Saturday, September 5, 2015

Horrible Bosses 2

Year 7, Day 248 - 9/5/15 - Movie #2,140

BEFORE: Day 2 of a Jason Bateman 3-part chain, and this just makes sense for Labor Day Weekend, right?  Part of being an American worker is having a boss - see, if I just relax and let movies line up with the calendar, that's what they tend to do.  

THE PLOT:  Dale, Kurt and Nick decide to start their own business but things don't go as planned because of a slick investor, prompting the trio to pull off a harebrained and misguided kidnapping scheme.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Horrible Bosses" (Movie #1,332)

AFTER: Even though the subject matter was very different, this follows the same sort of pattern as "Let's Be Cops", they're similar in tone in that there's one character who tries to be the voice of reason, and another (OK, two others here) who keep digging the hole deeper and making their situation worse.   And it's just as tedious to hear them constantly bicker about what the next move should be, while they keep messing up like the idiots that they are.

I don't get it - are we supposed to see ourselves in this type of character?  "Hey, these guys keep fucking everything up, and that's exactly what I always do!"  Or, assuming that audience members are relatively intelligent people, are we supposed to just be glad we're smarter than them, and our situations are much better off?  It's in the same genre as "The Hangover" - as events spiral out of control, are we supposed to take delight in them, or feel sorry for the people involved?  It's difficult to tell.  

Our three screw-up heroes have moved on from their previous bad bosses, but after a "Shark Tank"-like business deal goes bad, they concoct a revenge plot (or, rather, one is forced on them) and this leads to all of the secondary characters from the first film getting shoehorned into this one, either because they need the help of those characters, or in the case of Aniston's dentist character, she still wants to sexually pursue her ex-employee.  It seems he's the only man to ever turn her down, and this only makes her want him more.  They mention many times that she's a sex addict, but it still seems like a bit of a stretch.

I think the worst offense may be abandoning the premise from the first film, which was that these guys were smart, hard-working and deserving of a better situation, but the only things that were holding them back were the troubles caused by their employers.  Free from those bosses, that theory is proven wrong in the sequel, as these guys make not just mistakes, but DUMB mistakes.  They're easily duped by one adversary after another, so they're not even in control of their destinies when they're running their own heist plan, and they may even have been manipulated into that.  

The funniest parts were probably the opening sequence, appearing on a morning talk show, and the bloopers during the closing credits.  Much of the rest in-between was a real chore to get through.

Also starring Jason Sudeikis (last heard in "Epic"), Charlie Day (last heard in "The Lego Movie"), Jennifer Aniston (last seen in "We're the Millers"), Chris Pine (last seen in "Into the Woods"), Christoph Waltz (also last heard in "Epic"), Jamie Foxx (last seen in "The Great White Hype"), Kevin Spacey (last seen in "The Life of David Gale"), Jonathan Banks (last seen in "The Cheap Detective"), Lindsay Sloane, with cameos from Keegan-Michael Key (last seen in "Let's Be Cops"), Rob Huebel, 

RATING: 3 out of 10 untraceable cell phones

Friday, September 4, 2015

This Is Where I Leave You

Year 7, Day 247 - 9/4/15 - Movie #2,139

BEFORE: I've been playing around with possible orders for movies for next February, and I think I've finally hit on something, so far I've got 18 films about love and romance, and if I can track down just three more specific films, I can create a chain of 21 films, 19 of which will link together - that won't be bad for my 8th consecutive Valentine's chain.  Of course, last year I nailed it, 28 films that all linked together, but I've still got time to improve next year's chain.  I also worked backwards to create a January lead-in chain that's now 13 films long, that's only half of a month, but I can keep working on it.  A new film is still being added every day, so I can treat those chains as frameworks, and see if each new film will fit somewhere inside.  A lot can happen in November and December to change the plans - I don't even have to maintain the actor linking if I don't want to, but I'll probably want to if I can.

But damn, given the title, it's really too bad I couldn't end my blog, or at least end a year, with this one.  I ended last year with "This Is the End", after all.  Now, what will be my last film - maybe "The Long Goodbye"?  

Connie Britton carries over from "The To Do List".

THE PLOT: When their father passes away, four grown siblings are forced to return to their childhood home and live under the same roof together for a week, along with their over-sharing mother and an assortment of spouses and exes.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "August: Osage County" (Movie #1,903)

AFTER: Like "August: Osage County", this film uses a family funeral as a starting point, and over the course of the following few days, family members are brought together, confront each other, and all of their personal matters become topics of discussion.  And similarly, everyone in the family is screwed up in some way.  One brother just found his wife was sleeping with his boss, another brother is trying to get his wife pregnant but is constantly jealous of his own brother who is his wife's ex-boyfriend, a third brother is dating his older therapist, and the sister is in a loveless marriage and pines for her ex-boyfriend.  And then there's Mom...

If I'd known this was going to be so relationship-driven, I might have saved it for February.  Too late now, it's now the first film of a 3-movie Jason Bateman series.  I guess the message here is that no relationship is perfect, everyone always wants what they don't have, and then when they get it, they discover that they don't want it so much any more.  Even though the "It" is different for each character, the pattern is the same.  "Nature's first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold.  Her early leaf's a flower, but only for an hour."  As Robert Frost told us, nothing gold can stay.  

It's a little clunky that these siblings are brought together to sit shiva, and they're not even Jewish.  Did some screenwriter want to highlight this Jewish ritual, but felt that if the family was defined as Jewish, it would severely limit the audience, that it would only appeal to Jews?  If so, I think that sells the audience a little short, no?  Or did some studio executive want it Jewish, but not too much?  This starts to remind me of the mockumentary "For Your Consideration", where the filmmakers who set out to make "Home for Purim" are forced to change it to "Home for Thanksgiving".  

But it does accurately portray how nobody can get under your skin like your parents or siblings - these are characters who have spent so much time together that they know how to push each others buttons, how to insult each other and stop just short of hurting each other's feelings (most of the time, anyway).  A lot of the dialogue has that feeling of ringing true, but in the end it seemed like there were just too many threads to follow, too many bad relationship situations to keep track of.  And the one they told us the least about (the sister's love, and the nature of his accident) was the one that seemed the most interesting, so that was a shame.  

I would have liked to see more of this sporting goods store the children were always talking about - how it was run by their father, and what they plan to do differently in the future.  Nope, this wasn't explored at all.  Instead we were given shot after shot of a toddler going through potty training, which I don't find to be a source of great humor, though it's subject to personal taste, I guess.  Would a parent with a small child somehow find this charming, or entertaining in some small way?  Seems weird. 

Also starring Jason Bateman (last seen in "Identity Thief"), Tina Fey (last seen in "Admission"), Jane Fonda (last seen in "Barefoot in the Park"), Corey Stoll (last seen in "The Bourne Legacy"), Adam Driver (last seen in "Lincoln"), Rose Byrne (last seen in "Neighbors"),  Kathryn Hahn (last seen in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"), Timothy Olyphant (last seen in "Gone in 60 Seconds"), Dax Shepard (last seen in "Zathura: A Space Adventure"), Ben Schwartz (last seen in "The Interview"), Debra Monk, Abigail Spencer (last seen in "Oz the Great and Powerful"), Aaron Lazar (last seen in "The Notorious Bettie Page").

RATING: 5 out of 10 ice skates

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The To Do List

Year 7, Day 246 - 9/3/15 - Movie #2,138

BEFORE:  This one should be a no-brainer, Aubrey Plaza carries over from "Safety Not Guaranteed", because I decided to not follow up with the time-travel angle.  This is Film #3 on the Back to School topic, really it seems to be set in a character's summer between high-school and college, so I think that qualifies.  We're coming up on Labor Day weekend, and I've got another film about the last days of summer vacation scheduled for Monday also.

I started the new part-time job today, so twice a week I'll be humping it from Queens to Brooklyn to help out another animator, someone I've known for a long time, but we haven't worked together since about 2004.  Oddly, I received a lunchbox as a Christmas gift from my niece and nephew, so I started using it today - it was almost like I was going back to school myself.  And now I'll be working for two independent animators who deal with adult themes in their films, so a film that's all about sex seems really on point right now.

THE PLOT: Feeling pressured to become more sexually experienced before she goes to college, Brandy Klark makes a list of things to accomplish before hitting campus in the fall. 

AFTER: This is one of those nostalgia pieces, sort of like "Adventureland", because it's set back in someone's young adulthood, in 1993.  Or perhaps it calls to mind "Wet Hot American Summer", only with less of a madcap feel.  This was a really clever move, because teens today seem to know so much about sex (which is a good thing in some ways, but maybe not in others) so it wouldn't have made much sense to show a high-school girl in 2014 who wasn't just inexperienced, but also didn't have much knowledge about sex.  Teens today can always look up a term they don't understand on the internet, even if Wikipedia doesn't have it then they could check the urban dictionary of slang.  

Yes, there once was a more innocent time where if you didn't know what a "pearl necklace" was, or a "dirty sanchez" or a "rusty trombone", or even what the difference was between cowgirl and reverse cowgirl, you couldn't just search on it, you had to ASK someone.  But that goes for every bit of helpful information too, like how effective different birth control methods were, or how to put on a condom.  There was probably just as much WRONG information about sex floating around than there was RIGHT information, especially among teens.  

The big positive here is that although there have been many comedies detailing the sexual awakening of teen boys, there really hasn't been much focus on teen girls over the years, except as topless eye candy or love interests for the teen male leads.  Other than "Juno", you probably have to go back to "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" to see female characters asking each other about fellatio, and practicing on carrots in the cafeteria.  OK, there were those "American Pie" movies, but again, those were really about teen boys trying to get laid.  

I get that by focusing on a teen girl with normal human sexual desires, and a wish to have more experiences, we're celebrating the empowerment of women, blah di blah di blah.  But I think that it cuts both ways, and if it would be crass or gross to show a teen boy working his way down a sexual check-list, then it should also be considered crass for a teen girl to do the same.  They'd both be making the same mistake, in looking to have sex without necessarily being in love, they're kind of missing the point.  And if it's wrong for men to seek out meaningless sex, then it should also be wrong for a girl.

And that's where this movie falls short, because we just KNOW she's going to learn that lesson sometime before the end of the film, probably right before the end of the film.  They set it up right from the start, with the clean-cut, good-natured boy friend who wants to be more than friends, but instead she feels the first pangs of lust after seeing Mr. long-hair shirtless bad boy.  Come on, we know she's destined to be with the boy who's also her best friend, but we have to watch her make a lot of mistakes in her quest for more experiences, simply because she's been told that she "needs" to have more of a sexual track record before she goes to college.  

What she really needs to do is relax.  You're not going to really benefit from empty sex, just to check items off of a list.  They sort of touch on this with the swimming metaphor - if you can't swim, you're likely to panic and then you really might drown.  But if you can just relax, your body is naturally buoyant, and you should float.  (My brain understands this, but my body doesn't, so I find it easier just to avoid pools altogether.)  Relationships sort of work the same way - the harder you try to find love or sex, the harder you make the process in the long run.  It took me three years of chasing women in college to learn this, and as soon as I gave up the quest and just relaxed about it, it seemed to happen naturally.  

But (and you knew there'd be a "but", right) I'm not sold on this whole concept of listing sexual experiences, just to check them off.  Which is strange, because I'm usually all about making lists and organizing tasks.  I guess after I started having sex in college, I burned through my own checklist pretty quickly, and settled in to a routine.  Going beyond that would have involved kinky things like costumes or role-playing or threesomes, and everyone has that imaginary purity line that they won't cross.

And it's played for comic effect here, but our heroine seems just a bit too clueless about certain things.  She doesn't know what "fingerbanging" is?  Can't she just figure that out from the name itself?  "Dry humping"?  Come on, that's pretty self-explanatory, too, isn't it?  I can understand it if you don't know what a blumpkin is, but come on, read a Cosmo or something to figure out that you don't really blow when you give a blow-job.  (Admittedly, it's poorly named, it should be re-titled a suck-job, but such decisions are above my pay grade.)  

Plus, doesn't anyone in this film know how to lock a door when they have sex?  Alone or with someone, a locked door is really your best friend.  The joke about a parent or sibling walking into a room where a sex act is taking place happens way too many times in this film to still be funny by the end.  

I do have a genuine NITPICK POINT, but it's going to involve me getting even more vulgar than I've been already.  The last on-screen checklist item (which, I understand, might differ from her paper list) is "orgasm", but Brandy's been through so many experiences at that point, she never had an orgasm?  I know, the female body is a complicated wonderland and an orgasm isn't always a given, but "masturbation" was WAY earlier on the list, and if she didn't climax while doing that, should that even count?  I mean, if she didn't have an orgasm, she wasn't doing that one right, right?  Plus, the activity depicted when she does have one (again, according to the less-than-reliable on-screen graphic) is one that's not exactly known for allowing a woman to achieve one.  

Also starring Bill Hader (last seen in "22 Jump Street"), Johnny Simmons (last seen in "The Conspirator"), Connie Britton (last seen in "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World"), Clark Gregg (last seen in "Fat Man and Little Boy"), Rachel Bilson (last seen in "Jumper"), Scott Porter, Alia Shawkat, Sarah Steele, Christopher Mintz-Plasse (last seen in "Neighbors"), Andy Samberg (ditto), Donald Glover (last seen in "The Muppets"), with cameos from Adam Pally, Jack McBrayer (last heard in "Wreck-It Ralph"), Brian Huskey (also last seen in "Neighbors"), 

RATING: 6 out of 10 pool noodles

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Safety Not Guaranteed

Year 7, Day 245 - 9/2/15 - Movie #2,137

BEFORE: Self-doubt is creeping into my chain again - I made the decision to put off most of the time-travel related films until next year, but the actor linking clearly indicates that this film should go here.  Jake Johnson carries over from "Let's Be Cops", and this film provides a crucial link back to my Back to School programming.  It all hinges on whether time travel really takes place in this film, because I'm really not sure - I know the concept of time travel is a plot point here, but I'm not sure whether the built device is a success or a failure.  Not that all of the time travel films HAVE to be together, but I feel like if there's real time travel here, then I've failed just a bit in my planning.  But in my defense, I try very hard to not know what's going to happen in a film beforehand, so, really, it's not my fault.

THE PLOT: Three magazine employees head out on an assignment to interview a guy who placed a classified ad seeking a companion for time travel.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Happy Accidents" (Movie #1,649)

AFTER: Well, that's really the whole point of this film - did this guy really build a time machine, or was he just delusional?  And I can't really talk about the answer, simply because that's the whole point of the film.  This duality has played out before, in films like "Happy Accidents", where other people are never sure if someone who claims to be a time-traveler is just off his meds or something.

It's always these people on the spectrum, right?  The ones who give nerds a bad name, just because we're all insular and not very outgoing.  Like none of us know the difference between sci-fi and reality, so naturally we all fantasize about time-travel so much that we can't accept that it's impossible, according to the physical laws of the universe.

Whether our nerd in question here has built a working time machine or not, and I guess it doesn't really matter as long as he believes he has, here it's not about the destination, it's about the journey.  What would someone who expects to be going on a trip across space-time do in preparation?  Here he places a classified ad looking for a companion, someone good with weapons or willing to be trained, because he figures that the journey will be a dangerous one.

But, what's REALLY going on here?  Whether or not actual time-travel takes place (and I'm not saying it does, and I'm not saying it doesn't) are we looking at more of a metaphorical journey, big picture-wise?  What's his real motivation for wanting to go back in time, or believing that he can?  Why does he want to go back in time and not forward?  Is he focused on past events that he wants to change, or is he just generally nostalgic?

I think we have to look at the foil characters to gain some insight - we're presented with a magazine writer who has his own agenda, he takes the opportunity to track down an ex-girlfriend who lives in the same area, and attempt to rebuild an old connection.  He's doing his own form of time-traveling, in his own way, trying to relive, or at least reconnect with, his own past.  Which is more possible, although largely symbolic - but you do connect with your past self every time you go back to your home town, or pass that restaurant where you went on a first date with your spouse, even if it's a dang Starbucks now.

There really was a classified ad in 1997 seeking a time-travel companion, which was printed in Backwoods Home Magazine.  However, it was written by an employee of the magazine, as a space filler on the classifieds page.  But with the internet, the ad got shared and piqued people's curiosity, and from that, this screenplay was born.

But still, there's that old bugaboo, one of my constant pet peeves, where a film spends more time talking about it than being about it.  That's great on the festival circuit, and I have a feeling this film did really well there, but out in the marketplace, I expect more action, for things to start happening a lot sooner.  But by delaying the reveal to the end of the film, it cleverly allows for a sidestep around my usual complaints about messing with the time/space continuum - it's a very sneaky way to silence any nitpicking.

Also starring Aubrey Plaza (last heard in "Monsters University"), Mark Duplass (last seen in "Zero Dark Thirty"), Karan Soni, Kristen Bell (last heard in "Frozen"), Mary Lynn Rajskub (last seen in "Julie & Julia"), Jeff Garlin (last seen in "Fun with Dick and Jane")

RATING:  5 out of 10 cans of soup

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Let's Be Cops

Year 7, Day 244 - 9/1/15 - Movie #2,136

BEFORE: Back from Atlantic City, I only lost about $57 on the slots and we had some great meals, some drinks, hung out on the boardwalk, the usual stuff.  Our hotel room was really a rented-out apartment, it wasn't terrible but we won't make that mistake again, next time we'll try to get back into our usual hotel.  Anyway, it was a fine four-day weekend, and if I watch a movie this afternoon and another one after midnight tonight, I'll be back in the swing of things.  Rob Riggle carries over from "22 Jump Street".  

THE PLOT:  Two struggling pals dress as police officers for a costume party and become neighborhood sensations. But when these newly-minted "heroes" get tangled in a real life web of mobsters and dirty detectives, they must put their fake badges on the line.

AFTER: This is really the opposite of "22 Jump Street", because that film had 2 cops going undercover as regular college students, and this film has 2 regular guys impersonating cops.  

But it's the SAME conversation they have, about 40 or 50 times in a row, every time the impulsive one wants to take the charade a step further, then the rational one says, "No, that's not a good idea," and the impulsive one presses the point, so they do it, which advances the plot incrementally, but WHY must they have the same talk, stressing the same points, again and again?  

There's just no way, no how, that it's a good idea to impersonate police officers - that much is clear from the start.  Whatever benefits they may reap from the situation - respect, confidence, attention from ladies - it's not worth the prison time.  Even when the rational one learns how strict the prison sentences are for wearing a fake badge, riding in a fake police car, misrepresenting oneself as an officer of the law - and we're talking about YEARS behind bars if convicted - why isn't that enough for him to stand up to his friend, if he knows how much trouble they could get in.  

And the impulsive one's argument (at least before he's so delusional that he starts to think he's a real cop), is always, "Well, come ON, don't be a pussy."  How is this logical?  If he lets his friend badger him into doing something he doesn't want to do, then he's a pussy.  He's actually being LESS of a pussy by standing up to his friend and saying, "Hey, this isn't right."  Which is what any rational, right-thinking person would do.  

But, there is a girl involved (isn't there always?) so one small lie turns into a succession of lies, until it reaches the point where he can't tell the truth, because that would reveal that their whole relationship is based on a lie.  And because this is a simple, mostly moronic movie, it's an incredible coincidence that his potential girlfriend is also being threatened by the gangster that they pissed off earlier in the film.  And that's just the START of the unbelievable coincidences - it gets much, much worse from the improbable, unbelievable starting point.  

It's also a huge disservice to real policemen everywhere to show two people with minimal knowledge and training performing the duties of cops, even if they're appallingly bad at it.  The very fact that other policemen characters wouldn't recognize right away that these guys are posers is, in itself, a huge insult.  

The only redeeming thing, and the only reason I don't rate this film as a "2", is that they do (eventually) come to realize that police work is serious, and best left to the professionals.  The climactic action scenes were suspenseful enough, and featured enough dangerous situations for them to realize that they were out of their league, and that was an important message.  I wish it hadn't taken nearly the whole film to get to it, but at least it was there.

But such a HUGE fail of the Bechdel test - there are really only two female characters in the film, they never meet each other, they're only there to be love interests, in fact all of the women characters only exist to be horny for cops, or guys in cop uniforms.  You know, there are female cops too - and women do other things besides sit around and wait for cops to come to their apartment so they can fawn all over them.  But you wouldn't know that from watching this film. 

Also starring Jake Johnson (last seen in "Neighbors"), Damon Wayans, Jr. (last seen in "The Other Guys"), Nina Dobrev (last seen in "Chloe"), James D'Arcy (last seen in "Cloud Atlas"), Keegan-Michael Key (last heard in "The Lego Movie"), Andy Garcia (last seen in "When a Man Loves a Woman"), Natasha Leggero (also last seen in "Neighbors"), Tom Mardirosian, 

RATING: 4 out of 10 surveillance photos