Category Archives: Half-assed

A Fall From Grace

Grace is a grandmother, a devout church lady, a steadfast volunteer. Also a murderer. Also a murderer? That one doesn’t fit. But she’s in jail and she confessed. So how come no one believes she did it?

Jasmine (Bresha Webb) is a young public defender. She’s already questioning whether the law the right career path for her, so to get throw this case as her first murder trial is a little daunting. She’s inching along cautiously but Grace (Crystal Fox) isn’t making things easy for her. She’s more concerned with protecting other people than herself.

In court, her story unravels: after a post-divorce depression, Grace meets an artist, a younger man who sweeps her off her feet. This is her alleged victim. But obviously things are not what they seem or else they wouldn’t have bothered to make a movie. Well, they hardly bothered to do even that. It’s pretty bland as courtroom dramas go, with a pedestrian script by writer-director Tyler Perry.

And yet this movie was fractionally entertaining to me, for a few reasons.

  1. The boring reason: the performances were good. Ish. If you can look past the bad wigs.
  2. It’s always fun to watch Sean, an actual real-life lawyer, squirm through what Tyler Perry (or whomever) thinks is the law. As a non-lawyer myself, there was plenty of objectionable content that even a lay person could easily point out, but yelling “I object!” from my bed hasn’t persuaded a single Netflix judge yet.
  3. Perry boasted that this film was shot in just 5 days. What he didn’t say was that he edited in just 5 minutes. At least that’s how it feels. You could play a very saucy drinking game just pointing out the plot holes, continuity errors and other fun editing mistakes of which there is a continuous parade.
  4. My grandmother, who turns 87 this week, recently received a jury summons. God bless her little heart but even IF she could drive there and then by some miracle find the right place, and let’s be clear that I do not believe she could do either of those things, she would then not hear any single thing that anyone said. Not a thing. But let’s for a minute pretend she somehow gets there, and somehow hears things. She’s still not going to understand them. Not a damn thing. My grandmother speaks a hybrid of French and English but understands neither. For the past three decades she’s been getting by on the popular “nod and smile” technique. Later she’ll ask my mom, if she remembers. Which she probably won’t. So I’m mentally inserting my grandmother into the jury box, picturing her confused scrunched up nose, picking invisible lint off her slacks, balling up kleenex and putting it in her sleeve, and if she thinks anyone’s looking, smiling vaguely and nodding uncertainly in the direction she thinks is appropriate. Wouldn’t you be pleased to have her on a jury of your peers?

But wait just a minute y’all: my daddy is sleepin and mama ain’t around. There’s a twist!

Hampstead

Emily (Diane Keaton) is a widow living a life she cannot afford. She’s angry with her dead husband, as after he died she discovered he had been cheating in her. She’s alone in an apartment she’s going to have to give up, having regular meetings/lunch dates with an accountant who’s helping sort out her tax problems. Then, one day while hiding from her problems in her apartment building’s attic, she lays eyes on Donald (Brendan Gleeson), the hermit of her dreams who lives just acrMV5BMjdmM2RjMjItZGZmZC00YTAxLTg3MmItMjdlOGVkZWY0MWFmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTc5MDI5NjE@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_oss the way on the grounds of a derilict hospital. Before you can say “squatter’s rights”, Emily and Donald are spending romantic nights together in the attic, but what will happen when the accountant and Emily’s neighbours find out?

Part romantic comedy, part self-discovery tale, and part real-life legal drama, Hampstead is kind of a mess. It claims to be based on the real life of Harry Hallowes, who became a landowner because of an arcane legal concept called adverse possession, but clearly many liberties have been taken with Hallowes’ story in this retelling. In fact, one might ask why this claims to be based on his life at all, other than as a cheap way to cash in on the press his lawsuit attracted.  For his part, Hallowes made clear that he wanted nothing to do with the film, so it seems unlikely there is any truth to this romantic tale other than what was publicly reported about his case (with no mention whatsoever in the papers of Hallowes striking up a romantic relationship with a neighbouring widow who happened to be leading on her sleazy accountant, and you know the British tabloids would have been ALL OVER those sordid details if even rumoured).

Incidentally, I knew none of this “real-life” stuff until after having watched the film, and I still didn’t care for the movie. I found it tedious, chichéd, and nonsensical, and now I have even less goodwill toward it.

Meet The Robinsons

Lewis is abandoned by his mother on the steps of an orphanage. By the age of 12, he’s been through over a hundred adoption interviews with no luck, so he spends his time on inventions that never quite work out. One day his school science fair is interrupted by two interlopers: a weird dude in a bowler hat, and a kid named Wilbur who claims to be visiting from the future. It seems like a pretty dubious claim until his space ship whisks them away.

In the future, Lewis meets the Robinson family, a wacky bunch of people he bonds with instantly. Which is too bad, because for the good of the space-time continuum, he really will have to go back.

This movie feels like it was designed by committee if that committee was a classroom full of kindergarteners shouting out their most favouritest things: robots! dinosaurs! food fights! And Disney’s feeling generous enough to stuff the movie with every last ounce of feedback it received, no idea too outlandish or sporadic to include. A story can be weaved around them all, and it involves time travel and one genius kid with big ideas.

It’s not the best film that Disney has to offer, but it’s got rapid-fire visual gags and a riot of crazy ideas and eccentric characters brought to life by some vivid animation. And eventually it circles back on sweet themes, like family and imagination, things you might expect that Walt himself would have been proud his legacy continues to endorse.

Passengers

If you were looking for a review of Passengers (2016) about a dick named Chris Pratt who pulls the grossest act of total bullshit and gets away with it, click here. Otherwise, Passengers (2008):

Captain Raymond Holt, who of course only plays Capt. Holt on Brooklyn 99 (Andre Braugher), calls in a highly educated but personally rutted psychologist, Dr. Claire Summers (Anne Hathaway) to support a small handful of passengers who have just survived a plane crash. She holds group sessions for grief counseling and quickly finds that the 5 passengers disagree on what happened. Some remember a flash or an explosion that the airline aggressively disavows.

Despite several degrees that should tell her otherwise, Claire becomes personally involved, not only in untangling the mystery, but romantically with the most secretive of the passengers, Eric (Patrick Wilson). Eric’s reaction is strange in a different way. He’s almost elated, feels better than ever. But this little group of survivors has all kinds of inconsistencies to it, and Dr. Summers is practically tripping over herself to break all the ethical and professional boundaries that exist for a reason. Of course, when the members of her group begin disappearing one by one, it seems not even professional boundaries would keep them safe.

Passengers feels like someone conceived of a “twist ending” and then reverse-engineered the movie around it. It spends almost no time justifying or earning its end; instead it builds smoke screens around it, protecting an ending that then comes out of the blue because no one was clever enough to drop those juicy little hints that make your mind tingle and a surprise ending feel oh so tantalizing. An unearned ending feels more like a relief than a delight or a shock. It creates frustration instead of alleviating it. Because that’s the thing about thrillers: they’re supposed to build on themselves, creating suspense while leaving behind a subtle trail of clues. The mystery is an itch and it’s a flood of relief when finally everything comes together to scratch it.

Passengers is a bit of a mess in terms of logic and plot. The story is emotionally manipulative. Anne Hathaway is a bland leading lady. Are those things that might bother you? Or are you the kind of person for whom everything about the movie is incidental to the mere watching of it. In which case, Passengers is definitely a movie you can watch on Netflix. It begins, it plays for a while, and it ends. Thankfully.

Home Alone 2: Lost In New York

Part of watching and enjoying Home Alone is letting go of all the improbability and nonsense and just taking the film as it comes. My 6 year old nephew Ben watched it recently and had this to say about it:

We watched it too, and Sean reviewed it himself, though less adorably. I’m sure you know its premise: it’s about an 8 year old kid named Kevin (Macauley Culkin) (in the first take of the above video, Ben called him “Cameron” and I think it’s really funny that in the 30 years since this movie was released, it is now more common to know a Cameron than a Kevin) who accidentally gets left behind at home when his whole family takes a European vacation. His mother (Catherine O’Hara) struggles to get home to him while Kevin has quite an adventure thwarting two burglars (Daniel Stern, Joe Pesci) from terrorizing his house. You really have to stretch the imagination to allow for an 8 year old’s prank assault on two hardened criminals, and his family’s supposed inability to have virtually any adult in the entire city of Chicago check in on him. But it’s fun.

Home Alone did such voracious box office that they couldn’t help but come out with a sequel. Now, it’s fairly common to leave a kid behind. My mom was vigilant and caring but with 4 daughters and a mini van that was often brimming with extra hangers-on, I myself was left behind as a kid and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one (were you? have you done it as a parent?). I was peeing when they left and wasn’t too distressed to find my family had disappeared. I knew right away what must have happened and didn’t panic. I’m sure my family came back for me within minutes. But I bet it’s even easier to forget a kid now, with parents splitting duties with different cars and different destinations. It happens. But really, has it ever happened that someone BOARDS A PLANE AND LEAVES THE COUNTRY without their kid? I realize this was pre-9/11, but there were still security measures. You still had to check your luggage and have your passport checked and your boarding pass printed and your carry-on scanned through security. How did they continually not notice their youngest was missing? The one that writer John Hughes has repeatedly pointed out is a troublemaker, a constant thorn in almost everyone’s side. Wouldn’t the silence have been a dead giveaway?

Anyway, Home Alone 2 asks us to believe that it has happened again. The very next year, Kevin’s family plan to spend Christmas in Florida. Kevin gets as far as the airport but is separated from the group but is somehow not missed. And wouldn’t you be extra vigilant after the first time? And despite airport security being a general thing, Kevin doesn’t just get left behind but in fact manages to board a flight to New York. And then has a whole vacation, checking himself into a swanky hotel with his dad’s credit card and going to town on room service. And if your incredulity was already meeting its limit, get this: the very same criminals who tried to rob him last year have just been released from prison and are headed for – you guessed it – New York City, which Kevin, though just a 9 year old boy, must defend with a very similar set of elaborate pranks, frankly enough to kill just about anyone and yet somehow not enough to discourage these two dimwits even though there isn’t a heist in the world that’s worth this aggravation.

This movie strikes me as incredibly dated, though I love seeing all these weird little relics of the past – a carbon paper credit card imprinter, a hotel room key that’s actually a key, a cameo by Donald Trump that nobody boos.

The thing that I feel is unforgivable? Kevin’s family have had a whole year to rehearse him in emergency protocol. Last year they were unprepared. Kevin could have made one call to a grandparent or a family friend or the goddamned police, and been done with it. Again, in New York, he decides to take on criminals himself rather than asking a grown-up for help. How dumb is this kid?

Home Alone 2 takes no chances, it simply replicates the first movie almost exactly, sometimes line for line, scene for scene. It’s more a remake than a sequel, but what the heck, give the people what they want!

[Note: Disney+ has announced plans to reboot the franchise. Jojo Rabbit‘s breakout star, Archie Yates, is set to star (not as Kevin McCallister, but as another neglected child), and Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney are also set to appear.]

[And another note: check out more of Ben’s reviews on Frozen 2 and Detective Pikachu.]

Jumanji: The Next Level

I admit I was pleasantly surprised to have genuinely laughed during Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle. Even the first (Robin Williams) one didn’t appeal to me but I was happy to take the win. I was expecting significantly less this time around and that’s exactly what it delivered – but The Next Level wasn’t entirely without its charms.

Now, you would think that after last time, Spencer (Alex Wolff) would have learned his lesson: a very definitely do NOT play Jumanji. Don’t look, don’t touch, don’t keep it around for a rainy day. But there’s one little flaw in the plan. Spencer is a dude. And you won’t have failed to notice that every single person who has played and failed at Jumanji is, in fact, a man. Men are stupid. They do not learn. Spencer’s tenuous reason is that life was going just a little too swimmingly, which caused him to lose confidence. As you do. So to cure his insecurity, he goes back into the game. What, it doesn’t make sense? Doesn’t matter! He’s a white male: he doesn’t need one, no one will ever really question him, and don’t you dare to start to think you’ll be the first.

The thing is, last time Spencer got to be Dr. Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) but this time his avatar is Ming (Awkwafina), a master cat burglar even though Spencer’s an anxiety-riddled little mouse. And once his loyal friends jump into the game to save him, they too will get assigned avatars they aren’t prepared for and never could be. And it’s not just the original foursome, but Spencer’s arthritic Grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his longtime frenemy Milo (Danny Glover) as well. It’ll be a real challenge to survive the game with these two dead weights slowing things down, but what choice do they have? The game’s afoot.

Jack Black is very good at pretending to be inhabited by all manner of teenager. Kevin Hart does an entertaining Danny Glover impression. Even Nick Jonas does a passable Colin Hanks. But The Rock? Poor Dwayne Johnson, he CANNOT do a DeVito. Like AT ALL.

The movie attempts to justify itself by being more, and it is – more characters, more whackadoodle scenarios, more adventure – but it’s also considerably less – less funny, less sensical.

By all rights Sean should be reviewing this movie but the poor guy had to leave the theatre at exactly the film’s climax (our sweetheart dog Gertie has been ill, and we were expecting a call from her vet; Sean held his phone in his hand the whole film, waiting for the merest vibration, whereupon he dashed out of the cinema to get the news). If you think it was difficult for him to tell me her results, you don’t know how hard it was for me to tell him how the movie ended. I’ve never felt more idiotic reciting simple facts.

Anyway, there are a few laughs to be had in this Jumanji, but not even enough to fill a 30 second trailer, so multiply that level of discomfort by 246 and you’ll have a general idea of your tolerance for this film.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Richard Linklater managed to get his hands on best-selling source material (the book, by Maria Semple, spent a year on the New York Times bestseller list) and systematically removed everything that was good and charming and unique about the novel to produce a bland and facile piece of film.

In the book, Bernadette is a reclusive but loving mother who suddenly disappears. Her husband and daughter believe her to be dead. Her teenage daughter Bee more or less narrates the story, mostly told through uncovered documents of her mother’s, piecing together her mother’s life, and discovering hidden depths and wells of sorrow. In the film, Bernadette’s whereabouts are never in question – we witness her escape and follow her on her adventure and see things through her eyes. You can hardly blame Linklater for this transition; with Cate Blanchett in the role, it would feel almost sacrilegious not to. But it does change the nature and structure of the story significantly, not to mention negates the mystery completely.

But that’s hardly the film’s only problem. I mean, the characters are just not likable. Bernadette, of course, is not meant to be likable – she has retreated from society, she burned out on humanity and doesn’t suffer fools, or many non-fools either. But her husband (Billy Crudup) is a workaholic, disloyal asshole. Her neighbour (Kristen Wiig) is an entitled twat. Her assistant is a scam artist. His assistant is a homewrecker and a gossip. Their therapist (Judy Greer) is an unprofessional over-stepper. It’s an unrelenting parade of unappealing characters, the only bright spot daughter Bee (Emma Nelson) and we’ve already discussed how Linklater chose to shine the spotlight elsewhere. Oof. But only a few of these characters are without sympathy. Mostly the problem is that Linklater never takes a stance. His indecision is stamped all over this movie. He clearly wasn’t up to making the book spark on screen so he neutered it, shot it very conventionally, and then acted surprised when no one was overly impressed by his mess.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is actually about what happens to a creative genius when she stops creating. That’s the core theme in the book: Bernadette lost her creative outlet and just started wilting. But in the movie, she just comes off as a crazy lady who has a mental breakdown and then flees to Antarctica on some hair-brained mission. And her husband makes so many poor decisions you just wish someone would throw him overboard and give the narwhals a hearty lunch.

The only thing that remotely saves the movie is Cate Blanchett, who is luminous and quirky and vibrant, doing much of the heavy lifting that realistically, both Linklater and a solid script should have done for her (and frankly, for us). She is a delight to watch but you never shake the feeling that this film should be so much more than it is – and that’s true even if you haven’t read the book and you aren’t watching it next to me, a person who is loudly bemoaning the very substandard adaptation. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is sadly lost in translation.