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 – 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 – The Night Before

TL;DR – This movie is trying to be a lot of things, but never really succeeds at any of them

Score – 2 out of 5 stars

Review

So we have hit December and that means that Christmas movies are upon us, and the first cab off the rank this year is ‘The Night Before’, so how is it, well, meh. To try and explain this film, imagine taking the comedic sensibilities of a usual Seth Rogan production (see Bad Neighbours, This is the End &The Interview) and smash it together with the iconography and themes of traditional Christmas movie. This is an interesting concept, but in practice, we get a slapdash amalgamation of the two rather than an interesting hybrid.

As a group the cast works well together

As a group the cast works well together

The basic premise of The Night Before, is 14 years ago Isaac Greenberg (Seth Rogan) and  Chris Roberts (Anthony Mackie) were consoling their friend Ethan Miller (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) after he lost both his parents days before Christmas. This started a tradition that the three of them would go out partying on Christmas Eve each year. Fast forward to the future and Isaac and Chris are starting to move on with their lives so they agree to have one last celebration before ending the tradition. Of course shenanigans occur, this is a comedy film, Isaac’s pregnant wife Betsy (Jillian Bell) gives him a box full of assorted drugs to enjoy on his one night off before their baby is born, Ethan stumbles across tickets to the Nutcracker Party, and infamous party that they have tried to find for years, and Chris is so focused on cultivating his fame (founded on steroid use) that he forces everyone to help him try and impress his fellow teammates.

All of this sounds like an interesting basis for a film, but for a film like this to work you have to care for the characters and this is the big problem with the Rogen style of comedy (drugs, nudity, sex scenes etc) as it creates very unlikable characters and frankly you just end up not caring. Will Ethen end up with Diana (Lizzy Caplan), who cares, oh no Chris is conflicted about his fame being built on steroid use, who cares? Honestly, a lot of this movie feels like they cribbed notes from an episode of How I Met Your Mother and then added all the things you can’t get away with on network TV. As well as this, it is the little things that start to annoy you, like how they try to do a commentary on how commercial our lives are becoming, whilst name dropping/ using product placement all the time, you don’t get to have your cake and eat it too. Or how it tries to deal with issues such as race, but it does it in such a poor way and then moves on so quickly you have to wonder why they bothered.

It's a drug fueled freakout in a Church kind of movie

It’s a drug fueled freakout in a Church kind of movie

To be fair, not everything is a mess, some of the jokes are quite funny, with a stand out being Issac getting himself stuck with his pregnant wife’s family at midnight mass whilst wearing a Star of David jumper and tripping on magic mushrooms. The problem is to get to these moments you have to slog through a lot of boring filler.

Look is it the worse film I have seen this year no, I’m looking at you Pixels, it’s just a real missed opportunity to make something interesting and since I have not watched a really good film since The Dressmaker, I am wondering if 2015 is going to end on a bit of a fizzle.

Directed by – Jonathan Levine
Written by – Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, Jonathan Levine & Ariel Shaffir
Starring – Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, Lizzy Caplan, Jillian Bell, Michael Shannon & Mindy Kaling
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Ireland: 16; NZ: R16; UK: 15; USA: R