Movie Review – Rough Night

TL;DR – It’s not the best film I have seen, while it has some laughs, it is let down by its highly predictable storyline.

Score – 2.5 out of 5 stars

P.S. – There is a Mid & End credit sequence

Rough Night

Review

It is the year 2009, those heady days when Balloon Boy was a thing, remember that, oh and Kanye West was an ass at the VMA, wow how times have changed. It was during this year that The Hangover a relatively small budget (35mill) R-rated comedy came out in cinemas and made a metric-ass-ton of cash at the box-office. Since that time there have been a string of R-rated ensemble comedy films that have tried to capture that same draw with 2011’s Bridesmaids being the closest contender. So why do companies keep making them, well they’re cheap, low risk, and a chance at a very big potential reward, but because of this combination the films tend not to be that good most of the time. So today we are going to be looking at the next challenger into this realm with Rough Night which while not being anything revolutionary does have its moments of interest.

Now before we go one I do need to point out that because of its mature content there is probably a very easy litmus test as to whether or not you think you’d want to go see Rough Night. So let’s highlight just a couple of things from the movie, there are male strippers, cocaine, neighbours that are in a very open marriage, and they end up stashing the dead body in a room with adult accessories. As I said at this point I have probably polarised the opinion of the people reading the review, but then that is the nature of these films. Also don’t take your eight-year-old to go see this, come on I didn’t think it needed to be said but apparently not.

The cast has a great rapport with each other

The cast has a great rapport with each other

So to set the scene in college four girls become fast friends and promise to always be there for each other. Fast forward ten years and Jess (Scarlett Johansson) is engaged to Peter (Paul W. Downs) and is running for political office, Alice (Jillian Bell) is a teacher but never really moved on from her college years, Frankie (Ilana Glazer) is an ‘activist’ but it is more for show than anything else, and Blair (Zoë Kravitz) is a successful business women that is going through a bad divorce. They along with Pippa (Kate McKinnon) a friend Jess made whilst studying abroad in Australia have come together in Florida to celebrate Jess’ bachelorette weekend. Jess is just looking for a quiet weekend with friends and is desperately avoiding anything that could damage her election campaign, but of course, the complete opposite happens when the group hires a stripper (Ryan Cooper) and then accidentally kills him. Look as crass as it is, it is still a good setup for a film, you have a dead body, you have everyone having a motive to try and hide the body because there are drugs everywhere, and you even have a question over who some people are. However, while the setup is good, the story does not really take it and run with it as we will see later.

Now it will probably become clear that I am quite mixed on Rough Night, mostly because of its story but one area I do have to give full props to is the cast, who is giving it their all and are really game for anything. For me the stand out was Kate McKinnon and not just because she really rocked that Australian accent which is not the easiest thing to do, but because she was game for anything they throw at her. I look forward to curious Americans trying Vegemite cold turkey, and the hilarity that follows, for our international followers, Vegemite should be consumed on toast with butter and you should build up the doses until you are comfortable with them. Also, I have to give credit to Paul W. Downs who spends most of the film pulling of a rendition of the sad astronaut, I really hope they paid you well. As well as the standouts I have to say the one thing that stood out for me was the rapport of the main cast. They actually feel like they are friends that have known each other for a long time it comes across in their performance. It was interesting to see Demi Moore and Ty Burrell play so off the norm with their swinger couple team and thankfully they are not around too long that the bit gets old and Dean Winters is always a good addition. As well as this, there were some good ideas here, like the TV in the background that gives you hints of what is going in the town.

Rough Night 1

Unfortunately it does not capitalise on its setup

Now while the film has a good set up, and the cast is up for anything, what stops the film from excelling is the story. Now there are some really funny moments in Rough Night, but for me, there were also far too many completely predictable plot points. [SPOILERS] At times it felt like we hit every trope in the genre that you see in film after film. Now while you kind of expect the standard Chekhov’s Gun, though it was interesting to see it in the form of a code word, there were also so many others that are just grating. For example, the story was fine but there was for some reason this really unnecessary conflict about Alice being too possessive over Jess, that either could have been handled better or removed. Sure yes, it inevitably leads to a big blow up and the inevitable catharsis, but this in itself is something you can see coming a mile away. Also, there were a lot of missed opportunities, like we don’t find out the first stripper is dodgy until almost the end when stripper Number 2 (Colton Haynes) appears but this could have added much earlier to the freak out the characters and provide a better source of conflict. Honestly, at times it kind of felt like there was a checklist that the movie had to reach before it could finish. [End of SPOILERS]

Look at the end can I recommend Rough Night, well yes, but only if your other choice is seeing Baywatch which is also out at the moment and has a similar tone. Other than that, well, of course, I have seen worse films, but I have also seen films in this genre that have been much better. It has a strong cast but there are just too many missed opportunities for me to fully recommend it.

 

Directed by – Lucia Aniello
Written By – Lucia Aniello & Paul W. Downs
Music by – Dominic Lewis
Cinematography by – Sean Porter
Edited by – Craig Alpert
Starring
– Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer, Zoë Kravitz, Kate McKinnon, Paul W. Downs, Ryan Cooper, Demi Moore, Ty Burrell, Colton Haynes, Dean Winters & Enrique Murciano
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Germany: na; New Zealand: R; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R

 

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Movie Review – Baywatch (2017)

TL;DR – It tries to tread a familiar path with tone and execution, but lacks the charm with its story and Dwayne Johnson’s charisma can only get you so far.

Score – 2.5 out of 5 stars

Baywatch

Review

So to be fair, where ever possible I try to read nothing about a film before I go see it, because I want my first viewing to be through my own eyes and not the through the lens of other people’s views, it’s why I avoid trailers wherever possible. However, for Baywatch that simply was not possible as it released a week later here in Australia and the mixed reviews were everywhere. So when I walked into the cinema I was not really expecting anything of great quality, possibly even a dumpster fire of a film. However, I do have to say it’s not that bad, I mean it is not great, or even good, more borderline, but if anything it is just a real missed opportunity. Now throughout this review, I am going to be referring to 21 Jump Street (2012) and its sequel 22 Jump Street (2014) a bit. Now, on the one hand, I do think generally films should stand or fall on their own merit, however in the case of sequels or here when they were clearly trying to replicate the success of a previous movie, well then you can’t help but invite comparisons.

Now before we start I should make it clear that this is a very R film with drugs, swearing and nudity, so not quite in line with the source material, but something you should know before someone inevitably takes their kids to go see it.

There are some beautiful moments of color and framing

There are some beautiful moments of color and framing

So to set the scene, we are here in lovely Emerald Bay Florida, on the first day of try-outs for new lifeguards for the summer season. Overseeing the try-out is Lt. Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson), his second in command Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera) and long-time lifeguard CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach). Now they usually only accept one new recruit a season but this time they can accept three new recruits which is lucky for the plot since there are three name brand characters running for the position. Of course there is Matt Brody (Zac Efron) the I don’t want to be here but they are making me but I’ll probably learn a lesson and come to like it at some point recruit, then there is Ronnie (Jon Bass) who has a lot of heart which is code for him not having the same physique as the rest of the lifeguards and who is mostly reserved for a slapstick comedy role, and you have Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario) who is positioned as the no-nonsense recruit who immediately calls Matt out on his inappropriate flirting which means they will have a will they/ won’t they flirt off for the rest of the film. All is calm on the bay … that the lifeguards watch… until mysterious businesswoman Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) comes to town and drugs start washing up on the beach. Ok as far as a set up goes there are some interesting characters, you have a good setting, and you have hired a cast that can really pull of these roles. But on the other hand, you have created a set-up that is so stock standard it feels like I have seen components of this film reproduced over and over again in different and often better films.

So firstly the good parts of the film and the first good point is the acting because I do think everyone here is giving their best even with the story not working all that well. Honestly, I think this is a perfect role for Dwayne Johnson because he gets to show a lot of his strengths, from his charisma to his ability, to motivate others, and he has the physicality that the role needed. Zac Efron plays the cocky overly ripped guy that needed to learn a lesson, basically a role he has played many times in the past like Bad Neighbours and a host of others.  The rest of the supporting cast all have their moments but bar the subplot of Ronnie and CJ the story leaves them all feeling a little one-note.

Everyone is giving their all, even if the story is not helping them

Everyone is giving their all, even if the story is not helping them

When it comes to the technical side of things there were also interesting features, first, it really helps that a lot of this was filmed on location it helps give you that sense of reality that the film needed. Most of the action scenes were competently put together, there was a flow to the editing that made the sequences clear and not the hacky jump cut edits of some movies. For me I think the standout moment was the opening sequence with Mitch rescuing a kite-surfer that hit the rocks, there was a great flow to the sequence and it had a more surreal style that would have worked a lot better had the film employed it throughout, but alas. The music worked well with a mix of orchestral and licenced works which do a good job of setting the scene. One area that they do need to work on is the sound mixing, you could tell the difference between some of the dialogue recorded on site and those recorded later in ADR.

So we’ve talked about some of the things that did work we need to now talk about the big thing that did not work and that is the story, pretty much all the story. Because we are talking about the story there will be [SPOILERS]. Ok, where to begin because there is a lot to unpack, so for starters let’s look at how they adapted this movie from the source material. There has been a big vogue in Hollywood to adapt old TV shows and turn them into movies, to tap into that nostalgia market that has been powering juggernauts like Nintendo for years. We’ve had such gems as the before mentioned 21 Jump Street, or The A-Team, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and this year’s Power Rangers, but also a whole ton of films that just did not adapt all that well to the big screen because of creative decisions like Avatar: The Last Airbender or Ghost in the Shell. What has been happening recently is that to stand out of the crowd movies spice these adaptations up by making them (USA) R-rated comedies to tap into that mindset of what if, imagine Baywatch but what if they were allowed to curse and actually show the things that we always saw in slow motion. It’s a good idea and one that works for about five minutes before the novelty wears off. Part of this is because the writing is just not as clever as it needs to be to pull this off, like there is a scene where they basically riff of some weird scenarios and clearly these were all plot points from old Baywatch episodes but it feels so forced, unlike say the similar thing that was done in The Lego Batman Movie which tipped its hat to the audience to let them know they were in on the joke. Or for example it is quite common to get the old stars to appear in the new film as cameos, it happened in The Brady Bunch Film, in Ghostbusters, in 21 Jump Street, in Get Smart etc. It is one of those things that is there for the fans of the original but one of the reasons that they work is that they are a surprise. But here there is no surprise because you know David Hasselhoff & Pamela Anderson are going to show up at some point because there are in the opening credits and not in a tongue and cheek Deadpool kind of way. Also, the R rating just does not provide anything new to the film like it does in say Logan, it all felt more than a little unnecessary, and took away from the charm the film could have had. For example, save for the unnecessary prison scene, in 22 Jump Street, they used their R rating as a way of highlighting the absurdity of the story not as a crutch to try to prop up the story

While the style is there in places, there needed more work on the substance of the story

While the style is there in places, there needed more work on the substance of the story

This, of course, leads us to the next problem, while the adaptation is one issue, the bigger problem is the threadbare story that is full of inconstancies. Look sure there are some funny moments in Baywatch but it all wears off really quickly once they start repeating the same gags, and everything else becomes really predictable. You have the film hitting stereotypes early and it does not let up throughout, like Ronnie and his often changing body hair. You have sloppy writing like at the start where Mitch points out a sea urchin and goes this will make you super strong and then kill you, and sure Chekhov’s Gun and all that, but it might as well have been labelled ‘This will be important to the final battle’. If it had just been these clunky foreshadowing’s then it might not have been that bad but the lazy writing leads to characters acting out of character just because the plot needed them to. For example Mitch is shown to put the people’s lives above everything, and he gets understandably angry at Matt when his actions led to people’s lives being put in jeopardy, but half way through the movie he abandons his post, and leaves no one watching the beach to run down a lead at the morgue. Also, there is Dave (Hannibal Buress) who is shown at the start to be friends with Ronnie, only just to pop up later in the film as one of Victoria’s henchmen. Finally, also there are those moments where characters just act stupidly with no regards to their lives. While it might not be at Alien: Covenant levels, but in the end, Victoria went to almost the worst place she could have gone to get helicoptered out. Seeing such lazy writing which amounts to nothing is annoying when there are really good examples out there like 22 Jump Street’s meta-commentary on sequels, or Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s exploration of Cold War politics, is just disappointing. [End of SPOLERS]

In the end, look it is not the train wreck I was expecting, but it wasn’t all that good either, so as much as a couple of things made me laugh I can’t really recommend Baywatch. Honestly, it has such a good cast that I really did wish that they had gotten a better story to play around in. So my recommendation is to spend your money elsewhere.

 

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Seth Gordon
Screenplay by – Damian Shannon & Mark Swift
Story By – Jay Scherick, David Ronn, Thomas Lennon & Robert Ben Garant
Based onBaywatch by Michael Berk, Douglas Schwartz & Gregory J. Bonann
Music by – Christopher Lennertz
Cinematography by – Eric Steelberg
Edited by – Peter S. Elliot
Starring
– Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron, Priyanka Chopra, Alexandra Daddario, Kelly Rohrbach, Jon Bass, Ilfenesh Hadera, Hannibal Buress, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II & Rob Huebel with David Hasselhoff & Pamela Anderson
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; NZ: R; UK: 15; USA: R

Movie Review – Snatched

TL;DR – It honestly feels like this movie was a waste of everyone’s time, including mine

Score – 1.5 out of 5 stars

Snatched Banner

Review

Sigh, what a disappointment, this movie had an interesting premise, the cast all had such potential, but what we got was a confused mess that does not know what kind of film it wanted to be. Now of course this first sentence probably would not fill you with confidence, and you’d be right, but when you have Goldie Hawn someone who can light up the screen no matter what film she is in and in her first movie since 2002 and you can’t make it work, well you have problems. So in today’s review we are going to break down the film and talk about what things did work and what didn’t, and one of those sections is probably going to be bigger than the other.

Ok to set the scene, Emily Middleton (Amy Schumer) is a 20 something year old who has no real direction in life who just got fired from her job and whose boyfriend (Randall Park) has just dumped her all before she was meant to go with him on a non-refundable holiday to Ecuador. So after all her friends bail on her she asks her mother Linda (Goldie Hawn) who was cool back in the day but now lives with her cats and son Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz) who suffers from agoraphobia. So to cut a long story short, they go to Ecuador, meet ‘plutonic friends’ Ruth (Wanda Sykes) and Barb (Joan Cusack), Emily hooks up with totally not at all dodgy James (Tom Bateman) and then shock horror they get kidnaped and then stuff happens.

Unfortunately moments like these which look interesting are lacking throughout Snatched

Unfortunately moments like these which look interesting are lacking throughout Snatched

Ok I know a lot of people are not fans of Amy Schumer and her style of comedy, but she’s not the big problem here. In fact I think the whole cast is doing their best in their roles it’s just they are given nothing to work with. Seriously you have Goldie Hawn, Joan Cusack and Wanda Sykes in your film, you need to be aggressively mediocre to make them feel dull. The same can be said for the cinematography and editing, it is clear that they had talented people behind the camera, there are some really well constructed shots, some great framing, but the story gives them very little to work with. When it comes to the sets and locations, I will say they are all really well done but it’s clear they are in Hawai’i and not South America and that would be clear even if they didn’t use a lot of the same locations from Mike and Dave need Wedding Dates.

Ok well we have already starting to touch on some of the issues but let’s dig down to the big issues plaguing Snatched. The first big thing is that it does not know what film it wants to be, this is an American PG-13 in tone/story/structure that it feels like a week out from shooting the studio told everyone that no, actually you’re going to be R instead. Seriously it has the structure of a classic PG-13 movie, you have a couple of characters that are complete opposites from each other but have a pre-existing relationship, then something happens that forces them to work together, at some point they’ll air all their dirty laundry, run into some ‘quirky’ characters, and then they’ll work past their differences to escape. It could have easily been edited down to a PG13 film and not been great but it would have probably been better. Nothing is added by the film going to R, they don’t use it to add to the narrative like Deadpool, it’s just there so they can make that nip-slip gag.

You have to work to make a cast like this feel bland

You have to work to make a cast like this feel bland

As well as this, the movie opens with this narration card, ‘the two women caused chaos across South America’, and oh ‘and the kidnappers did some bad stuff to’. So when the first act of the film is really boring, you go to yourself, its ok, they are just setting this up for the juxtaposition so when they get captured and escape and things go off the chain you have something to compare it too. But no, they don’t ‘go of the chain’ they whine and winge from Ecuador to Columbia, with maybe only the very last part of act three being at least partly interesting. There are some moments of action here but it all really tame, like X-men 1 compared with Logan kind of tame. Seriously this is a good ‘fish out of water’ premise for the film, but they do nothing with it. Indeed they can’t even commit to what kind of film they want it to be as the tone varies widely across the film, from slapstick to this serious commentary on the role of tourism in developing countries which could have been interesting if it was not a throwaway line of dialogue.

Another big issue is the characters themselves, who are mostly awful people, but who are all playing broad and often unpleasant stereotypes. We have Emily, the stereotypical millennial with no direction in life, Linda, the stereotypical divorcee who lives alone with her cats, Jeffery the stereotypical nerd, I mean come on Snatched it’s not the 80’s, Morgado (Óscar Jaenada) the stereotypical Latino mobster, Ruth and Barb who are, well actually I don’t know what they are doing but it’s odd to say the least. Frankly they were so awful that I didn’t care at all if they learned to work together or not at the end.

We sympathize with you Goldie

We sympathize with you Goldie

In the end, I don’t know what I was expecting of Snatched, but I did not expect to spend most of the film being board. It is a film who can’t commit to what it wants to be, full of stereotypes and clichéd set ups, and honestly I think I only laughed once in the 1 ½ hours I sat through this in the cinemas, I’d give it a big miss, and don’t subject your mothers to it on Mother’s Day.

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Jonathan Levine
Written by – Katie Dippold
Music by – Theodore Shapiro & Chris Bacon
Cinematography by – Florian Ballhaus
Edited by – Melissa Bretherton & Zene Baker
Starring
– Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Ike Barinholtz, Joan Cusack, Wanda Sykes, Christopher Meloni,  Óscar Jaenada, Tom Bateman & Randall Park
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; NZ: R; UK: 15; USA: R

Movie Review – The Lego Batman Movie

TL;DR – It takes the very best of Batman, adds in some great animation and adds an interesting villain, I highly recommend it

Score – 4 out of 5 stars

Lego Batman Banner

Review

“I’m Batman”, it is a phrase so common I bet you just said it in your head Christian Bale style or indeed Will Arnett style. Batman is one of those unambiguous pop-culture references and touchstones that everyone knows about even if they have never read a comic or seen a movie. So if you are a marketing executive you are loving this exposure, however, the Batman from the Lego films is a parody and an almost one-note parody at that. This is a problem because we have seen over and over again when you take the zany side character and give them their own film it often doesn’t work, see the last Pirates of the Caribbean. So with today’s review, we are going to take a moment to look at what lead to the creation of this film, then look at the animation, story and characters, and see if it holds up.

The Lego Batman film is a love letter to the character of Batman

The Lego Batman film is a love letter to the character of Batman

So before we start we have to look at the twin worlds that birthed this film, as it is like two colliding trains that somehow pulled off the impossible. So on the first hand, we have the gem that was the first Lego Movie, a movie that should not have worked but did. Seriously, could you imagine a few years ago that a film whose main purpose is to try and make Lego relevant again, this is of course after a slew of half-assed, mediocre straight to video Lego films that piled into barging bins during the 2000s? However, even with this history and the nature of the film, The Lego Film was not only good it was amazing. Not only was it well acted, written, and animated, it also criticised the very brand it was meant to be promoting which is a baller move when you think about it. However, on the other hand, we have the DC universe which while it has been profitable, it has not been a critical success yet and while making money the movies have underperformed. Now I could go into detail as to why that is, and I did in my reviews of Batman v Superman (See Review) and Suicide Squad (See Review), but generally, the DC films have been lacking narratively on every front. So we have a movie about selling Lego sets smashing into a blockbuster franchise that is underperforming, this is a recipe for disaster, yet it just works.

The first thing we have to look at is the animation and here once again Animal Logic shines. It is a difficult task to make the world that looks like it could come out of a Lego set, but also animates well, however, like the first Lego Movie they make it work. This universe looks like it is built out of Legos, the buildings are built from blocks, all the characters have those classical Lego designs, the fires and exhaust from the assorted batmobiles have that tell tail plastic flame, the lobsters are well lobsters, the hair, all the details are right. As well as this, they make the most of the Lego setting, like Gotham being built over a chasm and so everything is been held together by support bricks, now there are more example but then we start to head into spoiler territory. All the animations flow really well, and the film is not afraid to break the Lego premise if they think it will get a bigger laugh or enable the animations to look better, which is a bold but effect move.

The visual gags are on point

The visual gags are on point

The setting is where Lego Batman shines because more than any DC film in recent years it gets Batman, it gets the universe, and it understands how to tell an effective story inside that universe. The first thing I have to say is thank you for not forcing us to watch another origin story again, it is at this point the Death of Bruce’s parents is one of the most filmed sequences in cinema. But more than that Lego Batman shows a respect for the character in a way recent movies have forgotten, as well as this, they also show an immense understanding of the wider canon. Seriously, Lego Batman is a love letter to the character of Batman (Will Arnett) giving him the personality of a more current dark brooding Batman but setting it in a world more reminiscent of the wonderfully camp Adam West Batman. This juxtaposition leads to some of the Lego Batman’s funniest moments, because the writers get Batman and Batman’s universe, and also know how to tell a joke both verbally and physically. Now a lot of this is down to both the script and Will Arnett’s fantastic delivery that gives a surprising amount of range to a character that is intentionally one-dimensional. Also, we actually get a Joker (Zach Galifianakis) that was an interesting character for a change, with a clear motivation other than just ‘he’s freaky’ so you actually understand why he is doing what he is doing. Also on the scale of getting trapped on purpose which is kind of a villain mainstay, see Bond and the Avengers, Jokers plan actually makes sense. You also have an interesting take on both Dick Grayson / Robin (Michael Cera) and Barbara Gordon / Batgirl (Rosario Dawson), with Robin being the voice of innocence and Batgirl being the voice of reason, oh and Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) being the voice of don’t mess with my family or I’ll end you.

In this section, there may be some mild spoilers so be careful. It was also interesting to see that it was just not the DC villains that got a run with some old time favourites like Agent Smith, Sauron, King Kong, and British Robots (someone couldn’t get the right to the name Dalek it seems). Indeed like The Lego Movie, it is not afraid to take a few passing shots at the very companies it is meant to be a shameless add for. It not only makes a farce out of how ridiculous a setup Batman v Superman was, but makes sure there are more than a few barbs sent in Suicide Squads direction, Killer Kroc announcing that he actually did something was a wonderfully absurd moment. That being said, the story is a bit predictable, and they foreshadow a bit too heavily in the first act, so there are no real surprises going forward. When it comes to the casting it’s almost a who’s who of talent, and they all give amazing vocal performances. Though there are some oddities like Siri the apple computer program that plays the part of the Batcomputer which is an interesting and possibly groundbreaking choice going forward, also you have Ralph Fiennes who plays Alfred Pennyworth in the movie but he does not voice Voldemort who he played in the Harry Potter films, it is voiced by Eddie Izzard for some reason.

Finally a Joker who is memorable

Finally a Joker who is memorable

In the end, did I like it as much as The Lego Movie, no, but I did have an amazing time in Gotham City and it has been a long time since I have been able to say that. The animations are excellent, the voice work is top notch, the story is solid and the movie gets the characters it is portraying. I highly recommend Lego Batman, and oh DC this is how you do a Batman film.
 

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Chris McKay
Screenplay by – Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern & John Whittington
Story by – Seth Grahame-Smith
Based onCharacters by DC Comics & Lego Construction Toys
Music by – Lorne Balfe
Edited by – David Burrows, Matt Villa & John Venzon
Starring
– Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Jenny Slate, Héctor Elizondo, Lauren White & Siri, with Mariah Carey, Eddie Izzard, Seth Green, Jemaine Clement, Billy Dee Williams, Riki Lindhome, Conan O’Brien, Jason Mantzoukas, Zoë Kravitz, Kate Micucci, Doug Benson, Channing Tatum, Ellie Kemper, Jonah Hill & Adam DeVine
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: PG; NZ: PG; UK: U; USA: PG

Movie Review – Fist Fight

TL;DR – Somewhere deep down in the heart of this film there is a good message, we need to value our teachers more, unfortunately, that message is drowned out with some really problematic script choices.

Score – 2 out of 5 stars

Fist Fight

Review

So, to be honest, I was not expecting much from Fist Fight, it is one of those films that you can kind of get the sense of whether or not you are going to enjoy it from watching the trailer, but I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised, as I am always an optimist. But wow where to begin, in many respects Fist Fight is one of the more problematic films that I have seen in quite a while, but also there is a good message in there somewhere, it’s a difficult film to approach. So with this review, I’m going to set the scene and then talk about its positives, because there are some, and then I’ll break down why I found it to be so problematic.

So it is the last day of School for the year and the seniors are pulling their last day pranks, this creates a living hell for all the teachers just trying to get through the day. The big issue, and the one that the students are oblivious to, is that on the last day each of the teachers are reapplying for their jobs next year, and the School authorities are looking to cut as much as they can get away with. Now, this I can sympathise with because I know what it is like to have to reapply each semester for a teaching position, never knowing if you will get it or not, it is a very unpleasant feeling. So in walks Andy (Charlie Day) an English teacher whose wife has a baby due any moment, who is trying to just make it through the day and into the next year because he needs his job for his family sake. But while the rest of the School is running riot, there is one teacher they do not mess with Ron Strickland (Ice Cube), who take zero nonsense from his students … because he is strict. To cut the story short, inevitably teachers are getting fired left, right, and centre, and thus fate brings Andy and Ron together where Andy promptly rats out Ron to save his job. So instead of dealing with this like adults, Ron states that at the end of the day that they will fight it out and so #TeacherFight is on.

Ice Cube gives a strong performance

Ice Cube gives a strong performance

So as I said before I move on I do want to take a moment to talk about some of the things that did work in Fist Fight because there were some good aspects. Firstly, while there are some issues, both Ice Cube and Charlie Day are acting their collective buts off here. Indeed most of the cast is at least giving their most, I mean they are not being given much to work with but what there is they are going a great job. Also props to Alexa Nisenson who plays Andy’s daughter Ally, for a really good entry into the talent show. As well as this, the final fight is well executed and really works from a technical level, even if you can see when they are using stunt doubles in places and that they used CGI for the crowd shots. Finally, and most importantly at the heart of the film is the notion that we need to treat our teachers better, and with this, I full heartily agree.

Ok, so the question here if not what was the problematic aspect of the film but which was the most problematic aspect. Now I know some people will say, ‘it’s just a comedy, you shouldn’t take it seriously’ but for me, the fact a lot of these things were turned into jokes or used for comedic effect actually makes it worse. Now I’m not saying that you can’t use humour to take a satirical look at an important issue (like The Interview), or to use humour to shine a light on a problem (like a lot of Mel Brooks career). However, this is not what is happening here, they are just a punchline and that makes it worse.

It is really well filmed at times

It is really well filmed at times

The first big issue is the subtext, and sometimes the literal text, that you are not a man if you don’t fight. Throughout the movie comments are thrown at Andy like ‘Man up’, ‘act like a real man’. It this notion that violence is what separates boys from men, that you are effeminate if you don’t fight, it is such a bad message to sell. To be a man you have to be violent is what is at the core of Fist Fight, and I’m sorry but no that is not what ‘being a man’ is all about, and indeed it is part of the problem that sees suicide being one of the biggest killers of young men in countries like the United States¹. It is also a factor that leads to increased violence especially when amplified by alcohol or illicit substances which at one point a teacher suggests Andy buy from a student. What makes things more of an issue is that there is a violent female teacher Miss Monet (Christina Hendricks) who at one point was told to calm down because ‘I’ve got it’. The perpetuation of this outdated notion that masculinity equals violence is deeply problematic.

As well as this, another really problematic area is the sub-plot around Counsellor Holly (Jillian Bell), throughout the movie she constantly expresses the desire to sleep with her students, and this is played for laughs. Ok, where to begin, well for one thing if the roles were reversed and a male teacher was trying to sleep with his female students, it would not be played for laughs, it would be an episode of SVU. The other issue is that even if the student is 18, which the film is unclear about, it is quite probable that they would not be able to give clear consent in that situation given the power differential between them. This is made worse by the fact that Holly is not just a teacher but the guidance counsellor for the school, making the power relationships larger, and the breach of trust worse. All of this is capped off with the fact that at the end of the film with the student, which she has spent the whole filmmaking seemingly untoward advances to, magically hooks up with her because he ‘was playing games’ with her. These issues are at the heart of why the film just does not work for me, sure there other issues like the tacky product placement, gee I wonder if this was made in Georgia, or having a running gag about a student masturbating, etc, but all of these pale in comparison to what are really messed up messages to send to people if you really think about it.

Fist Fight also has a strong supporting cast

Fist Fight also has a strong supporting cast

So yes at the heart of Fist Fight there is the good message of we need to help out our teachers, it is for the most part well-acted, and many aspects of the film are competently produced. However, all of these things to not out way the more problematic aspects of the film, and some more thought should have really gone into this film before it got to the production phase. In the end, I cannot recommend Fist Fight, there are a lot of other films out there at the moment and I recommend that you go see one of them like Logan if you are looking for an entertaining hour and a half.
¹ Source: CDC

Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Directed by
– Richie Keen
Screenplay by – Van Robichaux & Evan Susser
Story by – Van Robichaux, Evan Susser & Max Greenfield
Music by –  Dominic Lewis
Cinematography by – Eric Alan Edwards
Starring
– Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Christina Hendricks, Dean Norris, Kumail Nanjiani, JoAnna Garcia & Dennis Haysbert
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; NZ: R; UK: 15; USA: R

Movie Review – Office Christmas Party

TL;DR – This is the same kind of movie as every R-rated comedy of the last couple of years, but thankfully with a bit more substance than usual

Score – 2.5 out of 5 stars

Review

So as we race to the end of the year, and in the lull before Star Wars destroys the box office, in its wake, we have Trolls and Office Christmas Party fighting it out to see who will get that dollar, dollar bill. Since I don’t have children I don’t have to be subjected to that Trolls nonsense (truly you guys are the MVPs) which I was over about the same time JT was performing at Eurovision, so instead this week we have Office Christmas Party. OCP is another in a long line of R-rated comedies that have sprung up in the aftermath of Hangover and Bridesmaids, and has many similarities with other films that we have looked at this year like Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, Bad Neighbours 2, Grimsby, and Dirty Grandpa, indeed it fits into the same category as The Night Before which was last year’s R-rated Christmas comedy, and more so it seems to be taking a lot of queues from Unfinished Business with its plot, but somehow OCP makes it work when most of these other films were a mess.

So before I start, I a pretty sure I can tell you if you would be interested in watching this film with the following description, this movie contains, among other things, Sex, Nudity, Language, and Drugs, and at this point you probably have indeed decided if you will be giving this film a wide berth or not.

This image kind of sums up the film

This image kind of sums up the film

Office Christmas Party has a very simple yet effective set up, Josh Parker (Jason Bateman) is managing the Chicago branch of Zenotek, a tech company, under his manager and carefree son of the recently deceased founder Clay (T.J. Miller), then Clay’s sister and company CEO Carol (Jennifer Aniston) arrives and tells them if they don’t land a client in 3 days she is shutting the branch down. So, of course, what do you do to land that big client, well you through the biggest Christmas Party you can. As far as set-ups go, as I said it is quite simple, but this allows you to save time on explaining everyone’s motivations as it is all pretty clear what they all are. When it comes to the rest of the plot, well it’s all pretty straightforward, you can probably guess the arcs of every character in the first 10 minutes and you’d probably be right. So while there are no real surprises here at any point, it is executed quite well.

While as I said the story is quite simple the actual filmmaking is a step up from a lot of the similar films in this genre, even though this is just an R comedy they still show a good eye for composition and visual storytelling. For one I appreciated that there were very few jump scare jokes which permeated this enter genre for some reason. I also liked how they used visuals to set up jokes without jamming it down our thoughts, for example [Spoilers] at the start of the party there is a snow blower that has little bags of white powder that you drop into it so it shoots fake snow around. As soon as you see that set up, you know at some point someone is going to put cocaine down with the white bags and someone is going to put it in the machine by accident, which of course happens, but so often they would go out of their way to go ‘oo I sure hope people down put anything into that other than those little bags’ wink, wink nudge, nudge, we get it we know, and here thankfully we are spared this. So while this film is not The Revenant or even Kung Fu Panda 3, I did appreciate people trying to make it visually engaging.

Ok I'll admit it, that looks kind of fun

Ok I’ll admit it, that looks kind of fun

When it comes to the casting, everyone is playing characters that they are well versed in and have a lot of experience portraying. So, on the one hand, it means these actors have a lot of experience in these roles which shows, but on the other hand, it all does start to feel a bit too familiar. I’m not sure how many films Jason Bateman has been in since Arrested Development where he plays the exasperated straight man to everyone else’s shenanigans, but here we are again. Jennifer Aniston overly stuck up boss is as well as can be expected, and indeed her relationship with T.J. Millier’s character is one of the things that elevates OCP above many of its contemporaries. Also, Kate McKinnon nails the high-strung yet really weird HR Manager Mary, in a role that might have been written just for her.

Is it a perfect film, oh good grief no, there are a lot of issues once you start looking into it, and to do so we need to [ENGAGE SPOILERS] for the rest of this paragraph as we will be talking about the ending. Firstly let’s be honest the moment things started flying out of windows and onto the pavement below the police would have been in there shutting that party down, in fact probably before then. Also with regards to the technology used in the film I checked this with people in the industry, who confirmed it as being the ‘Highest Order of Bulldash’. I am old enough to remember dial-up and good luck uploading through that. Also, just for a moment let’s imagine that is did work as described in the film, as soon as it was released that is the person that destroyed Chicago’s internet was the same company that then let people access it through a new method, that person would be arrested/sued, like seriously even without that he would be jailed for the crash for at least driving under the influence.

You don't want to mess with Jennifer Aniston in this film

You don’t want to mess with Jennifer Aniston in this film

So can I recommend Office Christmas Party, well as I said up above you already know if you are going to go see it or not, and I doubt this review has changed you mind one way or another. What I can say is that Office Christmas Party is better than a lot of its contemporaries, but that’s not a very high bar to cross.

Directed by – Will Speck & Josh Gordon
Screenplay by – Justin Malen, Laura Solon & Dan Mazer
Story by – Jon Lucas, Scott Moore & Timothy Dowling
Music by – Theodore Shapiro
Cinematography by – Jeff Cutter
Starring
– Jason Bateman, T.J. Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Olivia Munn, Kate McKinnon, Jillian Bell, Vanessa Bayer, Rob Corddry, Randall Park & Courtney B. Vance
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; NZ: R; UK: 15; USA: R

Movie Review – Keeping Up with the Joneses

TL;DR – On the one hand this film does nothing new, and follows the same patterns and tropes of the genre, on the other hand, everybody commits to their roles, so it actually turns out quite good.

Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars

Review

When you go to a Hollywood movie that describes itself as an ‘action-comedy’ especially an American PG-13 ‘action comedy’, it tends to follow a very predictable route, characters are put into a zany situation, there will be some risqué subject material, but not too risqué, and they will drop their one F-Bomb at some point in the film and Keeping Up with the Joneses does not deviate from this at all. Indeed The Joneses fits very comfortably within the buddy-cop, or fish out of water genre, by taking two very different couples and then playing them off each other, and in that interplay hopefully some humour can be found. So the question then becomes can The Joneses solid enough film to sustain its premise for the whole film whilst still being entertaining, and well for me, I think they pulled it off.

Keeping Up with the Joneses tells the story of Jeff & Karen Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis & Isla Fisher) a perfectly normal suburban couple who celebrate finally sending their kids off to camp for the summer by watching a recorded copy of the Good Wife. Things become interesting when new neighbours Tim & Natalie Jones (Jon Hamm & Gal Gadot) move in. Tim is a travel writer and Natalie runs a cooking blog and together they have seen the world. However, it soon becomes clear that there is more to the Joneses that what first appears, or maybe Karen is just paranoid.

It has a strong cast

It has a strong cast

So it should be clear by now that The Joneses does nothing new, they hit all the same tropes you would come to expect, but still, I kind of dug this movie, and I think that is all down to the actors putting in 100%. The four leads just commit to their roles even if they are all really silly. It might be weird to say but I really liked seeing Zach Galifianakis play the straight role in this movie, he tends to be typecasted as the zany sidekick, but here he showed a very restrained and nuanced performance. John ‘I am ridiculously suave’ Hamm excels in the role of the secret agent man but also a slightly conflicted secret agent man, he delivers lines on blown glass with a full sincerity which you have to give props to. I didn’t really get a sense of Gal Gadot’s charisma and charm from Batman v Superman [Review], however, like many things in that film it looks like that was because of poor direction/writing. Here, Gadot really gets the chance to have a bit of fun and she gives a much more engaging performance. I didn’t mind Isla Fisher’s performance but it is a bit annoying up until the 2nd act turn around, though this might just be a residual annoyance on my part for all those bank ads we get subjected to in Australia. Hell even when Patton Oswalt shows up for a moment he smashes it for 100% and is a delight to watch.

While it might all be predictable I did like how they staged many of the scenes throughout the movie. Take the scene in an ‘exotic animal’ bar, from the first few moments you probably will know how it will end, but it does such a good job of getting you to engage with the characters that you forget and then bam they hit you with the joke they had been holding onto for five minutes. The movie has a lot of these really well-constructed sequences, but the story connecting them does not quite always hold up, and indeed if you know anything about intelligence services you be poking holes in the plot left, right and centre. As well as this, some sequences like the 2nd act car chase do seem to go on for a bit too long and start losing their impact.

Keeping Up with the Joneses 2

and some truly funny moments

While I did like The Joneses, there were some issues that did stop it from excelling. As I have said there is nothing new with this movie, and while that is not usually a problem as they do it so well, unfortunately as the film goes on it starts to lose some of its charm. For example, the coincidences in the 3rd act just feel really contrived to make conflict. Some of the recurring jokes start to lose a bit of their impact as they get used a bit too much and in general it did feel like the ending fell a little flat. Also, the vast majority of the supporting cast felt more like window dressing rather than actual characters, which is a shame.

In the end Keeping Up with the Joneses reminded me of the excellent Get Smart movie but it just doesn’t quite get there. However, did I laugh, yes, did I have fun, yes, and would I recommend it, actually yes, yes I would.

 

Directed by – Greg Mottola
Written by –  Michael LeSieur
Music by –  Jake Monaco
Starring
– Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot & Patton Oswalt
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG13