Musical, Reviews

Florence Foster Jenkins

florence foster jenkins

Copyright © 2016 by Paramount Pictures

Story
Founder of the Verdi Club, Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) and her husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant) perform plays to their esteemed members. Despite her shortcomings, Jenkins recommences her singing lessons with vocal instructor, Carlo Edwards (David Haig) and accompanied by her newly hired pianist, Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg). She arranges an exclusive recital with attendees coming mainly from her club. Unaware of the audiences’ actual reaction to her singing, the New York heiress confidently organises a subsequent appearance at Carnegie Hall.

Review
Lesson number one, if you have dreams, dream big. Specifically, Carnegie Hall big. Would it matter if you are reported in the tabloids as a national joke? Probably not. Should the overriding jeers submerging the cheers be any reason to quit and prove cynics they are right all along? If it did, will we ever be able to relish in Ms Streep’s hilarious impression of the world’s worst singer?

Honouring a celebrated icon, Streep is pitch perfect as the tone deaf soprano. Academy members must already be crusading for her 20th Oscar nomination. She imbues Jenkins with pathos and it transforms the slightness into a sympathetic yet determined disposition. That being said, it is being equipoised by many LOL and ROTFL moments (the latter literally has a spectator on fours, forgoing all formality).

The best actress of her generation has shimmered in ‘Mamma Mia!’ and ‘Into the Woods’ which only accentuates her commitment to sounding deliberately bad exquisitely. Fervent, I waited with bated breath until her first vocal session is in motion and it left me in tears for laughing so hard. Playing along to the charade is Bayfield, Edwards and later, McMoon.

Serious and sincere, Grant is invigorating as the devoted and protective Bayfield but securing Helberg is a steal to this British production as he offers slyness encased in awestruck bewilderment. McMoon’s increasing fondness for his employers parallels the film’s strongest aspect, thanks to Nicholas Martin’s thorough grasp of Jenkins’ illustrious life turning her more than mere high society.

Rating
Entirety: B+
Acting: A
Plot: B+

Rated PG-13 for brief suggestive material

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Drama, Reviews

Imperium

Imperium

Copyright © 2016 by Lionsgate Premiere

Story
Young and eager Nate Foster (Daniel Radcliffe) is appointed by Angela Zamparo (Toni Collette) on a covert mission in infiltrating active white supremacist groups to locate some illegally obtained Caesium-137. Possessing an empathetic nature, the FBI agent gains the members’ trust and bonds with Gerry Conway (Sam Trammell), a presumably moderate member in the cult. As they spend more time together, he is torn between his friendship with Conway and duty to the bureau.

Review
Hate to say it but not everything is rainbows and unicorns. If you think that seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses will somehow prevent the vile acts humans inflict on each other, be ready for a rude awakening to reality. Physical violence scars the human body but a verbal assault damages the psyche and spirit that breaks even the strongest of minds.

We keep telling ourselves that it gets better over time. It really does not. Racial and gender discrimination are still at large. We would like to believe that the progress being made by the select few are representing the larger issue but the facts are anything but significant. Politics, hardly at its finest hours are either flubbed by corrupt politicians or are impeded by glacial decision making.

‘Imperium’ validates what is suppurating underneath a guise of tolerance and acceptance. White supremacy fashions an audacious uprising and it ain’t pretty. The young are ‘educated’ early on and we are alerted to the alarming numbers of various factions through Foster’s undercover work. The quick movement from one group to another intensifies the pacing without losing the details of their modus operandi.

Advancing the events from succumbing to mediocrity is Radcliffe, once questioned about his legitimacy as an actor has unquestionably perfected his magnum opus. Collette is ballsy and nurturing while Trammell’s everyman charms effectively strings us along to a malign end which only augments enmity is borne out even with the noblest of intentions.

Rating
Entirety: B+
Acting: A
Plot: B+

Rated R for language throughout

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Jason Bourne

Jason Bourne

Copyright © 2016 by Universal Pictures

Story
Having eluded the authorities, Jason Bourne / David Webb (Matt Damon) survives alone by partaking in prohibited fighting rings. When former CIA operative and aide Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) hacks into the agency, she uncovers new information about Bourne’s enlistment and his father, Richard Webb’s (Gregg Henry) involvement in the original Treadstone programme. His investigation leads him to unsettling news about his father while being pursued by the CIA Director, Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander), a computer specialist and a resentful Blackbriar assassin (Vincent Cassel).

Review
“Bourne has been off the grid for a long time. He’s been hiding in the shadows”, says an ambitious Lee whose frosty façade is complimented by a cool Vikander. She is confident that “bringing him back in is the smart move”. It has been almost a decade since ‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ concluded on a high and ‘The Bourne Legacy’ failed to excite fans, scrapping plans for future sequels.

Theoretically anyway. Reassembling the winning team of Damon and director Paul Greengrass who assumed directing duties after Doug Liman’s ‘The Bourne Identity’ renewed hope that the wavering series could be reinstated enthusiastically, promising new revelations of the covert agent with the same initials as the other superspy that garnered two consecutive Oscars for ‘Best Original Song’ and pulsating action.

Greengrass is no slouch when it comes to the latter; ‘United 93’ and ‘Captain Phillips’ are based on real accounts but transformed into riveting pieces about loyalty, unity and tenacity. The chases in Athens and Las Vegas are nothing short of industrious though I still detest the use of handheld cameras. Apart from that, it is a snoozefest with uneven pacing and insipid acting.

You have got some real talent here – Jones, Cassel, Henry and Riz Ahmed; yet they are all wasted on second-rate writing. ‘The Bourne Legacy’ bit off more than it could chew with its intricate framing but I would go for complex over vapid any day. Damon still commands the screen easily although his isolation from interaction squanders further growth on Bourne. He utters only 25 lines in the entire movie? Clearly somebody must have missed ‘The Martian’.

Rating
Entirety: B-
Acting: B
Plot: B

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief strong language

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Animation, Reviews

The Secret Life of Pets

Secret Life of Pets

Copyright © 2016 by Universal Pictures

Story
Living in Manhattan with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper), Max (Louis C.K.) is protective and spends every possible moment with his best friend. He patiently waits for her return whenever she leaves the apartment. But he whiles away the time quickly with visits from his other animal friends within the vicinity. One day, Katie brings home a new dog, Duke (Eric Stonestreet) from the pound, angering Max. Sensing his hostility, Duke deceits Max into venturing farther to the city and they are extraordinarily captured by Animal Control. To free themselves and safely get back to Katie, the two dogs put their differences aside and form an obligatory alliance.

Review
Positioning a few weeks after the release of ‘Finding Dory’, it looks as if the Universal production is ready for its own anthropomorphic animals challenging the combined strengths of Disney and Pixar. Domestically, it is closing in on ‘Zootopia’ and will vie for the runner up spot after the leggy sequel to ‘Finding Nemo’. No surprise that a follow up has been green-lighted.

Children and adults are loving the misadventures of Max and company which I presume will lead to a higher ownership rate once they are done with this 90-minute romp. Who wouldn’t? I sure would. The cast bring out the best in each character; C.K. suitably lends his acerbic wit as the threatened terrier, Kevin Hart is fabulously restrained and Albert Brooks is a delightful menace fending off his instinctual needs.

‘The Flushed Pets’ resistance where Snowball leads against the humans is the most fascinating aspect of this otherwise inconsequential tale from Chris Renaud whose previous entries, the ‘Despicable Me’ franchise featured sturdier storytelling. This is where Pixar (and now Disney) remain an unstoppable force not only as the leaders for revolutionary animation but as pioneers in novel and original concepts.

As with ‘Minions’, the jokes are abundant and the pace zips along furiously without letting up. Many of them work but the juvenile ones may have you rolling your eyes and facepalm to the age-old question: Really? Jenny Slate is a riot as Max’s love interest; Gidget’s arc undergoes a massive change. Sweet and shy, she is the epitome of purity until her inner beast is emancipated. If watching a Pomeranian losing it is one of your secret guilty pleasures, head over to the nearest screening now.

Rating
Entirety: B+
Acting (Voice): A
Plot: B+

Rated PG for action and some rude humor

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Animation, Reviews

The Little Prince

The Little Prince

Copyright © 2016 by Netflix

Story
A mother (Rachel McAdams) and daughter (Mackenzie Foy) move into a new home to enlist the girl as a student of prominent Werth Academy. Her mother has scheduled a life plan that excludes leisure activities. When their neighbour, a retired aviator (Jeff Bridges) starts his airplane and its propeller damages their house, he tries befriending the girl with a story about ‘The Little Prince’. He met the boy (Riley Osborne) when he crash-landed his aircraft in the Sahara. Intrigued by the Aviator’s encounter, the Little Girl forsakes her daily routine to learn more about the prince.

Review
We often find joy in children’s sprightly antics or listening them uttering in their own made-up language. In that brief moment, the weight of all our adult ‘problems’ are ostensibly lifted and the positivity which has long been concealed will resurface, reassuring us that nothing is ever doom or insurmountable. We see hope, aspirations and possibilities reflected in the twinkle of their eyes, the same principles adults tend to forget.

Grown-ups are bogged down by restrictions, whether self-imposed or unconsciously that escaping into an unworldly state is a reminder when things can really be pretty black and white. I am not implying the life of a workaholic (the choice of colours for the monotony in adulthood). Far from it. Our views become clearer when we embrace our once elapsed part of ourselves; you betcha, the formative years.

In any lifetime, being a child is the culmination of living (for me anyway). Why then would parents eagerly deprive the kid(s) of awe and elation? Mark Osborne’s reconstructed version has an answer for it: an overachieving and overbearing mom. Laced seamlessly with the original content from the adapted novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in 1943, the result is buoyant, humourous and sentimental.

The stop-motion animation bits transport viewers into the author’s artistry boosted by finger-snapping tunes featuring vocalisations from Camille. Topping off the overdue royal treatment it deserves is the A-listers’ delivery; McAdams is affable as the pushy mother, Bridges is the quintessential of kooky, Paul Rudd is a hoot as Mr Prince and James Franco’s subtlety only etches the profundity of the book’s text even more.

Rating
Entirety: A-
Acting (Voice): A
Plot: A

Rated PG for mild thematic elements

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The Shallows

Shallows

Copyright © 2016 by Columbia Pictures

Story
Travelling to Mexico, Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) is taken by Carlos (Óscar Jaenada) to the same beach her mother used to surf while pregnant with Nancy. She meets two local surfers and they surf together for several hours. The locals leave but she stays on. While waiting for a wave, the medical student discovers a dead humpback whale and decides to leave shortly after. On her way back, she is bitten by a great white shark. Bleeding profusely, she swims to safety and settles on a detached reef. Only 200 yards to shore, Nancy’s medical background and athleticism will be her greatest assets of outsmarting the shark.

Review
Having found success with high-concept films such as ‘Orphan’, ‘Unknown’ and ‘Non-Stop’, Jaume Collet-Serra’s latest dives into well-charted waters that resurfaces as a survival piece of (wo)man versus beast at its most extreme. His flair to ground implausible circumstances is the reason a homicidal dwarf and an amnesiac assassin remains logically affecting.

It is the Spaniard’s ingenuity and Anthony Jaswinski’s succinct script that distinguishes the collaborative effort from gratuitous B-movie fun to a star vehicle for ‘Gossip Girl’ cast member, Lively. Set in an impossible condition and equipped with merely her wits, Nancy joins the ranks of Dr Ryan Stone (‘Gravity’) and Aron Ralston (‘127 Hours’) as this year’s lone survivor in peril.

Partly inspired by her husband, Ryan Reynolds’ stunning and woeful portrayal in ‘Buried’, Lively is viscerally convincing as a woman tormented by a sadistic fish to a sunnier ending. The pain she enacts while stitching herself up without any anesthesia is eerily conveyed and her lighter moments are represented amusingly with her newfound friend, Steven, an injured seagull.

At least Steven is real (enough) for our heroine to interact with and proves invaluable for her attempts in escaping; Tom Hanks has a Wilson volleyball. Cognizant of Nancy’s characterisation and motivations justifies her independence and fearlessness despite its slender running time. Add to Flavio Labiano’s breathtaking cinematography, deftly capturing the oceanic waves just before the storm, wouldn’t you be tempted for a swim in the shallows?

Rating
Entirety: B+
Acting: A
Plot: B+

Rated PG-13 for bloody images, intense sequences of peril, and brief strong language

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Horror, Reviews

The Purge: Election Year

Election Year

Copyright © 2016 by Universal Pictures

Story
Since forgiving the man who killed his son, former police officer Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) has been hired as Senator Charlie Roan’s (Elizabeth Mitchell) chief of security. She is campaigning for the upcoming presidential election and is strongly against the Purge, intending to end it if she wins. Her opponent, Minister Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor) who is a member of the New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) is threatened by her growing popularity and the party aims to assassinate the senator when Purge Night commences.

Review
Call it cajoling or propagating. It is no coincidence the third chapter of ‘The Purge’ series is released as the race for presidency in the United States is beginning to heat up. The opposing sides mirror the varying ideals that the politicians in the movie stand for – Roan’s main priority is to purge the Purge for good and the NFFA is hell bent on sustaining it.

Sounds relatively simple if compared with new revelations and shocking developments that have defiled the credibility of both Republican and Democrat candidates vying for the top post. We will probably see a ‘truthful’ interpretation of that story in a few years’ time when the public needs a recap on the theatrics that ensue. For now, this will do.

In a not so subtle hint (the title is a dead giveaway), it is a loud and unapologetically honest picture illustrated about hidden agendas, empty promises and politics rearing its ugly head. You know the drill. It is not the most original of ideas but expanding the franchise to a terrain when it is more apt than ever, the result feels genuinely sincere than pretentiously calculated.

‘Anarchy’ took the Purge to the streets and centered on a grieving father gunning for revenge that intensified midway which has now become the focus in ‘Election Year’. Grillo (sole returning member) is shipshape as the ingenious bodyguard and buttressing amiably from the likes of Mitchell, Mykelti Williamson, Betty Gabriel and a frantic Secor. The conclusion (or not) may have evolved from how it started but it aims for a strong finish and I vote ‘yes’.

Rating
Entirety: A-
Acting: A
Plot: A-

Rated R for disturbing bloody violence and strong language

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