Author Archives: Jay

Late Night

Mindy Kaling is an actress, a director, a producer, an Emmy-nominated writer. She’s written best-sellers and acted alongside Oprah and created television series. You may not know that her foot in the door was portraying Ben Affleck in an off-Broadway play she co-wrote with her best friend called Matt & Ben, about how the pair came to write Good Will Hunting. I wish to god I had seen it.

She was hired to write for The Office when she was just 24 years old – the only woman in a room full of men. She was technically a diversity hire, part of NBC’s diversity writing programme, but don’t mistake that for a lack of qualification. “For a long time I was really embarrassed about that. No one [on The Office] said anything to me about it, but they all knew and I was acutely aware of that. It took me a while to realize that I was just getting the access other people had because of who they knew.” Mindy’s parents, an architect and an OB-GYN, immigrated to the U.S. from India (via Nigeria) only months before she was born, and gave her the most American of names, ripped from their favourite sitcom, Mork & Mindy.

In Late Night, Kaling plays Molly Patel, also a diversity hire, straight from a chemical plant (don’t call it a factory!). She’s hired to be the first and badly needed female writer on Katherine Newbury’s show as its steady ratings decline threatens its existence. Kaling wrote the role of Newbury specifically for Emma Thompson and it is indeed a perfect fit. Newbury is exacting and imperious, but has grown out of touch with her core audience. Molly is exactly the injection of colour and culture that this writer’s room needs even though it longs to stay beige. Of course, Kaling had to invent a fictional world in which a woman is actually allowed to host a late night show, but once she does (and we get over that depressing fact), she invents a very good one, one in which her very successful host is over 50 and undeniably at the top of her game, but hasn’t had to sacrifice her life to gain such a position. Newbury has both a love life (John Lithgow) and a sex life, and she still gets to be the boss. Kaling is so devoted to this character, she took a page from her parents’ baby naming book and called her own daughter Katherine.

Late Night is a lot of laughs, and it benefits from the excellent chemistry between Kaling and Thompson. I suppose it takes a woman to write two such meaty yet tender roles for women. Roles that don’t apologize for emotions and characters who don’t get disempowered for expressing them. And a female director to give these ladies their space to create complexity. Late Night tackles a lot of themes as you might imagine, but it never loses its sharp and incisive comedy. Thompson proves more than able, with impeccable timing and buckets of condescension. She’s formidable. Meanwhile, Kaling orbits around her, not just absorbing her light but casting her own glow as well. They don’t diminish each other, they brighten the whole damn screen. It’s a party where ambitious women, perhaps for the first time this century, are truly celebrated. Yes there were applause-worthy moments, though the theatre I was in was unfortunately a packed but non-clapping one (well, okay, save for me, who couldn’t resist). And there’s a lesson plan for how to apologize correctly and take responsibility like a big kid. But mostly there’s just a lot of zing, and a surprising amount of relatability [My work recently turned one of two women’s washrooms in the building into a “gender neutral” washroom which is nice in theory but in practice has become the washroom where men go to poop. Because men, who still had 2 bathrooms to themselves, think it’s more important to stink up a third than to create safe spaces. They’re literally shitting their privilege all over the place.]

Kaling wrote this movie while she was pregnant, and on the set of A Wrinkle In Time. She shot it while literally breastfeeding her daughter. Motherhood is not slowing her down, it’s just another bullshit hurdle she’s going to plough straight through while we lay down our dollars like a red carpet made out of green because she is the Queen and we her loyal subjects.

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Playing It Cool

I’ve been on a bit of a kick lately to see what Chris Evans does when he’s not Captain America – particularly since he’s super not Captain America anymore. I think I only really know him from Snowpiercer, which is one of the best movies ever made, so it’s a solid credit, I’ll give him that. But it seems our most civic-minded super hero is super selective when it comes to the roles he takes, which doesn’t necessarily shake out to him choosing only the best. Since Snowpiercer (2013), he’s only been in three non-Marvel films. So yeah, it makes sense that you might want to retreat from that universe, for your own sanity and such (although caveat: his buddy Falcon is along for the ride). 2014 saw the release of both this film, and Before We Go and then there was 2017’s Gifted, which I never saw because Matt called Evans’ performance ‘bland’ and the film “sentimental.’ So when he’s not chasing down bad guys, he’s either drawn to the syrupy stuff, or he’s stuck with it. I know in recent months, as he did the Endgame press tour, he mentioned wanting/needing time off. As the only bachelor Avenger, he was feeling lonely, and wanting to devote time to finding love and starting a family. Which doesn’t mean he’ll be absent from the big screen. At least not for a while. He’s slated to appear in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out later this year, The Red Sea Diving Resort, also intended for release later this year, a limited TV series opposite Michelle Dockery called Defending Jacob, a starring role in Antoine Fuqua’s Infinite next year, and eventually appearing in a film as the only living descendant of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And then: love and babies!

For now: Playing It Cool.

We only know him as “Me,” a screenwriter recently commissioned to write a rom-com. Only problem: he’s never been in love, doesn’t really believe in it. So he and his best friend, also a writer, Scott (Topher Grace) hit the town for “research” which is when it hits him: love. Or, you know, infatuation. With a woman who seems entirely to good to be true, and she is, because she’s already engaged. To someone else, obviously.

But the memory of having met The Perfect Woman haunts him, and blocks him creatively, so instead of writing, he investigates, telling himself he only wants to know her name. ‘Her’ as we know her (Michelle Monaghan), remains elusive, but along the way his inner writer lets loose and he tells a lot of stories, testing himself out as the leading man to see if any of them feel plausible. When he finally finds Her, they try being “just friends,” which means he spends an uncomfortable amount of time begging for sex, despite her still being attached. But he cares about Her, y’all! Does that make it better or worse?

This rom-com swears off all the rom-com tropes. But can it really resist? Actually, some of the language is already quite dated, and those things tend to niggle at me. Like, overt and dirty sexism for no reason. Not that there IS a reason. You know what I mean. But aside from that, what we need from rom-coms is a small dose of sweetness, a big dose of laughs, and just enough wink-wink, we’re-in-on-the-joke to make it all go down smoothly, like a milkshake. You know it’s bad for you, it’s entirely too sweet, but sometimes, you just can’t resist. Playing It Cool wants to be a milkshake but it’s not even a rootbeer float. It’s more like that flat gingerale your mother used to make you for a sore tummy. Evans and Monaghan are effortless together, but the script is totally devoid of character. It’s cool to reject the usual cliches, it’s even welcome, but you have to replace them with something. That’s where the writing part of writing a script comes in. Playing It Cool plays it a little too cool.

Elegy for a Drive-In

For the past decade, Sean and I have spent many a summer’s eve at our local drive-in. Many. We’ve had 5 different cars there. We’ve been there in our earliest dating days, the summer of our engagement, after we were married, and with 4 dogs in the backseat. We’ve been there rain and shine, we’ve been there through clouds of mosquitoes and minor tornadoes. We’ve watched movies through steamed up windshields thanks to hot pizzas on the dashboard, and steamed up windshields from lots of making out.

And now the drive-in is closed, suddenly and not suddenly. I mean, there was no warning other than the fact that drive-ins generally have struggled to stay alive and that ours personally suffered a steep decline last summer. First it tried out offering only a single movie (instead of the drive-in’s classic double feature). And the thing is, 9 times out of 10, Sean and I had already seen the movie that was playing – and that’s always been true. We see movies the day they’re released, if not before, and in the summers we’d typically see it again, 2-4 weeks later when it finally hit the drive-in. That movie was usually paired with a movie that had flopped at the box office over the winter, so we didn’t normally care for the second movie, and it was a great time to get in some extra canoodles. To galoche, if you will. The French don’t call it French kissing, they call it galocher, and we were firmly on the French side of the border at this particular drive-in, which had bilingual screens (the french screen often had first-run movies on their actual opening weekends, and we tried not to feel too resentful about it). Anyway, the film offerings went from bad to worse last year, and it was increasingly difficult to find reasons to go. We did our best to support them, always making a point of buying something from the canteen even when it wasn’t strictly necessary (called “le restaurant” during the french intermission announcement, and curiously translated as “de snack barrrr” in the english one).

Anyway, we miss it already. Dearly. Our next nearest drive-in is the Port Elmsley, which is an hour and a half away. I suppose that’s not too terrible; we went last year before ours was even open, and we did a TRIPLE feature and then drove home because we crazy. And we do love our drive-ins. So I guess now we have to be prepared to commute in order to support our “local” drive-in. If you’re lucky enough to have one near you, love it. Hold it close. See a double feature for me.

Ballerina

Victor and Felicie look and sound like adults, but they act like children. They ARE children, supposedly. In fact, they’re orphans in an orphanage who manage to runaway to Paris – she, to be a ballerina, he, to be an inventor.

Once there, they immediately get separated in the most unimaginable way possible, and quickly make a pact to meet on the bridge the next day. Which is incredibly stupid since Paris is like 87% bridge. And yet they do manage to make their rendez-vous, and she’s already enrolled in in the dance academy (under false pretenses, sure), and he’s already met famed inventor Gustav Eiffel (his eponymous tower is visibly half-built).

Felicie (Elle Fanning) makes friends with a cleaner with a limp, Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen), which is how she earns her room and board. Odette is somewhat suppressed herself, by a real evil stepmother type (which describes her general attitude and cruelty, not her parentage). There are several Cinderella types, so I suppose it evens out, but the sheer volume of adults being cruel and hostile toward children is a little alarming. Meanwhile, Victor (Dane DeHaan) is working in Gustav’s atelier, where they’re hard at work on the Statue of Liberty. It defies incredulity that these two parentless waifs have managed to make their dreams come true in under 24 hours with no resources or connections or experience. But let’s sweep that under the carpet for now.

Ballerina, also known as Leap!, has some stunning animation where the dance scenes are concerned. But the story is too familiar. Lazy, in fact. I suppose some little girls who love ballet themselves may be enchanted, but there’s no crossover potential for adults , and little to entice other kids into giving this a passing chance. I found it boring, and I’m what might be described as a grown human adult person. The movie veers drunkenly from heavy-handedness to negligence, from unabashed cruelty to unmitigated forgiveness, both unearned. To call it inconsistent is to besmirch the word. And then there’s the not inconsequential fact that a mother tries to go all Tonya Harding on a kid with a sledge hammer. That’s dark, y’all. I’m glad I didn’t spend any money to see this movie, but I’m a little sad that my taxes went toward making it. Canada makes some truly beautiful films, but this isn’t one it’ll be remembered for.

Murder Mystery

You may not believe this, but Adam Sandler’s in a Murder Mystery and he’s not playing the corpse.

Nick (Sandler), a New York cop, has repeatedly failed to make detective, and failed to take his wife on a European honeymoon for 15 years solid. Luckily, on the eve of their anniversary, Audrey (Jennifer Aniston) picks a fight about this very thing and Nick is able to book extremely last minute tickets and pass them off as a surprise. On this transcontinental flight, she runs into a disgruntled first class passenger, Charles (Luke Evans), who invites them to join him on his yacht.

It’s a little more complicated than that: his fiance Suzi has recently left him for his billionaire uncle Malcolm (Terence Stamp). The yacht is full of people who are not overly happy about this: the son who stood to inherit, a maharajah whose family fortune is entangled with Malcolm’s, a famous actress, the godson Grand Prix racer, his best friend and literal life saver (and a bonus bodyguard). He’s gathered them all together to call them leaches, to cut them off, and to amend his will to reflect only Suzi as inheritor. But just as he’s about to sign the new will, the lights go out, and when they come back up, there’s a body. Malcolm is dead. One of the yacht’s occupants is a murderer.

For a murder mystery, it’s pretty light-hearted. It IS an Adam Sandler project, after all, but his usual humour’s been tempered somewhat and most will find this surprisingly tolerable. Not a great movie maybe, but definitely watchable, despite his mustache. Sandler and Aniston have a great chemistry after a couple of movies together, and the script, though not quite clever enough to actually keep you guessing, is entertaining enough that you won’t really care, and the ensemble cast supports it ably. Director Kyle Newacheck doesn’t try anything fancy but he doesn’t get in the way of the film’s strengths: a few moments where Aniston shines, a few moments where Italy shines, and the harnessing of Adam Sandler’s baser, more juvenile instincts. It’s for the best.

The Secret Life of Pets 2

Let me ask you a question: are you a sack of shit? Yeah, I didn’t think so. In that case, it’s pretty safe to say you’ll find this movie enjoyable. Like the first one, it’s not going to rock your world. It’s not going to usher in a new era of animation. It’s not a story that will be passed down generation to generation. It’s a just-funny-enough, tug-on-the-old-heartstrings, relate to humans through their better counterparts kind of thing.

The best kinds of people are dogs. That is a FACT.

Max (this time voiced by Patton Oswalt rather than the sex offender Louis C,K.), the very good boy from the first film, is back again. He and his very good boy brudder Duke (Eric Stonestreet) are welcoming yet another new addition to their family: a human baby named Liam. Yes, owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) has met and married a human man and produced an heir. We still don’t know what it is that Katie does to afford her very nice Manhattan apartment, but her life is very full. And Max, initially quite ambivalent about human children, grows to love Liam very very much. The feeling is mutual. But just loving Liam is not enough; Max feels he must protect him from the world. Max, normally a happy-go-lucky dog, is now a bit of a nervous nelly. The behaviourist outfits him with a cone of shame, and then his owners pack him off to the farm. Oh gosh, not the proverbial farm, an actual farm, where he meets rough and tough farm dog Rooster (Harrison Ford), who is determined to cure him with tough love and hard work.

Meanwhile, back in the city, old friends are up to new tricks. Fuzzy bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart) is helping new pal Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) to, believe it or not, rescue a tiger from a circus. And sweet little fluffball Gidget (Jenny Slate) has her own little rescue mission going, and enlists Chloe the cat (Lake Bell) for her particular brand of expertise.

This movie caught me right in the feels on at least to parts: a) My sister had a lovely good boy, also named Max, who got a little “overprotective” during her pregnancy, and through the birth of her first child, and he had to go to the proverbial farm. We all miss him to this day. b) My own little Fudgie is himself a bit of a nervous nelly and is newly on anti-anxiety meds actually called Clomicalm. He is not yet calm, but he is definitely not unhappy. He mostly worries about stupid stuff like: am I posing with my toy in exactly the right way to impress Sean when he comes in? How about now? How bout now? Now? NOWWW????

And of course, as pet owners generally and dog lovers specifically, and people who are just plain old not monsters, you can’t help but melt a little when you recognize a bit of your own four legged friend up on the screen. When Daisy made her mad face, I saw my Herbie. And when Max learned how to howl, I heard my Bronx (though Bronx does more of an “Awuuuuu.”)

So no, it’s not a terrific film. But it’s a sweet film, a cute film, it’s the film I wanted to see tonight and I’m glad I did. Awuuuuuu.

Summer ’03

In the summer of 2003, Jamie is 16, and her grandmother is dying. Don’t feel too bad about it, Grandma (June Squibb) is a bit of a bitch. On her deathbed, she confesses to Jamie that she had her secretly baptized as a child (Jamie’s mother is Jewish). She also imparts a very important last piece of advice: learn how to give a good blow job.

How surprised would you be to learn that Jamie learned a way to combine those two tidbits? More on that in a minute. First: Grandma had some bombs to drop for other family members as well, so everyone’s reeling. Big time. Total shit show. And yet Jamie’s evil-Jew mom is still in charge of planning the funeral. So much fun for her! First you live under your mother in law’s tyranny and disapproval for years, then she confirms her hatred for you and disrespect for your culture and religion…and then she dies and you get to clean up the mess. Families are the best. And sixteen year olds are so well-equipped to deal with the drama!

Yeah so anyway, Jamie (Joey King) decides to check out this whole being a secret half-Christian thing, and she goes to church where she actually ends up checking out the hot, young, priest-in training, Luke (Jack Kilmer). He’s about as many days away from being ordained and super duper officially off the market as Grandma is from being buried, and yet Jamie thinks it’s a good idea to use Grandma’s second piece of advice on him. And he’s so committed to God he goes along with it. Haha, “goes along with it” like he’s not a guy with a condom in his pocket like any other – eager to stick it in, not so eager to reciprocate. Romantic.

Writer-director Becca Gleason is offering up her story, alarmingly “based on true events.” Jamie is believably self-centered and short-sighted, but Becca should have the powers of hindsight, and in fact, 15 years worth of precious insight, so it’s a little disappointing that her main character still feels a little flimsy. Anger, grief, and a teenaged identity crisis. So it never quite jumps the tracks from your typical teenage film. It’s an odd enough story you might want to tune in anyway.