”. It’s nothing that will absolutely blow you away, but hey, Marvel can’t give us Iron Man, The Avengers, or Civil War every time. I’d put it on the same level as say an Ant-Man, maybe even a shade higher.

3.75 stars out of 5

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Guardians of the Galaxy was a huge surprise hit in 2014, one that I enjoyed a lot but didn’t love as much as most. It was fun, quirky, referential and vibrant, with a fantastic cast that catapulted Chris Pratt to superstardom. Naturally, this made me concerned about the inevitable sequel, Vol, 2,  because I knew it would be facing unreasonable expectations and must find ways to rekindle the magic of the original while also coming up with something fresh.

For the most part, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 lives up to the bare minimum of expectations without doing much more. It builds upon the mythology of the first film, giving us a new adventure with a more personal slant, further opportunities for character development and building team chemistry, and still plenty of nostalgia and irreverent humour to put a smile on our faces. Like its predecessor, Vol. 2 was a fun couple of hours, but it also did not wow me in the way the best Marvel films tend to do.

Set no long after the events of the original, the Guardians of the Galaxy — Peter Quill (Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Badley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) — are now working together to fight an inter-dimensional monster at the behest of the Sovereign race, basically a bunch of uptight people in gold paint led by the statuesque Ayesha (Aussie Elizabeth Debicki). When the Guardians fall out of favour with the Sovereigns, Quill’s adoptive father Yondu (Michael Rooker) is hired to capture them. This leads to an encounter with Ego the living planet (Kurt Russell), a celestial being who reveals himself as having a connection to Quill. By Ego’s side is Mantis (Pom Kleentieff), a socially awkward girl with emphatic powers and antennae on her head.

Guardians has a different vibe to the other Marvel films because of its unabashed wackiness and irreverent tone. Groot and Rocket aren’t supposed to work as characters, but they do because of the superb writing and direction of James Gunn, whose talents are again on full display here. With bright colours, well-choreographed comic book space action, likable characters, fast and furious jokes, classic 80s music, and the cuteness of Baby Groot, Vol. 2 is a light and fun popcorn experience.

The cast is of course fabulous. Pratt looks very comfortable as Quill and spews out a bunch of witty wisecracks, though the majority of the comic relief this time goes to Drax, especially in his interactions with Mantis. And while cute doesn’t usually do much for me, Baby Groot does have a few nice moments. Yondu gets a bigger role this time and Rooker really shines by giving the character a lot of heart. Bradley and Saldana provide more of the emotional punch this time around with their character arcs, in particular Gamora’s relationship with her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan).  That’s already a great cast, and I haven’t even mentioned legends Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone (who has a cameo), in their first reunion since Tango and Cash 28 years ago!

That said, I do have quite a few issues with Vol. 2. For starters, while I did laugh quite a few times at the gags, I found the humour a lot more hit and miss this time around, with some of the jokes coming across as too obvious. The biggest issue I had, however, was the actual plot, because it feels like not much actually happens. There’s a long lull after the Guardians encounter Ego, and I actually found myself a little bored by some of the slower sequences during this phase. It just didn’t feel like there was enough substance to justify a 136-minute running time.

So yeah, though I wasn’t disappointed in Vol. 2, I was hoping for a bit more. In terms of quality and entertainment value, the drop-off from its predecessor is not huge, but at the same time it felt like a somewhat safe sequel that does not go beyond to deliver what could have been a special experience. Instead, it’s just a solid albeit unspectacular continuation of the story.

3.25 stars out of 5

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

I never thought much of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, to be honest. The first one was OK, I suppose, but I’ve actually dozed off in all of them (including the first one) — until now. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales probably should not have been made, but I’m surprisingly glad they did. Somehow, some way, Norwegian directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg gave this fifth installment of a stale franchise a shot of unexpected vitality.

Set years after the previous installment, On Stranger Tides, the story of Dead Men Tell No Tales follows Henry Turner, the son of Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner and Kiera Knightley’s Elizabeth Swan, as he tries to track down Captain Jack Sparrow. Of course, this sparks a new adventure that feels like a bit of a reboot of sorts, though at the same time there are a lot of old faces and names that keep popping up. If you’ve seen the trailers you’ll know who some of them are. Personally, I thought they should have been kept out of the trailers because they could have been pleasant surprises.

Anyway, it’s another swashbuckling adventure with plenty of action on the high seas, supernatural powers and magical objects, and of course, Jack Sparrow being Jack Sparrow. Like everyone else, I thought Sparrow was hilarious in Curse of the Black Pearl, the first film, but with each subsequent entry I found him more and more annoying and unfunny. Upon Sparrow’s first scene in this film I was already growing wary as it seemed like the same old schtick was being trotted out again, but fortunately, as the film progressed, the directors didn’t overplay his quirks and utilised the other pirates in Sparrow’s crew to share the comedic burden. Depp, for his part, also seemed to have reined in his performance a little, which made him feel less overbearing. Either that or perhaps I had just not seen the character for such a long time that he felt fresher.

Aussie Brenton Thwaites continues to get one notable role after another. This time he is Henry Turner, effectively the “new Will Turner character”, while Kaya Scodelario (from Maze Runner fame) plays new heroine Carina Smyth, effectively the “new Elizabeth Swann character”. They’re both pretty good, without taking away the spotlight from Depp.

As with the other installments in the franchise, Dead Men Tell No Tales has a fabulous villain, this time a ghostly Spanish Captain played by the frightening Javier Bardem. I loved the way Bardem looked and moved, with his hair floating as though he were in water and parts of his face cracking and missing. It might be a little scary for children though.

Visually, the film is absolutely stunning, with amazing CGI effects of the ships and seas that look as seamless as ever. Special mention goes to the anti-ageing effects they plastered on Depp’s face for a flashback sequence. It made me nostalgic and a little sad to remember what a fine looking human being Mr. Depp was back in his heyday.

I know the film has been panned by most critics (27% on Rotten Tomatoes), but I actually thought it wasn’t a bad reboot effort and a fun flick overall if looked upon independently from the rest of the franchise. It has a lively vibe, innovative action and even some decent humour littered throughout, although the I suspect the main reason I enjoyed it more than most people is because I practically have no recollection of the first four films with the exception of a couple of scenes and plot points (that’s how unmemorable I found them). As a result, the viewing experience felt rather fresh, and coupled with low expectations, Dead Men Tell No Tales turned out to be quite a fun ride. At least I didn’t doze off this time.

3.5 stars out of 5

The Belko Experiment (2017)

I had heard a lot about this mysterious, low-cost movie (US$5 million budget) called The Belko Experiment last year, primarily because of the big name attached: James Gunn, director of the smash hit Guardians of the Galaxy movies. It wasn’t until I saw the movie that I realised it actually wasn’t directed by Gunn (who wrote the script), but by Aussie Greg McLean, best known for Wolf Creek. Nevermind.

I didn’t really know what to expect from it, given that its premise is not exactly one we haven’t seen before — a group of people forced into a game of kill or be killed. After Battle Royale and more recently The Hunger Games, another film with the same idea feels somewhat risky, though to Gunn and McLean’s credit, The Belko Experiment manages to distinguish itself through the confined office setting and a distinct horror slant.

The characters in the film all work for a branch of a massive but vague nonprofit company called Belko Industries on Colombia. On this day, after all the local hire are sent home, the company building is suddenly locked down, after which a voice through the loudspeaker begins to dictate the rules of a deadly game. At first, of course, most don’t take it seriously, but soon they realise — through a method requires a little bit of suspension of disbelief — that they better start killing or they will die gruesome deaths.

The Belko Experiment is not as memorable as Battle Royale or as epic as The Hunger Games. That said, it’s a nice little movie that’s both scary and fun. Credit goes to James Gunn for keeping the script swift and tight. At just 88 minutes, the film has a great pace and effectively introduces a whole bunch of characters on the run without excessive exposition. It doesn’t take too long before the ball gets rolling and by then you already have a good sense of the key characters and their relationships and dynamics. At no time was I confused about who was who and what their agenda was.

The cast is another strong point. Led by protagonist John Gallagher Jr (I know him best from The NewsroomHush, and 10 Cloverfield Lane), the ensemble features plenty of recognisable faces delivering powerful performances, in particular Tony Goldwyn (Scandal) as the boss in charge, John C McGinley (Scrubs) as a creep, Adria Arjona (Person of Interest), Owain Yeoman (The Mentalist) as a torn family man, Michael Rooker (Yondu in Guardians of the Galaxy) as a repairman, and James Gunn’s younger brother Sean Gunn (Kraglin in Guardians of the Galaxy) as a stoned cafeteria worker. There are a lot of characters in the movie, and quality performances help the important ones stand out and rough up the edges of what would have otherwise been stereotypes. For me, Goldwyn — with his mix of charm and intimidation — was the clear highlight.

McLean’s directorial style meshes well with Gunn’s script. For those who have seen Wolf Creek, you’ll know McLean has a knack for the visceral, the violent, and the primal. You get all of that in The Belko Experiment, along with well-crafted tension and dashes of timely black humour. The tonal shifts are not perfect, but the film mostly does a good job of balancing the horror and the humour.

Unfortunately, The Belko Experiment is still somewhat a missed opportunity. For all the intrigue, tension and crafty violence it pulls off in the first two-thirds, the final act resorts to cliches we’ve seen all too often. I don’t know how else it could have played out, though I know I would have welcomed a bolder route that offered more surprises, not just shocks from the extent of the violence. I also felt they could have set up more enticing showdowns between characters by creating additional sources of conflict earlier on.

On the whole, however, The Belko Experiment still turned out to be better than expected. It’s not a memorable entry in the genre or a concept that makes us think deeper, but it’s certainly a sharp, well-made horror-thriller that scares and entertains without taking itself too seriously.

3.25 stars out of 5

The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

In all honesty, I thought The Lego Movie would suck. Instead, it turned out to be one of the craziest, funnest and funniest movies of 2014. A big part of that is the character of Batman, voiced by Will Arnett, and so it was no surprise that the first spin-off film Warner Bros decided on was The Lego Batman Movie.

Given how funny The Lego Movie was, I went into Lego Batman with heightened expectations, but also wary that it could turn out to be another Minions situation (ie, good in small doses as a side character, annoying and incapable of sustaining its own film). I shouldn’t have been worried.

Lego Batman is, like its predecessor, loads of irreverent, stupid fun, It again delivers relentless, rapid-fire jokes from all directions, some misses but mostly hits, and this time, with the added bonus of many inside jokes poking fun at not just the Batman franchise throughout its long history but also the entire DC universe — including the current cinematic universe. Actually it goes even beyond that and borrows characters from other franchises too (that’s the great thing about Lego), but I’m not going to spoil the surprises here. All I’ll say is that at least one real-life counterpart of one of the characters from another franchise voices a different character in the film.  I’m sure I missed a whole bunch of the jokes, references and characters, and I wouldn’t mind checking out the film again when it comes out on DVD to catch all the Easter eggs.

Conversely, as it centres around Batman, Lego Batman is more limited in scope than The Lego Movie, and as a result, most of the jokes are more confined in subject matter. Accordingly, I have to say I did laugh less this time around, though another reason could also be because I was on the ONLY person in the theatre watching the movie (it was a Thursday matinee session)!

I would say it’s both good and bad — if crazy, silly laughs are all you’re after, Lego Batman is arguably a step down from The Lego Movie, but if you prefer a more structured story (yes, there is actually a story and character development and all that), then Lego Batman might be more up your alley.

As you would expect, the action is fun and inventive and the visuals are bright and colourful.  I would say the quality all the non-humour elements are on par with The Lego Movie. The idea of rapidly “building” things with Lego pieces on the run is still pretty cool to watch every time.

Will Arnett is perfect as Lego Batman. He pretty much speaks in a Batman voice as Job on Arrested Development anyway, so this performance came naturally for him. Joining Arnett is his nephew from AR, Michael Cera, who plays Robin with the same wide-eyed innocent as George Michael (by the way, there might be a George Michael joke or two in there — and you can interpret that however you want). Ralph Fiennes is also terrific as Alfred the butler, while Zach Galifianakis is a solid Joker and Rosario Dawson is cool as Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Commissioner Gordon. There are loads of other big names on the cast list, including some familiar returning names from The Lego Movie such as Channing Tatum as Superman and Jonah Hill as the Green Lantern. Billy Dee Williams, Mariah Carey, Chris Hardwick, Zoe Kravitz, Adam DeVine, Conan O’Brien — the list goes on and on.

On the whole, I personally preferred The Lego Movie just because of the sheer range of the jokes and because it was fresher and more surprising, but Lego Batman is not very far behind. I would say there were less laugh-out-loud jokes but more witty bits and pieces that will keep you smiling and giggling. Anyway, if you enjoyed one you will absolutely enjoy the other. I’ve said countless times that I’m not usually a fan of animated films, so when I am this positive it usually means it’s pretty, pretty good.

3.75 stars out of 5

Swiss Army Man (2016)

Swiss Army Man is undoubtedly the wackiest movie I’ve seen in years. I have no doubt it will end up on some people’s “Best Of” lists and others’ “Worst Of” lists. You either get it or you don’t.

The film is about a depressed, suicidal man named Hank (Paul Dano) who befriends a very farty corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) on a desert island. The corpse turns out to be extremely useful in a variety of situations throughout Hank’s efforts to return to civilization (hence the title, a nod to the utility of the Swiss army knife). Yes, the movie is as weird as it sounds.

It’s very obvious from the first fart that Swiss Army Man is not your typical movie. There are plenty of outrageous and farcical situations all throughout that will invoke as much laughter as feelings or being weirded out. It’s not afraid of being rude and crude and disgusting, and kudos to both Dano and especially Harry Potter for fully embracing the absurdity. It’s totally out there, and you can either go along for the ride or scoff at the stupidity of it all.

And yet, the film is laced with a strange sense of melancholy and poignancy. If you dig deeper than the artificial layers on top, you’ll find that the film actually says a lot about loneliness and depression, and sends a strong message about living life to the fullest and not being afraid to put yourself out there–before it’s too late.

As for me, I liked Swiss Army Man, to an extent. I enjoyed how original and wacky it was, and I definitely laughed out loud way more than I thought I would at the relentless jokes, many of which were actually on the low-brow end. I also developed an entirely new appreciation for the talents of Daniel Radcliffe, who played the best corpse since Weekend at Bernie’s (though another film I recently watched, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, sure has a performance that gives him a run for his money). On the other hand, I don’t think the film, even at just 97 minutes, had enough material to sustain the running time. There were moments where I felt the gimmick was wearing thin and lost a bit of interest, though I have to say the ending was brilliant and redeemed some of my misgivings. Definitely worth checking out, but be prepared for what you are getting yourself into.

3.5 stars out of 5

PS: It’s a real shame hardly anyone saw the film, which made less than US$5m on a US$3m budget.

Keeping Up with the Joneses (2016)

Think of True Lies, the greatest spy action-comedy every made. Then think of the complete opposite of that. That’s essentially Keeping Up with the Joneses, a film so bland and unfunny that it’s actually baffling.

Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher play the Gaffneys, a couple whose children are away at a camp when an attractive couple (the Joneses) played by Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot move into their close knit neighbourhood. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the Joneses are not who they claim to be, and soon the Gaffneys find themselves thrown into the world of espionage.

Not the most interesting premise, but definitely potential for laughs. And yet, Keeping Up with the Joneses is so low on the humour that I honestly cannot think of another movie I’ve seen this year — not just comedies but any genre — that generated less laughter. I’d probably have to think back to a movie about the holocaust to find anything as unfunny.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying either. I actually like all four of the actors in the film, but none of them could squeeze a drop of decent humour of the movie. The jokes are so lame and uninspiring that I don’t think they even worked on paper. With the exception of one gag about teeth near the end of the second act, I honestly did not chuckle even once. No laughs, no smiles.

Sadly, there are no other redeeming qualities about the film. The action is very tame and uninspiring, and the plot is ridiculously predictable. The only positive things about the movie I can say is that it appears the actors at least tried (well, except for Jon Hamm — he totally mailed it in), and that there’s nothing offensively terrible about it.

So no laughs, crap action and lame plot. No matter how appealing the actors may be, Keeping Up with the Joneses might very well be the worst comedy of the year.

1 star out of 5

Skiptrace (2016)

It’s hard to believe that Jackie Chan was just awarded with an Oscar for lifetime achievements late last year! In celebration of the man’s career, I decided to watch Skiptrace, an action movie that apparently came out in 2016 but I had no idea even existed.

To be honest, I expected absolutely nothing from this movie. The last couple of Jackie Chan films I watched were all garbage — Dragon Blade, Chinese Zodiac, The Spy Next Door — essentially lame efforts to promote cross-border collaboration for the mainland Chinese film industry. Skiptrace seemed like more of the same, with Chinese actress Fan Bingbing being cast in the lead female role and Johnnie Knoxville as the American buddy sidekick. But you know what? I actually didn’t mind it. It’s definitely one of Jackie’s more watchable movies in recent memory.

The plot is pretty non-existent. Chan plays a Hong Kong cop trying to track down a criminal mastermind called the “Matador”, and somehow he has to track down a conman gambler played by Knoxville who witnessed a murder. Naturally, this takes the two of them on a trip around from Russia to China through Mongolia. Oh, and Fan Bingbing plays his goddaughter and the damsel in distress.

It’s a fairly typical Jackie Chan script, with the usual cringeworthy plot points, dialogue, jokes, and Asian actors forced to speak uncomfortable English. I’m actually quite sure some of Fan Bingbing’s lines were dubbed, or at least recorded later. Like many of his previous movies, Skiptrace felt like a tourism commercial, this time for Mongolia and parts of scenic China.

Having said that, I was surprised by the chemistry between Chan and Knoxville, who gets thrown around an awful lot (his forte, I suppose). Chan also seems to have a bit more of a spring in his step despite having hit the age of 62 and is involved in more action and stunts than in his prior films of the last few years. The action sequences and fights in general are just more creative and better choreographed too.

These positives don’t quite make up for the cringe moments and the bad Jackie Chan movie trademarks (such as always having a woman young enough to be his daughter as his love interest), though on the whole, Skiptrace turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining movie. Perhaps five-time Golden Raspberry Award nominee for Worst Director, Renny Harlin, somehow managed to turn back the clock to work his magic this time.

3.25 stars out of 5