Battle of the Sexes (2017)

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Game, set and match! This film is an ace of a biopic and extremely relevant with the current climate of the female/male divide. High flying 60s/70s tennis star Billie Jean King and women as a gender themselves rise up and show the grass should be as green on their side of the court as the men.

Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) is a world class tennis talent but she and every other racket wielding sportswoman are subjected to taunts, digs and extremely less pay than the apparently better and more exciting male tennis players. King says no more, to important Lawn Tennis Association figure Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) and starts her own tournament. This bold journey leads her agreeing to a match with former champion Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) in the first Battle of the Sexes match.

The story telling is incredibly engaging and like with tennis we go back and forth between the two sides and see how this very, very different people live their lives and train for the big sporting event. ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ writer Simon Beaufoy pens an assured telling of an important topic for empowerment and liberation. There are still great drop shots of comedy to be found along the way but he ensures the serious message of gender equality is at the forefront.

The way this film is delivered really works well in making you get excited for the big face off. I wasn’t expecting it to show much of any tennis playing of the match itself and thought it’d adapt Bobby and Billie’s stories leading up to this point but gladly there’s a lot of edge of the seat playing to be seen, you really see the styles of the two players come to a head and as someone who loves watching tennis, the last sequence is exhilarating, tense and beautiful all at the same time.

There is a set of interesting points with this sports story and a lot of them boil down to loves and politics. It’s not just a dramedy but a smartly told narrative that keeps a genuine interest in its subjects. On the softer side there is a forbidden fruit notion of love that ticks away, this secreted passion further adds to the dramatic relevance of the characters and their pre-match behaviours. One is a incessant gambling man-child and the other is a laser-focused achiever struggling with a new feeling in her life.

Stone serves up a careful and emotive performance as the courageous and capable Billie Jean King. You see past her period glasses and into her eyes and get an idea of the amazing and forward thinking woman she was and I’m sure still is. Carell smashes the movie in a role that continues his run of serious acting performances. It may not carry that chill of ‘Foxcatcher’ or the brains from ‘The Big Short’ but he utilises on his comedic background whilst still giving Bobby Riggs a worrying quality of chauvinistic pig-pigheadedness. Andrea Riseborough is a glowing presence in the life of King and she plays this more confident person with a free spirit in a believable and effortless manner.

It’s not a total grand slam of a bio drama as it hits the net with a couple of expected sporting drama cliches or predictable story moments, but these are mere tiny notes in a film that greatly balances pleasing humour and interesting gender politics with a leading duo of actors that are fantastic.

7.5/10

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A Bad Moms Christmas (2017)

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I was relatively lukewarm but fine with the first film back in…oh, only last year. Yes, the moms are back and this time they’re cashing in early for the Christmas season in a so called comedy that is definitely not warranted and does more of the same with extra dirty jokes and baubles thrown in for good measure.

The nightmare of Christmas is around the corner and so comes the stress of being a perfect mother for Amy (Mila Kunis) who tries to make everything perfect for her children and keep this time of year under wraps and not go crazy. Alas her perfectionist mum is arriving and Ruth (Christine Baranski) won’t let her daughters’ wishes satisfy her. Amy can only break free with fellow stressed mums Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) who also happen to be reunited with their maternal guardians in time for December 25th.

Just the convenience alone of all three mums coming home for Christmas was crazy stupid to suit the screenplay but topping off this with this trio also attending midnight mass because the script demands some redemption and forgiveness is insanely stupid. That is one issue with the writing, another huge one is the characters just aren’t likable; aside from maybe Hank, all of them feel like crudely drawn stereotypes and you can’t connect to them because they steal and lie. The only way the writers feel like they’re redeeming these factors is by constantly going on about how they’re tired mums who deserve fun. First time around though, there’s an interesting social aspect in them going against the grain of being so called super mums but this time they’re just kicking it against their own mums without any joy or clever storytelling.

Calling this a comedy film doesn’t feel right either as I didn’t laugh or even smile once throughout this boring ordeal. There’s aspects like having a character called Isis, nothing clever about it, just heck, call her that because it’s funny to have a name linked to terror. A young child also swears very near the beginning not to be cute or apt to her behaviour or anything intelligent, just to laugh at the fact they have a child swearing. This movie literally revels in ‘dicking around’ as they say umpteen times, with excessive swearing, sexual dirtiness and mums sticking it to the man/their mums in more of that 2016 slow mo chaos where they go to town on booze and profanity.

It’s a film with more of the same and further enforces my reasoning that this film really never needed to be thrust upon us. It being churned out so quickly really makes it clear this a desperate cash grab for the jolly holiday period. This and ‘Daddy’s Home’ swiping at the Christmas box office season is ridiculous as they’re both frankly unnecessary sequels. I guess I’ll try and be nice somewhere and say that the dodgeball scene at a trampoline park is quite good and squares off characters nicely but aside from this the film does nothing to dispel predictability and tedium.

Mila Kunis is more of the same as the capable yet quite plain lead, who has her mother to contend with. I was kind to Kathryn Hahn with my previous review but this time her rudeness and blindly drunken sexual naughtiness is dreary and too much. Kristen Bell is a likable presence again as the slightly kooky Kiki with an even kookier parent. Cheryl Hines is weirdly deranged and they wring this idea dry constantly leaving only her customised Kiki pyjamas as an amusing quality. It’s Christine Baranski who walks away as the almost saving grace, her brilliant sharp tongue and no nonsense rich granny attitude is perfectly played.

In all honesty, I zoned out of this film more than once. It’s a needless and unfunny sequel wrapped up in tinsel and it left me icy cold instead of festively fuzzy.

3.5/10

The Babysitter (2017)

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Released on spooky Friday the 13th  this adolescent horror comedy never really gets to grips with either the horror or comedy element. It can; I guess, be viewed as entertaining at points but it’s nothing I’d rush to see again or make a friend see. It belongs where it sits – on Netflix where a late night scroll could end you up watching this tackily made brash trash.

Frequently bullied twelve year old Cole (Judah Lewis) is excited that his parents are off to a hotel because that means the babysitter will be round. He may be the only schoolkid with one, but he has a fun and good relationship with Bee (Samara Weaving). She looks out for him and they share similar interests but one night after goaded by neighbour Melanie (Emily Alyn Lind), Cole keeps himself awake to see just what it is that Bee gets up to when he’s usually asleep. The answer may surprise and shock Cole leaving him experiencing a strangely bloody night.

I knew there was a horror/blood-soaked element attached to this film but I didn’t really look into what the plot was about so I won’t spoil what happens to kick things off or what goes down but yes…wow…there’s a literal WTF moment, those very words even pinged onto the screen seconds after I’d said them aloud to myself! This is when Cole, and the audience, realise what hell may be unleashed and it certainly is unexpected.

So, I guess that element of genuine surprise is a nice touch but before that occurs, the set up of the narrative and characters feels like it’s been transplanted out of that MTV music channel vibe. It’s as if the movie is souped up on a concoction of drugs; the editing and sounds all crackling and switching speeds like the post-production crew had one too many energy drinks. There are titles on screens, random frozen snap shots of moments and a general aura that this film is trying hard to be cool.

Unlike ‘It’ or my favourite TV show of the moment – ‘Stranger Things’, the child acting in this is quite poor, especially between a trio of bullies and Cole. The actor playing Cole does get slightly better but nothing to write home about. On the note of performances, Bella Thorne as yellow costumed cheerleader Allison is cringe, you see her laughing during her ‘panicked’ reaction to the aftermath of police entering the residence. Weaving is believable and I guess I kind of bought into the change of her character but everyone feels like an over the top parody of horror films as if the writer and director are badly spoofing horrors because they don’t like the tropes they come with.

The movie begins quickly descending into mad carnage but the Bee/Cole pairing was already a maddening awkward dynamic, his boob watch and their party time spent together with Stacy’s Mom inspired pool scene felt like unnecessary gratification for the teen audience, further proven by the Weaving/Thorne girl on girl smooch. It’s not just the obvious sexual edge they try hard with, Brian Duffield the writer seems to attempt comedic tension at times but fails with both.

‘The Babysitter’ is definitely not taking itself too seriously and I get that, but that doesn’t mean I can totally forgive it for having its tongue well and truly shoved in it’s cheek. Immaturity is a word I’d use to describe the tone of this release, there’s not much in here to satisfy comedy or horror fans but I’d imagine fourteen year old lads would be happy.

Looking at the above poster, like a GTA one-sheet or visually inspired by ‘The Guest’, it’s sad to say it doesn’t hold the latter’s synth-horror or skewed drama-comedy bite, it feels more like the underwhelming and juvenile ‘Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse’. Yet with all this negative talk, I in fact found myself enjoying this 2017 film more and more, if enjoy is the right verb to use. I felt the “see you C and bye bye B” sign off is quirky and cute and I liked it. The movie switches into a semblance of ‘Home Alone’ but R rated and I actually grew to like the film as it went on, it is trashy but it’s like a stupid joyride that you know you should jump out of but want to carry on with.

5/10

La La Land (2017)

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Well, not for a long while have I been eagerly anticipating a movie like the release of this musical drama. Add on top the record-breaking Golden Globes haul then you have a very excited chap. For the most part this film delivers, it’s stylish, fun, heartfelt but I don’t agree with all the souped up hype it’s received.

After a minor amount of road-rage where aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz musician Seb (Ryan Gosling) cross paths, they end up bumping into each other again and again which leads to a romance through the year. As they try following their dreams in LA it becomes a harder challenge to keep the love alive.

I have to say that I absolutely adored the first half or so of this film. It harks back to that classic glitz and glamour of Hollywood old with a neat dose of a modern touch thanks to the musical and confident direction from Damien Chazelle. Just from the sweeping opening on a Los Angeles highway to the delicate changes in lighting, the songs and story begin with a bang.

It helps that we get brilliant performances and a clear chemistry between the two main characters but also the style adds a neat note to the song-sheet that is this feature. There’s times that it looks and sounds like a studio set production and you’d expect Fred Astaire to come tap dancing in. The writing by Chazelle, is for the most part a well handled story that lends a two-sided coin to the LA lifestyle but with an obvious landing on dreams to follow and achieve.

As I sat in my seat I found myself hooked and smiling along to a wonderful series of scenes but then annoyingly, there came a specific moment where I even felt myself disengaging and from then on, the writing becomes very generic and almost cliched. It drifts into a romantic plot you’d expect to find in every other manically churned out rom-com. This frustrated me because I was expecting it to keep going with the gleeful whizz of CinemaScope delight but instead…it wains.

It is almost saved as we get a short burst of style near the end showing a quick run of events. So yes I agree it’s a fantastically well made and enchanting film, it deserved 3 perhaps 4 of the Globes it picked up out of 7. This is obviously, as I realised as they were winning, a case of the voters loving films that celebrate America or the US saving the day -(note Argo winning Best Picture)

Song wise, ‘Another of Day of Sun’ is jolly, sun-drenched and a perfect, literally perfect way to start a film of this genre. ‘City of Stars’ is sung well and has a melancholy yet magical sound but I don’t see how that gets the attention when Stone’s ‘Audition’ song is better performed and has better lyrics. Though it’s naff for jazz and a typical Top 40’s track, John Legend’s performance of ‘Start a Fire’ works well in showcasing the path Seb is taking away from his dream.

I’m not a total grouch because I did enjoy the majority of the film, I just don’t feel it should have broke GG records and I hope the Oscars gives some variety because ‘La La Land’ does swerve into a nearly boring not great second half.

7/10

2016 Top Ten

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‘We are Number One.’…and two, three and four, five and so on. It’s belated but I’ve finally found time to notch up my favourite 10 movies from last year. Surprisingly this was easier because there weren’t too many great films released in 2016! You could say most were Rotten! Ahaha…moving quickly on then to number 10….

…but quickly before that, here’s a few films that almost made the grade…The Neon Demon, Deadpool, The Witch, Moana, The Invitation, Captain America: Civil War, Eddie the Eagle, Midnight Special, The Girl with all the Gifts, The Danish Girl, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping then The Little Prince and Hush would have been on the list but didn’t gain theatrical releases so sadly, I didn’t include them.

So, in at ten –

10) GREEN ROOM…AND NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

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Enter the Green Room, a nightmarish small space in a neo-Nazi skinhead filled club. This movie brilliantly delivers on unsettling tension and dark turns as a band are menaced and killed. Full Review. Similarly, Tom Ford’s stylish Nocturnal Animals gives tension to the nth degree, the gritty story-within-a-story standing out as the best thing.

9) THE JUNGLE BOOK

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I don’t dislike the original Walt cartoon from yesteryear, but The Jungle Book isn’t my go to animation from them…so I was pleasantly surprised by this movie which looks incredible, the CGI landscape and animals are epic, Sethi as Mowgli blends into the darkly presented story very well and it zips along nicely as a well modernised tale. You wanna read my review-oo-oo? I know you do-oo-oo. Jungle Book

8) ARRIVAL

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Clever, gorgeous, intellectual, timey-wimey, language and love co-exist but with aliens. The story is always engaging, Adams’ performance is natural and affecting in her story that just happens to feature hovering space crafts and circular lingo. Arrive at my review.

7) ZOOTROPOLIS

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Fun but also incredibly on point about the very real politics of stero-typing and racial prejudice, this fluffy family flick is more in depth and smartly told than you’d think. Don’t be a sloth, quickly click on my review for Zootropolis.

6) 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

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Dropped on us from nowhere, the Cloverfield world is expanded with this shift of genre as we get a claustrophobic thriller centered on relationships, mystery and danger instead of the found footage device. It was such a surprise and a fantastic film to boot. Tension kicks into overdrive, music is used so well and Goodman is a scary monster. Cloverfield

5) KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS

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Laika have done it again by golly! This is such a rich and awesome stop-motion fantasy that goes over some very interesting and cultural textures whilst still featuring the humour and charm you’d expect. I want to see it again to just admire the work put into making this beautiful film. Kubo.

4) VICTORIA

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I am so so…so glad that I got to see this film. It isn’t just the sheer marvelling feature of shooting the entire movie in one-take but the performances are fascinating and believable, the story is engaging and you connect to the world as Victoria becomes involved more and more.

Well….we’ve reached the golden trio, the three musketeers, the tricycle of brilliance from last year. What’s in at number 3 then??

 

3) SING STREET

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Ah, what a charming and musically gorgeous film. The coming of age story is fun in itself but added with 80’s nostalgia, humour and songs, Sing Street becomes a movie to feel happy watching. I re-watched it recently and still found myself adoring every moment.

2) HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE

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Ricky Baker. Ricky Baker. A hero for the ages. This is a gem of a film with bittersweet moments, heartfelt tenderness, sharp comedy, coming of age and bonding adventures, randomness, lush locations and the ever reliable brilliance of Taika Waititi behind it all. Hunt the Wilderpeople down now…it’s so worth it if you haven’t seen it.

It’s here, Bully’s special prize. Iiiiiiin 1 –

 

 

1) THE HATEFUL EIGHT

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It had to be, as a Tarantino fan there was almost no question that this movie would hit the heights but it’d still have to be a good film and gladly it is. Three acts that all soar with incredible cinematic talent both behind and in front of the camera. Morricone on board for the score ensures the sound is perfect. Seeing it in 70mm also helped elevate the special sweeping look of this western blood soaked Quentin extravaganza. Dialogue, violence, humour and details are as crisp as ever and I loved every second. 8

Til next year…maybe…let’s see what 2017 has to give us hey?!

Office Christmas Party (2016)

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Like mostly every other American outrageous comedy, this does nothing to break expectations apart from having tinsel and a Santa costume. A few moments of mild humour break through a overstuffed turkey of a plot but overall it’s a film void of laughter.

At Zenotek, Josh (Jason Bateman) is trying to keep the work staff together over Christmas whilst coming out of a recent divorce. As the jolly holiday nears, CEO Carol (Jennifer Aniston) threatens jobs and closure if her brother, the branch’s manager Clay (T.J. Miller) can’t win a lucrative deal. One desperate option is left and luckily for Clay it falls to throwing a huge office party in the hope of saving the day.

I’ll start by commenting that I’m no bah humbug but this movie could have come any time of the year making no differences, they just hurl the Xmas confetti over the narrative to fit it in hoping to cash in this time of the year. Generally speaking though the plot is messy and tries fitting in an awful lot of characters, backstories, developments, jokes and wrappings up but what we get is a sticky and badly tied together present that you’ll forget about come the new year.

Will Speck and Josh Gordon direct the film like the majority of loud US comedies, there’s no style or difference setting them apart and therefore you get a movie with the usual cliches and tired executions of sequences that do little to stir giggles let alone full belly laughs. It’s not only the direction, within the plot are boring ideas that they stretch out somehow thinking it’s amusing or just pop cultural references that will feel aged very soon.

To its credit, this festive feature has a group of actors who muster up energy and everything else to try and save the movie. There may be a lot of them and that is a weakness but a couple of them perform very well and give the movie a much needed sparkle to sit atop a browning dying tree. There is also some entertainment to be had in watching the madness unfold and marvelling at how quickly the party over spills and gets out of hand.

T. J. Miller is shouty and plays the nutty head honcho to a near annoying extreme but there are times that he softens the role and gives a nice emotion to the man trying to prove himself to a reliably bitchy Jennifer Aniston, working well again in that ‘Horrible Bosses’ cookie cutter character. Kate McKinnon seems to desperately save the movie with a role you wouldn’t blink at if on SNL, though she’s barmy and gets shafted with the most tired comedy tool ever…fart jokes. Jason Bateman is okay but has a dull typical white male problem character to tackle and he adds little to nothing to the growing craziness. Olivia Munn could have had more and gladly gets a slight depth in having reason to exist for the growth of the business and therefore film if not ending in such a predictable manner like the whole movie in fact does.

A few working lights add a muted enjoyable twinkle to the festive season but most of them are duds thanks to failed comedy and usual tired writing leaving you with a totally forgettable movie.

5/10

Keeping Up with the Joneses

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The idea is great and the cast are greater but sadly it falls apart like some botched ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’ mission thanks to a quite tame and laugh free screenplay.

Cul-de-sac parents Jeff (Zach Galifianakis) and Karen Gaffney (Isla Fisher) get more than they bargained for as apparent perfect neighbours Natalie (Gal Gadot) and Tim Jones (Jon Hamm) move in. Karen is suspicious and after some digging, she and her husband find out their next door folks are spies.

Greg Mottola who directed the still fantastically funny ‘Superbad’ displays a good hand at the action style drama blended in with the suburban set-up and though this mix of action and comedy sometimes works, Mottola cannot do much to save the day as the Joneses may have and that’s down to the writing.

Michael LeSieur seems to forget the cleverness of what a cool premise is on his hands and instead pratfalls, sex jokes and shrieking fill that missed gap. It’s not helped along by the fact this movie feels kind of long, which isn’t top stuff considering the zippy attempts at spy like frenzy produced on the screen. Where perhaps another writer or British studio would have gifted this plot some wit and smart humour, this film just feels like most other average American comedies that fit into a box and don’t even sniff of trying to break out of it.

Saying this, I found the office scene of texting instead of speaking mildly amusing, the smouldering tension between Gadot and Fisher as they meet in a mall changing room is written well to show off one half of the Jones’ power play. The car chase with the Gaffney’s aiding the escape does stretch to a near boring point but doses some nice adrenaline into the film. The odd yet out there snake restaurant was another neat touch giving Galifianakis lots of room to do his funny shtick.

Hamm and Gadot are the perfect good looking, tall and mysterious pair. They stare and smoulder with ease but don’t have much in the way of development even if the film thinks they’re giving them rounded personalities. Galifianakis gladly isn’t the Alan role here, he’s less weird and acts a helpful talkative man well. Fisher…well she’s just…impossibly forgetting the lingerie moment, she plays off Zach nicely and portrays some degree of strength in knowing people and has a chance to pull funny faces, scream and move through scenes in a way that’s put her Jacques Lecoq training to good use.

The whole suburbia thing of hum-drum people attempting to step out of their comfort zones to live a little is made no less predictable and less bland here.The story is not great and I didn’t laugh out loud but then I inwardly chuckled on occasions and found enough of the film enjoyable.

5.5/10