Category Archives: Sucks ass

Benjamin

This intervention is classy as fuck. I mean, how often do you see hors d’oeuvres at these things?

Ed (Bob Saget) smelled crystal meth through his teenage son’s door and panicked. He has assembled what can only be described as a rag-tag game of misfits to confront his son and force him into rehab…IF he has a problem, which Ed is still loathe to admit. Aunt Clarice (Chery Oteri) and Uncle Mitch (Dave Foley) haven’t seen him since he was a baby. Ed’s BBF, a doctor also named Ed (Rob Corddry) will lead the way despite the fact that he’s an OB-GYN. Jeanette (Mary Lynn Rajskub) is running the whole thing, though she prefers to emphasize her girlfriend part of her credentials rather than assistant. Benjamin’s sister Amber brings a date, and a spare, and is mostly there to antagonize her father. It is unclear who put together the guest list, but the guest list was their first mistake. It was not their last.

Long story short: these people may be bigger fuckups than the kid they’re intervening, and without any moral superiority, it’s hard to sustain authority. Ya know?

Bob Saget is not a good enough actor to be allowed to direct himself (and yet here we are). I’m not saying he’s the worst part of this but…he is. He totally is. And there are a LOT of broken parts. Danny Tanner would have done a better job and – dare I say it – he would have been less corny. Saget might have one of the most recognizable faces on the shoddiest piece of work: total amateur hour. How was Full House his prime? How on earth do you go downhill from America’s Funniest Home Videos? Benjamin styles itself as a dark comedy but you know what’s problematic about that? I didn’t hear anyone laughing.

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Gemini Man

This is what we call a “Sean movie” at our house – motorcycles, explosions, heck – Will Smith. It is not a Jay movie but I go along because 1) I believe there are gems in every genre and 2) it’s okay to occasionally do things for your loved one instead of yourself. But now matter how “compromising” and “open-minded” my mood, this should by all rights be a Sean review. But here’s a dirty little secret, and let’s just keep this between you and me: remember the Toronto International Film Festival that ended 5 weeks ago? Well, I’ve written all 43 of my reviews, was finished a couple of weeks ago actually, and Sean’s still working on 2 out of 4 of his. That’s right. That’s the imbalance around here, and I’m calling you out, Sean. Get it together!

Anyway, Gemini Man. Will Smith is Henry Bogan, a top-secret super-sniper with more than 70 impressive kills, helping his government to rid the world of bad guys. But those kills are catching up with him and he’s feeling mentally ready to retire. The official IMDB description calls him an “over the hill hitman” but both Smith and his character are a mere 51 years of age, and far fitter than I am though I am two decades sprier. He’s not so much past his prime as simply too mature and experienced to take this shit lightly anymore. Anyway, no matter what he’s decided, the government isn’t about to just cut him loose. He knows too much, so to them, retirement = death. The only problem is: who on earth is fit to kill the world’s best killer?

It turns out they’ll have to use the product of a highly classified lab run by Clay Verris (Clive Owen). Verris is Henry Bogan’s former Navy Seals commander, and apparently quite an admirer. He’s been using Bogan’s DNA to make a more perfect clone, and now there’s a 23 year old version of Will Smith walking around and he’s not half as tired or dispirited as his original. He’s totally going to murder Henry Bogan right in the face.

Several times during this movie I looked over at Sean with my eyebrow cocked wildly. Sean knows this look and he knows what it means. He knows I’m holding him responsible for every single weird thing this movie does. It’s his fault. He knows and I know it and it’s gonna be a very blame-y car ride home. But to my dismay, before I could even take that first big lungful of air to start in on my diatribe, Sean spikes it with “Well that was bad.”

How dare you, sir! That movie gave you everything you could want in an explosions, motorcycle, and Will Smith movie: explosions, motorcycles, and multiple Will Smiths! Is there no appeasing this man? And if he didn’t like it, who the heck did? Not the critics, that’s for sure: it’s got a measly 26% on rotten tomatoes (just for comparison, Wild Wild West has 17%).

It seems that director Ang Lee is more concerned with making high-tech movies as complicatedly as possible and isn’t so concerned with making interesting or watchable ones. Will Smith is fine, though I’m not really convinced by the de-aging software, especially since we’re pinning him to age 23, which is when he’s at the height of his Fresh Prince fame. He wasn’t just a younger version of his currently buff self. He was skinny and gawky and hadn’t quite come into his own. Will Smith at 51 is much better looking; the gray at his temples suits him, as does bigger suit size. But no matter how fresh he is, he can’t make a convoluted script work, and I had trouble remembering I wasn’t watching Mission Impossible II – not a great sign for a movie as technologically advanced as Gemini Man to be mistaken for a movie nearly 20 years its senior. There were good parts too – the catacombs looked especially cool, and Lee’s got some interesting angles in his pocket. But mostly it just felt a bit derivative and kind of a bore, even if it is 2 Will Smiths for the price of 1.

Monster Family

Emma (Emily Watson) is a hard-working mom who wishes her family had more time to do fun things together. It’s been a while since they were all happy. In an effort to reconnect, Emma plans a fun Halloween night out but the party is a bust and instead of growing closer, they get cursed by a witch, who turns them into the monsters inspired by their costumes – Emma into a vampire, husband Frank (Nick Frost) into Frankenstein’s monster, daughter Fay (Jessica Brown Findlay) into a mummy and son Max (Ethan Rouse) into a little werewofie.

Being turned into monsters is an inconvenience, certainly, but not without its upside as well: little Max uses his fearsome fangs to confront his bullies. Fay tests her boyfriend’s superficiality. Frank, well Frank has so little personality he just continues to fart a lot.

This is a kids’ movie, so there’s a lesson to be learned about making time for what’s important (and secondarily, weirdly, that our abusers were perhaps abused themselves). There’s some sympathy for the Yoda-speaking witch, though less for her boss, the creepy incel Dracula (Jason Isaacs). Mostly there’s just a very confused plot, the result of a screenplay that’s just not concerned with giving good story. I think you’d get more satisfaction from the story arc in the lyrics to monster mash than you do in this movie which pays lip service to family bonding while utterly boring us to tears.

Kids might like the bat sidekicks and the hazy green fart jokes, but there’s so little in between that attentions will wander. The lips don’t even match the voice work, if you can even call it that when poor Nick Frost is relegated to grunts. I mean, he’s probably pretty expensive for grunt work. You might have gone with no-name grunts and saved yourself a pretty penny, which then could have been invested in better writing or more compelling animation. Too late now – the movie is what it is, and what it is is entirely missable.

Hall Pass

90% of Hall Pass is me cringing at things that were questionable at best in 2011 but in 2019 are grounds for cancelling. Was there ever a time when I thought Fred (Jason Sudeikis) and Rick (Owen Wilson) were basically “good guys”?

They’re a couple of married, middle-aged guys who still act like hound dogs. Rick can’t stop ogling women and Fred likes to masturbate in his car. They act like their wives are the mean gatekeepers between them and mounds of lust-filled sex. Tired of this gross imbalance, their wives Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate) give them each a hall pass: a whole week to live like their single, to do what they want, to fuck whomever they want, no questions asked. Sound like heaven?

The truth is, Fred and Rick are lucky to have landed and locked down their wives when they did. They do not deserve them. But freed of them, it suddenly becomes embarrassingly clear that there isn’t heaps of pussy out there waiting for them. Nobody wants a couple of old farts in golf sweaters and mini-vans. But just as they’re starting to learn their lesson, and they’re men so you know I’m talking day 6 of 7 cause it took a minute, it finally occurs to them to wonder what their wives are up to.

Anyway, Bobby and Peter Farrelly have taken the concept ‘men are pigs’ and leaned in. Did the world need another example of male infantalism? Of course not. And yet here we are, struggling to figure out which is worse – the boys’ desperate need to get laid, or the Farrellys’ desperate search for laughs.

TIFF19: The Goldfinch

I mean, who’s NOT excited to see a film adapted from a 784 page, Pulitzer-prize winning novel about a missing piece of art? Sean Taylor, that’s who. He did, however, make use of the film’s 147 minute run time to have a hearty nap. Hands lightly clasped, mouth totally agape, he slept, and he slept hard, for 60 of the film’s first 65 minutes. So when he did wake up, I wondered what the point was in staying. Surely he was lost. Surely there would be no rejoining the movie at this point.

But the truth is, wide awake as I was and always had been, I wasn’t any more into it. And yes, I had read Donna Tartt’s novel, which has been bowing my bookcase ever since.

The Goldfinch is about a little boy who visits a museum with his mother, who then perishes when the museum is bombed in a terrorist attack. Having survived the bombing, young Theo (Oakes Fegley) wanders around the ruins, searching for his mother, until an old man stops him, and with his dying breath, implores him to take a painting, Fabritius’ The Goldfinch.

Basically orphaned, Theo is sent to live with classmate’s family (Nicole Kidman plays the mother). He befriends the old man’s business partner, Hobie (Jeffrey Wright) and another young survivor, a cute redhead named Pippa, who sustained brain damage in the attack. But just as he’s maybe settling into this new, motherless life, his deadbeat dad (Luke Wilson) shows up, with a surprise girlfriend (Sarah Paulson) in tow, and whisks him off to live in a deserted Vegas suburb of foreclosed homes. His only friend is a boy named Boris (Finn Wolfhard), who’s got some questionable habits, though not nearly as objectionable as his dad’s, as it turns out.

Cut to: adult Theo (Ansel Elgort) is an antiques dealer, working with Hobie in New York City, trying his best just to cope with the lingering effects of the attack, trying hard not to be held hostage by the trauma. He’s held onto this painting, a very historied and valuable painting, all these years, secretly of course, allowing the rest of the world to believe this priceless artifact was destroyed in the bombing along with so much else. But that is not the case.

Can you imagine what this painting might represent to a young orphaned boy, having saved it from the very same rubble in which his mother’s body lay? Director John Crowley cannot. In 2.5 hours, the painting is not a symbol of hope, or a replacement parent, or the receptacle of grief and loss. It’s just a dead thing underneath a kid’s bed, as if it means nothing. In fact, the movie itself means nothing, but it takes an agonizingly long time establishing this nothingness. On and on, with lots of things happening yet none of it finding meaning. And worse yet, it finds no emotional connection, nor does it appear to even look for it. And when you’re talking about childhood trauma and absentee parents and feelings of dread and loneliness – well, you’ve got to be pretty bad at your job not to even accidentally stumble upon some kind of feeling.

The painting The Goldfinch is about how we preserve meaningful bits of our lives and our culture, but the movie The Goldfinch is about how some things are destined to be forgotten.

 

TIFF19: Sweetness in the Belly

Though not ironically titled, the fact remains: Sweetness in the Belly is actually quite bland. I suppose there are worse things than blandness, but if you are going to spent several million dollars and the better part of a year to make something, it better be worthwhile.

Perhaps you’re a fan MV5BMWQ4NDEwZDktZTcyMC00M2VmLThlNjEtMzdmZmZiMDc4MTMxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQxOTM1NTc@._V1_of the novel by Camilla Gibb, and of course I read it myself about 500 books ago. I have little memory of it, but had the vague impression of not having appreciated it much.

In 1975, in the wake of Haile Selassie being deposed, many Ethiopians flee, fearing for their lives. Many others do not have the opportunity, and pay with theirs. In the chaos of so many people emigrating at once, Lily Abdal (Dakota Fanning) finds herself in London without knowing what happened to her lover, Aziz (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).

Lily is a special case. Though she is Muslim like the other immigrants fleeing Ethiopia, her skin is white. This means she is plucked from a long line of black women and given special treatment. While hundreds of others share cots in a community centre, Lily gets an apartment to herself, though it’s not long before she invites another woman, Amina (Wunmi Mosaku), to join her. Together they start trying to reunite families amid all the chaos.

It’s hard to dump on a movie with such noble subject matter – but hi, I’m Jay, and I’m an asshole. I watch a lot of movies and I guess I’m fairly critical of them. Sweetness in the Belly is more like a Mild Irritant in Your Eye. I just kept waiting for it to start, and when it didn’t, I started waiting for it to end. Zeresenay Mehari, the director, seems content with banality and the film never gathers any momentum. It’s occasionally moving and competently performed, but you will spend the whole movie waiting for it to get interesting.

The Wizard

Proudly brought to you by Nintendo, Vision Street Wear, and young Fred Savage, the Wizard is a movie I somehow avoided for 30 years until Netflix shoved it in my face last night. Even in 1989 there was really no reason for me to see it since I had already played Super Mario 3 at my friend Justin’s house (he somehow imported it from Japan).  And revealing that new game was the Wizard’s raison d’être. 

Jimmy Woods (Luke Edwards) is a non-verbal kid who’s been stowed away in a care home by his mom and step-dad. Until Jimmy’s half-brother Corey (Savage) busts him out and stows him away on a delivery truck faster than you can say “tanooki suit”, destination California. After the two boys meet tween runaway Haley (Jenny Lewis) at a bus station, their destination becomes more specific. They’re off to Video Armageddon, a world championship of gaming featuring only 8-bit Nintendo games because Jimmy is secretly a wizard at Double Dragon. But will Jimmy be able to beat his Power-Glove-wielding rival Lucas (Jackey Vinson) at a new Super Mario game that no one has played yet? You’re damn right he will.

At the time, Super Mario 3 was the next great Nintendo game. But now, countless Super Marios later, Super Mario 3 is an ancient relic, rather than a selling point like it was in 1989 (because it had not yet been released in North America. The one point of interest for today’s audience is seeing a very young Tobey Maguire make his very first film appearance (blink and you’ll miss it).  In hindsight it’s clear that Maguire isn’t really acting here in his non-speaking role as Lucas’ tiniest sidekick, and that he was always destined to become one of the biggest assholes in Hollywood.

Otherwise, the Wizard is unforgivably forgettable. It’s not a good movie (and it never tries to be) but it’s also not an enjoyably bad one. Savage does his precocious tween thing, Christian Slater does his precocious teen thing, Beau Bridges does his earnest dad thing, and a bunch of other people presumably do their best acting which was not good enough for them to ever get any other major movie roles. Maybe if I had seen it as a kid I’d be more nostalgic, but without the benefit of nostalgia the Wizard is nothing more than a 96 minute commercial for 30 year old Nintendo games.