Category Archives: Sucks ass

The Upside

Dell has a record and a chip on his shoulder. He’s looking for work just enough to appease his parole officer but not enough to actually get a job. But then one lands in his lap anyway.

Now, to be fair: Dell (Kevin Hart) hasn’t done anything to earn this job. Yvonne (Nicole Kidman) has lined up plenty of qualified, competent health care aides to interview for the position. But Philip (Bryan Cranston) doesn’t want the good ones. Philip is disgustingly wealthy, newly paraplegic, and harboring a death wish. No one else is prepared to respect his DNR and he’s hoping a fuck up like Dell will mean merciful death – and soon.

The Upside is an American remake of  a French film called The Intouchables. It was wildly popular in France and it’s a well-made film, but both iterations have MV5BODE2NDI3NzUxNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTIzMDQxNzM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1497,1000_AL_the same problem. They’re about a wealthy white dude introducing a poor black man to “culture.” The condescension implicit in the premise is so problematic it’s hard to look beyond it. Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston have passable chemistry but you’re going to love or hate this film, mostly depending on whether you can embrace the formula. Because The Upside doesn’t even pretend to deviate from The Intouchables’ formula. Not for one stinking minute.

Old white rich guy and slightly younger ex-con have a lot to learn from each other. Philip is grieving the loss of his wife (which never amounts to anything) and his legs, while Dell is dealing with repercussions over the loss of his freedom, and his family. Not that he ‘lost’ his family so much as neglected them and now thinks he can win them back by throwing money at the situation.

The direction is nothing special. The movie relies on the whole ‘based (VERY LOOSELY) on a true story’ shtick and it’s very familiar and uninspired. The performances are fine; the best thing you can say about them is that they won’t be remembered in anyone’s career retrospective. But none of this really matters because at the end of the day (or the start of the film), the movie just feels racist and wrong.

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Peel

When Peel is just 5 years old, his father abandons him, taking Peel’s 2 older brothers with him, but leaving Peel alone with his emotionally unstable mother. It is implied that his father just can’t deal with her hippie ways, her alternative views on parenthood (ie, she is still breastfeeding her 5 year old). But in leaving Peel alone with her, he dooms his son to be raised in near-isolation with a loving but overbearing, overburdening mother. And I’m talking real isolation: they have a house in the suburbs, but they don’t even leave it to do groceries. Peel mixes her drinks and lights and her cigarettes and soothes her when she’s coming apart at the seams. And then she dies.

Well, she dies when Peel is 30 and basically still a toddler. He has not been socialized at all. He’s not exactly dumb, but he’s naive as hell, and he’s just been unleashed on a world he hasn’t met. His lawyer is likely crooked; the house is immediately in peril of being lost, so Peel takes on roommates who of course take advantage of him. Just as he’s losing faith in humanity, he gets the bright idea to go in search of the father and brothers who disappeared 25 years ago and haven’t been heard from since.

It’s a delayed coming of age, I suppose. Peel is so without cynicism he just feels so vulnerable out in the big bad world. But I think we should feel more protective of him than we do. There isn’t that much behind his character, in the end. The whole thing just feels too inconsequential, but it’s not as if it doesn’t introduce some heavy topics. It wades into the consequences of broken families but treats the whole thing with such sweetness and sentimentality, it’s actually tough to swallow.

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The Hustle

A small-time con-woman named Penny (Rebel Wilson) meets a big-time con-woman named Josephine (Anne Hathaway) and they inevitably tangle antlers. But then they decide to work together – Penny wants to learn from a mentor, and Josephine’s always had a con in mind that needs two people. But of course they’re still also working each other and eventually things get messy. Because while Josephine goes after big fish with an air of sophistication and a veil of class, Penny is loud and brassy and calls an awful lot of attention to herself for someone who probably should want to remain under the radar.

The two agree to settle their differences with one ultimate bet: whoever fails to extract $500K from their mark first has to leave town forever. Their mark is a rich young tech millionaire who seems almost completely guileless – Thomas (Alex Sharp, MV5BNTM1MzI4NjM1M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzc2MDE0NzM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_who clearly answered the casting call for a Mark Zuckerberg type and fits the hoodie perfectly). Penny poses as a blind woman to remind Thomas of his blind grandmother, and Josephine as the German doctor who can possibly treat her (hysterical, don’t ask) blindness. There are a thousand princes in Nigeria who could tell you this scam is unnecessarily convoluted, but where’s the fun in that?

Anne Hathaway has clearly been working on some accents, and here they all are. Rebel Wilson always has a breathless charm about her but I’m sick to death of her having to play roles for women lacking physical self-confidence. We get it: she’s fat. Hollywood continues to go out of its way to reassure us that they know she doesn’t belong. Here’s another character who feels unworthy because of her weight. Um, really? You do know it is entirely possible for someone to be fat AND confident. And more importantly, it’s extremely possible to be fat and still do your job, and do it well, and not make a whole thing about how much you weigh while you’re doing it. Wilson brings so much energy to all of her roles it’s exhausting to watch her, and a little uncomfortable too, because her body is so often the punchline and that’s not a joke I want to be in on.

The script is pretty uninspired, filled with the usual cons you’ve seen dozens of times before: men being duped into proposing with enormous rings, stealing diamond jewels, casino heists, etc. It’s a gender-flipped remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels that is simply too lazy to be any good; they don’t bother to update the jokes and there’s a deep chasm where subversive feminist comedy should have gone.. There are isolated laughs but nothing consistent. A training montage that for some reason includes clearing a pommel horse and uncorking a champagne bottle is particularly cringe-worthy. Hathaway and Wilson are fine, but they don’t have particularly good chemistry and it’s frankly upsetting to watch them be wasted on a movie whose only true con is the one that bilked you out of a $12 movie ticket.

 

 

 

Despite Everything

Four very different sisters reunite in Madrid for the first time in years upon their mother’s death. A series of profusely weeping men make displays of themselves at her funeral. The next day, at the reading of the will, the four sisters learn that the man who raised them is not their biological father, and that their fathers may be four different men, any or none of the weeping funeral goers. In order to obtain their inheritance, they have to go on a wild goose chase to find their parentage.

The premise is wacky but they play is straight. Or, as straight as possible when the characters are all ridiculous caricatures. Well, the lucky ones anyway. Some of them don’t even get drawn with wild but general cliches. There’s the French artist, the blind priest, and perhaps worst of all, the man with dementia.

The sisters, meanwhile, get an even worse treatment. Claudia (Belen Cuesta) is uptight, MV5BNDdlZDIzZTctZmIwZS00MTljLTg5Y2UtYjc1ODliYWExNDM2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTM2Mzg4MA@@._V1_and her marriage is failing. Sara (Blanca Suarez) is an important New York City businesswoman who left behind her true love, Sofia (Amaia Salamanca) is a lesbian with commitment issues, Lucia (Macarena García) is the baby.

So it’s like Mama Mia, except it’s a funeral, not a wedding, and there’s no singing or dancing or Meryl Streep or reasons to watch. Did I enjoy this movie? Evidently not. I veered from bored to skeptical to mildly offended. Plus there’s the issue of dubbing, which unfortunately is always an issue, one I should probably stop complaining about since it saves me reading subtitles. I don’t mind a subtitled movie at the theatre, in fact my ADD probably embraces it, but at home I’m never just watching a movie – I’m watching a movie and and and and. Which keeps my energy in check and my mind focused enough to absorb things and not get bored. Subtitles make it hard to multi-task. But dubbing makes it hard to take a movie seriously. The lips don’t match! They never match! Still, I can’t help but admire the people who work on these translations – you have not to just turn Spanish into English, but distill the essence of what’s being said into the same amount of syllables, which many languages would make very challenging. Of course it’s a bad sign for a movie when I’m mostly just thinking about how hard it would be to fit all those words and meanings into a set cadence. And from what I’ve seen, Netflix is springing for real professionals, not those TV movie of the week people who keep speaking long after lips stop moving. But back to the movie: should you watch it? No. There are roughly 5500 titles on Netflix – Canada’s Netflix catalogue is third largest in the world, behind Japan and America. So there’s really no excuse. You’re not that desperate.

The Last Summer

It’s the summer before college and all bets are off. Kids are making plans, making memories, and making out.

But because they’re all going their separate ways in just a few weeks, there’s a transient MV5BMTg3NTQ5Mjc1N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzg0MjU4NzM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_nature to their hooking up. Does any of it even mean anything? And more importantly: do you, the viewer, care? There are perhaps a few too many characters to really keep straight, and some of them are rather odious. But let’s say the main ones are Griffin (K.J. Apa) and Phoebe (Maia Mitchell). She’s too busy to date this summer, working tirelessly on a film that might help pay for NYU. And yet she and Griffin spend an awful lot of time together, eating barbecue and having sex, and they’re on their way to the same city for college, so things look…possible?

The Last Summer is Netflix’s most recent attempt to lure in the YA rom-com crowd, and as painful as many of them have been, this one’s just boring and about as subtle as a love interesting literally landing in your lap. It’s like someone played magnetic poetry with shitty teen romance tropes, and then did nothing whatsoever to punch them up or make them new. The tired old stuff was good enough for The Last Summer – Netflix’s cinematic recycling bin.

Serenity

This may be the most difficult movie review I’ve ever written, and it’s not me, Serenity, it’s YOU. Serenity is a movie that defies reviewing, because the only thing worth talking about is the thing I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t talk about.

It came and went in theatres without a blip, which is strange for a movie with two bankable Oscar winners. Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway play exes. Baker (McConaughey) lives on a remote island where he fishes for a tuna. Not tuna. A tuna. This tuna is his Moby Dick. He’s obsessed. He pays the bills by taking tourists out on fishing expeditions, though as his first mate Duke (Djimon Hounsou) is quick to remind him that actually he’s technically not paying his bills lately. Baker’s pursuit of Moby Tuna is pretty single-minded and increasingly urgent. The only other hobby he has is missing his son.

But then his ex wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) appears out of nowhere, and she has a MV5BNTNiYTJjZWItNjA1Ni00ODQ5LThhNjgtZDZiZGU2N2MxNDIxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_small favour to ask. She’s married to this Cuban mob boss (maybe. I didn’t catch this myself – Sean supplied this detail) who hits her. And Baker’s poor son witnesses this. So could Baker, please, pretty please, kill him? Just a small favour. For old time’s sake. All he’d really have to do is get him drunk and push him overboard. Let the sharks do the dirty work.

Do you think Baker says yes?

Just because a murder is easy doesn’t make it right. And just because someone is violent doesn’t give you a free pass for doing the same, and worse. Right? Or is it sort of justified? And does it surprise you that in fact, it doesn’t matter. Whether or not Baker kills Karen’s abusive husband (played by Jason Clarke, who always plays the terrible husband) doesn’t matter. There are bigger things at play here.

But I’m being a good girl so I won’t even hint at what it is. The movie hints enough for the both of us, and to be honest, the twist wasn’t exactly hairpin. For an observant sleuth such as myself, it was pretty near a straightaway. Which is why I haven’t rated this movie very highly. It sort of negates itself as a murder-thriller, but it fails to surprise at this second level as well. I think if they had tried to make the movie less commercially appealing, and not marketed it as a straight up thriller, it would have been more appealing. The premise is interesting. So this movie really represents a lost opportunity, and that’s something I will always mourn.

Howard The Duck

Last month I struggled to rein myself in after watching a forgotten Tom Hanks movie from 1986 called Nothing In Common. I consoled myself by reciting other, better movies that were released that year. Reasons why the year didn’t suck completely. Some of you contributed: Labyrinth, from Widdershins, was a particularly good one; it’s a darkly wonderful movie that I loved before I even knew who David Bowie was. Imagine growing up knowing Bowie as that guy from the weird Muppets movie. And realizing years later that that’s a young Jennifer Connelly starring alongside him. I still know all the words by heart. Not just the songs: ALL the words. But one of you has a delightful cruel streak that I can’t help but admire. One of you, not naming any names, suggested that Sean and I watch Howard The Duck. Howard The Duck! Also from the garbage year 1986, it’s a movie I’d never seen and never wanted to – not when he made a brief appearance at the end of a Guardians movie, and not even when Sean’s buddy contributed to his comic book revival.

Anyway, somewhere in this or another galaxy (not too sure about the geography – another dimension, maybe?), Duckworld is a planet where intelligent life evolved from waterfowl. Duckword is a lot like Earth; the ducks are humanoid, they walk on two feet and speak English and they’ve made movies like Splashdance and Breeders of the Lost Stork.

Anyway, one day Howard gets home and sits back in his lazy-boy with a beer and a cigar when a hole rips through the galaxy and swallows him up, depositing him on Earth where he meets a surprisingly amenable punk rocker named Beverly (Lea MV5BZjM2NzA2NTYtNTkwYy00MzY0LWIwOTQtZTgzMjQ1NDZjNGI1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzc5NjM0NA@@._V1_Thompson). I mean, her look is early Madonna but her name is Beverly, which implies Mom jeans and shapeless sweaters, and her sound is more 80s power ballad, and she’s played by Lea Thompson, and it’s hard to sit here in 2019 and see how exactly she was ever considered an It Girl. Beautiful? Hot? She’s mousy and thin-lipped and mostly whiny. But anyway, let’s pretend she’s a hot as shit punk rock girl who somehow befriends a duck – and finds him sexually attractive.

Howard’s main concern is getting back home but the few scientists who could help him generally don’t. In fact, when they come close to opening that hole in the universe back up, Dr. Jenning (played by the creepy principal from Ferris Bueller, Jeffrey Jones, who turns out to be an actual sex offender and child pornographer in real life) accidentally infects himself with Evil Overlord. Which, you know, is not good. And quite sweaty. Not quite as repugnant as his real-life situation, but close.

In short, the movie’s a real shit show. If Howard The Ducks is fun at all in the comics, he’s a chore in the movies – it’s easier to imagine Lea Thompson being a sexpot than Howard T. Duck being at all interesting or fun to read about. Howard is a little person in a 2 million dollar duck suit walking around in an otherwise very CGI-heavy movie and none of it looks good, not now in 2019 and I bet not in 1986 either. At some point, near the end of the movie, I turned to Sean and said “Doesn’t this guy remind you a bit of Tim Robbins?” Apparently it was Tim Robbins, and had been the whole time. Apparently I am not familiar with 1986 Tim Robbins. He’s doughier and pastier than I would have guessed. I’m surprised he was able to defibrillate his career after this.

George Lucas has just finished building Skywalker Ranch to the tune of 50 MILLION DOLLARS and counted on this film to get him solvent again. Needless to say: it didn’t. Poor guy had to start selling off assets in order to not go belly up. Apple CEO Steve Jobs bought LucasFilm’s CGI animation division for a hefty sum, and so I guess two good things came out of Howard The Duck: what would eventually become Pixar, and also that every other Marvel movie from 1987 until time immemorial would positively glow in comparison.

…You’re welcome?