Andrew Hates… PAPER TOWNS

Dir: Jake Schreier, 2015

Ever since Quentin ‘Q’ Jacobsen was a child, his mystery-obsessed neighbour Margo Roth Spiegelman fascinated him. Therefore Q is thrilled when, shortly before he’s about to graduate high school with straight A’s, Margo unexpectedly knocks on his window and enlists him in getting revenge on her deserving ex-boyfriend. After a night of pranks and pensiveness that Q will never forget, Margo disappears, leaving behind a trail of clues that Q and his friends will follow in what will be their last adventure before college.

Paper Towns is the latest interpretation of a novel by young adult author John Green, who hit it big a few years ago with New York Times bestseller The Fault in our Stars and its subsequent film adaptation in which two cancer-stricken teenagers fall in love. Green is a professed advocate of relatable, three-dimensional teenage characters and many of his readers laud his works for those exact reasons. Unfortunately Paper Towns is an exhibition of paper-thin characters that spend their days idly stargazing and spouting unspeakable dialogue that no human being would ever legitimately give voice to.

The euphoric dreamscape in which Paper Towns exists is called Orlando, Florida. Margo, played by model-turned-actress Cara Delevingne, is the long lost eighth member of Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven and a “big believer in random capitalisation”. We’re introduced to Margo at a young age as she spots a corpse in the street, gun-in-hand, of a man who has committed suicide. The preteen Margo creeps closer and muses on the gaping eyes of the dead man. My informed expectations of genuine, empathetic characters were dashed and I realised Green is both trying to have his cake and ram it down his throat.

Our protagonist and, regrettably, our narrator is Nat Wolff, who turned several heads with his supporting role in TFioS. Despite his enthusiasm Wolff is grotesquely miscast as the supposedly nerdy, socially awkward Q. Abound with boyish good looks and sophistication, Wolff doesn’t possess the witty sense of self-deprecation needed to pull off such a character in the ways that John Cusack or Joseph Gordon-Levitt have. Yet Wolff still stands head and shoulders above the rest of his supporting cast who appear to have been plucked from the Nickelodeon gene pool.

The novel of Paper Towns was written before TFioS and adapted to film afterwards which suggests a retroactive cashing-in on anything Green – a theory that the finished product doesn’t contradict. Paper Towns’ narrative drifts from one liberating night with Margo to a convoluted Scooby-Doo mystery to a formulaic road trip and the characters follow suit without any motivation that precludes the novel’s three-tier structure. Even the array of talent behind the camera seems to have shown up for the paycheck and YA fandom. Director Jake Schreier carries with him none of the charm from his debut 2012 feature Robot & Frank while seasoned screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber ditch any wit or fidelity demonstrated previously in the duo’s scripts for (500) Days of Summer or The Spectacular Now.

Paper Towns is an attempted dismantling of the manic pixie dream girl cliché but loses its soul in the translation of the text, ultimately reinforcing the conventions it initially set out to refute. Its messages are muddled, its cast incompetent and the plot wearisome enough for me to wish cancer would rear its ugly head, if at least to boost the mortality rate for a few of the characters.

★☆☆☆☆

Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… PIXELS

Dir: Chris Columbus, 2015

When a time capsule containing footage of eighties arcade games is sent into space, aliens intercept it and misinterpret the videos as a declaration of war. As they begin to attack the Earth in the form of these retro video games, U.S. President Will Cooper must call on his old friends and arcade experts Sam Brenner, Ludlow Lamonsoff and Eddie “Fire Blaster” Plant to save the world from an invasion comprised of Centipede, Galaga, PAC-MAN and Donkey Kong.

It’s incomprehensible to think that The Goonies, Home Alone and Mrs Doubtfire all came from the man who now punishes us with Pixels but then we’ve watched Chris Columbus work, nay, fall down the ladder of success for some time – at least as far as the quality of his films is concerned. The aforementioned are classic examples of family films with universal appeal to audiences of all ages whereas Columbus’ more recent projects are anything but and Pixels is no exception.

The evolution of nerd culture in the past decade, let alone three, has been significant. Most significant is that it’s no longer ‘nerd culture’, it’s now geek culture (‘nerd’ being considered more of an insult whereas ‘geek’ is a point of pride). So it’s unsurprising that this redefining facet of its own demographic is something that Pixels completely overlooks, just as it does everything else about its audience.

The blitzkrieg of nostalgia intended to accompany these beloved classic arcade games is squandered on anyone born in the last twenty-five years and the sense of humour on offer is far too lowbrow for those whose maturity precludes them from enjoying Grown-Ups. The special effects are the sole bonus in a world of game-overs but the action set pieces are driven with absolutely zero charisma which is what a film depicting retro arcade figures attacking Earth sorely needs.

Ironic that such a film comes out the same week as Trainwreck, the gender politics of Pixels are as antediluvian as its cultural references and are the foundation for the most misjudged third-act gag since Kingsman: The Secret Service. Not to mention the thought process behind Kevin James’ bewildering role as Paul Blart: Mall President while 30 Rock’s hilarious Jane Krakowski is cast aside as the ‘seen but not heard’ First Lady.

Whenever successful movie stars deliver sluggish performances in summer blockbusters, the modus operandi is to defend the actors by citing the script’s inferiority. With Pixels, the actors seem to be in collusion to act down to the script’s level and then some in a twisted race to become the film’s lowest common denominator. An enormous feat as there is almost no facet of the film that isn’t offensively abhorrent.

Adam Sandler continues to create movies that belong alongside MerMan and the other faux-films of Sandler’s character in Funny People, Peter Dinklage juxtaposes his grounded performance as Tyrion Lannister by chewing the CGI-scenery like he’s just fallen off the acting wagon and Josh Gad follows up The Wedding Ringer with another enthusiastic attempt to eviscerate Olaf the Snowman for those who enjoyed Frozen. Dan Aykroyd appears merely to plug his own brand of vodka and Sean Bean is present for one scene, the entirety of which he looks like his presence in the film is due to him losing a bet with Sandler.

There is nothing original about Pixels except that it manages to assuage all the fears of the misogynist, do-nothing, man-children by singing them a synthesized lullaby in which those endless hours they wasted playing video games and masturbating about Lady Lisa will be fruitful as one day they will save the world and win beautiful, voiceless women as trophies for their hard-earned victories.

An insipid, morally reprehensible slog of a film, Pixels is as enjoyable as watching someone else play video games for two hours… and that’s being very kind.

★☆☆☆☆

Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… TRAINWRECK

Dir: Judd Apatow, 2015

Since she was a child, Amy Townsend’s father dealt with his own failures as a husband by instilling into her the belief that “monogamy isn’t realistic”. Twenty-three years later, Amy is working as a writer for a seedy men’s magazine to fund her intemperate, promiscuous lifestyle. However, Amy soon finds herself questioning the gospel according to Pa when she starts falling for her latest subject – a sweet and successful sports doctor named Aaron Connors.

“They fuck you up, your mum and dad”, said Philip Larkin in his 1971 poem This Be the Verse. Even though Larkin’s father was an attendee of Nuremberg rallies twice over and decorated his office with Nazi regalia, when it comes daddy issues this poet got nothin’ on Amy. Saturday Night Live stand-up Colin Quinn is exceptional as Amy’s firebrand father who serves as the instigator for Schumer’s story. Taking his adolescent daughters aside and using dolls to explain their mother’s supposedly unfair marital expectations is by far one of the funniest opening scenes you’ll see this year.

Jumping ahead into Amy’s “adult” life, we find her in New York City living the very same fractured perception of human relationships while her sister Kim has gone the opposite route of marriage, children and a frank resentment of her father. From here on, we follow Amy on a journey of self-evaluation and social ineptitude as Schumer dissects traditional scopes of women in film without once patronising or lecturing her audience.

The director’s first film in which he didn’t pen the script, Judd Apatow (The 40-Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up) clearly revels in the pith and spirit that Schumer brings to the table and for once doesn’t feel the need to wear out the film’s welcome with a protracted running time. Schumer’s screenplay brings the same satirical, sideways-glance at sex, family, relationships and gender politics that her Comedy Central sketch show Inside Amy Schumer excels at but leans further away from farce than most modern American comedies do.

As with Apatow’s previous productions, Trainwreck serves as a pleasant outlet for comics to dust off their dramatic skills and both Schumer and Bill Hader are as comprehensive a couple as this film could ever ask for. Even Apatow’s assembled circumference of thespians and sportspersons bring their comedy A-game in roles that round out the film’s performances instead of simply turning heads with fleeting cameos. Tilda Swinton gives us another transformative turn as Amy’s merciless editor and John Cena is hilarious as a roided-up closet case but it’s Lebron James’ incendiary performance as a penny-pinching version of himself that bags the most laughs of Apatow’s razor-sharp support cast.

If there is indeed a casualty within Trainwreck, it is Schumer’s attempts to grasp a fashionable foothold in the pop culture of today. A string of Johnny Depp jokes, Game of Thrones references and a film-within-a-film starring Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei fall flat enough to bring Trainwreck’s delirious trip to an excruciating halt. Fortunately these faults are few and far between and as soon as we’re back to Amy’s commitment catastrophes, the gags accelerate again.

As boorish as it is delightful, Trainwreck is a filthy specimen with a heart of absolute gold that many will find hard not to be won over by. Leading the charge as a witty and subversive tale of contemporary romance, Trainwreck powers full-throttle through the 21st century, with any luck, bringing Hollywood along for the ride.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

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Dir: Joss Whedon, 2013

During the preamble to Claudio and Hero’s dream wedding, the soon-to-be-newlyweds and their group of friends plot to have warring singletons Benedick and Beatrice recognise their true feelings for one another.

Almost two years ago, once principal photography had wrapped on what would turn out to be the biggest superhero movie of all time, Marvel head Kevin Feige gave director Joss Whedon two weeks off for him and his wife to celebrate their 20th anniversary in Venice. Instead (at the behest of his wife), Whedon made Much Ado About Nothing. Here is proof that Joss Whedon is a filmmaker’s filmmaker – a man who loves creating art and the key ingredient to this Shakespearean success is the unmistakeable presence of that very passion in each and every frame.

To those who refer to this niche little black-and-white indie as a palette cleanser or an antithesis or an arch-nemesis (to dwell in the comic book world), I say “nay” for there is naught in Much Ado About Nothing that Joss Whedon hasn’t shown us before. Okay, we can swap spandex for formalwear, spaceships for Sedans and a half-ruined New York City for a Santa Monica townhouse. Nevertheless, Much Ado is yet another addition to the astonishing pile of work that Whedon can attribute to that undisputed work ethic and the unbridled adoration for their craft that every person he collaborates with can attest to.

Whedon assembles his other super-group of actors, filling the screen with Buffy, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse alumni, and in doing so demonstrates not the enormity of his rolodex but the extent of his family. The Shake-speak may at times be a little indistinct, what with the actors sweeping through it as though it were song, but the superbly bombastic manoeuvres of Whedon’s sublime cast keep us in tow and never cease to delight. Clearly, these are actors who are enjoying themselves tremendously and sharing that enthusiasm with their audience. As far as the leading lovers go, Alexis Denisof is arrogant though charming and Amy Acker rough yet sweet – a match made in Heaven that baffle as to why their careers have been restricted to post-credits sequences and television guest spots. Rounding out the supporting comic roles is a hilariously buffoonish Nathan Fillion playing Dogberry and Clark Gregg as Leonato, in a performance that triumphs on Gregg’s facial expressions alone.

It may not revolutionise your mindset or indeed stay with you for long but Joss and company excel in the area of low-budget production and set an example for budding filmmakers everywhere. Much Ado About Nothing is as intimate as any home movie without being beleaguered by amateurism. Whedon invites you into his home literally and spiritually, revelling in his adaptation of a text that is as dear to his heart as any of his other projects.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… BERNIE

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Dir: Richard Linklater, 2013

In the small-town of Carthage, Texas, the most beloved member of the closely-knit community is local funeral director Bernie Tiede. After her husband’s funeral, Bernie befriends millionaire Marjorie Nugent who is infamous among the townsfolk to say the least. This unlikely relationship blooms for several years but when Bernie finally snaps and kills Marjorie, he must keep up the charade that the mean-spirited widow is alive and well.

It’s rare that Jack Black delivers a performance that doesn’t result in either scatting or bellowing until his face turns red. Black is at his best when dialled down (see High Fidelity, King Kong) and Bernie is his most subtle portrayal yet. In a clever move, the cast of talking heads recruited to reinforce the townspeople’s support of Bernie are a mixture of actors and real-life citizens of Carthage, giving weight to the unnerving sense of authenticity that Linklater & Skip Hollandsworth’s screenplay was predisposed on. The unfortunate shortcoming of this aspect is we have too much time spent talking about Bernie and not enough insight into the character himself. When Jack Black gives a rare performance of this calibre, why is it being so shockingly underused?

As much of a black comedy as Bernie claims to be, no-one seems to find the story as funny as the director himself. Linklater treats the material very light-heartedly but there is no comedic weight to the events, be it dark or otherwise. This fascinating true story captivates via its faux-documentary style and a cast who assimilate their characters in an almost congenital manner but if laughter was Linklater’s agenda, it appears the script was lacking the confidence to achieve such a goal. Linklater claims the script’s dreariness caused problems until he promised a humorous result. One would imagine that a filmmaker as distinguished as Linklater would know that if something’s not on the page, there’s little reason it should be present in the final product.

This remarkable true story is wholly encapsulated by Linklater’s sharp but simple vision of Hollandsworth’s 1998 magazine article. While Linklater touches on themes of law and morality, the charming yet fraudulent title character is treated so politely that it slightly undervalues the tale being told. The limited cast is rounded out by a devilishly aggravating Shirley MacLaine (who reminds you of that impossible-to-please grandparent) and Matthew McConaughey’s district attorney, who is flabbergasted by the town’s refusal to share his law-abiding principles. However, Bernie’s relative success hinges on Black’s central performance, which is superb in its unexpected modesty.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… WARM BODIES

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Dir: Jonathan Levine, 2013

R is a zombie who, along with his undead cohorts, is aimlessly wandering through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. While the other zombies are searching for human flesh to feast on, R is searching for a meaning in his “life” – and also flesh to eat. However when he consumes the brains of Perry, R gains Perry’s memories along with his affection for his girlfriend Julie. As R’s love for Julie grows, it sets off a reaction that may just promise a cure for zombies everywhere.

Warm Bodies is what you’d get if you took Twilight, made it self-aware and sacrificed overwhelming teen angst for a dash of much-needed humour. Yet, as much distaste I have for Twilight, Warm Bodies isn’t any better. Twilight establishes a firm set of rules when approaching its lore. Warm Bodies is tremendously muddled over that of zombies. At one moment, R is a lapsing adolescent trapped inside a dead shell and the next he’s forming sentences and controlling his cravings for flesh. The Bonies, who serve as a lacklustre stimulus for the third act, aren’t the least bit threatening unless to the film’s entertaining prospects and exist only to beef up the running time rather than to encourage the film’s message.

For a film that stresses the importance of beating heart, Warm Bodies doesn’t seem to have one. Granted, Levine emphasises the budding relationship between Hoult and Palmer by giving them screen time streets ahead of the shockingly-squandered cast, but it’s a decision that comes at too costly a price. Of course it’s tough to entertain audiences when your lead character rarely speaks but with support in the form of John Malkovich and Rob Corddry at your disposal, there’s simply no excuse for Warm Bodies to be this dull. Levine knows where to put the camera (as backed up by 50-50) but his screenwriting skills are sub-par. His previous writing effort, indie comedy The Wackness, failed to hit the mark as a coming-of-age teen drama and Warm Bodies’ gags are not only overly-casual but are all condensed into the film’s trailer.

Time might heal all wounds and laughter may be the best medicine but Levine challenges anything but love to reverse that zombie apocalypse many of us secretly yearn for. Warm Bodies holds an interesting premise that loses traction as it progresses, evoking that feeling of a fantastic short which was wrought in the name of commerce.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here.

Andrew Hates… SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

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Dir: David O. Russell, 2012

Pat Solitano has just been released from an eight-month stay at a psychiatric clinic after a violent altercation with his wife’s lover which resulted in his diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Pat now feels more than ready to get himself together and reunite with his wife but must enlist the help of young widow Tiffany Maxwell, who also has her own share of problems.

Similar to 2011’s Love and Other Drugs, Silver Linings Playbook is a romantic-comedy that experiments in illness but unlike the former, knows that the illness does not write the character and therefore stays in relevance to the story, providing for a much more enjoyable and audience-friendly film. While Silver Linings Playbook certainly has clichéd subject matter, it’s director David O. Russell who once again successfully infuses the material with genuine charisma, breathing new life into the boy-meets-girl story and giving it substance.

Of course, the film’s success lives and dies on the outstanding chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Cooper, who we all know is a superb comedian, plays the balance between his character’s light and dark side respectably but unfortunately loses interest as a protagonist because of his lengthy pining for his absent, clearly-uninterested ex-wife. Around this point is where Jennifer Lawrence steps forward more and kicks her performance into high gear, exhibiting soulful technique for a woman of only twenty-two years of age.

Russell reuses the dysfunctionally-functional family motif which is glued together by blue-collar couple Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro. Weaver portrays a tender mother in an interesting contrast to her breakthrough part in Animal Kingdom and De Niro is the short-sighted but amicable father in a role that firmly establishes the bar that De Niro should be hitting when playing light characters. Rounding out the unwavering supporting cast is a surprisingly amusing Chris Tucker – surely this would have guaranteed 2012 an apocalypse of some sort?

Silver Linings Playbook is a showcase of sensational performances but David O. Russell deserves the credit for reinvigorating another classic tale. Maybe Russell’s work won’t be hailed by generations to come but the man remains a captivating filmmaker who blends the subversive with the familiar.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Watch the trailer here