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Sunday, 31 December 2017

Retro Movie Review: Deconstructing Harry (1997) #RobinWilliams

Deconstructing Harry
Cast: Woody Allen, Caroline Aaron, Kirstie Alley, Billy Crystal, Julie Kavner, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobey Maguire, Demi Moore, Elisabeth Shue, Stanley Tucci, Robin Williams
Genre: Comedy
U.S Box Office Gross: over $10 million 
Trivia: Edited by Steven Schneider, Deconstructing Harry is included in '1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die' book 

Plot: Suffering from writer's block and eagerly awaiting his writing award, Harry Block remembers events from his past & scenes from his best-selling books as his characters, real & fictional, come back to haunt him 

'A Woody Allen Movie I Could Get Into - Just About'

I wanted to end 2017 with two reviews: one from my favourite male movie star in Robin Williams and the other from one of my favourite female movie stars in Julia Roberts. I already reviewed 2013's August: Osage County, and with this review, I now turn my attention to the 1997 Woody Allen effort, Deconstructing Harry with Robin in a supporting/cameo role. 

At times, ponderous, as a follow-up to the bore that is Everyone Says I Love You one year on, Deconstructing Harry is full of cursing, needless sex talk, it's a film where random, almost unrelated scenes are tacked on, although unlike with the former film of 1996, & thanks to Kirstie Alley and Robin Williams's scenes, it was slightly more bearable. This is Allen's darkest offering by far. Yet at the same time, it just didn't quite click with me.

The 27th movie of Woody Allen's storied directorial career, it sees Allen's character, Harry Block: a bitter and at times repressed autobiographical novelist and his erotic and neurotic misdeeds that also include three ex-wives. Harry is still the immature guy who whines a lot, is obsessed with sex, admits he is into prostitutes and deceives himself in regards to his relationship with a younger woman played by Elizabeth Shue. He turns the tables on the people he hurts and whenever they affirm how much of an idiot Harry is, Harry tries to make it their fault, instead. Rather than admitting he is to blame, holding his hands up and say 'sorry'. Just how much of Woody Allen is in Harry Block? Harry is an author and so repellent who writes stories about his relationships with his three ex-wives, a prostitute named Cookie, who is more than happy giving him blowjobs and of whom is unfaithful.

Deconstructing Harry contains cluttered vignette scenes along with a story that is often disjointed, as much as it paints Woody Allen in a negative light. The actors in the movie represent the literary people, who are thinly-disguised characters from Allen's real-life.

The scene with Tobey Maguire and some hooded guy was sort of amusing. My favourite scenes were with Robin Williams as Mel, the blurry looking out of focus actor, in a scene where he doesn't do much, yet lasting only several minutes, is still effective with his family donning glasses so that they could see him properly. There is something about Williams' appearance in that short scene, which elevated it to a whole another level that felt like it wasn't a needless cameo and that it should have been fleshed out more. I wished he had further scenes, I wanted to see more of Mel and he seems to be a likeable character, given what I have seen of him and of Robin's portrayal. And Kirstie Alley's rants as Joan towards Harry was entertaining, but the main storyline with Woody Allen's Harry wasn't that engrossing at times. But Billy Crystal as the devil was sort of intriguing. I tried to get into Allen's films; unfortunately, the problem with his films that I have is that whatever message he is trying to put across, somehow, it's not coming through for me to understand and at times, relate to. Generally, they are just too pseudo-intellectual for my tastes, and thus he is of an acquired taste, no doubt about that. There is just not much plot, wit and after not getting over horny Woody kissing Julia Roberts in Everyone Says I Love You, he snogs Elizabeth Shue here. Harry's treatment of the women throughout is gross, their venting anger is largely understandable and he is just a narcissistic character that I cannot really root for. Harry even takes away his son, even though he doesn't have custody of him from one of his exes, and takes off in a speeding car.

Deconstructing Harry wasn't an easy watch; let's face it, Allen's movies for me aren't easy viewing - yet in watching Harry spiral downhill through sabotaging his own efforts that at times, Harry is even aware of it. Some of the conversations felt uninspired, tawdry and droning with dialogue that didn't have much of an impact on me.

The main issue I had with this film, relates to Everyone Says I Love You - and that is though every major star has a scene, these scenes, as nice and interesting as some of them are, could have been extended a little. Alas, they could be seen as being distracting, more so than edifying. Although the usage of stars such as Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Demi Moore to prop up the movie, feels far less distracting as well as gimmicky here and starry-eyed than say Julia Roberts and Goldie Hawn in Everyone Says I Love You. Thus, making the roles in Deconstructing Harry far more efficient.


Pros +

- Robin Williams as Mel and Kirstie Alley, Billy Crystal as Larry

- Tad and only a tad more enjoyable compared to Everyone Says I Love You

- Found this one far more accessible than Woody Allen's other films 

Cons -

- Woody Allen's character is repulsive

- Not very charming & lacks wit

- Editing is a bit choppy

Final Verdict:

Marginally more bearable than Everyone Says I Love You, this one has a tad few more watchable scenes, but the repulsiveness of the dark comedy can be a tad too dark not to mention of the Harry character himself and it reveals a lot and says a lot more about Allen as being a deeply cynical and sad person.

Woody Allen fanatics will lap this one up and whilst I wished it was more emotionally engaging and had a bit more substance, Deconstructing Harry turned out to be a movie, especially a Woody Allen movie that I kind of managed to get into, which for me, is quite a rarity and a feat. 


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Movie Review: August: Osage County (2013)

August: Osage County
Cast: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney, Sam Shepard
Genre: Comedy-Drama 
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $74 million 

Plot: A look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them 

'Mad To The Bone & Unpleasant, Yet Made Redeemable By Turns of Roberts & Streep'

Meryl Streep plays the pill-popping momma, Violet, Abigail Breslin is a teen junkie with Julia Roberts as the mother, August: Osage County is lacking in the feel-good factor and is a gussied up episode of a TV soap opera that quite frankly has little to say and with characters with little depth and characterisation, besides of them cursing or losing their temper. But it is just about saved by the great performances by the likes of Streep & Roberts. 

A narcotic addict of a mother, who doesn't let up and launches a foul-mouthed tirade every couple of mins, presides over a family reunion when her husband commits suicide, and with that, startling and shocking revelations begin to emerge with family members lashing out against & attacking each other, which is fuelled by Violet revelling and relishing at verbally mocking her eldest daughter, Barbara.

Branded as a comedy-drama, the now- notorious Harvey Weinstein co-produced the film with George Clooney, as the Pulitzer Prize-winning play is given the big- screen treatment, and yet far from it, there are little to no genuine laughs to be found in this somewhat vapid & unpleasant offering. People screaming and shouting obscenities and insults at each other for 2 hours hardly constitutes as amazing acting: there needs to be a balance in being confident, angry but also toning things down and acting naturally. 

Julia Roberts as Barbera is a foul-mouthed mother, who squabbles with her easy-going husband & falls out with her mother played by Meryl Streep; Barbera is foul-mouthed as Julia's other character, Erin Brockovich. One of the lines that stuck out was Barbera going, ''Eat The Fish, B****!'', which sort of amused me. Nonetheless, the problem is with Barbera, there is virtually little that is redeemable and, but for say, the scene where she hits out at her mother, I couldn't empathise with her enough. Streep as Violet belittles every member, or be it female member of the family and as much as I admire her as an actress, her character in this movie just sucks whatever fun it tries to evoke. or be it doesn't have out of it, much to Roberts's Barbera chagrin. Juliette Lewis is Barbera's perky & talkative sister, Carol, My Best Friend's Wedding's Dermot Mulroney plays a paedo creep who comes onto Breslin's character, whilst Benedict Cumberbatch turns in an admirable performance as one of the sons, Charles. But other than that and the mounting revelations that pile up & explodes in certain moments, as a film, it fails to engage the audience with the characters, but that is further hindered by the characters being dislikable and some character conversations that are boring and not inviting. Ewan McGregor is another great actor, but he was a miscast to me here as Barbera's husband, Bill and he didn't really wow me. The guys take a back seat to the female characters who dominate the narrative. 

Of course, dare I say it, there is a fight involving Barbara and Violet, with Julia Roberts as you've never seen her before unleashing her rage as Barbera & wrestling & tussling with her mother to the ground, as she tries to take the pills away from her. 

In addition to it being more entertaining and charming as it should have been, the whole story, which is far from unique in its direction, could have been easily told in the space of 90 mins or so, rather than stretching it to a bum-numbing, long-winded 2 hours. The drama, but for the arguments and insults, is staid and not that entertaining and for a film about a family, it virtually says nothing that is good, meaningful or positive about them, whatsoever. It's just miserable. That this family has been torn apart and there is no hope and are doomed. 

The performances are great and very strong; the story, due to John Wells's pedestrian and bland direction, on the other hand, is far from it. 

It was like watching a combination of a soap opera with an episode from The Jerry Springer Show come to life. 


Pros +

- Terrific performances from Meryl Streep, Juliette Lewis, Benedict Cumberbatch and Julia Roberts

- The squabble between Barbera and Violet at the dinner table

- Had some watchable moments

Cons -

- Mean-spirited and bloated affair 

- Abominable characters

- No subtlety whatsoever & bland direction 

Final Verdict

One of those films that deserved to remain on the small stage and perhaps not given the cinematic treatment, the great performances given by the actors are pummelled down by the lack of subtlety, sheer cynicism and a lack of a story that truly engages and makes it all the more fulfilling as a movie. August: Osage County is a film where I bought into the performances but not so much the characterisations and the lack of depth, understanding & compassion given to each of them by the screenwriter, is rather bewildering to see.  

More Oscar bait courtesy of John Wells, George Clooney and Harvey Weinstein, but for Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, it's just a movie where people lose their temper at every given opportunity and whilst that ups the ante a great deal, everything else doesn't quite live up. 

Without the great performances to back it up, August: Osage County would be practically an almost nothing film.


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Saturday, 30 December 2017

Dead Poets Society (1989) Movie Screenshots

Dead Poets Society
Genre: Drama
Starring Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke, Kurtwood Smith
'He was their inspiration. He made their lives extraordinary'

My Movie Review Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Friday, 29 December 2017

Retro Review: I Spy (2002)

I Spy
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Owen Wilson, Famke Janssen, Malcolm McDowell
Genre: Spy Comedy
Worldwide Box Office Gross: almost $60 million  

Plot: A professional athlete has to help a U.S government agent recover a missing jet

'I Spy With My Little Eye, This Spy Comedy Is A Lie'

A how-not-to on doing a Buddy Cop spy comedy, I Spy falters as a comedy and the humour and laughs are not good at all and is a spy-like action film that lacks genuine suspense, as well as good action sequences. The second collaboration involving director Betty Thomas & star Eddie Murphy, following on from the just as woeful remake of 1998's Dr Doolittle, I Spy sees a spy played by Owen Wilson teaming up with a boxing champion played by Eddie Murphy to capture one of the world's biggest arms dealers. The film is based on a classic TV show starring Bill Cosby & one which I haven't seen. It was also the third Eddie Murphy film to tank at the box office, following on from duds in Showtime with Robert De Niro and The Adventures of Pluto Nash, which were all released in the same year as I Spy

With the mismatched Eddie Murphy as the so-called wise guy and Owen Wilson as the straight man, the pairing fails to convince as a partnership that doesn't add up & Murphy's schtick lost its magic during the 2000s, whilst Famke Janssen as one of the agents fails to make any type of impression. Whereas Murphy tries to be funny and lighten up the mood and fails, Wilson, on the other hand, and his character didn't attempt to be amusing, even in the straight man role. The story is just stale, with an execution that feels utterly tired and strung out that I became bored out of my mind. For a spy movie, there is no mystery or suspense, whatsoever. The whole film is utterly generic that doesn't attempt to do anything daring or go outside of the box, but rather play things too safe. I didn't laugh once, as I found it utterly joyless. 

And any film that has Owen Wilson as an overly competent action hero/spy loses several points.

If a film has six or more writers penning the script, that spells trouble for the film. The performances look like as though the actors are coasting through the material whilst coming across as disinterested and thus, they have little to no interest making an effort. The movie is utterly humourless and all attempts at comedy fall on deaf ears at every given opportunity.

Final Verdict:

Utterly unmemorable and dismal, if you are on the lookout for a spy comedy, go for 2015's Spy directed by Paul Feig and skip this one, completely.


Thursday, 28 December 2017

Mini Retro Review: Futuresport (1998) #badmovies

TV Movie 

Something tells me as I watched this that what worked with Rollerball in the 1970s should have stayed in the 1970s. Futuresport reminds of Rollerball meets handball, but the execution looks lame. If it was replaced by a futuristic version of American football or ice hockey, it may have been a better idea. Superman's Dean Cain is Tremaine Ramsey and his career post- New Adventures of Superman hasn't been great. Vanessa Williams is a great actress, but with a name in Alex Torres, it's not exactly African-American, unless she was playing a character who is afro-Latina here & yet not even her efforts could salvage this film. The image quality looks low-grade and cheap Z movie-ish, the story is utterly boring and not believable in the slightest. The only good thing about Futuresport is its length at under 1 hour, 30 mins.

Is It Worth Watching?

It's as banal and bad as Wesley Snipes's hair and terrible Jamaican accent. If they made more of an effort making the premise more fun and over-the-top and still entertaining, I'd find this as a guilty pleasure. 

Yet it is not.  


Retro Review: Back To The Future Part II (1989)

Back To The Future Part II
Cast: Michael J. Fox, Christopher L.Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Elizabeth Shue
Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Comedy 
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $330 million 

Plot: After visiting 2015, Marty McFly must repeat his visit to 1955 to prevent disasterous changes to 1985... without interferring his first trip 

'Sequel To Box Office Smash-Hit Is Convoluted & Too Complexed'

I've never considered myself as a massive fan of the Back To The Future movies, and yet I cannot deny it has been a phenomenal success and garnered millions of fans across the globe and in more ways than one. Yet there is something about Back To The Future II that doesn't quite run smoothly and somewhat feels off. Actually, the whole story is convoluted, all over the place with situations that occur and make little sense and with virtually little to no explanation or context given. 

For example, after Jennifer is euthanised/drugged out by Doc Brown, Doc tells Marty that he or they don't need her at all, so that she can't mess up the space time conundrum. So therefore, why have her in this film if she is not going to have a major influence or role in it? That is just nonsense. 

After returning to 1985 from 1955 at the end of the film's events, wacky inventor Emmett ''Doc'' Brown whisks Marty McFly and his girlfriend, Jennifer in the now famous DeLorean time machine to the year of 2015. Doc and Marty must intervene and put a stop to Marty McFly Jr from getting involved with Biff Tanen's son, Griff. As he does so, Marty SNR has grown up to be a weak man, old man Biff gets his hands on an old sports magazine, steals the DeLorean and comes into contact with his young self and passes on his know-how. When Doc and Marty go back to 1985, they see to it that things have gotten worse (no) thanks to Biff and the pair have to travel to 1955 to set things straight. Got that? I know I didn't as it sounds convoluted and perplexing to make any thorough sense.  

The story was written by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis, and it's one overlong, at times overstuffed & utterly confusing mess that is also not very engaging. It also suffers from the middle third of the story sagging and not making much of an impact, but rather it is needlessly dragged further on. Back to the Future Part II revisits and rehashes some of the plot devices and ideas of the previous instalment: Biff chasing Marty and Marty being chased by Biff, Marty being knocked out - only to reawakened by Lorraine. Speaking of Lorraine and Jennifer, the female characters are unceremoniously reduced to being knocked unconscious with the latter and Lorraine as either a wrinkled old hag or a sexpot in a skimpy- looking outfit with her boobs hanging out for the former. Old woman Lorraine also falls victim to Biff's abuse and neglect, which he gets away with. A plotline that I found somewhat distasteful for a so-called G-rated movie. I wished Jennifer had a bit of a say in the movie, not just Marty and Doc, but unfortunately, Gale and Zemeckis pretty much destroyed all hope in that. The scene also with the Black father attacking Marty with a baseball bat after Marty crashes into their house, thus fuelling the angry black stereotypes trope, was too far-fetched also. In all, the McFly family are not very well-written and portrayed.

It does have a few bright spots, most notably the hoverboard chase sequence with Marty and Biff's son's goons. The comedy aspect is downplayed and is primarily devoid and absent throughout as Back To The Future II takes itself far too seriously for its own measure and is not so much as family-friendly as it comes across, with little of the charm from the predecessor. The storyline in retrieving an old sports magazine, also feels redundant than it makes itself out to be that could have so easily have been cut out from the movie, and in doing so nothing of value would be lost. Because that plotline has no value and no merit, whatsoever. Honestly, as I was sitting through this film, almost every plotline & thing went over my head and when it did, because the way it wasn't well conceived that I just cared less for it. 

Incoherent, all over the place and at times, the story veers off in so many directions, one can lose track of what is happening in an instant. Which happened here, but of course, these problems long continued into the third Back to the Future movie. The third film was a meaningless cash-grab that was unnecessary and one I disliked more than Back To The Future part 2.

Performances-wise, Michael J. Fox is still good in the role, but his character, Marty - both old and younger self- is not compelling enough, whilst Christopher Lloyd continues honing it in as mad Doc Brown, but still pulling it off well. Crispin Glover was sorely missed and I was surprised that his character was omitted. 

Back To The Future Part II is not just complex with too many things going on at one time - its execution just renders this film solid at best -yet unavoidably frustrating and mostly unsatisfying. 

Final Verdict

A sequel that strains any credibility the first film had and relying on reusing the same old gags and story beats, the film doesn't offer anything or try anything new. This was also a film I enjoyed as a child -, and as a matter of fact was a favourite of the BTTF trilogy, but as an adult watching it today, its flaws are much more apparent than ever before. That, and with its copy and paste ideas, it just didn't withhold my attention that much. 

Fortunately and luckily, the performances virtually save Back To The Future II from being truly mediocre.


Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Retro Review: Boyz N the Hood (1991)

Boyz N The Hood
Cast: Cuba Gooding Jr, Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut, Laurence Fishburne, Nia Long, Angela Bassett
Genre: Hood Drama
U.S Box Office Gross: over $57 million 

Plot: The lives of three young males living in the Crenshaw Ghetto of Los Angeles, dissecting questions of race, relationships, violence and future prospects

'Critically Acclaimed Hood Hit That, To Me, Wasn't As Mind-Blowing As I'd Come To Expect'

A coming- of- age urban drama that is also hailed by many as one of the cinematic landmarks and synonymous in African-American film, John Singleton's 1991 Boyz N The Hood is relatively good but is hampered by the over-emotive stance Singleton chooses to opt for this film that also feels a tad TV-movie-ish and without making much of the hard-edged impact I wanted to get from and out of this film.

It's like part Stand By Me at multiple points,
 with 2 or 3 shoot-out scenes that is earnest throughout that later transcended many other movies of this type, but for a few exceptions.

Penned and directed by John Singleton himself, who was only 23 at the time back in 1991, Boyz N The Hood focuses on the trials and tribulations of three youths, with the ''Boyz'' seeking pastures new and further opportunities. Tre is a boy learning to become a man, Doughboy is an ex-con who is angry at his mother treating him differently to his brother, Ricky, a would-be (American) football player, who Tre has been keeping tabs on. Yet gangland violence, relationship problems and such start to have an adverse effect on Tre & his friends. 

Whilst this movie has been compared to Do The Right Thing a great deal, it has more in common and shares similarities to Dead Presidents in terms of its setting, consequences and context: Black youths living in the ghetto area & finding themselves into trouble involving gangs and guns, gentrification, drug-addiction, poverty struggles. I don't want all African-American movies to be about drug-dealing gang- bangers who wield guns and get involved with crime, - but having said that, for a movie about gang culture and being in the hood, this film lacks grit and interesting characterisations and punch to truly warrant a watchable movie for me. This is where Boyz N The Hood falls into this distinction and why I'd take the Hughes Bros, Dead Presidents over this offering. That film doesn't flinch, nor gloss over the ugly side of matters and goes all out in depicting the darker and grittier side of hood and gang culture that, to be frank, besides the hip-hop records and usage of the N & F-words, Boyz N The Hood doesn't go deep enough with & with a deeply engrossing narrative and character study of the central character. Boyz N The Hood has its moments for sure - and still, I don't get how and why this film has a higher IMDb score than Dead Presidents, - when that movie, I felt, went even more extreme and further down the deep end than Boyz N The Hood did with its similar themes. 

It feels pedantic and it does hit certain notes and social issues that's for sure; however, it just didn't manage to elevate itself any further beyond what John Singleton wanted to say and express. I also thought the handling of the childhood storyline with the 3 main characters as their younger selves was a tad too long and thus, it ate up too much time. 

Cuba Gooding Jr has never been better since Jerry Maguire and it is rather sad that his career since the huge success of this movie never propelled him into Hollywood's A-list crowd. But coupled with direct-to-DVD efforts in the 2000s put paid to that. Boyz N The Hood also sees the pairing of Lawrence Fishburne and Angela Bassett for the first time, and this was a partnership that was replicated in What's Love Got To Do With It?

Though I cannot see, nor doubt how big and how well it did at the box office and how timeless it still is today and that it resonated with Black audiences and audiences in general, (the film manages to find its feet towards the last hour/half hour) it just wasn't as ferocious as it sets itself up to be, profound or energetic enough. That and it veers somewhat towards TV movie territory, with its make-shift feel.

Final Verdict:

Boyz N The Hood is a super important contributor to African-American and Black cinema and in defining the success of Black movies from a financial perspective. Yet, though it is hailed as a powerful take on urban life, in fact, it just didn't go far enough and compared to Dead Presidents, it's not as shocking and hard-hitting, nor as powerful as I wanted it and expected it to be.  

It's funny this film was lauded as an extremely edgy and intense gangland drama - is this the same film we are talking about, exactly? 

I mean, I enjoy it, in parts, but if I had to choose between this film and Dead Presidents, which wasn't as widely received and yet it was far more critical, wider-reaching and potent in its execution and examination of themes that went beyond that of race, then I'd take the Hughes bros effort over John Singleton's. 

I guess in rewatching it today, I am just not in awe of Boyz N The Hood as many others are. 

It's a film, that despite its plaudits, manages to come across as frustratingly good, and yet it doesn't do much more to be exceedingly and emphatically great. 


Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Retro Review: The Ant Bully (2006)

The Ant Bully
Cast: Zach Tyler Eisen, Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Paul Giamatti, Regina King, Bruce Campbell, Lily Tomlin
Genre: CGI Animated Adventure Fantasy
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $55 million 

Plot: After Lucas Nickle floods an ant colony with his water gun, he's magically shrunken down to insect size & sentenced to hard labour in the ruins 

'Lacks Charm Compared To Disney, Dreamworks Heavy- Hitters, But Star Turns Gives Film Boost To What Would Have Been Largely Forgettable'

I took one look at the title, then at the voice casting credits and then the character designs and then thinking this film has a lot of promise and fulfilling potential. Yet in The Ant Bully, I actually got into the story more as the film went on, although I felt it lacked charm with almost nothing characters who aren't entirely memorable, irrespective of the cast names. The title definitely rang bells somewhat in 2006 when I saw the title, but I never thought much for it and the premise just wasn't my bag. It's a film without any thorough explanation, besides the characters, the context, the setting just didn't resonate substantially. Courtesy of Tom Hanks, The Ant Bully may appeal to the younger demographic, whilst older audiences will feel disinterested and be left unimpressed by the fact the characters are void of personality & the narrative fails to generate & sustain watchability. Audiences and movie critics weren't too receptive to The Ant Bully when it came out over 10 years ago. It was Warner Bros's biggest box office bomb of 2006 and despite Hanks's association and Julia Roberts and Nicolas Cage, I could see where and how it didn't catch on.

I always give a film a fair chance, especially one that has been written off by people and critics and I never go by other people's opinions and reactions and only go by my own after seeing the movie itself. Only then would I form my opinions on it. 

Based on the book by John Nickle, 10-year-old Lucas Nickle's small stature becomes the target for a local bully and his cronies. After Lucas's parents head off on their honeymoon, powerless Lucas takes out his frustrations on an anthill in his front yard. Yet the real adventure begins after Lucas is shrunk by Zoc and faces the wrath of the Queen Ant in Meryl Streep, who calls him ''Peanut'' & decides his fate & thus, he is sent to prison & experiences life in miniature size. Fortunately, Lucas has an ally in Hova, who unlike most of the other ants, she sees the good in Lucas as she befriends him. When the ants are faced with an even bigger enemy in local pest exterminator, Stan, it is up to Lucas to spring into action, as well as discovering that friendship, companionship, being a good & decent person is crucial, & as importantly in being courageous, in the face of bullies and standing up to them. 

A mash-up of Honey I Shrunk The Kids with Antz/A Bug's Life, The Ant Bully isn't necessarily a perfect film, nor a perfect animated movie that reaches the high standards that are as seen in many Pixar, Dreamworks & Disney fare (I could have done without the silly poop and pee gags), but it was not bad, either. Its outdoor setting reminds me of Ferngully. Actually, the further it went on, the more I got into it, once the film picks up right after Lucas, the self-titled ant bully is shrunk down to size.

The first half was boring, story was bland and did nothing for me, despite the impressive CGI visuals, although the kid characters, minus Lucas, look iffy and the humour but for some of the lines uttered by Nicolas Cage and Julia Roberts as their characters, weren't that amusing. 

The film has quite a cast ensemble, but not many of them stand out as their characters, and yet also the film doesn't have much substance going for it and the character designs are a tad more elaborate than Antz and A Bug's Life, yet it has none of its charm and feel-good factor and nothing in the story grabbed me and made me love this film. Most animated films have a comic relief character to help inject some amusement and entertainment and to boost its appeal - Aladdin has the Genie, Shrek has Donkey, Toy Story has Buzz Lightyear, Monster's Inc has Mike; unfortunately, this movie lacks a character of this type and because of that, it just feels too stale and almost, nothing. Contrary, however, Julia Roberts as Hova is charming and compared to her turn as Charlotte in Charlotte's Web, it's as natural as it becomes, but even with that, Hova the ant is more sprightly & who has a tad more range than Charlotte and Roberts gives Hova extra depth in not just her vocal abilities, but through evoking her personality & demeanour. Hova is the voice of reason, compared to Zoc, voiced by Nicolas Cage, who is a jerk at first, but as the film wears on, he becomes less of a meanie. He walks a fine line between someone you hate or annoys you to someone who is tolerable or likeable. Although I never truly liked that character and the film & book would have been ideal had Zoc done a heel-face turn and became the main bad guy for Lucas and Hova to battle and defeat. Regina King as Reela & Bruce Campbell as Fugax were all right though.

The Ant Bully doesn't really attempt to break new ground; it's mostly harmless and generic in places and it's not that meaningful as much as it tries to come across that way in parts and it also lacks the fervour of Kung Fu Panda, Aladdin, A Bug's Life and the exterminator as the main bad guy isn't nasty or menacing enough for me to want to hate him. But I have to admit, the longer the film went on, the more I got into it and it also helps in having Cage and Roberts bring in some of that much-needed charm and star quality to boost what is otherwise a nothing film. The star voice-over work, here as a whole, is solid. The ''walking in a mile in somebody else's shoes'' subplot and realising the effects of their actions it has on other people, is not too shabby and the offbeat humour also offset some of the preach levels that could've and might've gone a bit too steep. 

At under 90 mins long, it wastes no time setting up and establishing its plot, right from the get-go and is essentially a story, where it feels a tad bit like Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius, which is no surprise as the creator of this film did Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius and the main character is similar to Jimmy, somewhat, in appearance. 

But the film's message and intentions are clear and though it doesn't give kids or adults a lot of food for thought, the plot could have been fleshed out a little more in places. Despite this, & its poor reception, The Ant Bully was a film that I sort of, liked in a way, the more I stuck it out. & that is due to the casting of Julia Roberts and Nicolas Cage - without them, this film for me would have been far less entertaining and even more mundane. 

This is the 2000s answer to 1992's Ferngully, which was another box office bomb with a not too similar premise; The Ant Bully also has a not so too preachy message but rather a story that is lacking & Julia Roberts acting as the star headliner as Hova, instead of Robin Williams as Batty Koda, with Roberts being my favourite of the voiceover work bunch over the others. 



- It's all right & solid

- Voice-over work by & moreso Julia Roberts was really good, followed by Regina King, Bruce Campbell, Nic Cage, Meryl Streep, Zack Tyler Eisen

- Julia Roberts's Hova is my favourite character 

- Elaborate character designs, especially the ant characters 

Cons -

- Lacks a comic relief and funny character to make it more entertaining

- Insipid story that adults will be bored by it

- The exterminator character makes for an ineffective main villain & Nicolas Cage's Zoc is unlikeable

- Doesn't have much charm, compared to other Pixar & Disney films 

Final Verdict:

Not a bad way to waste 80 something mins and the runtime, I thought was good. Not too long but also not too short, either. It needed to have a more interesting story with better jokes and minus the infantile humour, but Nic Cage and Julia Roberts's vocal turns were impressive, particularly Roberts's and I liked Hova as a character, a good deal. 

A film that got lost in the shuffle amongst heavy-hitters in Pixar's Cars & Monster House, I think unless you are a fan of Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage or Meryl Streep and keen on them voicing animated characters, most adults will, otherwise, lose sleep and interest in this one. The Ant Bully is (arguably) even more unmemorable than FernGully: The Last Rainforest, which to this day still resonates for some fans, but with this movie, a couple of years down the line, I don't think it will measure up to that.

And still, fans of the original Ferngully will and may also lap this one up. 

At best for me, this is a solid showing but nothing special.


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Monday, 25 December 2017

Retro Review: I Am Sam (2001)

I Am Sam
Cast: Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dakota Fanning, Dianne Wiest, Loretta Devine, Laura Dern, Mary Steenbergen
Genre: Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $97 million 

Plot: A mentally handicapped man fights for custody of his 7-year-old daughter and in the process teaches his cold-hearted lawyer the value of love and family

'Adequate To Good Performances Brought Down By A Not Very Gripping & Engrossing Story'

I Am Sam reminds me of a combination of Kramer vs Kramer meets Rain Man meets Erin Brockovich. It's part-human interest story, part- legal drama. There is even a reference made to Kramer vs Kramer in one scene. I am Sam is a film that should have turned out far better and it feels as the writer-director Jessie Nelson, whose previous works include Stepmom and The Story of Us -, dropped the ball. Needless to say, it is a story which doesn't do enough to engage the audience and maintain its or be it my attention. 

7 years after Corina, Corina starring Whoopi Goldberg and Ray Liotta, Nelson once again tackles the single dad raising their child dilemma with elements that look like they were seemingly borrowed from Rain Man & Kramer vs Kramer. But this time around, she throws disability into the mix and the film assumes that a mentally-challenged/handicapped person is just as capable of raising their child as a non-handicapped person. Which I have no issue with, but the way this is conceived and presented onscreen just didn't feel as 'rewarding', if that is a good term to use, as it makes itself out to be. 

Sam is an employee at Starbucks who arrives at the hospital after his girlfriend, Rebecca gives birth to their daughter, Lucy. Minutes later, Rebecca abandons Lucy and Sam is left to raise and look after her. But then alarm bells ring when Sam faces the possibility of losing custody to Lucy and when it happens, when she is taken away from child services, Sam turns to hard-nosed lawyer Rita, in order to win her back. 

Yes, I realise this film has been trashed for being too cloying and clingy in its treatment of Sam's story and mental condition. & yes, this film is problematic and littered with problems in certain areas. 

For me, the issue here was not that it was too sentimental and treacly, but that the story, the narrative wasn't completely entertaining and interesting enough and that it never goes far enough to the very depths that Barry Levinson's Rain Man went to, especially in terms of characterisation. Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise pulled it out of the bag due to the well-written script & depth of their characters in Raymond and Charlie Babbitt that doesn't descend into over-sentimentality; Sean Penn and Michelle Pfieffer on the other hand, just didn't manage to. At times, it was tame, nothing much happened and profound moments were almost nowhere to be found. Though she was hailed as the best star of the film, young Dakota Fanning's turn wasn't anything that was special, to me. Both Pfieffer, Penn and Laura Dern literally try their best to bring some quality to enhance the script. The wholly spiritless feel the film evokes truly brought down their talents, and it just didn't make those performances standout, more noteworthy and memorable as they ought to have been. Penn's Sam is like a cross between Robert De Niro in Awakenings and Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. Despite her hard-edged persona, Pfieffer's Rita just wasn't quite as believable as I'd anticipated, and again, this is due to the material she had at her disposal. Her character also lacked personality and sufficient genuine apathy that she needed for me to fully like her. I also had a hard time connecting with the film and it needed more to make it more substantial.   

I Am Sam tries to do certain things and cover certain ground regarding the themes of disability, parentage, what makes a good parent and it tries to be a drama that attempts to be all these things; sadly, I felt that Jessie Nelson squandered any or be it all opportunities to make this crystal clear to the audience and to give us a really charismatic, lively and entertaining movie that only informs, but entertains as well. That and when it goes down the preachy route, it is a tad too much.

Sean Penn & Michelle Pfieffer needed a better screenplay to go along with a meaningful premise as this. Yet I Am Sam just wasn't the movie to provide that.

Final Verdict

I Am Sam had its moments, but there were only so few of them and the story itself just wasn't engrossing and interesting as it should have been. I liked the performances, but the film itself wasn't great. The movie was virtually dependent on Sean Penn's performance, and by taking away the turns by Penn and Pfeiffer, who was okay at best, and she did better in many of her other films, I Am Sam would have little going for it. 

Still, it was a disappointing movie that not only comes across as run-of-the-mill but entertainment-wise, it didn't deliver. 

It's no wonder that Rain Man succeeded and in watching I Am Sam, didn't. 


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