Category Archives: Half-assed

Jay says: you could do worse.

Life

When I think about space, my limited imagination often goes to the arrogant American astronauts boldly planting a flag on the moon. In fact, there are now 6 American flags on american-flag-moonthe moon, one from each Apollo mission that landed there. Of course, none of these flags would be identifiably American any more, the stars and stripes long since bleached away by radiation from the sun. And none of them ever rippled in the breeze as the famous photo would have you believe (there is no wind on the moon, there is no atmosphere on the moon). It was a ruse devised by NASA and enabled by Neil Armstrong. The flag has a hidden metal rod along the top of the fabric; when Armstrong planted it, he gave the metal bar a push and the flag “waved.” It was a cheat, but after declaring a giant leap on behalf of “mankind”, the Americans wanted a way to tell the world “We got here first.”

Why am I rambling about the flags on the moon? Well, mostly because I don’t think there’s a single inch of film in all of Life where director Daniel Espinosa could plant his flag. It’s a complete retread. And I don’t mean that it’s bad, just that it owes a lot to space movies that have come before it, and it doesn’t have anything original to add to the “trapped in space” trope.

There’s questionable judgment and the flagrant flogging of protocol. There are plot holes to rival black holes. If you think about it at all you’ll be sucked into the vacuum of space where there’s no enjoyment of anything. But there is a way to enjoy this film: lay back and enjoy the ride. Because what Life is is a pretty intense thriller. My anxiety was so high I life3had to look away from the screen and focus on my gold Converse for safety’s sake. It was so tense I had the bones in Sean’s right hand nearly as mangled as a certain someone‘s in the movie.

Basically, six surprisingly attractive astronauts are hanging out in the International Space Station, waiting for a special delivery, some samples from Mars. Their mission is to probe the samples that arrive, and before long they’ve found the first incontrovertible evidence of life on Mars, which is cool for about 10 seconds before it starts trying to eat them. This is of course their own damn fault for pushing the thing out of hibernation in the first place. Note to everyone: curiosity killed the cat. So yeah, this alien thingy becomes very strong and oddly sentient and wildly out of control. The astronauts’ lives are in imminent and immediate danger, which is hard to care about because we hardly know them before the single cell from Mars becomes the monster that threatens humanity. And that’s the other slight problem is that the lives of the astronauts are overshadowed by the greater threat against all of humankind.

Luckily, the acting is pretty good. None of the characters is all that distinguishable but between Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, there’s enough charisma to circle the earth roughly 16 times a day (Zing! that’s an international space station joke, y’all!).

Okay, I’m quitting while I’m ahead. Life: fun but forgettable.

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Beauty & The Beast

One word: underwhelming.

This movie is production-designed within an inch of its life. Like, literally it’s clogged with lustre and decadence. I find no fault with how it looks; a good faith effort was made to pay tribute to the original, to remind us of the classic animated movie from 1991, while still forging its own little identity, diverging enough from the already-trodden path to inject it with a life of its own.

Unfortunately, none of the new material really lands. Is this just me, loyal to the film of my childhood? Sadly not. But it does pale in comparison. No matter what Bill Condon does, this film inevitably fails to capture the magic of the first.  This is hardly surprising since it beautyandthebeast-beast-windoweschews the magic of animation. Well, traditional animation. The truth is, “live action” or not, Belle is the only human being in that castle. Yes, Ewan McGregor danced around in a motion capture suit to play Lumiere, and Dan Stevens waltzed in steel-toed 10-inch stilts for the ballroom scene, but they’re both playing CGI characters. Why hire greats like Emma Thompson, Ian McKellan, and Audra McDonald, only to hide them behind computer graphics, appearing “live” only in the last 20 seconds of the film? It seems a waste. I rather liked the live action remake of Cinderella, but then, that was always a story about humans, wasn’t it? Jungle Book  (which already has been) and Lion King (which is about to be) turned into “live action” films have little to no humans in them, so what’s the point? They were MADE for animation. Let’s leave them be.

Emma Watson, as Belle, is brilliant casting. She was originally cast in La La Land but left the project to do this instead. I think it was the right choice for her. Her voice is lovely and pure, and she reminds us that Belle isn’t just beautiful, but also smart and brave. Ryan Gosling was originally cast as the Beast and left this movie to do La La Land, and I think that was the right choice for him. Dan Stevens took over the role of the beast, and he’s okay. Director Bill Condon had hoped to create a beast look out of prosthetics, and he did film it that way, but in the end he was overruled and a CGI beast face was superimposed. Kevin Kline as Belle’s father, Maurice, is a wise choice. He’s older and less of a buffoon than in the animated film, but they don’t quite make sense of the character despite adding some back story. Luke Evans has the pleasure of playing everyone’s favourite cartoon narcissist, Gaston. No longer roughly the size of a barn, he’s still the cocky, selfsure Gaston we remember. It’s his sidekick who’s less recognizable.

The animated Le Fou is nothing more than a clown. In the 2017 version, Disney is proud to proclaim him their first openly-gay character, to which I say: hmm? This was maybe the movie’s biggest let down. Le Fou does not strike me as gay. He’s the kind of closeted gay that you only know about because it was issued in a Disney press release. What little humanity he shows already makes him too good for Gaston, but no real motivation is ever ascribed to him. It’s a Disney movie, so of course there is no real sexual tension, but nor is there even the slightest hint of romance or passion. There are more lingering glances between a young girl and a horned beast than there are between these two men. Nice try, Disney, but I’m not buying it. And it’s probably not the greatest idea to tout your first and only “gay character” as this bumbling idiot who languishes with an unrequited crush on a real prick, whom he helps to hook up with women. That’s pretty condescending.

But I take it back: Le Fou is not the most disappointing thing about the movie. In my little batb-02422r-2-a7172c76-a61b-423e-a41b-5965b3fef116girl heart, the biggest disappointment was The Dress. To me it looked cheap. And I’m sure it wasn’t: I’m sure that a dozen people toiled over its construction. I’ve heard it used 3,000 feet of thread, 2160 Swarovski crystals, and took over 12,000 designer hours to complete. Not worth it. The dress is disenchanting. In the original version, the dress is luminous, we believe it is not merely yellow, but spun gold. The one Emma Watson wears seems like a poor knock-off. It feels flat. And what’s with her shitty jewelry? In the cartoon, Belle’s ht_belle_beauty_beast_kb_150126_4x3_992neck is unadorned; why ruin a perfect neckline with even the most impressive of baubles? But Emma Watson’s Belle accessorizes her ballgown with a shitty pendant on a string. I can only assume this is blatant product placement and this cheap trinket will be sold en masse in a shopping mall near you, but it’s so incongruous it’s a distraction. For shame.

 

And for all the little changes this movie makes, tweaks to the back stories and the plausibility, one glaring detail remains pretty much the same. In the 1991 movie, the wicked witch condemns the prince to live as a beast until he can love and be loved in return; if he fails to do so before the last petal falls from the enchanted rose, he will remain a beast forever, and his household staff will remain household objects. In the animated classic, we know that the beast has until his 21st birthday to make this happen, and that this has been a period of 10 years. Therefore, the curse bestowed upon him befalls him at age 11, and for what? Because he didn’t let a stranger inside the house while his parents were away? He’s ELEVEN! And his servants are blameless. It always struck me as an extremely cruel not to mention unfair punishment. In this recent film, the role of the witch is expanded, but this only makes her motivations murkier. We see how harshly she has condemned a young prince, but she seems to overlook much worse transgressions. If this is hard for me to swallow, I imagine it must be even more unsettling for children who need to know that rules and punishments are meted out fairly, at least.

I could not have skipped this movie, the pull was too great. But there was no childhood here to be relived, just a fraudulent imitation that had lost its sparkle.

SXSW: Atomic Blonde

I was sitting on the floor of the Austin Convention Center, waiting to get into the SXSW conversation between Nick Offerman and Nick Kroll when I got the news: Stella was gone. Out for a walk in the mountains near her Zurich home with her husband and her beloved Boxer, Odin, she slipped in some snow and fell 40m to her death. Just like that, one of the most vibrant women I’ve ever known, gone forever. Unfortunately I’ve had some experience with losing people unexpectedly, but that doesn’t make it easier. It’s unreal, incomprehensible. Sean held me tight as I fell apart in the middle of hundreds or thousands of happy festival-goers. I think Sean’s first thought was to get my soppy self back to the hotel room where I could grieve less publicly, but instead I found myself being filtered into the Nick Offerman thing, and then following my rigorous SXSW schedule, one thing after another: Bob Odenkirk and Fred Armisen, followed by Lemon, followed by Atomic Blonde. But it just so happens that the screening for Atomic Blonde ran late, and as I sat in an increasingly crowded theatre listening to a DJ spin some danceable 80s music, I had too much time to think, and my thoughts were filled with Stella, my own Atomic Blonde. This review is inadequately dedicated to her memory.

Atomic Blonde is a cross between James Bond and John Wick, except its protagonist, Lorraine (Charlize Theron), could kick both their asses without smudging her lipstick. Charlize made a splash as a kick-ass hero in Mad Max: Fury Road but this movie is pure Id, all sex and violence, with some 80s fashion and music thrown in for your hedonistic pleasure. Lorraine is an undercover MI6 agent sent to Berlin in the days before the Wall comes down to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a important list containing the names of double agents.

James McAvoy plays David, a fellow agent who’s been in Berlin a little too long. Berlin is, of course, in a state of chaos. Everything is changing, everything is moving fast. Lorraine has basically been sent into an impossible situation, and she’s going to have to fight like hell just to survive, let alone fulfill her mission.

The fight choreography on this film is amazing. Full stop incredible. Director David Leitch co-directed the first John Wick (uncredited) and will direct the second Deadpool, but he got his start in stunt work in films like Blade, Fight Club, Daredevil, and The Matrix films. His action sequences, which are perhaps 80% of Atomic Blonde, are faultless but relentless. The actors are BRUTALIZED.  Charlize Theron had 8 trainers to prepare her for the role, and she trained alongside Keanu Reeves as he got ready for John Wick 2. Theron is fearless and dauntless. The violence is graphic and unending. The story, however, isn’t quite equal to it.

The story is retold during an investigation conducted by an MI6 officer (Toby Jones) and a CIA executive (John Goodman). They’re an odd couple good for a couple well-needed laughs, but it drags you out of the action and out of Lorraine’s flashy world where her slick 80s ensembles (big props to Cindy Evans for creating so many memorable looks) are an interesting juxtaposition to Berlin’s crumbling dumpster fire of a city. And the thing is, with a premise that’s almost silly in its duplicity, the action is really the justification for this movie’s existence. With long cuts and mind-numbing body counts, the fight design won’t disappoint action purists. But anyone requiring a satisfying story should maybe look elsewhere.

Dinosaur

I have a brilliant 3 year old nephew named Ben who has been a dinosaur expert for an impressive third of his life. He’s not into silly talking cartoon dinosaurs, either. He knows the real deal, knows their scientific names, and what kind of bastards they were. He’s very smart. And he’s an absolute whiz to buy for. Don’t you just love it when a kid gets passionate about something, and your gift-giving can just coast along on that special interest for ages? I’ve bought him dinosaur toys, stamps, sticker books, archaeological digs, eggs, puzzles, and pajamas. When I gave him an adorable little dinosaur sweater he texted me a picture of himself in it, and then refused to wear any stupid non-dinosaur clothes, which was a bit of a challenge for his poor mother, who was on mat leave with his baby sister, and already had enough laundry to contend with.

I was quite enraptured with Disney’s The Good Dinosaur, a simple but endearing story about, well, a good dinosaur, one who happens to meet a primitive human and befriend him. This was a bit juvenile for 3 year old Ben, even if it did quite suit his 30 year old Aunt Jay.

tumblr_nogmkpsNM21qj5t08o2_500.gifNot to be confused with The Good Dinosaur, Dinosaur came out in 2000 and is about a dinosaur named Aladar who gets adopted by a tribe of lemurs. The film depicts dinosaur end times – we see those nasty meteors hit, and the lemurs’ home is destroyed. They go on an epic trek toward more livable land (does this sound familiar? The Land Before Time anyone?) and encounter a big group of dinosaurs that actually make living a lot less peaceable.

The animation in this movie already looks quite dated, but even at the time it would have looked different from anything that had come before as the realistic-looking but nevertheless animated characters are superimposed onto ‘real’ backgrounds, photos taken in Hawaii and Tahiti. It was the first Disney film to be computer animated, and was also the first of its animated films to get a PG rating. The dinosaurs may look realistic (at least compared to other cartoons) but Michael Eisner wasn’t brave enough to allow the film to be silent, so they do talk. In fact, it has a hilariously-90s voice cast: D.B. Sweeney, Della Reese, Julianna Margulies, and Alfre Woodard just to round things out.

I missed this film in theatres, but it did well enough, recouping its enormous cost (it was the most expensive film made that year), and beating  Mission Impossible 2, Gladiator, and unbelievably, Battlefield Earth in theatres. I’m not sure there’s much use in going back to check this one out. The story is pretty derivative, and the animation just hasn’t aged well. But if you have a budding paleontologist in the family, it may just be welcome canon. I’ll let you know how Ben reviews it, but just a warning: he answers most questions with a resounding “Yesh!”

The Five Year Engagement

Tom (Jason Segel) and Violet (Emily Blunt) met at a New Year’s Eve make-up-your-own-superhero party one year ago. On their anniversary, he gets down on one knee and proposes. It’s romantic and sweet and perfect in a way that only movies can pull off. The article-0-12D1557A000005DC-855_306x444.jpgengagement is easy and wonderful, and their engagement party is infuriatingly better than most people’s weddings. But then things get messy. Her sister (Alison Brie) hooks up with his best friend (Chris Pratt), and then Violet gets accepted at her dream school and a move is on the horizon. The wedding gets postponed.

What was your engagement like? When Sean proposed, he got down on his knee on a beach in the Bahamas on our 6 month anniversary. It was lovely. But until this week, I’d assumed that though he did the asking, I’d done the initiating. Hadn’t we decided to marry months before that? And hadn’t I been voicing some impatience? Turns out, Sean didn’t remember it like that at all. He didn’t even remember that I knew the proposal was likely – that we’d ring-shopped together, in fact. He was still worried I’d say no! We were engaged for a year, which is longer than Ms. Impetuous (that would be me) would have liked, but I had a sister and he had a brother that already had save-the-dates in the calendar year. So we waited our turn and spent the time planning the perfect wedding and attending some close runners-up. We also almost broke up (the birth of his first niece had Sean questioning whether my no-baby stance was right for him) and then almost couldn’t marry whether we wanted to or not (did I mention I was still technically married to someone else at the time? Divorcing crazy people is hard!) but in the end we got to legalize this bitch and recently celebrated 6 years of matrimonial togetherness.

Violet and Tom had a bumpy time too. Life doesn’t always make it easy on us. Jason Segel The-Five-Year-Engagementhad to lose 35lbs to even pretend to be good enough for Emily Blunt. They have great chemistry together, and you believe in their imperfect relationship. The jokes land, but so do the more sobering moments, the ones that remind us that when relationships work, they’re transformative, and when they don’t, they’re soul crushing.

Unfortunately, The Five Year Engagement is overlong and occasionally falls back on some pretty tired cliches. But I’d still consider it worth a watch, despite its flaws, even if it had me wondering what this movie would be like with Chris Pratt in the lead rather than playing second banana. The astounding supporting cast probably contributes to this movie’s bloat, but also adds to its charm: Kevin Hart, Mindy Kaling, Mimi Kennedy, Jacki Weaver, David Paymer, Jim Piddock, Rhys Ifans, Kumail Nanjiani, and Chris Pratt all steal scenes. Not everything in this film is brilliant, but it does manage to find some truths along the way, which I suppose is not unlike a marriage: it could be improved with some editing, but isn’t that life?

Storks

As everyone knows, storks used to delivery babies. It was hard work, gross work, and no one is more relieved than storks that they’ve since gotten out of the baby trade and gone into delivering packages instead.

The boss stork, Hunter (Kelsey Grammer), the kind of dick who made his office out of glass thumbnail_24123even though birds can’t see it, is stepping aside, leaving room at the top for Junior (Andy Samberg) to fill his shoes (well, birds don’t wear shoes, though they seem to occasionally wear ties) on the condition that Junior get rid of “the orphan Tulip,” a baby who was undelivered 18 years ago and has been a thorn in their sides ever since. She’s about to turn 18, and Junior’s first job, if he wants the new title, is to return her to the human world.

I’m watching this movie because of a junkie. My sister’s SUV was broken into last month, and aside from the 85 cents in change in a cup holder, the thief got away with their DVD player, used to entertain my 3 year old nephew on car rides. When I was a kid we had to listen to tapes, and play I Spy, or Mad Libs on car rides but apparently these days commuting is unbearable unless everyone has a screen to stare at. My sister, suspecting the thief might be the drug addict across the street (she lives in a very comfortable suburban neighbourhood), magnanimously said “You don’t know his circumstances” and left it at that. Possibly she was just tired of hearing the same 10 minutes of Peppa Pig every day. Anyway, that’s how I came to be watching Storks, even though I firmly turned down the press screening a year ago when offered because it was at 10am on a Saturday morning when in fact I prefer to pretend that there isn’t an “am” on weekends.

Back to the movie: There’s a little boy named Nate who dreams of having a little brother or rawsister. His parents (Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell) are busy realtors who are basically “one and done.” Nate decides to circumvent their fertility plans and appeal to the storks directly himself. Junior is already fucking up after just one day as the boss so of course there’s a spare baby, but he fucks that up too and accidentally delivers her to wolves (Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key) instead.

This movie is perfectly serviceable. It’s not memorable or good in the way we’ve come to expect from Pixar, but it’s colourful and frenetic and will have some appeal for children if not their parents (although I admit I was pretty charmed by the wolf versatility and voice cast). I do wonder if this movie will inspire some follow-up questions about where babies DO come from, so you parents out there will have to let me know. All I have is a Sean, and he prefers not to know. 😉

Just Like Heaven

Three-time Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo and Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon can’t wait to debase themselves in a romcom.

She plays a comatose woman whose “spirit” haunts the current occupant of her beautiful San Francisco apartment. David’s not really into having a ghost for a roommate, especially not a bossy, judgy one, but the real estate situation in that city must be tough enough that he puts up with it for a surprisingly long time. He doesn’t take it sitting down though Just Like Heaven(well, okay, technically he does – David is especially fond of couches – but he does bring in a variety of spiritual advisers (including Napoleon Dynamite, who wouldn’t be my first choice, and come to think of it, wasn’t his either) but in the end he finds it’s just easier to fall in love with her than to exorcise her, so he does.

The falling in love bit turns out to be convenient for Elizabeth, who was a bustling doctor before her accident and never had time for things like love, or living. So it’s nice to have this last affair as she lays dying. If only we could all be so lucky! Unfortunately her unsuspecting sister has plans to pull the plug, which is basically going to terminate their unconventional relationship, and if David wants to continue to look like a stark raving lunatic (remember, Elizabeth is a ghost and no one else can see her), he’ll have to do some bath salts or something.

Just Like Heaven is cornball to the max and I’d like to write it off completely but the truth is, I watched it in bed while doing the “spark joy” tidy method on my underwear drawer and it turned out to be just the thing. Reese and Ruffalo are a pretty great team and director Mark Waters ensures there are plenty of cherries adorning the sundae. Sure it’s a blatant ripoff that doesn’t want to touch those awkward end-of-life issues with a ten foot pole, but it’s also, you know, adequate.

 

King Cobra

When I was a kid, Alicia Silverstone was the It Girl. When Sean was a kid, it was Molly Ringwald. King Cobra probably didn’t’ set out to make us all feel old, but it did cast both Silverstone and Ringwald as the oblivious mothers of gay porn stars.

Cobra is the chat room name of Stephen (Christian Slater), a guy who happens to troll around for very young men, and likes to entice them into gay porn in between steamy, illegal, against-the-wall sessions. That’s exactly how he meets Sean (Garrett Clayton) (porn name: Brent Corrigan) and Brent immediately rockets to fame. The bad news is, Stephen is also a greedy fuck. He pays Brent very little and buys himself a Maserati, and is still surprised when Brent walks. And worse than walks, he flags Stephen to the police. Things get ugly; Stephen may go to prison, but he’s still stopping Sean from performing as Brent.

franco-king-cobraEnter James Franco. You knew that was coming, didn’t you? Smelled it from a mile away, probably. Franco plays the has-been half of a porn star duo who work under the name “Viper Boys.” They hope to revive their flagging porn career by incorporating Brent into the mix; there’s only the inconvenient matter of Brent’s name being trademarked by a pedophile.

It turns out pornographers aren’t exactly businessmen on the up and up. King Cobra is alarmingly based on a true story, but be prepared for far more hairless chests than characterization. They’re porn stars, what else do you need to know? It gives Franco ANOTHER chance to do his scary-funny-psychotic thing and yell some pretty incendiary dialogue, but there aren’t many other compelling reasons to watch this movie, unless you’re really, really curious to know what kind of deals porno kings make behind closed doors (hint: it’s messy).

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.

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.