Tag Archives: Jenny Slate

The Secret Life of Pets 2

Let me ask you a question: are you a sack of shit? Yeah, I didn’t think so. In that case, it’s pretty safe to say you’ll find this movie enjoyable. Like the first one, it’s not going to rock your world. It’s not going to usher in a new era of animation. It’s not a story that will be passed down generation to generation. It’s a just-funny-enough, tug-on-the-old-heartstrings, relate to humans through their better counterparts kind of thing.

The best kinds of people are dogs. That is a FACT.

Max (this time voiced by Patton Oswalt rather than the sex offender Louis C,K.), the very good boy from the first film, is back again. He and his very good boy brudder Duke (Eric Stonestreet) are welcoming yet another new addition to their family: a human baby named Liam. Yes, owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) has met and married a human man and produced an heir. We still don’t know what it is that Katie does to afford her very nice Manhattan apartment, but her life is very full. And Max, initially quite ambivalent about human children, grows to love Liam very very much. The feeling is mutual. But just loving Liam is not enough; Max feels he must protect him from the world. Max, normally a happy-go-lucky dog, is now a bit of a nervous nelly. The behaviourist outfits him with a cone of shame, and then his owners pack him off to the farm. Oh gosh, not the proverbial farm, an actual farm, where he meets rough and tough farm dog Rooster (Harrison Ford), who is determined to cure him with tough love and hard work.

Meanwhile, back in the city, old friends are up to new tricks. Fuzzy bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart) is helping new pal Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) to, believe it or not, rescue a tiger from a circus. And sweet little fluffball Gidget (Jenny Slate) has her own little rescue mission going, and enlists Chloe the cat (Lake Bell) for her particular brand of expertise.

This movie caught me right in the feels on at least to parts: a) My sister had a lovely good boy, also named Max, who got a little “overprotective” during her pregnancy, and through the birth of her first child, and he had to go to the proverbial farm. We all miss him to this day. b) My own little Fudgie is himself a bit of a nervous nelly and is newly on anti-anxiety meds actually called Clomicalm. He is not yet calm, but he is definitely not unhappy. He mostly worries about stupid stuff like: am I posing with my toy in exactly the right way to impress Sean when he comes in? How about now? How bout now? Now? NOWWW????

And of course, as pet owners generally and dog lovers specifically, and people who are just plain old not monsters, you can’t help but melt a little when you recognize a bit of your own four legged friend up on the screen. When Daisy made her mad face, I saw my Herbie. And when Max learned how to howl, I heard my Bronx (though Bronx does more of an “Awuuuuu.”)

So no, it’s not a terrific film. But it’s a sweet film, a cute film, it’s the film I wanted to see tonight and I’m glad I did. Awuuuuuu.

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The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience

The Lonely Island is a comedy trio consisting of childhood friends Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer. They became known for their popular digital shorts on SNL, many of which, like Lazy Sunday, went viral, for comedic songs like Jack Sparrow, featuring THE Michael Bolton, and for movies like Hot Rod and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. If you like them, you probably love them, and if you love them, you’re in for a treat. Especially if you also have a soft spot for late-1980s-era major league baseball.

The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience is a 30 minute short streaming now on Netflix that’s the supposed never before seen\heard rap collaboration between steroid bash brothers Jose Canseco (Samberg) and Mark McGwire (Schaffer) of the Oakland Athletics. I don’t give two shits about baseball (especially not historical baseball from another century), but Sean did and does and had an especially appreciative chuckle for all the references they got right.

The rap album consists of many memorable musical numbers, literally something for everyone, between such hits as Bikini Babe Workout, IHOP Parking Lot (featuring Maya Rudolph), Oakland Nights (featuring Sia, who looks an awful lot like Sterling K. Brown in a a wig unworthy of the real Sia), and my favourite, Daddy, which explores the mountainous daddy issues behind the Canseco-McGwire shenanigans.

Sean wondered how – not if, but how – high they were when they wrote this stuff. And the answer can only be: extremely. So high. And yet I was sober when I watched it and I still dissolved into fits of giggles (a credit cameo featuring “Joe Montana” had me gasping for breath). It’s light-hearted and doesn’t dare take itself serious for a single split second. The narrow theme of the “visual poem” (a la Beyonce’s Lemonade?) ensures that the songs are punchy and topical, if not always sensical. But you didn’t come for the sense. You came for the nonsense, and they’re flooding the diamond with it.

Samberg and Schaffer are both hilarious in their terrible mullet wigs, but it seems like everyone who pops up in these videos are having a riotously good time. The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience offers locker room injections of satire and parody, and they will PUMP YOU UP.

Hotel Artemis

Picture it: Los Angeles, 2018. The city is in its third day of violent riots. The people are demanding access to clean water. The power is flickering, a curfew is in effect, rich people are sending servants to deposit “lootable” goods at the bank. Which means there’s all the more for a bank robber (Sterling K. Brown) with an entrepreneurial spirit to steal. Unfortunately he and his gang of merry men escape with both bullet wounds and an accidental $18M in diamonds that ruthless mob boss Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum) is definitely going to come searching for.

But first things first: with his own brother bleeding in his arms, our intrepid bank robber checks in at the Hotel Artemis, a “dark room”, or a high-security, members-only hospital for the criminal underground. I believe they’ve ripped this idea directly from the John Wick movies, but it’s a good one. There, the doctor, who is called Nurse (Jodie Foster) is guided by a very strict set of rules:

1. While on the premises, no fighting with or killing other patients.

2. No disrespectful words or actions allowed against Hotel Artemis staff.

3. No guns or any type of weapon permitted through the gates.

4. Membership must be paid for, full and in advance.

5. Prior but lapsed members will not be admitted

6. No photography or video allowed.

7. No outside food or drink.

8. Absolutely no visitors.

9. If member is found to have compromised, or led to compromise of location, membership will be revoked.

10. Hotel Artemis rules are final and non-negotiable.

Tonight, with both the police, the rioters, and the Wolf King’s men bearing down on them, the brimming with injured criminals, no-vacancy hospital will come under siege, its only protector a dedicated health care practitioner named Everest (Dave Bautista), and every one of these rules will be broken.

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With such a potent premise and an A-list cast, Sean was curious as to why he was only hearing about this now. Usually, there’s only one answer: it’s no good. But actually, it’s not bad. Maybe not good, but it depends what you’re looking for. At times it reminded of Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise with all these people stuck in a building that’s starting to resemble hell. But Hotel Artemis has more modest ambitions, and if you start to get an inkling of an allegory, well, it’ll be dashed soon enough so don’t expend too much brain power on it. Sit back and enjoy the villainous Jeff Goldblum (which is THE BEST Jeff Goldblum, isn’t it?) and the kick-ass Sofia Boutella and Jodie Foster in an actual role, an actual meaty, outside-the-box role (her first since Elysium!). Of course, the downside to a cast like this is that we don’t spend oodles of time with any of them (the movie has a trim 94 minute run-time) but when Bautista calmly unclips his hospital badge from its prominent breast-pocket display and pockets it, oh hell, you know you’re in for some fireworks and it doesn’t matter if we’ve gotten to know all the players because they’re about to become hunks of meat only suitable for stewing.

So maybe it’s disposable. Fuck it. You’re not watching for the depth of the satire, are you? No, you’re watching it because someone’s about to get PAPER-JAMMED TO DEATH (wait for it) and goddamn if you can’t look away from that.

Venom

I did not want to expect too much of Venom, not after the debacle that was Spider-Man 3.  Thankfully, Tom Hardy is not Topher Grace, and because of him, Venom is not Spider-Man 3.  But Hardy can only do so much, so Venom is also no Spider-Man: Homecoming.  It falls somewhere in the middle, which is far more than I could have expected given Sony’s dismal Spider-Man output since 2004’s Spider-Man 2 (worth noting: the only credit I give Sony for Homecoming’s goodness is that they wisely let Marvel drive that bus).venom-4-700x350

Hardy plays Eddie Brock, a disgraced reporter who gets infected with an alien parasite (a “symbiote”) while investigating Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) and his evil Life Foundation.  As Brock learns how to use his new powers while linked to the symbiote, he has to work with his ex-fiancée (Michelle Williams) to save the human race from both the symbiote and Drake’s evil plan for world domination.

This film depicts the origin of Venom in a very peculiar way.  That is, Venom’s creation does not involve Peter Parker or Spider-Man in any way, which is completely opposite to the cVenom_0omic book roots of the character as a human and alien united by their hate of Spidey.

Do  I really care?  Only in that I missed the Spider-Man logo on Venom’s comic-book costume.  Otherwise, movie Venom, and especially movie Eddie Brock is far more interesting than his comic book counterpart (at least in his original form as I’m not going to get into discussing the other comic book versions of Venom, such as space-faring Flash Thompson who ended up a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy).  It’s a credit to Hardy and movie Venom’s clear inner conflict that this Venom can stand on his own as San Francisco’s vigilante protector rather than being a one-note Spider-Man wanna-be. He’s an interesting character trapped in a fairly generic comic-book movie.  Venom is a fun adventure because of the interplay between Hardy and the symbiote, and that elevates this film above Sony’s other recent Spider-Man efforts.

The problem Sony faces (again) is that they’ve planned a whole shared universe around a film before it came out (as they did with Amazing Spider-Man 2), and just like with ASM2, Venom isn’t a strong enough movie to support its own cinematic universe.  The silver lining this time is that since Tom Holland’s Spider-Man wasn’t involved in Venom, there’s no need to reboot his Spidey if Sony modifies their reported plans for a five-film series that (spoiler alert for a disappointing mid-credit scene) will include Woody Harrelson as Venom-offshoot Carnage.  All of which might be just as okay as Venom but shouldn’t I be more excited than just “okay” coming out of movie number one?

By the way, (another spoiler) even though the Carnage cameo is disappointing, it’s still worth sticking around to the very end as there’s a teaser for the upcoming animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and it looks fantastic.  Between that and 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home, Spider-Man fans are still doing quite well, even if Venom isn’t the franchise-starter Sony was hoping for.

Brain On Fire

Susannah is working her dream job at a newspaper in New York City, but just as it seems as though the 21 year old has it all together – a cute apartment, a musician boyfriend, and a hot assignment from her boss things start to go wonky.

A super caring (read: sarcasm) doctor diagnoses her with “partying too hard” based on the one glass of wine she cops to drinking occasionally but something’s definitely up and whatever it is, it ain’t that. She’s not acting like herself. She zones out. She convulses with seizures. What the heck is happening with Susannah?

MV5BNjE4OTcyZDUtN2Y0My00NzlhLWJhODgtMjZlMTNjNzU0ZDIzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDkwNTM3OTA@._V1_In theory this is an interesting little mystery, but on tape it’s surprisingly boring. Chloe Grace Moretz “acts” a great range of symptoms by making crazy eyes and flaring her nostrils while we maintain a polite distance. In fact, there’s such a remove that’s built-in it kind of makes me feel like I’m visiting my own sick relative and just nosily eavesdropping on Susannah’s shit.

I read the book on which this movie is based and it didn’t really light my fire either. Not to make light of her disease, but I sort of think a brain on fire is preferable to what this movie did to mine, ie, turned it into pea soup. Now I’m going to have to stand on one foot and hop up and down trying to mushify those peas and get them draining out the various holes in my face. You know, best case scenario.

Anyway, I’m sure there’s some weird network on television that airs diseases of the week, and that’ll be no worse than this, but your expectations should be more realistically aligned. This movie is just a no for me. I would have rather spent the time in the waiting room of my local ER – at least as long as there are KitKats in the vending machine.

Landline

This movie is deliciously familiar.

Manhattan, 1995: a time when people still smoked inside, while sitting on their plush, wall-to-wall carpeting. Personal phone calls were made on the street corner, on a dirty pay phone, and it cost a quarter. And in the Jacobs home, a forgotten floppy disk leads teenager Ali to discover her father’s affair (and embarrassing erotic poetry). Ali (Abby Quinn) recruits older sister Dana (Jenny Slate) into her investigation. The pair are bonding for the first time, perhaps even bonding over the secrets and lies, while also coming to terms with their own sex and love lives.

It’s really fun to watch Quinn and Slate together on screen. It’s obvious the sisters have some history but ultimately they care about each other, and about their parents, who are seeming more and more human all the time. Do you remember the first time you saw your parents as fallible, flawed people? This is their discover. Their father (John landline-5931Turturro) may be stepping out on their mom, but he’s also the geeky guy who still takes them to Benihana for special occasions even though they’re far too old. Their mother (Edie Falco) has never struck them as a sexual being before, but it turns out that she too has wants and needs, and that maybe not all her tears and concerns are for them. This is a really great script that unfolds over just a couple of days, but pivotal days that will completely reconstruct the family.

Director Gillian Robespierre clearly has some love for the 90s and at times coasts on those references, which are admittedly a bit indulgent, but fun to savour. Landline doesn’t exactly break new ground in terms of theme or content but it’s a commentary on cheating by cheaters, and the implosion of a nuclear family just as it was about to expire anyway. There’s some nostalgia here, not just for the time period, but for that period of time before the kids grow wiser than the parents. The family’s shifting dynamics exhibit growing pains that are universal. And the great work by a talented ensemble means this family is fun to watch even as their ship is going down.

 

 

The Polka King

Jan Lewan, Polish immigrant, is a hard-working polka enthusiast. He works 18 day time jobs just so he can afford to keep touring the Pennsylvania polka circuit. His band, however, isn’t content to work for peanuts. In a bid to fatten their paycheques, he recruits some of his elderly fans to become “investors”, and he writes promissory notes guaranteeing a 12% return on investment. His investors are quite happy: Jan always finds new investors, so he can always cover generous quarterly payments. But then the FBI finds out.

polka-kingThe FBI gets one whiff of this and feel it must be some sort of Ponzi scheme. They shut Jan down, but since he promises it was an honest mistake, and to pay back his investors, problem solved. Except, in order to pay back his investors, he ends up creating a second, bigger scheme.

The thing about our Polka King is that he’s very, very charming. Jack Black is perfect to play him: guileless, open-faced, enthusiastic. Even when he’s dirty, his heart is squeaky-clean. Jenny Slate appears as his beauty queen wife, Jacki Weaver as his scowling mother-in-law,  and Jason Schwartzman as his best friend and bandmate, Mickey Pizzazz. The film bubbles with energy thanks to its cast, and Jack Black’s eyes are never not dancing. Black’s been honing his indie acting chops these past few years, and it shows. But it never hurts that this wacky guy is exactly in his wheelhouse. It just so happens that this wacky guy is a real person, and if you were a polka fan in the 1990s, especially around Scranton, you may have caught a performance. But even if you didn’t, now all you need is a Netflix subscription. The screwball energy is infectious…although it must be said: directors Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky seem to love their protagonist a little too much. But heck, I love him a little too much too. The Polka King is endearing and entertaining.  He may be conning his way into our hearts, but he’s there.