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Film Review: THE UPSIDE (USA 2018)

The Upside Poster
Trailer

A comedic look at the relationship between a wealthy man with quadriplegia and an unemployed man with a criminal record who’s hired to help him.

Director:

Neil Burger

Writers:

Jon Hartmere (screenplay by), Éric Toledano (based on the motion picture “Les Intouchables” by) | 1 more credit »

The film begins one night when Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) is driving Phillip’s (Bryan Cranston) flashy sports car at high speed.  They are chased through the streets by the police and eventually cornered.  Dell claims the quadriplegic Phillip must be urgently driven to the emergency room as he is having an epileptic fit;  Philippe pretends to have a seizure and the fooled police officers escort them to the hospital.  All cliched comedy here,  The story of the friendship between the two men is then told as a flashback with this scene retuned at the end.

THE UPSIDE is the remake of France’s second most successful box-office film of all time, the 1999 LES INTOUCHABLES which cost 10 million euros to make but grossed over $360 euros.

The first paragraph describing the story could be applied to both films as THE UPSIDE is quite the similar film but with a few changes.   The American remake changes parts of the original to make the story more believable and dramatic.

Among the changes:

the American version has a a more realistic but less effective ending

the Nicole Kidman character is expanded though not too credible at the end

the comedy is reduced with more drama added

the setting is changed from Paris, France to the U.S.

the character of Phillip’s adopted daughter is omitted completely in the remake

as the film is based on the true story of these two ‘friends’, the original ending showed the two men in real life, Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his French-Algerian caregiver Abdel Sellou

     It is debatable whether each the changes improves the film, as what is written on paper might not turn out that well or turn out better on film.  Still, the script by Jon Hartmere is a lazy one that follows most of the original scene by scene.

THE UPSIDE benefits from the three lead performances.  Bryan Cranston (TRUMBO) has first billing.  He plays a quadriplegic, which means he can only act using his neck upwards.  Hart gets to clown around for all that is worth.  When the script allow him to do his thing as in the scene where he is supposed to clean up his boss, (What is an American comedy without its shit jokes?) Hart comes across as quite desperate on trying to get a few laughs out of a script that lives him nothing.  I found this segment unfunny and boring though it did get a few laughs from a few of the audience at the promotional screening.  Kidman plays the prissy role of the personal business assistant well giving a needed boost to the under-written role. 

For a  comedy, the running time of over two hours (126 minutes) is lengthy which explains the film crossing the line into feel-good drama.  Bit cliche upon cliche are piled up, if not identical set-ups from the original film.  The end result is a goofy and unrealistic feel-good movie that is as boring as it is original.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iaoPOb_fWcw

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Film Review: ISLE OF DOGS (USA 2017) ***** TOP 10

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Trailer

Set in Japan, Isle of Dogs follows a boy’s odyssey in search of his dog.

Director:

Wes Anderson

Writers:

Wes Anderson (screenplay), Wes Anderson (story) | 3 more credits »

 

ISLE OF DOGS lies on many critics’ list as one of their most anticipated films of the year.  The reason is easy to see.  It has been 4 years since Anderson wowed both audiences and critics alike with the excellent THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL.  ISLE OF DOGS is also Anderson’s second animated feature after THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX and judging from that film, ISLE OF DOGS arrives with high expectations.  Fortunately, these are all met.  The film also won Anderson the Silver Bear Award for Best Director for ISLE OF DOGS which also opened the Berlin International Film Festival.

In a dystopian future Japan, dogs have been quarantined and banished to a remote island due to a “canine flu”.  Major Kobayashihas (Kunichi Nomura) who has won the election and has convinced all his voters that this is the best idea.  The all-important question is then posed; “Whatever happened to man’s best friend?”  

There is hope for the dogs.  A boy, ironically the major’s nephew, Atari (Koyu Rankin), ventures to the island to search for his dog, Spots (Liev Screiber).  There is at least one human being who still loves his pet dog.  Dogs Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex  (Edward Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and King (Bob Balaban) help him search for Spots and evade the authorities.  Eventually Atari discovers his uncle’s plot to eliminate all dogs on the isle and with the help of the dogs led by Chief saves the dog world.  The film is enough to seriously have audiences consider getting themselves a pet dog after watching the moving saga.

The film is shot in both English and Japanese.  The dogs speak English which English audiences understand while the humans speak Japanese which the dogs (and audiences do not understand).  This is a brilliant concept which is even more brilliant when one considers the reverse effect when Japanese watch the film.

The ensemble voice cast is impressive but largely wasted as many of the voices cannot be recognized.  Even Yoko Ono is on the list, but very few know what she sounds like, less alone the more famous stars that include Ken Watanabe, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Scarlett Johansson, Greta Gerwig, just to name a few.

And the film is extremely funny with more than I can count, laugh-out loud moments.  Anderson’s humour is mostly tongue-in-cheek, which is not the characteristic humour (slapstick, sarcasm, dead-pan) found in many films.   Examples are the way Anderson shoots his animated feature as if all happening is live action.  The segment on the liver transplant is done in an overhead shot as if the operation is actually filmed live with live characters.  Dialogue like one dog saying: “The ones I want are never in heat!” or “I see cats with more balls than you guys,” also come across as very funny in their situations.  The most hilarious of these occur after the film’s climax where the mayoral elections are finally over with the commentator announcing in a sort of anti-climaxed statement: “Boy, What a night!”

On originality alone, ISLE OF DOGS scores 100% which makes it one of the first 10 best films of 2018.  Boy! What a movie!

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dt__kig8PVU

 

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Film Review: LAST FLAG FLYING (USA 2017) ***

Thirty years after they served together in Vietnam, a former Navy Corpsman Larry “Doc” Shepherd re-unites with his old buddies, former Marines Sal Nealon and Reverend Richard Mueller, to bury his son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War.

Writers:

Richard Linklater (screenplay), Darryl Ponicsan (screenplay) |1 more credit »

Film Review: WHY HIM? (USA 2016). James Franco. Bryan Cranston.

why_him_movie_poster.jpgDirector: John Hamburg
Writers: Jonah Hill (story), John Hamburg (story/screenplay), Ian Helfer (screenplay)
Stars: Zoey Deutch, James Franco, Tangie Ambrose, Bryan Cranston, Cedric the Entertainer, Megan Mullally

Review by Gilbert Seah

There are smart dumb comedies and there are dumb, dumb comedies. WHY HIM? directed and co-written by John Hamburg (who wrote MEET THE PARENTS, MEET THE FOCKERS and the ZOOLANDER movies) falls into the latter category. But all is forgiven for like the hit comedy DUMB AND DUMBER, WHY HIM? is quite funny.

As in MEET THE PARENTS and MEET THE FOCKERS, it is the story of the guy trying to impress his future in-laws. The hitch in WHY HIM? is that the guy is a weird monstrous hip games designer millionaire who swears in every sentence he utters. So will Laird (James Franco) be able to charm his future father-in-law Ned (Brian Cranston) so that he can give him permission to wed Stephanie (Zoey Deutch).

The audience is set up for an all-out gross film with the beginning scene where Laird is close to show Stephanie his almost black blue balls in a video chat. The scene shifts to Stephanie’s dad’s birthday celebration where she is video chatting him when Laird suddenly appears in the background and takes off his pants. There is nothing highly original about this comedic set-up but it still brings on the laughs.

Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) invites her father Ned Fleming (Bryan Cranston) and mother Barb (Megan Mullally), along with their 15-year old brother Scott (Griffin Gluck), to stay with her wealthy and famous boyfriend, Laird Mayhew while visiting her at Christmas. Laird’s vulgar, gregarious, and blunt personality is slightly overwhelming for Barb and Scott, but causes Ned to downright despise him. However, Stephanie insists that Laird is a nice person, and that he makes her happy. But when Laird reveals he plans to propose to Stephanie in only five days, the race to prove himself worthy of her love so Ned can give them his blessing begins. Laird goes out of his way to win over Barb and Scott, while Ned schemes to make sure Laird goes down in flames.

Laird throws a Christmas party for the Flemings that goes out of control. But the three minute Christmas party segment puts OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY to shame. The segment moves on fast, furious and funny and generates more laughs in the three minutes that the entire party section in OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY.

For a film about a wild person, the film stays away from lewd scenes. There are no hard core drugs only marijuana and no smoking is shown – only the after effects (the horny mother inching her husband for sex in the bedroom). Swearing, however is plentiful but done in a humorous manner. There are also bukkake and double dicking jokes (but nothing seen) – which the gays in the audience should be familiar with. The film also steals from the Kato and Inspector Clouseau fights in the PINK PANTHER films with Laird’s man-servant, Gustav (Keegan-Michael Key) always laying in wait to fight him. But these scenes are still funny.

Where the film starts to slack is when it gets emotional with the different relationships (father/boyfriend; father/daughter and boyfriend/girlfriend). The ending 20 minutes drags too long and is a bit of a let down considering the fast pace of the rest of the film. There is a surprise appearance of a famous band at the end of the film. Still WHY HIM? succeeds as quite a hilarious though quite a dumb comedy.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CO6qLC4cL8E
 

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Movie Review: KUNG FU PANDA 3 (2016)

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kung_fu_panda_3KUNG FU PANDA 3 (USA/China 2016) ***
Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni

Starring: Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, J.K. Simmons, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu

Review by Gilbert Seah

The third of the KUNG FU PANDA animated features provides more of the same. However, being family fun entertainment, critics should not be too hard on the filmmakers. As long as KUNG FU PANDA delivers a safe product, everyone especially a less discerning audience should not complain.

The first one in the series that is a Chinese co-production, Fox obviously has an eye for the large Chinese market. There is a Chinese version with Chinese dubbed voices. The previous two films grossed more than $600 million each and this $120 million production should beat those records. To be super safe, the script by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger have added many more pandas into the film – in the form of a secret panda sanctuary.

Po finally gets to meet his real biological father in this film. The segment of their meeting, as shown in a promotional clip before is the funniest of the film. Of course, his adoptive father, Mr. Ping (James Hong) the goose who wants to open his own dumpling stall is incredibly jealous. Po is brought to a Panda sanitary where he trains panda students in martial-arts. Po also meets Mei Mei, an overly eager panda, who had been promised to Po through an arranged marriage when they were children. But the main plot involves an evil ancient supernatural spirit called Kai begins terrorizing China and stealing the powers of defeated kung fu masters. Now in the face of incredible odds, Po must learn to train the village of clumsy, fun-loving pandas to become a band of Kung Fu Pandas.

Added to the film are new characters like Po’s (Jack Black) biological father, Li Shan (Bryan Cranston) and Mei Mei (a brilliant Kate Hudson), a female panda who has the hots for Po. Hudson does a marvellous job resulting in the audience wanting to see more of Mei Mei. The villain of the piece is Kai (Oscar winning J.J. Simmons) who adds a some humour to his role. His voice is easily recognized from the low tones. The usually Po gang is still present. So, for those KUNG FU PANDA fans, Viper (Lucy Liu), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Crane (David Cross) and even Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) are back.

The climatic fight between Po and Kai is ok but nothing too exciting nor out of the ordinary. But the antics of Po is enough to entertain despite the relatively weak plot.

The Chinese influence in this entry is clearly evident. There is more oriental folklore, more oriental colours and more oriental architectural drawings. This entry is also the most colourful of the three with the animation at its peak. The ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ song is also given a Chinese slant. Hans Zimmer hits with the overall musical score.

KUNG FU PANDA 3 should be a big hit. At the end of the promo screening, kids can be seen in front of the screen imitating the martial-arts moves of their hero, Po.

 

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