Tuesday’s Reviews – Despicable Me 3 (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – Despicable Me 3 (2017)


Let’s get one thing straight, I, like every other sensible adult human being, fucking hate the minions. I’m so sick of seeing those tiny yellow pricks all over the place again now that the fourth film in this movie franchise has been released. Not content with giving them their own film, the annoying little creatures are back with their master in Despicable Me 3. It’s a bit insane that a random animation from 2010 has cultivated so many follow-ups but here we are. I had originally planned on seeing this film with a friend from work but, before we could, she cruelly left me for a better job. So, instead, I had to watch it without her… which is a shame because she was definitely more excited about the whole thing that I was. If I’d seen it with her I might have gone in with higher expectations or, at least, without an underlying sense of dread. I didn’t hate the sequel to Despicable Me but there were moments when it seemed unnecessary and not very well thought out. So I really doubted that a third film would be much of an improvement. However, in my review of Despicable Me 2 back in 2013 (god I’ve been writing this nonsense for a long time haven’t I!?), I decided it was Gru’s lack of villainy that made it fall so short. The trailers have suggested that he is rethinking his moral life so maybe my prayers have been answered?

At the end of Despicable Me wannabe super villain Gru (Steve Carell) had found himself the adopted father of three young girls. After Despicable Me 2 he added a new wife (Kristen Wiig) to the equation. The question on everybody’s lips was “who would Gru acquire in number 3?” Turns out it’s an identical twin brother. Possibly in an attempt to save on wages by making Steve Carell work twice as hard or to save the animators the job of having to create a new character. Who knows? Still, Gru is shocked to discover that his mother has hidden his sibling, Dru, from him all this time. The discovery couldn’t come at a better time for Gru who, at the time he is approached by Dru’s butler, has just been fired from his job with the Anti-Villain League. He has very little time to process this personal upheaval before he is whisked off to his brother’s fancy mansion in Freedonia. Turns out the father he never really knew was actually a super villain and Dru is keen to keep up the family tradition. But, to do so, he needs his brother’s help.

After finally settling into a happy life of crime fighting, can Gru really just get back into villainy? Well, quite possibly considering the humiliating defeat that sees him chucked out of the AVL. Is there really any other response to being beaten by an ex-80s child star than resmuing your life of crime? Yep, 80s throwback Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) has repeatedly outwitted the AVL and, after Gru allows him to escape yet again he and Lucy are forced out. Leaving Bratt to carry out his plan to steal the world’s biggest diamond whilst listening to classic 80s music. Will Gru take the righteous path and hep stop Bratt or will he embrace the life Dru is pushing him towards?

Then there’s a lot of shitty stuff about Lucy trying to come to terms with being a mother and some more adorable moments of their youngest daughter Agnes being super cute. In terms of narrative, Despicable Me 3 is kind of mixed bag. Lucy gets incredibly short-shrift and I find it hard to see why Kristen Wiig would have agreed to this bullshit. It’s the kind of sentimental and cliched “am I a good mother?” shit that you seen in every terrible sitcom or soap opera at some point. It’s clearly the worst part of the film but just won’t stop. There are some great moments to be had, obviously, and Balthazar Bratt is a far superior nemesis to the previous film’s. His 80s references will keep parents entertained whilst children will just enjoy his over-the-top silliness. He’s the perfect foil to Gru and his insane gadgets are like something James Bond’s Q would come up with if he started creating whilst he was in a drunken haze of 80s nostalgia.

The Gru/Dru storyline doesn’t always work but there are some humorous moments to be had. Dru is even less successful than his brother and there is some fun to be had with their bickering dynamic. It kind of grows old after a while and the chemistry doesn’t always fly. If I thought the emotional struggle in the second film was weak then this is even more of a damp squib. But, as with the previous film, none of that matters at all in the long run. Despicable Me 3 is a film intended to amuse little people; by which I mean children and not someone of diminutive stature but that’s not to say short people can’t be amused by it. Anyway, this is a film that’s main purpose is making children laugh and, when it comes down to it, it never pulls any punches. Every spare second is crammed full of jokes that it doesn’t really matter if not all of them land as well as they should. The target audience isn’t even going to notice.

Especially when the screen is constantly being filled with those irritating yellow tic-tacs every 5 minutes or so. That’s all that really matters, right? Despicable Me 3 is the worst of the 3 films, as it probably should be, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to find joy within its running time. There is still enough life in Gru that audiences can’t help but want him to succeed and, more importantly, keep coming back to the cinema to watch him try.

TBT – Saving Private Ryan (1998)

TBT – Saving Private Ryan (1998)

I’ve eaten so much food today and I really don’t know why. Well, that’s not strictly true. I did because I’m bored. I’m meant to be getting my life (aka my house) in order before I head back to work but it really doesn’t appeal. So instead, I’ve been lying down, stuffing my face and watching soldiers die horribly in Steven Spielberg’s 1990s epic war film. It’s been a while since I saw this film and have preferred to watch the version shown on the Adam and Joe Show. Yes, it may be played out with stuffed toys and not people but that doesn’t mean its not as good as the original. Still, after watching Dunkirk I decided it was time to rewatch Spielberg’s war epic. Saving Private Ryan was one of those films that changed the way war films were made. It inspired several directors and, according to Quentin Tarantino, inspired Inglorious Basterds. It was also, apparently, the first time that people realised that World War II was awful. The majority of things I hear people say about this film is along the lines of “it really brought home to me the reality of war”. As if, before 1998, there existed some people who thought World War II was a fucking picnic for everyone involved. Personally, I’ve never needed Steven Spielberg to paint me a vivid picture of what a real battle sequence might be like to know its somewhere I don’t want to be. I’ve never really thought to myself “I really wish I was alive in the 1940s because it seems like it might be fun”. Still, it’s good to know that this film helped some people get over the crazy notion that was is good.

If there’s one thing that Steven Spielberg can do it’s create a memorable visual. We all vividly remember the water glass from Jurassic Park, the girl in red from Schindler’s List and ET and Eliot flying in front of the moon. The one that sticks with most people, though? The opening of Saving Private Ryan. It’s the thing that so many people have referenced in relation to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk because it is still considered to be the best interpretation of war ever created for the big screen. I’m not going to sit here and deny that the opening sequence isn’t great. It really is. It’s a horrific representation of what happened on Omaha beach in 1944 and it places the audience uncomfortably in the middle of the action. Even now, nearly 20 years later, this sequence still feels as gruesome and important as it did way back when.

However, the problem with these magnificent film moments is that people become blinded to the faults that come before and after. The sequence of the Normandy landings is regularly referred to as the film’s opening but it isn’t. No no. The film is patriotically bookended with some muted shots of an American flag flapping in the breeze as well as the overly sentimental prologue and epilogue showing an elderly Private Ryan visiting the graves of fallen soldiers. Had we opened in the midst of the D-Day sequence this film would have had an entirely different feel to it but, thanks to these brief moments, the film ends up feeling more like another attempt by Hollywood to bolster the myth that WWII was the good war and showcased the American spirit. It prevents the film from being the kind of critique of war that the first battle suggested it could be and, instead, turns into an American story of American heroes.

Spielberg’s film has been hailed as something of a masterpiece from the moment of its initial release and it’s easy to see why. The film is incredibly well made and the visuals are stunning. The battle sequences have still never been beaten in terms of realism and it more than adequately shows the waste of life that occurred in Europe. The main part of the narrative is intended to show us the ridiculous nature of war. We see a group of 8 men sent out on a mission to save the life of one soldier all because his mother had already lost 3 sons. It’s a sad story, obviously, but it is a preposterous notion. How can the army justify the lives of so many for the sake of 1? Every single man in the group agrees and, when all is said and done, don’t really give a shit about the life of Private James Ryan (Matt Damon). How can his mother’s suffering be more important than their own?

Still, this is war and they have to follow their Captain, John Miller’s (Tom Hanks), orders. So the group set off on their mission through Nazi occupied France. They lose men along the way and struggle to keep themselves going. But, somehow, they do. The hapless group find Private Ryan and a small group of soldiers defending a bridge. After a harrowing and spectacular opening sequence, Saving Private Ryan kind of loses its way during the main bulk of the narrative. Spielberg clearly tries to push his message about the futility of war but it kind of gets lost. Saving Private Ryan falls back into the Hollywood tradition of the Wild West movie. We see our band of heroes make their way through the landscape and heroically fighting the bad guys whenever they need. The script may make the occasional reference to the absurd nature of their assignment but there is an inescapable sense that what they are doing is both moral and brave.

I don’t hate Saving Private Ryan by any stretch of the imagination but, aside from the depictions of warfare, it doesn’t portray its message adequately enough. This film didn’t go far enough to blow the lid on the meaningless sacrifice that was made by the men who died in combat between 1939 and 1945. It is every war movie cliche rolled into one. It doesn’t directly say that war is heroic and the soldiers are fighting for their country but that is the message we are seeing. It glorifies the men on screen instead of adequately questioning the men in charge. When I reviewed War Horse for this blog I criticised Spielberg for sugaring the pill for his younger audience. He desensitised the audience by hiding the death with cutaways. Here he has no issue with showing us how deadly the war was for the people involved but what follows is sheer Hollywood. The story of a whole load of men dying so one mother can be slightly less sad.

Saving Private Ryan isn’t a bad film. It’s a very good film that showcases everything that has made Steven Spielberg as popular a director as he. It features strong performances from its cast and had a profound affect on the people who sat in movie theatres to watch it back in 1998. It’s a great film but is it a masterpiece? Or is it just a great 20 minute sequence surrounded by harmless Hollywood schmaltz?

Tuesday’s Reviews – Dunkirk (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – Dunkirk (2017)


So, I guess I have to start off today’s post by apologising for a lack of Rundown this week. I’ve been away this weekend for a big family celebration. August 20th 2017 was the 40th anniversary of my parent’s marriage and my older sister’s 1st anniversary. To celebrate the entire clan made their way to a lovely cottage in Scotland. The rest of my family managed to get the Friday off work but I had to travel up after I finished my shift. It meant the latter half of my week was pretty intense. It was my intention to either get ahead with my Sunday post or do it on Monday, when I got back. Neither of those things came to fruition and I decided it was better to just not do one. Which is a shame because I’ve actually done some fucking reading this week. Anyway, I’m back now and ready to get on with my regularly scheduled uploads. Starting with a review I wanted to write in reaction to this weekend. My twin sister’s boyfriend made the very bold statement that Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk wasn’t worth watching. An opinion that goes against everything that everyone has ever said about it. So, because I’m really stubborn and love proving people wrong, I decided it was time I watched it myself. Because I refuse to believe something that looks that good could ever be described as much worse than Saving Private Ryan.

When you talk about World War II on the big screen there will be very few people who won’t reference the opening scene of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, and for good reason. It is still one of the most iconic opening sequences in film history. Spielberg places his audience in the midst of a very bloody, dramatic and, ultimately, realistic depiction of American soldiers landing on Omaha Beach in 1944. It’s awful but shows the true cost of the conflict. After that, well, things get more Hollywood and it turns into a kind of ridiculous narrative littered with sequences of war porn that will keep any young boy on the edge of his seat. You can see why people love it but, when it comes to realistic portrayal of WWII, it’s safe to say that Spielberg kind of loses his way.

There’s a danger that every Hollywood depiction of any major historical conflict will eventually forgo accuracy in favour of excitement and action. I can see why; for one thing we want to celebrate the sacrifice that young men made for our future as well as satisfying the modern film audience. Well, that’s where Dunkirk makes itself stand out. For starters the film is based around an important military defeat. French, British and Belgian troops were trapped by German soldiers and we forced to evacuate. It was only luck and some bad German strategy that so many men were able to be saved. Nolan never intended to write a film about the great victories of WWII but, instead, to create a realistic interpretation of what happened on and around that beach. We don’t know who his characters are or where they came from because, ultimately, that doesn’t matter. All that matters is this moment. Will they survive or be blown to pieces by German fighter pilots?
Dunkirk isn’t anything like Saving Private Ryan. It doesn’t create an overly sentimental narrative that provides plenty of opportunity for heroic acts and men laying down their lives for others. It shows a bunch of scared young men who would do anything in their power to get home. It doesn’t use any real trickery, besides a fantastic score by Hans Zimmer and some sensational visuals, to really bring home the horror. Nolan does everything within his power to confuse your senses and splits the narrative into three distinctive parts. The story is told from land, air and sea and, thanks to the editing, time becomes a rather meaningless and fluid concept. I won’t pretend that the split isn’t a little frustrating and awkward. However, I can appreciate the overriding impact that it has on the film. It all adds to the chaos that Nolan is trying to create and, for the people involved, time would have become meaningless anyway. When you’re potentially seconds away from death with nowhere to hide what does it matter?
For a war film, Dunkirk is a fairly static film. It’s a deceivingly slow and quiet film that creates a real sense of tension, chaos and horror. It lacks much in the way of dialogue but shows you, first-hand, the kind of scenes that will have taken place in 1940. It’s a claustrophobic experience that places you in the very heart of the story. When bombs start dropping you find yourself there not just watching, horrified, from the sidelines. The image that came so prominently out of the trailers was the sweeping shot of a bunch of soldiers crammed into the mole, a pier-like structure that is being used to get men onto awaiting ships. When a German bomber flies overhead the men below are penned in like fish in a barrel. It’s an impressive and haunting visual that really sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Dunkirk works so well because of the images that have been created on screen but it is carried along by the stunning performances on display. The ensemble is, quite frankly, amazing and, though it scares the shit out of me to write it, even Harry Styles himself proves to be pretty watchable. Thee isn’t really anyone who puts a foot wrong here. It’s all sensation, from Tom Hardy’s resolute and ever so slightly gung-ho pilot, Farrier to Mark Rylance’s quiet but steely sailor who is one of the civilians caught up in the rescue mission. Dear old Kenny B oversees all the action with a broody intensity as he closely watches the skies for a glimpse of enemy planes. You meet these people so fleetingly and get no real sense of their characters before they are plunged into danger and chaos. Nolan and his cast have done an amazing job of creating that feeling of being anonymous in a crowd. No single person matters more than anyone else and everyone becomes an equal in the scramble to rescue as many soldiers as possible. It doesn’t even matter that you might not remember who everyone is. That’s the point. It’s the reality of war.
However, despite all of this horrible reality, Dunkirk doesn’t fall into the trap that films like Saving Private Ryan do. It chooses to avoid the R rated violence in favour of a different message. The Dunkirk evacuations were a failure in terms of British military efforts but, at its heart, it is a real underdog story. This is the story of survival and the British spirit that allowed it to happen. What Dunkirk chooses to show instead of bloodshed is the connection between military men and the normal civilians who put themselves in danger to rescue them. I fail to believe there can be a dry eye in the house when the fleet of civilians boats float towards the beach to the sound of rapturous applause from the awaiting men. This film doesn’t attempt to glorify violence or war. Instead it shows the important of people coming together. The strength that can be found in unlikely places. We don’t really see any German forces in this film and, save for a brief reference at the end, we hear nothing from Winston Churchill himself. Dunkirk isn’t really a war film: it is a film of survival and the human spirit. And, no matter what my sister’s boyfriend says, I think its perfect.
Tuesday’s Reviews – Baby Driver (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – Baby Driver (2017)

I’m of an age that means I remember the 2003 music video that paved the way for Edgar Wright’s current hit movie. I’m not bragging: the song is pretty shit and the I can’t imagine that anyone’s missed the band that much. Still, the video is amazing. Not only does is feature The Mighty Boosh (Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt), Nick Frost and Michael Smiley but it’s just great fun. For those of you that haven’t had the pleasure Noel Fielding plays the getaway driver who can only tell the time through track lengths. Whilst waiting for his fellow criminals to rob the bank, he rocks out to the song so he knows when they’ll be done. It’s a great premise that I always felt could have been taken further. Thankfully, so did Edgar Wright and he gave the world Baby Driver. Before we go into the review I want to take a minute to talk about the name. If I hadn’t known this film was connected to Wright then I doubt I’d have seen it. The title gives the impression that it’s going to be nothing more than a sequel to last years’ lousy looking animation Boss Baby and nobody needed that. On the face of it, Baby Driver is a film with a lousy title that stars the kid who died of cancer in The Fault in our Stars. It’s a huge testament to Edgar Wright that it managed to look so fucking cool.

You can tell Baby Driver is going to blow you away from the opening sequence. It is a 6 minute sequence of pure awesome as our mysterious getaway driver rocks out in his car as he waits for his cohorts to rob a bank. Then, in time with the song, the coolest car chase you will have seen for a while kicks in. It’s an exciting sequence that is not only soundtracked by a kickass song but carefully laid on top of it to create something supremely cinematic. All of the tracks in the Baby Driver soundtrack have been carefully chosen so that everything works in harmony to produce something that is more akin to ballet than it is a typical action film. This ain’t no Fast and Furious wannabe. This is nearer to an art form. Yes, that is both a melodramatic and kind of pretentious statement but it is also true, goddammit. Edgar Wright hasn’t made the kind of car chase films that are good because they are so over-the-top and ridiculous. Baby Driver is car chase film that’s good because it’s, you know, good. I defy anyone to watch it and not love it.

Well, except for the title obviously. Something that comes from the getaway driver himself, Baby (Ansel Elgort) and not from any weird connection with Alec Baldwin animated films. Baby is a young man whose poor judgement has lead to him getting caught up in a life of crime. Owing crime boss Duke (Kevin Spacey),  Baby becomes his go-to driver for all of his big scores. He’s something of a lucky charm and, boy, can he drive. He constantly listens to music to drown out the incessant ringing in his ears that he sustained in a childhood accident that killed his mother and father. It soon becomes clear that Baby is not going to be able to leave his life of crime once his debt is repaid, which is unfortunate because he has dreams of driving off into the sunset with the young beautiful waitress he barely knows. Deborah (Lily James) is the light at the end of Baby’s seedy crime tunnel and the start of his road to redemption. If he can just get through one final score.

Which looks tricky thanks to the team he is paired with. The supporting cast that the director has brought together is nothing short of fabulous. Kevin Spacey is the perfect mix of menacing and matey towards Baby and is an imposing figure over the entire narrative. Jamie Foxx is at his most unrestrained as the dangerous and paranoid thief Bats. Finally, the insanely handsome Jon Hamm moves Buddy from loveable rogue to deadly criminal without any difficulty. This is a far cry from Mad Men and it’s bloody great! The only let down is Lily James but that really has little to do with her. The focus here is on Buddy so Deborah never gets the chance to be anything but the perfect girl Baby needs her to be. She has no depth or context. She’s basically a blank slate on which Baby can project his feelings about his past.

If I absolutely had to find a flaw with Baby Driver then I would say it is the narrative. It’s chock-full of every action cliche in the book. From Baby’s tragic backstory to Deborah’s lack of one, it is hardly the most original or exciting plots. There are few moments at the end that seem like weak attempts to tie off loose ends and I could have done without Kevin Spacey’s final act U-turn. But that’s just me forcing myself to be objective. There is nothing about Baby Driver that ruin the over all appeal and excitement. This is a film that isn’t based around a script but around the songs that knit-together to create a brilliant canvas to build on. The film flies when it’s just Baby behind the wheel with music pumping into his ears. Anyone who can not enjoy the moments when gunfire expertly syncs up with drum beats is simply crazy. It is only in the hands of a director like Edgar Wright that a young criminal with hearing problems and mommy issues can work. He makes you care about him and showcases his charms. He makes the business of emotive, high-octane action seem effortless. This is kind of film that countless people will try and copy in years to come but none of them will ever compare to this. I’m going to be so bold and say it’s the film of the year.

TBT – Very Bad Things (1998)

TBT – Very Bad Things (1998)


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.

Very Bad Things starts off as a pretty interesting premise. A group of men let off too much steam and end up with a body on their hands. Things quickly get out of hand and the narrative just ramps up the pressure to a ridiculous rate. What could have been a funny, dark comedy just becomes more and more absurd as it moves forward. It just reeks of desperation and ends up feeling a little sad. It’s certainly not funny as most of the situations it tries to create humour from are just uncomfortable. There’s a whole sequence revolving around Jewish beliefs as the group prepare to bury the bodies that is played out as if it’s funny but it feels anything but. There is so much questionable humour on show here: potentially racist, sexist, and just plain offensive material is frequently introduced as grounds for comedy. I’m all for humour that raises questions but these aren’t the kind of questions I need to be raised. 
The question I need answered is this: who thought this film was a good idea. Very Bad Things has so much confidence in its abilities to be funny that there were times when I thought there must be something wrong with me. Aside from a handful of funny moments early on, which were all thrown away without a second thought, there was nothing here that made me laugh. It’s main aim seems to be shock value, which is why things get so unnecessarily dramatic and bloody as the story moves on. The narrative doesn’t make sense as it stands and the tone really doesn’t make it effective enough. It is a film that struggles to be one thing or another. It wants to be a tense and violent thriller but also a side-splitting dark comedy that pushed the boundaries. It fails to be either and just ends up being a bland affair with a huge fake-blood budget. And the less said about the ending the better frankly. 
Tuesday’s Reviews – Rough Night (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – Rough Night (2017)

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.

TBT – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

TBT – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)


When I was writing one of my recent Chris Evans’ reviews I remembered that he appeared in 2010s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim. I know why I forget Evans is in this film: it’s cause he’s so good and I wasn’t used to that feeling 7 years ago. It does mean that I’ve had a deep-seated desire to watch this film ever since so I decided it would be the perfect film to talk about this TBT. It’s been a while since I saw this but I absolutely love this film. I’m also a fan of the graphic novels that it is based on. Really, Scott Pilgrim is the reason that I often get the desire to dye my hair bright pink or blue every now and then. I’ve always wanted to be more like Ramona Flowers. I mean, without the crippling emotional detachment and stuff but, you know, the coolness. It’s no wonder Scott falls in love with her at first sight. I certainly did.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series of graphic novels. It is a special effects dream that plays out like a video game. It sees Hollywood’s favourite geek, Michael Cera, take on the role of Canadian slacker, Scott. He is living an uneventful and uninspiring life until he meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and falls head over heels. In order to win Ramona’s heart Scott discovers that he must first battle her 7 evil exes in a series of fantastic showdowns.

The genius of Scott Pilgrim is that it places itself firmly in reality whilst also amping everything up to ridiculous proportions. The characters and relationships are all very believable but every dispute is solved in an epic showdown where one combatant inevitably ends up as a pile of coins. The world of Scott Pilgrim is just that little bit more technicolor than ours and there are different laws regarding injuries and death. It’s a weird setting, then, but, director, Edgar Wright manages to pull it off.

He manages to do this by sticking fairly closely to original text and mimicking their style. It expertly mixes the crazed action sequences with the quieter moments of Scott’s slacker lifestyle. The action cuts seamlessly from one venue to another and the use of on screen captions and cartoony sound effects help to remind the audience what’s going on. Scott Pilgrim has more in common with Wright’s tv show Spaced and it’s endless supply of pop culture references than it does with his Cornetto trilogy. But the end results is smarter, sharper, and more relaxed than any of his previous work.

Wright manages to capture the mood with his manga-styling and picks up on the comedy and the drama on screen. He uses whip-pans, extreme close-ups, split screens, and changes in speed to get things moving in the right direction. The evil exes are introduced with animated sequences accompanied by Ramona’s voiceover. The game also embraces everything good about video games and becomes one of the few successful video game movies. Who can’t help but feel joy in the references to Street Fighter and 8-bit animation that keep cropping up? It’s a film that loves the world of gaming and will feel familiar to pretty much anyone who has had any contact with a game.Scott Pilgrim is a triumph of visual effects and style. It is a treat to watch and is an absolute hoot. It never takes itself seriously but it never makes the mistake of being too derisive.

The source material is treated with the utmost respect and the film works because of it. However, the fact remains that there are moments when the scipt and the narrative just don’t live up the visuals. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of the series of graphic novels but there can be no denying that a lot is lost in translation here. Scott’s story plays itself out over 6 volumes but the film chops it all up to fit into a neat 112 minutes. It all feels a bit rushed and simplistic in this form. The battles become rather repetitive and confusing here. You don’t really get any time with the exes before they explode into currency.

Of course, this isn’t enough of a problem to dampen the film. It’s sometimes difficult to connect this with the series in which it originated but, as a film in itself, it is perfect. The cast are all really well chosen and bring something fantastic to their characters. With a host of actors who have since become big or even bigger names, it’s wonderful to revisit. I keep forgetting that Chris Evans plays Lucas Lee, Ramona’s second ex, and he absolutely steals the show. He plays a brash and egotistical actor who talks a bit like Christian Bale as Batman. It’s amazing. Kieran Culkin is hilarious as Scott’s gay roommate, Wallace, and Captain Marvel herself, Brie Larson, turns up as Scott’s ex-girlfriend.

Scott Pilgrim may not be the film that fans of the comic books necessarily wanted it to be but the source material is in safe hands with Edgar Wright. The film is funny and an absolute wonder to watch. I defy anyone to watch it and not feel better afterwards.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Gifted (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – Gifted (2017)


When I reviewed Snowpiercer in my post last week, I mentioned my new love of Chris Evans. It hasn’t always been this way, of course. For years, I didn’t really rate Evans as an actor. Having now seen the first Fantastic Four film about 3 times recently, I realise that it wasn’t necessarily his fault. Yes, he agreed to do some shit films but he probably had to take whatever he could get. Fantastic Four isn’t a bad film because of Chris Evans; it’s a terrible film because it’s so badly written. The character of Johnny Storm wasn’t an awful and annoying version of the comic book character but that isn’t Evans’ fault. I’m not trying to suggest that he’s the next Daniel Day Lewis or some shit but he’s proved he can be really good. Look at Snowpiercer for an example of how good he can be. He just needs to start taking more serious roles and not people who run around in Lycra for a living. Which I’m guessing was the appeal of Gifted. It’s probably as far away from Captain America as he can get.

I wasn’t exactly thrilled by the idea of Gifted. On paper, it sounded like the kind of bullshit that Nicholas Sparks would write. And, to be fair, it is. But… I found that I couldn’t help but like this film. There is something about the performances from the main cast that make it so compelling. Chris Evans is lovely as Frank Adler, the man who ends up raising his child-prodigy niece, Mary. It helps that his co-star Mckenna Grace is superb as the brilliant 7 year old that he is trying to give a normal life. The chemistry between the pair is beautiful and I swear my biological clock started getting louder every time Chris Evans performed another fatherly task.

The problems arise from the narrative itself which is as obvious as they come. Frank takes guardianship of Mary following the suicide of her mother. Frank’s sister, Diane, was a mathematical genius who dedicated her life to solving one of the Millennium Prize Problems set by the Clay Mathematics Institute. She had been pushed by her over-bearing mother, Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) for most of her life so Frank decides to ensure that Mary will have a more social upbringing. He moves the child to Florida away from his mother. He wants her to lead a normal school life and refuses to send her to an institute for gifted children. It is at that point that Evenly comes back into their lives and demands custody of Mary.

This isn’t the kind of film that will surprise you in any way. You know where the film is going from the outset and every cliche in the book is utilised. It is sheer melodrama that just keeps upping the emotional and dramatic ante. What started as a lovable tale of a man and his genius niece quickly descends into a typical courtroom drama where barbs are slung every possible way and things don’t go well for anyone. It also limits the time that we get to see Frank and Mary together and, after all, it is there chemistry that really drives this film. Watching Frank go head-to-head with his icy mother just isn’t the same. Evelyn is never given the chance to really become anything more than the villain. She has one or two moments of human behaviour but never really gets beyond Disney villain status.

Still, as I already mentioned, I liked this film more than I expected. I cried when it wanted me to cry and I was happy with the outcome. It’s a heartwarming tale of familial love and it has a one-eye cat as an added bonus. It’s difficult not to get carried away. There is an awful lot of greatness coming from the connection between Chris Evans his young co-star and the scenes where the two interact alone are just adorable. Cheesy, obviously, but delightful non-the-less. This is the kind of film that falls into every trap that this narrative could have. It never really pushes itself to be anything other than it’s basic self. It could, and should, have been so much more. In (500) Days of Summer, director Marc Webb gave us a great and realistic insight into adult relationships. Here, he just gives us mindless drivel that tugs on the heartstrings but offers very little to excite. If it weren’t for the main cast putting so much in, Gifted would have been a forgettable mess. In fact, with a totally different cast, this wouldn’t even have been on anyone’s radar.

TBT – Casa de mi Padre (2012)

TBT – Casa de mi Padre (2012)


On Tuesday I criticised Will Ferrell’s new film The House for being short at 88 minutes long. Casa di mi Padre undercuts that by 3 minutes. So, if you thought I was harsh to the former then just wait until I get started on the latter. Until I watched it specifically for this review I’d never seen this film before. I used to pride myself on watching every film that Will Ferrell starred in but, over the years, I’ve really become quite lax in my viewing. I think it was probably around the Bewitched era when it just became a bit too much for me. I feel as though I’m on fairly safe ground with any kind of Will Ferrell/Adam McKay combination but the pair only act as one of the many producers for this film. Instead it is a combined effort of ex-SNL writer, Andrew Steele’s, script and Funny or Die co-creator, Matt Piedmont, in the director’s chair. I can’t say that, after seeing the disappointing results of a union between Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, I wasn’t exactly excited to see this. Especially when it couldn’t even find enough comedy to fill a 90 minute running time. Then again, maybe it’s just so well-developed that anything over 85 minutes would be too much for the audience to handle? It’s possible, right?

You know that Will Ferrell character who starts off being a mild-mannered, lovable loser who is forced to become a badass? You might well ask “which one?” because, these days, it’s fucking all of them. He’s the guy we saw it in The Other Guys, The House, Get Hard, and Daddy’s Home. No doubt there are countless others that I just never got round to seeing. Casa de mi Padre is different, though, because Ferrell turns into a badass whilst speaking Spanish. Genius! Casa de mi Padre is the telenovela parody that nobody wanted or needed Ferrell to be a part of. A film that combines subtitles, an impressive cast, including Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, an utterly silly narrative and, underwhelming jokes. What’s not to love?

We have seen Ferrell take on many unlikely guises over the years but this has to be one of the more out there ones. He plays Armando Álvarez, a Mexican rancher on his father’s cattle ranch. His world is turned upside down when his younger brother, Raúl (Diego Luna), returns to the homestead with a beautiful fiance, Sonia (Génesis Rodríguez), in tow. Armando not only instantly falls for his future sister-in-law but discovers that his brother is a drugs dealers who has come back to finish his war with fellow dealer Onza (Gael García Bernal). When Sonia is put in danger, Armando has to prove himself to everyone who saw him as the useless brother.

It’s hardly the most exicting or original story we’ve ever seen but that is probably more to do with the genre it is parodying. This isn’t really a film that wants to do something new and exciting but that wants to give Ferrell and co the chance to go all out with their performances. The problem is, there isn’t enough within Casa di mi Padre to get a lot of laughs out of. That’s not to say that there aren’t any enjoyable moments in the film but they are few and far between. Most of the humour is forced through obvious spoofs of the television dramas it is based on. There are dodgy backdrops, ‘hilarious’ bad continuity, and terrible editing. Still, there are a couple of memorable moments that will get more than a mere titter form the audience. It’s just a shame that there aren’t more.

Honestly, there is never a point where Casa di mi Padre feels like a real film. It’s more like a sketch that really outstays it’s welcome or a fake trailer that would briefly go viral before becoming irrelevant. Unfortunately, it is a real film and it stars real actors. They all give it their best shot but there is just too little for them to work with. It never really strikes a balance between serious or silly. Ferrell always gives 100% to every part he plays but there isn’t enough to Armando for it to ever come to anything. His Spanish lines always feel too awkward to feel real but not silly enough to feel intentional. This could have been a wonderful and fresh comedy but it just feels cheap and pointless.

Tuesday’s Reviews – The House (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – The House (2017)


Will Ferrell is one of those comedians that you can trust to be funny whatever he’s doing. Through the years, I’ve happily watched and enjoyed every film starring him that I’ve ever seen. Even the shit ones, like Daddy’s Home for example, have something fairly entertaining in them. The guy always gives his all in a role and is so naturally hilarious that you’ll find yourself crying with laughter at the stupidest things. So I kind of feel like I’m on solid ground with him and that’s before you even consider that Amy Poehler is also in it. Combine the pair and you have a powerhouse of SNL alumni. Of course, things start to unravel when you look at how the film is being marketed. It’s very telling that neither Ferrell or Poehler seem very eager to talk about the film itself. Interviews aren’t treated as a place to talk about the film but simply about getting the pair in front of a camera. Will Ferrell has done some shit films in the past so when he’s keeping shtum about a film then you know it’s embarrassing. 1 hour and 28 minutes worth of embarrassing. Yep, The House can’t even hit the 90 minute mark and we’ve all heard the one about good films
coming in short run times. Well, even if this is going to be shit at least it’s not going to be shit for too long. Let’s be thankful for small mercies.

The House is one of the films that sounds really good on paper. Taking two fabulous comedians, a great supporting cast of funny people, and giving them an interesting premise to work with. It should have been simple. When their daughter gets accepted into the university of her dreams, Scott and Kate Johansen (Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) are over the moon. Until they discover that the scholarship they were being offered by the town has been scraped in favour of an exciting new town pool. In order to drive the plot forward, neither Scott or Kate had prepared for any other eventuality and have failed to put aside any money to pay for their daughter’s tuition. You kind of have to question parents who are this lackadaisical with regards to their child’s future. And, also, how far in advance does the town pick a child to fund? Did they know she was getting the cash from birth or was it just super lucky that her name was drawn?

Of course, I know the answers to these questions: because the narrative demands it. When the pair find themselves unable to send their precious daughter to her dream school they accept their weird friend, Frank’s (Jason Mantzoukas), suggestion that they open an underground casino in his empty home. Frank, as it turns out, is a gambling addict who is going through a divorce and in danger of losing his coincidentally casino-sized house. We all know that “the House always wins” so why not become the House? The mild-mannered parents take to their life of crime and wealth and embrace everything about it. Kate becomes addicted to weed whilst Scott unwittingly becomes a casino heavy who uses force to get patrons to pay their debts. Things quickly get out-of-hand as the narrative gets more and more extreme. Finally, ending with political cover-ups and a crazed mob boss played by  Jeremy Renner, in a completely underwhelming cameo.

The House isn’t the biggest disaster that you’ll ever watch at the cinema but you can’t get away from the fact that it’s just not good. You’ll probably watch it and think it’s okay but that will mostly be down to the three leads. All three actors at the film’s centre put everything into their characters but it can’t be ignored that there isn’t really much there. If I’m honest, I had to look up everyone’s names because by the time the credits rolled I had no fucking clue who anyone was. They’re just bland and underdeveloped characters who just take part in outrageous activities with no real justification. Their actions always seem unnecessary or unexplained outside of the “we thought it would be funny” argument. There’s an utterly pointless plot-strand that sees Scott being rubbish with maths that really goes nowhere and is, in actuality, not as funny as it may have seen whilst writing the script.

It’s just not very inspiring. There isn’t time for an aspect of the film to evolve into something interesting or even funny. The humour is mostly derived from awful stereotypes that directly tie to the actor’s involved. This film just feels like several short sketches haphazardly stitched together to create the kind of quilt that you’d definitely tell people was made by your young child. Handily, for a film concerning parents experiencing empty nest syndrome, this film is equal parts embarrassing and sad to watch. There are very few genuine laughs to be found but plenty of places where the writer/director attempts to force it with lame gags or physical comedy. It makes me both sad and angry that Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler were subjected to this and that they both allowed it to happen. This is the kind of disaster that should never have been made. Turns out, The House doesn’t actually always win.