Category Archives: Half-assed

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.

Hot Air

Lionel Macomb is the king of conservative talk radio. By shouting outlandish opinions and wildly distorting facts on hot button, right-wing issues, Lionel has made himself an empire. For 20 years he has slept on a mattress stuffed with cash but now a former protege, Whitley, is threatening his domain by presenting himself as a kinder, gentler (read: religious) right-wing alternative.

Lionel (Steve Coogan) isn’t exactly going to just let Whitley (Skylar Astin) walk away with a piece of the pie, but he’s been losing ground steadily and suddenly even his long-standing feud a Senator he dismissively refers to as “The Hyphen” (Judith Light) isn’t as fun anymore. It’s a terrible time for his life to be disrupted but it wouldn’t be much of a movie if it wasn’t. In waltzes a long-lost relation he never knew he had, 16 year old Tess (Taylor Russell). Tess challenges him and pushes his buttons, which doesn’t exactly ingratiate her to him. In fact, the only reason she’s allowed to stick around at all is an intervention by girlfriend Val (inexplicably, Neve Campbell), who is notably not as asshole but bewilderingly in love with one.

I love Steve Coogan and would happily watch him in anything. This role is great for him, caustic, wordy, with a ranty-ragey charisma. But then the script fails him. Tess arrives on the scene to humanize him, and while she does provide context, there’s not a lot of growth. It’s like writer Will Reichel forgot why movies exist. Maybe (and I’m being generous here) the point is that conservative “personalities” lack the basic human ability to change. Certainly a lack of soul is an asset to a career in punditry. But then why introduce Tess at all if he’s going to refuse to learn from her? It makes for a frustrating end because there’s no real redemption, and you get there only to realize that there’s also been very little on the journey there. Lionel Macomb is a talking head, a very good one thanks to Coogan, but a whole bunch of people spent a whole a bunch of money on this movie and nobody thought to ask: is there a point to this? Shouldn’t there be?

How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

I feel like a bad Canadian for even thinking this, but the truth is, I don’t like Jim Carrey. Well, to be fair I’ve never met the man; what I mean is, I don’t like his schtick. I don’t like his over-the-top, cartoony performances. And since he’s playing an actual cartoon character in this, How The Grinch Stole Christmas never really had a fair chance with me, never mind the fact that it skewers a venerated classic film that I grew up idolizing.

Jim Carrey plays The Grinch. He’s green, he’s hairy, and he’s very very mean. Except a little Whovillian named Cindy Lou (Taylor Momsen) sees the good in him – wants to see the good in everyone – and nominates him to be Christmas cheer captain. He is coaxed down the mountain to accept his prize and things actually go fairly well – he gamely stuffs his face as Fudge Judge, wins a potato sack race, and is submitted to carol after carol after carol. But there’s at least one Whovillian who can’t quite accept his presence: Grinch’s childhood bully and current mayor of Whoville, Augustus Maywho. Maywho gives him a gift meant to humiliate and remind The Grinch of what caused him to flee up the mountain in the first place. With plenty of Whovillians joining in the laughter, The Grinch is once again flooded with shame, and this time he vows revenge. Just one catch: little Cindy Lou isn’t quite ready to give up on him.

Tim Burton was attached to direct this for a long time but eventually the studio settled on Ron Howard, who does his best to deliver something Burton-esque. It’s not nearly as dark as Burton would have gone (in fact they got out of their way to establish The Grinch as a sympathetic character) but Howard steps out of his comfort zone in terms of visual style. Whoville becomes a smorgasbord of Christmas cheer; there’s eve a machine gun that helps Christmas be vomited all over town. It’s an abundance that’s hard to ignore: production counts over 8000 ornaments, exactly 1938 candy canes, 152 000 pounds of fake snow, and 6 miles of styrofoam used to create sets. Sean and I actually saw some of these sets on the Universal backlot tour, just behind the Bates Motel from Psycho. During production, Jim Carrey put on a dress and grabbed a knife and ran screaming from the house, scaring the pants off a bunch of tourists who failed to recognize him at the time. Otherwise his days were pretty miserable, spending 2 hours to get into costume, and another hour just to get out. The latex suit was covered in yak hair dyed green. But when you watch the movie, you’ll appreciate just how many other character underwent extensive hair and makeup routines. This movie actually has the most extensively make-upped and costumed cast since The Wizard of Oz – 443 costumes were created by wardrobe, and on busy days, 45 make-up artists were working at once. So if I’m not exactly giving Jim Carrey credit for a job well done, I do think production design (art director Michael Corenblith and set decorator Merideth Boswell) deserve some accolades, along with costume designer Rita Ryack, plus hair stylist Gail Ryan and make-up artist Rick Baker who received his 6th of 7 Oscars for this film

Eddie Murphy, Tom Hanks, Jack Nicholson and Tim Curry were considered to play The Grinch, and I think we should all spend at least 10 minutes today thinking about what those movies would have looked like. The truth is, Jim Carrey is probably a good choice for the role. Who else could pull off a costume that essentially has The Grinch running around “naked” a lot of the time, his private area conveniently covered by a suspiciously large tuft of hair. Jim Carrey and Ron Howard both wanted to make a very kid-friendly movie but thanks to studio interference, there’s a bit of raunchiness in the film that may surprise you. The love interest between The Grinch and Martha May (Christine Baranski) is surprisingly sexual. In fact, it’s safe to say that those Whos are pretty pervy, generally speaking. But there’s lots of base humour and visual gags to get you through, and very small children probably won’t pick up on lots of the adult-oriented stuff. Still, it may be hard for those of us familiar with the original made-for-TV movie to really embrace this one. How The Grinch Stole Christmas is probably best left to the kids.

 

The Duchess

While the children are outside playing, Georgiana (Keira Knightley) and Charles (Dominic Cooper) among them, Georgiana’s mother is inside, brokering her daughter’s marriage to a man she’s met but twice. She’s not 18 yet but the match will make her a duchess, and by her mother’s standards, that’s more than enough.

Georgiana is so young that she’s actually surprised when the marriage to the much older Duke (Ralph Fiennes) turns out not to be filled with warmth and happiness. He only cares that she produces a male child, and her failure to do so is an embarrassment. Meanwhile, he saddles her with children he’s conceived elsewhere, the least well-kept secret in all of England. And though she’s turned a blind eye to every indiscretion, when he beds her only friend and moves her into their home, it all gets to be a bit too much. With no other option, Georgiana must tolerate it, as she tolerates all else. None of her hats and dresses can make her happy so she does the only thing she can: she takes a lover. Remember childhood friend Charles? Georgiana certainly does.

I saw this streaming on Netflix and was surprised I hadn’t seen it. Now that I have, I’m less surprised. I didn’t need this in my life. It’s not bad, it’s just very generic. It feels like a movie I’ve seen before and it even, in some ways, reminded me of another Keira Knightley film, Colette. It’s a period drama with a very slight feminist bent. She discovers sex! Turns out, it’s not all about your husband raping you until pregnant. Sometimes it even feels good. There. I spoiled it for you. Sorry/not sorry. It’s a literal bodice ripper (and such a shame, the hair and costumes are the only real thing this movie has going for it) – if it was a book it would be a Harlequin, with Fabio on the cover, and I’d feel much more embarrassed about having read it. Instead I’m mostly just mildly annoyed. Georgiana is apparently a distant relative of Princess Diana so the film was marketed using the Diana angle as heavily as it could (“There were three people in her marriage”) for a movie that has absolutely nothing to do with her. Shameless, of course, but when your film’s this bland, what else can you do? Ralph Fiennes’ stockings aren’t exactly selling tickets.

 

The Kitchen

When a bunch of gangsters get put away for terrorizing Hell’s Kitchen in the 1970s, their wives are left up s creek without a p. Oh sure The Family says it will provide for them, but the measly few bucks isn’t even enough to pay the rent. And we’re talking several years of jail time. So Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), and Claire (Elisabeth Moss) grab their own p and conquer s creek.

Okay, that’s a bit reductive because as you can imagine, absolutely no one was thrilled to have the women take things over – not the people paying them, not their rivals, and especially not the leftover male members of their own mob. And I do apologize for having said ‘male member.’

This is exactly the kind of story you want to get behind 1000% and I can still recall seeing production stills from when they were filming and being extra hardcore jazzed about it. But as you can tell by the timing of this review, I didn’t even bother to see it in theatres. And that’s because try as they might, these 3 exceptional ladies can’t make up for a story that just isn’t there. It’s generic and bland and boring. I expected to see some ass kicking and clever one-up-womanship and salty language. But instead it’s just a bunch of hand-wring and counting money into neat little piles. That feeling of empowerment seems to be missing entirely – and so is the point.

I don’t fault anyone in the cast because they’re all churning out great work, but their characters are underdeveloped and at the end of the day, without character investment, the stakes are very low.

The Kitchen is a disappointment. A disappointing disappointment. I only finished watching it because I’d already paid the rental price, and even then I seriously contemplated a “pause” that we just never came back to.

Let It Snow

A tin-foil-sporting Joan Cusack spells it out: snow brings us together.

She’s lying of course. Snow forces us apart. It keeps us warm in our own houses, or trapped behind walls of hard-packed snow. It keeps us isolated behind layers of scarves, unable to get to work, spinning our wheels in our own driveways. Snow makes us miss our flights and cancel our plans. But for the sake of Netflix let’s say it brings us together, unless in this one small town, in which a bunch of young people have some loosely connected stories going on, including:

a) a teenager desperately in love with his best friend but completely unable to tell her

b) a lonesome popstar

c) a young woman about to defer college because of a sick mother

d) as aspiring DJ

e) a young waitress with feelings for a customer

f) an attention-seeking adolescent with a thing for pigs

Netflix is releasing a steady stream of holiday movies to warm the cockles of your holiday heart. This is one of them. Christmas rom-coms are perhaps even more formulaic than their rest-of-the-year counterparts, but since we don’t demand much of them, it’s hard to be disappointed. And though bland and vanilla as heck, Let It Snow is sort of charming in its way, buoyed by some non-sucking performances by Isabela Merced, Shameik Moore, Kiernan Shipka, Liv Hewson, and Jacob Batalon.

If this movie was a recipe for Christmas cookies, you’d have some fine, and even promising ingredients on your hands. Blend hard as you might they won’t come together, but maybe you’ve heard that cookies aren’t the only end product anymore. Our teeny attention spans have given way to the marketing of cookie dough; you can lick those raw, wet ingredients and get a hint of what might have been. It’s not as good as cookies, but it’s good enough, with only a small chance of salmonella. That’s what Let It Snow is: if you can let go of the warm gooey goodness of a chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven (say, It’s a Wonderful Life), or even the semi-satisfying snap of an Oreo dunked in milk (The Santa Clause), you might enjoy scraping the bottom of the bowl with Let It Snow.

Shaft

I am a member of the Samuel L. Jackson cult. I just think the man is cool. And I thought Shaft was going to be this ultra smooth way of celebrating all that is good about Sam Jackson and all that he contributes to the culture.

Turns out, we should have left Shaft in the past. You can’t drag him into 2019 without updating the character at all, but the screenwriters here were so lazy that they made Shaft, once the paragon of hip and with it, into an old man dangerously out of touch. The movie starts out sexist, runs straight into homophobia, dips into racism, slams into Islamophobia real hard, then circles back into homophobic and sexist grounds again. Shaft is not cool. There is nothing cool about a man who abandons his kid and then, upon their reunion 25 years later, mocks him for smart, employed, and educated.

Shaft’s son Shaft Junior (Jessie T. Usher) uses his friend’s suspicious death as an excuse to reconnect with his deadbeat dad, and the two work the case together, eventually involving Grandpa (Richard Roundtree) for good measure. The first gunfight is cool. The next five are tedious.The three generations look pretty cool strutting around in identical turtlenecks though.

The weird thing is, I didn’t hate the movie (though I have a tendency to overvalue movies I watch on planes). I hate what they did to Shaft. He deserved better. I believe Shaft would have changed with the times. He would have stayed ahead of the curve, in fact. But that’s the worst kind of disappointing: when a movie had potential but was too lazy to fulfill it. What a waste. You had Samuel L. Jackson, guys! This should have been a slam dunk and it’s embarrassing that it wasn’t.

Here you go. Now you don’t have to see the movie.