Office Christmas Party (2016)

So upon reading about this movie, seeing the title and seeing the poster, I came to the conclusion that this was very possibly very similar to many American Christmas sitcom episodes that we’ve seen over the years (but naughtier). Indeed the whole premise and vibe felt very much like an episode of Friends or more closely The Office, more so the latter. Nonetheless, being a comedy I was intrigued at the idea as I do enjoy a merry Xmas flick and the whole office scenario seemed like the perfect setting for some good solid filthy laughs.

Essentially what you have here is this large company being run by a buffoon with good intentions (Clay played by T.J. Miller). His staff are generally hard working but include the various stereotypical types that you just know will turn up in something like this. Basically this particular branch of the company hasn’t met its quarterly quota, and apparently this means instant terminations and possible shut down of the branch (familiar yet?).

So its decided that the only way to try and get important clients is to hold a mega Christmas bash to show what kind of company they are. Naturally Carol the CEO (Jennifer Aniston) does not like this idea and puts the kibosh on it, naturally the minute she leaves for London Clay and co do it anyway. At first the shindig is a bust, but as the party slowly grows wilder and more riotous, things naturally get more and more hazardous and out of control for the few staff members we are following. And then just when things couldn’t get any worse, Carol the CEO turns up because her flight was cancelled.

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So taking a quick look at the characters, what do we have? Well as I already said the branch manager Clay is a man who means well but is unfortunately incapable of running an entire office. He seems more interested in having a lark and acting like a child. His boss (and sister), Carol the CEO is of course a complete bitch, ruthless, strict, frustratingly sexy, seemingly never happy and jealous that their father apparently favoured Clay. Lower down the ranks there is Josh (Jason Bateman) who is your all round nice guy, gets on with everyone, is quite clever and is headhunted by Carol for her NYC office. Below Josh is Tracey who is head of tech, a hot female nerd basically. Then you have Mary (Kate McKinnon) who is a jobsworth and thoroughly frigid all round. Nate is yet another tech nerd but this time a full on stereotypical scrawny Asian/Indian nerd complete with thick rim glasses. Jeremy is a grouchy middle aged employee who kinda says what he thinks and has no tact. Then you have Allison who is a single mum and kinda desperate for any kind of relationship and Fred the newbie who has a baby fetish (wanting to be mothered like a baby).

So yeah, all in all the characters don’t really offer much in the realms of originality. Jennifer Aniston has literally already played the exact same role in ‘Horrible Bosses’, the only difference being she was a slutty evil bitch. Jason Bateman literally plays the exact same role he always plays in everything. That being an all round nice guy who gets on with everyone, the goodie, the likeable sensible character. While Kate McKinnon kinda goes against cast as the boring stick-in-the-mud, probably conservative and highly conformist, her character is nothing new. The same can be said for all the other characters who are generally made up by traditional nerds, sexy nerds, oddballs and angry people.

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You see that’s the main problem here, this concept is old hat, its been done a million times, there isn’t really much you can do with this that hasn’t been seen before. To make matters worse the comedy is fast and loose missing targets left and right. Yeah Aniston is a sexy bitch, got it. Clay is a likeable moron who manages to host an awesome Xmas party, check. The party involves lots of idiotic visual gags such as chugging alcohol from an ice statues penis. Various people trying to do silly things, whilst drunk, and getting hurt badly (usually jumping off things). Knocking over a huge Christmas tree whilst inside an expensive department store. The uptight client they are trying to impress gets covered in cocaine, gets high and completely cuts loose turning into a party animal. Heck, how many times have we seen that plot angle? The uptight client is won over by the oddballs and becomes one of them. The party eventually gets so out of hand that illegal things are happening willy-nilly like launching items out of the windows (the office is inside a skyscraper). Where did the horses come from??

The movie actually becomes too stupid for its own good. At one point the drunken office folk shove an entire vending machine out of the building window, along with monitors and chairs. I mean sure, a party can get out of control with drugs, sex and booze, all within the realms of possibility. But when things like that start happening from the top end of a skyscraper, we’re talking about people possibly getting killed below and police turning up, serious shit. Yet there are no apparent consequences here. A monitor falls and barely misses Aniston as she approaches the building…but she just shrugs it off as an annoying occurrence! Did I mention the horses?

The one thing that did hit me whilst watching this, some Americans have amazing places to work! This office block is in downtown Chicago I believe, and boy is it impressive, the fecking views! The fact that people can work in a place like this (the interior was pretty amazing too) and consider it mundane seems unreal to a Brit like me. Also, Yanks know how to decorate for Christmas (or anything). I’ve known this from my own holidays, the Americans don’t mess around when it comes to decor, it all looks stunning, and this film demonstrates just that. But anyway the movie, yeah its fine I guess. There are numerous sub plots going on with various characters throughout that are reasonably engaging I suppose, nothing special. Usual stuff really, relationship forging, sex, hired prostitutes, revenge, a car chase and finally everything ending happily as the office is saved (because of course). I didn’t wanna say it but its essentially a movie length version of The Office, uncut. A late in the day total rampage of stereotypes we’ve all seen before.

5.5/10

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Monster Trucks (2016)

Monsters and trucks, monsters are kewl, monster trucks are definitely kewl. How could this not turn out to be awesomely kewl??

So there’s this fracking company fracking away North Dakota. One night they accidentally release three creatures from the subterranean caves far below the Earth’s surface which in turn causes the destruction of their set up, a big news event. The company catches two of them but one escapes and finds its way to a local junkyard. Tripp (Lucas Till), the young man who works at this junkyard eventually discovers the creature and starts to slowly bond with it. Naturally of course the company is wanting to find this creature to cover up its big incident so they hire professional thugs (as you do). Meanwhile Tripp has discovered that the creature enjoys hiding itself inside the shell of his souped-up, modified pickup truck (for reasons only useful to this movie and its title). So Tripp must now avoid the hired thugs, avoid the creature being seen and try to get it back home. Oh and he’s gotta save the other two creatures from within the evil fracking company too. Heavy week!

I knew nothing about this movie and at first I honesty thought this was gonna be your stereotypical underdog racer story. You know what I’m talking about, Tripp is a languishing truck racer, possibly up and coming but waiting for his breakout moment. He then finds this monster which can power his truck, he enters races and gradually starts winning, slowly moving up the ranks and finally entering a championship. Eventually reaching the final, up against his arch nemesis, he comes from behind to win. He then lives happily ever after with his pet monster, or the monster goes back to its habitat leaving Tripp sad but happy with how his life has gone. Basically a Herbie type rip-off is what I was expecting here.

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First lets look at the good, the only decent bit before the problems. The entire premise isn’t particularly original for sure, its basically ‘E.T.’ (and every other clone ever since). A young man finds an alien type creature, befriends it and tries to save it from corporate baddies. We’ve seen this type of thing a gazillion times before. But the one thing I did quite like was the idea of undiscovered subterranean creatures, again its not totally original but its a fair crack isn’t it. The actual design of the creature wasn’t exactly something I would have gone with myself but it works well for the plot. It was probably created with some scientific research into its natural habitat which would explain its squid-like body shape and bioluminescence. So while the creature was a bit ‘Disneyfied’ in the face department (biggish eyes and a slightly expressive face overall), I did like the whole subterranean aspect of it. Its a shame we don’t see anything of these creatures in their underwater world but I guess that adds to the intrigue…and fuel for the sequel.

Right lets take a look at the various issues, the predictable stereotypes, the crowd pleasers etc…Staying with the creature for a minute, its bloody obvious from the get go the creature is in fact a younglin, a child, whilst the other two that are captured are in fact its parents. You don’t pick up on it at first, but once you hear the nasty fracking company caught the other two, you just know it. This does of course lead to the inevitably gooey finale where the creature will want to save its parents with Tripp’s help (before escaping back underground). The creature itself is of course quite large, simply a moist mass with tentacles. So you do have to ask yourself, how is this thing not being seen all the time? Also how is it surviving out of the water? Yes it may be able to survive outside of water but for this long?? Lets remember it does primarily live underwater so why would it be able to survive for so long out of the water? The creature also makes lots of loud noises including laughing…which seems idiotic but hey its a kids flick right. Oh and it lives on…oil? Well that could lead to a…sticky situation…aaah I’m terrible.

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OK so the main angle of the movie is monster trucks, pickup trucks and 4×4’s…oh and monsters (even though in the movie I wouldn’t say the creature is a monster, but more of a large Cephalopod. Yes I realise its also a play on words). Anyway so the hook here is, once Tripp discovers the creature, he finds that it enjoys ‘living’ inside his pickup truck shell. The creature is also able to somehow power the truck with some kind of energy from its tentacles…no clue. So Tripp modifies the truck so the creature can live in it (hidden away), he then proceeds to ‘drive around’ in the truck which is now…monster powered…get it? Ah there it is, we got there.

Thing is, why does the creature wanna stay cooped up inside this rusty pickup truck? This is an underwater creature, but now it likes driving a truck with its power tentacles…eh? This also leads to so many obvious questions that mainly revolve around control. How the hell would Tripp ever be able to control this living creature that is controlling his truck? Sure we get some sequences of him getting to grips with this problem but it never really seems solid to me. During this time Tripp naturally experiences problems…massive insurance related problems I’m sure. By that I mean he wrecks many many cars including an entire car dealers line up (monster truck style), almost kills people (must have) and totally destroys the side of a woman’s car whilst she’s driving it. Surely any of this would alert the police no? Nah don’t be stupid, no consequences in this movie bucko.

I honesty don’t know how many of the characters in this movie get away with half the stuff they do. The baddies run (drive) around trying to capture this creature causing all sorts of chaos along the way, while Tripp ends up breaking into the fracking company facility, illegal use of a car dealership garage (that just happened to have all the right tools for truck modification) and eventually stealing 4×4’s! Not only that but he then proceeds to cut the trucks up so the other two creatures can fit in them when they break them out of the facility. Not quite sure how they knew what size truck they would need, or how to modify them correctly for the other two unseen creatures. What if they didn’t fit?? But at the end of the day, to save the creature, all Tripp and co would need to do is expose the creature. In this day and age the discovery of a large new aquatic animal like that would be headline news around the world. Almost everyone would be filled with joy and stepping up to protect it and its habitat. So in my opinion simply exposing it to the media would save the creature right away.

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Believe it or not the finale is where this movie gets a bit too ridiculous. The goodies are trying to reach the original caves where the creatures came from, and they are trying to shake the hired thugs. This involves a long 4×4 chase between the baddies in their all black 4×4’s and the goodies in their stolen modified (complete with spoilers), monster powered 4×4’s (and Tripp’s piece of crap looking pickup truck). This ends up going up a mountain which of course means what goes up must come down. Oh boy do they come down, they literally drive their trucks off a cliff edge…like a thousand feet up or whatever. Somehow the humans don’t get smashed to pieces inside the trucks and manage to survive unscathed. The trucks also manage to hold together and not disintegrate on impact, ditto the creatures manage to survive too. I’m still not really sure how these creatures could survive this fall or prevent the trucks from being destroyed, they’re not magical, they can’t fly. Suspension of disbelief is generally in order here obviously, but there are certain levels, certain limits.

So yes this is a case of throwing E.T. and Herbie into a blender and coming out with a somewhat generic, cookie cutter product low on original ideas. Lets be honest it was never really gonna be anything more than that even though the movies poster is pretty sweet. There is a lot more I could mention that I picked up on but its not worth it, minor continuity errors and such, the review would be too long. Although I will just mention that almost everyone in the movie appears to drive a 4×4 or pickup truck, which feels kinda like overkill on product placement to me. Overall the movie isn’t as lame or schmaltzy as I thought it would be, the effects are fine, lovely location scenery and the acting is perfectly acceptable for what this is. This is one of those cases where (I think) had the movie come out in the mid to late 80’s (or even early 90’s) it might be looked upon now as a bit of a cult classic. Unfortunately these type of films don’t really fly anymore because its all been done, but truth be told this wasn’t actually too bad.

6/10

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Bad Santa 2 (2016)

It seems Hollywood is intent on making pointless remakes and sequels to movies that in way require them. The days of stand alone movies appear to be gone as literally anything can get a sequel no matter what. It doesn’t even matter how the original movie ended, they will still try to wangle something out of it. Case in point, 2003 black comedy ‘Bad Santa’, a devilishly wicked little affair that was somewhat original and gave adults something to giggle over after the kids had gone to bed. Did this movie need a sequel? No, it was a clear stand alone movie, plain and simple, yet here we are.

Believe it or not but the plot to this movie once again revolves around our protagonist Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) getting into a Santa outfit, the hell you say. Believe it or not but the plot also requires Willie’s old partner in crime, Marcus Skidmore (Tony Cox), to also once again join him as an elf so they can pull off a heist. Said heist simply revolves around trying to rob a charity organisation in Chicago. The only major difference with this movie is they have Willie’s mother Sunny (Kathy Bates) to help them.

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So Willie and Marcus are going to attempt to steal all the loot from within the office of this charity organisation. Obviously in order to get into this office they are gonna need to scout around, get the lay of the land and eventually break in somehow. So what does that mean? why lots and lots of profanity, sexual acts and the usual double crossing of course. Seriously this movie has clearly gone all out to simply be more outrageous and disgusting than the original…for no real reason it seems. I don’t have an issue with this if it actually made any real sense to the plot. Take Willie for instance, an alcoholic, malnourished, dirty bum with nothing to his name, yet he still manages to get handjobs from busty blondes and sex from the sexy female charity organiser (the one he’s trying to steal from). Like I realise this is a dumb comedy but come on now, why would these women be attracted to this guy when he’s made out to be so disgusting.

Then you have Marcus, who virtually does nothing for the entire run time other than swear and look sorry for himself. Its bloody obvious this guy is still mad at Willie from the first movie and its bloody obvious he’s gonna try and screw Willie over. But this guy has nothing to do here, he’s merely there for size and sexual innuendo gags. OK sure he was doing the same shit in the first movie but that was the first movie. In fact I felt sorry for the guy because this time he gets turned down by a curvy lady who ends up fucking Willie! (apparently this guy is some kind of low life, homeless sexual magnet). Thurman Merman is back again too (couldn’t leave this guy out) although I don’t know why. Much like Marcus he does nothing for the run time (even less than Marcus), he only seems to be here again to offer redemption for Willie’s character right at the end.

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The best thing about this movie has to be Kathy Bates as Willie’s old mum Sunny. Now even though this characters inclusion is utterly groan inducing in its lack or originality, predictability and tired old cliches, I can’t deny it worked to a degree. Bates fits into this role like a glove, she looks like pure overweight white trash and then some. On the other hand, when she cleans and dresses up to play Santa’s wife with Willie for a gig, she looks absolutely perfect for that too. The perfect white haired old granny and the perfect leather clad biker bitch from hell! Bates is clearly having a ball letting loose here and she almost saves the film, if it wasn’t for the fact that her character is so damn obvious.

I smoked two packs of menthol a day, washed it down with a layer of this gin, and I could still fill this shot glass with this man’s jizz

This movie is desperately short on plot and way too high on filth, its almost as if they were doing it for shock value. It wouldn’t be so bad if any of it were actually amusing but most of it is either outright disgusting or plain childish. Everything and anything you could possibly imagine being seedy is in this movie, having anal sex in a dark dirty alley, your mother talking about all kinds of sexual stuff, masturbation, seeing people on the toilet, slutty girls, drunken brawls, being generally rude about fat people, casual racism, misogyny etc…Even the parts where the plot kicks into gear its incredibly stupid. Like how did they rob that mansion without ever being spotted? And could the finale be anymore flippin’ predictable!!

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All in all this was a major miscalculation if you ask me. Yes its kinda amusing to see a drunk dishevelled Billy Bob Thornton in a Santa outfit giving little kids the beady-eye and a mouthful as they take turns sitting on his knee (easily the best part), but that’s literally it. Sure its kinda amusing to see Kathy Bates acting like a cock hungry slut, swearing like a sailor whilst looking like a butch dyke, but it wears thin after the initial laughs. I won’t lie and say the sex scenes didn’t arouse me slightly (some good fantasy scenes in there). But I also can’t deny that in the end this movie did leave me actually feeling dirty, like I needed to have a shower. A case of trying to milk the last drop of money out of a franchise? Or simply giving Thornton some much needed work? Probably both.

Flouting? I never sucked jizz out of nobody’s ass!

3.5/10

A Monster Calls (2016)

So here we have yet another adaptation of a children’s book that you could be mistaken for thinking was a light-hearted fantasy romp…but it sooo isn’t. Certainly the movies poster looks very fairytale-esque and the plot sounds very quaint and whimsical, but prepare for a shock. Not a horrible shock, just a slightly glum, depressing and slow burning shock.

This tale focuses on the young lad, Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall), growing up in the north of England (I’m guessing in Lancashire?) with his strict grandmother, estranged father and terminally ill mother. Obviously there is a lot of emotion in this young boys life with his father now living in the US with another woman and his mother slowly dying. On top of all that his future looks glum as he will soon be living with his grandmother whom he does not get on with, oh and he gets bullied at school (Jesus!).

Well one night, around 12.07 am, an old gnarly tree at the back of his house starts to transform into a huge living entity, a tree-like monster. The monster approaches and confronts a very afraid Conor telling him that at the same time, over a period of time, he will tell him three true stories from the past. Once these stories have been told Conor must then tell the creature a true story of his own. Now of course its not hard to realise that these three stories will in fact reflect the boys life in parts, they will be windows into his emotions. Of course the real question the movie makes you ask is whether or not this tree monster is in fact a real creature or merely the boys wild imagination.

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The first story is of an old King who marries a young beautiful woman suspected of being a witch. The King soon dies and his people suspect the Queen of killing him in order to gain power. The Queen actually rules well but plots to marry off the Kings only Prince so she can retain power. The Prince runs away with a farm girl until such time that he can return and be crowned King. One morning the Prince awakens to find the young farm girl murdered, naturally the Prince assumes the Queen killed her so he rallies the people against her. Just before the mob can reach the Queen the tree creature whisks her away to safety. The Queen did not kill the King or the farm girl, nor was she a specifically bad witch. Twas the Prince who killed the farm girl in order to try and overthrow the young Queen and gain power.

This story relates to Conor’s grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) in the sense that while she is strict and kinda unlikable, she has never actually done anything wrong in regards to Conor. She has actually looked after him very well and Conor is failing to understand her situation under the current circumstances. Much like the Queen who didn’t actually do anything wrong, people believed she was evil and thought she would commit evil, but she did not.

The second story revolves around an old apothecary who believed in traditional medicines and potions, herbs and brews etc…In order to make up more medicines the apothecary pesters the local parson to cut down a Yew tree within the church yard. The parson refuses this request point blank and becomes fed up with the apothecary. The parson does not agree with the apothecaries traditional ways and slowly manages to turn his congregation against the old medicine man. Some time later the Parsons two children becomes very ill and nothing can help, so he turns to the apothecary. Of course the apothecary asks why he should help him after he took away all his custom and refused the Yew tree for which to make cures. The parson agrees to cut down the tree and bring his congregation back, the apothecary declines and the parson’s children die. The tree creature appears and destroys the parson’s house as punishment. The reason being the the apothecary stuck to his beliefs and could have saved lives, the parson changed his beliefs to suit himself, convenience.

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This story may relate to Conor’s estranged father in regards to him choosing an easy path, much like the pastor. Conor’s father has basically left his mother and is enjoying life in America whilst they carry on the daily grind in the UK. He obviously comes back when Conor’s mother is ill but it doesn’t seem genuine, more of a reluctant duty, changing his position to suit himself. But he obviously cares enough to come back, he cares enough for his son, so I’m unsure on this one. I was also surprised that Conor didn’t really receive any punishment for destroying his grandmothers living room (which he does in a trance like state when the creature describes destroying the parson’s house). I was also surprised that this event didn’t result in Conor getting some psychological assistance.

The third story was about an invisible man who grew tired of people not seeing him. So the man summoned the tree creature to make him visible. The tree creature helps the man but he soon discovers there are harder things in life than people not seeing or noticing you. Whilst this story is being told the tree creature possesses Conor and beats up the school bully. Again I’m not so sure about this one, could it be the creature is the invisible man in the story? The creature realises that being invisible isn’t as hard as it thought, only after it beats the bully too much? Does it represent Conor feeling unnoticed during his life? Is it me or did there seem to be a homosexual vibe between the bully and Conor?

The final story that Conor must tell involves him confronting his own nightmare…or face being eaten by the tree creature. Conor’s mother is standing near a cliff when it starts to collapse in on itself. His mother falls but Conor reaches her in time, grabbing her by the hand. Conor must hang on to his mother to prevent her from falling to her death. After a short time Conor is seemingly unable to hold on anymore and his mother falls. The tree creature puts a lot of pressure on Conor to speak the truth regarding the incident and eventually Conor admits he let his mother go on purpose. Why? because he could not stand the pain of having to hold on. He can no longer stand the suffering of watching his mother slowly die in reality, he wants the emotional pain to finally end. Conor does not want his mother to die, but he understands it will happen, he must come to accept it and ultimately he wants/needs the whole ordeal to end.

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All of the story sequences appear to have been animated in watercolours to me. While all of the film is live action with the tree creature being CGI, these sequences do stand out beautifully with this fresh approach. They certainly give the film some much needed colour and excitement because truth be told there is little else going on. That’s not to say the film is poor, its a slow moving drama set in the bleak countryside of Lancashire so the animated sequences are vital. Truth be told the stories are kinda odd and don’t really make much sense in relation to the main protagonist. They are suppose to represent the stages of Conor’s early life and emotional state but I didn’t see the connection at times. The second story I especially didn’t really agree with. Sure I understand that the parson didn’t stick by his beliefs and in the end it was his own fault that the apothecary didn’t have any possible cures at the right time. But Jesus man, talk about being harsh on this guy even after his kids die!

At times the film is visually alluring, as said the story sequences, and of course whenever the tree creature pops up. You have this blend of gritty reality in England mixed with moments that could have come from a twisted fairytale flick of Tim Burton. Essentially this is a character driven feature and its all about the performances. Well our main protagonist Lewis MacDougall certainly acts the shit outta this. While I did find his scowling somewhat annoying and his character did come across as a bit of an unhinged brat, this young actor is most certainly one to watch for the future. I couldn’t quite relate to him mainly because I didn’t really like the character of Conor but that doesn’t detract from his acting talent.

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On the flip side you have the voice talent of Liam Neeson as the tree creature. Sterling decision it has to be said because Neeson’s voice, when lowered, has that perfect tone to make you slowly drift off to sleep. His voice fits the creature perfectly giving the character some real depth and gravitas. Which was needed because even though the creature appears to be faithful to the book, it looks a bit [i]Lord of the Rings[/i]-esque really doesn’t it, hard not to think it. The design is definitely nice, just a bit late in the game really, also it did look weird having this yuge twisted gnarly tree all by its lonesome behind this house. It looked like the old tree from ‘Sleepy Hollow’. Not sure why they decided to cast Sigourney Weaver as a British grandmother, strange.

Certainly the themes here are very strong, very emotional at times and frankly way beyond most kids comprehension methinks. I haven’t read the book so I can’t compare the material. Personally I can’t see any kids really enjoying or understanding this and its, dare I say, bleak sobering lessons of reality. But hey what do I know about kids these days. But I won’t lie, the film is a bit of a slog at times, there is a whole heap of family drama in here that moves slowly. If you’re not overly familiar with the British lifestyle then you may feel even more in the dark at times because this is definitely British. All in all, saying this is a coming of age story is an understatement. This film could leave youngsters emotional wrecks as it exposes the bare bones of early childhood experiences. High drama and at times high fantasy, which kinda goes nowhere really. Overall it will leave you with mixed emotions and probably some questions, but the ending will see you reaching for a hanky.

6/10

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Multiplicity (1996)

This quirky little gem was directed by Harold Ramis which, at the time, came across like a bright spark in an otherwise dull period. His last success had been the Bill Murray comedy ‘Groundhog Day’ back 1993, and since then offerings had been a bit limp (‘Airheads, 1994). Then you also had the resurgence of Michael Keaton. Now up until this point Keaton had actually been doing very well since his last big outing as Batman in 1992. Films like ‘The Paper’ and ‘My Life’ had shown Keaton could be a very good serious actor, he didn’t need the Bat to help him out it seemed. Nevertheless Keaton hadn’t made a good comedy since 1989 in ‘The Dream Team’, so could he still deliver?

Upon a first glance this looked like another weak comedy, even worse…a romantic comedy! I recall seeing trailers in cinema back in the day and completely brushing it aside as soppy trash. Yet the plot to this gooey nonsense is actually pretty solid. A busy construction worker is finding it hard to juggle his work with his personal life, he’s suffering from stress and taking it out on the wrong people. On one of his jobs at a science facility Doug (Keaton) stumbles across Dr. Leeds (Harris Yulin)…and his clone. Yes this scientist has perfected the art of cloning humans it seems and offers Doug the chance to clone himself so he can sort his life out. The idea being there will be two Doug’s, one for work and one for family. After a few hiccups everything goes swimmingly and before you know it, Doug gets another clone to help out around the house. Its obvious where this is headed, eventually one of the clones gets a clone and before you know it Doug’s life is getting a bit hectic again. Can he now juggle his work, family and three clones?

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So as I said the idea behind this is actually really neat. It makes you think, wouldn’t it be cool to have a clone of yourself that you could send to work so you could bum around. Indeed the movie actually doesn’t offer up any negative aspects of this idea, it generally works out pretty well for the protagonist. You half expect one clone to turn out all psychotic or something and Doug needing to vaporise him or whatever. But no it doesn’t go down that dramatic route, instead each clone takes on one of Doug’s traits. One is more of a mans man, one has Doug’s feminine side and one is like a young child…and a bit simple.

This allows Keaton to showcase his comedic skills with different performances for each clone, and it works nicely. Clone one (Lance) is a great foil to Doug with his brash masculinity, lack of tact and slobby habits. Clone two (Rico) is very amusing with his soft over sensitive nature, complete knowledge in and around the kitchen and his sharp dress sense. Lastly clone three (Lenny) is the least funny to be honest as he merely does stupid slapstick type things and acts like a child. To be brutally honest I don’t even think the movie needed this character, should have gone with a different trait if you ask me. If you removed clone three it wouldn’t really make any difference.

Looking back the special effects now are laughably poor I’m afraid, although not always. Seeing as there are four Keaton’s you can imagine there’s gonna be a lot of greenscreen and split-screen here. Again as you can imagine this being a 1996 flick most of these effects, now, do look ropy. There are some terribly obvious stark black lines around Keaton in some scenes with other clones, not only that but there is also really obvious light issues between the characters (presumably greenscreen effects). Not all look that bad, some scenes look quite good where shots have been digitally layered together or when Keaton has obviously interacted with a stand-in and then they replaced that with another Keaton character. All the clones in the car at the end, Doug pouring Lenny some Coke, all the clones on the couch in the living room, all great looking effects scenes.

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Obviously there are always gonna be questions and nitpicks because that’s what I do. The house that Doug and his family live in is YUGE! I know this guy is a team leader in construction and I know Americans do live in big houses compared to us here in the UK, but Jesus! This place even has a second small house at the bottom of the garden! Is that an the American version of a shed or something?? Then you have Dr. Leeds and his cloning lab. How is this guy not world famous by now with his human cloning? Surely perfecting this kind of scientific breakthrough would be big news.

Yes this movie is horribly dated now, which is really scary for me because as said I remember seeing the trailers in the cinema. Keaton is a great comedic lead but boy does he look out of date and so very 90’s in this (no shit!). The way he dresses is sooo 90’s its lovely, its like watching Friends again. The overall comedy is very agreeable in general. At times wickedly good, at times hit and a miss, at times cringeworthy and over the top. Andie MacDowell plays Doug’s wife which is one let down because she’s so flippin’ useless in my opinion, all teeth and nose. But I do love this movies premise, its clever and presents great opportunities for witty visual comedy (just like ‘Groundhog Day’). In general this is a great little flick that suited Ramis to a tee. It offers some genuine laughs and a nice easy-going, laid-back experience. Comfy viewing.

7/10

War Dogs (2016)

Holy Ben & Jerry’s what’s happened to Jonah Hill?!

Anyway what we have here is a movie based on a Rolling Stone article, whilst at the same time a very very loose adaptation of real events. The story follows two young men in their twenties, Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, who simply become arms dealers and turn out to be very good at it. From humble beginnings they both start off with small fry to ease themselves into the industry. Then as things go well for them they naturally progress to bigger fish and eventually land a major US government contract. But as with many things, what goes up must come down.

This movie has that very well trodden style that kinda feels a bit like a Scorsese mob flick with dark humour thrown in. You know what I mean right, lots of mini montages that show a period of time where the protagonists are going from strength to strength in their new, usually dodgy field of expertise. This is often accompanied by some hip music, usually something retro from way back, a bit of slow motion, narration etc…you know the score. Well this movie basically starts of predictably in that vein with both men going through some bad patches, coming together, getting through some scrapes together until finally they click and start their ball rolling.

With that the film is entertaining for the most part as we unravel what kind of characters these guys are. Hill plays Diveroli, a larger than life, overly confident, brash young man who (in this movie) looks like a small time wannabe hood that wouldn’t look outta place in…yep you guessed it, a Scorsese movie. On the other hand Teller plays Packouz, a struggling massage therapist with a wife, a kid and morals; the sensible foil to the loud and outrageous Diveroli. In that both actors are genuinely fun to watch as they both bumble their way into the big leagues. I don’t really know much about Teller other than the hit flop ‘Fantastic 4’ but I was surprised to find myself relating to his situation and actually caring about his characters outcome. Here’s a genuinely nice bloke, trying his best to make a living, who gets caught up in something that gets outta hand; but he doesn’t deserve the backlash.

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On the other hand the character of Diveroli is played with gusto by Hill and is easily the more exciting to watch even if his character is an A-hole most of the time. This is a guy Packouz knew from school so they are pretty close, they have history. With that its hard for Packouz to tame or argue with Diveroli because he basically doesn’t wanna upset the guy, he likes Diveroli. The man is over the top but essentially just trying to make a buck for the pair of them. To top that Diveroli gets Packouz into the gunrunning biz to help him with his money problems. Obviously things work out well and the pair make a killing which makes it even harder for Packouz to rock the boat because he owes Diveroli everything. But anyway Hill is the best thing in this movie from his somewhat heavy frame which is a little intimidating, to his crazy laugh, off the cuff quips, devious lies and eventual turncoat behaviour.

What we see for the most part is the duo setting up contracts, working their business setup (AEY), juggling home life (for Packouz anyway) and letting their hair down in various seedy ways. The only real moments of ‘action’, if you can call it that, are when the duo actually go off to Jordan to smuggle some weapons into Iraq. They do this via truck (as they have no permit to fly despite numerous bribes here and there) which is actually quite tense and exciting because you have no clue how it will go down. If you go into the movie blind, without knowing anything of the real time events then its hard to guess what might happen. Sure you know they’ll have issues, but you’re not sure what kind and if anyone will end up dead. The movie is a blend of black comedy and bio-pic with this adult edge, not overly adult, but just enough to make you unsure about the levels of violence it may or may not show.

After a bit of research I did discover that the story is heavily exaggerated and dramatised to make a more interesting flick. Much of what we do see is apparently fictional and never occurred, although I’m unsure what. I do know that the entire gunrunning operation into Iraq never happened, so even though its a good section of the film, its invented (or based on other events). This does hinder the movie somewhat as it dilutes the gritty atmosphere, supposedly based on real events. For instance, at one point Packouz’s Albanian driver disappears without a trace when their shady deal with another gunrunner (Bradly Cooper) starts to go tits up. Although it sounds kinda normal for something like this, its actually not. The plot up to that point doesn’t really follow that kind of mobster killing route, so when this occurs you tend to ask yourself why. Add to the fact that it might not be true anyway and all of a sudden the film lacks punch.

Nonetheless, not knowing anything about this American scandal actually helped me enjoy the movie. It probably helped me enjoy it much more than if I did know the whole story because then I’d know the final outcome and all the stuff that was made up for the film (obviously). So despite the plot being somewhat generic with many tropes and styles that have been done many times before, I was still engaged. The main plot surrounding a huge arms deal with the US government going belly up and the guys trying to blunder their way out of it was good stuff, offering plenty of commentary on modern America. Not overly shocking these days to be honest, but still an eye opener for sure. Solid stuff but nothing epic.

6.5/10

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The Gunman (FR/US, 2015)

This movie is based on the French crime novel La Position Du Tireur Couchè by Jean-Patrick Manchette, hence this is an American/French collaboration. As generally stated with movies like this I have no idea how accurate the movie is to the source material because I haven’t read the book. But, I like to look at this movie thusly, Sean Penn’s audition to play James Bond, or showing he could be James Bond if he hammered out the accent.

The plot is about as cliched as you can get and we’ve seen a shitzillion times. A team of undercover special-ops mercs are given the task of assassinating a high ranking Minister in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006. The reason being the Congo is racked with civil war and large evil mining corporations are taking full advantage. The Minister of Mining for the Congo declares contracts are unjust and need to be renegotiated with the corporations. So the large evil mining corporations hire Jim Terrier’s team to assassinate the Minister. Everything goes well and Jim vanishes from Africa. 8 years later Jim returns to the Congo as an aid worker but quickly finds himself under attack from a hit team. After fleeing to London to meet up with an old member of his ops team, Jim is told his old special-ops boss has created a huge new international security company that pick up prestige contracts from all over the world including the Pentagon. In order to clear the new companies shady past, all previous special-ops team members are to be eliminated. Jim must now evade being killed, get help from old team mates and unravel who exactly was his special-ops boss…because he didn’t know?

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So yes this plot is as old as the hills, seen many Hollywood A-list stars take on very similar, if not identical roles. Lets get one thing out of the way right off the bat, Sean Penn and his bod. So clearly Penn decided to get into shape for this movie, by that I mean get pretty seriously ripped. OK that’s fine, good for him. The issue I have is that we’re not allowed to forget that fact, its literally shoved down our throats at every given moment, at every turn. There isn’t a minute that goes by where Penn isn’t trying to remove his shirt so he can flash his newly acquired muscles at us, usually glazed in sweat for that extra glistening effect. Now as I’ve said he does look good, especially for age (even though his wealth allows him to get expert help, training, dietary assistance etc…), but it just feels like most of what we see in this movie, is just in the movie to show off his muscles. Example, the amount of cliched, corny bollocks in this flick is off the scale. Everything you’ve seen done in previous (better) movies, every single cliche from the book of cliches.

When things get too much for Penn he gets into the shower and has an angst ridden wash. He leans against the wall of the shower, his head between his arms, looking down, allowing the water to run through his hair and down his thick biceps. When he gets out of the shower he’s in front of a moisture covered mirror. He wipes his hand across the mirror to reveal his solemn face, he stares at himself, full of angst, clenches his jaw a bit, he’s clearly thinking how serious the situation is…in a really butch type way. He actually does this action a few times throughout the movie. He walks around his hideouts topless all the time…full of angst. He loves to wear bulletproof vests topless. He stares into space whilst sitting in the shadows which just happens to make his muscles look even more butch, and bigger! There is of course a love interest, and oh my God so much sexual tension and sexual angst with that. The amount of topless, glistening muscle shots in dim lighting we see is incredible! All the while, totally full of angst because grrr…full on angst ridden butchness (is that a word?).

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Another thing that always amuses me about these type of movies, everyone is apparently massively rich. I mean sure, these guys are ex-special-ops so chances are they may have made lots of money sure, but its amazing how many of them manage to wind up with stunning executive jobs afterwards. Either that or they are able to start up their own massively successful company. The locations seen in this movie are stunning, simply stunning, the kind of places that only people like Sean Penn would be able to afford. All the offices have sweeping city views out of the large windows, apartments right on the banks of the Thames, all the residential locations are either huge and luxurious, or just plain huge with antique good looks. Good job to because when the bad guys turn up to try and kill Jim and co the huge locations give them plenty of places to run, hide and escape. Almighty convenient don’t ya think, its almost as if they do this deliberately for grandiose action sequences (I’m rolling my eyes here by the way). Yep, not many realistic locations here folks, unless you live in a Spanish mansion?

What makes this even more silly is the fact that’s its clearly supposed to be this hard hitting, serious action drama, but its laden with cock ups…as far as I’m concerned anyway. When Terrier makes his deadly kill in the initial assassination, he leaves the gun behind complete with his fingerprints all over it! No he wasn’t wearing any special gloves, his hands were bare and at no point does he try to cover his tracks. 8 years later Jim goes back to the Congo…why??!! This guy carried out a major assassination there that won’t have been forgotten, surely you’re asking for trouble going back. Whilst in the UK  (with another undercover colleague played by Ray Winstone) Jim has internal head issues (he suffers from trauma due to his militaristic past) and passes out in the street. Somehow he manages to get seen at a hospital, for a full brain scan, just like that! Normally most folk would have to wait ages for something like that in the UK under the NHS, and I doubt they would run an expensive test like that for someone dragged in off the street. Sure this is a movie so you assume Terrier’s colleague pulled some strings…but really, come on! Lastly the finale, its lame, totally anti-climatic and I hated how Jim just reveals he had a recording of the whole build up to the assassination back at the start of the movies story, this whole time. Yeah right, pull that deus ex machina moment right outta ya ass movie.

Cliches and Hollywoodisms (did I just make up another word?!) aside, honesty this isn’t a bad flick despite my moaning, its actually pretty slick, well directed and well edited. Overall the complete package is glossy and relatively engaging, the problem is its completely dated, predictable, corny, fluff of the highest order. The movie wants to be this epic, serious, tension filled action drama so badly, but merely comes off as an excuse for Penn to show off his bod whilst looking moody all the time. Fundamentally Penn is in love with his muscles and wants to show them to you, and the movie feels self-indulgent and old hat.

5.5/10