Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

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★★★

The title of this movie can be discouraging in some ways, but it draws curiosity. Maybe it’s trying to be ironic. Perhaps the film isn’t as juvenile as one might think. But after viewing,  i found it to be a safe children’s movie with underlying themes for all ages to find value in.

From the studio of DreamWorks Animation, and based on a series of children’s novels by Dave Pilky, the film provides the humor and an unexpected message about friendship. The two protagonists are George and Harold (voiced by Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch), grade school classmates who share the same passion for inventing and drawing their own comic books. Then one day, the uptight principal Mr. Krupp who despises all things fun and happy, places each of them in separate classes because of an incident involving their alleged tomfoolery. The boys are unable to tolerate being away from each other and so it becomes their mission to convert the principal’s mindset and have him return them to the same class.

Directed by David Soren and from a screenplay by Nicholas Stoller, the movie is a speedy animated comedy aimed for a child’s attention span. Apart from dealing with the principal, the boys are faced with a difficult science teacher named Professor Pee-Pee (Nick Kroll) and must eventually encounter the attack of a large toilet. The teacher is the villain and the toilet is his creation. In this progression of the narrative, the film is predictable.

But who is Captain Underpants? He is an imagined superhero invented by the two boys who sketch him into their comics. He also turns into one of the characters at school- as to which one, I will leave that for a worthy surprise. One clue, for what it’s worth, is that he is voiced by Ed Helms. As for the central theme, it is clearly about the value of companionship although there are other messages that can be drawn from the fast-paced character interactions. I was entertained by the film but i didn’t expect the uplifting messages that ring true.

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The Mummy (2017)

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★★1/2

The Mummy is the opener for a series of films about mythological monsters that will share the same universe and therefore meet one another at some point. They are planned to include Dracula and Frankenstein. Since there have already been good films about these legendary creatures, perhaps these new movies are simply aimed for the younger audience who are more attuned to special effects.

The Mummy has got the action and entertainment but not a clear narrative. Through all the commotion, the outline can be divided into two parts : 1)Man accidentally raises mummy from the dead 2) Mummy chases man to use his body in a ritual (involving a dagger and ruby) that will turn them into Gods who will love each other forever. The film is in constant momentum with a lot of events that helped distract my thoughts from the uninspired set designs, gloomy atmospheres, and some of the questionable casting choices. There is also a lack of explanation about the zombies, rats, crows, and spiders that seem to be under the command of the Mummy.

Tom Cruise is in the lead role as an army soldier named Nick who sidelines as an determined artifact thief. In the opening scene, he forces his partner(Jake Johnson) into suicidal action where they locate a spot for treasure and incredibly survive an attack by insurgents. Later he is captured by secret agents who take him to Dr. Jeckyl, played by Russell Crowe in a quirky performance that could have been stranger for the films benefit. Special effects help change his facial expressions to the alter ego, Mr. Hyde. Cruise also gains an archeologist- female partner Jenny (Annabelle Wallis) who dislikes him at first and then sees the good in him. And finally there is the Mummy (Sofia Boutella), attractive despite being covered with tattoo’s and dust and driven to capture Cruise and convert him into the undead so she can fall in love with him. Her cost lies in making an evil bargain with the God of death, which happens with diabolical effectiveness in the early scenes. I thought the film, directed by Alex Kurtzman and written by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dylan Kussman, could have been better with just a few adjustments. Maybe a brighter color palette would have been the start.

Logan

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★★★

It is said that Logan is Hugh Jackman’s last appearance in the role of Wolverine, a part that he has played in seven of the ten X-men movies. The performance is physical and doesn’t require too many emotions apart from pain and rage. But Jackman is a skilled thespian and he plays the role quite well.

In this movie, Wolverine (also known as Logan) must drive a girl to a mutant haven called Eden in North Dakota. Logan is initially reluctant because he doesn’t believe in the existence of such a place. The job also conflicts with his daily treatment for an aging Charles Xavier at an abandoned factory in Northern Mexico, where they hide with an Albino caretaker named Caliban(Stephen Merchant). But the girl gets him entangled with a shady group of armed operatives who approach them with serious intentions of capturing her. Thus it becomes a growing desire for Logan to protect her at all costs. 

From a screenplay by Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green, the film has plenty of action except that it’s separated by long stretches of human drama, the kind that belongs to a road trip movie. As they drive to Eden, Logan bothers Professor Xavier to take his regular medication to suppress the unmanaged mental powers – his telepathy has grown destructive, paralyzing anyone’s movement within his vicinity. They also run into a wholesome family and share a warm dinner with them at a farm. Meanwhile, the villains led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) are tracking them down, carrying dangerous scientific advancements, and presenting an insurmountable challenge to Logan, which raises the movies tension.

Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine this time around is more wearisome and guilt carrying. Given thought that the character does not age (due to instant healing abilities) and has experienced the painful losses of many colleagues and enemies, the performance is more poignant.  Against his adversaries, he uses his famous steel claws in R-rated movie mode. A lot of ugly sights. With that said, the little girl’s participation in the violence is quite off-putting even if just for a Superhero movie. The performance by Dafne Keen is effective though. Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier is appropriately elderly and tending towards nostalgic. Directed by James Mangold, the film is at its most involving during arguments between Logan and the professor. This is a good movie taking a familiar template- lone hero protects a special child from danger (Like in Terminator 2 or Mercury Rising), and applies it to a Marvel entertainment film. And it works just fine.

Dean

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★★★

There have been movies about how people grieve in their own ways. Sometimes, like in this film, they intentionally walk a fine line between drama and comedy with humor extracted from the grieving character’s awkward situations or experiences.

In this story, Dean is that character. His mother has recently passed away. He’s just ended a relationship with his fianc’ee.  And his best friend does not choose him as the best man at his wedding- Dean becomes the second best man.  So his emotional condition is not well. On top of all this, he disapproves of his father trying to selling their home and asks that they wait until he gets back from a job interview in California. Dean’s aspiring to be a successful cartoonist although his drawings are more like clever doodles with messages – lately he’s been sketching the grim reaper.

These situations flow like a steady paced drama without any noticeable dull moments. There are a few minor conflicts but they aren’t the focus of the movie. This is about how a young man goes through a tough phase.

Written and directed by Demetri Martin, he plays the title role in deadpan style. His grief isn’t too obvious underneath a neutral facial expression. Surrounding his journey are entertaining characters that are matched by performances. Memorable to me is an erratic female friend Becca (Briga Heelan) he visits in California who has not recovered from a recent break up with her boyfriend, an actor from a popular vampire TV show.  Dean also has a close male friend Eric (Rory Scovel) who looks after a cat. And there is a girl named Nicky(Gillian Jacobs) that Dean begins to fall in love with. However her friend is always there to pull her away from him for reasons that are kept discreet for much of the time. Kevin Kline plays Dean’s Dad who can’t quite communicate productively with him, even if about his haircut. It’s the supporting cast that help raise the movie to something more entertaining. The film isn’t original and maybe Demetri Martin will need to flex his emotional acting range a bit more. But the fresh faces make this story feel new again.

The Trip to Spain

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★★★

The Trip to Spain is the third feature film that’s based on the British television show, The Trip, which follows two men on restaurant tours. The first assignment was in England, then Italy, and now Steve Coogan has invited Rob Brydon to accompany him to the different sights of Spain.

In this story, Coogan is amidst writing a screenplay for what he envisions to be another successful movie. He’s restless in his ambition to becoming a great screenwriter, constantly referring to his work in “Philomena”, a hit movie from 2011. Brydon, on the other hand, is more settled down and more interested in having fun. He’s accompanying Coogan as a friend and to take time off from his parental responsibilities. The film relies on their personalities and dialogue for the entertainment. How they discuss food briefly before turning topics towards movies, usually doing impersonations of famous actors like Marlon Brando, John Hurt, or Ian Mckullen for example. Their humor is dry and understated.

Written and directed by Michael Winterbottom, the actors are playing fictionalized versions of themselves which makes the film carry the feel of a documentary. Their performances are realistic in that way. Coogan’s character faces some personal situations which might be best for the movie to reveal. Apart from that the film has a pattern – Two characters visit restaurants, exchange a few words with the waiters, begin observing food and then create clever skits around it. There are several good ones that i thought bordered on hilarious. One example is while they decide upon who should taste the clams first and they turn it into a scene from a James Bond movie. Coogan playing 007 while Brydon does a villain trying to poison him. It’s their skits that make this a frequently amusing experience. It does have some meaningful moments toward the end relating to finding happiness, but it’s their silly conversations that holds our enthusiasm.

My Cousin Rachel (2017)

 

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★★★

My Cousin Rachel is a slow drama that carries a feeling of uncertainty.  There is tension to keep it moving as well as intriguing human nature. Essentially it’s about a rash young man who becomes infatuated with a mature woman.

Set in early 19th century England, the story opens with Philip as a young orphan cared for by his wealthy older cousin Ambrose, in a manner like that of a father. Many years later and after being struck by blight, Ambrose leaves him to move to the warmer country of Italy where his condition improves and he marries a woman named Rachel. However tragically the blight returns, more severely, and Ambrose passes away. Philip turns angry having reason to believe that Rachel is responsible for his death. But when Rachel visits him, Philip develops a liking for her instead of feeling more aversion. Rachel is an attractive woman. But is she noble? What are her intentions?

The writer and director is Roger Michell whose previous work includes Changing Lanes, a movie that shares little on the surface with this film but I think contains a similar level of sympathy towards its characters. Philip is played by Sam Claflin as a man of fluctuating intention. Sometimes he is lustful and other times bent on revenge. His servant Louise is played by Holliday Grainger as loyal and cheerful. There is his probing lawyer, Nick (Iain Glen) who manages Ambrose’s estate with caution. And finally, Rachel who is played by Rachel Weisz as someone who is difficult to read. And that’s probably why the character of Philip is absolute in his feelings for her. He sees no reason to be skeptical. There are several ideas presented in the story such as the issues of old wounds, vengeance, and the rashness of youth. There can also be a message about having preconceived opinions towards others. My Cousin Rachel has those ideas and keeps us intrigued until its unexpected finale.

Baywatch

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★★★

“Sounds like a far-fetched and yet entertaining television series”. This is said during the movie Baywatch which is also far-fetched and entertaining. Like the movie 21 Jump Street, Baywatch resembles little of its source material, a once popular television show, and instead uses the subject matter for shallow comedy. The humor is low brow, toilet and raunchy. There is also excessive swearing. But it’s the splapstick humor and character quirks that i found quite funny. And for the rest of the time, it is able to hold curiosity for the story’s outcome.

Directed by Seth Gordon( who directed Horrible Bosses), the plot is about a group of beach lifeguards who train three new recruits to join their team but later find themselves investigating organized crime on the beach. The story goes at an irregular pace because it must, i suppose, split attention between showing the lifeguards on regular duty and watching them stealthily investigate a complex criminal. The dangerous master villain is Victoria Leeds, a business woman who deals drugs, bribes politicians, and intends to buy all of the beach property.

Mitch is the team leader of the lifeguards, played by Dwayne Johnson who balances a cross between a smack talking tough guy and a role model athlete. Working with him are Stephanie Holden(Ilfenesh Hadera) and C. J. Parker(Kelly Rohrbach). Their superior is Captain Thorpe (Rob Huebel) whose priority is about making his department look good.  The new recruits are Summer(Alexandra Daddario), Ronnie(Jon Bass), and disreputable Olympic swimmer Matt(Zac Efron). Effron is good in exaggerating his vanity for effective comedy. Bass as Ronnie is a physically unfit nerd with a lot of heart. Their training is rigorously unconventional as Matt finds out the hard way- he is forced to carry refrigerators. The team discusses the true nature of their role and agree that investigating a drug trade on their beach is part of their job. It’s a film that unfolds without realism as the focus is on skits of humor. Much of the time, Johnson and Effron exchange insults and call each other funny names. But Effron gets humbled when he begins to respect the work in being a lifeguard. Although the plot is not original or with clever dialogue, i was amused by the idea of lifeguards investigating dangerous criminals. As one funny beat cop tells them “There is no such thing as Lifeguard pursuit. You’re just a bunch of guys chasing another group of guys!”.