A weekly feature from from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at Muppets Gone Wild in “The Happytime Murders,” the escape-happy convicts of “Papillon,” and the happy-go-lucky surfers dudes of “Breath.”
Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the weekend’s big releases, the raunchy puppet movie “The Happytime Murders,” the prison drama “Papillon” and the gritty crime drama “Crown and Anchor.”
The remounted “Papillon,” starring Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek in the roles made famous by Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffmann in the original, maintains the brutality of the 1973 film but plays more like a buddy flick than the resilience-of-the-human-spirit epic it should have been.
Based on the “75 percent true” tale of Henri Charrière, a safecracker nicknamed Papillon, the 1930’s era story sees him sent to a hellhole jungle penal colony in French Guyana for a crime he didn’t commit. Sentenced to life in prison with hard labour on Devil’s Island, he begins to plot his escape as soon as he arrives, despite the fact that no one has ever successfully fled the island. To assist and finance his plan he offers protection to Louis Dega (Malek), a spindly, wealthy, white-collar criminal with a relative fortune hidden in a place where the sun don’t shine. Faced with abominable conditions and dictatorial prison guards the pair, along with a couple of others, stages a daring run at freedom.
Leaner and meaner than the original the reboot nonetheless hews fairly closely to the 1973 screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and Dalton Trumbo. Some grisly scenes featuring crocodiles and lepers have been blue-pencilled but the basic idea of the bond between the two men in the face of unimaginable adversity remains. Hunnam and Malek make a good team—with Malek even giving the Degas character more inner life than Hoffmann managed—but the movie itself doesn’t contain the same sense of struggle. Certainly there is violence, Hunnam is frequently covered in blood, mud or worse, but the previous film was grittier, less refined. Dialogue was sparse—in the new one Hunnam and Malek chatter like school kids throughout—and there was a sense of hopelessness that fuelled the need for escape. Here their mission feels pat, like a typical prison drama. It’s less meaningful, simply a run from the violence and horrors of their incarceration, and not a spiritual journey.
“Papillon” gets much right and features nice performances from the leads but feels like an unnecessary revamping of the story.
Fans of Adam Sandler’s patented man-child character will be pleased to note he revives it for his newest film “The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected).” But those not enraptured with his childlike alter ego shouldn’t write this movie off. For the most part Sandler’s new one leaves the lowest-common denominator jokes behind in favour of highbrow (ish) humour. In other words, this is more “Punch Drink Love,” less “Billy Madison.”
Dustin Hoffman is Harold Meyerowitz, embittered sculptor, former art professor and walking, talking embodiment of New York neurosis. He’s also father to Danny (Sandler), Matthew (Ben Stiller) and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel). Harold is a crusty old man, self-centered and very aware of his lack of legacy. Newly divorced Danny has moved into the Greenwich Village home Harold shares with his fourth wife, Maureen (Emma Thompson).
The film studies the strained relationships between Harold and his kids but spends much of the movie detailing the half brothers Danny and Matthew. Danny stayed home to raise his daughter, has never had a job and now feels like a failure compared to the younger Matt, a Los Angeles hot shot with his own financial management company.
When Harold takes ill his children have to reassess their feelings for their difficult dad and each other.
“The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected)” doesn’t have the guffaws that Sandler at his best can deliver. Instead it is dusted laughs derived from the situations and characters. At its heart it’s a story of family dysfunction populated by people who never dip into self-pity. Marvel makes the best of her few moments but it is Sandler and Stiller who deliver the goods. Both hit career highs playing toned down versions of their carefully crafted comedic characters. Adding real humanity to Danny and Matthew elevates them from caricature. By not going for the broad strokes they are able to create tender and stinging moments that are some of the best in both their careers.
Hoffman is a hoot, perfectly complimented by Thompson who has some of the film’s best lines. Of the supporting cast Grace Van Patten, Danny’s loving daughter, is a standout.
“The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected)” could have been maudlin but when filtered through director Noah Baumbach’s sensibility is a smart and heartwarming.
Richard sits in with CP24 anchor Nneka Elliott to review the “legendary adventures of awesomeness” of “Kung Fu Panda 3,” the watery historical drama “The Finest Hours” and “JeruZalem’s” found footage thrills.
Richard and “Canada AM” host Marci Ien chat about the found footage thrills of “JeruZalem,” the “legendary adventures of awesomeness” of “Kung Fu Panda 3” and the watery historical drama “The Finest Hours.”
When I ask Kung Fu Panda 2 and 3 director Jennifer Yuh Nelson how she feels about being one of the highest grossing female directors of all time, she demurs and gives all the credit to her star.
“I think it is a testament to how much people like Po and like these films. There is such a huge fan base it is really flattering to have been helming something that huge.”
Alessandro Carloni, her directing partner on Kung Fu Panda 3, adds, “I think it will be fair to assume this will be the highest grossing movie ever to be directed by a Korean woman and an Italian man.”
For the uninitiated, Po is the clumsy giant panda that became an improbable hero, dumpling-eating champion and kung fu master in the first two movies. Voiced by Jack Black, in the new film he is reunited with his biological father Li Shan (Bryan Cranston) who takes his son back to the Panda Village so the youngster can learn about himself, become a Chi master and do battle with Kai, a supernatural bull villain played by Oscar winner J.K. Simmons.
Both directors have great affection for Po and understand why audiences have fallen in love with the character.
“We love how enthusiastic he is, how geeky he is, how much passion he has,” says Alessandro. “One thing I have heard someone say is often there are movies where the side cast steals the show because they are the most fun while the central character is the straight guy. But we made a movie around a goofball and everybody else are the straight characters. He is the one who steals the show. When Po is on screen you will love him.”
“He has got so much enthusiasm and is basically wishing for something that is bigger than him,” says Yuh. “Something he is not able to achieve and yet he perseveres. That’s why we root for him because we’ve been there. Everyone has been there where there is something you wish you could do but don’t have the means to do it and yet you keep on going. You have to root for that.”
The pair have been with Po for a long time. Yuh was head of story and the action sequence supervisor on Kung Fu Panda before taking over the reins for the second film. Carloni worked on the first film as animation supervisor and story artist on part two.
Their almost 10-year journey with Po has been shared with Jack Black, who was the model for the character.
“He’s very unique in that he’s so funny but underneath the funny he’s got so much heart,” says Yuh of Black.
“He’s not somebody you laugh at, you laugh with him. You root for him and that is very rare. Usually you have these more jaded guys that are funny and you laugh at them when they fall on their face. But you feel bad for this guy when he falls on his face. I think that just leaks out of his performance.”
In “Kung Fu Panda 3,” Po (voice of Jack Black), the Warrior of Black-and-White, continues his “legendary adventures of awesomeness” when his long-lost panda father suddenly reappears. The movie reunites the stars from the first two films, Angelina Jolie and Dustin Hoffman, and ups the marquee value with the addition of Bryan Cranston as Po’s dad and J.K. Simmons as Kai, a supernatural bull villain but will it deliver the same kind of Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique fun of the first two?
A quick catch-up: Over the course of two films dating back to 2008, a clumsy, giant panda named Po became an improbable hero, dumpling eating champion and kung fu master. Raised by a noodle-making goose named Mr. Ping (James Hong), he becomes the leader of the Furious Five—Angelina Jolie Pitt as Tigress, Jackie Chan as Monkey, Seth Rogen as Mantis, Lucy Liu as Viper and David Cross as Crane—a celebrated band of warriors with prodigious fighting skills.
The new film sees Po reunited with his biological father Li Shan (Cranston) who takes his son back to the Panda Village so the youngster can learn about himself and become a Chi master. Meanwhile Kai (Simmons) has returned to the mortal world after a five hundred year absence with an army of Jade Warriors. He’s been collecting the Chi—the life force—of China’s masters and only needs two more for a complete set, the ancient tortoise Oogway (Randall Duk Kim) and his protégée, who happens to be Po.
The “Kung Fu Panda” movies don’t look like anything else. State of the art 3D computer animation brings the characters to life, but the gorgeous hand drawn animation in the action sequences is uncommonly sumptuous and gives the movie real character. High tech and traditional art collide to create a beautiful backdrop for the slapstick of Po and company.
Simmons and Cranston are welcome additions to the cast, bringing distinctive voices and humour to their characters.
The visuals are captivating but the star here, the reason to return for a third time to the “Kung Fu Panda” franchise, is Po. He’s a classic character, an underdog (underbear?) unsure of his abilities, going up against great challenges. He’s lovable, aspirational and audiences like to laugh with him, rather than at him. He is us… only in panda form and he—along with Jack Black’s voice work—is worth the price of admission.
“Kung Fu Panda 3” is the rare sequel that holds up to the original. It’s respectful to the story but more importantly it’s respectful to the audiences who have grown to love these characters.