Sunday, 23 April 2017

Going In Style

(M) ★★

Director: Zach Braff.

Cast: Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, Ann-Margret, John Ortiz, Matt Dillon, Peter Serafinowicz, Joey King, Christopher Lloyd.

The Dark Knight reunion was going well, but Christian Bale had aged poorly.

FEW crimes are romanticised like bank robbery. It's because we all hate banks, so it's the perfect "victimless" crime (if you ignore the horrible trauma and psychological damage done to the staff by these robberies).

This film, however, is not a victimless crime. The victims are the cast, who do their best but are weighed down by bad direction and a bloated script, which makes director Braff and screenwriter Theodore Melfi the villains.

It's not that Going In Style - a remake of an old 1979 comedy that starred George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg - is a terrible film, it's just that it's unfortunately boring and toothless. But it's worst crime of all is wasting a brilliant cast, who are valiant in defeat.

Caine, Freeman and Arkin star as Joe, Willie and Albert, three out-of-luck pensioners headed for Skid Row after a corporate takeover leaves them without a pension. Joe, who witnesses a bank robbery in the opening scene, decides he's had enough of getting screwed over by society and decides to hit back by robbing a bank, and ropes in Willie and Albert to help.


The leading trio are great and definitely elevate this film. Caine, Freeman and Arkin have an effortless chemistry and wring the most out of every line. But there should have been more drama and more comedy for them to draw from this dramedy, which is sadly lacking in both departments.

The idea of old people being shafted by society and forced into crime is a powerful one and the idea of three geriatrics robbing a bank is a goofy one, but Going In Style is neither powerful nor goofy enough. We never get a true sense of how dire or cruel or heartbreaking their situation is - we know Caine is destined to lose his house, but the worst we really see of it all is they can't afford to order pie to go with their coffees.

This lack of drama is perhaps best displayed during the pivotal robbery sequence and will-they-won't-they moment of the subsequent police investigation. Because a key part of the robbery where it all nearly goes awry lacks the necessary punch, the follow-up "hallelujah" moment falls flat. This is emblematic of pretty much the whole movie.

As for the comedic possibilities, Going In Style has a couple of good guffaws but nowhere near enough. A warm-up robbery of a supermarket is a highlight, as is Lloyd's bit role, but either side of that the laughs dry up. There's a scene where the lead trio watch The Bachelorette and it's supposed to be funny, but it isn't. It's almost as if the scene is a placeholder while everyone tried to think of something actually funny.

Braff, whose previous films have been indie-style dramedies, seems out of his league on this. The key scenes fall flat with depressing regularity, there is a lack of tension and gravitas, and it's only the presence of Caine, Freeman and Arkin that make this watchable. You could watch a whole TV series of those guys just sittin' 'round, talkin' shit. Everyone would watch that. Those are the best bits in this film.

It's all the bits around that, when we're supposed to buy into how shitty their situation is and how they're pulling off a very flawed "perfect crime" to hit back at society, that the film falls short. Some blame must be leveled at Melfi's script, which features an utterly unnecessary and distracting romance involving Ann-Margret's supermarket employee Annie and Arkin's Albert. This romance should make Albert less likely to participate in the robbery, not the opposite, which is what happens in the film.

But the majority of blame must fall with Braff. There is probably a decent film in here somewhere, but he can't find it. The laughs don't flow and the necessary tension and heft are missing. Watch it for the joy of seeing Caine, Freeman and Arkin share the screen, but even then your patience will be tested.


Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Fate Of The Furious

(M) ★★★½

Director: F. Gary Gray.

Cast: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges, Scott Eastwood, Nathalie Emmanuel, Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron, Kristofer Hivju.

Their mums are gonna be so mad.

It's been said before but it bares repeating - no one, not nobody, not no-how, could ever have predicted that The Fast & The Furious would spawn seven sequels.

Watch The Fast & The Furious back-to-back with The Fate Of The Furious and it is a baffling experience. To think the innocuous 2001 Point Break retread based on a magazine article would result in this OTT mega-explosive hurricane of muscle-car madness is unfathomable and implausible. But here we are, roughly $4.5 billion later, talking about Fast 8.

After rebirthing with the fourth film (which is confusingly the third chronologically, and equally confusingly titled Fast & Furious), the series found a new gear with Fast Five. Still the best film of the franchise, Fast Five jettisoned much of the car fetishism and replaced it with shoot-outs, fist fights, and insane heists. The series was all the better for it.

Now we have a Fast & Furious Formula that is more like a '90s Bond film than the cops-and-hoons starting point. Bigger explosions, crazier stunts, CG aplenty, overuse of the word "family", and physics be damned - that's the Fast & Furious way since Fast Five.

As such, The Fate Of The Furious does exactly what its three predecessors have done, albeit with one new neat conceit. Dominic Toretto (Diesel), honeymooning with his wife Letty (Rodriguez) in Havana, is made an offer he can't refuse by Cipher (Theron), the cyber-terrorist to end all cyber-terrorists. Forced into her servitude, Toretto is made to work against his old team, who are understandably perplexed by his apparent change of stripes.

Enter Mr Nobody (Russell), the ambiguous government spook from Fast 7, who employs Toretto's old team to bring Cipher down and save the world, and hopefully save Toretto in the process.


Turning Toretto against his team adds some spark to a potentially dying engine, helping elevate The Fate Of The Furious, even if the mechanics of the plot are somewhat holey (for example, Toretto can orchestrate an amazing secret plan to save his hide yet can't let his old team know what's going on? Give me a break).

It's facile to say "leave your logic at the door" with these films - all movies should adhere to some kind of internal logic lest they devolve into incomprehensible insanity - but the Fast series has an uncanny knack of papering over its cracks with a rollicking good time. Thankfully the cracks are fairly minor and don't detract too much but once again, the action sequences, both human-driven and car-based, are deliciously and distractingly bonkers, including the batshit-crazy finale which involves a bunch of supercars, a mini-tank, a small army, a nuclear submarine and a frozen lake.

Beyond the action set pieces, the rogue-ish cast has been the other driving factor in the series' success, and Fast 8 is no exception. With no Brian (RIP Paul Walker) and with Dominic turned to the dark side, it's actually surprising how well the central line-up holds its own. Gibson and Bridges handle the humour, Johnson is a proven force who readily slots into Diesel's usual figurehead role, while Statham (whose character is a little-too-easily flipped) returns to give Johnson someone to butt heads with. Rodriguez adds heart, Russell's interludes add spice, leaving only Emmanuel to wander aimlessly, and Eastwood to awkwardly sit on the edge, just far enough back so as not to be labelled The New Brian.

As for Theron, she's easily the nastiest and most memorable Big Bad the series has had. Cipher as a character is nothing special, but Theron makes her something special. She's a very welcome addition.

The Fate Of The Furious is still packed with all the inane dialogue and idiotic exposition you would expect, but it knows where it's going and it knows how to get there in style. There's a scene in here where it rains cars - I'm not even kidding - and you kinda wanna stand up and applaud the sheer audacity of the franchise. Scriptwriter Chris Morgan, who's written the last six films, understands what makes the series work and a string of solid directors have managed to bring that ludicrous spectacle to life, with F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job, Straight Outta Compton) the latest.

If you hate what the Fast movies represent, this one is not going to win you over (try #5 or #7 for that). If you love the Fast movies, this one won't disappoint.

PS. Fast 9 and Fast 10 are due out in 2019 and 2021.





Monday, 17 April 2017

The Boss Baby

(G) ★★

Director: Tom McGrath.

Cast: (voices of) Tobey Maguire, Alec Baldwin, Miles Christopher Bakshi, Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow, Conrad Vernon, James McGrath.

Timmy gives Boss Baby the old two-eyeball stare.

Here's a little test for you.

Step one: find a baby (keep it legal - I suggest borrowing one if you don't have one of your own).

Step two: dress the baby up as a business executive. You know, suit, tie, little black business shoes. The works.

Step three: sit back and laugh at how hilarious the business baby looks.

Now comes the question - how long does a baby dressed up as a business executive remain funny? Two minutes? Ten minutes? Twenty minutes?

If this little baby experiment keeps you in chuckles for longer than 30 minutes, you'll probably be able to sit through The Boss Baby without wondering where the laughs are or why you're watching this film. If the answer to the latter question is because you're taking your kids to see it, then I'm sorry to say you'll probably find yourself experiencing few guffaws and feeling vaguely bored for 90-or-so minutes.

While it has its plusses, The Boss Baby's humour is monotone. So many of its attempts at getting a laugh depend on the incongruity of a baby being a boss, and once you get past the initial giggle of seeing an infant looking like a corporate arse-kicker (ie. the first couple of times you see the poster) the film has little else to back it up. This means it's unfunny for long stretches, which is not good in a CG family film that is meant to be funny.

This whole besuited baby image seems to have come first, with the plot being crafted around this short-lived sight gag. As such, it's about The Boss Baby (voiced by Baldwin) who turns up at the home of seven-year-old Timmy (Bakshi) and proceeds to unravel Timmy's perfect existence as the shining light of his family.

Timmy can see something's not right about the baby - he carries around a tiny briefcase for one - but his parents are besotted blind. So it's up to Timmy to get to the bottom of The Boss Baby's secret mission.


Maybe I just wanted this to be a lot funnier than it was, possibly because I swear The Boss Baby looks like my own 14-month-old son and I reckon if I dressed him up as a little businessman I'd probably laugh for at least 20 minutes. But the film's one-note gag gets old really fast, leaving in its wake an annoying tale of an only child having to learn to share his parents' affections. While it's well-intentioned and somewhat universal, it's unfortunately not terribly interesting. Or funny.

The film finally picks up momentum when Timmy and The Boss Baby are forced to work together to achieve a shared goal (even if the plotting of that goal makes no sense - they achieve the goal at the end of the second act, then for some reason go to Las Vegas for the finale ... I'm not even making that up. I mean, their own unnecessary action of going to Las Vegas partly creates the problem in the third act and spurs a rescue mission they've created, so if they'd just completed their mission as agreed and not gone to Vegas that could have both gone their separate ways, which is exactly what they both wanted. Ugh.). All of a sudden the two characters are more effective - it turns out having them playing as a team is funnier and more enjoyable to watch than their animosity. It's at this point you finally realise, hey, these characters are okay and you finally start to care about them and like their company and repartee.

But it's too little, too late. There's a crazy chase, then a bizarre trip to Vegas and then a typically ridiculous finale and we're done, with little to take away from it other than the fact Alec Baldwin does a great job voicing the baby.

The awkward plotting, so obviously built around it's baby-in-a-suit gag, struggles to hold itself together. As a result there are a couple of massive exposition sequences - one where The Boss Baby explains his existence and mission to Timmy, and another where the villain monologues - that are stuck into the script to try to make sense of things but ultimately grind the film to a halt.

The few choice gags are too few, and beyond Baldwin's performance and a surprisingly touching ending (with a clever reveal that explains the film's incongruities), there is not a lot to recommend The Boss Baby over, say, last year's baby-related comedy Storks.

Unless you find the idea of a baby dressed as a business executive continuously hilarious for an hour and a half. In that case, knock yourself out.