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Team America: World Police Review – Success in Replicating Failure

Team America: World Police, written by Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Scott Rudin and directed by Parker, is a full-blown satire of America. It involves Gary Johnston, an actor who is hired by Team America to fight terrorists controlled by Kim Jong-il.

Team America: World Police
Team America

Introduction

What do you get if you cross years of media jizzing to America and two Atheistswho make fun of anything stupid they come across? Team America: World Police. It is a satire from every angle possible. The movie doesn’t try to be its own thing and also make points through mockery. Instead, it’s a strong commitment to being a deep-rooted satire is what makes it stand on its own. It doesn’t just poke fun at the subject matter, it rips it to shreds exposing the truth. The topic of ‘ ‘MERICA!’ is taken a jab at as a whole. While the main focus is American media’s representation of America, they also point out flaws in American celebrities’ egos and America’s flawed need to ‘police’ the world. Hence the title. Genius.

This is the definition of smart comedy. It’s ingrained very naturally in everything; movements, dialogue and visual gags. Even if nothing funny is said, the realisation of what the scene means is enough to keep you snickering constantly. Every joke is layered beautifully in that way. They’re also layered in the sense that there are multiple interpretations. For example, Gary is disguised as a terrorist with his skin poorly darkened and face smothered in hair. It’s a stab at America’s perception of all terrorists and calls them stupid enough to be fooled by this. Most punchlines rely on exaggeration, but just enough gags subvert your expectations, so it doesn’t get monotonous too quick. It’s the kind of humour that shouldn’t work on paper but does because of the performances. Everything comes together to create something that’s more than the sum of its parts.

Characters

Of course, the characters are amplified stereotypes of typical caricatures. Gary is an actor who is only praised because he acts. Not well, just acts. But its shown as so great that everyone is gaga over him; a stab at idolization of celebrities. His past constantly haunts him, as action heroes always need lazily written depth. Gary also falls in love with the lead female, leading to a scene nobody expected to see in their lives. Because, of course, a guy and girl in a movie? And they’re gonna stay platonic? lol.

Team America: World Police
Stereotypical characters that work well? Check.

Other characters of Team America: World Police conform to this too. The main female denies her feelings for Gary (such conflict). There is a love triangle present (much emotion). The guy who hates Gary is an asshole so obviously he’s introduced playing pool (wow). They extract so much humour out of the Spottswoode, the chief of the team. He is so exaggerated and oblivious that you can’t stop laughing. His chair moves constantly because this character must be dramatized in some way or the other. What’s special is that everyone’s motivations for doing bizarre stuff actually make sense. They’re far more solid than some movies that actually try to be serious. Genius.

The best character is Eric Cartm- Kim Jon-il, the over-the-top dictator. Again, layered as hell. His accent satirizes American perception of Asians and the hyperbole is just hilarious. His mansion is complete with a throne, killer sharks and a statue of himself. The character oozes evil and they STILL manage to make you empathize with him. His minions are the terrorists who are established at pure killing machines who speak gibberish. Do I even need to point out the commentary there?

Team America: World Police
Best character in the movie.

Technical Aspects

No praise does the script and direction of Team America: World Police justice. The writing style of moving the plot forward using ‘so’ and ‘but’ instead of ‘and then’ creates an organic pace. The story is given a natural progression as each event plays into the next. There is actual tension in some sequences (released by blaring patriotic music, obviously). The final monologue is a masterstroke of writing. It encapsulates human philosophy in the rarest way I have seen till date. It’s guaranteed to put a smile on anyone’s face, but not in the way you might think. Again, genius.

The D.O.P is the legendary Bill Pope. He shoots the film as a dramatic action story. It not only provides aesthetic beauty, but the dramatization also works toward the satire being even funnier. There are actual crane shots that make the film seem like live-action. It may look like there is not much work put into it, but on second thought you realise the tight planning and creativity at play here.

The puppet work is honestly, masterful. When you hear about puppets in a film, you might think they’re old-school style. The opening shots start with one of those and pans out to reveal a more detailed puppet controlling it. Instantly solidifying this movie isn’t going to be what you expected. Apparently, they had fully motorized heads and its shows. Their range of emotion exceeds anything Arjun Rampal has done till date. The attention to detail is extremely effective. The blinking and head movements actually make them seem like real actors. The settings are so exaggerated as well, keeping up the deep-rooted nature of the satire. The immersion created by all these elements is commendable.

Team America: World Police
Puppet work is great. Film Actors Guild pictured above.

Cons

Toward the middle, the film drags a little bit. This is obviously done, again, to poke fun at how most movies do this too. But it’s at this point that the realisation of what they’re doing doesn’t remain as fresh anymore. Both of these combined do mess with the flow of the film. This style of humour really lends itself more to a shorter runtime, so the escalation is quicker, like South Park. But that still doesn’t detract from the hilarity and they do manage to keep you more than interested.

Conclusion

Team America: World Police is…ingenious. It proves how satire should be done; with a firm, unshakeable commitment. Every moment is crafted to seem layered and funny at the same time. There’s a sense of predictability, yet you feel like wanting to know what happens next, or rather how it happens. It has way more artistic value than the surface level tone it takes. The makers take the worst parts of American media and make them the best. They even manage to make musical numbers fun. An immense achievement.

Team America: World Police
What a movie.

We need comedy like this. That gives you a great time yet points out what is wrong with everyday things that surround us. Usually, this kind of criticism is blatant and unearned; it just amplifies flaws and doesn’t give a solution for them. This film is the answer to that mentality. If criticism must be done, shouldn’t it be done like this?

 

Further Reading –

 

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Movies Reviews

I Lost My Body – A Handful In The Best Way

I Lost My Body, written by Jérémy Clapin and Guillaume Laurant and directed by Claplin, tells the story of a severed hand that tries to make its way across Paris back to its owner, Naoufel. The path reminds it of life when attached to him and when he met Gabrielle.

I Lost My Body
Naoufel and Gabrielle

Story

Almost everything about this movie is unique. The animation style, story, characters, direction, sound design, and more feel never-before-seen. I Lost My Body presents a world that is monotonous and depressing in its nature, keeping us from being fulfilled. It tells us to break away from ‘fate’ and create our own path in life; to be an active character in our own story rather than just adhere to mundanity. There’s a commentary on how great ambition must push through despite being tarnished by life. Else, you would just be a shell of a person and never truly satisfied. It may be challenging, especially without any support, but must be done regardless of our past holding us back. It’s a subtle truth we don’t often think about because we are busy with the flow of life.

A theme of determination is enforced by Naoufel’s want to pursue Gabrielle and the hand’s conviction to get back. It tells us to be determined to take charge of our destiny. The story takes a non-linear approach; transitioning into a flashback makes sense at the moment but also elevates the storytelling. The transitions are so smooth that had the flashbacks not looked like they did, you wouldn’t even know it happened. It creates a seamless experience that pulls you in without you knowing it.

Characters

The characters represent the themes appropriately. Naoufel’s backstory is shown through precise flashbacks that set up who he is and what led him to this point. As a kid, he wanted to be an astronaut and a pianist but ‘fate’ intervened. Due to an incident that passion is stripped away and he is thrown into a tedious life. Working a soul-sucking job and living with people who barely acknowledge his existence. Which is why his reaction to even the smallest concern shown by Gabrielle, perfectly showcases what this world is about. She grows as a character by the skillfully written conversations they both have about fate. These were extremely interesting as the dialogue shows us by telling us. Characters almost say exactly what they are thinking and feeling. Hence it is not direct and gives the viewer something to think about, enforcing the themes further.

I Lost My Body
The hand is its own character

But what sets I Lost My Body apart is the character of the hand. It is very much established as its own entity. Just the opening scene where it escapes from a lab executes this perfectly. It takes action in order to escape and reacts to its surroundings so it’s not caught red-handed (No pun intended). It’s this action and reaction combined with lifelike movements that make the viewer perceive it as a separate character. It moves back when shocked and slouches when resting, furthering its resemblance to a full human. Purely through movement, because of the absence of facial expressions, the hand’s desperation to get back is brought out. It refuses to quit despite the constant obstacles it faces which enrichens the theme. It takes action to form its own path, solidifying the realization as absolute truth for this world.

Technical Aspects

The animation is gorgeous. It is the most unique element on display. The lines look hand-drawn but the textures of objects are quite detailed. This provides an interesting contrast that makes it distinguished. It has a distinct personality that’s visually interesting, aesthetically very pleasing and compliments and elevates the story. The movements, as mentioned before, are extremely lifelike which makes all the characters seem like real actors. Blocking, expressions and the voice acting come together beautifully to make the film come to life. Mainstream animation aims for exaggeration and photorealism to bring out character. Here it happens purely through treating them like physical beings. It provides an authentic experience and helps us accept and get wrapped up in the characters so effectively. It’s like viewing real-life with a filter over your eyes, just pure bliss.

The Animation is Extraordinary

Another interesting choice is the frame rate of the film. It’s half the standard fps (12 frames per second instead of 24). Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse did this as well, however it relied on fast-paced movement and actually used proper frame rate at times to tie it together. In I Lost My Body, the glue is the dynamic soundscape. The sound design is sharp and concentrated while the score induces a dream-like state. Almost as if the characters’ need is a fantasy. The sound ambiance created adds another level of realism to an already authentic visual experience, creating a further unbreakable illusion. The direction is exceptionally crisp. Not one frame feels out of place or unnecessary. The transitions into flashback are connected by movement making them buttery smooth. There are tense sequences, and the pace only makes that tension stronger. It is truly fantastic in every aspect.

 

Cons

As far as gripes go I only have a minor one. The film is just a hair too vague. ‘Show, don’t tell’ is a law in filmmaking, however, anything in excess ruins the effect a little bit. The hand sequences are actually not the issue, just some flashbacks, and part of the third act. But that’s it. Everything else is just brilliant.

I Lost My Body
Magnificent Film

Conclusion

I Lost My Body is undoubtedly underrated. It is a subtle yet compelling story, filled with well-rounded characters brought to life by outstanding animation, all supported by excellent direction. The film doesn’t shy away from mature themes and imagery creating an experience that is remarkably unique. It proves that animation is not just for kids and deserves the same recognition and respect as live-action.

 

Further Reading:

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Onward Review – A Decent Quest While it lasted

Onward, directed by Dan Scanlon and written by Scanlon, Jason Headley and Keith Bunin tells the story of the Lightfoot brothers, Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt), who go on a magical quest to find a way to bring their father back for one day.

Onward
Ian and Barley Lightfoot

This movie is…entertaining. It is fun to watch; there’s not a sequence that was boring or felt dragged out. It succeeds in achieving a quick pace and making the whole film seamless. The film presents quite an imaginative setting that has a ton of scope to expand upon. It is filled to the brim with really artistic designs and elements that give you a good sense of this new world. Underneath it all is quite a touching bonding story, which you don’t see coming. The animation is stunning and Onward is another testament as to why Pixar is leading in this industry. While I liked the film overall, there were just some major issues staring me in the face that I couldn’t let go off. On the one hand, it’s great that there are so many creative ideas in the film, but that’s where the problem lies as well. There are SO MANY creative ideas in the film. The makers aren’t able to explore all of them fully, especially given the runtime. The imagination put into the ideas really does shine through and make the whole concept seem quite ambitious, but it’s almost like the film relies on us revelling in how good the concept itself is, rather than presenting something richer.

The film also has an issue where they set up one thing but go in a completely different direction. This happens constantly. For example, we’re introduced to the concept of magic and wizards and other fantasy elements existing in the past, but they’re now gone in favour of technology and modernisation. This seemed like a set-up for a very obvious metaphor about today’s world, but the whole magic concept ends up being a contrivance for the characters and doesn’t mean anything to the world of the story. Had it been that way, the themes could’ve been much stronger and more hard-hitting. I guess the attempt was to subvert viewer expectations as that is what the third act, and in fact the whole movie, relies on. And it saved the film big time. The perspective shift near the end was extremely effective and easily the best part of the movie. It makes you think about the story in a completely new context. It was the one expectation subversion that worked and how. Felt like a classic Pixar-Third-Act moment. If only everything leading up to this point was just as good, the film could’ve been this year’s Coco.

Onward
Literally just a pair of pants

Onward has characters that are quite likeable, if not the most memorable. Ian is the youngest in the Lightfoot family and lacks self-assurance and confidence. While this is a very beaten-to-death trope, they go a little deeper with it, so it fits within the story. On his 16th birthday decides he wants to be bold and confident like his dad. The film required his need to be stronger, to get us on board with the quest concept, which is mostly driven by his elder brother Barley instead. He is a fantasy fanatic who wants everything around him to be like a fantastical quest (Chris Pratt was perfect casting for this). It makes sense that he would push his brother to pursue a ‘quest’, however, had Ian been the singular driving force it would’ve made him a more active character, something that works perfectly in his arc. The issue with Barley is his arc kicks in toward the middle of the movie, making him seem more like a supporting character till then.

Honestly, I was getting a little tired of him till they decided to give him some depth, which also didn’t feel solid and earned. Even his resolution, while effective, was a product of actions he takes because of Ian’s need, again casting him off as a supporting character. More focus should’ve been put on him, but I also understand that that would ruin the impact of the ending a bit. It is, after all, a bonding story. Speaking of supporting characters, their mother Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and the ‘Manticore’ Corey (Octavia Spencer) were so funny. Every time the film cut back to them, I was excited, and it didn’t feel unnecessary. The biggest issue lies with Wilden Lightfoot, Ian and Barley’s father, the reason for the quest to begin in the first place. Throughout the movie, he is just his bottom half. Just his pants. This stopped him from being a complete character, no pun intended. I kept waiting for him to be one, but he is just a MacGuffin at the end of the day. Again, it is understandable that this was done for the ending and message they wanted to bring out. However, a twist should not be set up at the cost of a great experience for the audience. Onward also has great voice acting all across the board. In fact, it seemed like the actors weirdly had better chemistry than the characters. But overall, great performances.

The animation is breath-taking. The environments and objects that surround the characters look so photorealistic. The lighting effects and textures are just beautiful. Pixar just keeps getting better with no end in sight. There is an issue with this too though. For how realistic the surroundings look, the character designs are a bit cartoon-y and childish. They needed to pick one style and stick with it, like The Incredibles or Inside Out. That choice made Onward feel a little disjointed. The other technical aspects don’t stand out in any way, but they’re decent for what they are. The score needs special mention; it is detrimental to the final twist in the story. In fact a lot of the other sequences depend on how effective it is as well. Speaking of sequences, I wish they were a bit more unpredictable. The first two acts are filled with scenes where, as a viewer, you can tell exactly how they’re going to end, and its things like this that hold it back from being solid and unforgettable.

Onward
The animation is beautiful

Onward is definitely an enjoyable film, but it was just that. Enjoyable while it lasted. Again, some ideas are really great, particularly one involving a truck behaving like a unicorn. Brilliant moment. The execution required the same amount of care put into the conception. Right now, it just comes off as a little rushed. The makers needed time to embrace the concepts fully to create something truly unique and significant.

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Movies Reviews

Ford v Ferrari Review – What A Ride

Ford v Ferrari, written by the Butterworth Brothers and Jason Keller and directed by James Mangold, tells the true story of Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and Ken Miles (Christian Bale) as they navigate through corporate disturbance, natural science, and their own restraints to try and win the Le Mans ’66.

Ford v Ferrari
Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles

This is not an average sports film. It’s not an underdog story. Ford v Ferrari is arguably the most one-of-a-kind sports movie made to date. It shows us a world where everything will stop you from pursuing your passion, but you have to follow it no matter what. What the film does so brilliantly is present a simple story, but everything little element is so strong and fleshed out that it feels like far more than that. It drives (sorry) the theme of ‘passion over glory’ home in a very subtle manner. In fact, the attitude of the whole movie seriously condemns glory and tells us to be satisfied with things that enthuse us. The final message is quite layered and might seem bittersweet, but the film doesn’t treat it that way. The script is able to perfectly balance human drama and riveting action scenes and interweave those to make the whole experience that much more satisfying. Scenes have this level of realism to them, obviously stemming from it being a real story, yet the writing is so impeccable that the drama comes through ingeniously. Not one scene uses melodrama to push its point further. It all comes through with clear-cut conflict, an apt level of grit and really entertaining dialogue.

The movie focuses heavily on the interest in cars and racing shared by the main characters, and so it achieves a clear focus and refuses to waiver from it, which makes the experience seamless. It’s 2 hours 30 min runtime doesn’t even come close to feeling like that much. It also knows not to take itself too seriously so that regular scenes have a more entertaining tone and, relatively, scenes that need more of an impact are able to accomplish it. It is able to please any type of audience member; those who just want to experience high-octane action and those who want to feel a story play out, which is what the best movies are able to accomplish.

Ford v Ferrari is filled with fantastic characters. Carroll Shelby is a former race-car driver who is forced to retire due to an injury, but his passion for racing hasn’t diminished. Ken Miles is a professional race-car driver and mechanic who is struggling to provide for his family. The chemistry of these two drives (sorry again) the movie. Their motives for and obsession with racing are so strong it makes them likable as hell and we sincerely root for them. They do so many ‘illegal’ things, yet we never hinder from being on their side. Shelby and Miles always treat the cars, not like machines, but their own entity. They represent the passion of the film, as stated earlier, while Leo Bebe (Josh Lucas) represents the ‘glory’ side of things. He is a scheming rep from Ford who only wants to make his boss happy for personal gain and will do anything to make that happen. This brings me to the performances. Everyone is perfect. Moving on, all the arcs enforce passion. Carroll realizes he needs to make decisions according to what he wants rather than what is told to him. Miles and his son majorly bond over said passion. And Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) is constantly on our protagonists’ side even though he works for Ford, enforcing the idea that true passion can even exist in the heart of glory.

Ford v Ferrari
Ken Miles with his son

James Mangold’s direction is flawless. As mentioned, the tone he approaches Ford v Ferrari which gives it its unique feel. He is able to make us feel the weight of the situation, yet entertain us constantly, so it works. Everything about the tone comes from the character’s reactions, not the other way around. The editing is pristine. The action scenes obviously stand out. They’re excellently paced to the point where just like the rest of the runtime they don’t feel nearly as long as they are. Even the non-action scenes feel like the editor is in control of what’s happening. Just the right emotions are brought out at the right times, even during action sequences. It’s unique as there are so many cuts to keep the action high octane yet you’re so engrossed you barely notice it. They play out longer than normal sports movies would allow them to (even though they don’t feel like it), so their weight can be soaked up by viewers. Definitely deserved the Oscar. The sound is also extremely well done. It bridges entire scenes in a manner where the revs of the engines get you going. Even after the film ends, it keeps your heart racing (sorry, last one). The score is very underrated. It enforces the tone of the movie; not too serious yet makes you feel the weight. A ton of it is actually quite soft, which is different for a sports movie about racing. But that’s what builds the dramatic element which is what makes the film so great.

Ford v Ferrari
The actions sequences are more than riveting

Ford v Ferrari is far more than a sports movie about cars and racing and underdogs. Its focus on characters and telling a story really push it to be a rare film. It’s this focus that makes all the exciting stuff work in the first place. Every element is flawless and seamlessly creates an experience that is memorable and lovable. As stated before, it can please any type of viewer which means this is a must-watch for everyone.

 

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The Invisible Man Review – A Bit Hollow

The Invisible Man, written and directed by Leigh Whannell, follows Cecilia Kass as she runs away from her abusive partner, who commits suicide two weeks after. But she has a sneaking suspicion that he is still alive and is screwing with her life as revenge.

The Invisible Man
Cecilia Tries to Escape Her Abusive Partner

Leigh Whannell’s direction really shines through in The Invisible Man. He is able to set up the film in quite a ‘show, don’t tell’ manner. In the first scene itself, we understand that the main character wants to escape, something she has been planning for a while and its because of her dangerous partner. It has a sense of tension that pulls you in and perfectly sets up what the film will be like on the direction and technical front. Speaking of, the cinematography and sound design are also on point. The camera work does something unique; it films blank space as if a subject is present. It succeeds in making us feel what Cecilia feels too, that there is a person following us who we just can’t see. It’s actually kind of genius. Most of the film looks like this so at all times we feel the threat of an invisible person lurking around. The sound design knows exactly when and how to create tension. Never is there a cheap jump-scare moment where the sound drowns out and surprises you. Similar to the cinematography, it constantly works toward making us feel the presence of someone invisible. Overall, the direction and technical aspects elevate the film as they are sharp, subtle and work toward giving us a very creative experience.

Elizabeth Moss must receive tons of praise for The Invisible Man. She portrays the paranoia and fears the character is going through brilliantly. She is always fidgety and constantly looks around as if to stay alert of everything. The character truly feels like a victim of abuse because of her. How Cecilia’s past has made her what she is, is brought out really well, to the point where you do sympathise with her, but not out of pity. Other characters are not really given too much to do, but that is done on purpose as the intention is to make us go through these events as she is experiencing them.

The Invisible Man
Elisabeth Moss Plays Cecilia Brilliantly

And that’s about where all my pros with the film end. Everything else in The Invisible Man seriously brings it down, namely the script. It began beautifully, but right after the first act ends; it jumps the shark. Every scene turns into a horror trope we have seen in a million other movies. She faints out of paranoia, she slowly walks around looking for someone in a dark place, people say she has done things that she doesn’t remember, and so many more. Even though it is directed well, the core events aren’t special or different enough to lift the film. The script also thinks it’s cleverer than it is. Characters keep pointing out small details that would prove or disprove someone’s point. This could have worked, but it’s very clear that these details are brought up specifically to move the story forward, as the same points cause a few plot holes. For example, the movie focuses heavily on CCTV cameras to get Cecilia into trouble, but the same cameras in other scenes can be used to defend her and end the movie right there.

The reveal of the ‘Invisible Man’ is also completely out of left field. It is the last thing that fits in with the film’s tone set up to that point. It is a very obvious attempt to revamp H.G.Wells’ classic story, but they completely missed what made that story work in the first place. The twists in the film are extremely predictable. They don’t add an element of surprise to the story like they try to, and just bore you further because you see them coming from a mile away. The main character does complete her arc, but it’s a very basic and unsatisfying one. More so because of the potential it had to be interesting. Every time there is a psychological aspect to a horror film, I am instantly intrigued, but here they fail to deeper with it. And I guess that’s the biggest problem with this movie. It starts off with heaps of potential and squanders it more and more as it goes further.

The Invisible Man
Too Many Overused Tropes

Overall, The Invisible Man uses some great technique to create a tone and feel that is supported further by Elizabeth Moss, but drops the ball and becomes a series of failed attempts at making something smart.

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Movies Reviews

Paul Movie Review – Underrated, Funny, Outstanding

Paul, directed by Greg Mottola and written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, is about two English geeks, Graeme and Clive, who come to America to attend Comic-Con and explore alleged UFO sighting locations. On their journey, they come across Paul, an alien trapped on Earth for decades. With the government hunting them down, they must get Paul home safe and sound.

Paul
Graeme, Clive and Paul

Paul is fucking hilarious. The humour is what shines the most here. It’s clever and intriguing; not one joke feels out of place or mistimed. But what else do you expect from Pegg and Frost? They know exactly what they’re doing when it comes to comedy. In hindsight, all the jokes are actually childish to an extent, but the film has a very mature core, hence it works. And this contributes to the overall theme; we all need to learn to let go of seriousness in life and occasionally embrace our childish side. The main characters start out as man-children and end up as more mature adults, without letting go of their geeky, nature. There’s even a scene where a child looks at Paul and accepts him and his existence, whereas every adult faints at the first sight of him. This brings me to running jokes. This movie has a few of them and knows precisely how many times they should be brought up. Like I said, Pegg and Frost know what they’re doing. Paul also has a very subtle message of care and humanity. Paul constantly cares for the human characters; he helps them physically, and emotionally and the only reason they succeed is because of care in return for him. It pushes them to get him home safely. But the priority of this film was laughs, it will get loads out of you.

The characters are the second biggest positive here. Paul is filled with extremely likable characters, main and supporting. Starting with the duo from the Cornetto Trilogy, as stated before, they’re man-children who learn to care and mature by the end. And during that journey, they keep us hooked by Pegg and Frost’s smooth and perfect delivery of jokes, appealing screen presence, and enjoyable chemistry. Even the rest of the cast is quite skilled in humour. Ruth Buggs’ (Kristen Wiig) comedy lies mostly in her cursing, but everything she comes up with is so unique and absurd, it works. The film does something special with the antagonistic characters. Everyone who chases the main characters down represents an exaggerated problem America suffers from. For example, Michael Bluth plays the role of the government out to capture an individual just for being different, not committing a crime. Throughout the film, he plays this serious agent on the lookout for Paul. This means his punchlines need to be delicate and sophisticated, and he plays them masterfully. He has some great interplay with the ‘Law Enforcers’ of America; cops played by Barry Berkman and Charles Boyle (who is quite familiar with this, I bet). Paul is also chased down by Ruth’s father, a devoted and almost brainwashed Christian, who tags Paul as the devil at first but by the end labels him the miracle of God. They’re even hunted down by some rednecks played by Todd Packer and Todd Alquist, who make fun of two random guys sitting beside each other for being gay, even though they are the exact same.

Paul
The cops and government agent out to catch Paul

And of course, Paul. He is the most entertaining alien they could create. He represents the mature core mentioned earlier as he constantly helps his friends out by fixing physical impairments and helping them get over their emotional arcs, he doesn’t want to see them get in trouble because of him, and we’re even shown some people he prioritizes before himself. All this ironically makes him more human than alien and that’s where the genius lies. Seth Rogen plays him just like a real person, and that helps us connect with him, contributing to us as viewers being on board with everything the characters do.

Paul
Paul is an alcoholic and addicted to smoking

From a technical standpoint, the film is more impressive than it seems. The direction doesn’t try to have a voice of its own as the makers realize the characters and humour are really what make the movie special. It goes for a very casual tone which seems like the perfect fit for this story. The editing and score work beautifully to hold the emotion of every scene, making it flow seamlessly.

As far as gripes with Paul go, I have very few. The themes of the film could be better realised and prioritised just a bit more. Obviously understandable they wanted to go for laughs, but a few places just feel like they missed the opportunity to make it more solid. The characters, while not surface-level, could stand to come off as a little deeper. Even one more layer of complexity would have made the film much stronger. And having their arcs culminate at the end instead of toward the middle of the film would make for a better experience. But they make up for it by being so enjoyably funny and appealing.

Overall, Paul will absolutely, 100% keep you laughing from the very first scene. The humour shines so brightly in the film that you don’t want it to end. The makers realized that entertaining characters, subtle comedy, and unique charm are needed for this movie to work, and they succeed in giving us just that.

You can stream Paul right here on Netflix.

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Movies Reviews

Game Night Review – Pieces Without a Board

Game Night, directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, is about Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams), a competitive couple who take part in a murder mystery game night hosted by Max’s brother, Brooks. Things take a turn for the worse when unknown to them, the game is intercepted by real criminals.

Game Night
Max and Annie

The pros of Game Night definitely lie in the direction, cinematography and the lead actors. The directors approach this movie with creative energy which they achieve with some really innovative shots. These combine very well with the cinematography to give a unique look to the film, which piques your interest. There are shots where the camera rotates with a door lock keeping it completely still in the frame while everything else moves, and shots with the camera locked to a car door so it moves as the door does. The best example of this is a long take through a mansion towards the end of the second act. You can tell the directors harnessed their creativity into making this look like a one-of-a-kind experience. The tone of the film fits perfectly with the look; self-aware and not too serious. The focus remains on giving us a fun, entertaining affair.  The score is very electronic and game-inspired, adding to the tone of the film. The editing also paces the film quite well and times the jokes so that most of them hit perfectly. It brings the uniqueness of the direction to the forefront, letting us absorb the vision fully.

The lead actors also carry this movie really well, especially Bateman. He delivers the humor in such a subtle manner that you can’t help but laugh. This type of comedy that doesn’t work on paper but does on-screen due to the performances is quite refreshing. It puts into focus how much everyone from the writer to the director to the actor to the editor needs to be on the same wavelength to make comedy work. The subtlety shows that they respect the audience enough to get the joke. McAdams also does a great job, her humorous moments, while not as many as Bateman, are sprinkled throughout and worthy of a laugh. Their chemistry doesn’t drive the film like I would’ve wanted but its still a bright spot. Some of the side actors, namely Jesse Plemons and Billy Magnussen also deliver punchlines quite smoothly. However, while the acting is one of the best elements of the film, the direction is really the standout.

Game Night
The Participants of Game Night

But this direction is more than worthy of this script. Game Night is severely lacking in a solid substance. It’s understandable the focus was on making something entertaining, but it shouldn’t be done at the cost of the substantial matter. Characters are given very basic arcs and development comes more from things they say to each other, rather than action. In fact, the whole film is too plot-driven as opposed to character-driven. This makes it a more surface-level experience than it should have been. For example, Max and Annie’s competitive nature is given a moment of use toward the end, but it doesn’t mean anything to the story, instead it just comes off as a contrivance and they play it for a joke. The method of delivering exposition is almost primitive. Characters will have conversations where they give us the information we need, but they are so obviously tailored for this purpose only, and not in a clever manner.

The whole first act has a very inorganic feel to it, which just draws more attention to the writing. Surprise twists are brought up, but they don’t work as they don’t change the story or put a new spin on it. Instead, they’re forgotten two minutes after being brought up, making them seem pointless overall. The humor also suffers due to the writing. In the context of the pace and tone of the film, subtle humor is the perfect fit, and for the most part, it is achieved due to the actors’ performances. But the script drags so many jokes just a little too long to the point where the subtlety wears off and they just become unfunny. They had something great but ran with it just a bit too far and they lost it.

Game Night
Situations are funny but go on a bit more than needed

The characters of Game Night needed to be more fleshed-out. Max and Annie’s competitiveness is established through a very effective montage. It’s refreshing and well-executed. However, it leads to very little in the overall story. Max’s arc revolves around his lack of confidence due to the envy he has for his brother. This is where his competitiveness stems from and it’s more than a decent idea. It’s set up to be his main problem and constantly brought up throughout the first half, yet everything is resolved by just one small monologue the brother delivers toward the end of the second act. There was an attempt to make Max more courageous and daring after this resolution, but the humor in this portion of the film doesn’t gel with what they were going for. In fact, his wife is the one doing the major impactful action toward the end instead of him, just to play it off as a joke. Jokes are obviously needed in a comedy but not when it’s done at the cost of good character development. It’s too rushed and treated as almost unimportant in the bigger picture. His want and need aren’t interwoven like they should be, making his arc seem too contrived. I’m talking this much about just him as he’s the only one given any amount of weight.

The story moves forward because things happen to the characters, not because they make things happen. It just focuses on what they’re supposed to do instead of why. The subplots don’t really add anything to the movie, other than some laughs, and are more than forgettable. It almost comes off as filler. Characters are just funny, not interesting, even though the actors do their best to portray them on screen. The character of Gary is set up to be an obvious villain but turns out to help in the end. The actual villain is just some guy introduced in the third act. He has been talked about through the movie, but it doesn’t lead up to a big reveal. He just appears. There’s not much of an antagonistic force other than the situation they’re in that can drive the film forward in an interesting manner.

Jesse Plemons as Gary

Overall, Game Night is an amusing experience as it does have some obvious creativity behind the camera, upheld excellently by the talent in front of it. The technical aspects, tone, pacing, score, and overall vision are really solid and special. The directors seriously did more than the best they could with the story and script which was extremely lacking in anything that could be considered noteworthy. This film had all the support to make it great, just nothing to actually support.

Categories
Anime Reviews

Your Name (Kimi No Nawa) Movie Review – Love Pulls Through

Your Name, written and directed by Makoto Shinkai, tells the story of Mitsuha, a high school village girl, and Taki, a high school city boy, who inexplicably begin to swap bodies. The film is extraordinary in the concept itself, and its execution elevates it to one of the finest films ever made.

The Different Lives of Mitsuha and Taki in Your Name
The Different Lives of Mitsuha and Taki

The story of Your Name, as mentioned, is extremely unique. A body swap romance is something never even heard of, let alone done, and done so well. It is emotionally gripping, to the point of making the entire experience feel completely real and convincing; barely a moment where you doubt anything. The film presents a world where we are kept apart from what we want, and the only way to get through is pure, unencumbered drive for it. The characters are constantly facing obstacles in their pursuit to find each other and their quest to just be happy. At the midpoint when they finally decide to find each other, they stop swapping bodies, almost like the universe doesn’t want them to be together. This happens at every turn in the film, to the point where their actual meet-up feels like a massive load of your chest. The concept of body-swapping in itself is special and it’s thrust even higher by manipulating time. We find out Mitsuha’s life takes place three years before Taki’s (Another major obstacle for them). This leads to him finding out she might have died in the comet strike three years ago making him question all his experiences till now; was it all a dream? The film also keeps hinting at this idea, making us question everything as well, even though we don’t want to. It adds to its world by saying we can only dream about happiness in this nihilistic world. And even though it ends with them succeeding in finding love, this event adds another element to its philosophy which makes it even more interesting. The midpoint of Your Name adds a great mystery to the story, inducing genuine curiosity in finding out what happens next. It’s another small way of pulling us into the film. Everything until now was so involving that when Mitsuha is revealed to be alive, it’s almost like you can breathe again.

The concept of ‘Musubi’ is a motif in Your Name; A representation of God and the flow of time. I see this as building up the ideology of the film further with the concept of fate. We know that it’s their drive for love that gets them together in the end, but was it the drive that changed fate altogether, or did fate change itself seeing how committed they were to each other? The film gives you much to ponder over. The idea of love always finding a way, destiny aligning itself for you if you want it enough, and the added element of making you question everything so far toward the middle, all makes for an exceptionally well-thought-out story.

Mitsuha and Taki

The characters are the life-force of Your Name. Mitsuha and Taki both want to find each other as they need to fill a missing hole in their lives with something, or someone. They dream about this frequently, as is set up in the opening. Taki is a city boy who resides in Tokyo leading a modern, 21st-century life. Mitsuha lives in a smaller, more traditional town built in the crater left by a millennium-old meteor. A classic example of how different their lives are is shown by their concept of a café. For Taki, it’s a high-class restaurant with extravagant and expensive dishes that look like art pieces. For Mitsuha a café is simply having coffee on a bench beside a vending machine. It’s simple yet when combined with the need of the characters furthers the message of the film; despite the lives we lead, our emotions can be the same as that’s what really matters in life. Through a brilliant intercut sequence in the first half, their want to find out about this new person in their life is established. This very naturally blossoms into wanting to find each other to fulfill their need throughout the second half. The first half induces a genuine curiosity by presenting this unique body-swapping concept, both in the characters and the viewer, supporting their realism which is why we are on board with them in their quest through the second half. It gives both of them emotional moments so that we don’t feel as if only one is the protagonist who we’re supposed to side with (Marriage Story, anyone?).

The events of the plot lead to furthering character arcs in a satisfying manner. For example, only after Taki goes on a date with someone, that is set up by Mitsuha when she’s in his body, does he realize that he wants to be with her. This sets his quest to find her in motion, unraveling the mystery of the timelines and the comet. Only when they switch again after all this and Mitsuha sees his efforts, does she accept her passion for him as well. Which leads to an immensely character-driven climax. This sequence and these characters in Your Name represent the possibility of love pulling through in a world set up to be filled with trials and tribulations. Taki and Mitsuha fully accept their feelings, even forgetting who the other person is to an extent, furthering the ‘love finds a way’ concept. I see both character’s friend’s as fate helping them out a little, seeing how committed they are to help them.

Mitsuha's Friends in Your Name (Kimi No Nawa)
Mitsuha’s Friends

Every action they take is purely to fulfil their need in life. Taki leaves his entire life in the first world city just to travel all the way and meet her. Mitsuha finally confronts her father whom she has a strained relationship with to evacuate the town so she can meet Taki in the future. Finally, the body-swapping in Your Name genius as it achieves two major goals for the story. It lets Mitsuha and Taki experience another person’s life completely different from their own, filling the missing hole in their life. And two, on a more physical level, when they’re finding each other while swapped, in a sense they’re looking for their own body. This implies that their quest to find each other can also be seen as a quest to find themself, working toward filling that hole in their life and how similar or ‘soulmate-like’ they are.

Makoto Shinkai’s direction is perfect. Every second in Your Name is dedicated to pulling you into the story, whether it is through gorgeous animation, humor unique to Japanese anime or pure emotional and visual storytelling. Every tiny detail in the film aims to make these two seem like real people. From their actions, reactions, and relationships. The animation style lends to this brilliantly. In so many sequences the camera moves like its handheld, giving a feel of real life, yet the animation provides an aesthetic beauty that can only be achieved in this art form.  It achieves realism without photorealism. The choice of hand-drawn animation feels human, furthering this authenticity. Visual motifs are quite prominent. Every door slides open when they are a step closer to finding each other, and slides shut when they move a step back, for example when they stop switching for two whole weeks. Mitsuha’s string is the most notable connective tissue they share, it being the only physical object they possess at different times and that alerts each other of their presence. The score is also immensely gripping. It not only captures but heightens the emotions we need to feel, especially in the climax. The final 20 minutes of the film are the most captivated by a movie I have felt in a while, from an emotional standpoint. The struggles they face in this sequence are really brought to the forefront, escalating from racing against the clock to a whole town being destroyed. The comet represents the final obstacle they must overcome in order to fulfill their want and need. It’s a situation where they must race against the clock and a situation of life and death. You are on the edge of your seat and your eyes are watering throughout. Even though they have met, it doesn’t absolve the burden completely, as the goal was to be together. The film fully drains your emotions to the last drop in the final moments, where Mitsuha and Taki keep running into each other but don’t meet despite them feeling something, as they’ve forgotten. It implies that even if everything disappears, love cannot.

String as a motif in Your Name (Kimi No Nawa)
Love Finds A Way

Your Name takes you on an emotional roller-coaster. It pulls you in, gives you an unforgettable experience and leaves you with more than plenty to think about and feel. It is an emotionally draining experience but in the best way possible.

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