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The Boss (2016)
Much better than the IMDb rating suggests
The current rating of 5.3 is much too low for this film. In the reviews there seem to be many 1 out of 10 detractors which makes me wonder 1/. did we watch the same film? 2/. did those reviewers not understand the film?, 3/. did they understand the film but not like the message?, or 4/. do they just not approve of films starring normal sized women?
The Boss is a parable about the value of money vs. the value of friendship. Michelle Darnell (played by Melissa McCarthy) never had any friends or family as a child, so by tooth and claw she fought her way to material wealth and (the illusion of) prestige through some preposterous, exploitative, pyramid marketing type scam, hurting a lot of people along the way. For her, money is a type of armour that bestows respect, comfort and security, which she needs, because no one's going to love her any time soon.
After a short white collar crime jail sentence she gets out to discover that she no longer has any armour. She doesn't even have a blanket, because she doesn't have any friends. But in desperation she appeals to her long suffering and under-valued single mom former assistant, Claire (Kristen Bell), who reluctantly takes her in because she knows herself what it means to be down on your luck with nowhere to turn.
Michelle may no longer have any money, but she has a more valuable asset - chutzpah - something that can never be taken away - and the steely determination that comes from having to fend for yourself when you're just a young child.
Discovering Claire's talent at making comfort food brownies, Michelle decides to muscle in on the girl-scout cookie operation headed by the movie's "bitch" Helen (played brilliantly by Annie Mumolo). Of course she prevails (because this is a Hollywood movie), but along the way she realises that she doesn't care about the money after all - what she truly values is the friendship of Claire and her daughter, and Claire's adorably dorky beau, Mike (played by Tyler Labine). She finally finds her family when she least expected it. So the 1 out of 10 haters should suck it, because they're wrong - this is a lovely movie.
ER: A Walk in the Woods (2001)
One of the worst ever episodes
ER is my all time favourite TV show, but this episode was TERRIBLE. I was just about squirming in my seat with embarrassment at the horrible mismanagement - poor direction, dreary story, and most of all, awful music. But if the artistic intent was to provoke the audience into committing suicide to make it stop then they scored 10 out of 10.
The pre-title montage of couples in bed was grotesque. The political commentary was ham-fisted. The "angelic" background music made me want to scream, as did the ordination ceremony music.
In fairness, even the best talents don't get everything right every time - but it seemed like in this episode they got nothing right all the time.
Steve Jobs (2015)
So on-the-nose that my face is now flat!
Rossini said of Wagner's music that there were "lovely moments, but awful quarters of an hour". Steve Jobs was similar, except it didn't have any lovely moments.
Oh for Pete's sake how did this film come into existence? And then be nominated for, and WIN!!! multiple awards. It was rubbish.
Aaron Sorkin's script, constructed from his standard walk-and-talks and stand-still-and-talks, was laughable. Danny Boyle's attempts to tart it up with dutch angles, flash cuts and non-diegetic elements were pitiful. The hoped-for similarity to Birdman was just tragic.
Besides that, it was obviously one of those incestuously chummy films where the above-the-line luvvies had fun while the paying audience of commoners had NONE.
The Hateful Eight (2015)
My attempt at an even handed review
I have had mixed feelings about Tarantino and his films since the outset. I don't like his his world-view (sadists are cool, victims are contemptible) and think he's a one-trick-pony whose every film relies on a single mechanism (manipulating the audience into applauding cruel violence). But, that said, I can hardly deny the fact that Tarantino was a seminal voice of late 20th century cinema, and that some of the fan-boy adulation is warranted.
Regarding Tarantino as a persona, for me the elephant in the room is how sad it is that an obviously gay man is not brave enough (in 2016!) to come out, when he would be celebrated with hysterical adulation were he to do so. Instead he makes film after film that manage to be camp as a row of tents yet grotesquely homophobic at the same time.
On to the film. The old Hollywood saw says that "a movie with a message is like a gift with the price tag still on". Well, The Hateful Eight is like a vulgar nouveau riche snob swanning into a poor relative's humble home, bestowing a gift far too expensive to be reciprocated, then going on and on about exactly how much it cost.
We all got the message - America's history of slavery and its relationship to the civil war has cast long shadows that affect black/white relations in the US to this day. The symbolism could hardly be more on-the-nose. All 4 of the horses of the stagecoach for Caucasians were black, but SLJ had a black horse and a white horse working together. And there was a chess board with black and white pieces, but only white men ever sat in the two chairs. And the single Mexican character said people had tried to teach him the rules but they never stuck, nevertheless he wouldn't mind watching from the sidelines etc. etc.
Regarding the overuse of the n word: kudos to Jennifer Lawrence for turning down the role of Daisy. I can sort of visualise that meeting - she took one look at Daisy's first line, "Howdy n****r", and said "Um, what are the shoot dates? Oh no, the thing is, I might have a headache on those days, but thanks for considering me".
Anyway, the film overall was a fairly entertaining, modestly clever, sensationalist genre film, and usually I like those. If it had been an hour shorter, and shot by some scrappy teenagers on a budget of $90k (or even $350k as an upper estimate) like Raimi's The Evil Dead, I would be praising The Hateful Eight to the skies. But it wasn't made under those circumstances - it was made on a budget of $44 million by a veteran Hollywood darling director with every resource imaginable at his disposal.
What annoyed me most was the preposterous decision to shoot what was effectively a stage play on 65mm film. That's like hiring a supertechnocrane to film a pack shot. There weren't even that many wide shots - whole 15 minute sections of the film were pretty much just MCU singles and 2 shots filmed in studio.
I can only imagine that it was a deliberate industry in-joke that Tarantino decided to make a movie that was almost completely "tell, don't show". The script went:
Actor: You don't know about (character X)? Well I'll tell you about (character X).
Another actor: Hey, don't I know you? You're (character Y). Didn't you (blah blah blah) at (blah)?
In fact it was nearly all verbal exposition, right the way through to the end of the film.
Regarding the acting. Well, they're all great actors, so I can only take it that they were delivering their performances as per Tarantino's direction. But the absurd macho posturing by everyone involved (including Jennifer Jason Leigh) ended up looking like a bunch of drag queens throwing shade in a vogue femme dramatics battle.
To paradoxically counter that, the most egregious homophobia in this one was SLJ's goading of Bruce Dern's character with the anecdote (amazingly, some back-story actually shown on screen, presumably to allow Tarantino to get in some "shocking" full frontal male nudity) about forcing his son to suck his dick, as if a white man having to suck a black man's cock were the *most* humiliating and shameful thing that any human being has ever had to do. Of course we understand that this is how SLJ's character hoped Bruce Dern's character would consider the scenario, but I don't fully buy it - it seemed more to me like the same projection of Tarantino's own internal homophobia that he has trotted out in pretty much every one of his films so far as a sort of public therapy session on a transparent throwaway account.
I can imagine Tarantino sitting down thinking: OK, I've got grind-house, I've got spaghetti western, I've got blaxploitation. But something's missing I know, let's throw in a chronology shift, a bit of voice-over (uncredited of course, in my new "manly" voice that I can pull off for a few seconds at a time), and see something we've already seen, but from a different angle. Ah god, there are no car boots available... oh, I know, let's have that guy Charly hide in the coal bunker so I can get a low angle shot of someone opening the door from the outside. I've got two more films to do to get to 10 which seems like an iconic number - I guess I can stretch these elements out until then - if it worked once, repeat it, that's what I always say (and do).
Overall The Hateful Eight was not bad - acceptably entertaining in fact - but it was certainly not good, and definitely not worthy of its current 8.1 stars. I'm giving it 5 out of 10 because it was just OK and nothing more or less.
Ricki and the Flash (2015)
Good lord, that was one lazy-ass piece of filmmaking.
I'm trying to comprehend how such a milquetoast excuse for a theatrical release film came into existence. I imagine there was some type of meeting that went like this.
Exec: The Meryl wants to do a role where she plays rock guitar, and Mamie is only allowed to be in A-LIST MOVIES WITH A-LIST PEOPLE. Round up whatever Oscar winners you can find who need a quick couple of million.
... A bit later
Exec: Diablo, HIIIII! Write something.
Diablo Cody: Um, like what?
Exec: Oh, it doesn't matter. Just string together English words that follow each other. Oh, oh, I know. Make it about a mother daughter relationship because then it will be a bit like Postcards from the Edge - but now we have real life mother and daughter actors available. And make Mamie's hair be all messy at the beginning, because we think she can manage to act that.
Jonathan Demme: What do you want me to do?
Exec: Well, maybe tell someone to turn on the camera at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day shout CUT - do whatever you like in between.
OK, so this wasn't the most egregious example I can think of where a movie was made apparently as a paid vacation for the madly-remunerated ATLs while the audience, spending their own hard earned money had zero amount of fun (A Good Year, The American, Last Vegas etc.), but it's up there in the same league.
Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
One of the best comedies I have seen for years and years
Step aside "The Room"! There's a new King of unintentionally laughable patheticness in town, and its name is "Exodus: Gods and Kings".
I watched this with my buddy on our weekly Movie Night, and we almost didn't stop laughing from first frame to last - I was highly entertained, in a MST3K type of way.
Jesus Christ - how was this movie made by the same organism that (purportedly) directed Alien and Blade Runner? I'm seriously starting to doubt whether Ridley Scott did actually direct those movies - maybe the DOP, camera operator and script supervisor huddled up and colluded to figure something out (as often happens).
Luckily we decided not to watch it as a drinking game, because otherwise I would now be dead from alcohol poisoning. But had we done so, the times we would have been obliged to down a shot would be:
1/. Spot the crazily mis-proportioned CGI birds, the size of Pterodactyls.
2/. Flapping flags
3/. No idea what's going on with the chronology - day to night to dawn to crepuscule - who can tell what might happen from one shot to the next?
4/. Where is Sigourney Weaver? I think I saw her for three seconds perhaps.
5/. All white lead role actors, all black slaves - hmmm.
6/. Suddenly everything goes blue, with tiny bits of orange flames.
7/. Occasionally contrived lens flares
8/. Anachronistic dialogue - who am I kidding - all of the dialogue was anachronistic
9/. Accents - WTF!
10/. CGI flyover shots with millions of fake extras.
Oh, god, I won't itemise any more because otherwise this review will turn into a Tolstoy novel.
But seriously, I do feel a bit aggrieved about the casting. OK Ben Kingsley is Indian, so that's alright. But Ridley Scott said in the press that he couldn't cast actors of middle eastern/north African heritage because he wouldn't be able to get the funding. Well he SHOULD HAVE PUT HIS FOOT DOWN! It makes it sound like there aren't any middle eastern world class actors.
I have to watch a lot of movies for my job, but this movie, and The Counsellor are possibly two of the worst movies I have ever seen in my life (Australia by Baz Luhrman is the worst).
Not a good job Ridley Scott!
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon did a very good job
...and so did Jason Blum, Ryan Murphy and all of the cast, crew and production team. This was quite a modest endeavour, but it was executed with style and panache, and IMHO it provided better value for money entertainment than blockbuster projects many times its budget. The casting was excellent - cultish, classy and interesting - and it seemed that the acting department committed to the film 100%. I have to watch a lot of films for my job and consequently I am quite selective about bestowing praise, but there have only been two films I have admired so far in 2014 and they are both Jason Blum productions for whatever that's worth (this one and The Purge: Anarchy).
Kylie is a grumpy stupid bitch
7.2?!! Are you KIDDING me? I watch a lot of low budget horror films, but I can't remember the last time I saw one so egregiously misjudged. Did no one on the entire production ever stop to consider how the audience might perceive the purported heroine, Kylie? What a horrible bitch. Aren't we supposed to be rooting for the final girl? In this case I found my teeth itching to see her come to a horrifying sticky end at the hands of whoever/whatever because she was unbearable. It takes weeks and weeks to shoot a movie, and weeks and weeks to act a role. Didn't anyone during all that time manage to conceptualise the finished result? This film is absolutely pathetic and an embarrassment to NZ filmmakers, who are usually quite good.
Dario Argento would be rolling in his grave, umm, if he were dead.
Yet another exercise in all-style-no-substance film-studies-friendly/paying-audience-hostile giallo "homage" from Forzani and Cattet. Oh for Pete's sake - come on guys! Amer was one thing, quite interesting at the time, but the value of that film has somehow been retroactively diminished by the release of its identikit successor. Replicating the surface details of the giallo style is easy peasy - anyone can do it - it's the Spaghetti Bolognese of filmmaking. But the point of the original gialli classics was that they were proper functioning movies that would have worked as exciting thrillers even without the stylistic flash. Neither Amer, nor TSCOYBT, have proper plots, and for me, failure to provide an adequate narrative element is an abdication of the filmmaker's primary responsibility.
I hope, for Forzani and Cattet's sake, that they are not currently working on another EU-cash-lake-for-art-house-piffle funded giallo homage, because they will be risking losing their credibility forever after, which would be a shame, because I get the impression that they are extremely talented and visionary filmmakers.
The Counselor (2013)
Pompous, bloated dullfest
This film seemed aggressively boring and pretentious, treating the audience as an enemy to be conquered and punished with cruelly contrived tedium.
I wish someone would enact a law to protect former legendary directors (and novelists in this case) from themselves. There were whole fifteen minute sections of this film that contained no plot information whatsoever that could easily have been cut out completely. The six minute pre-title sex scene managed to be boring, vulgar, laughable and embarrassing all at the same time. Who allowed Scott and McCarthy to shoot themselves in the foot so spectacularly in the *opening scene* of their film?
The Counselor reminded me of another alleged "thriller" by a legendary director who shat on his own legacy in his swansong film - Eyes Wide Shut by Stanley Kubrick. As with that film, I felt like The Counselor had stolen part of my life, and sucked energy out of me, like an evil alien entity.
I managed to get through the first half an hour of the film at regular projection speed before speeding playback up by 50% - but it was still plodding and dreary even then.
Hollywood studios need to start hiring consultants drawn from the general public, who have no fear of career destruction, to tell A list filmmakers the truth about their poor decisions. Someone needs to say "No, James Cameron, don't use Papyrus font to subtitle Na'vi dialogue", "No Steven Spielberg, don't irrevocably ruin your legacy by making one after another worthy-but-dull history lesson films", "No, Ridley Scott, don't use recorder toots as the ignition mechanism of alien spaceships". Who would have thought that out of the whole bunch, it would be George Lucas who bowed out the most graciously and intelligently to leave his magical creations to be shepherded by more contemporary and capable hands?
Alien and Blade Runner are two of my favorite films, and IMHO, two of the greatest films ever made. It's really hard to fathom how they could have been directed by the same person who made such stinkers as A Good Year, Robin Hood, Prometheus and now The Counselor. Bad show Ridley Scott!