Category Archives: Half-assed

Jay says: you could do worse.

Mystery Team

The Mystery Team was a trio of childhood friends who biked around their neighbourhood to find mysteries to solve – a missing diary, a marble down a drain, a windowsill pie tampering. They communicated via walkie talkie and charged their clients just a dime. The Mystery Team is in fact still the same trio, only now they’re high school seniors and if they have no idea how creepy and childish and inappropriate their behaviour has become, everyone else certainly does.

mysteryteam2_lgThey manage to still get clients though, usually referred by Jamie (Ellie Kemper) but a new family on the block leads to their first ‘adult’ case – a double homicide with a side of stolen jewels. Again, everyone else knows that Jason (Donald Glover) aka The Master of Disguise, Duncan (D.C. Pierson) aka The Boy Genius, and Charlie (Dominic Dierkes) aka The Strongest Kid in the Neighbourhood are in way over their heads, but they’re gung-ho – especially Jason, who might feel his first ‘adult’ stirrings for the new girl next door (Aubrey Plaza).

Is this a good movie? Bottom line: no. There’s definitely humour in just how pathetic these guys are, how clueless, and in some ways, how sweet. But it’s really the only fish in the barrel, so they stretch it out of necessity, and it inevitably wears quite thin. They bumble around foolishly, stumbling upon clues apparently faster than the cops due. Suspicious? About as suspicious as a stripper’s cesarean scar, and yes, that will come up.

I suppose if you have some sort of Scooby Doo fetish, this might be up your alley (sorry, no dog). I enjoy Donald Glover (no relation to Danny) so I tolerated this. I’m not sure that everyone will be able to say the same, and I wouldn’t blame them for a second if they couldn’t.

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Allied

It’s awfully boring for a spy movie. Allied would be a better film if it could decide whether to be a wartime espionage film, or to just embrace the wartime romance. Instead it tries to be both, and in trying, fails to be much of either.

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard play undercover spies who meet for the first time pretending to be spouses. Some dead Nazis and some illicit sandstorm sex later, they ALLIEDdecide that since they’re so good at pretending, they may as well get married in real life too. They’re warned that “field romances” rarely prosper, but critics be damned, they marry anyway, with London blitzing away in the background.

Marion Cotillard is full of sparkle, but Brad Pitt just flubs this six ways to occupied France. He has his moments, I suppose, but watching him struggle, try too hard, and come in rubbery is just embarrassing. Why has director Robert Zemeckis allowed such mediocrity? Possibly because he knew the material didn’t warrant much more. Brady Pitt is hardly the only problem, only the most surprising. The script is limp, indecisive. Nothing juicy happens until an hour in, the action comes in very, very small bursts with lots of passing the time in between. And at least one of the lead actors, perhaps even both, are outshined by Cotillard’s wardrobe, which may be a bit sumptuous for 1940s London, but who’s counting. Costumer Joanna Johnston nabbed an Oscar nom for her work but probably stands very little chance of actually winning. And frankly, I’m perfectly okay with this Oscar baity movie coming away with no Academy Awards whatsoever.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

Confession time: I’ve never seen a Harry Potter movie, or read a book. Damn you Oscars for throwing this movie a nomination and forcing me to see it. And even though intellectually, I’ve known at various times that this was part of the HP universe, I’ve often confused it with with Doctor Strange, and with so many parallels between the two, it could fit just as easily in Marvel’s.

That dirty secret out of the way, spoiler alert: they’re in Eddie Redmayne’s suitcase. He plays writer and wizard-biologist of sorts, who finds himself in New York City with a suitcase full of trouble. NYC in the 1920s has a more closeted approach to wizardry than fantastic-beasts-redmayne-waterston.jpgwe’re used to, and the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) is riding the barrier between magical and non-magical as well as they can. Scamander, however, believes that the beasts in his case are harmless and deserve a chance to be safe and free. This attitude puts him at odds with the MACUSA in general, and Graves (Colin Farrell) in particular. Luckily, a young woman a little lower on the chain, Tina (Katherine Waterson), takes him in, and a non-maj (non-magical person, or muggle) who’s been caught up in the whole thing as well (Jacob, Dan Fogler).

The magical community is on edge because of terrorism committed by the dark wizard Grindelwald. The non-magical community is getting riled up by fundamentalist “Second Salemers”, an anti-magic group to which Mary Lou (Samantha Morton) belongs, and spreads hatred for along with her adopted children (Ezra Miller among them).

As you can see, JK Rowling is drawing an awful lot of nifty parallels between our present maxresdefaultday world and theirs. There’s a whole subplot involving the evil things that happen when someone tries to suppress who they truly are.

Eddie Redmayne was the first and only choice for Scamander, which means you get to see an Oscar winner try to seduce a rhinoceros. Whatever you’re imagining, it’s worse. The movie is stand-alone (well, there are 4 sequels planned, but that’s another story) but still works best for those familiar with the Potter world of wizarding. Scamander was already technically a part of it, having written the text book that Harry will read some 70 years later at Hogwarts (of which Scamander is himself an alum). Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a lavish buffet, a visual feast, and it must be a delight for an HP fan to see so much more of the imagined universe come to life. For me, a novice, it was just all right, a serviceable story limited by its many plot lines that failed to cast a spell on me.

 

The Great Wall

The “Great Wall” is actually just a series of pretty okay walls that we’ve joined together over time. They were being built as early as the 7th century BC, in order to protect China’s borders from invading nomads. It was built over a period of 1700 years and stretches over 8850km.

The film The Great Wall is not nearly as impressive an accomplishment, even by blockbuster standards. It’s an action-adventure-monster movie that represents one of the several legends told about The Great Wall, and the things from which it was supposedly built to protect.

Somebody obviously has some compromising nude pictures of Matt Damon, so he stars as great-wall-movie-matt-damon.jpegthe ambiguous white guy who’s been roaming around with a group looking for black powder. Lots of his men have been picked off and they should have turned back, but instead the remaining men run into a scary beast that eats all but two. Then William and his pal get picked up by the Chinese army near the wall and are more or less taken prisoner, but it seems only so that the white guys can be really impressed by all the Chinese ingenuity.

They’ve been preparing to face these beasts for 60 years. They have special units with special skills: the armoured bear troop engages in combat, the eagles specialize in archery, the tigers have catapults and burning rocks. The crane troop is an all female group who bungee down a pit with spears, and the unlucky deer are the cavalry.

The white guys decide that while the Chinese army is preoccupied with the beast attack, they should seize the opportunity to rob them and run. I was wholly confused by Matt Damon’s American accent in a time period when Americans did not yet exist. A lot of people balked about Matt Damon being cast in this film, but this is not whitewashing as we know it. His character was always supposed to be non-Chinese. I just don’t understand how he’s a medieval Bostonian.

As you can imagine, the battle sequences are pretty eye-popping with all these fancy fight techniques and inventive weaponry. It feels both ancient and futuristic at the same time. Screen_Shot_2016-07-28_at_2.00.40_PM.0.pngCertainly director Zhang Yimou has a visual flair but this movie overly relies on effects and imagery at the expense of literally everything else. Zhang Yimou’s special spice blend is missing. There’s no subtlety. There’s no sensitivity. And the story is just plain lacking. It starts to feel repetitive even within its 104 minutes. But it’s gloriously explody. It is that. Kaboom.

 

 

War On Everyone

Two buddy detectives (Michael Pena, Alexander Skarsgard) are corrupt as hell and enjoy bashing skulls together as they extort the hell out of any vague criminal sort that crosses paths with them. But that’s a really good way to meet some really bad people, and eventually, they do.

woe_firstlook-2-1024x716It takes all of 4 minutes to realize that this movie is not going to live up to even modified expectations. The dialogue is surprisingly bad, perhaps because writer-director John Michael McDonagh, capable of Calvary, is instead treating this like he’s writing on spec for straight-to-Netflix Adam Sandler.

The good news is that both Pena and Skarsgard look pretty darn good in three piece suits. The fault is not with them – I don’t think anyone could survive this kind of sloppy writing. I think I see what McDonagh is aiming for: salty, quippy, something like Apatow meets Tarantino. Not only does it fail to live up to either of those names, it’s forgettable even as you’re watching it. It may as well never have been made. And it never justifies itself. 97 minutes later, I still can’t even account for the 70s porn music that unironically accompanied random car chase scenes, and I definitely can’t decide which of the villains is most laughable. I guess you might find it passably enjoyable if you’re in the right mood, but I am decidedly not. This shit just feels tone deaf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genius

 

A crazy man insisting he’s a genius wanders into Max’s office. He’s ranting, he’s raving, he doesn’t know that Max (Colin Firth) is already under his spell, has already been reading his manuscript, enthralled. And when Tom (Jude Law) learns that Max is on board, he can’t quite believe it – no other publisher has found his work worthwhile. Max is the first to take him seriously.

It turns out that Tom is Tom Wolfe and Max is editor to the greatest literary minds of the genius-leadtime, counting F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce) and Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West) among his authors. They’re all jealous of each other, of course, all big egos with weighty demands on Max’s time, and skill.  This movie will make you feel as though editors do not get paid nearly enough. It might also question just who is the Genius referred to in the title – is it the brilliant writer, or is the man editing his writing so that it may appear brilliant to others? Certainly Max is good at spotting talent, but also at shaping it.

Not everyone is grateful, however. Max’s wife Louise (Laura Linney) feels neglected. Tom’s wife Aline feels even worse: she feels replaced. Aline (Nicole Kidman) isn’t even properly his wife – she left her husband and her children just as they were grown to be with Tom and feel needed by him. She supported him for years as he wrote feverishly, as the rejection letters piled up around them. But now that his work has found a home, and an audience, he doesn’t need her as much, and she knows it. She is obsolete, and she warns Max that he may soon be the same.

The real meat of the story is the relationship between writer and editor, the ugly push and genius-official-trailer-14960-largepull necessary to hone a manuscript into a masterpiece. Max Perkins has an excellent track record but still prefers to hide behind an editor’s anonymity, still grapples with the fear of having “deformed” someone’s work.

 

Colin Firth never sets a foot wrong, so it’s difficult to put my finger on exactly why this movie isn’t great. I suppose if I had just the one word it would be: superficial. I suppose it must be a great headache to make writing and editing, two very quiet, solitary activities, seem cinematic, and I can tell you that director Michael Grandage has not found the way to make them seem otherwise. Firth is fatherly, Law is petulant, Linney saintly though ill-serviced by the script, Kidman downright unhinged. It just never really gels. After more than 100 minutes, I was left thinking: is that it? The story is sufficiently interesting that I will look up the book upon which it is based, not because the movie left me wanting more, but because it left me needing more, which is never a good sign.

 

 

Trolls

 

I spent time this Christmas with three of my nephews, ages 2, 3, and 5. The gifts that Santa left them underneath the Christmas tree looked awfully familiar: there were Ghostbusters, Ninja Turtles, Popples, and Transformers. One toy that I never could have predicted a resurgence for though, were trolls. Trolls were ugly little dolls that were pushed as collectibles for kids but were mostly popular with the blue-haired Bingo ladies, who would stroke their hair for luck before daubing the shit out of their cards. But for some reason Dreamworks thought it appropriate to give these guys another crack at glory (they’ve popped up in almost every decade since they were created in 1959) and they spent six years putting out this mediocre movie.

At first I thought it was as harmless as Sing, a movie that doesn’t exactly break new trollsheaderground, but has lots of catchy songs and cute, cuddly characters. Trolls is the same, until it isn’t. They live in a magical forest where they sing and dance and hug all day. Sure they have enemies who’d like to eat them, but they escaped the mean Bergen long ago, and what’s the use of dwelling on the past, right? Well, just ask the Bergen, who can only feel happiness by eating a troll. They’re pretty motivated to find those little freaky-haired fuckers and throw a feast to end all feasts. Finger licking genocide!

A particularly raucous, glitter-fueled party alerts the Bergen to the trolls’ location and the head Bergen chef makes off with a fanny pack full of trolls. Their princess, Poppy (Anna Kendrick), feels responsible (because she is) and embarks on a rescue mission with only Branch (Justin Timberlake), the grumpy troll with a dark back story, for help. But when they scale the walls of Bergentown, the movie suddenly turns on its head.

Trolls rescue mission movie basically aborted. Now we’re talking Cinderella, except in our 9-bergen-bridget-trolls-3d-animation-movie-previewcase it’s a Bergen scullery maid named Bridget (Zooey Deschanel), who is in love with King Gristle Jr (Christopher Mintz Plasse). Was Poppy supposed to save her friends from being eaten? Sure, “technically.” What, is that some sort of emergency? Some sort of priority? Can’t Poppy take a break to attend a roller disco if she wants? Jeez guys, you can’t expect her to be a slave for her loyal friends and subjects, whose lives she endangered.

Anyway, I lost track of the plot right around then, but they sang and danced their way toward a happy ending, rest assured. The biggest takeaway from this film was of course Justin Timberlake’s irrepressibly happy song, Can’t Stop The Feeling! My 5 year old nephew claims this as his jam so when it played in the movie he couldn’t help but dance in the aisle.

Which is the only reason I really need to like this movie. Luckily, they have several 5 minute music videos that accomplish as much without all the glittery poop. This song is up for a Golden Globe tonight, up against this song from Moana, which is so infectiously singable, I can’t imagine which will win.

Unless it’s this one (by Stevie Wonder!) from Sing, or the Gold one by Iggy Pop and Danger Mouse that I’ve never heard…

Or, you know, City of Stars, from the La La Land soundtrack, which is just a bit of audible magic. What’s got your vote?

Fences

Denzel Washington says more in the first 5 minutes of Fences than Casey Affleck does in the entire 137 minutes of Manchester By The Sea. Fences was adapted from August Wilson’s brilliant play of the same name, a 2010 Broadway revival of which garnered Tony awards for both Washington and Viola Davis. Both reprise their roles for the movie, alongside Broadway costars Mykelti Williamson (as Gabe), Russell Hornsby (as Lyons) and Stephen Henderson (as Bono) also rejoining the cast. The performances are thus flawless: believe the hype. But as for the movie, I was less convinced.

The adaptation is a little too literal. A play will necessarily take place in the same few fences-640x427locations, but a movie doesn’t have such limitations. This one sticks closely to its confines, however, and as director, Denzel Washington uses a series of tight shots to further the exposition. The characters, and Washington’s in particular, are talky, prone to excessively lengthy essays that explore 1950s racial tensions in relation to their lives.

After an arduous life, Troy Maxson has just been promoted and will be the first African-American garbage truck driver in Pittsburgh (despite not holding a license). But good news is never so simple in the neighbourhood where he lives, and frankly, neither is Troy. The most compelling thing about this movie is that Washington and Davis give such thorough, riveting performances. Their characters are complicated, interesting, complex. It’s an excellently crafted play, but its transfer to film was a little too minimal for my taste. I needed a little energy between the marathon monologues. Powerful as the sermons may be, too many in a row meant that I was dozing off, sometimes barely able to keep up with the rapid-fire speechifying. And the monotony of the locations and the lack of movement from the cameras made me very aware that Fences was and is a great play but that as it is, it is not a great movie. It’s a true testament to some of the greatest living actors today that they master the language and the rhythms of the dialogue, overcoming the verbosity if sometimes overreaching.

Fences is a bit bloated; at 138 minutes there was plenty of opportunity to lose some fat. Washington is not a strong director, and some of his choices flat-out confounded me, though he mostly is reverential of the work, which is a complaint rather than a compliment. To me this movie is dead in the water as far as the Best Picture race is concerned, but both Denzel and Viola will be in strong contention as far as their roles go. Viola Davis, however, has engaged in some category fraud in order to better her odds: she’s campaigning as a supporting actress when as a matter of fact she constantly steals thunder from Denzel. It’s still early to predict how Oscar will go, but Fences is an electrifying vehicle for some incendiary performances, even if it never reaches true cinematic scope.

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie

If you were a fan of the series, you’re going to be a fan of Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie because it’s an absolute hoot and a real tribute to the show. If you’ve never heard of it though, you’re kind of out of luck. Show creator\writer\star Jennifer Saunders isn’t looking for converts with her script, abfabshe’s simply paying tribute to those of us who will never get enough of Edina and Patsy.

The show wasn’t really “about” anything other than two fab women (well, fab in their own minds), PR reps Edina (Saunders) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley), who lived life in glorious, wondrous, oblivious excess. They worked little and spent lots, thinking mostly of themselves and the clothes they wore (mostly badly). Brand-obsessed and vain to their empty cores, I couldn’t help but love their ballsy hedonism. The show was vicarious fun and thanks to Saunders’s clever writing (not forgetting her brilliant partner, Dawn French), with frequent in-jokes and winks to the audience between scathing, cruel humour. The movie is very much like an expansion pack of a typical episode. This time Edina and Patsy fuck up on a world stage and for the first landscape-1455900130-colfertime they’re finding that perhaps being hounded by the paparazzi isn’t quite what they’d always hoped.

Saunders and Lumley have excellent chemistry (as they should – they’ve been playing these characters off and on since 1992) and just seeing them together makes me feel effervescent. Every familiar face was like unwrapping a sweet, and I couldn’t get enough. Saunders can still write a mean sting and by god can they both deliver. These comediennes are not to be underestimated: even their banal hijinks are riveting. There’s no new ground here and a movie feels a bit of a stretch, but these women truly are fabulous and I feel fortunate to still be able to bear witness to their acid. I would gladly spend my remaining years in a nursing home alongside them as long as we never ran out of champers, sweetie dahling.

Office Christmas Party

By my count it’s been at least 12 years since a holiday movie has earned Classic status (Elf is kind of a sure thing; The Polar Express pretty darn close) and Office Christmas Party is no where near in danger of being added to that hallowed list. It’s just funny enough, which seems to be the way with these things.

Jason Bateman plays the Jason Bateman character: bland 40-something white dude. Thanks to his horrible boss (Jennifer Aniston), the only way both the company where he works at and Christmas itself can be saved is by turning the office holiday party up a notch – to eleven – and letting the festivities turn near-apocalyptic.

Is it a dumb premise? Of course it is. I’m not sure I would have seen this movie at all had I OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTYnot been deliberately trying to kill time AND had this particular movie not been playing in the convenient slot. Should YOU see it? Not unless you find yourself in similar circumstances. I mean, it’s not awful. Check it out next year on Netflix, maybe. It’s got a pretty good cast and the odd chuckle, so it’s not a complete waste of space. It just wouldn’t quite make it onto Santa’s Nice list, we’ll say. Is that generous of me? Am I in the holiday spirit? Gross.

Actually, I’m writing this from my desk, where I am currently going through some post-cruise symptoms, such as feeling my whole office list when I know damn well that I’m firmly on land. My body, however, has not yet adjusted. I am also wrapped up in fluffy blankets and slippers because while my skin has become adjusted to Hawaiian temperatures, we arrived home last night to a winter storm that made our morning commute particularly hellish.

Back to the movie: actually, I may as well be done this review. It’s what you expect from a cotd_utwaaekdh0non-denominational holiday mixer where Kate McKinnon is stretching out a 3 minute bit and she’s the best thing on screen.

For my office get together, we rent out a suite and watch the Ottawa Senators play some team, and usually get beaten. But there’s food and booze. What does your office do? Do you accidentally get clients high on blow? Bring hookers as dates? Wind up in the hospital? Flee in an epic car chase? Your office party might be a lot more tame than the one in this movie, but I bet the cliche factor is pretty similar, and it can’t possibly be any less original. Ho ho hold onto your money. They usually rerun It’s a Wonderful Life for free on TV.