Thursday, December 4, 2014

Horrible Bosses 2 and John Wick

            Some Complications with Working for Yourself
                         Review by Ken Burke
                                     Horrible Bosses 2 (Sean Anders)
Once again a trio of decent guys try to find success in a difficult world, this time because their marketable idea is about to be stolen by a crass financier so they retaliate.
                                               John Wick (Chad Stahelski)
A once-notorious hit man for a Russian mob is pulled out of retirement to take revenge on the son of his former employer; the bad-guy-body-count piles up a furious rate.
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 This week I’ve got 2 movies that have some surprising similarities—including being considered grotesque by some critics (especially the first one, for its crass tone, although the second may be off-putting because of its incessant violence) so read on at your own peril, even beyond the usual Spoiler Alert warnings.

What Happens: Horrible Bosses 2 brings back most of the characters of the original (Seth Gordon, 2011)—financial-worker-bee Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman), who was screwed around by his higher-up, David Harken (Kevin Spacey), until this boss is sent to prison for murdering Bobby Pellitt (Colin Farrell; he doesn’t return for obvious reasons) for having an affair with Harken’s wife; dental assistant Dale Arbus (Charlie Day), who was constantly being sexually harassed by Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston), demanding that he have sex with her or she’ll tell his fiancée that he did anyway; accountant Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis), whose life became miserable when cokehead Bobby took over the company Kurt worked for; and Dean “Motherfucker” Jones (Jamie Foxx), an ex-con who provided our besieged workers with strategies for killing their unbearable “superiors” in a manner that wouldn’t implicate any of them—but this time Nick, Dale, and Kurt set out to be their own bosses by seeking backing for their invention, the Shower Buddy, that automatically provides soap, shampoo, and conditioner as part of the water spray.  They think that ego-driven-but-wealthy-retailer Rex Hanson (Chris Pine) likes their idea but find out that all he wants to do is buy it from them to produce it in China so they refuse, leading to his father, Burt (Christoph Waltz), offering to market 100,000 units after helping them secure a loan to pay for the manufacturing (there’s a great panning-pixilation-shot where the empty warehouse transforms into a bustling assembly-line-factory, followed by a funny montage where they hire everyone they interview, especially where Kurt and attractive women are concerned); however, Burt’s scheme is to cancel his order, then buy up their product on the cheap when they default on their loan, so our intrepid trio decide to kidnap Rex in order to get enough ransom money ($500,000) to pay off the loan, then sell their devices through someone else.  They screw up the kidnapping, though, allowing Rex to learn about the plan, but he surprisingly wants to go along with it so that the ransom can be increased ($5,000,000), with most of the money coming to him.

 Despite a lot of other clumsy misfires, the scheme almost seems to work until Rex unexpectedly kills his father, setting up our confused klutzes for the murder unless they (aided by Motherfucker—hey, I don’t create these names, I just report them) can lead the police back to the warehouse where Rex is supposedly being held.  Rex is still in command of the operation, though, until his scam is exposed, whereupon he tries to escape with police Detective Hatcher (Jonathan Banks) as a hostage but Dale thwarts his attempt (getting shot in the process) so that Rex is captured with charges dropped against our “heroes,” whose invention continues in production with their business now owned from prison by Harken while Jones makes off with the $5 million ransom money.

So What? There’s nothing much of substance going on in Horrible Bosses 2 (as evidenced by the national critical consensus: Rotten Tomatoes at 33% positive, Metacritic at 40%, with more details in the links far below if you want them), but that doesn’t stop it from being—in what is a very-minority-opinion on my part—non-stop-funny, that is as long as you can appreciate a modern-day-version of The Three Stooges (using Nick as the slightly-more-sane-version of Moe, constantly trying to keep his easily-distracted-knucklehead-friends [marvelously portrayed by Day and Sudeikis] on target as their various attempts at taking command of their lives are constantly blocked; Bateman is excellent in his exasperation with everyone else in the movie, although he’s got his weaknesses as well, especially in his attraction to sex-crazed Dr. Harris who’s still stalking Dale whenever she can, determined to capture the one elusive man who’s refused her wide-open [so to speak, as I try to get into the spirit of this silly story] invitations—although she may have gotten him at the end while he was in a coma long enough for a woman to be elected President [we assume Hilary Clinton, but the filmmakers keep their options open for future-audience-appreciation], but even if she’s lying about that her new “white whale” is Dale’s wife, Stacy [Lindsay Sloane], that is if Stacy can ever be found with enough hookup time while not ministering to her ever-present-triplets) with a plot intended to be embraced as idiotic, a cluster of characters who have to be accepted for their flaws (because those shortcomings are too deep to ever hope for being overcome), and raunchy language and situations that wouldn’t be acceptable in Sunday School. (I started to say high school but changed my mind, given what I understand of how teenagers now indulge in language, drugs, sex, and defiance of authority that make my long-ago-version of that life totally pale in comparison [not that I and my friends didn’t want to act that way, but in 1960s Texas there wasn’t much chance of it, except for the occasional thugs and sluts—oh, lighten up, you know who you were].)

 There’s very little happening here intended to give you much faith in human nature (except Dale’s determined fidelity), but that’s not the movie’s intention, nor should you approach it as such.  Honestly, I can’t remember if I liked the original any better than this sequel (it came out a few months before Pat and I started this blog so I have no notes on it, a necessary factor for keeping many of my viewing memories straight given how many movies of various kinds I’ve seen over the years)—although the critical consensus for the predecessor was much better (Tomatoes at 69%, Metacritic at 57%), despite some uncommon comments I’ve read that this one is the superior of the 2—but if you’re not displeased by the ridiculous comedy structures nor occasional-gross-out-situations, such as Rex’s maid rubbing his toothbrush up her butt in retaliation for his miserable treatment of her (as well as the unhesitatingly-foul-language throughout), then I think you’d find Horrible Bosses 2 as a useful-if-fleeting-antidote to the grim social realities that are still plopped down like elephants in our national living rooms now that the short respite of Thanksgiving is over.  The dialogue is rapid-fire-witty along with the acting being first-rate throughout; the situations are absurd enough to not be misunderstood as lessons in criminal activity (except for Rex killing his father—because he’s upset that Dad would contradict the ransom instructions by involving the police, even though that might endanger Rex, so he gets the sense that what Burt’s really interested in protecting is the money, not his son—obviously intended to give this movie the type of somewhat-uncomfortable-edginess within an overall comic structure that’s become so accepted since the wide embrace of the plot elements contained in [at least the first of] The Hangover movies [Todd Phillips; 2009, 2011, 2013—no review from us for the last one; this was a case where consistently bad remarks from others kept us away from a toxic encounter that hardly anyone found to be funny]); and the various break-ins, car chases, and Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999)-style-self-inflicted-wound-scenes with Chris Pine all add up to a very creative insistence on crudely entertaining the audience from start to crackup-outtakes-with-the-credits-finish.

Bottom Line Final Comments: When you’re dealing with something where “phatballllz” is spelled out as an email address along with the more-clever as a Web address (try pronouncing it quickly to see why the Black co-host of a morning talk show told them they need to change that name [which they do, to Nick & Kurt & Dale Inc.]), you know you’re in sleazy territory, so you either flow with it or depart quickly to sneak into another auditorium at your local multiplex (based on what its detractors have said, that’s what most of them would have preferred to do had they not been paid to stick it out to the bitter end).  Along with that, the plot is from the age-old Task Accomplishment variety of Conflict (physical) Comedy, so sophistication is not part of the basic DNA here at all, which is only a problem if you want something of a higher intellectual caliber (although the previews should make it clear enough that’s not in the cards for Horrible Bosses 2 any more than it was for the first installment of these guys' hard-knock-lives).  Assuming that none of these situations become reservations nor concerns on your part, I think you’ll find this intentionally-silly-movie to be a well-spent-investment of money and time toward clearing out the residue of whatever makes it difficult for you to get past your own obstacles (bosses, job drudgery, family problems, income shortages, the daily news, etc.) so that you can enjoy life a bit more, at least for a couple of hours before the obstacles start growling at you again.  Maybe I can add to that residue clearing, even if you don’t see Horrible Bosses 2, by offering you my Musical Metaphor for this movie, featuring the captivating voice of Roy Orbison singing “Working for the Man” (a 1962 single, maybe on some compilation albums) at https://www., where another overburdened laborer sees hope for the future by eventually taking over the system rather than just trying to tolerate it.  When you’re done listening to Roy (the YouTube address offers lots more options as well) we’ll move on to John Wick.

What Happens: In John Wick (a movie I realize has been out for quite some time—6 weeks actually—but I just never got around to seeing it until recently, so I hope you still want to hear about it; if not, I've got a bit more farther below) we have another boss-employee-conflict, but this time the boss, Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), is the ruthless head of a New York City-based Russian mob, while the employee, Wick (Keanu Reeves), is actually retired at present from his previous life as the most dangerous hitman imaginable, leaving that life 5 years ago to be with a loving wife, Helen (Bridget Moynahan), who then suddenly died from an incurable illness, leaving only her memory and the surprise present of Daisy, a puppy delivered to John on the evening of Helen’s funeral as an intentional parting gift intended to provide him with some now-needed-companionship.  Unfortunately for all concerned, when Wick’s refueling at a gas station the next day, Viggo‘s arrogant son, Iosef (Alfie Allen)—who for some reason doesn’t know John—pulls up and offers to buy Wick’s 1969 Mustang (Like Burt Hanson’s bonehead-asshole son, Rex, the offspring of the powerful bad guys in these movies make useful case histories of what harm neglectful, indulgent parenting can bring).  His refusal leads to Iosef‘s decision to break into John’s house that night, beat him up with the help of Iosef’s thugs, steal the car, and kill the dog in the process.  Bad move!  Wick’s soon dug up the arsenal he buried under concrete in his garage, informed Viggo of his intention to wreck vengeance on Iosef, and our plot is off and running.  Actually, there’s a lot of running, shooting, hand-to-hand-combat, and death as Wick proves himself to be not that rusty from his retirement but still able to immediately size up a dangerous situation, disarm/terminate any number of attackers, and continue to elude his own predators as he closes in on Iosef.  There are also the wild-card-factors of Marcus (Willem Dafoe), a respectful mentor of Wick’s hired directly by Viggo to take out his old friend but who saves him a couple of times instead, and Ms. Perkins (Adrienne Palicki), another former colleague of John’s who’s now turned against him in order to collect the open 2—then 4—million-dollar-contract Viggo’s put on Wick’s life in an attempt to protect Iosef (at least this aspect of his parenting skills exceeds Burt Hanson’s; however, as you can see in the photo just below there's not much love lost here between father and son)—she even violates the sacrosanct, no-mob-business-allowed-protocol of The Continental hotel by attempting to kill John while he’s sleeping there (she’ll get her just desserts later from a “cleaning crew” straight out of Pulp Fiction [Quentin Tarantino, 1994]).

 Still, Wick manages to elude all of his opposition, destroy a huge vault of Viggo’s cash and blackmail material used to keep the law off his back, kills Iosef, then succeeds in a final confrontation with Viggo before staggering off to an animal-rescue/veterinarian site where he staples his gory-abdominal-wound back together before liberating a new canine companion.  
(This time he chooses a Pit Bull rather than the more cuddly Beagle that he began with—OK, Pit Bull-lovers, hold off on the flaming responses; I know you love your oft-maligned-doggies, but our goofy script is set up to play into a mass of exaggerated-stereotypes for comic purposes so not even the dogs are spared; if you’ve got complaints take them up with scriptwriter Derek Kolstad.)

So What? Admittedly, I’m not that well-versed in martial-arts-movies (except where such combat pops up occasionally in James Bond battles), with the main ones I’ve seen being Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000), Hero (Zhang Yimou [as his name would be known in China, but in the West we’d say Yimou Zhang], 2002; he also followed with others of this type: House of Flying Daggers, 2004; Curse of the Golden Flower, 2006), and the one most like John Wick to me, Game of Death (Robert Clause, 1978), where Bruce Lee (and various doubles to enhance the original footage, in that Lee died in 1973) fights his way through an army of combatants, dispatching them one by one until he reaches his goal of rescuing his kidnapped fiancée.  (I saw this at a screening by the Dallas, TX ratings board—I think the last local film-jurisdiction-group still operating at that time whose responsibility was to further impose local regulations on PG and PG-13 movies based on their concerns over too much violence, sex, language, drug use, and some other nefarious social ill that escapes me at the moment, adding their rating to the newspapers ads with expectations that parents would heed their advice of steering their innocent children away from such opportunities for debasement in these stories already accepted by the MPAA for the under-18-crowd; they offered no objection to Game of Death, though, because they determined that the many involved killings would be understood as fantasy violence unharmful to young inquiring minds.)  So, while John Wick may be mostly a mirror image of countless Hong Kong-bashups, I still found it marvelously effective in its fight-scene-choreography (there’s not much else to it) where the actors move gracefully in wide shots rather than in constructed-action-closeups, the commanding presence of Reeves who never backs down nor loses his head when outnumbered but simply proceeds to swiftly even the odds in an almost-meditative-state of calm as he’s busy breaking bones and terminating opponents, and the intentional sense of humor not only in the assumptions we quickly come to know about how useless most of these attacks on Wick will be but also in the offbeat setting of The Continental (owned and overseen by efficiently/effectively-creepy Winston [Ian McShane]) a location that could easily have been borrowed from a David Lynch film, especially Mulholland Drive (2001).

Bottom Line Final Comments: In a word, John Wick is preposterous (but entertaining, if you don’t object to 101 minutes of almost-constant-killing by virtually every weapon imaginable, including Wick’s lethal hands).  It may take a sick mind to enjoy such (or at least a certain type of sick mind, given that the Tomato-tossers gave it an 84% positive response with the Metacritics offering 67% [details in the links below] for this festival of violence while the included critics within both groups were considerably more dismissive of the sex-and-stupidity-themed-aspects of Horrible Bosses 2), but no one’s ever accused my brain of being healthy so I found it a well-structured, pleasant diversion on a quiet afternoon, although my appreciation lies mainly with the diverse choreography of the killing situations, the single-minded-determination of Wick to survive (which reminds me—and other evaluators—of Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name from those long-ago Sergio Leone-directed “spaghetti westerns”), and the gleeful villainy of his chief antagonists.  John Wick is brutally-bloody at times (Marcus suffers an especially-grizzly-fate for not killing Wick when he had many chances to do so), but if you can get yourself into the mindset of those 1978 Dallas housewives on their ratings board in order to process this as “fantasy violence” then I think you’d find it quite enjoyable (if nothing else, you might like seeing the marvelous 1969 Mustang—I once had a red 1966 model but ruined it in 1974 moving back to Texas from NYC, dragging a U-Haul trailer over icy roads in December; what a loss!).  As for a Musical Metaphor to finally snuff out the fiery candle of John Wick, I briefly considered Pat Benatars’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” (from her 1980 Crimes of Passion album) but decided to look elsewhere (however, if you want a mega-energetic-live-version of that song, here she is at, finally landing with Carl Douglas’ 1974 hit single “Kung Fu Fighting,” although the version here at is by Cee Lo Green and Jack Black, used with the end credits in the animated feature Kung Fu Panda (John Stevenson, Mark Osborne, 2008), partially in minor tribute to the departure of Pablo Sandoval, nicknamed “the Panda” because of this movie and his girth, leaving his World Series success with the San Francisco Giants (2010, 2012 [MVP], 2014) to seek even further glory next year with the Boston Red Sox (I’m still an Oakland Athletics, not a Giants, fan [I'm trying to be generous for once where this cross-Bay rivalry is concerned], but Pablo was a much-beloved-guy around here so I’ll wish him well in the harsh spotlight of Boston’s constant high expectations).  However, if you’d prefer to dismiss all of this Panda stuff, then you might prefer the original Douglas version of the song in this live-performance-music-video at com/watch?v=yRtrCq6LWt8,augmented by some movie footage of martial-arts-action.
Previous Posting Catch-Ups
fake Star Wars VII poster from Entertainment Weekly
 I don’t intend for these catch-up (or is that catsup?) notes to become a regular feature of these postings, but when something relevant pops up I do want to make mention of it.  In this case, in my review of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1 (Francis Lawrence; see our November 26, 2014 posting) I made some mention of the stiff competition Part 2 will face in late 2015 in any attempt at a multiple-week-run-of-box-office-dominance when it has to go up against the return of the famous, thunderously-successful Star Wars franchise.  So, if you want more Star Wars considerations to fill your time until that long-awaited-day (or midnight screening) comes to pass, you can start with the brief trailer for Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams), followed quickly by a parody of that, as if it were still directed by George Lucas in his digitally-enhanced-multi-cluttered-fashion; then, to really keep you busy, I’ll refer you to a lengthy, quasi-academic article by Mike Klimo, “RING THEORY: The Hidden Artistry of the Star Wars Prequels” (posted very recently, October 31, 2014), in which he makes an extensive, well-illustrated, well-referenced argument that the 6 Lucas-created-movies are conceived in an elaborate pattern that reveals much more depth and worthy deliberation about the more-recently-released-trilogy of that group than many critics (and diehard fans) have been willing to acknowledge.  I’ll also note that in that same 11/26/14 posting I made mention of a docudrama about Stephen Hawking, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, simply called Hawking (from the BBC in 2004, directed by Philip Martin), focused just on his 1963-1965 Cambridge grad school days, available on YouTube in 6 segments; I’ve now found that you can view the whole thing at once at, a site where you can also get subtitles in Portuguese if you like (further, there’s a useful-but-no-longer-updated additional details site, if you’d like to know a little more about this BBC alternative to the currently-showing The Theory of Everything [James Marsh], with Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar-worthy performance; our review of The Theory ... is in the Two Guys' November 19, 2014 posting).

 Finally, I’ve just received from Netflix and watched yet another Hawking, this one a 2013 1½ hr. documentary (produced for PBS, directed by Stephen Finnigan) of the man’s life and work, narrated by Stephen himself (aided by his computer-generated-voice, of course); after watching it, I’d say this perspective is the touchstone that needs to be seen to best understand what’s presented in the semi-fictionalized versions noted above, as it covers his whole life, with his statements augmented by extensive interviews with family, friends (including considerable comments from ex-wife Jane, whose reminiscences provide the primary focus of TheTheory of Everything), admirers, former and current students, archival photos and footage, lots of re-enactments of events, and quite a bit of 2012 coverage of how his life was progressing when this doc was shot (along with Cumberbatch describing his investment in attempting to portray Stephen in his Hawking biography noted above), so I highly recommend it along with the Cumberbatch and Redmayne somewhat-fictionalized-interpretations.  I also note that the recent doc helped me better understand Hawking’s position that the singularity that spawned our universe didn’t come from a previous universe’s black hole, although I wish he’d tried again to discuss his current concept of our existence in a finite-but-boundaryless-universe, a theory that still eludes me if we did also have a singular beginning, but maybe I’ll have that worked out when next we meet (or not).  
If you want to know more about Horrible Bosses 2 here are some suggested links: (29:36 press conference with actors Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, and Jason Bateman)

 I’m inserting an unusual addition within what might be considered to be my “end credits”—just like so many contemporary comedies, such as Horrible Bosses 2, do—using this Impressionist-like shot of Fleetwood Mac from their concert at the Oakland (CA) Arena last night (photography options were limited so this is an unintentionally-soft-focus-iPhone-picture done by my enthusiastic wife, Nina; if you look carefully from the lower left of the image where Christine McVie’s unoccupied keyboard is, then move right the various blobs, in order, are Christine [playing accordion at that point], bassist John McVie right behind her, singer Stevie Nicks to her right [dressed in black, if that helps any], drummer Mick Fleetwood in the rear middle, then guitarist Lindsey Buckingham to the far right) for 3 reasons:  (1) To see if anyone actually reads this far into the posting, if so let me know if you do; (2) Because the background projections behind the band remind me a bit of images that often accompany Stephen Hawking’s descriptions of the Big Bang; and (3) Nicks’ song, “Gypsy” (from the Mac 1982 Mirage album; here’s the original music video, featuring visual quality to match the concert photo, at, with its repeated line “And it all comes down to you,” as explained by her as a nostalgic structure that’s actually about encouragement to never stop believing in your dreams and what can be accomplished by them (you can get a version of the story here [in a video that gives new meaning to the term “hand-held-camera,” from their current tour, this stop at the Boston Garden, October 10, 2014, but maybe you can still catch it in its final dates; if so you’re in for a fantastic evening of non-stop-spectacular-music—especially Buckingham’s command of the guitar—and a fabulous display of colored light and graphics to enhance the stage) seems appropriate to me in regard to Horrible Bosses 2, the Star Wars stories, and the incredible, death-defying life of Hawking, as well as the impact of sheer determination as shown in John Wick (providing me with a transition back out of this “end credits” insert).

If you want to know more about John Wick here are some suggested links: (4:00 behind-the-scenes featurette on how the actors worked on martial arts training for the John Wick filming)

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P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.


  1. Yes I did read through Fleetwood Mac, and no to either of these films. For anyone looking for something good for the holidays, my still in theaters list includes Boyhood (a must see soon to be classic), Gone Girl (probably a classic), Birdman (ditto), Whiplash and The Homesman. For scifi I will give a nod to Interstellar realizing it gets pretty flakey at times.

  2. Hi rj, Thanks for reading down into the bowels (so to speak) of the posting. To anyone else who considers this comment, I agree with our esteemed still-in-Texas-critic (as opposed to me, who ran off to California) that the films he cites are well worth your time (and trusting him, as I always do, on Homesman, which I haven't seen yet but have read great things about). Ken