Category Archives: Half-assed

Here And Now

Vivienne (Sarah Jessica Parker) is a New York singer grateful to have made her living with music. She’s got a new album coming out and is embarking on a new tour, even if tickets aren’t selling as briskly as they used to. But a grim diagnosis from her doctor has her wandering around the city, lost in thought.

The whole movie takes place on this one bleak day. She’s introspective, pinballing between gratitude for the life she’s lived and regret for all the sacrifices she’s made in order to live it. A teenager daughter who’s been left in the care of her father (Simon Baker) is first among them. A visit from her critical, overbearing mother (Jacqueline Bisset) is ill-timed. Updates from her manager and her only real friend (Common) keep things in perspective.

I actually kind of love movies like this, where we get to know a person very intimately on such a significant day. And New York City is such a great place for wandering souls, a beautiful backdrop for anguish and analysis. The pace is deliberately slow as Vivienne meanders around, mentally struggling to balance the demands in her life now that she’s staring down the barrel of her own mortality.

The film works best when its female characters are interacting, and evaluating the bonds between them. Other stuff works less well, which makes for a frustrating experience, since the movie is just too slow to allow for scenes that don’ work. But Parker is committed, and Renee Zellwegger makes a surprising and crucial appearance, so it’s not all bad. It’s just terribly uneven, which, in fairness, is probably true to any day on which you’ve just been told you’re facing an untimely death. But since you and I are going to go on living, we deserve to do it with better stories better told.

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Yesterday

The inconceivable has happened. Struggling singer-songwriter Jack (Himesh Patel) has a terrific fan and manager in Ellie (Lily James), but nothing else. His dismal track record and the complete lack of interest from absolutely everyone else on earth has inspired his recent retirement from the scene. He’s done. Ellie isn’t totally keen on his giving up, but there you have it.

And then a bus hits him. And when he wakes up, the world is a slightly (enormously) different place: The Beatles never existed. They’ve been completely erased from history, and it seems Jack is the only one who remembers them. So he gets down to the business of recalling as many of the songs and lyrics as he can, and starts performing them as his own. And he’s lauded as a hero! Even poor Ed Sheeran feels inadequate in his presence.

He blows up. Turns out, some of those songs still hold up, can still impress our jaded 2019 ears. Yesterday, Hey Jude, Let It Be, Here Comes the Sun. Director Danny Boyle secured the rights to so many Beatles songs that it was easier for Sean and I to name the ones that weren’t included than were – you could make a pretty comprehensive Bingo game out of this if you were so inclined.

But the movie doesn’t touch on other important aspects. Wiping out The Beatles would do much more than negate their own catalogue. They’ve had a profound and immeasurable impact on all the music that’s come after them; pop music simply would not have evolved as it has without their contribution. And yet the movie features Ed Sheeran as himself, a singer-songwriter who names The Beatles as his own primary influence.

Himesh Patel is quite exceptional and an excellent choice for Jack. His voice is velvety and buttery – not an imitation of John or Paul, but one that does them justice, allowing the songs to feel familiar while still letting us hear them again for the first time. Still, despite the film’s obvious charm, it doesn’t quite explore all the juiciest nooks and crannies, nor can it reasonably reach the expectations set by the world’s most important and significant band. The film is a strange mash-up of parallel universe and a rom-com. It makes some strange and distracting choices. But it’s still worth a watch, because let’s face it: it’s hard to go wrong with The Beatles.

Wonder Park

June and her mother (Jennifer Garner) have expansive imaginations. Together they created a pretend theme park called Wonderland, a special place that peopled by June’s favourite toys: a warthog named Greta (Mila Kunis), a hedgehog named Steve (John Oliver) a blue bear named Boomer (Ken Hudson Campbell), and brought alive by the pictures and blueprints that June and her mother draw together, wallpapering June’s room with their designs.

But then June’s mother gets sick, and June can’t bring herself to play their favourite game without her. June’s dad (Matthew Broderick) thinks it’s a good idea that she spends her summer at math camp, but halfway there, she gets cold feet and heads back. But she gets so turned around she ends up in – Wonderland? But how is the amusement park in her imagination a real place? And how are her toys talking, breathing characters?

One thing’s for sure: Greta the pink warthog and friends feel abandoned by the “voices” who inspired their adventures and brought life to their home. June realizes that she’s been so afraid to lose her mom that she’s somehow lost herself. But in the meantime, saving Wonderland presents itself as a real thing. We don’t know how June has wandered into the actual iteration of the park, but she’s there, and must contend with the consequences of her neglect. Luckily, as the inventor of Wonderland, there’s no one better to fix it up and save it from the darkness.

It’s hard to make a movie with colourful, talking stuffed animals in a fanciful amusement park address grief, so the script does not, not in any meaningful or profound way, even though grief is the catalyst for June’s neglect, and her need for escape, and for pretty much 80 of the film’s 85 minute runtime. It also talks about the nature of play, and what happens when you shut down an integral part of yourself, but without really saying anything about it. The movie is really content just to a diversion for kids than to be something with a moving story or a plot that makes sense. But it’s fun and full of energy and perfectly likable if you’re 5 and think bendy straws are the shit.

Sidebar: it’s shocking how many animated kids movies have erection jokes in them. Like, it’s pretty much all of them. This one’s no exception. In fact, it’s not exceptional in any way.

Five Feet Apart

Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) and Poe (Moises Arias) are friends, roommates and teenagers who’ve known each other since they were kids. They’ve been through a lot together and their bond is undeniable. When a third wheel, Will (Cole Sprouse), moves into the building, things begin to change.

Also worth noting: Stella, Poe, and Will are all CF patients, and the building in which they live is of course a hospital. They’re all living in the same ward but because of their disease, they aren’t allowed to come any closer to each other than 6 feet. Which puts a real damper on the budding romance between Stella and Will. Of course , the looming specter of their mortality is also boner-softening, I’d imagine.

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a fatal genetic disease for which there is no cure. It affects mostly the digestive system and the lungs. It’s the progressive lung damage from chronic infection that usually gets them in the end. Average life expectancy is almost but not quite middle age.

So here is another entry in the dead or dying teenager trope, which is weirdly having a moment. Or maybe it’s always having a moment. Teenagers like to really heighten the stakes. These teenagers know their limits and why they exist, not that it makes it any easier to follow them. They’re not trying to endanger their lives, but they are trying to live them. A warrior nurse named Barb (Kimberly Hébert Gregory) will do everything she can to keep them going, and sometimes that pits her against them. I thought constantly about how hard that must be for her. She’s the one caring for them day in and day out, likely for years, and definitely for weeks and months at a time. She has more contact with them than any friends or family. But it’s not her job to match-make, or to chaperone dates. It’s to keep them alive another day.

CF patients may find it hard to fall in love. Their time outside hospitals is limited. Their time on earth is limited. But love between CF patients can’t happen at all because they must never, ever touch. Teenagers may find forbidden love irresistible, but this is a whole other level.

Hot Summer Nights

When his father died, Daniel was so messed up he quit his paper route without notice. His cries for help added up until his mother sent him away for the summer – to his aunt’s house, in Cap Cod.

1991 was the hottest summer that Massachussetts had seen in many, many years, although for Daniel (Timothee Chalamet), it wasn’t necessarily about temperature. He meets the local bad boy, Hunter (Alex Roe), and starts flipping weed with him. Daniel’s business savvy combined with Hunter’s hustle means they’re running some major product and stockpiling significant cash. Hunter only has one rule: don’t touch my sister.

Hunter’s sister McKayla (Maika Monroe) is of course some brand of irresistible. Daniel falls for both: the girl and the money. It’s going to be a wild summer. It IS a wild summer: new cars, stolen kisses, steamy nights at the drive-in. Daniel sees more money than a teenager ever should, and the summer is heady, happier than he would have imagined at its start. But things quickly and inevitably get unmanageable because teenagers lack impulse control.

A storm hits. Literal and figurative. It’s The Perfect Storm, but it’s also a guy with a gun hunting down the dudes who fucked him over.

Director Elijah Bynum engages relentlessly is some very heavy 80s worship, and a lot of his style seems borrowed, matching the story, which is lacking in originality. But to his credit, he did cast Timothee Chalamet before he was THAT guy, the IT guy, and the cast does a lot to keep this thing from getting stuck in the mud. Like its hero, this movie stumbles around until it gets in over its head. The charm of the pretty cast, and indeed the pretty corpses, doesn’t quite make up for the leaden script and too-familiar story. Hot Summer Nights is nice to look at, but it never makes you sweat.

Then Came You

It cost me some dignity to even click on this film. That’s the first thing you need to know. The dying teen trope is practically my nemesis and it’s truly difficult to picture a universe in which I don’t resent it just for existing. So, not exactly a neutral space for writing impartial film reviews. But Netflix doesn’t pay me to write impartial reviews. Netflix doesn’t pay me at all.

Calvin (Asa Butterfield) and Skye (Maisie Williams) meet at a cancer support group where they’re both working on bucket lists, only they don’t call them that because that movie’s already been done. Their impending deaths lend an air of urgency to these lists – Skye wants to do loads of very general sounding things, like learn a trade and leave a mark, but she imposes only one item on his list: asking out a girl.

He works as a baggage handler at an airport where he’s seriously crushing on a flight attendant named Izzy. Which doesn’t stop Sky for going full manic pixie dead girl on him. That might be a nice farewell gift to a dying teen, only Calvin’s hanging on to a secret. He’s not dying. He’s just a hypochondriac.

Does this mean I only hate this movie half as much, or twice as much, on principle?

Then Came You has some nice moments, mostly because Butterfield and Williams are more watchable than a bag of dicks. Stop with the effusive praise, you say. No shade to Butterfield or Williams – they really are a sweet pair, she not quite convincing as a free-spirited punk, he all too convincing as an awkward, gangly spazz.

The problem is with the words coming out of their mouths. Whoever writes these things clearly thinks dialogue should double as a pancake topping: pure syrup. Skye had cancer, but she died of an overdose of cheese. Which actually sounds like my new top favourite way to die. Too much cheese! But not movie cheese. Cheese cheese. Goat cheese. Old cheese. Soft cheese. All the cheese. But Sky’s fatal dose of cheese came from doing all the tragic dying girl things that tragic dying girls always do in movies. Just once I’d like to see them go kicking and screaming. I mean, how many 17 year olds can possibly be so stoic in the face of the big sleep? I guess anger and fear and bargaining aren’t as photogenic. We like our tragedy porn to be youthful, docile, and composed. Tears are fine, but no ugly crying, it goes without saying.

Then Came You is ten cents out of $1.20 (a dime a dozen – is that how that works?). If you’re adding to your weepies fix, I suppose this one deserves a spot on the list. Otherwise it’s not a super great use of your Netflix account.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Do you remember there was a Godzilla movie released in 2014? Neither did I, but maybe that’s because we saw it at the drive-in. Apparently Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a sequel to the 2014 film, and apparently in 2014 Godzilla stomped through San Francisco at some point. Well, during the mayhem, Vera Farmiga and Kyle Chandler’s movie son died, and it really put a strain on their marriage. So they split up, and now their movie daughter Millie Bobby Brown lives with Vera in a Chinese rainforest, researching classic movie monster Mothra. Things go sideways, though, when ecoterrorist Charles Dance kills everyone else at the research lab and takes Vera and Millie hostage along with Vera’s monster-controlling sound machine, in order to wake up lots of other monsters and let them run wild.

Obviously, the plot is really dumb. And the characters have some of the dumbest dialogue of the year. Mostly espository nonsense in between assorted lame quips (and very occasionally a good quip from O’Shea Jackson Jr., probably ad-libbed). Just terrible writing. So much terrible, terrible writing. But who cares, really? Godzilla should be about the monsters, and the monsters come to play.

Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan and Ghidorah feature prominently, with King Kong and a bunch of other monsters making cameos (I don’t know who the other ones are but I bet someone does!). Monsters fight in Antarctica, monsters fight in Mexico, monsters fight in Boston, and I think they fought in one or two other places as well, but who can keep track? The important thing is, when the monsters fight, the movie works. And they fight enough that all the stupid writing can just be ignored, because you know another fight will come before too long.

Maybe next time they can fill the inter-fight lulls with halfway decent writing, plotting and character development. But if I have to choose between good human-vs-human scenes and good monster-vs-monster ones, I’m picking monster fights every time. After all, the monster fights are why I went to see Godzilla: King of the Monsters in the first place!