Category Archives: Sucks ass

Better Off Dead

Random thoughts while watching the 1985 John Cusack film, Better Off Dead

  1. How fragile was glass in the 80s that a single newspaper issue could punch a hole right through it?
  2. Lane (Cusack) showers with his (mismatched) tube socks on. And then he blow dries them. Because why?
  3. How is it that, in a very normal suburban home, a teenage boy has been granted an entire room to use as his personal closet? Especially considering said boy is the same one who showers with his socks on. Not exactly the height of sophistication.
  4. Clearly the dad is supposed to be the bad guy. He’s so grumpy! But really: his garage door is full of holes, one kid is systematically ruining his breakfast while the other has left an eyesore dragging in the driveway for months. I must be old, because now I’m feeling sorry for the dad!
  5. Lane and his girlfriend Beth have 8×10 framed photos of each other in their bedrooms. But why do the teenagers all have large, black and white head shots of themselves?
  6. Did he just attempt to street race someone blindfolded??? OF COURSE the guy he hit was mad! We’re supposed to excuse him or something? Lane is a horrible human being! I don’t know if HE’s better off dead, but I’m starting to suspect that everyone else would be (better off without him, that is).

7. Why does everything the mom makes turn out green?

8. I’m not sure which is more disturbing: that the almost 8 year old, cereal loving little brother has leopard print loungewear, or that he seems to be retrofitting toys into real weapons.

9. The script is so bad, Lane has to constantly narrate his stream of consciousness out loud so we know how deeply saddened by his girlfriend of 6 whole months (the aforementioned Beth) dumping him for the hunky new ski fiend. As if the suicide attempts weren’t doing it for us.

10. The paperboy is such a little punk. But do you remember paper boys? And the little card that you’d keep track of, that they’d hole punch each week that you paid. But they’d ring the bell at random times, and always claimed you owed for 5 weeks, which somehow came up to $2.60, but of course you never had it? What a weird time in human history that that was how we got our news.

11. You know how you get up in class to solve an algebra problem at the board but then just stand there fantasizing about the night you lost your virginity in a station wagon (which is only slightly better than losing it TO a station wagon)? Yeah. No.

12. So Lane attempts to take up roller skating to impress a girl (white guys, amirite?) and somehow manages to accidentally tear all the clothes off a cheerleader, who just happens to be wearing a matching set of lingerie under her uniform. As teenager girls do. Obviously.

13. Lane skis in a variety of Bill Cosby sweaters which makes no sense. But still makes slightly more sense than his buddy who complains about not being able to get real drugs in this small town, and yet he somehow procured a top hat in which to ski.

14. Three suicide attempts later, the movie has made 0 mentions of mental health, and Lane’s parents address the situation by a) telling him to “mellow off” and b) forcing him to go on a date with a girl of their choosing against his will. Yes, I’m as surprised as you are that this method of treatment seems to have not really caught on.

15. Did any of your high school dances have live bands?

16. There’s a claymation interlude of a hamburger singing Van Halen’s Everybody Wants Some. It is very bad but still a welcome break in the actual movie.

17. I can’t believe that a French teenager came all the way to America for an exchange semester, and in her 2 allotted suitcases for 6 months, she packed a coverall. Suspicious.

18. Oh he’s legit going to try to seduce her with a saxophone? A SAXOPHONE IS NOT AND WILL NEVER BE AN ACOUSTIC GUITAR, LANE.

19. They take turns skiing under each other’s crotches. Can this possibly be interpreted as romantic?

20. In what I can assure you is an extremely lame showdown, Lane proposes a ski-off to his bully. And despite being the vastly inferior skier, AND having only one ski, AND being relentlessly pursued by the paperboy, he somehow wins. Somehow.

21. But that’s not even half as lame as when he uses the poles to duel his loser neighbour, and then throws the french exchange student over his shoulder when he wins her. Ahem.

22. And then he parks his Camaro on a baseball diamond and makes out with her??? Ladies and gentlemen: peak American obnoxiousness.

23. John Cusack has only ever seen the first 20 minutes of this movie because he walked out, embarrassed and furious at the director. I watched all 97, but can assure you that even 20 is too many.

Advertisements

The Beach Bum

so, interesting story: a couple of weeks ago, Sean and I were at a wedding that got hit by a tornado. Don’t worry, everyone was fine. The same cannot be said for tents and glassware and flowers and cake, but those are but details with hefty deposits. They were already legally wed, and that’s the main thing. Anyway, Sean and I cleared out before we even got fed, but Sean had certainly been watered. With lots and lots of beer. Which means I was driving. I always volunteer to be the DD, though I don’t usually count on having to navigate roads blocked by fallen trees. Anyway, it was a long-ish drive back home, during which time Sean’s jobs were to keep Spotify thumping, and to read my sisters’ Snapchat updates aloud. Even with hindsight, it’s impossible to say how we got on to the topic of 90s music, but we eventually landed on Creed (believe it or not), which I’d forgotten was a thing. And even with the reminder, I couldn’t quite name a song, though I knew that knowledge must be buried deep. So Sean took it upon himself to sing (remember all the beers). Anyway, you do not need to remember that Creed exists because this movie is here to remind you, if briefly. And that’s about all I have to say about the movie The Beach Bum.

Moondog (Matthew McConaughey) has a very rich and very beautiful wife, Minnie (Isla Fisher), with whom he does not live, and a newlywed daughter whose life he flits in and out of. Moondog lives by no rules. He barely lives in this world. “He’s from another dimension,” explains his indulgent wife, who finds his spotty record very convenient for doing what she wants with whom she wants – mostly, a man named Lingerie (Snoop Dogg).

With straggly, unwashed hair, and volcano-orange thongs, Moondog isn’t just a beach bum, he looks and lives like a bum, period. Except for some reason fake-titted women still line up to be with him. It makes no sense and is exactly the kind of nonsense that completely derails a movie for me. Not that this movie was ever on the rails. Or even has rails.

Anyway, Moondog is apparently a talented poet, which is also completely unbelievable, and his wife figures out how to give him a little motivation to do some writing.

In some ways this is the role Matthew McConaughey was born to play: a merry, aimless stoner. It’s not that hard to imagine that this might have been his fate had he not caught some lucky breaks in Hollywood. Jonah Hill, however, turns in a performance I find nonredeemable; it’s not that hard to imagine that to be MY fate were I being punished in hell for some hella unforgivable sin. Still, it’s mostly writer-director Harmony Karine with whom I take issue. While it may not be unusual to be forgiving of one’s anti-hero, Moondog is undeniably reckless and Karine is infuriatingly nonjudgmental. There’s an outside chance that the message he’s intending is that the pursuit of happiness is attained through pure and selfish hedonism. At the end of the day, its worst crime is that it is boring. Had I not paid to rent it, I would have turned it off. Spare yourself Zac Efron’s douchy beard.

Henry’s Crime

We are sitting smack dab in the golden days of the Summer of Keanu – John Wick 3, Always Be My Maybe, Toy Story 4 – a real career renaissance for Hollywood’s nicest leading man, a Keanussance if you will, though it doesn’t roll of the tongue quite as convincingly as McConaissance did.

Henry Torne (Keanu Reeves) is a toll booth operator and chronically nice guy in that passive way that drives his wife (Judy Greer) kind of crazy. He’s so nice, in fact, that he goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Accused of bank robbery, he protects a friend (Fisher Stevens) and takes the sentence, losing his wife in the process. His cellie is a crazy man named Max (James Caan), away for life. Henry does his time and eventually leaves prison with one important lesson imparted by criminals more hardened than he: you did the time, you may as well have done the crime.

And that thought just niggles at him. So much so that he springs Max out of prison and they befriend a Buffalo actress (Vera Farmiga) who just happens to be doing a play in an old theatre that has a prohibition-era tunnel running from its basement straight to the bank’s vault. Convenient! Love and money, all in one fell swoop.

Of course, Henry is not exactly a professional thief. He got caught – and remember, he got caught for a crime he DIDN’T commit. How much of a disaster is he going to be with the real thing?

Safe to say this film (released in 2011) is NOT part of the Keanussance. Reeves suffers from the coolest of detachments while the rest ham things up. Farmiga in particular is several degrees north of TOO DAMN MUCH. Henry’s Crime is entertaining at times, merely watchable at others, and sometimes it’s just slow and not building to much. Sometimes I’m startled to come across titles featuring several prominent actors that I’ve simply never heard of before, but the reason why usually becomes quite clear, quite quickly. While there are worse crimes than Henry’s, a misdemeanor rather than a felony, it’s still not worth doing time for.

Swiped

You should swipe left HARD on this movie. HARD.

James (Kendall Ryan Sanders) is a nerd at college where he is immediately bullied by his roommate Lance (Noah Centineo) and his mean boy cronies. They force him to code a new hookup app called Jungle that will allow them to sleep with women, no strings attached. Jungle has a whole bunch of stipulations: girls must post photos of themselves in underwear; no names are to be exchanged; no date or activity or expenditure of money is necessary; one night stands only. And for some reason, every single man in the entire world feels entitled to these conditions, and for fear of being alone, all the women go along with it.

This movie is an anti-feminist pukefest. I could barely stand to hate-watch this. The writing is bad, and with the exception of Noah, the delivery is terrible. If you cast this from a sign-up sheet in any high school, you could not do worse that this assemblage of blatant first-timers. But let’s focus on the writing, because it is truly among the worst and the most offensive I’ve ever come across. Imagine in 2019 green-lighting a movie that has an 18 year old virgin mansplaining romance to a roomful of women. Clearly the only reason this movie got made is because it was lucky enough (or early enough) to attach teen heartthrob Noah Centineo in a lead role. Sure he plays a douchebag, but then again, 100% of the males in this film are complete and utter pigs. He just gets the most screen time.

I’m disgusted on behalf of all women of their portrayal in this film as weak, meek, and totally clueless. But I’m also disgusted on behalf of a good 40-60% of men who in fact would not be so shallow, short-sighted and slimy. If this movie is supposed to be satire, and believe me, that’s a big IF, it has completely missed the mark. It doesn’t have any of the insight or intelligence required to pull of satire. Instead it just reads as a reckless endorsement of a dating app gone wrong. It makes the folks at Ashley Madison look like angels. In fact, Ashley Madison, morals aside, is a site that offers people a choice. IF you’re married and you’d still like a side piece, sign up. But Jungle’s mission statement acknowledges that women won’t consent to this under normal conditions, so the goal is to make it so they don’t have a choice. Which is a much higher level of sleaze than anyone really wants to admit.

But the good news is: no one can force you to watch. This movie is a dumpster fire and a black hole of entertainment. Keep swiping. Netflix is the purest embodiment of ‘there are plenty of fish in the sea’ – they’re not all winners, but there are occasional gems, and frankly, it would be nearly impossible to do worse than Swiped.

The Kid (2019)

So Rio and and Sara Cutler are a couple of old-timey kids living in a cabin with their folks, listening to their dad beat their mom to death as she pleads for the kids to run and hide. They do not. Rio (Jake Schur), though only 14, pulls a gun on his dad and kills him. That buys them only a few minutes because pretty soon their uncle Grant (Chris Pratt) is kicking in the door, ready to murder his little nephew in turn. This family has some major issues.

Stabbing him in the face buys Rio and Sara a little time: they go on the run. But trouble finds them yet again when they wake up having spent the night in a shared hideout with Billy The Kid. (Dane DeHaan). Billy The Kid was an outlaw and a gunslinger, wanted for theft and murder and other fun things like that. But if having a known murderer sharing your pillow isn’t bad enough (just kidding: they didn’t have pillows), Billy has also attracted the attention of a local sheriff, Pat (Ethan Hawke). Pat’s a little obsessed with bringing Billy to justice, and after shooting an innocent horse in the head he gets Billy to surrender, and he gets two orphans with a questionable back story as a bonus (Rio and Sara are understandably a little reluctant to confess their crime to the long arm of the law).

Cue a road trip via horse and buggy, half filled with orphans hitching a ride to their nearest known relative, and half filled with outlaws on their way to the gallows. Billy shows the kids more kindness than the sheriff does, and an uneasy alliance shifts the power dynamic in curious ways.

Which actually makes it sound not half bad, and that’s true. It’s not half bad. It’s all bad. Okay, so technically it’s well-framed enough that it looks like a series of Louis L’Amour cover shoots. If your grandpa is more literary-minded than mine, you might not know that Louis L’Amour is the male equivalent of a romance novel. They’re country western novels with cowboys who spit and grunt and ride off stoically into the sunset. And instead of Fabio on the cover, it’s tough looking cowpokes with 5 o’clock shadow and a piece of wheat chaff between their lips.

The movie sidelines female characters and has mixed messages about whether we should look up to Billy The Kid or de-mythologize about him. But aside from a few nice moments, this movie is just blah enough to get away with its flaws because I’m quite confident this film will go unwatched with or without my help. But for the record: do not.

The Nutcracker And The Four Realms

You’d think I’d have more of an affinity for this, as I once played Clara myself, in a school production. But I suppose any kinship I felt with the role died when I saw film-Clara flopping around in one sumptuous, gauzy, beaded gown after another, while I spent the whole play in a floor-length flannel nightgown.

Clara (Mackenzie Foy) has recently lost her mother, Marie. She is further aggrieved to find that the “one last Christmas gift” her mother has left each of the children is for her rather useless without a key to open it. Her godfather (Morgan Freeman) would seem to hold the answer, but just as she finds the key at his home, it is squirreled away (or perhaps I should say moused away) into a parallel world – into which of course she follows, without a second thought to the state of her beautiful dress, which she clearly doesn’t deserve.

Anyway, this other world is apparently one of her mother’s making, imaginatively speaking. There are four realms, and she meets 3 of the 4 regents right off the bat: Shiver (Richard E. Grant) of the Land of Snowflakes, Hawthorne (Eugenio Derbez) of the Land of Flowers, and of course the Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightley) of the Land of Sweets. These three regents worship Clara as the daughter of their beloved Queen Marie, and wail upon learning news of her death. They confess that the Queen has not been around in sometime, and these 3 realms are at war with the fourth: Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) of the Land of Amusements.

Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley, using a grating Mickey Mouse voice and sporting drag queen eyebrows for unknown reasons) explains that they can use Marie’s machine, which turns toys into people, to win the war, but they need the key. Yes, the very same key that Clara is already hunting, the key stolen by the legion of mice and now in the possession of evil Mother Ginger. Clara must retrieve the key with only the help of a kind nutcracker named Philip (Jayden Fowara-Knight).

The Nutcracker is of course famously a ballet, and there is but a single scant scene of dance, starring the ephemeral Misty Copeland, which is probably the best stuff in the movie. The rest is really nothing special. It’s almost as if, the more they inflate it with CGI effects, the more magic leaks out. It’s drained of the life and wonder you may have come to expect from The Nutcracker. This one is clunky – often quite mesmerizing to look at, but the directors are depending on literal hypnotic focus on the visuals since the story, which diverges wildly from cannon, just doesn’t hold up. It’s almost amazing how unexciting a land of imagination can be made to feel, and I wouldn’t mind if co-directors Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston both had their directors cards revoked for such a failure. It’s toys come to life: the wonder is baked right in!

The Nutcracker has been around since 1892 and now accounts for 40% of a typical ballet company’s annual revenues. It’s been done to death in both movies and television: Barbie did a version. The Care Bears did a version. Mickey and Minnie did a version. Tom and Jerry did a version. And they were ALL more successful that this one, which cost over $120M to make, but you can’t put a price on heart, and this movie just didn’t have it.

Men in Black: International

When did aliens become so boring? In Men in Black: International, everyone is trying to out-deadpan Tommy Lee Jones, and succeeding. There is no excitement, no awe, just a bunch of bored white men joined by a bored diversity hire, all bumbling around England, Paris, and Morocco trying to save the world from an unseen alien menace after an alien prince is killed but not before delivering a MacGuffin to MiB’s newest agent (Tessa Thompson).

As the first three MiB films showed, it can be fun to have one disinterested agent in our lead duo. But those films worked because Will Smith’s junior agent brought enough energy and wonder for the two of them. They worked because Smith’s Agent J was the audience’s stand in, who marvelled and freaked out at the marvelous and freaky stuff onscreen. And also, they worked because for all his surface gruffness, Agent K was actually quite an interesting character, and Jones let us see that just enough to make us invest in him. Unfortunately, MiB:I’s H (Chris Hemsworth) and M (Thompson) both have seen it all before, and even worse, so has the audience. So everyone ends up being disinterested, including the viewer.

The aliens and events in MiB:I simply don’t measure up to what the franchise has previously offered us. The aliens are bland and the stakes are surprisingly low consindering our heroes keep telling us their job is to save the world. Basically, it’s the opposite of what is expected from a summer blockbuster. The only joy in the film comes from Kumail Nanjiani’s pint-sized sidekick, who has all the best lines and whose hilarity highlights the disappointing blandness of everything else.

MiB:I simply has nothing to offer and no reason to be. That’s a particularly damning critique when this franchise’s defining trait has been ridiculousness. MiB:I didn’t need to be a good movie, but it did need to be silly, loud, and campy. Instead, it’s forgettable and unoriginal to the point that I’d have been better off rewatching any of its predecessors. I’m sure they’d have offered more surprises on a rewatch than MiB:I did on my first (and undoubtedly only) viewing.