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

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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

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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

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‘Deadpool’ Review

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Director: Tim Miller

Writers: Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Ed Skrein, Morena Baccarin, Gina Carano, T.J. Miller, Brianna Hildebrand, Karan Soni, Jed Rees, and Leslie Uggams

Synopsis: A former Special Forces operative turned mercenary is subjected to a rouge experiment that leaves him with accelerated healing powers, adopting the alter ego Deadpool.

 

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

*Reviewer Note 2: There are post-credit scenes*

 

It’s been a long time, but fans have finally gotten their Deadpool movie, and it doesn’t suck! After the disaster of trying to bring the character to life in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and after the “leaked” test footage that took the internet by storm, 20th Century Fox listened to the fans and decided to give the Merc with the Mouth a chance. Not only that they gave the film the Rated-R rating the film really needed for the character. Finally, we see the end result and its one that can possibly make every Deadpool fan happy. Cue the review.

Deadpool has an interesting set up in the first act. It acts as an origin story, for those unfamiliar with the character – which is probably a lot of people – and a “love story” between Wade Wilson (Reynolds) and Vanessa (Baccarin). However, the origin and love story are told in a flashback form during the heavily promoted expressway action sequences. It’s done fairly well and in a true Deadpool, and even comic book, way. The first time Wade meets Vanessa is at his favorite bar that is run by his best friend Weasel (Miiler). The two start an immediate relationship, but it comes crashing down when Wade finds out he has a serve case of cancer. This leads to an encounter with a mystery man (Rees) who promises him he can not only cure his cancer, but make him a superhero. Wade eventually goes and encounters Ajax (Skrein) and his right hand woman Angel Dust (Carano), who tell Wade they aren’t just curing him, they are making him a super slave and are putting him through a rigorous experiment

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Of course, something goes wrong in the lab and with the experiment and leaves Wade disfigured. Soon after, Wade promises a mission of revenge to find Ajax in hopes that Ajax will fix his disfigurement so he can go back to Vanessa and live their lives in peace. What follows is an action-packed, one-liner dropping comedy antics.

Now, Deadpool definitely won’t be for everyone. It’s brash, over-the-top, some will find it offensive, and with that the humor is something you either go with or just won’t find funny. However, there is no denying that Deadpool is a ton of fun to sit through and watch. Of course, that doesn’t mean its perfect – no film is. Despite the long wait, there are some things that just don’t click in the film, and one of them is something that drives Wade/Deadpool throughout the film: the love story. There’s nothing wrong with Reynolds and Baccarin’s chemistry and most of it is great, but the love story is a bit thin and won’t be the thing you’re talking about walking out.

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The other underdeveloped and weak point is the villain. Ed Skrein fares better here than he did in The Transporter Refueled, but his character is only okay and doesn’t really do anything to stick out too much. Same can be said for Gina Carano’s Angel Dust, although she does have a highlight moment near the end of the film, but the character doesn’t do much other than stand next to Ajax and look menacing.

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The other supporting cast do well with what they have. Going back to Morena Baccarin, she plays the part well and does the best she can with what she’s given. Leslie Uggams, who plays Blind Al, Deadpool’s roommate is pretty great and her scenes with Wade/Deadpool are damn hilarious and is involved in one of the funniest moments of the film. Briana Hildebrand’s Negasonic Teenage Warhead is pretty cool, but her scenes are limited only when Colossus – voiced by Stefan Kapicic and facial performance by Greg LaSalle – is around. Speaking of Colossus, he is treated so much better here than he was in the X-Men films and actually has more screen time than I thought he would. Finally, T.J. Miller, who I’m not really a big fan of, is great in this, especially when he’s with Reynolds. Any time the two are together, you’ll definitely being laughing.

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What makes Deadpool work is Ryan Reynolds. Deadpool I think would have not worked if it wasn’t for Reynolds, his quick wit and perfect comedic timing. Reynolds himself is a huge fan of the character, as are the writers of the film in Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick – both of which also wrote Zombieland and G.I. Joe: Retaliation – and director Tim Miller, which adds a nice added layer to the care that they took to create and bring the character to life on the big screen. The other thing about Reynolds is that he never really lets up. Wade/Deadpool is always talking so the jokes and one-liners are always in full swing. That being said some of the jokes tend to fall flat, but believe me, that’s a rare thing. Deadpool’s humor might be an acquired taste, but I’m sure even non-Deadpool fans or people that are not fans of the humor will find some of the jokes funny. Crass at times, and targets some people, but funny nonetheless.

All that is thanks to the rare comic book movie rating of being Rated-R. I’m not really one to complain about rating or get into a movie rating argument, because honestly for me, it doesn’t matter what a movie is rated as long as it’s good or highly entertaining. However, I did agree with many to say that Deadpool need to be Rated-R to really be a proper adaptation of the character and his wacky – to put it lightly – personality. The personality of Deadpool is also something non-fans will have to get use to, but Deadpool fans will highly appreciate and feels like the character jumped right out of the comic book.

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All in all, Deadpool has been a long time coming, and thankfully it’s finally here and is damn great. Right from the opening credits – which are awesome – you know exactly what you’re getting into. Is it perfect? No, but Ryan Reynolds pulls you in and takes you on this crazy ride and a damn enjoyable one at that.

 

Deadpool

4.5 out of 5

‘Big Hero 6’ Review

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Dir: Don Hall & Chris Williams

Cast: Scott Adsit, Ryan Potter, Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk, and Maya Rudolph

Synopsis: The special bond that develops between plus-sized inflatable robot Baymax, and prodigy Hiro Hamada, who team up with a group of friends to form a band of hig-tech heroes.

 

 

 

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

 

 

If you were surprised to see that Big Hero 6 was based off a Marvel comic, you are not the only one. While not the most well known group of heroes, Big Hero 6 is the first animated movie that Disney has taken on and it is glorious.

 

Set in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo, the movie follows Hiro Hamada (Potter), a robotic genius that instead of putting his talents to good use and going to school spends his time robot fighting for money. His older and equally as smart brother Tadashi (Henney) finally has enough and takes him to the university his goes to show Hiro the potential he can have and what he can really do. Hiro goes with the idea and enters a competition to get into the school by creating “microbots.” Hiro’s creation could be used for multiple things like transportation and construction.

 

However, tragedy strikes and Hiro is left with Tadashi’s invention, a gentle nursing robot named Baymax (Adsit). The two discover a mysterious figure has gotten his hands on Hiro’s microbots and is using them. In order to stop him, they recruit some of Tadashi’s friends Go Go (Chung), Fred (Miller), Honey Lemon (Rodriguez), and Wasabi (Wayans Jr.) to use their scientific skills to become superheroes.

 

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While the group does eventually become superheroes, they don’t really have powers per say. Their superpower happens to be that they’re really smart and use it to their advantage. One character even says “we’re not superheroes, we’re nerds!” which reminds you that these characters are human (in the movie world anyway) and when they finally go up against the bad guy there is a real danger.

 

The supporting characters are great. Go Go is punky and always let’s you know what’s on her mind, Wasabi is a well-built guy that is overly-precious, Honey Lemon is a goofy and the gentle soul of the group, and finally there is Fred, who is a somewhat of a slacker but has a wild imagination and a heart of gold.

 

But the real focus of this movie is between Hiro and Baymax. Their relationship grows from their first time they meet. Baymax isn’t really like other robots we’ve seen. His sole purpose is to be nurturing and then power down. His exterior is like a giant marshmallow – which is really made of soft vinyl – and even though he looks huge he’s not the strongest robot out there – although he can lift up to a thousand pounds. He’s also hilariously naïve and oblivious, although not entirely, to his surroundings. Baymax knows when there is danger approaching and protects Hiro and the rest of the group. He’s so innocent and lovable you can’t help but love him.

 

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Besides the characters, the best thing about Big Hero 6 is the visuals. I know, it’s an animated movie, it’s all visuals! But, Big Hero 6 is pretty ambitious when it comes to world building. San Fransokyo is futuristic and filled with bright neon colors that I wished we spend more time just going around the city.

 

The mircobots are really cool to see and are best used in one of the better action sequences in the movie that involves all our characters racing down empty streets as the villain is basically surfing on them and throwing everything at them. The mircobots are almost a better villain than the person controlling them but the animation is so great it doesn’t matter.

 

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All in all, Big Hero 6 is great on pretty much all levels. It does have some great messages in there and like all Disney animated movies now, it knows how to pull on the heart strings and makes us tear up.

 

 

Big Hero 6

5 out of 5

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‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ Review

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Dir: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Titus Welliver, Sophia Myles, Bingbing Li, T.J. Miller, Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, John Goodman, John DiMaggio, Mark Ryan, and Ken Watanabe
Synopsis: An automobile mechanic and his daughter make a discovery that brings down the Autobots – and a paranoid government official – on them.

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

 

Transformers: Age of Extinction is the fourth installment of Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise. Even though the movie is supposed to be a reboot/sequel, but the movie is more or less the same of the other movies, which some people will probably be okay with, but at the end of the day it really isn’t.

 

Five years after the “Battle of Chicago” Transformers are seen as a threat and are being hunted down by shady government agency agent Harold Attinger (Grammer) and his agency known as Cemetery Wind, since his lead by his right hand man Savoy (Welliver). Meanwhile, down on his luck robotics engineer Cade Yeager (Wahlberg) spends his time working in his barn trying to come up with new invention, but of course they do not work the way they are suppose to. He then comes across an old beat up truck that of course turns out to be a Transformer and none other than Autobots leader Optimus Prime (Cullen). While Cade is too busy working he doesn’t notice his daughter Tessa (Peltz) and her secret older driver boyfriend Shane (Reynor).

 

Once Attinger finds out that Cade is keeping Prime hidden, he sends Savoy and others to get them which leads Prime to come out and saves them. This leads to Prime, Cade, Tessa and Shane going on the run. Little do they know, Attinger is working with tech company developer Joshua Joyce (Tucci) that runs a company called KSI, that has created his own Transformers by finding the matter that makes Transformers tick that he called “Transformium.” However, they themselves are also working, albeit a little shaky alliance, with a Transformer bounty hunter that has no allegiance to Autobots or Decepticons, Lockdown.

 

Seems like a lot going on right? That’s because it is. The movie is two hours and forty-five minutes, which turns out to be the longest installment so far. Add in the fact that we have a whole new batch of characters. For the Transformers we have; Optimus Prime and Bumblebee are the only cornerstones we have from the original series. The new Autobots are Hound (Goodman), Drift (Watanabe), Crosshairs (DiMaggio), and later another familiar face that I won’t spoil. Then there’s Lockdown, who is also followed by his massive ship that looks kind of cool.

 

Then there are Joyce’s new Transformers. The idea behind them would be cool if the idea did not look similar to other ideas from other movies. There was also a set up early in the movie that never really fully happened and I was quite disappointed by it.

 

The new characters, Mark Wahlberg does is usual thing as Cade Yeager. He plays a tough guy that happens to be an inventor. He’s overprotective of his daughter Tessa, who is about to graduate. Add in the fact that he finds out Tessa has been dating an older boy, which leads to one of the cheesiest and one of the dumbest scenes in the movie. I get that it might be an actual thing but for the movie to bring it up, it just did not work for me. Wahlberg, like I said, is fine. Whether you like him or not, he brings a presence to the screen and add in his overprotective father to it, he does okay. A side note, I don’t miss Shia.

 

Nicola Peltz is the youngest damsel-in-distress in the series but unlike Megan Fox or Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Peltz is an actual teenager playing a teenager so it makes sense for her to be a little rebellious and, without sounding mean, a bit dumb so you probably want to smack her a few times, especially when you have giant robots and the government chasing you. Newcomer Jack Reynor, who plays the older boyfriend Shane has some charisma and presence to him but overall he does not bring much to the movie, besides a cool chase scene in the beginning of the movie.

 

Grammer always looks like he has a smug look on his face but doesn’t really do anything worthwhile despite being the main human villain. Sure he is menacing but that is due to Grammer being that good. Titus Welliver’s Savoy is just evil just for being evil it seems like. Stanley Tucci is also great, and seeing him here playing a snobby-like business man who thinks the Autobots are “inferior” to his creations to later depending on the Autobots to save him and the world.

 

The rest of the supporting cast is just filler. Sophia Myles plays a geologist that really does nothing for the story or characters. Bingbing Li, who I’m a fan of, plays a Chinese businesswoman that has a connection to KSI helps Tucci and has a scene that has her show off her martial arts skills, which again, really does nothing for the movie. T.J. Miller plays Cade’s partner that is more a comic relief but adds nothing to the movie either. Thomas Lennon shows up playing a Chief of Staff, and while it’s nothing more than a cameo, it was one of my highlights of the movie.

 

But of course the new addition to the cast that everyone was looking forward to was the Dinobots. The trailers and TV spots all showed Optimus riding Grimlock and you would assume that it is going to lead to some badass cool moments. Sadly it doesn’t. The Dinobots show up in the third act in the movie and even then have about ten to fifteen minutes of screen time. Even with that, they never really do anything cool and when they are in robot form, you don’t know who they are.

 

The movie isn’t without humor but it is slightly darker in tone than the previous films. The hunt down of Ratchet might cause some Transformers fans to fidget in their seats but it also shows you just how far the Autobots have gone down in the pyramid. The hunting down of Transformers make us see a different side of Optimus, at least for the first half of the movie and even amongst the other Transformers. Even they don’t want anything to do with humans. Even Bumblebee gets a little hot-headed.

 

But really, the reason we all are watching this movie is because of the action, and Age of Extinction does have a lot. From the Yeager farm to Chicago and finally in Hong Kong, the action is almost non-stop once it kicks in. However, at times, watching all of it you kind of feel that you’ve already seen a lot of the same beats in the previous movies. Nothing really new is bought into the fights and some times, once again and a repeated issue in the series, it gets a little hard to notice who’s who when everyone starts fighting.

 

I’m not going to lie to you, I was not expecting a lot from this. When I first heard it was going to be a reboot/sequel I was okay with it, and then Michael Bay decided to return for one last go around. Look I’m not a total Michael Bay hater, I love his early stuff but Bay has a tendency of making the Transformers movies looking like car commercials or filling the screen with the most explosions ever. I know some people want to see that, and I’m with you, I do to…sometimes. Bay really did not do anything to make this movie different. Even the “new designs” don’t look that new, they might have some sleekness to them but overall they look almost exactly the same as before.

 

All in all, Transformers: Age of Extinction has things that work and things that don’t work from the previous Transformers movies. Whether that is a good thing for fans or bad, it already has made a ton of money at the box office. I don’t complain about lengths of movies because it’s nitpicky and if the movie is great than it shouldn’t matter but the length was a bit too much for a movie like this. There were some standout moments for me and even some callbacks to Generation 1 Transformers but overall the series continues to be a bit disappointing and lackluster.

 

Transformers: Age of Extinction
3 out of 5