Category Archives: Half-assed

Jay says: you could do worse.

Blood Ties

I’m flipping through what Amazon Prime has deemed “top movies,” most of which I’ve seen before, many of which I’d disagree are “top” (some vehemently!), some I’d even disagree are “movies” but there are a couple I haven’t seen, so I take a gamble and click And Did They Listen? The truth is: I myself could not quite bring myself to listen. It’s a documentary that, in THEIR words mind you, is about “history’s only scientifically verified encounter with alien life.” Although the world alien may be misleading – although they appear to have visited in one of those tin-can UFOs that little boys in the 1950s might have dreamed up, they are actually human beings simply from another star universe. And for some reason, though they are touted as highly intelligent beings, they’ve decided to make sole contact with earth through a little boy, who grows up to be quite a crackpot with lots of vague predictions, some of which can’t help but come true. The documentary was so shoddily made and contained so much horseshit I gave up within minutes (and you know what kind of crap I’ll sit through in the name of a review!) – I think you might be better served just looking him up on Wikipedia and calling it a day.

So my second choice was Blood Ties, a 2013 film featuring the likes of Clive Owen, MV5BMjExNzk2OTUxNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODMyNzA4MDE@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_Marion Cotillard, Zoe Saladana, Billy Crudup, and James Caan, that I’d somehow never seen. In it, Chris (Owen) is newly released from prison, and goes to live with his brother Frank (Crudup), a cop in 1970s Brooklyn. They did not live happily ever after. Instead, they draw lines, one on each side of the law, and they pull whomever they can down with them. But the whole family thing is just too hard to shake, and like it or not, their fates are pretty much intertwined. Which is a nice way of saying they’re fucked.

Ultimately, Blood Ties is good because it boasts a strong cast. But it flails almost everywhere else. The downward spiral is predicable, and while a movie like this should be about the descent, and not the outcome, the descent is hard to keep track of because there are a few too many subplots to keep score of, and not enough help with our scorecards. In other words: it becomes a chore. And like most chores, it keeps going until well past the point you’d want it to. But it was still preferable to the crazy man who invented a religion based on the spaceships he made out of trash can lids. So there’s that.

 

 

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The Tribes of Palos Verdes

Medina’s parents, Sandy and Phil Mason, have recently moved their family to Palos Verdes, California, for a fresh start. Phil (Justin Kirk) has always wanted to be a surgeon to the stars, but Sandy (Jennifer Garner) doesn’t fit the real housewives of Palos Verdes mold. Instead of fixing things, home only becomes more volatile, and Medina (Maika Monroe) and her twin brother Jim (Cody Fern) seek solace in the surf outside. Or in anything else, including the kind of trouble teenagers will always get into.

Wowza do parents fuck up their kids. Although to be honest, having treated myself to Incredibles 2 this weekend, it’s this messed up depiction of fatherhood that feels more MV5BY2JiZWVlZDYtZmQ3YS00YzA4LTljM2QtNDBkYjE1OTEyNjY1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUxMTg4Mzk@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1353,1000_AL_familiar to be, more comfortable: the leaving kind. The not caring kind. There is no Hollywood gloss on this depiction of family. The father is worse than useless, and the mother’s grief borders on insanity, and the children are forgotten in their wake.

And then a plague descends. Because things always get worse. This is what breaking points are made of. But movie wise, while it achieves a lot of separate pieces of despair, it struggles to stitch them together into something cohesive. The tone and pace are meant to be melancholic, yet it needs to be building toward something. The actors all do their thing rather admirably, but it always seems like the scene lets them down. Jennifer Garner, as the desperate housewife, is really something to watch, in a role I for one haven’t seen from her before. Her eyes flash with crazed rage, then go blank with hopelessness. I only wish the circumstances allowed a little more sympathy toward her.

The beautiful setting and cinematographer are gentle and constant reminders that the trappings of success are no inoculation against life’s disappointments.

 

Rebel In The Rye

J.D. “Juvenile Delinquent” Salinger gets thrown out of schools just to piss his father off. It’s his mother who encourages him to enroll in a writing class, while his dad doubts there’ll be a single paycheque in his future. In his writing program he meets professor Whit Burnett, a hard-ass he grows to love. “Jerry” writes because he’s angry and he needs to express it somehow. Burnett shows him how to do this without alienating his reader. He’s also the one who encourages him to turn Holden Caulfield into a novel, and the one who worries him when he goes off to war.

Salinger (Nicholas Hoult) returns from war a better writer perhaps, but messed up in other ways, unsurprisingly. Catcher In The Rye is an enormous hit. That messes him up lead_720_405too. I wondered how I’d come to miss this movie, with notable subjects and stars, but I didn’t have to wait long to figure out the why if not the how: Kevin Spacey. He co-stars as the beleaguered, bloated professor, which means the accusations against him would have left the producers scrambling, and they buried it in a shallow Hollywood grave.

But to be fair, Spacey’s involvement isn’t the film’s only problem. It’s too neat, too well-packaged, perhaps even too kind to the author, who no doubt was an interesting, tortured recluse. Hoult is fine as Salinger, and he plays well against the likes of Sarah Paulson, Zoey Deutch, and even Spacey. But this is a pretty ordinary, banal biopic that’s a little starry-eyed about its subject, which dilutes its power and keeps us at arm’s length from the real artist, a man who loved writing but gave it up to live privately, to meditate for his mental health, and to avoid press at all costs.

It’s also, if we’re being honest, hard to reconcile a beloved and important work with so much pain. This movie is both too much (too broad) and not enough (no depth). Rebel in the Rye is more like Mediocre at the Movies.

Set It Up

Two harried, 20-something assistants work for different demanding bosses in the same Manhattan building. Harper (Zoey Deutch) admires her boss, Kirsten (Lucy Liu), who is a sports reporter. Harper wants to be a writer too but so far she spends her days fetching lunch and racking up steps on Kirsten’s fitbit. Charlie (Glen Powell) is eagerly awaiting his promotion but is still just Rick’s (Taye Diggs) overworked assistant. When Harper and Charlie meet in the lobby of their building, they determine that the only way to free themselves from the shackles of serfdom is to set up their bosses romantically. And it works!

The catch is – and you won’t believe this – Harper and Charlie fall in love themselves while orchestrating this love match between their bosses. Who would have thought (other than every single one of you, plus your grandmas, plus the ghosts of your grandmas’ mid-century pet parakeets).

Set It Up is the original Netflix film billed as the rom-com to save all rom-coms. Were rom-coms an endangered species? The good ones seem all but extinct. And I’m not sure this one changed my mind about that. But it’s not terrible. It’s not as cornball cheesy as these things tend to be. The stars are charming and dripping with chemistry. But itMV5BYmQyM2Q0NzgtZTAxNi00OTk3LTg4NjItM2E2YmE5MGM5YWI2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_ (1) doesn’t have a unique voice or anything that super sets it apart. It’s comfort food:  the kind of mac and cheese you might bring to a potluck. Not gourmet. Not lobster mac. Not truffle mac. It probably doesn’t even have gouda. But it’s warm and creamy and just gooey enough to convince you you want it. Rom-coms are predicable almost by definition. We know they’re going to get together; the “fun” is in how they get together.

Zoey Deutch is cute and glowing and perky and seemingly born to be the quirky, sweet romantic lead (her mother is Lea Thompson). Glen Powell, who previously played and has the smug, handsome face of an astronaut, is a good match for her, although he’s the matte paint to her gloss. Tituss Burgess, in little more than a cameo, is high-impact nonetheless, and makes an excellent case for giving him a starring role, stat.  But I didn’t get a Tituss Burgess movie, I got two white actors with blindingly white smiles in roles I’ve seen dozens of times before, sometimes done better, and sometimes worse. That’s not a ringing endorsement of a movie, but ringing would be a bit over-the-top for a movie you see coming from 95 miles away. This is a tepid endorsement in 12 point, Times New Roman, which is what it deserves and all I can give.

 

 

How To Talk To Girls At Parties

Boy is this title misleading! It sounds like it belongs to the self-help genre, but if you’ve been standing awkwardly around the dip, wondering how to break the ice, calculating to the minute when it’s no longer rude to leave, well, I hate to tell you this, but this movie isn’t going to change your life.

It’s based on a short story by Neil Gaiman, which means I went in curious as hell. And director John Cameron Mitchell is an interesting guy, with some visually stunning work tucked into his artist fanny pack. But here’s the deal: Enn (Alex Sharp) is a young punk. That’s not my inner grumpy old man coming out, he’s a teenager in 1977 who thinks punk rock music is going to save his soul. He and his punk friends go out one night in the London suburb of Croydon and stumble upon a party that seems too good to be true: a sex den of beautiful exchange students.

MV5BNTA3ZGY0ZjctZGVjOC00MDdmLTg0NjctOGE4MGE1YTViYjE0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_Enn is immediately taken with Zan (Elle Fanning) and his immediate concern is about how to successfully extract her from what appears to be a sexy suicide cult. But that notion is further complicated as it becomes obvious she’s from much further away than America. Zan is an alien. Zan is an alien? It seems that Zan is an alien, an alien who is  disenchanted with her fellow travelers and would really like to hang out with her new teenage friends, experiencing their fascinating culture.

DJ James Murphy developed a new kind of EDM for this movie, one he’s described as “extraterrestrial dance music,” that still feels like a cousin to the Sex Pistols.  So you can imagine that John Cameron Mitchell has created a really cool vibe for this movie, and when it works, it’s a lot of fun. But it may have been a little ambitious to stage a punk rebellion musical. Okay, a lot ambitious. But that’s one of the move lovable things about it. Sure it’s unhinged, it’s messy, it’s campy, it’s weird. It’s a punk rock Romeo & Juliet. It mixes metaphors. It mixes genres. It’s not always successful but it takes big risks and paints with wild abandon. Plus, there’s Nicole Kidman looking like David Bowie in Labyrinth, which nearly stopped my heart. Maybe this movie is not for you. But I hope it finds its audience of weirdos. Weirdos gonna weird.

Tag

Tag is a movie about grown men playing tag. They’ve played every month of May for the past 30 years, since they were kids. They’re crazy competitive about it, and it rankles that Jerry (Jeremy Renner) is the only one who’s never EVER been tagged. Not once. In 30 years. But this May Jerry’s getting married, and that seems to the rest of the gang (Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress, Jon Hamm) like the perfect opportunity to finally make him IT.

This movie is based on a true story, which sounds absurd except I knew a couple of brothers who did something similar – they played a game they dubbed Touch You Last (you can probably extrapolate what it involves) throughout their adulthood. In MV5BMjNjYzVkNmMtY2VhNC00ZDg2LTlkNmItMzYzOTI4NzIwYTQ5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjMxMjkwMDg@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1333,1000_AL_the movie, the guys find it a good excuse to get together and stay close well past the time that most friendships fall to the way side. Wives and girlfriends (Rashida Jones, Leslie Bibb, Isla Fisher) are not allowed to play because they made the rules when they were 9 (no girls allowed) but over the years the game has been mythic and this year a reporter from The Wall Street Journal is following them around so the stakes are extra extra high and nothing, believe me NOTHING, is sacred.

The film is a mashup between comedy (hit or miss) and absurd and insane stunts that no grown, sane man should attempt in the name of a game of tag, or ever, unless a bear is chasing you AND you owe that bear money AND that bear has ties to organized crime AND your hair is on fire.

The script isn’t overly strong but there’s a lot of funny people in this (I might give the win to Hannibal Buress, who delivers a straight-faced one-liner like nobody’s business) so it does have its moments. It’s just not in danger for being mistaken for a classic, or, you know, an actual good movie. Which is not to say it’s bad. It’s just pretty content to be a medium-funny diversion which you may or may not wait to see as a rental rather than in theatres, where you damn well better make me laugh out loud.

Ocean’s 8

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has an annual gala to celebrate its epic costume exhibits. It’s the most exclusive party in town, and guests compete to see which top-tier designer will outfit them. It’s a parade of jaw-dropping gowns and over the top accessories worn by the biggest celebrities who don’t mind being incredibly uncomfortable for an evening. It’s paparazzo heaven, and whoever dons the most shocking and exquisite dress WILL make the front page of every magazine and newspaper the next day. I live for this shit: the shoes, the jewels, the blatant disregard for theme. The MET gala is an institution. And it’s a fucking lot of fun to watch some badass women rob the damn thing.

Sandra Bullock plays Debbie Ocean, Danny’s sister who’s fresh off a 5-year stint in the slammer. That’s 5 whole years she’s had of dedicated heist planning, so on the day of her release, she hits the ground running, and the first place she runs to is her old friend and MV5BMzk0M2Y0YWQtZWVlYy00MGU2LTk1NmQtOGRlYWM4ODhlYjkwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1502,1000_AL_partner Lou (Cate Blanchett) who doesn’t need much convincing. The plan is not to rob the museum, but to rob the neck of famous actress and red carpet savant Daphne (Anne Hathaway) of the 6lbs\$150 million dollars worth of diamonds that will be hanging there ever so tantalizingly.  Who could resist? Debbie and Lou assemble a crack team including a jeweler (Mindy Kaling), a hacker (Rihanna), a soccer mom fence (Sarah Paulson), and a master of the sleight of hand (Awkwafina) to pull off the ultimate crime.

When Ghostbusters got an all-female reboot, sad little cockmuppets cried that their childhoods had been ruined. It seemed like there was less vitriol for an all-female version of Ocean’s, perhaps because the Ocean’s fans are adults rather than manbabies suckling at the teat of nostalgia. Still, I couldn’t help but be sad when Debbie herself justifies her all-female team: women are far more likely to be overlooked.

Ocean’s 8 is good but not great. It’s a heist movie and you’ll never question where it’s going, but the fun is how it gets there. And there is some fun here. Helena Bonham Carter, splendidly cast as a kooky designer, has the time of her life. Anne Hathaway, who I normally cannot stand, earns some laughs with her starlet parody. And Cate Blanchett, hooo-eeee, let’s just sit here and ignore the fact that I’m about to objectify her, big time. Those bangs. Wispy blonde bangs that fall into her eyelashes just so. She’s constantly blinking under their weight, and I’m constantly imagining how I might sweep them away for her. Knock me over, knock me right over.

But with nearly every ensemble, my complaint is similar: just not enough time with all of my favourites. Sarah Paulson is a working mother conwoman, a criminal type we do not often glimpse in Hollywood’s depiction of the underworld, and Paulson’s talent is so enormous she maximizes her screen time and paints her character with charisma and relatability. Mindy Kaling is effervescent but underused. Newcomer Awkwafina has clearly got star power, but she’s not exactly getting equal screen time with the Oscar winners on either side of her. Even though you only need 8 women to do the job of 11-13 men, the movie still feels crowded and the cast just doesn’t always get what it deserves. There are way too few female characters in this genre, and the 8 here are still just a drop in the bucket. We need to see a lot more lady (crime) bosses to even up the score, but maybe next time a lady boss behind the camera might also be in order – you know, if you want it done right.

 

 

Gringo

Richard and Elaine are co-presidents of a pharmaceutical company that’s doing shady dealings. Harold is the guy they figure won’t ask any questions, so they routinely send him down to Mexico to unknowingly do their dirty work. But Mexico’s a dangerous place to navigate and when the worst happens and Harold places a panicked call from his kidnapper’s lair to his bosses, Richard and Elaine are forced to admit that they’ve let the kidnapping insurance lapse.

MV5BMjg0OWVkNDktOTg4NC00ZThmLWJmZDktZWVmOTEzMmE2YWJhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_Uh oh. “Luckily” Richard (Joel Edgerton) “knows a guy”, so they’re not going to pay the kidnappers so much as send in an “extractor” named Mitch (Sharlto Copley) who claims he’s out of the business, straight as an arrow. Right. But while Harold (David Oyelowo) is awaiting ransom or extraction or escape in Mexico, he gets into even more trouble in the form of drug cartels (notice the plural).

Between buzzing bullets and dark comedy, Gringo goes off-roading in Mexico in the worst way possible. It’s kind of a mess, and an egregious misuse of a serious talented cast, and director Nash Edgerton should know better – he’s Joel’s brother. And I’m not sure this depiction of Mexico wasn’t slightly racist, and politically incorrect. But it is fun to watch Theron and Edgerton play such contemptible baddies, and this is the most fun I’ve seen Oyelowo have on screen. The man has serious range, but to be honest, I think the cost of the rental was justified the moment I saw him rapping along to Will Smith. And while I’m naming the very few things that weren’t wrong with the movie, shout out to makeup artist Francesa Tolot for Charlize’s flawless red pout. Francesca, if you’re reading this, I NEED to know what product you used.

As for the rest of you, I can’t really recommend this hot mess, but as far as dumpster fires go, this one was kind of worth standing around to watch.

 

 

Tomb Raider

Lara Croft is the tough and independent daughter of a wealthy adventurer who disappeared 7 years ago and is presumed dead. So when she learns his secret obsession with an ancient Japanese myth, she pursues him to the unknown island that seems to have swallowed him whole. It seems like a really bad decision to follow in the footsteps of a dead man, but Lara (Alicia Vikander) doesn’t just put her life on the line, she involves an innocent stranger too (Daniel Wu), just as her father did. So if you’re wondering who the Croft family is, they appear to be in it solely for themselves, and fuck every body else.

So Lara makes her way to this evil island where she meets up with a bad man named Mathias (Walter Goggins) and things go from merely murdery to a whole shit tonne MV5BMTBjZDBiNGEtYjhlMC00YmM1LThmZWEtOWE1ZjhhMDg5MDEzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODAyMDA1MDk@._V1_of worse.  And even though she’s been violently shipwrecked and then hunted, actually hunted on an island that seems intent on killing her, she somehow maintains a perfectly shaped brow and stubble-free armpits, which are constantly on display thanks to a skimpy outfit that seems particularly ill-advised when visiting malaria-infested countries. So while Lara may be about to out-box me, I’ll still take the victory because I packed the DEET. Though I suppose I should concede that the Vikander version of Lara is slightly more grounded and slightly less lustily rendered on the screen than was Angelina Jolie.

Tomb Raider is fine, I guess, except for some painful green screen moments that are ENTIRELY unconvincing. And the fact that it’s boring as shit to watch someone solve a puzzle when the puzzle is never shown or known to us. It’s just a lot of knob twisting. Vikander is tough as balls but the story is uninspired and makes no arguments for its own existence. This franchise didn’t need a reboot and it got a rather lacklustre one, despite Vikander’s charm.

 

Laggies

Megan panics when her boyfriend of 10 years proposes to her at a friend’s wedding, but really it’s what she’s been waiting for – not so much for the ring, but for someone to just decide for her. With her post-graduate studies complete, she’s still without a job, still waffling on her daddy’s couch when convenient. She’s lost. Which doesn’t excuse the following: when she flees her brand new fiance and her dear friend’s wedding reception to “get some air” she winds up at a grocery store, buying beer for some teenagers.

And then she ends up following one of them home. Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz) is pretty interesting for a 16 year old, but the home she shares with her single father Craig (Sam Rockwell) is appealingly simple and cozy to Megan (Keira Knightley) and her quarter life crisis. Of course, the addition of Megan instantly complicates things for everyone and life is never simple. Megan should bloody well know that.

This film is apparently known as Say When in some countries, and I sort of think it MV5BNDhhM2FiMWUtYTBhNi00M2Q5LWI3ZTMtNWVmODcwMGU3ZTAwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTI3MDk3MzQ@._V1_should be in mine as well. Laggies? An expression I was unfamiliar with, but could kind of understand with context. Urban Dictionary, bless its lack of soul, provides several helpful definitions, including 1. dragging along (which I believe Megan is doing) 2. someone who is stalkerish (which Megan borderline is) 3. a combination of both large + saggy, referring to boobs, as in “she’s got a nice rack, but she’s laggy” (which Megan most assuredly is NOT) 4. “the laggies” is a disease (well, a pretend one) caused by chronic masturbation (I’ll let you watch the movie to find out which characters may suffer from it).

Keira Knightly is not entirely convincing in her part or in her accent, but director Lynn Shelton is working really hard to throw a little sympathy her way, which is hard to do when an overeducated, overprivileged white girl is whining about her own indecision. Chloe Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell, though, are pretty fantastic additions to the cast. They bookend Megan’s 20-something ennui, and give it some perspective. I also appreciated pop-ups from Ellie Kemper and Jeff Garlin; Shelton has a knack for comedy that I can only wish was more present in the script by Andrea Seigel. This film puts a little too much faith in Knightley’s charm. She tries her best to be our plucky heroine but she’s not half as enchanting as she thinks she is, and she’s easily upstaged by her teenage counterpart. Possibly Megan should have locked that shit down while she still could. Instead she’s stuck in that crack between childhood and adulthood, and the only enticement of this film is the viewer’s desire to be the one to give her shove she needs to get the fuck out.