Author Archives: Jay

The Kitchen

When a bunch of gangsters get put away for terrorizing Hell’s Kitchen in the 1970s, their wives are left up s creek without a p. Oh sure The Family says it will provide for them, but the measly few bucks isn’t even enough to pay the rent. And we’re talking several years of jail time. So Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), and Claire (Elisabeth Moss) grab their own p and conquer s creek.

Okay, that’s a bit reductive because as you can imagine, absolutely no one was thrilled to have the women take things over – not the people paying them, not their rivals, and especially not the leftover male members of their own mob. And I do apologize for having said ‘male member.’

This is exactly the kind of story you want to get behind 1000% and I can still recall seeing production stills from when they were filming and being extra hardcore jazzed about it. But as you can tell by the timing of this review, I didn’t even bother to see it in theatres. And that’s because try as they might, these 3 exceptional ladies can’t make up for a story that just isn’t there. It’s generic and bland and boring. I expected to see some ass kicking and clever one-up-womanship and salty language. But instead it’s just a bunch of hand-wring and counting money into neat little piles. That feeling of empowerment seems to be missing entirely – and so is the point.

I don’t fault anyone in the cast because they’re all churning out great work, but their characters are underdeveloped and at the end of the day, without character investment, the stakes are very low.

The Kitchen is a disappointment. A disappointing disappointment. I only finished watching it because I’d already paid the rental price, and even then I seriously contemplating a “pause” that we just never came back to.

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Assholes Drink Around The World

After nearly 2 weeks at Disney World, the Assholes have been deep in recovery mode. This video is the first in a series of answers to the question: Why?

 

 

Note: we’re not the first to accept the “Drink Around The World” challenge, or the last – let us know if you’ve attempted too.

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Noelle

Growing up, Noelle and Nick new what fates awaited them: Nick would take over his father’s role as Santa Claus, and Noelle’s job would be to support her brother and spread Christmas cheer. Sure it sounds awfully patriarchal, but do you think a Christmas movie has room to unpack that?

Spoiler alert: Santa dies (not to worry, off camera, nothing traumatic) and Nick, now an adult (Bill Hader), reluctantly dons the jolly red suit. He goes deep into training for his big night, learning the fireplace trick, and getting licensed to drive reindeer. But his heart’s not in it. When he confesses his ambivalence to sister Noelle (Anna Kendrick), she suggests he take a weekend away and come back refreshed. Except Nick doesn’t come back. Facing a ruined Christmas season, Noelle and her nanny Elf Polly (Shirley MacLaine) follow him to Arizona to pull him away from his new life of yoga and enlightenment.

Never having left the North Pole, Noelle is a fish out of water. Not unlike Will Ferrell’s Buddy the Elf, there’s a lot of humour to be found in a true believer, a fully Chistmas-spirited weirdo finding her way in a world full of cynicism. The girl uses gingerbread-scented deodorant for Santa’s sake. The joy she radiates is a lot to take and though I am not a fan of Anna Kendrick, I admit she is probably perfectly cast in the role. But she doesn’t just excel at all things merry and bright, she tints it all with just a hint of oppressed anger.

Although I like the premise, I wish they’d taken it further. Maybe I wish it was a little less kid-friendly and embraced the acerbic edge it seems more suited to. I’d like to praise it for its feminist edge but it largely ignores it in order to keep the sleigh moving along with good tidings and cheer, plus I’d previously watched Santa Girl, also about a daughter of Santa’s, which tackles a concerning amount of the same material. And I’d like to praise it for avoiding the sappy romance, except it seems to go to a lot of trouble to set one up only to leave us unfulfilled in the end. Strange choices.

A Bill Hader as Santa movie should be a slam dunk. You have to take a lot of wrong turns to mess this one up, but unfortunately Noelle just isn’t my cup of cocoa.

Klaus

Jesper is supposed to be a cadet training in the royal postal academy but he’s made no progress at all. His father pulled every string to get him there but he’s squandering his chance once again. Jesper’s a spoiled brat so his father gives him a wake up call. Jesper’s being sent to Smeerensburg where he’ll have a year to establish a working postal office – he’s got to get 6000 letters mailed or he’s cut off for good.

Smeerensburg is a remote island nation known for only one thing: its intense feuds. They are so dedicated to not mingling with their enemies they don’t even send their kids to school. Postman? Don’t need one, don’t want one. These are not the letter-sending type. Which is fine because we aren’t exactly rooting for dreadful Jesper to succeed. He makes zero friends, and is particularly afraid of a reclusive woodsman named Klaus who spends his days amassing treasures he carves out of wood. When Klaus gives one to a small lonesome boy, Jesper smells potential. He can trick kids into sending letter requests for toys to woodsman Klaus, fullfilling his postage quota.

I was so confused by this message: that the Santa Claus tradition has sprung from such a selfish, mercenary place, that I rewound the movie 34 minutes just to keep better track. But I was right: Jesper manufactures Christmas. I mean sure you can say that toy companies and Coca-Cola have been responsible for this exact thing, but convention says we usually put a bit more of a heart-warming gloss on it, at least for the kids.

You can appreciate that this whole letters-for-presents thing really takes off. And not to worry: the legend of Klaus eventually brings about lots of positive changes in the town, so it’s not a horrible message for kids. It just takes its time getting there.

With excellent voice work from Jason Schwartzman, JK Simmons, Rashida Jones, Joan Cusack and more, this Netflix original eventually manages to embrace the holiday spirit and puts a bright spot in your heart. It took me a while to win me over, but eventually I realized that what concerned me first was actually its virtue: since it takes a different approach to its theme, it’s nearly Christmas cliche-free. What a marvel! Klaus rewards patience, and it breathes new life into the genre.

reclusive woodsman

Phil

Phil (Greg Kinnear) is a depressed dentist who becomes obsessed with his patient Michael (Bradley Whitford) who seems to have it all. Chasing the secret to happiness, Phil more or less stalks the guy and his perfect family. Phil’s as surprised as anyone when Michael suddenly, and seemingly inexplicably, commits suicide. If the guy who has everything takes his life, where does that leave guys like Phil who most decidedly do not?

If you answered black-out drunk on Michael’s grave, you answered right! That’s where Michael’s widow Alicia (Emily Mortimer) finds him the next morning, hung over with a face full of dirt. But it does not account for why Phil decides on the spot to impersonate Michael’s long-lost Greek friend Spiros as a way of ingratiating himself into the grieving family. Before you know it, he’s renovating their bathroom while digging through Michael’s belongings trying to answer the age old question WHY?

I get it. Suicide is one of those tricky things, like cancer, that leave us feeling vulnerable. We want to know why so that we can feel safe. If someone got cancer because they smoke, we feel relieved because we ourselves are not smokers. Bullet dodged. If someone commits suicide because they have huge gambling debts, lucky us again, because we aren’t gamblers. Phew. We need these tangible markers to help us feel insulated from these scary possibilities. When a vegetarian marathon runner gets cancer, well, that reminds us how random it can all be. And when someone who lives a good life ends it – well, don’t we all sleep a little worse at night wondering why?

Both Phil and Michael’s widow Alicia would like to understand Michael’s motivations, but the truth is, those aren’t always knowable. Mental health is complicated and the things that make one person feel hopeless and helpless don’t always translate. Is better, then, to have each other – even if one of them is not who they claim?

Greg Kinnear stars and directs himself in Phil, a very dark comedy that doesn’t work more often than it does. And it’s not just the tricky subject matter, though it’s difficult to feel good about watching one man find the meaning in his life because of another man’s suicide. Doesn’t quite feel right. Or maybe it’s just not pushed far enough to be convincing. It’s obviously got dark undertones but Greg Kinnear often pushes the goofy side, and those two things don’t always pair well. The script is clunky and the direction doesn’t help – even the performances struggle to rise above. Phil is fine, a mild disappointment I suppose. There’s worse to watch but better too, so I suggest you scroll a little further before clicking on this one.

Let It Snow

A tin-foil-sporting Joan Cusack spells it out: snow brings us together.

She’s lying of course. Snow forces us apart. It keeps us warm in our own houses, or trapped behind walls of hard-packed snow. It keeps us isolated behind layers of scarves, unable to get to work, spinning our wheels in our own driveways. Snow makes us miss our flights and cancel our plans. But for the sake of Netflix let’s say it brings us together, unless in this one small town, in which a bunch of young people have some loosely connected stories going on, including:

a) a teenager desperately in love with his best friend but completely unable to tell her

b) a lonesome popstar

c) a young woman about to defer college because of a sick mother

d) as aspiring DJ

e) a young waitress with feelings for a customer

f) an attention-seeking adolescent with a thing for pigs

Netflix is releasing a steady stream of holiday movies to warm the cockles of your holiday heart. This is one of them. Christmas rom-coms are perhaps even more formulaic than their rest-of-the-year counterparts, but since we don’t demand much of them, it’s hard to be disappointed. And though bland and vanilla as heck, Let It Snow is sort of charming in its way, buoyed by some non-sucking performances by Isabela Merced, Shameik Moore, Kiernan Shipka, Liv Hewson, and Jacob Batalon.

If this movie was a recipe for Christmas cookies, you’d have some fine, and even promising ingredients on your hands. Blend hard as you might they won’t come together, but maybe you’ve heard that cookies aren’t the only end product anymore. Our teeny attention spans have given way to the marketing of cookie dough; you can lick those raw, wet ingredients and get a hint of what might have been. It’s not as good as cookies, but it’s good enough, with only a small chance of salmonella. That’s what Let It Snow is: if you can let go of the warm gooey goodness of a chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven (say, It’s a Wonderful Life), or even the semi-satisfying snap of an Oreo dunked in milk (The Santa Clause), you might enjoy scraping the bottom of the bowl with Let It Snow.