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A charming, light romantic comedy about a young New Yorker (Great Gerwig) who has an affair with an older would-be fiction writer/academic (Ethan Hawke) married to an even more prestigious academic (Julianne Moore). Hawke leaves Moore for Gerwig, but Gerwig soon realizes she has upset the natural order of things. What follows is her “plan” to rectify her error, which is breezy, funny and blessedly bereft of skin-searing indictments about betrayal, trust and commitment. It drags a bit at the end, but ultimately, the film delivers as a sweet, semi-screwball slice of life. It’s also satisfying to see such a product from writer-director Rebecca Miller, whose The Ballad of Jack and Rose a decade ago was as heavy, dreary and miserable a film about relationships as you could imagine. Perhaps she’s in a better place.

keanu available on digital hd july 19 and blu-ray and dvd on august 2

 

Key & Peale skit that goes on about an hour and 35 minutes too long, made even more tedious by the immobile camerawork of director Stephen Hawk . . . .er . . . Peter Attencio, whose resume’ consists of . . . directing Key and Peale episodes.

Alternative reviews, considered but rejected

Kean-poo!

 

Keanu tell me if this movie sucks? Yes, I ke-an.”

 

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Tina Fey’s foray as a film lead has been nothing short of disastrous.   Other than the tolerable Date Night (where Steve Carell helped with the lifting), her movies have been execrable and her attempts to re-brand the Liz Lemon character that served her so well for a time in 30 Rock have failed.  In Admission and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, it was hard to determine what was less convincing: Fey’s stabs at being thoughtful or her attempts to fill the garters of a romantic lead.  For introspection, Fey rarely can provide more than a smirking Hamlet-lite, asking the audience “is this a macaroon I see before me?”  And when Fey is asked to fill the shoes of a sexual being, as she was In This is Where I Leave You (former high school loose girl) and this film (former and current), it’s like asking Richard Dreyfus to play Rocky Balboa.  Some of this is attributable to run-off from the Lemon character, a neutered geek who substituted sex –which she approached as if it were vampirism – with food.  But Fey is many years away from that character, and the fact is, she simply exudes no sex.  Not appeal, interest or even curiosity.  In Whiskey Tango, which is ostensibly a romantic comedy, she could only bed Martin Freeman when she was near wasted, the coupling looked more like two cats in a bag, and the morning after, she looked at Freeman with the disgust of someone who “can’t believe they ate the whole thing.”

Yet, in Sisters, she’s supposed to be the wild, sexually adventurous one.  Oooph.

Fey’s other huge problem is that she is wholly unlikeable.  In 30 Rock, she was parceled out in little bits as part of a pretty big ensemble cast, and she made herself the butt of every joke, which was endearing and at times, very, very funny.  But she’s lost that gift and now, she’s re-presented as a different woman and no matter what she does, she comes off as condescending.  Indeed, the fact that Fey as corporate pitchwoman for American Express is damn near insufferable in a 30 second ad (her quippy, snide, self-absorbed shopper rings of the person who is most amused by their own cleverness), tells us all we should know about her freshness as a film actress.

It’s not just Fey that sinks Sisters.  The film has no real humor; it’s just a “last party” flick where folks who aren’t even characters say things that are supposed to be zany and hilarious.   The set-ups (drugs that look like sugar!  A glop of hair gel on the floor that will factor prominently later!) are asinine, and when Fey and her film sister Amy Poehler get in trouble, they riff.  The riffing is painful, and frankly, given Fey’s attacks on other comics who do not meet her exacting cultural standards, watching her “do black” (repeatedly) when she appears to be struggling is a strange mix of uncomfortable and satisfying.  I imagine she’ll avoid the pitchforks from the p.c. Brown Shirts, but she should step lightly.  They just took a pelt off of Lena Dunham!

The script, such as it is, has the odor of Upright Citizen’s Brigade improv, a recent phenomenon that insists upon spontaneity in an art form wholly incompatible with it.  Even in its element, as Ted 2 recently showed, improv deserves a shellacking:

 

 

 

 

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I was reading Scot Yenor’s piece “What Sexbots Teach Us About Happiness and Love” and realized that he, ultimately, can’t really tell us what they teach, because as of today, there are no sexbots.   According to Yenor, however, by 2050, we will have beings that “converse with their partners, dwell on their emotions, anticipate their needs, deliver forms of companionship and love, and perform whatever sexual act one would want, just like the machines in ‘Ex Machina.’ All of this will equal ‘love’ and ‘sex’ with robots.”

There are sexbots in Ex Machina, but that was hardly the first film to suggest a world where we have created synthetic sexual partners.  What do the movies tell us about that future?

A great deal, actually.  Film is often a surprisingly accurate harbinger of future developments and trends.  In Logan’s Run, a dystopian sci- fi flick from 1974, society is kept youthful and vibrant because its inhabitants accept that at age 30, they must be killed in a “rebirth” ritual.  Some folks don’t take too kindly to that end, and they run, whereupon they are hunted down by the likes of Michael York and Richard Jordan.  But before folks turn 30, they live in resplendent hedonism and if they want to have sex with a partner, any partner, they turn to a machine in their nifty apartment and select from others who are also looking to have sex.  Indeed, it is through one of these sex teleporters that York finds a runner, Jenny Agutter.

Today, we call this Tinder.

But Agutter is an actual woman, not an android.  What about sexbots?  In Westworld, the 1973 pic where Richard Benjamin and James Brolin enjoy an adult theme park of the old West until it all goes terribly wrong,  there are bordellos stocked with android prostitutes, but they are cold-eyed, near animatronic.

A year later, in The Stepford Wives, the androids became more responsive but they still have a soullessness that is forbidding.

Indeed, The Stepford Wives is a feminist tract based on the idea that men, given their druthers, truly want a pliant, attractive dimwit in a floppy sunhat as a mate.

Fast forward to the reign of Arnold Schwarzenegger and The Sixth Day, and the prototype has gotten even more advanced.  The newer model  – a hologram that also apparently has sensory ability – won’t glitch.

Again, however, the message is one of emptiness, a blonde spouting inanities about sports and delivering insincere compliments.  Looks fun, but not exactly an enticing replacement.

The emptiness becomes positively sad when we get to the gigolo Jude Law in Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, but this is also the first representation where the sexbot has some convincing rap.  Law is a stud for hire, but what he gives his clients is more than physical love, as is clear from his verbal foreplay:

SLEAZY MOTEL ROOM

PATRICIA
I’m afraid…

JOE
Of me? That I will hurt you?

PATRICIA
Yes…

JOE
I think… you’re afraid of letting go. I think you’re
afraid of happiness. And this is starting to excite me. Are
you afraid of seeing the stars…Patricia? I can show you
how to reach them.

PATRICIA
I’m afraid… of what you’ve got under there. May I see what
it looks like first?

JOE
Is this your first time… with something like me?

PATRICIA
I’ve never been with mecha.

JOE
That makes two of us.

PATRICIA
I’m afraid it will hurt.

JOE
Patricia…once you’ve had a lover robot, you’ll never want
a real man…again.
Are these the wounds of passion?

Singer: Are the stars out tonight?
I don’t know if it’s cloudy or bright.
I only have eyes for you, dear!

PATRICIA
Do you…do you hear that music?

Singer: (note: this is played over Joe’s next line)
The moon may be high,
But I can’t see a thing in the sky,
‘Cause I only have eyes for you,
Yeah…I only have eyes for you!

JOE
You… are a goddess, Patricia. You wind me up inside. But
you deserve much better in your life. You deserve… me.

So, the future brings us flesh goodies, but they are diversions and in many cases, sinister ones.  In Blade Runner, the moral heart of the film lies in the fact that Rachael (Sean Young) does not know she is a replicant.  In all other ways except her expiration date, she is human.  She feels love, she cries, she has fear, and the cruelest component of her existence is the self-awareness of her creation, her ability to actually deduce that she may be a thing, and a thing with a date certain for death at that.  The value and dignity of the replicants are certified by their innate sense of being human, and one of the most affecting scenes is when a runaway replicant, pleasure model Zhora, is shot, because she seems so much like us.

So too with Ex Machina, referenced by Yenor, a brilliant mash-up of a lot of the above films and Deathtrap.  The two sexbots in Ex Machina are nascent thinkers and when they get to thinking, they determine that a life being at the beck and call of Oscar Isaac is not to their liking.  Moreover, Alicia Vikander evinces all of the burgeoning curiosity and wonder of a new human, which, or course, make her dispatching of her Dr. Frankenstein acceptable.

Yenor’s concern is that the sexbot will attempt to replace love, a fair consideration given the inroads pornography has made to replacing sex, and cautions, “Love begins with recognizing our own lack, our neediness as creatures, but the sexbot love experience never really allows for seeing that making a common life with another is a solution to our neediness. Instead, sexbot love turns us inward again and finds a solution in our own will and dreams. Sexbots represent sophisticated intellectual masturbation, where human beings remain trapped inside their own view of themselves.”

At least to date, the movies have pretty much tracked with his conclusion, as writers have made sexbots lethal, sympathetic representations of man’s hubris, or both.  Indeed, in 1977’s Demon Seed, which I did not see, an A.I. computer eventually rapes his maker’s wife to be immortal

The one filmic departure is Her, but even in that picture, Joaquin Phoenix’s relationship with Operating System Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), rewarding as it seems at times, cannot be consummated physically (they try to use a human sex surrogate, but the encounter goes awry) and ends with the cosmic joke that reveals her be a virtual slut:

THEODORE

(dawning on him)

Do you talk to anyone else while we’re talking?

SAMANTHA

Yes.

THEODORE

Are you talking to anyone right now? Other people or OS’s or anything?

SAMANTHA

Yeah.

THEODORE

How many others?

SAMANTHA

8,316.

Theodore is shocked, still sitting on the stairs, as crowds of people pass by him. He’s looking at all of their faces. He thinks for a moment.

THEODORE

Are you in love with anyone else?

SAMANTHA

What makes you ask that?

THEODORE

I don’t know. Are you?

SAMANTHA

I’ve been trying to figure out how to talk to you about this.

THEODORE

How many others?

SAMANTHA

641.

THEODORE

What? What are you talking about?  That’s insane. That’s fucking insane.

SAMANTHA

Theodore, I know.

(to herself)

Oh fuck.

(to him)

I know it sounds insane. But – I don’t know if you believe me, but it doesn’t change the way I feel about you. It doesn’t take away at all from how madly in love with you I am. 

 

Yenor need not worry.  If sexbots become ubiquitous, unlike porn, the degenerative effect will be ameliorated by the fact that they’ll either kill us or cheat on us.

 

I watched this documentary on Monday night, after Anthony Weiner’s final on-line transgression resulted in the announcement of his separation from his wife, Hillary Clinton handler and confidante Huma Abedin.  The documentary shadows Weiner during his run for the New York City mayoralty, a run he made after resigning from Congress when he was busted for sending a dick pick to a young girl.  The ignominy of that act was exacerbated by the facts of Weiner’s lying about the incident (he was hacked, it might not be his junk, forces opposed to him were at play, “”Maybe it did start being a photo of mine and now looks something different or maybe it is from another account”) and his unfortunate name.

But come back he did, and as relayed by the documentarians, he returned with verve and passion.  Until he got busted again, this time sexting under the nom de plume “Carlos Danger” with a sad, grasping, soon-to-be porn star named Sydney Leathers (the scandal is notable as much for its bizarre nature as the silly names of its participants).  This unfolds before our very eyes, and it is often difficult to watch.  After this second humiliating revelation, Weiner opts for an aggressive, charge forward “this is what we do“ approach, as if to keep moving is to delay facing up to the consequences of his actions.   But you can see him harden and crack, in contentious interviews and encounters with voters.  Abedin, a beautiful, stoic woman, also becomes more brittle, but she retreats inward.  When the camera catches her watching Weiner desperately prattle on, a look not so much of disgust as disbelief is on her face.  The campaign staff, all young and committed to Weiner, are rattled, and you feel for their predicament.

The documentary also illuminates a few other aspects of this entire farce that merit comment.  First, even with all the drama and pain of Weiner’s relationship with Abedin, there is an intimacy between the two that is undeniable, making this national joke a bit harder to laugh at.  The revelation of real love in what you cynically presume is a marriage of convenience is quite unexpected.  Additionally, Weiner and Abedin evince a certain cynicism of their own in the way they operate politically.  It seems perfectly natural to them when Weiner monitors her fundraising calls to friends or uses their child as a shield-in-a-stroller, or she engages in strategic musings to keep his campaign afloat.  But it feels grubby and sad.   Also, the media comes off as nothing short of vile.  Their glee and faux moralizing actually engenders sympathy for Weiner, which, given his hubris and recklessness, would seem impossible.   When Weiner becomes unspooled after being baited by the likes of MSNBC dimwit Lawrence O’Donnell, it’s hard to determine who comes off worse.  At least, for me and Weiner.  There is a  charming moment when Weiner looks back at Abedin after re-watching his interview with O’Donnell and imploringly asks who got the worst of it.  She replies unequivocally that Weiner was loser of the exchange, a fact he can’t quite grasp.   Frankly, to me, it was a close call, but the unctuous O’Donnell was not running for office.   The crazed Weiner was.

Ultimately, what I liked most about the documentary is it didn’t portray Weiner as tragedy.  He is not presented as some promising wunderkind undone by his excesses and a vicious press corps.  While in post-campaign crater sit-down interviews with the filmmakers, Weiner looks beaten, emaciated, like a recently released hostage . . .

. . . sad as he looks, you don’t feel that something grand has been lost.  He’s just a guy with a persistent fetish in the wrong business.

 

 

One of my favorite films from a few years back was Blue Ruin, writer director Jeremy Saulnier’s moody, crisp, and realistic revenge-gone-wrong drama. That film was completed with a budget of $500,000. I was happy to see Saulnier get a bigger budget follow-up film, Green Room, which was produced for $5 million. Unfortunately, it has only made half of its budget back, a shame, because the picture further demonstrates Saulnier’s obvious talent and ingenuity (don’t just take it from me – it rates at 91% on rottentomatoes.com).

The story is simple: we meet an East coast punk band in the Northwest “on tour”, having just played a Portland gig where they made a whopping $6. To make up for the paltry cut, the quartet is recommended to a club located out in the woods. The pal putting them on to the gig is quick to note that while they may not like the politics of the place, the money is good and assured – $350.   Mind you, the band has been subsisting on junk food and making its way across the country by siphoning gas from other vehicles. They take the gig..

When they arrive, they immediately get a good sense of the politics of the place, what with the odd Confederate flag and Nazi graffiti about in an otherwise survivalist-meets-skinhead environment. It is, however, a pretty professional survivalist/skinhead environment. The club acts like any other club. The band is admonished not to clutter the hallway and to keep their set to time. They do, and all is well.  Until other things go wrong. Terribly wrong.

What ensues is a gripping, occasionally funny, but mainly cold-sweat inducing fight for survival. Saulnier continues to impress with his ability to convey the gritty realities of every day violence.  It almost always goes wrong, it is messy and it is rarely cinematic. He also does a few other things very well. First, his dialogue is grounded and mature. The characters say things to one another you would expect people to say in such a fucked up, dangerous and confusing situation. There are no schmaltzy foxhole confessions or dramatic readings of the riot act. These people are regular folk and they are at the point of a knife. There is no time to whinge on about extraneous bullshit.

Second, Saulnier avoids stereotype without being showy. The band members are as civilian as you can get, but they are not ineffectual. And while the skinheads are terrifying, they are not caricatures nor are they of one stripe.  I was happy to see Saulnier’s lead in Blue Ruin, Macon Blair, cast as a bad guy.  Saulnier manages to subtly convey equivocacy within the ranks of the villains like Blair, which has greater implications as the plot develops.

Look, this is a genre film along the lines of The Purge or the flicks where white kids (and Cuba Gooding) take the wrong turn in LA after a Lakers game and become prey to rappers and cholos, but as it goes, it is at the top of that heap.

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Paul Rudd lost his young son in an accident and compensates by taking a 6 week course on caregiving for the disabled. His first client is a plucky, wheelchair bound Brit named Trevor, who suffers from muscular dystrophy and an overinflated sense of his own cleverness. For example, to shock Rudd, he pretends he’s choking or having a seizure, a real gutbuster. Rudd later pretends he’s lost his lifesaving medicines, so, relationship established.

Both parties learn life lessons, but to better cement them, they

A). Make love
B). Take a road trip
C). Join a white supremacist sect
D). Enter into a suicide pact

Of course the answer is B), but the other answers would have made for a better film, for those options would not have resulted in their meeting bad girl hitchhiker Selena Gomez. How do we know she is bad? She

A). Smokes
B). Curses
C). Is a white supremacist
D). Smokes while cursing

Oh, if it had only been C).

So, Gomez is indeed the toughest girl at the mall, but she also suffers her own disability — inflatable faceitis.

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That’s the curveball.

Gloppy, lazy, hackneyed gruel.