Deadpool 2

Year: 2018
Directed by: David Leitch
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, Morena Baccarin

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

The runaway smash-hit of 2016 ‘Deadpool’ saw the debut (yes, debut) of a fan favourite character known for breaking the fourth wall and being supremely foul-mouthed, as played by Ryan Reynolds in a passion project in the works for years. 2 years on, Deadpool is a household name thanks to Reynolds being widely considered the perfect man for the role and the film being supremely entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny from its opening credits right to its post-credits scene. 2 years on, we have been given the inevitable sequel a record breaking film was destined to have, and I’m happy to report that Deadpool hasn’t changed one bit.

‘Deadpool 2’ sees Deadpool fully invested in his saving-the-world-as-unethically-as-possible shtick as we are shown in the opening sequences. When tragedy strikes, Deadpool finds himself in a rut and it’s up to Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapcic) to pick him back up and continue his attempts at turning him into a true member of the X-Men. Meanwhile, mutants are popping up left and right, namely young Russell Collins, a teenager who can control fire, and Cable, a time-travelling cybernetic soldier who arrives, Terminator style, to complete a personal revenge mission.

What immediately comes across as you watch is ‘Deadpool 2′ has a far wider scope than the original. Where Deadpool spent the majority of its runtime on one section of a motorway, Deadpool 2 zips around the world in a montage sequence catching us up on what Deadpool has been up to since we last saw him. This sequence showcases impressive choreography thanks largely to its new director, David Leitch, fresh off his impressive work on ‘John Wick’ and ‘Atomic Blonde’, while also informing us that the jokes will fly at you faster than you can process them.

The wider scope isn’t only evident visually either, as the dialogue very heavily references other Marvel films, from the X-Men franchise (which Deadpool is very much a part of) to the MCU (which Deadpool isn’t a part of…yet). Some jokes come obviously (Josh Brolin’s Cable is the target of multiple MCU jokes for obvious reasons), while others are far more subtle. It also does very well at referencing lines from the first Deadpool that, granted, not many in my screening caught, but I did, and I appreciated the commitment to writing jokes to include everyone in the audience, from the casual viewers to the hardcore fans.

The quality of filmmaking itself is evident as Leitch brings his stunt related past to the film, showcasing the talent we have clearly seen in his previous work in genuinely impressive sequences like a slow-motion one-take sequence that Deadpool narrates over near the beginning of the film, as well as the fight choreography on the truck in the climax of Act 2. There are no annoyingly fast cuts to be found as the punches are given time to land and take effect; one of the biggest factors in well-shot action is the geography, and it was always clear where each character was after every hit. David Leitch is an exciting director that I hope continues this impressive form throughout his inevitably successful career.

‘Deadpool 2’ continues the trend from the first by being very funny and very entertaining on every level. The jokes do come at you at a supreme pace that you will not catch all of them even after multiple viewings, but ‘Deadpool 2’ is definitely going for re-watchability, which it most definitely is. And yet, while the film is consistently very funny, it doesn’t quite manage to tip over into hilarious territory. A few sequences come very close – Basic Instinct, X-Force for reference – but it doesn’t quite get there as well as ‘Deadpool’ does. “A fourth wall break inside a fourth wall break? That’s like…16 walls” from the first film is an all-time favourite quote of mine, there isn’t a line in ‘Deadpool 2′ that matches this one.

‘Deadpool 2’ does a lot of things very well, not least the cast. Everyone on screen is evidently having a blast with the film, and so many of them are perfect for the role. As aforementioned, Reynolds is Deadpool, Zazie Beetz almost steals the show as Domino, the endlessly cool and very lucky (it’s definitely a superpower and definitely cinematic) member of the X-Force, and Josh Brolin for the second time this year knocks a major Marvel character out of the park with a terrific performance as the time-travelling badass, Cable.

The true MVP of the film though is Julian Dennison as Russell Collins. Fresh off his hilarious turn in Taika Waititi’s ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’, Dennison has charm for days and has the ability to make any line, any look, any body movement funny. On top of being funny, Dennison genuinely makes Russell (or Fire Fist as he hilariously named himself) a character you empathise with, even as he descends into pyromania in the final act.

While there are a lot of positives to take from ‘Deadpool 2′, the film does have its flaws that teeter on the edge of having a significant effect on the film. Given the nature of firing jokes at you at an alarming rate, it falls occasionally on the side of jokes not landing. When they land, they’re great, but when they don’t land, you can feel the awkward silence in the room waiting for the next one. There are several of these moments, and they all add up into stretches of the film feeling like dead air. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem, but the film is 2 hours long, and these long stretches of jokelessness, or unfunny jokes, stay with you.

Secondly, I have praised the film’s wider scope already in this review, but this proves to be the film’s double-edged sword. At several points, the film tries to do things that are just too much for its budget. There’s a very fun sequence that’s effectively a truck chase sequence and the truck, at multiple points, looks like it belongs in a PS2 racing game. In the final act, there’s a self-aware CGI fight (Deadpool literally shouts “CGI fight!” at the screen to set it up) that feels weightless when it really shouldn’t given the characters involved because of how blatantly CGI it is.

Finally, ‘Deadpool 2′ suffers from the same problem as the first film. ‘Deadpool’ very clearly set itself up as the antithesis to the MCU, a superhero film that breaks all the rules and refuses to follow convention, and yet follows all the rules and the convention. The act of acknowledging the conventions before they happen doesn’t excuse the fact that they remain followed. I enjoyed the self-referential nature of the film because it’s something that’s so rarely seen, but it frustrated me to see the trends followed and see missed opportunities to do change things up.

All told, I did really enjoy ‘Deadpool 2′. I thought it was funny throughout, the cast were all excellent, and it has, without a doubt, the best mid-credits scene of all-time. There are problems abound that come with trying to exceed the expectations set by a great first outing, but I honestly feel ‘Deadpool 2′ has more re-watchability than the original because of its attempts to go bigger than the first. Oh, and keep an eye out for some excellent cameos!

Rhys’ Rating:

3.5

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Walk Like A Panther

Year: 2018
Directed By: Dan Cadan
Cast: Stephen Graham, Dave Johns, Stephen Tompkinson, Steve Furst

Written by Tom Sheffield

British comedy films can be rather hit and miss and in the case of ‘Walk Like A Panther’, it unfortunately looks like we have another miss on our hands despite having a promising premise and cast. 

22 years after the plug was pulled on British Wrestling on TV, a close-knit community in West Yorkshire squeeze themselves back into their spandex in order to save their local pub, the ‘Half Nelson’ – which is run by Mark Bolton (Stephen Graham) who has wanted to wrestle in the ring all his life after growing up surrounded by his Dad and his wrestling family, the ‘Panthers’.  With his pub being closed down by the brewery, Mark sets out to prove himself in the ring to make enough money to save the heart of his community and prove to his dad he has what it takes to be a Panther.

Stephen Graham is a fantastic lead and manages to make the most of a shoddy script by making some of the poor humour quite laughable with his charm and natural comedic delivery. Dave Johns plays the Panther’s leading man and Mark Bolton’s father, but the former was always more important to him than the latter. Johns is great at delivering an emotional gut punch, you only need to watch ‘I, Daniel Blake’ to see what I mean, but his performance is undermined by poorly written jokes and his character not getting the attention he deserves.

The supporting cast were all fantastic, with each of their personalities offering something different to the attempt at humour. The film also benefited from having such a big age range between its cast members, with the older Panthers getting help from some of the teens in the community who help promote the fight on social media. Stephen Tompkinson plays the villain of the piece as the manager of the region’s breweries and wants nothing more than to demolish the ‘Half Nelson’. Tompkinson plays his character as if he were a villain in a pantomime – his dialogue delivery is eccentric and purposely villainous and it’s completely jarring because it feels like his character is in the wrong film. The same could be said for Steve Furst’s character when we first meet him, but as he spends more time on screen with the other characters, it becomes less of an issue and his character becomes believable.

Michael Socha (‘Once Upon A Time’, ‘This Is England’) plays one of those dickhead-type teenagers who is always blasting their shitty music and has no dress sense.. You know the one. His character instantly gets on your nerves from the moment he’s introduced to us, but he later becomes an integral part of the story when he is shunned by his friends and becomes a sort of mentor to Mark to help him train for the big fight. I personally didn’t see this redemption arc coming, but it’s sincerity was lost on the audience with the poor attempts at humour.

Upon doing a little research I discovered this premise was originally pitched as a TV series by Dan Cadan back in 2011 but it wasn’t picked up – which is a shame because I think this idea would have worked a lot better had if we’d have gotten to know the characters more and had a better build up to the event. To rub some salt in the wound, it also looks like the majority of the cast in the film were lined up to play their respective roles in the TV show too, which would have been perfect. A little more character depth in this film would have gone a long way. 

The only thing I took away from this film was how much more I want to see of Lena Headey, who makes a criminally brief (and I mean extremely brief) cameo appearance (uncredited) as the head of the brewery. Kudos to the writers for managing to work in a ‘Game of Thrones’ related joke (my best laugh of the entire film) that didn’t come off as cheesy or feel shoehorned in.

You will undoubtedly find this film in the bargain bin of your local shop shortly after it’s home release. A lot of the jokes fail to land, and most will fly over the heads of people outside the Yorkshire border. The cast do their best with what they’re given, but even the gorgeous Yorkshire backdrop isn’t enough to draw me into a second viewing of this film.

Tom’s Rating: 3.0/10

Peter Rabbit

Year: 2018
Directed by: Will Gluck
Starring: Rose Byrne, James Corden, Domhnall Gleeson, Daisy Ridley, Margot Robbie

Written by Jessica Peña

With an obsession for the cheap laugh and dull dialogue, ‘Peter Rabbit’ fails to capture a lasting impression of a moral lesson. The film is adapted from ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’, the children’s book written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter, which were later adapted into an animated series on the BBC network as ‘The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends’. The story of the peculiar, blue jacket-wearing rabbit has blended itself into British history as a best-selling classic. There’s a comfortable joy in the way the stories taught readers how to dream beyond our own boundaries and take a leap into new adventure. Peter’s treks into Mr. McGregor’s garden boasted an innocent curiosity in his little rabbit world. Heck, the stories even made eating vegetables look so fun! ‘Peter Rabbit’ paints a weak imagination of the classic, mischievous rabbit. If we want to get straight to the point, it is a film targeting children, so it’s hard for that audience not to like it, but the film hops around too many laughs to be compelling for the average viewer.

Domhnall Gleeson is the redeeming villain we can’t help but love. Sure, he’s a little extreme and comical, but it honestly works so well and makes ‘Peter Rabbit’ a little more enjoyable to watch. This young McGregor gets fired from his position as floor manager at Harrods and finds himself staying in the inherited countryside home, living beside the kind hearted Bea (Rose Byrne) and her furry companions. Gleeson’s McGregor is so intent on keeping the animals out of his garden that he pulls out measures like electrical fences and bolted mesh to doors. The rabbits, led by Peter’s self proclaimed “character flaw,” quickly devise ways around it, using very meticulous tricks to scare the young McGregor out of the house and far away from Bea’s affection.

The film brings some charm here and there as the rabbits are mischievous to no end. Peter, voiced by late night host, James Corden, declares some sort of turf war and his siblings reluctantly agree. McGregor faces hysterical misery in the form of bear traps, stepping on rakes, and even electrocutions that kids will get a kick out of. It would be a lie to say its target audience of the young age wouldn’t enjoy the antics. It has inventive, quirky obstacles. They make up the majority of the film, but ultimately find no release. Its sentimental value peeks here and there, but offer little to no redemption for what it’s cast over the legacy of the children’s book.

Rob Lieber and director Will Gluck really try to make these rabbits so human and trendy in mannerisms that it becomes grossly too much. Sony Pictures even received backlash for “allergy bullying” stemming from a scene where Peter slingshots a blackberry into McGregor’s mouth after it’s been revealed he has a serious allergy to those. It has been debatable online, but one thing that’s evident is they could’ve easily done without that bit. In picking out ways to use carrots, other vegetables, and nature itself into play, ‘Peter Rabbit’ tries very hard to barrade the viewer with so much gag laughs that it falls short in carrying emotion all the way through. There’s a whimsical and pure energy that is lacking. The closest to the source tale is probably Rose Byrne’s Bea. She loves her rabbits unconditionally and we really buy into her good nature and how she just wants to have a happy life, possibly with Thomas, but certainly not if her furry friends are being hunted. She’s the fresh air of humanity that helps reel the mayhem back in.

There’s perhaps too much vulgarity in terms of the nature of these animals. The writers thought it’d be tasteful to include a modern edge of pop culture, but it’s honestly flat. It’s not very faithful in the sense of whimsy and proper behavior. Gleeson and Byrne save this film only as much as they can. We can go as far as to say Gleeson is wasting his talent in this. There’s a small payoff in moral that will translate to kids, but it is short lived as the bulk of the film shadows it in cheesy hilarity. ‘Peter Rabbit’ is enjoyable enough to catch our hearts for a moment or two, but is sadly mistaken if it thinks it’s being a clever, modern take on Beatrix Potter’s children’s books.

Jessica’s Rating: 5/10

Game Night

Year: 2018
Directed by: John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein
Cast: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Sharon Horgan, Billy Magnussen, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons

Written by Tom Sheffield

With a very promising first trailer which boasted a fantastic cast and a genuinely funny and intriguing plot – I had my fingers crossed that this would be a comedy that would actually make me laugh and not be another waste time with predictable and repetitive non-sense similar to what we’ve been offered up over the past few years from studios. I’m happy to report that this isn’t the case at all, and what we’ve been given here is not only hilarious, unpredictable, and actually enjoyable – it’s also so stylishly shot for a film of this genre that it really does stand out from the crowd.

Max (Bateman) and Annie (McAdams) meet during a quiz night, where it’s clear they are both as competitive as each other. The pair fall head over heels for each other and are soon married. The couple host a game night every week for their friends, Ryan (Morris) and his wife Michelle (Bunbury), and Ryan (Magnussen) who brings a new girl every week. Max’s successful brother, Brooks (Chandler), turns up and quickly riles up Max and Annie as he boasts his ‘perfect’ life and shows up Max in front of his friends. Brooks offers to host game night the following week, in which he promises a night they won’t forget.  When the night arrives, Brooks reveals he’s booked a company to fake kidnap a member of the party, leaving the rest of them to hunt down their kidnapped friend through a series of clues – However, things don’t go to plan and Brooks is kidnapped by thugs as his brother and his friends sit and watch. It doesn’t take them long to realise that something isn’t quite right, and then the hunt begins!

The assembled cast are a fantastic choices for their characters, each providing a different style of humour but all successfully drawing laughs from the audience. Bateman is no stranger to the kind of character Max is, but he plays him to his strengths and with McAdams at his side (but by no means a sidekick), the pair are hilarious and have such electric chemistry. McAdams is a delight to watch as always, playing off her on-screen husband’s remarks and delivering some of the funniest lines of the film. Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbry play  happily married couple, Ryan and Michelle, who were high school sweethearts. The pair are great together on-screen, but they really deliver the laughs when Ryan accidentally discovers during a drinking game that Michelle has slept with a celebrity.

Billy Magnussen plays the dim but loveable Ryan who, unlike his closest friends, is single and brings a new girl every week to game night. We see some of these girls in a very quick montage after Max and Annie make a comment about how they’re all basically the same girl – self-obsessed model wannabes with very short attention spans. Determined to win a game night, Ryan invites his British (and therefore he presumes clever) co-worker Sarah (Horgan) to Brooks’ night. It was quite refreshing for a non-couple duo to have some screen-time, as their behavior, attitude, and motive to win the game differ from Ryan’s shacked-up friends.

Jesse Plemons is an absolute scene stealer as Max and Annie’s  neighbour, Gary the Police Officer, who they actively try to avoid so they don’t have to invite him to their game nights. That’s all I’ll say about Gary as it’s best to witness his character for yourself. Chelsea Peretti makes an almost unrecognisable brief appearance and is only in it the film for one short scene, which is a real shame because Peretti is such a wonderful comedian and actress and would have really made a great addition to the circle of friends. If I could change one thing about this film, it would be to have given her a bigger role!

As the couples head out investigating the ‘fake’ kidnapping in their pairs, we as the audience are kept in the loop with what’s really going on as each pair discovers that the situation they have found themselves in is very real, and the stakes at play are also very real. Even though we’re in the loop, there’s still some twists and turns in the plot that I did NOT see coming – and I loved them.

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I can’t write a review for this film and not mention the absolutely brilliant cinematography by Barry Peterson and the camera work at play. For a comedy, it’s not usual for the standout feature I take away from it being the camera work. I knew we were in for a treat as soon as the film started and the studio logos began to fall down the screen looking like game pieces, alongside lots of other game pieces from well known board games (including Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, and Battleship pieces) slowly falling down. One shot that has stuck in my mind since I saw it is an aerial view of the cul-de-sac Max and Annie live on, which made it look like we were looking down on a game board – anything off the street was out of focus and the houses on the street genuinely looked like small pieces on a board until the camera slowly swoops down to street level.

There’s also a fantastic one shot that takes place in a mansion, with the 6 friends frantically trying to escape being caught by security whilst attempting to keep an artefact in one piece. The friends hurling this artefact round the mansion to one another like a rugby ball and I found myself not wanting to blink in case I missed something! The camera work during some of the scenes involving driving were also really well shot, with one angle in particular feeling like something from a racing game like ‘Forza’ and even a similar feel to cruising around on ‘Grand Theft Auto’ with the camera fixed on the car from the back. The crew really went the extra mile for this film and it really does help this comedy stand-out from the often bland and uninspiring films in the genre.

‘Game Night’ not only delivered the laughs, but it also does it with such style and flair that I really wasn’t expecting from a comedy such as this. The cast are all on form, the plot keeps the audiences interest as well as throwing in a few twists and turns to keep us on our toes. A comedy as good as this is best seen with a big audience to laugh along with, so I highly recommend a trip to the cinema when it’s released!

John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein are reportedly Warner Bros’ choice to direct the upcoming ‘Flashpoint’ film, and if that is the case you can count me in. The film featured a lot of elements that a Flash solo film requires, and despite my earlier reservations about them working on it, I think they could actually do justice to my all-time favourite comic book hero.

Tom’s Rating: 8.5/10

Father Figures

Year: 2018
Directed by: Lawrence Sher
Starring: Owen Wilson, Ed Helms, Glenn Close, Christopher Walken, J.K. Simmons, Katt Williams

Written by Tom Sheffield

I’ll be honest, with the disappointing quality of comedies over recent years (bar a handful of exceptions) I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy ‘Father Figures’ as much as I did. Owen Wilson and Ed Helms both have a history of hit and miss films, a niggling thought that only added to my scepticism of this film, but with the aid of a strong script and fantastic direction, this film manages to deliver some hearty laugh out loud moments, as well as offering up some genuinely heart-warming moments.

Peter (Helms) and Kyle (Wilson) are twin brothers who lead totally different lives. Peter is a Proctologist and divorced father of one who fears his child will hate him forever because he himself never had a father figure in his life. Kyle on the other hand is as laid back as they come and is currently earning the big bucks as the model for a BBQ sauce company.  The pair learn the their mother has been keeping a secret from them their whole lives… The man they grew up thinking was their father, who they were told died when they were really young, actually wasn’t their father. This revelation leads the brothers on a journey of self-discovery as they try to hunt down their real biological father by finding their mother’s ex-lovers.

Helms and Wilson are brilliant as the twin brothers, who pull off both the comedic and more heart-warming moments superbly. Sadly, the film fails to provide a classic Wilson ‘wow’ moment, and neither of the pair perform outside of their usual comfort zone as they portray characters who could easily be mistaken for one of older performances. The support cast, however brief their appearances may be, are all wonderful and offer something a little different to the story. A special shout-out has to go to Katt Williams, who absolutely steals the scenes he’s in and had me in absolute stitches. Williams’ scenes are also my favourite of the film, and it’s very likely I’m not the only one who will think so.

This is Lawrence Sher’s directorial debut. If the name rings a bell, it’s for a very good reason! Sher has worked on a number of films as the director of photography, including ‘Paul’, ‘The Hangover’ trilogy, ‘War Dogs’, and the upcoming ‘Godzilla’ sequel, ‘King of Monsters’. As far as debuts go, this is a pretty strong start for Sher and I look forward to seeing his future work both in an out of the director’s chair. As you can expect from a film with a director with a passion for cinematography, this film features some noticeably great camera work, lighting, and scenery. Sher enlisted the help of John Lindley (‘Legion’, ‘The Core’, ‘Bewitched’) to take the reigns as Director of Photography, with Sher no doubt having a great influence on his work.

The film takes a few unexpected (and hilarious) twists and turns, and with family-orientated comedies such as this you can always expect a scene or two that try to deliver an emotional gut-punch. For me, scenes like this tend to miss their mark or the ‘revelation’ is completely obvious and therefore doesn’t have much impact. However, the final scenes of this film absolutely nailed the delivery, timing, and came as a genuine surprise, which means it packs a pretty emotional wallop to the audience.

If you’re killing some time, this film will do the job and give you a few laughs along the way. The film doesn’t really offer up anything new but it does sport a great cast that play to their strengths, and a solid script. Sher has produced a comedy that manages to execute changes in tone throughout so fittingly that they don’t feel out of place or shoe-horned in. I may actually find myself re-visiting upon its home release.

Tom’s Rating: 5.5/10

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Year: 2017
Director: Jake Kasdan
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, Nick Jonas, Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman, Morgan Jeanette Turner, Ser’Darius Blain, Bobby Cannavale

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

Back when it was first announced, I couldn’t help but ask the question “did this really need to happen?” I have an affinity for the original ‘Jumanji’ an old-school adventure film with one of my favourite actors of all time, Robin Williams, in an against-type role with fun characters and a great premise. Sure, it’s cheesy and the effects are a little dodgy, but it was a film I grew up with (I was 3 when it came out), and for my money it still holds up to this day as a fun film. ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ felt completely unnecessary, unless it could bring something new to the table. I’m happy to report that my initial fears were left unfounded as I had a very good time with ‘Welcome to the Jungle.”

We start with four high school students Spencer (Wolff), Fridge (Blain), Bethany (Iseman), and Martha (Turner) finding themselves in detention for various misdemeanours. They are tasked with de-stapling old magazines to be made safe for recycling in the dark basement of the school when they discover an old games console, not unlike a classic SEGA Megadrive. It has a game already plugged in, so Spencer sets the console up on an old TV and they all agree to play to kill some time instead of doing their detention. The game in the console is, of course, Jumanji, which has metamorphosised into a video game because “who plays board games anymore?”. Such is Jumanji’s wont, the four students get literally sucked into the game and assume new roles based on their character selection. To escape, they must complete the game. Simple.

When ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ works, it really works. Our four proper leads once in the game are clearly having a boatload of fun. Dwayne Johnson is the charismatic leader but with the mind of a nervous, nerdy teen; Kevin Hart is a small, side-kick with the mind of a jock, leader-type; Karen Gillan is a badass martial artist with the mind of a self-conscious, shy teen; and Jack Black is a middle-aged cartography specialist with the mind of a popular, ‘Mean Girls’ teen. All four actors are playing somewhat against type, having to think “what would my teenage character do” in any given situation. It serves both as a functional sequel, and a pleasant coming-of-age story. ‘Welcome to the Jungle’s’ writers manage to balance this very well.

Many of the film’s highlights come from the team bickering and working together. They all have to reluctantly follow Spencer because his character is over-powered beyond belief, which creates division amongst Spencer and Fridge, but they all serve a purpose within the world. Bethany can do things the others can’t which helps them advance further in the game, the same can be said for all four of them. The film does a great job of giving every character agency and a role in the game.

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It is worth addressing, too, that given the current crowd of video game film adaptations (most recently the disastrously boring ‘Assassin’s Creed’ adaptation), ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ has stumbled into being arguably the best video game film ever. It has fun with the rules it sets for itself, it makes jokes about game clichés and embraces them, and several scenes felt reminiscent of games I’ve played in the past (‘Far Cry’, the new ‘Tomb Raider’ games).

That said, it does occasionally create new rules on the go in order to write themselves out of a situation (I can’t think of many games that allow you to “share” your lives with another character, for example), and there is the odd internal logic jump that doesn’t really make sense (no game ever forces you to have to die in order to complete a mission), but that is coming from someone who has been gaming for years. They are small nitpicks in the grand scheme of things.

Further, ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ boasts a phenomenally bad villain (Cannavale), who barely even registers as a threat, and is another cause for plot-related concern. Early on, they are forced to watch a cut-scene, standard procedure in gaming, to explain the plot of the game. Later, while our heroes are traversing the jungle, it cuts to show Cannavale plotting his next move. Can our characters see this? Is the game-world alive and changing around them all the time? Again, not huge issues in the bigger picture, but they were certainly issues I raised internally.

All in all, though, ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ is supremely entertaining. The film lives and dies by its four main characters and they are up to the challenge of making it as fun as they can. Karen Gillan and Jack Black are the personal standouts (I never knew the world needed a scene in which Black teaches Gillan how to flirt, but I’m all the happier for it), but all of them are great. It’s a shame about the villain and the plot-holes that show up every so often, but I had a great time watching ‘Welcome to the Jungle,’ the most surprisingly good film of 2017.

Rhys’ Rating: 7.1/10

Pitch Perfect 3

Year: 2017
Directed by: Trish Sie
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp

Written by Livia Peterson

The Bellas are back for one final time! The ‘Pitch Perfect’ franchise has steadily endured franchise fatigue for the past five years and now their allegedly final tour definitely proved that the ladies are more than ready to return to reality and ditch the acapella dreams forever.

The Barden University student Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) reunites the Bellas, involving Beca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick), Patricia “Fat Amy” Hobart (Rebel Wilson), Chloe Beale (Brittany Snow), Aubrey Posen (Anna Camp), Lilly Onakurama (Hana Mae Lee), Cynthia-Rose Adams (Esther Dean), and Florencia “Flo” Fuentes (Chrissie Fit). Aubrey reveals the United Service Organization (USO) performance tour and if the group wins, they are able to open for DJ Khaled and the Bellas all agree to travel to Europe to compete to have one last victory. Upon arrival, the Bellas initiate a riff off with several bands competing for the prize. Of course, the Bellas perform acapella covers to demonstrate to the competition that they definitely deserve the triumphs regardless of the obstacles. While Gail-Abernathy-McKadden-Feinberger (Elizabeth Banks) and John Smith (John Michael Higgins) document and provide commentary, regarding the Bellas lives, the significant unnecessary subplot involves Fat Amy’s father Fergus (John Lithgow) re-entering her life and eventually betraying in return in more ways than one.

Jason Moore’s ‘Pitch Perfect’ boasts a brilliant and groundbreaking female driven narrative. Yet, the sequels – the second instalment helmed by Elizabeth Banks and the third and perhaps, final instalment directed by Trish Sie frequently feel more of the same without much return for the audience. Fat Amy still delivers the comic relief in the midst of Becca being the star of the show. The remaining Bellas are left in the background due to the story largely focusing on three primary, fully developed characters: Beca, Fat Amy, and more or less, Emily. It is indeed too difficult to resonate and root for the background characters when Beca and Fat Amy are always vying for one’s attention, whether it is leading the ladies in song and Fat Amy acting foolish. To add to the mess, the ladies have become stereotypes and one would consider this is a feminist film. The initial instalment absolutely praises feminism through acapella and yet, most characters are one dimensional, excluding the aforementioned three women here.

With lacklustre performances from the cast, and the music bordering on being intolerable, there are no redeeming factors for the Bellas this time round.  ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ checks all the bullet points of the predecessors, just to ensure audience approval and satisfaction. Not even an original song was written for this film. The only original song ‘Flashlight’, written by Jessie J, is featured in the second instalment. Indeed, the final instalment feels more like a live concert than a motion picture. If you’re craving a musical of some sort, resort the original or ‘The Greatest Showman’. Ultimately, ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ is a prime example of a money grab – regurgitating the previous two narratives and adding slight changes.

Whereas the first instalment possesses contagious energy, ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ completely lost the sparkle that made it magical in the first place. ‘Pitch Perfect 2’ retained some of the enchantment, if not neglected most of it along the way. ‘Pitch Perfect’ is the best out of the three even though the sequels attempted to surpass it with little success. Just goes to show sequels are not always necessary, especially for original content that should be left alone. Despite the Bellas being akin to a family, ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ indicates a possible spin-off as Beca becoming as a solo artist being hinted at during the conclusion. As if we asked for another ‘Pitch Perfect’ outing, assuming it is successful at the box office.

Aca-goodbye, ladies.

Livia’s Rating: 2.5/10

Home Again

Year: 2017
Directed by: Hallie Meyers-Shyer
Starring: Reece Witherspoon, Michael Sheen, Candice Bergen, Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky.  

Written by Andrew Garrison

I wasn’t compelled to see this film, but it seemed wholesome enough to give a chance to. This is one of those films that you see coming and know exactly what you are getting –  a mature romantic comedy with some feel-good moments, a silly plot with three guys and a girl living together. Predictable, but enjoyable. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with that, but there are plenty of movies of the same style and context. What separates this from other films? I engage it to find out.

‘Home Again’ is about a single middle-aged woman (Reece Witherspoon) who feels trapped in her life with an estranged father and two young girls to care for. She winds up having a presumed one-night stand with an attractive young man, but complications arise. Now the three young men are living with her as they have nowhere else to go, and sure enough, things escalate into a full-blown romantic comedy.

The fact is, there isn’t anything terrible about this film,  although one could use the term
cookie-cutter comedy to define it. The acting is serviceable enough, but nobody in this film should be nominated for an Oscar because of their work here. Things fall into place much too easily, one would expect more apprehension and conflict especially early on, but it all gets swept under the rug, which is unrealistic. I believe there are nice young men in the world who would be respectful, mature, and docile enough to make this work. However, the chances of finding three of them and having them stay at your home without serious issues. Too much fantasy in that. While all the characters are likable to a point, you have a lot of familiar roles. The out-of- touch and insensitive dad, the sensitive more wholesome guy, and the attractive more self-centred personality, and let’s not forget the wishy-washy middle-age woman who gets frazzled easily. You have seen this all before and will surely see it again as soon as next year.

I’m ripping on the film for its overused elements, but there are some aspects to appreciate. It remembers to be a light-hearted comedy with a few laughs sprinkled in throughout. There could have been more, but the humour and the characters were likable enough to keep me engaged in the film from start to finish.

Without spoiling much, there are some mature themes to the film. From dealing with a divided family to the messy romantic nature of a film with three young men staying with a woman in need of some comfort, support, and reliability. It hits all those emotional strings you would expect from a rom-com, but with limited eye-rolling which I was thankful for. The ending wraps everything into a nice package, but doesn’t end as predictable as it could have. It was a more modern and frankly refreshing conclusion in that sense.

Also, as an older millennial, it is refreshing to see my generation be portrayed as conflicted, ambitious, but good-natured human beings. People who are capable of being decent all the while pursuing their dreams. A welcome change compared to the bulk of raunchy over-the-top comedies filled with atrocious human beings which is trending in Hollywood now. Also, let me give a quick shout out to both young female actresses for their work in this one. I found the youngest daughter, Rosie, played by Eden Grace Redfield to be delightful with nearly every line she speaks.

In the end, the film gives you exactly what you expected. A comedic romp mixed in with
some classic silly romantic entanglements. All of it wrapped up in a nice package in roughly 90 minutes of time. It isn’t an Oscar worthy comedy, but it is inoffensive, feel-good, Hollywood cheese one can sit back and relax with. If it has an upside, it is the willingness to approach an unusual situation in a modern and mature light, and showcasing millennials as decent human beings. A middle ground comedy with some upside and that’s just fine.

ANDREW’S RATING: 6.4/10

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Last Flag Flying

Year: 2017 (UK: 2018)
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, Steve Carell, 

Written by Jessica Peña

We can always count on Richard Linklater to project the sincerity of human conversation onto the big screen for the world to marvel at. His unrested love for his characters is truly moving, and he manages to do it again in his latest film, ‘Last Flag Flying.’ Set in 2003, the film follows three aging Vietnam-era Navy vets as they embark on a sentimental roadtrip across states accompanying one to bury his son after being killed overseas. Supplemented with ideas from Darryl Ponicsan’s novel and Hal Ashby’s 1973 film, ‘The Last Detail,’ Linklater co-wrote the screenplay with Ponicsan to craft a story that brings us the same kind of originality as its spiritual predecessor film.

Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) decides to reunite with his two old marine friends, Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston), and Reverend Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne), in hopes they will accompany him to his son’s funeral. It’s not until Larry and Sal have dinner at Richard’s home that he informs them of the reason for his visits. We find out that Larry’s wife passed away just earlier that year due to breast cancer. He also tells them that his son, Larry Jr., joined the Marine Corps a year ago, and was recently informed that his son had been killed in combat during the Iraq War.

I would hate to review a Linklater film and not give deep thought to his characters; they tell you the story! While we are not given a justifiable arc in this film, Carrell, Cranston, and Fishbourne drive these personalities and hold the film solid. The story is as much of a comedy as it is a drama. We see old war buddies yank each other’s leg about aging, old habits, and good times from the past. The film has the background of tragedy tied to its comedic forefront. It offers sensitive attention to Larry’s hardships, as well as lighthearted fun.

Cranston nails it as the foul-mouthed and boozy tough guy who just aches to kick it like he did in his younger years. His performance as Sal is as impeccable as Jack Nicholson’s Billy “Badass” Buddusky in ‘The Last Detail.’ Carell gives a somber energy to Larry that eventually becomes more lively as his pals don’t let the travesties engulf him. Larry is dealt an unfortunate hand in life, but is given a chance to comfortably deal with his loss while finding little joys to ease his pain. Fishbourne is hilarious in his own right and offers up a great performance as a former marine who used to overindulge his time with women as well as booze. His recent years brought him to seek God and it takes a determined Sal to bring ole’ “Mueller the Mauler” back out. The trio of actors command the screen and even in enclosed spaces like cars, hotel rooms, and train stations, they live up to the dialogue of Linklater; an honest and intimate human reflection.

In a group Q&A at the New York Film Festival premiere, Cranston spoke on dealing with grief and how the comedic relief plays in the film. In ‘Last Flag Flying,’ Larry found a way to naturally laugh and relish in the beautiful memory of his fallen son. Truth and honesty are demanded in parts of the film where true heroism was in question. The politics of war are slightly examined in this adult dramedy. It’s a film that explores the real things we fight for and the way a war can define a person’s character. It’s a pleasant little road trip that brings us along with these old friends.

Linklater’s devotion to humanist ideas and thoughtful dialogues in film never rests. It helps sustain ‘Last Flag Flying’ in a way that is both heartfelt and honest. He continues to soar as a big time director with such grace put into his films. He is keen on making time itself a character in his films. Time has the ability to change people and Linklater plays it to the advantage of the loose narrative here. He uses this property to tap into characters’ lives from their memories and bring them forward to tell their stories. ‘Last Flag Flying’ lets us breathe and indulge in the feel-good moments that remind us that everything will be okay.

Jessica’s Rating: 7.0/10

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