Tag Archives: jemaine clement

Dinner for Schmucks

I was literally up to my elbows in cookie dough, had been for at least 6 hours, and we’d already listened to all my Christmas records. I was craving something funny, but more importantly, something easy to watch – something that wouldn’t suffer from my inattention or oven checks or frosting mishaps. Solution: 2010’s Dinner for Schmucks, a movie I’d seen and enjoyed when first released but not since.

And honestly: why the heck not? It’s actually FUNNY. I mean funny. But also wacky, an offbeat kind of film where Paul Rudd plays chronic good guy Tim who’s up for a big promotion at work but will lose it unless he plays along with a weird office tradition wherein the high ups try to impress their boss by bringing the biggest idiot the can find to a dinner party where the idiots will be secretly judged and one of them awarded the top prize (which, if you’ve been paying attention, is not compliment).

Tim is not normally the kind of guy to condone such disrespectful shit but he’s real desperate for the promotion. And the universe basically drops an idiot right into his lap. Barry (Steve Carell) is a weirdo who misinterprets almost all that life has to offer and he spends all of his free time searching for dead mice to taxidermy and pose in intricate dioramas inspired by his fantasy life. It would be hard to out-schmuck this guy. Tim’s got it in the bag.

His girlfriend, meanwhile, is losing all respect for him. But while his relationship circles the toilet, we the audience are beyond entertained by their antics – heightened by memorable turns from Zach Galifianakis and Jemaine Clement. There’s layers of insanity in every single corner of this movie, and that’s before we even get to the dinner, which is peopled by extravagantly bizarre characters by the likes of Chris O’Dowd and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer.

This was a delight to revisit. A sheer, full-figured delight.

An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn

Lulu is a waitress in a coffee shop when she is unceremoniously fired by her manager, Shane Danger, who is also her husband. Home all day, she notices that their house could use some upgrades, starting with a bigger, better TV, but Shane says this isn’t a good time for spending since they’re down to a single income. Lulu mocks her husband for having so little in the way of savings. Even her brother Adjay has more. Cut to: Shane, an idiot, robbing Adjay of his savings. Only Adjay doesn’t take it too kindly; he hires Colin to retrieve the money and shoot Shane in the kneecaps.
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Of course, what actually happens is: Lulu (Aubrey Plaza) absconds with Colin (Jemaine Clement) and the money. They hide out in a nameless hotel that’s been advertising a magical Evening With Beverly Luff Linn. Beverly (Craig Robinson) and his platonic (?) partner Rodney have been cooling their heels in this hotel for days, postponing their show, and Lulu is determined to hook up with Beverly, whom she seems to have known in the past. Lulu is obsessed with Beverly, Colin is obsessed with Lulu, and Shane (Emile Hirsch) isn’t really obsessed with anything, but he’s always in the way.

I watched this movie on the strength of its cast, which was already a mixed bag. It has pretensions. I think maybe it wants to be Wes Anderson-ish or even John Waters-ish; the dialogue is heavily stylized, although it often mistakes style for screaming, and sorrier still, Robinson’s character for some reason only grunts\growls which gets SO old SO fast. The costumes are outlandish but unexplained.

I was ready to turn this movie off so many times and only my cheapness (rental fee: $5.74) kept me in the game. You can tell director Jim Hosking is going for an out-of-the-box experience, but nothing works, and I’m pretty much the prime audience for quirky material. When a movie like this works, we call it absurd, and we giggle delightedly. But An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn isn’t absurd, it’s only stupid, and instead of laughing, I played sudoku on my phone to pass the time. I want to love a movie that takes risks and tells its story in an off-kilter way, but this one didn’t feel fun to me. It was an exercise in patience and it tested my nerves. Regrettably, this is a hard no for me.

Humor Me

Nate, a prize-winning playwright, has been writing his most recent play for the last four years. When his wife leaves him, taking his adorable son and his ability to pay rent with her, he’s forced to do the thing he’s always sworn he’d never do – move in with his father, who lives in a retirement community called Cranberry Bog.

Of course, Bob (Elliott Gould) thinks his son is a lazy, stagnant fool who’s wasting his Harvard education, so he puts him to work fluffing and folding towels in the Cranberry Bog laundry. And Nate’s talents are further wasted by producing a portion of a musical number with the local community players, ie, old ladies who are unequal parts cranky humor-me-stilland horny. Nate (Jemaine Clement) would like to reconnect with his father, but the two have been distant since the death of Nate’s mother – and he was always closest to her. Other people think Bob is very funny, but since his answers to all of Nate’s very serious questions are always jokes, the two men remain separate in their grief.

I have loved Clement since his days on Flight of the Conchords. His performance in Humor Me is more grounded in reality than usual, infusing this sad-sack with some quirks and personality tics that give Nate some real warmth. Of course, I have loved Elliott Gould for much, much longer, and his diverse professional background is evident in every line, not all of which are truly worthy of him, but he never lets them down. In fact, I’d say the casting and performances in this film are its greatest asset. Ingrid Michaelson, Maria Dizzia, Priscilla Lopez, Joey Slotnick, Willie Carpenter, Le Clanché du Rant, Rosemary Prinz, Annie Potts, and Bebe Neuwirth fill in the gaps between Bob and Nate, creating a living, breathing community not easily conveyed through film.

Humor Me manages a delicate balance that often errs on the side of comedy. It’s light, and if it’s not exactly fresh, it has a lot of talent backing up the retreads.

 

 

Humor Me is screening at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival tonight, 8pm, at the Cineplex Cinemas Empress Walk 5, and May 10, 9pm, at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema. Check it out, and bring your dad.

 

TIFF: Brad’s Status

Save yourself $12 and some heart burn. Brad’s Status is midlife crisis. Anyone who calls a Millennial whiny, entitled, or self-indulgent has cleary never met Brad (Ben Stiller) or his ilk. He seemingly has everything a Millennial may never get: a great house, a job he’s passionate about, a family who adores him. And yet.

And yet his son’s success has led him to do some deep introspection. His son Troy  (Austin Abrams) is applying to college and his good grades and musicianship mean he’s a shoo-in wherever he might apply – including Harvard, which is the school they’re going to check maxresdefaultout over the weekend. Brad is surprised his son is so high-achieving, proud of course – but maybe also a little jealous. And he’s reminded of his own youth, when life was still before him and anything was possible. His best mates in college have all gone on to stunning success – Craig (Michael Sheen) is a best-selling politico, Billy (Jemaine Clement) is enjoying early retirement in paradise after selling his company, Jason (Luke Wilson) is a hedge fund guy with his own private jet, and Nick (Mike White) is a Hollywood director with a palatial home. Brad gets unforgivably mopey about the fact that his sweet wife (Jenna Fisher) didn’t encourage him to sell out, and his job helping people connect with charitable giving is peanuts compared to just being a rich guy with money to give.

We get treated to so much of Brad’s whiny inner monologue that you’ll want to punch him, repeatedly. Various Millennials have to literally hold his hand and explain to him that he’s being gross: that everything he’s complaining about is white privilege, male privilege garbage. And he still doesn’t get it.

Brad’s life only seems pale when he compares it to the 1%. He burns with first world problems. He seems like a not fantastic guy who doesn’t get an ounce of my sympathy. Of course, Ben Stiller is well-suited to this kind of neurotic self-pity. With anxiety written all over his face, we know 5 minutes into this movie that we hate him and regret having to spend the next 100 minutes listening to him be ungrateful for his charmed life. Thank goodness for his son who sees things a little more clearly. Mike White may have some interesting things to say on the subject, and I pray that he’s just as contemptuous of Brad as we are, but for me, he was just too unlikeable a character to really inspire much empathy from me, and I mostly just wanted to turn him off.

The BFG

I liked but didn’t love The BFG. There’s lots to like: Mark Rylance’s tongue trips over Roald Dahl’s language just so; the animation manages to be both technically and precisely perfect while also being quite fanciful; the BFG’s universe is literally the stuff of dreams.

But I didn’t really connect with it. And like most things in life, I blame my mother. I grew up without Roald Dahl. Tiny little Jay was a voracious bfg-movie-2016-mark-rylancereader. I spent my nights under my unicorn comforter with a flashlight and a stack of books. As a kid I devoured Robert Munsch, Judy Blume, and E.B. White. Roald Dahl? Never heard of him.

Sean had, of course. His childhood was idyllic. I’m sure his mother never missed an opportunity to give him chocolate chip cookies warm out of the oven, or to blow gently on his skinned knee before applying the Band-Aid, or to predict what children’s book would be turned into a movie 35 years hence when he was an Asshole despite her best efforts.

But I don’t think Sean liked it any better than I did. Which, again, is not to say we didn’t like it. Just that…well, it failed to really engage. Director Steven Spielberg is paying so much attention to getting every little detail right, to fleshing out every nook and cranny of this ethereal place, to bfg-movie-2016-mark-rylance-ruby-barnhilldusting out the cobwebby corners of our imaginations, that he forgets to pick up the pace. We’re not all lumbering giants. Some of us have the attention spans of fleas. Not me, mind you. But certainly my nephew, who at 2 and a half with his angelic ringlets and heart-melting smile, needs a lot of action to keep him sitting still. And The BFG has very little. In fact, the movie’s greatest adventure culminates in a pot of tea with the Queen of England (a very amusing Penelope Wilton). Even I thought it a little absurd that in the face of child-eating giants, tea-time was still observed, but a kid will be downright baffled. My nephew’s only knowledge of the Queen is probably from that Minion movie wherein they endeavour to steal her crown. He doesn’t give two farts about British humour. And wasn’t this supposed to be a kids’ movie, after all?

To complain about Spielberg feels a little cheap, even to me. I do hope older children will give this one a chance despite its leisurely unfolding because it really is a darling world with a great heart-felt story. And because I’m usually the first to complain when a kids’ movie is all primary colours and non-stop flatulence (It’s worth noting, however, that this movie does contain a fart joke so big and bad you might even call it treasonous). But let’s face it: I was a smidge bored. Sean should have brought a colouring book and a baggie of Cheerios to keep me entertained. I was enchanted by the intricate animation, by the sight of the Big Friendly Giant’s downy neck hairs swaying in the breeze from a young girl’s breath while perched on his big friendly shoulder. But it wasn’t enough. I needed more. And if that’s what you’re hearing for an impatient little Asshole, what chance does a 7 year old really have?

 

 

Let us know what you thought of the movie. What age range would you suggest? Did you read the book as a child, or read it your own?

Rio 2

If you’re going to see one Jesse Eisenberg movie this week, please, please let it be this one.

Er.Okay, I don’t really mean that. In fact,if my house was on fire and I had to say which I was more tired of, super hero movies or Jesse Eisenberg being alive, I’d sweat. And not just from the flames, which would be licking at my feet.

How’s a body supposed to make an informed choice between Rio 2 and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? Well, based on titles alone, I’m voting Rio 2. If you’re going to be typing this thing on the reg, you’ll appreciate how few characters you can get away with, even considering it’s a sequel. Batman v Superman is a franchise first and it’s already got a colon! If you’re still unconvinced, I present to you Jay’s Guide for Choosing Between Inevitably Disappointing Jesse Eisenberg Movies.

  1. When you watched Les Miserables, did you feel grateful to get out alive,lesmiserables yet secretly nurse the urge to hear Anne Hathaway sing again? If so, Rio 2’s your best bet. Sure you’ll have to sit through some trite shit about family and the environment, but you already endured Russell Crowe singing about sewers, so you’re a survivor. You got this.

2. Do you love Rio de Janiero and look forward to seeing it lovingly rendered in 3D animation? If so, keep walking. Despite the misleading title, Rio 2 does not take place in Rio. Console yourself with the lush tropical look and feel of the Amazon, or with Metropolis getting stomped to smithereens yet again (gosh those people are resilient!).

3. Do you love heroic themes of alienation, altruism, and justice? If your heart sighs yes, then check out Rio 2! Did you know that one little city-bird, out of his element in the jungle, can redifine machismo while taking on the logging company and Amazonian deforestation and heraldiBatman-v-Superman-Dawn-of-Justice-Jesse-Eisenberg-as-Lex-Luthorng cross-species cooperation? Neither Batmam nor Superman have anything on a little macaw named Blu.

4. Conversely, are you maybe in it just for the evilest of villains? I hear Lex Luthor’s got yet another doomsday device (yawn), but Rio 2 is so terrorized by its villain it can afford to practically gloss over the obvious villainy of “progress”, “loss of habitat”, and “corporate greed” to create the greatest antagonist of all time: a Shakespeare-quoting cockatoo with a heart full of vengeance.

5. Or maybe you just like a good old-fashioned ensemble cast of strong performers who will unite against a common enemy. Again: slight edge to Rio 2. I’m going to be honest. There’s no avoiding Jesse Eisenberg in either of these movies, and for that, I truly apologize. But Rio 2 has an excellent voice cast consisting of Leslie Mann, Andy Garcia, Tracey Morgan, Bruno Mars, Jamie Foxx, and especially Jemaine Clement and Kristin Chenowith. Like most sequels meant for children, this one’s bigger and bolder, almost an onslaught of primary colours and laughing at one’s own jokes, of taking the first movie rio2jemaineclementand not doing much with it, recycling what worked, and putting up some extra musical numbers that only its target audience, kids aged 5-7 bereft of attention spans, can stomach. But Jemaine Clement is the best (and only) reason for an adult to sit through this. Can you really say the same about Ben Affleck? I said good day, sir!

6. The only reason I can think of to watch Batman v Superman, and I assume this happening under some kind of duress, is because of Wonder Woman. It’s about damn time, amirite? I mean, super hero movies make a bunch of macho Brazilian birds look progressive for fuck’s sake. I give zero fucks about any super hero anywhere, but I confess I’ve taken a bit of a shine to Ms. Wonder wonderwomanlegoever since Sean started playing a game called Lego Dimensions. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a video game where you buy characters in a store to literally build out of Legos. There’s Lego Back to the Future (with a Lego DeLorean), and Lego Jurassic World (with a Lego velociraptor), and Lego Ghostbusters (with a Lego Bill Murray!). I felt the game was a little testosterone-heavy so I brought home Lego Wonder Woman (and her invisible jet!) so I could do things like mind-control people with my goldenwonderwoman lasso, and hit things with my fancy tiara, and make smarmy pronouncements, and recklessly fly about in my invisible jet, making lots of Lego things explode into coins. Kids may like the Lego warrior Princess of the Amazons, but I for one do not want to have to explain to a 6 year old why a lady is walking around in a metal bathing suit. Rio 2 for the win.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Netflix Double Feature: Slow Learners and People Places Things

If you’re recovering from surgery like Jay is, it’s nice to have Netflix available to pass some of the time.  The trick is finding something worthwhile among all those options.

Last night we tried twice to find a hidden gem, with mixed results.

The first movie we tried was Slow Learners. Starring Adam Pally and Sarah Burns, Slow Learners tells the story of two geeky teachers who make a pact to change themselves over their summer vacation in order to improve their dating lives.  Naturally, it gets super awkward, super fast, to the point where Jay couldn’t bear to watch Burns attempt a southern accent to make herself more interesting.  We eventually fast-forwarded through that part, after initially stopping the movie.

The fact we came back to this movie after stopping it is something positive, but that’s really the best that I can say about Slow Learners.   It’s not terrible and there are a few good bits, but overall it’s really shallow, really predictable, and only moderately watchable.   I give Slow Learners a score of four random literary quotes out of ten.

While we were on a break from Slow Learners, we took a look for something less awkward and settled on People Places Things, starring Jemaine Clement (Netflix recommended the movie because we watched Slow Learners, oddly enough).  Jemaine does his usual quirky Kiwi thing in People Places Things, and I for one find him hilarious almost no matter what else is going on.

In People Places Things, Jemaine plays a semi-starving artist who understandably has a hard time coping after discovering his spouse is cheating on him (which happens in the middle of their twin girls’ fifth birthday party, no less).  We catch up with him one year after that party as he tries to move on or make up or…really, he’s not at all sure what he wants and I liked that.  People Places Things is clearly more about Jemaine’s journey than his ultimate destination.

I’m happy to report that the journey is entertaining, fairly cliche-free, and full of interesting characters.  I really liked watching the discovery process play out for Jemaine’s character, and I enjoyed this movie all the way through.  I give People Places Things a score of seven trips to Astoria out of ten.