Kung Fu Panda 3 Review

Genre: Computer animation, action comedy

Year: 2016

Rating: PG

Length: 95 minutes

Main Cast: Jack Black

Dustin Hoffman

J.K. Simmons

Bryan Cranston

Angelina Jolie

Production Company: Dreamworks Animation

Directed By: Alessandro Carloni, Jennifer Yuh

 

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Written by Nelson Cumming

Po (Jack Black) is back alongside Furious Five, Master Shifu and Master Oogway in the third installment of the Kung Fu Panda 3 franchise. With the success of the first two installments, the pressure for Dreamworks to make a worthy sequel has never been more intense and, to a certain degree, this movie succeeds in doing just that. Kung Fu Panda has enough brightly coloured action scenes and slapstick to keep the kids happy. This movie also has enough powerful moments in the film for adults too. So it is also a success on that level.

Kung Fu Panda 3 kicks off with the villainous Kai (Played by J.K. Simmons who’s character is seamlessly indestructible) who has returned to the village with the intent to defeat the kung fu masters to gain their chi (Their life energy) to gain power and immortality. Po “The Dragon Warrior” has to learn how to defeat Kai by knowing who he is, his purpose in life and what it take to be a dragon warrior. The premise is in the normal Kung Fu Panda style: The good guy fights bad guy thing. It works well. It may seem repetitive but as I always say “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!”

Kung Fu Panda provides more slapstick comedy for kids than ever before. You have giant panda bears rolling down hills and crashing into trees and Panda bears that spit out hundreds of dumplings from their mouth like bullets in a submachine gun. Kids will find that funny but there is also a scene near the beginning where Po meets his biological father for the first time in the middle of a very busy Chinese restaurant. The only characters in the whole town who don’t know they are related are Po and his father. So there is comedy sprinkled throughout.

The main idea of Kung Fu Panda 3 is the relationship between Po and his fathers (biological and non-biological), which is a wonderful thing to witness. This movie plays around all sorts of ideas around these dads that would take a long time to list. All I am going to say about this is interesting, moving and engaging. Great character development overall from Po in this film. While it is not as moving as Kung Fu Panda 2 it is certainly very good and well worth it. It is better then the action scenes, which in itself was well made.

The action scenes and animation from Kung Fu Panda 3 stayed true to its predecessors. It had the normal computer animation while paying homage to the animation from the Land of the Rising Sun. They use comic book style panels; selective shades of colours (particularly yellow, green and pink) and Chinese lettering to give this movie some level authenticity, the authenticity of ancient china, superpowers and adventures in a Japanese manga style.

Even though Kung Fu Panda 3 does not have the same adventure feel like the first one, not does it have the same amount of depth in the second one; it mixes between the two and works quite well. Kung Fu Panda 3 is a worthy addition to the franchise ***3/4

London has Fallen Review

Genre: Action
Rating: M
Length: 99 Minutes
Main cast: Gerard Butler
Aaron Eckhart
Morgan Freeman
Production Company: Lionsgate Films
Directed By: Babak Najafi
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9y3z-lx-ZE

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Written by Nelson Cumming

London Has Fallen is a sequel to Olympus Has Fallen. The fear of the sequel is always upon us viewers, especially if the original was not good in the first place. Also, if that film was a box office hit, people will try and rush a sequel solely to make more money. Many, many film franchises suffer losing quality to the almighty dollar. Unfortunately, London Has Fallen goes into this category. Despite this, there are things the film does well like set design, camerawork, and some action scenes. However, the bad dialogue, repetitive action scenes and glorification of violence made the quality of the movie a little below average at the end of the day.

We start with Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) the hero working as a Secret Service agent to the President of the United States (Aaron Eckhart). Banning is considering retirement to spend time with his family. Suddenly the British Prime Minister has died from a heart attack and it is up to Banning to protect the President at the funeral in London. Then all hell breaks loose. A series of attacks occur from several terrorists by destroying various British monuments and killing off various world leaders. It is then up to Banning to take care of the President while overcoming the terrorist organisation that is intent on taking over London.

This movie had lots of action scenes and most of them go for a long period of time. The amount of shooting is relentless to the point of mind-numbing and most of the action scenes are in the dark. The camera man was on top of his game, as he had to film an entire action scene in the dark with one continuous take. He had to be in focus and move swiftly in the dark, with smoking rubble and while climbing a window to get the right shot. Unfortunately, the actual scene was mediocre due to the film not building up any of the action scenes and for the fact that Mike Banning seems to beat the bad guys effortlessly.

What made London Has Fallen feel even tackier than the action scenes was the dialogue. The dramatic lines were spoken in a monotonously dry and dull tone. What was worse were the lines of dialogue said after action scenes. Here is a glowing example: Manning locks the President in a small room to protect him. Manning then gets held at gunpoint by one of the terrorists only for the President to barge through the door and shoot the terrorist dead. Manning then responds by saying “I was wondering when you were coming out of the closet”

London has fallen had the makings to be a good action film as it has good set designs and excellent cameramen. What London has Fallen doesn’t do is develop the story properly, develop good lines of dialogue and moderate the level of action sequences. I can compare my experience seeing London has Fallen to an experience at a restaurant. The restaurant has clean floors, great service and the knives and forks are squeaky-clean, however, the food was not tasty at all. *1/4

Zootopia Review

Year of release: 2016

Rating: PG

Length: 108 minutes

Starring: Jennifer Goodwin

Jason Bateman

Idris Elba

JK Simmons

Production Company: Walt Disney Animated Studios

Directed by: Bryan Howard

Rich Moore

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CzvH6_e2a-U

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Written By Nelson Cumming

Zootopia has all the qualities that make a great animated feature: great animation, high-ordered themes as well as fun scenes for the kids, well-developed characters and a good story. I believe that this is the first film I have reviewed that has brilliant storytelling and has great mass appeal. I think there will be people who will connect with this movie more than me which will be saying something. I don’t know if this film will be ranked amongst the classics of the Disney canon, but Zootopia nonetheless proves itself worthy of being a movie that touches with lots of different people amongst different walks of life.

 

The premise is that the rabbit Judy Hopps (Jennifer Goodwin) is a recent graduate from the police force. She enters the word of Zootopia where animals live and breathe. She finds it harder to enforce the law then she thinks. Determined to prove herself, she accepts a missing persons’ case. She has to work reluctantly with Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to solve the case.

 

I admit that I was going to see Zootopia with a blind eye. The promotional medium I exposed myself to was the film poster and even then I paid little attention to it. So I was very surprised about how attentive to detail the animation was. I believed that Pixar was the company to have produced this movie. I was surprised that Disney was the company responsible. It goes to show that Disney has really stepped up their game in the last couple of years. Their animation in this film showed a variety of environments from country towns, the metropolis that is Zootopia, the rooms, and apartments. The textures on the main characters are also marvelous.

 

This film is not afraid to tackle some higher order themes that involve the consequences of social stigmas in society, drug abuse, using fear to maintain and consolidate power and how easily misinformed beliefs can hurt people. Zootopia works those ideas with effortless grace. If parents are worried about their children seeing Zootopia with these themes in it, do not worry. The way all of it is executed is so subtle that it is very unlikely a child will notice these complex adult themes taking place. They will see Zootopia as a fun adventure movie (chase scenes, funny scenes, acts of espionage) more than anything else.

 

The final and arguably most important part Zootopia succeeds in is well-developed characters with a story that the characters embed themselves. The characters behaviors are personified by the animals they are. Nick Wilde, a fox, is sly and cunning; the rabbit Judy Hops is playful and naive. Zootopia allows these characters to show their flaws, interact with each other and learn from each other. Most importantly, Zootopia does this in ways that we care about these characters in the story. It is amazing how Disney has packed all of this into a single film.

 

The more I think about Zootopia, the more I like it. It is a very uplifting film. Zootopia is a rare film that undoubtedly has the hype it deserves ****1/2

Grimsby Review

Year: 2016
Rating: MA
Length: 83 minutes
Main Cast: Sasha Baron Cohen
Mark Strong
Rebel Wilson
Isla Fisher
Penelope Cruz
Gabourey Sable
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Directed By: Louis Leterrier

 

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Written By Nelson Cumming

I have never seen a film where I have been at a loss for words, more so I have never seen a film where I was at a loss for words and I didn’t know if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Grimsby is a film that will have its fans and if you are a fan of Sasha Baron Cohen you will like this, the rest will hate it with a passion. Grimsby really put me on a rollercoaster ride that I am not entirely sure I wanted to take. All of the comedy involved really gross-out gags were filled with over-the-top shock value. These gross-out gags had hits and misses. I laughed so hard are the gags that worked and I was completely disgusted at the gags that didn’t work. There has not been a film since Jackass where a film has done that to me. This film is a real question mark to me.

Nobby (Sasha Baron Cohen) is a British football fanatic whose brother Sebastian (Mark Strong) is a secret agent. Estranged for 28 years, Nobby finds his brother in the middle of a mission and botches the mission. Nobby and his brother now have to stop the bad guys from spreading this contagious disease from killing people around the world as a form of population control. This plot, however, does not really matter because the film is essentially loaded with so many gags that it deterred me from the plot. I could even say the film lost the plot on several occasions (pun intended).

The way these brothers bond is let’s just say, questionable at best. There are some gags with them being a little too up close and personal. Some of those gags worked well and some didn’t. The time it worked the best was arguably in the film’s climax to which I laughed and laughed and laughed. The time it did not work involved the use of elephants, a lot of elephants. That one gag was so completely and utterly gross I actually considered walking out on this film. That scene was just so horrible and disgusting that I care too much for the reader to describe the horror. This sort of affirms that Sasha Baron Cohen is more than willing to go over the top again and again to the point of complete desensitization, which is not exactly a good thing to be doing.

Despite this, there were numerous gags that were so edgy but so funny I could not help laughing, which I am not ashamed to admit. Sasha Baron Cohen has the ability to make his characters charming enough to warrant and justify his morbid humour. All of the humour completely relied on his character’s delivery and when it delivered it was great.

It is hard to give an example because to simply explain those gags, people would think I am just completely heartless. But this is probably his mildest gag: He has 12 children and some of their names are Django Unchained, Gangnam Style and Luke which is short for leukemia which Nobby falsely claims his child has to gain free medical insurance. This is about a family friendly Grimsby gets. It has the shock value spectrum between false claims of a child with leukemia to a vile and putrid elephant scene that nearly derailed the whole movie.
So, if you are not into Sasha Baron Choen as a comedian, do not see this. There were people who walked out and I don’t blame them. However I am a fan of Baron Cohen films and I had a certain tolerance level to him, but even then he really pushed the envelope and committed to it, which is a brave thing to do. The problem is he has a tendency to push that envelope too far sometimes. Despite this, there were parts that were funny enough to stay in my seat. ***

Triple 9 Review

Year: 2016

Rating: MA

Length: 115 minutes

Main Cast: Kate Whislet

Woody Harrelson

Casey Affleck

Aaron Paul

Chiwetel Ejiofor

Anthony Mackie

Produced By: Worldview Entertainment, Anonymous Productions

Directed By: John Hillcoat

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfeiINSMU1I

Red Band Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oN9evc4QXj4

 

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Written By Nelson Cumming

 

After watching Triple 9 I am never going to take scriptwriting for granted again. This film has really taught me that you can have a talented cast, and some good action sequences but with a below-average script it can tone down an entire movie. Triple 9 has a slow and convoluted story that just goes on and on and on with an ending that is so abrupt at the wrong time. With all the effort Triple 9 puts in its action scenes I was so surprised there was little effort for the characters in terms of their involvement in the script and development especially for talent like Kate Winslet, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck and Aaron Paul to name a few. My final rating on the positive side is based on two aspects. The first reason is the way the actors commit to these one-dimensional roles and the second reason is that some of the action sequences are well thought out and it was the closest I was involved in the movie. Those scenes actually built some momentum only for it to slowly dissipate then abruptly end. At the end of the day Triple 9 is a forgettable film with hints of good stuff in-between.

 

The premise of Triple 9 follows corrupt police officers and criminals that are doing deeds for a Russian Jewish gang. They hope to gain a huge payday with a major heist. I sort of got the premise when watching the film. It sounds so simple yet Triple 9 proves that it make something so simple seem so complicated. This was because they pulled all sorts of elements in together (the mob, gang members, corrupt cops and good cops) with slop pacing and mundane dialogue and it felt the film bit off more then it could chew. When adding complex elements in a film, it must have substance and storyline craft for it to work. If it doesn’t, don’t even try. At least Ride Along 2 kept it simple with a shallow script. It made it more watchable.

 

Oh and don’t worry there are more dull moments with characters with most of them corrupt, wasted, depressed and flat for variety despite the actors doing their best. Generally the corrupt African American cops sound and speak in the one tone and in the same vein. No one is happy in this film even the two cops are willing to try and stop evil and corruption. That alone doe not make a film bad, but if it doesn’t add anything to those themes or doesn’t give me a reason to care or feel injustice then it is just boring and depressing to see. However props to the actors for trying, you could feel them trying to bring a story to life and in one or two scenes, the story actually builds some momentum…

 

The action scenes are good. Not great, but very good. There is that one action scene that works very well and is by far the best scene in the film. All I am going to say about it is that it involves a riot shield. You will know it if you see it. It is intense, well shot, nicely directed and it got me from not interested to very interested quite quickly. There was nothing bad about the actual scene at all. This was only at the halfway point of this film and unfortunately the momentum slowly dissipated before the film’s abrupt ending. If Triple 9 could of built on top that one riot shield scene for fifty minutes and brought a satisfying ending, this film would have been great.

 

Overall we get a slow story and characters with lack of substance that is sort of patched up by good action sequences and decent acting. I cannot give this a positive review, nor can I really give this a negative one **1/2

The Lady in the Van Review

Year: 2015

Rating: M

Length: 104 Minutes

Starring: Maggie Smith

Alex Jennings

Jim Broadbent

Distributed by: Columbia Pictures

Directed by: Nicholas Hytner

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OA8tMziteZM

 

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Written By Nelson Cumming

Maggie Smith plays an old homeless lady (that smells) who lives her life in a banged up van in an affluent snobbish neighborhood in The Lady in the Van. She does play a convincing role is a not-completely-convincing movie. The main criticism of this film is it’s slow and tedious plot development at the beginning and the uncertainty on which character is the lead. However, the film eventually gains some traction and ends well. Allen Bennett as the co-lead playing as a playwright and an author. Both Smith and Bennett have some chemistry as Bennett plays the foil to Smith’s character’s antics. However the payoff in the last 20 minutes is predictable but well done, but do not expect to be blown away at this film at all. It is a good film in of itself. I’ll give it credit for that.

Maggie Smith plays an old homeless lady living in her van in an upper-class snobbish neighborhood that mostly frowns upon her homelessness. Not that she succumbs to these insults; she fights back with words and funny dialogue. However throughout the film, she struggles with her moral conscience and is annoyed whenever she classical music (It’s like a trigger reaction). It is inferred in the beginning why she exhibits those emotions and stressful feelings, but it become more explicit at the end. Her only friend in the neighborhood is Allen Bennett, a lonely man who observes her behavior across the street and writes his observations about her in a journal and forms it into his story.

The narrative pacing in the first third of the film is very slow and almost stagnant. I was always asking myself “What is going on? Where is this film going?” I do not know if slow narrative pacing is the style of British filmmaking or if it is just the movie. If it is the former and British audiences like it, then it is a sad day for me to adapt to the sluggish pace. Nevertheless, once when Maggie Smith starts changing the look of the van, things start to pick up a bit.

This film does have its mildly funny moments, but they are few and far between. When one of the snobby neighbors sees Smith’s car parked right next to their driveway, he asks rudely why is parked her van there. She responds along the lines of “I was reading the Christian car manual about how to park a van straight along the curb, and I believe that this spot makes good Christian parking.” If there were more lines like that in the script, it would have been a really good movie. There are a couple of remarks like that but are spread too few and far between to be consistently funny. Nevertheless, her delivery was spot on for her character.

Another criticism is the predictability of the ending. The main plot revolves around several questions that were in my head surrounding the Maggie smith character such as what she has done that is so horrific that she always prays for redemption? And why does she despise listening to music? From what the film infers in the beginning, I could sort of tell how they were going to end it and it was exactly like I predicted. I dislike predictability in lots of movies. Despite saying that, the ending was actually good enough to warrant it as decent.

The final and the most important critique I have are the constant narrations from the Alan Bennett character. This is because it is so constant and his observations from his house are so frequent I began wondering what The Lady in the Van was centering the character along. Was it Maggie Smiths character and the way she lived her life? Or was it Alan Bennett’s character that was observing Maggie Smith’s life through the window? There was little synergy between the two that the plot was almost darting up and down between Alan Bennett and Maggie Smith with the two occasionally meeting up together. That part just didn’t make much sense for me.

The one character that most people want to see in this movie is Maggie Smith. When she is on, she is on. There are a variety of emotions that she has to portray in her role, which is done in her usual charming way. There are moments where she is meant to feel helpless, strong, joyous, frail, afraid and annoyed and she plays around with it effortlessly. Without Question, she is the star of the show.

Despite the fact the plot was slow and predictable and the confusion of who plays the leading role. The lady in the Van sort of mitigates these errors and is given a little life by Maggie Smith’s performance***