I never saw Oliver and Company when I was a kid but I remember seeing the trailer for it whenever we watched a Disney film on VHS. Every time I saw it I wanted to watch it but it never happened. Probably because I’d get too distracted by whatever Disney film I was going to watch. It always looked really fun and, as someone who loved dogs, I was obviously into the idea of Oliver Twist being remade with animals. I mean if The Lion King has taught us anything it’s that taking a piece of great literature and retelling it with animals is a great strategy for storytelling. I mean who’d even heard of Hamlet before Disney introduced us to Simba, right? Plus, there is a whole host of Disney films that prove that dogs and/or cats having adventures together is an instant winner. I’m not a big fan of Dickens anyway so I couldn’t imagine how it could get any worse by involving household pets.
Thankfully, I was able to catch up with myself for Throwback Thirty this week. After failing to watch Short Circuit 2 after I drew it out of my jar I actually managed it for today. Yesterday I settle down and had an afternoon of Johnny 5. It’s been ages since I last say Short Circuit so I wanted to remind myself… you know, in case it was too difficult to work out what was going on! Other than reminding me of how much I adore Ally Sheedy and causing me to Google (not for the first or the last time) ‘what is Steve Guttenberg doing these days?’, my rewatch of the 1986 science-fiction film wasn’t that memorable. I remember liking this film way more than I did. I don’t even think I had much of a warm nostalgic feeling about it. It just seemed a bit shit now. Of course, it was always shit but when you’re a kid nothing with a talking robot will ever be completely terrible, right? I mean, if I’m honest, the talking robot was still pretty cool as a nearly 30 year old but I was still disappointed with the film. So, it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I sat down to watch the sequel for the first time. If there’s one thing we know it’s that the sequel is always worse than the original… and I say that as a younger twin. So I know what I’m talking about.
Yesterday I uploaded a top 10 list containing my favourite books out of the ones I’ve read this year. There were plenty of super obvious and unoriginal choices on the list but it’s hard to deny how great they are. Whilst I was writing it I couldn’t help but feel that my book choices have improved somewhat this year. I may not have made great strides in terms of the number of books I’ve read this year because, as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t feel that reading should be a competition. However, I haven’t read as many books that I’ve disliked this year. Normally I would have fallen into the trap of buying super cheap thrillers that are always half price following their super hyped release. I’m talking books like Girl on the Train and similar psychological crime thrillers. The kind of novel that always follows the same path as the previous psychological crime thriller but with a heroine with a slightly different emotional crutch. This year I made the bold move to stop myself being taken in by the hype marketing that surrounds certain books. I just can’t do it to myself any more. I’ve done quite well on the whole so, when I was reviewing the books I’ve read in the last 12 months, I was shocked to find so many books that I’d enjoyed reading. There were a few glaring errors though and I thought it only right to highlight these to prevent anyone else making the mistakes I did.
- One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus : This is the book that I’m most annoyed at myself about this year. I have a long and complicated history with YA fiction anyway but this has the added dread of being a crime thriller. On paper it sounded perfect. It was being billed as something of a mix between The Breakfast Club and Murder on the Orient Express and I bloody love both of those things. However, this book is everything that I’ve come to hate about bad YA fiction. I’m sure there is some Young Adult literature out there that isn’t determined to dumb itself down for its audience but this book was so simplistic. It was painfully obvious from the first page who was responsible for the murder that the rest of the novel was just dragging out the inevitable. Then you have all the staple YA cliches and stereotypical characters. There was nothing original, exciting or worthwhile about this book. The writing was uninspiring and fairly insipid. The characters lacked development and the dialogue was so bad. This, more than any other YA fiction I’ve read, felt like a grown adult trying to remember what being a teenager was like but failing miserably. I, honestly, don’t think I could find one positive to say about this novel. I really don’t think I’ve ever hated a book as passionately as I hate this one. It wasn’t worth my previous time.
- Losing It by Emma Rathbone : This was the first book I finished this year and was one that had been part of my Most Anticipated Fiction of 2016 list. I had super high hopes for it being a triumphant work of feminist insight. Instead, it made me all ranty and horrible. The novel was supposed to open up a dialogue about our society’s obsession with sex but, instead, it just made virginity seem even more depressing and humiliating. This is a book intended to be read by young people. YOUNG PEOPLE. You know, those hormonal and already confused and anxious bunch who have enough trouble working out their attitude towards the opposite sex. They don’t need Emma fucking Rathbone coming along and writing a book telling them to have sex asap. I didn’t just hate Losing It because of it’s content, of course. Emma Rathbone is, without a doubt, one of the worst writers I’ve ever read. She has no idea how to utlitise the English language in an appealing and entertaining way. There were moments in this novel that were just awful. I highlight a few in my review which were super bad. This was so close to being my most hated read this year. Luckily for Rathbone, One of us is lying came in to steal the crown from under her nose.
- The Plague by Albert Camus : Now, strictly speaking I didn’t hate this book but, as this list so far consists of two YA novels, I felt the need to bulk out this post. The Plague was one of two books this year that I started but didn’t finish. I don’t know why but I just couldn’t get into this story. I’m going to blame the translation that I used for it being inaccessible but I just found this book to be very stiff. It’s a fantastic story and Camus is, obviously, a great writer. I just couldn’t get through it. Maybe it was bad timing? I don’t know. It’s not necessarily fair to include it considering how much I hated the previous two books but, again, I needed the numbers.
- Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling : The other book that I failed to read this year? Yep, it was the second in the Harry Potter series. When it comes to this series I’ve always said that Prisoner of Azkaban is my number one book and film. I love it so much and think the series really took off from the third instalment. As I’ve grown older I’ve come to really struggle with the first 2 books. They are both so childish and badly written that I have never been able to fully reread them. I managed to push on through with The Philosopher’s Stone this year but genuinely couldn’t get through its successor. Chamber of Secrets is, by far, my least favourite book in the whole series. So little happens in it and there is so much preamble before we get back to Hogwarts. It is so slow and, again, it was during JK’s first experiences of writing. It’s so immature and simplistic. There was nothing pushing me on to finish because I kept remembering what I had to get through before anything interesting happens. I think, if I ever try to reread the entire series, I could happily skip past this one completely and not feel I was missing out.
Everyone has their own favourite Christmas film. It’s a deeply personal and, often, confusing thing. I, personally, don’t understand why anyone would say anything other than The Muppets’ Christmas Carol but there are some weirdos out there. Love Actually is one of the those films that genuinely baffles me. There is so much love for that film but, when you really look at it, it’s just awful. I know people who willingly watch it repeatedly throughout December. Who would do that to themselves? Netflix should stop trying to shame fans of A Christmas Prince and starting calling out the people who are watching Love Actually again and again. They’re the real worries. Alongside the more contemporary Christmas viewing there are the real classic Christmas films that people just adore. Although, not all of them seem to be as popular over here as they are in America. I don’t know why but it feels like A Christmas Story hasn’t really translated to the UK market in the same way that most other Christmas films have. Every year I see and hear loads about it but, up until recently, I’d never seen the film myself. I knew quotes from it but had no context for them. After a recent prompt for an Instagram challenge I’m doing this month referenced the film, I decided it was finally time to watch it. After all, people seem to bloody love this film. Why else would it be played over and over for 24 straight hours? Oh god, imagine a world where somebody starts doing that for Love Actually? I couldn’t cope.
Now that I have seen A Christmas Story I have to say, I don’t get it. I was so ready for it to be the greatest thing I’d ever seen but I just don’t get it. I mean, it’s a fine collection of stories and all but it’s nowhere near as funny or endearing as I’d been lead to believe. The film is narrated by adult Ralphie Parker as he reminisces about the Christmas he had when he was 9 years old. Specifically about how desperate he was to get his dream present: a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. Unfortunately, as he’s only a fucking kid, most sensible adults see this as a bad idea. Ralphie isn’t one to be stopped so tries every trick he can think of to convince his parents that it’s a good idea. Along the way, there are several smaller plots going on including Ralphie’s father winning a ridiculous prize in a competition, an ongoing joke concerning his dad and the neighbours’ dogs, Ralphie’s encounters with the school bully, and a brief encounter with some ill-advised swearing.
A Christmas Story is a very odd film that attempts to win favour with its nostalgic setting and fairly twee sensibility. The story is set around the 1940s so there is a slightly magical feel to everything. It’s a little historic whilst being incredibly familiar. Hearkening back to a time when Christmas was much less commercial and families thought about the more important things. Although, there is something quite off-putting about the setting. It feels too forced. I just couldn’t get on board with it. I like nostalgic TV but it has too feel natural. Take something like Mad Men, which makes the historical references work within the context of the story. A Christmas Story just seems to be using the past as a way to create a feeling that it is unable to generate naturally. Using nostalgia to create a festive ambience.
It’s not as if there aren’t good moments in this film but they are somewhat outweighed by the bad. For all the jokes that land fairly well, there are far more that just feel forced or cringey. There are parts of this film that make me feel so uncomfortable because they’re so bad. Like the moment Ralphie’s father is opening a crate and misreads the word “fragile” for no reason whatsoever. It’s not funny or silly. It doesn’t make any sense. Just like the whole film. I get that it is supposed to have the feel of several small vignettes coming together to create a festive treat but it just feels too disparate. There is nothing, other than Ralphie, that really ties these stories together. It just feels badly edited and unconnected. And super long. It’s not actually that long a film but watching it felt like a fucking marathon. I can’t imagine how long a 24 hour repeated watch would feel.
I guess it’s entirely possible that I’m missing something that I’d get if I was in America. Maybe that’s why the film hasn’t really made it over here. Something fundamental has been lost in translation. All I do know is, this film certainly won’t make it into my yearly festive rotation of films. It’s not the worst Christmas film I’ve ever seen but it’s certainly not an experience I’m keen to repeat.
There’s a thing with Christmas movies that mean the expectations regarding quality shift. I mean there’s got to be a reason so many people love the film Love Actually when it is, clearly, the worst thing ever made. I mean it’s a horrible mix of plots that are offensive and irritating and really not very romantic. I have a complicated enough relationship with Richard Curtis without this affront being played a million times every December. But there is a genre of Christmas films that really scrape the bottom of the barrel. The kind of unoriginal TV movies that are churned out in amazing quantities by the likes of Hallmark. And, apparently, Netflix have been trying to get in on the act. Last week I reviewed the film that the Christmas film of 2017: Netflix’s original A Christmas Prince. I watched it and, to my surprise, didn’t totally hate it. I mean I mostly did but I still found some festive pleasure watching it. Still, I was happily done with the “genre” until I was shown the trailer for Netflix’s second big holiday production: Christmas Inheritance. I’m starting to worry about the inevitable increase in the number of recommendations I’ll get from the age 12-14 film category because of these films. Ah, what the heck, my recommendations are already pretty fucked up thanks to all of the 90s gross-out comedies that I’ve watched.
Whilst it might seem that A Christmas Prince and Christmas Inheritance have a lot in common that simply isn’t true. Both feature a female as their protagonist but these protagonists are very different. One is a terrible journalist whilst the other is a terrible CEO. Oh my god, so different! In the latest film, Ellie (Eliza Taylor) is the daughter to the CEO of a fairly twee and family orientated gift company. She expects to take over from her father, Jim, some day but she is more preoccupied with partying to care about the traditions that her father and his business partner started so many years ago. In order to push Ellie into learning more about the company’s values, Jim sends her to the small town where everything all started. She has to go undercover and with only $100 to her name. Yeah, it doesn’t really make sense but it is the only thing that drives this film forward so I’ll go with it. Unluckily for Ellie, Snow Falls is in the middle of nowhere with no amenities and very few ways to contact the outside world. Can she get over her New York ways and prove she deserves to run the company?
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Christmas film without the added touch of romance. Whilst Ellie is engaged to an obvious wrong-un from New York, she finds herself drawn to literally the first (and seemingly only) young man she meets in town. He runs the inn owned by her father business partner and has no time for her big city bullshit. Until he finally starts to see the kind heart that she hides underneath, of course. This is standard rom-com fair: high maintenance girl sent out to hicksville and getting her hands dirty before falling in love with the local dishy Samaritan. But this is different because… it’s Christmas? Obviously, he eventually finds out she’s been lying about who she is and, suffering from his own inner demons, our flannel wearing hero turns his back on the rich young thing.
I’ll be honest with you, I thought after my reaction to A Christmas Prince that I would react more favourably to this film. I didn’t. Just like their previous offering, Netflix’s new film is a mash-up of so many romantic-comedies that have come before it. This time it manages to be as unfunny, inexplicable and unoriginal as A Christmas Prince whilst also giving us a heavy dose of its patronising attitude towards simple rural folk. There is always going to be problem with the conceit of a young rich girl going back to her roots: it always has to imply that there is something so twee and magical about small town living. It forces us to believe that these folks are so backwards that their good nature and kind hearts are an unusual thing. It’s fucking annoying. Snow Falls is the manic pixie dream girl of small towns. An unrealistic place that manages to show the main character who she is and who she needs to be thanks to its endless parade of outdated stereotype characters.
I also found Christmas Inheritance’s inevitability much more annoying. I kind of accepted that A Christmas Prince was going to be exactly the kind of film I thought it was going to be and found it funny to second-guess the plot. Here it seems much less acceptable. Maybe it’s because this film tries to ground itself closer to reality or because it takes itself more seriously? I don’t know. What I do know is that I was much angrier when I was shouting the future plot strands at the screen this time around. In reality, Christmas Inheritance is no worse a film than A Christmas Prince but, if you were to really push me, I’d definitely pick the latter to watch. But it’s entirely possible I never got over my childhood dream to become a princess one day and it’s affecting my life’s choices.
I promise you that I definitely meant to write a bookish post yesterday but I’ve recently contracted the plague. My head feels like it’s full of sea water, aquatic life included, and I swear there is someone trying to jam a screwdriver through my right eye. There are various liquids slowly seeping from every available space on my face and my nose would come in handy on a foggy Christmas Eve night. Yesterday, during the worst day of my cold so far, I genuinely believe there were tiny pixies stabbing me in the head with tiny swords. So as you can see, I really wasn’t in any state to try and come up with a post for you. I am hoping to have recovered enough by tomorrow to manage something but we’ll see if I survive the night. In relation to today’s TBT post, I have to admit that I’m kind of ashamed that I watched this film but, again, in my sensitive state, I really wasn’t able to focus on anything too taxing. So I took to Netflix and searched for Nicolas Cage. Boy was I left with a myriad of shit. My friend and I always disagree about Nicolas Cage. She’s convinced that he has more good films than he does. I admit that there are a few decent ones out there but, let’s be honest, the ration is more in favour of the bad than the good. Still, I will say that his films are probably worth a watch just for how bad they are. I mean, I’m in no rush to see Drive Angry again but I’ll never fucking forget it.
I tried to describe Left Behind to someone I work with today and it just made me sound fucking mental. Starting with the words “it’s a film about the rapture” is bad enough but then you have everything else. It’s a film about the rapture starring both Nicolas Cage and Chad Michael Murray: two of my favourite guilty pleasure actors. It’s a film about the rapture that is actually based around trying to stop a plane crash. It’s a film about the rapture that sees the people that have been “left behind” immediately start looting, attacking each other, and just being general dicks. It’s a film about the rapture that neither promotes Christianity nor really criticises non-believers. It’s a film about the rapture that is so bad it’s not even funny. It’s fucking mental.
Left Behind is the big (ish) budget reboot of a previous film series from the early 2000s. This time starring Nicolas Cage doing, perhaps, the least acting he’s ever done in any film. He plays pilot Ray Steele who is flying from New York to London on his birthday. Why is he doing this? To get away from his overly relgious wife (Lea Thompson) and spend a dirty weekend in England with a sexy, young air hostess (Nicky Whelan). One of their passengers is investigative journalist Buck Williams (Chad Michael Murray) who, by happy circumstance, has just spent the last few minutes flirting with Ray’s daughter Chloe (Cassi Thomson) in the airport. Suddenly, a load of people, including several passengers on the plane, disappear leaving their clothes and belongings behind. Chloe loses her younger brother at the mall and is caught up in the chaos that ensues. She must find her way home safely and see if she can find her mother. When his co-pilot disappears, Ray must find a way to land his plane and save the remaining passengers.
Left Behind sounds like an incredibly parody that you’d see on some sort of sketch show. It’s that fucking ridiculous. But it’s based on a popular Christian novel about the end of days. It’s source material was produced to warn people about the dangers of ignoring religious teachings and not taking God into your life. This film? Well, I’m just not sure what it’s trying to say. All of the Christians depicted in the film are fucking mental so it’s not as if they’re even casting themselves in a positive light. Then, the a lot of the non-believers all seem like really nice people who don’t deserve to be left no Earth to face whatever punishment awaits them. If anything this film just seems to push the idea that God, as the Bible writes him, is a cruel and unfair master. I mean there’s a woman suffering from dementia who is left behind after her loving husband is saved. What kind of God would leave a confused, old lady alone on a plane that’s about to crash?
It’s also just a really bad film. Even when you ignore the preposterous idea at it’s very core this film is just plain bad. It’s badly written, poorly acted and the CGI is just incredibly shit. I mean even Geostorm looks like a technological success next to this film. The worst thing about Left Behind is that it’s not even so bad it’s funny. It sounds like the kind of camp nonsense that could have been played for laughs but everything is handled with such seriousness. There isn’t an ounce of self-awareness within it’s relatively short running time. I mean at least Geostorm has me laughing at it occasionally. I couldn’t do that here. It’d be like laughing at someone with a disability: unnecessary, cruel and immoral. Although, like every other Nicolas Cage film I’ve seen recently, it’s an experience that I won’t forget in a hurry.
There was a time, back in about 2012, when I genuinely believed that Gerard Butler was going to be a great actor. I admit, this was mostly to do with the film Coriolanus where he blew everyone’s minds by being fucking awesome in Shakespeare. Since then, Hollywood has continued to cast him in underwhelming action movies or shitty romantic-comedies. How many of you out there can name a Gerard Butler movie that they enjoyed? Okay, I’m sure a few of you will have said 300 but then we have to get into the whole Zack Snyder debate. I mean the guy fucking sucks! Look at what he’s doing to DC. I mean I’ll give him Watchmen because I was one of the few people who liked it. Anyway, I can’t get into this again. So, ignoring 300 (because we’ll never agree) name a Gerard Butler film that you actually like? It fucking tricky, right? Can you even name 5 Gerard Butler movies? They all pretty much meld into one so it’s really difficult to tell them apart. Kind of like Vin Diesel, if you’ve seen one Gerard Butler film then you’ve seen them all. Or at least that’s what I thought before Geostorm came out. I genuinely believe that this film marks the very moment that Gerard Butler became the new Nicolas Cage. It was a film that looked so preposterous that I never planned on seeing it. The kind of film based around such dodgy scientific fact that you walk out of it feeling like fucking Stephen Hawking compared to the writers. Still, I wasn’t counting on being full of cold this week. I wanted to watch and review the new Netflix film Mudbound because it looks bloody amazing. My brain wasn’t quite prepared for that though. So yesterday, overcome by the various fluids that are slowly filling the hole where my face normally resides, I decided it was a good idea to actually watch the film that made Gerard Butler one of the most unconvincing American scientists ever seen on-screen. I mean, it is only about 109 minutes long. Even in as close to a snotty death as I was, that was a length I could manage.
Let’s be honest, even leaving the possible domestic abuse to one side, Johnny Depp has well and truly gone rogue in recent years. No offence to the man but he’s kind of a walking parody of himself these days. I mean I wouldn’t be shocked to discover that the actor genuinely believes he is Captain Jack Sparrow. It’s the only thing that explains the fact that he won’t stop making Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Watching the 4th film was painful enough; those fucking mermaids man. Then we have to suffer the indignity of a 5th. It just stinks of desperation. This has been a dying franchise since the 2nd film because, let’s face it, there was only so far you could go making films based on a fucking theme park ride. Yet, Disney keep flogging that dead horse and are back with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. A film that, for some unknown reason, was renamed Salazar’s Revenge in the UK. Now, it was bad enough that I actually watched this film but to have to watch it with this god awful title? That’s too much. So I’m defying my geography and referring only to the superior title. Salazar’s Revenge? For fuck’s sake, that sounds like a really terrible soap opera or something. This is the POTC movie that, basically, nobody asked for so to give it such an underwhelming name for its European distribution just seems like a super bad idea. Although, with the news that a 6th film is dependent on DVD sales it may actually pay off for us in the long term.
It seems to me that there are two types of people in the world. There are those who have slowly but surely grown sick of the same Captain Jack Sparrow shtick that has become so tired and predictable over the last 4 POTC movies. Then there are those with brains so tiny that they’d be endlessly amused just from looking at their own hands. Since the first Pirates of the Caribbean film wowed audiences in 2003 very little has changed about the character. There has been little, if any, development over the span of 4 films and he feels less like a character than a series of mannerisms at this point. We saw, from the disappointing On Stranger Tides, that Jack cannot hold a movie on his own so, to try and reinvent the wheel, the franchises 5th outing is going back to its roots. We see the return of original stars Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and Geoffrey Rush as well a carbon copy of the plot. All wrapped up in a package that is nowhere near as polished as any of the Gore Verbinski’s three films. So, it was never going to go well.
The powers that be have clearly decided that too much of Captain Sparrow can be bad thing and have, once again, placed him as second fiddle to a couple of bright young things. In this case it is Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), offspring of William Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), an astronomer and horologist on a quest to complete her father’s work. Just like the first film, Will and Elizabeth 2.0 are both searching for some sort of mystical McGuffin (in this case it’s Poseidon’s trident) that will, supposedly, solve everyone’s problems. To do this they must ask for the help of everyone’s favourite rock star pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). At the same time, Jack is trying to outrun an old enemy (Javier Bardem) who is seeking both bloody vengeance and an end to his death curse. There’s also the inevitable appearance of the British navy who decide to get mixed up in everything. Dead Men Tell No Tales is clearly trying to recapture the excitement of the first but the ride isn’t as much fun this time round.
The main problem lies in the fact that, the more you examine the plot the less it makes sense. I mean how does Salazar know that Jack’s compass holds the key to his escape? Why, when they do escape, are they unable to step on land? What exactly is Barbossa’s motivation for anything? Why the fuck do British sailors go after the trident? There is so much included in the plot that, when you think about it, doesn’t add anything to the narrative. David Wenham turns up as the face of the British Empire but he has absolutely no impact on anything that happens. This film isn’t a well-crafted masterpiece but is just a series of events that come together to make the ending possible in the most dramatic way. Things need to happen so we can have the cycle of double-crossing that has become a requirement in this franchise. It’s just the most convenient and laziest way of making the story work.
Which, I guess, really isn’t a problem in itself. It’s just that there isn’t enough to distract us. Johnny Depps’ Captain Jack has become super irritating in the past few years so no amount of his weirdness is enough to keep you on board. Even Javier Bardem, who is the greatest Bond villain of recent years, doesn’t feel as invested in the character of Salazar as he should be. The character may be a triumph of CGI but he never feels like the most terrifying of foes. Of course, there are some fine action sequences at the start of the film but as time moves on these become more absurd and confusing. An early sequence that sees Henry save Jack and Carina from being executed is a fabulous sequence in the same vain as the Gore Verbinski era but it quickly just descends into madness. The final showdown is just a mess of CGI with no elegance or coherence.
I was genuinely shocked to discover that this film is actually the shortest in the franchise. It definitely felt longer than any of the previous films. Watching it from start to finish seemed like a fucking marathon. There simply isn’t any life in this franchise anymore. Or at least in the franchise as it once was. I think the days of Johnny Depp doing his Keith Richards impression are well and truly over. If this is going to continue, and really I don’t think it should, there should be a change of direction. People will try to defend Dead Men Tell No Tales as being mindless entertainment. I defy that statement. This film isn’t mindless entertainment: it’s just mindless.
As I mentioned on Tuesday, I have seen quite a few comments recently bemoaning the fact that Rough Night is basically a female remake of the 90s film Very Bad Things. I don’t know how, why or when I saw Very Bad Things but I was probably far too young and channel hopping late at night. I can’t say that I remember it all that fondly and didn’t see that there would be a problem with a film taking a similar premise using female actors instead.Apparently, I didn’t count on a load of random people out there who believe this to be the best film of all time. According to the fan reviews on IMDB this is best dark comedy that has ever been created. I just didn’t buy it. I mean, we all know that standards for films were lower in the 90s. Joel Schumacher’s Batman films are all the evidence you need for that. So I decided it was time to revisit the film and see if I’d forgotten the brilliance somewhere over the years. I doubted very much that I had but what is life if you aren’t willing to take risks, right?
Very Bad Things introduces us to groom-to-be Kyle Fisher (Jon Favreau) who is in the final stages of planning his wedding to fiancé Laura (Cameron Diaz). Whilst Laura is obsessively planning her dream wedding, Kyle and his four friends are eagerly awaiting their trip to Vegas for the bachelor party. Their night in Vegas quickly becomes intense as the group partake in a lethal cocktail of drugs and alcohol. After best man, Robert Boyd (Christian Slater), arranges for a stripper/prostitute to visit the guys’ hotel room, a wasted Michael Berkow (Jeremy Piven) agrees to pay her for sex. Unfortunately, the encounter leads to the hooker’s death and the men clueless on how to deal with it. Michael’s brother, Adam (Daniel Stern) wants to phone the police but, after also killing a hotel security guard, Boyd manages to convince the group that their only choice is to bury the bodies in the desert. Unable to forget what has happened in the run up to the wedding, each of the men become more and more unhinged and Boyd becomes more willing to make deadly sacrifices to cover everything up.
There’s a lot to be said for my love of Kate McKinnon. I was almost 100% sure that I didn’t want to ever watch Rough Night but every time I saw the trailer I couldn’t help but think “Kate McKinnon though…”. So I decided to just go with it. Best case scenario: it’d be the new Bridesmaids. Worst case scenario: well, I’ve seen both of the Sex and the City movie and it’s got to be better than that, right? Don’t even ask me how that happened but it did. When you’ve seen those films and Mama Mia it becomes really difficult to imagine a film that I can hate quite as much. With every second of SATC2, each cell in my body started to shrink into itself out of anger and embarrassment; embarrassment for the people who made it, the people who liked it and for me, for making the decision to watch it. The good thing about writing this blog over the years is that I have a different range for what is good and bad. It’s like studying novels of sensibility during my Masters degree. I suddenly found a new appreciation for all of the books I thought were rubbish because they all had something more than just countless stupid young women fainting at the slightest sound. Once again, provided nobody in Rough Night fainted in the arms of their creepy uncle/step father then this definitely wouldn’t be the worst story I’ve ever experienced. So that’s something.
For one moment back in 2011 it seemed as though the world was finally ready to accept that women deserved to be given the chance to be a outrageously funny as men. As though everyone else was as sick of seeing the guys from films like The Hangover get into drunken capers and were as desperate to let the ladies have a go. Unfortunately, the change never really happened and the path towards gender equality in terms of comedy films has been a slow and painful one. It’s not as if people haven’t tried. Hell, Paul Feig is and Melissa McCarthy are trying desperately to make the raunchy female lead comedy land. It hasn’t quite worked in the way we wanted. Look at the internet’s reaction to a female only Ghostbusters for fuck’s sake. Clearly, that glass ceiling is still as thick as ever.
But that doesn’t mean Hollywood isn’t willing to give these types of films as chance when they arise. The latest is Rough Night from the writers of Broad City and boasts a great cast of female talent. It is also, in its basic form, like a female reworking of the 1998 Jon Favreau film Very Bad Things with a slight hint of The Hangover. A while ago I read a comment on the internet, probably YouTube, that was basically an outcry from some guy about remaking Very Bad Things with women. Now I can just about get that people were worried about Ghostbusters because it’s such a classic. But Very Bad Things? Nobody is worrying about that reputation being ruined. I mean it’s not exactly gone down in cinematic history. Who’s thinking “oh, I vividly remember watching Very Bad Things for the first time and don’t want my important memories to be destroyed”? Yeah, no one.
But, as it happens, Rough Night actually builds on the Very Bad Things legacy by being forgettably bad. The film is set around one night on the bachelorette party of wannabe Senator Jess (Scarlett Johansson). It is being planned by her college roommate Alice (Jillian Bell) who is feeling neglected by her old friend. Joining the pair are their fellow college friends, Blair (Zoë Kravitz) and Frankie (Ilana Glazer), who are battling with their messy romantic past as well as problems in their current lives. A random element turns up in the shape of a woman Jess befriended during a year studying in Australia. Pippa (Kate McKinnon) is a bit of a weirdo and instantly puts Alice’s nose out of joint by appearing to be much closer to the bride-to-be. After a night of cocaine, drinking and choreographed dance routines, the group return to the house they’ve rented to carry on the fun. Blair orders Jess a stripper but, a ridiculous accident, causes his untimely death. The ladies are then left with a body on their hands.
From the outset, Rough Night is desperate to prove that these women are ready to party and there is no underlying sense of judgement going on. The women are all allowed to enjoy their night out without the audience getting the feeling that it’s wrong. It also helps that the characters naturally fit together on screen. Their attempts at typical lad banter feels more natural than it does in a lot of these types of films. Rough Night isn’t a terrible film and there are plenty of funny moments. However, most of these moments are the smaller, throwaway gags that get lost in the mess. The rest of that mess is catered to specific criteria set about for commercial purposes. There is the generic slapstick silliness from the trailer and the cringey attempts to bring big laughs to all the idiots that are rushing out to see this film. It’s mostly just a big miss and the best moments are brushed aside for supposedly “guaranteed” laughs.
Rough Night isn’t the worst movie of this type around and, thanks mostly to the cast, manages to create some positive and memorable moments. However, it is a film that is clearly at odds with itself. It is written by clever writers who know how to bring the humour out of weirdness and stars actors willing to get a bit freaky. However, it ends up playing too close to the stereotypical humour of these R rated comedies. It’s a bit too big and brash to really work completely. Everyone is working overtime to make it come together but it’s a runaway train of outrageous comedy. As the narrative moves forward and more insane subplots keep popping up it just gets out of hand. Rough Night is trying so hard to be The Hangover that it’s forgotten the heart that made Bridesmaids so appealing. It’s so annoying in it’s desperation to appeal to everyone that is forgets to be funny or sweet. Although, there are some positives to take away. Most notably the relationship between Blair and Frankie, which is played out more naturally than most same-sex romances you see on screen anymore. This film could have been good had it focused a bit more on emotions and character than on trying to compete with the guys.