Archives for the month of: January, 2016

Did the world need another movie in which Bill Murray plays a wise elderly jackass? With a drinking problem, and, just for kicks, also a gambling problem? And a Russian hooker played inexplicably (if amusingly) by Naomi Watts?

No, the world did not. Yet, here this movie is.

Vin (our titular saint, and Mr. Murray) lives in an outer borough in comparative squalor. Newly divorced Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) moves in next door with her heartbreakingly skinny and good-hearted adopted son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). Scott Adsit plays her cheating ex, which is jarring. Maggie works long hours and inevitably Vin slouches into the rôle of babysitter/guru/coarse grandpa. It is unbearable. Sure, he teaches Oliver the valuable skill of fighting back, but he also takes him to the races and literally steals money from him. This is not cute and flawed, this is sad and irritating. Things go even further south when Terrence Howard (who for some reason accepted a part in this movie) comes to collect the money Vin owes him.

Mitigating the retreaded agony of this horrible, predictable story is the ever-fresh Chris O’Dowd as Brother Geraghty, the theology(?) teacher at Oliver’s school. He’s surprisingly amusing in a dog-collar (though of course nowhere near his “Moone Boy” or “IT Crowd” hilarity), and injects at least some actually off-beat humor into this cripplingly banal plot. Naomi Watts as the pregnant prostitute Daka also wades into the material with a will, but it’s so clear that she’s just there to distract you from how dumb and unimaginative the rest of the movie is that she palls quickly.

If you like Bill Murray in this kind of thing, which, statistically speaking, you must, since they keep happening, well: you’ll probably like this. But if you have any interest in, say, anything new at all ever, I’d steer clear. Melissa McCarthy is still doing much better stuff than this, and, frankly, just watch “Moone Boy” again for your Chris O’Dowd fix.

Director: Theodore Melfi
Rating: PG-13 (and, man, you can definitely swear more in PG-13 movies than you could twenty years ago)
Length: 102 minutes
Score: 2/5, because at least it’s competent

From the people who brought you the incomparable Once comes…a very similar and much worse movie. Except this time the personal drama is more convoluted, more irritating, less plausible, and has 100% more Adam Levine, which may not be your thing. It’s not mine.

The story is almost irrelevant, because it’s banal. Record exec has alcohol problem, fall from grace, bad relationship with daughter, meets amazing songwriter who’s about to give up. She, in turn, has been ditched by her rock star boyfriend (but solves the bad daughter relationship problem quick smart!). Fortunately, her friend from back home is inexplicably busking and has an immense amount of recording equipment. So they record an album outside! Epiphanies everywhere! And then Keira Knightley is too authentic to kow-tow to the record people, because what kind of lunatic would ever want to make money out of his talent or passion. It’s almost embarrassing to watch in its pathetic, earnest, pig-headed self-righteousness.

Not one of the actors ever actually inhabits his or her character even a little bit. I learned almost none of their names–it’s just Adam Levine and Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo saying slightly mannered, vacuous pap. Against a backdrop of pretentious acoustic pop songs that are totally indistinguishable from one to the next. These people are cripplingly self-obsessed, and they just spew this self-obsession through the medium of whiny driveling music, in the name of…I’m not sure what.

Stray observations:

  • Adam Levine grows a terrible beard and they make merciless fun of him about it. This might be the best part of the movie, perhaps because James Corden is doing a lot of the talking.
  • All I want is to stop watching movies about man-children. Is this too much to ask?
  • Keira Knightley sings better than you expect, but it’s not great.

Director: John Carney
Rating: R
Length: 104 minutes
Score: 2/5

Hmm. I don’t know what it is about animated movies that everyone absolutely looooves, but I never like them very much. Frozen was awful, 90% of Up was insipid garbage, same goes for Wall-E, etc. Inside Out is an exception, because it actually is original and well-crafted.

Eleven-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) has to move from Minnesota to San Francisco, and she’s not happy about it. This boggles the mind, but I guess I threw a fit when my parents said we might have to move to Vermont, so…not fair at all; San Francisco is at worst a lateral move from Minnesota, and Vermont is worse than any kind of civilization.

At any rate, we get to see Riley’s internal life from the point of view of the five major emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Anger (Lewis Black). This could have been merely twee, but never quite gets there. Instead, the film delightfully draws the mechanics of how emotions influence memories, how memories are stored (or forgotten), and how these emotions and memories create a personality. Riley’s brain (or perhaps mind) is a vibrant labyrinth of information, rather like the databanks in a dubious science fiction film, but the touches of atmosphere are genius–dreams are performed in a theatre and require props and a director, menial workers sometimes send old jingles to “headquarters” as a prank, and the train of thought is a literal train. That’s an easy joke once you see it, but I suspect it’s not actually that obvious.

The conflict arises when Joy and Sadness accidentally get locked out of headquarters and, because she can’t feel joy any more, Riley’s life begins to fall apart. It’s slightly pessimistic that the mind holds only one positive emotion against four negative, but it’s perhaps not inaccurate. The film uses a deft touch, also, in explicating how all five are essential, and not necessarily harmful. Anger’s excitement at the hardware upgrade (now he knows LOTS of swearwords) is hilarious.

It’s an NBC comedy convention in the voice actors, but those were heady, great days for NBC comedy, when Kaling, Smith, Poehler, and Hader were all around (a soupçon of Bobby Moynihan never hurts, either). You can just hear Amy Poehler’s boundless optimism–she is a perfect choice for Joy. But if she’s in first place, the others aren’t a distant second by any means. Disgust made me long for the amazing disdain in early seasons of “The Mindy Project,” and Fear reminded me how sad I am that Bill Hader seems to prefer drama now (I’m sure he’s great, but I don’t watch a lot of sad indie films, and he is so. good. at comedy).

The only lack is that I don’t actually care that much about Riley herself. She’s nice, with her hockey and stuff, but that’s about it. She mostly seems self-pitying–and that’s the point, that you can’t always control how you feel, but meh. I guess it’s an interesting philosophical question about whether you can care about someone’s emotions without caring about them… but whatever.

Stray observations:

  • Phyllis Lappin/Vance! Who knew her voice was that distinctive?!
  • Is it weird that I didn’t necessarily want this to be a musical, but definitely wanted Joy to have a musical number?

Directors: Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen
Rating: PG
Length: 95 minutes
Score: 4/5

Maybe I wasn’t in the mood? Maybe I just can’t be bothered with Chris Pratt outside “Parks and Rec”? Maybe I’m sick of Lee Pace in roles where he wears unattractive make-up? Maybe the extremely specific kind of nostalgia this movie attempts to motivate is not mine? Maybe the bottom of the Marvel barrel isn’t actually that compelling? Maybe I don’t enjoy being emotionally manipulated with the subtlety of a sledgehammer-wielding ogre? Maybe je m’ennuie COMPLETEMENT de wisecracking bands of heroic misfits? Yeah, for sure that one.

This movie made me dumber, and I didn’t even enjoy it along the way.

Stray observations:

  • am glad that Hollywood admits what a ratface Bradley Cooper is.
  • Does anyone even try to act in this movie? Is the dialogue even workable?

Directors: James Gunn
Rating: PG-13
Length: 121 minutes
Score: 1/5

I guess it speaks to my astounding unawareness of other people’s opinions about films that I went to Brooklyn last night and was confused by how many people were there. I haven’t watched an awards show since Titanic cleaned up at the Oscars, for reference.

Anyhow, Brooklyn. Immigrant tales used to come in two kinds, the kind where home changes and the kind where home doesn’t. Vis-à-vis the United States, the former used to have a charming romance between two different types of people, melting pot blah blah, America rah rah. That’s gone out of fashion, to be replaced by the type of story exemplified by Jhumpa Lahiri’s Namesake, where everything is complicated and maybe home is nowhere.

Things are complicated in Brooklyn, too, but less aporetic. Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) has two lives, one in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, and the other in Brooklyn, New York. These come with the usual trappings: Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson) and Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen), respectively, as well as the conflicting pulls of family, job, interfering busy-bodies, and so forth. Both worlds (as well as the ships that cross the Atlantic) are beautifully drawn, from costumes to local dances to employers to beaches… It’s lovely, and Ms. Ronan looks varyingly lovely in it–her hair and costume people are tremendous, as her growing confidence, knowhow, and maturity are borne out in her fashion choices and ability to do her hair properly. There’s no makeover moment, and the progression is not linear, but her understated, splendid acting comes through perfectly. She is equally at home in times of crisis (deaths, catastrophic homesickness) and in small moments (talking too much on a date, and, my favorite moment, sitting next to a boy on the trolley and smiling while avoiding eye contact).

Aside from the obvious complicated gentlemen and a priest here and there, most of the characters in Eilis’s life are women, from her mother and sister to the owner of the boarding house in Brooklyn, a Mrs. Keogh (Julie Walters, who is great as always), and the other boarders there. They are excellently drawn; none is a caricature, and they all have reasonable, clear motivations. This movie is actually interested in how its characters think, women and men, and benefits from the attention.

My one quibble is that it’s a little predictable, and, in the end, a little pat. And I know there’s nothing new under the sun, but it started out so ambitiously I was a little surprised.

Stray observations:

  • Shoes in the 50s were awful, apparently, and this film is unflinching about it.
  • If you don’t want someone to propose to you, for whatever reason, and that person is averagely percipient and non-awful, it’s not that hard to keep him from doing so.
  • Domhnall Gleeson is rapidly becoming one of my favorites, because he is extremely versatile–aside from the shock of ginger hair, he is nearly unrecognizable from here to Star Wars.

Directors: John Crowley
Rating: PG-13
Length: 111 minutes
Score: 4/5

Well, it’s been 17 years (17 years!) since 10 Things I Hate About You came out, and 12 (12!) since Mean Girls came out, so I guess it was time for another female-driven be-yourself teen comedy.

This one kind of splits the difference, and is far inferior to either (both would probably get a 5/5 on this blog). Bianca (Mae Whitman) discovers accidentally that she is the “Designated Ugly Fat Friend” of her friend group. So she ditches her friends immediately and strikes out on her own, with an unspoken crush on a tousle-haired guitarist, Toby (Nick Eversman). It doesn’t go super well. Fortunately, the captain of the football team, Wes (Robbie Amell), is failing science, so she can tutor him in smart while he can tutor her in cool. Shades of Mean Girls here, especially because Wes has an awful on-again, off-again girlfriend who makes everyone’s life a living hell. Her name is Madison, she is played by Bella Thorne, and she is about 98% less interesting or amusing than Regina George.

Our problems don’t end there. First, of course, Mae Whitman isn’t ugly or fat, but it’s carefully explained to us that these things don’t have be literal, and plenty of girls as good-looking as Ms. Whitman have low self-esteem, so…fair enough, more or less. It’s also not clear why she would ditch her friends quite that quickly, or why they wouldn’t resent it a tiny bit more, since that’s not a particularly nice thing to do. Next up, this movie is saturated with social media slang, to the point where it will be unintelligible in ten years. Not only that, it has Snapchat(?)-style mark-ups to drive its point home. KIDS THESE DAYS. Worst of all, this movie actually has Allison Janney in it, but she’s just playing her standard slightly-nutty-mom character, which just teases us with the glorious specter of Ms. Perky.

The rest of the stuff, however, goes pretty well. The writing is smoother and the whole thing is better-acted than the vast, vast majority of teen comedies. It’s predictable, and the all-American, blue-and-yellow, bog-standard high school set-dressing receives next to no effort, but it’s cute and capable.

Plus, Ken Jeong is in it, and he is 50% awful, which is 50% less awful than usual.

Directors: Ari Sandel
Rating: PG-13, but I’m pretty sure has a lot more swearing than you could get a PG-13 rating on when I was a lad
Length: 101 minutes
Score: 3/5

This movie is a mock-documentary about vampires in New Zealand made by half of the team from “Flight of the Conchords.” That’s probably all the information you need to go and get your grubby mitts on it, but if not:

Viago (Taika Waititi) is our main point of contact with the documentary crew. He’s a vampire of the 18th century dandy type, and we encounter him as he’s trying to roust all of his flatmates out of their respective vampire sleeping situations for a flat meeting. First we meet Deacon (Jonny Brugh) hanging in a closet; he’s the newest of the vampires and vaguely rebellious. Next up is Vladislav the Poker (Jemaine Clement), who is having some sort of red satin orgy; he is obviously your bog-standard central European mediaeval-type vampire. Finally there is Petyr (Ben Fransham), an ancient Nosferatu-type who resides in the basement, doesn’t speak, and is surrounded by the remains of his victims, which Viago thinks is gross.

As the movie goes on, you see them do standard flatmate things: argue about whose turn it is to do the dishes, try to go to nightclubs (tricky if you need to be invited in), and have fraught encounters with the local werewolves (led by our old friend Rhys Darby). Deacon’s familiar Jackie (Jackie van Beek) lies to the dry cleaner about bloodstains, irons frilly shirts, and generally shows us (hilariously) how difficult it would actually be, day-to-day, to be a vampire’s familiar. The practicalities indeed often come into play–what if you hit a main artery by accident? what kind of prey would child vampires prefer? how do you learn about technology?–as the gang wanders around Wellington, and it’s perfectly composed and thought through.

The acting is over the top, of course, but consistently hits exactly the right humorous note. There’s some body horror, again of course, but the context makes it less jarring, and it could be a lot less tasteful. And, for all that it is straightforwardly a comedy about, you know, blood-sucking monsters, it gets surprisingly deep and rather touching. The genre is one of my favorites, and this is a terrific example.

Stray observations:

  • Rhys Darby wants his crew to watch their language: “Werewolves, not swearwolves!”
  • Viago is amazingly charming and sympathetic, even when he is in the process of murdering someone.

Directors: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Rating: R
Length: 86 minutes
Score: 5/5

Spoilers below, sort of.

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