Category Archives: Jay

The Catcher Was A Spy

Mo Berg was a real-life baseball player, a queer, an intellect, and a spy. In the off-season, he worked for the Office of Strategic Services. When the Americans get an inkling that the Germans may be working on a nuclear bomb, they sent Berg overseas to find the brilliant physicist, Werner Heisenberg.

If Heisenberg is indeed working on a bomb, then he must be executed for the cause, right? But we don’t want to sacrifice a perfectly good brain if we don’t have to, and Heisenberg (of the famed Heisenberg principle, in fact) is the second most sciency scientist in the world (sucks to be Einstein’s contemporary – must be a little like being my sister, I assume).

Paul Rudd stars as our dashing but enigmatic hero. He does indeed play catcher behind MV5BNDYyNjMxNDUwOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTUwNDgyNDM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_the plate, and if he plays it anywhere else, well, the movie’s inconclusive about that. In fact, Berg was so secretive, he was destined to be a spy. Baseball was just a funny pit stop along the way – but while he may have been a third string catcher, he was a first string spy. Just perhaps not a first rate choice for biopic.

Now, understand that Paul Rudd is adorable as always and totally up to the task. He’s propped up by able performances by Jeff Daniels, Paul Giamatti, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Strong, and Guy Pearce. But the script lets them all down by failing the man himself. He is no doubt an interesting man, but if The Catcher Was A Spy is a weak spy thriller, it’s also a diluted character study because the writer just won’t stick his neck out. Berg risked his life for his country, but between screen writer Robert Rodat and director Ben Lewin, those boys won’t risk accidentally making a good movie. Instead, they play it safe, and frankly, dry. Mo Berg was clearly a curious and compelling guy. The movie has none of that, no quirk, no zing, no point, really. End title cards have to deliver the punch, and I didn’t come here to read, y’all.

 

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New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is one of those movies that has half a hundred characters and fourteen dozen plot lines and they all “intersect”, the story like a patchwork quilt, but a really ugly quilt where the squares don’t match and some of them aren’t even square.

A random sampling:

Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer) has just quit her job, and hires bike messenger Paul (Zac Efron) to help her check off as many of her old resolutions as possible before the clock strikes midnight.

Laura (Katherine Heigl) is catering a huge New Year’s Eve party and is under a lot of stress when her ex, a rock star named Jensen (Jon Bon Jovi), who disappeared on New Year’s last year, shows up wanting a commitment.

Claire (Hilary Swank) is producing the Times Square ball drop.

Randy (Ashton Kutcher) and Elise (Lea Michele) are trapped in an elevator together.

MV5BMTc3MzgyMzg3NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTM1MzAxNw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1503,1000_AL_Hailey (Abigail Breslin) desperately wants to go downtown with a boy, but her mother Kim (Sarah Jessica Parker) insists that she stay home with her.

Tess (Jessica Biel) is really hoping to induce labour so she can give birth to the first new year’s baby and claim the 25K in prize money – but Grace (Sarah Paulson) is also in the running.

Stan (Robert De Niro) is dying, though he’d like to delay until midnight if possible, and his nurse  Aimee (Halle Berry) is prepared to stick it out with him.

Sam (Josh Duhamel) is trying desperately to get back into the city after pulling best man duty at a wedding. He’s hitching a ride with with a family in an RV, hoping to meet up with the mysterious women he met and fell for last year.

In a movie so overstuffed, of course some of the segments are undercooked. Nay, they’re all undercooked. Some of them are downright raw. But lots of them are not even interesting enough that I wished I knew more.

The best, and saddest part, is when Penny Marshall briefly plays herself. But 3 seconds out of 113 long minutes is an agonizing success rate. New Year’s Eve is overly sentimental and oh so shallow. If you don’t have any auld acquaintances to forget this New Year’s Eve, I know where you can make over 100 new acquaintances, and they’re all perfectly forgettable – guaranteed. Random acquaitances may include New Kids on the Block’s Joey McIntyre, voice of Lisa Simpson Yeardley Smith, Cary Elwes,  Common, Hector Elizando, Russell Peters, Sofia Vergara, Matthew Broderick, and more flash-in-the-pan stunt casting than you can shake shake one of those New Year’s Eve noisemakers that you blow in and the little ribbon inflates and unrolls at.

Having just returned from Mexico, Sean and I might be housebound (and by housebound I inevitably mean hot-tub-bound) tonight, and I’m not a bit sad about it. What are your plans? Do they include this movie and its exhausting cast of characters?

Outlaws and Angels

You know how it was in the olden days, walking to the bonnet store with your bestie, discussing the state of things on the ole homestead, the latest style in aprons, panning for gold, and the benefit of small pricks. As you do. And then suddenly your bestie gets her face shot off. It happens.

1.jpgThe olde West. There are good guys, and there are bad guys: you can barely tell the difference between them. They all wear black hats.

The really bad dude (Chad Michael Murray) has a scar. Luckily. For identification purposes. The slightly less bad guy chasing him (Luke Wilson), a bounty hunter, does not.

The really bad dude and his gang o’ miscreants decides to hole up and hide with a frontier family – a Christian ma and pop, and their two smart-ass, sassy-tongued daughters, the saucier of whom is played by Francesca Eastwood in her feature debut (that’s right: cowboy Clint’s daughter). The outlaws get more than they bargained for because little Flo (Francesca) is like a snake in your boot. A sexy snake who seduces her captors. And she’s well-florence_gun2-670x264versed in giving her daddy “rubdowns” as is the frontier way.

Director JT Mollner creates a spaghetti western send-up that abandons the sprawling land for a single interior locale. It’s not exactly wholesome though. Okay, it’s not remotely wholesome. While her daddy Clint may be used to exploring violence in westners, Francesca is busy exploring an often ignored side: sex. A very salty side indeed. This film has definitely shown me lots of outlaws, but I’m wondering if there are any angels at all. Mollner’s assessment is murkier than gravy although his long pauses and overuse of close-ups will make you think he’s making an awfully serious point. Personally, I think the blood pretty much sums it up. Bloodshed makes for excellent punctuation.

 

 

Ghostheads

Ghostbusters: a 1984 supernatural comedy starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson as brave, wise-cracking men trying to rid New York City of its poltergeists one slimy green ghost at a time.

Ghostheads: what the super-deluxe fans of Ghostbusters call themselves. Not the fans who watch the movie every time it comes on TV, or the fans who collect all the Venkman bobbleheads. Ghostheads are fanatical. They dress up. untitled.pngThey own proton packs. They drive Ecto Ones. They horde merchandise to the extent that it threatens their marriages. Ghostheads is the 2016 documentary that takes a good hard look at these amped-up fans. Ghostheads is the new Trekkies.

The delightful thing about this documentary is how earnest it is. It’s easy and maybe even tempting to make fun of a grown man who believes he is “more himself” when dressed up as someone else, but this film never does. These fans may be extreme, but the documentary aims to humanize them. Some interesting things I picked up from watching the documentary:

  • Ghostheads are not the ones hating on the 2016 film. Their enthusiasm for the franchise is all-encompassing. Paul Feig reached out to the community and included them every step of the way. They seem to embrace it.
  • In fact, “Everybody can be a Ghostbuster” is not just a tagline for the new toy line, but a credo that Ghostheads seem to have been living by for the past 30 years. At Comic Con, you’ll see dozens of people dressed up as Wolverine, Ariel, Walter White, Sailor Moon and Doctor Who. You’ll see plenty of Ghostbusters too, but more often than not their name tags don’t read Ray Stantz, it’s their own names on the patch. Because every body can be a Ghostbuster.
  • While Leias and Leeloos tend to stand alone at conventions, Ghostheads are almost always found in packs. These cosplayers aren’t just connecting with a movie, they’re trying to connect to each other.

I’m the first to admit that I don’t really get cosplay. I’m a huge movie nerd but I’ve never loved any one film so much that I decided to make it my life. I’ve never, as an adult, dressed up as a fictional character. But people at comic cons are doing more than trick-or-treating, they’re doing performance art. medium_GHOSTHEADS_web_1Suddenly shy geeks who rarely interact with the human species don these alter-egos and strut around like heroes.  In Ghostheads you’ll encounter one painfully shy man who doesn’t hesitate to walk up to total strangers to spout any of dozens of lines of dialogue memorized from his favourite movie. He’s happy to pose for pictures and merrily draws attention by flipping on the siren on his Ghostbusters car (his only car. He drives his daughter to school in it). Fandom has really kicked into high gear these past few years (we discussed FANdementalists on a prior podcast) but I think the Ghostheads embody the very best of it: a sense of community. Just like-minded people sharing something they love, a movie that happens to be about camaraderie and helping others (and mutant marshmallows).

Ghostheads is nostalgic and sweet – maybe too sweet. It deftly sidesteps the whole “girl Ghostbusters” controversy and chooses not to look at a darker side at all. So this may not be a balanced view. But with interviews with Ivan Reitman, Dan Aykroyd, and plenty of real-life Ghostheads, it’s an awfully compelling one.

Trash Fire

 

Entourage’s Adrian Grenier plays Owen, a surly, selfish douche, wiped clean of any trace of Vince’s trademark charm, a man seemingly incapable of love or commitment who makes you wonder just what his girlfriend sees in him. Turns out, his girlfriend Isabel (Angela Trimbur) has begun to think the same, and attempts an anniversary breakup that’s only interrupted thanks to Owen’s inconvenient seizure. She dutifully nurses him back to health but is only rewarded by more of his blunt thoughtlessness when she finds out she’s trash-with-fire-movie-2.jpgpregnant. “Get an abortion” he says, and she agrees, because who’d want to have a baby with him? But he has a change of heart and she agrees to consider it if only he’ll finally introduce her to his surviving family members – a grandmother and a sister he hasn’t spoken to since his parents’ funeral.

Turns out, his parents died in a house fire that was accidentally set by him. His little sister  (AnnaLynne McCord) was badly burned but survived. The guilt is eating at him up(and maybe making him a less than awesome person to be around) but not quite enough to go back and get the sister he abandoned to his mean grandma. Grandma, it turns out, is a hellacious bitch and play with delicious abandon by Fionnula Flanagan.

Director Richard Bates Jr. has a bone to pick with religion and he’s not in the mood to be subtle about it. Everyone will have their turn to squirm underneath his unrelenting magnifying glass, like they’re the ants and he’s the little boy MV5BMTEzMTU1Njg2MDleQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDcwMTAxNDcx__V1_UY268_CR229,0,182,268_AL_.jpggleefully catching them all on fire. Trash Fire has its roots in horror of course, a fact that constantly slithers up and down your spine, especially when AnnyLynne McCord tiptoes into the bedrooms of the sleeping guests with nothing but a ghostly white nightie and a shotgun.

Fantasia Festival programmer Mitch Davis described this as a “venomous black comedy” and director Bates echoed that, doubting we’d see “a darker comedy this year.” Flanagan accounts for much of that, with her acid tongue, shrewd timing, and zealotry so self-righteous it’s literally masturbatory. Bates exorcizes some major demonage on-screen, calling it “the most personal and fucking weird therapy session” but feels ready to be a good husband to his new fiancée now (they got engaged at Sundance). Can the same be said about his tumultuous lead character, Owen? I can’t give away all his secrets, but I will say this. That ending? You’re going to need a good stiff drink.

Red Christmas

A beaming mother is proud to have her family gathered round to celebrate one last holiday in the family home – until the drama erupts, which, like most families, is within the first 10 minutes. Not everyone’s happy that the house is for sale and Mom Diane is moving on. But then the doorbell rings and the real trouble begins.

Dee_Wallace_DrewDee Wallace plays the doting mother, who you may remember her from such Mom roles as E.T., Cujo, and Critters. Now she butters her bread with horror movies and though in pearls and a floral flounce skirt she looks like she’d be equally comfortable as a Stepford wife in a Diane Keaton romcom, her pipes have got Scream Queen oozing from them. But that’s not all that’ll ooze before the credits roll.

This Aussie horror flick made its international debut at the Fantasia Film Festival where the crowd riotously applauded Wallace for her performance and director Craig Anderson for his demented vision. The festival offers plenty of midnight delights, but none quite so satisfyingly delicious as this.

Diane isn’t quite the suburban Mom her sweater set would have you believe. She’s been hiding a 2-decades-past abortion which took place the same day as the clinic was bombed by a religious zealot. Turns out that Christian nut was also nutty enough to make off with her deformed fetus, snatched from a bucket, and nursed it back to semi-life, infecting him with the same venomous hate and bloody lust for vengeance. Twenty years later, that abortion shows up on Diane’s front porch with a letter for his mommy and a thirst for gory murder.

It sounds a little more evolved than most horror flicks, but the message comes out a little red-christmas-2016-australian-horror-movie-postermuddled. It’s mostly lighter fare with some heavy-handed slasher tendencies. While most serial killers have a preferred modus operandi, Cletus-the-fetus dazzles us with a whole host of murder weapons, each more impressive than the last. Arteries will spurt like they’re sprinklers on a hot summer’s day; body cavities will gush hot viscous blood in ways you’ve never considered and won’t forget. Anderson takes special care to use the Christmas theme to light his set in borderline festive-ghoulish fashion, keeping the senses on high alert.

Special shout-out to actor Gerard O’Dwyer who brings an air of authenticity to the proceedings. He’s an actor with Down Syndrome whose character forces us to think hard thoughts about ethics and eugenics and the whole lot. He’s also a fully fleshed-out character, fiercely protective of his family and prone to quote Shakespeare.

As a bad guy, Cletus-the-fetus was a little too over-the-top for me. He’s heavily bandaged, raspy-voiced, and wears a Grim-reaper cloak. He’s also either bullet proof or the victim of some bad editing. But somehow these things don’t really take away from the fun we’re having seeing a nice little family get hacked to bits, or the fun Anderson’s having satirizing the genre. As a Canadian, I am familiar with white Christmases; Australians tend more toward green ones. This one, splashed in a red that even Crayola would have to concede as blood, is one for the record books.

 

The Master Cleanse

The master cleanse is a cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs fad diet wherein some idiot eats nothing and drinks only a “juice” made from water, lemon, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper and actually believes that their body is benefiting. Instead of, you know, being completely nutritionally deprived.

TheMasterCleanse_FilmStill_Final_FeaturingJohnnyGalecki_PhotoByMichaelFimognariIn the movie The Master Cleanse, the inventor, Ken Roberts, has pledged to take this purification further – let’s not just detoxify our bodies, but also our souls. And like all high end products and really good, safe ideas, it’s advertised on late-night infomercials.

Who is up late at night with only a bowl of Cheetos for company, that awful orange dust thickly coating his remote, trolling the airwaves for a quick fix for his spiritual malaise? None other than down-on-his-luck Paul (Johnny Galecki), recently (though not THAT recently) dumped and unemployed, living one functioning toilet above squalor. While the promise of a free retreat from a disembodied voice on our televisions might raise a red flag for most of us, Paul diligently irons his only suit to make the best impression.

A small group, including struggling actress Maggie (Anna Friel), and a squabbling young couple, are taken out to a remote wooded area. Bombastic Lily (Anjelica Huston) is their fearless leader, and bids them to drink special juice formulated just for them. That juice leads them to the crucial elimination phase, where all of their hurt, disappointment and trauma are physicallyBTSJohnnyBobbyAnna_TheMasterCleanse_PhotoByBobAkester eliminated…and that emotional baggage just happens to look like a cute little creature.

The dark woods, the derelict cabins, the mysterious cult leader Ken (Oliver Platt)…director Bobby Miller has all the trappings of a horror, and indeed you’ve unconsciously braced yourself for something terrible for quite some time. At a special screening at Fantasia Film Festival, Miller said that at first wallowing in sadness is cute – that Ben & Jerry’s, sweat pants phase. But if left unchecked, your emotional baggage just grows and grows, and threatens to overwhelm. Miller’s film gets pretty serious about those consequences. This is body horror with a pulsing conscience.

There is no mathematical way in which any equation involving  both toilets and horror should add up to something enjoyable, at least for me, but this did. Miller’s got some magic slipped in there somewhere, perhaps in his confidence even as a first time director in sticking with character and theme while being quite conservative in the gross-out department. It’s a lot more melancholic than you’d expect, even sympathetic, but the message is clear: shortcuts to happiness can leave you literally lost in the woods.