Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Kick-Ass 2: Made To Have Fun, Otherwise What's The Point?

Here's why the first Kick-Ass worked in the grand scheme of the overpopulated superhero genre.  It took everything that was annoying about superhero tropes, spun them around and kicked them right in the... well... ass.  It's what everyone who watched the third Spider-man movie wanted to see: some people get killed.  It wanted to see a real dude, with no real powers, get into real life situations and fuck some people up.  We loved watching bad guys actually get killed... like really, really killed.  We liked seeing crazy Nicolas Cage in a Batman-esque suit, beat the living piss out of some cronies, then sit down with a smile and share some hot cocoa with this 12-year-old daughter.  We died laughing from watching said 12-year-old slice and dice baddies while speaking some of the most vile lines in cinema history.  Everything worked because it took a genre that, let's face it, is tired and basically said, hey, let's stop with the comic book adaptations already and just have some fun.

So, naturally, like the superhero movies they're satirizing, a sequel was bound to happen.  And it's not a bad sequel by any means, it's just not as satirical as you'd hope from a Kick-Ass film.  I wanted to see some real references to some real movies that have already pissed a lot of people off. This time around Dave (or Kick-Ass) has given up his life of vigilantism in favor of enjoying his senior year in high school.  Mindy (or Hit-Girl) has, however, not chosen high school life as she is the butt of cruel high school girl jokes.  She'd rather be punishing fools and dismembering them while spewing a semi-funny, entirely-dirty remark.  Evil son Chris D'Amico, formerly Red Mist, decides that being a super villain and exacting revenge on Kick-Ass is his life mission, so he sheds his Red Mist persona in favor of an S&M clad villain named The Motherfucker.  Once the shit hits the fan, Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl's priorities change and Hit-Girl decides to give up a life of justice and just try to figure out how to fit in.  Kick-Ass, on the other hand, joins a group of superheros led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Jim Carrey) as they seek out baddies on the street (or, ya know, perform simple acts of community service).  Of course, as the supergroup forms, The Motherfucker forms his own group of bad asses.  One by one, super-group members are picked off and it's up to Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl to join forces once more to destroy the forces of evil.

And it works.  You know, for what it's trying to accomplish, it is very entertaining.  Jim Carrey is nearly unrecognizable, yet the most fun character of the movie to watch.  Everyone new to the show has their own neat and funny little persona.  Even John Lequizamo as The Motherfucker's personal driver is comical.  But, and I can't believe me of all people is saying this, the film is too violent.  Now, let me explain.  When it's superheroes attacking supervillains... it's okay for the violence to be okay.  Even when it's unnamed cronies whacking unnamed passerbys... it's still a little okay.  But, something about an eight-foot-tall Russian woman murdering ten police officers in front of your eyes in the middle of a suburban street is just a little too unsettling and you're very aware of the violence you're watching.  It was a little too extreme.  There are other moments of extreme violence in the film that are certainly grotesque to watch, but fun in nature.  When Hit-Girl throws a bad guy out of a moving van on the freeway and his skull is crushed under the tire of another car is a wonderful moment.  But watching two innocent police officers get sliced up by a lawn mower is another thing altogether.

The cast is great, though.  Aaron Johnson, now ripped as F*%K!, is still very likable as the "nerdy" Kick-Ass.  Chloe Grace Moretz is fantastic as always.  The more and more I see of this girl, the more I know she's not going to fade into child-actor obscurity, but much like Joseph Gordon Levitt, escape with actual acting chops.  I think we're going to be seeing a lot more of her in the future.  And we should.  She actually shows the best range in the film.  She can be this tough little 15-year-old who can rip the throat from anyone she chooses, but she can also be a vulnerable little girl, one who's never kissed a boy and never really had a friend.  She displays this mix of toughness and vulnerability perfectly.  We can tell just by looking into her eyes that she's furious, yet sad all at the same time.

Would I recommend this film over, say, The Wolverine or Man of Steel? Yes I would.  Not because it's better... that I actually don't know as I haven't seen the aforementioned films and have no comparison.  But, the difference here is that I don't actually care if I see the other two.  I really wanted to see Kick-Ass 2.  If you liked the first one, you'll like this one.  Plain and simple.  It knows its audience and its audience knows whether or not they're down for some ultra-violence or not.  If anything, you should see it just to watch Jim Carrey go crazy on some guys with a wooden stick.  Now, that's entertainment!


The Butler: I'm Definitely Too White To Review This Movie.

Let's see here... white guy doing a movie review about Civil Rights... okay... treading lightly... treading lightly... beginning now... As a white male born of privilege... nope... bad start... there really is no way around this... God, I wish I was black... yeah, don't think I can say that either... um.... how about the story?

The Butler or because Warner Bros. are a bunch of douchenozzles, Lee Daniels' The Butler tells the story of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), a boy born a slave who witnesses the murder of his father, rising up out from the fields, into the house, out of the house into a hotel, out of the hotel and into the White House where he served as Butler to eight different presidents during his stay.  Of course, during this time, rights for (blacks? coloreds? African-Americans?  Shit, I'm screwed) were in the midst of a fray for equal rights.  Cecil's son, once old enough to leave for college, joins the civil rights movement and participates in numerous non-violent protests and ends up in jail over thirty times.  It's difficult to watch a man as respected and kind as Cecil have to endure the actions and the consequences of his idealistic son.  While both men butt heads throughout the film, neither one is truly wrong.  Cecil is just trying to put on his happy-face for the white man, be a fly on the wall until he is needed, work his ass off every single day to provide for his family (something most, um, black, families weren't able to do back then) and keep his head high.  His son wants persecution to end.  He wants to fight for the rights of all black people, no matter what the cost, even going so far as to join the Black Panther movement, where it becomes evident that sometimes you have to pick your battles.

From what I've gathered in my very minimal amount of research, most of the story is accurate.  It was refreshing to see such well-respected actors taking on the role of some of America's most important Presidents.  John Cusack, James Marsden, Alan Rickman, Liev Schreiber, and Robin Williams all portraying Presidents that had some hand in Civil Rights.  Marsden and Schreiber take the cake, though.  As JFK and LBJ respectively.  Both were political bad asses.  But, let's not forget that Oprah is in this movie, folks.  Yes, the richest woman in the galaxy.  And she's quite good, too.  It's almost a pity that she only chooses the same role, because if she's this good of an actress I'd like to see her in something a little more outside her chosen wheelhouse.

The movie isn't an entire success, however.  While I do feel that this is a very important movie for people to see (much like last year's The Help and the previous year's The Blind Side) tonally the film is a little awkward.  We want to empathize with Cecil and like him and understand the importance of his role as The Butler in the White House for over thirty years.  However, he's a difficult man to like at home as he's constantly butting heads with this son.  We also want to like his son because we agree with his ideals and us, now in 2013, can see the hatred that drove those times, but it's frustrating to know that by doing this he's putting his father's career in jeopardy.  We want to fall in love with Oprah, but the first half of the film she's a mean, drunk, almost reclusive housewife bored with her life, but too afraid to venture elsewhere.  We await the scenes in the White House with the Presidents and their own personal bonding moments with Cecil, but we're never really sure which face Cecil has on.

And the film is just sad.  I know that's probably the most obvious thing that I can say on here, but it's a depressing film.  Yes, we know how the Civil Rights movement turned out.  Yes we know that in [most of] America there isn't a Coloreds Only sign on water fountains or bathrooms or designated areas of Diners, but witnessing the hatred of this country of human beings is sickening to watch.  And, unfortunately for the viewer, every actor does a fine job in their role so it's even more heartbreaking.  I do understand that this film was made for essentially two reasons: the first, of course, is to tell Cecil's incredible journey, but it's also pretty clear that the second reason is to win awards.  There's no shame in that.  Some movies are just made to get that gold statue.  They're good movies, but they can be a little heavier (on purpose) to secure it.  That's kind of how The Butler felt for me.  It tries almost a little too hard to stick out in your mind, weigh heavily on your heart, and implant itself in your brain so you remember it when the Academy is ready to vote.  It is a very important film for most people to see, but just know, going into it, you're going to be taken for a very emotional ride... an emotional ride that isn't entirely genuine, but a little manipulating.


We're The Millers: What Does A Drug Dealer, A Stripper, A Virgin, and a Runaway Have In Common? Pot, Obviously!

It's been nearly a decade since writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber first made a name for himself with Dodgeball: An Underdog Story.  Then, after his success, he disappeared.  He either pulled a Salinger and decided that Dodgeball was going to be his one and only masterpiece... but considering the source material, I'm doubting that was the case.  Or, he was carefully looking for his next project.  It isn't exactly a total comeback for Thurber, but it is a nice step in the right direction.

Jason Sudekis plays David Clarke, a small-time pot dealer who works for Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms).  After a group of street punks steal his money and his pot, David is in a bit of trouble.  Gurdlinger gives David the option of paying him back with a single job or death, so, obviously, he goes for the job.  The job includes taking an RV down to Mexico, picking up a "smidge" of pot, and bringing it back.  David has no idea how this will be accomplished without getting caught until he realizes that the perfect cover for an RV full of pot is a wholesome looking family.  So, he recruits his stripper neighbor, Rose (Jennifer Aniston), his goofy, virgin neighbor Kenny (Will Poulter) and a homeless street punk girl Casey (Emma Roberts) to pose as his wife, son and daughter respectively to get him safely back across the border.  But, obviously, things don't run as smoothly as anticipated.  They're chased by cops, cartel killers, and the like.  They also share a lot of time with fellow RV-ers, Don and Edie Fitzgerald (Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn) who prove to be even more of a challenge when it comes out that Don is a DEA agent.

Had We're The Millers been a PG-13 comedy, I don't think it would've been very funny.  That isn't to say that it HAD to be dirty to get laughs, but in this case, it almost did.  It's got the premise of a safe family comedy to it and I think a PG-13 rating would've kept people away and would've been another RV until it was forgotten again.  Because of it's definitely hard-R rating, audiences are assured they're going to get a sick and twisted ride set against the background of a safe family romp.  But, it decided to stray away from the formula.  Yes, all of these characters have flaws and things they're going to have to learn and discover about themselves throughout the film, but it's none of the standard comedy movie road trip tropes we're used to.  David is selfish. Rose is sad. Kenny is a goober with no confidence. And Casey always pushes people away.  What these guys really needed all along is the one thing they've been missing... a family... awww.

The nuts and bolts of the movie really fit in nicely with one another.  Everything really works.  Each character's flaws coincide with another character's strengths.  Their quirks work on a deeper level than just the surface for the sake of comedy.  We genuinely feel for each character and root for them to succeed.  Especially little Kenny.  He's just so sweet and innocent and involved in one of the greatest make-out scenes in film history.  Lucky bastard.  But, it's the Fitzgeralds who really steal the show.  The [probably] Christian, [definitely] sexually repressed campers who latch on to our Millers from the get-go provide many of the numerous laughs of the film.  I'm not going to spoil anything for you, but there is a scene in what was probably dubbed: The Swingers Tent.

All in all the film is funny and does feel fresh.  Yes, you'll be able to see the ending coming a mile away, but it's the journey to the ending that is more fun than predictable.  I actually felt every actor was utilized to their potential except for Ed Helms.  His character, while a funny idea, wasn't exactly executed great.  Other than that though, I would still classify it as a winner and one of the funnier movies released this Summer.


Grown Ups 2: There Is No God

Here's the thing... before I get into my "review" of Grown Ups 2, I have to do a bit of reminding.  Not just for you fellow readers out there.  But for myself, as well.  Everyone involved with Grown Ups 2 once did something magical before that captured our hearts and made us love them.  Adam Sandler used to be the face of comedy we all looked forward to.  One of my childhood memories was getting Happy Gilmore on VHS and watching so much that the tape wore out.  He gave us The Wedding Singer, Big Daddy, and even The Waterboy.  Adam Sandler was not only considered beloved by many, but also considered funny by most.  Kevin James... his film career has been a short one, but do we remember The King of Queens?  Sure, sitcoms and canned laughter aren't for everyone, but not many people can deny that this show was funny.  James along with Jerry Stiller and Patton Oswalt was comedy in a bottle.  There's a reason it lasted for ten seasons.  And should we also forget his very sweet/funny role in the film Hitch? Chris Rock... for those of you who haven't heard his stand up comedy, just know that the man is a genius.  He is genuinely one of the top five funniest comics... of all time!  He's the smartest, most intellectual comic to grace a stage since the late George Carlin.  David Spade... man, you were in one of my all-time favorite movies, Tommy Boy.  I have a poster of it in my room.  You complimented Farley so well as the weasely-little man with the snippy comebacks.  Every line that came out of your mouth in that movie was so funny and the perfect foil for Farley's craziness.  Yes, everyone in this film was once a very respected person...  Adam Sandler, I don't know what it is, but you have this spell you put on people.  You make such abysmal movies now, movies that no one on this planet should see.  But we do.  And we hate you for it.  And we say we're never going to see another movie again.  Then, like Alzheimer's patients, your newest movie trailer is released and suddenly we're like... "okay, that one might not be so bad."  But it is.  It's worse than the one before it.  Adam Sandler, you're literally like one of my favorite people in Hollywood... why do you refuse to adapt to the humor of today??  Why are you stuck in the 90s with jokes that are so bad even the 90s are like "whoa, dude... don't give us credit for that!"  This is your first sequel too!  You could've picked any other goddamn movie you've ever done and given us a better sequel!  No sequel to Big Daddy?  No sequel to Anger Management?  Hell, we would've watched a sequel to Zohan because at least that movie had a plot!  How is your dumbest and most irrelevant fucking film the one you decided to do a sequel to?  Was it because you didn't have to do any work?  Was it because you got to hang out with your friends for a few months, make jerk each other off with your old-person 90s puns (literally the best witty remark in the film is: "I haven't been around this many arrogant white kids since Eminem played at Duke").  Seriously?? Eminem jokes??  I have a homework assignment for you, Sandler... watch a fucking movie from this era!  Watch a comedy movie and tell me if ANY of the humor in BOTH of your Grown Ups films are anything like what people enjoy now?  You're not a comedy staple anymore, buddy, you're becoming a slowly fading away novelty that people (who are older than 9) are just getting tired of.  If you'd simply just adapt to the times of what's funny now (because I guarantee you dressing up like a woman is STILL HILARIOUS) you'd be able to re-generate some of the respect lost.

Now, I'd like to point out that I didn't see the entire film of Grown Ups 2.  I was movie-hopping and there was an hour gap between films that I actually wanted to see and stepped into this movie about fifteen minutes late and left about fifteen minutes early (don't worry, I guarantee I didn't miss anything).  But, here's what I got as far as a plot goes: Everyone has moved to that place they were in the first movie because it was so much fun in the first movie even though it didn't look like it was much fun in the first movie to us but that doesn't matter because anything Sandler says goes so there's like this dance recital they go to for the young daughters but the dance recital teacher is a hot russian chick who dances like a stripper and then all the guys stare at her and love her and want her and then she's dating Stone Cold Steve Austin who says he's going to kick Sandler's ass but then he doesn't but then Sandler pretends like he was going to kick Stone Cold's ass but then he doesn't then they all go out for ice cream where Colin Quinn works because everybody was waiting for that day when Colin fucking Quinn would make his triumphant return to the screen and because its kinda like a metaphor for washed up people telling washed up jokes in a washed up film but anyway he works at an ice cream shop and when he stands on the machine to fix it and chocolate spills out it looks like he's pooping and its so funny because chocolate ice cream and poop look alike and then Chris Rock hates his mother in law and makes her wait for cable all day and then when she gets up to poop he pretends he missed her and leaves and then they all go to this cliff where they were when they were younger and then frat guys come over and then the frat guys make the other guys jump off naked and then kevin james is fat and then he jumps and lands on david spade and then its so funny because he's fat that he's learned to do this thing where he can burp, sneeze and fart all at the same time and its funny because he's fat so every time he does it obviously everyone in the theater laughs and then everyone is so embarrassed for these guys because they're naked and then they find a giant tire and put Spade in the tire and it rolls all through town with Spade in it and then it stops and then he throws up and probably poops too because at this point there hadn't been a poop joke in almost five minutes and then Kevin James gets taken to a car wash with his wife and then male cheerleaders wash their car and then you might actually smile at this scene because what's funny is all of the current SNL actors who still have a sense of what is funny in 2013 and then Sandler tries to teach his kid how to be a football kicker and then his kid breaks his leg and then Sandler feels like a bad dad but it's actually Spade who is a bad dad because he finds out he has a son and then he's also dating a girl who is a huge body builder and then they all eat dinner and talk about their day and then Kevin James is funny because he's fat and then Steve Buscemi is in it and it's weird because he's Nucky Thompson on Boardwalk Empire and he's also in this and it doesn't make any earthly sense because it's like being the best at having sex and then continually taking a hammer to your penis until it is warped and unusable and then they all decide to throw a huge 80s party and it all takes place in one day and they come up with the theme in that day and everyone already has a great costume and then you realize that the 80s were funnier than this movie and nobody liked the 80s and then Ellen Cleghorn and Cheri Oteri are in it and it just makes sense and then the J. Geils Band is in it and it just makes sense and then Kevin James burp, farts, sneezes one more time, my brain explodes inside my head, my eyes roll back, droll falls out of my mouth and I die in the theater.

I've seen National Geographic magazine covers funnier than Grown Ups 2.  I get more giggles walking down the Automotive Parts section of Target than I did with Grown Ups 2.  I've had more fun breaking my ankle and then still having to climb three miles down the Grand Canyon than I did in Grown Ups 2.  Take a good, long look at yourself, people.  This is now the idiot's litmus test.  If you meet someone who says that they liked either of these films, slowly back out of the room, while still remembering to blink, and get the hell out of there.  If you find yourself liking Grown Ups 2, there is a suicide hotline number that you can call.  They will help you.


(Review not proofread or given any attention to grammatical errors because if Adam Sandler doesn't care enough about me to write something good, then I don't care either).

Monday, August 5, 2013

2 Guns: Okay, Alright, Say Hello To Your Mother For Me.

Ah, the buddy cop movie.  It's got to be one of the best sub-genres of film ever invented.  And for some reason, it always works better when it's racially mixed.  Films like Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour, 48 Hours, Men In Black, Die Hard: With a Vengeance are much better than racially equivalent Hollywood Homicide, Big Momma's House 2, Tango and Cash, and White Chicks.  Of course, there are a few that do defy both rules.  National Security, The Man, Double Team, Cop Out, I-Spy, Bulletproof, Showtime, and Miami Vice are all terrible movies.  But, we know that Bad Boys and Hot Fuzz are great. So, there are always exceptions.  Buddy cop movies are so awesome a sub-genre, they spawned their own sub-sub-genre.  The buddy cop-dog movie!  Movies like Turner and Hooch, K-9, and Top Dog.  Hell, there's even a buddy-cop-kid movie.  Remember Cop-And-A-Half?  So, pardon me if I gush for a moment over a genre that, when done right, can bring us a very pleasurable movie-going experience.

I know I harp a lot about plot and character and all of that nonsense when writing these reviews.  It's an important factor to me when I go to see a movie.  Even a movie such as Pacific Rim wasn't junky enough to warrant these factors escape from my mind when watching the film.  I need to like someone, don't I?  I can tell you one thing, though, when it comes to buddy-cop movies... you don't need it.  It's already there.  When you've got two dudes, who usually don't like each other in the beginning, are forced into a partnership, and end up becoming best friends... that's all the conflict and character you need, friend!  That's why the racial dynamic works so well.  Why do you think everyone and their mother loved the first Rush Hour?  It was a fast-talking black dude partnered up with a fast-kicking little Asian guy!  I mean, who the hell writes this stuff?  All you need is to put them into an unfamiliar situation, their cultures clash, add some bad guys trying to kill them... and the action-comedy ensues.  It's not rocket science, people!  And don't act like you're above the buddy cop movie, because you're not.  You like at least one of the movies I've mentioned (and chances are it's one of the dog ones.  Boo-ya!)

In 2 Guns, the buddy cop film is in fine fashion... mostly.  First, you've got Denzel Washington. Everyone loves Denzel.  Why?  I don't know how to even explain it.  He's got this charm that sucks you in, this voice that melts you, this smile/look that captures your attention and makes you fall in love with the man.  He's a great actor and he's quick witted.  He does whatever the hell he wants whenever the hell he wants because he doesn't have to make shit movies for a paycheck.  He gets to pick the movies that he wants to do whether or not he's decided he wants to win an Oscar this year or just have some fun blowing stuff up with a white dude.  That's why we love Denzel.  Then, you've got Mark Whalberg, who is slowly becoming just a charming as daddy D.  We already know Whalberg can act (*cough* The Departed), and we know he can make us laugh (The Other Guys, Ted), so he's won us over already.  Put these two together and you've got yourself a movie, fella!

So, what's 2 Guns about?  Well, to be honest, it doesn't even matter, but I'll try my best to relay what I gathered during the viewing.  Denzel and Marky are two criminals working for some Mexican douchebag who sells fake passports and cocaine.  They decide to rob his bank of three million dollars.  They do so.  They don't find three million dollars, they find forty three million and this gets them curious.  Marky shoots Denzel and takes off with the money.  Oh, yeah, and Denzel's not actually a criminal, he's an undercover DEA agent.  Oh, and I forgot, Marky's not a criminal either.  He was undercover working for the NAVY.  So, they both go back to say the other one is not a criminal and they're both double-crossed by their superiors.  Um... not sure why.  I think the NAVY is... um... nevermind, it hurts to think about.  Anyway, so money actually belonged to White douchebag who works for the CIA... I think.  Maybe they just said that.  Maybe I made it up.  So, Denzel and Marky have to work together to fight all the douchebags that are coming after them.

Where the movie fails in parts is when they separate the two in favor of [unimportant] exposition and an attempt at a plot.  Every time someone is trying to explain something new to one of the guys, you're sitting there just waiting for the scene to end so Marky and Denzel can get back together to making you laugh and kicking some ass.  The two have unbelievable chemistry together, and this might be one of the rare occasions that Mark Whalberg outshines Denzel in the movie.  Now, that's not to say daddy D doesn't hold his own, but Whalberg just looks like he's have such a blast, like a fat kid swimming in a chocolate pool.  Bill Paxton even does a good job as White Douchebag.  He's actually a little more menacing than you'd expect out of Paxton.  He's also not trying to be the guy that would get into a fistfight with either of these guys, because you know exactly whose ass would be pounded into the pavement.  He's just a guy that carries a gun, says horrible menacing shit, a few witty remarks, and then you're dead.  Simple as that.

Look, there's no point in arguing with me.  There's a little piece of you that wants to see this movie.  You're worried it's going to be stupid and lame and dumb and whatever.  But, I encourage you to listen to that little piece, because that piece... the part that has fun expectations... is correct.  You'll have a good time.  You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll shout, you'll be happy you went out to see it.  It's a decent movie - when the two are together.  Because, guess what, people... Denzel Washington doesn't make bad movies.  And you know you're looking for something to fill that buddy-cop void until Rush Hour 4 makes it to theaters in 20whatever.


Friday, August 2, 2013

The Way Way Back: Emphatically The Best Movie This Year So Far

You're standing at the marquee.  You're unsure of what to see.  Someone has told you that you can only see one movie this entire summer and you're not sure what to pick.  You could go with something big-budget and action.  You could go with something you thought might be funny starring Sandra Bullock.  You could go with the horror movie that looks so scary.  No. You go see The Way Way Back.  It is without a doubt the best movie of the year thus far.  If you like any of what you saw in the trailer, it only gets better.  Nat Faxon (one of the German dudes from Beerfest) and Jim Rash (the Dean from Community) follow up their Oscar wins (for The Descendants) with one of the best, most charming, undoubtedly funny, coming of age stories I've seen in a long while.

Duncan is a 14-year-old, awkward and painfully shy kid on his way to his mom's boyfriend's beach house.  His mom's boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell) is a huge dick.  But he's a subtle dick.  A very passive-aggressive dick who treats Duncan, and frankly, everyone else as though they were below him.  His mother (Toni Collette) is endearing, but has to sort of separate who she is with Duncan in order to fit the lifestyle of Trent.  At the beach house Duncan is ignored, mocked and left to himself while everyone else is able to have a good time.  In the midst of being the outcast, and viewed as the weird kid who awkwardly spews random thoughts at inappropriate times to the cute girl next door, he discovers Water Wizz, a local water park run by Owen (Sam Rockwell) and populated by workers Caitlin (Maya Rudolph), Roddy and Lewis (Faxon and Rash).  Owen takes Duncan under his wing, gives him a job and essentially teaches him about life outside his family and, more importantly, his shell.

Everything about this movie is on point.  The writing is fantastic, especially with Carell's character. He is able to say the most screwed up things to Duncan, but in such a backhanded way that only the person receiving the verbal abuse would truly understand how unbelievably mean it really is. It's strange seeing sweetheart Steve Carell let loose from his typecast goofball, to being an unlikable douchebag.  And he plays it well.  But, it's Sam Rockwell that steals the show.  He talks a mile a minute, every line that comes out of his mouth is one that is searching for a laugh, not just from us viewers, but from the characters around him too.  He's that comedian that doesn't know how to turn it off, but instead of it coming off annoying, it's endearing.  So, when it's time for him to get serious, we believe it.  I have to believe that there was just an outline of the dialogue Rockwell was to use in the script as a guide, and that directors Faxon and Rash just let him loose as soon as they turned on the camera because what comes out is comedy gold.

Sometimes coming of age movies are hard to get behind if we don't really like or connect with the kid.  Here Liam James as Duncan does the perfect job of showing that he isn't a bad kid, or even a particularly weird one, he's just awkward because he's been put off by so many people in his life.  He's literally the saddest kid in the world and all we want is for something good to happen to him.  There is a gradual and organic change to Duncan, as well.  It doesn't happen over night and the lessons the water park teaches him are ones he can carry with him throughout his life, not just applicable for that summer.

Along with Rockwell, the film is populated with fun and colorful characters. Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, and especially Allison Janney as the kooky, but kind-hearted neighbor fill this movie with such fun and joy for its audience.  Once it gets going, it's one of those films that you never want to end.  You want to watch Duncan go back to the water park every single day of summer just to see what will happen or what craziness ensues, or what outrageous thing Owen is going to say or do next.  It's such a wonderful movie that I will be recommending to everyone.  It's one of those movies that I will eventually be able to tell people is one of my favorite movies of all time.  It's one of those movies I'll want to introduce to new people each time I meet someone.  It's one of those movies I'll watch every couple of months just to remind myself that great filmmaking isn't dead.  The movie is damn near perfect, and though it may seem as though the coming of age story is a little tired and predictable, The Way Way Back is anything but.  If you are only allowed to see one movie this summer, your choice has been made for you.


The To-Do List: If John Hughes Wrote About Handjobs

Losing your virginity movies were so 90s.  They became formulaic and, eventually, after American Pie, unable to recreate the magic.  So, aside from Steve Carell losing it as a 40 year old, the cherry popping comedy films of yore were rarely ever made/watched.  This is, however, until a new spin was put into the formula and a female lead was born.  How had this not been done before?  Girls want to lose their virginity too!  I guess it must've been the disbelief that a girl actually had to TRY to lose her virginity instead of just pick someone at random.  In The To-Do List Aubrey Plaza does a fine job of playing nerdy, uptight girl seeking her first D.

It's fitting that virginity movies were prominent in the 90s because The To-Do List takes place in 1993, I'm guessing as an in-joke commentary about the films themselves (as well as the fact that everyone in the movie playing 18 is well over the age of 25, something 90s movies tried to play up).  It is a little fun to see things not seen anymore like VHS tapes, landlines, and trapper keepers. Plaza plays Brandy, a straight-A, valedictorian, high school graduate virgin who deeply wants to lose her virginity to meat-head Rusty Waters.  So, in order to do so, she decides that she needs to amp up her sexual experience so that her first time isn't a train wreck.  She makes a list of everything people do sexually that will eventually lead up to her first romp in the sack.  What's great about the film is that it's filled with talented comedic actors that lend a hand to Brandy's quest. Clark Gregg plays Brandy's father, channeling his inner Stanley Tucci.  Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele play Brandy's more sexually experienced best friends willing to lend very uncensored advice.  Rachel Bilson, in a hilarious role, plays Brandy's sister who treats sex like it's as routine as changing a shirt.  Bill Hader plays Brandy's boss at the local pool, and is arguably the funniest person in the film.  If it wasn't for Bilson and Hader, the film probably would've fallen by the wayside, but it's because of them and an assortment of other relatively known comedic actors that the film actually works.

What's nice is that Aubrey Plaza is quite believable as nerd.  She looks like an average female.  She's not an outrageously gorgeous girl who dons a pair of glasses and is suddenly a social pariah.  There's no magical She's All That transformation in the film.  In fact, her look stays the same the entire time, it's her inner confidence that's transformed.  It's not riotously funny as it should be with some of the names attached, but there is a significant amount of comedy.  What was nice to see is that nothing was held back even though there was a female lead.  Brandy is inexperienced enough in sex that she can question literally what everything is from a handy to a pearl necklace and her discoveries of each individual act leads to great comedy.  What's also convenient is that because the film is set in 1993, there is no internet to find out what each of these mean.  There was no encyclopedia entry on what motorboating is.  There is a lot of juvenile bodily fluid humor, but that's to be expected from a film like this.

What's also really cool is to see the using people for sex dynamic turned around.  Usually it's the guy using women to try and boost his sexual prowess, however this time around it's the men that are treated as objects to Brandy.  Donald Glover, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Andy Samburg... all sexual objects whose background and character development mean nothing.  They're there to give us a couple of laughs, fulfill Brandy's needs, and be on their way never to be seen again.  While there is nothing particularly original about The To-Do List, and her motivation for making the list isn't exactly that compelling or even believable, it's still a fun little summer comedy that is going to provide plenty of laughs for its audience.  What I don't understand is how badly it's going to do in the box office.  People flock to see the newest big budget explosion movie that they know in their hearts is going to suck, yet when there's a small comedy released such as this full of actors everyone knows and likes, no one makes an effort to go see it.

I doubt that it's going to be in theaters much longer, anyway, but this film is worth a look.  It's extremely crude, it's disgusting in parts, but overall it's pretty funny.  You'll be able to guess what happens in almost every scene because this obviously isn't the first of its kind, but in-between, prepare to laugh pretty heartily.


Red 2: The Malkovich Show Returns

Does anybody remember the first Red?  I mean, honestly remember it?  I don't mean you remember that it was a decent little action flick that was certainly entertaining... I mean, do you remember specific plot points about the story, or funny lines, or even if Morgan Freeman isn't in the sequel because he died in the first one or not?  Because I don't!  Did Morgan Freeman die?  I don't remember.  Here's what I do remember: that I one time watched Red, that when it was over I remember going, "huh... that wasn't terrible", and then nothing else.  It was one of those fun, entertaining, and extremely forgettable films that I saw, conquered, and blanked from my mind.  That's exactly what's going to happen with Red 2.

Retired CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is at it again.  He's trying to live the quaint suburban Costco-dwelling life with his girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker) when his old buddy Marvin (John Malkovich) shows up and informs Frank that there's still people out to kill them.  He then receives a call from his old buddy Victoria (Helen Mirren) saying she's just been hired to kill him.  So, the crew get back together along with a couple of new faces (Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones) to stop a nuclear bomb from going off in Russia... or England... or America... actually I wasn't quite sure about that one (the plot jumps around a lot).  The whole way they're being chased and shot at by two separate baddies (a white dude and a chinese dude whose names you won't know).  There's car chases, and shoot-outs, and a lot of fun to be had.  And yet, once you leave your seat by the end credits, you'll have a hard time remembering specifics of what you just witnessed.

It's not that the Red movies are bad, because they're still a higher quality action movie that most of what gets released (I'm looking at you Taylor Kitsch).  It's just that they have nothing inherently special about them.  The only thing that really sets them apart from other action films are Malkovich playing a paranoid bomb-nut and Mirren kicking everyone's ass.  There are quippy lines, funny moments, absurd action, and plenty else to keep you happy and entertained for two hours, but it's nothing with staying power.  This is one of those cases of a film getting a sequel that absolutely no one asked for, but no one was really upset with, either.  I mean, how could you be?  All of the characters are so extremely likable you're rooting for everyone all at once, particularly newbie to the franchise Anthony Hopkins is a delight.  And, the writing isn't bad.  There are a couple of plot twists that I didn't see coming.  There are a few I did, but that's all part of the deal with sequels.

It's not going to be a waste of time seeing Red 2, and it won't kill too many brain cells, and if you can actually follow the plot (because it seems like there isn't one at some points and there is one but is too convoluted to follow in others), then you'll have a fun little two hours at the movies.  And, really, isn't that the point of going out to see a film, anyway?


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Only God Forgives: Drive, It Is Not

Most of you probably won't be able to see Only God Forgives in theaters.  It was given a very limited release and it hasn't been too favored with critics.  It's a film that probably deserved a wider release, but due to it's "artsiness" and bad reviews, will probably float on by average joe moviegoer without so much as a second glance.  And I'm not sure this if this is a bad thing or not.  For those who know what the film is and have a desire to see it, I'd suggest seeking it out while it's still in theaters because there are aspects of the film that just won't translate as well on a television.  But, for those who are simply just Gosling fans, not really sure what to expect, I'd suggest waiting... probably forever.

Only God Forgives is Ryan Gosling and writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn's new baby after their much more successful and considerably better vehicle, Drive.  This time around Gosling plays Julian, a drug-smuggler living in the underworld of Thailand, whose brother, a pederast and murderer, is killed.  Julian's mother (played by an almost unrecognizable Kristen Scott Thomas) arrives in Thailand to see her son's body and put a hit out on anyone involved with the killing.  She first asks Julian to do the deed, but after finding out why his brother was killed in the first place, allows the killer to go free.  Momma don't like this one bit, so she hires goons to do the job for her.  Now, this sounds a lot more exciting than the film really is.  It's not your typical revenge flick.  It's slow moving, it's quiet, and it's very subtle in every way except for the violence.  Much like in Drive, the ultraviolence in the film can be quite unsettling.

Director Refn has a definite style to his movies.  He can beautifully light up a scene or darken it with neon colors.  His choreography is set specifically to the pulsating tone of the soundtrack.  He lingers on shots that can give you goosebumps.  There will always been at least one instance of shocking violence, and trust me there is much in this film, and not the good kind either.  He's a slower, more precise director that, depending on the film, could be his accomplishment or his downfall.  Here, it's a little of both.  While the entire film is beautiful to watch and mesmerizing to listen to, the rest of it falls almost into the category of: "art for the sake of art" without much else to say.  I will say this, however, that Gosling has found his niche.  The quiet badass who you know has anger and revenge bubbling up inside of him, but the clean, handsome, almost hypnotizing exterior.

The film itself is a slow-paced, very strange romp through the lives of others that no one will sympathize with.  Every character in the film is utterly despicable and the only reason it keeps our attention is that we, ashamedly, want to know what these horrible human beings are going to do next.  It's an arthouse film for the Saw generation.  And while I don't think it was necessarily a bad film, I'm certainly not sure if I liked it.  I think I did... but I really don't know.