AN EMPIRE OF WORDS


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Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Loitering, throwing stuff, spitting and running away are some of the actions of the real bad egg Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) and Paula (Rachel Stone) – a member of the New Zealand Child Welfare office – is insistent on giving him one last shot at a family.

The lovely Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and haggard-looking Uncle Hec (Sam Neill) take young Ricky in to their home out on the edge of the New Zealand bush. After scouting around the house, he gets back in the car to Bella’s dismay and Paula menacingly says there’s nowhere else for him. Needless to say, Ricky Baker flees from his new home that night.

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Now, I thought that this was going to be the film and a manhunt would ensue with Ricky evading the capture, but Ricky only makes it 200 yards away from the house and is found by Bella in the morning. Ricky settles into his new home, but threatens to run away each evening, which he never ends up doing. He celebrates a birthday and is gifted his own dog, who he names Tupac. (In keeping with Ricky’s ‘gangster’ lifestyle)

This perfect little world comes crashing down for Ricky as Bella suddenly dies and Paula writes to say she will be taking Ricky back. Immediately fearing the worst, Ricky burns down the barn with a crudely drawn face on a plate as an act of ‘suicide’ and takes off into the New Zealand bush with Tupac.

Rachel Stone’s Paula is hilarious as she takes on this menacing demeanour and continually states “No child left behind” whilst hunting for Ricky Baker. However, it is assumed that Uncle Hec, who is assumed to have gone mad due to the death of his wife, has kidnapped Ricky.

This is far from the truth. Hec finds Ricky lost in the bush and tries to take him back, before fracturing his foot at the fault of Ricky. They instantly bounce of each other and have verbal confrontations, but decide that rather than going back to society, they will srat on the run in the bush.

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Paula never ceases her chase to find Ricky, with her hilariously inept police aide Andy. (Oscar Kightley). She refers to herself as the Terminator and Ricky as Sarah Connor, before she could do chin-ups. Her relentlessness culminates in a hilarious car chase scene with Ricky driving a truck and waving innocently at Paula. The comedy doesn’t just stop there though, as the verbal bouts between Hec and Ricky are some of the best moments on screen.

Julian and Sam’s chemistry on the screen is fantastic and is one of the main reasons this film is so enjoyable. Their verbal jousts in the beginning to the banding together to survive in the bush and remaining anonymous from the manhunt. Taika Watita’s characters are fantastic and he has continued his trend from What We Do In The Shadows. Ricky and Hec both reveal more reasons as to why they want to live out in the bush, but I shall not divulge due to the potential spoilers.

Alongside these lovable and compelling characters Watita has created, he has also captured the beauty of the New Zealand bush with awe-inspiring shots as Ricky and Hec travel through it. This is packaged nicely alongside the wonderful soundtrack throughout (especially the music to go alongside the car chase scene) and creates for a very enjoyable watch. The real treat on screen has to be the chemistry that is on show and the hilarious characters from Aunt Bella to the inept office Andy.

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The story itself is enjoyable, as I mentioned Watita captures the beauty of the New Zealand landscape excellently, but also keeping the focus on Ricky and Hec’s journey and trying to avoid the people they encounter and staying out of sight of the Paula and the armed forces she enlists. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one of the better comedies of the year as well, as it doesn’t use the crass humour that has been used by the years earlier features.

And of course, the film has heart with Julian Dennison taking centre stage and being a genuinely likable character. This will probably rank highly at the end of 2016, as the comedy remained fresh, the characters were enjoyable, the scenery was beautiful and of course the soundtrack was perfectly fitting for the film.


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Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

Kubo and the Two Strings is the fourth instalment from the fantastic Studio Laika, who brought us the wonderous Paranorman, Coraline and more recently The Boxtrolls. They are the magicians of stop-motion filmmaking and Kubo and the Two Strings continues this trend.

What has been always great about Studio Laika films is the fantastic stories behind them. From Paranorman’s excellent twist on the zombie tale to The Boxtroll’s tale about conformity in society. Kubo and the Two Strings takes pleasure in the art of storytelling through Kubo and his magic guitar.

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The film opens in spectacular animated fashion with sprawling waves crashing down on a dishevelled looking ship, until a strum of the guitar chord splits the wave. This opening sequence all but sets the tone for the beautiful animation being shown.

Kubo and the Two Strings takes the art of storytelling to another level as Kubo (Art Parkinson) possesses a great skill in storytelling, which he does everyday in the nearby village. He tells the story of an age-old legendary warrior Hanzo and his fight against the Moon King. To defeat the fabled Moon King, Hanzo has to assembled the three pieces of armour scattered throughout the lands. Unfortunately for the townspeople, Kubo can never finish the story because Hanzo never defeated the Moon King and he still rules supreme.

What is revealed about Kubo is that he and his mother are on the run from an age-old family battle between them and Kubo’s grandfather. (who is actually the very same fabled Moon King) To evade capture, Kubo promises his mother to make sure he’s back before sundown.

During a festival in the village, Kubo finds himself out after sundown, which brings forth his evil Aunties (Rooney Mara) sporting some rather sinister masks. As he becomes trapped, his mother rescues him and sends him to the Far Lands with the last of her magic. Kubo awakes in this world by Monkey (Charlize Theron) who tells him he must retrieve the three legendary pieces of armour.  Kubo and Monkey cross paths with Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) who helps them as he believes Kubo to be a descendant of his master.

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Much like Coraline, this film can be looking quite menacing at times, especially in the fight sequences between the evil Aunties and the hero group, but it still makes the film enjoyable with the perfect touch of darkness in these scenes. Although the film is a family-orientated adventure, Matthew McConaughey and Charlize Theron have back and forth as Beetle and Monkey, which provides laughs and balances out the darker sequences in the film.

Although the film never does reveal where it is set, the costumes and sets reveal more than enough, but what really worked for me was the music. When Kubo wasn’t playing on his three-stringed guitar and making the paper dance around the screen and evolve to his will, the music had a certain far-eastern twang to it and worked excellently throughout the film.

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Although Travis Knight has worked previously animated the other Studio Laika features, Kubo and the Two Strings mark his directorial debut and my, what an excellent job he has done.  Knight has comfortable created the best Laika film to date and it comes down to everything coming together to creating an intriguing story that is backed every step of the way from the superb casting choice, the beautiful set designs and the music. What reigns supreme though is the superb animation, from Kubo’s facial expressions to the terrifying finale sequences featuring a menacing Ralph Fiennes.


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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

What seems to become a benchmark of teenage/coming-of-age films is the embracing of a social awkward archetypal character at the center of the tale. Perks of Being A Wallflower & Paper Towns both feature these characters, trying to negotiate their way through high school, much like Greg Gaines. The ‘Me’ in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. 

It’s not often as well that a film is created so brilliantly that it can actually affect the spectrum of emotions. And it’s not often I immediately have the impulse to watch the film again after it ending. (Last time was The Secret Life of Walter Mitty)

This film is pretty much bread and butter with the title. It features Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann), Earl (RJ Cyler) and Rachel (Olivia Cooke) as the titular ‘dying girl’. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl opens with Greg pretty much going through the rigors of high school and showing his method of having citizenship with every social group, from the fist bumps with the stoners to the head nod from the jocks.

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Greg mainly spends time in his teacher Mr McCarthy’s (Jon Bernthal aka the coolest teacher ever) office with Earl to avoid the social anxiety he would be subject to in the cafeteria. Greg has coasted through high school up until this point, until his mother forces him to spend time with the aforementioned Dying Girl, Rachel.

The film then takes on a sort of 500 Days of Summer feel with the beginning of a ‘Doomed Friendship’ countdown between Greg and Rachel. When Greg introduces Rachel to Earl (he’s accidentally on drugs) Earl reveals that they remake classic films in a parody style whilst reworking the titles like A Sockwork Orange and My Dinner with Andre The Giant. (They actually include clips from said films which are just simply brilliant and made me chuckle heartily).

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Much of the film then takes on this tone of Greg and Rachel bonding whilst Greg continually insists that this is not a love story where Rachel will share that loving gaze and the feelings will sprout. They simply get together and watch films and talk about ‘stuff’.

Greg’s social ineptitude becomes the centre of the comedy in this film due to his inability to filter his thoughts before exclaiming them including him inexpicably blurting out that he is going to masturbate on Madison’s ‘child’ pillow to the disgust of the girl sub-group.

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon did a fantastic job at the helm of this project, directing the very superb performances from the trio, but also excellently negotiating the balance between the comedy and the drama that takes ahold of the latter stages. The film deals with this subject expertly and even includes the strain on relationships that this could cause through Rachel and her relationship with Greg and even Greg’s relationship with Earl.

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I cannot commend this enough. Personally it’s not often a film that expertly navigate you through the range of emotions that Me Earl and the Dying Girl did, from the euphoric comedy to the heart-aching story at the centre. It had an immeasurable amount of heart in this film and this is down to the on-screen presence of the titular trio.

The film having the parodies and the chemistry between the trio make the viewing time melt away because of the pure enjoyment that can be received from this. The characters all work and they bounce off each other really well and obviously Greg’s social ineptitude fits perfectly into this film.


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Bad Moms (2016)

Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis) is a suburban American mom who (as she states within the opening minutes) is always late. She is the mother of two children who have an abundance of extra curricular activities and whilst she is continually whisking her children off to said activities, she also works ‘part-time’ for a coffee company.

Bad Moms filled me with a sense of trepidation and angst, as this was one of the unfunny trailers that accompanied Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. My initial thought that Bad Moms was going to feature the crass humour that populates the likes of Bad Grandpa, Grimsby and even to some extent Mike and Dave.

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As I said above Amy Mitchell is a very overworked mother of two, who throws caution to the wind and takes on this bad mother lifestyle which includes partying, driving her husband’s muscle car to and from school and just being a general nuisance to the PTA, ran by the evil Gwendolyn. (Christina Applegate)

After Amy disbands from the PTA, she gains her own circle of KiKi (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) who party and paint the town red with her. Much of the first half of this film takes on this tone of these fun-loving mothers, partying and being kind of negilgant to their other halves and children.

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One of my concerns going into this film was going to how the humour played out, I initially thought it was going to be crass and a female version of the male-heavy crass humours that are invading the comedy genre. Fortunately, it was nothing like that. And I laughed. A lot.

Now, I’ve left out a bit of crucial information in Amy Mitchell’s life. There is a cataclysmic event that sends her spiralling on this broken path, which happens to be she catches her husband in the act with a diary farmer on the Internet. This act sets off a chain of events that ultimately allows her to become one of the titular Bad Moms.

Majority of the comedy was displayed at the hands of Kathryn Hahn’s Carla and her antics with Amy and KiKi in tow as they embrace the Bad Moms spirit. Now this works on a level because KiKi is unknown to this world, Carla acts as their guide and Amy takes on the role of ring-leader of this group of moms. And the comedy works due to the believable characters played by Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn and Kristen Bell. These three were only helped on by their evil counterparts Gwendolyn, Stacy (Jada Pinkett-Smith) and Vicki, (Annie Mumolo) all displaying that Means Girls-esque ferocity towards the ‘Bad Moms’.

Unfortunately during the second half of this film, the comedy sort of dries up as it becomes repetitive of Carla being that threatening presence, KiKi being the innocent goodie two-shoes and Amy continually throwing caution to the wind. Bad Moms essentially becomes the idea that these mothers are living life backwards by going through their twenties in their thirties, by partying, staying out late and of course the inevitable love interest between Amy and Jesse. (Jay Hernandez)

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It works though, because it’s fun and enjoyable over the 100 minute run time. Although it is wise to take some of this tale with a pinch of salt, considering Mila Kunis continually looks incredible regardless of how tired she says she is at the beginning. By no means Bad Moms is not a groundbreaking comedy, but considering the comedies that have been featured in cinemas recently and their crass humour, this is refreshing and really enjoyable.

The end credits sequence is really sweet as well, as the six main actresses are sat with their mothers discussing their childhood and made such a difference to the overused humdrum ‘blooper reel’. This film is a neat little comedic package that works, but only works as much as the characters work. The soundtrack continues to follow that framework of adding popular, toe-tapping music, but again its placement is perfect and works brilliantly.