Tag Archives: Owen Wilson

Masterminds (2016)

Masterminds is one of those films that seems like a good comedy premise on paper. Based on the 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery, the true story is about a bunch of dim-witted hillbillies who decide to steal US$20 million from a cash vault at a Loomis Fargo office one of them worked at. Throw in Napoleon Dynamite filmmaker Jared Hess and an SNL-heavy cast featuring Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Jason Sudeikis (that’s essentially three-quarters of the new Ghostbusters), and the potential for laughs was obvious.

In practice, however, the film is forgettable, sporadic and not quite funny enough. Given the directors and the comedians involved, you should have a good sense of the type of humour the film goes for — it’s dominated mainly wacky character traits, awkward moments, and loads and loads of stupidity. The entire film revolves around the idea that these robbers are far too stupid to carry out this multi-million-dollar heist, and they were even more stupid in how they carried themselves afterward. They are portrayed as low-class, uneducated trailer-trash hicks, and sometimes the film treads a little close to the line of making fun of such people.

It’s farcical, outrageous stuff that’s only loosely based on fact and stretched to maximum idiocy for entertainment purposes, but if you are in the right mood or are a big fan of any of these actors, it’s possible you could find Masterminds fun and enjoyable. I admit that I laughed and giggled a few times, especially during the Kate McKinnon scenes, though on the whole, the comedy was simply too all over the place. It’s like throwing a bunch of skits at the audience and hoping something sticks. 

Unfortunately, far too many of the jokes fell flat for me, and at some stage the stupidity meter was so high that it made me begin to question just how much of the movie is actually true (Answer: Not that much). Stupid is funny. Too stupid can be lame. This is particularly so when these same characters sometimes show that they can actually be quite clever when the plot calls for it.

Zach Galifianakis is good in small doses, such as an episode of Between Two Ferns or a supporting role in The Hangover. As the lead of a feature-length film, however, he can be a little too much to stomach. As I noted earlier, the stand out for me was Kate McKinnon has his weirdo fiance. Kristen Wiig also had some good moments early on, and Jason Sudeikis plays to his strengths as a creepy contract killer. Owen Wilson and Leslie Jones, on the other hand, don’t get to demonstrate their comedic chops as much as I would’ve liked.

Ultimately, Masterminds is yet another one of those comedian-driven, ad lib-heavy comedies where the amount of fun the cast had making the movie did not translate properly to the finished product. Despite a few fleetingly funny moments, it just doesn’t have enough charm or deep belly laughs to do either the cast or the premise justice.

2.25 stars out of 5

Zoolander 2 (2016)

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There’s no to sugarcoat this: Zoolander 2 is gaaaaaabage. Of all the sequels that should never have been made, this one’s right near the top of the list.

I’m sure it seemed like a good idea when Ben Stiller had nothing to do one day and decided to bring back his iconic character, the dim-witted supermodel who made “Blue Steel” the look everyone was imitating back in 2001. But like when Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels returned for Dumb and Dumber To 20 years after the original, it’s just as funny after so much time has passed. And sadly, Dumb and Dumber To is the far superior sequel. Minus a bit of nostalgia and a couple of decent laughs on the rare occasion, everything else about Zoolander 2 just feels stale, contrived, lame, and worst of all, unfunny.

The story is also set about 15 years after the original, with Zoolander and his former sidekick Hansel (Owen Wilson) living very different lives after another stupid tragedy. A new character, an Interpol agent played by Penelope Cruz, gets the ball rolling when celebrities are being killed all around the world. And of course, Will Ferrell returns as villain Mugatu.

So yeah, there’s essentially no story, just a bunch of idiots doing idiotic things. That’s not to say idiocy can’t be funny, because obviously enough people thought it was hilarious in the first film. But it’s simply just not funny here. I’d say a good 95-99% of gags fell entirely flat. It’s not even the delivery — the jokes themselves just had no wit, creativity or element of surprise. After a while, it will make you start to wonder whether you may have been overrating the first Zoolander for all these years. Personally, I started zoning out a little.

It’s unfortunate because the film starts with so much promise. The Justin Bieber gag that kicks off the show is pretty satisfying, though of course it would have been much funnier had the punchline not been tossed entirely into the trailer. In fact, almost all the good jokes have been spoiled by the trailer, which is sad considering the trailer is only about 2 minutes long.

As for the other 100 minutes…well, at least there’s a lot of celebrity cameos for people into those sorts of things. The list is far too long to even bother trying to name them (apparently there’s 39), though those who have seen the trailers won’t be surprised to see the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch or Kiefer Sutherland. Most play caricatures of themselves, and it makes you wonder whether they were just doing Ben Stiller a  favour or if they genuinely thought it was a good idea.

Back in 2001, Zoolander was a sharp satire on the fashion industry. In 2016 — though I’m sure it was made with the best of intensions, — Zoolander 2 feels like nothing more than a stale, feeble cash-grab when the ideas well has run completely dry.

1,5 stars out of 5

No Escape (2015)

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No Escape is a really unusual film that will be hard to swallow for a lot of people, even if they find its other aspects appealing.

The plot is simple: Owen Wilson and Lake Bell play an American couple with two young girls who relocate to Southeast Asia to work for an American engineering company. Shortly after they arrive — and get acquainted with a British dude played by Pierce Brosnan — there is a massive riot that has suddenly turned all locals against foreigners. And we’re not talking about peaceful demonstrations here — these Asians are equipped with machetes and machine guns and they’re out for blood.

From one perspective No Escape just a moronic, xenophobic and exploitative film about an American family on the run from a bloodthirsty mob in an unnamed Southeast Asian country that looks and sounds a lot like Thailand (which happens to be where it was shot). The film doesn’t really give a shit why this is happening; it just needed a lot of crazy people who want to kill white people, and I suppose SE Asians were the cheapest to hire.

There’s a feeble attempt to rationalize it all towards the end of the movie, but by then nothing really makes sense. It’s hard to imagine people moving to another country having zero idea that it’s not the most stable place in the world. And if it was semi-stable before the rioting then it’s hard to envisage everything turning to absolute shit at the drop of a hat with no warning whatsoever.

Given the film’s senseless brutality, lack of explanation, and its painting of a group of people with the same brush, it is no wonder that No Escape has been hilariously described as “World War Z with Asians.”

However, from a different perspective — if you can leave all the political incorrectness aside — No Escape is an effectively violent and tense action-thriller that offers a breath of fresh air from all the other Taken wannabe films in recent years (incidentally, Owen Wilson reportedly said in an interview that the tone of No Escape was akin to Taken — personally, I think he might have been shooting a little high there with that comparison).

I have to admit though that the film does have its entertaining moments. That sense of primal fear and panic from the relentless rampaging Asians comes across as genuine, and it’s not hard to put yourself in the shoes of the protagonists and imagine how terrifying it would be. Much of that is thanks to the solid performances from Wilson and Bell, though Brosnan’s character is a little overdone and, along with some ill-timed slow-motion shots, makes the film campier than it ought to have been. One thing I will say, and I’m not sure if I should be saying it, is that I was really hoping for their two spoiled little shits to get killed because they kept stuffing things up by being completely uncooperative. They’re not too young to understand that people will no doubt brutalise and kill them if they don’t do exactly as their parents tell them.

In all, No Escape is terribly inconsiderate, but I wouldn’t say it’s terrible. The film will inevitably have its haters, and let’s face it, most of it is probably deserved. Despite the attempts of the filmmakers (namely director John Erick Dowdle, who last gave us the horror flick As Above, So Below) to appear less like dickheads by making the country unnamed and to mess up the language, etc to not target any specific group of people, there’s no denying that they have essentially portrayed all SE Asians as rabid zombified brutes or meaningless collateral damage. That said, if you can see past all that and accept the film for what it is, then it’s really not a bad action thriller. Having seen my fair share of unflattering, stereotypical portrayals of white people in Asian cinema, I’ve developed quite an impressive insensitivity to insensitivity, and as such I tend to focus more on the film’s positives than its negatives.

3 stars out of 5

Recent Movie Reviews: Part VII

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)

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I had heard some pretty nasty things about The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, the latest adaptation of a successful young adult book series which instantly conjures up images of franchises like Twilight. For maybe the first half hour or so, I was ready to disagree with the critics because I felt it was fairly engaging, but somewhere along the line the film just got bogged down by the weight of its own unnecessarily complexity and desire to infuse contrived romances into the storyline, and from there it all fell apart. In other words, I ended up agreeing with the naysayers: City of Bones stunk.

Starring the eyebrows of Lily Collins (offspring of music legend Phil), City of Bones follows the adventures of New York teenager Clary Fray, who one night realises she is not “normal” and  can see things other people can’t.  OK, I’m just going to say it — this movie is about angel warriors who slay demons on Earth. Fray is indeed special and has special powers, including the ability to use runes.

Anyway, the whole film revolves around the search for the titular Mortal Instruments, and in particular a magical cup. It all got a little confusing for me, to be honest, and I really didn’t care about all the explanations which made little sense. But it does also have vampires and werewolves, and in a bit of a controversial twist for young adult fiction, gay characters!

I did enjoy the start of the film and its urban setting, and the tensions brought about by an endangered protagonist who doesn’t know what the hell is going on around her. But I knew there was going to be a romance as soon as the blonde locks of Jamie Campbell Bower (who plays an angel called Jayce Wayland) appeared on screen, and I hoped that it wouldn’t ruin the movie. Well, it did, and the moment when Eyebrows and Bower shared an awkward kiss in a greenhouse (just as it suddenly starts to rain, by the way) was when I lost faith in the film completely.

I’m not as critical of the film’s fantasy cliches as others, because I don’t have a problem with stealing elements as long as the execution is right. This is harder said than done, of course, and City of Bones failed to get over that hump, though they did have a good crack at it. In the end,  it’s the contrived romance and the unnecessarily convoluted back story that crushed the film for me. That said, I don’t think the series is beyond salvation, and the planned sequel, City of Ashes, could still possess some potential.

2 stars out of 5

The Internship (2013)

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These days you can be pretty certain of what you’re in for when you go to a Vince Vaughn comedy, especially if it also stars Owen Wilson. The Internship is what it is — affable characters you are familiar with, consistent, mildly amusing jokes and gags, and a cliched life message at the end. The only difference between this and other similar Vaughn movies in recent years is that The Internship is also a massive advertisement for Google.

Vaughn and Wilson are watch salesmen who someone get an opportunity to apply for an internship at Google. To get the sought-after job, they must compete against a bunch of young, cocky, highly qualified interns in a teams. And of course, the duo gets put in a team of misfits who are considered rejects by other teams, and they have to find a way to learn from each other and defy the odds. You know how it goes and you know how it ends, but it’s still a semi-enjoyable ride.

Directed by Shawn Levy (Cheaper by the Dozen, Night at the Museum, Date Night) and co-written by Vaughn, The Internship is one of those “safe” and “comfortable” movies that tend to rated better by audiences than critics. There are some interesting insights into Google’s recruitment process (including a Quidditch match), but for the most part it is extremely formulaic and short on original jokes. And of course it is unnecessarily long at 2 hours.

Vaughn and Wilson are likable guys who seem to always play the same characters, so you know what to expect with them. The other interns on their team are stereotypes but the actors who play them do fairly good jobs. Rose Byrne plays Wilson’s love interest and feels like a superfluous character, and Max Minghella is awfully one-dimensional and over-the-top as the dicky villain who bullies them (though I blame it on the script). The standout supporting character is played by Rob Riggle, a hilarious electric cart salesman, and it’s a shame he doesn’t have more screen time.

On the whole, I found The Internship to be a “meh” experience that won’t affect your life whether you see it or not. Apart from a bizarre and strangely adult segment featuring to a strip club, this was about as predictable of a movie as you’re likely to see all year.

2.5 stars out of 5

The World’s End (2013)

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The World’s End is the third film in director Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost  (following Shaun of the Dead, which I liked a lot, and Hot Fuzz, which I haven’t seen). It would be an understatement to call this film a wild, outrageous and unpredictable ride, and I would recommend anyone who intends on seeing it to avoid all spoilers like I did.

The premise pretty much tells you the kind of experience you are in for. Pegg plays a middle-aged alcoholic trying to rekindle his glory days from two decades ago and gathers up his old gang to try and complete the “Golden Mile”, a pub crawl through 12 local pubs in a single night that ends at an establishment named The World’s End. The rowdy group start off the pub crawl as planned, but an unexpected twist throws them into the craziest night of their lives.

It’s hard to say more about the plot without giving key details away, so I’ll stop there, but what I will say is that it features Pegg and Frost at their stinging best. The wisecracks and one-liners come fast and furious, and the physical comedy is also surprisingly effective in a wacky kind of way. The supporting cast, which includes the likes of Rosamund Pike and Martin Freeman, are all excellent and contribute to a highly entertaining and surreal experience where nothing is taken seriously — in a good way.

And on top of it all, The World’s End is strangely heartfelt and pushes through its messages about alienation and letting go of the past extremely well. The film does lose a bit of steam towards the end as the silliness meter is dialled up to the max, but even then you get the feeling that the Wright was in full control of where he wanted to take his audience.

The World’s End is unapologetically crazy, bizarre, and above all, British. I thought it was hilarious.

4 stars out of 5

42 (2013)

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Sports biopics are all about inspiration, and inspirational figures don’t come much bigger than Jackie Robinson, the first African-American player in Major League Baseball. 42 follows Robinson’s journey from talented negro league player to his controversial signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers, where he would become the only black player in a league of all whites, thereby making him the most polarizing athlete in sport.

For those who don’t know much about Robinson and his incredible life, 42 provides a wonderful insight into just how difficult it was for him to be that breakthrough guy who paved the way for racial equality in not just baseball but all professional sports in the United States. It’s a pivotal and very important part of American history that should not and will not be forgotten.

That said, 42 is very much a family film in the sense that it tackles the obstacles and the racism Robinson faced head on but in a somewhat sanitised way that feels like it steered clear of the ugliest and darkest aspects of what he had to endure. This is not to say that the film makes light of what Robinson went through — it’s just that things could have been portrayed in a much more cynical, brutal and disturbing manner. That would have made it a very different kind of movie and that’s not what the filmmakers had in mind.

However, this decision also means that 42 loses some of its edge and comes across as a more stock-standard sports biopic that at times borders on made-for-TV territory. There are the good guys and there are the bad guys, and there are the guys who redeem themselves after initially falling prey to peer and societal pressures. It made things a little too black and white for my liking, but again, this was the path the filmmakers intended on taking.

I hadn’t heard of Chadwick Boseman, the actor who plays Robinson in the film, before, but it’s obvious why he was picked for the role — he looks A LOT like him! I wouldn’t say Boseman was oozing charisma, but he does a stellar job as the man who wears No. 42 on his back. The big name star is Harrison Ford, who plays Branch Rickey, the MLB executive who came up with the idea of signing Robinson — apparently not because he wanted racial equality but because he wanted to win. Other known names include John C McGinley, Christopher Meloni and Lucas Black.

Ultimately, 42 is a fairly unremarkable film that manages to sustain our interest because of a remarkable man. It is a safe production designed for families and younger audiences, and as such it gets the job done, but expecting anything more will likely lead to disappointment.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Midnight in Paris (2011)

It’s 2012 already but I’m still trying to finish off my 2011 movie reviews so I can do my annual top 10 list.

I still have a quite a few to go, but I’m pretty sure Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is going to be on that list. Starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Michael Sheen, Kathy Bates and co, Midnight in Paris is one of those rare, magical delights that I just couldn’t help but fall in love with.

Even though I had seen a couple of trailers, I mistakenly thought Midnight in Paris was one of those lazy, forgettable romantic “dramedies” with a bit of predictable quirkiness and lots of pretty scenes of Paris.  While it is indeed a quasi-love letter to the beautiful city, I couldn’t have been more wrong about everything else.  Without giving too much away, I would classify it as a “fantastical” romantic comedy.

It tells the story of Gil (Wilson), an engaged Hollywood scriptwriter working on his first novel, who travels to Paris on a vacation with his fiance Inez (McAdams) and her wealthy parents.  By chance, they bump into Inez’s pompous, insufferable friend Paul (Sheen), who loves to grab the spotlight and take the wind out of Gil’s sails.  Feeling rejected and dejected, Gil decides take a solo stroll through the streets of Paris one evening, thus beginning an unexpected and mystical adventure  involving a whole cast of fascinating characters.  I didn’t know about this aspect of the film so it came to me as a wonderful surprise, and being a writer made it even more glorious.

Despite the scandals in his personal life, it’s hard to not admire Woody Allen as genius filmmaker.  He has made some pretty decent but flawed films in recent years (Whatever Works, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Scoop and Match Point, to name a few), but Midnight in Paris has to be one of his best in quite some time.  The characters are rich and the dialogue is sublime.  The one-liners are hilarious.  And the idea itself is brilliant.  At just 94 minutes, the film is short and sweet, allowing a swift pace.  It might not be a particularly deep film, but the sweet, light-hearted and wondrous vibe that Allen threads throughout the whole film makes it a joy to watch.

The role of Gil was made for Owen Wilson, and he shines here as the affable, slightly dorky Gil.  McAdams is also very good as the spoiled, irritating finance, and Michael Sheen is, as expected, marvellous as the pseudo-intellectual douchebag Paul.  Marion Cotillard is sexy and alluring, but for me, the one who steals the show in a minor role is French actress Lea Seydoux (who was recently an assassin in MI4).  But with the likes of Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody and French First Lady Carla Bruni, it’s hard to pick any holes in the cast or performances.

Midnight in Paris is by no means a perfect film, but I connected with it in a way I never thought I would.  As far as short, witty, memorable films are concerned, this one is right up there in my personal pantheon.

5 out of 5 stars!

Movie Review: Hall Pass (2011)

When I was still at school, my friend and I decided to go see a movie after class one day.  But for whatever reason, we missed the film we intended to see, and there was only one other film available, a film neither of us had even heard of.

That film was called There’s Something About Mary, and I don’t think either of us have laughed as hard in a cinema as we did that day.  It was one magical movie experience that I’ll always treasure — zero knowledge of the plot, zero expectations, and an unexpected classic of a film.  The name, the Farrelly brothers, was also ingrained into my brain.

Fast forward to present day, and as chance would have it, my friend and I had another opportunity to catch a film together.  Naturally, we decided to go see Hall Pass, a Farrelly brothers movie starring Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis (only recently watched him in 30 Rock), Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate and Stephen Merchant.

The premise is outstanding and full of potential.  Two friends in slightly rocky relationships with their wives are given a “hall pass” from marriage for a week.  Effectively, a licence to cheat.  What will they do?  What kind of mischief will they get up to?  Will it be hilarious?

Sadly, I have to report that Hall Pass didn’t pass the grade.  The Farrelly brothers’ magic from There’s Something About Mary is well and truly gone.  Their last two films, this one and The Heartbreak Kid (with Ben Stiller) are both duds in my opinion.  It just shows how hard it is to make a strong comedy film, and just because you’ve succeeded once doesn’t mean you know the secret formula.

The problem with Hall Pass is that it’s not particularly funny.  If you’ve seen the trailer you would have seen half the jokes, because most of them are the same, and the rest are relatively predictable. Not to say that it isn’t funny at all, because there were a few good moments (my favourite was in a massage parlour) that made me giggle aloud, but on the whole there were too many jokes and gags that were met with complete silence or worse, cringes.

Another problem I had with it is that, like so many ‘comedies’ these days, being loud and obnoxious, filthily disgusting, and having shock value are taken as a proxy for humour.  Where are the good old jokes that comes from cleverness and wit and irony?  And my goodness, masturbation and racial penis size gags really are getting old these days.

It’s unfortunate because Hall Pass had so much going for it as an idea, but the development and execution let it down.  There were shades of Mary in there in a couple of scenes, and you could almost sense that they were trying to recreate what had worked for them in the past, but for whatever reason, it failed.

At the end of the day, Hall Pass is what it is.  A great idea, a solid cast, a few good jokes, a lot of lame ones, and a dash of sweetness at its core.  Probably better than most of the trashy gross-out comedies that get pumped out these days but still not very good.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Little Fockers (2010)

Meet the Parents (released in 2000) is one of my favourite comedies.  The 2004 sequel, Meet the Fockers, was silly and disappointing, despite the added star power Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand.  And so I was a little wary of the third film, Little Fockers. Any time a franchise reaches its third standalone film (ie not a planned trilogy), there’s a risk that the jokes will start wearing thin.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened here.  Even with the whole gang back (Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Tero Polo, Blythe Danner, Owen Wilson, Hoffman and Streisand) plus a surprisingly good Jessica Alba inserted (along with Harvey Keitel and Laura Dern), Little Fockers failed to capture the essence of what made the first film so good.

This one, as the title suggests, takes place several years after the second film, with Greg Focker (Stiller) and his wife Pam (Polo) raising twins, who are about to celebrate their birthdays.  Of course, Greg’s father-in-law and former CIA agent Jack (De Niro) is still around making Greg’s life hell, and the majority of the movie revolves around several subplots — Greg representing an erectile dysfunction drug (which is where Alba comes in), getting his place ready for the birthday party (enter Keitel) and the trying to get his kids into a prestigious kintergarten (enter Dern).

I won’t deny that there were some good moments and funny one liners, especially with Wilson, Alba and Dern, but on the whole there were too many stale, lame jokes.  The cleverness and the subtlety of the original have been thrown out the window in favour of unoriginal cheap laughs and sex gags, especially towards the end.

While Little Fockers is definitely a level or two better than the disaster that was Meet the Fockers, it nevertheless continues to damage the goodwill of the original.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)

I really enjoyed Up and I thought Coraline was pretty good, but I still don’t consider myself a big fan of animated films.  However, Fantastic Mr Fox is making me reconsider that stance once again.

Initially, I had very little interest in seeing Fantastic Mr Fox – at first glance it looked like one of those weird, unappealing, low-quality stop-motion animations – but a couple of friends told me it was fantastic, and after all, the film is based on the book by Roald Dahl, just my favourite author growing up.

So I watched it, having no recollection of the book (which I am pretty sure I read years ago), and laughed harder than I ever thought I would. 

Fantastic Mr Fox (directed by Wes Anderson – The Darjeeling Limited, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) has my type of humour.  It’s dry, deadpan, random and crazy.  It’s quite Simpsonesque in many ways.  There’s a few clever recurring jokes that never seem to get old, and it’s a film that fully utilises the stop-motion animation techniques to maximise the hilarity.  Who would have thought jerky movements could be so funny?

George Clooney is perfect as the titular character Mr Fox.  His deadpan delivery and voice, which sometimes irritates me, was spot on here.  Supporting Clooney is a wonderful voice cast, including Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Michael Gambon, Owen Wilson and Willem Dafoe, though none stand out as much as Clooney does.

At the end of the day, it’s really just a weird little story with some weird big laughs, but I have a feeling Fantastic Mr Fox could become a classic in years to come.

4 stars out of 5!