Mini-Reviews: Office Christmas Party, Nocturnal Animals, and La La Land

Hey everybody!

Welcome to another edition of Mini-Reviews. This time, it’s more of a mixed than it was last time. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*

 

Office Christmas Party

Directors: Josh Gordon and Will Speck

Writers: Justin Malen, Laura Solon, and Dan Mazer

Cast: Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon, Courtney B. Vance, Rob Corddry, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Sam Richardson, Karan Soni, Jamie Chung, Abbey Lee, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and Jillian Bell.

Synopsis: When his uptight CEO sister threatens to shut down his branch, the branch manager throws an epic Christmas party in order to land a big client and save the day, but the party gets way out of the hand…

 

Tis the season for Christmas films, and what better film than an office Christmas party movie where things go wrong, right? While Office Christmas Party does have some saving moment scattered throughout, the film falls flat on a lot of areas, which is a shame considering the pretty good cast the film fills out.

Office Christmas Party follows a tech company, Zenotech, that is threaten to be shut down by the company CEO Carol (Aniston). However, her brother Clay (Miller), who happens to have had the branch inherited to him by his father, intends to keeping the branch alive at any means. Along with his CTO Josh (Bateman) and programmer Tracy (Munn), Clay thinks they can save the branch by signing a big wig in Walter Davis (B. Vance). Carol seeing it as impossible gives them two days to get it done. Seeing their hopes slips, they decide to throw a massive office Christmas party to impressive him, get the deal and save the branch. Of course, things get out of hand.

The idea of an office Christmas party going crazy isn’t all the exciting, but you would think with a great cast like this, they would be able to conjure something worthwhile and better than average. Unfortunately, the film barely does that and fails to really connect to most of the core characters.

T.J. Miller plays pretty much the same character he’s done before, while Jason Bateman plays the straight-laced character and Kate McKinnon, who plays the head of HR, is a wacky and out-there character that has one big moment to shine. Jennifer Aniston playing the cut-throat CEO seems to a perfect fit for her. The rest of the cast have their moments to shine, but when the film takes time to focus on the main three characters in their respected stories, it fails to get us invested in them.

Bateman’s character goes through a divorce at the beginning of the film, but we don’t really see him affected by it or see his ex-wife. Olivia Munn’s character has her own arc that only serves the plot when it needs to, and there’s an interesting plot point with Jillian Bell that comes out of left field, but doesn’t really go anywhere. Also, seeing Courtney B. Vance break loose is a sight to see.

All in all, Office Christmas Party does have some great laughs scattered throughout, but the film doesn’t really bring anything new to the table.

Office Christmas Party

3 out of 5

office_christmas_party

 

 

 

Nocturnal Animals

Director: Tom Ford

Writer: Tom Ford

Cast: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Armie Hammer, Karl Glusman, Michael Sheen, and Laura Linney

Synopsis: An art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale.

 

Based on the novel by Austin Wright and directed by former designer Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals follows Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is an art dealer, who is not happy with her life, suddenly gets a package from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). The package contains a novel he wrote called Nocturnal Animals, which he dedicated to her – and something he once called her. Susan begins to read the book, seeing the lead character of Tony, as Edward, and follows a family driving through middle of nowhere Texas that end up getting attacked by three individuals lead by Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Tony manages to get away as his wife and daughter (played by Isla Fisher and Ellie Bamber) are kidnapped and gets help from Officer Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon).

During all this, Susan also starts getting flashbacks of former her life with Edward as her current husband (Armie Hammer) is away on business. There we see how her marriage failed, and we get enthralled in a haunting, tense thriller drama from beginning to end.

It’s not hard to see the parallels between the real-life story of Susan and Edward’s novel, and flows together rather nicely once everything picks up. However, there are some things that get lost in the shuffle. Even though the film is about Amy Adams’ Susan and Edward’s novel, it would have been nice to see more of Armie Hammer’s character fleshed out instead of just being Susan’s husband – they only shared about three scenes together. There is another character that random pops up and is never mentioned ever again, but for the sake of keeping my non-spoiler tag I won’t mention it here.

Despite some of the flaws, Nocturnal Animals is held together by the cast and the gripping novel plotline. Amy Adams is always reliable, and seeing her as this somewhat broken character is something she handles very well. Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance is mostly that of Tony, but watching Tony’s story is arguably the best part of the film. That being said, that also works as a bit of a negative. The fact that the story within a story works more and is more interesting than the “real” story is a bit of a shame, but that could be just me. Going back to the cast, Michael Shannon also continues his string of reliable and great characters with Andes, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson fines a great line of sadistic redneck and playing dumb.

All in all, Nocturnal Animals has all the elements to keep the film entertaining and keep you invested, but most of it relies on the story within the story. It’s not a bad thing overall, but when it parallels to Susan’s story it takes you out just a bit.

Nocturnal Animals

4 out of 5

nocturnal_animals_ver5

 

 

La La Land

Director: Damien Chazelle

Writer: Damien Chazelle

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, Callie Hernandez, Jessica Rothe, Sonoya Mizuno, Finn Wittrock, and J.K. Simmons

Synopsis: A jazz pianist falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.

 

Damien Chazelle made waves with his last feature film, Whiplash, so people were really looking forward to what he had in store with La La Land. Turns out, it was another great story with great leads, an amazing score, awesome set-pieces and more importantly, a very old timey Hollywood feel.

The film follows Mia (Emma Stone), a struggling actress trying to keep her head above water, and works as a barista on the Warner Bros. studio backlot. She keeps meeting Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist with dreams of his own: he wants to open his own club. The two eventually end up together and what follows is their relationship as it goes through ups and downs in Hollywood.

La La Land takes a bit to find its tempo – I’m not even sorry for the bad music pun – but once it does, the film instantly becomes a whole new animal. The film does fall into musical territory, just so you know, but the soundtrack and music by Justin Hurwitz works so well that you’ll be nodding your head and trying to sing along with the music. You combine that with the great looking set-designs and you’ll fully embrace the vivid colorful world La La Land brings to the table.

It also helps that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are – once again – great as the leads. The two obviously have great chemistry together (this is the third film together), and their leads are likeable dreamers that fall for each other in a nontraditional way, which was nice to see, and seeing their relationship smoothly transition is what makes us emotionally invested in their story from beginning to end. Also, each of them have their own story arcs that don’t need the other to hang get involved in any real way. Mia struggles with her acting on her own, and Sebastian needs to decide on he wants to move forward with his passion. Both storylines feel real, and once we see the resolution it makes sense why they would choose what they do.

All in all, La La Land is a film that feels like an old timey Hollywood film that pays huge homage to the musicals of old, but also enough to set itself apart and pave its own way. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling carry the film from beginning to end, but it’s the music with the sets – or in many cases, real-life locations – and cinematography that makes the film work on multiple levels. Do yourself a favor and go watch La La Land as soon as you can.

La La Land

4.5 out of 5

la_la_land_ver3

Mini-Reviews: Ben-Hur, War Dogs, Hell or High Water, & Sully

Hey everybody!

Welcome to the second edition of Mini-Reviews. This time, it’s more of a mixed than it was last time. So let’s get to it, shall we?

 

*As always, these will be spoiler free reviews*

 

Hell or High Water

Director: David Mackenzie

Writer: Taylor Sheridan

Cast: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, and Gil Birmingham

Synopsis: A divorced dad and his ex-con brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas.

 

Hell or High Water may start off as a typical bank robbers vs. the law film, but underneath all that is much more. Brothers Toby (Pine) and Tanner (Foster) Howard start a string of bank robbers that are actually to save their mother’s ranch in the desolated West Texas for a bigger reason we don’t find out until the final act. On their trail is a on the verge of retiring Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Bridges) and his partner Alberto Parker (Birmingham). As the Rangers get closer, the risk for Toby and Tanner gets bigger and it leads to an explosive finale.

The film is written by Sicario writer Taylor Sheridan, which you can immediately tell once the film gets going. The themes of the film are nicely layered and scattered throughout, which may seem off or forced to many, but once you look at film as a whole, you’ll appreciate the nuances.

However, it’s the cast that really makes this film fantastic. Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges are reliable as ever with Bridges seemingly enjoying his more livelier role to date, while Ben Foster once again showing he’s a force that shouldn’t be forgotten.

All in all, Hell or High Water is a fantastic film with a great cast and story. The film is slow ride, but so worth it for the final outcomes that fits in today’s world.

Hell or High Water

4.5 out of 5

hell_or_high_water

 

 

War Dogs

Director: Todd Phillips

Writers: Todd Phillips, Stephen Chin and Jason Smilovic

Cast: Miler Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas, Kevin Pollak and Bradley Cooper

Synopsis: Based on the true story of two young men, David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli, who won a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to arm America’s allies in Afghanistan.

 

Todd Phillips has come a long way from The Hangover. War Dogs is a much more mature film for him that tackles a huge subject of the second Iraq War, but doesn’t do so in a way that says “war is bad,” but takes a conversational, or to some the real reason, “war is an economy.” The film even stars with a voiceover by Teller’s David Packouz telling us how much it costs to gear and arm every soldier in our military.

The film follows David, an unhappy massage therapist working in Miami in 2005, who reunites with his old junior high best friend, Efraim Diveroli (Hill). Unlike David, Efraim is living a rather successful life as an arms dealer who picks up government contracts. Efraim needing help, and David with a baby on the way with his wife Iz (de Armas), the two decided to grow their own business and take on government contracts. However, their partnership and friendship are tested as the money gets bigger.

I will say the film was better than I thought it would be, and it helped that Jonah Hill and Miles Teller were on their A-game. Hill almost steals the film with his sleazy performance as Efraim. While Brady Cooper pops in and out through the film after being introduced around the middle of the film. Although the film doesn’t really bring too much new to the table, you can pretty much tell how this film will turn out by the end. It’s not a bad thing – considering it’s based on a true story – and while the chemistry between Teller and Hill seems spot-on, the movie does go into a lull after a while.

All in all, War Dogs is much more of a drama than comedy, but the film has plenty of laughs to balance out the seriousness and crazy reality of the film.

War Dogs

3.5 out of 5

war_dogs_ver2

 

 

Ben-Hur

Director: Timur Bekmambetov

Writers: John Ridley & Keith R. Clarke

Cast: Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Nazanin Boniadi, Rodrigo Santoro, Pilou Asbaek, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Moises Arias, Ayelet Zurer, and Morgan Freeman

Synopsis: Judah Ben-Hur, a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother, an officer in the Roman army, returns to his homeland after years at sea to seek revenge, but finds redemption.

 

I have no connection the old Ben-Hur films or novel since I never saw them or read it. I do know the cultural and film significance the film the property has had, so I was always going to go off what this new iteration bought to the table. I wasn’t really looking forward to the film too much since the trailers weren’t that great, but I gave it a shot and you know what? It wasn’t a complete waste of time.

Ben-Hur follows Judah Ben-Hur (Huston), a prince in Jerusalem, who lives his family including his adopted brother Messala (Kebbell) who knows his place amongst the family is at the very bottom. To find his own place in the world, Messala leaves and joins the Roman army, and after years have passed returns home as a successful soldier. Messala goes to Judah and pleads with him to name anyone that would think about attacking Pontius Pilate (Asbaek) when he passes through Jerusalem. Judah, not wanting to get dragged into anything, tells him he thinks Pilate will be safe. Of course, something happens and Messala seeing no other choice and viewing this as a betray sends Judah to be a slave.

However, when Judah’s ship does down, Judah finds land and is employed by a wealthy African named Ilderim (Freeman) to help him and become his chariot rider for a big race coming soon. Of course, the chariot race will have Messala in it. Along the whole way, Judah has small run ins with Jesus (Santoro).

One of the good things the film does is make the relationship between Judah and Massala a big part before we mostly follow Judah for the rest of the film. We see the love they have for each other, but you can see Messala is conflicted with his position in the family, and knows Judah will always first in the family’s eyes. It also helps that Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell have descent chemistry together, and Kebbell has enough acting chops to not make Messala a villain, but enough to make us not root for him in some way.

The rest of the cast does okay with what they given. Freeman doesn’t show up until the final third of the film, and does his typical reliable Freeman performance. Nazanin Boniadi plays Esther, Judah’s wife who tries to play Judah’s moral compass, and Rodrigo Santoro’s Jesus is nicely scattered through the film.

The film does bring up some political issues into the film, and thankfully aren’t shoehorned in. However, when Judah gets free from the ship, that message is gone and focuses on Judah’s journey of revenge, and from there the performances do take a bit of a dip, but thankfully come back near the end of the film.

All in all, Ben-Hur isn’t that bad of the film. It’s not perfect, and I’m sure most people will say it’s not like the other iterations, but something tells me that’s okay for this one. Also, the much advertised chariot race was a descent enough action set-piece.

Ben-Hur

3 out of 5

ben_hur_ver2

 

 

Sully

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writer: Todd Komarnicki

Cast: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Mike O’Malley, and Laura Linney.

Synopsis: The story of Chesley Sullenberger, who became a hero after gliding his plane along the water in the Hudson River, saving all of the airplane flights 155 crew and passengers.

 

I barely remember the actual event of “The Miracle on the Hudson” on the news, but I never actually knew, many most of us too, what happened afterwards. So who better to tell that story on screen than Clint Eastwood and everyone’s favorite actor Tom Hanks. Hanks is, of course, not untested playing real people as he already did it in Captain Phillips and Saving Mr. Banks. But there is something a little different about playing the man that saved 155 people in a forced water landing.

Sully follows ‘Sully’ (Hanks) as he deals with the aftermath of landing on the Hudson River. Sully and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles have to deal with an investigation by the FAA and the insurance company. Despite Sully pulling off the impossible and viewed as a hero by many, he’s viewed as reckless to the investigators for putting everyone and the plane in danger since the simulations all show he could have made it back to the airport or make it to another one.

For what it’s worth, Sully is a very engaging film that keeps you hooked from beginning to end. The plane sequence is tense to watch, and will probably make you a little afraid of flying now, and it’s interesting to see it play out in multiple ways. We see the sequence in two different ways that are completely different, but they are a thrill to watch in their own ways. I will say the film does lack a certain something that keeps the film from being a more powerful film, not saying the film isn’t powerful, but for me there was something missing.

Of course, the main draw here is Tom Hanks. Hanks is – once again – reliable in every way possible and carries the film on his shoulders. I wouldn’t say it’s his best performance, but you believe him as this conflicted man that probably risked the lives on everyone onboard. Aaron Eckhart as Jeff Skiles is pretty good here too and might be a performance some will forget. Mike O’Malley plays Charles Porter, the lead investigator in the case against Sully. O’Malley is a surprise choice for the role, considering he’s known mostly for his comedic performance, but has put on some dramatic roles as of late and nails the performance here. Laura Linney feels almost wasted here as Sully’s wife Lorraine, as her whole performance is talking on the phone to Sully, but does have one moment near the end of the film that makes it work.

All in all, Sully isn’t that bad of a film. It’s not Eastwood’s or Hanks’ best film, but it’s not their worst.  The film is engaging and tense throughout to keep you invested more than you think, and it shines a light on a hero. The CGI plane moments do take you out of the film a bit, but Eastwood hasn’t really worked with too much CGI before, so we can probably let it pass.

Sully

3.5 out of 5

sully

‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows’ Review

teenage_mutant_ninja_turtles_out_of_the_shadows_ver10

Director: Dave Green

Writers: Josh Applebaum & Andre Nemec

Cast: Pete Ploszek, Noel Fisher, Alan Ritchson, Jeremy Howard, Megan Fox, Stephen Amell, Will Arnett, Laura Linney, Tyler Perry, Brian Tee, Sheamus, Gary Anthony Williams, Brittany Ishibashi, and Brad Garrett

Synopsis: As Shredder joins forces with mad scientist Baxter Stockman and henchmen Bebop and Rocksteady to take over the world, the Turtles must confront an even greater nemesis: the notorious Krang.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

I’m going to be honest with you guys; I did not like the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that came out in 2014. So my excitement for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows was very low to nothing at all. However, being a Turtles fan, I sucked it up and went, and while I did enjoy myself more this time around, saying that this film was better than the first isn’t really saying much since the first film wasn’t that great overall. Not only that, and this is something I just want to get out of the way, the film also felt like a reboot at times with sequel elements. There is obviously a new Shredder actor and the film treats the new actor in Brian Tee was the same actor from the first film, which was not the case. There are other things, but I won’t mention them here. That might be nitpicky to some, but it’s something that needs to be bought up.

Out of the Shadows follows our four brothers Leonardo (Ploszek), Michelangelo (Fisher), Raphael (Ritchson), and Donatello (Howard) as they continue to protect New York from threats from the shadows. However, their old enemy Shredder (Tee), who is about to go to a maximum security prison, is freed from the Foot Clan and scientists Baxter Stockman (Perry). Shredder is not alone this time, as he hires two hired muscles in Bebop (Williams) and Rocksteady (Sheamus) to help him out with the Turtles, by transforming them into wild animals, as he plans to help the alien Krang (voiced by Garrett) to conquer the world.

teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-out-of-the-shadows

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows has a pretty simple story structure: heroes trying to stop the bad guys. Which is fine considering this new franchise is more geared and targeted for kids. That’s not saying it’s a bad thing, some of the humor will bring a smirk to your face or make you giggle, but overall just keep that in mind. Actually, something I noticed, the action is toned down a lot from the last film. Sure there are big action sequences, but nothing like the avalanche sequence – one of the better sequences from the last film – but they’re a little on the light side this time around.

To add more, the final act feels almost like a beat-for-beat repeat of the last final act. The final fight is over-filled with CGI and almost zero weapon combat. That’s right, the turtles barely use their weapons throughout the whole film, and that’s something I noticed after walking out of the theater. It’s pretty disappointing, but I’m holding anything against the film, but come on! People want to see the Turtles use their weapons in a fight. Not only that, some things happen way too conveniently more than once, and it’s a bit heavy handed at times, which takes the enjoyment out just a tad.

MV5BMTk5NDY4NDg3NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODc4MTk5ODE@._V1__SX1214_SY531_

However, the one thing I will say is better this time around is the dynamic between the Turtles. We see the toll it takes on them and how they feel about having to always be hidden from the world. They want to be accepted, but they know they can never be with the way they look. No matter how many times they defend and save the city, they city and the people of New York will never know who really saves them. That being said, we get more Turtle screen time than the last time, which is where the focus should be. The other part that makes his better is the motion capture performances by the actors and the fact that they bring their own motives and physicality to the roles.

With that said, the humans take a backseat and play more of the supporting roles. I was never a fan of Megan Fox as April O’Neil, and I still don’t buy it. Will Arnett returns as former cameraman, not famous public figure, Vernon Fenwick and is as funny as ever. New member to the Turtle crew is Casey Jones, played by Stephen Amell, who really does own the role, but doesn’t have enough to do. Tyler Perry’s Baxter Stockman is socially awkward and a bit weird, which was surprisingly enjoyable to watch. Laura Linney is surprisingly, and shamefully, wasted as her high ranking chief Rebecca Vincent that doesn’t really do anything really.

MV5BNDYyODcyMzE0Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTc4MTk5ODE@._V1__SX1214_SY531_

When it comes to the villains, they are okay to disappointing. Brian Tee plays Shredder, doesn’t do anything worthwhile, at all. He gets a cool outfit, but that’s it. Brittany Ishibashi plays Karai, but is never referred by name and literally does nothing other than stand in the back or next to Shredder. Gary Anthony Williams and WWE superstar Sheamus who play Bebop and Rocksteady look like they were having a ton of fun playing goofballs before and after they get mutated. As for Krang, his character appears near the beginning of the film and literally disappears until the final ten minutes of the film. The character is pretty wasted here and seemed like they just introduced him for the sake of having another famous and fan-favorite villain

All in all, if you can get past the fact that the film is geared more toward a younger crowd then Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows can be for you. It does have its good moments, and remember this is coming from a guy that wasn’t really excited for this, but there are things that build up that make it a flawed film. One of them being that it thinks you didn’t watch the last film, so you won’t notice the casting changes.

MV5BNDY4MDg3MDkxNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDc4MTk5ODE@._V1__SX1214_SY531_

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

3.5 out of 5