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Spencer Confidential

Some directors just have their muses: Scorsese has DeNiro, David O. Russell has Jennifer Lawrence, Tim Burton has Johnny Depp, Wes Anderson has Bill Murray, and Peter Berg has…Mark Wahlberg. Spencer Confidential is another Peter Berg – Mark Wahlberg collaboration, the fifth in a lineup of increasingly forgettable films: Lone Survivor, Patriot’s Day, Deepwater Horizon and Mile 22 and it feels like it was cobbled together by an AI that’s been programmed to write screenplays based solely on other Berg-Wahlberg collabs. It has thrown together all the B(b)erg cliches: Wahlberg inexplicably shirtless, Wahlberg sporting a sexy black eye, Wahlberg sticking up for the working man, Wahlberg just wailing on a guy, driving cars, crashing cars, and just generally acting macho.

He plays Spenser, a Boston cop who’s so dumb he spells his name wrong. He suspects his superior officer is a dirty Boston cop so he shows up at his house and beats him silly. You know, not exactly a rule follower. So he goes to prison to cool his heels, as you do when you assault a police officer. And when he gets out he lies low, drives transport trucks for a living, takes vacations in the desert.

Haha, just kidding. Spenser is out of prison for less than 24 hours when the cop he assaulted winds up murdered, and guess who’s the prime suspect. And even though he’s very much not a cop anymore, he still works the case. Out of the goodness of his heart?

Anyway, he’s got two buddies backing him up: an old man named Henry (Alan Arkin) and a complete stranger who’s also his new roommate, Hawk (Winston Duke). Conveniently, Hawk is a tank of a man who’s an amateur MMA fighter and knows a little computer, so he actually comes in handy when he’s paying attention. But believe me, you don’t want to be Mark Wahlberg’s friend. I mean Spenser’s friend. Okay, I mean both. Spenser has a knack for finding trouble. He’s never even heard of minding his own damn business.

Anyway, Spenser Confidential is a new kind of forgettable that’s actually forgettable even whilst viewing. Luckily there’s no real plot to keep track of and there’s no character development because no characters were drawn in the first place. Which is super convenient if you mostly watch Netflix for the white noise.

The Rocketeer

Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell) is a crack pilot training for the air racing nationals who has a bad case of the wrong place/wrong times. When testing out his plane, he flies over a shootout between mobsters and G-Men. In the end, his plane gets trashed, he is on the hook to pay for an exploded fuel truck, and he’ll have to put on a clown costume to earn enough money to settle his debts. But wait, what’s that underneath his plane’s seat? Why it’s Howard Hughes’s jetpack superweapon that the Nazis will do anything to get their hands on, and the FBI is racing to track it down first.

Naturally, Cliff takes to the skies and becomes a superhMV5BYzM3Mjk5MTktNzcyZC00MWVlLWEwNzEtOTkyNDYxNjRiNWNlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTEwODg2MDY@._V1_ero, with the help of his engineer Peevy (Alan Arkin). But in doing so, Cliff attracts the attention of the Nazis and mobsters, and before you know it Cliff’s girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connelly) needs rescuing. It’s up to Cliff to hold onto his jetpack long enough to save Jenny and, I guess, also save America.

I hadn’t seen this movie since the 90s and what stuck with me after this recent viewing is how badly the Rocketeer’s effects have aged. They probably weren’t great even at the time but now they just look sad.

But in a way, the bad effects are kind of fitting, because this film’s whole raison d’être is nostalgia, and the clumsy effects feel like a remnant of that same bygone era. The COMICS-NAZISRocketeer is a throwback to that fabled time in America’s history where men were men, women were eye candy, the good guys always won, and even criminals were too patriotic to work for Nazis. It’s the cinematic version of Captain America punching Hitler in the face. Cue the flag waving and tears of pride.

The Muppet Movie (2011)

This weekend, I was babysitting my two adored and adorable little nephews, Brady, who is 7, and Jack, who is 5. We went to the trampoline park and the toy store, and then we came home to bake a cake for their dad, who was celebrating a birthday. We mixed and measured and layered on nearly 5 pounds of candy, which they insisted their dad would love, including banana cannons and a candy fence we dubbed the fortress of bananatude (I know, this cake sounds banana heavy).

Anyway, the kids were discussing The Muppet Babies for some reason, which Jack pronounces ‘Muffin Babies’ and is pretty sure he’s saying the same thing we are. I’m thinking about Jack a lot today because he’s being brave and having a little surgery. Mostly I’m thinking about my sister, Jack’s mom – the surgery will likely be harder on her than on him. But anyway. After we discussed which muppets were our favourites (Kermit for Jack, Fozzy for Brady, who does work in an errant “wocka wocka” into random conversations), and how we’d recently seen them at Disney World, we decided that our pre-bedtime movie would be Lego Batman. Haha, just kidding, they watched that in the car (imagine as a kid having a movie screen in your car!) – we watched The Muppet Movie!!

It’s about two brothers, the human Gary (Jason Segel) and the muppet Walter, who is obsessed with THE Muppets, who they’ve compulsively watched on television since they were kids, but who have sadly been absent from show business in recent years. Gary and his human girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) are celebrating their tenth anniversary and plan to visit L.A. to celebrate, and Walter is thrilled to be invited along with them (by Gary, and a much more reluctant Mary) as it is the home of the Muppet studios. But once there, he discovers that an evil businessman Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) is about to buy both the studio and the Muppet name right from underneath them. So he enlists Kermit to go on a roadtrip to assemble the old gang in an effort to raise the money to save the day.

Jason Segel showed his puppet fetish in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and went full kink with this script, clearly a loving tribute to a beloved franchise. There’s joy being spewed all over the screen in this film, the movie is dripping with it, and it’s fun just to sit back and get soaked in nostalgia. The script introduces a new character, Walter, with whom we re-experience the magic of the Muppets, and it’s great to see them back in action, recreating a lot of acts that we remember so fondly, in a format that we know and love. They work in plenty of celebrity cameos, both human and Muppet, and the whole thing feels like a love letter – not just to the Muppets, but to a new generation of kids just discovering them, two of whom were cuddled next to me in my bed.

At the end of the movie, when asked how they liked it, Jack exclaimed “I didn’t know Kermit had a car!” Because when you’re 5, even the most mundane things can seem momentous. The Muppets are that elusive thing that can bring out the kid in all of us.

Sunshine Cleaning

Rose is a single mother who has a son who’s just a little weird. A complete genius according to grandpa Joe, but his school doesn’t want him back. So Rose (Amy Adams) needs to make some serious cash in a hurry, to pay tuition fees at a private school where weird kids can thrive, and cleaning houses just doesn’t cut it.

So she assembles a crack team consisting of herself and her flaky sister Norah (Emily Blunt) and together they start cleaning crime scenes. Blood and guts equal serious hazard pay. Of course, there are also serious hazards. And I’m not just talking decomposition smells and bodily fluid leaks and brains on the ceiling. I’m talking about emotional hazards, like bereft widows who don’t know how to deal with Film Title: Sunshine Cleaninghusbands of 50 years being reduced to a blood stain in the living room. Not to mention the fact that Rose and Norah’s mother committed suicide when they were young girls. So, you know, this is potentially triggering work, and Rose and Norah aren’t hardened enough yet to have strict professional boundaries.

As the title suggests, director Christine Jeffs puts a sunny spin on a macabre subject. Well, sunny-ish. Overcast anyway,  which is pretty amazing considering the long shadows cast by tragedy. Sunshine Cleaning is a low-key movie. It’s intimate, with a light touch. Amy Adams is the sun at the centre of its universe. Everyone orbits around her, basking in her glow. Although I’m sure her character would not describe herself thusly, Rose is a fighter, a quiet fighter maybe, but she doesn’t give up. She persists. She’s seen hardship but you rarely see the cracks, which she deftly caulks with hard work and optimism. She’s the kind of character you root for even though she doesn’t ask for your sympathy – still, you feel she’s earned a break or two, and you hope to see her get them. Is that how life works? Not really. But it’s nice to dream.

Dumbo (2019)

Since the original Dumbo is only 60 minutes long, it was inevitable that Tim Burton’s 2019 update would veer from the scant story line of the first.

Max Medici (Danny De Vito) is the owner of a rinky dink circus where little Dumbo is born and immediately considered a monstrosity, despite the fact that our eyes tell us that between his big, sad, blue eyes and his soft, floppy ears, CGI Dumbo is perhaps even cuter than his hand-drawn cousin. A couple of kids, Millie and Joe Farrier, befriend Dumbo and together they discover he can fly. Their father Holt (Colin Farrell), a former trick pony rider and current one-armed vet, cares for the elephants but isn’t particularly warm to them, or to his own motherless children. When Dumbo’s mother, Mrs. Jumbo, is in the middle of an incident, she is labelled ‘mad’ and sold away. This is the straw that broke the circus’s back. It gets eaten up by a new amusement park called Dreamland, owned by Vandevere (Michael Keaton) and featuring the beautiful Colette (Eva Green).

As you can tell by cast alone, all the trappings of a Tim Burton movie are there, but sadly, almost none of the magic.

MV5BMTk3YzY3NmEtODExNy00ZGY5LTk3ZGYtMGUxOTlmN2Q2MTcxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzk5MTY4MTU@._V1_The first thing working against it, at least in my mind, is a circus scene in the movie Big Fish. It’s only a small part of the movie but it’s completely wonderful. Shouldn’t the wonder just multiply when set entirely at the circus? But no. Things start off relatively well at DeVito’s flea circus, but once it gets swallowed up by the soulless Dreamland, things go off the rails.

Second, I despised seeing Dumbo ridden. Dumbo is a flying baby elephant. Isn’t that enough? But no: 2019 needs to subjugate his whimsy by physically climbing aboard. It also doesn’t help that the sight of Eva Green on Dumbo’s back is some of the worst CGI work in the movie.

Mostly though, the movie just doesn’t feel coherent. Dumbo isn’t really even the star. Burton decided against the whole talking animal schtick, and while that makes sense for a live-action remake, it means a lot of improvised human characters and actor egoes who need screen time and dialogue and character arcs.

But when Dumbo himself is on the screen, the movie puffs its little chest and feels bigger for just a moment. Dumbo is irresistible, particularly in his clown makeup. My heart practically grows arms that yearn to embrace the poor little guy. Unfortunately, this little heart of mine just can’t quite make its way to liking this movie. It has everything going for it but the sum isn’t more than the parts. The sum is messy, and a little cold. Burton’s Dumbo is BYOH – bring your own heart.

Noel

This movie’s got more Oscar winners and nominees than most, so I can’t quite figure out how I’ve never heard of this movie before. Alan Arkin plays a creepy cashier who’s obsessed with Paul Walker, who plays a cop who’s crazy-jealous over his super hot girlfriend, played by Penelope Cruz, who thinks she may be pregnant with her crazy-jealous boyfriend’s baby and she’s feeling so insecure she confides in a lonely woman played by Susan Sarandon, who’s completely alone for the holidays other than her comatose mother and a complete stranger she meets while visiting another patient, played by Robin Williams, who’s an ex-priest having a crisis of faith.

penelope_cruz_noel_still_2004_OGXxLss.sizedThis holiday movie has something for everyone: spirituality, homophobia, reincarnation, crippling depression, dead babies, and more. But in its heart of hearts it’s really just about a bunch of people who don’t want to end up alone – on Christmas, on their deathbeds, in the world just generally. Some of us feel encumbered by all our obligations to friends and family over the holidays but others are completely bankrupt when it comes to people who care, and for them, the holidays can be really, really hard.

If you’re one of those people, maybe opt for something a little more cheerful. And if you’re already feeling cheerful, why bring a good mood down? This is possibly just too depressing for Christmas fare, and that’s not even counting the fact that it stars two men now dead in real life, one of whom also expires on camera. It’s a real corker! Contrived doesn’t begin to cover it; Noel is a stocking full of sadness hung by the chimney with despair. But it does have Penelope Cruz dancing around in lingerie, so.

 

Going In Style

Am I having a senior moment?  For the life of me, I still cannot remember the name of this movie without looking it up.  I can always recall the “Going” part but then it gets muddled in a lot of different ways – “Going Out In Style”, “Going All The Way”, “Going Out On A Limb”, “Going For Broke”, and on and on.  I mention that because the first impression given by the title, i.e., generic, forgettable, and lazy, is a good summary of this film.  Along those same lines, with how generic it is I am not one bit surprised to have just going-in-stylediscovered this is a remake of a 1979 movie starring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg.  I guess I am about 65 years too young to remember that one, even though I was alive when it came out.

I think I am still about 65 years too young to find the 2017 version tolerable.  And that’s a shame for three reasons: (a) Academy Award Winner Michael Caine; (b) Academy Award Winner Morgan Freeman; and (c) Academy Award Winner Alan Arkin.  I absolutely love each of those old guys.  They are endlessly charming even when they phone it in.  And they are totally phoning it in here, probably because they knew that even at 100% effort this movie would still suck.

If you absolutely have to watch this movie, you will not suffer all that much.   You may giggle once or twice and you will feel good despite your cold-hearted cynicism when [SPOILERS] they get away with the heist [SPOILERS].

But why would you watch this shitty film when, if you want a movie about getting even with those evil banks, you could watch Hell or High Water, which just came to Netflix and is not only a fantastic film, it also has Jeff Bridges in the curmudgeonly old guy role to tick that box.

Or if you want to be charmed by Michael Caine, you could watch any movie Chris Nolan has directed in the last decade (literally).  And for an instant Caine fix while deciding which Nolan film to pull from your DVD collection, I present Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon trading Michael Caine impressions in The Trip.

Morgan Freeman?  Since you can catch him in basically any movie ever, it is almost guaranteed that you can be charmed by him in a much better film (but be sure NOT to resort to Ben-Hur).  If I had to pick only one, it would be The Shawshank Redemption – that is peak Mo-Free on display as an old criminal with a heart of gold.

Alan Arkin?  Argo and Little Miss Sunshine.  The perfect grumpy old guy double feature. It’s just so easy to find something better to watch.

That’s the problem with Going In Style.  There are so many superior options, you have to wonder why anyone even bothered, other than Caine, Freeman and Arkin who I hope got paid at least as much as their bank-robbing characters did.  See?  I can’t hold anything against those guys, not even this terrible movie.