FlixChatter Review: LAST CHRISTMAS (2019)

Directed by Paul Feig
Starring: Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh and Emma Thompson

The holidays are upon us and along with that – holiday films. From “A Christmas Carol” to “Die Hard” and even to “Eyes Wide Shut”, the genre covers a wide spectrum of styles and there is always something, some motif, setting, style or narrative that makes it what it is and marketable this time of year. Paul Feig’s latest “Last Christmas” falls within the conventional side of this spectrum and appropriately so.

Emilia Clarke plays Kate, an aspiring and struggling singer living in London who also works as an elf in a Christmas store owned by Santa (Michelle Yeoh). Kate or Katerina (her Yugoslavian namesake) is a bit of a train wreck, borderline homeless, careless, irresponsible and jaded. Along comes Tom (Henry Golding), a stranger who happens to show up when she is at her worst but seems to melt her icy cynicism little by little. Slowly, she starts to turn things around, even with a hovering mother (played by Emma Thompson) obsessively doting on her.

To say any more would be revealing too much but Last Christmas reminds us of Bill Murray’s character turn/development in Groundhog Day, another holiday classic. Last Christmas follows the holiday template almost to a T in its predictability. However, Emilia Clarke’s performance is so charming that the movie succeeds in its intention. I’d forgotten she’d been Daenarys of Game of Thrones’ fame. Her comic turn as Kate is so natural and effortless that it’s enough to carry the film throughout the clichés, forced subplots, and feel-good story. We end up rooting for her through thick and thin. Clarke’s performance proves she’s not one-dimensional – a sign she will overcome being typecast, and hopefully more opportunities for complex roles in the future.

Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding and Emma Thompson are all merely there as supporting characters but there are some nice touches here and there. Last Christmas is cognizant of the times and reflects some of the political climate of today’s Europe and the western world. This is the world of Brexit and racism. Thompson (co-writer) and the filmmakers can be commended for at least trying to present a more realistic and diverse London.

The soundtrack is rich – filled with Wham! and George Michael classics. Michael’s song is the inspiration for the story and also a tribute to the late singer. Last Christmas is a cookie cutter of a film and not quite the classic it’s striving to be but it does have its heart in the right place. For some that might be enough.

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So did you get to see LAST CHRISTMAS? Let us know what you think!

FlixChatter Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

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It’s been ages since I saw the first Ghostbusters movie, which was released three decades ago in 1984. I decided to re-watch the original this weekend, but I barely remembered much of it by the time I saw this reboot. I pretty much chose to stay away from all the controversy over its all-female casting, chugging it to whiny fanboys who have too much time on their hands. I mean to say that a reboot ‘ruins your childhood’ and goes on a sexist/racist tirade over a movie, then perhaps you need to find more some meaning with your life.

In any case, I approach this movie with neutral expectations, as I usually do. Now, is it necessary to reboot this? Probably not, but seeing that all the cast members are so hilarious and talented in their own right, I expect to have a good time w/ the movie. Well, for the most part I did.

The movie starts out with a ghost sighting in a haunted mansion. That incident leads to the mansion owner seeking out Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), who vehemently denies writing a book about the existence of paranormal phenomenon as it threatens her reputation as a legit science professor. Soon Gilbert is reunited with her estranged friend and co-writer of the book, Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), who’s still as passionate as ever in her ghost-hunting vocation at a tech college. Her partner in crime is ab eccentric engineer Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). When MTA worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) reported a ghost sighting at a subway tunnel, the Ghostbusters quartet is complete. Each was given a chance to shine here and I honestly can’t pick a favorite as I like ’em all.

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This is definitely an origin story from writer/director Paul Feig (who co-wrote it with Katie Dippold), not only told the story of how the team came together, but also how the Ghostbusters logo came about. I think they’ve assembled a great cast, as the four actresses have a great chemistry together and they work well as a team. It’s awesome to see regular girls, some are nerdy and prone to fan-girling (whether it’s ghost or hot-but-dumb male secretary), get to kick ass on the big screen. We’ve seen more of supermodel look-alike heroines like Lara Croft, Wonder Woman, etc. saving the world, so it’s always refreshing to see women we can relate to have their moment this time around.

Speaking of that hot-but-dumb secretary, Chris Hemsworth is definitely game in poking fun at himself as Kevin. He’s obviously aware of his more-brawn-than-brain image and goes all out with it, though at times it feels a bit too much. He’s not quite the scene stealer here, but certainly memorable. As for the cameos of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson, well they’re amusing to see but the scenes they’re in are not as funny as I expected.
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The comedic style of this new movie is quite different from the original, for one I find that the new one has more wisecrackin’ one liners. I love the fact that the movie pokes fun at the haters…

‘It’s really easy sit there and be the naysayer when you don’t actually do anything.’ – Abby Yates

… but one of the funniest moments for me was when Leslie Jones’ character jumps into the mosh pit, but falls to the ground when the crowd moves away.

“I don’t know if it was a race thing or a lady thing, but I’m mad as hell!”

Comedy is so subjective, so you either love or hate ’em, but having enjoyed Spy (also written and directed by Paul Feig and stars Melissa McCarthy), this one seems to be in a similar vein. The funniest bits are when the cast are bantering with each other, even the slapstick stuff involving the myriad ghostbustin’ weaponry made me laugh. But I find the last act to be the weakest and I find myself wandering a bit as the CGI-fest is happening on screen.

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As with many recent big-budget action flicks like Batman V Superman, there seems to be an obsession with blowing up a city. It’s as if all these filmmakers are infected w/ Michael Bay syndrome or something. The fight scene at the end is once again filled with a city being blown to bits and the colossal CGI smash went on for way too long. I mentioned it in the Dawn of Justice review, it’s a sensory overload that feels like an endurance contest for the audience. Yes I know the original also has a big action scene at the end, but it didn’t feel as bloated as this new one. It also didn’t help that this movie also has a very weak and totally uninteresting villain. I can’t even remember what the guy’s name was who summons all the ghosts to wreck havoc among the living.

That said, I’m glad I saw this and I’m happy to say I enjoyed it overall. I’d say it’s a pretty good Summer escapist fun that pays homage to the original. I wonder at times whether they should’ve made this into a spin-off instead of a reboot, which would perhaps give the filmmakers more wiggle room to make it a different story that’s still about ghost hunting. Whether or not that’d be a better movie remains to be seen of course, but it’d be interesting to see that.

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Having seen both the original and the reboot within a week, I’m more convinced of how absurd the controversy is over the all-female cast. Just like the original, the talented main cast are the best thing about the movie. I personally think humor knows no gender. I suppose haters are gonna hate, I just can’t fathom the idiocy of it all.

So if you’re on the fence, give it a shot and make up your own mind. It’s not the best reboots out there, but it’s definitely NOT the worst. I wish this were a better movie but one thing for sure, the main cast made for a winning foursome.

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So have you seen the new ‘Ghostbusters’ movie? I’d love to hear what you think!

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FlixChatter Review: SPY (2015)

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I have a confession to make. I haven’t seen Bridesmaids nor any of Melissa McCarthy’s R-rated comedies The Heat, Identity Thief, and Tammy. I’m not exactly fond of raunchy comedies with all the foul language and gross situations that I don’t find the least bit funny. But somehow when I saw the trailer for SPY, I was laughing so hard I actually watched it several times before the screening. I guess I love the spy action genre, and the casting of Jason Statham and Jude Law didn’t hurt either. Once the movie starts though, it’s clear that it’s McCarthy who’s the STAR of the show, she’s effortlessly hysterical and here she’s instantly likable. I was rooting for her character Susan Cooper right from the start, when she’s merely a desk-bound CIA analyst who’s desperately in love with a handsome spy (Jude Law).

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The story itself is pretty basic. When an operation goes bust, Cooper ends up volunteering to be a field agent and of course, hilarity ensues as she goes undercover to infiltrate the dangerous world of a deadly arms dealer. Just like any Bond or Bond-like movie, of course her mission is to prevent a psychopath villain from getting their hands on a nuclear weapon and save the world. But the plot hardly matters in a movie like this, so long as they keep the comedic moments coming and thankfully they did! Perhaps the fact that I’m not all that familiar with Paul Feig‘s brand of comedy works in my favor as at least it felt fresh to me.

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McCarthy herself is such a hoot here, she delivers the laugh from start to finish. It helps to see her paired with someone equally hilarious. Not sure why English comedienne Miranda Hart looks familiar to me as I’ve never seen her before, but I hope she’d get her own movie in the future. She’s simply hysterical and they have such a fun rapport together. If they ever do a movie or TV show with Melissa & Miranda together, I’d so watch it!

As a big 007 fan, of course I love all the Bond references, down to the moment when they go to the Q-branch to get her spy gadgets. The movie’s villainess comes in the form of gorgeous Rose Byrne. I’ve only seen her in a couple of non-comedic roles but she definitely has genuine comic timing. I remember McCarthy said in one of her interviews that Rose’s hair is basically a character in itself and it sure is! Her character is deliberately over the top but she also has some of the funniest bits in the movie “It’s the Bulgarian clown in you.” Ha!

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The casting of Jason Statham may seem odd but he got his start in an Guy Ritchie’s action comedy (Lock, Stock Two Smoking Barrels & Snatch) so he’s actually quite a natural here. Of course it’s a hoot seeing him poking fun at himself and a bunch of preposterous action scenes he’s been in. The bit where he’s bragging about surviving all kinds of ridiculous calamity is pure comedic gold! Allison Janney with her deadpan expression is pretty funny too as the no-nonsense CIA boss.

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Now, I’ve mentioned that I’m not fond of raunchy, foul-mouthed comedies and so of course there are scenes here I don’t care for. Seriously, those selfies of male genitalia is imbecile, gross and utterly unnecessary. I really don’t think it adds anything to make the movie funnier, and neither are the excessive f-bombs though sadly most people have become desensitized to such things these days. I’m also not that impressed by Bobby Cannavale (Byrne’s real life boyfriend) as this suave but deadly arms dealer. His character is too much of a caricature, so I guess I have more of an issue about how he’s written. Byrne’s character is definitely far more memorable and more fun to watch.

Despite those quibbles, I had fun with this one and I might even rent this later.I might also give The Heat a watch as it also has Sandra Bullock who’s always fun to watch. This movie made me like Melissa McCarthy and I think it’s great that her movies are box office hits! It’s about time we see guys like Statham and Law playing second and third bananas to her, and that we see more and more female-centric movies in general.

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Have you seen SPY? Well, what did YOU think?