Greetings again from the darkness. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is in its 18th year, having aired 165 episodes, not counting endless reruns in syndication. A huge part of the series’ success is the comedic talent and writing ability of Charlie Day. That success has put him in a position to direct his first feature film, and how does he proceed? By attempting to skewer and mock the same Hollywood system that has made him rich and famous. Fortunately for Day, many of his friends have joined in, and most of the mocking falls pretty flat. So, he hasn’t jeopardized the likelihood that he will, in fact, work in this town again.
Our first glimpse of Day’s character is in a mental hospital where he has been diagnosed as non-verbal with “the mind of a Labrador retriever.” With no means to pay and no government plan to compensate the hospital, he is unceremoniously dumped on the street. Before trouble strikes, he is picked up by a Hollywood Producer (the late Ray Liotta) due to his striking resemblance to a temperamental and troubled movie star (also played by Day). Despite having no comprehension of what’s being asked of him, he ends up with a whirlwind acting career and a new name … Latte Pronto.
It doesn’t take long for us to realize Day has attempted to blend the comic (and silent) genius of Charlie Chaplin with the ‘oddity’ of Chauncey Gardiner in the Hal Ashby classic BEING THERE (1979). Those friends of Day who make appearances include Jason Sudekis as a big-time director, Common as an action hero, John Malkovich as a backroom power broker, Jason Bateman, Glenn Howerton, Edie Falco as a super-agent, Mary Elizabeth Ellis (Day’s real life wife), and Dean Norris. In more substantive roles we find Adrien Brody as an alcoholic actor prone to wild times behind the wheel, Kate Beckinsale as a movie star attracted to Day’s overnight fame, and Ken Jeong as Lenny, the struggling publicist who latches onto Latte Pronto as his only client.
Day certainly has a knack for physical comedy and it’s on full display during his “Wipeout” dance, however, without the use of his trademark scratchy, whiny voice, he lacks the charm of Chaplin (who doesn’t?). More significantly, the script lacks the sharpness needed to effectively poke fun at the lure of celebrity, and the greed, self-interest, and insecurities tied to the fluff of Hollywood. There is an attempt to make this about friendship and human connection, but maybe what it does best is remind us how most people would rather talk, and are therefore attracted to a listener … even if he doesn’t understand the words coming out of their mouth.
Greetings again from the darkness. There aren’t too many companies who have reached the pinnacle of their industry, only to later flop due to lack of innovation or a stubborn insistence on holding on to the past. Tremendous success and absolute failure are not typically associated with the same company. Blockbuster Video and Pan Am Airlines come to mind as examples of industry leaders whose refusal to adapt, culminated with closure, and it’s likely that Blackberry belongs in the category, at least as presented here by writer-director Matt Johnson and co-writer Matthew Miller, adapting the book by Jacquie McNish.
Socially awkward pals, Mike Lazaridis (played by Jay Baruchel) and Doug Fregin (played by the film’s director Matt Johnson), co-founded Research in Motion (RIM). The film picks up in 1996 when Mike and Doug are making their first presentation of their breakthrough handheld data delivery-email machine, which they have named Pocket Link. These are two genius nerds with no concept of how the outside business worlds functions, and the executive to whom they are pitching is so distracted that his only feedback is, “You need a new name.” In a fascinating twist, that same executive, Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) ends up saving not just the new product, but also the company.
Balsillie presents himself as a fireball, take charge, full-steam-ahead kind of guy. It’s quite a contrast to nerdy Mike and easy-going Doug. Mike is a quiet guy committed to perfection in his work, while Doug wrangles the tech developers with a culture of video games, movie night, and an overall fraternity environment. Balsillie’s arrival as a vocal outrage expert and brash businessman changes everything, and he and Mike drive the newly named BlackBerry to levels not previously seen. We do get a humorous anecdote from a shirt stain (even though it’s not a true story), and in fact, there is quite a bit of humor throughout.
We are informed that the film was “inspired by real people and real events”, so some dramatic license is expected. Perhaps the best comparison is THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010), and while that film was more polished, I personally found this one more entertaining and accurate from a business sense. An excellent supporting cast includes Cary Elwes, Saul Rubinek, Michael Ironside, Martin Donovan, Rich Sommer, and SungWon Cho, and the film’s real draw is the contrast between Jay Baruchel’s mousy but brilliant Mike, and Glenn Howard’s powerhouse portrayal of the egotistical Balsillie. Baruchel’s scene where he reacts to the new iPhone is alone worth the price of admission.
At its peak, BlackBerry had 45% market share and had earned it’s “CrackBerry” label in the business world. Apple’s 2007 introduction of the iPhone not only rocked the BlackBerry company, it shook up the world. The Canada perspective is noted (RIM was based in Waterloo, Ontario), as is Mike’s aversion to ‘made in China’, perhaps the ultimate reason for the fall. It’s likely that BlackBerry has become a Case Study in Business Schools, although the fast-paced and pressure-packed world of tech continues to require a balance of decisions focused on current markets and never-ending innovation for the future.
Greetings again from the darkness. Let’s face it. It was a brilliant marketing strategy. In the wake of mass shootings, the release date of this film was delayed when its subject matter was deemed controversial, even scandalous The film’s new marketing slogan became, “The most talked about movie of the year is one that no one’s actually seen.” Of course, it wasn’t really true, as very few were actually talking about it. But that’s what made it genius marketing … they created interest amidst controversy that has since proven unnecessary. Director Craig Zobel (Z FOR ZACHARIAH, 2015) has delivered the least controversial, non-polarizing film of the year. It basically laughs at extremes on the left and right, and reminds us how laughing at something can often take away its power. And regardless of your “side”, you’ll find some laughs here.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you know that the premise has a group of liberal elites hunting a hand-selected group of social media-active MAGA deplorables. It’s a twist on Richard Connell’s 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game”, although the modern day rich aren’t hunting for sport, but rather for political affiliation – gun lovers and climate change deniers. That may sound politically charged, but in fact, it plays as more comedy than comeuppance. Sure, the violence is over-the-top and often quite graphic, but this is a skewering of both red and blue.
Preventing the project from falling into B-movie muck is a standout performance from Betty Gilpin (“Glow”) as Crystal. She’s a Rambo-type who speaks (with a southern drawl) only when necessary, and seems to have learned a lot while serving in Afghanistan. Most of the time she looks like she has “a pinch between her cheek and gum” (a tip of the Stetson to Walt Garrison), and she also hums to herself and tosses down some unusual facial expressions. This is a seriously oddball performance that is the film’s highlight.
One of the best sequences of the film comes quite early as the dozen or so ‘deplorables’ slowly wake-up and find themselves gagged in a field. A container of weapons leads to an early massacre that allows the filmmaker to tease us with numerous familiar faces taking turns as the heir-apparent lead. Some of the faces that pop up include Ike Barinholtz, Wayne Duvall, Ethan Suplee, Emma Roberts, Christopher Berry, Sturgill Simpson, Kate Nowlin, Amy Madigan, Reed Birney, Glenn Howerton, Hannah Alline (flight attendant), and Usman Ally.
Of course we know this is headed to a showdown between Crystal and Athena (2-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank), the ringleader of the hunting party. A fight scene reminiscent of the KILL BILL movies (sans Samurai swords) takes place at Athena’s “manor”, and it is stunningly staged and executed. Unfortunately this scene also highlights the mostly inadequate dialogue that exists throughout the film. Some of the quips click, but many fall flat – surprising since the co-writers Nick Cuse and Damon Lindelof have previously collaborated on “Watchmen” and “The Leftovers.”
Blumhouse Productions keeps cranking out these offbeat genre films, and this one likely benefits from a misplaced scandal, and it strives for self-importance by comparing itself to George Orwell’s “Animal House” and with an obscure reference to TEARS OF THE SUN (2013). It’s not at the level of last year’s gem READY OR NOT, and it missed the opportunity to make some political points, but it’s a hoot to watch and as an added bonus, Hilary Swank teaches us the proper way to make a grilled cheese sandwich!