Penguins of Madagascar (2014)

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Fun and genuinely a madcap adventure tour de force featuring the much loved penguins from the DreamWorks ‘Madagascar’ films, it may venture into being too odd at times and the silly antics of the four black and white birds could grow into a joke too far for those in the audience that aren’t children.

Jumping into Antarctica and back to the youthful days of Skipper, Rico, Kowalski and Private, we see how the thrill seeking flightless favourites came together and then we’re back in the big top picking up from ‘Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted’. Their camaraderie may be threatened when a forgotten octopus called Dave (John Malkovich) begins his penguin-napping scheme to rid zoos the world over of the cute and cuddly attractions. It’s down to the Fab 4 (not the Beatles) and the North Wind led by Classified (Benedict Cumberbatch) to try and stop Dave before the team is broken apart.

Firstly, I must say that the animation is as bright and colourful as ever, it fits into the same world as Madagascar and details of the animals, snow in the first segment and batty chases in Venice are prime examples of how DreamWorks and this animation team can make a film come bursting into crazy life. This alongside the music by Lorne Balfe works well in building the spy atmosphere conjoined with the characteristics of the penguins.

I honestly have to comment that the strongest part of this entire movie, aside from the undeniable heart-warming cuteness of the ending moral is Dave and his well placed celebrity puns. They start trickling in slowly from a Nic Cage reference to being shuttled out thick and fast in hilarious fashion taking in Drew Barrymore and Kevin Bacon to name but a few. It’s a neat audio gag that serves as a big laugh for the older member watching and I guess the celeb orientated kids who may latch on after a while.

Here’s a film, though ever filled with speedy sequences and madness, it’s course runs into predictable grounds, you know how the North Wind effect will pan out and the ending however oddball and unexpected in visual culminates in the obvious sweet story wrapping up, though some antlers do their best to make it a differing case of all back to normal. The spy case story fits the four perfectly but the villain is left with a boring back story and a stale revenge plot, the finale is just a tad too insane and lots of things are too unbelievable, yes, even for a kids film.

I’m not going to lie, I thought taking one of the funnier things from the main series and planting them in their own headlined spin-off would be risky and might not pay off, but I can say I’m wrong on that front. They hold their own and show why everyone, or at least nearly everyone loves their capers. A lot of the silly seen through cheesy dibbles nibbles, Shanghai confusion and sky-falling plans works, it’s just now and then it seems to push too far making it feel very manic, like a sugar rushed plot with no exit strategy.

The vocal casting is as deliciously brilliant as always, Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon, Chris Miller and Christopher Knights doing what they best with their stupid yet deadly serious deliveries. Having the adults voice the teeny baby penguins is a stroke of zany genius making it all the more surreal yet somehow acceptable. Benedict Cumberbatch has fun as the growling cool dude wolf, showing a sliver of threat in terms of taking the leader crown from McGrath’s Skipper, though you’ll end up leaving just laughing at how he honestly can’t say the word penguins.

The whole octopus story with him strangely morphing into a human is a weak note, the rest of the North Wind don’t have much to do, some jokes don’t hit as well because they’re seen in full in the trailer and it’s all too silly leaving the story lacking but there’s no pain in this joyful cinematic excursion.

A whistle-stop joy ride with visual and audible gags a plenty to serve mostly to kids but lightly to adults too. Mad and entertaining if not as thrilling or smart as it could have been.

5.5/10

What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

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This is an outstanding film. I loved it. It’s clever, quick and zany from start to finish and the horror comedy genre is (v)amped up to the max with a neat documentary style taking over proceedings. All the ideas are perfectly executed, the cast have fun and fleshed out personas and the low budget New Zealand production adds to the weird charm.

In Wellington, four vampires flat share and are being documented by a film crew in the run up to an Undead Masquerade Ball. Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) and Petyr (Ben Fransham) are four contrasting bloodsuckers in age and lifestyle and through the camera we see them deal with nights out, humans, werewolves and a new vampire called Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer).

It’s a 80 minute or so feature but it works being snappy and throughout there are some slick and yet silly visuals that include flying, shape-shifting and mirrors. The typical tropes of vampire lore are pushed into comedic satire which is a great thing to watch as we see how vampires flat-sharing cope in a new modern age. In particular seeing them traipse around trying to get invited into a nightclub thanks to that age old rule is a smart and funny sequence.

The fashion and look of the entire movie is spot on and as they’re trapped in their old frills and bygone world you really sense the vampire environment they’re living in. It’s a humourous and fresh plot device to have a human come in and shake things up, introducing them to technology and more fun arrives from that. Each vampire has their own image travelling from dandy to a sight gag of Petyr being akin to Count Orlok. Their home is a shadowy flat and to be honest the streets of Te Aro look dingy making it feel more oppressing for these vampires that you cannot help but get attached to.

They’re not heroes or even anti-heroes, they’re not villains either. They’re just bumbling fools and friends caught up in their undead presence and dealing with it as best they can. The majority of humour comes from real life problems affecting their living dead status. Dirty dishes, bloody sofas, whining servants and spats with wolves all jump into the mix to create this very funny mockumentary.

Plan 9 Music does a lot to immerse you into this strange world, the Romanian sounding music is at once light but dark. It’s a bouncy vibe that every now and then shifts into the horror side, which is effective. The film may never scare or intend to but there are some moments that would be jumpy if not in a satirical situation. Blood is used to over effect in the same vein as Raimi and the extreme gore of ‘The Evil Dead’ and the music, make-up and costuming crew have a lot to take credit for as it truly makes the film that more convincing.

It may be a sort of simple idea concocted and stretched to movie length and in places it may repeat notions but I never grew tired, there is nearly some laugh every minute or so, the dead pan delivery from the actors makes it even better and the story is a fun ride to intrude in on, at least it feels that way thanks to the camera being like our eye to events. One stand out concept is in werewolf/vampire stand offs and the ‘werewolves not swear-wolves’ is damn hilarious, their childish insults and threats make their crossovers the highlight of the film.

Jemaine Clement is always straight man funny and as 862 year old Vladislav, obsessed with poking, torture and un PC thoughts in general he is a great character to watch, even if his Beast encounter is a little lackluster. Taika Waititi is fantastic as the camp showman of the group with a back story that does actually hinge on being touching at times, his wide eyed stare and youthful grin really make the character burst into colour. Jonathan Brugh is the rebel of the lot as they say and he causes the most friction but has fun with it, erotic dancing and bat fights can be splendidly added to his CV! Rhys Darby is a joyful if not small addition as lead werewolf and his comedic timing and interaction with the characters make him a necessary and welcome bite to the story.

I laughed out loud more than I expected to, age jokes, unflinching responses, vampire messing around all really come into their own in this dazzling take on a horror/comedy mockumentary. Honestly one of the cleverest yet stupidest ideas in one of the funniest films I’ve seen in a while. Forever amusing, a spoof to remember.

8.5/10

Step Brothers (2008)

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Goofball at the complete highest degree, while this stupid slick of humour isn’t exactly clever or appealing to all, it’s pulled off with comedic talents by the two leading men in question and at least for this tale the silly nonsense factor suits it down to the ground. It’s slow in places, too much in others and upon completion this movie makes you feel nothing to be honest.

Unemployed, dumb, childish, rude and still living with their respective single parents, Dale Doback (John C. Reilly) and Brennan Huff (Will Ferrell) come into collision when having to live together thanks to their rents falling for one another. Arguments ensue until one hard punch to Brennan’s brother Derek (Adam Scott) by Doback leads them to find things in common making them giddy unbreakable best friends, but how long will it last and how much of insufferable behaviour can Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Nancy (Mary Steenburgen) take?

Scripted by Ferrell and Adam McKay from a story also dreamed up by them and Reilly, it’s clear their strong style of insane madcap buffoonish is all them and no one else. Landing the ball in the good court, it can be said that when Ferrell and Reilly hit a stride of immature behaviour it gains in funny audience reaction but smacking the same ball into the bad court makes you also see how repetitive dumb tomfoolery grows tired and makes the film feel longer than it should do.

There are stand out moments, their joint interviews ticking the comedy box, the makeshift bunk bed and Derek’s wife’s attraction to Dale are confident funny aspects but then other things feel stretched, try hard and don’t raise a smile let alone cause you to laugh out loud. The main problem is the film itself doesn’t feel overly bold, the story isn’t exciting I feel, crude jokes and slapstick seem to run the show. If you lap that up then you’ll probably adore this film as one of the finest comedy creations to hit silver screens but there’s something about this childish theme that feels TV worthy only.

Sadly, I found the film quite an ordeal to get through, it’s all acted well but idiotic insanity can surely only go so far…well not in the case of this film, as they go to infinity and beyond to try and push the envelope in dumb-dumb land. At least it works in ways, it did make me laugh a couple of times and seeing the leads immerse into their inner fool is fun but it’s been done before, at least by Ferrell that only a sparkling script could have saved the stale odour emanating from it all, but this script barely blinks a light.

Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly look like they’re having a tremendous ball playing their characters and they shine acting opposite each other. It’s evident certain looks or lines are being riffed and in this improv status it feels fresh and you begin to get wrapped up in their performances. Adam Scott comes in as the stereotyped a-hole he’s become known for, he does it so well so I can’t complain. Steenburgen and Jenkins are almost pushed to the side but scrape through as mildly memorable characters in their plight to remain normal and together.

This is Ferrell’s spiel and no-one can do idiot like Ferrell idiot so just from knowing he’s in the film and looking at the poster you know all this film will offer you. There are amusing doses but it wears thin pretty quickly and it’s one of the worst McKay/Ferrell combos. Let’s hope that sequel rumour is exactly that.

4.5/10

St. Vincent (2014)

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Truly, a superb first outing for director/writer Theodore Melfi, who brings a starry cast and a outstanding newcomer together to lovingly tell a funny yet painful and heartwarming story. It strides into place as one of the finest dramatic turns for Bill Murray and the plot is a sweet and sad one to watch develop.

A grouchy gambling vet called Vincent MacKenna (Bill Murray) with little to no money and a penchant for pregnant prostitutes; namely Daka (Naomi Watts), faces new neighbours one day in the form of Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). As Maggie is so often busy at her hospital job, Vincent takes the opportunity to ‘babysit’ Oliver for money and in doing so they start an unlikely bond.

Now I could possibly see how some may not like this film, maybe in the eyes of foolish audiences expecting to see a through and through comedy vehicle for Murray to shine in, but he excels even if there isn’t tonnes of comedy, not a problem for me however. The other issue may lay in it turning into being very sentimental as the close nears, people might not like that kind of mushy change, I however find it fitting for the story being told.

The film takes a little while to get going as it brings our attention to how Vincent is as a person, this is all fine as Murray is a great man to watch sell the character but it is sort of general obvious flaws of humanity being told, i.e, drinking, gambling, moody indifference, subtle racism and bankruptcy. These characteristics are beyond stale I feel, but as the friendship between grouch and kid takes wing I quickly forgot about these niggle of cliches.

This movie has a great soundtrack, perhaps it manipulates slightly to making you feel fuzzy or making a scene more emotional but music does that and the songs chosen in this movie really compliment the action well, never overpowering but always being noticeable in a good way. This is sounding at the moment like I found the film a tad weak but I really didn’t, trust me. I liked the film, these ‘flaws’ as I may be describing them are just things that I’m finding that I think stop it from being as perfect as it could have been.

Theodore Melfi has done an exceptional thing for his debut film, the style is smooth and pitched with precision. The developments of the story may be ones that hit with power but it’s the development of the growing connection between Oliver and Vincent that comes to the fore. Light touches of comedy in their days out, paternal like guidance and slow motion bonding through dance are all used to make you utterly believe these two people get on.

Comedy is how the movie is advertised and it does have a healthy dose of funny lines but the way it deals with the darker side of life is nice to see and it struck me more than I expected. The title of the film is obviously alluding to the saint-ing of Vincent but it’s the journey to that honour that makes this movie a bittersweet treat to enjoy. There’s plenty of interesting background to make Vincent less than the cliched character he could have been…and so here you see how my earlier critique was just one viewpoint on a figure that has more to his past than you initially know.

Bill Murray deserves the praise he’s getting and I hope some nominations head his way because he is quite frankly incredible as Vincent. The snide and offish man is on point balancing with his forever brilliant comedic timing but it’s so fresh to see him take a lead with a dramatic edge to it and he immerses himself into the later trials of the character with solid tenacity. I am no stranger to my dislike of Melissa McCarthy but here she does a good job with Maggie and her emotional scenes are really great, hopefully she’ll stick to more films in this capacity and stray from her grotesque lairy stereotype. Jaeden Lieberher is an exciting introductory talent and his more innocent scrawny yet smart shtick opposite the grumpy Murray is a lovely case of opposing forces working as one. Naomi Watts is a lighter relief character playing the Eastern European lady of the night with a baby bump to boot.

It may slip into sentiment a little too much nearing the end but pushing that aside this film with a new director and young actor to its credit provides an exceptional platform for Bill Murray to thrive on. Heartstrings may be overly obviously pulled at in it’s ploy for tragic turn ups but I enjoyed the light and dramatic shades it had to offer.

7.5/10

Black Sea (2014)

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When taken with a pinch of (sea) salt this submerging tale of gold, troublesome crew members and a metal coffin isn’t all bad. It has very good moments of thriller tension, the music is all very shadowy and atmospheric building up the suspense of character and of the unknown murky world their sub is entering. Yes, it has flaws of being unbelievable at times and constantly adding threats to cycle drama round and round but the ride is worth the few leaky weaknesses.

After being let go from his job of many years, Robinson (Jude Law) gets the chance to make it big and help fellow people in a similar position when hearing that a sunken submarine in the Black Sea could likely have a heck of a lot of Nazi gold stored aboard. Getting a crew of Brits and Russians to help navigate their rusty vehicle starts trouble in motion as the desire of less men equaling more share of the loot becomes clear. It’s a worrying journey through the deep as personalities clash in the hope of ever reaching the possibility of some gold.

This movie never bursts with vivid life, there’s no ground breaking twist or wow moment concerning the fact it is meant to be a thriller. The reveal that does finally come isn’t spectacular, it serves the story but that’s it really. More of the film’s success comes in the character detail, in the manner of developing the culture clashes that bring about deaths, stand offs and the ever present sense of unease. The ending climax is stuffed with demises, explosions and the like but it never feels like it’s lifting far above 6 or 7 on the sparky scale. (no such scale exists but it should!)

Kevin Macdonald directs with a keen and detailed eye for claustrophobic storytelling. The majority of the film is focused on clanking metal entrapping like the deathly underwater tomb it is. There’s lots of use of close ups on faces or extreme close ups at times to make that small space seem even tinier. A big and effective direction is when Fraser is being coaxed into something and the camera sticks very close to his face racking up that tension in the trapping environment.

Ilan Eshkeri does a fantastic job with the score for this movie. It feels like it’s always there but in a good way. Always brooding as it floats alongside the action on screen. The music is sort of smoky and dark to mirror the creation of dread as reality hits the crew that their lives are getting in worse shape.

There’s a few niggles that I won’t go into because they spoil the plot but one main issue is the constant annoyance and insistent stupidity of Jude Law’s captain, considering how he’s at first built to seem likable, smart and out for the safety of everyone, he goes on to make a series of silly choices endangering everyone, including some 18 year old who he just happens to bring along because the convenience of his presence is there at the right time. It’s a sequence of nautical disasters that makes the film feel like a ‘Gravity’ narrative in there being something terrible following something bad.

Jude Law is a fine choice for the role. He convinces in his every-man persona of down and out hard worker left with no work. The Scottish accent he possesses is one that sounds great to me, at least it doesn’t ever sound like he wavers when speaking. The ferocity in his eyes is a great thing he keeps using as the determined captain he plays starts realising errors but can’t go back. The entire crew, however cliched in places of stereotypical personas to get the dramatic ball of tension rolling are acted really well all doing the job required in the pretty cookie cut script they’ve been handed.

A fine enough film exploring not only the perils of the Black Sea but the consequences of human greed. Perhaps not a movie to overly excite, inspire or go out of your way to see but there’s substantial claustrophobia to swim around in, in this daft but enjoyable thriller.

6/10

Horrible Bosses 2 (2014)

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More entertaining and stylish than the first time around I believe, it relies an awful lot on pratting about to gain the laughs but it’s not a stale idea as quite a few times the comedy lands with a genuine smack.

The same three buffoons from the 2011 movie are back and now have invented a multi purpose shower tool called the Shower Buddy. Dale (Charlie Day), Nick (Jason Bateman) and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) have the hope for the gadget to become big when Rex Hanson (Chris Pine) and his father Burt (Christoph Waltz) want 100’000 units. The Hanson’s are quick to reverse their offer screwing up NickKurtDale’s livelihood leaving them coming up with the option to kidnap Rex to get money back from Burt, though of course their incompetence and some unwanted attention from sexpot dentist Julia (Jennifer Aniston) doesn’t help things along.

It has some good laughable moments, perhaps not gut wrenching belly laughs unless you’re a solid hardcore fan of the original. It’s a style of comedy that does know it’s being funny because it’s so dumb and the biggest amount of it stems from moronic humour in the way the three leads are so inept at carrying out their crime wave. They’re squabbling, arguing frittering children in grown men’s bodies and some of the things they say as asides or juvenile mishaps they end up are quite funny to be honest.

The problem, or at least one of the problems this film has is in the waste of it’s amazing cast. Jennifer Aniston is actually very capable at comedy as we darn well know and she’s subjected to a sidelined role with obvious smutty humour as her main acting note. Christoph Waltz is hardly in it at all which is a shame because he’s an actor I love and he can do fun really well, his character is nothing of any villainous or entertaining interest. Kevin Spacey is back but gets a speck of screen time compared to the three main dudes and most of his stuff is sadly, not very funny.

It’s a film that centres on a trio of half-wits or at least morons in the scheme they’re up to their neck in, but a lot of the movie makes you begin to find them grating. The annoying thing is in Day’s repetitive screeching to provide funnies. Sudeikis has a character that bounces back and forth and clearly improvises a lot but it’s not always a hit, Bateman is the only one that has a character you can kind of empathise with. The stupid branch of the comedy tree is fully gripped by Chris Pine’s Rex though and he does look like he’s having a ball with the twisty turny character he’s been given.

This film felt better to me because it had a more heist genre glean to it. An ‘Oceans 11′ like style of split screens, wipes and plans being dreamed up are cool little ideas as the three think of how to pull off the kidnap ransom money being dropped their way. Thanks to this plot turn up it leads to more twists and I liked the comedy taking a slightly new angle in seeing how events would pan out. The film also has an awesomely unique spin on a car chase and the funniest moment of the film may square on a freight train and a fenced in vehicle.

This is being reviewed much harsher than I think is fair, I enjoyed it at the face value I think it should be taken with. Their may be some naff tries at comedy, some of the stars may be underused and it’s overly silly with over the top characters but there’s a good hand of fun to be had with it all and it not being as dark works in its favour. Just don’t go in expecting to laugh your socks off and have a stupid moronic time and you’ll love it otherwise it’s a comedy sequel that doesn’t do much to warrant it hitting cinema screens.

(A controversial?) 6/10

Get on Up (2014)

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Fresh and stylish in its portrayal of the Godfather of Soul, this musical biopic is a good insight into the world of James Brown, his past, his rise and for such a towering figure in the realm of music I think this film compliments the icon fantastically. It’s helped by a breathtaking showstopping performance from the lead actor and there is unquestionable dynamic storytelling used in this film.

This biographical drama treads back and forth throughout James Browns’ life taking in his neglected childhood, teen crime and the waking of music showing him the light. James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) gets a shot to make it when offered a house and a place in a gospel group from Bobby Byrd (True Blood‘s Nelsan Ellis). Then with the eye and assistance of manager Ben Bart (Dan Aykroyd) James becomes a force to be reckoned with. Through the 60’s and early 70’s it documents Brown’s soul status and powerhouse influence on music, those around him and wide spread audiences.

It’s a well told story that is scripted by John-Henry and Jez Butterworth, that may mix in some fictional aspects but the main flesh of it survives leaving us with a lasting impression of how charismatic, driven and sometimes arrogant this music man was. The shake up in chronology is really effective and gives the biopic some edge. After a cool and atmospheric open we cut to James Brown in his later years kicking off about the use of his private bathroom. The film, more so in the first half jumps around in his timeline, but it works and leaves you seeing more to what made him the man he became.

It has some well shot pieces, the opening for example is slick and the shadowy interspersed spotlighted corridor paving way for Brown’s walk to stage is a superb opening visual, aided more so by echoing words that we gather are dialogues of his past. The near end as Brown is clapped and called for is a nice moment with flashes of Brown in different ages and scenarios also calling, a great way to show the character in three dimensional terms.

Music in this film is without a doubt stellar toe-tapping feel good sounds on every level. The film explodes with character and pizzazz through its music, to mirror the personality of Brown. Soul filled breaks and untamed exercises in dancing and funky shouts make it feel like you’re watching a live James Brown concert. The epic scale of the band, Brown’s precision in moves and know how of music is clear and his smoky vocals are astounding and this is why he was such a star. The songs he created were top form brilliance.

It’s nice to see this film not only focus on the trials of Brown as a person. Byrd is a fascinating man that I knew nothing about and seeing how he truly gave the Godfather of Soul a chance is a welcome fact divulged. Upon researching after seeing this film, I found out Brown only made it thanks to Byrd and the Famous Flames and not the other way around, which this film kind of glosses over. It shows them up and running already but it makes it look like James Brown gets them the fame when in fact that wasn’t the case. I guess some changes here and there are alright but perhaps the true state of his rise should have been done properly.

Chadwick Boseman is just dynamite unforgettable as James Brown. There’s little mannerisms that add to the performance. He gets the voice, look and singing down to a fine art, as if he really is the man himself. It’s a perfect homage and Boseman immerses into all parts of Brown’s shaky personal life to give him more than what could have just been a thin musical look through the curtain. It’s electric and absurd at times but his grasp on the role fits with the style of the film. Nelsan Ellis is a brilliant co-star and brings much needed light to Bobby Byrd through acting his part of strong and straining displays of friendship. He has feel good believable soul running through him too and though he is outshone by Boseman he doesn’t completely fade into the dark, he’s the grounded realism needed to counterbalance the more outrageous feel of the movie.

The bouncing through years may not be to everyone’s cup of tea, it may be a tidbit fast and loose with facts and its eccentricity may stretch somewhat over the running time but Chadwick is a explosive talent, the music is magic and it’s a great life to find out about.

7/10