REVIEW: “LAST CHRISTMAS” (2019) Universal

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If Emilia Clarke was looking to step out and reinvent herself after eight years as Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen, then “LAST CHRISTMAS” would be that vehicle. Along with her character choice of Kate, a wayward and dysfunctional wanna-be actress in her 20’s, who spends her day working as an Elf selling year round Christmas monstrosities – well you couldn’t be further removed from the queen of dragons herself with this one.

Her boss, in what is sure to be London’s gaudiest Christmas store, conveniently goes by the moniker “Santa” (Michelle Yeoh), constantly admonishes Kate for her shortcoming, and there are many of them. As a matter of fact, Kate is simply just the worst. Her nights are devoted to getting plastered, trying to find one in the endless array of couches to crash on – and mornings, well mornings are spent trying to recall the who/what/where of the previous evening shenanigans. “It’s not my fault” is almost a battle-cry for Kate. She just can’t seem to get it together, oddly enough, even when she somehow forgot to lock the door and the store gets robbed, incredibly she keeps her job.

One day the super dreamy Tom (Henry Golding) enters the picture, helping her piece her life back together just in time for Christmas. Magically he enchants her in every way from little dances in the street, to taking her to his little private garden spot. But everything just seems to be a bit to convenient here.  Showing up at the most random of moments, Tom is just too good to be true. And this is only a partial list of things that just make no sense here.  Katie even goes so far as to out her sister Marta (Lydia Leonard), yet instead of facing actual repercussions for these things, seemingly things get better for her. It’s like magically overnight she becomes a good person.

It’s never a good sign when the film’s trailer feels like the whole movie, but you would be right on the money with ‘Last Christmas,’  and those holding their breath for something more will leave sorely underwhelmed.  Sure, you don’t go into a film like this expecting to be surprised but neither do you want it feeling like it’s three steps behind you just because you’ve seen the trailer. Yet, as soon the film delivers its climactic plot twist with the earnestness of a kid tying their shoelaces for the first time, the film quickly trips over its own feet. Your only small highlights in characters here are her parents Petra (Emma Thompson), who delves into heavily into a Eastern European accent, and Ivan (Boris Isakovic) her taxi cab driving dad, both of whom supply a laugh or two but not much more.

It’s hard to know who to lay blame on here as there’s not much to work with in terms of the film’s story. Taking its title from the 1984 Wham! pop song Last Christmas, the film treats George Michael’s music with the same depth as Yesterday treated the Beatles; as window dressing. When it comes to the actual film, it’s nothing more than your typical Hallmark movie of the week. Watching Clarke bumble around is endearing enough for the first half or so but it wears thin quickly and the predictable story line does little to keep things interesting.

So, the question remains: how far can a film go based on charm alone? Well, your mileage will undoubtedly vary based on your tolerance of saccharine love stories as ‘Last Christmas’ is as sweet as they get. Its lack of cynicism and Clarke’s infectiously bubbly lead performance will likely be its saving grace for many, but overall it’s ‘Christmas’ story feels like a lump of coal wrapped up in pretty packaging.

Grade: C

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Media Review Screening: Tuesday, October 5, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Universal Pictures

“LAST CHRISTMAS” IS OUT IN THEATERS IN THEATERS WORLDWIDE

 

Review: “A Simple Favor” – or is it simply an unfavorable one (2018) Lionsgate

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First things first, “A Simple Favor” is not really a mystery film, though it tries very hard, it seemed almost a spoof of a mystery. As much as the marketing would have you believe, and for those looking for the next Gone Girl or Girl on The Train, you might want to continue your search. The story here is far-fetched, overcooked and unravels in such a hasty-type way that it’s hard to treat much of it seriously. Director Paul Feig (best known for his comedy), is seemingly aware of the story’s inherent ridiculousness and keeps the film light and easily digestible, but the result is a weird hybrid of a comedy-mystery that doesn’t hit home with either genre completely and comes off spoof-like as there are whole bricks of time that you aren’t sure if a certain part was meant to be funny or dramatic, so the laughs are small.

The film, based on the novel by Darcey Bell, gives us neurotic Mommy Vlogger Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick,) a widowed mother to a young son. Her goody two-shoes personality makes her pariah amongst the other parents by being so overly perky that the sneers and snark given behind her back are viciou,s but quite true. But she’s also so desperate for human connection that she’s willing to befriend Emily Nelson (Blake Lively), the martini-guzzling fashion industry executive who is not exactly a hands-on mother to her son. We soon learn that martinis and playdates shouldn’t be mixed. Before long they become best friends, at least in Stephanie’s mind they are and when Emily disappears, Stephanie steps out of her shell to solve the mystery via her vlog. I kid you not.

Kendrick’s role is attuned to her goofy charms, though she always comes off as being more of a teenager than an adult. While on the other hand, Lively convincingly embodies the enigmatic nature of her character in a crucial supporting role. And then we have Henry Golding, who hot off his Crazy Rich Asians role, gets the rough end of the deal playing Emily’s husband Sean, a character who, while not entirely likeable, is cruelly used and manipulated by the two females throughout the film. Though I will say, his roles were so similarly played to me as in, not a huge range in the difference of the two characters.

To be honest, the only consistency between all the characters is that none of them are particularly likeable. They each make questionable decisions, are gratingly self-centered and become increasingly obnoxious as the film progresses with its dubious twists. By the end, you’ll be hard pressed to care about any of them. This is no more evident than in the film’s tacked on “where are they now?’ postscript that feels completely unnecessary and ill informed in assuming audiences care enough about the characters to know where they end up.

On the upside, Feig, who is more proficient in making fun films rather than serious ones, keeps the film feeling light and easy-going. The audience is teased with a stylish soundtrack filled with classy French music (seriously one of the best parts of this entire film is the soundtrack), and there are some funny scenes that incite light giggles rather than any laugh out loud bursts of humour. These meager positives don’t improve the narrative but at least they make it a little less painful to digest. Ultimately, ‘A Simple Favor’ spends two hours flipping between being a trash novel & a parody of one. As the end credits roll, I still didn’t know. And the whole blend of trying to switch between the ‘mystery’ and the ‘comedy’ got tiresome after a while. But hey, everyone tries to give the audience a good time.

Ultimately, It wasn’t the best movie I’ve ever seen and all the actors play roles they are typically type cast for. It was surprisingly unfunny, oddly kind of enjoyable, even as super far fetched as it was. It’s a strange blend of mystery and comedy that doesn’t gel into a cohesive whole. As a piece of entertainment, it’s entirely disposable, but I give it kudos for not being the same old recycled material we’ve all been seeing lately.

Grade: C+
@pegsatthemovies

Media Review Screening: Tuesday, September 11, 2018 ~ Courtesy of Lionsgate
‘A SIMPLE FAVOR IS NOW PLAYING NATIONWIDE // Worldwide release to follow