BLOCKERS (2018)

April 5, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. Teen sex comedies exploring new boundaries are a Hollywood tradition. ANIMAL HOUSE (1978), PORKY’S (1981), AMERICAN PIE (1999), and SUPERBAD (2007) all pushed the limits of decency for their era, and provided varying levels of laughter while doing so. In her directorial debut, Tina Fey protégé Kay Cannon (“30 Rock”, PITCH PERFECT franchise), offers up what has been called the first “Feminist teen comedy”, and the risqué humor is far more extreme than that of its predecessors noted above.

We have become quite accustomed to the all-too-common male-centric perspective in these types of movies, so kudos to director Cannon for taking a look from the other side: a Female-centric teen sex comedy. Co-writers Brian and Jim Kehoe unfortunately try to cram too much into what should mostly be a laugh-a-thon. We get the #SexPact2018 from 3 high school senior best friends who agree to lose their virginity on prom night. We get the far-too-involved parents trying to prevent that from happening. We get those same parents dealing with the pending empty nest syndrome, while those three friends are immersed in drugs, alcohol and sex talk. If that’s not quite enough, there is also a sexual identity awakening and a hotel party more extreme than you would find in Las Vegas.

Leslie Mann plays Lisa, the helicopter single mom to Julie (Kathryn Newton). WWE star John Cena is Mitchell, the overprotective dad and life coach to Kayla (an outstanding Geraldine Viswanathan); and comedian Ike Barinholtz (“The Mindy Project”) is Hunter, the estranged/absentee/banished dad to Sam (Gideon Adlon). Julie envisions the perfect romantic encounter, while Kayla just wants to be done with it, and Sam is still trying to figure out why she isn’t so attracted to boys.

Riffing off of the “one wild and crazy night” theme, prom night is chosen by the three amigas, and what follows is outrageous and periodically hilarious. Most of the humor comes courtesy of the parents on the ill-fated ‘blocking’ mission. The story bounces from heartfelt emotions of parents to ‘butt-chugging’ at a party. There is also a car explosion, felony breaking and entering, and projectile vomiting. Perhaps there is an overuse of hulking John Cena crying, but that’s less cringe-inducing than the role-playing of Gary Cole and Gina Gershon (parents of one of the girl’s dates).

Setting the story in Chicago allows the filmmakers to take on the conservative Midwestern attitudes toward sex, while also providing a teenager with the “I’m getting as far away as possible” (UCLA) comeback. It makes sense that SUPERBAD co-writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are Producers, as this film often feels like the female cousin to that 2007 film. Hannibal Buress has a small memorable role, as does Jimmy Bellinger, as fedora wearing Chad. The real standouts here are relative newcomer Geraldine Viswanathan, and John Cena, who previously has excelled with less screen time (DADDYS HOME 2, TRAINWRECK). Many will be offended on numerous occasions, and certainly most parents will be uncomfortable with the drug use and sexcapades of teenagers. However, the theater was often filled with boisterous laughter, proving that this is what constitutes contemporary cinematic comedy. Only you can decide if you are OK with that.

watch the trailer:

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THE BRONZE (2016)

March 18, 2016

bronze Greetings again from the darkness. Leave it to the Duplass brothers (Executive Producers here) to turn the traditional sports movie genre upside down. Of course, this is about as much of a sports movie as Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, but it does use the backdrop of the Olympics to make a point about fading fame. Mostly though, it’s an excuse to crack wise, spew profanities and spoil anything and anyone remotely innocent.

Melissa Rauch (Bernadette on “The Big Bang Theory”) stars as Hope, a former bronze medalist in Women’s gymnastics, who captured the hearts of Americans when she battled through an Achilles injury to perform her final event. The movie picks up a decade after Hope’s Olympic heroics and we first see her enjoying a clip of her big moment. And by enjoying, I mean … well, never mind. It turns out Hope never was able to compete again, and instead continues to milk her celebrity status around small town Amherst, Ohio. When her dad (Gary Cole) gently nudges her to take a coaching job, she shouts “I’m a star, not a coach!” Hope is a selfish brat whose egoism has her clinging to former glory and preventing her from joining society.

Hope gets tricked into coaching Maggie, the town’s up-and-coming gymnastics prodigy. Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson) idolizes Hope and is her polar opposite in every possible personality trait – a very welcome upbeat and perky addition to the movie. Instead of embracing the opportunity, Hope goes out of her way to sabotage naïve Maggie’s dream. Along the way, she also mistreats the gym owner who somehow fancies her – despite Hope’s hopelessness. Twitchy Ben (Thomas Middleditch) is a sweet guy who sees the good in Hope and does his best to pull her from the dark side.

A twist of fate places Hope at odds with her old flame and former Olympic gold medalist, Lance (Sebastian Stan), who is now a leader in the world of women’s gymnastics. These two banter like siblings who dislike each other, and also execute one of the wackiest ever on-screen comedic sex scenes – for all of you who have fantasized about frolicking with a gymnast.

Director Bryan Buckley is best known for his 50-plus TV commercials that have aired during Super Bowls, but here he lets Melissa Rauch do her thing (she also co-wrote the script with her husband Winston Rauch). There is some commentary on fame and celebrity (and cameos from Olga Korbut, Dominique Dawes, Dominique Moceanu), and some insight into narcissism; but mostly it’s a chance for Ms. Rauch to flaunt her foul motor-mouth with some extremely crass and raunchy lines. It’s kind of cute in an absurdly profane way, and some might agree it beats watching real gymnastics.

Note: Including a Doris Day song on this film’s soundtrack may be the funniest, or at least most ironic moment.

watch the trailer:

 


DIFF 2015 – Days 4 and 5

April 16, 2015

DALLAS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Days 4 and 5, Monday and Tuesday April 13, 14

My recap of the (only) three movies I watched over these two days (hey, a guy has to earn a living!)

 

DIVINE ACCESS

divine access Greetings again from the darkness. Meet Jack. Thanks to a mother who dragged him around as a kid to a stream of religious events and retreats, he has grown into an adult who has vast knowledge about various religions and approaches to spirituality. Yet, despite this, he is a slacker and self-anointed underachiever … a man living the simple life of fishing, drinking beer and morning skinny dips in the lake.

As a favor to his friend Bob (Patrick Warburton), Jack (Billy Burke) agrees to appear on a cable access show. It turns out Bob wants Jack to humiliate the current host … Reverend Guy Roy Davis (Gary Cole). The stunt works sending Guy Roy off the deep end, and turning Jack into an oddball spiritual leader.

The film balances some extremely funny segments and moments with the drama that typically accompanies anything religious. As the film points out, a great many people are looking for something to believe in. Jack’s simple talks revolve around philosophical bits such as: Believe you are loved. Why are you certain you are right and other are wrong? Tell your story and listen to others tell theirs.

When Jack hits the road to give his talks across Texas, he undergoes a personal transformation that is tied to Marian (Sarah Shahi) who he can’t quite figure out whether she is real or a vision. His travel buddies include Nigel (Joel David Moore) and Amber (Dora Madison Burge). The interaction between these three characters makes for the best scenes in the film.

The casting and acting is superb. Gary Cole is both painful and hilarious to watch as Guy Roy, a man committed to spreading the gospel through his ventriloquism with a creepy “Mini Jesus” doll. Sarah Shahi brings the necessary level of mysticism to her role, and Adrienne Barbeau is spot on as Jack’s mom. Patrick Warburton delivers his deadpan one-liners with aplomb, while Joel David Moore and Dora Madison Burge make for a quirky couple of passengers on the road trip. Even the multi-talented Turk Pipkin has a cameo as the leader of the Esoteric Fellowship. But it’s Billy Burke who owns the movie as the reluctant spiritual leader who is fighting his own transformation. Burke delivers a subtle and nuanced performance while also being downright cynical and funny.

The religious overtones are pretty clear with Jesus, Matthew the Apostle, and Mary Magdalene, but that should in no way lead you to believe this is one of those sneaky Christian message movies. Actually, director Steven Chester Prince and his three co-writers do a nice job at asking “Is everyone doing the best they can?” and “Do you believe what you say?” The message seems to be that we all have doubts, but it’s best to start with yourself before you start trying to fix others.

MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED (documentary)

most likely Greetings again from the darkness. When people discuss the U.S. public education system, most agree (at least to a certain degree) that it’s broken. The impassioned and creative debates occur over how best to “fix” it. The ideas are infinite, but as with any problem in need of a solution, it’s wise to consider the desired end result.  What do we need and expect of our education system?  And who is “we” in that question?  Are we satisfying societal needs or those of the individual … and who decides?

It is not feasible to expect an 86 minute documentary to answer all of these questions and solve one of the biggest issues facing society, but skilled documentarian Greg Whiteley does his best to advance the conversation. “Teach to the test” is the widely accepted curriculum these days, and it’s defined as daily lessons and assignments structured to prepare each student for the standardized tests utilized for determining a student’s knowledge base, grading teacher effectiveness, ranking schools and school districts, and of course, determining the acceptability of certain students at particular colleges.

With a basic structure that has not changed in 124 years, it seems clear that our education system is not properly preparing students for a world that has changed drastically in the past 3 decades. Many make the argument that the future success of students will be determined by what are called “soft skills”: confidence, ability to collaborate, creativity, time management, critical thinking, and decision making. There are interviews from managers at Google and Khan Academy stressing that these are the skills they already seek in new hires.

There are defenders of the current system. They claim it’s all part of the game we play, and that students must survive the grind … just as their parents and their grandparents did. Opponents say students are being treated as data points, not people or future contributors. Whiteley takes us inside of High Tech High in San Diego. It’s an experimental campus committed to finding new ways to teach, so that students learn and retain and accomplish. One of their most impactful evaluation points come from group projects that are presented to faculty, parents and the community. It’s fascinating to watch the students work towards their goal, and equally interesting to hear the parents talk about personal growth of the students.

Whiteley includes the spot on quote from John Dewey: “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow”. Though the film doesn’t touch on the highly charged political landscape or the importance of teacher education and preparation, it is quite effective in generating thought and discussion about what responsibility we have towards students, and how we can improve the odds that they will grow into contributing members of society. For more information on the film, or to schedule a screening at your school or organization, go to www.mltsfilm.org

THE WOLFPACK (documentary)

wolfpack Greetings again from the darkness. In what is one of the oddest real life stories I have ever seen, director Crystal Moselle takes her camera inside the Lower East Side apartment of the Angulo family – 6 brothers, one sister, and their parents. In their spare time, the kids re-enact movies within the apartment using elaborate costumes, sets and props. And no, that’s not the odd part.

Despite being mostly teenagers, these siblings have only left their apartment a few times in their life – a very few times … maybe once or twice a year, and not at all one year. They have been home schooled by their mother and are quite charming and articulate, despite the quasi-prison environment. The kids are not abused in the physical sense, but an argument can be made that mental anguish is in play here.

Their movie scenes are fun to watch, especially given their Tarantino leanings with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Ms. Moselle manages to capture a significant amount within the confines of the apartment. Her interviews with the boys are enlightening, but it’s the mother that provides the most context. Her regrets and dashed dreams for her kids cause her much pain, and it’s quite clear that the dad has some type of psychological vice grip on the family. The dad raises some eyebrows when he states “My power is influencing people”. As viewers, we don’t see this, but there is physical proof to his claim.

With no shortage of powerful moments, there are still two that jump off the screen. The first occurs as the boys head out on their own to watch their first movie in a real theatre, and then have such a fan boy moment after watching The Fighter. The second involves the mom having a conversation with her mother after not speaking for more than two decades. It’s an emotional moment.

We can’t help but like the boys and pull for them to find some normalcy outside the walls of the apartment. Their final film project needs no additional commentary as the lead character watches various emotions travel past his window … fitting since a NYC apartment window provided this family its only glances at the real world for so many years.


THE JONESES (2009)

April 17, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Don’t really have much to offer on this one other than it would have been more current in the mid-90’s. A statement on overindulgence and consumerism during a recession comes across as lame and not particularly funny or poignant.

The con is simple. Demi Moore, David Duchovny, Ben Hollingsworth and Amber Heard pose as the “it” family unit whose sole purpose is to be the coolest people with the coolest toys, clothes, furniture and cars. First of all Hollingsworth and Heard (from Zombieland) are 25 and 24 respectively, and do not look like high school students (a movie pet peeve). Secondly, NO ONE would ever believe one family could possibly have ALL of this stuff.

The script is all over the place trying to make commentary on the morals of what this grift does to the participants … both those on the inside and the targets themselves. David Duchovny, to his credit, has a couple of decent scenes, but Demi Moore just comes across as trying way too hard.

It was nice to see Lauren Hutton and Gary Cole have somewhat important roles and I did enjoy looking at the great house and cars. But never did I buy into the story or the self-marketing. Nice idea that would have complimented the original Wall Street movie back in the day.