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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 weak improv.

 

 

 

 

 

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Paul Rudd lost his young son in an accident and compensates by taking a 6 week caregiving course for the disabled. His first client is a plucky, wheelchair bound Brit named Trevor, who suffers from muscular dystrophy and an over-inflated sense of his own cleverness. For example, to shock Rudd, he pretends he’s choking or having a seizure, a real gut buster. Rudd later pretends he has misplaced Trevor’s 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).

Gloppy, lazy, hackneyed gruel.

Nick Kroll is a pretty big deal in New York City until his Google-glassish innovation goes busto and he loses all his money and all the money of his so-called friends, so he seeks solace by retreating to the icky suburbs and his childhood home in New Rochelle, NY, currently inhabited by his harried sister (Rose Byrne), her swarthy, down-to-earth home builder husband (Bobby Cannavale) and their charmless 3 year old boy.  There, Nick becomes intertwined in their lives, much like Bill Hader in The Skeleton Twins, who went home to Nyack, NY after a trauma.  Kroll discovers Cannavale is having an affair, much like Hader’s sister Kristen Wiig in The Skeleton Twins.  Coincidentally, in The Skeleton Twins, Wiig was cheating on her husband Luke Wilson, who was also a blue collar guy, just like Cannavale.

Crazily, Kroll reveals the fact of the affair to Byrne, again, like Hader to Wilson in The Skeleton Twins.  And that results in a heartfelt discussion about how Kroll ran out when their mother was dying of cancer, and the discussion is reminiscent of the recriminations and regrets of Hader and Wiig about their father, also dead by suicide.   In The Skeleton Twins.

For a few easy laughs, the town is populated by faintly ridiculous folk from high school who Kroll can look down upon.  Much like Hader in The Skeleton Twins.  And there are places that inexplicably have Christmas lights up even though it is not Christmas.  Just like the town in The Skeleton Twins.

And Kroll grows, growth which is signaled by the fact he chooses the welfare of his sister’s son over his new job.

Just like James Caan in Elf.

Torture that at its best is mildly diverting.

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Screenwriter Diablo Cody made a big splash with the clever Juno, and showed real growth with the acid Young Adult. But that was a while ago.  This trite stinker, in the mold of so many dramadies about the travails of rich families as they negotiate the perilous path of monied suburbia, is a massive step backwards.

Cody offers Ricki, a talentless front woman for a cover band who has come home to her estranged, affluent ex-husband and adult children after a long hiatus.  She chews with her mouth open, says dirty words, and attends a family wedding.

But hey, it’s Meryl Streep, so we’re okay, right?

Right?

Wrong.  Streep is just terrible, whether slumming as the hip cast-off or leading the worst bar band ever. She’s in-authentically grungy and gratuitously down-to-earth and when she visits her erstwhile family, led by the kind ex-husband (Kevin Kline), it is cringe-inducing, not because of the fish-out-of-water stuff (this is the kind of movie where the denizens of the tony enclave practically say, “Well, I never!”), but because there’s not a word of it that feels real.  There is no way Streep’s character would even be a distant cousin to these people, much less the former matriarch.

Kline has, of course, remarried a protective earth mother type who raised the abandoned children while Ricki honed her craft covering Tom Petty.  Others who Ricki abandoned include a nice son about to get married to the most stuck-up bitch imaginable; a fragile daughter who has had a breakdown because her marriage of three seconds failed (you’d think she’d been a captive of Boko Haram, so extreme is her distress); and a son straight out of gay central casting (he is furious because Ricki called his gayness a phase and voted for W . . . twice!)

All of which would be humdrum but bearable twaddle save for the fact that Ricki and her shit band play about 7 numbers in this picture, including a version of Wooly Boolie so bad we could have won the war on terror years ago had it been utilized at Guantanamo.

Worse, Ricki’s version of Springsteen’s My Love Will Not Let You Down starts more like a Quarterflash tune and ends with your head in a bucket.

After August: Osage County and this, I am not saying Streep is at that Pacino point, where she thinks she can just fart in a bottle and call it potpourri.

But she’s veering to the off ramp.

Least likely sentence I ever expected to write?  Rick Springfield, who plays the lead guitarist for the Flash and Ricki’s love interest, deserved better.

 

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Execrable.  Anita Hill as Jesus Christ, Clarence Thomas as Impenetrable Sphinx, the story so stacked in her favor it’s a liberal wet dream. Then, there is this laughable coda where the hard charging female Kennedy aide says to the more judicious female Biden aide, “who’d you believe, him or her?” like any response other than “her” was possible given the hagiography that preceded the exchange.

Not only is the mythology laughable (apparently, Anita Hill will be replacing someone on currency sooner than we think), but the presentation is lackluster and vanilla.  It’s not Kerry Washington’s fault that Hill is so dull.  She’s written as nothing more than a platitudinous victim, and her emotional response to any given development is a self-pitying, dew-eyed disappointment in how mankind has failed her.  Wendell Pierce’s Thomas is no better, occasionally rising above catatonic, always in the corner, ruminating, obsessing, zzzzzzzzzzz.  The Democrats are hands-tied, decent truth-seekers, the Republicans hysterical street brawlers, not a scene surprising or enlightening.

It’s a shame.  The story of Hill and Thomas is, in the seams, the story of two people who worked together, she relied on him for advancement, but clearly developed a grudge at some point.  He said some Long Dong Silver shit to her, and then she, for whatever reason, took her shot at him on the eve of his confirmation, with the naively hopeful guarantee of anonymity.

And then wham!  She’s outed (a mere anonymous statement will not stop the Hope from Pinpoint, Georgia) and the process takes them both to places they never imagined they’d be, where he must play a hard race card against a cheap smear, and she must feign dramatic victimhood.  Their champions bloody and bruise the protagonists.

She tried a back alley stilleto and it wasn’t enough. He replied with a daylight, streetfront 2×4 and overcame.  They both became emblems of something larger, which, given the picayune roots of their antagonism, is the essence of the tragicomic.

Could have been a great movie.

This may be Daniel Craig’s last Bond, which is a shame, because it’s really awful and his turn revived the series. Like Skyfall before it, we again find ourselves delving into Bond’s psyche, but unlike the previous installment, the action sequences in Spectre are humdrum, the plot is even simpler and more obvious, its execution is lazy (at one point, without even a hint of foreshadowing, Bond procures a plane in a matter of 30 seconds, and he ain’t on an airfield), it recycles (an old building collapses in Mexico City, just like an old building collapsed in Venice in Casino Royale) and the bad guy – Christoph Waltz – is barely part of the film.  When Waltz’s true, hilarious motive is revealed, I guess his scarcity makes some sense.  That motive is the only thing that hints at a sense of humor but the inducement of chuckles was assuredly unintentional.  Otherwise, we are apparently supposed to take this seriously.

Director Sam Mendes (Skyfall) doesn’t help matters by focusing on visually striking images above all else. Bond seems to simply appear from the mist in every scene, impeccably and nattily tailored, and after enough of these fashionista turns, the movie feels more like a cologne or car commercial than a picture. Bond romances a woman (the underused Monica Bellucci) against a big mirror in the vast open room of a Roman villa, and you can’t believe the scene does not end with “Obsession. By Calvin Klein.”

Spectre is also cursed by the most vacuous Bond girl since Tanya Roberts. Leya Seydoux is the daughter of his nemesis. In, I am guessing, her late 20s, she is a brilliant and accomplished psychologist with inconvenient but lush offices in the Austrian Alps (she actually has Bond fill out a medical questionnaire; oh to have seen his answers under the section “Sexually Transmitted Diseases”). She’s also weightless and dull as dishwater. It’s as if the producers went out of their way to find a French Taylor Swift.

Finally, Mendes has elevated Bond to the status of super hero.  As he escapes Waltz’s lair (Waltz is experimenting on him with drills for reasons that still don’t make any sense to me but harkens uncomfortably back to Dr. Evil), he manages to blow the entire installation up with a gunshot while killing a dozen heavily armed henchmen with a handgun.  After taking a vicious beating at the hands of a new thug – Dave Bautista, who promises to be a recurring figure ala’ Jaws – Bond and Seydoux are quickly dusted off for a quickie looking no worse for wear; indeed, they actually look better.  And at the end, Bond simply snaps cuffs off of his wrist, one presumes by the mere force of his personality.  Yes, Bond is an exceptional assassin, but one of the joys of Craig was the return to a gut-level, human 007.  Now, he’s Captain America.  Or Captain England.

Even the Sam Smith song is godawful, as is its accompanying, bizarre title sequence.  Poorly done all around.

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Makes Love, Actually seem like a gritty documentary.  This is a cloying, revolting film about a young entrepreneur (Anne Hathaway), her senior intern (Robert DeNiro) and her struggles to have it all in the fast paced world of tech and fashion.  Hathaway grew up from her stint as a personal assistant in The Devil Wears Prada, and now she runs her own on-line clothing company.  But she works too hard, her marriage is in crisis, she’s mulling bringing in a new CEO and fortunately for her, dapper, impossibly cute DeNiro arrives to provide balance to her life.  That’s the whole thing, which would be bearable, except for the fact that Hathaway is playing her own excruciating “aw, shucks, me?” persona; DeNiro looks bored; the plot is non-existent and the presentation slipshod; Anders Holm (from Comedy Central’s Workaholics) is Razzie-worthy for his clumsy, unconvincing turn as Hathaway’s mushy husband: the film doesn’t know whether it wants to be a comedy or a drama so it settles as a statement on the pressures put on rich professional women who live in impossibly gorgeous and classy Brooklyn brownstones; the score is a maudlin, soapy piano that bores into your skull; and everyone in the thing is just so damned cute, you hope that just maybe, they’ll inject a devastating calamity.  They don’t, unless you consider accidentally sending an email criticizing your mother to your mother of that stripe.

Also, apparently, in Brooklyn and Manhattan, parking isn’t a problem.  Anywhere.

In the immortal words of a review of a Spinal Tap record, shit sandwich.

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I loathe artistic political correctness in all its forms, be it the soul-sucking idiocy of demanding cultural authenticity in casting, the blanket condemnations of some “ism” by the cultural debt counters, or the wails of some grievance group as one of their own is skewered for comedic purposes (Robert Downey Jr.’s “retard” riff in Tropic Thunder comes to mind).  The effect is the same – to straightjacket creative endeavor so it presents like a PSA. The only good that comes of the p.c. influence are–

* the groveling apology (Cameron Crowe bootlicking because he cast Emma Stone as a quarter-Asian, quarter Hawaiian: “I have heard your words and your disappointment, and I offer you a heart-felt apology to all who felt this was an odd or misguided casting choice”);

* the unctuous backpedaling (Matt Damon, after having been caught on camera rejecting affirmative action and using the word “merit”: “My comments were part of a much broader conversation about diversity in Hollywood and the fundamental nature of ‘Project Greenlight’ which did not make the show. I am sorry that they offended some people, but, at the very least, I am happy that they started a conversation about diversity in Hollywood. That is an ongoing conversation that we all should be having”), and

* inane public proclamations (Viola Davis, who, when receiving an award for a TV drama, without a hint of irony or self-awareness equated her struggle to that of Harriet Tubman).

All that said, Welcome to Me is an offensive film, and the heart of its offense is in how it portrays with mental illness.   Kristen Wiig plays a sad shut-in, obsessed with Oprah, who wins the California lottery. She suffers from borderline personality and is off her medication, yet that doesn’t stop a local production company run by Wes Bentley and James Marsden from taking her millions so she can develop her own show. That show is a stage for Wiig to exhibit all the debilitating aspects of her un-medicated disease in a manner that at best is quirky and at worst is truly disturbing.

If done well, I don’t have a huge problem with making a dark comedy about a mentally disturbed person being taken advantage of.  I’ve gone down weirder, filmic roads.

So, to be clear, my objection is not to the premise nor do I advocate for the babying of any protected class in art.

But when you take this on, you can’t have your cake (using the disability as comedic tool) and then ask the audience to regurgitate it in shame after the eating.

Essentially, that’s what writer Elliot Lawrence does here.  It’s not that the picture is poorly acted or directed or that there aren’t even a few funny scenes. Rather, the film is an exploitative movie about a sick person being exploited, and it wants to use mental illness for yucks while pretending to be brave in showing the true face of that illness.

You need a really deft hand for that kind of trick, and Lawrence and sophomore feature director Shira Piven do not have it.

To make matters worse, the movie condescends with a throw-away lame anti-television theme, and in the end, Wiig is transformed into a “winner” with the help of a mere few pills.

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This is a football movie made by people who, if they ever saw a football, would mistake it for hippo shit.  Kevin Costner is the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns. His Dad just died. He’s in crisis. He’s a “go with your gut” kind of guy. He has the number 1 pick in the draft. He intends on getting a hot shot quarterback but becomes disenchanted when he learns that the quarterbacks’ teammates didn’t come to his 21st birthday party. Costner is then offered 2 NFL starters and 2 future number 1 draft picks for that number 1 pick. He declines the trade. Instead, he uses the number 1 draft pick to select a linebacker who we have been told “may” be selected 15th. For non-football fans, this is the equivalent of Bill Gates selling his Microsoft shares for a Shetland pony and a wheel of Gouda.  But Costner desires the linebacker because he saw the linebacker get kicked out of a game for giving his dying sister a football after he scored a touchdown.

Nothing I just wrote about the plot is made up.

Then, Costner wheels and deals with other NFL general managers to come out of the draft with 100 draft picks. One general manager is 11 years old. Another releases his bowels when Costner raises his voice during a conference call.  All the others are at risk of dying from swallowing their own tongues.

The movie is about men, and choices, and your instincts and tradition and commitment and respect.  The film also has a minor a romantic subplot between Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner so uncomfortable it has an almost molesty feel. Garner feels it. She damn near makes herself catatonic to get through this travesty. Costner merely looks embarrassed.

This is the anti-Moneyball. This is not merely one of the worst sports films ever made. It’s one of the worst films ever made.  It is so bad, you have to see it.  It’s mandatory.

And it was endorsed by the NFL. When current NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell walks out to open the draft, the audience erupts in applause.

Which is bullshit.

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There is a certain kind of self satisfied dramedy that can only be written by a child of the affluent, over educated and beleaguered by the misery of his suburban upbringing, yet oh so smitten with its quirky coolness. Tragedy brings this writer into contact with his or her estranged family. Their hypersexualized mother (Jane Fonda) is overbearing and positively lords her “hip for her age” persona over them. One brother is the unreliable, manchild rebel (Adam Driver), one sister (Tina Fey) the angry perfectionist. Then there is the long suffering, stodgy older brother (Corey Stoll) and finally, there is the sarcastic, sad brother (Jason Bateman). What unites them is their fealty to stereotype and ostentatious progressivism, a condescension to every other non-familial character, 80s pop, odd folks from the old neighborhood, the fact that nothing that happens in the story would ever happen in real life, secrets revealed (“Mom’s a lesbian!”; “Dad was a bad businessman!”; “You slept with HIM?”), assigned stem winders, a scene where the sons smoke weed (found in Dad’s jacket!  Crazy!!!!) and heartfelt tributes immediately followed by crass one-liners.

And that is This Is Where I Leave You.

Truly terrible in every way.