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Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

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Reviewer: Philip Price

Director: David Soren

Stars: Brian Posehn, David Soren, DeeDee Rescher, Ed Helms, Jordan Peele, Kevin Hart,Kristen Schaal, Mel Rodriguez, Nick Kroll, Sugar Lyn Beard, Thomas Middleditch

Released: July 24th, 2017

It was nice, for once, to walk into a movie having not watched a single trailer, having not read the source material, and literally having zero to no expectation for what was about to be delivered. This type of movie-going experience doesn’t happen often in the age of the twenty-four hour news cycle, especially when large portions of that cycle are dedicated to updating fans on every inch of a new movie’s production status. The truth of the matter though, was that I personally had zero interest in Captain Underpants, his books, or his potential movies and chalked this initial feature up to being nothing more than a relatively cheap and easy cash grab to capitalize on the popular book series by Dav Pilkey. Still, even this kind of “brand recognition” mentality seemed like it wouldn’t serve DreamWorks Animation in the way they might hope as the last I’d heard of the Captain Underpants books was when my younger brother discovered them in elementary school as they gained popularity…in the late nineties. There have been some rather large gaps in the publishing of Captain Underpants novels, but apparently Pilkey is still going strong today and given it’s been almost two years since the last Captain Underpants adventure I’m assuming fans might have even been excited for the prospect of a new Underpants adventure not to mention the first one they might experience on the big screen. And so, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is here and while, again, I couldn’t have been more unaware of what a movie that had “underpants” in the title could possibly deliver it actually is a rather inspired and genuinely funny piece of entertainment. Granted, this is all very silly and rather outlandish while capitalizing on the fact it knows it’s capitalizing on potty humor, but nonetheless the titular character and his creators, elementary school students George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch), burst through scene after scene with tireless enthusiasm and a joy for life and all its possibilities that’s downright contagious. Though I have no idea how faithful this film is to a certain novel or the series in general I have to imagine that what is captured on screen is very close to the spirit of Pilkey’s series as the most vital ingredient in Captain Underpants is that of getting the audience to view these adventures through the minds of George and Harold and it is in this regard that I came to not only appreciate what Captain Underpants was mining, but kind of adore it for doing so.

A kind of generic description given to a movie by a critic that is undoubtedly genuine, but completely cliché is the one that goes, “it made me feel like a kid again!” Despite the fact this rote comment now feels more like an aside than an actual compliment it perfectly encapsulates exactly how I felt after walking out of Captain Underpants and his first epic movie. Now, so that my reaction doesn’t end up coming off as one of those dismissive, but appreciative comments I will be happy to explain why Captain Underpants indeed made me feel like a kid again. Chiefly, and this is coming from someone who’d never touched a Captain Underpants book prior, is the films ability to tap into the psychology of a kid and how there are seemingly too many ideas to contain within the walls of your ever-developing brain. The film executes such a thought process by not only establishing the friendship and collaboration that is possible between George (the storyteller) and Harold (the artist), but by coming up with different visual styles and interpretations of their ideas to the point the film genuinely transports older viewers back to a time when all could come true while no doubt lending inspiration to the target demographic to create whatever might come to mind-even if it doesn’t look like anything they see anyone else doing. To this point, the animation style of Captain Underpants in general is different from what we’re accustomed to seeing in theatrically released titles, but it diverts from this style even further when the film calls for Harold and George to express how they’re feeling or what outlets they might utilize to let their imaginations run wild. One of the more memorable of these moments comes when the despicable Principal Krupp (voiced by Ed Helms) threatens to separate Harold and George from one another and the two of them play out in their heads how quickly their friendship will dissolve via sock puppets. And it’s not just that director David Soren (the underrated Turbo) utilizes quirky styles and methods to infuse his feature with energy, but that he uses such techniques to elicit more comedy from the situations presented. The sock puppet bit is funny by the look of it alone, but that the film chooses to exercise this look during what is more or less the film’s most dramatic moment automatically informs the tone the overall movie is shooting for-and it works.

Adapted from Pilkey’s epic novels by Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Muppets) the film not only thrives on the honesty of our two young protagonists and the heights of their imaginations, but by the fact it is legitimately funny. George and Harold are legitimately funny and inventive, and witty, and they are the type of kids you’d want to be friends with in elementary school despite the fact they can sometimes take their shenanigans a little far. It is to the credit of both Hart and Middleditch that neither of their performances ever come off as performances, but rather and rightfully so as two guys hanging out just having fun. Every set of circumstances they find themselves in is an opportunity to see how they might put their own twist on it and while the film certainly has an arc for these characters and hits some familiar beats as far as super hero movies are concerned, it is the characters of Harold and George and their creations that leave the biggest impressions. If Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie did nothing else (and it does) it would have at least made me curious about what George and Harold might think up next, but as it stands DreamWorks has crafted a kind of zany and somewhat experimental animated film that almost feels like a student film in that it’s pulling out all the stops because this might be the only chance they have to pull out all the stops. Still, Captain Underpants feels like a smaller-scale effort, especially when compared to other summer animated offerings, but this only gives the film another layer of charm in many ways. Aside from Hart and Middleditch, you have guys like Ed Helms (The Hangover) and Nick Kroll (The League) who are seemingly having a blast as they create these over-exaggerated voices that adhere to what classic archetypes of what the characters they are playing would sound like. Helms, as the titular Underpants as well as Principal Krupp, finds the grandiose Saturday morning cartoon cadence in his voice and runs with it while Kroll, as Professor Poppypants (yes, that’s his name and yes, it’s still funny), jacks up the villainy to eleven as this kind of Austrian mad scientist that wants to steal away children’s laughter by posing as an elementary school science teacher. Jordan Peele, Kristen Schaal, and Brian Posehn also lend their voices here in an effort that is altogether fun, entertaining, and ultimately smart…mainly for owning up to how dumb it is.

I love movies, simple as that. I watch them with an intent to write about them and have always enjoyed discussing the latest news and releases with others. I received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and Mass Communications/Digital Filmmaking and combined those interests when I began writing about cinema. Hope you enjoy the reviews, Happy reading!

Movie Reviews

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again ★★★★

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Released: 20th July 2018

Directed By: Ol Parker

Starring: Lily James, Meryl Streep, Cher, Christine Baranski, Amanda Seyfried, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

The iconic Swedish pop group said ‘Thank You For The Music!’. An overjoyed studio said ‘Thank You For The Box Office!’.

Sure. Pierce Brosnan singing ABBA’s SOS had a hint of the Borat (Sorry Sacha!) about it. But the summer of 2008 bared witness to a cinematic juggernaut in ‘Mamma Mia’, a jubilant jukebox musical whose sense of joy and fun proved irresistible for audiences. Considering life’s too short. Ten years on we return to the sumptuous setting of Kalokairi Greece with ‘Here We Go Again’, as the sequel fleshes out the timeline, remaining keen to create more cinematic memories.

Content with her unorthodox triple father situation in Harry (Colin Firth), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and Sam (Pierce Brosnan). Sophie’s (Amanda Seyfried) fierce determination to honour her mother Donna’s (Meryl Streep) dream of renovating her surroundings into a lavish hotel, coincides with the severe turbulence she’s enduring in her ongoing relationship with Sky (Dominic Cooper).

Increasingly doubtful of her own capabilities. The dynamo duo of Christine Baranski’s Tanya and Julie Walters’ Rosie look to bolster her confidence by delving into Donna’s past, as Lily James’ enthused younger incarnation of the character guides us through her eventful youth with the dungarees intact, reliving her initial encounters in 1979 with Sophie’s dads (Hugh Skinner/Jeremy Irvine/Josh Dylan).

Previously unapologetic in its ramshackle charm and high camp. Director Ol Parker to much relief resists applying restraint to its energetic, big-hearted song and dance numbers, whilst technically and narratively tightening up the deficiencies that perhaps plagued its 2008 counterpart for the purists, with a sharper focus on emotional engagement. As a result, it may not be as quick to overwhelm us with its blindingly sunny disposition like its predecessor, occasionally labouring in its first half with its time-hopping.

Yet when those glorious highs arrive like a new take on ‘Dancing Queen’ and Cher’s stellar firework-heavy rendition of ‘Fernando’, whose cameo evoked hearty cheers in the screening i was in. They are now armed with a poignant and reflective slant, reinforcing the ingenuity in how these timeless songs are integrated into the framework, in order to offer fresh interpretations.

Lighting up the screen as a young Donna Sheridan. Lily James captures the carefree spirit and mannerisms of the character superbly, proving a solid counterpart to Meryl Streep’s original performance and Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie in the singing stakes. Speaking of Streep, much has been made about her (lack of?) involvement in this follow-up. Without slipping into spoiler territory, her gorgeous screen moments this time around epitomise why many fans deemed her an instant hit in the first film. Elsewhere, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters continue to provide fantastic farce, stealing much of the script’s zingy dialogue whilst Andy Garcia’s enigmatic hotel manager is a disarming and dashing addition.

It may not have been a sequel we were warming up the vocal chords for. Yet in striking a killer balance between emotive and euphoric. ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ is a truly wonderful follow-up that brims with sincerity and show-stopping splendour.

Dig out the spandex and unleash your inner ‘Super Trouper’…

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Featured Review

Hotel Artemis ★★★

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Released: 20th July 2018

Directed By: Drew Pearce

Starring: Jodie Foster, Charlie Day, Sofia Boutella

Reviewed By: Van Connor

Iron Man 3 alum Drew Pearce makes his feature directorial debut with this slick future-set actioner – evoking the neon-tinged hyperbolic aesthetic of John Wick and applying it to a more stripped-down set-up akin to Joe Carnahan’s strangely forgotten Smoking Aces. Hotel Artemis sees the eponymous underworld hospital of the future come under siege by forces both outside and in, with a who’s-who of “hey – it’s….!” figures to bring its gleefully vitriolic war well and truly to life.

On Pearce’s part, Hotel Artemis knows its own playbook pretty well – tense action beats are played with coherence but don’t skimp on imagination, and the staging of it all is first rate. Jodie Foster, meanwhile, leads an engaging cast that includes a wonderfully sleazy Charlie Day, the brilliantly deadpan Sterling K. Brown, and an amusingly in-her-comfort-zone Sofia Boutella. It’s best to keep as much of its casting a surprise as possible, but there’s tons of fun to be had via mere cast reveals to keep proceedings engaging.

On the action front, though, it is strange that Hotel Artemis feels as subdued as it does as regards its own sense of internal rage. Whilst far from a bloodless PG-13, Pearce’s film never quite embeds itself as much in the hyperviolence of its world as you’d expect, or, rather, hope. It’s certainly no John Wick in that sense, and, though there is a decent share of world-building to kick things off, it’s quickly evident that this element of restraint is self-imposed by Pearce’s writing, rather than a by-product of now requisite franchise-creation. Hotel Artemis, incidentally, could easily garner itself a cheap and cheerful sequel or two, were there somehow a demand.

On the back of this pretty solid ninety minute actioner, that’s absolutely a consideration. The world it builds is fleshed out enough to intrigue, the cast are game for an intriguing balance of quirk and creepiness, and Pearce steps up to the director’s chair with unbroken confidence and a comic book sensibility that takes him deftly to the finish line. Stoker cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung astonishes as ever, and, while not his showiest work to date, Cliff Martinez’s score fleshes out the bonkers world of Hotel Artemis nicely.

Best aimed at those looking for another round of Smoking Aces-grade action – though, without quite the same singular ferocity – Hotel Artemis is a nice bit of bullet-laden fun with a lively cast and some slick visuals. It’ll never be one of the iconic points on the timeline of action cinema, but it’s a worthy stop-off on the way between the ones that are.

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Movie Reviews

Skyscraper ★★★★

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Released: 12th July 2018

Directed By: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell

Reviewed By: Van Connor

Be honest. Sooner or later, you knew The Rock was going to make Die Hard. It was inevitable. As he ascends higher and higher thought the upper echelons of the – increasingly spartan – Hollywood star system, this was always going to be coming. The only question really, was going to be whether or not it was going to be either any good, or even welcome in a world in which even a bonafide Die Hardsequel now typically ranks among the worst of whichever year it’s released in.

Alas, Dwayne Johnson is no Bruce Willis, and that quality control barrier could not be any clearer as Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno – with a dash of The Fugitive – for Skyscraper. Rawson Marshall Thurber’s adrenaline-fuelled ride takes DJ to China as amputee and former FBI tactical agent Will Sawyer, an American tasked with signing off on the security of The Pearl – the tallest building in the world. When terrorists seize The Pearl, however, Sawyer finds himself the subject of a Chinese manhunt and forced to find a way back into the building in order to save his wife and children from not only the terrorists seeking to fulfil their own agenda, but also to the out-of-control blaze that threatens to consume them all.

Johnson’s played in the sort of arena on more than a few occasions now, with Skyscraper arguably skewing closest to San Andreas as regards the sort of tone and polished spectacle you’re in for. There are some offhand nods to more classical genre archetypes – hell, it makes more Die Hard references than Jake Peralta – and there’s the requisite degree of fistbumping and utilisation of the term “brother”, but those still unsure of what to expect can rest easy on the promise of what’s essentially an Irwin Allen movie with a Neal Moritz sensibility. It ain’t clever, it doesn’t want to be, it just wants you to sit on the edge of your seat and then cheer afterwards. Which you will. A lot.

Neve Campbell brings an impressive amount to what’s an already impressively sketched out female supporting character in Sawyer’s wife (take notes, Bedelia – that’s how you handle hostage takers), and Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black) continues to make for an engaging added value element. Roland Møller, meanwhile, makes for a decent enough villain, but lacks the charisma needed to really sell the ludicrously named Kores Botha as much of an evil mastermind. Sure, he was never going to rival Hans Gruber on the scale of action movie villains, but Botha’s so thinly devised as a villain that he’s not up to the grade of Tommy Lee Jones’ Under Siege villain either. And that’s a real detriment when your action hero lead is someone as genuinely charismatic as Dwayne Johnson. Both Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Joe Manganiello took the wrong Rock movie, would be a decent takeaway.

In lieu of a captivating villain, Thurber nonetheless ensures value for money is had with a barrage of spectacle-fuelled set-pieces the likes of which will have you squirming in your seat biting your fist for dear life – IMAX could well inspire a sense of vertigo with this one. It’s a glossy-looking actioner – thanks to some smooth production design and slick visuals from cinematographer and Mission: Impossible alum Robert Elswit – and fight choreographer Allan Poppleton goes above and beyond to stage Johnson’s antics not as the all-powerful action commando, but a credible fighter dwarfed by the spectacle of what’s up against him.

It’s a good time for all. Sure, it’s in no way destined to become an enduring classic of the action genre – though, the spoilerific marketing campaign does well and truly show off what will become one of this summer’s more memorable movie moments – but it’s Die Hard on fire. With The Rock. In 2018. And if there’s an easier sell for a good time at the movies than that, it just means Dwayne Johnson has another movie out. In which case, still see Skyscraper first.

 

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