Tag Archives: jesse eisenberg

The Art of Self-Defense

Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) is a meek man. He gets bullied at work by the very clique he wishes most to belong to. He photocopies their favourite tittie magazine in black and white xerox to study it, and by doing so, completely misses the point.

One night, coming home with dog food, he is attacked by a motorcycle gang and beaten within an inch of his life. He survives and decides to make some changes. He signs up for karate lessons at a dojo where we encounter toxic masculinity at its most pungent. He learns punches and kicks, but more importantly, how to be a MAN, a manly MAN: to listen to metal, to learn German rather than French, to replace his beloved wiener dog with a more aggressive variety. He’s also encouraged to beat people as severely as he was beaten. These changes do in fact make him more confident. And also a dick.

Nothing in this film is played for laughs. In fact, it’s delivered largely in deadpan monotone, a stylistic choice applied fairly evenly throughout the cast. It takes a minute to get used to this, or get over it maybe, but it’s also an important clue that we’re investing in satire and critique, and if the film seems a little outrageous, a little over the top, well, that’s the point.

Casey is quickly swept up by the dojo’s charismatic instructor, Sensei (Alessandro Nivola), and hardcore brown belt but second class citizen Anna (Imogen Poots). If it sounds like a cult, good. It is not not a cult. But it’s also kind of karate, a homoerotic, needlessly violent, testament to testosterone. But when Casey gets promoted to Sensei’s mysterious night classes, it’s a whole new world of brotherhood, brutality and a special brand of hyper-masculinity that requires constant proving.

The humour is dry and dark as hell; in this script, a well-chosen word can wound as much as hand or foot. Or gun, though guns are for the weak. Eisenberg is well-suited for the role; he channels nascent neuroses as well as the yearning to be more. Writer-director Riley Stearns is perhaps a little inconsistent, but is brave in his stinging skewering of American masculinity, economic with words but generous with derision. It’s a little hard to take at times, but patience will be rewarded.

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The Hummingbird Project

Not that the world needed another ode to American greed, but here goes.

Vince and Anton are cousins who work in high-frequency trading for Eva Torres. Eva (Salma Hayek) is interested in finding an even higher frequency: on the stock market, traders who could get into the best deals even a fraction of a fraction of a second faster would ultimately have a huge cumulative advantage worth billions of dollars over time. Vince (Jesse Eisenberg) thinks he can one-up her, so he leaves, taking coder cousin Anton (Alexander Skarsgard) along with him.

Their scheme involves digging a fiber-optic line in a straight shot between Kansas and New Jersey. And I do mean straight: through mountains and rivers and Amish country if necessary. Their plan means buying land and thwarting government agencies and raising millions in funding from greedy investors. It also means staying one step ahead of ex-boss Eva, but don’t think for a second she’s going to let them get away with this.

Alexander Skarsgard is nearly unrecognizable as a socially inept, worrywart brainiac who must be micro-managed by his bolder cousin. Jesse Eisenberg continues his one-note symphony, bringing the same manic chipmunk energy he brings to everything because he literally can’t do anything else. And to be honest, not only am I over it, I don’t have room in my life for being bombarded by a neurotic asshole. It’s too much.

The script isn’t doing much for me either. It’s single-minded in its pursuit of success, and boring as hell. All this wheeling and dealing: haven’t we seen this a hundred times before? And it ain’t exactly subtle. For every shot of aggressive drilling and invasive construction, there are literal scenes of both amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties. You can practically feel an anthem swelling somewhere. But the characters are in fact caricatures: Vince is the hyper-achiever, Anton is the Beautiful Mind, and Eva is the Bond villain.

There is no such thing as cinematic drilling. Or fascinating drilling. Or interesting drilling. It’s just drilling. So unless you’re into some weird engineering porn, this movie is really not suitable for viewing. I think there might have been some potential for satirical commentary buried deep in there somewhere, but in this one case they didn’t drill deep enough. The Hummingbird Project is ultimately shallow, and you only wish its runtime was operating at a higher frequency so you could put this one to bed already.

Night Moves

Josh and Dena are passionate about their cause: the environment. Tired of small measures, they team with Harmon, a shadier character who can help them pull off an act of eco-terrorism, the bombing of a hydroelectric dam.

Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) and Dena (Dakota Fanning) are idealistic and young. They figure this revolutionary act will prompt people to think about what they’re doing to the environment, which you and I know is almost never how it works. What happens in real life is that we’re angry about the disruption to our lives. In the movie, however, what happens is even messier. The greatest impact they have is on themselves.

MV5BMTY1NDIzODA2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTE4Mjk0MTE@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_Night Moves isn’t so much about the environment as it is a character study between these three individuals trying to make a statement, and then living with the consequences. It’s slow, almost plodding. There’s no flashiness, just a creeping sense of guilt and paranoia.

The thing is, Jesse Eisenberg is a one-note actor and I’m damned tired of that note. He wears this grimace that tells us the world is just painful to him, like how can his pinched little rat face be expected to live in a world with us plebeians? He got lucky once with a role whose neuroticism suited him perfectly. Everything else has been derivative, and while it might have been slightly funny to watch Mark Zuckerberg get chased by zombies, I just don’t buy him as an eco-thug, bless his entitled little heart.

Otherwise I think Kelly Reichardt puts together a uniquely character-drive film that defies classification. It pushes us to challenge what we think of as “natural” and ratchets up the tension with increasing themes of alienation. What Reichardt doesn’t do is decide for us.

Cafe Society

I wanted to crawl right into the very first frame, so luscious and drenched with colour it was. If I had turned it off right then and there, I may have dreamed in technicolour and sung the film’s praises. I didn’t.

Cafe Society is a beacon of hope to all the men who have been friend-zoned. Stick around for long enough to provide the shoulder to cry on when she eventually breaks up with her boyfriend, who is cooler, more interesting, and more wasp2015_day_21-0031.CR2successful than you, and you might actually find her vulnerable enough to prey on her heartbreak and win. For a while. But since you’re still nerdy old you she’ll eventually wise up and leave your ass, potentially even for the ex who doesn’t deserve her, and you’ll have to content yourself with second place. If second place always looked like Blake Lively you might thank your lucky stars, but Woody Allen is an idiot, so here we are.

Bobby is the Woody-Allen-stand-in in this case, played by Jesse Eisenberg, an inspired choice because he’s already got the annoying neuroticism and concave chest. He’s not content with the similarity though, he goes full-on chanelwa15_d21_00172-h_2016_0impression, right down to the self-conscious body language and flighty hand gestures. Bobby moves to Hollywood, trying to escape the family business. He goes to his uncle Phil (Steve Carrell), an important guy at a big movie studio, who barely makes time for him, and pawns him off on his secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). Eisenberg and Stewart have a twitchy chemistry that works well, but it does mean you’ll have to watch the two most high-strung performances in Hollywood today. Simultaneously. In a Woody Allen movie.

Steve Carrell is the best thing about this movie, and he wasn’t supposed to be in it. He replaced Bruce Willis well into filming after Brucie was fired for being a diva and not learning his lines. The costumes are also divine. ‘Cafe society’ was coined to describe the beautiful people hanging out in night clubs, and all those beautiful people are prettily dressed and on sumptuous display. This is Woody Allen’s first digitally captured movie, and his first collaboration with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro – if he’s smart, it’ll be the first of many, because this film is gorgeous if nothing else. And yeah – nothing else. It feels like two different stories stitched inexpertly together (Allen provides the stitching – he narrates the thing, cause he just can’t keep his wrinkly hands OFF). Despite the window dressing, Cafe Society is a love story at its core, but a love story between two people you don’t really care about, and you don’t even like. The end.

Now You See Me 2

I only saw the first Now You See Me (1)  grudgingly, which is to say, on a plane. It’s amazing what you can get me to watch when I’m hurtling through space in a glorified tin now-you-see-me-two-movie-poster-10can. Anything to distract myself, even Jesse Eisenberg doing “magic.”

To be honest, I hate magic. I hate the spectacle and the artifice and the hammy, tan people who “perform” it. I hate it. I HATE hate it, the way I hate Nazis and speeding tickets and being tricked into eating vegetables. I have to remind myself, with a shock, that some people actually pay to see magic, while I would gladly pay to not see it. I’d rather not even walk by a street magician, if I can help it. But I’m half-willing to give it a go in the movies because while I also hate Nazis, I concede that some fairly wonderful movies have been made containing them. So I don’t rule Now You See Me out just because it has magic. Or just because it has Jesse Eisenberg, who is quickly ascending my list of things to avoid.

Jesse Eisenberg is joined by 3 other magicians (including a token girl!) to form the “4 horsemen” – the Robinhoods of the magic scene, they spent the first movie stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. You can’t do that without consequences, so they’ve been in hiding this past year and are only revealing themselves in the sequel when their magical governing body, the Eye, calls on them to do so – for a very good cause, I’m sure.

Safe to say a sequel to this blip of filmdom is one trick I never saw coming, unlike all the tricks in the film, which I saw from a mile away. There is no “magic” is Now You See Me 2, which is a real tragedy in this renaissance of practical effects, unless you count thenysm2-jack-lula-posters “magic” of CGI. Or the magic of marketing, I suppose. Definitely not the magic of film making, because this guy was seemingly made in a vacuum of personality. There is no fun in watching card tricks when you know the cards were added digitally, after the fact. And the tricks are not replicable in the real world, so Now You See Me 2 is just another CGI-bloated entry into the super hero genre, only these heroes are super lame and the costumes even lamer (though Eisenberg’s sporting a more Lex Luther-appropriate hairstyle than he did in Batman v. Superman).

But the greatest crime this film commits is its end. We, the audience, have spent 2 hours watching the 4 horsemen play tricks on their audiences, their enemies, their government, and each other. Now they seek to play one on us, and a two minute monologue discredits everything that’s come before and tells us we’ve been played for fools and what we thought was happening really wasn’t. Gotcha! Except the script does absolutely nothing to earn this. To set this up, a script has to leave breadcrumbs, it has to set it up, carefully, craftilly, but dutifully. Or else it’s total baloney. And this, my friends, was grade F deli meat, straight from Oscar Mayer himself. It’s like me suddenly telling you that I’ve been writing a Finding Dory review this whole time…TADA!

What do you mean you’re not convinced? I said ta-da, dammit. What more do you want? A viable story? Some forethought? Common sense? I mean – what do you expect here? This isn’t magic. It’s just a little trickery, and you can either buy in or opt out. It’s up to you.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Escapism (Or Why I’m Not At Work Right Now)

There’s a heat wave in Ottawa, folks. The humidex says 40 bloody degrees. Is it hot where you are too? Our local art house theatre, the estimable Bytowne on Rideau street, helpfully suggests that their cinema is in fact air-conditioned, and even better, they sell ice cream at their concession stand. So there’s always that.

But today Sean and I are playing heat wave hookie. There’s a water park down the road so we’re slathering on the sunscreen (Sean says: smells like vacation sex!) and hitting the (fake) waves.

Now, one thing to consider when you’re off to the local water park is all those news stories you’ve read about it recently, and in particular, its “dismal safety record.” The good news is: it was only found guilty on 6 of 11 charges, and the 9 others were withdrawn. So that’s not bad, right? I feel like I can beat the 50\50 odds at least half the time.

The truth is, you have to remember that these parks are staffed by the same kids in adventurelandAdventureland. I mean, would you literally trust Jesse Eisenberg or Kristen Stewart with your life? Those two asshats, plus a gang of their ne’ever do well friends, run the games section of a run down amusement park while dreaming of being ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE WHOLE FUCKING WORLD and having these deep and meaningful conversations while completely ignoring their customers. Have you seen this movie? Did it remind you of any of your own after school jobs? It’s pretty scary when teenagers run the world,

In The Way, Way Back, a kid named Duncan gets hired to work at a water park called Water Wizz, which is an awful name for a park. It reminds you too much of what you’re floating in. I mean, realistically, we know it’s 40% urine. Those kids over there haven’t gone to the washroom WayWayBackONCE since arriving but they’re throwing back juice boxes like it’s happy hour. Water parks probably don’t even HAVE bathroom facilities for kids. Why waste the space? (This reminds of a scene in Grown Ups where Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, and Rob Schneider are all floating around at a water park, not coincidentally also called Water Wizz since it was filmed in the same park, and suddenly the water around them all 20100614_poolpee_190x190turns dark blue – apparently there’s a chemical that can notify us that someone has peed, and I can’t decide if that’s brilliant or just tmi. The point being: I guess grown ups (if you can really call David Spade a grown up) do it too.) Anyway, back to the movie I meant to be talking about. Duncan seeks refuge at this pissy water park because his mom (Toni Colette) is neglecting him on their summer vacation, and her boyfriend (Steve Carrell) is emotionally abusive toward him. So a pool full of pee starts to seem not so bad.

Me? I happen to like my Mom’s boyfriend, despite his constant cracking of sex jokes, which – hello – are about my Mom. So I’m not fleeing step-parent abuse. But I am avoiding work. And the weird thing about work is, I (and likely lots of you too) have this weird thing about skipping work just to laze around watching Netflix. I mean, that’s what Sundays are for. If you miss work, you need a Reason. See what I did there? Capital R Reason. A good one. Like going out-of-town with my hunny to get an irresponsible sunburn and possibly also athlete’s foot.

Anyway, this was a good movie review, wasn’t it? To recap:

Adventureland: high on nostalgia; has some great supporting characters.

Grown Ups: funny to people who like pee jokes.

The Way, Way Back: quietly charming and sweet and funny.

What’s your favourite summer movie? How are you staying cool? What do you skip work to do?