Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Rapid Reviews: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot and Zootopia

Directing duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa have flown under the radar for quite some time. They launched their collaborative filmmaking careers with 2009's clever con-man comedy, I Love You Phillip Morris, only to follow it up with the well-received 2011 laugher, Crazy, Stupid, Love. and last year's less impressive effort, Focus. With a speedy turnaround, Ficarra and Requa return early in 2016 alongside SNL alumnus, Tina Fey, in the adapted true story, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

Kim Baker (Fey) struggles accepting the mundanity of her life as a journalist tackling low-profile stories. And when the opportunity arrives to report from the front lines in Afghanistan, she packs her suitcase and tells her boyfriend she'll be back in three months. Initial doubts regarding her reactionary decision quickly fade as Kim forms friendships with a fellow reporter (Margot Robbie), a freelance photographer (Martin Freeman) and her Afghan translator (Christopher Abbott).

Once again Glenn Ficarra and John Requa deliver a winning effort with their wartime dramedy, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Although the film is a slow-crawling and over-extended affair, it really stands as an acting showcase for leading star, Tina Fey. I've been mightily unimpressed by Fey's filmography to date, but she seizes complete control of the movie and takes a big step forward in her career. A powerful connection between Kim Baker and the audience becomes inevitable, but Whiskey Tango Foxtrot succeeds even further thanks to wonderful supporting turns from Christopher Abbott and Martin Freeman. Abbott was a festival darling for last year's James White and backs up the beloved performance with a valuable turn here. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot isn't the most entertaining or clever film, but it's a story about people and its executed very well thanks to a remarkable collection of actors and actresses.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

I've never been an animated film enthusiast, but every now and again you come across an absolute gem such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Shrek. Problem being, though, critics generally seem to adore an overabundance of family films, which forces me to sit through many mediocre efforts while I search for the greats. The latest raved about children's film, Zootopia, represents a prime example of the middling films over-hyped by critical acclaim.

In a developed animal world where predators and prey live in harmony, Zootopia is a lavish city where any mammal can grow up to be what it wants. Yet, while most animals settle for their natural life-callings, rabbit Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin) possesses grand visions of being the first prey animal to become a police officer in Zootopia. Pushed to the side and ignored by her fellow law enforcement, she must team up with a sly and cunning fox (Jason Bateman) to solve the city's most notorious case.

One compliment that must be given to Zootopia is the valuable message at the film's core. A story centered on open-mindedness and equality for all, there is a bit of charm in the movie's main characters. However, sluggish pacing proves to be punishing as even I witnessed a mother and child leaving the theater long before the closing credits. And as a result, Zootopia feels more like a chore than a valuable movie experience.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

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