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Catching Up: How to Be Single (2016)

There will come a moment, soon I hope, that Dakota Johnson will find her path to greatness.  As a performer, there is something in her that her contemporaries seem to lack, an understated intelligence, a manner in which you can tell there’s a real person there.  When someone talks to her on screen you can see that she’s thinking.  Maybe that’s just something I’ve interpreted, but I think it’s special – she reminds me a lot of her grandmother, Tippi Hedren.  My problem is that it doesn’t really fit with the movie’s she seems to find herself in.  Fifty Shades of GreyNeed for SpeedCymbeline?  She has a screen presence that suggests that she should be in films like Spotlight.

That’s a nice way of saying that she is using her special qualities in movies that don’t deserve them.  Take the latest, How to Be Single, a disposable rom-com that does no favors for her or the genre.  There is nothing especially wrong with this movie, but there’s nothing especially noteworthy either.  Here is a movie that feels a lot like a Greatest Hits collection of the rom-coms you’ve been going to over the past 10 years.  It gathers all of the comic overtones and heartfelt moments and wraps them up into a tender-hearted burrito that you’ll enjoy while you’re watching it but probably cash out of your memory banks as soon as its over.  It chases The Hangover, “How I Met Your Mother” and steals borrows great heaping gobs of Bridesmaids. Yet it never finds an identity for itself.

Johnson is at the center here in a role that should have been a movie by itself.  She plays Alice, a twenty-something who “takes a break” from her relationship with her long-time boyfriend John (Nicholas Braun) and moves to New York to work as a paralegal.  The relationship is complicated when the “break” breeds new relationships on either side, especially for Alice who goes through a series of rotating suitors even though she tries to resist the temptation to find a man.

Hovering in her immediate hemisphere are her three BFFs; her sister Meg (Leslie Mann) an OB/GYN who rejects the notion of a husband and kids.  There’s Lucy (Alison Brie), a lonely-heart who is on an all-consuming mission to find “The One.”  And there’s Robin (Rebel Wilson), a cliche who is a free-spirited and apparently self-destructive party girl who is always either hung-over or in pursuit of the male sex organ.  She’s one of those movie-types that parties all the time but never has to face any consequences.  Where are the consequences?  Where is the sadness?  Where are the morning-after problems?  She’s a cliche and that doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the film.

The pieces and parts of other (and much better) rom-com standards are present here but they are stitched together into a movie that is really hard to care about, mainly because you already know where it is going.  Does it surprise you that workaholic Meg’s biological clock goes off the moment she looks into a baby’s eyes?  Does it surprise you that Lucy falls for the guy running the bar that she has an argument with?  Does it surprise you that Robin’s bacchanalian lifestyle comes buttoned with a tag of wisdom for the heartaching Alice?  Does it surprise you that, for the ump-teenth time, we get the “Sex and the City” vision of New York featuring stylish cloths and comfortable apartments?  Again, you’ve seen it all before and done way better.

 
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Posted by on 08/11/2017 in Uncategorized

 

Catching Up: CHiPs (2017)

I see a lot of movies, and at the same time a lot of movies come my way.  So, of course, I miss a movie now and then.  But over time I try and catch up.  Welcome to my regular series “Catching Up” in which I take a look at a movie that, for one reason or another, I just missed the first time around.


Early in CHiPs there is a long, lingering shot of a cat’s anus.  This is supposed to be funny.  That should seal the deal on whether or not you want to see it.  If it doesn’t, you need help.

For that reason, and many others, I don’t want to meet the people who would be entertained by a movie like CHiPs; furthermore, I don’t want to meet the people who would make a movie like CHiPs.  Here is yet another comedy at the lowest common denominator, shelling out the kinds of frat-boy sex jokes and bodily function gags suitable for those metal signs that say “Beer is the answer, but I can’t remember the question.”

It’s also a little heart-breaking.  “CHiPs” wasn’t an especially good show when it ran on NBC from 1977 to 1983 but it was good-hearted, featuring a friendship between two cops who loved their jobs and, in a lot of ways, each other.  The adventures were fun and over-the-top and it had a pretty cool theme song.  Those of us now in our mid-40 throw knowing smiles at each other when the show is brought up in conversation.

There is nothing loving or affectionate about this movie.  Written and directed by the otherwise very funny Dax Shepard – who should know better – the movie mines comedy for those who think that the words “kitty litter” are automatically funny.

The story is a lot of ‘who-cares’.  Former pro-motorcycle rider Jon Baker (Shepard) who has turned rookie highway patrol officer teams up with an undercover Miami fed working under the name Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Peña) who comes out to California on the trail of a group of dirty cops led by Vic Brown (played by a wasted Vincent D’Onofrio).  Upon being paired up, our common sense flags start to go up, particularly when we are introduced to Ponch’s sex addiction and Baker’s addiction to pain killers which is heaped upon his lingering obsession over his estranged wife (Kristen Bell).  Are you laughing yet?

So yeah, Ponch’s sex addiction means that we get long, lingering male-gaze shots of women’s breasts and derrieres and lots of jokes involving sexting and masturbation – naturally women fling themselves at him.  From Baker’s end we get a tasteless gag in which Ponch has to carry his naked body from the bathroom to the tub followed by a conversation about whether his face touched . . . oh you shouldn’t even care!  I didn’t see this much homophobia in seventh-grade gym class 30 years ago.

This is a movie that can’t get anything right, made by people who don’t seem to care.  It fails as a comedy because no one cares to set up a joke.  It fails as a police procedural because no one cares to set up a good story.  And it fails as an action picture because it can’t raise stunts that we care anything about.  I’m not a big fan of The Fast and the Furious movies but at least those people care to put some actual work into their stunts.  This movie is focused less one giving you a good time then padding its running time with jokes about homophobia.

Homophobia, by the way, is a massive part of this experience.  There’s a lot of time wasted on the horror that a man in your company might either be a homosexual or have homosexual tendencies.  It would seem to be an unreasoning fear but given the way that sex is thrown around in this movie, one might presume that if a homosexual appeared in the movie, it is likely to be followed by a voracious sexual attack.  It’s not a joke, it’s a blunt instrument established in jokes that fall flat before they even begin.

What’s worse is that this is crux of the whole movie.  Shepard (for he is to blame) takes a lot of crude, homophobia and mixes it with jokes that aren’t even set up right.  Example: Ponch is frequently sexting a buxom female officer.  and at one point he accidentally sends the text to his superior (Jane Krakowsky), but we can see her number on his phone before he sends it out.  So the joke is already knocked down before it gets set up.

I only isolate that moment because it’s the kind of misfire that happens over and over and over.  Jokes are set up , but we can see the payoff because the editing is mishandled.  Added to that, there isn’t a single character in this movie that isn’t utterly repulsive and the movie puts a button on its repulsiveness by ending on a scene in which a female officer begins a sexual adventure with Baker in the back of an ambulance while Ponch looks on with leering, orgasmic delight.

Personally, I checked out at the cat anus.

 
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Posted by on 08/04/2017 in Uncategorized

 

Catching Up: War Room (2015)

I see a lot of movies, and at the same time a lot of movies come my way.  So, of course, I miss a movie now and then.  But over time I try and catch up.  Welcome to my regular series “Catching Up” in which I take a look at a movie that, for one reason or another, I just missed the first time around.


Just the other day an elderly woman asked me if I had seen the Christian drama War Room.  “No, I haven’t,” I said.  The woman placed a motherly hand on my shoulder, looked me dead in the eye and said “You owe it to yourself.  This movie will change your life.”  What this woman didn’t know is that I had already heard a great deal about War Room – and none of it good.  I’ve heard from faithful Christians that it is changing lives, yes, but I also heard the same noise about God’s Not Dead and I declared that movie the worst of 2014.

Having now seen War Room, I can report that it hasn’t changed my life but I can freely admit that it exudes a message that seriously concerns me.  If I understood the film correctly, the filmmakers Alex and Steven Kenrick (the same team behind Fireproof and Courageous) want to use this story to sell us on the idea of absolute blind religious faith that omits of the luxury of common sense – whatever comes your way, take it to God and your problems will magically disappear.  If your marriage is in trouble, forget therapy and open lines of communication because God can fix everything.  He’s standing by waiting for your call.

That’s a wrong-headed message that War Room persists on shoving your way.  So too is the smaller message that if you are attacked by a mugger, the best course of action is to invoke the name of Jesus and the mugger will run away.  That’s a dangerous message.  Movies like this have a way of breeding a sheep mentality among the faithful who are likely to take every scene at face value.  Ideas like that are not only unhealthy, they’re irresponsible.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  Let’s get to the story.  Our protagonist is Liz Jordan (Priscilla C. Shirer), a disturbingly milquetoast real estate agent who is apparently successful at her job only because her clients can walk into a house and say “We’ll take it” without looking the place over.  At home she has endured sixteen loveless years with Anthony (T.C. Stalling) a hateful, reprehensible monster who belittles her unmercifully and then goes to work where he flirts with other women and steals from the company.  This unholy alliance has produced a daughter named Danielle.

The trajectory of Liz’s path to righteousness comes from one of her clients, Mrs. Clara Williams (Karen Abercrombie) a hard-line dyed-in-the-wool Christian who can apparently spot domestic distress with no evidence at all.  Left alone after her first encounter with Liz, Miss Clara watches the young woman walk away and imparts a knowing “Mmm-hmm.”  She knows how it is, you see.  This, despite the fact that Miss Clara never once meets the husband or sets foot inside Liz’s house.

Over several days, Liz and Miss Clara build a friendship – the troubled young professional coupled with the wise old sage who’s been around.  Miss Clara, having blindly spotted the trouble in Liz’s marriage, offers life-changing advice to her in the form of seclusion and prayer.  She shows her the War Room, an empty closet wherein she tacks prayers on the wall and prays all of her earthly problems away.  She encourages Liz to do that same because this and only this will iron our the strife in her relationship.

Right there!  Right there!  That’s where the movie loses me.  The advice of Miss Clara seems to be for Liz to close herself off from all things and pray for God’s intervention.  Nowhere does she impart that Liz should talk to her husband, seek counseling or even ask God for guidance in helping her through her marital crisis.  NO!  Pray Pray Pray and it will magically work itself out.  The movie is asking Liz to be pathological doormat until God parts the seas and makes Anthony see the light.

Maybe I wouldn’t be so pressing on this issue if I felt that Liz had exhausted all other options.  That’s not the case here.  She has apparently done nothing to try and save this marriage.  Worse, there is never any indication that Liz’s marriage is worth saving.  There is never any indication that Anthony loves his wife or that she even loves him.  The two never have a conversation that isn’t a conflict and his approach to her is on the level of a dog that just pooped on the rug.  When he finally (SPOILERS) sees the light, it takes near-infidelity that is interrupted by food poisoning.

The message bred from this film is disturbing.  Liz and Anthony have problems but it never imparts that the wisdom of common sense or that the secrets to success in a marriage are worked through communication.  This movie sees marital strife through communication with God, the result of which will come solutions bred from magical realism.  Where are the questions?  Where are the challenges?  Where’s the approach to real life?  Where are the tactics for dealing with the hard knocks?  Communication with God is food for the soul but it can’t be a replacement for laziness.  That’s a message that the makers of the this movie would be happy to gloss over.

War Room is not as hateful as God’s Not Dead but I can say that it is just as hypocritical.  Both sell a message based on ignorance and intolerance wrapped up in a doctrine that preaches to the choir.  What non-Christians are going to watch this movie?  More than that, what non-Christians would be sold on its message that blind faith is the path to all things?  Movies like this have to step outside of the comforts of their target audience and speak on grounds that are challenging and far-reaching.

There is a sermonizing technique here that seems retroactive.  Miss Clara makes a rousing speech at the end of the movie, a call to arms to raise a generation who are not afraid to declare themselves Christians.  Fine.  But how about raising a generation that is understanding, patient and non-judgmental.  How about raising a generation that operates on common sense rather than on a pathological doctrine of ignorance?  These movies need to acknowledge that life is not as black and white as they portray it.  Look at and acknowledge the world you live in before you call out for the kind of world that you want.

 
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Posted by on 08/01/2017 in Uncategorized

 

Bowing Out: June Foray (1917-2017)

If the word ‘ubiquitous’ can be a person, it might as well have been June Foray.  For more than 85 years, she seemed to be everywhere; she seems to have done everything in nearly every show business medium imaginable.  She was a rare bird; a voice actor who became a legend in her own time who seems to have touched every part of the show business canvas.  Let’s put it this way, if animation was a global village than she surely traveled the globe: radio, television, movies, video games.  She worked with all titans of the animated form: Chuck Jones, Friz Freling, Walter Lantz, Walt Disney, Jay Ward, Hanna Barbara.  She was famous for the voices of characters you might know: Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Witch Hazel, Cindy Lou Who. Even when she wasn’t creating a character, she could be heard somewhere providing a cackle or a grunt or a meow.

Foray died Tuesday at the age of 99, just six weeks shy of her 100th birthday and for those of us who practically worship the animated form, she was a true legend.  She was born nearly a century ago on September 18, 1917 in Springfield, Massachusetts to Russian Jewish immigrants who, she said, filled her head and her time with an exposure to the theater and movies and the opera.  It caught on, and Foray made a habit of imitating everyone that she saw.  She said that it inspired her, at the age of 5, to pursue a career as either an actress or a fairy princess – given her roles, some might say she did both.

She started on radio in 1929 at the age of 12 working on a radio program on WBZA for one of her teachers.  At the age of 15, she convinced the owner of the radio station to let her be part of the WBZA players.  She portrayed dozens of characters on radio all through the 30s and 40s, and for the next sixty years her voice could be heard in everything from movies to television to albums to talking toys.

She would become known as the female counterpart to Mel Blanc, but Foray’s voice wasn’t quite as enmeshed.  If you had the right ear, you could always tell it was her.  That’s particularly true of the Warner Brothers shorts, in which for many years she was the only female voice artist.  She worked tirelessly creating voices in nearly 300 animated shorts often shifting from one dialect to another.

While not as well known as Mel Blanc to those outside of the animation tapestry, she was well-respected in the industry.  In 2012, at 94, she received her first Emmy Award nomination in the category of Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program for her role as Mrs. Cauldron on The Garfield Show (2008).  She was given the Governor’s Award, also the oldest performer so honored.

In 2000, she was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame after a campaign spurred by Chuck Jones.

But where do you know her from?  Well, the short answer is, almost anywhere.  Aside from Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Witch Hazel, Natasha and Cindy Lou Who, she was famous as Granny on the Looney Tunes cartoons.  She worked for Walt Disney as Lucifer the cat in Cinderella (1950) and a mermaid in Peter Pan (1953).  She was Lena Hyena in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988). She provided the barks for Little Ricky’s dog on “I Love Lucy.”  She was Aunt May on “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends” TV show from 1981 to 1982.  She was Marigold on Tom Slick.  She provided the voices of several  laughing beach children in “Jaws.”  She was on a legendary episode of “The Twilight Zone” as the voice of the Talky Tina doll who kills Telly Savalas (a role she got after Rod Serling heard her do the voice of the Chatty Cathy doll).  She was on “Bewitched” as the voice of baby versions Darrin and Gladys.  And she did voices for “The Brady Bunch”, “Green Acres”, “Get Smart’ and possibly twelve other famous shows.

She was on a memorable early episode of “The Simpsons” in which she played the receptionist of The Rubber Baby Buggy Bumper Babysitting Service.  When Marge calls to inquire about a babysitter for Bart and Lisa, the receptionist immediately retorts “Lady, you’ve gotta be KIDDING!

Foray worked most often with another legend, Chuck Jones in adaptations of Horton Hears a Who, A Cricket in Time Square, The Phantom Tollbooth, The White Seal, Raggedy Ann and Andy, Mowgli’s Brothers, Rikki Tiki Tavi and The Jungle Book (not the Disney one).  This, in addition to the hundreds of cartoon shorts for Warner Brothers under Jones’ direction.

Those who recognized her, loved her.  She was beloved by the industry for nearly a century.  Probably the only person who didn’t love her was Richard Nixon.  In 1973, when meat prices started to sky-rocket, she joined in a protest that led all the way to Washington.  She made Nixon’s infamous ‘Enemies List’ and led to an audit by the IRS at the same moment that Foray was trying to pay medical expenses for her aging mother.

That might very well be the only dark moment in Foray’s career.  The exposure didn’t hurt her career one bit nor did it stop her.  She worked tirelessly for the rest of her life.  Courted as The First Lady of Voice Acting she was one of the original members of animation organization ASIFA-Hollywood (the International Animated Film Association) and founder of the annual Annie Awards which recognized achievements in animation.  Short of stature, she was a women who could command, and did.  She chaired the short subject branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for many years, and fought tooth-and-nail to keep animated shorts a part of the annual Oscar broadcast.  And she was instrumental in the creation of the Oscars’ animated feature category, which has been handed out every year since 2001.

And yet, the one legacy that must be mentioned is that her death brings down the curtain on the legend of Termite Terrace, that bizarre annex animation house of Warner Brothers that, during the 40s and 50s brought life the characters of The Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies.  She is its last surviving legacy and with her passing, all the laughing denizens of Termite Terrace are now gone.

What she leaves behind is the work of a true voice artist.  There aren’t many left.  Those who work in the form are being nosed out by casting agents who want animated features to be headlined by big-named stars.  That puts professional voice artists – who know now to create a character with their voice – out of work.  Foray’s legacy brings hope to those who want to work using their voice.  She had a passion for it.

“I love everything I do with all of the parts that I do”, she once said. ”Because there’s a little bit of me in all of them.  We all have anger and jealousy and love and hope in our natures. We try to communicate that vocally with just sketches that you see on the screen and make it come alive and make it human. That’s what I enjoy doing.”

 
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Posted by on 07/30/2017 in Uncategorized

 

Movie of the Day: The Hangover Part II (2011)

The general critical consensus leading up to the release of The Hangover Part II is nearly identical to the mass reaction that met Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.  That being, it’s the exact same movie only in a different location.  Critics decry that the filmmakers had no idea how to twist or turn a once-clever inspiration so they made the collective choice to simply regurgitate the original and make a few more bucks off of a brand name.  I say, not so fast.  Yes, The Hangover Part II copies much of the original plot but I think it would be unkind to dismiss this movie as a banal retread.

First of all, it’s plausible.  I could believe that four guys would get stupid drunk to the point of total memory wipe more than once.  Think about it, it’s probably happening somewhere right now.  Plus, given the twist in location, there’s enough that could logically happen that it wouldn’t turn out to be the same movie.  That’s where the movie succeeds.

The plot moves from Vegas to Bangkok, and that’s probably for the best.  Vegas is a hotbed of sin and vice but it is so regulated and organized until much of the potential raunch is squeezed out.  Bankok doesn’t have that problem and that’s what gives The Hangover Part II much of its off-the-chain zeal.

Two years later The Wolfpack is headed to Thailand.  Stu (Ed Helms again), the dork-ish dentist has split from his trashy hate-spewing girlfriend and is about to marry a beautiful, good-hearted girl named Lauren (Jamie Chung).  Not wanting a repeat of the Vegas fiasco, Stu resists a bachelor party and instead opts for a bachelor brunch instead – it’s indoors and it’s less prone to unpredictable shenanigans.  He wants no part of the Wolfpack mentality and even resists the presence of Alan (Zach Galifianakis, again) just to be safe.  But, of course, there wouldn’t be a movie if things went as planned.

Unwisely, Stu agrees to a campfire toast on the beach with buddies Alan, Phil (Bradley Cooper, again), Doug (Justin Bartha, again), and Lauren’s studious teenage brother Teddy (Mason Lee) who is Lauren’s younger brother and the pride of the family.  The toast seems reasonable enough since the beer was sealed but by sunlight there’s another mind-erased puzzle to solve.  The guys wake up in a filthy hotel room fit for the killer in Saw.  Alan’s head is shaved; there’s a Capuchin monkey smoking cigarettes; There is a severed finger in a bowl; and Stu is sporting a Mike Tyson-style Maori tattoo over his left eye.  Oh yeah, and Teddy is missing.

The rest of the movie does follow the same pattern as The Hangover as the guys try and work backwards to figure out the events of the previous night so they can locate Teddy and get Stu to the wedding on time.  What makes this adventure different is that without the safer confines of Vegas, anything is possible and the movie becomes a more competent thriller than a successful comedy – that’s actually a good thing.  Even still, it is refreshing is that Todd Philips doesn’t engineer gags, but plays the laughs out according to the plotting – the movie doesn’t aim for laughs, it gets there through the progression of the story.

The switch in location is an asset.  Within the squalid backwater of the Bankok ghettos, the guys are completely out of their element.  They encounter ass-kicking monks; Russian mobsters; drug dealers; tranny-hookers; car chases; boat races; And a bigger role for Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong, again) who has all the information about the night before but is out of commission before he can give the guys some need to know information.

The characters this time seem a little more settled-in, but they’re no less clueless.  Their funnier because they’ve found themselves in a situation that should never have been repeated.  Bradley Cooper, the group’s apparent voice of sanity is a walking irony in that he’s the one who essentially got them into this mess in the second place.  Helms plays Stu with a great deal of vulnerability.  And Galifianakis?  I complained last time that his character’s personality seemed so off-kilter that you’re not sure if he’s suffering a mental disorder or maybe stepped in from a cartoon.  I’m still not sure.  He’s given less to do here and that may be to the film’s credit.  The situation in Bankok is so bizarre that his goofy shenanigans seem like insult to injury.

I think the word that follows The Hangover Part II is likely to be “underrated.”  This is not a carbon copy of the original save for the premise.  Philips has fun re-engineering some of the plot points but, unlike Home Alone 2, we don’t feel that we’re being manipulated into seeing the same movie.  Some may disagree.  I don’t think this is a better movie, but I think it’s a much different movie that shifts locations but allows the characters to play in that location according to its rules.  It’s a bigger and much more dangerous picture because of this.  It’s not a better movie, but it plays much less predictable than early reviews might indicate.  I dunno, maybe it’s me.  Maybe I was just up for a second go-around.  Maybe I’m intrigued by the mystery.  Maybe I’m just fascinated by whoever gave the monkey his own Rolling Stones jacket.

 
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Posted by on 07/02/2017 in Uncategorized

 

Movie of the Day: The Hangover (2009)

By this point, I’ve seen enough let’s-go-to-Vegas-for-one-last-fling comedies until they are practically coming out my ears.  The strains of going to Sin City for a hedonistic bacchanal bachelor party has some naughty allure but it’s been done so many times that it has become a cliché wrapped inside of itself.  Nothing ever goes as planned.  Vegas is promoted as such a hotbed of sin and vice, yet it’s so regulated and organized that the reckless nature of our heroes comes from outside disasters.  Yes, someone can get hammered, lose all their money at the craps table and then end up marrying a hooker at The Chapel O’ Love who will refuse to get an annulment, but it’s not really the fault of Vegas being a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah.   These things happen cuz peeple be stoopid.  They could happen anywhere.  Vegas just happens to have a rep.  But this particular set of scenerios has been done so many times that they are as telegraphed as a bus schedule.

That’s a nice way of saying, I didn’t walk into The Hangover last Tuesday morning with a heart full of enthusiasm.  This is the latest from Todd Phillips, the mind behind Frat House, Road Trip and Old School; all movies that I walked away from with relative indifference.

To my surprise, this time he got it absolutely right.  The movie turns out to be one of the nicest surprises of the year.  It’s very funny.  It’s clever.  It offers a premise that we care about.  It offers a premise that is reasonably plausible.  And again, it’s very funny.

What is different about The Hangover is that it takes the Vegas-romp scenario in an intriguing direction, setting it up like a mystery that is solved piece by piece.  Our quartet of heroes arrive in Vegas from L.A. for a bachelor party thrown for their buddy Doug (Justin Bartha), but they’re not exactly party animals.  They’re un-extraordinary schmoes who have spent more time thinking about cutting loose than actually doing it.  It’s almost like they’ve seen all those let’s-go-to-Vegas-for-one-last-fling comedies and decided to give it a try.

The leader of the group is Phil (Bradley Cooper), a good-looking Junior High School teacher who is married with kids, but apparently misses the old days.  There’s Stu (Ed Helms), a dork-ish square who lives with a hate-spewing girlfriend who treats him like a doormat.  And there’s Alan (Zach Galifianakis).  Alan is . . . well, I dunno.  He is Doug’s block stupid brother-in-law-to-be whose personality is so off-kilter that you’re not sure if he is suffering a mental disorder or maybe he stepped out of a cartoon.  When the gang arrives at Caesars Palace, he asks the check in girl, “Did Caesar live here?”

The movie’s first 20 minutes are, I will confess, kind of dull.  It’s all set-up and nothing that happens is all that memorable, but then the plot kicks in.  The gang gathers on the roof of their hotel for a final toast and then . . . . well, from there it’s all a big blank.  The guys wake up the next morning in a trashed $4,000-a-night hotel room and can’t remember a thing.  Something obviously happened the night before but the evidence doesn’t offer connective clues: There’s a baby in the cabinet.  There’s a tiger in the bathroom.  There’s a chicken running around.  Stu is missing one of his incisors.  Alan has his belly button pierced.  And when they call for their car, the valet brings around a police car.  Oh yeah, and Doug is missing.

The rest of the movie follows the same pattern of Martin Scorsese’s underappreciated After Hours wherein the insanity of the night comes into focus.  The mission becomes an all-consuming investigation as the remaining trio try and gather clues to their activities the previous night in an effort to locate their friend and (literally) get him to the church on time.  What ensues in a comic nightmare in which the boys run into one damned thing after another – a cosmic punishment, perhaps, for their hedonism.

What comes of these punishments are the meat of the story so I’ll be as vague as I can.  There’s a wedding chapel, a naked Asian man with a crowbar, a mean-spirited emergency room tech whose bedside manner could use some fine-tuning, a police taser lesson, and a run in with Mike Tyson.  The greatness of The Hangover is the way in which it starts slow and ordinary and then builds its story brick by brick and actually gets funnier as it goes along.  That’s a nice contrast when you consider that most comedies of this sort do just the opposite – they start off with promise but run out of gas fairly early on.

Plus, actually care what is going on.  The movie has a raunchy side but it’s not front and center.  Phillips wants this story to build so that the comedy comes from that and not trying for gross-out gags.  Plus, we care about these guys.  They are played by actors that I am unfamiliar with.  We like them, particularly Stu whose a successful dentist but is on the cusp of marrying a woman who will suck out his life force.  Ed Helms plays him as the put-upon dork who needs this weekend in Vegas to break out of his neurotic state of denial.  Bradley Cooper, as Phil, is offered the kind of role that promises great things to come – he’s a heartthrob in the making.  And Galifianakis?  I’m not 100% sure what to make of him.  He seems so weird that he almost seems to have been flown in from another movie.  He says and does things that no human being on Earth would ever do and I was perplexed as to whether it’s a stand-out or a draw back.

The characters aren’t fleshed out, though to do care about them.  They’re closer to types than to flesh and blood, and I think that’s the film’s one missing element.  In order for this film to tip over into greatness the guys needed just a touch more humanity, just a little bit more of the old El Corazon and I think the comedy could be just as heartfelt as it is funny.

Still, I’ll be thinking about this movie when it’s imitators are just going through the motions.  I’ll be thinking about the great mystery game it lays out.  I’ll be thinking about how they solved it.  I’ll still be wondering why there was a chicken in the room.  No one ever figured that one out.

 
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Posted by on 07/01/2017 in Uncategorized

 

Movie of the Day: Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (2015)

I’ve already seen one miserable movie this year about a group of guys who do horrible things to each other, and here I am just a few weeks later dealing with another one. The chief difference between The Loft and Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is that one is a thriller and the other is a comedy. Both are equally wretched examples of their particular genre but I can say of The Loft that at least it didn’t contain a scene in which a man is forced to rape another man on live television while his fiancé watches from the audience. Nor did a contain a scene in which a man arrives at a large glass window with his penis hanging out. These are the jokes folks!

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is a miserable piece of garbage, a wholly unfunny comedy about worthless human beings who treat each like trash and still call each other friends. It’s a needless sequel, of course, to 2010’s surprisingly good Hot Tub Time Machine, but without that movie’s charm or human touches.

If you recall, in the original, four guys: Jacob (Clark Duke), Nick (Craig Robinson), Lou (Rob Corddry) and Adam (John Cusack) discovered a way to travel back in time using the titular hydrotherapy device. While screwing up the timeline, they also managed to make themselves unreasonably successful.

The sequel picks up with their success. Lou owns a successful computer company called Lougle; Nick has become a successful singer by stealing other people’s hit songs before they are written; and Jacob has a job working as Lou’s butler. The problem is that success has made these guys into terrible human beings. No, wait! What I mean to say is that it has made them wretched pieces of human slime. They do things to each other that are painfully unfunny, and most of their pranks revolve around their genitalia. In the world of man-child comedies, these guys have lowered the bar. There’s a moment in which a nurse injects a needle into one guy’s swollen testicle which forces semen to come gushing out all over Nick’s face. These are the jokes!

This time there is no John Cusack – apparently the producers didn’t ask him back – and therefore the most grounded and human character is missing. The sequel is led by Rob Corddry, a comedian that I’ve liked on “The Daily Show,” but here he’s given no filter. He plays Lou, a guy who has altered the course of human history and made himself a multi-millionaire, but is also a loud-mouthed bore, a slob horndog who habitually abuses his employees, his friends and womankind in general while pulling pranks that should justifiably get him arrested. He is completely without any shred of human decency. This is the guy who will screw his best friend’s bride in the changing room just before the wedding. These are the jokes!

The chief plot point in the film is that, during a party, an angry colleague shoots him point blank in the penis with a shotgun and so his friends have to take his corpse back in time to catch the culprit and stop Lou from being murdered. If they never went back in time and simply left Lou dead on the floor that would have been fine with me. I hated this character so much that every time I saw his wiseass smiling face, I just wanted to punch him. And that’s a problem since we see his big stupid grin quite a bit in 93 minutes.

The rest of the plot has the guys, now joined by Adam Scott, mucking around in the world of the future where they play vicious pranks on one another and talk to each other with complete and utter disdain. The jokes they tell in the future are the same tired and stupid jokes that they tell in the present. The comedy is at that annoying juvenile man-child level in which grown men talk to each other like unruly pre-teen boys, much of which is aimed at their penises. These are the jokes!

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 illustrates the fundamental problem with comedy sequels. It has a brand name so no one involved in the production feels the need to try. They’ve taken the smallest ideas from the first and ramped it up with cruel and inhumane jokes involving male genitalia and homophobia at the lowest possible level. This is the kind of bad movie that ruins your day.

NOTE: I’ve given the movie my lowest rating based on one unconscionably cruel joke.  In the future, it is mentioned, that one of the most popular shows is a reality show in which toddlers are caught in the basement of a collapsed building and have to find their way out.  When I heard this my mind immediately conjured up images of the The Oklahoma City Bombing.  It isn’t implicitly stated that this is a reference to that tragedy – I certainly hope not – but faced with a comedy that would use a joke that immediately brought that tragedy to mind just threw me into a state of sadness.  Again, I don’t know if the writers were pointing at that tragedy – in my heart I hope they weren’t – but the fact that this was part of my mental imagery turned a bad movie into an unreasonably cruel one.

 
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Posted by on 06/30/2017 in Uncategorized