Friday, June 19, 2015

Almost Coherent Ramblings #1: INSIDE OUT turns me INSIDE OUT

            A few weeks ago, I talked about my relationship with movies dating back to age 15.  The greatest friendship I have (other than the one with the girl I wake up next to every morning) is one with the glowing image that flies over my head in the dark.  As I sit there, it is my hope that every movie I see is special.  And the most consistently special movies are the ones made by the guys with the overexcited desk lamp, Pixar.
            I remember Woody & Buzz learning to not just co-exist but become best buds at age 10.  A young fish went missing at 16.  At 19, I fought alongside a family of superheroes.  I saw a rat’s culinary dreams come true at age 21.  I sat in awe as two robots fell in love at 22, an old man live out his dreams at 23, and cried like a baby seeing Woody & Buzz live on in a kid’s imagination at 24.
            Simply put, Pixar had a track record of creating animated masterpieces on a fairly consistent basis.  Their last three movies, CARS 2, BRAVE and MONSTERS U, left much to be desired.  After those two sub-par sequels and a disastrous original idea, Pixar needed a needed a shot in the arm.  It appeared that they found one in INSIDE OUT, a story about our emotions with Amy Poehler in the lead & Pete Docter in the director’s chair.  All is well & good now, right?  Right…?
            INSIDE OUT follows Riley, a happy little girl who finds Joy in everything, especially ice hockey.  But after a move from Minnesota to San Francisco, her other emotions, Sadness, Fear, Disgust & Anger, start getting a work out.  Can Joy straighten things out?
            As I sat there watching the 94 minute movie, I had each one of these emotions come over me, most at inopportune times.  First, there was the unrelenting joy that came over me during the pre-show commercials.  Every single one of those memories above washed over me as I looked over the crowd and saw the audience members of all ages, evenly divided among those older & younger than I as we eagerly awaited for that moment when we were placed under Pixar’s spell.  And for 20 minutes or so, I felt that as I watched the opening montage and the setup of the first act.
            Then, something strange happened.  When the movie kicks into its second act, Disgust took over.  Disgust at the direction the main plot was taking.  Why in the world would you make the centerpiece of the movie about feelings & memories a mostly physical endeavor?  Disgust slowly moved over as Anger sat at the controls as the movie kept in the same director.  Why have movie about the mind that continues to stay outside it and get more & more needlessly complicated?
            I thought all hope was lost until…the heroic Sadness tries to save the day, with a little help from Joy.  INSIDE OUT ends with a final five minutes so perfect that it feels like it was stolen from another movie.  An ending that mixes sorrow & hope perfectly, like Pixar has done before.
            As the credits rolled and the credit cookies had played, Sadness & Fear began piloting my state of mind and continues to this very moment.  I fear, with the current movie landscape, that movies have passed me by.  With all the negative or mixed reviews I’ve been giving lately, I wonder if it’s time to stop caring so much.  Stop trying to get my hopes up.  Stop trying to get others to listen.
            But I can’t.  Why?  Because of the little moments that Joy takes over, sometimes accompanies by Sadness.  Where would I be without seeing WALL-E & Eve dance in space with the help of a fire hydrant?  Or having not flipped through Elle Fredrickson’s scrapbook?  And what would I do without having seen Riley grow up in 4 minutes?

            To put it simply, to be human is to feel.  And, for me, the best place I can feel anything is in a darkened theatre with those beautiful images projected on screen.  And while Pixar didn’t fully do it this time, I’ll keep going back.  Why?  Because of the Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust & Anger I feel with every movie I see.  I love it.

Thursday, June 11, 2015


I do not own the above image.  Copyright Warner Brothers Pictures.  All Rights Reserved

            Film & television have had a complicated relationship.  When TV began to hit the mainstream in the early 1950s, some in the film industry thought the end of the theatrical experience because people will opt to stay home.  Luckily, the quality of movies got people out.  Then came the ways to watch movies at home: BetaMax, VHS, VideoDisc & LaserDisc.  The question soon became: “Are people willing to stay home & wait 6-9 months for movies?”  Luckily, most weren’t.  Soon, studios learned to coexist with television, with revenues from home video sales & cable rights boosting their bottomline.  With this, also began the seeping in of television shows rebooted onto the silver screen.  I clearly remember seeing THE FLINTSTONES at my hometown drive-in.  I also remember theatrical runs for THE BRADY BUNCH, GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE and INSPECTOR GADGET when I was young and rolling my eyes at BEWITCHED, LAND OF THE LOST and I SPY film adaptations.
            Which leads us to ENTOURAGE, the film adaptation of the hit HBO series from the life/mind of Mark Wahlburg, which ran for 8 seasons.  The show/film follows 4 guys from from Queens who hope to/succeed in making it big in Hollywood.  You have the good-looking actor Vincent (Grenier), his BFF/manager Eric (Connolly), buddy/driver Turtle (Ferrara), half-brother Johnny Drama (Dillion), and frantic & tortured agent Ari Gold (Piven).
            My journey with these guy began on June 4th, 20…15 at about 7pm, approximately one hour before I saw the movie down the street from my apartment.  From that half hour of research, I deduced that I would be seeing nothing but 5 assholes doing douchy things because they are young, white, rich men.  And the movie didn’t disappoint…in that regard.  The movie still kind of stunk.  Pretty bad.
            Anyway, movie picks up right where the show left off.  The boys celebrate on Vince’s yacht, drinking to his impending divorce of his 9 day-old marriage.  Vince then gets a call from Ari about making a movie at his studio.  Vince agrees with one condition: he directs it.  The movie then sends us to 8 months into the future to present day (which makes no sense considering the show ended in September 2011).  The film is unfinished & overbudget, Eric is about to become a dad to a child whose parents are no longer together, Turtle falls for Ronda Rousey, and Drama continues his quest to emerge from his brother’s shadow.  Meanwhile, Ari is stuck in the middle trying to balance his personal & professional lives as the studio gets nervous about the movie with the financier (Thornton) & his son (Osment) breathing down his neck while keeping the “Happy wife (& child), happy life” mantra alive.
            Of the five “gentlemen”, only Ari Gold is a real character.  The times Piven goes batshit insane provide the lone bits of real entertainment.  Gold is so frantic & biting that it’s amazing that he didn’t explode or have his nose broken.  One thing I did find odd about Piven’s lines were the dozen or so times he references pop culture.  All but one of those references from the Hindenburg to WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT to FORREST GUMP were over 20 years old.  They got a slight reaction out of me but the rest of the audience, almost all of them around my age, barely chuckled.  I understand that most of the movie references are age appropriate for Ari’s formative years, but considering the job he has and ENTOURAGE’s target demographic, you’d think writer/director/producer/caterer/intern/douchebag Doug Ellin would added a few HUNGER GAMES or AVENGERS jokes.  I got a little bit of laughter from Johnny Drama if only because he reminds me of Ronnie “The Limo Driver” Mund from the Howard Stern Show.  I wonder if he wears Mambo.  Hey now!
            The other three, on the other hand, are worthless.  First, Vincent Chase is a bore of a character and Adrian Grenier is horrible actor.  Vince’s role in this movie is to beg to save his movie/career half-assedly and hang out with the equally boring Emily Ratajkowski.  There is no joy to watching him on screen.  Even less enjoyable (and more misogynistic) is E’s storyline.  E has a pregnant on/off/on/off girlfriend that’s he wants to help out while dating someone else.  When that ends, E has a one night stand that night.  This storyline produces a scene so awkwardly anti-woman that I expected a Wet T-Shirt Contest to begin during the scene.  Finally, Turtle’s main purpose is to hit on Ronda Rousey.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, Rousey is put to much better use here than in FURIOUS 7.  Just another subplot that begins & ends like a typical, half-hour sitcom subplot.
            The rest of the movie is based on how much you love celeb cameos or how young, rich Texans are entitled assholes.  Every time a sports or music star appeared the audience lost it.  Not a single one of them did something memorable or noteworthy, like a Seltzer/Freiberg “comedy”.  And Haley Joel Osment gets to live the Hollywood life as the spoiled son of Billy Bob Thornton.  Other than a scene in a hotel room, neither get to do anything.
            ENTOURAGE is the guys’ night out movie they’ve been waiting for.  And just like the girls’ night out movie this summer, PITCH PERFECT 2, it stinks.  Thanks to Ari Gold, it’s a little better.  But, bros, you deserve better?  Well, better than this.  Maybe.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Review: SPY

I do not own the above image.  Copyright 20th Century Fox. All Rights Reserved.

            Can a movie be just funny with little to nothing of quality behind it?  That is the argument I got myself into with myself in the three weeks since seeing SPY.  I’ve been racking my brain for a movie that is so funny that the shortcomings of the story and look of the movie can be overlooked.  And for the two plus hours of writing this review, I can’t think of a movie like SPY.  SPY feels like the best vulgar sitcom on television that just leaves you wanting more and better.
            Susan Cooper (McCarthy) loves her job most days.  She is the eyes, ears, radar and conscience for superspy Bradley Fine (Law).  After Bradley is murdered by a super villain Tihomir Boyanov’s just-as-evil daughter Rayna (Byrne), Susan’s worst day of her career turns into the best when her superior (Janney) is forced to send her out into the field to avenge his death, much to the chagrin of the agency’s best spy Rick Ford (Statham).
            Let me just get this out there before I appear to contradict myself in the next 500 or so words: I did in fact laugh during this movie about a dozen times.  There are really, really good jokes spread out over the two hour runtime.  The best jokes are the ones that poke fun at the many spy movie clichés we have become so familiar with in the numerous James Bond movies and their imitators.  McCarthy can throw out the one-liners like the best of the best in Hollywood.  Personally, I’ve missed the charm Jude Law brings to the screen.  And Statham shows that he is no one-trick, action-centric pony with his timing & line delivery.
            SPY’s problems are two fold.  First, the humor.  As much as I laughed, the audience laughed at least 2.5 times as much, which is my problem, not writer/director Paul Feig’s.  But there were a minimum of 15 major attempts at jokes that didn’t result in a chuckle from the preview audience.  How can a comedy be classified as “good” if it is only successful 60% of the time?  Another issue with the humor was the subject matter.
            Remember how I said the best jokes were the ones that poked fun at the spy movies clichés?  Well, those were maybe 25% of the jokes.  A majority of the comedy stems from what is quickly becoming a cliché in the Melissa McCarthy filmography: her appearance.  The occasional quip about her weight, age, beauty (or lack thereof) or physique is fine.  But Feig (or the actors, if this were improv) loads so many of these one-liners, which feels like 60% of the jokes & many of them in rapid succession, that SPY ceases to be funny and starts to feel mean-spirited.  Statham’s character in particular goes overboard.  Rick Ford should have been this totally outlandish James Bond-type character.  Instead, too often, he’s just an asshole.
            Where SPY really loses its way is in the antagonist department.  Feig deserves credit for making the audience hate Rayna.  We should all hate anyone who kills Jude Law.  Where the movie falls apart are the constant reminders that Rayna isn’t the center of the operation.  That distinction belongs to Sergio De Luca (Cannavale).  De Luca is frequently referenced throughout the movie but we only get to spend time with him in the final 20 minutes or so.  If a villain is going to be hyped as much as De Luca is, he better be worth the wait.  Unfortuately, De Luca is nothing but a commanding, all-bark-but-no-bite ringleader who steals the spotlight by being the center of the uneventful climax.  Cannavale plays De Luca so straight & wooden you’d swear a cardboard cutout were on-screen.
            I’m asked many times by many people if it is possible for me to just sit back and enjoy movies.  When SPY was funny, I laughed.  But when I (or the audience) don’t laugh, you have to find something to pay attention to.  And if the story underneath the comedy is lacking despite the great first act, your mind tends to wander.  And wondering I was.  Wondering just how high McCarthy’s star can go.  Wondering if the script could have used another rewrite to tighten the humor & the second half of the movie.  Wondering if I am wrong about this movie.