Friday, July 24, 2015

Pixels: A Festering Cesspool Of Rotting Animal Carcass Wrapped Up And Called An Adam Sandler Film

I swear to God, Adam Sandler will have his comeback comedy.  He'll eventually give up his tired ways of trying so hard not to make us laugh that his big return will shock and awe the world.  I don't know how long it will take.  I don't know when it will happen.  But, no matter how many shit blossom films he makes, there will be the one that defies all logic.  I will continue to believe this until the day I die or Sandler retires from film due to the nut cancer he contracts as karma for taking so much money from so many people and returning with cankerous discharges he's called his films for the last decade. As much of a revelation as I'm sure it's going to be to you all... Pixels is not that film.

Pixels is awful.  Like pulling out spinal fluid, but in an alley in Mexico awful. It's some of the laziest writing I've ever seen on screen. The writers took a great concept and assaulted it until it was beyond recognition.  It might actually be harder to write a movie this lazy and incoherent than it would be to insert a single joke that lands in the entire film.  You have to actually try to be this unfunny and this not clever. It's so lazy, in fact, it's like the writers had a giant poster on the wall in front of their computer screens as they were writing it that just read FUCK IT in giant letters and whenever they forgot about a plot point they needed to respond to or a joke they needed to make, they'd just look up at the poster and remind themselves that this isn't a movie... it's an Adam Sandler movie.  It doesn't have to make sense (and it doesn't).  It doesn't have to be funny (and it isn't).  And it doesn't have to mean anything at all... because fuck it. The type of people who actively go out and see Adam Sandler movies, and not in the ironic sense, are the type of people whose life motto is fuck it.

As I sat in the theater I looked at my fellow patrons around me.  There may have been about thirty people in my theater with the combined total IQ of seventeen. These are the people Sandler makes movies for... the people who still enjoy his movies.  These are the type of people who see a sight gag or hear a joke and audibly repeat what was just said or seen out loud in laughing hysteria. I shit you not, there is a scene where Peter Dinklage and a pixelated Q-Bert are jumping on a trampoline and someone behind me says "Ha! Is that a trampoline?!" This is the kind of slack-jawed, shirt covered in drool, crotch sockets that still see Adam Sandler movies.  And when the movie ended as I was finishing up writing my suicide note, these twenty-nine other souls that cannot be saved applauded.  They clapped at a screen projecting a moving image of names scrolling up.  Now, applauding in a movie theater urks me anyway, but this is Pixels.  It could've been a dog searching for 100 minutes in a spot of grass where to take a meaty dump, finally deciding on the perfect spot, and the climax is letting it launch... and these morons would've stood up and clapped just the same.  (In fact, if that had been the movie... it probably would've been a lot funnier.)

A recording of kids playing in a video game competition in 1982 was sent into space.  In 2015, aliens who've made themselves into video games decide to come down to Earth to challenge us to those games (even though they didn't know they were games in the first place... fuck it) and if we don't win, then the Earth is destroyed.  Why?  Because fuck it. Adam Sandler is a man-child who is a self-proclaimed "nerd" even though the sort of nerd-bashing being done in this movie hasn't been even close to prevalent since the late 80s, but this is where Sandler's humor is perpetually stuck. His best friend is Kevin James who is actually the President of the United States... because fuck it.  Then, Josh Gad is some freaky weirdo and Peter Dinklage who has debased himself in catastrophic ways is in this as well. There's one female in the entire movie (two if you count the pixelated woman who stops being pixelated and ends up disappearing, but Q-Bert changes into her later and is presented as a trophy because these writers are sexist idiots because, you guessed it, fuck it.)  Sandler and the crew are good at video games and the aliens play by the rules so they have to defeat them.  So, they create rays of light that can actually shoot at the aliens and this works on the first try because fuck it.  Then they turn cars into "ghosts" to beat Pac-Man and this works because fuck it.  Then a cheat code is entered (no explanation how because fuck it) and the aliens discover that we cheated and decide to destroy the Earth, but the boss of the ship gives us one last chance (he's Donkey Kong because fuck it) and Sandler ends up winning.  Not because he defeats the aliens.  But, because his long con of acting like he doesn't give a shit, making movie after movie and taking money from morons for so long... he wins.

I'm not talking about Sandler the actor.  Sandler the actor has made some decent films as of late.  I thoroughly enjoyed both The Cobbler and Men, Women and Children.  Sandler the star of Happy Madison productions (a byproduct of Fuck It Inc.) is stuck in this pattern of regressing into a seven year old whose jokes are the equivalent of pointing and laughing at someone falling down.  While comedy has evolved, Sandler has devolved.  Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer, Big Daddy... these are classic movies with actual humor and story and character and heart.  Grown Ups, Jack and Jill, Blended... these aren't funny.  It was funny to think of thirty different ways to use the word 'snob' as an insult to someone back in the early 90s (maybe) but here it's just plain childish.  It's weird that he's got this power over people that no matter who is in his movies or responsible for his movies succumb to the debasing level of Sandler humor.  I mean, the film was directed by Chris Columbus.  This is the man that brought us Adventures in Babysitting, Gremlins, The Goonies, Mrs. Doubtfire, and freaking Home Alone!  You obviously know what it is to make a great film... how have you been turned this late in your career by Adam Sandler and the fuck it mantra?

Inherently, the biggest problem with Pixels is everything that it's lazy. There's so many chances to make a great movie.  The reason I'm not failing it completely is the way the video games begin is actually pretty clever.  Having Pac-Man race around New York because it's most like the game takes a shred of brain juice.  But, then it goes to Hell when it's apparent no one gives a shit about anything. There are so many chances of exploring different themes like isolation, owning your "nerd-ness", nostalgia and why these games are so important.  Not only are these themes not even recognized, it's like they're intentionally ignored.  It also fails in its premise.  They tried to make the movie a lot more "family-friendly" by toning down the profanity and tactless crass "words" (I couldn't allow myself to put 'jokes') Adam Sandler is known for.  So, it's made for kids, too stupid for adults, yet most, if not all, of the 80s video game references won't be familiar to the youths watching it.  They've exchanged funny for recognition.  Hey, look, it's Centipede!  Isn't that hilarious??? There's no consistency.  There's no character.  There's no fun.  There's no laughs.  There's no point. The movie is made for no one. You went and made Paul Blart president... how did... why did...

Fuck it.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Trainwreck: Effectively Charming Reverse Commit-O-Phobe

Back in the mid-2000s, Judd Apatow emerged with The 40-Year Old Virgin and essentially changed the face of comedy from then through even now.  He brought to the table a movie that was sweet, charming, funny, had a great message, gave us great, fully fleshed out characters-- but was unbelievably raunchy.  Normally the R rated comedy riddled with dick jokes was saved for teen sex comedies like American Pie all the way back to Animal House.  Apatow crossed comedy genre barriers and gave new life into comedy.  He also re-emerged the "commit-o-phobe" trope... you know, the lovable loser, slacker, pothead who has no desire to begin and maintain a relationship-- that is until he meets the girl that changes him and he gets his life together? You know, like Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Superbad, and Funny People. Here, we get what is essentially that same story but with a gender reversal.  It ends up being the same kind of film... I mean, almost exactly the same.  And while it is thinly formulaic, Schumer is able to bring something bigger to the table that makes Trainwreck a very effective and quite often hilarious Apatow film.

Say what you will about Amy Schumer, she's incredibly smart. Whether her humor is your cup o' tea or not, she always has something important to say.  She may not say it with the finesse of a clean comic (in fact, if she's making a point, she's probably doing it in the most disgustingly vulgar, yet hilarious way possible).  Trainwreck is no different.  She's not just writing a throwaway rom-com that will be forgotten after its run in theaters.  She's writing something very personal, very close to her heart, and as genre-challenging as Bridesmaids.  It's the film that proves Amy Schumer is here to stay.  And I, for one, say thank God.

Amy Schumer plays Amy, a trash magazine writer assigned to do a story on a sports doctor (Bill Hader) by her editor (Tilda Swinton).  Amy's life is an endless barrage of partying, drinking, pot, self-loathing, and a lot of random sex.  She's perfectly happy being subconsciously unhappy.  It was engrained in her head by her father (played perfectly by Colin Quinn) that monogamy is a myth.  She willfully sleeps around on her boyfriend (scene-stealing John Cena) and doesn't even realize she's hurting other people. She's not good with confrontation, so she avoids it at all costs.  It's not until she starts visiting Dr. Connors (Hader) that she finds he's a person she actually has a connection with.  He has his shit together.  He's an accomplished doctor.  He's intelligent, yet very funny.  His best friend is LeBron James.  He's got his life together and is the complete opposite of her.  At first, she's hesitant to start anything because what she feels inside is foreign in nature to her, but more and more she starts to mature and realize that whatever her father has instilled in her may not be the truth for her.

It's a perfect blend of emotion, heart, and unbelievably crude, filthy, vulgar, hilarious humor.  Schumer in her film-leading debut is perfect.  She's exactly what the title suggests: a trainwreck.  She's a a woman-child that needed just a little nudge into growing up.  Her and Hader have great chemistry together-- a product of two very smart comedic actors coming together. Their relationship is organic and blossoms very believably, both ups and downs, but you really do root for it to work out for both of them.  The film is an ideal vehicle for Apatow because he's able to bring his previous work into play, but gender flipping it to see it from a woman's perspective.  It may be even better this way because while most of the men in his films are written one-dimensionally, Schumer is able to bring multiple dimensions to what could've been boiled down to a one-dimensional character. He's able to bring a lot of emotion into the film as Apatow has perfected over his career.  A side plot focusing on Amy's relationship with her father suffering from MS will both tug at your heartstrings and have you shaking your head laughing. There is perfect balance of the dramatic and comedy that Schumer and Apatow have effectively collaborated on to bring to the table.

The biggest surprise of the film however is watching actors shine that you would never expect to be funny.  Specifically, John Cena and LeBron James literally steal every second of every scene they are in.  Cena shines as Amy's guy-pal who exhibits obvious gay tendencies but really does care about her, even when she doesn't.  But, it's LeBron who provides most of the film's laughs as Hader's best friend.  He's cheap, yet loyal, and his favorite show is Downton Abbey.  Both of these prominent sports figures I had little expectation for and they garnered most of my laughs in the film.

Basically, it comes down to Apatow returning to form.  This isn't one of those in-your-face comedies like Superbad, but it's also not an overly long, tone-confused awkward comedy like Funny People.  It's a nice little emotionally driven comedy that doesn't skimp on the dirty, but it really doesn't skimp on the heart.  It's the best comedy of the summer.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Minions: Nothing More Than A Decent Distraction

The way I feel about the new Minions movie is the way I've felt about all of the Despicable Me films... they're a good hour and a half distraction, but beyond that, not really anything long-lasting.  I saw the first movie and I don't remember much about it other than the fact that I remember thinking it had a great premise that I didn't feel was executed as well as it could've been.  That, and, of course, the Minions were the best part. I think I saw the second film, but I honestly don't even remember. Again, it was cute-ish and forgettable.  So, I had a feeling in the back of my mind that the Minions movie would follow suit. However, the trailer for the movie made me laugh harder than the movie it was attached to, so I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.  Well, my friends, it is yet another Despicable Me quality film.  There's nothing of substance.  There's nothing that really stands out as memorable.  But it's not a bad movie.  It's just going to be forgotten as soon as it's over.

What I was kinda hoping would happen is that Universal grew a pair of balls and did an entire Minions movie without any human beings or dialogue (at least in English).  I was hoping they'd go the Wall-E route and give us more of a goofy, physical comedy that's more clever because they have to do it without any characters providing exposition.  However, this was not the case.  (It's also not a reason I didn't love the movie, it's just something I'd hoped would be done.)  So, we get the history of the Minions... lovable little yellow, pill-shaped entities born solely to serve the most evil creatures on the planet. After giving us their prior history and finally their exile into hopelessness. Three of the Minions (Kevin, Stuart, and Bob) decide to leave their icy cave in search of a new master to serve.  Their voyage leads them to 1968 New York in which they discover the greatest living super villain-- Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock) and her husband Herb (John Hamm).  She gives them each the task of stealing the crown from the Queen of England so that she can take over London and rule on her own.  When they (adorably) screw up, they wind up making an enemy of Scarlett herself.  There's also the side plot of the rest of the minions making their way to England.

There's absolutely nothing of substance in this film...  and sometimes that is okay to do.  Leave the substance to Pixar... sometimes all we want is a good laugh.  I did wonder if the novelty of the Minions was going to wear off after awhile or if the filmmakers would find new and clever scenarios to put them into.  Well, I guess the answer is both.  It's fun, but it does get a little old. It's silly, but sometimes it's a little too silly.  It's funny, but the laughs are sparse. It's the epitome of the "distraction film".  A goofy little film to take you out of the dregs of day to day life in order to get you to smile and giggle every once in a while until its credits run.

The film did have the potential to be a very clever slapstick, almost silent, comedy that both children and adults could roll on the floor laughing.  However, they went with another standard Despicable Me plotline that never escapes mediocrity.  It's actually a little more difficult to do it that way because no matter what "life lessons" these Minions learn about how wrong it is to serve evil people... they still wind up with Gru and essentially learn absolutely nothing.  That's the problem with prequels. You'll never truly be convinced that you're watching a great movie, but it will make you chuckle more than a few times.  It's not the greatest film of the summer, but it's certainly not the best (Inside Out).  But let's face it... what's going to be?


Why This Season Of Orange Is The New Black SUCKED

I've been a fan of OITNB since it's conception as one of Netflix's staple shows.  It's normally a well-written, well-fleshed out, well-paced show. Its first two seasons gave us a great ensemble cast of vastly entertaining and useful characters surrounding a perfectly rounded and interesting narrative.  Somehow between season two and the most recent season three... something has changed.  This latest season of OITNB was awful.  And, at first, I found myself questioning why I didn't seem to care about most of these characters the way that I did the first two seasons and around episode six or seven I finally figured it out-- there was no story.  There was no overarching narrative that tied the story together.  In this season we were give a B story, a C story, a D, E, F, G, and H story, but there was no A story.  There was nothing to solidify the arc of the season together. Just writers trying to take characters we love and give them equal time when we seem to have forgotten why we were telling this story in the first place. Here's a list of reasons why I thought season three of OITNB failed as a show.

--Let's address the elephant in the room right off the bat... Piper is awful.  Her character never really started off that great, but now it's bad to an almost unintentionally hilarious degree. She is what the story revolves around.  Yes, it's an ensemble cast, but the focus of the show, the entire premise of the show, is how this young girl has to survive being in prison-- a place she's never been and probably shouldn't be in the first place. So, the first season she's scared, and sad, and angry and there's drama with inmates and especially her former lover, Alex.  Her meekness and trying to get by but always somehow finding drama continued into season two, but she was still kinda bearable. Now, in season three, not only is she not the focal point of the story, but the chick turns out to be a real heartless bitch. She not only has adjusted to prison, but it's turned her into a criminal.  Let's overlook the fact that the stealing panties and selling them illegally plotline was a little bit far-fetched... it should never have been run by Piper. Then, and yes this is a spoiler, in the last episode, she completely fucks over a girl she was in love with... for life... by sending her to maximum security prison... and framing her with a very obvious amount of planted contraband... and didn't even bat an emotional eye on the situation.  And still, somehow, she manages to bitch and complain about the most white girl shit throughout the season.  Piper was never supposed to become a prison genius.  She was never supposed to become a villain.  In Breaking Bad, they managed to turn this sad pitied chemistry teacher into one of the greatest super villains of all time.  Yes, it was jarring and sort of emotionally confusing to watch him start to become evil, and then eventually the devil incarnate... but we still rooted for Walter White to succeed. I keep hoping for Piper to get shanked 18 times in the kidneys with a knife made out of jolly ranchers.

--Ruby Rose... as hot as she may be, was a very awkwardly inserted character into the show.  So, instead of being a new inmate or transfer, we're supposed to just believe that she was always there.  A gorgeous, tatted up, English chick that no one seemed to notice the first two and a half years of the show was just... always there.  Then, by happenstance, she meets up with Piper and ruins her relationship with Alex.  No.  I'm sorry, but this is feeling just a little bit too season three of Dexter for me. And wow, look at that, Alex and Piper are having the SAME fights again.  You put me in prison and you lied about it... let's anger bang and then I'll get revenge.  Wait, now you got your revenge and put me back in prison?? We're going to anger bang again and I'll get revenge on you this time.  Can we seriously be done with Piper and Alex having the same fights for yet another season?

--Norma's cult.  That went on twelve episodes too long, didn't it? It's a fun little idea for an episode, maybe two... but Norma, in the previous seasons, would never have let something that foolish to go on for that long.  So, how do we explain it?  Oh, Norma was in a cult and because she can't speak, is too foolish to see that it was a cult when everyone else did.  It was an overly long excuse to make Leanne more and more awful.

--Crazy Eye's story that gets passed around the prison like wildfire ended up having a cutesy and decent ending, but this show has shown us (at least in the first two seasons) that it's a lot smarter than that.  It felt like a very lazy, and again, overly long sub-plot.

--The pregnancy.  It's been done.  We've been dealing with it for three whole seasons now.  It didn't need to go on this long yet again.  We get it.  Daya has intimacy issues because she has mommy issues.  She has mommy issues because her mother is a raging ball of crazy.  But, why, oh why, did we have Bennett just leave?  The dude has stuck by her for two seasons and is genuinely one of the most caring and genuine characters on the show.  The last time we see him, he fucking proposes! Then, like he was nothing, totally leaves Daya.  He quits, leaves her, wants nothing to do with her (all of this is unseen like there's going to be some secretive reveal at the end of the season, except...) and they never show any of it.  He's just written out of the show doing something so crazily uncharacteristic.  What was the point of that?  This was one of the bigger sub-plots of the series and it's just axed like it was nothing and we, the viewer, gets no closure.

--Oh, you don't like when one of the best characters gets haphazardly tossed from the show's narrative?  Well, how about we get Nicky caught with drugs and sent to max and also kicked off the show as well??? Double fuck you!

--Lorna meeting with random internet/pen pal dudes and eventually marrying one doesn't pay off at all.  She tricks him into loving her, beating up her ex, and then marrying him... um... where's the payoff? It felt forced and if it was taken out of the season, nothing would change.

--Caputo actually had the most interesting storyline of the whole season.  Halfway through the season and I found myself only really giving a shit about Caputo having to deal with corporate bureaucrats trying to take over his prison and take away his power.  Then, they spend a serious amount of time showing us what a great guy Caputo actually is and we end up liking the dude.  Only for the last episode to happen and Caputo selfishly sells everyone out and 180s his character for us to ultimately hate him.  Was it really that necessary?

--The inmates pretending to be Jewish so they don't have to eat the new cafeteria food was, again, funny at first and should've lasted only an episode, but it went on too long and felt like filler the writers came up with to take up time.  And while I'm complaining... I love Red.  She's one of my all time favorites on the show and she finally crawls her way back into the kitchen only to have the power taken away from her and she is left with nothing left to do but occasionally cook a decent meal from the garden.  While it's a fine one-episode sub-plot, these storylines go on and on throughout the season and none of them are that particularly interesting.

--Okay, so, I'm not saying that the entire season was a failure.  There were still some great sub-plots and characters to love.  I still love Red (even though they gave her nothing to do), I absolutely love Big Boo and it was a pleasant watch when we found out her backstory.  I love Poussey (but I didn't like the reversal of her following Norma and excluding Taystee, just like Taystee did with Vee in season two).  And I thought getting an insight into the life and backstory of Caputo was great (up until he gave everyone watching the proverbial bird).

--I also thought that towards the end the tension between the two mothers (Gloria and Sophia) was very intriguing because both, at separate times, knew they were wronging the other, but survival and motherly instinct kicked in and kept them from admitting their faults.  Then, the attack of Sophia was heartbreaking, but grounded the show and gave the viewer something close to realism and grabbed the interest back... especially considering what ultimately happens to Sophia.

--And, of course, Chang.  I could watch an entire show starring Chang.  Though her backstory was suuuuuuper messed up... it was one of the better ones of the season.

Other than that, the season fell really flat and I had to essentially force myself to keep interest in anything going on. It feels like its lost sight of its original intention, especially concerning Piper.  They're reusing storylines, but reversing the characters involved.  Yes, I get that we're watching inmates in a minimum security prison, and the amount of crazy and engaging shit that can go on is limited considering it's not full of murderers, but don't get lazy with the show.  Don't change characters that have been give two years of set-up just to fill out a plot line that is minimally entertaining.  And please... PLEASE... kill Piper.  She's the absolute worst.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Dope: The Dope Lebowski

Just a few days ago I was explaining how nice it is to see smaller movies during the summer to bring back the joy of film during a time when big budgets and CGI reign supreme in favor of character and story and, most of the time, even fun. It's a shame that films like Jurassic World and Avengers are hogging all the glory and money when a film like Dope goes mostly unnoticed by the masses. What it lacks in explosions and cheap animation, it makes up for in quite literally everything else. It's a coming of age story to serve all coming of age stories that goes deeper with its portrayal of stereotypes and characters that serve to undermine those stereotypes.  It's a comedy.  It's a tragedy.  It's a crime caper.  It's a film about finding yourself and your passion versus what's expected of you.  It's a great film.

Though it may be a bit too ambitious, Dope is smart, funny, insightful and fresh.  It's an examination of cultural trends and debunking social expectation. It's like if John Hughes directed Boyz In The HoodDope follows Malcolm (played by an effectively restrained Shameik Moore), a nerd who lives in the ghetto of Inglewood.  He's a nerd in the sense that his surroundings have labeled him as such.  He's infatuated with 90s hip hop culture in both style and knowledge. He's smart and wants to go to college.  He's in a band called Oreo.  In middle to upper class white culture Malcolm may be labeled a hipster, but due to his surroundings he's been branded a nerdy social outcast.  When a chance run in with a drug dealer occurs, Malcolm is thrown into a wild ride of running from thugs, dealers, having to sell a shit ton of drugs, and becoming a man all at the same time. He's joined by his "nerdy" friends Jib and Diggy, a lesbian with just as much to overcome as Malcolm in their society. 

Though the film does feel like an urban John Hughes film dealing with themes such as psychological and moral growth as well as sexual maturity, it plays out a lot like The Big Lebowski.  Malcolm was just in the wrong place at the wrong time with no escape once he's in too deep.  Once he thinks he's safe, a new quirky, yet threatening character shows up to throw him back into the fray.  And while it's definitely not as quotable as Lebowski (because, let's face it, what is?), it's still riddled with witty, clever, and memorable dialogue. The writing is spectacular.  It defies convention in its characters.  We all have these preconceived notions of different cultures that certainly have some truth to them, but are inherently flawed.  The scene in the film where a group of drug dealers... in the midst of a drug deal... have an intelligent conversation about drone warfare is a prime example. 

The writing is solid, the unique directorial viewpoint of the film is on point, but it's the acting that solidifies the film. Moore plays Malcolm as effectively restrained.  He's a scared kid in a terrifying, low-income neighborhood living with a single mom and having to avoid certain streets to get home in fear of getting involved with gang activity.  Like it says in the film a bad day in this city might be getting killed just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, like the local burger joint.  Yet all Malcolm wants to do is go to Harvard. He's not comfortable getting mixed up in the drug ring, but he's capable due to his surroundings.  He doesn't succumb to the lifestyle, he makes the best of it.  He grows from it, but it doesn't change him for the worse.  

Dope has a great energy to it that's both hearty in its message and fun in its delivery. The film, well... it's pretty dope.


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Me And Earl And The Dying Girl: That Random Summer Movie That Reminds You Film Isn't Entirely Dead

So, there was one thing about the summer that I had forgotten and I'd like make a public blog apology.  It seems like every summer I get excited about two or three of the big blockbuster movies that come out and wind up hating at least half of them.  I spend my time talking about how the summer is going to hell and how the CGI in Jurassic World sucked almost as much as the plot did, and how the story of the new Terminator film could've been saved by re-casting everyone except Arnold, and how if I have to see another Avengers movie I'm going to renounce summer all together. I also forget that every summer... and it seems to come out of the blue... there are a few small and quiet films that come out for just a couple of weeks that make a bigger impact to me than anything with a gigantic budget.  Last year, quietly, Chef and Snowpiercer came out to small numbers, but with positive results.  This year already there's been Dope (which I will be seeing this week), Love and Mercy (which is already a contender for my favorite movie of the year) and now the wonderfully beautiful, funny and sad film Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

I'm sure almost all of you haven't heard of the film, and as I said earlier, it's only going to be around select theaters for a few weeks at most, but I encourage everyone to check it out.  It's essentially the non-Nicholas Spark'd version of The Fault In Our Stars (yes, I realize Sparks didn't write that book/movie, but it's pretty damn close.  We begin with Greg.  He's our narrator.  He tells us that it's his senior year of high school and he's worked all of his high school career trying to successfully mold himself in the halls to be socially accepted by every clique while remaining essentially invisible.  He can walk by any number of groups, give a 'what's up' and be on his way without fear of reputation damage because they accept him and forget him just as quickly.  He spends his lunch in the office of his history teacher watching artsy weird Werner Herzog type films.  Along side him is his childhood best friend, or "employee", Earl, who is essentially the opposite of Greg in every way.  One day, Greg's mother and father (his father played awesomely by Nick Offerman) go into his room to tell him one of his classmates, Rachel, has leukemia and that he needs to go befriend her and do something nice for her.  Greg begrudgingly does and winds up forming what he refers to as the "doomed friendship".  They compliment each other in both weirdness and likability. She discovers that Greg and Earl make "films" that are intentionally terrible parodies of classic films (ie "Eyes Wide Butt") and falls in love with them.  Greg and Earl decide to make a film for Rachel.

It's a wonderful bit of filmmaking.  It so easily could've gone the Nicholas Sparks route, but it's more realistic than that. Rachel and Greg don't fall madly in love with each other because he visits her while she's sick and shows her his home movies.  She doesn't jump into his arms because she thought he was a weirdo at school, but after seeing his films realizes he's "artistic".  No.  They become friends.  First out of pity, and then because they are truly connected to one another.  They could've easily fallen for one another, but there's too much going on in each other's lives to even consider that possibility.  The characters are all brilliantly written and nuanced.  Rachel is that weird little mumblecore poster child that we're used to seeing, but still retains that "normal high school student who's quirky and likable".  She has lots of pillows and draws on her walls and creates art out of pages of books... but still has a poster of Wolverine on her wall.  Greg tries so hard to fit in with every single group that he winds up hating himself.  He's trying to gel with so many personalities it winds up backfiring and he finds out that he doesn't exactly know what his personality is... which finally comes out during his friendship with Rachel.  And Earl, well Earl is perfect.  He's everything that Greg wants to be.  Earl is a mixture of everyone but that's who he is and he doesn't have anything to prove.  He comes from the "bad side of town" and he has a bit of that ghetto attitude, yet he is also a filmmaker, and thoughtful, and smart, and independent, and just as strange as Greg (Earl's favorite thing to do is hang out with Greg's dad and eat exotic food).  Earl stands for everything Greg wants to be.  And the three couldn't form a more perfect union if they tried.

It's a very funny film surrounding such a dark topic of teenage cancer. It's an important film for teenagers who are trying to figure out their own identity and individuality. It's a great movie for anyone sick of explosions and who's already seen Inside Out four or five times because nothing else out is that emotionally resonant. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is that perfect indie summer movie to give your brain a rest, your belly some laughs, and your heartstrings a tug. It's fantastic.


P.S.-- to convince you even further, just check out the trailer here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Terminator: Genisys: The Fun Kinda Dumb

Terminator: Genisys is a big ole bucket of dumb.  A satchel of stupid.  It's the incoherent ramblings of an alternative Terminator future storyline. There are so many plot holes through each page that the Swiss Cheese company is suing for copyright infringement. The relationships and dialogue are so bad that even George Lucas is like, "come on, dude." But, the one thing that the newest installment of the Terminator franchise has, that Jurassic World certainly did not, is that it is still a lot of fun.  It's fun, due mostly to the triumphant Terminator return of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I know that I have a bias when it comes to Arnold and I knowingly give him the benefit of the doubt even in the case of a bad movie (see: Sabotage), but look at any other review of this film and they will all say the same-- the movie sucks, but Arnold is back.  All of the scenes involving this older terminator are the highlights of the film, because everything else is eye-rollingly bad. I'm not even going to try and explain the mythology of the films because all of the congruency that the previous films had is tossed haphazardly out the window in favor of an alternative timeline.  So, instead of the universe we've watched in the past where a Terminator was sent back in 1984 to kill Sarah Connor and failed was then sent back again in 1992 to kill John Connor and failed... well, that happened, but it didn't actually happen.  See, what actually happened is that a Terminator was sent back in the seventies when Sarah was nine and raised her like a father.  She even calls him 'Pops' (face in palm). So, when Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) is sent back by old John Connor (Jason Clarke) to protect his mother just as he did in the first movie... she already knows its going to happen and is already a badass, with a Terminator friend. However, the fact that they already know when and where everything is going to happen isn't explained... much like everything else.

So, in a case of massive redundancy, the three of them opt to stop judgement day from happening... again. I get that with a time machine, the machines can go back whenever they want as many times as they want... but with these movies there really is only one main goal-- stop judgement day from happening again and again and again. There's only so many times they can "stop" it from happening before we stop giving a shit and welcome it.  So, now, essentially there's only a handful of character motivations in this timeline.  First, they need Sarah and Reese to consummate their love so that John is actually born.  Except, since she already knows this happens, there isn't an organic romance that spawns like in the first movie, it has to be forced. Then, there's the fighting of the Terminators against each other which we know is just a five to ten minute diversion of film because neither feels pain and neither will lose. But, it's in these moments of Arnold getting to kick ass and quip one liners and smile that hysterically creepy smile that the fun comes in. He's consistent in his portrayal of the loyal, yet stoic Terminator. And even though the idea of 'Pops' is ludicrous, he is the embodiment of a father figure for Sarah who will do anything to protect her.  It's a nice relationship built around a lot of terribly built ones.

Yes, the rest of the film is terribly written and the acting isn't much better. I don't understand the appeal of Jai Courtney.  He's shoved into movies on their fifth leg (he also shittily portrayed John McClane's son in the terrible fifth Die Hard) and while he does have a little bit more personality than he should, he's not that great of an actor.  And while I really do like Emilia Clarke as an actress, she's not Sarah Connor.  She's much too small and unfit for the role.  She's as tough as she can be, but I just never believed that she's the mother of the revolution.  But, even beyond that, their chemistry and their dialogue had as much romance as Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman in Star Wars.  And it takes up quite a bit of the film. After awhile, I kept waiting for the inevitable Kyle Reese death to happen so we could move on from this... though it never happened.  I forgot about the alternate timeline.   The dialogue is also horrendous.  I'm not joking when I say that one of the Terminators straight up tells Reese that he "Cannot be reasoned with" and Reese immediately responds with "Please!" That happens verbatim.  I couldn't make that up.

But, even with all the ridiculous, laughable, lunacy of the storyline and the dialogue and the acting... the action combined with classic Arnold makes this film a lot of fun to watch.  You're able to laugh at film without being angered (again, something Jurassic World couldn't do).  There couldn't be a film further away from what James Cameron started with his first two films, and at this point, there probably won't ever be again.  But, if it's mindless Arnold summer action you're after... be prepared to laugh.  It's stupid... but it's the best kind of stupid you could hope for.


Love And Mercy: The Little Movie That Should

I want to first compliment Love and Mercy for the talent of being a bio picture about someone in the the music industry, someone who has a significant impact on the music industry, without resorting to the standard biography structure Hollywood has grown accustomed to.  Walk the Line and Ray were both very good films, but if you watch them back to back they're almost the exact same movie about two different singers.  We begin in the heyday of their careers, then go back to their childhoods and something traumatic that happened, then to the early years where they realize they were good at music and forming the band.  Then, a little success.  Then, a lot of success.  Then meeting the woman of their dreams.  Then, succumbing to cheating, alcohol, and drugs.  Then, the downfall.  Then, finally, realizing their mistakes and rehabbing all of their vices out of them so they can be the picture perfect person we always wished and hoped they'd be.  It's a pretty standard bio structure that is almost entirely overshadowed by terrific performances by amazing actors. While Love and Mercy, at its core, is about the life of The Beach Boys' singer Brian Wilson, it takes a unique viewpoint and a different direction in telling the story of the man with the angelic voice.

What's different about Love and Mercy than Walk The Line or Ray or even last year's Get On Up is they we aren't following the man from birth, to success, to love, to downfall and all that.  When we begin the film Wilson is already an accomplished musician.  The Beach Boys are already platinum selling artists.  They're already on-tour all over the world.  This is great because it's not exactly prudent that we know HOW Brian Wilson came to be a part of the group and HOW the group gained popularity, but more about the life of the man who hid a bi-polar, paranoid schizophrenia from everyone for years.  It hurt his relationships both in his marriage and family, but also within the band.  However, what it did do, was help him to be able to produce one of the greatest albums of all time: Pet Sounds.  The film cuts back and forth from when Wilson was in his late 20s and is played by Paul Dano to much later in life when he's not even making music, is watched constantly by a doctor and a medical entourage and is played by John Cusack.  Both halves of the man make up the movie, yet each half compliments the other and pushes the narrative forward in a different, yet effective way. When Dano is Wilson, he's slowly starting to hear "the voices in his head" and getting constant inspiration for their next album Pet Sounds.  We even learn that the group wasn't that crazy about making it because it wasn't their already established sound.  Wilson is churning out music while struggling to deal with his newfound disability. When Cusack is Wilson, it's his relationship with car saleswoman Melinda (Elizabeth Banks) and trying to regain what a normal life is.  In the Cusack portions of the film it's just as much Melinda's story slowly learning who Wilson really is as well as struggling with it and accepting it.

It's a very emotionally powerful film that is intensely eye-opening and moving, especially for anyone with any sort of relationship to music. The way the story is presented lends to a more affecting film, but it's the performances that keep you locked in.  Paul Dano continues to grow as an actor and paints Brian Wilson as a scared kid who just wants to make music, but only needs to lead a normal, quiet life to be happy.  John Cusack, who has become somewhat of a straight-to-DVD joke as of the last few years, is finally back to form reminding us that he is still an incredible actor and doesn't deserve to only star on the covers of sad Redbox only movies you've never heard of. He's just as scared as Wilson when he's young, but there's this tragic facade of trying to be normal and live that normal life he's always wanted.  Even Elizabeth Banks shines as Wilson's love interest.  She's able to react to Wilson's abonormalities with just a look that says more than any dialogue ever could.  Her inner debate of whether or not it's a good idea to continue a relationship with such a damaged person plays out over her expressions only.

In a summer chock full of disappointments, only a few bright lights shine, and Love and Mercy is certainly among them.  It's a tragic film, but a delight to watch.  It's a story you certainly didn't know before, but oddly should know.  It's beautiful to see two talented actors lend their talents to the same complicated person. Whether you're a Beach Boys fan or not, this is a film not just for music fans, but for all movie films alike.  Not just one of the best movies of the summer, but definitely one of the best films of the year.