Tag Archives: dramedy

The Last Word

the last word 2So, Harriet (Shirley MacLaine) likes things done a certain way. She gets so impatient with those who can’t follow her instructions that she often winds up having to do everything herself as she frequently pushes her gardener, cook, and hairdresser aside. So it should come as not surprise that she would want final say on her own obituary.

Enter Anne (Amanda Seyfried), the aspiring writer who Harriet hires to write her obituary. It’s not an easy job. Not just because Harriet is a demanding micro-manager. Despite all her considerable success, everyone Anne interviews about her-even her priest- hates her. So an 81 year-old who’s spent her life being nasty to people sets out to use the time she has left to rewrite her own history, dragging the almost-always exasperated Anne along for the ride.

If you’ve heard of this movie at all, by now you’ve probably heard that it’s pretty bad. And it really kind of is. But I honestly think there is a really good idea for a movie hidden somewhere within this unapologetically trite screenplay. One of the movie’s better scenes features a hilariously confident Harriet barging in on an independent radio station making a shockingly effective case for why she should be hired as a DJ. They give her a chance and it’s kind of awesome.

the last wordIn the right hands, a dramedy featuring the 82 year-old MacLaine playing an unlikely host of a radio show for hipsters could be a lot of fun, which The Last Word generally isn’t. More importantly though, making this subplot the actual plot might have given the movie some much-needed focus. Because for a movie about making every moment count, The Last Word has an astonishing number of throwaway scenes and uninspired subplots.

So in a comedy with no real focus except that Life is Precious So Don’t Waste It, it falls on its stars to keep it watchable. And although “watchable” may be a strong word for a movie like this, MacLaine’s still got it. Actually, to carry any movie in your 80s is pretty impressive and I give her full credit for finding a way to breathe some life into a character that would otherwise have been too vaguely written to be interesting. Seyfried isn’t exactly bad so much as she just doesn’t do anything to really help make Anne stand out from any of the other Millennials who have learnt valuable and unexpected life lessons from seniors in the movies lately.

MacLaine does impressive wok but neither the script or her co-stars are there to back her up.

 

 

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War Dogs

I like to picture Jared Leto and Jonah Hill sitting in a dark hookah bar, one-upping each other with weird, deranged laughs. Jared Leto was playing the Joker but even so, I think Jonah Hill won.

In War Dogs, Jonah Hill plays Efraim, a young 20-something high school drop out who casually becomes a multi-million-dollar arms dealer. No big deal. He brings grateful high maxresdefaultschool bud David in on the deal and soon the two of them are rolling around naked on crisp 100 dollar bills (I assume: this wasn’t in the movie, it just seems intuitive).

Do they get in over their heads? You betcha. As soon as they meet Shady Henry (They don’t call him that to his face. Or call him that ever, come to think of it) (You can tell Bradley Cooper’s shady because of the beard. And the shades) it all goes to pot. But they’re such knuckleheads they actually pound fists over surviving The Triangle Of Death just by blind luck.

Todd Phillips, director of The Hangover trilogy, is driving the bus. The first thing you’ll notice is that this movie isn’t nearly as funny as you’d expect from him. And it’s not even trying to be. Sure there are laughs (Matt felt that lots were misplaced) but it’s a pretty muddy, ethically gray situation and pretty soon we’re sweating at least half as much as Hill (he sweats A LOT).  But you have to hand it to the sly dog – that Jonah Hill is getting mighty good at creating characters we love to hate. He’s a Scarface-quoting, two-faced, super-slick (nearly as slick as his hair) dude who isn’t willing to sell his soul for money because that’s a deal done long ago – he is, however, willing to sell yours. Willing to sell his “best friend’s”. Pretty crafty. Miles Teller as David is marginally more likeable but goddammit neither of them are displaying one iota of charisma (Matt described Bradley Cooper as “wooden” so I guess that’s three of a kind).

Phillips divides the work, based on a true story, by the way – did I forget to mention that? True story all the way. Worrying. Very worryingly. God bless Dick Cheney’s America as Efraim might say. These two chuckleheads were actually granted an American military contract worth tens of millions of dollars. Your actual tax dollars lined their greasy war-dogs-3pockets. But as I was saying, Phillips divides the film into chapters, which is kind of a neat trick, except he forgets to have a point of view. So this movie, which should have a lot to say, actually says nothing. Take a fucking stance! Two uneducated, inexperienced kids, got their grubby hands on a) crazy amounts of money and b) crazy amounts of weapons and the United States government didn’t just let it happen, it made it happen. War is about money. We all know this, rationally, no matter George W.’s stated reason. It’s about economy. But it’s still painful that there’s no context. There are no good guys, no bad guys, no victims, no soldiers, no dead or dying or shot or bleeding. There’s just greedy little fucks making bank.

And here’s the other problem: with Efraim being a soulless sociopath and David being hapless and bland, you don’t really care about either of them. Even David’s narration starts to sound a little impatient. It’s cynical as fuck but it’s also just kind of dead. And maybe that’s why even the comedy falls flat: this movie doesn’t feel like a living thing. There’s no bite, no moral compass. It’s entertaining and occasionally offers up some galling guffaws. Just don’t expect it to own its own horribleness.  War Dogs is just as careless as its characters.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Based on a memoir, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is the “true story” of Kim Baker, an American journalist sent to Afghanistan to be a war reporter despite having absolutely no experience (being unmarried and childless was short straw enough). In Afghanistan she is immediately confronted with the concept ftf-11806r_2_wide-54dfd259b4cfc0e148859666f964e90321c3fd1b-s900-c85of “Kabul cute” – women who were a 4 back home in New York are suddenly 10s. Tina Fey plays the 4. Margot Robbie plays a 15.

Afghanistan is windy and gritty, basically a forgotten war now that Iraq is a better news story, but the more she sticks with it, the more Kim elicits candid remarks from her subjects. Billy Bob Thornton plays the guy who finds her nothing but a nuisance, admonishing her not to sleep with his marines.

It’s actually not a bad movie, considering it bombed at the box office. What went wrong? Possibly people didn’t like to see one of their favourite comediennes amid such a serious backdrop – it’s hard to laugh at limbs being blown off. And the very same war fatigue mentioned in the movie may contribute not wanting to hear about it in theatres, either. Bill Murray’s Rock the Kasbah suffered the same fate. And maybe Tina Fey’s just not ready to cross over genres, or to headline her own movie alone. Martin Freeman was great support in the movie but didn’t get any screen time in the trailers. And Whiskey_Tango_Foxtrot_reviewthe trailer, for that matter, played up the movie’s comic aspect even though the movie’s a dramedy at best, lobbing one-liners like hand grenades into a pretty grim war zone.

But Fey actually does well, if you give her the chance. I thought she and Freeman were great together. The movie just doesn’t have a lot to say. It’s not a commentary on the war so much as one woman’s less glamorous version of Eat, Pray, Love. The real Kim Barker never broke any major news stories so there’s not a lot of insight and not much authenticity. I think the script had some great pieces but suffered from abrupt lurches in tone. Overall though, I’m glad I gave it my time, even if I didn’t Lima Mike Foxtrot Alpha Oscar.

 

I Love You Both

No man is an island. But you know who is an island? Twins! Twins can definitely make themselves into a little island. Krystal and Donny are supertwins and superfriends. They live together, they hang out together, and they even date the same guy. Wait – what?

doug3Only in 2016? Even in 2016? Somehow they’ve met this supercool dude named Andy, and he’s everything either of them could hope for. He’s interesting and charming. But which one of them does he like? As close as they are, Krystal and Donny find out there are still things to learn about their relationship once they begin dating the same guy. Are they maybe a little codependent? How close is too close?

Krystal and Donny are played by real-life siblings Kristin and Doug Archibald, who also co-wrote the script (Doug directs). They have an easy and natural chemistry that really pops on screen. The relationship feels real and anyone who has siblings will relate. They wrote the script over the phone, long distance between L.A. and St. Louis, and funded it through a successful campaign on Indiegogo. Once all the parts were assembled, both took a hiatus from their day jobs to film, and the result is a rare instance where one might finally say “Please DO quit your day jobs.”

It’s a talky, dialogue-heavy film that’s a solid first effort if not always pitch-perfect. There’s a surprisingly light touch to it that makes the premise all the more palatable; the will they\won’t they, gay\straight\bi aspect is appropriately downplayed. This movie is really about the twins, about growing up and letting go, and it’s never more successful when it’s just Kristin and Doug on screen, eating heaping bowlfuls of noodles with their hapless dog.

The performances in the film are strong, but I particularly loved the comic sensibility of Krystal and Donny’s mother, played by Kristen and Doug’s real-life mom, Charlene. Watch this movie and tell me this doesn’t feel a little bit like your own mother. There’s a universality to the character while still having big personality. Only a mother can make you feel so bad about yourself by loving you so goddamned much. I totally want to eat casserole with this woman.

I Love You Both is an impressive debut feature and also an important moment for queer cinema – finally, the hearkening of a time when gay characters aren’t the point, they’re just part of the picture.

 

Hello, My Name Is Doris

The body’s not even cold before Doris’s brother is talking about selling their dead mother’s house, which means Doris is about to be homeless, and even worse, divulge an embarrassing secret: it wasn’t Mom who was the hoarder.

And while we’re on the topic of embarrassing subjects: Doris is nursing a secret workplace crush on a younger man. A much, much younger man. And boy do her fantasies get away on her!

hello-my-name-is-doris-cinema-siren-1024x682.jpgShe takes a little dating advice from a millennial and suddenly she’s adopted by a whole crowd of hipsters who fail to recognize that her “retro chic” look isn’t exactly ironic.

Sally Field plays Doris and it’s a BRILLIANT comedic role. But because it’s Sally Field it’s so much more than that. In any other hands, Doris may have appeared clownish but Field injects the character with kind if flawed humanity. Max Greenfield and Tyne Daly add excellence to the mix, but that’s already 10 words not talking about how utterly wonderful Sally Field is. She embraces and embodies the late-blooming Doris, deftly managing some awkward shifts between drama and comedy, painting the character with shades of tragic hero, coming-of-(old)age, endearing quirk, eccentric wallflower, emboldened risk-taker, sympathetic neurotic: a woman tired of being laughed at who starts laughing along with them and wins. It is a complete joy to watch her on-kissscreen, from the very first minute to the last.

The movie unpacks a lot of issues – ageism, desire, resentment, mental illness – and to its credit, it doesn’t attempt to fit them back neatly into a box. The ending is bravely open-ended. But it also suffers from perhaps taking on more than the writers really understood what to do with (Michael Showalter directs and shares writing credit with Laura Terruso). But any bumps along the way are filled in with Field’s gloss. She makes this movie glow. And watching her do an eletro-pop jitterbug is hands down the best thing I’ve seen at the movies all year. Keep an eye out for this one; it’s in select theatres now.

Tribeca: Dean

Demetri Martin is one of my all-time favourite comedians so when I saw his directorial debut, Dean, was premiering at Tribeca, of course I snatched up a couple of tickets, and it was only when that initial adrenaline rush had dissipated a bit that I started to wonder how the hell his comedy would possibly translate into film.

Demetri Martin is a comedic genius, but his stand-up is mostly one-liners, funny drawings, and some jokes set to an acoustic guitar, and sometimes his harmonica for good measure. Not remotely narrative. And this movie didn’t look much like a comedy anyway – the blurb mentioned death, grief, and existential angst.

Dean (Demetri Martin, of course) has recently lost his mother. He and his father (Kevin Kline) are grieving very differently, and growing slightly apart because of it. His dad is

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ready to sell the family home but Dean can’t imagine the loss of the place where his mother was last alive, and happy; it’s full of good memories for Dean, but sad memories for his dad. Naturally, instead of sticking around to help with the transition, Dean flees to L.A. ostensibly for business, but we know differently. And he finds lots of distractions in California but starts to learn that he’s not the only walking wounded.

Does Demetri Martin pull it off? Yes, he does. Surprisingly well, as both actor and director. Dean is an illustrator, so not only do Martin’s drawings fit in, they illuminate his inner thoughts. His trademark one-liners are there too but they never feel slotted in. They either feel organic or they’ve been left on the cutting room floor – if you know his stand-up at all, you can’t help but feel that Martin has wisely shown restraint here. And there are visual gags, very subtle, but they add a layer that knock down the seriousness just a tad dean-original-1(like you never doubt how genuinely bereft Kevin Kline is, but you keep a half-smile for his terrible dad jeans). For a movie primarily about loss, you’ll laugh out loud an awful lot.

The first and maybe only misstep I felt was when he arrives in L.A. and meets his love interest, played by Gillian Jacobs. Gillian Jacobs is not really a problem, except that I know her through the Judd Apatow-produced Netflix series, Love (in which she co-stars with Paul Rust, the dude who cowrote the new Pee-wee Herman movie). Sean and I watched the whole season even though we detested both leads. Not the actors, per se, but the characters are just awful human beings and it’s hard to forgive the actors for that. So I’m carrying around this chip on my shoulder for Gillian Jacobs and was not super happy to bump into her in this movie. But clever Demetri Martin 8244bc3f1c65436won me over by writing a love interest for Dean who did not exist solely for his pursuit. She had back story. She had depth. She was a person. This sounds weird, I’ll grant you that, but so often in movies the love interest exists solely to be adored and consumed and nothing else. She has no job or apartment or opinions. Gillian Jacobs had scenes without Demetri Martin. She was independent of his lust. It was refreshing even if it did make me confront my hostility toward the bitch from Love.

Eventually Dean returns to New York, to his widowed (widowered?) father and the ghost of his mother. Demetri Martin lost his own father 20 years ago, so he knows grief, but he didn’t quite know how to approach the father-son relationship between two grown men. If he struggled with the relationship on paper, it doesn’t show on screen. The moments of  quiet reflection between them are some of the film’s most satisfying.

I enjoyed this film very much and it turns out I wasn’t the only one – it won Best Narrative Feature at Tribeca from a jury including Tangerine’s Mya Taylor and funny lady Jennifer Westfeldt, who commented: “We have had the great privilege of seeing ten accomplished and ambitious films over the last seven days here at Tribeca. But we all fell in love with this film. It manages the near impossible task of breathing new life into a well-worn genre, balancing humor and pathos with an incredibly deft touch, and offering a unique perspective on the way we process loss.” Even more excitingly, it was bought! CBS films picked it up, which means this little indie will soon be making its way to a theatre near you.

 

 

 

Adult Beginners

Some of my favourite people come together in this movie, so I couldn’t resist, but neither could I legitimately build up my expectations since it was just an unvouched-for indie among many on Netflix.

adultAnd it doesn’t have much of a plot that I can summarize for you; it’s an unambitious slice of life. It’s about a guy (Nick Kroll) who shows up at his sister’s  door in suburbia, looking for a place to live. He’s had some major setbacks and he’s feeling way too old to start his whole life over again. She’s (Rose Byrne) not in a much better place, kind of not sure about her job, her marriage, or even where to be or who to be. They’re listless. But the interesting thing about the movie, to me, is that they’re not painted as losers. They’ve just had some bad luck and some hard times, and that’s life.

Not the laugh-out-loud comedy you’d expect, I was caught off guard by how AdultBeginners_2014_BluRay_1080p_DTS_x264ETRG_mkv_snapshot_01_25_59_2015_08_04_17_47_46thoughtful and mature this movie is – maybe one of the more realistic movies about adult family relationships I’ve seen in a long while. Byrne and her on-screen husband, Bobby Cannavale, are a real-life couple, and they play well together. Throwing funny man Nick Kroll into the mix as a more or less straight-man is a bold and surprisingly effective choice. Everyone is some degree of flawed in this movie but we don’t make monsters out of any of them. They’re very relatable, and there’s a adultbeginnersquiet generosity in the characterization, a forgiveness I’m not used to see in movies that was really refreshing and kind of a relief.

While it doesn’t exactly gift-wrap an opaquely happy ending, it does suggest that second chances are possible, and maybe that’s as happy an ending as I really need.

Tangerine

Well, I can guarantee you haven’t seen this one before!

It’s an age-old tale of romantic tension, actually – boy hasn’t been as faithful as he should be, girl seeks revenge – but the telling’s pretty fresh.

Director Sean Baker tells his gritty story from the streets, which, 10TANGERINEJPALT-master675incidentally, is also where his leading ladies are selling their bodies to get by. The girl in question Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) has just been released from a month-long stint in jail and her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) reveals that her boyfriend\pimp, Chester (James Ransone) has spent it philandering. Sin-Dee goes on a rage-filled road trip to find the other woman and get even while dodging her best customer, cab driver Ashken (Alla Tumanian).

The casting is fabulous and for once it feels real and unforced. Rodriguez and Taylor have excellent rapport and they light up the screen with warmth and vitality, even if the word “bitch” is thrown around maybe a couple dozen times too many in the first 5 minutes tangbakeror so. It’s raw, both emotionally and in reality: Baker shot it on a budget of 100k and filmed it with an iPhone. This makes for a stylistically arresting movie that doesn’t look nearly as bad as you might think, and in any case you forget about it within the first 10 minutes anyway, because at its heart it’s a snappy girlfriend movie that you can’t help but be charmed by.

It’s also a movie that is not afraid to operate on the fringes, producers The Duplass brothers having mounted the first-ever Oscar campaign for its transgendered stars (it failed to garner them a tangnomination but cemented their legitimacy). Baker had a standing offer from Mark Duplass to make a micro-budget movie, and he’s always wanted to do something where a couple of characters meet up at Donut Time, and this is the movie that resulted. Jaded audiences have seen L.A. on the big screen a million times, but Baker shows it like we’ve never seen it before. He also gives us a behind-the-curtains peek at the sex-trade workers who populate the area. As co-writer, he immersed himself in the culture and found Taylor hanging out at a nearby LGBT centre, and the story started unfolding from there. It was a fascinating look and I felt privileged to be taken along for the ride.