Tag Archives: john michael higgins


The “Rapture,” if you believe in such things, is an end-time fairy tale made up by evangelicals that basically says God is going to pull a Thanos, do a snap, and with that, all the good little boys and girls (and men and women) will vanish from earth, having ascended to heaven, and the rest of us will be left behind, shrugging at each other like “Ooops!”

The rapture has happened and young lovers Lindsey (Anna Kendrick) and Ben (John Francis Daley) have indeed been left behind. The rapture is followed by several plagues, like locusts and blood rain, and the anti-christ’s reign. The anti-christ, who prefers to be called The Beast (Craig Robinson), nukes Chicago and Orlando and threatens to do more, and worse. Whatever he asks, you say yes. That’s just how it is now. Unemployment is high and what little you have can be taken at any moment by the flaming rocks falling from the sky, so to get by you’d better do as you’re asked. And just in case Jesus gets any big ideas about coming back to save humanity (again), The Beast has a really big laser for that.

Anyway, when Lindsey and Ben’s dreams of owning a sandwich cart are crushed, literally, by one of those big flaming rocks, so they have to go to work with Ben’s dad (Rob Corddry), who works for The Beast. Which is how The Beast lays eyes on Lindsey, and decides to take her for himself. This situation suits neither Lindsey nor Ben, so they hatch a plan to rid the Earth of The Beast. One little catch: you can’t kill The Beast, or he comes back as Satan. So the plan involves trapping him, subduing him, and caging him…for one thousand years. It’s a great plan. What could go wrong?

Is this a good movie? It is not. If you like any of the talent involved, you might eke out a few laughs, but you won’t be proud of yourself for it. You have to be smart to pull of satire, and this movie is very, very dumb. It’s crass where it should be incisive, crass where it should be biting, crass where it should be crafty. You get the idea. It’s stoner r-rated raunch and I’m pretty sure the world could live without it.

Shimmer Lake

Shimmer Lake is a murder mystery told backwards. The story reverses day by day through a week as a small town sheriff investigates a bank heist gone wrong and the three local criminals he suspects. Innovative? Sure, maybe a little. Confusing? Maybe a lot. It’s just a lot of story to keep track of.  And often the first time we meet a new character, he or she is a dead body. Ten or fifteen minutes later for us is usually a day earlier for them, so the corpse reanimates and is suddenly a major player.

Now, telling the story backwards is a gimmick, and one that in my opinion, doesn’t really MV5BZGQ0OWFhNTgtYTJiOS00MDU1LTg2MTgtZTU5NzQ4Yjg0YzkxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjEwNTM2Mzc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_pay off. I suppose the story was too generic to get greenlit when played forward, but for future purposes, I’d appreciate it if Netflix could release movies in their natural order, and I’ll use my rewind button if I feel a particular need to bedevil my brains. Without proper introductions, I couldn’t even keep the character names straight. One of the film’s running jokes has its punchline right at the beginning but then we have to watch it get set up one morning at a time. It’s the kind of movie that might require some note-taking but it’s not good enough for me to be motivated to go rummage around in the drunk drawer for a pen.

With credits like Rainn Wilson Rob Corddry, Adam Pally, and John Michael Higgins, I expected them to put the comedy into black comedy. They don’t. Shimmer Lake seems to have some over-the-top elements but it never really embraces them. The script is safe and scrubbed of laughs. Oren Uziel, one of 5 writers credited for 22 Jump Street, writes and directs this one all by his lonesome. And while I appreciate that Netflix is trying to take some risks, this one doesn’t pay off. Or, it does, but only in the last seconds, which means you’ll spend the vast majority of this film not enjoying it very much at all. The ends do not justify the means.


Almost Christmas

A dysfunctional family gets together for Christmas – their last in their family home, and their first without their treasured mother, the only one who could unite them.

Patriarch and recent widow Walter (Danny Glover) still can’t find his wife’s beloved recipes, and he’s spending sleepless nights trying to recreate them. His wife’s sister May (Mo’Nique) is on hiatus from touring the globe as a MV5BMTYzMDA5OTQ3M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTM2NDI2ODE@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_back-up singer but her diva behaviour never takes a break. Son Christian (Romany Malco) is in the middle of a political campaign that comes with some high costs – including an intrusive chief of staff, Brooks (John Michael Higgins). Daughter Cheryl brings along her has-been/never-was husband Lonnie (J.B. Smoove), whom nobody can stand, but Cheryl’s too busy fighting with her little sister Rachel to notice. Rachel (Gabrielle Union) is divorced, with a kid. She’s struggling to complete law school, but it may be doomed to be another failed project. And baby Evan (Jessie T. Usher) just got cleared to get back on the team after an injury, but his drug habit has lingered. And they don’t even know yet that their dad is thinking of selling the house!

This is the kind of Christmas movie that will make you feel at home. It is unlikely that I will become a Princess this Christmas, no matter how many movies try to convince me of the possibility. To be honest, it’s probably slightly more likely that I’ll fall in love with an eligible Prince than that my family will crowd around a piano and sing carols with merriment and the love of baby Jesus in our hearts. Christmas movies sell us a whole heap of lies and expectations, but Almost Christmas is a Christmas I can live up to. It’s a family I can relate to. It’s a level of Christmas spirit I can probably even manage to emulate, on my best, holliest jolliest day.

New Hampshire Has Reason to be Proud

Sean and I made the beautiful drive down to New England last Thursday for a long weekend of film festing in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  We also made a frenetic drive back on Sunday in order to cover a local happening (The Monster Pool Horror Anthology – review coming soon) last night and because today is election day here in Canada, and there’s no way we were missing that.

I’m finding that our coverage of the New Hampshire Film Festival is going to read a lot like a love letter to the city of Portsmouth. Home to about 21 000 residents, it’s bursting with IMG_2951historical charm and significance. And I mean it’s just sick with quaintness. The downtown is distinctive and beautiful and eminently walkable. It feels cared for. And I suppose this is what has distinguished the New Hampshire Film Festival for me: it has a real sense of community. Don’t get me wrong, it’s attracting plenty of outside and international interest as well, and I think that trend will only continue as this little festival is landing some pretty major films. But each screening was attended by many locals who clearly took pride in this festival. We were greeted warmly everywhere we went. The volunteers were friendly. And though we found this festival to be well-organized and well-run, there was this pervasive feel of the insouciant. This is the laid-back film festival, perhaps a tribute to the unflappable New Englanders who have done an impressive job of making this look easy – and I tell you now, it is not. But the wrinkles, if there were any, were invisible.

portsmouth nhffPortsmouth bustles with tourists in the summer, but I think she may look her best in the autumn. Its historic seaport still sparkles, but I loved seeing leaves on the grounds of architectural highlights, including Colonial, Georgian, and Federal style homes. The city is replete with fall colours and decorative touches – it starts to feel like the set of an idyllic small-town, except when you sit down to eat, at which point it tastes like the very best of big-city eating.

IMG_2950The seafood. We sampled local oysters from Franklin‘s, scallops from The District, and the best-ever clam chowder from Robert’s Maine Grill (Kittery, Maine being 2 minutes across the river). And don’t get me started on the lobster rolls. The movies at this point were incidental – this trip was already a culinary and sight-seeing success.

Okay, I’m lying. The movies are never unimportant. We’re Assholes: it’s what we do and why we came. We’ll get to those. First, though, the venues.

We rolled up to Discover Portsmouth Center first, a visitor center (this is me taking pains to spellIMG_2767 centre the American way) extraordinaire. It’s a gallery, a gift shop, a museum, a gateway to the Black Heritage Trail – really the cultural heart of the city (which seems to have attractions worthy of a city  many times its size), and also serves as the vital headquarters of the New Hampshire Film Festival, which is how it got to host a meet and greet with John Michael Higgins and Jimmy Dunn.

Both of these fellows are New Englanders; Jimmy Dunn you’ll know as a stand-up comedian who also appeared on the sitcom The McCarthys, as Joey McIntyre’s (fraternal) twin brother. John Michael Higgins, as we’ve already covered, is an absolute favourite of mine because of his fantastic charactermgs in many of Christopher Guest’s best (like Best In Show), but this guy gets hired for everything, from Pitch Perfect 2 to Broadway plays, to roughly half of all running sitcoms, including Arrested Development and Happily Divorced. More on them later (they were part of a lively and crazy-quotable comedy panel alongside Tom Bergeron and Juston McKinney).

On to our first film of the festival, Touched With Fire. This one screened at The Music Hall, which immediately requires me to derail this review in order to gush about the venue instead. It was recently declared an “American treasure” – and yes, it is. It’s a 900-seat theatre that you’ll immediately waTMS Music Halllk into and think: how dare you be so charming? It’ll make you think twice about ever setting foot into a dirty old Cineplex ever again, I’ll tell you that much. Built in 1878, it’s the oldest operating theater (American spelling!) in New Hampshire and the 14th oldest in the United States. It’s clearly been lovingly restored and it’s rocking character like a boss. It’s a venue-of-all-trades, home to intimate concerts (Suzanne Vega), readings (John Updike), and of course, independent cinema (we saw a poster for upcoming screenings of Grandma, a film which weIMG_2952 heartily approve). The lobby makes a strong statement, and the auditorium is lovely, but it might just be an area usually unsung that wins you over: after using the facilities, Sean declared the washrooms to be “the best ever” and insisted that I had to pee. I have never heard Sean remark upon washroom facilities in my life, and am usually skeptical about any men’s room, but when I visited the ladies’ quarters, I saw instantly what he was talking about, and they ARE magnificent. Obviously, we Assholes are in the business of reviewing movies, not restrooms, but just to prove to you we’re not nuts, appreciation for these washrooms is such that they’re actually nominated for Best Restroom literally in all the land, and I urge you bathroom-575x346to vote now (until October 31st) – even if you haven’t peed there yourself,  you can take my word for it, I promise. (I was too shy to snap a photo, but thanks to braver souls and the Internet, check em out!)

So, here we are: a thousand words about the New Hampshire Film Festival, and still not a single movie review. It’s your fault, Portsmouth, for being a unique place to discover and enjoy in your own right. You don’t need a film festival to earn tourists, but I’m sure as heck glad you have one, because not only were we impressed by your lineup this year, we can’t wait to come back and do it again in 2016.

NHFF screened something in the neighbourhood of 100 movies, and like any festival, you can’t see ’em all. We missed some with regret but regretted none we saw, and I guess that’s the greatest compliment you can pay a festival. Our selections:

Touched With Fire

The Preppie Connection

The Second Mother


A Light Beneath Their Feet



Mississippi Grind

The Witch

Check back for more coverage of NHFF including the comedy panel and the red carpet, and for reviews for each of the films.

The New Hampshire Film Festival

Live from the lovely town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire is the 15th annual New Hampshire Film Festival. What sets this one apart from others is its genius focus on independent film. Yes, it showcases some great international films such as Anomalisa (so good!), The Witch (can’t wait!), and Chicken, but it gives the opportunity to lots of local talent to highlight their own independent films as well, and I hope to catch plenty of those while I’m here.




Over the past few years alone, it’s screened some of my favourite foreign movies, like The Broken Circle Breakdown, and Force Majeure, and also some major award contenders, like Boyhood, Blackfish, Life Itself, and Last Days in Vietnam.

There’s a lot to look forward to this time around, but is it crazy that one of the things I might be most anticipating is a comedy panel featuring John Michael Higgins.

17493977-standardIf you don’t know his name, you’ll certainly know his face. He’s Elizabeth Banks salty-tongued co-host in Pitch Perfect, appeared in almost every great TV series – including his turn as “professional” lawyer Wayne Jarvis on Arrested Development, and of course if you know anything about me at all, I’m extra partial to everything he’s done with Chris Guest, including Best in Show and A Mighty Wind. This guy is a real scene stealer, and funny as heck, so seeing him will be a real treat.