Love the Coopers

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Director: Jessie Nelson

Screenplay: Steven Rogers

Cast: Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Ed Helms, Diane Keaton, Anthony Mackie, Amanda Seyfried, June Squibb, Marisa Tomei, Olivia Wilde, Alex Borstein, Jake Lacy, Steve Martin (voice)

Running Length: 107 minutes

Synopsis: Love the Coopers follows the Cooper clan as four generations of extended family come together for their annual Christmas Eve celebration. As the evening unfolds, a series of unexpected visitors and unlikely events turn the night upside down, leading them all toward a surprising rediscovery of family bonds and the spirit of the holiday.

Review: It seems almost like there is one such movie every year – a family reunion dramedy during the festive season – but Love the Coopers is a wholly unremarkable addition to this sub-genre that works only on the most superficial level. And despite the title of the movie, there is very little reason to love the Coopers (or the movie).

One of the biggest problems with Love the Coopers is that the screenplay simply isn’t up to par. The characters are shallowly fleshed out, and most of them remain two-dimensional despite being played by a group of rather talented actors. Most of them are not given much to do, as there are obviously too many characters with too many plot lines that cannot be satisfactorily resolved in the film’s under-two-hour running time. It doesn’t help that some of these subplots are rather confusing (none more so than the interactions between Arkin’s Bucky and Seyfried’s Ruby, which seemed to suggest one thing but ended up being something else altogether).

There are also problems with the believability of some of the characters themselves – Anthony Mackie’s police officer Williams inexplicably opens up to Marisa Tomei’s Emma in a car ride, but I found myself hard-pressed to believe that a man that is apparently super-repressed would reveal his sexual orientation and troubled childhood to a near-complete stranger. Many of the inter-character conflicts either feel like a non-event or come across as being completely artificial, which further detracts from the cinematic experience.

That the whole film culminates in a hospital scene that shamelessly tries to tug at the heartstrings is perhaps to be expected, but given such a low emotional investment in the characters, the denouement rings as hollow as the rest of the film. Love the Coopers is watchable solely because of the collective charisma of the ensemble cast (even the voice of the family dog, who plays narrator, is voiced by Steve Martin), and even then barely passes muster.

Rating: * ½ (out of four stars)

 

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No Escape

Genre: Action, Drama

Director: John Erick Dowdle

Screenplay: John Erick Dowdle, Drew Dowdle

Cast: Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan, Sterling Jerins, Claire Geare

Running Length: 106 minutes

Synopsis: No Escape centres on an American businessman (Owen Wilson) as he and his family settle into their new home in Southeast Asia. Suddenly finding themselves in the middle of a violent political uprising, they must frantically look for a safe escape as rebels mercilessly attack the city.

Review: One of my pet movie peeves is when any director chooses to use the shakycam effect to convey a “visceral” sense of action – apart from the found footage genre, there’s really no need to put viewers through a discomfiting viewing experience. No Escape is the latest in a long, long line of movies that abuses the shakycam effect, and it really managed to mar the cinematic experience of an already rather mediocre film. There’s also the issue that the entire film drips of a rather unkind xenophobia, undoubtedly amplified by the fact that Asian viewers like myself don’t seem be one of the target demographics that the Dowdle brothers are aiming for.

Set in an resolutely unnamed Southeast Asian country (and the subject of a real-life controversy, as Khmer lettering was used upside down on the police shields in the film, leading to outrage and a ban in Cambodia), No Escape does deliver some thrills along the way, but requires the audience to not think about the plot at all, as it is riddled with holes and necessitates the cast members to behave in the most reckless way possible, putting themselves into peril so as to advance the plot. Both the rebels (namely one murderous mob, with the leader sporting a prominent facial scar, because that’s probably the only way the directors felt “the Asians” could be identified) and the resistance (namely Pierce Brosnan and his local sidekick) seem to show up with alarming precision and frequency. It’s amazing how a nationwide coup could be reduced to such a simplistic face-off.

Although the country is unnamed, there are some really ridiculous conventions that John Erick Dowdle stoops to, reducing the locals to nothing more than seemingly irrational, bloodthirsty murderers and rapists. There’s even a scene where the protagonists are scuttling through a den of vice, which includes young prostitutes and (I kid you not) what appears to be an opium den. It’s seriously mind boggling how Dowdle’s perception of Southeast Asia seems stuck at the turn of the 20th Century, instead of being more rooted in current-day sensibilities and realities. As a Southeast Asian viewer, I am honestly quite insulted by such a portrayal.

Put aside all the social commentary and the filming techniques, and we are indeed left with a half-decent movie, with a good number of taut set-pieces, especially in the first few reels of the film. Both Owen Wilson and Lake Bell put in relatively strong performances despite playing against type, though Pierce Brosnan seems to be in this one solely for the paycheck (to be fair, his screen time is fairly limited). No Escape does become increasingly unraveled along the way, culminating in a really ridiculous, anti-climactic denouement that fails to make much sense. However, in all likelihood, the audience would have ceased to care about the movie by then, and are simply looking to escape the cinema once the credits roll.

Rating: * ½ (out of four stars)

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Yogi Bear * 1/2

Genre: Comedy 

Director: Eric Breviq 

Writers: Jeffrey Ventimilia, Joshua Sternin and Brad Copeland, based on characters created by Hanna-Barbera Prods.

Cast: Dan Aykroyd (voice), Justin Timberlake (voice), Anna Faris, Tom Cavanagh, T.J. Miller, Andrew Daly, Nate Corddry

Running Length: 80 minutes

Synopsis: Resident of Jellystone Park and “pic-a-nic” basket stealing bear, Yogi (voice of Dan Aykroyd), together with his younger companion Boo Boo (voice of Justin Timberlake, believe it or not), have been the bane of Jellystone Park’s head ranger, Ranger Smith (Tom Cavanagh). However, when evil Mayor Brown (Andrew Daly) schemes to sell the park to loggers to cover up his misappropriation of city funds, the bears, Ranger Smith and visiting documentary filmmaker Rachel (Anna Faris) must band together to prevent the unimaginable from happening.

Review: Let’s just get this out of the way – if you’re reading this review of Yogi Bear, you’re not the target audience of the movie. This film seems solely intended for viewers below the age of 10, and my guess is that Yogi Bear would be a perfectly fine for these little tots. However, Yogi Bear offers so little for anyone else that any form of recommendation seems a little tenuous. This is not to say that Yogi Bear is a bad movie, just that it’s so mind numbingly bland in every aspect that one wonders what gave this project the green light. 

While Yogi Bear is perfectly fine as a cartoon 50 years ago, the 21st Century update renders Yogi and Boo Boo in computer animation while the rest of the film is live action (although there really isn’t much action to speak of, save one sequence). This pairing does make the computer animation stick out even more, and unfortunately the “real” actors simply don’t put in enough effort to bridge the animation-live action gap. This results in an odd, lifeless mess that makes it painfully clear that each and every scene is done in front of a blue screen. It’s likely that even younger viewers would not be able to suspend enough disbelief to make this work.  

The film’s storyline seems to have been built on the same premise as the ten-minute shorts that used to make up the Yogi Bear cartoon, and it’s little wonder that when stretched out to eight times its original length, the plot of the movie is so wafer-thin and predictable. There are absolutely no surprises to be had, and everything is telegraphed so far in advance that one can almost predict every turn of the plot, including the denouement, 10 minutes after the movie starts. It doesn’t help that the so-called villains are the most two-dimensional and improbable I’ve seen in years, even for children’s films. 

Of course, no one really expects Yogi Bear to be a masterpiece, but the hope that this is more than a 3D money grab for the holiday season is totally dashed long before the end credits roll. Yes, there are some decent (but gimmicky) 3D sequences, and there are a couple of scenes that border on being entertaining, but really, not enough to justify the price of admission (especially in 3D). Justin Timberlake also should be lauded for a spot-on voice characterization of Boo Boo, virtually identical to Don Messick (Dan Aykroyd doesn’t fare as well as Yogi’s “new” voice). The only thing to be thankful for, if you eventually do end up in a cinema watching this movie (hopefully not of your own volition), is that it’s a mercifully short one.   

Rating: * 1/2 (out of four stars)

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Nine * 1/2

Genre: Musical

Director:  Rob Marshall

Writers: Michael Tolkin and Anthony Mingella

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Sophia Loren, Fergie

Running Length: 115 minutes

Synopsis: Set in Italy in the 60s, Nine details a week (give or take) in the life of famous Italian film director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) who is about to embark on his ninth film project, titled Italia. There is a slight problem – Guido is actually suffering from writer’s block, and despite the production being in place and almost ready to go, not a single line has been written for the screenplay. As he awaits the arrival of his muse, Claudia (Nicole Kidman), who has agreed to appear in Italia, Guido tries to escape the paparazzi and checks into a spa-hotel. Unfortunately, a bevy of women and problems follow – his mistress Carla (Penelope Cruz) shows up, as does his wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard). His marriage with Luisa is on the rocks due to Guido’s philandering, but Guido is desperate to try and keep the relationship alive. Also present is his friend and costume designer Lilli (Judi Dench), who tries to offer her advice to little avail, and American journalist Stephanie (Kate Hudson) who expresses her interest in Guido. Guido also has flashbacks to his childhood, where he meets his mother (Sophia Loren) and observes the erotic dance of Saraghina (Fergie), a prostitute. As the days wear on it soon becomes apparent that Guido is headed towards a breakdown and that the production of Italia may grind to a halt.

Review: It may be Rob Marshall’s second musical-to-movie adaptation (the first being the Academy Award-winning Chicago), but Nine is testament to the phrase “lightning doesn’t strike twice”. Perhaps it’s because Nine the musical is itself adapted from Federico Fellini’s 8½, and like the game of “Telephone”, too much was lost the third time round.

And whilst all the ten songs featured in Nine are big production numbers, the singing is barely passable for most and some of the numbers lean a little too much towards burlesque, actually coming across as being quite sleazy. The songs are not memorable either, and apart from Fergie’s strong performance on “Be Italian” and the totally anachronistic but quite enjoyable performance from Kate Hudson in “Cinema Italiano”, the rest of the songs simply meld into one large burlesque blur.

It doesn’t help that Daniel Day-Lewis is slightly miscast for this role, and despite his totally decent acting, Guido is a very unlikeable protagonist that not many audiences will be able to root for. Coupled with the fact that the women save one – Marion Cotillard has the only meaty female role and does a good job in portraying Guido’s long suffering wife – are one-dimensional walk on roles, seemingly only there to up the glam and sexiness factors, the whole film is thus comprised of famous faces with barely passable singing voices playing unengaging characters. That is as far from a winning formula as it could possibly be, and the result is clear. Watching Nine is akin to watching paint dry – a terribly soporific experience, and even the song and dance numbers only help to alleviate the tedium momentarily.

Rating:  * ½ (out of four stars)

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