Tag Archives: popular culture

Oh, Hello on Broadway

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Remember when they used to make movies based on Saturday Night Live sketches?  Isn’t it weird how that used to be a thing?  And that one of the best of the bunch was the movie about these two guys:

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Even though I grew up during the peak of the SNL movie craze, I was still blown away to see Oh, Hello on Broadway pop up on Netflix, in a “How is this even possible?” kind of way.  But I’m so glad it did and it’s better than I could have hoped.

For the uninitiated, Oh, Hello is one of a boatload of great skits from the Kroll Show, featuring two old men who, in a way, are not that different than the Butabi Brothers.  As the unimaginative name of the Netflix special implies, Oh, Hello then became a Broadway play, because why not?  And now, Oh, Hello on Broadway is a Netflix special that is basically a full-length movie about these two guys.  A flat-out hilarious hour and 42 minutes in the company of these wacky geezers.

tuna.jpgLike Night at the Roxbury, Oh, Hello on Broadway takes a one-note premise and uses it as a gateway to a fully-fledged story that looks behind the premise to the characters themselves.  Absurd as they are, Gil Faison (Nick Kroll) and George St. Geegland (John Mulaney) are surprisingly relatable and human, as we are shown through an insane play-within-a-play structure that works far better than it should.  The background story also is far better than it needed to be, because I would have been satisfied with a few, ‘Oh, Hello’s, and ‘Too Much Tuna’s.   Which of course I got.  Kroll and Mulaney knew why I was watching, but they also showed me how much they love these characters by giving them a proper home.

Because the special is so different from the skit, I don’t think any knowledge of the skits is needed.  Feel free to jump right in, but still, you should watch the skits at some point because they’re funny as hell.

I’m so glad to see stuff like this on Netflix and I hope we get more.  Jay and I had hoped to see this on Broadway but the scheduling didn’t work out, and while seeing it on Netflix is not the same as seeing it live, it’s better than not seeing it at all.  You should definitely add this one to your list.

 

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Mindhorn

mindhorn_final.jpgCanadians are consistently the funniest people in the world as far as I’m concerned, which is hard to reconcile with the stereotype that we’re boring and forgettable.  So I don’t try, I just think of us as funny and the stereotype as another example of how Americans are just not as good as we are.  Above all else, Canadians specialize in satire.  I have to think that is inherited from our former colonizers, as the British may love satire more than we do.

But just as Canada is not Britain (because in 1867 we asked politely if we could be our own country from then on, and the Brits were like, didn’t you already leave when the Americans did?), British satire is a whole other thing from ours.  I have always been fascinated by how there really is no middle ground in North America – either you devour British satire or you think it’s unbearable.  Personally, I find Steve Coogan a good test for one’s tolerance for British satire.   If he cracks you up then you are going to enjoy Mindhorn, whereas if you’re thinking, “Who the hell is Steve Coogan?” then you should probably give Mindhorn a pass.

I think Coogan is hilarious so of course Mindhorn made me laugh.  As a bonus, Coogan is not just a random reference I decided to use.  He’s also a bit player in Mindhorn along with a ton of familiar Brits (including a great cameo by a guy nicknamed “Kenny B.”).   But Mindhorn is co-writer Julian Barratt’s vehicle, and he is terrific as Richard Thorncroft/Mindhorn, a washed-up actor/TV detective.  Mindhorn’s gimmick is his bionic eye that is a lie detector, allowing him to literally see the truth.  Mindhorn made Thorncroft a huge star in the 70s and early 80s but he hasn’t exactly been tearing it up since then.  In fact, he’s just lost his last endorsement contract (for orthopedic socks).  So when a call comes in from the police department requesting Thorncroft’s help (as Mindhorn) in solving a murder case, he jumps right in, seeing it as a great way to kickstart his career.

In the finest British tradition, we quickly learn that Thorncroft is a grade-A idiot (maybe even grade-AAA if you use the meat grading system).  Still, as tends to happen, Thorncroft manages to bumble his way to (moderate) success despite not having a clue at any time.  And while Mindhorn’s way forward isn’t particularly innovative or clever, Barratt is clearly having great fun bringing Mindhorn to life and that fun is infectious.  The satire is spot on, as Mindhorn takes every opportunity to poke fun at the real TV shows from Mindhorn’s day, like Knight Rider and the Six Million Dollar Man, and there are some good shots at the cheesiness of those shows as well as the spin off products from them (such as Mindhorn’s best-selling rock album).

You’ve seen this all before but it’s good fun and I don’t think satirizing David Hasselhoff will ever get old.  So if you have 90 minutes to spare and think Coogan is a funny guy then you should check out Mindhorn on Netflix.

Cars, Cars 2, and Ultimate Lightning McQueen

My nephews love Lightning McQueen and have about a thousand toys bearing his likeness.  So when I learned about the Ultimate Lightning McQueen, I had to get it, even though I had never seen Cars (or Cars 2 for that matter).  For those who aren’t on Sphero’s mailing list, Ultimate Lightning McQueen is a remote controlled car that costs US$300, and here’s why it costs so much money:

Ultimate Lightning McQueen is not just an RC car.  This is a robot that has animated eyes and mouth, reacts to touch, and can recite tons of lines from the movies either randomly or in pre-programmed scripts.  Basically, it’s the toy robot that little Sean always dreamed of.

With the toy on the way (it arrived last night!), I felt like I should finally watch Cars beforehand so that I knew the basics about Lightning.  So that’s what we did, and it turns out that Lightning is a real jerk.  Like so much of a jerk that he doesn’t have a pit crew because he can win on his own.  So much of a jerk that he doesn’t change his tires, which naturally givecars-movie-disney-pixar_large out on the last lap and cost him a win.  So much of a jerk that when he gets lost in a small town and is pursued for speeding he wrecks the whole main street.

Lightning eventually does redeem himself in a very weird way, but here’s the thing: my nephews have such short attention spans that I guarantee they have not ever watched this movie past the opening race.  They will have watched that race a thousand times but probably have no idea that Lightning ever becomes less self-involved or that he ever needed help.  So it is a good thing that Ultimate Lightning can say so many lines, because I am going to be choosy with my catchphrases.  That way, maybe I can redeem Lightning in real time and teach my nephews that they do indeed need a pit crew (/more applicable sports metaphor), just like Lightning eventually figures out.

For good measure, we also watched Cars 2, which is more Mater’s story than Lightning’s (though Lightning doesn’t miss the chance to be a jerk to Mater in the sequel).  Just like in the first movie, Lightning wins with the help of his friends.  It would be a mycars-2-02172012stery why he is so loved, except that he is definitely the coolest looking racecar in the movies and that’s really all the explanation required, isn’t it?

And now, we have Cars 3 to “look forward to”.  My hopes are not high, because these movies definitely aren’t Pixar’s best work.  Still, it’s something I know our nephews will love and now that they’re old enough to go to the movies, something that we’ll probably get to enjoy with them, and that’s good enough to make me genuinely excited about Cars 3 even though I thought the first two movies were entirely forgettable.

It also makes a US$300 Lightning McQueen toy feel like a bargain, because I know our nephews are going to lose their little minds when they see it in action.  Ultimate Lightning McQueen is everything I could have expected – it blinks, it looks around, and moves as though it is alive.  It is truly animated in every sense of the word.  As a bonus, it is a powerful little car that is really responsive, does donuts on command, and has a turbo button.  Because who doesn’t love a turbo button?  Having tried it out, I am even more excited to show off Ultimate Lightning McQueen to Lightning’s three biggest fans!

Alien: Covenant

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You always know better than the idiots in horror movies. Don’t go to an uncharted planet streaming John Denver songs to the universe. Hell, don’t go into space period! When you get to the planet, don’t trust its lone inhabitant who lives in a graveyard and conducts science experiments in a drippy cave. Especially when the results of those science experiments look suspiciously like the creepy little things that just blew up your only ride off the planet. But if not for those dumb decisions, there wouldn’t be much of a movie here, and certainly not one about Aliens with a capital A.

As the SXSW Sneak Peek hinted, the idiots in Alien: Covenant are more tolerable than most, because every bad decision leads us to a place we want to go. Ridley Scott’s playful approach here elevates Alien: Covenant above every entry in this franchise since Aliens. The bad decisions aren’t infuriating, they’re chess moves, most of which lead to another piece getting ripped apart into gooey chunks by space monsters.

Everything in this movie services the Aliens, including the speedy pace at which they burst out of people (taking only as long as needed to cause maximum carnage). Alien: Covenant felt like a Star Wars prequel in that respect, as the technology (in this case, the creatures produced by those previously mentioned science experiments) behind the Aliens seems better in the “past” than in the “future”. I suppose that’s inevitable when prequels are made 30 years later, and I was a lot more forgiving of it here that I was with Star Wars. I think that’s because in Alien: Covenant, the changes from the original rules make the movie more entertaining, while the changes in Star Wars made the movies into a CGI tutorial mixed with a boring political drama.

Above all else, Alien: Covenant is fun, and that’s because Ridley Scott and his cast (led by stellar performances by Michael Fassbender (x2) and Katherine Waterston channeling Ripley and kicking Alien ass just like Sigourney Weaver did) deliver everything this franchise’s fans could possibly have asked for. No unnecessary exposition, no extraneous plot points, just Aliens mowing down idiot after idiot.

For that, Alien: Covenant gets a score of eight chest-bursting xenomorphs out of ten.

Bon Cop, Bad Cop

Good-Cop-Bon-CopAs someone who grew up in Ontario (mostly) and now lives in Quebec, I can say with authority that Bon Cop, Bad Cop is a fantastic send up of the occasionally pained relationship between the two provinces.  There’s a lot of history and a lot of angst to be found in that relationship, and somehow we now seem more distant from each other than do the English and French, whose historic animus is the basis for our long-standing conflict.

When I go shopping in Quebec, I do not speak French and neither does Jay even though she’s totally bilingual.  I am not bilingual but I know enough to order a Happy Meal in French if I wanted.  But I DON’T want to – I want Quebec McDonald’s to speak English to me.

That stubbornness goes both ways.  Not only do many frontline retail staff refuse to speak English back to me (especially older ones), Quebecers are consistently terrible drivers who poke along well below the speed limit in the fast lane and refuse to move over for my bright orange racecar no matter how close I get to their bumper.

And yet, we consistently have each other’s back when push comes to shove.  When it rained for what seemed like a month straight in April and May and the Ottawa River started overflowing its banks to the point that it came onto our backyard, those same French bastards from McDonald’s and the highway banded together to deliver sandbags to us (and thousands of other English speakers in our border city) at 10:30 p.m. on a Sunday and then helped us put those sandbags in place, with smiles on their faces as they asked in English whether they could do anything else to help.

Bon Cop, Bad Cop nails that dynamic at every step, as two cops (Ontarian Colm Feore and Quebecer Patrick Huard) are forced to work together to solve a murder in which a body was found straddling the Ontario-Quebec border.  Of course they’re going to try to one-up the other, of course they’re going to set stupid and arbitrary rules about who does what and which language gets used when, and of course their petty squabbles are going to put everything in jeopardy.  Because that’s what we do.  But in the end, we accomplish what needs doing, and we share a grudging respect that binds us closer than geography alone ever could.

Bon Cop, Bad Cop captures our relationship perfectly and pokes fun at it at every opportunity.  That made Bon Cop, Bad Cop enjoyable in spite of its cliches, nonsensical plot, and cheap shots at Gary Bettman (okay, the last bit was enjoyable on its own).   But if you’re not from either province, you probably won’t get it, and truthfully we kind of like that you don’t.   We may argue over which of Ontario and Quebec is better but we agree that both are way better than wherever the hell you live.

Hot Docs: Living the Game

The biggest change between grade 8 and grade 9 was that once I started high school I was allowed to leave school property on lunch. And leave I did. Every weekday from noon to 1, my friends and I walked to the nearest arcade. When I had quarters, I spent them, and when I was out, I watched others feed the machines. Many different games came and went during that year, but one of the mainstays was Street Fighter 2, in one flavour or another (it seemed every three months there was another version of it, from Champion Edition to Turbo to Super to Super Turbo). There was always a crowd around the Street Fighter console, and it seems that 20 years later, the crowd has only grown.

What is the appeal of watching others play video games? It’s hard to explain. The closest I can come is this:

Evo Moment #37, as it’s called, is an iconic moment in competitive gaming. If you have ever played Street Fighter, you know how insanely hard it is to parry one hit from a super move, let alone 15 in a row.  If even one of those kicks had landed then the match would have been over.  What a remarkable display of timing and hand-eye coordination!

The two players in that match were Daigo Umehara and Justin Wong. Living the Game is a documentary that follows them and a few other top players over the course of a pro gaming season. It’s fascinating to see this unique spectacle where two headset-wearing players look at a small screen while a thousand or more boisterous spectators watch on and cheer wildly.

These top players are doing well for themselves, earning sponsorships and salaries, supplemented by cash prizes of $100,000 or more for a big tournament win. Despite their success they are remarkably aware that this gravy train will not run forever and that their chosen profession is not well-regarded. That sort of honesty should make Living the Game an interesting watch even for those who are baffled by pro video gaming, elevating it beyond its subject matter. While there is no big revelation to be found within, it is interesting to get to know the players through this film, who as it turns out are not much different than you or me, except they happen to be ridiculously good at video games.

Living the Game screens as part of the Hot Docs Film Festival on May 2 at 8:30 p.m., May 4 at 8:45 p.m. and May 7 at 6:15 p.m.

SXSW: Colossal

colossal-F71894Other than a major difference in size, Godzilla and a drunk have a lot in common.  They both stumble around erratically, they both have a temper, and they both wreck a lot of stuff.  Though Colossal does not feature Godzilla, presumably due to licencing issues, it does feature a giant monster terrorizing an Asian city (though this time it’s Seoul, Korea instead of Tokyo, Japan).  As you’d expect, the monster’s appearance is big news, so even Gloria (Anne Hathaway) hears about it eventually.  It takes a while for her though because of how drunk she got the night before.

Gloria’s got a lot of problems.  She’s just been kicked out by her longtime boyfriend for drinking too much and she’s been unemployed for way too long.  She’s got no direction and no prospects, so after losing her relationship and place to stay, she heads to her hometown and meets up with her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis).  Since Oscar owns a bar, Gloria stays there all night drinking, and a giant monster appears in Seoul about the time she’s stumbling home the next morning.

Colossal is different than I expected, which is not a bad thing.  Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo has created something unique, something much different than any kaiju movie I’ve ever seen.  Colossal is slow paced and focuses largely on people, not monsters, and the characters’ personal growth (/lack thereof) is a very important part of the story.  I don’t want to say more about what Colossal is or isn’t, as I think trying to figure out this movie is part of the fun.  There are definitely some surprises along the way, and those were high points for me.  It’s always interesting when a movie takes an unexpected turn and Colossal offers a few of them.

In support of the unique story, Hathaway and Sudeikis both deliver excellent performances, and the quality of those performances is why this movie works so well.  Seeing Gloria and Oscar reconnect after all these years, discovering each other as adults, is something we can all relate to but we soon learn that the stakes are a little higher here, because Seoul is in peril every morning.

Colossal is set to be released in North America on April 7, 2017.  If you’re interested in seeing a different kind of kaiju movie, one that is more character study than city-destroying rampage, then Colossal is worth watching.

SXSW: Alien & Alien: Covenant Sneak Peek

alien-F71972Anytime you get a chance to watch Alien with Sir Ridley Scott, you take it. How great is it that we got that chance?  Even better, Scott was not alone. He brought Alien: Covenant footage with him, as well as Covenant stars Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, and Michael Fassbender. An entertaining Q&A took place after the bulk of the new footage. We didn’t learn any big secrets but it’s obvious that all three actors were thrilled to have had the chance to work with Scott, particularly McBride who joked that his parents were thrilled he was finally making a real movie.

ridley-scott-F71972The new footage proves that Scott is not afraid to rip himself off, and that’s great news as far as I’m concerned. You would expect Alien: Covenant to bear at least a passing resemblance to Alien (as the former’s purpose, aside from making tons of money, is to bridge the gap between Prometheus and the original quadrilogy. But the similarities are greater than that, they’re intentional callbacks to the original.  That made the footage from Covenant FEEL like Alien, as it took us to the same places that Alien did, only now we know what’s going to happen (and what has to happen). Scott delivers on his setups with glee, letting us know he’s right there with us. A facehugger scene featuring Billy Crudup was especially awesome. It’s a good bet there will be more moments like that in the footage still to come.

If the rest of the movie measures up to the three full scenes we were treated to then Alien: Covenant is going to be a must-see for anyone who is a fan of the original. And I’m guessing you’re a fan if you are reading this. This one could be great. I’m now super excited to see it when it opens May 19th. And if Scott is available for another screening then, all the better. Fingers crossed!

There’s much more to come from SXSW. Check out @assholemovies for more movies and photos as things happen!

The Founder

the-founder-movie-2016-trailer-michael-keatonI suppose it was to be expected that Ray Kroc, the “founder” of McDonald’s, was an asshole. But, wow, was he ever an asshole. He died well before this movie was made but it seems he would have agreed with that assessment and been fine with it since it got him where he wanted to be – it made him rich, eventually.

But not without some struggles. You see, he didn’t “create” McDonald’s until he was 52 years old, and the reason for the quotation marks is because he didn’t actually create it. But as we know, history is written by the victors, and that’s Ray Kroc.

Michael Keaton is extremely good as Kroc. Good to the point that he makes Kroc seem like almost a decent guy even though he’d take your last McNugget whether or not he was hungry. The great Nick Offerman and the familiar John Carroll Lynch are excellent as well as Kroc’s former partners, the McDonald brothers. Other familiar faces will pop up for a scene or two, but this movie is mainly about Kroc and the McDonalds.

The Founder’s story is an interesting and engaging one from start to finish. It skips around noticably at parts and I felt a bit disconnected from the movie as a result, but the core tale remained crisp, clear, and entertaining throughout, to the point that the lawyer side of me wanted to yell at the screen as one particularly bad decision was made.

So bring your notepad and find out how an empire can be built from practically nothing on someone else’s idea, as long as you don’t mind being an asshole about it. The Founder gets a score of seven “fries with that” out of ten.

Blade Runner

Jay provides an excellent litmus test anytime I’m unable to separate nostalgia from quality.  It happened with Star Wars, it happened with Indiana Jones, and it has now happened with Blade Runner.  As I write this, it occurs to me that Jay may just hate Harrison Ford, but let’s leave that aside for now.

Yes, because Blade Runner 2049 is on the horizon, I was able to convince Jay to watch Blade Runner with me earlier this week.  Anytime I can get Jay to watch what I will call nerd-fi, a category that includes most movies I saw in the 80s and 90s, it feels like a major brunner4victory.  But only until the movie starts, because so far, about 5 minutes into each movie I proudly show to Jay, she wonders why I bothered to beg her to watch this one, asking things like, “Do you remember it being this bad?” when the flying cars first come into view.

Maddeningly, I can’t even argue against her assessments.  In 2017, Blade Runner is not a great movie.  It’s not really even a good movie.  It’s a movie with vision, it’s beautiful to look at (though the flying cars do look as horrible as Jay pointed out), it brought dystopian futures and particularly Philip K. Dick to mainstream cinema, and it has an ambiguous ending that becomes even more so with every new cut issued by Ridley Scott.  But it’s also a movie with cornball acting, disposable characters that we are barely introduced to, and a ton of sequences that are beautiful but: (a) extremely repetitive (how many times do we need to see a car fly by a Coke billboard or the offworld blimp ad);  (b) essentially silent (like Ford’s visit to a food cart/open air diner); and (c) do nothing to advance the plot (which, let’s be honest, is probably about 35 minutes worth of movie without being padded by all the beautiful shots of futuristic Los Angeles).

brunnerStill, there is something to be said about Blade Runner and something reassuring about its continued relevance.  A big reason reason that the movie feels thin today is because it has been so influential.  We’ve seen so many films build on what Blade Runner started, and in comparison, Blade Runner is like a wheel made out of stone.  In that way, it’s important but if choosing between the original or the best that the genre has to offer today, the modern film is going to be the better one.  But there is still room in my heart for the rickety original, the one that was ahead of its time (and ahead of ours, as Blade Runner is set in the “distant” future of 2019).

And in some distant future of our own, maybe I will find a movie that I feel nostalgic for that also stands up to Jay’s critical eye.  Your suggestions are welcome!