Going in Style (2017)

 

Released: April 7, 2017. Directed by: Zach Braff. Starring: Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin. Runtime: 1h 36 min. 

Joe (Michael Caine), Willy (Morgan Freeman) and Albert (Alan Arkin) are retired, lifelong friends who are losing their pension after the company they worked for is bought out. To make matters worse, Joe’s in danger of losing his home because of a mortgage payment plan he was sold.

He discusses that with a sleazy banker (John Pais) in the film’s first scene, and it’s saved from being boring thanks to a funny bank robbery.

If Joe loses his home, he, his daughter Rachel (Maria Dizzia) and granddaughter Brooklyn (Joey King) will be homeless within 30 days. He rallies Willy and Albert to rob a bank so he can save his home and stick it to the banks. They figure they’ll take what would have been theirs in pension payment, and at the tail end of their lives – they don’t have much to lose and they’re going out in style.

Surprisingly, Going in Style doesn’t actually have a lot of style. It’s basic filmmaking and the direction’s unremarkable. This is Zach Braff’s third film (at the biggest budget of $25 million), but it doesn’t have the quirkiness of his writing featured in his first two films Garden State and Wish I Was Here. The film’s written by Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures), based on the 1979 film of the same name. The writing’s formulaic at best.

It’s a predictable caper but it’s so heartfelt and enjoyable. Its heart is always in the right place and it’s a benign tale about loving life and making the best of everything, no matter your age.

It’s also very funny, too, and the cast have great comedic timing and make the best jokes hit their mark. The best part of the film is having Caine, Freeman and Arkin share the screen. Their presence is what makes it special, even this isn’t as good as it should be – like the way that it’s great at the time but it’s forgettable.

Trio, hands raised

Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine in Going in Style. (Source)

Still, they’re so charming and they help make this a good time at the movies. Their chemistry is great, and you can feel like these guys have been friends their entire lives. They’re all mostly the same age, but their development feels diverse, especially in terms of motivation for the robbery.

Joe’s motivation is pure since he’s trying to provide for his family. His friendship with granddaughter Brooklyn (Joey King) is sweet and one of the reasons I was most invested in Joe. Brooklyn’s really the only family of the trio that have a good role – and even Joe’s daughter could be written out entirely since she’s there for two scenes.

Willy’s motivation is so he can have enough money to see his family more than once a year. Albert’s the curmudgeonly guy of the group – suiting his delivery – and he’s content being alone. The bachelor gives into the heist because he’s tired of being broke. He also meets a new lady, Annie, who gives charisma to his development – and she’s played by the delightful Ann-Margret.

Its third act has some clever moments inside and outside of the heist, and the training they get from a criminal insider (John Ortiz) is fun. Though, it could benefit from more action.

It’s understandable that there isn’t since they’re a trio of good guys who don’t want to hurt anyone. It sucks out some excitement out of the heist – even though it still feels tense. It’s nice that there’s two heists and the main one is fun – but the one at the beginning is funnier.

I liked that they’re trying to rob a bank at a geriatric age and it makes for a different sort-of heist caper. It has low-speed chases instead of high-speed chases, like when they have a practice theft at a grocery store and hijack an old lady’s motorized shopping cart. It’s one of the funnier moments, and it’s scenes like these when you know it doesn’t take itself too seriously and it’s better for it.

Score: 70/100

The Conjuring (2013)

The_Conjuring_423.jpgReleased: July 19, 2013. Directed by: James Wan. Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor. Runtime: 112 min.

James Wan’s The Conjuring has something too often missing from modern horror films: real scares. I think this film is scary as hell. This film is enough to make me paranoid before bed, but not able to lose that much sleep. If I had seen this in theatres, it may have been a different story if I’d seen this in theatres because of the creepy score and great sound design, and couple that with surround sound, it might make viewers very paranoid at points. This film does start to creep me out just thinking about it. And how effective is that?

The true story follows the Perron family, an ordinary family haunted by a hateful spirit in early 1970s Rhode Island. For part of the film’s first act, focus is shifted between the Perron family and demonologists (the only two recognized by the Catholic Church) Ed and Lorraine Warren (portayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively) until the Warren’s go to help the family.

Lorraine is given an extra layer by something that happened to her in a previous case. Her husband is more protective of her because of that, and it gives them a great chemistry. This also gives the two characters a nice layer of vulnerability. The two actors are great, so they’d have a great chemistry regardless. To find both good characterization and memorable performances already seems like a rarity in today’s modern horror market. I think the family gets some pretty good characterization, too, and they’re performed well by Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor and Joey King. The family dynamic’s explored realistically. I like the idea that, when one is younger, their imaginations make them more vulnerable.

What makes the movie more interesting is a sub-plot on another one of Warren’s cases, where an inhuman spirit inhabits a truly eerie Annabelle doll. It’s what helps introduce the Warren’s into the film. I think their lectures are fascinating, and they add on to the mythology of demonology and paranormal activity; other scenes add to the mythology, as well.

The film takes the old-school horror route with old-fashioned scares and a great foreshadowing of what’s to come; like clocks stopping at a certain time each night, pets being scared of the house, and bruises on bodies. The creepy score is used well for foreshadowing, as well. The 1970s styled costume design is great, especially for Farmiga. I think it’s interesting to see how they plan to catch demonic activity before advanced technology. The scares are simplistic but endlessly effective and memorable, and the imagery and crazy spooks stick with you. A lot of this is edge-of-your-seat, sweat-on-your-palms scary. I think something that is impressive is that the film doesn’t lose its footing when the entity’s revealed, it gets even better.

James Wan is a master at creating a haunting film like this. He understands the atmosphere and creates it realistically. The always switching camera angles and points of view keep things interesting and refreshing. The cinematography is just great, and the editing just as awesome. Something that makes this film a bit more ominous is that it’s based on true events. To think that this can happen to you is really scary. Some scares are foreshadowed, and sometimes the simplest of developments (foggy breath, shadows following each family member) prove to be some of the most chilling.

This is the best horror film of 2013, just beating out Evil Dead. It all leads up to one phenomenal finale, and what’s more memorable is how the finale has a lot going on, spanning different settings, but manages to have great focus. This also has one hell of a memorable exorcism scene.

Score92/100

White House Down (2013)

White House DownRelease Date: June 28, 2013. Director: Roland Emmerich. Stars: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal. Runtime: 131 min.

Apparently infiltrating the White House is so easy, everyone’s doing it! (And they just finished re-building it, too!) All you have to do is rally up a bunch of people who are angry at the government, spend a day planning, synchronize your watches, and go to town. But be careful, there’s going to be a highly-decorated police officer of some kind standing in your way.

John Cale (Channing Tatum) is a Capitol police officer on tour of the White House with his daughter Emily (Joey King). He is also interviewing for a spot on the Secret Service, protecting President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). On that very day, because the President issued an international Peace Treaty, a paramilitary group invades the White House; now John must save his daughter, the President, and the country.

Whether it be Channing Tatum vs. a 25-person paramilitary group or Gerard Butler vs. North Korea’s entire 300 person army, both action guys are forces to be reckoned with. “Olympus Has Fallen” had to face comparisons to “Die Hard” back in March, so compared to this, it is living on easy street. Now, this has to face comparisons to both “Die Hard” and “Olympus.” Will it stand strong through all of it? Probably not.

“White House Down” is the better movie in some ways – but “Olympus” has the benefit of being released first. The former is superior to the latter in the CGI-effects department, the higher-profile director, and the cast. Even against the likes of Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart and Melissa Leo; once you have Tatum, Foxx and Maggie Gyllenhaal and then add the extra oomph of James Woods, Richard Jenkins and Jason Clarke; there’s no competition. But “Olympus” wins in many other aspects.

“Olympus” embraces its over-the-top brutality and the insane premise of a terrorist group taking down the most heavily protected house on Earth in a matter of minutes. That movie is a lot of fun. This is only mildly fun. It has fun with the premise, but its aspirations of becoming a great buddy action comedy feel forced. This feels too serious at times, which doesn’t work to the film’s benefit with so many frustrating “Okay, that’ll never happen!” moments. Granted, this premise will never happen – but if it does ever happen, we should all hope that the actual John McClane is taking a tour of the White House that day.

The antagonists’ motives are explained well for the most part. Cale’s motivations to stay at the White House to save his daughter are evident as well, even if those motivations are cookie-cutter. But that isn’t bad for this type of movie, because audiences are there for the action. There just isn’t enough of it.

The build-up takes too long, and this type of movie needs to have tension building that doesn’t take forever. There’s a lot of drama there, and we just want the action. And the bits of humour. Thankfully, there’s quite a lot of that, too. One of the members of the paramilitary group (the amusing hacker, Jimmi Simpson) has a lot of charisma, so he is the best antagonist in the movie – even better than the boss man (who I won’t reveal, even if (s)he’ll be blatantly obvious). There’s a prominent buddy comedy aspect, and even if the jokes aren’t so memorable, they provide big laughs at the time.

“White House Down” is familiar and forgettable, but it’s not a horrible way to pass 131 minutes. It just doesn’t bring enough to the table to be noteworthy. Since it’s so familiar, there are few surprises hiding away, and the antagonists are obvious from the get go. Apparently, if you’ve seen one Die Hard in the White House movie; you’ve seen them all.

Score: 58/100

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

Oz The Great and PowerfulOz the Great and Powerful

Release Date: March 8, 2013

Director: Sam Raimi

Stars: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams

Runtime: 130 min

Tagline: You know the land. Not the story.

Seventy-four years after the release of The Wizard of Oz, Sam Raimi (director of the Spider-Man trilogy and Evil Dead trilogy) and co. bring us a story of how a small-time magician comes to rule the mystical land.

This is however many years B.T. (Before Toto) and it follows a small-time Kansas magician, Oscar Diggs (James Franco), who gets swept up by a tornado and to an enchanted land, and is eventually forced into a power struggle between the land’s three witches: Evanora (Rachel Weisz), Glinda (Michelle Williams) and Theodora (Mila Kunis).

The people of Oz have been waiting for the one true Wizard to free the land of all of its turmoil, especially that caused by the Wicked Witch. While the people of Oz accept the wizard with open arms, the witches are unsure if he is telling the truth.

He isn’t. Oscar is more of a professional con artist more than a true magician, and some of his actions toward a few of the witches do not benefit anyone. He makes poor decisions left, right and centre, but it’s all on his journey to become a great man; and to force the Wicked Witch out of the land, as the prophecy suggests.

As with all Disney movies, there has to be a message. This one is clear by the end, but during, it isn’t too clear. What’s this trying to teach the kids? Is it trying to teach them that con artist “ladies men” who uses the same lame trick on girls, might eventually face a wicked backlash? Are they urging children not to eat apples, as Snow White teaches eating red apples means death, and now eating green apples means one gets transformed into a witch? Or perhaps if one lies their way through life, but become a greater person in the end and learn the folly of your ways, they’ll still be rewarded by fortune and fame? No, that doesn’t sound right.

It is really all about the journey (Down the yellow brick road, perhaps?) of changing from a selfish person, to a selfless one. It also teaches that the power of friendship and believing in yourself will conquer all. Oz makes friends along the way that impact his life and help him fight evil forces. China Girl (voiced by Joey King) is a now-orphaned child made of China, whose village was destroyed by the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys. Don’t underestimate her though, she may appear to be fragile, but she has a fair amount of backbone! The other is Finley (voiced by Zach Braff), a CGI-animated monkey who is both servant and useful companion. He is the odd one out, as he seems to be the only monkey of all the land to not be on the evil side, like all the other flying monkeys.

Finley’s the runt of the flying monkeys litter, because the evil ones  look as if they have been taking one too many steroids. The 1939 monkeys are incredibly creepy with those little smiles and their impressive numbers, but these CGI-body building monkeys with sharp teeth shall instil fear in kids of a new generation. Some of the content is intense and frightening (like when intense battles of legitimate wizardry occur and the flying monkeys themselves, or even the tornado sequence at the beginning), but it’s not nearly as disturbing as some material previously seen in 1985’s Return to Oz. The content here isn’t enough to bring about a soft PG-13 rating, but it’s enough to urge me to warn off small children. It feels as if sometimes Raimi forgets this is meant to be a family feature.

It’s simply amazing to see the advancements in technology in 74 years, where the monkeys were once in costumes and now they’re animated, or how much can now be achieved visually. Raimi makes some really special nods to the 1939 classic. The first fifteen (or so) minutes are played out in Kansas in black and white, or even the tornado sequence itself. There are also incredibly sweet poetic scenes where Joey King and Zach Braff portray more than one character. King plays the little China Girl in the land of Oz, but she also plays a small girl in a wheelchair back in Kansas, and because Oscar can’t make her walk in Kansas, it’s really heart-warming to see him help her in the mystical land of Oz. Braff plays Frank in the land of Kansas and Finley in Oz, where Oscar is able to cherish the friendship Finley has to offer, instead of taking Frank’s friendship for granted and treating him purely as a servant.

Raimi also manages to keep this a bit different, by, for example, by only having a part of a musical number. When Oscar and co. visit the Munchkins of Oz, their musical number is cut off mid-song. He also makes this visually beautiful with some notable 3D visual effects and some really cool CGI-animation for the monkeys and a certain green someone. When battles of sorcery occur, it’s visually compelling. This is a great movie, but the main fault is the simple story. It really only follows Oz and his journey to become the legendary Wizard, and his attempts to rid the land of the Wicked Witch. It makes up for it by being visually great, charming and heart-warming at parts. Even though this might not make you feel as magical as you feel watching the 1939 classic, it’s a satisfying substitute.

As for the acting, no one really stands out. James Franco works the charming leading man role by smiling a whole lot, the three witches are good (Williams being the best) and Zach Braff makes Finley sound a bit too much like Chicken Little. He’s a monkey, Braff, not a chicken!

75/100