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Movie Review: Horrible Bosses 2 (2014)

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I didn’t think much of 2011’s Horrible Bosses despite its lovable main cast of Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day. You can read my full review here, but basically I just didn’t find it funny enough, and it’s always disappointing when a comedy fails to come to close to living up to its potential.

And so it surprises me to say that even though Horrible Bosses 2 is possibly one of the most unnecessary sequels of all time, I actually found it funnier than the original. Call me crazy, or perhaps it was the lowered expectations; maybe I was just in the right mood this time — whatever the reason, I laughed more and was generally less annoyed by the unfunny stuff this time around.

Fed up of being bitches to their horrible old bosses, Bateman, Sudeikis and Day ditch their day jobs to become inventors of a new shower appliance. Their embarrassing appearance on morning television attracts the attention of a wealthy businessman played by dual Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz, and his son, played by Chris Pine. Naturally, being the idiots that they are, the trio get screwed over by father and son, and vow to take matters into their own hands.

Things don’t go according to plan, of course, and soon the movie spirals into a kidnapping farce with plenty of outrageous stupidity. Kevin Spacey and Jennifer Aniston, who played two of the horrible bosses in the first film, manage to make their ways back into the script somehow in smaller roles, and are actually allies to our bumbling heroes.

The jokes are still mainly crass, crude and vulgar, sexually explicit, politically incorrect and (borderline) offensive. The main difference this time, at least for me, is that everyone involved seems more relaxed and less eager to impress, and as a whole, the film doesn’t as hard to be deliberately shocking. As a result, the comedy came across as more free-flowing and less scripted.

The core strength of the film still lies in the three protagonists. As a huge Arrested Development fan, I am glad to say that Bateman’s character definitely channels his inner Michael Bluth — he even says “Come on!” Jason Sudeikis also does that pervy act he does so well, and Charlie Day is basically still the moron from It’s Always Sunny that made him famous. No matter what you think of the film, at least take comfort in the fact that the three actors played to their strengths.

The newcomer, Chris Pine, is also very good here, and adds a wicked vibe and new dynamic to the film. There really aren’t any “horrible bosses” in this sequel, but I suppose he comes closest in terms of the top supporting star.

On the whole, Horrible Bosses 2 is an unnecessary but adequate sequel that might surprise some you if you expect as little of it as I did. It has it’s fair share of misses for sure, though I’m fairly sure I laughed more times watching it than I did watching its predecessor.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Pacific Rim (2013) (2D)

Gotta give the Aussie robot a plug!
Gotta give the Aussie robot a plug!

Ever wondered what Transformers vs Godzilla would be like if it was directed by Guillermo del Toro? Well, Pacific Rim might give you some idea.

Del Toro, the visionary master who gave us Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone (as well as Hellboy and Blade II), apparently gave up on directing The Hobbit so he could work on projects such as Pacific Rim, his personal version of a light summer blockbuster focused on spectacular visuals and popcorn entertainment as opposed to the recent trend of dark, brooding movies such as The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel.

The result? A mixed bag, I’m afraid. Del Toro succeeds in making Pacific Rim a visual feast that pays homage to the Japanese monster movies and robot anime I loved so much as a kid, but on the other hand the script (which he co-write with Travis Beacham) is so pedestrian (to put it nicely) that it prevents the film from achieving what could have been all-round brilliance. That’s disappointing because we all know from his past films that del Toro is a brilliant storyteller when he sets out to be one.

Pacific Rim starts off by placing us right in the middle of the story, with a lengthy explanation about how gigantic monsters, known as “Kaiju” (from the Japanese word for “monster”), began emerging from the depths of our oceans some time in 2013, wreaking havoc on cities all around the world. While it makes zero sense, the world’s governments decide to join forces to create “Jaegers” (German for “hunter”), which are essentially massive robots, to fight the Kaiju. That’s about it.

(Personally, I thought it would have been a good idea to start right from the beginning, because seeing the Kaiju rise from the depths up close and in detail for the first time would have been a jaw-dropping sight. But the movie is already 132-minutes long, so maybe not.)

At its core, Pacific Rim is just enormous robots and gigantic monsters beating the crap out of each other. And that’s awesome. Del Toro infuses the action sequences with his marvellous visual flair, supersized to an awe-inspiring scale. His attention to detail in the movements of the Kaijus and Jaegers and their interactions with their environment puts Transformers to shame. As great as the visual effects were in Transformers, there was always something fake and cartoonish about the robots, but in Pacific Rim the effects are so seamless that such thoughts never crossed my mind.

The look of the Jaegers and Kaijus are also amazing and emphasize del Toro’s genius when it comes to creature design. Each monster has different attributes and characteristics, as do the Jaeger, which reflect their country of origin (such as the US, China, Russia and Australia). Watching a showdown between such wonderful creations — with remarkable clarity, by the way — was truly an exhilarating ride.

Unfortunately, it’s the humans who bring Pacific Rim down. The film is at its best when there is no talking or attempted character development, because as soon as the humans interacting the film nosedives into mediocrity. I don’t think the acting is horrible but it feels horrible because of the atrocious dialogue. It’s as though the screenwriters thought no one would care about the characters or the dialogue so they just came up with the quickest way to progress the story by summarizing all human interactions into cringeworthy cliches — and yet it felt like there were far too many attempts to make us care about them. The end result is a lot of unsatisfactory, disjointed and embarrassing “human drama” fillers in between the action scenes.

The formulaic storyline also appears to tick every plot-point box of Hollywood blockbusters these days from The Dark Knight Rises to The Avengers to Skyfall (not sure if this qualifies as a spoiler, but if you don’t wanna know, skip this paragraph now) — an early catastrophic incident for the protagonist(s), forcing them to start over from the bottom; a deceptively clever antagonist(s) who plans a trap for our hero(es); and a moment of despair that seems impossible to overcome, just before the final heroic climax.

I know all of this sounds harsh. After all, isn’t Pacific Rim supposed to be a summer popcorn movie? Yes, it is, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a little more in the other departments, especially considering this is del Toro and not Michael Bay we’re dealing with.

The cast is headed by Charlie Hunnam, best known from the TV series Sons of Anarchy. He’s really just an older poor man’s Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy, The Road) who takes his short off more often than Taylor Lautner (though to be fair, I would too if I was that ripped). He’s OK — physically suitable but lacking the requisite charm to carry a film like this.

Playing his Jaeger partner/love interest is Japan’s Rinko Kikuchi, a fine actress I remember from 2006’s Babel. She’s actually pretty good, as is Idris Elba as a drug kingpin…oh hang on, that’s The Wire. Actually, here he’s just the boss of the Jaeger pilots. He’s Idris Elba, so you know he’s awesome, even though he does deliver a hilarious Braveheart speech (compulsory for all movies with a final battle) in his original British accent (which actually felt kinda weird).

For comic relief, we have two scientists and Kaiju experts. The first is Charlie Day, who is nearly as loud and abrasive (and occasionally adorable) as he is in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The second is Burn Gorman, who plays a rip-off of Tucker from There’s Something About Mary, complete with the whiny voice and dodgy limp.

Tucker, is that you?
Tucker, is that you?

Rounding out the main cast are Max Martini (American) and Robert Kazinsky (Brit) as two fake Aussies with really exaggerated accents. Seriously, why not get some real Aussies? oh well, at least it was good to see one of them playing a semi-villain.

The actor who steals the show is del Toro favourite Ron Perlman (aka Hellboy), who plays a black marketeer who harvests the organs and body parts of dead Kaijus. It’s an outlandish and campy performance that Perlman absolutely nails, and the few short scenes with him and Day are the “human” highlights of the entire film.

Pacific Rim got a lot of very positive reviews, which surprised me in some ways given how critics are always so quick to savage poor dialogue and characterization. I have a feeling much of the warm response stems from their respect for del Toro as a visionary filmmaker. I really wanted to like Pacific Rim a lot more than I did because the last two Transformers movies just about destroyed my faith in humanity. The creature designs and action sequences fulfilled if not exceeded my expectations, but those things alone were not enough to reach the bar I had set for the movie.

3.25 stars out of 5

PS: No matter what you thought of Pacific Rim, the groundwork has been laid for what could potentially be a blistering sequel, apparently already in the works.

Movie Review: Horrible Bosses (2011)

Horrible Bosses is, in many ways, this year’s Couples Retreat — amazing ensemble cast, clever premise, Jason Bateman, tremendous potential…and disappointing result.  To be fair, it’s a lot funnier than Couples Retreat (not difficult), but Horrible Bosses never reaches the heights it could have soared to.

Anyone who has ever worked for a shitty boss can relate to the premise of this film — Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis (Hall Pass) and Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) are friends with horrible bosses: the tormenting maniac Kevin Spacey, the douchebag Colin Farrell and the harassing nympho Jennifer Aniston.  Their lives are hell and they dream of killing their respective bosses, leading them to procure the services of ex-con Jamie Foxx.  The plot starts off being somewhat cookie cutter but to the writers’ credit it went places I didn’t expect it to.

A friend of mine who saw the movie before me found it funny but had problems with the swearing and crudity.  He’s not alone as there have been reports of senior citizens walking out in the middle of the movie.  Jennifer Aniston in particular tries to shed her good girl image with lots of raunchy dialogue.  Personally, I didn’t have a whole lot of problem with the swearing and crudity — what irritated me more was that it wasn’t particularly funny, or at least not enough of it was.  The scenarios were there, the set ups were there, but the jokes lacked the finishing punch.

It’s a shame, because Horrible Bosses has one of the best comedic line ups of the year.  The three main leads play to their strengths.  Bateman is the regular straight-faced, dead-pan character (which works so well for him), Sudeikis is, like he was in Hall Pass, sleazy and a bit of a sexual deviant, and Day is his usual high-pitched, freaking-out self that we know from It’s Always Sunny.  The bosses are indeed horrible and serve their purpose, but aren’t that funny.  Spacey makes you believe he is real (in fact he reminds me of a few real people), Farrell is physically impressive but just okay, and Aniston is not bad, but may be trying too hard at times.  Foxx is probably the highlight despite limited screen time.

I’m not sure what exactly went wrong with Horrible Bosses.  Don’t get me wrong, I laughed a few times and I enjoyed bits and pieces of it.  Dreaming of killing your boss is a deliciously wicked idea, and watching three bumbling idiots trying to get it done is pretty funny.  But at the end of the film I sat there wondering why I didn’t find it funnier.

2.5 stars out of 5