*NEW* SING REVIEW *NEW*

Easy going toe-tapping fun.

In a city of humanoid animals, a crafty koala’s (Matthew McConaughey) attempt to save his theatre with a singing competition becomes grander than he anticipates even as its finalists’ find that their lives will never be the same.

I don’t know why the family put this on (considering our youngest is now 23) but I’m glad they did. A much needed tonic after all the hard hitting super serious Oscar flicks.

The cast were fantastic. I actually didn’t believe that all of them sang. I skimmed through the credits to double check (and for the awesome soundtrack listings).

Of course, a killer soundtrack is crucial in a singing competition and Joby Talbot selected some great choices. I did NOT expect to hear a chimp singing Elton John’s I’m Still Standing.

Or open the show with Kanye West’s Flashing Lights. Seriously, I wanted to revisit the albums on my iPod right there and then BUT I digress.

Matthew McConaughey nailed it as the bumbling Buster Moon. Desperate to save the theatre that his father bought him and spurned his love for the arts. Swindling and squeezing every penny he could.

Until that wonderful light bulb moment. A singing competition. With a cash prize. However, one silly typo from his scatty secretary Judith and that strapped for cash prize changed from $1,000 to $100,000!

Cue one mad little movie.

It was silly BUT entertaining fun that left me smiling. Funny, charming and one for the whole family.

You could argue that all the characters were loosely strung together around the American Idol style competition. BUT you could relate to them all in one way or the other.

Reese Witherspoon was brilliant as Rosita, the frustrated pig housewife desperate to break free from her hum drum routine. I knew she could belt out the tracks. Let’s not forget she won an Oscar for Walk The Line.

Any excuse for Seth MacFarlane to belt out the Sinatra tracks and he’s there. Always slipping a croon-sesh into Family Guy whenever he can. He marvelled as Mike the mouse. The mini street hustler out to earn a quick buck.

My future wife (I hear she’s divorced now) Scarlett Johansson nailed it as Ash, the punky porcupine desperate to sing her own songs instead of the generic tripe that everyone keeps forcing her to play or her moronic boyfriend’s metallic nonsense.

Her reaction when Buster suggested she sang Carly Rae Jepsen was great!

I couldn’t believe Eddie the Eagle could sing. Taron Egerton continues to surprise. He was brilliant as Johnny. The kid chimp desperate to break away from the life of crime to become a singer.

Peter Serafinowicz (Shaun of the Dead) was on top form as Johnny’s mobster monkey dad (appropriately titled) Big Daddy. Completely oblivious to his son’s desires and determined for one last score.

I wasn’t familiar with Tori Kelly. Only that she had a duet with Michael Buble once. BUT she had one hell of a voice and played the part of Meena, the stage shy elephant perfectly.

I know, an elephant with stage fright. The mind boggles.

The animation was excellent and there were genuine moments where I laughed out loud. All I’ll say is car wash. That and a nervous buffalo with flatulence.

The supporting cast were on fine form featuring the likes of Jennifer Hudson, Jennifer Saunders, John C. Reilly, Nick Offerman, Leslie Jones and Rhea Perlman. The list goes on.

It’s corny, cheesy BUT easygoing. A lot better than the disappointingly droll Trolls.

It did the job and killed the time.

3/5

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*NEW* HOT PURSUIT REVIEW *NEW*

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Pursue no further!

Oh how the mighty have fallen. Well, Reese Witherspoon anyway.

This feeble affair desperately tried to be a sillier version of The Heat but it just left me cold. From the opening montage, you knew what sort of film you were getting yourself into. A bad one.

An uptight and by-the-book cop (Witherspoon) tries to protect the outgoing widow (Sofia Vergara) of a drug boss as they race through Texas pursued by crooked cops and murderous gunmen.

This should have been called Hit and Miss. We follow a young Cooper (Witherspoon) as she is practically raised in the back seat of her father’s cop car. We have the delightfully dull and predictable snippets of Cooper’s prom dates, her first encounter with a transgender individual, oh and sharing Christmas with a drunken Santa.

Now credit where it’s due. I respect Witherspoon for going back to her comedy roots. Let’s not forget Rushmore and Legally Blonde. Maybe forget Legally Blonde 2. It was good to see that she’s still game for a laugh after achieving Oscar status. BUT the money must have been too good to turn down.

She does her best but overdoes it with every gag. Maybe to compensate for the fact that the gags were really not that good. Plus she does not stop talking. Her verbal diarrhoea really went through me. At 87 minutes, I feared that this would go on too long.

From the moment we watch Cooper chase after a suspect that turned out to be her date, I could feel my hopes dying. A misunderstanding with the phrase “I’ll call shotgun” set up an incident with a taser that I didn’t see coming. An incident that would make Cooper a laughing stock among the force; “Hey. Don’t Cooper that sh*t!”.

BUT now she has a chance to redeem herself. By helping escort a witness to a safe house. That witness being Gloria from Modern Family. Sorry, Sofia Vergara.

I really hoped she would play a different character. I love Gloria. But in small doses and on Modern Family. Not in this. It felt like a prequel of Gloria’s life before Jay. As soon as I heard her shrill cry through the security intercom, I feared the worst. Stunning though she may be, the shot of her wailing in a Cadillac will haunt me for some time.

The plot was by the numbers and boring. The double crossing and triple crossing was so predictable. Dodgy coppers, murderous hitmen, yawn. And what the hell was Sean (Robert Kazinsky) from Eastenders doing in this? He still hasn’t mastered a Southern accent. You would have thought he’d have enough practice after True Blood.

It was all over the place. Just like the tone of the film. I don’t think it knew what it wanted to be. It was silly and OTT in one instant with Reese caked in “sugar” from Vergara’s briefcase. Her insufferable verbal diarrhea now ignited into a full frenzy.

And then macabre and violent in the next with a red neck shooting his finger off after Vergara and Witherspoon fake being a pair of lesbians to avoid revealing their identities. Strange but it got a little chuckle.

What annoyed me was that the pair had good chemistry and sparked in certain scenes. And they seemed to work better when they improvised. Vergara actually grew on me as the film chugged along. It did try and get a little too actiony and serious in the finale which only came off incredibly hammy.

The jokes about shoes and sex were a little repetitive and stale for my liking. Lazy. The gag about Witherspoon’s “diaper” panties was a complete rip off of The Heat. I appreciate that they tried to follow in it’s footsteps. But all they really did was stumble and trip up in it’s shadow. A running gag with the media messing up the duo’s descriptions was okay to start with but it soon got old really quick.

The only real laugh that I got out of it was when Cooper had to wear a disguise to infiltrate a Columbian cartel. She looked like Justin Bieber and a wardrobe malfunction in a ladies toilet delivered. A diamond in the rough, apparently.

I think the closing credits summed everything for me. Before anyone could escape (If they hadn’t already), we had five to ten minutes of outtakes. I laughed more in those ten then I did in the 87. The improvising and mucking about should have been in the film. You saw a completely different and less annoying side to Vergara. She was actually quite funny. Why didn’t we get that in the film?

Instead we had the odd gag among a dozen duds spread across a dull and lifeless cop thriller. I would definitely say the mismatched tone really hampered things.

BUT I wouldn’t say that this was a mismatched pairing and for all it’s flaws, it was watchable. Thankfully to a short running time. If you’re looking for another Heat, then watch The Heat.

Two stars for the two leading ladies for doing their darndest.

THE GOOD LIE REVIEW

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A good film.

A group of Sudanese refugees are given the chance to resettle in Kansas City, Missouri, where their encounter with an employment agency counsellor (Reese Witherspoon) forever changes their lives.

A wonderful little film that is certainly worth your attention. I originally watched this on a flight to America. I had no idea what it was about. Only that it featured Reese Witherspoon. I never expected to be rewarded with such an endearing and heart breaking story.

The opening half hour was riveting. It grabbed me from the get go. We watch in horror as a group of Sudanese children have their peaceful, tranquil village destroyed by rebel forces during the Second Sudanese Civil War in 1983.

Homes burned down and families massacred within a matter of minutes. It certainly made for sombre viewing as the children are forced to flee and attempt the walk to Kenya. Truly moving and tense as the children strive to survive the heat, the rebel forces and each other.

One child Theo (Femi Oguns) makes the ultimate sacrifice by offering himself as a recruit to the rebels while his siblings hide in a field. I only mention this little detail because it becomes part of an ongoing search for Mamere (Arnold Oceng – Adulthood).

Mamere and three other siblings- Jeremiah (Ger Duany), Paul (Emmanuel Jal), and Abital (Kuoth Wiel) manage to reach safety in an Ethiopian refugee camp. They are forever known as The Lost Children. The film then skips forward to the early 2000s as the group are chosen to go to the United States.

Issues with social services soon throws a spanner in the works as the siblings are separated; the three men are sent to Kansas City while Abital is placed in Boston. The rest of the film follows the men as they struggle to adapt to their new lives in a different culture. As well as battling exposure to drugs and dangerous animals.

As soon as the three men meet their employment agency counsellor Carrie Davis, things take a lighter turn.

Reese Witherspoon (Wild) and the lads worked really well together. Their innocence and naivety may have been a little cliched. Come on, I’ve seen Cool Runnings and Million Dollar Arm but it still made for highly watchable viewing. The Lost Children still very much at heart as they try to adapt to television, drive-thrus and supermarkets.

Carrie’s stubbornness and initial reluctance to help may have been old hat but their relationship was still an endearing one. Witherspoon was very much in the background of this flick. Merely using her star profile to get some attention to this engaging story.

I don’t think people would even have given it a look in. A shame considering how poor films have been lately that this film only got a limited release.

The job scenarios made for interesting viewing. Mamere continues to appeal for Abital’s move as well as search for his lost brother. Jeremiah’s naivety and generosity inevitably causes issues with his job at the supermarket.

His confrontation with a manager after giving away expired food to the homeless really highlighted the ugly corporate greediness that the Lost Children have never seen before. All the man wanted to do was work with the church.

Paul earns a job at a factory after his natural talent for building things. However, it isn’t long before he falls into the wrong crowd and is introduced to drugs.

The pace did dip in parts and was a little slow burning but it still made for dramatic and uplifting viewing as the film drew to a close. Just when I started to feel a little fidgety, an interesting development involving Theo led to a suspenseful border patrol encounter as Mamere tries to bring him home.

I didn’t realise how the aftermath of 9/11 would make such an impact on the immigration laws. However after such a dramatic and tense scene. The film just ends. And quite abruptly. With just a few credits explaining what happened next.

I was a little disappointed. It would have been nice to see those little credit bits. Just to round off what had been an intriguing film.

Corey Stoll (The Strain) and Witherspoon’s meagre subplot suggested that something was going on between them but it never really went anywhere. Nor was it brought up for that matter. (Thinking back to it). It seemed like a desperate attempt to add a bit of depth to Witherspoon’s already rounded character. A bit sloppy.

The cast were fantastic. It made a change to see new or virtually unknown actors taking the meatier roles. An interesting fact that I only just discovered. Duany, Jal and Wiel were all children that survived the Second Sudanese Civil War.

God knows what it must have felt like to go through that experience again. Say what you will about whether they should have for a movie.

BUT despite it’s little flaws, I was pleasantly surprised and would recommend this to anyone who wants an endearing uplifting journey of one family’s struggle.

3.5/5

WILD REVIEW

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Did Reese Witherspoon’s performance drive me wild with praise or RAGE?

The director of Dallas Buyers Club returns with another Oscar contender but can lightning strike twice?

Right, enough questions.

Not bad at all.

I had mixed feelings about Reese Witherspoon. I mean, Legally Blonde? No, no, no.

That was until her Oscar winning turn in Walk The Line. A complete transformation. And she delivers yet again with another solid performance.

So what’s it all about? Wild is basically a chronicle of one woman’s 1,100-mile solo hike (Short and sweet. Hey, no spoilers here).

Jean-Marc Vallee takes on another biopic but this time it just doesn’t quite feel as polished off as Dallas Buyers Club.

Understandably, they are completely different films BUT I found DBC had a lot more story and depth. This is a certainly an engaging if slow burning journey of one woman trying to find herself BUT it just doesn’t quite reach the heights that you expect.

Yves Belanger returns to deliver a visual masterpiece. The cinematography really made use of the locations.  A beautiful backdrop full of life and colour in one shot, desolate and dreary the next.

Witherspoon has more than enough screen presence to keep the film going. Crucial when she’s the main character that we are following for the next two hours!

The film flicks back and forth through Cheryl Strayed’s past as she embarks on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Vallee and Hornby cleverly juxtapose the flashbacks with the past and present well. Revealing Strayed’s demons and darker moments as the journey becomes more strenuous. The challenge continuing to test her by the day.

The inner monologues from Strayed were a nice touch. Some of her one liners were quite funny; “Morning. Cold mush. Afternoon. Cold mush. Evening. Cold mush. I love cold mush.”

Her initial struggle was quite humourous for any amateur hiker (*Cough* Me* Cough*). Wrestling with her monster backpack, failing to set up her tent, buying the wrong gas canister for her cooker.

The pace worked for the majority of the film as Strayed dealt with the ever-changing temperatures; searing heat in the desert to the sub-zero temperatures of the snowfall that was never supposed to hit.

There were some interesting revelations. Some that did surprise me. Others you could suss. As Cheryl delved further into the wild, you couldn’t help but feel an air of unease and suspense. The wildlife creeping in the dark.

The paranoia of the unknown made for a funny incident involving a caterpillar and a sleeping bag. BUT it also made for a tense one. A pair of hunters make an unpleasant and unwelcome appearance.

I loved some of the metaphorical imagery. The fact Cheryl is literally standing in the middle of a crossroads as she debates hitching a ride all the way back home was hardly subtle but nicely done.

The CGI fox was a little irritating. I mean, it was a nice moment when it first appeared but when it kept popping up, it was irritating and the CGI seemed to get worse.

Strayed certainly meets a strange bunch of characters. The only problem is that they aren’t quite as memorable as you hope them to be.

I actually had to do a quick recap by looking at the cast list. A shame.

Thomas Sadoski (The Newsroom) was very good as Paul (Cheryl’s estranged partner). I thought Sadoksi and Witherspoon had great chemistry. It would have been nice to see more of their relationship. I mean the flashbacks zip through the life cycle of the relationship quite well but a little too quickly for my liking.

Laura Dern did a good performance as Strayed’s mum, Bobbi but Oscar worthy? I’m not so sure.

She certainly played the part well and I felt for her character in the small flashbacks she appeared in BUT then again let’s not forget that Dame Judi Dench won Best Supporting Actress for Shakespeare in Love and she was only in that for 8 minutes!

However, there was one scene in which Bobbi just breaks down after hiding behind her scatty, smiley mask for so long and Dern was outstanding. But I wanted more. There just wasn’t enough of that in the film for me.

The more I thought about the story line and the characters Strayed came across, it reminded me a little too much of Sean Penn’s brilliant travel biopic (coincidentally titled) Into the Wild. The beautiful landscapes, the flashbacks, a likeable lead (in Emile Hirsch).

I mean, even the whole “meeting different people who share their stories” spiel bared a striking resemblance (but with more memorable characters). If you were unlucky not to see this; first go see it and second, Wild may fare a bit better for you than it did for me.

BUT to those who have seen the Penn pic, you may find it hard not to make comparisons which Wild falls just a little bit short.

My main qualm about the film was that despite dipping in pace, it just ended so abruptly.

A quick quote and a summary of what happened next. That’s it?! We didn’t even get to see Strayed finish the trail properly.

I just felt after all that time, it would have been nice to have a few more minutes flashing through Strayed’s life after this spiritual journey to let it come full circle.

I won’t spoil anything but as Strayed explains her life in the closing speech, I couldn’t help but notice a massive continuity error with the time frame in which the events leading up and after her trail were supposed to have happened. It just didn’t add up.

It was a bum note on a well acted and highly watchable drama.

Witherspoon certainly does enough to warrant that Oscar nod but Best Actress? I don’t know.

But if you want a well acted spiritual journey flick to break up the hum drum heading our way, then invest.

3/5

THE DEVIL’S KNOT REVIEW

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Knot for me, I’m afraid. What? Bad punnery aside, a star studded cast do their utmost to uplift an initially shocking case that leads nowhere and if not for the studded cast, should have been put on a crime channel as an one hour documentary.

Harsh but true. A slow burning opening leads to an inevitable if shocking murder as, of course, this is based on a true story. The initial murder reveal is haunting and suspenseful. It would be tough for anyone not to imagine that situation in which a loved one, especially a child goes missing. The build up to the event and the aftermath with the search parties and Witherspoon’s sheer fear is very good and very well acted.

However after the murder happens and the initial investigation subsides, it all fizzles out. The first hour is quite watchable, if a little long toothed. Witherspoon plays the manic mother to perfection which does allow for a couple of sad moments. Alessandro Nivola (Face/Off) plays her suspicious husband very well. His erratic behaviour does ponder questions.

The surprise turn for me was Colin Firth as Ron Lax. His southern drawl was nailed to perfection and he applied his charisma yet again to a character you couldn’t stop watching. The only problem is that after the film has finished, you realise Lax didn’t really do anything. Only putting the doubt in a literal witch hunt as the police go out of their way to arrest three lads suspected of dealing in black magic and participating in a cult. Kevin Durand (LOST), for me, played nothing more than a stereotype of a typical southern yokel. Terrible and a waste of a good supporting actor.

This was only the beginning, as the case continued to drag on and all the red herrings were played, it just seemed to go nowhere. The court case scenes that were supposed to be questioning and suspenseful, came off drawn out and long winded. Old Bill Compton himself, Stephen Moyer (True Blood) was bound to play the sly, slick toothed southern prosecutor but it took too long for him to get going. It seemed he and Martin Henderson (The Ring) for a good portion looked more like overacting extras with exaggerated face pulling and exasperated sighs. Bruce Greenwood (The rebooted Star Trek franchise) played the bitter and biased judge with aplomb, even if anyone could have played that part.

And that’s another problem. For most of these parts, anyone could have played them. Elias Koteas (The Haunting in Connecticut), Dane DeHaan (The Amazing Spiderman 2), Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) and Michael Gladis (Mad Men) all pop up in this and do their utmost to uplift stocky characters that seemed to have been thrown in to stretch the film’s questionable running length. The finale was also so abrupt and open that I couldn’t help but feel what was the point of it all?

Reese Witherspoon’s character, who you originally felt sorry for, soon acts out of character and becomes a southern simpleton by the end, who is left sitting on the sidelines. Firth with his chiselled drawl complains about the system but again is only sitting from the sidelines and doesn’t really take any proper action. His back story with his wife felt nothing more than filler. Mireille Enos’ (World War Z) character came off so hammy and laughable that it was tough to take her shady character seriously. Her motives were so questionable and double bluffed that I couldn’t tell what was true nor did I care.

The only actor that may come out of this unscathed was James Hamrick. One to watch. His shady suspect who plays on aggravating the misconstrued public did create a little bit of intrigue that this film desperately needed after such a good opening. Hamrick had enough charisma to leave an impression on a subdued supporting role. But to what avail . . .

Now it is truly heart breaking what happened to those three boys that fateful day and the fact that it was never officially solved, despite it being clear that the police doctored findings, fabricated results and withheld crucial evidence and let the real suspects disappear. It is shocking that three suspects, whose only real crime was being a lover of a particular strange field, were innocently incarcerated for years. To be honest, it left everything too open, which is daunting as life can be that horrific. BUT as a film, I seek more closure and the fact the real suspect did get caught further down the line just irritated me.

We didn’t even get to see the arrest or capture just five minutes of credits explaining everything. In all fairness, some events surprised, others did not. To be honest, if you are interested in this, I would suggest watching the first hour then skip to the end credits. However, I would suggest scrapping this altogether and investing in Prisoners, instead. 2/5 for me.

Currently ranks 147 out of 186!