Kevin’s having a bad day. First his teacher, the humourless Mrs. W, busts him for fabricating his family history for an oral presentation (hint: pick something less obvious than best-selling novel The Martian), then he gets caught on camera by the school bully dancing his pants off in the boys’ washroom, and then he gets saved by his mommy/lunch lady in front of the whole cafeteria. Could his day get any worse?
Yes. Yes it can. While Kevin (Maxwell Simkins) and nerdy friend Lewis (Lucas Jaye) are having a sleepover in the backyard, and big sister Clancy (Sadie Stanley) and her friend Mim (Cree Cicchino) are trying to sneak out to a party, their parents Margot (Malin Akerman) and Ron (Ken Marino) are abducted by what witness Lewis can only describe as “ninjas.” But the fact that Margot has left them a series of clues hints at another sort of life, one her family knows nothing about, but these intrepid kids are going to follow them into the city and a whole heap of trouble, all in the name of rescuing their parents.
The Sleepover plays like a kid version of National Treasure or The Da Vinci Code; director Trish Sie serves up some decent action sequences, but the tone and the humour do much to dilute the sense of peril and remains appropriate for family viewing. Ken Marino offers up his particular brand of wimpy wit, but it’s the kids who hog the spotlight. Maxwell Simkins is an especially wonderful addition; his bathroom dance is so charming and well-executed it’s hard to believe he’s bullied for it rather than praised – especially in the age of Tiktok, where this kind of thing would likely turn him into an overnight sensation. Actually, it sort of does anyway: the video posted to tease him goes viral, which is sort of what gets them into this mess.
Casting the right kids is imperative for a movie like this, but The Sleepover gets it right. It’s way too easy for a movie like this to go sideways, falling prey to either inauthentic child performances or an overly trite script, but Sie and screenwriter Sarah Rothschild manage a delicate balance of broad humour and credible adventure in crafting a fun ride fit for the whole family.
Not long ago, Will Ferrell appeared with Amy Poehler in a movie called The House. They played parents with a dirty little secret: they couldn’t afford to send their only daughter to college. So instead of coming clean, or having her take out student loans, they started up an illegal casino.
Drunk Parents is a very similar premise, and could also have been called The House, although instead of a casino, Frank (Alec Baldwin) and Nancy (Salma Hayek) think smaller, and less effective. First it’s a yard sale, during which they lament their spendy ways and consume a lot of very expensive wine, but don’t actually sell anything because what would the neighbours think. And one neighbour in particular, Jason (Ben Platt) has a direct line to their daughter Rachel, who has only been at college for 24 hours or so at this point. So then they try to extort more money out of their neighbour Nigel, who has already been generous enough to pay them for watching his home while he’s away. But then their drunkenness inspires an even wackier scheme. They’re going to rent out Nigel’s house. On Craigslist. What could go wrong?
Well, aside from everything. First a sex offender (Jim Gaffigan) moves in. They “solve” that problem by trading with him: he moves into their home, and they into Nigel’s. How does that solve the problem you ask? Well, it doesn’t. But it does create some more! Next it’s an outright thief who empties the house from top to bottom, although his truck full of stolen furniture eventually becomes a nice place to crash when the couple faces homelessness. Which is where Will Ferrell comes in because yes, he’s in this one too, and he lights himself on fire. You may recall that in The House, it’s Jeremy Renner who gets set on fire. So there continue to be slight, slight differences.
Alec Baldwin was the weak link in the film – not that he was bad, but that the comedy came from everyone else. Jim Gaffigan is one of my favourite comedians ever, so it’s no surprise that even as a sexual deviant he had me laughing. I was, however, surprised by Salma Hayek. She does things in this movie I had no idea she could do. A grocery store scene with a $4 zucchini is a particular highlight. I think. Is it good or is it just surprising?
Which still doesn’t mean this movie is good. Neither the script nor the direction will impress. And obviously the story’s a little bit borrowed (well, sort of: The House came out in 2017; Drunk Parents came out this year but was filmed in 2016…which is never a good sign). It’s stale, and some of the actors are better at working with crusty material than others. And you can’t even watch it drunk and hope the beer goggles improve it: nothing can improve it. I paid to rent this thing, and even though that’s just $4, that might be a worse financial transgression than what led to this wealthy couple’s downfall in the first place (which is what, exactly – job loss? bad investments? too many espresso makers? – the script doesn’t even bother). If you’re prepared to navigate the bad in order to find a few funny landmarks, be my guest. But wait until it’s free on Netflix. At least that way you can still respect yourself in the morning.
Hannah is deep in mourning for her husband. Her grief is complicated by the many strangers who share in it; he was a folk singer of some renown, perhaps memorialized more for his mysterious and untimely death than for his single album of songs. Friends and family think Hannah should be moving on but she’s frozen, paralyzed by the stores of love she has unused. She thinks the only way to exorcise his ghost is to write his biography, but it turns out it’s hard to write about the man you’re still in love with, in awe of, and angry at, for having left you.
Hannah (Rebecca Hall) has avoided fans and journalists alike but relents for Andrew (a bearded and bespectacled Jason Sudeikis), a brash professor in search of a tenure-assuring topic for his thesis. This reclusive, rarely written about musician fits the bill. And Hannah thinks working with Andrew will bolster her own writing. So they hunker down in a little cabin in the woods and set to work, pretending that their purposes aren’t at odds with each other.
I enjoyed this, the rawness of grief, the fallacy of closure, the importance of legacy, the obstacles to moving on. It felt sweet and tender. But it wasn’t spectacular. The two leads lack chemistry. And for a movie about the legend of a dead folk singer, there was a notable dearth of music. And though Hannah tells us that his death was the least interesting thing about him, we have to take her word for it, never learning much about him, not even the truth behind his sudden death. So there’s a third character who’s a third wheel in this odd romance, and he truly is a ghost. Without establishing his worth, we can’t really tell if Andrew is an adversary or a milestone in moving on. Despite Tumbledown’s themes, it makes a pretty light film – light but not necessarily easy.
The year was 2002. Spider-Man, the comic, was 40 years old that year, so it was about damn time somebody finally made a good movie about a character that had been iconic for decades. The movie rights had been in limbo for years, but with Sam Raimi, a dedicated comic book collector, in the director’s chair, it finally came together.
I was married to the wrong guy at the time, and none too pleased about being dragged to the midnight viewing of a movie I was sure I wouldn’t care for. I bet lots of you were there too: Spider-Man set the record for highest gross in a single day, and then broke the record for achieving $100 million dollars the fastest – in just 3 days.
Raimi had liked Tobey Maguire in The Cider House Rules, feeling that character embodied a lot of what Peter Parker should be. The studio, however, was thinking more along the lines of Tobey’s pussy posse playmate, Leonardo DiCaprio, who James Cameron had wanted for the part when he was working on it in the 90s (Charlie Sheen campaigned hard for it, but Cameron didn’t bite). Failing that, maybe Freddie Prinze, Jr.? James Franco tried out for the part, and so did Scott Speedman. Wes Bentley was rumoured to be the favourite. Stan Lee had always envisioned John Cusack for the part, but the in end, Raimi got his way, and Tobey Maguire hit the gym.
Spider-man’s suit went through about a billion different designs before they landed on the one seen in the movie. The suit itself was one piece (except for the mask), excruciating to peel on and off; eventually the costume department relented and built in a little slit so Maguire could pee.
Kirsten Dunst got the part of Mary Jane after Kate Hudston turned it down to make Four Feathers. Alicia Witt, Mena Suvari and Elisha Cuthbert all auditioned for the role. Eliza Dushku’s screen test can be seen in the DVD’s special feature. In the end, Dunst got word that Maguire had been cast and thought the project sounded just indie enough for her taste.
The Green Goblin was maybe hardest to cast of them all. The role was intended to be played by Billy Crudup, who dropped other projects to be available before eventually being told he was too young. Robert De Niro and John Travolta both turned down the part. Nicolas Cage and John Malkovich were also considered. Finally Bill Paxton was settled upon, but a few meetings later, Sam Raimi was convinced Willem Dafoe was right for the part, so they dyed James Franco’s hair brown to make them look more like father and son, and the rest is history. Bill Paxton got the shaft of course, but his dad still appears in the film, as the Osborns’ elderly housekeeper. The Goblin costume was no picnic either. Originally designed to be quite bulky, it was streamlined when Dafoe decided to do his own stunts (reportedly about 90% of them). In the end, the suit was made up of 580 pieces that took a teak half an hour to put on him.
JK Simmons seemed a perfect fit for J. Jonah Jameson, but it’s not who Stan Lee would have chosen. His first choice? Himself! He’s very complimentary of Simmons’ portrayal, however. And Jameson’s costume was much simpler, of course, though it did necessitate Simmons’s donning of a wig. Not content to have just one iconic comic book role, JK will soon be appearing as Commissioner Gordon in The Batman and Justice League.
Hugh Jackman was supposed to have been in the movie, in a Wolverine cameo, but on the day he showed up in NYC to film, the crew couldn’t get his costume from the X-Men set!
The CGI in this movie was really advanced for its time, and the special effects wowed the pants off audiences worldwide. Sadly, post-911, some effects had to be used to digitally remove the World Trade towers from several scenes. And a couple of scenes were done the old fashioned way. In one, Tobey Maguire magically catches Mary Jane’s tray full of food. It took 156 takes and a little crazy glue on the tray, but eventually he got it! In another, during that famous upside-down kiss that capture romantic imaginations, Maguire suffered big time, the pouring rain filling up his nostrils and flooding his nasal cavities, making it hard to breathe.
Spiderman is Sean’s favourite super hero. We didn’t get to see these films together, but we did get to see Julie Taylor’s Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark on Broadway. The mounting of it was plagued with difficulty because the stunts were so technical and precise, but seeing Spiderman actually swinging from webs and being dazzled by aerial fight scenes was worth it. With music from U2’s Bono and The Edge, it was a rock-opera-circus show, and a lot of fun. Reeve Carney played Peter Parker, who you may know from Penny Dreadful.
What Sean and I have seen is basically every other comic book movie released since we were together, including those not-very-good Amazing Spider-Man ones with Andrew Garfield. Sean is a comic book lover from way back, having spent hard-earned paper route money on them every time he could convince his dad to drive him to his favourite store in Toronto. His mother made costumes for him and his brothers, and he even got suspended from school over a comic that he drew when he was a teenager (one of his co-conspirators now writes for Marvel and has his own graphic novel series).
So what better way to celebrate Sean’s 40th birthday than with a super hero party? The dude’s in good company. Joe Manganiello, who played Flash Thompson in the 2002 Spider-Man, also turns 40 this year (and will play Deathstroke in The Batman). Corey Stoll, who played Yellowjacket in Ant-Man, turned 40 this year, and so did Michael Pena from the same film. Alicia Silverstone, aka Batgirl, turned 40, and so did Colin Farrell, who played Bullseye, a character that first appeared in the Daredevil series 40 years ago this year. Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr Strange himself) also turned 40 this year, as did Green Lantern\Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds. So it’s a big year for lots of super heroes, but I’m most proud of the one who wears a suit to work rather than tights and fights for justice in a courtroom instead of in the sky. We’ll be toasting him with cocktails like Spidey’s Love Potion, and Superman’s Kryptonite, and they’ll come in little caped cups, just a friendly neighbourhood shindig to celebrate my favourite Asshole. xo
How long is America’s memory? About 25 years, according to the Pee-wee Herman comeback.
It was 1991 when Paul Reubens, the man behind the tiny red bowtie and obnoxious laugh who streamed his playhouse antics directly into your family room to mesmerized kids, was arrested for masturbating in an “adult movie theatre.” His arrest was widely covered, Reubens terribly ridiculed, even when wholesome famous friends like Bill Cosby spoke up on his behalf, saying “Whatever (Reubens has) done, this is being blown all out of proportion” (I guess he was hoping people would remember this sentiment when it came turn for his own shit to hit the fan).
At any rate, Reubens retired the child-like character that had entertained and confused Americans for the better part of a decade, but Pee-wee Herman never died, he only went underground, and now like a groundhog heralding spring, his little rose-cheeked head has popped up in 2016, ushering in a new era of what’s appropriate for a host of children’s television. He’s been testing the waters for a decade, appearing at fan conventions, guest judging on Top Chef, and even doing a skit on SNL. Since nobody showed up to burn him on a stake, it seemed the way was clear for Netflix to greenlight a movie he’d been waiting a quarter century to make.
You may not know that the Pee-wee Herman character has been around since the late 1970s. Paul Reubens was performing for The Groundlings, only he wasn’t a typical comedian, having no talent for remembering the proper sequence of jokes, or even punch lines. So he and fellow Groundling Phil Hartman created the anti-comic character, a weird, manic, effeminate,ambiguous “boy” who got by on enthusiasm and catchphrases like “I know you are but what am I?” Pee-wee Herman was born, but was initially aimed at adults, appearing on The Dating Game, and in a Cheech and Chong movie. Eventually Reubens toned down the innuendo and became a childhood icon (although you only have to look as far as Cowboy Curtis, played by a young Laurence Fishburne, to know it was still there).
So now Pee-wee Herman’s back, bitches, and we’ve got Judd Apatow to thank for it. Hollywood has been milking the 80s nostalgia cow an awful lot lately, and Paul Reubens was of course anxious to re-write his beloved character’s ending. But what’s in it for Apatow? Apparently a little wish-fulfillment. A longtime Pee-wee fan, this was a film he thought people wanted to see. “I just think there are very few characters in comedy history as strong and hilarious as Pee-wee Herman. The first moment you’re sitting in a room with Paul Reubens and he starts pitching you things Pee-wee might say or do, you think to yourself, ‘This can’t be happening.’ The first time he put on the suit, I thought I was going to pass out.”
So Judd Apatow and Pee-wee Herman have $30 million dollars from Netflix to make a movie, and who do they call? Joe Manganiello, that’s who. It turns out, Magic Mike is Joe’s serious oeuvre, so get that straight in your head. Because when he’s between such serious roles, he’s available to be Pee-wee’s sidekick. Bet you never thought you’d live to see that. The plot of Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, which is nearly plotless, is this: Pee-wee has never left the small town he lives in, but one day a big, handsome movie star named Joe Manganiello drives through town on his sexy hog and the two hit it off as only two rootbeer-barrel-loving-boys can. Joe invites Pee-wee to his birthday party in NYC, and Pee-wee embarks on an epic adventure across the country. Or something like that.
This new adventure doesn’t have much to do with his other forays on the big screen or small screen, but if you’re a fan who’s been waiting for this moment for most of your life, there’s enough there to leave you satisfied. In fact, Reubens, now 63, hardly looks as though he’s aged a day underneath the familiar pancake makeup. Pee-wee’s Big Holiday isn’t likely to win any new converts though. It’s a silly little thing, a very small fluff on some pretty major wind, but yes: it is in fact a movie. And you can watch it now on Netflix.