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2019

Pete Davidson Comedy 'Big Time Adolescence' Snapped Up By Hulu ...

Is it possible to have a Pete Davidson marathon?  Why, yes.  Yes it is.  I watched two Pete Davidson flicks in a week and enjoyed them both, with varying levels of enthusiasm.  In Big Time Adolescence, Davidson plays Zeke, a man-child who bonds with the little brother of a high school girlfriend.  When they break up, Zeke keeps hanging with the kid (Griffin Gluck).  When we settle down with them, Zeke is a stoner townie in his mid-twenties with a gaggle of amusing stoner pals and as much drive and ambition as Cheech.  He’s offbeat, almost impenetrable, and when you do get in that addled head, the most you find is ennui and poor judgment with a little bit of decency.  As coming of age films go, this one is adept, often very funny, and refreshingly short (91 minutes).  It also features nice support from Jon Cryer, Gluck’s frustrated father, who has to confront Davidson’s cluelessness not only as a danger to his high school age son but as a rival for his affections.

Sunday night, it was time to shell out the $20 to watch Davidson’s semi-autobiographical movie, The King of Staten Island (Davidson co-wrote the picture with the King of Bro-Comedy, Judd Apatow).  Here, Davidson plays a 24 year old man-child, stoner townie with a gaggle of amusing stoner pals and as much drive and ambition as Chong.  He’s offbeat, almost impenetrable, and when you do get in that addled head, the most you find is ennui and poor judgment but a little bit of decency.  It also features nice support from Marisa Tomei, Davidson’s frustrated mother, and Bill Burr, a neighbor who becomes her suitor.  Burr has to confront Davidson’s cluelessness as a danger to his own son, and, lo and behold, Davidson bonds with the kid.

The King of Staten Island (@TheKingofSI) | TwitterApatow’s flick, however, is a bumpier ride for several reasons.  First, Davidson leads here, and he’s just not an empty-headed nice guy, but he’s also suffering from depression, suicidal ideation and unresolved sorrow over the death of his father when he was 7 years old.  I’m not going to say Davidson was bad, because he has his moments.  But it was much tougher duty, and his performance is spotty.  Sometimes he nails it, sometimes you can almost see the terror in his eyes that he’s not cutting it.  Worse, at 136 minutes, the picture is way long, and it drags (Apatow’s daughter plays Davidson’s sister and it almost appears as if her role was beefed up by Daddy).

Finally, Davidson’s character in In Big Time Adolescence was understandable because, no matter his actions, you perceived him to be a dummy.  A sweet kid, but, also an airhead.  [SPOILERS BELOW] So, when he advises his young charge to sell drugs in order to enhance his cred, it seems reasonable.  Stupid, but in the context of his character, entirely in line.   In Apatow’s picture, Davidson is not a dummy, but rather, a dick, and way too old to be the kind of dick he portrays.  So his unattractive excesses are difficult to endure.  A lazy stoner entranced by SpongeBob while his mom and sister pack up her car for college?  It sets your teeth on edge, but as my kids would derisively retort, “Okay Boomer.”  But giving a 9 year old kid a tattoo? Or whining like a little bitch because his mother deigns to date?  It’s too much, and Davidson does not have the chops to communicate the inner haunting that can get you and him over.  It’s an amusing film, and has a few solid gut-busters, but if you had to choose one, save yourself the 46 minutes and the $20 and go with the former (which is free on Amazon Prime).

From Boston to Concord, in the Footsteps of 'Little Women' | VogueConfession: I’ve never read Louisa May Alcott’s classic nor have I seen any prior Little Women films, so my frame of reference is limited.  That said, I contend I am the perfect viewer, the empty cipher coming in with no preconceptions.

I loved the film.  Greta Gerwig’s rendition is beautifully rendered, lovingly crafted, and anchored by a stirring performance by Saiorise Ronan as the proto-feminist sister Jo.  Gerwig plays with timeline, so you see the four March sisters in different parts of their lives, a technique most effective for Jo, whose rebellious desire to be an independent creative thinker beholden to no man is effectively juxtaposed by her later, harder and more lonely life.

Gerwig’s eye is expert and many of her scenes are breathtaking.  In particular, Jo and Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) on the hillside as she recognizes her love for him also means the death of her art, and Jo and her sister Beth reading on the beach, joined as one by her writing.  Yet, the film is also earthy and sharp.  When Jo watches the manufacturing of her first novel, Gerwig plays it almost as if it were a form of childbirth.  Indeed, there is no more protective mother than Jo as she negotiates her percentage and rights with her publisher, the very wry Tracy Letts.

There are minor problems.  Two of the four girls are underdeveloped (the film, and I can’t believe I am writing this, should have been longer), and the mother (Laura Dern) is so angelic she barely registers at all.  Moreover, an attempt to have one of the sisters (Florence Pugh) play pre-adolescent results in a jarring scene where she is so malicious to Jo that it could only be countenanced were it the act of a very young child.  Since Pugh looks older than that, it seems unforgivable.  Finally, there is the father, who returns from the Civil War and lo and behold, it is none other than . . .  Bob Odenkirk, wearing a Union cap better fit for a trick ‘r treater.  I imagine it seems like niggling, and I was prepared to overcome the dissonance by the exertions of his performance, but upon his entry into the film, there is no performance.  He has perhaps 2 or 3 terse lines.  So, that was weird, akin to introducing Will Ferrell in the role and then making him mute.

These are minor nits.  This is a splendid picture.

 

How Jennifer Lopez's fashion inspired the real-life 'Hustlers ...

Jennifer Lopez is a revelation, but what she reveals is what we already knew from the Super Bowl; she has a super-human ability to keep a middle-aged body toned, flexible and sexy.  Bravo, but as Demi Moore proved in her stripper film, solid moves on the pole can only take you so far.  Lopez is cunning, and commanding, but she is little more, and she cannot make up for the amateurish performances of her cohorts, a bunch of dancers-with-hearts-of-tin who sign on to her scheme.

When the movie focuses on the crime, it is light, watchable, brisk entertainment.  The strippers engineer a lucrative con outside the club, where they butter a mark up, slip him a roofie, max out his credit card, and when he wakes up, he assumes he had the night of his life (and if he is shocked at the price, what is he going to say?)  There is real humor and juice in these scenes.

Unfortunately, they are interrupted by the dull story of our protagonist Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians), a girl who just needs a Mommy (Lopez) to show her the tricks of the trade.  Wu is not a very good actor, and her little girl lost routine seems silly (strippers are many things; guileless ain’t one of them).  Wu’s naivete, however, is a necessary predicate to the lamest part of the film, because first time feature writer-director Lorene Scafaria is set on saying something about family and loyalty and the rest. When the gals are all together, their essential goodness and mutual support flows freely as they bestow gifts upon each other and extol the virtues of famil . . . zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Scafaria also uses the interview/flashback technique to tell the story, so we get the prim, white journalist (Julia Stiles) interviewing Wu after it has all gone to shit.  I suppose Scafaria wanted to juxtapose Wu’s hard-bitten travail with that of a privileged, educated writer, but the exchanges are clunky.  An example:

DESTINY What’s your name again?

YOUNG WOMAN Elizabeth.

DESTINY Did you grow up with money, Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH We were…comfortable.

DESTINY Right. What’d your parents do?

ELIZABETH My dad was a journalist. And my mom’s a psychiatrist.

DESTINY Where’d you go to school?

ELIZABETH Brown. For undergrad.

DESTINY What would you do for a thousand dollars? Of course the answer depends on what you already have and what you need.

This might have worked if Wu herself didn’t seem like she was rejected from Brown but got in to Bryn Mawr instead, and if Scafaria fleshed the conversation out a little bit (ELIZABETH:  “I need it.”  That sounds like want any criminal would say, no?).

Instead, it just lays there, flat, interrupting the caper and making both characters even more tedious, if possible.

Fighting With My Family (DVD) - Walmart.com - Walmart.com

Cute, funny, and sweet paint-by-numbers comedy about a British wresting family (headed by a hilarious Nick Frost and an unrecognizable Lena Headey/Cersei Lannister) whose daughter (Florence Pugh) gets her shot at the big league – the WWE.  While she goes to Miami to train under the tutelage of an uncompromising Vince Vaughan, her brother and wrestling partner is left behind, sparking an emotional crisis.  Apparently, this is a true story.  The Pugh character is none other than—
WWE star Paige on sex-tape humiliation: 'I don't wish that for anyone'

Written and directed by Stephen Merchant (the Gestapo chief in Jo Jo Rabbit).

There is nothing new here, but it’s crisp and has its moments, and the characters are winning.  On Hulu.

Richard Jewell (film) - Wikipedia

The good: Clint Eastwood makes the decision to keep the story focused almost exclusively on Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), a simple and decent man unjustly accused of the Olympic Park bombing when, in fact, his vigilance saved lives. Eastwood makes us privy to Jewell’s desires (to be in law enforcement, to be respected, to be “the man”) and then dramatizes how those desires are perverted to indict him.  Jewell is vilified by the press and the government as a wannabe hero, a fat, dumb rent-a-cop who naturally, would plant the bomb he “discovered” as a short-cut to his dreams of glory.  As Jewell is maligned, he is physically encircled, unable even to walk his dog, work or see his friends, such is the suffocating press of the media and the FBI.  And his loving relationship with his mother (Kathy Bates) is cast as yet another pathetic failure, a mama’s boy living at home in his 30s. Oh the fun Jay Leno had.

But Eastwood doesn’t give us a polemic or a martyr, just a character study of a man whose presumptions about what is right and wrong are peeled from him in the small apartment he shares with his mother, the place that eventually becomes their cage, and after the inevitable search warrant, a bare, claustrophobic and violated cage at that.

The performances are stellar.  Hauser is so earnest, raw and authentic that I almost suspected Eastwood had cast a skilled non-actor, to better effect than in The 15:17 to Paris. Bates is everybody’s mother, and her torment as she endures the destruction of her baby boy is heart-rending. Sam Rockwell, as the outraged but seemingly in-over-his head local yokel attorney, stands in for the audience, shaking his head as his client is pilloried, even as the most sophisticated member of the trio.

The not-so-good: The villains are the FBI (represented here in the form of a composite FBI agent played by John Hamm) and the media (spearheaded by a tough talking, ambitious and unethical Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter played by Olivia Wilde). Hamm and his team jump to conclusions after failing to find other viable suspects, and in a case of confirmation bias, settle on Jewell as the bomber without a shred of physical or corroborating evidence.  Wilde fucks Hamm to get the scoop and then outs Jewell, after which the rest of her profession piles on.

Eastwood unnecessarily stacks the deck.  It’s not outrageous, like Sully’s portrayal of the NTSB, and the FBI and the press did act egregiously (if you have any doubt about that, read this). But their excesses do not require the filmic equivalent of blood dripping from their lips. I won’t go so far as to say that the Hamm character twirls his mustache, but he is so simplistically certain that it strains credulity. The Wilde character is even more cartoonish, and worse, her performance is outlandishly unconvincing.

There was some controversy over her portrayal, given that the film clearly shows Wilde trading sex for the information, which appears to be conjecture at best.  Normally, I would not hold such an assumption against the film, but the movie is about defamation of character, so it should have been more scrupulous.

That said, if Eastwood had not included the sex-for-scoop scene, we would have been denied Wilde’s cringy watusi (boiled down, she declares it is sexist to criticize her character for giving up her body to Hamm when no one is criticizing the Hamm character for taking it and anyways, script be damned, the characters had a pre-existing sexual relationship!) Wilde’s post-film performance is a hell of a lot better than the one she gave in the film.

This is a good, flawed picture.

 

 

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Technologically impressive, emotionally uninvolving, and bordering on rote. Two British soldiers are despatched on a suicide mission and thereafter play the role of cinematic pinballs.   If they succeed, they will save the lives of 1600 men, so, they only sent two?  Ah well.

The film desperately tries to be surreal and portentous. It ends up being silly or worse, tedious, and all of the bombast of the score can’t put enough lipstick on this stinker.

The picture’s chief attribute – the longest of long takes, with no cuts – ends up boring the viewer. “Do I have to watch them walk all the way over there?”, you ask. Indeed, you do, but sometimes they run, or jump, or scurry as bombs and planes and snipers harass them. Just like Wreck It Ralph.

It’s pretty. That’s it. 

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Taika Waititi’s children’s fable is a wondrous achievement, a beautiful story of the primacy of love in an era of hate, and a rare edifying film that can be enjoyed and appreciated equally by parents and children.  The year is 1944, and JoJo is a zealous member of the Hitler Youth at a time when for Nazi Germany, the end is nigh.  So complete is JoJo’s fealty to National Socialism that he has an imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler himself (Waititi), who guides him through the insults and indignities of adolescence while keeping JoJo’s eyes on the greater menace.  For Jo Jo, the former includes being a weakling in his Hitler Youth contingent, a deceased sister, and a missing father.  The latter is the omni-presence of true vampires in his daily life, said vampires being Jews.  Until JoJo realizes that not only does he have his own Anne Frank in residence, but his mother (Scarlett Johannson) is not the committed Nazi he once revered.

There are traces of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom in Waititi’s parable, and even a little bit of Roberto Begnigni’s Life is Beautiful, but the kitsch and pathos of those films are muted.  The Nazis are broadly comic, from the disaffected leaders of Jo Jo’s Hitler Youth squad (Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson and Alfie Allen) to the local Gestapo (Stephen Merchant), to Hitler himself, a gossipy, anachronistic cartoon of a cohort who engages a brain-washed JoJo in the manner of a Valley Girl on Snapchat.

Waititi has a deft touch with child actors, a skill shown here as well as in his hilarious and moving The Hunt for the Wilderpeople.  He depicts them not as precious or wise beyond their years, but rather, as they are, low on guile and high on instinct and snap judgment.  Even in his film What We Do In The Shadows, Waititi treats his characters (New Zealand vampires who are the subject of an MTV-esque “The Real World”) as silly teens (though they are, of course, thousands of years old), negotiating house tensions, competition with werewolves, and the internet with easy hurt and immediate wonder.  The results are always piercingly funny and clever.

Critics either explicitly or implicitly evince discomfort at the use of Hitler for such silly purposes (“a sugary fantasy in the most unlikely places…But in the process, it buries the awful truth” or “Waititi’s silly, irreverent performance takes the pomp and vigor out of the blustering Fuhrer, declawing the towering 20th century figure of hate. However, in doing so, he declaws his own satire, too”).  These takes are both unsurprising and depressingly easy, but if you think Hitler is simply too monstrous to lampoon, you are forewarned.

Even if it is a bridge too far, I strongly recommend you traverse it.  This is a beautiful, satisfyingly quirky coming of age film, natural and notable for its sweetness.  I’m not sure if it was the best film of last year, but it is the one I enjoyed best.

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When I saw the original Midway in 1976, it was notable for four reasons. First, the movie was good, smartly re-creating a confusing and often complicated naval battle while inserting a family drama (a young aviator is in love – with a Japanese internee – and needs his father and high ranking Navy officer to get her out of custody). Second, the film seemed out of fashion even for its time, loaded with classic movie stars like Henry Fonda, Cliff Robertson, Glenn Ford, Robert Mitchum, James Coburn, and Robert Wagner, and, of course, Charlton Heston.  Third, the film, like two contemporaries, Rollercoaster and Earthquake, was presented in Sensurround (I wonder if Heston, the lead in Earthquake, was the only actor to ever have parts in two Sensurround movies).  For the uninitiated, Sensurround was a gimmick (like Smell-o-Vision) where theaters installed  large, low frequency, horn-loaded speakers, so every time a bomb dropped on screen, the entire theater shook. That was pretty cool.  Lastly, when I saw the picture, some kids were throwing popcorn and goofing around in the front row, and an older man came down and picked up one of the boys by his shirt, shook him violently, and then told him to “shut the hell up.“  That was really cool.

The remake is an absolute abomination. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie with more clumsy exposition.  Just one example. Paraphrasing, Admiral Halsey (Dennis Quaid) sits on an aircraft carrier and says to his aide, “See that man down there. That’s Doolittle. He’s one of the greatest pilots ever. He’s going to bomb Tokyo and because he won’t have enough fuel to get back, he will have to ditch his plane in China.”

And regrettably, the aide does not answer, “ I know dipshit. I was in the meeting. Do you think I’m deaf?”

If the dialogue is not overt, it is so corny as to make you wince. A taste:

Dick Best: I don’t know how to lead these men.
Ann Best: They’ll follow you anywhere.

***

Wade McCluskey: Men like Dick Best are the reason we’re going to win this war.

***

Wade McClusky: Every time we go up in one of those planes, there’s a chance we won’t come back. Now, it’s hard to follow a man who doesn’t know that. Or even worse, doesn’t care.

***

Dick Best: [to his men] I’m not going to sugarcoat it, boys. Nobody thinks we can go toe-to-toe with the Japanese. Not in a fair fight. Today, we’re going to be big underdogs. Me? I think the men in this room can fly with anyone. Maybe that’s because I’m a cocky son of a b**ch. But it’s also because I’ve seen what you can do. You’re ready for this.

Clarence Dickinson: We’re going to give them a shellacking.

***

William ‘Bull’ Halsey: God bless those boys. Turns out all they needed was a fair fight.

Worse, as delivered by the actors in this Roland Emmerich crap-pile, the lines come of as perfunctory and insincere.  Henry Fonda as Admiral Nimitz seemed to give a big line his absolute all.  Woody Harrelson as Nimitz sounds somewhere between talking to Sam and Dianne at Cheers and late for a dinner reservation.  Apropos for a film that reduces a historical and tide-turning naval engagement to a commercial for what I expect will be a first-person shooter/flier video game.

Also, the Naval personnel are so spot clean and well coiffed they look like cast members in Jersey Boys. Or 1/5 of the Village People. Or the kid on a Cracker Jack box.

Finally, not only is the picture anachronistic, with characters saying things straight out of 2020, but it even has a modern message at the end.

BD8E29F0-CCA9-450B-BF3C-9FB9383F7E0AImagine Patton or Saving Private Ryan ending with such a dedication to the Wehrmacht.

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Elizabeth Moss plays a Courtney Love/Patti Smith-type frontwoman for Something She, a band she creates and then destroys through narcissistic, destructive, drug-fueled misbehavior. We are treated to her downfall in five separate scenes at varying intervals in her career. There’s not one scene that is not uncomfortable, Moss’ overacting is over indulged (my wife says she doesn’t really have facial expressions so much as different sneers), her character’s musical talent is not evident (Something She’s music sucks) so the entire endeavor feels like punishment, and it ends with some kind of cringe-worthy, unpersuasive, girl power mumbo-jumbo.  Just awful.

On HBO.