Category Archives: Half-assed

Jay says: you could do worse.

The Meg

With a budget of $130 000 000(!), The Meg is probably the world’s most expensive watch commercial.

It pretends to be a movie too. It’s about a tough, gruff drunk named Jonas (Jason Statham) who wears watches while bitterly licking his wounds after losing two of his mates during a rescue mission that saved 11. He claims that something very large and unseen crushed a nuclear submarine, but doctors claim he’s crazy. Still, he’s the guy Mac (Cliff Curtis) and Zhang (Winston Chao) call on when only the best will do.

Zhang is the brilliant watch-wearing scientist running a deep underwater research lab, funded by eccentric billionaire Morris (Rainn Wilson), who loves watches almost as much as he loves sneakers. Zhang believes that there is more depth to the ocean the-meg-featurethan even Mariana’s Trench will have you believe – and a sub from their research facility proves him correct as it plunges below what was previously believed to be the bottom of the ocean. There is all sorts of undiscovered life down there (science boner!), including something big enough and antagonistic enough to ground the submarine containing 3 crew members with only their large, expensive watches to keep them company, the fairest of whom is Jonas’s ex-wife. So down he goes.

And then up he comes, but he’s not alone. It seems he’s brought something with him: a megalodon, an enormous shark previously believed to be extinct for millions of years. This time the science-boners are tempered by the fact that this fish (affectionately nicknamed ‘The Meg’) is eating all the people AND their waterproof watches.

Jason Statham is of course the perfect man for the part. His sneer of contempt is so effortless. It’s a quite sturdy cast, on the whole. Bingbing Li plays opposite Statham – not as his ex-wife, but as his future ex-wife. She’s no damsel in distress, though. She is constantly testing the warranty limits on her watch by jumping into wherever danger lurks. Ruby Rose, Page Kennedy, and Ólafur Darri Ólafsson round out the possible choice of appetizer for the shark. Kennedy was likely cast for his wonderful wrists, able to hold cups of coffee at such crazy, awkward angles to better show off the stunning watches on display there – even on the outside of his jacket cuffs, if necessary. Ruby Rose nearly drowned on set, and at one point when her character narrowly survives an encounter with the Meg, she hauls herself out of the water, and lays there heaving, her wristwatch posed for maximum admiration by viewers only tangentially concerned with her fate, probably wondering whether it’ll be an heirloom, and if so, who’s getting it in her will.

The Meg takes itself quite seriously while I expected (and maybe wanted) a campier version. One that embraced the cheese factor along with the blatant product placement. But no. And the thing is, The Meg is definitely menacing, but he’s no Jaws. Jaws is much smaller of course, capable of much less damage, but he was a better villain because he almost seemed to make it personal. The Meg is just a monster with a prehistoric brain. He can’t help himself. You could almost dredge up sympathy for the guy. I mean, he doesn’t even have wrists, how’s he going to wear a watch that lets everyone know he’s a man of distinction, a motherfucker to be reckoned with?

The Meg is a bit of dumb fun. Sean thought mostly fun, I thought mostly dumb. And also very overpriced – for that kind of money, everything should look a lot better. But there’s no amount of budget-gloss or gung-ho casting that could hide the flaws of the script, which veers drastically from its source material. I can’t say this movie disappointed me. It sank more than it swam, which is about what I expected from a story picked from the carcass of another, better shark movie.

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The Spy Who Dumped Me

As its title would suggest, The Spy Who Dumped Me isn’t exactly the most original, or, frankly, funny. The jokes, like the bullets, are hit or miss. They don’t all hit their targets. Director and co-writer Susanna Fogel is perhaps too inexperienced to spin this uninventive fare with a twist of creativity, but she gets at least one thing absolutely right: Kate McKinnon.

Kate McKinnon is a luminescent show pony who just trots across the screen pooping comedy gold. Even her facial contortions are helping to sell mediocre material. She’s worth the price of admission. She works harder here than I wish she had to, but on MV5BYjkzNWZmMDgtODM2NS00MTM4LThlMTgtMGM4Yjg3OTc3YTE5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1442,1000_AL_the whole the movie still worked for me, as a light and breezy r-rated comedy. I came to laugh and I did – mostly at her, granted, but she’s so fantastic and so talented and if the movie doesn’t quite measure up, I think this is her best role to date. I could have watcher her and her cat earrings fangirl over Gillian Anderson for hours.

The movie probably doesn’t need a lot of illumination in terms of plot: Audrey (Mila Kunis) was recently dumped via text by bad boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux). Best friend and roommate Morgan (McKinnon) is nursing through heartache when they’re rudely interrupted by men claiming to be CIA – they’re after Drew, who turns out to be a spy and not just a podcaster as Audrey had always believed. This immediately turns into raging gunfire and a dead ex-boyfriend whose dying wish is for Audrey to deliver a “package” to Vienna. And being very obliging girls, Audrey and Morgan jet off to Europe and are immediately in wayyyy over their heads.

The sweet thing about this movie is the friendship between Audrey and Morgan. Morgan is the kind of supportive cheerleader we all deserve to have in our lives. She thinks Audrey is kicking ass as an amateur spy, and she’s not wrong. It’s completely implausible that they survive even the first 10 seconds of this adventure (the movie’s got surprisingly intense action sequences), but if Daniel Craig can do it, so can they. I just wish the friendship felt as good as it was described; the chemistry just wasn’t there. I love McKinnon and have no particular objection to Kunis (though I think she probably over-relies on those big doe eyes of hers), but all the glowy, wonderful vibes seemed to flow in one direction. Kunis is a very pretty receptacle for other people’s good acting, but I’m not sure she gives back very much as a costar. The CIA guys (Sam Heughan, Hasan Minhaj) are a bit on the bland side too (Heughan is Tom Brady with a British accent, if that helps) but there are lots of other supporting cast that I was quite pleased with – not least of all Jane Curtin (!!!) and Paul Reiser as Morgan’s incredibly understanding parents (I would watch a sequel involving just this family), and the aforementioned Gillian Anderson as the big boss lady. Being a Lady Dynamite fan (that’s Maria Bamford’s amazing show), I was particularly glad to see both Fred Melamed and Ólafur Darri Ólafsson pop up. I was less enthusiastic about Ivanna Sakhno as the Ukrainian model\gymnast assassin. The first glimpse we get of her is half nude and totally emaciated, which just felt off in a movie that’s got two fantastic, strong female leads and is directed and co-written by a woman. We can do better. 

Which is perhaps a good way to sum up this review: we can do better. And with Kate McKinnon on board, there really is no excuse.

How It Ends

Two suspiciously attractive Seattleites are expecting a baby boy and they are happy: yay! Will flies to Chicago to ask for his in-law’s blessing in marriage, despite the fact that he’s, ah, already stormed the beach. An awkward conversation about money ensues and he more or less gets asked to leave.

So, not a success. “Luckily” he gets a second chance. An “event” happened “out west”. Something happened, something catastrophic. He’s on the phone with Samantha when it goes down, but they’re cut off, and she’s scared. The airport shuts down. The roads are immediately impassable. So that leaves Will (Theo James) to traverse America mid-MV5BYTI5OGFjMzctYjQ4My00ZTViLWE2M2YtMmYxYTQ1ZDAzMDEzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODk0NjQxNzY@._V1_catastrophe (mid-apocalypse?) with his disapproving, openly hostile, not-yet-father-in-law, Tom (Forest Whitaker). Who would have thought that the end of the world would only be the second worst thing that happens to Will today?

[Acting Master Class 101: If you have a wound, you immediately stick your fingers in it so that you can wince and prove to us how painful it is.]

The road to Seattle is paved with hell. Okay, that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but you know, the going is rough. It’s like: murder, murder, murder eVeRy day. Brain-flecked hair, coughing blood, impossible storms, raging fires, fucking over your fellow man, and a vague end of world scenario.

How It Ends sometimes feels like it may never end. It has a pretty good hook but then it meanders in a way that you wouldn’t think possible what with all the mayhem. It almost feels like the director loaded his actors in a car and headed out across Manitoba (standing in for rural Ohio since 1905!) (that was a random date, please don’t pay me any attention) with no destination or conclusion in mind. Which is maybe not the best way to make a movie. But  David M. Rosenthal makes sure there’s something menacing and apocalyptic in nearly every scene, and dude knows a thing or two about disaster porn. It should be noted that Sean, an avowed enthusiast of ridiculous premises, said at one point “They’ve overplayed their hand here.” And yeah, the writer is not subtle. The whole thing’s pretty obvious. But did I hate it? No. Not at first. But then it started to end. And the ending just boggles the mind. So that’s my case. I’ll let you, the jury, decide. The prosecution rests.

 

 

Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool

Gloria Grahame was a big name in black and white movies, always playing the tart, seducing the audience with her pout and her smoldering eyes. Now people have to search their memories for her name (or their mother’s memory, or their grandmother’s), but her star quality and talent remain.

Gloria (Annette Bening) recently moved in to a crummy flat in Liverpool to conquer the Royal Shakespeare Company and met a young man, Peter (Jamie Bell), willing to help her learn a new dance the kids are calling “disco.” Peter doesn’t seem to mind their age film-stars-dont-die-in-liverpooldifference and can’t help but fall for her. And the attention of a younger beau is just the stuff Gloria’s ego needs (and perhaps she is not unaccustomed to being the December to someone’s May, perhaps it is her M. O.).

But as fantastic as it is for both the veteran and the struggling actor, there are problems, because the kind of relationship that begins and ends in someone’s neediness is not exactly healthy. They separate, but are drawn back together when Gloria falls ill and refuses to return home, or to contact her adult children. Peter cares for her in a delicate balancing act between her mortality and his desire. She can’t stand illness, or aging, or, worst of all, undesirability. And he hasn’t learned to let go.

This movie really messed with my head for a while – the editing is such that I wondered if I was watching a scrambled copy, or if I was stroking out. It’s not always the easiest to follow. Eventually I sort of matched its rhythm and stopped worrying about things like chronology and plot. I enjoyed getting to know Gloria Grahame, a real-life, Oscar-winning actress from Oklahoma and It’s A Wonderful Life. Annette Bening, it goes without saying, is wonderful. And I’m not going to sit here and tell you she’s still beautiful because that’s a crock of shit. Annette Bening is beautiful, period, and I hate this notion that aging somehow changes or diminishes that. But I also hate the belief that attractiveness equals worth. We have some pretty fucked up core beliefs in our culture and while this movie isn’t going to change them, it might just give you pause.

Jamie Bell is good also, and I enjoyed the irony in his character arc, that he’s actually the one who is, perhaps not visually aging, but certainly maturing. And since he’s a man, maturing = saying less dumb shit. But the proof is in my struggle to write this review, which I’ve had open for the past several weeks. The words aren’t coming because I didn’t really connect to it, despite it having several admirable working parts. As a biopic, it’s really rather basic. But Bening is its saving grace (with a quick shout-out to Julie Walters and Vanessa Redgrave, also stupendous) and some movies are worth watching for the performance alone.

 

 

 

Extinction

Poor Peter – the schmuck hasn’t slept well in forever, plagued by nightmares about losing his family in some sort of attack. Michael Pena stars in Netflix’s new sci-fi offering Extinction, and the guy who’s known as the one good thing to come out of Crash is a perfect fit for family man Peter. It possibly doesn’t hurt that his character appears to work on a set that looks like an exact copy of the Van Dyne lab.

Anyway. Both his boss (Mike Colter) and his wife (Lizzy Caplan) urge him to see a sleep specialist and get his shit in order. But Peter starts to wonder if maybe there’s a reason he’s been chosen for these visions. And, for the first time in the history of marriage, it turns out he’s right. An alien invasion interrupts their dinner party and things get to explodey, apocalypty, emergency level so quickly that he doesn’t even get to say I told you so.

It occurs to me that Extinction’s invaders remind me a lot of something that invaded Ottawa this time last summer. We called it La Machine. Basically they’re storeys-tall robot-puppets that stalked the city’s busiest streets.

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It looks relatively benign behind Sean at the moment, but you have to see it in action to really get the gist. The spider, which is what I was reminded of in the movie, was joined by a dragon AND THEY WERE NOT FRIENDS. When they met up in the city, they invariably fought.

Sorry for the crummy video, but you can kind of see the people under neath the spider’s body who are controlling its various legs.

Anyway, sorry guys, this was a pretty big sidebar, even for me. Back to the movie.

Extinction isn’t bad, you just have to be willing to hang in during the first half, which is pretty standard, perhaps even subpar fare. At any rate: nothing you haven’t seen before. But there’s some clever foreshadowing that makes the second half much more interesting. It’s probably not a great move to inject the film’s personality into only the back end because lots of viewers won’t stick around long enough to find it. But for those that do, it’s an engaging and curious interpretation that a true sci-fi fan has likely encountered before in some form or another, but this kind of backward and forward thinking is always welcome. Extinction, by Hounds of Love director Ben Young, looks like a thriller, but this is a trick. You’ll have to survive the invasion to find out what’s really going on.

This Beautiful Fantastic

Bella Brown is an odd duck. Abandoned as a baby and raised without parents, or a proper home, she relies on order and predictability to manage her days and nights. She works in a library and dreams of being a children’s author – if only she could think of a story.

The only aspect of her life that isn’t obsessively orderly is her back garden, due to a deep and abiding fear of…plants. I think. But anyway, the yard is neglected enough that her landlord threatens her with homelessness if she doesn’t straighten it up in a month’s time. During that month, Bella (Jessica Brown Findlay) will meet three men: a) the rude and grumpy old widow next door, Alfie (Tom Wilkinson) b) Alfie’s hard-working, hero_This-Beautiful-Fantastic-2017unappreciated cook, also a widower, named Vernon (Andrew Scott), and c) Billy (Jeremy Irvine), a head-in-the-clouds inventor who haunts the library looking for inspiration.

This Beautiful Fantastic is sweet, and whether you find that a complimentary thing in a movie is up to you. It styles itself as a modern-day fairy tale, though I think that’s a bit of a reach. The story is a bit thin for that, though the characters are all fitting enough. But it IS a very pleasant way to tend to a blossoming if unlikely friendship between a reclusive young woman, and her nemesis – the cranky old guy next door. Set variously in a beautiful garden and a library. So very genteel.

The garden metaphor is painfully obvious of course. Get it? GET IT? Of course we do. Now back off with the lazy writing that still still somehow congratulates itself. But with some fine actors, it manages to be quite charming and a little offbeat. If your gag reflex for the saccharine is running sensitive these days, stay away. But if you want something kind of cute to do your taxes to, you could do worse.

 

Teen Titans Go! To The Movies

Confession #1: I had no earthy idea what or who the teen titans were. We had tickets to a press screening and passed them to some kids we knew who were keen to go – we were at a comedy festival seeing Will Forte and not that sad to miss it. The kids were big fans of the movie and it was only a couple of days later I found myself actually paying to see this movie because it was in the right time and place.

Confession #2: When the movie started, I was surprised to find that it was about young, recognizable super heroes – super girl, bat girl, etc. Then it ended. Because it wasn’t the movie, it was just a short before the movie. So, okay, not super heroes then. That makesMV5BNGZlZjYwZjEtMDQzYS00MThlLTljNGYtM2ZkYWRmYmQ4ZGNiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzExMzc0MDg@._V1_ more sense. Then the real movie begins, and it turns out it IS about young, recognizable super heroes, just different ones. The group is helmed by a young Robin, and includes Cyborg, and 3 others who I’d never heard of before: Raven, Starfire, and Beast Boy.

Confession #3: Okay, I lied. I have heard of Beast Boy before. In fact, I’ve played it with my little nephew, Ben. It’s just that at the time I assumed Beast Boy was a PJ Mask, a compatriot of Catboy, perhaps. Turns out these are DC characters who have been around as long as I have (do not be fooled by an extensive Stan Lee cameo!). Though they live in Jump City, they exist in the same world as Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, who all make appearances in this film.

In fact, the old guard kind of get the whole thing going. The Teen Titans kind of live in their shadow, never really getting the opportunity to fight true crime, and certainly never getting to star in their own movie. And it’s the movie big that really rankles, particularly for Robin. He pursues fame quite single-mindedly. And if the only way he can land a movie deal is to find an arch nemesis, he’s not afraid to put friendship on the line and travel back in time to get the job done.

Surprisingly (to me), Teen Titans is full of songs and in-jokes. There were definitely a few winks to the parental audience, but this is firmly a kids’ movie, barely more than an extended episode. Charming enough, I suppose, with bright colours and a certain brand of zany fun. Fart joke within the first 5 minutes. That kind of thing. The kind of movie where every single kid the audience can take a bathroom break, maybe two (AND THEY DID) and not miss much at all. On the upside, I’ve really informed my Beast Boy cosplay, and I know a 4 year old who’s about to be super impressed! That’s right, Ben, Aunt Jay has done some research!

Duck Duck Goose

Peng is the self-proclaimed best flyer in his gaggle. He’s a loose canon, an inveterate bachelor – the kind of gander who’d rather stick to himself and fly solo(other than that attractive goose, JingJing, but her dad’s a real pill). When he accidentally plows through a whole flock of ducks, he’s labelled as “not family friendly” and is asked to leave the park. This is ironic because a) Peng is voiced by Jim Gaffigan, often styled the “family friendly” comedian because of his clean humour (and his 5 children), and b) Peng’s about to act as a “mother” to a couple of ducklings, Chi (Zendaya) and Chao (Lance Lim), who happen to imprint upon him.

Peng is not exactly in this arrangement for selfless reasons, but he agrees to help the ducks migrate south. He’s injured and can’t fly, they’re small and helpless, and he figures MV5BYmYzODQ4YjktYTI0OC00OGI2LTkyN2YtYTYwZTkzOTRkYzgyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjM4NTM5NDY@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,744_AL_if he can’t take to the sky to dodge predators, at least he can outrun two fluffy baby ducks. Not exactly honourable motivation.

In addition to Jim Gaffigan, who is a favourite of mine, the voice cast comprises several other stand-up comics, like Greg Proops, and Natasha Leggero, and all-around funny folk such as Carl Reiner, and Stephen Fry. This movie is a Netflix original, and newly released, and couldn’t come at a better time, comedy wise, since Just For Laughs is just starting up down the street from us in Montreal, where we’ll be seeing other favourites of ours like Will Forte, Maria Bamford, and Tig Notaro.

Anyway, given even this very vague set up, I bet you know how the movie unfolds. It feels like an 80s sitcom in a lot of ways: unlikely dad is in over his head with hilarious parenting issues, has as much to learn from the kids as they do from him. Sound familiar?

For the most part this movie is a throw-away. It’s not garbage but there’s nothing new about it, and nothing particularly good. It’s adequate animation, a predictable, bare-bones script, some charming characters, a couple of laughs. Kids may find it acceptable, although it’s not as flashy or frantic as most other cartoons. It’s generic and safe and it stays just on the other side of bad thanks to a heartwarming ending.

The Feels

Andi and Lu are being celebrated at their joint bachelorette party. Andi’s friends are fun but their clique is perhaps intimidating to those on the outside – which number only Lu, and her one friend Helen, the only friend of hers to show up (the elusive Nikki is forever “on her way” and “almost there”). Of course Helen is a notable odd duck, would be odd no matter which pond she was quacking in, the type of forward, abrasive character you’d expect Melissa McCarthy or Fortune Feimster to play (though in this case played by Ever Mainard).

When Nikki does finally arrive, she brings Ecstasy, and conflict, and it’s hard to say which is ultimately worse for the group. Secrets come out, secrets GET TOLD. Like, for example, the fact that Lu (Angela Trimbur) has never had an orgasm and fiancee Andi MV5BNDkxODNhNTQtMDgyNy00YjM5LWE5NzEtMjk1YThmZTc4MzBmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTEzNDY5MjM@._V1_(Constance Wu) is the last to know because Lu’s been faking this whole time. Which, you can imagine, is not a great thing to be learning when you’re mere moments away from marrying the person. And in the company of everyone you know. So that it becomes THE topic of conversation for the rest of the weekend, which is fucking awkward, dude!

The Feels isn’t bursting with originality. It isn’t bursting with anything. It’s a pretty low-key movie. But in between Helen’s bouts of inappropriateness, the ladies talk some real talk, which is kind of refreshing; taboo subjects get a full airing here. It’s a safe place for women to dish about their sexuality, and more. But despite some great inter-cast chemistry, a safe space for feelings does not necessarily a fun or exciting movie make. It was all right, but in the end, easily forgotten, which is not something I imagined I’d be saying about a movie about the mysteries of the female orgasm ACTUALLY TOLD FROM THE FEMALE PERSPECTIVE.

Mamma Mia

I love Meryl Streep, and I love her in this. Sean sort of threatened me with re-watching the entire Mission: Impossible franchise in order to “prep” for its 67th installment, so I said: not until you watch Mamma Mia first. Because of course he hasn’t seen it.

Immediately he notices that this is the free-est we’ve ever seen The Streep, and it’s not just the dancing and prancing about. “Unhinged” is what he calls her, but I see it too. She’s fluid and feminine and it makes me realize how comparatively locked down she is in her other roles – even in Ricki and the Flash, which was so terrible you’d at least hope she had fun making it.

MV5BMmRhMmIzYjctYTExYi00YmNkLWEyMzUtMjNhZjliZTZjZWUwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjAwODA4Mw@@._V1_The second thing he notices is Preacher. This has just ruined Preacher for Sean. Dominic Cooper is 100% lame in this movie, there’s no getting around it. He plays Amanda Seyfried’s love interest, and Meryl’s soon to be son-in-law, but mostly just a floppy-haired wanker who can’t wipe that shit-eating grin off his face. And Preacher NEVER grins. His character’s name is Sky so it’s official: twat.

Now, Sean is very comfortable in his manhood and he doesn’t hate on musicals as a genre, but ABBA isn’t exactly his bag – although come to find out, it’s a little more his bag than mine (Columbia House sent him a CD once, so he knows that some of the songs are different from some of the other songs, whereas I think they’re basically indistinguishable). Still, he’s a little concerned when they seem to have exhausted the entire ABBA repertoire and the movie’s not half done. Don’t worry, I tell him, they repeat. Not that that’s much comfort. And it doesn’t leave a lot for the sequel, although eagle-eyed Sean did spot a character in the sequel named Fernando (Andy Garcia) (though that song’s about war, and seems hard to place…not that that stopped them using a song about divorce in a wedding scene).

This movie’s 10 years old, and watching it all this time later, I can tell I wanted to like this movie because besides Meryl, I also adore Pierce and Brosnan, but man this is junk. The plot is structured around ABBA songs, so the best they could come up with is that Meryl’s daughter is getting married at their hotel\home in beautiful Greece, and she’s invited three former flames of her mother’s, all possibly her father. Awkward! The director, Phyllida Lloyd, is probably a talented lady, but she’s mostly a theatre director, and you can tell how married she was to the Broadway musical version of this. The acting all feels hammy, the gestures over-the-top, exaggerated for those in the cheap seats. The scenery is beautiful and it’s obvious they shot on location, but that realism makes the theatricality feel cheesy and out of place. 

It took this rewatch to realize I really don’t care for this movie, and I’m certainly not anticipating its unnecessary sequel. And it makes Sean a bit nervous to note how little Meryl is featured in its trailer…and the fact that the movie seems to largely focus on a younger version of her character (played by Lily James) does not bode well. If even Meryl didn’t care to revisit Mamma Mia, why the hell should we?