Tag Archives: Amazon Prime

Uncle Drew

If anyone was going to love Uncle Drew, it would have been me. After all, in the early 90s my bedroom walls were covered with posters of Shaquille O’Neal and Reggie Miller, among others (Michael Jordan’s posters covered the most real estate, of course). Also in the early 90s, I watched Chris Webber call a timeout he didn’t have (after travelling first) and cost his team a championship (which would have been lost either way since that team has been erased from the NCAA record books).

Many years later, I got to watch Kyrie Irving take on Russell Westbrook live in Oklahoma City, as Kyrie made everyone besides Russ look like they were standing still.

And like most basketball fans, I never sought out Nate Robertson or had any of his posters, though I am sure I saw him win a few dunk contests (somehow he won more of those than Jordan).

Kyrie Irving plays Uncle Drew, an old guy who’s still got game, and who gets recruited onto a streetball team by Get Out’s Lil Rey Howery in order to beat a team coached by Howery’s childhood nemesis, Nick Kroll. Uncle Drew has one condition: Howery has to help reunite Uncle Drew’s old team. Reluctant but out of options, Howery agrees and heads out on a road trip to search for a bunch of old guys made up to look slightly older (the three all-time greats I mentioned above, along with Robinson).

From L to R: Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Nate Robinson, Reggie Miller and Kyrie Irving on the set of UNCLE DREW. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

Seeing Shaq, Reggie, and C-Webb team up with one of the most exciting players in today’s NBA should have been enough for me to somewhat enjoy this movie (with superdunker Aaron Gordon and WNBA/Team U.S.A. legend Lisa Leslie as added bonuses). But it wasn’t. The basketball scenes really weren’t exceptional, and with such a skilled roster, they should have been. They NEEDED to be, because as hard as Howery, Kroll and Tiffany Haddish try, the attempts at comedy in this movie fall flat. So all that’s left is the basketball, which is not even Blue Chips quality (at least Blue Chips features prime Shaq instead of Uncle Drew’s heart attack Shaq).

The Uncle Drew concept made for an entertaining Pepsi ad because Kyrie Irving made highlight-reel plays wearing several coats of old man makeup. Not surprisingly, that concept wears very, very thin when stretched to feature length. The old man gimmick and a bit of nostalgia are really all that Uncle Drew (the movie) has to offer, so it’s simply not strong enough for me to recommend, as much as I wish I could.

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Greenfingers

Colin Briggs catches a rare break in prison: he gets transfered to one of those mythical low-security, cushy prisons where there are no bars and the food is edible. Colin (Clive Owen) is too cool for it though. He refuses to bond with his elderly roommate Fergus, or to request interesting work. He pulls toilet duty of course, but it’s not long before the warden saves him from himself and assigns him to gardening.

Colin doesn’t know manure from jackshit about gardening, but it’s better than toilets, so he takes lots of books out of the library and eventually works himself up into quite a passionate froth about flowers. The warden is so impressed by the gardening crew’s efforts and so is Georgina Woodhouse (Helen Mirren), who just happens to be the author of several of those books about gardening. Between them, they arrange for some work release – for the prisoners to leave the grounds and work on a9u47-ab73tb7ktr3-full-image_gallerybackground-en-us-1535774499460._ri_sx940_designing and planting gardens for wealthy clients. Their work is so renowned that they’re invited to participate in the Great British Gardening Show, which is not at all what it’s really called, but I forget the name and don’t care to look it up. Of course, they’re prisoners, and not everyone is open-minded about that.

It’s sort of nice to see a prison warden who believes in rehabilitation, and who treats his prisoners like human beings. This movie is apparently based on a true story; the inmates of Her Majesty’s Prison Leyhill actually did excel at gardening. And finding something that they’re good at, that they can be recognized and praised for, is clearly strengthening and healing for men who have otherwise such bleak futures. It wouldn’t have to be gardening of course, but it’s nice that it is because of course the contrast between delicate flowers and big burly murderers is pretty damn satisfying.

So much of British cinema is devoted to this formula: the underdog triumphing over adversity. You root for the prisoners of course, but you won’t get overly invested because the characters aren’t that knowable, and everyone besides Colin is pretty much just petunias (haha, that’s a gardening joke for “filler”). It’s meant, of course, to be charming and up-lifting, but it’s actually quite bland and manages only mild mediocrity. Worth checking out if you miss Clive Owen’s mug, or if you have a thing for Helen Mirren in oversized floral hats, but otherwise fit for the pruning pile.

Your Highness

Prince Thadeous (Danny McBride), who smells like sheep scrotum, is his brother’s lesser in every way. Prince Fabious (James Franco) is more handsome and more accomplished, kinder and a better brother. He’s even brought home Belladonna (Zoey Deschanel), the most beautiful woman in all the land, to be his bride. But his wedding day is interrupted by a Leezar (Justin Theroux), a powerful warlock upset about his dead cyclops and stolen virgin. He comes to seek revenge and fulfill an ancient prophecy, leaving with Belladonna and thus, Fabious’s heart.

Their father, the king, orders the inept Thadeous to accompany Fabious on his quest, god knows why. And so begins an adventure. Had Fabious gone alone it no doubt MV5BMTUxNzMwODc5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODQ4MTA4NA@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_would have been a five minute drive up the road, wit both he and his bride making it back in time to cut the cake at their reception. Throw Thadeous into the mix and all you’ve got is a stoner period piece that’s a vehicle for Danny McBride. I mean, Your Highness looks pretty great, truth be told. It’s got a big enough budget to go through the motions. But McBride’s humour is stunted. It’s like he’s always writing for 12 year olds. And, sure, the first time you hear milady say the f-word it makes the tips of your ears blush, but you can’t build a whole movie on just out of place rude humour. Well, okay, point taken – apparently you can, and apparently Universal will pay you 50 million dollars to do it – but there isn’t a mammal on Earth who shouldn’t have seen this flop coming a mile away.

How, then, does such a movie garner such a high-profile cast? Natalie Portman has been adamant about distancing herself from it. She says she only did it because she wasn’t sure Black Swan would be green-lit by a studio and she felt she could use this paycheque to self-finance the film herself, if need be. However (and perhaps, for her, unfortunately), Black Swan got green-lit fairly easily, but the contract was already signed and she had to go through with Your Highness anyway, and stumble over great lines like “burning in my beaver.” James Franco has been less circumspect, saying the film “sucked,” which is still a kinder review than the one I’m writing, but then, if I had earned $2.5M for it, I might be a little more defensive too. As it is, I have zero sympathy for a movie that can’t have even sounded good on paper, not even on RAW, unrefined rolling papers, the kind you light on fire and allow to go up in smoke.

 

Living Proof

When I was a little girl, my school had an annual “read-a-thon” to raise money for MS. Finally, a “thon” that little unathletic Jay could win! And boy did I: hundreds of books read, and hundreds of dollars raised.

Film maker Matt Embry was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when he was only 19 years old. A debilitating, incurable disease, both Matt and his family were devastated by it. His father, Ashton Embry, was frustrated at the paltry support offered by their doctors and with the lack of long-term results offered by any of the medication available. So he did his own research, and thanks in part to Judy Graham’s book about living with MS MV5BMjZhYmVmNTctNTlhZC00YmQ5LWJkZTUtM2ExN2RiMTc3ZWEyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzc4MTI1OTQ@._V1_naturally, he developed a diet for his son to follow. Matt eats unprocessed food – no gluten, no dairy – mostly fruit, veg, and lean meats. And since MS occurs more often in northern countries, like Canada, he takes a big ole dose of Vitamin D, like sunshine in a bottle. Yes, it’s a strict diet and requires constant preparation and vigilance. But if you’ve known someone cut down by MS, their bodies just literally abandoning them, you’d probably find such a possibility to be suitably motivating. And thanks to this lifestyle, Matt is still symptom-free, TWENTY YEARS after diagnosis. He has never taken any medication, but he has had a procedure called CCSVI – many people with MS have significant blockages in their jugular vein, which means not enough blood flows through to the brain.

Staving off MS without expensive drugs is reason enough for a documentary. Though it’s likely not the answer for everyone, it seems harmless enough to try, so Matt and his family have been devoted to disseminating the information, free of charge. But MS patients must happen upon it themselves, because none of the official avenues will so much as suggest it as an alternative. People my age are confined to wheel chairs and nursing homes because big pharma is only interested in medical alternatives that will make life-long paying customers out of patients. Diet and exercise are not profitable.

But you and I expect no less of the pharmaceutical industry. It’s unconscionable.  What really got my goat was the complicity of the MS Society of Canada, and its many chapters around the world. They raise millions of dollars, give a fraction to research, and literally suppress invaluable information from the people who suffer from MS and depend on them for resources. They accept donations from pharmaceutical companies, they endorse their drugs, and they funnel the money back toward research for medicine that will not cure MS. I am enraged to know that I ever gave\raised money for the MS Society. I was even more enraged to see them using the donations of well-meaning, hard-working people to sue the likes of Matt Embry. No wonder there have never been any significant advancements in MS research. It’s enough to make you sick.

Blame

A trio of high school girls. Already it sounds like trouble, doesn’t it?

Bad girl Melissa (Nadia Alexander) arrives to disrupt the cozy duo of Ellie and Sophie. Melissa’s influence is immediate on Sophie – well, on both, since Ellie is quick to distance herself from Melissa’s cruelty. A fourth student’s arrival makes an even bigger stir. After a 6 month absence (psych ward stay, it’s rumoured), Abigail (Quinn Shephard) walks the halls, eyes downcast. Melissa senses prey, and the bullying is brutal and relentless. Slut or psycho, there’s no consensus, so both slurs are hurled her way on a regular basis.

Their drama class is studying The Crucible thanks to a new substitute teacher, Mr. Woods (Chris Messina). The parallels between the play and the plot of the film are hard to miss MV5BZjZiMjdiZGEtNTA5NS00NDBhLTlkZGEtMWY4ZGQ0NzEyNDNlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTYyMDk1MjU@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_with the ostracizing and vilification of Abigail. Mr. Woods sees a lot of quiet talent in Abigail, and his singling her out for praise and attention only drives Melissa to more cruelty. But it’s ice to see Abigail being appreciated by someone, even if it’s her teacher. Until it’s her teacher’s, um, lips doing the appreciating, and that becomes problematic. Mostly for Melissa, oddly, who is insane with jealousy. To be clear, Melissa has every guy in school running after her, and she doesn’t want Mr. Woods. She just doesn’t want Abigail to have anything except Melissa-inflicted misery. And maybe she can’t stand to have anyone choose someone besides her. You’d have to invent a word above self-involved for the likes of Melissa.

Nadia Alexander is all kinds of hateful in this part. Melissa is perhaps not without her motivations, but Alexander is unwavering in her snarl and sadism. Quinn Shephard is also very confident and comfortable in Abigail’s skin, as she should be as she directs herself in a role she co-wrote.

Blame uses familiar high school movie tropes to construct a larger framework. Shephard uses the imagery and inspiration from The Crucible to build Blame to a heightened emotional intensity. We may not always know what it is, but it’s clear that danger lurks ahead. Abigail begins to identify more and more with her fictional counterpart, and it’s fascinating to watch her wardrobe transform as a result, her clothes reflecting both the puritanical and the temptress, and then to see the other girls’ outfits start to compete, heels getting higher, hemlines getting shorter. Only Ellie serves as a link to the audience and our growing discomfort. Chris Messina does an exceptional job with a tricky character. Mr. Woods clearly makes some bad decisions but Messina doesn’t brand him a predator. His girlfriend thinks he’s a loser so of course he puffs up under Abigail’s admiration and devotion. It makes him weak. And the girls, they perform, and I don’t just mean the Arthur Miller. I mean their sexuality is performative. Largely inexperienced, they project sophistication beyond their means, competing with one another for things they don’t fully understand yet, and may not even want. Placing The Crucible within hallowed high school halls makes it clear it belonged there all along.

Extract

Chances are, every pantry has a little bottle of pricey vanilla extract on its shelves. It’s practically ubiquitous in baking. Just try to make a cookie without it. But have you ever wondered where it comes from? No. And neither have I. But that’s not going to stop Jason Bateman from trying to tell us.

Joel (Bateman) is one of those classically sad, back-boneless middle aged men who aren’t particularly effective at home or at work. He owns the extract company, but it’s barely profitable and the employees bully him. At home, his wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig) dons her sweatpants in a nightly ritual to thwart his bedtime advances. They’re going through a dry spell. So when Cindy (Mila Kunis), an alluring young woman, comes looking for a job at the factory, can we blame Joel for wanting to give her something else? I mean, yes. We absolutely can. And even Joel is a bit wishy-washy on the whole thing, so it takes the bad influence of his best friend (Ben extract-02.jpgAffleck) to come up with this convoluted plan: they’ll hire a teenage gigolo to seduce Suzie, leaving Joel free to have an affair guilt-free. That’s a legit loophole in the vows, right?

Anyway, turns out Cindy’s a conwoman who’s trying to influence a former employee (Clifton Collins Jr.) to sue Joel for the loss of his testicle. So who, exactly is going to get a happily ever after?

From the mind of writer-director Mike Judge, I expected a lot better from Extract, and I probably shouldn’t have. I mean, it’s funny. And there are a lot of great cast members really selling their parts (David Koechner is a scene-stealer in a part that will infuriate you). None of these things add up to anything significant, but if you can live with some ridiculous, and often ridiculously funny, bits and pieces, you might be able to make this work for you. It’s no Office Space; like the extract itself, a little goes a long way, but if you’ve got a hankering for some ethical flavouring, Extract has the essence.

Zoe

Got your fill of rom-coms? How about a sci-fi romance for a change?. Ewan McGregor plays Cole, an artificial intelligence engineer who creates a beautiful and highly realistic synthetic “woman” named Zoe (Lea Seydoux). Cole’s lab isn’t just making convincing companions, it’s also revolutionizing love. “The Machine” is a highly complex algorithm that can predict whether a relationship will ultimately work out. It has also synthesized a drug that can mimic the feeling of falling in love. But all of these things together don’t exactly mean a world full of meaningful relationships: humans will always exploit emotions. And Cole is lonelier than most.

MV5BZDZjOTUyNTctM2E0Zi00MGIwLWEyZmYtYTIzNDg2MmZiN2FmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzk3NjQ1MTc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_Zoe doesn’t understand that she’s synthetic at first, and it’s a little heartbreaking when Cole has to tell her. Then she questions everything. Like these unrequited feelings she has for him – was she programmed to have them? She was not. But as the two grow closer, and become a couple, she senses things are still unequal. Knowing who she is, what she is, has him holding something back.

Zoe is a movie about the complexities of love, and what happens when technology disrupts it. Men are eager to visit synthetic brothels (Christina Aguilera plays a robot hooker, for some reason) but will they ever trust synthetics to have real feelings? Of course, in a world where those feelings can be manufactured and manipulated with a pill, I wonder if they haven’t been sufficiently devalued that synthetic or not, it shouldn’t really matter anymore.

At any rate, there are some really interesting ideas here, they just aren’t executed all that well. The movie opens up this delicious Pandora’s box but then offers almost no social commentary, and its protagonist’s navel-gazing is immature and insensitive. There are no glaring problems with any of the movie’s moving parts, it’s just that they don’t add up to anything all that gripping or compelling (except for the soundtrack, which was the only notable standout). With themes of authenticity of both personhood and emotion, Zoe pales in comparison to Ex Machina and even Her, and you can’t quite forgive its shortcomings. I suppose movies are a little like robots in that, if you can’t make it better, why bother making it at all?