David Brent: Life on the Road (2016)

I will preface this review with an important point. I have never found Ricky Gervais to be particularly funny or add any value to the comic circuit. I went into this viewing with low expectations. I didn’t expect to be as disappointed as I was, even by my own low standards.

I don’t know what Ricky Gervais was thinking when he pitched this idea to BBC Films. Perhaps he is cash strapped and needed to latch onto an audience nostalgic for the heyday of The Office. Whatever his intentions were, he fell short on his vision.

david-brent-life-on-the-road-2-600x889Comedy has come a long way since The Office. What was acceptable or funny back then isn’t funny now. A film about an aspiring musical talent that is half comedian and half attention whore isn’t new or inventive. Why they even bothered to promote the soundtrack to this film, I don’t know. I can’t think of any reasonable person that would listen to those songs and think ‘yes, I want to use valuable space on my iPod to this self indulgent lyrical nonsense’. If you want musical comedy, look for The Lonely Island, Flight of the Conchords, even the classics like Weird Al Yankovic or Adam Sandler. Their music is designed to be comedy material.

This film represents everything that is wrong with the film industry right now. It drags people in who have a fond memory of a programme and then butcher it with some money making, second rate B-movie that tries so desperately hard to be more than what it is.

Watching this film is like being in the audience for one of David Brent’s shows. It’s awkward, undercooked and you don’t know if it’s okay to leave halfway through because you’re worried he might notice. The only positive you can say about this film is that the rest of the cast is genuinely funny. The savagery and brutality of the band, the sound technician, even his colleagues at Lavichem – they highlight everything wrong with the film simply by playing their part.

Nobody feels comfortable in their role. It’s just like a car on its last legs, coughing and wheezing as you pray it gets you home before it decides to give up. I don’t quite know why people in the audience were laughing. It’s not laugh out loud funny. It’s mild and childish humour that is designed to be mindless and stupid.

That’s probably my best way of describing this film. It’s mindless. It’s stupid. It is trying to send a message but it isn’t doing a very good of telling you what the message is. It plays on stereotypes like they’re going out of fashion. I’m sure there’s a message in there about political correctness and how we need to learn to laugh at ourselves. Ricky Gervais needs to learn when to quit. It was about the same time that The Office ended.

Don’t waste your money on this. You might think that it will be a laugh, Ricky Gervais back to his old self. It isn’t. It’s a cash cow that the BBC has wasted millions on when it could have been put to better use. Whether it’s the cameos, the references, the tired look and feel of the film, it all feels like another excuse for us to look back at The Office and realise that it was probably best kept in the mast.

War Dogs (2016)

wardogsposterWar Dogs plays itself in the trailer as a comedy. With Jonah Hill and Miles Teller as the lead characters, you would expect this to play out as a comedy. Except it doesn’t. It’s dark. It’s surreal. It’s exhilarating. Yes, it has its comic moments. Those moments are intertwined with dark humour and sinister backdrops that make war less appealing than it already is. From the director that brought us The Hangover trilogy, this film comes as a surprise, not only because it’s based on a true story but because it has a sense that it’s trying to ‘say something’.

Throughout the viewing of this film, I kept making comparisons to Lord of War starring Nicolas Cage, the war film sponsored by Amnesty International. The comparisons are clear. There are two characters (Miles Teller and Jonah Hill) who become ever-more entrenched in the world of arms dealing. Miles Teller has a partner who doesn’t know (initially) about his involvement in international arms trades. There is a deal that goes wrong. All of these scenes play out in the same way that they played out in Lord of War. The difference? This film forces you to make your own judgements.

Jonah Hill is superb playing as Efraim Diveroli, a twenty-something arms dealer who moves up in the world of international arms trading faster than seems reasonable or possible. His character trait, a short, high-pitched laugh, is a fantastic device for the film and made the audiences laugh each time he did it, even when the laugh was disguising something terrible. Miles Teller has always done well playing innocence and naivety and this is no different in his role as David Packouz, failing at life and discovering something that he’s good at, without quite realising the consequences or repercussions of his actions.

In fact, the casting is on point. Bradley Cooper playing the role of the elusive and mysterious Henry Gerrard is magnificent and Ana de Armas playing as Miles Teller’s partner, Iz, is attention to detail that the director didn’t need but included. This film would have worked as a comedy. The two principal leads have enough experience and skill in the genre to be able to make a dark story into a comically stupid set of circumstances. Instead, the director goes for something more bold and ambitious.

He makes an actual film. At times, it feels like The Wolf of Wall Street, at others it feels like Lord of War, sometimes it feels like a film of its own. That’s the beauty of this film. It takes the best moments of those films and blends them into a cinematic cocktail of its own making. War Dogs might not end up being my film of the year but it is definitely one of the top five films I have seen so far.

Bad Moms (2016)

2016 may very well become the year of the comedy. From Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates to Sausage Party, War Dogs to Bad Neighbours 2, the genre is returning to its roots. Bad Moms is no different, except that it has a stellar cast that makes use of its comedic talents to tap into a resource and potential that few other comedic films have managed: motherhood.

bad-moms-movie-posterIt’s difficult to write a review for a film designed primarily for women and mothers when you’re a young male audience member. The comedy is aimed at a generation of American mothers who can sympathise and relate to the day-to-day stresses of Amy (played by Mila Kunis) and her two friends, Carla (Kathryn Hahn) and Kiki (Kristen Bell). For me, the star of the show ends up being Kathryn Hahn. Her disregard and casual approach to life makes the film less of a commentary of motherhood and more of a comedy. She manages to make scenes explode with comic value, simply because of her presence. Her facial expressions and her skill at delivering powerful one-liners is akin to Jim Carrey and Robin Williams, people who could make a film great simply by being in it.

The plot of Bad Moms is simple. Amy is a mother of two children and part-time executive at a coffee company that has more in common with a nursery than it does a company. She feels responsible for the failures of her children and her husband (played by David Walton) isn’t much help either. Enter Gwendolyn (played by Christina Applegate) who appears to be the perfect mother, serving as the PTA president and making sure that those who get on the wrong side of her suffer some sort of school-related injustices.

A lot of the humour and comedy can be difficult to break down, especially for non-American audiences. References to PTA meetings, hiring committees, elections, etc., they’re all part of an American schooling system that other countries simply don’t have. For that alone, it makes it difficult to appreciate the comedy in context. As a stand alone comedy film about a host of women who end up doing some stupid things, it’s great.

Critics will say that this film doesn’t add any value, that it doesn’t offer any sort of commentary to the comic circle. Films don’t need to do that. Films need to be enjoyable. This is definitely enjoyable. Judging by the reactions from the many women in the audience that the showing I attended, it’s a hit with that section of the audience and I found myself laughing at plenty of moments throughout the film. Sure, it’s not high art but it is fun.

Loot Crate Reviewed!

cotlocwxeaasxbvLoot Crate(TM) is a gamer/geek monthly subscription box that started off in late 2012 and has expanded into a multitude of different countries, subscriptions and themes as it plots to take over the world. In a digital age where the subscription box is king, what makes Loot Crate so different from all the others? The first (and most important) is its price point. For US subscribers, the highest price that you will pay for a subscription is $19.95. For international subscribers, the price is higher due to shipping costs (as an example, as a UK subscriber, I tend to pay approx. £24 a month for mine). If you want to upgrade to their premium model, the Loot Crate DX, you’re looking at a price point of $49.99 a month.

Loot Crate has expanded into different sectors with its subscription box model and caters to Anime, Gaming, Pets, Clothing, Firefly, Halo and WWE. Those variations alone indicate that Loot Crate has tapped into a market that is demanding more and more from its curators. There is no true rival to Loot Crate in the UK. Even as an international subscriber, there have never been problems with delivery (tracked and recorded through Asensia) and their customer service is second to none.

imageedit_2_4467939004Like all digital-based organisations, social media has a big part to play in how Loot Crate has expanded as an organisation. Their interaction with their fans makes them stand-out contenders in the Twitter and Facebook circles. Even when there’s a problem, Loot Crate are quick to provide a solution. Here are some examples. In a recent Loot Crate, a Marvel oven mitt was included that was later discovered to be a fire hazard. Loot Crate issued a recall notice and has promised to offer a replacement item of the same or greater value. In another example, an item that was lost in one of my subscription boxes was replaced without additional cost or charges.

The most important question, however, is what’s included. Loot Crate have the benefit of establishing relationships and partnering with the largest movie studios, gaming companies and more besides. Loot Crate doesn’t just provide merchandise. Each crate comes with a specially designed t-shirt that ranges from shows such as Rick and Morty to Labyrinth. What more? No problem! Each crate comes with a ‘Loot Pin’, a badge that comes with special themed downloadable content from everything from Fallout Shelter to Neverwinter Nights.

You need only look at the photos that people share of their crates to highlight that Loot Crate is only going to get bigger and bigger. How long will they be able to keep their price as low as it is? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m glad I discovered them when I did because, as a self-declared geek, I look forward to receiving that beautiful black box through my door every single month. Loot Crate, I thank you.

Nerve (2016)

poster09In the age of the reboot, remake or DC/Marvel film, an original IP is hard to find. Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost have experience as directors of internet-centric media. Their most famous directorial works include Catfish and the later Paranormal Activity films. Nerve looks to push the questions that Catfish first asked into a dark and troubling universe where voyeurism is king. In a world where people can be paid huge sums to complete ‘dares’, all of it live-streamed for a digital audience that pays to watch, how far are people prepared to go to seek fame, fortune and followers?

It sounds like a unique premise. In many ways, it is. Except that it has its roots in reality. In May 2016, a lecturer was watched by more than 40,000 people on Facebook Live in a standoff with police, the end result of which culminated in his suicide. In the same month, a woman streamed her suicide on Periscope and was watched by 1,000 people, none of whom intervened. In response to those events, Periscope, Facebook, Twitter et al. were all challenged to improve methods of alerting local authorities to possible suicide attempts, crimes or cyber-bulling.

That’s what makes this film as good as it is. It challenges the viewer to think about the possibilities. Could this happen? The answer: it already is. Emma Roberts puts in a stellar performance as the traditional ‘Watcher’ who is cast into the game of Nerve following a series of events that ends with her embarrassment. She links up with Dave Franco who plays a character with a seemingly blank history and has become something of an internet sensation for his skill and bravado in completing dares.

nerve-posterAs the two join forces and Vee (Emma Roberts) becomes evermore engrossed in the game of Nerve, the reality of what Nerve is becomes apparent. Watcher or Player? Watcher or Player? The mantra of the game’s slogan lingers throughout the film. It’s not just about these two characters chasing an adrenaline high. It’s about the people who watch other people’s lives through a screen. It’s about the people who risk their lives chasing digital fame, the next follower on Instagram, Twitter.

It’s rare that a film that was released at the same time as The BFG, Finding Dory and Suicide Squad could even look to compete. Schulman and Joost’s film does more than just compete. It blows them out of the water. It is an two hour festival of adrenaline, madness and thrill. This has easily become one of the films of the summer and, even the likes of Star Wars: Rogue One and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them weren’t being released later in the year, it could easily be film of the year.

If you want a film that caters to the digital-obsessed audience, a film that challenges and forces you to think about the consequences of climbing down the viral rabbit hole, this is the film for you. Forget reboots and remakes of classic films. Movie studios, take note. This is what a film needs to be about. This is what we need more of.

The Shallows (2016)

The Shallows is the latest film from Jaume Collet-Serra, director of films such as Unknown, Non-Stop and House of Wax. With its lead character played by the promising talent, Blake Lively, Collet-Serra moves away from his action and horror themes and expands into the realm of drama.

The opening scenes of the film open like any other thriller-style film, focusing on the prospect of isolation and loneliness. Nancy (played by Blake Lively) is abandoned by her friend on her trip to discover a mysterious beach in Mexico that her mother visited in 1991. She is taken to the beach by a Mexican local who refuses to provide the name of the beach.

the-shallows-posterWhen she arrives at the beach, she discovers two other surfers are at the beach and quickly joins them, discovering the thrill of the Mexican surf and experiences clear-blue waters. The combination of a slow opening build-up combined with the backing of Neon Jungle’s Trouble makes this difficult to get into but, when it does, it does it well.

Nancy is left alone in the sea when her two fellow surfers warn her that it’s getting dark. As she searches for that one last wave, the first glimpse of what awaits her in the sea is visible. A short distance from her surfboard is a dying whale, clearly crippled by a vicious attack from an unknown assailant. With the caw of seagulls and a setting sun, Nancy is gripped by a foreboding sense that she isn’t alone in the waters.

People will naturally make comparisons to Jaws. Both films feature heavily young female characters being assailed by a shark. Where Jaws and The Shallows differ is that the focus isn’t on the shark. It’s on the isolation. Collet-Serra leaves the lead character abandoned on a small rock and most of her challenges don’t come from a shark attack but from nature itself. She suffers from a risk of hypothermia as temperatures plummet during the night, gangrenous limbs from an infected wound and heat stroke.

The problem with the film is that it demands that the viewer suspends their disbelief. There is a convenience about the fact that she has medical training. There is a convenience about the fact that comes across two people who tell her about the tides and how the rock she is perched on disappears during the high tide. If the viewer is prepared to ignore those flaws, it becomes a blend of thrill and suspense. It is best described as Jaws meets 127 Hours as the shark represents the precursor to her isolation and abandonment in a country where Nancy barely speaks the language and quickly discovers that being alone isn’t quite what she hoped it might be.

It’s not a unique premise and doesn’t push the boat out in terms of ‘breaking the cinematic norm’ but it is enjoyable. As the end credits approach, the adrenaline levels begin to amp themselves up and Nancy’s discovery of her own internal determination as well as her character touches on the viewer.