Category Archives: Half-assed

Jay says: you could do worse.

Table 19

I sort of wonder if this is an oddball comedy or just a comedy filled with oddballs. It IS filled with oddballs, that’s the premise. Eloise (Anna Kendrick) is the ex-maid of honour at her best friend’s wedding. Having recently been broken up with the bride’s brother\best man, she knows she shouldn’t be there but to prove a point she RSVPs yes, and as a reward for her bravery, she gets seated at dreaded table 19 with all the other losers and rejects who should have known better.

MV5BYThmOTM1OTktODc4Mi00NzU4LWI5MzItYzc0ZDY1YWJhZjVlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg0ODEwMjU@._V1_The table 19 crew: Bina & Jerry Kemp (Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson) who are diner owners who don’t know the bride or groom personally, and barely know each other anymore; Renzo (Tony Revolori), a young kid who’s mother told him he stood a better chance of picking up at this wedding than at his junior prom; cousin Walter (Stephen Merchant), newly out of prison for having embezzled from the bride’s father; and Nanny Jo (June Squibb) who was basically a retaliation invite.

They’re a gang of misfits and the wedding is doomed for them. The critics have doomed Table 19 entirely, but I thought it had its charms. There’s certainly a lot of sympathy for the odd ducks of the world, and the performances are pretty winning (Squibb and Merchant being favourites). Some of the gags are tired but it’s kind of nice to see the weirdos normally relegated to the background have a moment in the spotlight. A Mumblecore film more concerned with characters and dialogue than plot, this movie isn’t going to light the world on fire. But like any wedding, it can be made tolerable with an open bar.

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War Machine

This movie intends to satirize the American war in Afghanistan and I suppose it manages to land a few punches, but it’s so cartoonish the film gets bled of any real bite. Brad Pitt plays ‘Obama’s General’, 4-star Glen McMahon (a placeholder for Stanley McChrystal), the guy brought in to win a war his own country started, so of course when things to go to shit, he gets a disproportionate amount of the blame.

War Machine reminds us that war is won by men, but it’s the men in suits who run this MV5BMjQzMzUzNzY3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDA5ODI0MjI@._V1_CR0,59,640,360_AL_UX477_CR0,0,477,268_AL_war, not men in uniform. Politicians run things but don’t bother to check in with the men on the ground, who are operating on the basis of “counter-insurgency”, a losing proposition each and every time. The soldiers can’t distinguish between the enemy and the people they’re trying to protect. The war is a clusterfuck but so is this lazy attempt at satire.

It looks like it was filmed with a $400 budget and the same can-do American spirit that kept sending more troops to an unwinnable war (at two hours, it’s much too long to have said so little, and not long enough to have left any impression). The voice-over is straight out of a Lifetime movie (it’s meant to be the Rolling Stone journalist who got poor McMahon fired in the end – an unnecessary and cheesy device). And Brad Pitt is doing an awful voice like he’s trying to convince you it’s not really him. It feels like a gross miscalculation on Pitt’s part: the weird growl, the caricature-ish squint, it’s all a little too much to make the General feel flesh and blood.

The script isn’t smart enough and the film offers no insight. And even though it’s a mess, it makes 2009 look kind of quaint compared to 2017, which is the most depressing sin of all.

 

Christine

As often happens in Hollywood, two films came out around the same time about the same subject, in this case Christine Chubbuck,  a real-life reporter who took her life during a live broadcast in the 1970s. I reviewed Kate Plays Christine previously, and didn’t much care for its treatment of the subject. I needed a breather so have only now braced myself for the second film, Christine.

And this one is better, if I’m still not entirely sure we’ve gotten to the bottom of who she was and why she did what she did. If you do research on her as I have, much has been hqdefault.jpgmade of the fact that she (played by Rebecca Hall) was 30 and horrified of it, still a boyfriendless, childless virgin. I’m sort of offended on behalf of women everywhere that this is seen by anyone as the reason for her suicide. She was a troubled woman who’d struggled with depression and had left a job and life behind elsewhere in order to ‘rebuild.’ But this new place wasn’t going much better. A year in, she pined for the news anchor (Michael C. Hall) yet pushed him away when he got near. She yearned to do important investigative reporting but the station manager insisted on a “if it bleeds, it leads” policy. She couldn’t get promoted and wasn’t being taken seriously. She lived with her mother, sometimes happily, sometimes not.

Her on-air personality was quite cheerful but she was much more socially awkward in real life. Hall portrays her as troubled and disappointed, but not depressed beyond repair. So when the suicide comes, as you know it inevitably will, it still caught me off guard. Certainly we’d need to see her mental state unravel far more before this point arrives? I was shocked by it, and am not sure if the director, Antonio Campos, is trying to tell us that perhaps she wasn’t truly suicidal, or if the story was just lacking. I can’t rule christine-rebecca-hall.jpgout the former since I’ve always found the circumstance of her death a little fishy. Before she put the gun to her head, she read out a brief statement, basically accusing the station of pushing her to do this drastic, bloody thing. She’d also prepared a statement for a colleague to read out afterward, though none did. In that, she described her actions as a “suicide attempt” and reported that she’d been taken to hospital alive but in serious condition. Had she not planned or wanted her suicide to be “successful”? We’ll never know.

The film has a yellowed look to it, no doubt added afterward to achieve a vintage feel authentic to a 1970s era. It’s also well-acted by both Halls (no relation), with Rebecca Hall adopting a lower and more formulated voice, and Michael C. Hall slipping into a shiny-haired broadcaster’s charm. Although I don’t feel like the film offers us a complete (or at least a true) look at her life, the convincing and often gripping performances make Christine worthwhile.

 

 

Everything, Everything

Are you a teenage girl? Or perhaps you simply have the taste in movies of one (Twilight, The Fault In Our Stars, Before I Fall)? If so, you can confidently add this movie to your lineup. For everyone else: keep moving.

It ain’t bad, it’s just not that good. It’s about a young woman, Maddy (Amandla Stenberg), who has SCID, a disease that basically renders her immune system void. She has to stay in her sterile home just to stay alive. She has never left it. It’s a sad and sheltered existence without outside contact except for her mother and her nurse, Carla, and what she can observe from her window. When a cute boy (Olly, Nick Robinson) moves in next door, it widens her world by a tiny margin, but only makes her feel more keenly for what she’s missing.

MV5BMTU5ODEzNTI4N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODU1MTQzMjI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_Their love story unfolds slowly, as it must when one person is physically removed from the other. In the novel they communicate by text or instant messaging. To make that play a little less boring on screen, director Stella Meghie imagines them within the architectural models that Maddy’s always working on. It’s a device that works while still reminding us that these conversations don’t actually take place in a face-to-face reality. Still, it’s a talk-heavy, plot-light movie that doesn’t move around too much. If you aren’t swooning over Olly’s too-long-locks, you’re probably going to find this long.

As you might guess, this relationship prompts Maddy to consider going outside for the first time in her life. She’ll be risking her tenuous health and the sharp disapproval of her overprotective mother. But what else is young love for, if not rebellion?

Anyway. As you know, Hollywood only thinks teenagers are good for two things: romance with vampires, and death. Or at least they’re only profitable doing one of those two MV5BM2UwNDlhNmUtOWRiYi00MzgzLWFiMzEtMDE2MWE2NWY0MzMxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTkxOTY3MDY@._V1_things. Amandla Stenberg is very charming as Maddy, the brave, beautiful, but socially awkward girl next door trapped in a glass castle. She succumbs to the kind of romantic gestures no teenage boy would be caught doing and only a young-adult novelist could dream up. There’s some major eye-rolling to be had in this movie, and it starts rather early, when Olly first appears in his driveway, tossing his luscious locks in the unfiltered sunlight, shooting his pretty neighbour a cocksure grin while showing off on his skateboard. I was so sure he was about to eat it, and truthfully hoping he would, that it set a really weird tone to the movie for me. I guess my lusty teenage days are too far behind me. Your enjoyment of this movie will depend on the calculation between yourself and your own misspent youth.

The Book of Love

Truth bomb: I came upon this movie only because my friend Justin couldn’t stand it. And he tried. I mean, he watched a full 57 minutes, sweating profusely, pausing often to debrief his pain. The cause: Maisie Williams’ uneven accent. He couldn’t hack it. He also couldn’t place it. And good friend that he is, he thought I should have the chance to crack it. Since the film is set in New Orleans, I believe Cajun is the accent she was after. And since I don’t watch Game of Thrones (and Justin does), it wasn’t quite so jarring to me. But still kind of jarring. And hers isn’t the only one.

The premise: Jason Sudeikis plays a widower who works through his grief by a) growing a beard and b) befriending a troubled teenage girl (Williams) and helping her to build a raft out of garbage which she will then use to sail to the Azores. From New Orleans. Not symbolically.

Smothered with grief or not, I think it’s mostly understood that grown-ups are not allowed to help kids with projects that will certainly kill them. Right? But let’s cut poor Jason Sudeikis some slack. We’re not just talking about a dead wife, but one of those elusive COOL wives, the ones you don’t secretly loathe. His wife (Jessica Biel) was The Shit. Through extensive flash backs we learn that she was a manic pixie dream girl, except attainable, apparently. Way better than your wife. She was never not being crazy-awesome-cool. So it stung poor Jason Sudeikis really hard, guys. Really hard. It annoyed the fuck out of me, her constant perfection.

But anyway. If you’re a better person than I (and let’s face it, you likely are), this movie is about two people finding each other when they’re each at peak hurt and need. So that’s nice. Justin Timberlake does the music, which (sorry Jessica) is probably the only reason his wife gets asked to be in anything. The title of the movie is completely nonsensical except for the fact that they do play the song of the same name at some point. My sister danced to that song at her wedding, the Peter Gabriel version anyway.

Verdict. Don’t watch if you’re sensitive about accents. Do watch if you’ve just lost your Ultra Jiggy wife and you’re looking for reckless-child-endangerment ways to get over her. For the rest of you: it’s an okay watch. It doesn’t pack the emotional punch that it probably should, but hey: finally a movie about a dead wife and an orphaned kid where the box of kleenex is unnecessary!

Tumbledown

Hannah is deep in mourning for her husband. Her grief is complicated by the many strangers who share in it; he was a folk singer of some renown, perhaps memorialized more for his mysterious and untimely death than for his single album of songs. Friends and family think Hannah should be moving on but she’s frozen, paralyzed by the stores of love she has unused. She thinks the only way to exorcise his ghost is to write his biography, but it turns out it’s hard to write about the man you’re still in love with, in awe of, and angry at, for having left you.

MV5BMzcyODA4NDA2MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTE1MjU2NzE@._V1_Hannah (Rebecca Hall) has avoided fans and journalists alike but relents for Andrew (a bearded and bespectacled Jason Sudeikis), a brash professor in search of a tenure-assuring topic for his thesis. This reclusive, rarely written about musician fits the bill. And Hannah thinks working with Andrew will bolster her own writing. So they hunker down in a little cabin in the woods and set to work, pretending that their purposes aren’t at odds with each other.

I enjoyed this, the rawness of grief, the fallacy of closure, the importance of legacy, the obstacles to moving on. It felt sweet and tender. But it wasn’t spectacular. The two leads lack chemistry. And for a movie about the legend of a dead folk singer, there was a notable dearth of music. And though Hannah tells us that his death was the least interesting thing about him, we have to take her word for it, never learning much about him, not even the truth behind his sudden death. So there’s a third character who’s a third wheel in this odd romance, and he truly is a ghost. Without establishing his worth, we can’t really tell if Andrew is an adversary or a milestone in moving on. Despite Tumbledown’s themes, it makes a pretty light film – light but not necessarily easy.

 

Sand Castle

There was nothing very honourable about the war in Iraq, and this movie knows it. It’s written by war vet Chris Roessner and he’s not afraid to paint the screen with his shame.

Private Matt Ocre (Nicholas Hoult) signed up to the reserves in the summer of 2001, thinking it would help him pay his way through college. And it might have worked had some idiots not flown planes into the Twin Towers. So off he goes to a war that’s immediately disillusioning. He doesn’t know why he’s there or what he’s doing.

Sand-Castle-Movie-2Roessner watched Platoon for the first time in Saddam Hussein’s commandeered palace in Tikrit and it made him want to really pay attention to what was happening around him – it was film school he was hoping to attend, after all. Now he’s among the first of his generation to write a script about his own war.

If Ocre is a reluctant soldier, he’s also an empathetic one. Younger than most others in his platoon, he isn’t yet jaded; his naivety both a blessing and a curse in his work. He gets sent to a village where they need to repair a water main but work is slow, the days scorching, the villagers too afraid to lend a hand. It’s a clusterfuck. The movie is basically the whole war in a nutshell: it doesn’t go very well. They fight apathy every day. The two sides struggle to understand each other.

Sand Castle diverges from other recent war movies in that it shows fresh-faced new recruits being sent overseas, maybe for the first time in their lives, instead of the grizzled, cynical Bradley Cooper types we’re used to seeing.  The movie is authentic but it’s no classic – a forgettable, minor war movie. But it does give Henry Cavill the chance to shout my favourite line: “Listen here you piece of shit. I hope you get shot and fucking die…Don’t translate that.”

Small Crimes

Joe Denton, a disgraced former cop, is under the mistaken impression that he can go home after his 6 years in prison and start redeeming himself. The truth is, even his own mother is wary of him. He’s clean for about 20 minutes before his old life starts digging its claws back into him.

Denton’s (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) dirty ex-partner (Gary Cole) tells him new evidence MV5BMzBjMDYxY2QtNWY1Ni00ZTc2LTgzYjEtYmZhNjlmMTIyMGVhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjEwNTM2Mzc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,740_AL_could throw him back in prison, or worse, death row. So obviously he should cast aside his plans to live a better life, and to earn back the right to see his daughters, and murder the mob boss who could ruin everything for him. Just one problem. Well, okay, just three problems: a bitter D.A. (Michael Kinny), an unhinged war vet (Macon Blair), and the mob boss’s son (Pat Healy). It’s such a shoddily erected pyramid that the very least thing could cause it all to come crumbling down – and it must come down. Things are further complicated when Denton falls for the palliative nurse caring for the mob boss: fat chance he’s going to impress her with the mess he’s in.

Denton’s no anti-hero, he’s a piece of shit. Co-writers Evan Katz and Macon Blair reveal his soiled past so slowly that it’s hard to really understand what the stakes are, and there were just too many pieces of the puzzle for me to keep track of. The script is blacker than black, and as Denton’s dad tells him (and us), the guy’s a narcissist, which makes it morally impossible for us to root for him. Great performances by Jacki Weaver and Robert Forster as his parents make this thing watchable, but not exactly satisfying. The downward spiral is slow but relentless. There’s no hope, not even really any cynicism, just defeat. Denton’s a born loser. And maybe that’s Small Crimes’ fatal flaw: it follows the least interesting character. Follows him right down the dirty hole he digs for himself, deeper and deeper.

 

Ithaca

Should you tip the boy who brings you the telegram that says your son is dead?

That dilemma and others covered in Ithaca, loosely based on William Saroyan’s The Human Comedy, which is not remotely funny. But it did give Meg Ryan some comfort when she was going through her divorce from Dennis Quaid, so what better material to use in her directorial debut?

ithaca9f-2-webShe plays the mother of sons, a hard thing to be in 1942; Marcus, who is off to war (played by Jack Quaid, Ryan’s actual son), Homer (Alex Neustaedter) who struggles with being the 14 year old man of the house now that his father (Tom Hanks) is gone, and little Ulysses (Spencer Howell) who doesn’t remember anything different.

This is really Homer’s story and the growing up he had to do. He’s such an exuberant kid at the start of the film, determined to be the best and fastest bike messenger in town. But 1942 means WW2, and WW2 means lots of devastating telegrams. How does it transform a 14 year old kid to deliver grief in an envelope? To witness the moment a woman is made a widow? To see a mother torn apart by pain? That’s pretty heavy stuff to be grappling with when you’re also mooning over your first crush and taking your little brother down to the local fishing hole. It makes for a heightened existance, but it’s also just life for Homer, who has his own little odyssey to live.

The film is a little under-achieving, a retread of themes we’ve seen elsewhere, and often. Sam Shepard has a pretty compelling role, which makes up for the very rare glimpses we get of Hanks. If it doesn’t quite live up to its potential, it’s still bittersweet in its nostalgia, and tucked sufficiently at my heart strings. Meg Ryan hasn’t hit it out of the ballpark on her first swing as director, but don’t count her out.

 

 

Sandy Wexler

Sandy Wexler is the latest Adam Sandler comedy to hit Netflix; it’s the third in his ground-breaking four-movie deal with them, and in fact, it has just been announced that he’s re-upped his contract for four more: eight movies total. Like him or not, Adam Sandler’s movies have been consistent money makers. His first two tries on Netflix were absolute garbage so it’s weird to me that Netflix was so eager to extend him. It can only mean one thing: people are watching.

sandy-wexler-teaser-still-510x0And here’s the thing: Sandy Wexler isn’t awful. It’s not great, but it’s way more watchable than his previous Netflix efforts. He plays a 1990s-era show business talent who has a bunch of misfits for clients: a vantriloquist, a contortionist, an actress who never gets hired, a third-rate stand-up comedian who only got one star on Star Search. But then he discovers a woman singing her heart out as the ugly duckling\beautiful swan in a children’s play. Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson plays Courtney, a singer so talented that even her weirdo manager Sandy can’t hamper her rocket to stardom.

Sandler does an annoying Sandler voice for Sandy, but he’s otherwise an interesting character. Socially awkward? Too mild: more like socially clueless. Socially backwards. Adam Sandler has a LOT of famous friends in Hollywood, and they all gather in this movie to say crap things about Sandy Wexler, and it’s kind of hilarious. But as we get to know him, we understand that it’s all true. We laugh at his misfires, and we laugh at the easy, time-period-related jokes (example: Arsenio Hall pops up, quite confident that he’ll be famous forever). There are fantastic 90s-era cameos in this film, and if you have any love for the decade, you’ll no doubt have some appreciate for this. The comedy is cheap though. Bargain bin. If you aren’t a fan of Adam, this is NOT the movie that’s going to change your mind. But if you have a soft spot for his trademark juvenile humour, this is a step in the right direction.