Tag (2018)

Released: June 15, 2018. Directed by: Jeff Tomsic. Starring: Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jake Johnson. Runtime: 1h 40 min.

The concept of Tag could sound like the silliest thing ever. It’s literally grown men playing tag because they’ve been playing the game for 30 years and they get together every May to play. The concept only works because it’s true. The film’s based on a Wall Street Journal article called “It Takes Planning, Caution to Avoid Being It” by Russell Adams.

The article’s about a group of 10 friends who started playing the game in Spokane, Washington, in high school, but resumed the game again in 1990 at their high school reunion. A main difference of the stars of the article are their ages – average Joe’s in their late 40s – and these characters are thirty-somethings who started the game on the playground.

It seems that the film has only taken the concept of the game as our main characters are a core group of five instead of the real-life 10, but this is effective for purposes of simplicity. We first meet Hogan ‘Hoagie’ Malloy (Ed Helms) dressing as a janitor in an attempt to tag his friend Bob Callahan (Jon Hamm).

He wants to round up the gang, which also includes Randy ‘Chilli’ Cilliano (Jake Johnson) and Sable (Hannibal Burress), to go to the wedding of their best friend Jerry (Jeremy Renner) to tag the untagged before he retires from the game.

We get the exposition that they have been playing the game for 30 years when Wall Street Journal journalist Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis), the gender-swapped stand-in for the actual article’s author Russell Adams, interviews Bob for an article but follows this story instead.

The characters have a nice bond because the game was conceived as a way for them to stay in touch and build their friendships around, and the film surprisingly has a ton of heart. It also shows good examples of fun competition and unhealthy competition, like Hoagie’s wife Anna (Isla Fisher) who is willing to do a lot to find out where Jerry is in town. She’s not actually able to play, but she has a lot of funny, overtly aggressive lines.

Tag featured

Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm in Tag. (IMDb)

For me it’s more than grown men just playing a game of tag because it’s about embracing your inner child and not forgetting to have fun. This film’s fun, and the comedy is outrageous for a reason. Characters dress up as old ladies in efforts to tag others, and it’s that much funnier because it happened in real life.

The elaborate scenes of characters trying to tag each other are just generally hilarious and it must have been a lot of fun for writers Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilen to figure out these set pieces of them trying to tag each other. They’re super creative.

In one scene we get inner monologues of what the characters are thinking as they’re trying to tag Jerry – and Jerry’s monologue is mostly assessing the situation like a military operative. My favourite line of inner dialogue in this scene is from the journalist as she sees a doughnut flying in slow motion: “This is why print journalism is dying.” I was probably the only one who really laughed at this at the theatre, but I thought it was a funny comment on the type of story she’s covering.

She does have a point – but it’s articles like the one Russell Adams wrote that make amusing films like this happen. At Tag’s core, it’s a story about human connection and staying in touch. It even got me a little emotional near the end. As for the comedy, the outrageousness of the characters trying to avoid being tagged is what makes this so much fun, and its over-the-top comedy really worked for me.

Score: 75/100

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Now You See Me 2 (2016)

Released: June 10, 2016. Directed by: John M. Chu. Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson. Runtime: 2hr, 9 min.

After a year in hiding from the FBI, the bank-robbing-magical-vigilante Four Horsemen return to the spotlight in Now You See Me 2, to publicly expose a technology company called Octa for unethical operations.

After their enemies are a step ahead of them for once, forcibly whisked away to China to perform another impossible heist for tech genius Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe).

One of the sequel’s ways to freshen its premise is one of its finer magic tricks – turning Isla Fisher’s Henley into Lizzy Caplan’s Lula. Fisher wasn’t able to reprise her role due to her pregnancy.

While likable, Henley was a weaker link among the Horsemen in terms of entertainment. Jesse Eisenberg’s J. Daniel Atlas and Woody Harrelson’s Merritt McKinney got the funnier lines and Henley’s most memorable moment was the escape from the piranha water tank.

Caplan’s Lula doesn’t have a truly memorable moment like the piranha tank, but she’s funny and her excitement to join the group is relatable. She has amusing distractions and tricks and sight gags – but Henley was the way more amazing magician.

Now You See Me 2 (3)

Woody Harrelson as Merrit McKinney in Now You See Me 2. (Source)

Jesse Eisenberg returns as the arrogant Daniel Atlas, still sarcastically witty and amusing but arrogant as ever. At least it helped me forget his performance in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice somewhat.

Harrelson is doubly funny as the mentalist McKinney, he’s having a lot of fun and it’s contagious watching because he’s so hilarious. An aspect of his diverse performance is a surprise I don’t want to spoil. Dave Franco returns as Jack Wilder – the trickster whose specialty is playing card tricks and sleight of hand.

In NYSM, audiences were shown too often how the film did its trick by magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman). He can’t debunk so much now from a jail cell. In NYSM2, tricks are only explained when it’s detrimental to the story. It’s more mysterious and more like a magic show when we don’t know how they do what seems impossible.

The sequel balances comedy and strong well-edited and well-directed. Jon M. Chu takes the director’s chair from Louis Letterier – maintaining the similar visual style but a stronger focus for the story. They’re still vigilantes in some capacity, but they’re more-so trying to survive against their enemies.

It helps that they’ve gained a new horseman in Mark Ruffalo’s FBI agent Dylan Rhodes, who recruited the horsemen but was also chasing them in the last film.

Now You See Me 2 (2)

Jesse Eisenberg controls the weather as J. Daniel Atlas in Now You See Me 2. (Source)

Learning more about his backstory is intriguing as I liked learning more about the mystery of Lionel Shrike. I thought it was uninspired when Agent Cowan (David Warshofsky) automatically assumes he’s playing both sides even though there’s not much evidence to support the claim. I mean, he is playing both sides but is it just blind intuition?

The FBI are still after the Horsemen, this time led by Agent Cowan and Deputy Director Natalie Austin (Sanaa Lathan, Alien vs. Predator), who is one-note.

There’s not as many big twists this time, but the writing feels more concise and not as confusing. There’s still a wow factor with many of the tricks and the magic is maintained.

It’s a delight to see Daniel Radcliffe return to the wizarding world, this time in a different dynamic as the villainous Muggle, Walter Mabry. He employs the Horsemen to steal a powerful device from a heavily guarded lab for him. He’s a welcome addition to the ensemble.

The heist scene where the Horsemen attempt to steal it is compelling and well-edited, and one of the film’s coolest sequences. The practical effects are also really great. The heist caper still has enough magic up its sleeve to entertain for this sequel.

Score: 75/100

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

Now You See Me (2013)

Now You See MeRelease Date: May 31, 2013

Director: Louis Leterrier

Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo

Runtime: 115 min

The summer of 2013 hasn’t been an incredible season for originality thus far. There have been sequels (Fast & Furious 6, Iron Man 3, et cetera), book adaptations (The Great Gatsby), and not-so subtle rip-offs of better movies (Peeples). The time for pure originality has finally come with Now You See Me.

This follows an FBI agent and an Interpol detective who track a team of illusionists who pull off bank heists during their performances and reward their audiences with the money.

NYSM is unlike anything else you’ve seen this year. You might think of this as Ocean’s Eleven with magic, especially if you watch them back to back. This is still a truly fun movie that feels fresh. There’s concepts of justice that are explored well. This works as a great show of showmanship, and as a great bank heist caper.

Its originality is easily admirable; it really is one of 2013’s most original films. For such a fun movie, it is also thought-provoking. It’s intriguing throughout, and often unpredictable. You’ll love every one of these characters, because they are all charismatic. The team of illusionists, called the Four Horsemen, are true entertainers. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is the classic magician who knows all the best card tricks, and he’s very smooth with his words. Eisenberg’s sarcastic wit and arrogance fits the role. Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) is a mentalist, who could read your thoughts. He’s one of the funniest characters. Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) is an escape artist, and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) is a pickpocket. This crew really knows how to sell tickets. If you thought you’d really like to attend a live showing of The Ellen DeGeneres Show because you might receive free electronics; imagine attending one of these and receiving large sums of money. (Count me in!)

The FBI agent hot on their tail is Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), who’s also a hot-head and isn’t an expert at maintaining his resolve. That’s an appropriate character for a guy who portrays The Hulk, isn’t it? Morgan Freeman portrays Thaddeus Bradley, a former magician who now makes money by showing audiences how other magicians pull off their illusions. Mélanie Laurent plays the Interpol agent who teams up with Ruffalo. Michael Caine is the big man who gave the Four Horsemen their attraction at his hotel. Common is also there, just because he seems to show up in every movie. As you can see, the cast is one of the year’s finest ensembles.

The story and the cast are the movie’s strongest aspects. It’s endlessly entertaining and admirably unpredictable. The story wants you to believe in magic, and embrace the wonder of watching an illusion on-stage. It’s the mystery of magic; the wonder, that makes it so special. One usually doesn’t know how the trick is done, and that’s a problem for the movie… It shows how some of the tricks are done. Many might not like this aspect because some like to remain in the dark about the illusion; and it just extinguishes some of the magic of it all. The best tricks are the ones we are in the dark about. The movie’s visuals are very cool. The impressive visuals might just leave you with a look of awe, just like you might be attending the Four Horsemen’s show in Vegas. The direction is only decent. Of course the movie is flawed, so don’t look too closely. It’s fun on the surface, and thought-provoking underneath, but it’s shaky because it gives away some of the tricks.

Regarding movies that deal with magic, this is definitely better than The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. It’s an entertaining thriller that comes together in the end and answers most of the questions. Some questions go unanswered, but I think that’s just the point – like every good magic trick, we don’t need to know how every little thing is done. It leaves one or two things in the dark; but that’s precisely what helps this movie linger in the mind. This has a great and original premise and it has more than a few surprises up its sleeve. It’s compelling, clever, funny, thrilling, memorable, and most importantly; pretty damn magical.

80/100

The Great Gatsby (2013)

The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby

Release Date: May 10, 2013

Director: Baz Luhrmann

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joel Edgerton, Tobey Maguire

Runtime: 143 min

An astounding adaptation of a novel is rare. Some notable greats include The Silence of the Lambs, Fight Club, and recently, Life of Pi. There are bad ones, like every other Stephen King adaptation (that isn’t handled by acclaimed directors or starring great actors). The newest book-to-movie adaptation is of The Great Gatsby, where Baz Luhrmann decides to stay faithful to the source material, and this turns out to be a great adaptation of a highly-acclaimed book.

Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is a Midwestern war veteran who moves to Long Island, and he soon becomes attracted to the past and lifestyle of his millionaire neighbour, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Luhrmann takes a unique stylish approach to the source material, and there’s enough substance to keep movie-goers satisfied. The odd scene feels empty and rings dull. This is most notably the interaction at the barbershop between Wolfsheim, Gatsby and Carraway. The audience does the feel the emotions they’re supposed to feel, and they become invested in the few characters (Gatsby, Carraway) that are actually likeable.  The symbols of the Green Light and the Eyes of of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg are significant enough to the story, that they begin to become characters in themselves; and they begin to feel more likeable than some of the characters. Luhrmann achieves his fantastic vision, while still keeping Fitzgerald’s classic themes – love, hope, dreams, the past, wealth, prosperity, the American dream – intact.

Simultaneously, he achieves the Fitzgerald-like vision, and I think F. Scott Fitzgerald would approve of this if he were alive. I like to think I comprehend the cultural significance of the source novel, even if it is a boring book. I’d rather re-visit this movie and not the book, and that might be because I think listening to big words is easier than reading them. The movie is just as slow as the book itself, but if it were any quicker, it would feel rushed. A rushed movie wouldn’t leave such a lasting impression. It’s a great adaptation because the viewer feels the same way as if they were actually reading the novel. The thought-provoking feature is handled so well and it is very well-made. It’s always intelligent and rarely boring. If one reads the novel, there’s no way they could imagine set pieces so lavish and magnificent as this. I think this is quite the great achievement.

The extravagant set pieces, production design and costume design truly capture the essence of the 1920’s. This movie will make you fall in love with the time period all over again. The contemporary music surprisingly fits the amazing parties that are thrown, as well as the movie’s style. The contrast between the rich lifestyle of Long Island and the slum-like lifestyle of the Valley of Ashes is fascinating.

The introduction of each character is refreshing, and each star captures the significance and mystery of each character. The cast is a great ensemble. Joel Edgerton brings some fine intensity and spot-on arrogance to the despicable Tom Buchanan. If there’s any role to make Edgerton a household name, it’s this one. Jason Clarke and Isla Fisher are the right choices to capture the poor, paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle of the 1920s, as George and Myrtle Wilson, respectively. Elizabeth Debicki rocks her big feature film debut as Jordan Baker. Carey Mulligan (who is almost always fantastic) is delicate and stunning as the irritating Daisy Buchanan, but she really embraces the foolishness of the character, and she performs superbly.

Tobey Maguire is adequate as Nick Carraway. He’s the character that has to keep everyone’s secrets. Maguire’s range of emotions isn’t wide. There’s some obvious emotions of regret, contempt and anxiety when he’s writing about Gatsby; and he always seems intrigued and in awe in Gatsby’s presence. He’s a better presence when he is narrating. The pairing of Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio reminds me of the Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman pair of The Shawshank Redemption. Everyone will praise the latter, and the former will get the shorter end of the stick. Every person who walks out of the theatre will be discussing the latter performer first.

DiCaprio truly captures the essence of Gatsby, a man of hope, of mystery, and delicacy, a man who rose from ashes to be, like Jack Dawson of Titanic, “king of the world”. He is an intriguing character, it just feels right to hear DiCaprio say “old sport” so much in one movie. After watching this great man portray Gatsby, it’s hard to imagine anyone other actor in the role. He gives one hell of a performance, and he is one of the best things about the film. He draws the viewers into the picture more; and the movie truly takes flight right when the essential introduction of the mystery host comes about. It’s really a refreshing introduction to an intriguing character.

Luhrmann surprisingly stays faithful to the novel. He maintains the intelligent themes, takes some really boring material out, and throws some fresh material in. The movie is long and it feels that way, but everything unfolds in a visually compelling way. It’s rarely boring, and Luhrmann truly makes classic literature feel sexy. The utilization of 3D makes the sets even cooler, and it feels like it adds a whole new layer. This is a very good adaptation of a novel hailed as one of literature’s greatest books and tragedies; but sadly, and unsurprisingly, it doesn’t translate into one of cinema’s greatest films.

82/100

Rise of the Guardians (2012)

Rise of the Guardians

Release Date: November 21, 2012

Director: Peter Ramsey

Stars (voices): Hugh Jackman, Alec Baldwin, Isla Fisher

Runtime: 97 min

Tagline: Legends Unite.

Wait a minute, wait a minute! Who’s Jack Frost, again…? Is he that one guy that’s always nipping at everyone’s noses?

When a forgotten bogeyman from the Dark Ages called Pitch launches an assault of fear on earth, the Immortal Guardians are all called to fight off against him to maintain the innocence of children all over the world.

The beginning feels sort of like one student in high school is trying to write a report, but they’re having trouble organizing their thoughts. That being said, the beginning is an introduction to the characters which feels a bit disorganized. Though, after a small amount of time, it finds its pace and the story just gets better and better.
This is a great time of year to try to build up the spirits of children everywhere. This is brilliant because this time around, it is not all about Ole’ Saint Nicolas. Everyone gets their chance to shine in this. The Guardians are just great, and they give all the figures, that children believe in, the chance to show their flares.

There’s of course Santa Claus, but this time around he has a funky Russian-esque accent offered by the voicework of Alec Baldwin. He is pretty traditional looking, but he also seems pretty edgy because of his ‘Naughty’ and ‘Nice’ tattoos on his forearms. He offers some insight onto who’s actually making the toys at the North Pole. Apparently, it’s a bunch of Yeti’s, they only make the pointy-hatted elves think they’re making the toys. Who knew?

There’s also the Easter Bunny. Hop was the last Easter-themed flick, but the Guardians‘ Bunny makes the little Easter Bunny from Hop look very ordinary. Here, Hugh Jackman offers some great voicework to this character, and in the process he makes him Australian. He’s a six foot-two Easter Bunny that has a sweet boomarang, that makes him feel like he just stepped out of a video game.

There’s the Tooth Fairy, voiced by the beautiful Isla Fisher, who’s a mix between human and hummingbird. There’s also the mute Sandman (who isn’t voiced by anyone, the studio dodged a bullet casting this guy) who communicates with symbols and funny gestures. There isn’t any explanation necessary on what these two do. Though, this next character, you might need a little introduction to him.

The new Guardian in town is the wayward Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine). No, not anything like a snowman or Martin Short’s version of him. All Jack wants to do is cause snow days and havoc, but he wants to have a little fun while doing it. He constantly wonders of his true destiny, and he is a character that knows what it feels like to be invisible. Another character that knows what it feels like to be ostracized and forgotten is the film’s main antagonist, Pitch Black (voiced by Jude Law).

Pitch is a jagged-toothed Bogeyman that wants to instill fear in the hearts of children everywhere. His main motivation of doing this is so he can teach the Immortal Guardians the feeling of loneliness and invisibility he has felt for hundreds of years. He wants to be the big guy on campus for once. Pitch’s main rivals are both Jack Frost and the Sandman. When Pitch steals Frost’s memory of a former life, Frost’s motivation is to retrieve this very valuable material. Frost is also on the fence about his destiny, and he relates to Pitch from time to time because he, too, knows what it feels like to be overlooked because of his juvenile behaviour. The main conflict between Sandy and Pitch is simple. The Sandman brings happy dreams to the children of the world, while Pitch brings dark nightmares. Sandy is obviously not very happy about this, and you won’t like him when he’s angry. However, these are not the only conflicts – the characters are all given their time to shine, so it never feels as if there is one primary character.

There was a concept that came to mind when both the characters of Pitch and Man on the Moon (the moon practically, it’s like God to the Guardians) were initially introduced. It brought to mind the concept of how Lucifer was cast out of Heaven by God, because he wanted to be the head honcho. A plot point that I attempted to predict is that Pitch may have once been a Guardian, but then he was cast down because he was turning evil. That’s just a thought that came to mind because of the good vs. evil forces.

The message is one of the finest in animated films this year: if you believe, it will overcome all fear. It’s greatly displayed in this family film.

Like Monsters, Inc. was with Pixar, this DreamWorks’ edgy children’s and family film. It’s a sort of strange concept that works pretty well. Pitch, the Bogeyman, is sometimes depicted so ominously, it might be a little too hard to handle for the smaller children. There is also some thematic material that can get quite dark. However, there is enough innocent humour to level it all out.

The 3D effects are sometimes gimmicky, but that’s okay. While it is sometimes gimmicky, there are also many cool effects that bring very inventive animation to life even more vibrantly.

Rise of the Guardians is a slightly flawed animated adventure that may have some deeply thematic material and action sequences that could be midly scary for small children. The main flaw is the beginning, because it feels disorganized – but it finds its pace soon enough. The story is wildly inventive, as are the alterations of the beloved Guardians. It’s a great thing to teach the kids this holiday season – don’t just believe in Santa Claus, believe in the other figures too, when their time of year comes around, at least.

80/100