The Brothers Grimsby (2016)

The Brothers Grimsby, poster

Released: March 11, 2016. Directed by: Louis Leterrier. Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Isla Fisher. Runtime: 1hr, 23 min.

I’m a huge fan of Sacha Baron Cohen’s work in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan – the titular journalist character is rather brilliant. And his creation of the character Ali G was also quite funny.

His comedic work really makes him a unique figure, but he hasn’t made a great comedic character since Borat – as both the titular character in Brüno and Aladeen in The Dictator were hit-and-miss.

With Nobby Butcher in The Brothers Grimsby, he creates another hit-and-miss character – but at least gives him some stronger development. Nobby is a drunken football hooligan cheating the welfare system, living in the poverty-stricken town of Grimsby, cheering for his main team England.

When he was a kid, he was separated from his younger brother Sebastian through Grimsby’s orphanage system. Sebastian (Mark Strong) is now the top agent of MI6, on assignment to prevent the assassination of philanthropist Rhonda George (Penelope Cruz), and to uncover a huge terrorism plot by a group called Maelstrom.

When Nobby is able to get tickets to the charity ball and reunite with his brother after 28 years, he hugs him which causes Sebastian to miss his shot on an assassin (Scott Adkins) and hit a spokesperson instead. This mistake causes the other MI6 agents to think he has gone rogue – and Nobby and Sebastian are forced on the run.

The Brothers Grimsby - Hug it out

Grimsby is another addition to the cannon of unlikely people finding themselves in bigger-than-themselves spy missions as a spy, like Johnny English and Spy. While the world created here is a good base for Nobby’s hijinks, he is nowhere near as amusing as Rowan Atkinson’s Johnny English or as hilarious as Melissa McCarthy’s Susan Cooper in Spy.

The story is a bit heartwarming with the brother dynamic but the really raunchy and often gross-out humour rarely hits. The action set pieces are pretty good, well-filmed with Louis Leterrier’s style of direction.

The film is at its most effective in terms of comedy when Nobby is making awful decisions – but humour is ineffective when they hide away from government assassins inside of an elephant, and get stuck in there during mating hour. Yuck.

One masterwork of Grimsby is the casting of Mark Strong. It feels like he could be cast as an actual MI6 agent in a spy franchise so that’s what helps create a believable world. He does his job as the straight man for Nobby’s jokes, even though Nobby’s humour never really hit for me.

At least the film doesn’t stick around for very long. The only part worth rooting about is Donald Trump being the butt of a joke. He’s horrendously rendered via CGI, and there’s a really bad stand-in Daniel Radcliffe as well, but those are really the only jokes that hit for me. And the fact that Nobby’s look is based off of Liam Gallagher’s look is amusing.

Score: 40/100

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Miracles from Heaven (2016)

Released: March 16, 2016. Directed by: Patricia Riggen. Starring: Jennifer Garner, Kylie Rogers, Martin Henderson. Runtime: 1hr 49 min.

Thank you, Miracles from Heaven, for finally showing me why I haven’t been thoroughly entertained while going to church all these years.

It’s because there’s never been a Christian rock band at my church to get me in the spirit of things. Apparently they have all the fun in small Texas towns.

Miracles from Heaven, based on the memoir by Christy Beam, follows the Beam family in Burleson, Texas, as the 10-year-old daughter, Annabel (Kylie Rogers) is diagnosed with a rare digestive disorder for which there is no cure.

The family prays for a miracle and it gets answered in a big and rather bizarre way. If it wasn’t a true story, it would be pretty far-fetched, but I won’t spoil it here in case you haven’t seen the trailer. The film is really about the journey and perseverance throughout the disease, and her mom Christy’s (Jennifer Garner) perseverance into getting Ana the best help available.

Garner is great as the mom in an emotionally powerful performance – crying her way through the film, but doing so in a believable way. She may cross the line of crying one too many times – as it seems like she could have filled a Jacuzzi with her tears. Kylie Rogers as Ana also holds her own very well.

The power is in the characterization, as well, and the fact that the pain her daughter is going through makes Christy question her faith. There’s a laughable moment where people at her Church ask if Ana hasn’t been cured yet because of the family’s sins. It’s laughable for me, but evidently not for Christy.

Anyway, faith is a big thing touched on the film, to a point where it is, admittedly, preachy, but not in the same proselytizing way God’s Not Dead is – trying to force the beliefs down its audience’s throat. That’s the difference between God’s Not Dead’s really bad writing and the fact-based writing of Miracles from Heaven that goes between melodrama and some strong heartbreaking and emotional moments.

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Queen Latifah, Kylie Rogers and Jennifer Garner in Miracles from Heaven. (Source)

There’s really just something works about this movie by the end of it all. It’s charming and Eugenio Derbez is amusing as Dr. Nurko and balances entertaining Ana and being a serious doctor dude well, even while wearing an Elmo tie. Queen Latifah is also quite a welcome player in the film, adding a lot of humour.

Martin Henderson is a good supporting player as Ana’s father, he adds a sense of optimism to the film, actually thinking everything will be okay. There’s a lot of money troubles since he’s started a new animal clinic business and they had to put all of the home’s equity into it.

That adds a new element to the film. He’s working and taking care of his two other daughters, the youngest Adelynn (Courtney Fansler), and the oldest daughter Abbie (Brighton Sharbino, TV’s The Walking Dead). They don’t get as much characterization as Ana or Christy, which is okay since those two are the core, but there could have been a bit more effort to make the supporting players have more dimensions.

The film’s cinematography is strong, and the sequences in Heaven look nice – there are a lot of bright colours and lots of butterflies. It looks unique enough, basking in outdoor settings instead of a Church like in Heaven is for Real. The two films share producers T.D. Lakes, Joe Roth and Derrick Williams.

I think this was more effectively handled having the miraculous happening a bit after the halfway mark instead of Colton Burpo in Heaven is For Real having his near-death experience at the beginning. That film’s main conflict was the skepticism of it – but this has a more natural conflict of a longer lasting disease. The skepticism is touched on really just once in Miracles from Heaven and then is forgotten with one of the film’s most moving moments.

I did like the aspect of the film that suggested miracles aren’t always huge, but can sometimes be found in simple kindnesses. The film has a good soundtrack and the Beam family is an inspiration. It’s feel-good throughout, particularly so in the last 25 minutes, which was the film’s strongest area. The journey there takes long, but the pay-off is great.

Score: 70/100

 

 

 

 

Triple 9 (2016)

Released: February 26, 2016. Directed by: John Hillcoat. Starring: Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie. Runtime: 1hr 55 min.

In John Hillcoat’s latest film Triple 9, he brings us into the world of criminals and corrupt cops being blackmailed by the Russia mafia in Atlanta, Georgia, a location that is never exactly clear.

After the criminal crew rob a bank to get to a safety deposit box and Irina (Kate Winslet) doesn’t pay up, the rag tag group of criminals is forced to do another job so a Russian mafia boss can be released from prison.

To perform the tricky job, they have to kill a cop across town to get the police force on the other side of town.

The funny thing about Triple 9 is that the final result is incredibly “meh” but the opening 20 minutes is seriously really awesome. Heist films are really one of my favourite sub-genres. I love the intensity of them.

And Triple 9 had a really great opening, especially the getaway. When they bring out the red smoke with their red clothing and masks looking all like Deadpool; the look of it is super intriguing.

I thought when we learned what they stole – just information from a safety deposit box – wasn’t that high-stakes. But when we learn that the Russian mafia seriously mean hardball, the stakes get higher.

But since the crew are essentially being forced into these jobs, and based on the contents they’re stealing, it doesn’t feel like an honest heist film. It feels like that took a backseat where just general gangs, crime on the streets and corruption drive the car.

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Chiwetel Ejiofor, Aaron Paul, Clifton Collins Jr., and Anthony Mackie in Triple 9. So. Damn. Dark. (Source)

There’s one totally enthralling gang bust scene in the film and that, and the beginning, are the high points. Otherwise, it feels super mediocre. There is a lot of carnage and violence that makes it look ultra-stylized but the writer, Matt Cook, who is writing his first feature film screenplay, seems to be looking for a point throughout.

He never seems to be able to find strong pacing in the feature and it’s a bit confusing at times. The characters also aren’t interesting enough to engage us in the end. The cast is super impressive, however. Chiwetel Ejiofor heads the criminal team as Michael Atwood, a career criminal and family man.

Norman Reedus (Darryl from The Walking Dead) and Aaron Paul portray brothers Russell and Gabe Welch, respectively, and we don’t get much time to know Russell and Gabe is an annoying, rattled and paranoid druggie. The emotional range isn’t much different than how he portrayed Jesse on Breaking Bad.

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Norman Reedus in Triple 9Source

Clifton Collins Jr. and Anthony Mackie round out the corrupt cops as Franco Rodriguez and Marcus Belmont, respectively. Casey Affleck is a focal point of the film as Casey Allen, a new-to-the-streets cop and Belmont’s new partner.

Kate Winslet’s Irena is super uninteresting and just shows that she should never don a Russian accent ever, ever again. The accent is awfully inconsistent and she just phones everything in. Woody Harrelson is the lead sergeant Jeffrey Allen on the bank robbers case, sporting false teeth – but the drunkard adds a cool investigative aspect to the film. All of the characters, though, are restricted to very basic profiles.

It’s a well-acted saga of police corruption and blackmail, and the violence is well done.  But as far as technical aspects go, the film looks terrible. It’s super murky and downright hard to look at. Even in pure daylight – it’s far too dark.

When they’re inside, it looks like the budget couldn’t afford electricity of any kind. When you can’t see anything, it’s hard to tell what’s happening in the story. This contributing element makes it more average.

Score: 50/100

Gods of Egypt (2016)

Released: February 26, 2016. Directed by: Alex Proyas. Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Gerard Butler. Runtime: 2hr 7 min.

Big-budget films as bland as Gods of Egypt should have no business over=passing a two-hour run time, but somehow, it feels the need to do so.

After the Egyptian God of air Horus (Nikolas Coster-Waldau of TV’s Game of Thrones fame) is about to be crowned the new king of Egypt, Gerard Butler’s Set, the god of Darkness, comes into play.

He breaks up the party in such a fashion that he kills his own brother Osiris (Bryan Brown) and then fights Horus, takes over the throne and removes his eyes – the source of his all-seeing power. Wicked.

Skip ahead to the slaves working for Set and him killing any God that does not bow to him, in an attempt to take over all colonies and reach ultimate power.

The film itself follows Bek (Brenton Thwaites), a mortal thief who steals one of Horus’ eyes back so that Horus can see and can take back the throne, and his free his wholly believing gal Zaya (Courtney Eaton) from slavery.

Bek and Horus, sporting an eye patch for the majority, venture through the landscape in an attempt to get the throne back. And Set wants to do whatever he can to stop him.

It’s a very traditional and a predictable storyline that’s not compelling. It’s quite boring, and the story is so tedious it becomes exhausting by the hour-mark. We basically know how it’s going to end and it’s not a thrilling ride to begin with.

The characters themselves are dull. There’s not enough depth for Bek to particularly root for him, and Thwaites just puts in a performance that never really goes anywhere in terms of emotion. Gerard Butler is unlikable here so that’s good for the character and he is convincing in that sense.

But he’s not great as a bad guy because he’s better as a bad-ass action hero; and just because he donned sandals and fought for Sparta in 300, doesn’t mean he should be cast in so many of these flicks.

He’s also a bit of a ridiculous caricature of an Egyptian ruler. He never really uses his army at least against Horus, and he flies around on huge beetles. It’s hard to take him seriously when he’s doing things like that.

Coster-Waldau doesn’t have enough presence to head the film well as a secondary hero. He really does need the presence since these Gods are supposed to be about nine feet tall and the camera angles and forced perspective sell the height, making humans look like Hobbits in this world.

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Gerard Butler as Set in Gods of Egypt. (Source)

They reach heights of about twelve feet when they turn into a “battle beast” form, so they feel like Power Rangers in that way, forming into something just to fight.

But Horus is basically a total jerk. When Bek brings him his eyes, he tries to kill him because he doesn’t want to bargain for his eyes. When he does get his eye, he starts to choke him. He comes off as unlikable and just ungrateful at times.

Courtney Eaton and Elodie Yung deliver okay performances in their respective roles, Yung as Hathor, the goddess of love.

Chadwick Boseman is okay as the god of wisdom Thoth. There are bizarrely multiple Thoth’s in a scene which gets a bit distracting. Also bizarre is how the film gives an R-rating a dodge because – even though a god tears out another’s eyes – it managed to show a lot of blood. But they made that work by having the gods spill golden blood, which is stupid in itself.

In terms of the films “whitewashing,” casting the majority of Egyptian characters as white people, the film should have learned from the criticisms Exodus: Gods and Kings faced. But Proyas didn’t learn a thing, and the joke’s on him because the film is going to have to make all of its money back in foreign markets.

The action set pieces are alright but hectic editing distracts, and there’s not imagination on display from director Alex Proyas. The dude is given a bad name for his shitty movies – but I liked I, Robot. But that one had an interesting tale to tell.

The visuals here are ugly, and something that belongs in a video game and not in  film with a huge budget. It’s filmed in a studio and the backgrounds rendered don’t have a lot detail and look even worse in 3-D. There’s a henchman of Set that looks like a mix between the villains from Predators and Jar Jar Binks. And their Anubis is downright hideously rendered.

There are also huge snakes that look awful. It’s just not a pretty film to look at – and if it has such a boring story, the visual effects need to redeem it. But they’re equally as bad – and I’m baffled as to where the $140 million dollar budget went.

Score: 3o/100

Eddie the Eagle (2016)

Eddie the Eagle US posterReleased: February 26, 2016. Directed by: Dexter Fletcher. Starring: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Jo Hartley. Runtime: 1hr 46 min.

Inspired by the life story of Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, the only slightly fact-based Eddie the Eagle is a touching story about chasing a dream.

What makes this so inspiring is that Eddie was never the most natural athlete. He’s shown with a brace on his knee from a young age, but he would have these passions for different sports where he just wanted to go to the Olympics.

This seemed to be after he read a book, Moments of Glory, about notable moments at the Olympic Games – and he wanted one of those moments for his own.

After Eddie, portrayed by Taron Egerton, isn’t able to go along with the alpine skiing team because he just isn’t “Olympic material,” he has to forge his own way to the 1988 Winter Olympic Games by becoming his own ski jumping team.

We see Eddie’s journey there alongside his very hesitant coach, Bronson Peary, portrayed by Hugh Jackman.

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Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman in Eddie the Eagle. (Source

The characters at hand are definitely the beating heart of the feature – where in a sports movie like this, if the main character isn’t great – nothing about it works. It’s not the case with Eddie Edwards, as he’s really just an inspiration.

He’s just the poster boy for trying the best someone can do and just never underestimating themselves. He’s also truly a role model for any kid on the playground who was always picked last. He’s just inspiring for those who aren’t natural athletes – and basically, everyone.

The reel counterpart of Edwards is Taron Egerton who was great in Kingsman: The Secret Service. He’s excellent here, too, even if he’s much less cooler than a spy. The way he looks adversity in the face and bounces back as Eddie is marvelous.

He truly sells the optimism and tenacity of the character. Also notable is Hugh Jackman as the drunken coach. He, as well as Egerton, brought a ton of humour to the film and their banter was delightful.

The characters surrounding Eddie very much get the Hollywood treatment. There’s an unprecedented amount of cruelty from even those close to Eddie – where his sweet mother (Jo Hartley) seems to be the only person to believe in him throughout the film.

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Taron Egerton as Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards in Eddie the Eagle. (Source)

The British Olympic Association were depicted as especially cruel – where they tried their hardest to not allow him to compete in the Games. They seemed afraid because he’s not exactly the face that sponsors might want to invest in. The Committee think he doesn’t have any of the qualities of an Olympian – even though he sure as Hell has more heart.

The cruelty from basically everyone just feels a bit over-the-top in its lack of realism, but it just seems tailored to make us angry that they’re undermining him and make the audience root harder for Eddie.

It’s manipulative in a way – but it works. The cruelty probably did get so Hollywood because only about 10 to 15 per cent of this is factual, suggested Edwards himself in an interview with BBC.

The film still tells a rousing tale all the same, and it appears to keep the absolute heart of the man and his spirit and love for the sport intact. It only adheres to sports movie formulas on the road to the Olympics – and going against it since Eddie wants to participate and isn’t a natural athlete.

He’s like the Rudy Ruettiger of ski jumping – he just wants to show how much heart he has and have his moment to shine. It’s a feel-good, lighthearted underdog story and I found myself smiling throughout.

Score: 75/100

The Forest (2016)

Released: January 8, 2016. Directed by: Jason Zada. Starring: Natalie Dormer (times deux), Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa. Runtime: 1 hr 33 min.

The first wide release of 2016 came in horror film The Forest, also the first top billing role for Natalie Dormer (TV’s Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I).

The Brit is tasked with playing the roles of identical twin sisters. Sara stays home in America, while the other, edgier Dormer (Jess) goes to teach in Japan. When word travels to Sara that Jess went venturing into Japan’s infamous Suicide Forest, she travels to Japan to look for her.

The forest at hand is a real place – Aokigahara is its official name – which lies at the base of Mount Fuji. It’s been depicted a couple of times in film, like in SyFy Channel horror flick Grave Halloween and Gus Van Sant drama The Sea of Trees.

Dormer carries the film mildly well, but her range doesn’t make it feel like she’s convincingly creating two different, twin characters. There’s nothing that really seems to separate them – but that could also just be because of poor character development.

When Dormer’s Sara gets to Japan, she meets Aiden — portrayed by Taylor Kinney – a travel journalist who is going into the Suicide Forest for research. When he realizes he can make a good human interest story out of Sara searching for her sister, he invites her along. Guide Michi (Yukiyoshi Owaza) brings them into the forest, as he’s usually the one to go in during daylight to retrieve any deceased people.

The suicide forest might be the only interesting aspect about the film. The story itself is just wandering around the woods, deliriously searching for a point. When it seems like the story is straightening itself out and actually getting towards a satisfying climax, it turns in a new direction and just loses all sense it might have found.

Dormer’s Sara really isn’t all that interesting, either. Her dedication for her sister is nice but also blind and stupid in ways, insistent on staying in the woods overnight in case Jess returns to her tent. I mean, if she wanted to see her sister again, all she has to do is slap on some eyeliner and look at herself in the mirror. And if Jess would have stayed on the path, all might have been peachy.

The thought of the forest and its frightening intent should instil dread, but it doesn’t. There’s more a sense of psychological torment here and it’s an honest snooze. The premise really should work, but it just doesn’t. This might lie in its complete reliance on jump scares. It’s like the film broke a leg at the beginning and needed that as its crutch.

It really should have used its supernatural spin in a more convincing way. In folklore, no spirit truly dies in the forest and their spirits live on in the forest – and that’s why it’s creepy – but this concept wasn’t terrifying enough in the story.

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Natalie Dormer in The Forest (Source).

And supernatural horror is the Japanese horror specialty – so maybe this would be better in their hands. Maybe a remake will be in our good fortunes.

This American take is just drowned by a dreadful screenplay. It brings an intriguing story to a mainstream audience, but its execution fails it. It’s very well-filmed because of the lush landscapes, but really, even a snuff film is going to look beautiful if it’s shot in a forest like this.

It’s convincing that we’re watching them navigate through the Suicide Forest — though we’re just watching them go through a forest near Tara Mountain in Western Serbia.

It’s still very pretty, even when they had to film some of it in a former warehouse. That’s the magic of cinema, folks.

Score: 40/100

Race (2016)

Released: February 19, 2016. Directed by Stephen Hopkins. Starring Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Eli Goree. Runtime: 2 hr 14 min.

Taking on a dual meaning title, Race follows the awe-inspiring story of Jesse Owens gearing up towards his stint at the 1936 Olympics in a Germany under the start of the Hitler regime.

Stephan James (Selma) stars as the pride and joy of Ohio State, Jesse Owens, bringing charm to a legendary figure who wasn’t given enough credit for his achievements at the Olympics because of the time it happened.

Heck, it took him long enough to get the first theatrical film about Owens – about 80 years. Owens did have his own film back in 1984, however, in the form of a made-for-television production called The Jesse Owens Story. But are TV productions real movies? That’s debatable.

Anyway, James captures emotion of the time for a person of colour not having the rights of any white people. He’s great depicting the athleticism and astounding agility of the character. I enjoyed seeing the chemistry between him and Shanice Banton’s Ruth Solomon, as well.

He can take a stand by going to the Olympics in Germany and making a stand for the African American folks, as well as the severely repressed Jewish people, during a time that was just the start of Hitler’s regime.

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Stephan James as Jesse Owens doing the long jump. (Source

With all of its other focuses, this is still very much a sports film, as we’re brought through Owens’ training by star Larry Snyder, portrayed with utmost kindness by Jason Sudeikis.

The feature is also at its best when we go with Owens to the Olympics. This isn’t a spoiler if you know of Owens’ prestige. It’s rousing and inspiring cheering him on.

But the line between sport and politics blur so much that it takes away from Owens’ story at times. It’s like Owens’ story is just used as a frame for a story that is largely about the United States Olympic Committee and how they were able to convince the Germans to allow African Americans and Jews to compete.

Jeremy Irons’ Avery Brundage represents the interest to have Americans compete at the Olympic Games. William Hurt’s Jeremiah Mahoney represented the opposing opinion of boycotting the Olympics for the year – because of the intense segregation.

Joseph Goebbels is portrayed by Barnaby Metschurat. The character is just rather mean, but that’s expected for Goebbels. He’s the political heart on the side of the Germans, as the Minister of Propaganda at the time.

While promoting the Aryan race, he also suppresses documentary filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (portrayed by Carice van Houten). He wishes her to make a film which reflects the views of the German government – while she has to stick it to the man and wants to focus on the success of Owens.

It’s frustrating, but that’s what the filmmakers go for – to frustrate the audience. And later in the film show that, even through so much glory, there will always be discrimination.

The story is almost drowned completely by the politics, and is often in danger of being a political drama.

But the scenes at the Olympics and the inspiring road there make up for it and while the film isn’t as great as Owens’ achievements, it would still deserve a bronze medal. That’s still a winner, right?

Stephen Hopkins (Lost in Space, A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warrior) directs the races with precision and it makes the film entertaining in that respect. The cinematography is stellar in these scenes, the director of photography is Peter Levy who often works with Hopkins, and is still interesting during the more chatty sequences.

The best part of the film is especially James’ performance. He’s inspiring how he captures optimism through a dark time. Hopefully this kick-starts James’ career the same way 42, a sports biography about fellow race pioneer Jackie Robinson, did for Chadwick Boseman.

James depicts the athlete’s dedication to his coach realistically. The chemistry there really works – and captures how lovely the relationship between a coach and a mentor can be.

Score: 65/100