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Monthly Archives: September 2016

It sounds silly to say, but I’m compelled – they just don’t make movies like this anymore.  Shane Black’s (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3) noir-ish 70s buddy crime comedy pays homage to the genre by faithfully adhering to many of its precepts while updating the form in ways that are progressively more clever.  It’s late 70s LA.  Russell Crowe is a burnt out “enforcer” making his dough in the protection racket with brass knuckles and dogged determination.  Ryan Gosling is a private investigator rip-off artist with a drinking problem, a mouthy (but not precocious) pre-teen daughter, and an air of intelligence, if not actual smarts.  Crowe is hired to beat up the person or persons (one of whom is Gosling) looking for a young femme fatale, and the two team up as the semi-serious, but not really serious plot – which melds porno and corporate skullduggery – thickens.

The banter is first rate, the look primo, and the tone just right.  Black writes cynical yet hopeful, and while he makes all his station stops on time, the rides in between are a gas, made even more enjoyable by his crackling script and brilliant physical comedy.  Gosling is particularly adept at slapstick, giving Leonardo DiCaprio’s turn in The Wolf of Wall Street a run for its money.

The chemistry between Crowe and Gosling is so strong that I hope the broad hint of a sequel at the end of the film is genuine.  I was reminded of Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours , Alan Arkin and James Caan in Freebie and the Bean, and Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin in Midnight Run.  These guys are having a blast together

Yet, Black never fully commits to the “buddy pic” requirements.  When Crowe, in a moment of reflection, reveals his tender side or Gosling seemingly rises to the occasion by exhibiting theretofore hidden mental gifts, the payoffs are unexpected and laugh out loud funny.  A dream sequence is inserted that is truly ingenious, and there are more than a few other moments when Black’s detours enhance the humor.   One of the best films this year.

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Image result for Maggie's Plan

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.”

 

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.