Tag Archives: shits and/or giggles

The Leisure Seeker

This movie is about a couple of charming runaways on the lam. They haven’t committed any crimes but they’re keen to evade the responsibilities that weigh on them at home. We’ve seen lots of movies about people on the open road, but we’ve rarely seen a man beleaguered by Alzheimer’s helming a large winnebago while his cancer-stricken wife navigates and their adult children are panicking at home.

Ella (Helen Mirren) should be in the hospital receiving treatment, but instead she’s choosing this one last hurrah before Alzheimer’s has her husband John (Donald Sutherland) completely within its clutches. The Leisure Seeker is the name of their the-leisure-seekerbeloved RV, and this road trip is designed to trigger memories of happier times – their young family at play, their former selves in love. It’s obvious that the ‘in love’ part has never really faded for Ella and John, and maybe this is why it’s so hard for her to cope when he can’t remember who she is.

The pair hit the interstate armed with pecan logs, slides of old photos, and yes, a gun. This film is a moving eulogy to all the things that are slipping away – not just for John and Ella personally, but also perhaps on a more national scale (like a sense of community for one – though attempts to be any more political feel out of place). But as John’s moments of lucidity grow shorter and Ella’s anguish grows deeper. The Leisure Seeker is pointed toward Florida but we can’t deny what they’re truly headed for.

Mirren and Sutherland make the movie of course – the camera rarely strays from this couple so strongly bonded they can’t even bear to sleep in separate beds. Sutherland spins the dial on the many shades of dementia, his face quietly registering all of them. Mirren wears a cheerful mask but Ella’s pain and smouldering anger never disappear completely. This Brit and her Canadian costar make watching this American road trip movie worth while – even if their Italian director doesn’t quite get it right. The acting, however, is everything, and the casting is spot-on even if Mirren is inconsistent with her southern accent. Just as we’re meeting them, they’re getting ready to say their goodbyes. This is a bittersweet journey, and you’re welcome to tag along. You can leave your gun at home, but do pack some tissues.

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CHIPS

CHIPS is an exercise in tempered expectations. One title card should be all the tempering you need: ‘written and directed by Dax Shepard.’ Dax Shepard isn’t exactly a visionary film maker. At best, he’s taking home a Participation ribbon from the He’s Trying His Best Awards. But why would you expect more from a guy who got his start on the prank show Punk’d? His whole career has been one big blinking caution sign: Hey guys, PLEASE don’t take me seriously, because I sure as hell don’t.

That said, CHIPS wasn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting – but then again, maybe that’s because I was expecting hot, runny garbage and what I got was a neat and tidy compost bin. You may hope for “HAHAHAHAHA!”, but count yourself lucky to get a few “hehs”.

Chips-The-Movie-15I am much, MUCH too young (and beautiful, but that’s besides the point) to have grown up watching CHIPS so the movie didn’t do a damn thing to disillusion my childhood or anything near as serious. It’s a dumb movie written by a guy with a pretty juvenile sense of humour. What you see is what you get.

Shepard plays Jon Baker, a slob, a deadbeat, and a broken shell of an ex-motor cross rider, and he’s also the lowest-scoring guy to ever be pity-hired by California Highway Patrol. Baker’s about to beĀ partnered with his polar opposite, the suave, well-groomed, cocky undercover agent Ponch (Michael Pena) who’s investigating the CHP for crooked cops. Somehow they have to overcome the deficiencies of their partnership (and the script) to take down some very bad dudes.

The movie has its moments: good moments, and hella-bad moments. I did enjoy seeing paparazzi get plowed, Adam Brody get shot multiple times, and Vincent D’Onofrio be described as a man who “never sent a mother’s day card” and maybe also “eats koala bears.”

There’s no mistaking this for a good movie but if you’re in the right kind of mood (read: loosey-goosey), it just might do. And the fact that the cast is rounded out by tonnes of people who have either worked with Shepard or his lovely wife Kristen Bell before to me speaks volumes: he must be a good dude with the comedy stylings of a brazen 12 year old at his first sleepover. Friends in the cast include Ryan Hansen (from Veronica Mars), Josh Duhamel (When In Rome), Maya Rudolph (Idiocracy), Jessica McNamee (Sirens), and Mae Whitman and Rosa Salazar, both from Parenthood. I’m not saying it makes for a good movie, because it doesn’t. But it must mean something, right? In this case, it means a 100-minute celebration of the brainless low-brow.

It Had To Be You

It Had To Be You is an interesting gender-role reversal. For once it’s the boyfriend who’s the serious one, ready to make a commitment and put a ring on it, and it’s the girlfriend who is reluctant to do the whole marriage thing. Unfortunately, Sonia (Cristin Milioti) and Chris (Dan Soder) haven’t really talked about their differences, so when he blindsides her with a romantic proposal, he’s pretty hurt when she balks and can’t accept.

She doesn’t exactly say no, but the ‘time to think’ required stretches on into infinity and MV5BNzg0NzE3ODUzOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjY5OTgyMDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1776,1000_AL_pretty soon Chris is fed up with waiting. In the wake of their inevitable breakup, Sonia is inspired by a fellow subway rider’s thong (no I am not making that up, thankyouverymuch) to fly to Italy to find herself, and by herself, I mean some Italian guy’s dick.

I won’t pretend this is a super great movie, but I gave it a try because I really like both Milioti and Soder (any other campers out there?) as comedians, and it turns out, worth the risk. The script is just clever enough to revive a genre that usually stinks like a four day old walleyed fish, and the two leads are un-actory and quirky enough to be likeable, relatable, and not quite predictable.

So there you have it: It Had To Be You is like a nice, refreshing glass of lemonade on a hot summer’s day. Sangria would have been better, but lemonade will do. šŸ˜‰

 

Opening Night

Topher Grace plays a failed Broadway star turned production manager and we, the audience, are invited behind the red velvet curtain as he wrangles an eccentric and needy cast onto the stage for opening night of a new Broadway musical.

The musical is about one-hit-wonders of the 1980s starring NSYNC’s “other guy”, JC Chasez, and it’s an absolute pile of crap. But garbage or no, Nick (Grace) has to put out fires backstage (sometimes literally) because THE SHOW MUST GO ON. Even though the kind thing would be to put it out of its misery.

I always admire people who can laugh at themselves and JC Chasez certainly fulfills that opening-night-movie-topher-gracerole in this production, openly mocking his boyband status. But the script leans way too hard on these jokes, making it painfully obvious there’s just little else to this so-called film. It’s raunchy but without edge. The material wears exceedingly thin after the first several minutes and then you’re stuck behind the scenes of a musical you wouldn’t see for free. Supporting actors Anne Heche and Taye Diggs fail to bring anything interesting to the table, and Rob Riggle is downright irritating. Riggle does ONE thing, and that thing is annoying as fuck. It’s beyond time for him to just go away already.

Anyway, this is a too-short review just to say: skip it.

 

Out To Sea

Herb and Charlie are best friends and brothers-in-law. Herb is the responsible one, Charlie the scamp. So of course it’s Charlie’s idea to scam a free cruise by pretending to be a dance instructor, and to trick his recently widowed bud Herb into doing the same (though at least Herb’s got some legit moves).

Of course, Charlie’s hoping to do more than just dance on this cruise; he’s hoping to score himself a rich wife. Herb (Jack Lemmon), still in love with his deceased wife, is not ready lemmon-and-matthau.jpgfor the swinging bachelor existence Charlie has planned for them on board, but that’s only half his trouble. A snarky entertainment director is on to them and their little ruse could cost them thousands of dollars that neither can afford (hello, gambling my old friend!) if found out and no amount of Rue McClanahan flirtation can save them.

Matthau and Lemmon are of course good for some madcap hilarity. I’m struck by how physical Matthau’s comedy continues to be into his old age. This movie is pretty stupid plot-wise, but the chemistry between old pals Matthau and Lemmon is tonnes of fun and magical as ever. This is the 9th of their 10 collaborations and you never get tired of seeing them together. Does it make up for a weak script? Not really. But if you’re reaching all the way back to 1997, you’re doing it because these are beloved figures who crack you up doing their soft-shoe shtick, not because you’re expecting to uncover a hidden gem that’s somehow lain dormant for two decades. Jack and Walt were the OGs as far as Bromance is concerned. Matt and Ben have a long way to go before we’re willing to let them flirt so shamelessly with our grandmas.

Free and Easy

To be honest, it took me a while to adapt to the pace of this movie. It is slow, deliberate, and very measured. There’s no getting ahead of yourself. But the unusual story and glimmers of humour hooked me and I was glad I stuck it out. Free and Easy is genuinely something that feels new and unique.

It’s about a “soap salesman” who never sells a single bar but does encourage people to sniff his product (“a different scent on all 4 sides!”) because doing so induces loss of consciousness. Once his would-be customers are asleep on the ground, he frisks them for money and valuables. So he’s really a thief, posing as a salesman.

1_22_free-and-easy1-676x450Director Geng Jun shows us a side of China rarely seen: crumbling, bleak, all but abandoned. This cold, deserted, post-industrial town inĀ northeastern China is dotted with rural characters, and they’re all as shady as the salesman.

It almost watches like loosely connected vignettes, a series of petty crimes where corruption and lawlessness is the new normal. But whenever these criminals encounter each other, you can’t help but laugh. The humour is deadpan but it landed surprisingly well for a movie that runs the risk of being lost in translation. There’s some slap stick, which I suppose is universal, but really it’s just the contrast between this totally depressing setting and the buffoons that populate it that just works.

The film is minimalist but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of attention to detail poured into each shot. Out-of-focus details often sharpen into the butt of the joke. You have to stay alert to small gifts planted by the director along the way. Sure the subtext of the film is a little depressing, but it’s delivered in such an obliquely funny way, the message presented by sliding it in sideways, that you’ll laugh appreciatively at things that aren’t even overtly funny. In a film full of grifters, it’s the cops who are the dirtiest Ā of them all. That’s the lens through which contemporary, provincial China is explored in (ironically titled) Free and Easy, and the film stays remarkably on-brand.

Take Me

Ray (Pat Healy) is an unconventional entrepreneur: he runs a simulated kidnap business where he abducts people and holds them hostage for as many hours as they’ve paid for. He thinks he’s hit pay dirt when a beautiful young woman (Anna, Taylor Schilling) is willing to pay for a whole weekend’s worth of captivity and is prepared to throw in a little extra for some rough stuff.

But Anna’s abduction doesn’t go as smoothly as all the others: someone’s reported her MV5BM2Q5ZWUzMGYtOWEzNS00N2IzLTlhNTItM2RjN2ZhZDBlOTg4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTE2NzA0Ng@@._V1_disappearance to the cops, for one thing. And Anna’s claiming that whoever hired him, it wasn’t her. So now her kidnapping is for real, Ray’s in trouble with the law, and he can’t let her go until he sorts it all out. Too bad Ray’s not exactly the brightest bulb. Bumble, bumble, bumble.

First time director Pat Healy creates an interesting atmosphere that’s half tension, half farce, and the two leads toe the blurry line well together. It took me a while to get into this because it’s not your typical crime thriller; Ray is not a criminal mastermind, he’s actually just not very good at his job. Tonally, you might find it more in the vein of Mindhorn than Taken. It’s quirky, there are some great gags, the character study is fascinating. It explores this seedy fantasy\role play underground culture while keeping a fairly light, jovial tone. But at 83 minutes, it also feels like it’s stretching to make an interesting premise into a feature-length idea. It feels thin in places. So while it’s an interesting experiment in film, it doesn’t quite work the way you wish it would.

The House

I’m feeling uninspired. I’m not sure I can identify the exact problem with this movie. It has a talented cast and a promising premise – and truth be told, it did make me laugh, sporadically. But its squandering of potential deflated my enjoyment of the film.

Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler play parents who love their kid to death and are deeply embarrassed that they can’t afford to send her to her dream college when a town scholarship falls through. Instead of coming clean they decide to open an underground casino with their shadiest friend, who has just been left by his wife in large part due to his gambling addiction.

TELEMMGLPICT000133626218-large_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqrpfQw2hJyG_yckwxPAr0ggGNY_A2dHyghdflyNWj5P8When The House has the strongest pulse, it’s cutting close to satire: the tragic middle class, the American dream, the panic of empty nesters. But unfortunately it relies too heavily on its stars to do “bits” rather than writing actual characters who could stand up on their own. I don’t know who Ferrell and Poehler were supposed to be as people, and it’s possible they didn’t know either. They just pop up, unformed, clown around, and never even stumble into an arc.

The comedy pinballs from farce to the strangely violent; yes, it’s uneven, but it’s also way darker than it needs to be. It’s trying to be wild and crazy, and adding Jason Mantzoukas to the mix is definitely the right choice as he electrifies every scene he’s in. But it’s not enough. The movie falls flat every time they step away from him, the Ferrell and Poehler characters seeming lost and sending out mixed signals. They seem content within their little bubble, then they rail against, then they profit from it. They pay for their mistakes by taking from their friends and neighbours. It feels unseemly, and it’s hard to root for them. Hectic editing tries to cover for plotting that’s just plain absurd. And the writing’s just lazy. I wasn’t even allowed to turn in a first draft of a seventh grade composition, yet this whole $40M budget movie got made based on a rough draft. A very rough draft.

It feels like we’re overdue for a genuinely laugh-out-loud comedy, but this isn’t it. It cracked me up in a few places, but never without letting me see how hard the actors were working to land the sub-par material. It’s a meh of a movie and easily forgotten.

Paul

There’s just something right to me about a Nick Frost – Simon Pegg pairing. And this movie celebrates their inherent dweebitude. Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) are just a couple of nerds visiting the U.S. for comic con and then an alien-themed road trip, you know, Area 51, Roswell, New Mexico, all those popular conspiracy theorist tourist traps. Only this road trip just happens to bring them a real alien, and his name is Paul (voiced\motion captured by Seth Rogen).

MV5BMTQxODA4NDc2Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjQzMDQ2NA@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_.jpgPaul crash-landed here decades ago and has put up amiably with interrogation and testing, but he’s making his escape now that the only thing left is to slice and dice him. Is the government simply going to let him get away? Of course not. Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, and Joe Lo Truglio are all hot on his tail (he doesn’t have a tail). Graeme and Clive have an RV and a religious one-eyed woman named Ruth (Kristen Wiig) and that’s about it: not ideal fleeing-the-government provisions, but it’ll have to do.

Paul is a love letter to science fiction fans. Pegg and Frost made the film’s pilgrimage in real life, and based the script on some of their odd encounters. The idea first came to them on a rainy night on the set of Shaun of the Dead, where they quickly sketched the character. Cameos and references to pop (science) fiction abound – how many can you spot? Paul is a real tribute to the genre but also just genuinely funny, even for those of us without an intrinsic love of extraterrestrials. This isn’t an excellent movie, but it’s a good enough movie, and frankly, it’s funnier than anything presently in theatres.

Rough Night

Rought Night is a rough watch. It’s aiming for somewhere between Bridesmaids and The Hangover, but winds up just a shade north of unwatchable. The cast is nimble enough (though I have no love to spare for Scarlett Johansson), but the script treats them abominably.

The premise, as you might have deduced from a trailer that’s not doing it any favours: ScarJo is getting married, and her friends treat her to a bachelorette party in Miami. But MV5BMjI4ODU0MTM3N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjgzMzA2MjI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1404,1000_AL_the fun gets spoiled when the stripper gets accidentally murdered, and the hen party suddenly has to hide the dead rooster. The situation is wildly implausible and uncomfortably phony. Some have complained that the script focuses more on comedy than on story, and while I agree that story was largely absent, so were the jokes. I don’t think I laughed once, and I love me some Kate McKinnon.

The thing is, the film tries to do this interesting gender swap, where the ladies are at some wild, drunken weekend of debauchery and the bachelor party is having a sweet and sensitive wine tasting, chaste and polite. And the poor groom is left behind, wondering if his honey is cheating on him, stressing about unreturned phone calls and unrequited love. But in actuality, all it really means is that both the plot and the subplot are disturbingly trite, pathetic, and thoughtless. Basically, it’s twice the suck. Suck squared. And my life just doesn’t need that much disappointment, ya know?

It’s not much of a feminist comedy if only 2 of the 5 main characters matter. It’s not much of a comedy period if the 2 characters who do matter are one-dimensional at best, and there aren’t enough laughs to make these cardboard cutouts any thicker. I didn’t have the time of day for this movie. I mean, it literally stole 101 minutes from me, and left a big empty hole where some belly laughs belonged.