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Snatched Review

Very Good

It doesn't really matter that the script for this lively action-comedy is paper thin: teaming up Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn on-screen is a stroke of genius. These two comic actresses have impeccable timing, and throw everything into this madcap jungle adventure. Yes, the dialogue could have been a lot sharper, the story more coherent and the themes more resonant. But as a guilty pleasure, it's a lot of fun.

It opens as Emily (Schumer) decides to continue with her plans to take a luxury holiday in Ecuador, even though she's just split from her boyfriend (Randall Park). Although taking her mother Linda (Hawn) wasn't her first choice. As they settle in at the beach resort, they meet Ruth (Wanda Sykes) and her ex-military friend Barb (Joan Cusack), who warn them about gangs of drug dealers who kidnap tourists. Sure enough, Emily and Linda are grabbed by Colombian criminal Morgado (Oscar Jaenada) and taken to the Amazon, where they escape and go on the run with the help of a rugged but pompous explorer (Christopher Meloni). Meanwhile back in America, Emily's oddball brother (Ike Barinholtz) is pestering a government official (Bashir Salahuddin) to find his missing mother and sister.

Instead of working out a clever story or writing something witty, the filmmakers rely instead on the skills of Schumer and Hawn. This leaves the movie feeling like a series of random set-pieces in which the actresses improvise a lot of goofiness, which is shaped into something vaguely sensible in the edit. The overall narrative is flimsy at best, but there are hilarious moments scattered through every scene, and Schumer and Hawn thankfully underplay most of it.

Continue reading: Snatched Review

Hidden Figures Review

Very Good

This film recounts such a great true story that we don't mind the fact that it's all a bit too warm and polished, or that it kind of ignores its side characters. The central events, which took place more than 55 years ago, touch on big issues that have a strong present-day relevance. And the acting is excellent from a gifted ensemble cast. So even if the filmmaking isn't very complex, the themes resonate strongly.

It's set in 1961 Virginia, where Nasa is losing the space race to the Russians. To get things moving, programme director Al (Kevin Costner) turns to Katherine (Taraji P. Henson), a mathematician who works with the black women in the "colored computer" room downstairs. In Mission Control, she proves her value as an ace number cruncher. Meanwhile, engineer Mary (Janelle Monae) struggles in a system that ignores her contributions, while Dorothy (Octavia Spencer) has been passed over for promotion despite the fact that she's the only person who can make any sense of the new computer system. So as the entire facility works to get a man into space, it's doubtful that the leaders will see that these women are vital to the project.

The fact that this story is so little-known kind of answers that question. But the film never takes a political approach, instead finding the humanity in the situation. Gentle humour abounds in the interaction between characters, and even the racial insults (such as requiring Katherine to sprint through the rain to use a designated restroom) are played for chuckles. Meanwhile, the script offers slight glances at their personal lives: Katherine is a single mother with three smart daughters and a sweet romantic interest (Mahershala Ali), and Mary's preacher husband (Aldis Hodge) helps her fight for the right to study in an all-white college. Spencer's Dorothy doesn't really get a subplot, but then she's the movie's scene-stealer, so she doesn't really need one.

Continue reading: Hidden Figures Review

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children Review

Good

Ransom Riggs' bestselling novel is appropriately adapted into a movie by Tim Burton, the gothic maestro who so expertly infuses his creepy movies with vivid emotions. The film looks flat-out amazing, with lush production design, clever effects and a cast of outrageous characters. So it's somewhat frustrating that the movie feels weighed down by a story that's more complicated than it needs to be. There's too much plot detail explained in the dialogue, and the quirkiness gets a bit exhausting by the time the film passes the two hour mark.

It's set in the present day, as Florida teen Jake (Asa Butterfield) travels to an island off the coast of Wales to bring closure after the death of his beloved grandfather (Terence Stamp). His oblivious father (Chris O'Dowd) goes with him, but doesn't notice that Jake has discovered that Grandpa's bombed-out childhood home actually still exists in a 1943 time loop created by the ymbryne Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), who can turn into a bird and maintain loops like this one. Jake also realises that the freaky Barron (Samuel L. Jackson) is on his trail, so he tries to help Miss Peregrine rescue her children, all of whom have peculiar supernatural abilities.

From here the film takes on a more traditional action trajectory, as Barron and his toothy, long-limbed Hollows try to devour the children's eyes. Yes, there are a lot of grotesque touches in this story, and Burton knows that kids in the audience love this kind of stuff. They'll also be tantalised by the busy visual landscapes, which are magnificent in 3D, grossed out by the yuckiness and excited by the thrilling set-pieces. Adults will find all of this a bit harder to stomach, simply because the wordy dialogue never quite makes sense of the messy plot.

Continue reading: Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children Review

Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates Review

Weak

Watching this gross-out comedy, it's clear that the gifted cast and crew had a great time making it. Scenes are packed with wildly ridiculous improvisation, as the script throws characters into some genuinely outrageous situations. And yet it's never actually funny. The longer the film goes on, the more the audience will wonder why they don't feel in on the joke.

It's loosely based on the true story of chucklehead brothers Mike and Dave (Adam Devine and Zac Efron), whose parents (Stephen Root and Stephanie Faracy) tell them they can't go stag to the wedding of their sister (Sugar Lyn Beard) in Hawaii. They have to find dates to calm down the antics that have ruined family events for years. So Mike and Dave put an ad on Craigslist, and it goes viral, drawing the attention of slacker flatmates Tatiana and Alice (Aubrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick). Pretending to be nice girls, they win over Mike and Dave and head to Hawaii for the big event. But the girls are even more anarchic than the boys. So it's no surprise that a wave of disruptive mayhem follows.

Basically this is a simple coming-of-age story, structured like a standard romantic-comedy that plays out in a series of messy set-pieces. Every beat of the plot is predictable, and the big surprise is that the filmmakers seem terrified of genuine sexuality. Despite using sex and nudity as the (ahem!) butt of most jokes, the film is childish and even prudish. And it doesn't help that virtually all of the gags are obvious and cheap.

Continue reading: Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates Review

Spy Review


Excellent

The ace partnership between filmmaker Paul Feig and actress Melissa McCarthy evolves into something formidable with this raucous action comedy, which simultaneously spoofs the espionage genre and provides some genuine thrills. From ensemble player (Bridesmaids) to costar (The Heat) and now to the star of the show, McCarthy finds a role worthy of her talents, subverting rather than exploiting her distinct physicality.

She plays Susan Cooper, a desk-jockey at the CIA who works with the field agents, guiding them by radio link through their dangerous paces. When star spy Bradley Fine (Jude Law) is taken out of service and all other top agents have their covers blown, the boss (Allison Janney) has little choice but to send the well-trained Susan into the field to take down the villainous arms dealer Rayna (Rose Byrne). With her best pal Nancy (Miranda Hart) as her office-bound helper, Susan gets into a series of disguises and travels to Paris, Rome and then Budapest. And despite the constant attempts of rogue agent Rick Ford (Jason Statham) to "help" her, Susan gets ever closer to Rayna and her gangster buyer Sergio (Bobby Cannavale).

The relatively simple plot is overcrowded with characters and subplots that add absurd layers of humour to the film, almost all of which are genuinely hilarious. Best of all, none of the laughs come at the expense of Susan, a capable, smart, witty woman who's the perfect alter ego for McCarthy (and certainly much more engaging than her obnoxious-slob persona in The Heat or Tammy). She has terrific chemistry with all of her costars, flirting shamelessly with the Bond-like Law, an amusingly swaggering Statham and especially the purringly hysterical Byrne. As always, the great Janney steals every one of her few scenes. Less effective is an extended goofy cameo by Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent, who at least shows willing to dive into some ridiculous comedy. There's also another terrific foil in Susan's local contact Aldo, played with leering, opportunistic relish by Peter Sarafinowicz.

Continue reading: Spy Review

Exodus: Gods And Kings Review


Good

Aside from impressive 21st century digital effects, this new take on the Moses story pales in comparison to Cecil B. DeMille's iconic 1956 version, The Ten Commandments, which is far more resonant and intensely dramatic. Biblical epics are tricky to get right, and Ridley Scott certainly knows how to make them look and feel terrific (see Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven), but his films are generally about the spectacle rather than the human emotion. So this version of the biblical story will only appeal to viewers who have never seen a better one.

It's set in 1300 BC, when the Israelites have been in captivity in Egypt for 400 years. Now rumours of liberation are circling, centring on Moses (Christian Bale), the adopted son of Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro), raised as a brother alongside the future Pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton). When it emerges that Moses is actually a Hebrew, he is sent into exile in the desert, where he finds a new calling as a shepherd and marries his new boss' sexy daughter Sefora (Maria Valverde). Moses also has a run-in with the Jewish God, who appears in the form of a young boy (Isaac Andrews), challenging Moses to free the Israelites. As Moses attempts to spark a slave revolt, God sends seven horrific plagues to convince Ramses to let his people go.

The script struggles to have its cake and eat it too, finding rational explanations for the plagues and miracles while still maintaining God's supernatural intervention. It's a rather odd mix that demonstrates just how compromised the movie is: it's a big blockbuster rather than a story about people. Several elements work well, such as depicting God as a boy, although the screenplay never manages to make much of the female characters. And only Ben Mendelsohn manages to inject any proper personality as the weaselly overseer of the slaves. Bale and Edgerton both catch the complexity of their characters' situations, privilege mixed with personal revelations. But Scott is more interested in parting the Red Sea than taking them anywhere very interesting.

Continue reading: Exodus: Gods And Kings Review

St. Vincent Review


Excellent

Bill Murray shines in this story of a cynical grump whose life is changed by his friendship with a bright young kid. Writer-director Theodore Melfi makes an assured debut with this hilariously astute, emotional punchy drama, which may sometimes feel a bit over-planned but gives the audience plenty to think about. And along with Murray, the film has especially strong roles for Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts and promising newcomer Jaeden Lieberher.

It's set in a New York suburb, where the neighbourhood grouch Vincent (Murray) is already having a bad day when he discovers meets the perky family next door: Maggie (McCarthy) and her curious son Oliver (Lieberher). She has just fled from her unfaithful husband (Scott Adsit) and is working extra hours to make ends meet, so she reluctantly agrees to let Oliver stay at Vincent's house after school. Intriguingly, Oliver is one of the few people Vincent can bear to be around, aside from the pregnant Russian stripper Daka (Watts) and his lively cat Felix. And Oliver is like a sponge, happily soaking up Vincent's knowledge about things like swearing, fighting and betting on the horses. Oliver has no real idea that all of this makes Vincent a seriously unsuitable role model.

Yes, the central point is that good people are sometimes hard to spot. Vincent may smoke, swear, gamble and hang out with hookers, but he also has a deep soul that Oliver witnesses in the way he takes care of Daka, or how he regularly visits his wife in a nursing home even though she has long forgotten who he is. Melfi makes the most of this perspective, seeing everything through the eyes of perceptive young actor Lieberher. And Murray shines in a role that adds clever shadings to the actor's usual on-screen bluster. The interaction between Oliver and Vincent snaps with personality, and sharp roles for McCarthy and Watts offer meaningful wrinkles, as do other side characters such as Chris O'Dowd's schoolteacher.

Continue reading: St. Vincent Review

The Heat Review


Very Good

Miss Congeniality shows up The Other Guys in this riotously funny buddy-cop comedy, which overcomes its silly script with the ingenious pairing of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. The plot is essentially a flimsy framework on which to hang a series of nutty set pieces, but they're so hilarious that we don't mind at all.

Bullock plays Ashburn, an FBI agent who endangers her upcoming promotion by being too obsessively efficient and showing up the boys. Her boss (Bichir) thinks she could use some new scenery, so sends her to Boston to find a drug kingpin. But she quickly encroaches on the turf of local detective Mullins (McCarthy), whose outside-the-box methods have deeply intimidated her frazzled chief (Wilson). As they investigate the same case, Ashburn and Mullins clash badly before they realise that they really should be working together. But neither is willing to relinquish even a tiny bit of control.

It's hard to remember the last time two over-40 actresses were allowed to play such lively characters. Bullock and McCarthy have a fantastic snap of chemistry on-screen, as they improvise much of their hysterical interaction. This is a terrific combination of Bullock's fearless slapstick physicality and McCarthy's stinging humour. They're a lot funnier when they're at each others' throats than when they're working together, although even then they use deadpan humour to play on their differences. And in another clever flip of the genre, the male actors all have thankless roles around the edges of the story.

Continue reading: The Heat Review

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Jenno Topping Movies

Snatched Movie Review

Snatched Movie Review

It doesn't really matter that the script for this lively action-comedy is paper thin: teaming...

Hidden Figures Movie Review

Hidden Figures Movie Review

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Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children Movie Review

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children Movie Review

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Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

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Spy Movie Review

Spy Movie Review

The ace partnership between filmmaker Paul Feig and actress Melissa McCarthy evolves into something formidable...

Exodus: Gods and Kings Movie Review

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