Movie Review – Horrible Bosses 2 (2014)

Director: Sean Anders

Stars: Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston, Chris Pine, Christoph Waltz, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey

Following on from the ordeals at escaping their last jobs, Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Sudeikis), and Dale (Day) are attempting to set up their own business. However, a high-profile investor (Waltz) takes advantage of their lack of business acumen and the three men face losing everything. With no other option, they hatch a hare-brained scheme to kidnap Rex (Pine), the investor’s son, and ransom him to get their money back.

Horrible Bosses 2 is a rare comedy sequel in that it doesn’t attempt to follow the same plot as the first film. It could have quite easily had the three men facing another trio of horrible bosses and throw out a rehashed script. Instead, they came up with a fresh plot that follows on from the original , although the characters that do return fit in organically with the story. Instead of murder this time the crime is kidnap and there are some good jokes as the guys realize they do actually now qualify as criminals. The main strength of the movie is the dynamic energy between the cast. The way they bounce off each other is endearingly entertaining and you can’t help but laugh at their antics.

Pine is good as the smarmy son of the investor and there are some funny father-son moments between him and Waltz. Foxx is used sparingly, which is good as his character doesn’t overstay his welcome. The whole film feels pretty slick and moves at a brisk pace, and the plot doesn’t feel forced.

So it’s pretty good right? Well, I chuckled quite a lot but there’s some glaring problems that mean I can’t recommend it at all. Sadly, Horrible Bosses 2 has some of the most glaring sexism I’ve ever seen in the film. There are some mild spoilers here as I illustrate the nature of the sexism, but I hope the nature of the rant is justified in spoiling certain parts of the film.

The most obvious parts that immediately jumped out at me were centered around Jennifer Aniston’s character. She’s now part of a sex addiction support group that meets at her office, and Nick finds himself involved and inadvertently implies that he had homosexual experiences in his early teenage years at a camp. Julie (Aniston) is intrigued by this and presses him for details, and it’s clear that she’s aroused by this talk of 14 year old boys sharing a sexual experience. Now, if the situation were reversed and it was a man getting turned on by a woman describing her experience as a 14 year old…yeah. Later on one of the characters is in a coma and Julie mentions that she had sex with him multiple times while he was in a coma. Funny right? Haha. Yeah. There’s a word for that, it’s called rape.

Again, if the situations were reversed and it was a male character admitting that he had sex multiple times there would be outcry. So why is this type of humour tolerated? It needs to be stamped out because it only exists to perpetuate this weird double standard that exists. It’s completely juvenile and it made me uncomfortable while I was watching it. It just speaks to a complete lack of awareness on whoever wrote those jokes, and even on the other members of the film crew. I find it difficult, and sad, to believe that no-one spoke up and wondered if what they were doing was actually okay.

In addition to this, a running ‘gag’ is that Dale’s wife thinks he’s cheating on him, it’s not an original joke by any means and the wife really isn’t given much development through the film. At the end she’s shown to have struck up a rapport with Julie, and Julie tells Dale that she’s going to seduce his wife, and there’s a strong hint that the two women are already engaged in some level of intimacy. Again, this weird double standard where adultery is wrong…unless it’s with two hot women ohhhhhhh yeahhhhhh *snicker*. Ugh. Seriously people, this stuff needs to be stopped.

Finally, there’s a part of the film where a woman is grouped in with a bunch of other objects classed as ‘cool shit’ that Rex shows off. She’s literally objectified and this is just unjustifiable on any level. It’s not cool folks, and it’s not something that I’m going to put my support behind. So although I was mostly entertained overall by Horrible Bosses 2 I’m going to suggest that people avoid it because the type of sexism it displays should be archaic by now and I’m disappointed that it’s still so insidious and prevalent in films.

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Movie Review – The Monk (2011)

Director: Dominik Moll

Stars: Vincent Cassel, Deborah Francois, Josephine Joy

In the 17th Century, a famed monk (Cassel) is tempted by Satan.

The Monk is a very atmospheric film. It beings with shots of phallic imagery (can you guess what the temptation is going to be?) and a discussion where the monk says that Satan only has the power we give him. Through the film we see him preach and take in a masked brother who has suffered terrible burns. All the while he’s haunted by dreams, and suffers from excruciating headaches.

Having studied Philosophy, and having spent many hours thinking about the nature of religion I enjoy these types of films. The temptation of the monk is accompanied by an interesting visual style and impactful music to drive home the intensity of the moment. His descent into sin is gradual but powerful. I do think it could have been shown to be more visceral, to properly show the horror of the acts he commits, but otherwise the direction is beautiful. I particularly enjoyed the scenery of the Spanish village (although the brightness does sometimes make the white subtitles difficult to read).

The imagery of the film is superb and I liked how things came together. One character mentioned about how the meaning of things can be hidden until it suddenly dawns on you, and this is prescient for the end of the film. I liked the little subplots and how they informed the main plot and the whole thing is quite a thoughtful film. I’m surprised it has as low a rating on IMDB as it does, because I liked it quite a bit, although I appreciate that if you’re not looking for something that will make you think about the nature of man and religion then it’s probably not a film you’ll want to be checking out.

Movie Review – Until Death (2007)

Director: Simon Fellows

Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Selina Giles, Mark Dymond, William Ash, Stephen Rea

Anthony Stowe (Van Damme) is a crooked cop with a heroin addiction. After being in a come he reawakens wanting to be a better man, but his former partner is after him.

Until Death surprised me because it’s not a mindless action thriller and tries to have an interesting character arc. It’s a solid redemption story with Van Damme looking suitably strung out for the first part of the film. It’s actually quite well-paced as well, although the relationship drama between Anthony and his wife feels forced. The corruption at the police station felt a bit odd because I couldn’t quite work out what Stowe’s agenda was. At times he seemed to be protecting his own interests and other times he wanted to go after the bad guy.

There’s some decent action and the shootout at the end is fine. I also thought there were a few neat camera tricks that provided some dynamism to the film. If you like Van Damme then this is one that I think you should check out. I liked it more than I was expecting and it’s better than some of the typical throwaway fare that he’s done before. My main complaint is that he doesn’t roundhouse kick anyone.

Movie Review – The Notorious Bettie Page (2005)

Director: Mary Harron

Stars: Gretchen Mol, Chris Bauer, Cara Seymour, Sarah Paulson, Lili Taylor

A biopic of the pin-up icon Bettie Page, who was the target of a US Senate investigation for the pornographic nature of her bondage pictures.

I’ve been aware of Bettie Page but I’ve never really delved into her history. The Notorious Bettie Page jumps between different periods of her life, although it mostly settles on the part where she models and gets wrapped up in the whole bondage scene. I felt the first section of the movie was rushed, although it held some special interest for me as there were appearances by a couple of The Walking Dead actors. However, there were some important events in her life (a rape and a seemingly abusive marriage) that were basically shown in a montage. It feels like the movie wants to skip over these parts.

When the film gets to New York it shows how Bettie tried to make it as an actress but falls into modelling. I liked how Mol portrayed Page, she had a very carefree attitude, although in the film she does come across as rather naive and they played up the wide-eyed innocent nature of her. There was some wrestling with her conscience as she tried to reconcile what God would think, and I appreciated these moments as it gave her a bit more depth.

The main thing that people will probably take away is just how much things have changed and how acceptable things have become. It’s interesting to see how things have changed in just a few decades. Speaking of which, I felt the director captured the mood and tone of the era. One thing I didn’t like is that at the start of the film Bettie is called to the Senate, but by the end she doesn’t even need to testify. Perhaps this is to show how ignorant the Senate is and the fact that they made up their minds without even hearing testimonies from people who were involved in the scene.

Overall I think it was a decent film, but I do feel it was rushed and tried to fit in a whole lifetime into an hour and a half. I do think it’s worth watching though. Mol gives a great performance, Bettie Page is still an icon but I don’t think people know as much about her as, say, Marilyn, but this film is a good starting point.

Movie Review- Come As You Are (2011)

Director: Geoffrey Enthoven

Stars: Gilles de Schrijver, Tom Audenaert, Robrecht Vanden Thoren, Isabelle de Hertogh

Three disabled young men go on a road trip in the hope of losing their virginity.

It’s a simple summary of a film that’s actually intelligent, mature, and hilarious. I loved the dynamics between the characters. Lars (de Schrijver) has a tumour and has the worst condition of all, because death is a spectre hanging over him. Jozef (Audenaert) is a gentle blind giant and Philip (Thoren) is mostly paralyzed, but is ready with his sharp tongue. They are accompanied on their trip by Claude (de Hertogh), a nurse, who appears aloof at first but quickly becomes memorable.

The genius of this film is that one moment you’ll be howling with laughter, and yet even the most joyous moments are tinged with a bitterness. But I liked how these characters tried to make the best of their lot in life and it was so fulfilling to see them go on the trip and actually break out of their limitations for a while. The performances were strong all around and really got to the heart of the characters.

The scenery was beautiful too, going through France and then Spain. I was half-expecting a twist at the end but I’m glad there wasn’t one. It felt satisfying and fulfilling. I think it’s quite a unique film but anyone should enjoy this if they like road trip movies. It spans the range of human emotion and I really, really liked it. More people should be watching this movie.

Book Review – The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham

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Yes, it’s another Maugham novel! This one is quite interesting, the main thrust being Larry Darrell, who is searching for a meaning for life after a horrific experience in war. The cast that rotate around him include his former fiancée and her new husband, as well as Maugham himself, who enters the novel and comments on proceedings, offering up his own opinion of things.

This is one of those novels that I could have read forever. Absolutely loved it. Sometimes reading Maugham is like reading the deepest truths that reside in my own soul. Each character is so well-drawn, especially Isabel, Larry’s fiancée. Larry is a fascinating character too as he’s a war veteran who isn’t wrapped up in turmoil or bitterness. Instead, he seems to have returned from the war rather bemused, with a need to find out the nature of life and death and what is the meaning of it all. It’s an urge to which I can relate. What most surprised is how absent Larry is for much of the novel. The blurb on the back will tell you that it’s about his odyssey but really he disappears from the narrative only to come back at random intervals.

But that’s not a detriment as the other characters are interesting in their own right. Maugham offers commentary upon them all, sometimes rather acerbically and yet you get the sense that it’s rather self-deprecating on him since, in his own words, each one of the characters seemed to get what they want. The main theme of the novel seemed to be to live your life the way you want it, because that’s the only way you’ll find happiness. Larry was the embodiment of this as he lived the way he wanted and didn’t pass judgment on anyone else. I rather wonder whether Maugham felt as though he was going to be as successful in finding a meaning to life as his characters were, since he left himself out of the list of those he considered ended up happy. Of course, that could just be because he was observing them and wanted to keep himself as distinct from the story as possible.

At one point towards the end Maugham recounts the conversation he had with Larry, which he claims inspired him to write the novel. The entire section is devoted to a conversation which is mostly comprised of Larry orating about his experiences in India with Eastern mysticism. It’s fascinating and although it’s not as revelatory as it may have been when The Razor’s Edge was written, it’s still a joy to read.

One quote that stuck out to me is that Larry was ‘a religious man who didn’t believe in God’. I found this to be thoughtful and it’s something that has been lingering on my mind the past few days. I’ve read a few things that wonder whether the novel is fictional or not – Maugham claims that he has invented nothing. I’m not sure that it matters really, but I believe there’s as much truth in it as there is in any other novel. That is to say, perhaps the names, dates etc may have changed but the essences of the characters and the themes presented are true.

I absolutely adore this book. It’s an excellent read, dealing with themes that are close to my heart. I enjoyed the narrative technique of Maugham inserting himself into the narrative as well as the depth and complexity of the characters. I highly recommend this, and I think if you haven’t read any of Maugham’s works before this is a good place to begin.

Movie Review – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One (2014)

Director: Francis Lawrence

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Natalie Dormer, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, Willow Shields, Jeffrey Wright, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci

After destroying the arena, Katniss (Lawrence) awakes in District 13 where President Coin (Moore) and her advisors want her to be the face of the rebellion. Other Districts lay in rubble and although Katniss is reluctant at first, when she sees the devastation brought on by the rebellion she realizes she has to do something. However, when broadcasts from the city reach them she sees that Peeta (Hutcherson) is being used as a tool for the Capital’s propaganda. The rebellion attempts to unite the the Districts to fight against the Capital, while also rescuing Peeta and the other victors from the Capital.

The Hunger Games is a strange series for me. I’ve enjoyed the previous two films but I never find myself dwelling on them too much after the fact. I haven’t read the books either, so going into Mockingjay Part 1 I wasn’t expecting to be wowed…in fact I didn’t really have any expectations. Katniss seems traumatised at the beginning and I really liked Lawrence’s performance here. Obviously she’s a fantastic actor and it’s interesting to think about whether the franchise would have been as much of a success without her. But I do love the character of Katniss and I think there should be more roles like her. She’s strong, but not to the point where her strength is her defining characteristic, she’s also confused and troubled but deep down knows what the right thing to do is.

I really enjoyed the political aspect of this film and how the rebellion wanted to use Katniss as a tool for propaganda. I liked the discussion about how best to capture her passion and how she was at odds with Peeta, who was being used for the same thing by the Capital. In fact I would have enjoyed seeing even more of their broadcasts and I would have liked to have seen more reaction in the Capital, for the film focuses on this wide conflict that affects everyone but it seems focused on small pockets of people. As a result I never felt the true scale of the conflict

With no actual Games this film is a big shift in tone and I know some people have criticized it for being slow and ponderous. I agree with them, but I don’t think it’s boring. It managed to hold my attention and there were some bursts of action, although I do agree that they could have included more. I’m interested to see how Part 2 turns out and whether there’s just not a lot of action from the book, or if they saved all the action for Part 2. Speaking of which, I was wary that this film was going to feel like a story chopping in half but by the end of it I did feel satisfied. There was a point where I felt they were going to end it on a cruel cliffhanger, but there was enough resolution to the themes of the movie that I didn’t feel swindled.

The character relationships are fine although a lot of them pop in for what basically amount to cameos. Woody Harrelson, I’m looking at you. President Coin is the newest character given the most amount of development and she works well within the story, although it kinda feels like this infrastructure of the rebellion came out of nowhere. I do wish there had been some flashbacks to what happened at the end of the previous film because I had forgotten much of it, and when certain characters popped up I realized I had completely forgotten about them.

Overall though I liked it a lot. There was one moment of manufactured tension towards the end that I hated because it didn’t add anything to the story at all. I’m looking forward to seeing the conclusion though. I liked how it changed the formula of the previous two films although I do think it could have shown more worldwide reaction to the war. There were a couple of things that really took me by surprise and although it is the first part I don’t feel like it’s a story chopped in half. Roll on next year for part 2!

Movie Review – The History of Mr. Polly (1949)

Director: Anthony Pelissier

Stars: John Mills, Betty Ann Davies, Megs Jenkins

After his father dies, Alfred Polly (Mills) uses his inheritance to marry and set up a shop. However, as time goes by he finds that his heart isn’t in his life so he looks for a way to escape the drudgery of his existence and runs off to the country.

This is a story about a man who is searching for meaning in his life, and those are the types of films that I gravitate to. Polly is a nice fellow but he doesn’t have a direction really, and he does things more because it’s expected of him rather than because he wants to. That is until he upends sticks and leaves his life to go searching for a purpose. It’s a good story with some humorous moments. I liked Mills in the role for he brought a likeable charm to the character. Some of the situations were surprising but it was good to see how his character developed and how he was able to cast off the shackles of his life. I’m sure it’s something a lot of people think about, and it’s interesting to see how it happened here. I’m not sure it’s as easy to do nowadays as it was when this film was set, but it’s still an interesting thought.

I also enjoyed how heroic aspects of his character came through even though he felt, at times, worthless. One scene that stuck out, to highlight Polly’s feelings was the funeral scene, where his entire family is bickering and he’s left in the middle of the table, just wishing he was somewhere else.

It’s a decent little film, and I don’t mean to sound patronising by that. It’s worth checking out.

Movie Review – Lymelife (2008)

Director: Derick Martini

Stars: Rory Culkin, Alec Baldwin, Emma Roberts, Jill Hennessey, Timothy Hutton, Cynthia Nixon, Kieran Culkin

Okay apparently this film is set during the 70’s, which I totally didn’t get. Whoops. Anyway, it’s about a lot of family drama as seen through the eyes of a 15 year old boy (Culkin), all while he’s trying to get closer to his neighbour (Roberts).

The sorts of drama offered in Lymelife aren’t anything new. There’s a distant father, unhappy mother, brother who has escaped the household and another child who is trying to make sense of it all. Yet somehow it feels fresher than it should, and I think this is mostly down to the performances. Culkin is subdued and frustrating at first, but gradually grows into his own and has a good character arc. During the last year I’ve become a big fan of Roberts and in like so many other films she’s appeared in she sparkles on the screen. Baldwin has moments of intensity, which give the film some fire, and it all comes together to give a very frank look at family life.

I enjoyed the pace of the film and how it was edited together. It had a nice flow to it and once can simply enjoy watching things unfold. One of the best aspects was the soundtrack. Songs were chosen that perfectly accentuated the mood of the scene. The end is quite poetic too and it’s one where you know something big is going to happen but you’re not quite sure what, and when it does you’re not quite sure how to feel about it. I thought it was very good and I definitely think more people should check it out.