Movie Review – Brigsby Bear

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EXPECTATIONS: A funny SNL debut entry into film.

REVIEW: When you hear a film that is green-lit and it is basically a vehicle for an SNL star, chances are that one would expect the film to be bad. Films like A Night at the Roxbury, Superstar and The Ladies Man are all garbage. Although some of them do gain a cult following over time like Hot Rod and MacGruber, there are also some that are genuinely funny like the Wayne’s World films, Mean Girls and others.

So when I heard that a SNL alumni was making his lead debut in a film about a magical bear in a television show, I have to admit, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. It certainly didn’t help that the lead actor, Kyle Mooney, appeared in Zoolander 2, a film that I loathed and he played the most annoying character. So annoying that I wished his character would die and **SPOILER ALERT for Zoolander 2** when he did, I literally stood up and cheered.

Speaking about my crippled state of mind, besides my initial reservations, it helps to have an open mind about film before going in because there are projects out there that have the potential to surprise you and I hoped Brigsby Bear would do the trick. Will the magic work on me or will the film struggle to reach the bare necessities?

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Kyle Mooney stars as James, an imaginative young man, who only knows in this world are his mother and father (an amusing pair with Jane Adams and Mark Hamill), the walls of the underground bunker they live in and the many VHS teachings of Brigsby Bear, a folksy talking bear whose catchphrases include “curiosity is an unnatural emotion” and “trust only the familial unit”.

But when reality unexpectedly throws him out of whack, James has to face the real world; a world he cannot understand and a new family he doesn’t know. To make things worse, he finds out that Brigsby Bear doesn’t exist on the outside, so he takes it upon himself to finish the adventures of Brigsby Bear for good with a video camera in tow.

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With themes like child kidnapping, fitting in the real world, loneliness, you would expect this film to be a full-bore drama, but in the case of Brigsby Bear, it is only part of it. The rest is quirky, whimsical and humourous. Now this may sound like the makings of a recipe of sick, but director Dave McCary and lead actor/screenwriter Kyle Mooney make Brigsby Bear an absurdly charming and heartwarming, if flawed piece of work.

The main reason the film truly works is Kyle Mooney. Having doubts over him, my reservations were washed away by his stellar work. He brings the perfect mix of childlike wonder, deadpan delivery and sincerity to the role that even when he says unwitting things like wishing his sister was abducted with him so they would’ve had fun together, it becomes pretty easy to laugh at him as well as alongside him.

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The fish-out-of-water scenarios that James goes through do provide ample laughs, particularly during a scene where he goes to a teenage party, where he mingles with the youth. The supporting cast all do good work with their roles like Ryan Simpkins as James’ sister, Mark Hamill as James’ father and Kate Lyn Sheil in a small role as an actress in the Brigsby Bear show.

In fact, one of the best scenes in the film involves Mooney and Sheil meeting up for the first time and the interactions between the two are both dramatically compelling and amusing. The mix of remorse and morose humour is executed perfectly, showing the film at its best.

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But when the story progresses to the point when James starts filming the rest of Brigsby Bear, the film unfortunately becomes predictable to the point that it feels like its going through a laundry list of indie cliches such as the bonding scenes between the characters and even Greg Kinnear‘s character as the cop who secretly wants to be an actor; it just feels like tropes we’ve seen many times in indie films.

And the storytelling does suffer from some problems like how the two tones of seriousness and humour betray each other or worse, how the film never has as much conflicts and obstacles for James to go through. It makes the journey a little bit too easy in comparison to what James has on him as baggage, which is what makes the scene between Mooney and Sheil a relief from the predictability.

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Overall, the film is a good effort for actor/screenwriter Kyle Mooney and director Dave McCary and I hope they do better work in the future, as Brigsby Bear is a heartfelt, warm and peculiar piece of work that could have been great. But hey, a little magic is better than having no magic at all, right?

Quickie Review

PROS

Kyle Mooney gives a great performance

The supporting cast give life to their roles

Appropriate amounts of whimsy are well-executed, particularly in the first act

CONS

Crawls back to predictable indie cliches

Tonal shifts hinder the experience

Not much conflict for the lead character

SCORE: 7/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Kyle Mooney, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, Claire Danes, Ryan Simpkins, Greg Kinnear, Mark Hamill, Alexa Demie, Beck Bennett, Chance Crimin, Jane Adams, Kate Lyn Sheil, Andy Samberg
Director: Dave McCary
Screenwriters: Kevin Costello, Kyle Mooney

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Movie Review – The Snowman

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EXPECTATIONS: A film that is warmer than its frosty reputation.

REVIEW: Another week, another film set in the snowy terrain. This week, we have The Snowman, a serial killer thriller starring Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson and a embarrassment of talent. But unlike the prior film, The Mountain (of Cheese) Between Us, this film has achieved quite a negative reception and brutal reviews from almost every major publication. So what must one do if one were to go into a film like this?

It helps to have an open mind. Films in the past like The Shining (1980), Scarface (1983) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (not released in 2001) gained negative reviews in the past, but over time, the films have garnered a much more positive reception; so there is a chance that The Snowman may be an unappreciated gem.

It could also help that you watch the film with an ironic bent in mind. Laughter really is the best medicine, regardless of the intention and it can get one through films painlessly and even have give films a new reputation as a unintentional comedy classic eg. The Wicker Man (2006) and The Room.

And of course, there’s the much more unorthodox solution of going in a film while being inebriated from either mild amounts of alcohol and cough syrup, but that is not recommended. With all that in mind and all that negative baggage, is it possible to actually enjoy The Snowman for what it is? Let’s cool off and delve into this thing, Mr Freeze-style.

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What an ice-hole.

Michael Frost-bender stars as Harry Hole (no, really), an investigator who’s down on his luck due to his addictions and his zero-temperature status of a marriage with his ex-wife (Charlotte Gains-breeze).

He is then brought back into the fray where an elusive serial killer known as The Snowman starts killing again, continuing a streak of murdered women. With the help of a young, experienced recruit (Rebecca Frigid-son), Hole has to connect the streak of murders to the current murders to stop The Snowman from striking again.

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This is a man who can’t believe what he got himself into.

So with the alcohol/cough syrup discount, an open mind and an ironic bent in check, did I enjoy The Snowman? Absolutely not. But let’s not start this on the negative side. The cinematography by Ski-on Beebe (too many great films to mention) is terrific, as it conveys the chilling territory of the locations in Norway quite well. And the musical score by M-arctic-o Beltrami does deliver a sense of urgency (along the side of unintentionally hilarious timing) to the proceedings.

And like a sense of warmth in the winter, it’s gone in an instant and we delve into the negatives. With this much talent in the cast (Val Chill-mer, Snow-by Jones, J.K. Ski-mmons, Snowy Sevigny and others), you expect them to give passionate and heated performances that would at least elevate the script. Unfortunately, that never happens.

Almost all of the performances are so stilted and petrified that it’s almost as if they were all kept in a meat freezer for weeks and just as the cameras started to roll, they were finally let out to deliver their lines on cue. It’s awe-inspiring to think that this much talent is given next to nothing to work with and are left out there in the cold.

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That’s the face of a woman who knows that she deserves better.

There’s a scene where Charlotte Gains-breeze and Michael Frost-bender are engaging in a prurient fashion that is so ill-executed that it brings new meaning to the word “frigid”. The only bright (or at least, easily seen) light out of the cast is Rebecca Frigid-son, who actually shows signs of life, until her character is unceremoniously expended.

Speaking of being unceremoniously expended, almost of the female characters are either damsels-in-distress, sex objects or murder victims. Hell, some of them are all three. To think at this day of age, the story could be updated to be timely and thematic but the film has the nerve to have a character that is eerily reminiscent of Harvey Windbag Weinstein (with an out-of-this-world accent).

Even with that in check, the story itself is just so dull and goes by at a glacial pace, the film makes polar ice caps look like cars in the Fast and Furious films. The killer himself (or is it herself?) is so predictable that the film should have featured a siren that goes “HONK! HONK!” when the person arrived. And the backstory and motive for the killer is even worse, which adds to the sexism directed to the female characters. It is the solid black foreshadowing, the many scenes of overdone exposition and the horrific editing (credited to Claire Ski-mpson and later credited to Thelma Snow-Cone-maker) that kills every source of heated tension.

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That’s the face of a man who just woke up and realized what film he is in.

But let’s give special mention to Val Chill-mer. Featuring in the film via flashbacks, he brings much-needed and unintentional vitality (or insanity) to the film that audiences will be shocked and awed at his appearance and especially the dubbing. While it is very understandable why Chill-mer was dubbed due to sounding like Sylvester Stallone on Quaaludes (NOTE: Here’s the proof!), the dubbing is so terrible that American distributors of Shaw Brothers films would be rolling on the floor laughing if they witnessed it.

Even if Chill-mer was dubbed properly, the script doesn’t help anyone involved whatsoever, since it is in desperate need of defrosting. According to an interview with director Snow-mas Alfredson, he said that only 85% of the script was completed. If that’s true, then the film is more nourished than I thought since the trailer actually has many scenes foreshadowed that are not in the finished product.

Dialogue exchanges border on farce like in a scene where Hole asks a colleague for some files that you’ll be begging for icicles to pierce your ears with; film techniques such as cutaways and dramatic zooms are utilized to laughable effect (every time a snowman appears) and the violence is so overstated, that it comes across as funny (like scenes from M Fright. Shyamalan‘s The Happening). Hell, even the narrations (which in one particular scene is via walkie-talkie) is embarrassing to witness.

How could this much talent involved could make such a disastrous film? To be honest, it doesn’t matter what the answer is. Even with Val Chill-mer‘s appearance and Snow-mas Alfredson‘s explanation, it doesn’t matter what happened behind the scenes; what matters is what’s on-screen. And after witnessing this disaster, someone out there is just begging to get their ice kicked.

But hey, snow film is better than no film, right? WRONG!

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That’s the face of a man who’s career is steadily going down the toilet.

Quickie Review

PROS

Good cinematography and effective score

Rebecca Frigid-son

CONS

Everything else

SCORE: 1/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jonas Karlsson, J.K. Simmons, Val Kilmer, David Dencik, Toby Jones, Chloe Sevigny, James D’Arcy
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Screenwriters: Hossein Amini, Peter Straughan, Søren Sveistrup

Movie Review – The Mountain Between Us

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EXPECTATIONS: Simple yet romantic survival story.

REVIEW:

WARNING: This review may contain heavy traces of cheese.

Before I start off this review, let me just make this one thing clear. I do like romantic films. This year alone, we have great films like Their Finest, The Big Sick, Our God’s Country and Call Me By Your Name. As much as I cannot stand overstated, implausible films of its ilk, I do understand why people do like them. It’s a fantasy and if there’s an audience for overstated, implausible action films, why can’t we have an audience for the former?

In the case of my expectations of The Mountain Between Us, they were kept in moderation. Having a romance set in a survival story is nothing new; especially when Kate Winslet is in one of the most popular films ever made about that, but it does lend a different twist to the genre and with director Hana Abal-Assad, Kate Winslet and Idris Elba on-board, it could be a worthwhile trip.

But the last romantic film I’ve seen with Winslet was the excremental Labor Day, a film so borderline moronic and illogical that it made me squeamish every time I looked at pies. But The Mountain Between Us can’t be as bad as that. Can it?

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The film starts off with Alex (Kate Winslet), a headstrong and reckless photojournalist who is rushing at the airport, struggling to get back to her fiance (human wardrobe Dermot Mulroney) on time for her wedding day. There she meets Ben (Idris Elba), a cautious, methodical surgeon who needs to get back home in time to initiate an emergency operation for a 10-year old boy.

Noticing the similar predicaments, Alex devises a solution and invites Ben to board a charter plane, with Walter (Beau Bridges) as the pilot and his pet dog as the co-pilot. As they are on the way home, the plane crashes in remote, snowy terrain. Having very little supplies and even less chance of help arriving, the two go on a perilous journey for survival, along with something more.

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Like preparing for a perilous journey, let’s start with the positives. The cinematography by fellow Australian Mandy Walker (who’s worked on a similar survival story Tracks, among others) is terrific. The million miles of pure-ass nature (a line in the film, believe it or not) are captured beautifully and makes it easy to believe that it would be a torture for anyone to trek through. Speaking of torture, the plane crash itself is very well-executed, as the editing is seamless as well as the special effects employed.

And like embracing death during the perilous journey, we get to the negatives, and there’s a mountain-load of them. The biggest one is the incredibly problematic and frankly cheesy script by Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe. The willing suspension of disbelief was shaken as soon as I heard Beau Bridges‘ voice as Walter. No one in their right mind would believe that he would be in good health to fly a plane. And the fact that he didn’t devise a flight-plan beforehand was just a honking siren for danger. But wait, there’s more!

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How does the dog keep surviving the long journey through the snow without as much as an iota of frostbite? How does Alex’s leg lose swelling through the ice-cold journey? And what about Ben’s leg cut that bears no ill will to him whatsoever? And the list of unbelievable moments goes on and on and on. It’s almost as if the writers sprinkled Parmesan cheese all over it.

Speaking of unbelievable (and cheese), the dialogue is so laughable and out of this world that it would make the staff at Hallmark fall on the floor, laughing hysterically. With zingers like “I feel alive!”, “I need to occupy my amygdala” and “What about the heart?”, the film makes it head-bangingly obvious that the characters are different from each other. There’s even a moment where a recorder is used to communicate to the audience that Ben likes being in control.

And then there’s the cast. Despite the arctic setting, the only thing in the film that’s frozen is the chemistry between the two leads. They have absolutely no heat or believable passion that not even the cheese in the film can melt the ice. And what’s worse is that the transition from survival story to romantic tale is so mechanical that you can actually pinpoint the starting position where the romance starts (Minor spoiler: it’s when Alex pushes Ben to the ground).

Speaking of mechanical, the moments of tension and thrills in the film feel like they were just bolted in just in case the film lost the attention of the audience. It doesn’t help that the characters never really feel like they’re in real mortal danger. A cliff fall here, a water dive there,  a mountain lion from behind; the only reason that the audience would feel any sympathy for the characters is because they’re played by Kate Winslet and Idris Elba.

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Winslet is really trying her best in a difficult role, but she only ends up being difficult and really trying. Elba lends presence and credibility to the character of Ben but he could only take it so far, as the incredibly sloppy script is concerned. Funnily enough, the press notes actually say that Ben is smart as he is handsome. That basically sums up the effort that went to the script.

But even after all of that, that’s just the cheese of the stuffed crust. The last 20 minutes of the film is where the story basically turns into a tidal wave of cheese that would have swarm upon swarm of rats running in the cinema to jump on the screen. In other words, the supposed romantic tension, the awful dialogue and quite possibly the funniest final shot of the year cap the film not as a romantic drama, but a romantic comedy.

And just hypothetically speaking of the former, if you were to choose between an actor that acts like a tree (Dermot Mulroney) or an actor that is basically built like a tree (Idris Elba), who would you choose? That basically sums up the level of romantic tension in the film.

And as much as the critically acclaimed director Assad and leads Winslet and Elba can do with their efforts, the only thing between them and the audience is a mountain of cheese. With the script on top.

Quickie Review

PROS

The film looks nice

Actors do what they can

CONS

Clumsy script

Cheesiness that permeates throughout the film

Last 20 minutes are almost laugh-out-loud funny

SCORE: 3/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Kate Winslet, Idris Elba, Beau Bridges, Dermot Mulroney
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Screenwriters: J. Mills Goodloe, Chris Weitz, based on the novel by Charles Martin

Movie Review – Flatliners (2017)

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EXPECTATIONS: A bland, uninspired remake.

REVIEW: When a film isn’t press-screened or has its review embargo lifted on the same day of release, you know that something isn’t up to snuff. And this is what is happening with the latest remake (although, in recent reports, it is claimed to be a sequel) of Flatliners.

But the film has assembled quite a line-up of talent. An good director, a talented cast, an experienced crew and a bonkers premise that could be well-utilized in this day of age. So will the film surprise and actually shows signs of life or will the film be dead on arrival?

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Five medical students, led by Courtney Holmes (Ellen Page) embark on a daring and dangerous experiment to discover if there is anything to be experienced beyond death. It is there where the group decides to trigger near-death experiences by stopping their hearts for short periods of time.

As each of them go through their experience, becoming more risky and impulsive, each must confront the sins from their past while facing the paranormal consequences of journeying to the other side.

I’m just gonna lay it down flat on the (operating?) table and say this remake is nothing as bad as the film release may imply, but there really isn’t much of anything to say that is praiseworthy or even worthy of anything.

The original 1990 film, directed by Joel Schumacher, had a goofy tone that varies between sincere and surreal that it becomes quite fun and thankfully for the most part, the remake actually keeps that tone in check, even within the confines of being released in 2017.

There are some scenes that are so out-of-place that you can’t help but laugh, even if in retrospect if the laugh was more out of embarrassment rather than actually being earned. An example is a scene in the film where one character has just been “flatlined” and he (or she) escapes the confines of his (or her) parentage to the point where he (or she) becomes fully committed in a night of prurience.

Although it retains the goofiness of the original, what it lacks is its inspired visuals. Say what you want about director Joel Schumacher but the man never slacks off in making his films look stylish with either characters with big hair, back-lit sets, nipples on suits, overstated colour schemes and energetic camera movement. But in the case of the remake, director Niels Arden Oplev does absolutely nothing to stand out from the crowd as he adopts a sleek, yet bland look that we’ve seen a hundred times over from many other films.

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The cast, like the original, give fine performances and make the most out of the material. Ellen Page lends gravitas to her role and grounds the film; ditto for Diego Luna as Ray, the rational one of the group; Nina Dobrev is quite good as Marlo, who has feelings of inadequacy; Kiersey Clemons (who’s fantastic in Dope) is enjoyably moody as Sophia, who feels suffocated in the confines and expectations of her life and lastly James Norton, who makes his brash character quite likable.

Speaking of likable, there are a few changes in the film that was nice to see. One of them does make the film a bit more unoriginal but it lends a much-needed sense of threat, which lead to a minor shock (keyword: minor) that got me quite a bit. But the filmmaking at hand does its best (or worst?) to alleviate all of that with telegraphed scares and sloppy editing.

There’s one scene in the film where a character is being threatened and is stabbed with a knife in the hand. But in the very next scene, the character is fine and dandy (with a minor bandage on the hand) as if nothing had happened. Where’s the tension and payoff from that?

There really isn’t much more to say about the Flatliners remake except that it is a completely unnecessary, if not terrible piece of work. Nothing to mourn about, but no evidence to witness that would be seen as true signs of life.

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Quickie Review

I can’t be bothered, to be honest.

SCORE: 4/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, Kiersey Clemons, James Norton, Beau Mirchoff, Kiefer Sutherland
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Screenwriters: Peter Filardi (original story), Ben Ripley