Tag Archives: Alec Baldwin

The Public

This movie as at TIFF in 2018 and while it did make my long list, it ultimately got cut in favour of god knows what else. And then what happened is that I never heard another single thing about it, and it might have literally fallen right out of my little ole brain until this weekend, when I was in a hotel room in Toronto and saw it on the pay per view. I did not at that time pay to view it. Sean has this weird hotel kink where he always watches HGTV when in them – these shows about “hunting” for houses that are necessarily imperfect so that they may then renovate them to within an inch of their foundations, with a lot of bullshit drama along the way. If we watch more than one episode in a row, Sean will invariably be convinced that they are the same episode, and I’ll say something like “No, last time it was lesbians with 2 dogs and this time it’s lesbians with 2 dogs EACH” but still that won’t convince them because they truly are interchangeable. Anyway, I’m glad I didn’t watch The Public in a hotel room where it would have cost $18 to rent when I have just rented it in the comfort of my own home for $6. What a savings!

But anyway: libraries. Public libraries. I love em. I am in a codependent relationship with them. I’m an insomniac who sometimes reads as much as a book a day, on average, so yeah, I check out a lot of books and I read each and every one of them because I’m not yet strong enough to walk away from a book I don’t enjoy. I’ve always loved libraries, even my school library which was too broke to stock books; in library period (because we still had one), we learned typing, and chess, and read (free) newspapers. I played library as a kid; stamping books was the most satisfying joy I knew. It is my dream to own one of those card catalogue cabinets with the dozens of tiny drawers. I’m pretty sure that’s all that’s standing between me and eternal happiness (which must mean that my life is pretty great). That said, libraries feel essential to me because my life without books would be nothing. But some people don’t use libraries for borrowing books. For them, libraries may be essential in different ways: a place to warm up, or to cool down, a place to congregate, a place to use the washroom, to wash up, to greet and be greeted.

The Public is about Cincinnati’s public library, and a lawsuit against it alleging discrimination when a homeless man is asked to leave because of his body odour. This highlights a struggle that librarians face every day that you may never have thought about: the balance between the rights and needs of one person versus the comfort of the patrons in general. There aren’t too many places where a mentally ill, unwashed man with nowhere else to go might rub shoulders with a kid researching a class project on geodes. But both have an equal right to be there. I don’t know this for sure, but I’m assuming they don’t really cover this stuff when you’re majoring in library sciences. It’s actually amazing how the most important and vital parts of your job you won’t even heard mentioned in school.

Meanwhile, a couple of the Cincinnati library’s employees, Stuart (Emilio Estevez) and Ernesto (Jacob Vargas) have been named personally in the lawsuit. But they’re still going to work, still breaking up fights in the men’s room, still erasing hate crime graffiti in precious books, still navigating people’s crushing loneliness, still stepping over dead bodies, people frozen to death in the night waiting for library to open its warm doors in the morning. In the face of which, one particular homeless man, a war vet named Jackson (Michael Kenneth Williams) means to ‘occupy’ the library, turn it into an emergency overflow homeless shelter since there aren’t nearly enough spaces and the city is suffering through a terrible cold snap.

Estevez wrote and directed a compelling, human story. Librarians become teachers, social workers, front line workers. Their job is not just caring for books, but for the patrons. I think sometimes the film gets a little bogged down by Big Thoughts but personally I wasn’t bothered in the least. If it wasn’t perfectly executed, at least he took a stab at saying something Important. I tend to feel very forgiving toward movies that Think and Challenge and Try. In all honesty, had I paid $18 to rent The Public, I wouldn’t have been mad about it.

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Drunk Parents

Not long ago, Will Ferrell appeared with Amy Poehler in a movie called The House. They played parents with a dirty little secret: they couldn’t afford to send their only daughter to college. So instead of coming clean, or having her take out student loans, they started up an illegal casino.

Drunk Parents is a very similar premise, and could also have been called The House, although instead of a casino, Frank (Alec Baldwin) and Nancy (Salma Hayek) think smaller, and less effective. First it’s a yard sale, during which they lament their spendy ways and consume a lot of very expensive wine, but don’t actually sell anything because what would the neighbours think. And one neighbour in particular, Jason (Ben Platt) has a direct line to their daughter Rachel, who has only been at college for 24 hours or so at this point. So then they try to extort more money out of their neighbour Nigel, who has already been generous enough to pay them for watching his home while he’s away. But then their drunkenness inspires an even wackier scheme. They’re going to rent out Nigel’s house. On Craigslist. What could go wrong?

Well, aside from everything. First a sex offender (Jim Gaffigan) moves in. They “solve” that problem by trading with him: he moves into their home, and they into Nigel’s. How does that solve the problem you ask? Well, it doesn’t. But it does create some more! Next it’s an outright thief who empties the house from top to bottom, although his truck full of stolen furniture eventually becomes a nice place to crash when the couple faces homelessness. Which is where Will Ferrell comes in because yes, he’s in this one too, and he lights himself on fire. You may recall that in The House, it’s Jeremy Renner who gets set on fire. So there continue to be slight, slight differences.

Alec Baldwin was the weak link in the film – not that he was bad, but that the comedy came from everyone else. Jim Gaffigan is one of my favourite comedians ever, so it’s no surprise that even as a sexual deviant he had me laughing. I was, however, surprised by Salma Hayek. She does things in this movie I had no idea she could do. A grocery store scene with a $4 zucchini is a particular highlight. I think. Is it good or is it just surprising?

Which still doesn’t mean this movie is good. Neither the script nor the direction will impress. And obviously the story’s a little bit borrowed (well, sort of: The House came out in 2017; Drunk Parents came out this year but was filmed in 2016…which is never a good sign). It’s stale, and some of the actors are better at working with crusty material than others. And you can’t even watch it drunk and hope the beer goggles improve it: nothing can improve it. I paid to rent this thing, and even though that’s just $4, that might be a worse financial transgression than what led to this wealthy couple’s downfall in the first place (which is what, exactly – job loss? bad investments? too many espresso makers? – the script doesn’t even bother). If you’re prepared to navigate the bad in order to find a few funny landmarks, be my guest. But wait until it’s free on Netflix. At least that way you can still respect yourself in the morning.

BlacKkKlansman

Ron Stallworth is a young black man, proud to be Colorado Springs’ first African-American police officer, in 1972 (or 1979 in real life, but from these parentheses forward, please understand that though this is based on his autobiography of real events, I’ll be discussing the events in the film). He’ll be the Jackie Robinson of the PD, and like Jackie, he’s the impossibly perfect, flawless, magical black man who will need to constantly turn his cheek – not just to the racist public, but to racist colleagues as well. Life might be difficult for Ron walking the beat but he’ll never know because he’s buried in the basement records office being abused by his own fellow officers. He’s desperate to get some real police work but I bet he got more than he bargained for. When he’s partnered with a Jewish officer named Flip, the two of them together make a single perfect Klansman.

Wait, what? Yeah, true story, though it sounds like the setup of a joke with a cringe-worthy punch-line. A black guy and a Jew teamed up together, undercover, to infiltrate the KKK. Ron (John David Washington) says all the right things on the phone, all the way up to the Grand Wizard himself, David Duke (Topher Grace). Flip (Adam Driver) provides the requisite white face and trucker caps. Together nothing can stop them, except possibly guys in hooded robes.

Spike Lee directs this thing, based on Stallworth’s memoir. But the spin that Lee and the other writers bring to the movie is fantastic. While this would have been a remarkable story at any time, setting it is amidst blaxploitation movies and Nixon’s reelection 03-blackkklansman-review.w1200.h630campaign gives it a crisp edge, and the constant allusions to Trump’s eventual win, thanks in part to his KKK ties, give it a sharp one. Damn it’s smart. And also depressing. And funny. Like, really funny. And so sad. Because as astutely-observed as this stuff is, it’s astonishing and disappointing to realize that 40 years on, we haven’t made much discernible progress. White people were horrified and baffled by 45’s election, which is funny because it was obviously white people who elected him. The two kinds obviously don’t talk. But nearly every black American I’ve spoken to was not overly surprised by the result (which is a far cry from being happy about it). They knew the country’s true temperature since they live with its consequences every day. And now those things have been outed, given permission to be voiced, and suddenly 2018 is resembling 1972 is some very uncomfortable ways.

John David Washington is really great in this role. He made his movie debut at just 6 years old, playing a school kid in a movie Spike Lee made with his father, Denzel called Malcolm X…maybe you’ve heard of it? If he’s getting acting lessons at home, they’re paying off. He’s subtle and natural and the movie’s success hinges on how well he underplays events that seem so impossible. Adam Driver does well too; he knows he’s second banana, but his character undergoes an interesting arc, from “it’s just a job” to really internalizing the hated for Jews that he constantly has to endorse as part of the klan. It has to mess you up to say things against your own people, to disavow yourself from a group that is part of your essential self – we feel that every time Flip denies his religion out loud to suspicious klansman, but it’s an interesting callback to Ron’s police department interview, where he basically had to do the same. And that should give us pause. And Topher Grace gets to play David Duke because Armie Hammer’s perfect Aryan face was presumably busy playing a slave owner in some other movie.

Ron spends the movie trying to prove to himself, to his potential girlfriend, and to his superior officers, that you can work from the inside to tear something down. His lady, the president of the black student union, is a proud agitator who doesn’t believe you should belong to the system you’re trying to destroy. “Black liberation!” she shouts at him. And we clearly see his own internal struggle because on the one hand he’s a first hand witness to the system being broken, and stacked against him, but he also believes he can be an agent for change. It takes guts to be the guy on the inside. I guess after being that guy for his whole life, joining the klan maybe didn’t seem so scary.

In fact, Lee does well subtly highlight the similarities between the two groups: kops and klan. Both seemed nearly identically racist in the 70s. But what got me is that in the film, both groups refer to themselves as “family.” Very recently I was telling Sean this theory of mine that any non-family member who refers to themselves as “family” is doing it for nefarious reasons. Work “families” tend to be abusive. It means, sure they’re internal fighting. It’s fine. It’s family. In the police department it means we don’t rat on each other. If some officers are abusing their position to harass people (spoiler alert: black people!) we turn a blind eye. There are so many clever, subversive little elements that they get under your skin incredibly effectively.

And just when you’re starting to feel cutesey about all the Nazi-salute foreplay and lynching pillow talk, Lee flips the script and reminds us of our present-day truth, where we cannot hide behind our smug sense of superiority. We are not better, and there’s no better way to remind us of that than with footage from last year’s white superemacist, neo-nazi, ‘white civil rights’ rally in Charlottesville. This weekend is actually the one-year anniversary, and tensions are high. This movie will likely never reach the hearts and minds of those who could really use it, but let it be both a balm and a rallying cry for the rest of us, perhaps even an emergency flare. We need movies like this to get us through these dark days.

Mission: Impossible -Fallout

lead_720_405Aside from the awkward colon in the title, the most annoying thing about the Mission: Impossible series has always been Tom Cruise’s massive over-reliance on rubber masks (yes, even moreso than his ridiculous excessive arm-pumping while running). While Mission: Impossible – Fallout doesn’t totally avoid the rubber mask cliché, it tweaks it enough to feel fresh. And every once in a while, despite how familiar the M:I formula has become after six attempts, the movie will sneak one by you, winking as it does.

In Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team (Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg) are tasked with saving the world (again) by recovering a bunch of stolen plutonium before a terrorist group can use it in nuclear weapons. The stakes are high so Ethan and his crew need to be at the top of their game, and doubly so when we’ve seen them in action so many times already.

M:I-F is up to the challenge in all respects. This is the best entry in the franchise so far. Not because it does anything surprising or anything we haven’t seen before, but because it delivers exactly what it promises and because it’s flawlessly executed, without a single misstep.

Action-packed and entertaining from start to finish, M:I-F is better than I expected, better than it has any right to be, and better than it ever needed to be.  This is 2018’s best summer blockbuster, hands down.

Blind

Alec Baldwin plays Bill, a writer and English professor who lost his sight and his wife in a terrible accident. Demi Moore plays Suzanne, the woman sentenced to read aloud to him. Sentenced in a court of law, by the way, by a judge who finds her guilty by association of the insider trading perpetrated by her husband (Dylan McDermott). Although Bill is cantankerous and spends his first encounter with Suzanne boldly insulting her, the two form a predictable romantic relationship.

But then BAZINGA! – the felonious Dylan McDermott is released from prison on a nasty technicality and Suzanne is faced with the age-old question that beleaguers only the women of a certain set: stay with the man who funds her lifestyle, or leave with the man hero_Blind-2017she actually loves. Oh to be rich and luxuriously useless!

If Blind was a martini, I’d send it back. The verdict: too weak. The writing ranges from bland to cheesy to downright embarrassing. It’s also not strong enough to write a character that we can distinguish from the real-life Alec Baldwin. Neither is Baldwin up to losing himself in a character. Bill’s epic rants are a little too familiar to anyone who has access to the internet, or late night television. But those are the only facets of the character that ring true; Bill’s conflicted, tragic side is limp, unfulfilled. Not to worry, though: in choosing Demi Moore to play opposite, the film has at least assured that no one will show Baldwin up. I’m not sure if Moore was ever capable of any great heights as an actress, but these days playing a wealthy socialite seems beyond her reach, even though I think that’s pretty much who she plays outside of work, all the time. Perhaps her ability to act began to dissipate around the time she lost the ability to move her face. Too many injections later, she can’t communicate anything beyond complete and utter passivity, which is inadequate for a woman wrongly accused, full of contempt, about to embark on a passionate affair after finding out her marriage is built upon lies and infidelity. Demi Moore: blank stare.

When you pair a man who is constantly dialed up to 10 with a woman who can barely achieve a 1.8, it makes for a strange combination. It’s hard to know whether to believe the love story being told in lifeless, monotone words, or the pained expressions on their faces that say otherwise. This melodrama is better suited to the Hallmark channel.

The Boss Baby

A couple of weeks ago Sean and I took our three nephews for the weekend. Brady, our godson, is 5. His little brother Jack is 3. And their cousin Ben is 3 AND A HALF. They’re the best of friends and they idolize their uncle Sean. We were halfway between Build-A-Bear and Fun Haven when Jack spotted a poster for “Baby Boss!” and he didn’t shut up about it for 10 minutes straight. We have very little idea what he actually said but were left with the general impression that he would like to see it.

So that’s what we did on our nephew date this weekend. We borrowed a minivan with three car seats and motored over to their local (only) cineplex. The arcade was popular: Brady played a racing game even though his little legs couldn’t reach the gas\break pedals; Jack played a shooting game even though he couldn’t even reach it without Sean’s assistance; Ben thought a dance game looked interesting until we put the tokens in and he immediately lost interest (and the machine ate the tokens). And that’s BEFORE we even got to the theatre. I stood in line for 3 tiny buckets of popcorn while Sean went to the bathroom to empty 3 tiny bladders. We convinced Jack to get a booster seat but since Brady didn’t need one, Ben didn’t want one, so we watched the theatre seat try to eat him numerous times. Popcorn was spilled.

bossbaby-gallery2-gallery-imageWas The Boss Baby any good? No, not really. Brady’s favourite part was the preview for Captain Underpants. Jack could quote his favourite part directly from the commercial. But listening to them giggle tops even the best movie, so this was an hour and a half that I wouldn’t change for anything.

The movie is about a sweet little family of 3 who’s expecting a new baby, even though 7 (AND A HALF) year old Tim would really rather not. A baby does arrive though – via taxi – but it’s a bit of a shock. While most babies get sent directly to families, a select few get sent up to “upper management” where they drink a special formula to keep them infantile while working feverishly to keep baby stock UP. But tragically, baby stock is falling because: puppies. More and more love is being siphoned off to puppies, so Baby Corp is fighting back. They’ve sent Boss Baby to Tim’s house because his parents work for Pet Co, who are about to unveil a new “forever puppy.” Tim and Boss Baby do not really get along at the start but guess what? Yeah, you know the rest: they dress like Elvis to evade their manny and head to Vegas to save the world. Or something like that. And of course discover that brotherhood is really quite nice. Baby Corp’s baby factory is pretty cute, and when the narrator comments about where babies come from, Ben pipes up with “Where DO babies come from???”

We went out for frozen yogurt afterward, to debrief. Everyone agreed that Ben’s little sister (who’s only 1) is pretty good as babies go, but that at his house, Ben is the boss. Brady and Jack felt that their family’s boss was probably their Mom.

Anyway, I don’t think I would have particularly cared for this movie if I had watched it on my own, but the truth is, any crummy movie can be immensely improved if you watch it with your favourite human beings.

SXSW: Paris Can Wait

paris-can-wait-F72057I’ve been to France twice and would go back in a heartbeat if we got the chance.  It’s a beautiful country with so much history, and their climate is warm enough that their spring feels like summer to Canadian visitors like us.   And above all else, the food in France is wonderful – the French do gourmet dining as well or better than anyone else in the world.  Eleanor Coppola seems to have similar feelings in France but instead of wistfully looking at pictures of Paris (which is what I’m doing right now), she got to work and made her own chance to spend time there, by writing and directing Paris Can Wait.

One thing that is readily apparent is Coppola’s background in documentaries (most if not all of which have chronicled her family members’ films).  She captures some beautiful shots of the French countryside and intersperses some well-shot photographs into the movie (courtesy of Lane’s character’s convenient hobby).  The photos were a good way to show off the food, and Paris Can Wait features so much delicious-looking food.

I can’t fault Coppola for taking the opportunity to sightsee in France on other people’s money, and tagging along on the journey was enjoyable even though there is nothing particularly memorable about it.  Diane Lane plays the same role she always does as the hopeful and optimistic woman who is taking stock of her life, Alec Baldwin appears for about five minutes total as Lane’s husband before jetting off and leaving Lane with his business partner (played by Arnaud Viard), and that basically takes care of all the speaking parts in this movie.

Paris Can Wait is simple and straightforward with no surprises.  You get exactly what you’d expect, which may or may not be a good thing.  I think you will enjoy this movie if: (a) you like traditional by-the-numbers rom-coms; (b) you are a member of Diane Lane’s fan club; or (c) you wish you were in France eating gourmet meals that cost 800 Euro and up.

If you’re not in that last category yet then get there!  My advice?  Instead of reading about romantic comedies, take a date and your chequebook to a Michelin-starred restaurant immediately (preferably one that brings individual carts to your table for the cheese and dessert courses, like we were treated to at Guy Savoy).  And then post your food porn pictures in the comments (bonus points for pictures of the carts in all their glory)!