WONDER (USA 2017) ***1/2

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Wonder Poster
Trailer

Based on the New York Times bestseller, WONDER tells the incredibly inspiring and heartwarming story of August Pullman, a boy with facial differences who enters fifth grade, attending a mainstream elementary school for the first time.

Director:

Stephen Chbosky

Writers:

Stephen Chbosky (screenplay by), Steve Conrad (screenplay by)

WONDER is a family friendly film with just the correct mix of comedy and drama about a boy with a facial deformity, Auggie ( Jacob Tremblay).  The film follows his adjustment to public school, Beecham Preparatory School after being home schooled by his mother, Isabel (Julia Roberts).  His father, Nate (Owen Wilson) is supportive as well as his sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic) though she resents not being given as much attention by her parents.  WONDER is written by Steve Conrad based on the book of the same name by R.J. Palacio.

Despite the obvious message as announced via voiceover at the end of the movie: “Be Kind: You just have to look at people to see…”, there is another more important message found in the movie, as uttered by Via, Auggie’s sister when she angrily quips at her brother: “It’s not always about you.” This message is also echoed in the way the film’s story is brilliantly told – in 4 parts from 3 other points of view besides Auggie’s, showing that other people count.  The other views are from Auggie’s sister, Via, and from two of his friends, Jack Will (Noah Jupe) and Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell).  The other three are revealed in the script as individuals, just as important as individuals as being a character in Auggie’s world.

The film’s contains one mixed message in the way Auggie finds his first friend, Jack Will – by allowing him to cheat, copying from him, during a test.  He could have helped him or offered to help him study instead.

The big minus in WONDER is the filmmakers insistence on going for sentiment.  They should be more confident on the material and stop tugging at the heartstrings.  So be forewarned!  Bring plenty of Kleenex as director Chbosky chooses to milk every opportunity he can for tears.  This can be observed by the choice of music; Julia Robert’s perpetual sad look; the script’s dialogue (You cannot blend in if you are meant to stand out in the world); the fondness of close-ups of the actors’ faces.

The script could be trimmed to do away with the teen budding romance between Via and her new theatre boyfriend, Justin that does not do much with the main story.

The performances from the young kids are to be praised.  The best of these belong to Noah Jupe as Jack Will, Auggie’s best friend.  Jupe is a natural, the camera loving his every facial expression – a possible future star in the making.  Two screen veterans Mandy Patinkin and Sonia Braga lend their hands playing Mr. Tushman and Via’s grandmother respectively.

Chbosky’s film tries at making every set-up perfect.  It is therefore not surprising that the film’s best moment is a quiet and simple one – a close-up of Jack Will’s face at being happy once again at being Auggie’s friend.

The film ends with Auggie’s mom saying to Auggie: “You are really a WONDER, Auggie”.  Perhaps the film itself could have turned out a wonder if everyone did not try so hard.

But for all its flaws, WONDER is a film made about a subject that matters.  It is also good to see stars like Julia Roberts  and Owen Wilson putting their efforts in a earnest little movie for a change.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFxsRbqN8jA

 

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Film Review: CARS 3 (USA 2017)

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cars 3Lightning McQueen sets out to prove to a new generation of racers that he’s still the best race car in the world.

Director: Brian Fee

Stars: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Armie Hammer

Review by Gilbert Seah

CARS 3 is the debut animated feature by Brian Fee, the storyboard artist of the other two CARS films and a few other Disney features. As this is a film that Fee has something to prove, the animation is as expected top-notch, as in all the Disney/Pixar films.

The trailer of CARS 3 which shows racing car Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) wiping out on a banked racetrack with a fade to black and voiceover promising that things will be different, many will be expecting a blacker sequel and one that would prove more interesting than the other two trivial CARS films. Not so. The terrible crash is just the catalyst for McQueen to want to race again to prove himself. So, there is the usual predictable stuff such as: “You have it in you.” You can prove yourself.” etc. etc. So, all hopes for a blacker CARS film are torn to bits.

The film features a next generation of race cars that includes Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). The cars in the film begin questioning if the famous Lightning McQueen will throw in the towel after he endured a terrible crash. McQueen’s sponsor, Rust-eze, is bought by Sterling (Nathan Fillion), a car who thinks McQueen cannot maintain his image by racing. Lightning asks for a chance to race in the Florida 500 and begins to train with race technician Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), who’s always had her own racing dreams. That pretty sums up a plot that not many can get excited with.

The same problem of animation of cars till exists in all the CARS franchise. Cars are inanimate objects with no limbs nor faces. So it is more difficult to animate cars – to give them expressions and make them distinguishable one from another. A tactic is of course, as used by the animators, is to make the colours bright and different or have different car types on display such as tow trucks.

It is also difficult to get excited over one cartoon car wining a race against another cartoon car. Or for one cartoon car to fall in love with another or feel anything towards a jealous car.

CARS undoubtedly has good animation. The audience can feel the thunder of the race as the audience is given a drivers-look of a race. But the film lacks the humour (goofy or otherwise) and inventiveness that help films like the recent CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS and BOSS BABY become memorable.
THE CARS films have not made the Studios that much money compared to the other animated features. But more than a fair income comes from the share of the toy franchise. So, do not expect much from CARS 3. For it is he same old stuff. Unless one is interested in the animation process, CARS 3 is nothing more than one dull drag of a race.

But wait! There is a short animated feature called LOU preceding CARS. It involves a schoolyard bully who learns that being nice conquers all. The largely silent LOU is smart, well animated, inventive and funny. It subtly teaches kids that bullying is just not cool. Rating for LOU: ****

****
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4K7JgPJ8-s

 

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Movie Review: ZOOLANDER 2 (USA 2016) ***

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zoolander_2ZOOLANDER 2 (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Ben Stiller

Starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Penélope Cruz, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Christine Taylor

Review by Gilbert Seah

ZOOLANDER and ZOOLANDER 2 are milder versions of Sasha Baron Cohen’s BRUNO which are still pretty wild for most audiences unfamiliar with films like these that satirize the fashion/modelling industry.

It took a while, 15 years, since the first ZOOLANDER (2001) also directed by Ben Stiller hit the screens. It has been a long wait – the stars have grown older, and the plot makes use of the fact. Whatever goes on in the movie does not make much sense, but famous pop stars are being killed as they are protecting the Chosen One. “You can’t kill us all.” utters Justin Bieber, the 6th pop star killed in a year, before he kicks the bucket after posing on Instagram. Even Madonna has struck her last pose! Who is the Chosen One and who is the villain? As outrageous as the plot is, the twist is even more outrageous than anything found in any film in a while. Hilarious? It is in a way if one sits back and ponder over what has occurred. The script, by no less than 4 writers including Stiller, Justin Theroux (the writer of AMERICAN PSYCHO who also appears in the film as an evil DJ) is actually hilarious, though it might not seem so on first appearance. Perhaps ZOOLANDER 2 should be seen a second time to digest the mayhem on screen.

So, the not-so bright Zoolander (Stiller) is drawn out of recluse together with fellow model, Hansel (Owen Wilson). The villain is Mugatu (Will Farrell hamming it up, the most he can ever muster), engineering his escape from fashion prison. (Don’t ask!)

Not everything is original in the film. A lot of the jokes are similar to ZOOLANDER 1 and the ending sexy cat fight between two beauties, Penelope Cruz and Milla Jovovich, to the delight of all the males watching is way too similar to the scene from the French film (that did not get released here), OSS 117 NEST OF SPIES, directed by THE ARTIST’s Michel Hazanavicius.

The star cameo list is staggering. They include Bieber and real life fashion icons, Valentino, Vera Wang, Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfiger and Anna Wintour. The trouble is that these icons are not immediately recognizable, but their names are emphasized at least so audiences know who they are. Of the recognizable star cameos, Susan Sarandon (doing a ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW routine), Milla Jovovich, Macaulay Culkin, Billy Zane, Katy Perry, Sting and Neil deGrasse Tyson strut their stuff, all playing themselves. But the best of these belong to Benedict Cumberbatch who surprises as he plays All, a transgender looking super model so full of himself that he marries himself.

ZOOLANDER 2 plays like a spy spoof as well as a satire of the fashion/model industry. Hate it or love it, my partner best described the film as “not that funny but sill entertaining.” Yes, and the film has lots of energy! But audiences not in the know might be totally bewildered at the goings-on!

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