The Night Before (2015): On Christmas eve, three lifelong friends, two of whom are Jewish, spend the night in New York City looking for the Holy Grail of Christmas parties.
You're gonna hear me say this a lot throughout the review: The Night Before is fine. It's not great, but it's not bad either. It's fine. If you like the actors involved or the James Franco-Seth Rogen comedies we've been getting for a few years now, you'll like this, but if not.....you have no reason to see this. When talking about this film, most people would probably stop there. But then again, I'm not most people, am I? So, let's go into depth on why this film is fine, shall we?
Let's get the elephant out of the room first: where's Rose Byrne in these recent Seth Rogen/James Franco films? She was easily the best part of the last (official) film Rogen and Franco did in 2014's Neighbors, and there was a really obvious role for her here and in the unofficial last film these guys did, (The Interview) but either she wasn't cast for it for some reason or (more likely) didn't want to play it. I mean I still enjoyed watching the still underrated Lizzy Caplan (of Cloverfield acclaim, and I loved everyone in that amazing film) play a big role in The Interview and once again play a major role here as Joseph Gordon-Levitt's romantic interest, but when all I can think as I'm watching this is, "Man, Rose Byrne absolutely killed it in Neighbors...." you know she was brilliant. And missed. Anyway, let's move on to actually talking about this film.
This film is fine. Wait, I said that already, didn't I? I will say it was better than The Interview and just as good as Neighbors, but we are now 2 years removed from 2013's brilliant This is the End, and this crew's recycled formula is starting to get a little stale. But we'll judge this film by itself. So first off, the acting. Seth Rogen is his usual Seth Rogen self, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Anthony Mackie are their usual charismatic selves, and they're funny too. However the man who knocks it out of the park is none of these actors. Michael Shannon is on a freaking roll right now. He just might earn my "coveted" Best Actor of 2015 award in a few months. He was terrifying in 99 Homes (a film which I never got around to reviewing but saw it and absolutely loved it) and now he just destroys it here. This guy has a lot of work lined up for 2016, (just look at his IMDB page) and he has chosen the right time to make it on my "must-watch everything he does" list. Elvis & Nixon is rapidly becoming my most anticipated film of 2016. Get Michael Shannon more work everyone!
As for the rest of the film....well.....there isn't much else to talk about honestly. This film is just lightly edited improv, which is fine, but it definitely leaves much to be desired from a technical standpoint. There were some funny lighting effects that were taken out of the Edgar Wright catalog, but other than that this was a very technically bland film. And that's why it's fine. Because while there were definitely some funny jokes in this film, it made me laugh several times throughout the relatively short 101 minute runtime, Michael Shannon just absolutely destroyed it as Mr. Green, and there are some awesome cameo....there's just not enough else here to make this film truly memorable. I mean it's not like there's a story here or something. Anything resembling a story was pretty ridiculous and predictable, and it wasn't anywhere near engaging enough to make the one supposedly emotional moment of this film feel anything even close to emotional. It's mindless! That's all it is. Mindless humor. Did I laugh? Yes. Was there anything even remotely resembling substance? No. Which makes it a....you guessed it.....fine film. End of story. Bye bye. See ya later.
The Critique: A mindless film, The Night Before is a decent installment into the lackluster genre that is the modern American comedy.
The Recommendation: Definitely worth a watch if you like any of these actors + James Franco. If not, stay very far away.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 6/10 It's fine.
A trainwreck of an Ending
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 (2015): As the war of Panem escalates to the destruction of other districts by the Capitol, Katniss Everdeen, the reluctant leader of the rebellion, must bring together an army against President Snow, while all she holds dear hangs in the balance.
What the hell happened to this series? Oh wait, I know. Corporate greed is what happened. I've talked about this in the past, and it is certainly rears its ugly head here. This film is extremely disappointing, and upcoming I'll give you a spoiler-free version of why I have fallen out of love for The Hunger Games. No dawdling around here, guys. Let's go.
Let's get the elephant out of the room first. There's absolutely no reason the final book of this franchise needed to be split up into two parts. Absolutely none. Part one was awful, (leading me to pledge to never watch part one of a two-part finale ever again) as it was mostly just setup for part two. So, what do we get in part two? More setup! This film is about 45 minutes too long out of its 137 minute runtime. Combine that with the fact that part one was about 90 minutes too long out of its 123 minute runtime and, what's this? You have yourself one film? Well, why make one good film when you can capitalize on the popularity of the franchise and make two bad films? Double the money, right? God....movies aren't supposed to be like video games! The movie distributors are actually supposed to have respect for the content they are paying to create. But not here. Not in the young adult genre. Here, it's all about money. It's shameful, and it really brings down what could've been a good last film. And before you say I'm just hating on The Hunger Games, I'm not. The first two parts of this franchise are two of my favorite films in this otherwise typically disastrous genre. Catching Fire is actually my favorite film of any young adult novel-turned film out there. (Which includes all the Harry Potter films, mind you. A series that I've read/seen multiple times.) But these last two films have driven the franchise to the ground. Even more so than the two-part finale we got of Harry Potter 7, because while part one was dreadful, part two at least had quite a few satisfying payoffs. Mockingjay, Part 2 had one satisfying moment. A couple minutes of awesomeness does not forgive 4+ hours and $20+ in movie tickets of setup. It simply doesn't.
Now let's do a spoiler-free talk of the story and everything else. It's no secret that the Mockingjay book is widely considered the most disappointing book of the franchise. So the crew was definitely starting in the hole. One of the reasons I really enjoyed this series before these last two films was it actually investigated the world and made analogies to ours. There was a discussion, albeit a shallow one, about propaganda and the power of the people. While we still get some of it here, as this series has gone on the overall impact of character's actions have been felt less and less. And there are way too many huge things that happen in this film that get either a single line to explain why they are there (or happened) or no lines at all. It makes Mockingjay, Part 2 easily the most shallow film of the franchise. It's amazing that this many corners would STILL be cut in a two-part finale. And yes, characters die. But they die in horribly confusing/not even remotely emotional ways. It left me confused and saying, "That's it?" at several moments in this film. And the acting? The acting, with the exception of Josh Hutcherson who is actually pretty good, is dismal. Jennifer Lawrence was simply going through the motions, and no one else besides Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth (who is the official "hunk" of this film) is given anywhere near enough screen time to make any sort of impression. There's about 10 recognizable actors who are clearly only in this film for the paycheck. I mean who can blame them, right? However nowhere is this more depressing than the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. This was his last film, and he only has a couple of moments throughout the entire thing, including one spot towards the end that he really should've been featured in. I really feel the filmmakers should've treated his final role with more respect than they did, (I mean have you seen Boulevard? Or Furious 7? That's how you treat someone's final performance with respect) but that's just me.
But there were a few redeeming features of this film. First off, let's go back to PSH's underwhelming role. His only major moment occurred at the beginning of the film, and it was a well-executed and tender exchange between him and Lawrence. There was also an underground scene with our main characters that was actually somewhat nerve-wracking due to its serious sense of confinement. And the final "climatic" moment was well-shot. All 140 seconds of it. But that's pretty much it. I really can't think of any other redeeming qualities for this film. Everything else really really irked me, like....ok, here's an example of what I'm talking about. If you think this is a spoiler then you're just silly. There's supposedly this big invasion of the capital that occurs. So remember the big battle of Hogwarts in Harry Potter 7.5 that was awesome? I sure do. Do we get any shots AT ALL of this supposedly HUGE invasion here? Nope! We just get a squad walking through totally deserted/bland streets. The set designers couldn't even be bothered to add personality to the supposedly great city by spicing up the buildings. Every street looked EXACTLY the same. And the sound designers couldn't even be bothered to add gunfire in the distance most of the time. As far as I could tell, Jennifer Lawrence and company were invading the capital single-handily. SERIOUSLY? Well done, guys. You done goofed. Anyway, I'm done. At one time this series was awesome. And if they had made Mockingjay one film it probably still would've been the most disappointing of the franchise, but at least it wouldn't have been a complete trainwreck. But nope! Corporate greed takes the day. Please don't be stupid like me and see this film in theaters. It'll be out on Netflix eventually I promise. (I actually do feel legitimately guilty about giving this film $10 to see it. That's how bad it was.)
The Critique: A disaster of a film, Mockingjay, Part 2 disservices the franchise while showcasing corporate greed at its finest.
The Recommendation: Don't see this in films. Netflix it. Please dear God Netflix it.
The Verdict: 3/10 Bad.
A return to old-school Bond
Spectre (2015): A cryptic message from Bond's past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.
Alright. Let's get something out of the way right off the bat: this Bond film is not as good as Skyfall. But is that a bad thing? Absolutely not. Spectre, as I said before, is a return to the old-school Bond formula: get the assignment, get the tech from Q, meet the girl, get in a car chase, destroy car in said car chase, meet villain in exotic location, defeat villain in exotic location. Rinse and repeat. This formula has been used in Bond films over and over, and it has not only been the cornerstone here but has been the groundwork for countless action films over the years. And personally, I love it. I absolutely love it. While the formula has a tendency to date some of the films (try and go back and watch a Roger Moore Bond film without laughing at it at various points) it's still an absolute blast to watch on screen, as long as it's properly executed. And it is certainly well-executed here.
What made Skyfall different was the fact that it strayed from this formula. There was actual emotion in the film. Bond did not feel as invincible as he usually is. You weren't saying "What a guy," over and over whenever he does something incredible, in part because he doesn't really do anything incredible besides take on one of the best Bond villains in the franchise's history. Well, let's flash forward to Spectre. The main reason I had high expectations for this film (and why it was the most anticipated film of the year for me) was because of the villain. The organization Spectre has been a huge part of the franchise from way back in the Sean Connery/Roger Moore days. However in recent years the Bond crew were forced to put the villainous organization on hiatus due to legal issues. And now that the legal battle is over and the Bond crew received the rights once and for all, they immediately announced the new film would feature the organization. And once the crew announced Christoph Waltz would head said organization in this film, I have been counting down the days until I could see it. And Christoph Waltz did not disappoint. I've been long saying Waltz was born for this role, ever since he burst onto the scene with his performance in Inglorious Basterds. And he absolutely knocked it out of the park, and even delivered my single favorite moment in film this year to date. By far. (I won't spoil it for you) Spectre did falter in some places, but one of those places was absolutely not the villain. They knocked that one out of the park. I must also give some props to other departments I don't usually mention in these reviews. First off, the special effects crew did a fantastic job with all the stunts in the film. While sadly the coolest stunt was spoiled in all the trailers with the helicopter, the demolition crew got to destroy several major sets, so good job to capturing those explosions. (They likely had to do it in one take) However one of the best part of this film for me was the lighting. Yes. The lighting. The use of shadows and streaks of light in this film were amazing, and felt like an ode to the truly mise en scene days of the '60s and '70s. I have no idea who was in charge of lighting, but they deserve a huge raise.
This film was not without its flaws, however. Let's first talk about the acting. Cause that's the big one. Daniel Craig was his typical Bond, which I had no problem with, and the main Bond girl in Lea Seydoux was also excellent, but there were two huge disappointments out of this department. Monica Bellucci and Andrew Scott. And it was to no fault of their own, however both of these ridiculously talented actors were completely wasted in their roles. Criminally wasted, actually. Bellucci was in a total of three scenes, and she was incredible in them, but her character was nothing more than a means to an end for Bond, and she never showed up for the rest of the 148 minute film. Andrew Scott was even more ridiculous. He was an extremely poorly written character, yet even with his laughably bad material he still put in a great performance! Seriously, guys: Andrew Scott is hugely talented, If he could make a performance out of virtually no material, he can do anything. Get him more roles!
That's pretty much all I got. The film was....good. It was a refreshing return to the Bond days of old, but I think a lot of people who don't care for the formula as much as I do will be turned off by it. However everyone can agree that the franchise will benefit from having Spectre back in the mix of things, and with Christoph Waltz at the helm of it, I can't wait to see where the franchise goes next. Oh and PS-I am ready for a new Bond. As much as I loved where Daniel Craig took the character, he's officially too old. Bring on Idris Elba!
The Critique: While failing to live up to its predecessor, Spectre brings back the old Bond formula and executes it in an enjoyable fashion.
The Recommendation: Bond fans, Daniel Craig fans, and Christoph Waltz fans all know what to do: go see this if you somehow haven't already.
The Verdict: 7/10 Good.
Aaron Sorkin Does It Again
Steve Jobs (2015): Steve Jobs takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution, to paint a portrait of the man at its epicenter. The story unfolds backstage at three iconic product launches, ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac.
Man is Aaron Sorkin one hell of a writer. It's been a while for this legendary screenwriter. Four years, to be exact, since Sorkin's last movie screenplay dropped in the form of 2011's Moneyball. Before that, Sorkin penned The Social Network, one of my favorite films from 2010, and Charlie Wilson's War, one of the most underrated films of the 2000's. So to say I had high expectations of this screenwriter was something of an understatement. And what I got was......surprising. This was, without a doubt, the most un-Aaron Sorkin-esque film I've ever seen. And yet it was still great. Interesting, right? Well, let's dive into it, shall we?
What do I mean by un-Sorkin-esque? Well, Sorkin has a very distinctive dialogue. Every one of his characters are always the smartest people in the room. There's a dry wit to his dialogue that makes it very distinctive, and it's missing here. But here he's kinda limited by the fact that....his main character is already the smartest person in the room! I think it would've been easy for Sorkin to go completely overboard here, but he doesn't, and instead he (and director Danny Boyle) delivers one of the better films of 2015 so far. So what else does this film get right? Well, on top of the awesome screenplay, you have the somewhat good acting of Michael Fassbender. It's tough for a recognizable actor to be sucked into a role like this. Especially when the role he has to play is Steve Jobs. But Fassbender.....he pretty much nails it. I don't know, I'm fairly torn on this performance. On the one hand, Fassbender was absorbed into the character he was playing, however I think that was in part due to the fact that the normal Fassbender pretty much is Steve Jobs already. So I think what I have to do is give kudos to the film's original director, the iconic David Fincher, for casting Fassbender for this role. He was perfect thanks to the fact that he and Jobs are already so similar. (Yes, this is kind of daming with feint praise.) This performance was nowhere near the level of Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln. Or Idris Elba in Mandela. Or most great lead performances in a biopic film. But it was certainly more than good enough. Fortunately, the rest of the cast more than carries their weight. Kate Winslet was kind enough to remind me that she can act with her role here, and Seth Rogen showed off some surprisingly strong acting chops when his big scene came. Jeff Daniels, though he was again playing up his character from The Newsroom, had the best scene of the movie with Fassbender, and Michael Stuhlbarg was his usual charming self. Though can someone PLEASE cast this man as a villain in something????? He was easily my favorite part of Boardwalk Empire other than Steve Buscemi because he was cunning and terrifying. This man can do evil as well as Buscemi can. Give him another role like that, Hollywood! You can thank me later.
But this film is certainly far from perfect. Let's talk about my biggest problem with this film, and it again lies in the screenwriting. It's tough for me to complain about this and keep my real-life feelings for Apple out of it, but I'll give it a go. Steve Jobs' overall vision was for a closed-source software system. This is the foundation for Apple today, and is the primary reason they became one of the biggest companies in the world. That and their branding. So while I'm glad they Sorkin is smart enough to bring this up throughout the film, I was extremely disappointed to not get any insight into why Steve Jobs believed that a closed-source OS was the pathway to success. It's a term that's thrown around all throughout the film, but at no point do we ever get any explanation for that all-important question: why. This is Steve Jobs' legacy. And we never get to find out why he was on the closed-source bandwagon when the rest of the industry was living off open-source programming software. We get a lot of why's answered throughout the film, but this one is never answered. Anyway, I also have my usual critique of a biopic to make. Coming in at only 122 minutes long, this movie really could've benefited from another 30+ minutes of film to tell its tale. While the decision to split this movie into only three events was a great one, (and definitely made this film significantly better than the last Steve Jobs biopic in Ashton Kutcher's dismal Jobs from 2013) it simply didn't cover enough to make the overall experience truly worthwhile. Many whys are answered, but many more are left unanswered. And I would've really enjoyed some coverage and investigation into the creation of products like the iPod and iPhone, and not just thrown-together cameos. There's no discussion of the branding side of it at all. I know Jobs played a huge role in the image of the company and its products, and the only line we get about this in the film is about how crappy the original iMac looked. Definitely could've done a better job there.
It may seem like I really disliked this film, but I will openly acknowledge that these complaints are somewhat trivial. They're just amplified because I know Aaron Sorkin is capable of handling the truth. I definitely hold him to a higher standard than most, but he still delivers a great movie here. It could've been better, and will not be dethroning The Social Network for top spot on the Aaron Sorkin catalog anytime soon, but it was still a great film to enjoy. If you use Apple products, you definitely owe it to yourself to see this film. You may be surprised by what you see.
The Critique: Aaron Sorkin delivers yet another outstanding screenplay. While not perfect, Steve Jobs definitely lands as one of the best films of the year so far.
The Recommendation: If you like Aaron Sorkin, Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs, or Apple, you should definitely make time to see this film if you haven't somehow already.
Rewatchability: Moderately High
The Verdict: 8/10 Great
Oscar Talk: Yay Oscar talk! I don't see much in the future for Steve Jobs (Fassbender might receive a nomination just because he played Steve Jobs) but I am hoping for a screenplay nomination. That's about it. I didn't talk about technical stuff because there was nothing to talk about. The film looked very technically ordinary, so don't expect a nomination for set design or costumes or anything like that.
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