Review – Rough Night (2017)
Director: Lucia Aniello
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Jillian Bell, Kate McKinnon, Zoe Kravitz, Ilana Glazer
Lucia Aniello’s Rough Night takes a comedy sub-genre that is usually male dominated, the massive party/night out that goes terribly wrong, and flips the genders. The thing is though, that aside from a few notable exemptions the majority of films in this particular sub-genre are terrible. So, true to form, Rough Night is too. Borrowing its central premise – a party derailed by the accidental death of a stripper – from Peter Berg’s 1998 film Very Bad Things, Rough Night is a derivative mashing together of The Hangover, Bridesmaids and Weekend at Bernie’s.
A group of old college friends whose lives have taken them in different directions are reunited after almost a decade for a bachelorette weekend blowout in Miami. The bride to be, Jess (Scarlett Johansson), is in the midst of running for state senate in South Carolina, so isn’t exactly in the mood for a party weekend, but her possessive best friend, now school teacher, Alice (Jillian Bell) is insistent. Continue reading
Review – Ghostbusters (2016)
Director: Paul Feig
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey
The film at the centre of this year’s most ridiculous “controversy,” Paul Feig’s all-female remake of Ghostbusters, has been released and, surprise surprise, not only has the world continued to turn and everyone’s childhood remained intact, Feig and his quartet of talented comediennes have produced a really fun movie.
Ghostbusters, directed by Ivan Reitman, is a much loved movie and an icon of 1980s culture, so attempting to remake it was always going to be tricky. But unlike a sequel which seeks to recreate the original, trying to capture lightning in a bottle for a second time, a remake has license to reimagine, to do something different. So while this remake shows a great deal of reverence to the original film – including multiple cameos from its cast members – it also understands that this is 2016 and the world, and film comedy, has changed since 1984. So what we get is a Ghostbusters film for today. It is a Paul Feig comedy, cut from the same cloth as Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy, making it a jokier film than the original. Continue reading
Review – Trainwreck (2015)
Director: Judd Apatow
Starring: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larsen, Colin Quinn, LeBron James, Tilda Swinton, John Cena
The traditional romantic comedy is increasingly becoming a thing of the past. A hit romantic comedy in the 21st century requires a slightly harder edge, and that is exactly what you get in Trainwreck, the debut film from writer and star Amy Schumer.
Trainwreck starts with a flashback, 23 years in the past, as Gordon (Colin Quinn) sits his two young daughters down to explain why he and their mother are getting a divorce, an explanation which finishes with the girls reciting the mantra “monogamy is unrealistic.” Fast forward to the present day, and while Kim (Brie Larson) is happily married with a step son and a baby on the way, elder sister Amy (Amy Schumer) has taken her father’s advice to heart. She is a proud, single woman with a long list of conquests and a job she loves, writing for S’Nuff, a seedy men’s magazine not above publishing articles on the ugliest celebrity children and the effects of garlic on the taste of semen. Despite her hatred of sports, she is assigned to do a profile on a prominent sports doctor, Aaron Conners (Bill Hader). There is an instant chemistry between the two and a preliminary interview becomes drinks and then a cab ride back to his apartment and… well, you know. Continue reading
Review – The Little Death (2014)
Director: Josh Lawson
Starring: Josh Lawson, Bojana Novakovic, Damon Herriman, Kate Mulvany, Kate Box, Patrick Brammall, Alan Dukes, Lisa McCune, Erin James, TJ Power, Kim Gyngell, Lachy Hulme
The little death, la petit mort, is a French euphemism for an orgasm. Actor Josh Lawson’s directorial debut, The Little Death, a romantic comedy about sexual fetishes, explores some of the weird and wonderful ways people get to that point.
We follow four ordinary couples living in a Sydney neighbourhood, each dealing with their own sexual issue. For Paul and Maeve, it is sexual masochism. She reveals her fantasy about being forced into sex by a stranger, leaving mild mannered Paul to try and fabricate a situation in which he can surprise his wife with an attack. For Evie and Dan, their therapist has suggested role-playing may help them get in touch with their emotions, but the scenarios get side-tracked as Dan catches the acting bug. For Phil and Maureen it is somnophilia. Their marriage is on the rocks, but when Maureen accidentally takes one of Phil’s extra strong sleeping pills, he sees his wife still and silent and falls in love with her all over again, starting an evening affair. For Rowena and Richard it is dacryphilia. Their efforts to get pregnant has taken the passion out of sex, but when Richard receives some bad news, Rowena finds herself strangely aroused by his tears so must continually find ways to make him cry. These stories are all tied together by a man, new to the neighbourhood, who goes door to door, using homemade nostalgic biscuits to distract his new neighbours from his legally required pronouncement that he is a registered sex offender.
The Little Death is not your typical sex comedy. It manages to be frank and explicit without being gratuitous or childish. These are suburban middle-class folk in committed relationships, not randy frat boys, and while the film does get some big laughs out of its exploration of different fetishes, it also explores themes of morals, normality, and communication within a relationship. We see characters who are so ashamed of their fetish that they create elaborate lies and even admit to far worse accusations in order to hide the truth.
Lawson’s screenplay does walk a very fine line. There are some divisive elements which will leave some audiences conflicted. The most obvious of these is the inclusion of a woman’s rape fantasy. While Lawson treads carefully in this area, it is a controversial and confronting concept, and at the very least it would seem a misstep that this is the first couple, and thus first fetish, that is introduced.
As is common in these types of films, some of the storylines work better than others. Despite some beautiful and very funny moments, The Little Death does struggle a bit for rhythm in tying those scenes together. Lawson possibly tries a bit too hard to connect the different storylines together into a neat Love Actually package, with the attempts to intertwine the stories becoming messy when the thematic connection on its own is sufficient.
With so much effort having gone into weaving these four storylines together, it is then a surprise to find one scene, concerning a fifth pairing, which stands alone at the end of the film. Monica works as a translator at a service that makes phone calls for deaf people. Sam, a deaf-mute, Skypes in and requests that Monica call a phone sex line for him. While usually a scene that struggles to find its place would be destined for the cutting room floor, this scene ends up being hands down the best of the film. Riotously funny, the scene strangely becomes a genuinely touching and lovely moment of connection between two people. It is my favourite singular movie moment of the year.
While some audiences will struggle to get on board with the concept, and the film has peaks and troughs, when The Little Death is good it is very good, and there is more than enough in The Little Death to suggest that Josh Lawson could be an interesting comedic voice in the future.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen The Little Death? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Review – The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saorise Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson
Wes Anderson is probably the most distinctive cinematic voice in America today. An Indie darling, he has strong sense of aesthetic design and a quirky approach to narrative and character which he has been refining for almost two decades. With The Grand Budapest Hotel,Anderson’s eighth feature, we get his take on the 1930s caper movie, and in many ways the film his entire body of work has been building towards.
The Grand Budapest Hotel presents us with a Russian doll structure, with layer upon layer of prologue leading us in to the story. Each era, each layer of untrustworthy narration, is visually represented by a different aspect ratio. We start in the present day as a girl visits a park where there stands a monument to ‘The Author.’ She opens a book called ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel.’ From there we are taken to 1985, to the study of that author, who sets about narrating to us the story of his visit to the hotel. We then venture back to 1968 when the author, as a younger man, first arrived at the once great hotel and became intrigued by its wealthy owner, Zero Moustafa. Over dinner one evening, Mr. Moustafa begins to recount to the author the story of how he came to own the hotel. Finally, we come to rest in 1932 with the story of the young Zero, a humble lobby boy, and his mentor, M. Gustave. M. Gustave was the heart and soul of the Grand Budapest Hotel. A concierge, Gustave is at the beck and call of the many wealthy dowagers who are drawn to the Grand Budapest by, among other things, the ‘services’ he offers. When one of the older and wealthier of these clients, Madame D, expires, her will is found to bequeath a priceless artwork to Gustave. Her family is outraged and Gustave finds himself accused of murdering her. What results is a good old-fashioned caper farce.
At a time when so many mainstream comedies are built around rambling improvisation, there is something really striking about the meticulously crafted nature of Anderson’s films. The Grand Budapest Hotel is very carefully structured. The dialogue and performances are precisely delivered. The framing of each and every shot has an intentionality to it. The film is alive with Anderson’s trademark bright pastel colours, in this case particularly pinks and purples. This fictional Europe Anderson has created has a sense of fantasy to it (the titular hotel is not in fact located in the Hungarian capital but rather in the fictional country of Zubrowska), with some exterior scenes employ a sort of stop-motion animation style, with a similar mechanical feel to The Fantastic Mr. Fox. All performers speak in their own accents, creating an endearing hodge-podge of dialects.
The Grand Budapest Hotel boasts a truly star-studded cast. There are recognisable names playing even the smallest of roles. The Anderson regulars like Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, take a back seat in this one, filling only very minor roles. Previous collaborators like Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum and Edward Norton are back for another go around to flesh out the cast, but at the centre of the film are four newcomers to the world of Wes; Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Jude Law and Tony Revolori. Across the board the cast is wonderful, but it is Fiennes who really shines.
Ralph Fiennes and Wes Anderson seems like a strange combination. But just as Anderson drew one of the great comedic performances out of Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums, Fiennes, despite not being known as a comedic performer, proves to be tremendous as the concierge-gigolo, M. Gustave. While still speaking and moving in accordance with Anderson’s rhythms, Fiennes brings a different presence to the film which enables the character to move beyond some of the constraints of a Wes Anderson character. M. Gustave is a more sexualised character than we are used to encountering in Anderson’s work. He also has these explosive outbursts of swearing, similarly out of character for an Anderson protagonist, but used to great comic effect when contrasted with his usual polished demeanour.
As a filmmaker, Wes Anderson is yet to make a serious misstep in his 20 year career, so expectations are always reasonably high when a new film is released. But The Grand Budapest Hotel is such a well-crafted, vibrant and fun film that it quite possibly could be his best film yet.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen The Grand Budapest Hotel? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Review – Grudge Match (2013)
Director: Peter Segal
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Sylvester Stallone, Kim Basinger, Kevin Hart, Alan Arkin, Jon Bernthal
Hollywood has a history of mashing together popular franchises in the search of blockbuster success. We’ve had AVP: Alien vs. Predator and Freddy vs. Jason. Back in the 1940s you had Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The same mindset is at play in Peter Segal’s Grudge Match, which may as well have been called ‘Rocky vs. Raging Bull.’ Of course, technically it is not a mash up as it presents new and original characters. But in casting Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro in the leads, the filmmakers have inherited the audience’s associations with the legendary pugilists they have previously portrayed. It’s an odd pairing because despite both being about boxing, the two films couldn’t be more different. Rocky is an uplifting sports movie about a likeable underdog who finally gets his shot. Raging Bull is an art-house film about a damaged man whose anger and violence destroys his life. There is a reason there are six Rocky movies and only one Raging Bull.
But this isn’t Balboa vs La Motta. It is Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp vs. Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen. Razor and The Kid enjoyed one of the great sporting rivalries in their prime. They met twice in the ring for one victory a piece, with each loss being the only defeat of that fighter’s career. But the third and deciding bout never happened because in the lead up to the anticipated fight Razor shocked the world by announcing his retirement. Thirty years go by before a down-and-out, motor-mouthed promoter manages to coax them back in the ring for the grudge match the world has been waiting to see.
Grudge Match clearly wants to trade off the legacies of Rocky and Raging Bull. So we first meet The Kid doing a rather pathetic nightclub show which is reminiscent of the final act of Raging Bull, and we have the obligatory scene in a meat locker where Razor shapes up to punch a beef carcass before being told not to. There is also a key plot point relating to Razor and the final fight which comes straight out of Rocky II. But as much as it tries to get you to think of those movies, you are also very aware that what you are watching isn’t them. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the training montage which feels eerily quiet without the brass of ‘Gonna Fly Now’ blaring over the soundtrack.
Rather than being a straight up sports movie Grudge Match is a comedy, and that doesn’t help it. The jokes aren’t good enough to make the film genuinely funny, but they are constant enough to be a distraction. Some of the jokes are also in surprisingly poor taste. While De Niro has settled into a career as a comic actor, and Kevin Hart and Alan Arkin are right at home, the comedy format doesn’t make the best use of Stallone. Sly is a better actor than many people give him credit for. He has a real ability to elicit sympathy for a character – it’s part of what made the Rocky franchise work – and in the more dramatic scenes of Grudge Match he acts rings around De Niro. But he struggles with comedy. His sense of timing and his delivery aren’t as strong as his co-stars and the material isn’t good enough to compensate for that.
All of the film’s plot complications feel unnecessarily forced and the final fight, despite being the thing the whole movie has built towards, doesn’t quite crescendo the way that it should. In the end this movie feels as tired as its two aging stars must have after going ten rounds. The most interesting part of the movie comes in the final credits where there is a short scene between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield.
Rating – ★☆
Review by Duncan McLean
Review – Much Ado About Nothing (2013)
Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Alex Denisof, Amy Acker, Jillian Morgese, Clark Gregg, Fran Kranz, Reed Diamong, Nathan Fillion
From comic books to Elizabethan comedy. From Marvel to Shakespeare. It’s quite a jump. Not since 1992, when Steven Spielberg immediately followed Jurassic Park with Schindler’s List has a director made two more disparate films back to back. But this is exactly what Joss Whedon has done in deciding to follow up the incredible blockbuster success of The Avengers with a small, independent, black and white adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, Much Ado About Nothing.
In fact, Much Ado About Nothing couldn’t be futher from The Avengers if it tried. Gone is the enormous sense of scale, the digital effects, the 3D, the cast of superstars and the budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Instead, this film was shot at Whedon’s house in 12 days using a cast compiled mainly of regulars from his television days. A long held passion project, Whedon adapted the screenplay, produced, directed, edited, and wrote the music himself. Yet while it is on completely the opposite end of the scale to The Avengers, it is every bit as effective.
Americans don’t have a great track record when it comes to Shakespeare (Al Pacino actually made a very interesting film, Looking for Richard, which sought to determine what it was that caused Americans to struggle so much with the Bard), but this confident, sleek and sexy film will surely find itself resting near the top of the pile. Whedon opts for a contemporary reimagining of this famous story of two pairs of lovers, one brought together by the sport of their friends, the other almost torn apart by a more devious form of trickery. So Italian governors with guards become American politicians with security details, and the Italian villa becomes a Californian mansion.
Much Ado About Nothing is beautifully shot in black and white by cinematographer Jay Hunter, with an aesthetic that feels very akin to Indie movies of the 1990s. But despite its very stylish appearance, this film plays up the bawdiness of Shakespearean comedy to perfection. The dialogue in this farce, packed with double entendre, is delivered with a cheeky wink and a nudge, and there is more than a sprinkling of slapstick humour.
Rather than putting on fake British accents the actors retain their American twangs and it actually works. Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker bounce off each other brilliantly as Benedick and Beatrice, finding the right balance between admiration and distain that is required for this love-hate relationship between two people with sharp minds and tongues. Clark Gregg sits comfortably as a much younger Leonato than you usually get. But the films real scene stealer is Nathan Fillion, who is a scream as the bumbling detective Dogberry.
It has been 20 years since Kenneth Branagh’s all-star adaptation of this play hit the screen and Whedon succeeds in doing something different enough that the play gets a new burst of life. The material feels so fresh. It is a sharp, vibrant and very funny film that demonstrates Whedon’s versatility as a filmmaker.
Rating – ★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean
Review – Delivery Man (2013)
Director: Ken Scott
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt, Cobie Smulders
Not often does a filmmaker get the chance to have a second go, to make the same film twice, but that is exactly what has happened for Ken Scott. In 2011 Ken Scott released Starbuck, a French-Canadian film about a man, David Wozniak, who in his youth, under the pseudonym ‘Starbuck,’ donated frequently to a sperm bank and through a clerical error ends up becoming the biological father to 533 children. Two years later, Scott is in Hollywood making Delivery Man, where Vince Vaughn plays David Wozniak, who in his youth, under the pseudonym ‘Starbuck,’ donated frequently… you get the idea.
Hollywood has a history of remaking successful foreign comedies for an American audience that can’t be bothered reading subtitles, but this is a scene-for-scene, shot-for-shot, joke-for-joke remake. While Starbuck was a bit of a critical darling, doing quite well at a number of film festivals, the remake lacks some of the freshness of the original.
Given this is Scott’s second shot at making this film it is odd that Delivery Man feels like a movie made off a first draft script. The screenplay is incredibly uneven. There are some passages which are quite sharp and well executed, while others really drag. There are also jarring changes in tone throughout the film. One moment we are giggling at a montage of David going to great lengths to secretly get to know his children –taking and re-taking historical tours, drowning in a public pool to get rescued, helping a drunken young man get home safe from a big night out – and the next moment we watch him trying to process the fact that one of his sons, Ryan, has severe cerebral palsy. The scenes with Ryan are among the most touching in the film, but they don’t sit easily with the scenes around them.
This lack of assuredness in the storytelling also manifests itself in some annoying and unnecessary subplots. David trying to prove to his pregnant girlfriend he is father material at the same time as dealing with the discovery he already has 533 children is more than enough story to satisfy a 90 minute comedy. We don’t need the extra 20 mins that comes from David being in severe debt to angry loan sharks and growing pot to help pay them off. Rather than adding drama, it just distracts from it.
Delivery Man has some laughs, though not as many as you might expect. Chris Pratt is particularly funny, though I don’t know if anyone can really believe him as a lawyer. For Vince Vaughn this film is the latest example of his transition from the obnoxious motor-mouth of Swingers and Wedding Crashers to sentimental middle-aged guy.
Rating – ★★
Review by Duncan McLean
Review – This is the End (2013)
Director: Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride
Every now and then a group of friends will be sitting around, having a few drinks, making each other laugh really hard and they’ll collectively think “We’re pretty funny. Somebody should make a movie about us.” What would happen if that group of guys were all well-known comic actors and had the clout to get someone else to pay for that movie to be made? The answer, as we see with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s This is the End, is you get the most self-indulgent movie ever made.
Under the guidance of Judd Apatow, that peer group of Rogen, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, Danny McBride and the rest – the core of which started with the short-lived TV series Freaks and Geeks and then expanded through films like The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Superbad – currently sits at the top of the comedy movie hierarchy. A big part of their appeal has always been that it is so apparent that they are friends in real life, that friendship resulting in an easy, natural chemistry on screen. Unfortunately, This is the End takes that one step too far and it feels like you are watching a series of in-jokes. Plenty of those jokes are still funny, but it feels like they’d be funnier if you knew the actor personally. This feels like a movie they made for themselves.
The setup is pretty simple. Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill and Danny McBride – all playing fictional versions of themselves – are at a party at James Franco’s place when the apocalypse occurs. All of the good people are raptured up into heaven but our guys obviously didn’t make the cut. They are left in James Franco’s house/fortress to work out how they will survive in this hell on earth. The resolution is underwhelming and feels slapped together because ultimately the storyline isn’t important. This movie isn’t about the rapture. It isn’t about survival in a post-apocalyptic world. It is about Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride and James Franco finding themselves in an extreme situation and being funny. So towards the end of the film when it moves away from that scenario out of an obligation to wrap up the story, it isn’t nearly as engaging.
What saves this movie is the fact that these guys actually are funny guys, and at the end of the day all a comedy really needs to do to pass mark is make you laugh. It is a bit hit and miss, as you would expect from a film which clearly relies as much on improvisation as this one did, but at times it is quite sharp. If you weren’t a fan of Pineapple Express and Superbad you are better off steering clear of this one. It is that same style of frat-boy humour taken up a notch. Plenty of penis jokes. Plenty of drug jokes.
This is the End has cameos, cameos, cameos. Clearly some favours were called in as in addition to our central six characters we get as-self appearances from Michael Cera, Rhianna, Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Aziz Ansari, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Channing Tatum and the Backstreet Boys. The best of the cameos though has to be from Emma Watson, who clearly enjoyed the opportunity to leave the world of Harry Potter behind her and jump into some more unashamedly adult material.
If you like the Apatow style of whimsy then This is the End has plenty of laughs for you. But it will leave you feeling a bit like you’ve crashed someone else’s party.
Rating – ★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean
Review – Jesus Henry Christ (2012)
Director: Dennis Lee
Starring: Jason Spevack, Toni Collette, Michael Sheen, Samantha Weinstein
Over the last decade and a bit the quirky, dysfunctional family ‘dramedy’ has been a staple of the American Indie cinema. With the provocatively titled Jesus Henry Christ, writer and director Dennis Lee again ventures into this familiar territory.
The film revolves around four suitably oddball characters. Henry is a child genius who has the amazing ability to remember perfectly everything he has ever seen. He lives with his over-protective single mother, who he simply calls Patricia, whose cautiousness results from having lost her mother and elder siblings to a series of ridiculous accidents. Henry’s quest to discover the identity of his father brings them into contact with Dr. Slavkin O’Hara, the university professor who is potentially Henry’s sperm donor father, and his daughter Audrey, a stone-faced teenager suitably messed up after having been used as a real life subject in her father’s research on the social programming of gender.
Beneath this surface level of quirky characters and witty dialogue, at the heart of the film is a comparatively straight forward central theme: the importance to family to one’s sense of identity. All of these four central characters are suffering as a result of a missing connection to a father or mother or sibling.
Obviously shooting for a deadpan vibe somewhere between Little Miss Sunshine and the films of Wes Anderson, where Jesus Henry Christ falls short is that its relentless pursuit of quirkiness and wit doesn’t allow for any believability. If a film can’t get you to suspend your disbelief enough to accept what you are seeing as being on some level real you simply won’t care about the characters enough to truly empathise, and unfortunately that is what happens here.
Jesus Henry Christ just doesn’t quite hit the mark. It is quirky and oddball without every really being funny and it is thought provoking without ever being really moving.
Rating – ★★
Review by Duncan McLean
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