Monthly Archives: March 2016

Man Up

I have next to nothing to say about this movie. On the one hand, the title is so generic and irrelevant to the movie that I kept passing it up on Netflix because I believed I’d already seen it, and on the other hand, the title is sexist and mildly insults me, while still being 6a00d8341c7f0d53ef01b7c7eb94b0970birrelevant to the movie, which makes the insult all the more infuriating.

I suppose Simon Pegg is the dolt who needs to “man up” though why is unclear. He’s just come out of a bad divorce and is set to meet a young woman on a blind date, only Lake Bell hijacks it instead, and of course they spend a lovely day together until it is discovered that she is the wrong date, and worse still, not 24, which was both the allure and the point of the original blind date.

What does it mean to “man up”? It’s defined as: to be brave or tough enough to deal with an unpleasant situation. Because bravery and toughness are male traits? Becatesticle-festivaluse the person who came up with this expression has never seen a man with a simple head cold? To “man up” implies a manly scenario, and a failure of a certain man to fulfill his obligations or responsibilities as a man. In the movie’s case, Pegg has an unfaithful ex-wife, and a charming if slightly mendacious new flame. How exactly do either of those scenarios require testicles in particular? And what would become of this movie if “man up” didn’t mean create a big, Hollywood-style hullabaloo where you declare your undying love for a woman you just met in front of a crowd of rowdy strangers, but instead “man up” meant, admit your fears, communicate haW58NWyS2SSSRbEln8iNSXm0bhonestly, be flexible, be vulnerable. Or what if being this kind of bold and brave didn’t require a Y chromosome and it could be Lake Bell, in all her ovarian glory, reaching across the void? The phrase “man up” implies such a rigid view of masculinity it punishes both the sexes (and all the sexes in between) and leaves us all sitting in painful little boxes having to watch insipid little romcoms the world could do wiman_up_1thout.

And do you know what the worst part is? It isn’t even a terrible movie. Simon Pegg and Lake Bell are quite good together. It’s never been more fun to be a third wheel on a blind date. So while I’m not claiming it’s groundbreaking or anything, it does deserve a better title than this weak offering. End rant.

 

 

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The Lady In The Van

Maggie Smith’s Ms. Shepherd is “NOT a beggar!” although you could hardly blame someone for assuming so – she’s dirty, she lives in a derelict van, and her “self-employment” appears to consist of chalk imagesart on the street, and selling pencils. That van of hers is a neighbourhood nuisance; the people live in fear of when she might exercise her “Christian parking” principles beside their little bit of curb.

Alan Bennett wrote the screenplay,and is also  a character in the movie, portrayed by the excellent Alex Jennings. This is based on a mostly true story. This woman, who elicited both sympathy and revulsion in her “neighbours”, was a nutshell that fascinated and

THE LADY IN THE VAN

inspired both Alan’s decency, and his creativity, when he moved into Camden in the 1970s.

Bennett is moved to have the mysterious lady in the van move into his driveway to keep her legal, though her obstinacy insists it is she doing the favour for him. She is most ungrateful but Bennett cares for her as best he can (and “caring” he intones, “is about shit”), always battling internally over what’s right and what’s right for him. Bennett-the-screenwriter isn’t shy about telling us what really the-lady-in-the-van-4happened, and what just makes for a nicer story. In fact, Bennett has conveniently split himself in two, the one who goes out and lives, and the one who stays home and writes.

The lady in the van lived outside Bennett’s home for two decades, a noble  vagabond in greasy rags, living inside a grubby vehicle – one so convincing that the cast and director turned up one Monday morning to find that real homeless people had broken into it and spent the weekend inside, making use of it as two people might (the van’s video-the-lady-in-the-van-trailer-1-superJumbocontents had to be deep-cleaned before they could be made suitably grimy again for production). They filmed in the very driveway of the very home where Bennett lived at the time.

Smith’s performance is vital and infuriatingly nuanced. You haven’t seen Dame Smith like this before. This film is a feather in her already-decorated cap: not to be missed.

 

Pee-wee’s Big Holiday

How long is America’s memory? About 25 years, according to the Pee-wee Herman comeback.

peeweehermanIt was 1991 when Paul Reubens, the man behind the tiny red bowtie and obnoxious laugh who streamed his playhouse antics directly into your family room to mesmerized kids, was arrested for masturbating in an “adult movie theatre.” His arrest was widely covered, Reubens terribly ridiculed, even when wholesome famous friends like Bill Cosby spoke up on his behalf, saying “Whatever (Reubens has) done, this is being blown all out of paulreubensmugshotproportion” (I guess he was hoping people would remember this sentiment when it came turn for his own shit to hit the fan).

At any rate, Reubens retired the child-like character that had entertained and confused Americans for the better part of a decade, but Pee-wee Herman never died, he only went underground, and now like a groundhog heralding spring, his little rose-cheeked head has popped up in 2016, ushering in a new era of what’s appropriate for a host of children’s television. He’s been testing the waters for a decade, appearing at fan conventions, guest judging on Top Chef, and even SNL-Digital-Shortdoing a skit on SNL. Since nobody showed up to burn him on a stake, it seemed the way was clear for Netflix to greenlight a movie he’d been waiting a quarter century to make.

You may not know that the Pee-wee Herman character has been around since the late 1970s. Paul Reubens was performing for The Groundlings, only he wasn’t a typical comedian, having no talent for remembering the proper sequence of jokes, or even punch lines. So he and fellow Groundling Philpeeweephilhartman Hartman created the anti-comic character, a weird, manic, effeminate,ambiguous “boy” who got by on enthusiasm and catchphrases like “I know you are but what am I?” Pee-wee Herman was born, but was initially aimed at adults, appearing on The Dating Game, and in a Cheech and Chong movie. Eventually Reubens toned down the peeweelaurencefishburneinnuendo and became a childhood icon (although you only have to look as far as Cowboy Curtis, played by a young Laurence Fishburne, to know it was still there).

So now Pee-wee Herman’s back, bitches, and we’ve got Judd Apatow to thank for it. Hollywood has been milking the 80s nostalgia cow an awful lot lately, and Paul Reubens was of course anxious to re-write his beloved character’s ending. But what’s in it for Apatow? Apparently a little peeweewish-fulfillment. A longtime Pee-wee fan, this was a film he thought people wanted to see. “I just think there are very few characters in comedy history as strong and hilarious as Pee-wee Herman. The first moment you’re sitting in a room with Paul Reubens and he starts pitching you things Pee-wee might say or do, you think to yourself, ‘This can’t be happening.’ The first time he put on the suit, I thought I was going to pass out.”

So Judd Apatow and Pee-wee Herman have $30 million dollars from Netflix to make a movie, and who do they call? Joe Manganiello, that’s who. It turns out, Magic Mike is Joe’s serious oeuvre, so get that straight in your head. Because when he’s between such serious roles, he’s available to be Pee-wee’s sidekick. Bet you never thought you’d live to see that. The plot of peeweejoePee-wee’s Big Holiday, which is nearly plotless, is this: Pee-wee has never left the small town he lives in, but one day a big, handsome movie star named Joe Manganiello drives through town on his sexy hog and the two hit it off as only two rootbeer-barrel-loving-boys can. Joe invites Pee-wee to his birthday party in NYC, and Pee-wee embarks on an epic adventure across the country. Or something like that.

This new adventure doesn’t have much to do with his other forays on the big screen or small screen, but if you’re a fan who’s been waiting for this moment for most of your life, there’s enough there to leave you satisfied. In fact, peeweeReubens, now 63, hardly looks as though he’s aged a day underneath the familiar pancake makeup. Pee-wee’s Big Holiday isn’t likely to win any new converts though. It’s a silly little thing, a very small fluff on some pretty major wind, but yes: it is in fact a movie. And you can watch it now on Netflix.

 

Strange Days

What do you get when you cross Ralph Fiennes and Angela Bassett with Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron?  A Blade Runner wanna-be that doesn’t get over the hump but is not even close to the worst thing you can find on Netflix, as long as you can get past how dated the movie feels.

Given that Strange Days was co-written by James Cameron, it’s very odd that the
technology central to the movie feels so old-fashioned.  Even if the effects don’t hold up, Cameron’s near-future technology usually does, from Terminator to Aliens to the Abyss.  Not here.  I shuddered every time a character waved around a mini-CD containing a clip of someone’s memories (literally a first-person-view replay of whatever the person experienced).  Because I’m so over CDs; I’m a vinyl guy.  That means I shuddered a lot while watching Strange Days, because the plot of the movie revolves around those little plastic relics – they’re everywhere!

While it may be silly to criticize a movie set in the year 2000 for using CDs, that sort of logic is not going to stop me even for a second.  Any world that has the technology to record and replay memories in the year 2000 must also have invented storage technology that is far better than CDs, right?  Who’s with me?

The acting is dated as well – it’s from the silent era.  Watching these characters experience other people’s memories is entertaining for all the wrong reasons.  The facial expressions, the moaning, the anguish, it’s all way, way, WAY too much.  I didn’t need to see those reactions even once but just like the omnipresent CDs, we get at least one shot of each main character overacting when they plug into a SQUID (which, unfortunately, is what the memory recorder and player is called).

In particular, Ralph Fiennes’ off-the-charts overacting and general greasiness in the film makes it surprising that he ever found work again.  I think in order to enjoy Fiennes’ catalog from now on, I will have to pretend that the star of Strange Days was actually Bradley Cooper.  Which probably won’t be that hard since they may be the same person.

So if you’re a fan of the English Patient, you should probably skip this one.  On the other hand, if you are a more a fan of cheeseball 90s sci-fi than cheeseball 90s romances, then Strange Days will be right up your alley.

Strange Days gets a score of five unrealistic Y2K parties out of ten.

The Bronze

 

In 2004, Hope Ann Greggory (Melissa Rauch) made her small Ohio town proud by bringing home the coveted Olympic Bronze Medal in women’s gymnastics. With her career cut short by a minor injury, Hope has been costing on that accomplishment ever since.

Rauch, who co-wrote this script with her husband, is best known for a show that I don’t watch. She insists though that Hope is a huge departure from her Big Bang Theory character and I’m willing to take her word for it. Unless CBS is willing to let her masturbate to footage of her glory days or say things like “absence makes the dick grow harder”, Chuck Lorre fans may be in for a side of the third most famous female BBT actress that they made not be ready for.

Hope is an obnoxious mess. Living with, mooching off of, and verbally abusing her sweet mailman dad (very well-played by Gary Cole), she makes a living off of stealing cash from his route. She also has a habit of going on a spoiled brat tirade of obscenities every time she hears something she doesn’t like, giving the sentenced-to-network-television actress a chance to do her best Melissa McCarthy (but somehow sounding a lot like Reese Witherspoon in Election).

Hope gets a second chance at life when her former coach dies and, for implausibly selfish reasons, she decides to take over coaching a promising sixteen year-old (Haley Lu Richardson) with dreams of Olympic gold. Richardson plays Maggie as naïve, hard-working, and loveable and Hope comes very close to ruining her. When Maggie beings to make the mistake of believing her own hype, The Bronze judges her way too harshly for the same attitude that it is so ready to forgive the 30 year-old Hope for.

The supporting cast of characters that Hope treats like shit- her dad, her pupil, and her sweet love interest (Tom Middleditch)- are all easy to like and make the film itself much more enjoyable to watch. The real problem is Rauch. As much fun as it must have been for her to unleash her inner Apatow, she’s more annoying than charmingly outspoken and her eventual redemption is too little-too late. And the ending, without giving too much away, is unforgiveable.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

batman-v-superman-reviewsJust when you thought the title of this movie was as pretentious as it could get, Zack Snyder delivers a pre-movie PSA on spoilers. I was offended. What else is the internet for aside from spoilers and porn? And since Snyder and crew spoiled some key parts about this movie in the title (namely the Batman VERSUS Superman part) and trailers (revealing the big bad guy), it was doubly ridiculous to waste time on a PSA that I could have spent watching a post-credits scene (SPOILER ALERT: THERE ISN’T ONE).

There’s really not much to spoil anyway. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is exactly what you’d expect. The script is so cookie cutter and routine that the writers could skip exposition or backstory whenever convenient (and they take full advantage). But don’t worry, Batman fans! SPOILER ALERT: you will get to see Thomas and Martha Wayne get gunned down outside a movie theatre. Because we haven’t seen that often enough…

batman-v-supermanAt least we don’t rehash Superman’s origin (thank Krypton). But (SPOILER ALERT) we don’t get any hint of Lex Luthor’s origin or his motivations, other than (SPOILER ALERT) he’s evil and crazy and rich and smart and an orphan. It’s the same way with Wonder Woman – the no-origin part, not the evil crazy rich smart orphan part (as far as I know). That left me to guess as to why Lex hated everyone to the point he was willing to cause the destruction of Metropolis and Gotham (which, SPOILER ALERT, are right next to each other in a very lazy move by the writers), and why a literal greek goddess (I’m assuming) is conveniently hanging out in these twin cities waiting for an opportunity to (SPOILER ALERT) don her metal bathing suit.

One final SPOILER ALERT: despite all its issues, Batman v. Superman is actually fun in its brainless way. Batman’s costumes look great, the much-anticipated fight between the two titular characters is awesome, and the stakes are suitably high by the final battle that Wonder Woman’s participation feels like a necessary deus ex machina (and seeing all three on screen together was worth the price of admission).

batman-v-superman-trinitySo if nothing else, Batman v. Superman accomplishes its objective. It made me want to see the Justice League movie. A lot. And despite my griping, Batman v. Superman is not nearly as bad a film as many critics would have you believe. I mean, it’s your typical trashy comic book movie but it delivers exactly what it promised. Judge it as art if you want, and on that scale it fails, but so does every Marvel movie! Genre fatigue is the only reason I can think of to explain the backlash, and to that I say: if you are tired of superhero movies, you will not enjoy this film. But you also won’t enjoy any “critically acclaimed” superhero movies past, present or future. And if you are still up for more, well, see this one, and then start saving your money for May’s double feature of Captain America: Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse. Both of which will probably be much better reviewed EVEN THOUGH THEY WILL BE THE SAME EXACT MOVIE AS BATMAN V. SUPERMAN. Critical scores are so meaningless.

And on that note, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice gets a score of seven holy trinities out of ten.