RIORI Presents Installment #204: Tim Hill’s “Hop” (2011)


The Film…


The Players…

James Marsden, Kaley Cuoco, Elizabeth Perkins, Gary Cole, Chelsea Handler, Tiffany Espesen and David Hasselhoff, and featuring the voice talents of Russell Brand, Hank Azaria, Hugh Laurie and Hugh Hefner (no, really).


The Plot…

No matter how old one gets got gotta leave the nest eventually. Be it by hook, crook or quit being a schnook. Our friend Fred is defiantly not of the first two sorry to say. Time for our slacker to take flight, get a haircut and get a real job.

On the other hand we have E.B. He’s slated to take over the family business, but wants to ford his own trail as a musician. He has dreams of fame and fortune and staying home will not get him anywhere. So E.B. hops off to Hollywood to make it as a rock drummer.

Naturally Fred and E.B. have similar goals: make their mark on the world while still being true to themselves. Fred and E.B. agree to do the back scratching thing and out into the big, bad world of Los Angeles they go in search of truth and fun.

Oh, BTW, E.B. is a rabbit. The Easter Bunny’s son, no less. Good thing Fred loves chocolate.

Have drum, will travel.


The Rant…

At of the time of this installment it’s Easter time. It’s finally spring. The leaves are popping out of branches. Crocuses and daffodils are sprouting. Warm rain showers. And in my case cranky Canada geese in the yard, tending to their brood of fluffy goslings and all the while pooping green stuff everywhere. Ah, the vernal awakening.

Let’s not ignore Easter itself, duh. This family friendly holiday celebrated in the West has twofold significance. First, after Xmas, Easter is the most important holiday in the Christian calendar. It’s the symbolic day of Jesus’ resurrection and the big guy could not wait to tell his 11 buddies (read your New Testament) the Good News! There’a an amazing afterlife, so go get your sh*t together now so we can rock out with the Heralds when the time comes!

I hear you. Thomas scoffed, too.

Second—you guessed it—Easter’s the time to officially wave winter bye-bye. Nicer weather. Time to sow seeds. Put that ever stupider reset of Daylight Savings Time in effect. Spring training for the MLB. Free comic books on the first Saturday in May. Most importantly—any resurrections aside—a visit from the Easter Bunny. This meant coloring eggs, baskets filled with plastic grass, jelly beans, chocolate bunnies wrapped in foil, those weird Reese’s peanut butter eggs that resemble a stool sample and naturally time to hunt for those aforementioned eggs.

My grandparents always had an Easter egg hunt at the ready come that certain Sunday. They scattered plastic eggs all over their lawn for my young self and even younger sister selves to unearth (they actually buried the things just under the soil). Inside these festive ova were coins. Mostly pennies, but if we were lucky we could unearth a quarter. A whole quarter! Jackpot! We never could find all the eggs. To this day and decades later there must be thousands of dollars in pennies and quarters trapped below the salt on that property. Accounting for interest, of course. Coins hold up better than candy goes, I figure. At least until Rapture.

Oh yeah. Back to the candy thing. Durst I nary give Peeps a show? The ever divided camp over these curious marshmallow confections shaped like constipated chicks or extras from a Hello Kitty cartoon in every color of the rainbow. Some out of it. I’m not gonna slam on anyone’s joy regarding candy. I live in the city where the JustBorn candy company has their mother operation. Come Easter it is almost sovereign that we must love Peeps. On the whole this appears to be an accurate assessment of the public. Only the census is more exacting. Me? I hate the damned things. Why? I feel JustBorn’s frankenbunnies are the antithesis of the pleasures of a simple, sweet, white, soft marshmallow ready for roasting. Some of you out there might hear what I’m screaming. One of life’s simple pleasures is a summer campfire, and its companion is toasting marshmallows until they are done to your liking. Be it golden brown to me or a charred signal flare to others, it’s good, clean fun. Regardless the trauma your marshmallow endured all can be made better with a messy s’more. Then we can tell spooky stories.

Speaking of which, I have a story. Kinda spooky. A combination of a Peeps story, and work story and why celebrating Easter is best left as simple. Okay, sh*t like rebirth and resurrection can get little sticky, but so do Peeps. Moving on.

Dateline: 2009. About 10 miles away from JustBorn, within the blast zone. The seafood restaurant I worked at. It was the dreaded Restaurant Week. Charlie in the canopy. Our crew drew the losing lot and had to concoct some sort of signature dessert within the theme of Restaurant Week. You guessed it, Peeps. None of us liked them. They were of my belief in that a simple marshmallow was the best kind, and JustBorn’s signature mutation was anathema in our kitchen. We prided ourselves on our house made sorbet, not some unnatural oleaginous mock ‘mallow. The chef and us went for the college try. I suggested a variant on creme brûlée. Marshmallows are nothing more than air, gelatin and sugar. Let’s set a flame to one of these devil Peeps and see what happens.

We were cautious—read: wary—and set a Peep on the naked, stainless steel prep table and applied a match. The thing burned slowly like a candle, but the flame was green. Like neon (must’ve been the additives). It did not burn like a traditional marshmallow. No. It shrunk, kinda similar to the Mary Reeser case of suspected spontaneous combustion back in the 50s. The thing took at least five minutes to burn out, and when it was exhausted all that remained was a crystalline, cold black cinder usually reserved as a plot device for a Lovecraft story. Ugh.

Chef said, “We’re sticking with the cranberry sorbet. That and order some vanilla from the Heavenly Hedgehog (the local ice cream merchants). We’ll sparkle it with Mike ‘N’ Ikes.”

I exchanged looks with the pantry cook and shrugged. He went to to dispose of the Peep cinder and cut his thumb on the thing. It’s final form was spun glass. It wasn’t a pin prick mind you. It was a cut. He yelped in pain. I winced. Happy f*ckin’ Easter.

Easter, despite its unique spiritual undercurrents, is a time of rebirth. Getting refreshed whilst watching the trees wake up. Simple pleasures…which somehow demand complications. Like JC’s last chapter, Peeps as an IED or mandatory visits to the local rose garden to find eggs rather than check out the fresh, blooming perennials. This Easter my girl and I ventured into our local rose garden to play Pokémon GO. We scored nothing, but stumbled onto an Easter egg hunt, complete with a DJ. The kids present were more interested in the ducks and geese as fish and just engaging in young kid f*ckery (like tossing plastic eggs into the creek and placing bets on speed). The teens were too busy flirting with each other. It’s spring. It blooms eternal. Chill the f*ck out.

I know this rant is kinda fluffy, but once in a while it’s nice to revel in the fun stuff.  So thanks for hanging around for the film stuff. There just might be free candy on the way…


The Story…

Striking out on your own can be either inviting a great adventure or a spectacular downfall. It’s either gonna be the voyage of Odysseus or the plight of Icarus. Or maybe it’ll just be simple growing pains. Growing up pains. Like the kind Fred O’Hare (Marsden) has suddenly been stricken with. The real world looms.

Fred is a professional slacker. He has no job. He wants no job. His standards for employment are either way too high, way too specific or way too outside of his non-existent skill set. His folks have gotten wise to his goofy, head-in-the-clouds stumbling through life and so out he goes. Get a job, get a place to live, get grounded and for Pete’s sake get a life.

The real world can be a scary place, and not just for humans. E.B. (Brand) is the heir apparent to his dad’s Easter empire. His is the Easter Bunny after all, and has a ton of responsibilities to owe up to when the Ides Of March come calling. Candy production, delivering the goodies, keeping all those chicks in line, the list goes on, and E.B. wants nothing to do with any of it. He has aspirations of being a musician—a session rock drummer in Hollywood. Chocolate eggs are not in his basket.

One night E.B. takes off from Easter Island to LA to pursue his dream, and get away from all those silly chicks. The City Of Angels turns out to be an unforgiving place, and E.B. quickly learns he needs a friend to help him find his way. Instead E.B. runs into Fred, and things don’t go too hot. Fred is homeless and thanks to E.B.’s sudden appearance he’s questioning his sanity. A talking bunny drummer? Really? Really.

It helps that Fred loves Easter time—all the crap that E.B. is trying to escape. Fred and E.B. figure that if they put their misfit heads together perhaps they’ll make things work out to some mutual benefit. Hopefully.

Just keep those carrots coming…


The Review…

I really wanted to see Hop. The premise sounded so silly that I was amped to see obnoxious Brit comic Russell Brand chew scenery as a bunny Charlie Watts. That and Cyclops being a professional slacker rather than Boy Scout. Marsden is very good at being your average Joe, and Brand can be all five New York Dolls housed in a single body. So let the goofiness commence! Release the hounds! Unleash the Kraken! Right?

I was underwhelmed. Boy, was I let down.

Let’s put it this way. The late, great satirist Bill Hicks had a keen take on Easter in America. “…Commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus by telling our children that a giant bunny rabbit left chocolate eggs in the night. Now I wonder why we’re f*cked up as a race?” That being said, Hop was not f*cked up enough. I expected zaniness. Instead I got a derivative holiday tale (EG: The Easter Bunny is real!), a tribute to WIlly Wonka, with an oddly sober performance from Brand. I knew things were amiss when Marsden played against character as an excitable man-child. Needless to say, Hop subverted my expectations, and not entirely in a fun way.

Now before I start griping and whining I have to say why I was really up to seeing Hop. Illumination Studios has been giving Pixar a run for its money for the past few years. I’m not talking about plots and characterization here. Whereas Pixar has been dedicated to sharpening their CGI craft, all the minions at Illumination are making animated movies. What’s the diff? Pixar has been striving for life-like animation for decades, with varying results (EG: Sure, Brave looked great, but the story was uneven) and always pushing for more “reality.” Illumination just wants to make great cartoonsSing, The Lorax, The Secret Life Of Pets, the Despicable Me series (with Steve Carrell doing his best Bela Lugosi voice) are all great cartoons with vibrant, swollen colors and upbeat shadowing that would’ve made Chuck Jones drool. There’s nothing pretentious with Illumination’s output, and have no baggage to carry. They just really make awesome looking cartoons. Do you know hard it is to make an animated movie rendered in the ubiquitous CGI palette to have the feel of a cartoon? I feel there is seldom a wink and a nod to most animated feature films nowadays. In sum, I find Illumination’s work twice-removed from the Looney Tunes: kinda goofy, garish and glorious and if that wins an award then whatever. Let’s see what we can do Gru’s adoptive family the next time out.

True to form Hop was very much an Illumination vehicle, but this time is was a live-action/animated outing (as well as the studio’s sophomore release). I do enjoy the live-action hybrid. It’s the best of both worlds, so long as those world exists in the realms of fantasy, sci-fi and or comedy. The resulting dynamic between the real and the ‘toon makes such a film so filled with chewy goodness. Most outings of this kind have been more pleasant than not. Think Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Looney Tunes: Back In Action, the original Tron and that delightful and amazing dance scene with Gene Kelly and Jerry The Mouse in Anchors Aweigh! from back in the day. The overarching appeal of this stuff is the “opposites attract” dynamic. More like failing upwards/comedy of errors kind of thing. As it was with Hop Marsden is the relatable loser we all feel like when we wake up first thing. Brand is the overly eager and not wizened youth with eyes all wide; the innocent abroad. Abbott and Costello and who knows if Who will ever reach first base. An unlikely paring. A tried and true comedy trope like with The Odd Couple, any of those blundering old skool “road movies” with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope and even Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. This format has been proven time and again pure comedy gold. So what went wrong with Hop?

Two things: my high expectations and no real heavy. You know, the antagonist. The guy who drives/creates the conflict that pushes the story forward. We have Fred and E.B. both totally out of there element, as if there was an element to be out of. Both were pampered and given a shot at their best life and squandered any opportunity available to “find themselves.” Fred slacked off and E.B. had his floppy eared head truly in the clouds. So where’s the conflict then? Azaria is perfectly respiring his The Birdcage role in reverse. Scheming and (even the other chicks point out) what good would it do? The whole conflict and resolution matter was weak, and I’ve been scrutinizing a cartoon here, before God. Perhaps because I needed something to hang onto here.

That and the tried and true device of kids fording their own way despite the parents’ protests…or marching orders. That’s the very simple story about how Fred and E.B. met and where to go from there. It’s a classic setup, but Hop brought not much new to the table. No shock that all’s well will end well (despite Carlos’ failed coup, which was never setup). What was curious about this cock and bull story was the absence of real tension. From the get-go we had this aura of warm feelies. I blame the comic timing. Not that there wasn’t any—there was—but it all hopped the tracks (no pun intended). What I mean was that the good gags stuttered due to too much filler. Hence that lack of tension claptrap. It feeds back to the expectations being blown. I wanted goofy. I know what goofy is. Movie, don’t tell me what’s goofy about the Easter Bunny’s son’s desire to be the next Steve Gadd. Unnecessary. Filler. FFS why? Hop had the potential as a avant-garde Friz Freeling animation. Instead we got forced silly and disjointed expectations with a lame resolution. Still, you gotta get behind the rabbit drummer, right?

I did. To repeat Illumination makes some crazy great cartoons. This was almost one of them, but I’ll cut some slack since it was a live action hybrid. That and Hop being their second feature. Maybe they tried to chew over more than they tried to bite. Casting Brand as E.B. was a stroke of idiot brilliance, as was Marsden as man-child. You may have heard about a piece of art being greater than the sum of its parts, right? Hop just had a lot of cool pieces—set pieces—that darn didn’t connect into a lowbrow, upbeat whole. Like with Fred and E.B.’s joint efforts not gelling. From that it was all scattered, murky and kept nagging at me that we needed more swag employed courtesy of Acme Enterprises. Sarcasm aside, it was cool to learn that even the Easter Bunny has a backstory. Hey, the Tooth Fairy earned his own a year before and you can smell what the Novocaine is cooking.

I know this review was kinda schizo, but so was the movie. En toto ignore Hicks’ cynicism because overall Easter is just a good time to celebrate spring, candy and Jesus in equal doses. Hop tried that in muddy furlongs, but let the Big Guy take the back seat for a while because His back story lacked jelly beans.

Anybody seen my coin purse? I got laundry to do.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? A mild relent it. Hop just wasn’t goofy enough for me despite the loony (toony) premise. However Illumination did not disappoint with their crisp pixels.


The Musings…

  • Easter Island. Get it? Clever that.
  • “I might not be the best egg, but I could be the best sock ever!” K simply said E.B. was just stating his mind. I didn’t argue.
  • Is he pooping out nooooo…
  • The Blind Boys of Alabama! Awesome!
  • “One more word out of you and it’s Wabbit Season!”
  • K: Does Fred have an “excuse book?”
  • “My best friend is a car.” Whose isn’t?
  • Cute cameo there, Russell…not.
  • Fred O’Hare. Get it? Ha ha.
  • “Move along.”

The Next Time…

Josie And The Pussycats. Long tails, and ears for hats. Guitars, and sharps and flats. Neat, sweet, groovy songs. You’re invited, come along…”

Hurry, hurry meow…


 

RIORI Presents Installment #201: Andy Fickman’s “Parental Guidance” (2012)


The Film…


The Players…

Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott, with Bailee Madison, Joshua Rush, Kyle Breitkopf and Carl.


The Plot…

Great news! Alice’s tech genius hubs Phil has done it! His smart home software has been nominated for invention of the year! It’s rewarded him and Alice an all expenses paid business vacation! It’s been too long since they got away together, leaving behind work and chores and the kids!

The kids! Whose gonna watch the kids?!?

Reluctantly Alice calls her estranged parents, Diane and Artie, hoping they’ll do her and Phil a big solid. Could you mind the kids for a couple of days? Maybe a week?

Of course they would! It’s not like Artie’s in a career crisis or nothing, or Diane’s in light speed menopause, right? They’ll be there for their grandkids they almost never see, you bet! What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty!


The Rant…

Without question being a parent is hard work. However being a grandparent? That’s usually pretty free and easy. Allow me to explain the difference.

From the cradle to high school—and often beyond—raising kids is a very expensive affair, both with money and time. Diapers, shots, school, fashions, sniffles, puberty, birds, bees, and the omnipresent feeling of possible wreck and ruin/middling self-confidence that may make you question every moment in your kids young lives that you might be raising a psychopath. Do we flush dead goldfish Harry or bury him in the sandbox (best buy a sandbox first)? Where did junior get the idea that if he oversaturated his morning cereal into a technicolor sludge he can easily snuff it down rather than use a spoon (his teacher did, explaining the nose and throat are connected. Even you didn’t know that) because it tickles, “smells better” and always grosses out big sis? Your best and brightest got so pissed that the face recognition app on your iPhone XXXVIII didn’t work with Pokémon GO he tossed it in the toilet “to punish it for lying.” He stole the thing, BTW. Pika pika.

If all of that sounds ridiculous you’re right, and have never raised a child. Ever. Wouldn’t.

Being a mom or dad is costly. Your life as you knew it before kids is on permanent hiatus. You find yourself going to weird lengths to both satisfy and succor their wants and needs. I recall a time driving all over the county with my infant teething daughter in back quailing in pain on a desperate search for Anbesol. It fell like the desperate escape with the tanker truck at the end of The Road Warrior. When we finally found a CVS that carried the stuff the kid had fallen blissfully, frustratingly asleep.

Funny thing about dealing with your kids’ odd demands is that your kids secretly know when it’s a good time to push the envelope. Testing the boundaries is required as a child. It’s fun. It’s also a crapshoot ignoring the rules mom and dad laid down. When we were kids we all had stories. Most havoc wreaked was minor, but you know how parents get.

Like you I have a few tales to spin about trying parents’ patience, as did I and my siblings. Were you never a kid? Dig this.

One time when I was young I decided to make breakfast for everyone. Cream Of Wheat, the satisfyingly goopy hot cereal with the friendly chef on the box delivering the goods. That non-Newtonian bowlful is kinda like tofu: assumes the flavor of whatever you added to it, be it honey or butter or Sriracha. I planned on cooking a big batch for the fam with only the hubris a 10-year old Gordon Ramsay could have. I followed the instructions and kept an eye on the pot. Gosh, there was a lot of water in there. Better add some more cereal. And some more. Although I didn’t know this at the time, but what I was doing what physicists refer to as “achieving a critical mass.”

Half an hour of simmering later it was, “Hey! Look mom! I made Portland Cement in our kitchen!”

We had to throw the pot away. I was banned from breakfast duty for an indefinite period of time…even after I became a chef. My mom would always remind me of that fateful morning when I ever opt to make eggs and bacon. I pay income tax now.

Another time I took on some goofy kid experiment, but I had an accomplice. We heard somewhere that if you took your average baseball and heated it up real good you could hit it twice as far. Nifty, too bad we had no idea how to warm the thing up. We boiled a ball for a while, let it cool enough to handle and went outside. It fell flat and and spattered a lot of smelly water. Seemed that moisture was not the answer, so he suggested the microwave. We could dry out the ball and get it hot at the same time! I was hesitant; give me some credit. But it sounded doable, and we didn’t use his mother’s microwave.

Drum roll.

After my friend had split I stared balefully into the microwave. The seams had ripped open. The hide was stuck to the rack, like spent bandages. Turns out the guts of a Rawlings special is made up of a cork core enmeshed in what were essentially industry-strength rubber bands. When mom discovered our little Mythbusters experiment gone awry she did not the throw the machine out. It was later replaced and I gave up all hopes of being the next Cal Ripkin. And never allowed to use a microwave unsupervised ever again. Well into high school with my much tamer Pokemon habit. Pika?

It wasn’t always me testing the waters in my folks’ gene pool. If you’re a parent of multiple children, you understand that they have wiretapping down so much the CIA are envious. Here’s one more tale of trying the parents’ patience and quickly winnowing sanity. This time out I was not to blame.

It was Xmas time. The presents had been opened, and we were all just chilling by the fireplace. My aunt gave my sister a gift of a pack of those smelly, permanent markers. The kind you’d have in art class in school with abundant sheets of paper to draw whatever your heart desired or whatever conceptions your imagination could not wait to be freed. I was pleased for her. She was so delighted. She was four. She…

Paraphrasing Denis Leary it’s when it gets too quiet it’s too quiet. After about an hour of me jamming spent wrapping paper into the fireplace to watch the weird colored flames there came a screech. It was mom; I knew that screech too well. Someone unworthy released the Kraken. I darted away from my pyrotechnics display and followed the red alert. What I saw I knew I should not laugh at. I did anyway. Pikachu!

My little sis was found wielding a bright red Marks-A-Lot marker. One of those permanent markers, remember? Turned out to be very permanent. She chose her canvas to be the antique, snow white loveseat, rendering it a splattering red mess that Hannibal Lecter would’ve approved of. My mom howled as I giggled. Little sis was delighted with her work…which resulted in a ban on all markers in our house until at least my sophomore year of high school. My mom figured by then it was a tricky prospect for me to highlight texts in my schoolbooks with a Crayola.

All of this sh*t happens when you’re a parent. Good chance that even more ludicrous stories are floating around out there. Needless to say is that being a parent (at least a good part of it) involves expecting the unexpected hitch displacing a happy household by, say, covering up an antique piece of furniture with a blanket for years that no one ever really sat on anyway. Anbesol scarcity. Nuked baseballs. Cream of cement. All in a day’s work for harried mom and dad. I could go on, but why bother? These are tales told twice over twelve times.

Ah, but there’s the corollary. The “been there, done that” attitude and bemusement of grandparents. God bless ’em. If any of the above nightmare scenarios happened under their watch it would be a trip down memory lane. The passing years have since softened the blows. Storytelling and chuckles ensue and your mom and/or dad turn a curious beet red.

That’s what is truly great—if not revelatory—about your grandparents. They are the only people in the galaxy who will tell you the truth about your parents. A sample interaction:

Re: Kid brings home lousy report card.

Dad: “Look at this. When I was 12 I was getting straight A’s. Right, Pop?”

Pop: “When you were 12 you stole a car!”

Now here’s something I’m pretty sure you can relate to regarding a trip to Grandma’s: getting spoiled.

Whenever my fam came to visit my Mom’s parent’s place as a whelp I always knew there was to be a cornucopia of goodies waiting for me. Always chocolate chip cookies in their respective tin, nice and sweet and chewy cut from those clever Pillsbury logs and baked. Loads of attention deficient sugary cereals, which were all but verboten back home. Frosted Mini-Wheats, Frosted Flakes, Frosted Frosteds, whatever. Full candy dishes. Of course the freezer was loaded with whatever frozen confections that were big that week. Did I mention the soda vault? All free pickings for my sibs and me, and Mom and Dad could not stop us. Ha!

Grandparents spoil you. It’s their sworn duty. It’s all in fun. They already trudged through the Bataan Death March of parenting regarding your mom and dad. With lessons learned (and being totally done with diapers), time for the circus and delight to the grandkids. Recalling the blurb about grandparents quickly offering up a reality check regarding you parents, consider this scenario when mom and dad have a date night. Your parents tasks their parents to keep watch over the kids. Halfway through the night mom calls on her mom to see how they’re all faring:

Mom: Are the kids in bed yet?

Grandma: Hell’s no! We’ve been doing shots, eating ice cream and playing Nintendo! Just caught another one of those yellow mousy Pokémon things!

Mom: …A Pikachu?

Grandma: That’s it! We’re gonna have a taffy pull later! Right, kids?

Kids: Yay!

Grandma: When did you say you were getting back?

Mom: *dial tone*

Thanks, grandma (burp). Pass that Chunky Monkey my way.

All of that truck is obviously exaggeration, but not really. Grandparents are indeed designed to spoil their grandkids. It goes without saying. Whereas mom and dad can’t wait to lay into you as a kid, all grandparents wanna do is wait. Chill. Hang on your every word about the mundanities of school, friends, hobbies and how you call tell a boy Raichu from a girl Raichu based on their tails. Gram and Pops were always very into your whatever you were into all the time. That kind of love and hospitality goes well beyond childhood. For instance, in college I pledged a fraternity, got in and even served as vice prez for a semester. This was a gateway drug to Pops, who also was a fraternity back in the day at the University of Miami, Illinois. He shared with me some stories about his college days—very few printable here—as soon as I told some of my very weak frat house antics, like sponsoring blood drives and duking it out with the Engineering house for the best GPA every quarter. Of his few tales of his salad days included putting Jello in some unsuspecting pledge’s toilet, and a prank involving a tray from the cafeteria, a full bladder and a very cold day. Refer to the Comments link for recipes.

Finally—can’t stress this enough—grandparents always gave the best gifts. My grandma helped me complete my Transformers’ Aerialbot (the airplanes) and Protectobot (the emergency vehicles) collections, always got me the Lego set I needed every Xmas and scored me the killer app for the NES: the original Metroid. Just because she paid attention to my idle wishing. However I’m now not speaking of the material goodies Gram and Pops hopefully lavished upon you. No, I’m on about the real value they imbued on you as children. The following may sound all Hallmark Channel, but it’s not. If you think about it it’s very not.

Gram and Pops absolutely adore you, but are also adept at instilling a few values in you as a kid. Mom and Dad might still being parenting around, but their folks are old hands. Gunslingers. No bullsh*ting the bullsh*ters. And above all else regarding how parents treat their little snowflakes like the potential Nobel Prize winners Mom and aspire them to be, Grandma and Grandpa have no such fallacies. Why?

They’re not their kids!

While Mommy and Daddy hover, trying to raise the juniors right and to avoid the aforementioned sociopathy, the grands understood their brood didn’t kill anyone (as far as they knew) so should follow them. Namely while mom and dad were overly concerned with their kids sugar intake affecting their grades Gramma would sit back and watch the little buggers pour From Loops down their throats and up their noses until they barfed up a technicolor rainbow. All the while with crossed arms of amusement and satisfaction.

“Now kids, what did we learn?”

Us grandkids learned the value of a gloved fist, followed by an implied lecture of self-control. If any of you out there can relate to this metaphor then you had astute grandparents. My grandma taught me a lesson about courtesy and respect by simply commenting to my father how her feelings were hurt when I didn’t care for my LL Bean thermal vest and dropped it on the floor. That’s what I overheard. My 80-something grandmother politely announcing her feelings were hurt by my inchoate selfishness. I wore the thing every winter since that time and eventually was a hand-me-down to my Dad. It was just the right amount of warm, which I swiftly grew to appreciate. As did my father, because hey, LL Bean.

In that weird moment I felt so shoddy about myself (but unsure as to why) I snapped to. Grandma was quick to cheer up. Was I trolled? All these years later maybe I was, but it taught me a lesson faster than any unwanted smack upside the head ever did. And my folks smacked my bitch up a lot to the point social graces never took hold. Not like that comfy vest, and my grandma’s practiced hangdog.

Such an example suggests the bottom line as to what values grandparents can imbue on us. Using the proper influence at the right time, when a passive learning opportunity arises. An opportunity the seniors might have wished was available when their rugrats got a little too aggro, a little too curious, a little too mouthy and out of paternal reflex yanked that fork out of the toddler’s claw before he truly learned what a power trip was bothering that electrical outlet with the smiley face.

However—and this is a BIG however—such solid tales of building character and gradually appreciating LL Bean mean nothing, nothing, if Gram and Pops are unable to stir the soup. By this I mean, well, mom and dad may be embarrassed by their parents’ rampaging style of permissiveness cluttering the kiddies’ imagination. Spoil them with unwarranted ice cream, Legos and more ice cream…then show precious little pity when the stomachaches kick in and the soles of the feet are sharply tortured locating that missing piece when you dropped your spaceship on the kitchen floor. The grandparents have seen it all before; let’s let the kiddies learn their lessons on their own. Sometimes not helping is help, and guilt can be a powerful teacher.

Your folks, despite all their good intentions cannot hold a candle to Gramma and Pop’s passive aggressive lessons about life, the universe and everything. They may try to repeat, deny or even emulate what their parents did for them as onto you, but the g’rents will always stir things up in the best possible way for the next generation. Be it embarrassing Mom and Dad, sharing devious tales of wreck and ruin from some salad days, or perhaps getting beaned in the head with Grammy’s best pot, which you cooked cement in. Learning opportunities abound.

Like finding out almond milk sucks…


The Story…

Alice (Tomei) is in a fix. Her tech wiz husband Phil (Scott) has just gotten a grant—as well as an award—for his smart house software to be approved for the mass market. This is great! So great in fact that Phil and Alice have been offered an all expenses paid junket to this year’s E3 in Hilton Head, SC, rife with all those pesky golf courses, pristine beaches and nightlife galore.

It’s been ages since career climbing Alice and Phil have had a vacation, so this looks like the brass ring. Why not get away from it all? Well, there’s a few reasons. Three actually. The kids Harper (Madison), Turner (Rush) and Barker (Brietkopf). If Alice and Phil are going to jaunt off to South Carolina, who’s going to marshal the troops?

Phil makes the suggestion, “What about your folks?” With great reluctance, Alice calls on her parents. The motormouth Artie (Crystal) and the freewheeling Diane (Midler), the twin black sheep of the Decker clan as far as Alice can see it.

Artie’s going through some professional crisis, and Diane really wants to bond as a grandma should with her daughter’s decidedly distant kids. Not to mention Artie really isn’t into Alice’s good graces. She runs her family as upwardly urbane one can get in the 21st Century. Her kids have it all prepared for them. Healthy food, after school activities, music lessons, strict adherence to both manners and being in touch with their emotions. All that the Simmons’ kids need to be the ideal offspring are full frontal lobotomies. Alice is already adept at brainwashing.

The grandparents Decker accept the challenge. Diane can’t wait to bond with her grandchildren and show them a time! Artie’s not so sure that all will be puppy dogs and ice cream, but the job as grandpa is better than no job at all.

All he has to do is avoid all those “red words” that come so naturally…


The Review…

This is one of those installments that comes across as negative but results in saying I liked the flick. I’m tired of keeping my cards against my chest. I know my stock in trade is to first lambast then praise. Pro movie critics do this for a living. Want me to shift in gears? Pay me. I will accept my weight in beer and/or Reuben sandwiches.

Guidance isa guilty pleasure. K recommended it out of her library and it fit The Standard so here we are. Movies like these are not the kind I usually gravitate towards. Don’t get me wrong. I really like Billy Crystal’s motormouth delivery, but family hijinks are a dime a dozen in comedies, regardless casting any seasoned SNL alums. Same plot, different cast. There’s always a formula at work here. It’s funny one, but always smacks of something else (read: Uncle Buck, Mrs Doubtfire, Cheaper By The Dozen etc). All fun films sure, but do I need to remind you how the blues are played? Again? Same goes here with Guidance.

Being a family comedy stereotyping runs riot with Guidance. One could call it a character study, albeit one note applying to all the players. I’m not making that call. Basic roles were what we got, you betcha. Stereotypes, because what to we say about stereotyping? Right, it’s quicker, and this piece of family fluff does not require much development. What you see is what you get. It’s kinda like comfort food in a way. Familiar, but heck, a lot of the movie relates to all of us. At least those of us that were raised by a family.

That being said, a real non-surprise here is Guidance stuck to a formula. Like I said: sure it was amusing, but hardly original. Guidance borrowed the best bits from innumerable “relatively fishy relative out of water” movies like again Uncle Buck, Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead and even the original Mary Poppins if you think about it. Such a formula works because, well, consider the above grandparent tales; sometimes that fish really wants to nibble the bait. We root for the underdog grandparents to stir the pot and show the kids what fun really is against the neurotic parents’ discipline. We all know what we’re getting into with a flick like Guidance, so best enjoy the ride. You kinda asked for it. It’s predictable, but also relatable. So no great moral ground was broken here, thank God. No heavy scrutiny of the human condition. A few messages may have been tossed about, but none with any real circumstance (save Carl’s REDACTED). Guidance was fluffy, as should most family mishap movies be. As I said, I found this flick to be a guilty pleasure. Besides if I wanted Werner Herzog I’d watch Grizzly Man for the umpteenth time. This time out I needed an imaginary kangaroo. Who doesn’t now and again?

A major part of Guidance deals with role models and their clay. It was a no-brainer that the kids acted like grown-ups and the adults behaved under the influence of Peter Pan-esque denial. For example, Artie was still pursuing his childhood dream, even at the expense of his moody grandkid. Phil loved his tech goodies at the risk of turning his extended family into guinea pigs with no alfalfa pellets to be seen, let alone his smart house almost as inviting as a holodeck programmed by Ray Bradbury. If the kids were any more structured they would be industrial engineers before hitting puberty. Even Alice was living vicariously through her kids treating them as she wished she was treated by her supposed unhinged ‘rents. If any of you out there are familiar with classic, dopey sitcom Three’s Company what with its miscommunication gags, Guidance may be right up your alley. The entire cast is best viewed through a lens smeared with Vaseline. To quote Billy Joel, “…the good ole days weren’t always good.
And tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.” To overemphasize this the g’rents were back in the good old days. Read: rearing your mom and dad. If there was any underlying message to Guidance it was no parent knows everything, they just want the kids to be kids and not grow up to be criminals. Or influencers. Or whatever takes a plop on your freshly washed car.

Despite all the sight gags, pratfalls and, well, Billy Crystal being himself there was a clever skewering of the 21st Century practice of “helicopter parenting.” For those of you who never heard of this blight on modern parenting—which is rather like the real life version of one’s acting on social media leaks into the real world—it’s where the overly informed moms and dads react seriously to all the potential BS the internet feeds them so as to raise their kids in a bubble. Call it passive eugenics, raising kids to never experience stress and strain that may ruin their self-esteem and totally not prepare them for the real world. Stuff like bullies and traffic and gluten exist, and held-parents do their best to be a detriment to their brood all in the name of no one striking out. Ever. On anything. Ever.

Big whoops there. Luckily director Fickman played that sham up for all it was worth. Any thinking parent (or person) knows you can’t shield your kid from every single trial and tribulation. That’s a part of growing up, and in the endgame building character is much more useful than, say, winning an award for someone else winning an award. It was a curious mess that Tomei’s Alice was all for modern parenting, which meant micromanaging every aspect of her kids in school and after school activities (certain activities came off as more for mom’s satisfaction in seeing her flock well-rounded rather than having fun). Alice made an argument about how “irresponsible” parents Artie and Diane ruined her by spoiling her, but then that being spoiled has chomped her on the ass. Alice is not the head of the household, her hydra children are. Everything was so about them that she lost perspective, as well as avoiding getting dirty hands too much, too often. From imaginary kangaroos with social security cards to speech therapy with no actual speech to violin lessons under the tutelage of Eva Braun’s distant cousin, what Alice deemed as proper for her kids played hell on her brain…which eventually looked like she wasn’t a mom anymore, or even a life coach. Alice became an image consultant, but for what agency? Fickman never shamed Alice for her misguided approach to parenting. He just did a send up as to how freaking ridiculous helicopter parenting was. It didn’t do much good for the Becker clan, and sure as sh*t rendered Alice enervated and all at sea. If Guidance was approaching some message, well there you have it.

Here’s a different, simpler tack. Watching Guidance deconstructed parenting as often surrendering to the chaos, if not embrace it. I hoped I was hearing PC parenting in its death knell.  It is now relevant to remind you that there are no perfect parents, which is why Alice was so ridiculous as the neurotic mother, piling on therapy and after school activities as panacea to any possible damage her brood might be up against. Read: again, avoiding the unpleasant thing that is reality. Such a mindset is ludicrous as it comical in a finger-pointing way. Surprisingly, Tomei’s overextended mom didn’t exactly hover over everything her brood did under a watchful eye. In a comical way Alice paired with the smart house came across like a demented Big Brother. Regarding grandparent wit, one simply cannot plan for everything. Read: lotsa physical comedy ensues. Fish out of water meets the Otto pilot from WALL-E. Right, kinda silly against kinda stomping OCD into a puddle.

Enough social commentary. The cast. I really dug the cast. Especially the kids. They were delightful. No moppets there, but actual young actors. In essence, Harper, Barker and Turner weren’t ciphers. Yes, they were adorable, but they had presence. It’s hard to pull that off. The kiddies were simple kiddies, but also had unique personalities. Obeying the plot they found unique voices based against Alice’s well-meaning meddling. The road to hell and alla dat. In a perverted sort of way, Alice’s molding of her kids made themselves superstars under Artie and Diane’s roguish, full dairy product ways. The kids wouldn’t of blossomed unless the g’rents unleashed their dirty influences. Recall my five-and-dime analogy.

I found it kinda funny when snarky Crystal and brassy Midler actually reigned it all in and could be endearing and sincere. Neither of these actors are renown for their subtlety or restraint. To this point I don’t know how they pulled off that trick of being both nervous and ebullient embracing grandparenthood. Of course it helped that uptight mom (Tomei was a pretty insecure kid herself) wasn’t around, so cake, Saw movies and rampant permissiveness broke the ice. The end product of pairing solid kid actors with usually madcap grown-up actors resulted in some sweet success without being cloying. That’s a hard line to tow (EG: My Girl, The Man Without A Face, and hell even Good Will Hunting), and this pastiche managed to pass with a bouquet.

Another surprising point I noticed (after the fact) was that Guidance had good pacing, almost seamless. The film flew by like quicksilver, not like sh*t through a goose with cholera but bounced along with a lively tempo. Again I cannot lie, movies like this aren’t really for me because of their formula, but since Guidance‘s formula took some risks (again, hiring kids that could act and Tomei being the unwitting antagonist) there was just enough elan to keep the crap engaging. And yes, I adored the karaoke scene a lot of fun in spite of myself and the kinda left field feeling that my g’rents often did. Non sequiturs in the proper context.

Truth be told I was stunned that I dug Guidance  I viewed it twice. Partially for Crystal’s exasperated, sarcastic one-liners, but also for a nostalgia trip. Yeah, yeah. Not every kid had cool, parent shuddering grandparents. Be it wish fulfillment, memory lane or just flat out about Dad stealing a car, Guidance was a first in my mind. Grandparents took center stage, and not like with On Golden Pond.

And no, no animals were harmed in this movie by having their face sucked. 😉


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. It’s a surprisingly good time. Crystal does Crystal (if you’re a fan of that) for the kids that are kids. And Midler spits venom if the devil’s eye. You may dig this as your parents may wince.


The Musings…

  • Eggless egg salad?
  • “They don’t know you well enough to not like you.”
  • K: Who knew imaginary kangaroos would need a doctor?
  • “Cake…”
  • Pretty nice Tony Hawk cameo. It furthered the plot some.
  • “Get your taser ready.” Double take.
  • That “nobody’s out” version of Little League is anathema. Artie’s schpiel was right on.
  • “Noodles!”
  • Best version of “The Book Of Love” I’ve ever heard. 🙂
  • “It’s 9 AM; I need a martini!”
  • K: Artie finally got to announce for the “Giants.”
  • “Call me Grandpa.”
  • For the curious: Pikachu roughly translates from Japanese as “spark mouse.”
  • “Lights out, Alice.”

The Next Time…

Visa debt notwithstanding, The Confessions Of A Shopaholic are nakedly telling.


 

RIORI Presents Installment #199: Joseph ‘McG’ Nichol’s “This Means War” (2012)


The Film…


The Players…

Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Chelsea Handler, Til Schweiger and Angela Bassett.


The Plot…

Daring CIA operatives Tuck and Frankie have opted for perhaps their most challenging mission yet: getting a date.

No, really. Both our spies are getting burnout from all this “making the world safe for democracy” stuff. They ain’t getting any younger, nor is the planet getting any less dangerous. It’s high time to settle down, preferably with a nice girl.

Too bad the suck with women. Tuck’s a divorcee and FDR’s just a player. What they both need is a grounded, no-nonsense kind of woman. Someone cosmopolitan but also independent, free-thinking…and easy to dupe.

It won’t be a contest, but rather a “gentleman’s agreement.”


The Rant…

What begins with 007 ends up with continental philosophy.

I love spy movies. Okay, check that. I love James Bond films, ever since I was a kid. I may have mentioned this before; I tend to repeat myself a lot here at RIORI (did I mention I tend to repeat myself here?) back in the day the local NBC affiliate would run a Bond film every Wednesday evening in July when I was a pup. Guess what I was up to every Wednesday night at 8 PM? Right, making microwave popcorn after hiding the remote from my Dad. Priorities, right?

Bond films are wish fulfillment incarnate for a teenaged male. Think about it. We have action, intrigue, exotic locales, cool cars, even cooler gadgets courtesy of Q, beautiful women, and if they became a liability Bond had a license to kill. Kidding, not kidding. I know a few married guys who’d love to have that license, if only to be left alone to find that lost remote. And seriously whenever Bond waltzed into a casino, a posh hotel, a swank bar and said who he was—bam—gorgeous woman oozed out of the ether, fawning all over him. I always wished I was his wingman, but I would’ve probably been poisoned by that Ukrainian supermodel before the end of the first act. Would’ve been worth it.

Consider this: over the franchise’s 50 year history, James Bond has created, influenced, parodied and informed every modern spy caper to this day that has ever been committed to film. It helps that no one actor portrayed Bond. A cult of personalities have informed the character based on the cinematic climate of the time. The zeitgeist. Every iteration of James Bond reflected in cinema as, well, what a super spy should perform. We had the original, Sean Connery, the cool Bond. Fast forward to Roger Moore, the funny Bond. The one-off George Lazenby, the Aussie Bond. Timothy Dalton, the angry Bond. The belated Pierce Brosnan, the thinking man’s Bond. And of recent Daniel Craig, the tough Bond. This MI:6 cornucopia characters reflected the pop culture at the time, and like Superman Bond could be reinterpreted to fit the bill.

So when we’re talking about spy thrillers, I both thank and leer a crooked eye at the 007 movies. Considering that the 007 movies are the gold and silver standards for every spy movie, be it the comedic True Lies, the terse Jason Bourne series (both with Chamberlain and Damon), or the endless stunt-fest/threadbare plot Mission: Impossible movies. In sum, the spy thriller genre is fractured, not unlike the many Bonds that embodied the vox populi and their expectations of what a spy thriller “should be.”

So what should a spy thriller be for the 21st Century? Simple.

Deconstructionist. Question everything you know about spy capers, their tropes and then lay it all bare for the curious. Subvert the expectations and damn the torpedos.

In the academic sense, deconstruction is philosophical and critical movement, starting in the 1960s and especially applied to the study of literature, that questions all traditional assumptions about the ability of language to represent reality and emphasizes that a text has no stable reference or identification because words essentially only refer to other words and therefore a reader must approach a text by eliminating any metaphysical or ethnocentric assumptions through an active role of defining meaning, sometimes by a reliance on new word construction, etymology, puns, and other word play.

Whew.

The above definition was courtesy of Dictionary.com so don’t play tl;dr because that wasn’t me talking, though I get it. In our case, dismantle all we know and understand about an accepted, popular tenets in popular movies and turn it all on its proverbial ear. Shake some fresh life into a well-worn out warhorse. Kind of like when Led Zeppelin reunited in the 90s and deliberately left “Stairway To Heaven” off the set list. Instead Robert, Jimmy et al incorporated traditional British folk instruments into some deep tracks thereby creating a new twist on their trademark heaviosity, with fiddles, mandolin and bohdran (a traditional Celtic drum for the curious). I didn’t even knew what a hurdy-gurdy was until I saw a live feed on cable, but it sounded cool.

Moving on.

Where to start with deconstructing spy movies? For lack of a proper film let’s claim James Cameron’s True Lies as fountainhead. Well, it was based on a foreign film, but had the neat package of American sensibilities and Cameron’s way of yanking his audience as sutra. That and Arnie in his comedic prime didn’t hurt neither. For those unfamiliar with this choice slice of popcorn fodder, Schwarzenegger plays Harry: humble computer sales rep by day, moonlighting as a super spy unbeknownst to his family. The movie is riddled with the usual whiz-bang of Cameron’s best actioners, but with a twist. Cameron is not known for hijinks. Sure, a good chunk of his oeuvre is dappled with one-liners and wisecracks (his Aliens was littered with ’em), but being outright funny? Nope.

This is a serious reason why True Lies worked, in spite of being not very original. Remake, remember? The spy on the sly thing has been done before, and often better than True Lies (think North By Northwest or the Kingsman movies), but the injection of humor—including pratfalls and slapstick, before God—was not, not something you’d get out of a Cameron spy adventure with a star he’d worked with prior that also included pants-wetting gags. True Lies was funny in spite of itself being a action/adventure encompassing all those espionage goodies I mentioned as de rigeur for James Bond. And the “funny Bond” Moore mostly just quipped, winked and nudged. Quite well I felt, but I was 12 so don’t invest too much in that.

When you put the tub of half-eaten, stale popcorn down and ruminate over your viewing of True Lies (which, in reality, you didn’t), you might, might’ve asked yourself “Wait. What did I just watch?” The Roger Moore era Bond was labelled as the funny one, but just our protagonist being a smartarse does not a spy comedy make. David Niven did a better job with the original Casino Royale. As with True Lies, one of the more terse scenes is when Jamie Lee Curtis looses control of an Uzi and Wile E Coyote-like offs the terrorists at the ready to kill Arnie. It’s physical comedy in a slanted way, a very Cameron way, and what the hell did we just watch? And why are we laughing?

What I’m getting at is entertainment skewed informs the basal needs of the average moviegoer. Cognitive dissonance. All you are left to do is laugh. Dr No this wasn’t, and all the better for it. If True Lies was wellspring, it led to movies like Knight And Day, Killers and—natch—This Means War.

These days it’s okay to have rom-com ideas spice up action movies. In the theater just consider it: the life of a CIA operative/MI5 agent must not be much fun. Constant stress, paperwork, jet lag and always multiple superiors to answer to. That and we still aren’t sure who killed Kennedy. I knew a guy once who was an analyst for the CIA (maybe, might’ve been a cover). What his job required made Alec Baldwin’s character in The Hunt For Red October seem glamourous. In the simplest terms he explained he pissed through 3 highlighters a day. License to kill nowhere to be issued. Like being a cop, what you see on Law And Order is made all dramatic and the bad guys are almost always nabbed within 50 minutes. In reality, being a detective involves tons upon tons of paperwork, phone calls and deadlines. No different for a CIA desk jockey, of which there are legion. It’s not much of a surprise that flicks like This Means War glamorize the glamour that were the early Bond films, rather weeks of desk work. Movies are not supposed to follow real life, duh. Excluding documentaries, movies are supposed to inject fantasy into your humdrum existence. It’s called entertainment. And since I believe that ever since Gen X we’ve seen it all before and demand some deconstructing of the cinematic versions of “Stairway To Heaven.” Just like all prices ending in 99 cents we got it already and you ain’t fooling anyone no more.

Lampoons like This Means War are important movies. Not “important” like Casablanca, Citizen Kane or even Cameron’s Aliens. Important because they subvert expectations of a genre, which provides a lot of the fun in contemporary flicks. Why? Because it’s all uncertain, a surprise and an inside joke all rolled up in a neat package. And picking it all apart—deconstructing it—is the seller. Like I commented with Killers, black comedy does worlds of good to tired plot devices. If you ever seen the likes of Grosse Point Blank, Mr Right or even Clue, for Pete’s sake you know that a little urine with the honey makes a funky fun gut reaction. Usually resulting in inappropriate laughter. With the sort-of-sister-movie Killers black comedy is also an aspect of deconstructionist cinema, if not the forerunner. For further insight, again refer to the installment. Then try to refute me, because I can’t. Not now, sorry. I’m quite tired.

After all that folderol, does This Means War qualify as the seminal, deconstructionist, black, rom-com spy movie?

Uh, I dunno. Nope? Don’t know any others. Time to break it all down…


The Story…

It happens to us all eventually. Burnout. Your job becomes your life, therefore taking away any life you used to welcome outside of work. Hard work yields good work rewarded with more work. It’s rather a self-fulfilling circle. Work hard to get to the top of the heap and burn lean tissue to stay there, rep and salary intact. You soon have no rep beyond work and spending time in the mere off hours finding new ways to piss away your salary to find escape from the ever-higher responsibilities that said job demands.

In sum, you got the new PlayStation well in advance but have no games, nor any time to play them if you had them. It can be all such a blur, even if you’re not in the private sector. Even if you’re outside the private sector.

Top CIA agents, field partners and BFFs Tuck Hansen and Frank ‘FDR’ Foster (Hardy and Pine respectively) are burnt out, as well as out of the game for a time after botching capture of international criminal Karl Heinrich (Schwieger). That mess resulted in the death of his brother (more on that later). Trapped behind their desks under the scrutiny of their grumpy boss Collins (Bassett), they find quite a bit of time on their hands. All this downtime and then the question comes up: “When was the last time we had date? Just get out for one night with a nice girl?”

Tricky question that. Tuck’s a reluctant divorcee, trying to cover his cover by keeping his ex and kid at a distance for their own safety. FDR’s free and clear of such obligations, but would rather play the field unbecoming a field operative. Read: score as much tail as a cruise ship captain can. Ugh. Both are lonely. Both need a change.

Enter Lauren (Witherspoon), a high profile, woman-made exec with a relationship on the skids. She has no prospects right now—always too busy. Lauren’s very demanding quality control company doesn’t have much quality time going for it. In fact, it’s been guiding her non-life. She needs a change of season also.

By weird happenstance, Tuck, FDR and Lauren’s paths cross. ALL of them need a change from a hazy shade of winter. Tuck and Frank get to thinking about a “gentleman’s agreement” regarding potentially dating Lauren. Heck, it at least it might be a good waste of time, or best finding a decent woman to settle down with. May the best man win!

Later: Heinrich, with malice on his mind wants Tuck and FDR’s blood spilt in revenge for his dead brother.

May the best man win…?


The Review…

What starts with a jolly take on skewing expectations ends up with stoicism. Stick around.

Like with Killers, I dug This Means War in spite of myself. K has a huge crush on both Chris Pine and Tom Hardy, so naturally she slapped me up the face with the DVD and slapped said disc into the player. I was at her mercy; she hasn’t let me down yet here with RIORI so what could I say? Heck, she tolerated us seeing Villeneuve’s take on Dune, pt 1all three hours of it—and we both ended up enjoying it (glad I read her a few chapters of the source material to prep her). She prepped me enough about Killers and now This Means War to be in a place to get it, if not enjoy it. Quid pro quo, Clarice.

The goofy premise of War led to some rather goofy hijinks. Here wispy Witherspoon was the heavy, whereas Pine and Hardy were salivating, lunkhead bros. Did 007 drop a jaw at any token Bond girl? Nope. Did the Bond Girl of the moment ever lead 007 around by the nose? Not unless it meant the best for the mission, Ms Moneypenny. In Goldeneye did 007 and 006 engage in a pissing contest? No. Brosnan just dropped Arecibo on Sean Bean’s busted body. Sexy? Yes and no, but overall better than the humdrum of horny spies hell-bent on not busting a nut against one another. Extravaganza incarnate and all around boffo, Biff.

Flip that script. The deconstructionist thing. It worked here with War. Kinda.

To the point, War was ridiculous. There were two movies wedged into one going on. The quirky rom-com met the spy drama rendering many sparks falling to the floor. High suspension of disbelief was required, and once you lightened up you allowed yourself to laugh it became fun. Despite the outset dusky undertones of a trad spy thriller, War ended up a madcap comedy of errors. With a lot of gunplay and collateral damage. Best of both worlds, and amazingly nary a sliver of irony lot be found. Sure, there were a few sops to keep us engaged in the characters (EG: Tuck’s forced divorce, Lauren’s big sis Trish with her endless relationship advice, wine and Cheetos, FDR as the adolescent Bond fanboy akin to what I was back in the day, etc). There has to be some webbing that makes the audience relate to such a motley crew. It was all done tastefully, meaning not ramrod down your gullet. Amazing for potboiler director McG, but the story and characterization unfolded rather then the usual reeling in the line too fast. War, despite its setup required some patience.

I know. I was just as surprised as you.

But firstly, let’s get back to that nonsense about deconstruction theory for a moment. Regarding movies like War, all spy adventures and perhaps the diametric opposite romantic comedy. One of these things is not like the other. Sometimes—more often than not really—I get to waxing philosophical about some of these middling movies. Sometimes it’s fun to overthink fluff like this week’s shindig. I wonder if some weird formula like War had could be an example how certain “misunderstood” movies become cult classics; just waiting around until a potential audience plays catch up (think Rocky Horror, Buckaroo Banzai, and/or anything John Waters ever cut). War had that potential, despite the marketing, the budget and that silly popcorn pleaser director McG at the helm. Which was weird how determinism stuck with a movie like this.

Yes, we are going forward this foundation of philosophy with this Sour Patch Kid pasticheWhy? One, makes for a more interesting critique here (because how many ways can we breakdown a Witherspoon vehicle), and; two, yeah War a twist on a tale as old as time minus the proverbial beast. We’re gonna navel gaze here for the f*ck of it. My blog, my rules. Besides, as of this writing, its Xmas time and I’ve grown numb the froth and Oscar season, okay? A gift to me to indulge. Pass the Chunky Monkey already.

Determinism is rather like the corollary of deconstructionist theory. Determinism claims that all events—freewill included—have sufficient causes. No coincidences, no hidden agendum, no ulterior motive. Facts are facts and choices are choices and all are predominantly planned. The execution of War kinda follows this precept. Meaning we should’ve figured out by the cold open and first act how this movie would end. Awkward and fun, and vice versa. With the order changed, also panem et circenses.

Feeling smart yet? Me neither. Let’s move on.

All that blarney bounced around in my head trying to figure out what had I watched and what did I enjoy it? The flick was not my usual cup of coffee, but I couldn’t ignore War was a fresh spin on the True Lies paradigm with a 21st Century sensibility. Unlike War howeverthat 90s Arnie blockbuster paired action with comedy evenly and romance as just added flair/subplot C. Again, it was a remake and maybe plagued by stuff getting lost in translation. Despite my adherence to 007’s exploits being the Rosetta Stone for all spy stories until Kingdom come, I never saw such a fluid, inane mashup and nod as I did with War. For shear goofiness it topped True Lies. If the CIA there were middle school, we’d all be at lunch. Gossip, dicking around with a clandestine 3DS and spying the fairer sex to which Mama Nature blessed in an expedient fashion. Read: stretch marks on their foreheads.

In sum—disregarding all those backflips—War was simply dumb fun subverting most expectations. I wouldn’t watch it again, but like sex I enjoyed it while it lasted.

We’re getting all heady here, I know. However we know how much I find the rom-com vehicle as tired as the next never-ending, one-note chapter that is the equivalent  of  cinematic golden goose that is the MCU, a breath of fresh air is welcome. War was more of a fart than a fresh of breath air, but as far as the spycomrom model goes at least it was different. That and oddly enough a nod to classic espionage movies listed above. Yet still stupid enough to entertain.

One of the main reasons I dug War was its playfulness. A little juvenile at times, yes, but so were our frat house heroes. There was a John Hughes feel, all goofy and winking and waiting for Farmer Ted to pop up and crack wise. In most his of his touchstone hits, Hughes always included some character duality that resulted in a romantic connection, albeit hard won. Think Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and/or Pretty In Pink (right, the obvious ones). War was ostensibly a spy flick that morphed into a left of center rom-com with the senior year hijinks on naked display dappled with a blurred version of Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. Something about FDR and Tuck’s “gentleman’s agreement” whiffed of a Hitchcock thriller, at least in an ethereal sense. Not sure why but that felt right.

Despite being a rom-com, War was a guy movie, by guys, for guys like me who don’t dig rom-coms. I dubbed this movie as “cromantic bromance.” A bromcom, if you will. I mean, look at it. Do spy partners really hang out on their few days off? Sure they do, here. Makes sense since Pine and Hardy act more on a sibling rivalry vibe than defending freedom. And all over a stuffy Reese Witherspoon. Small wonder our heroes are set up as opposing forces. Like, duh. Their trifle to shake up their humdrum existence thwarting terrorists is a paper wad pissing contest. commented that when two guys fight over the same girl they’ll go to ridiculous ends to make each other look bad. In the end they will both look bad and rather foolish in the process. Passive aggressive comedy. I got it.

With that nailed to the wall, offered up this corker: “Their aim is magnificent!” Pretty sure she was talking about Pine and Hardy’s prowess with firearms, but in the abstract this was spot on. At least played for cringey laughs. So now I enter the time to perform an autopsy on the acting chops of our protags and “innocent” bystander. It’s two guys at polar ends vying for the affection of a very guarded, rather practical woman. A tough nut to bust crack.

Witherspoon has made a rep for herself as a self-sufficient, confident actress regardless of her roles. You can’t con her. From Walk The Line to Wild to Cruel Intensions to even The Man In The Moon, Pleasantville and Legally Blonde (before God) you cannot f*ck with her. Her drive is too strong. Her in War, mostly playing against type was refreshingly welcome. Nothing truly steely about her Lauren, which was almost satirical based against her cinematic CV, but made her for a fun, neurotic foil to our two dreamy, drooling operatives.

Still, I’ve never felt Witherspoon gets the solid respect she deserves. Don’t ask me why. She’s very a versatile actress with both great comic timing as well and not pull her cinematic punches with drama. Might be my own myopic view of her big roles being a good chunk like here in War: seemingly disposable and frothy stuff that sells mondo tickets. Consider Sweet Home Alabama, Legally Blonde and Cruel Intentions to name a few. These flicks were popular and the bills got paid, but I feel she really cut her teeth on projects the harrowing Wild and the coal black Election. The “just another pretty face” label has been a scarlet A on her head for too long mow. That Oscar? Given for hard work over a spectrum, or rather than a one off yet earnest role? Baby, baby, baby the late, journeyman, venerable, character actor Ned Beatty won his Best Supporting as a cameo in Network, for all of maybe 20 minutes of screen time, and his CV was lightyears long with just as many hits and misses (EG: Deliverance versus the original Superman franchise). Reese had to fend off a crazed Mark Wahlberg in her breakout role in Fear for decidedly most of that danged squalor. Taste is always subjective, and more times than not determines what road a talented actor may follow. What I’m driving at is that some may follow their muse whilst others will follow the paycheck. I, for one, do not believe Witherspoon is in it for a new mansion, but must play the course as it lays to earn some street cred.

Or she can have it both ways. Witherspoon has always been the thinking person’s Jolie. Sure, she’s pretty but never a dumb blonde (which may be why the Legally films are so chuckle worthy). Letting down that expected cinematic guard with War made her a shoo-in for more active, vibrant onscreen adventures, meaning those that aren’t as broad as the Legally movies (read: A Wrinkle In Time, Gone Girl and even Mud), but more esoteric. War was kinda like that, but with a rather mocking take. Wasn’t Lauren sorta being set up like some trophy between two lonely dudes? Like a sex object even; indie woman to dependent girl? And like how if Lauren had such sharp eyes she never got hip to FDR and Tuck’s scheming? Was it all of the clandestine spy stuff made solid. Or was Lauren weighing options? Uh, yeah, duh. With razor sharp Witherspoon in her prime, the joke gets skewed, the roles are reversed and all of it results in a classic error of the sexes. With lotsa booms. Reese is too clever to chose a role such as Lauren without knowing how to send it up. War was a great opportunity to make a send-up of her persona, which in he endgame was zany funny. I’n almost ashamed to make that claim. Blame K, dang it.

Pine and Hardy turned out to be surprisingly ideal for their roles. FDR, movie expert and smarm expert. Tuck, nice and safe guy in the wrong job. Yin and yang shocker. It helped that with War being all bromantic our two male leads had more experience as either portraying Captain Kirk and Venom (depending what color pill you took). Pine has been known to have nice comic timing also, as well as being well indoctrinated as an action guy. From young Captain Kirk to Wonder Woman’s squeeze to even fish-out-of-water CIA analyst Jack Ryan, he’s always likable with a quip as well as a phaser or whatever. Let’s face facts, the guy is super handsome and very disarming. Hell, would date him. And he’s more style than substance with War.

Unlike his foil. Tom Hardy’s roles tend to be ugly, both literally and physically with only a nub of humor as a last resort (EG: Mad Max: Fury Road, Venom or Bane in The Dark Knight Rises). Let’s just say his strength does not lie in selling the most cookies in his troop. Oddly enough his Tuck is kind, humble, self-effacing and f*cking nothing you saw in The Revenant. While FDR revels in frat boy joy as an operative, Tuck always tries to be subtle, even if it’s only to keep a low profile for his estranged family that still think he’s a travel agent. Oh Tuck’s a travel agent all right, he just never wanted one to recommend an easy getaway spot. Hardy’s a real smooth smoothie in War, as well as sympathetic and charismatic. Both roles are stereotypical, but the elan our spies play out with feel nothing but. These guys are the real deal: lonely guys. Who hasn’t been there, and who hasn’t looked for the opportunity to get out of the rut? Sure, it sounds like a new meme sensation. But come on, spies or no, license to kill or no hasn’t yer bro ever get hung up a girl so badly you’d be more than happy to take the problem off his hands? Heh heh.

I took War at face value. It was a farce as rom-com as well as spy movie. What I did not expect was the giddy deconstructionist/deterministic edge it had. If you think about it (once more) Shakespeare was very clever in his tragic plays to insert humor right before the sh*t went down, making it all the more terrible. War substituted terrible with collateral damage, also effective and sometime hawking up chucks ridiculous (True Lies anyone?). War delivered the chunks, however there was one glaring issue with the plot, and I mean a structural issue with the plot. Sometimes flicks like this demand whiz-bang with no questions asked…so long as the plot, no matter how sh*tty, follows some logic. War was a flick devoid of realistic logic, but there are still principle rules that must be obeyed. At least within the context of the plot.

Don’t make me quote determinism theory again.

Good. This was the only matter that bugged me with War, and it wasn’t about content. The B plot, Heinrich’s character motives were shoved to the back burner for too long, as if the final confrontation was just gravy, sideshow, blown load or just “The hell?” I knew War was an action/rom-com hybrid, but both kind of films always has the antagonist stewing the background, plotting his next move. We had swaths of plot bouncing along that were action fun with no sign of the big baddie. Heinrich’s plotting revenge as Maguffin. What ostensibly set the gears in motion. Come on. The villain lying in wait is a classic spy movie trope (EG James Mason in North By Northwest), which should have been skewed like everything else in War. Bummer. Might’ve invited more action zaniness.

Okay. So, what have we learned? A few things. Not all rom-coms are created equal. Director McG had a few tricks up his sleeve in delivering a movie that was fun via parody and self-awareness, not just action and one-liners. Tom Hardy can play a nice guy whilst still cracking skulls. Continental philosophy really has no place in a movie review. And has surprisingly good taste for fun films.

Mission accomplished.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. This Means War is fun, witty, winking, stupid and a rather clever lampoon of both spy capers and rom-coms. Overall, it’s a disposable, good waste of time. A movie that requires being watched alone with cold, leftover pizza at the ready.


The Stray Observations…

  • Joe Jackson’s “Look Sharp!” Get it?
  • “Don’t touch my grill.”
  • Cheeto Wednesday. Own it.
  • “Why is he listening to that old man?
  • Do any of the CIA’s satellite offices use fluorescent lighting?
  • “That’s mommy’s special milk!” Did Handler ad lib everything?
  • The knife, then the knife.
  • “…Then he entered the premises.”
  • The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” Get it?
  • “Steal this car for me?”
  • Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid. Get it?
  • “I’m Yoko!”
  • Sade’s “Smooth Operator.” Get it okay I’ll stop.
  • “We will see about that and about that we will see.”

The Next Time…

Commemorating RIORI‘s installment number 200(!), I’m going to make up for my past blunder and present Part Two of the James Brown biopic, Get On Up.

Can I count it off? Again?


 

RIORI Presents Installment #197: Robert Luketic’s “Killers” (2010)


The Film…


The Players…

Ashton Kutcher, Katherine Heigl, Tom Selleck, Catherine O’Hara and Martin Mull, with Alex Borstein, Casey Wilson, Rob Riggle, Kevin Sussman and Kathryn Winnick.


The Plot…

Jen and Spencer are having troubles getting over their past relationships. Both just want to settle down and get their priorities straight. One would call it reassessment of their wants and needs.

Well, these two trying to turn over new leaves found each other in France, both ready for a change. Jen’s a computer programmer who just wants to get over, focus on her career, find some nice guy to maybe raise a family with. Spence seems like the nice guy, and agrees with Jen’s frame of mind.

That is not to say that Spencer isn’t tired of the demands of his government job. He wishes to give it all up in favor of a sense or normalcy, light years away from his trade as an assassin for hire.

…Hold up.


The Rant…

I wanna talk about black comedy this time out, and I’m not talking the Wayans Brothers here. I also wanna talk about rom-coms (again) this time out, and I’m not talking the Hallmark Channel here. I dislike most rom-coms, and it’s not just cause I’m a guy. I like romantic comedies so long they have some substance, namely a solid story, good characterization and precious little sparkly goo-goo eyes. Often next of kin to black comedies.

To begin, anyone out there know what the sub-genre “black comedy” is? It’s also commonly known as “dark comedy.” It’s a the kind of movie that finds humor in the bleakest, sometimes macabre, most ironic and often violent tendencies we humans apparently gravitate towards. It’s akin to watching the car wreck on the highway and being damned glad you weren’t in it. Schadenfreude, taking delight in others’ misery. To be deep consider Jung’s theory of the “death instinct.” Morbid curiosity about what the end might reveal. We’re all gonna go someday, so stir up a Cuisinart clogged with sh*t and let ‘er rip. That’s what dark comedy is about. Shout at the devil, screaming, “Is that all you got?” Because let’s face it, sometimes comedy and tragedy can go hand in hand. It’s the foundation of reality TV if you consider it. Do you really root for these idiots to succeed week after week? Be honest with yourself. Refer to your local, classic Greek playwright for clarification if confused.

Dark comedy is laughing at the Grim Reaper as catharsis. Bad sh*t happens every minute in our drab lives. Consider the evening news. Is it ever really informative or positive? Not from what little I’ve ever watched. Sure, there’s always a cute, little human interest story tag at the end of the evening’s installment, but the previous 22 minutes was hi-def wreck and ruin, and maybe the viewer being relieved not being wrapped up in another global train wreck. “Glad we weren’t in that reactor meltdown, but check out that footage of those liquified bodies that are gross, twitching, and ready extras for a Romero movie. Wow!” Yeah, it’s wrong, but it’s human nature and that’s what makes it amusing. Habeus corpus, this conundrum. Dark comedy, rife with murder, violence, perversion and the stuff that may have clotted in your mind like a poorly treated infection. Ick.

When done right, dark comedy can be a revelation. Scary things can be funny, and nervous chuckles are always welcome. Like with classic comedy and tragedy, an uplifting scene followed by a dire one (think Hamlet. It’s probably why it’s the Bard’s most famous work) to make some visceral impact. Follow something comic with something dark to achieve a metaphysical hit to the gut. Some pinnacles of this sub-genre you may have already seen and perhaps not quick to take them at face value, however there may have been a lingering odor of unease. Like a cut on your finger when not treated gives in to sepsis. Infamous titles like Dr Strangelove, Arsenic And Old Lace, MASH, Fargo and Young Adult are prime examples of the skewed view of how what may be cringy to one can be funny once we flip the script.

I find dark comedies an outlet. You think you’ve had a bad day? Check out The War Of The Roses. Directors who pull off decent dark comedies can be imps of the perverse and their output can be such a fine tonic to the stressors of the day. Say sure, Woody Allen, Ivan Reitman, John Landis, Charlie Chaplin and even Judd Apatow have made solid, funny stuff, devoid of pretense. You watch Annie Hall, Ghostbusters, Animal House, The Gold Rush and The 40 Year Old Virgin for yuk-yuks straight and forward. You might have also seen Interiors, Cannibal Girls, An American Werewolf In London and The Great Dictator which are far more subversive and perverted, but no less amusing. Apatow’s turn might have been Funny People, but only for the cringeworthy factor. Both sides of these directors know what funny is based against whatever ghoulish concoction they put out as a thumbing of the nose to just mess with audience expectations. This paradox results in a low level cognitive dissonance that makes you laugh at uncomfortable things. Like laughing during a eulogy or trying to talk your way out of a DUI speed trap. Sarry, occifer.

Comedy legend George Carlin illustrated what funny is perfectly: Everything we share but never talk about is funny. That being said the topic doesn’t matter, not really. We all can get behind the bumbling Dr Jekyll, for we are him sometimes. Hapless and muddling our way through the world. Dark comedy is the Mr Hyde, squirming and laughing against what makes us squirm like wanting to kill our boss or to sweep the leg of that senior citizen taking their grand old time weaving back and forth up the supermarket aisles Awful, right? But what if I…?. A fine example of this imp is our favorite spectral child-killer Freddy Kruger. He was truly scary, but also had an honest revenge agendum and some truly—dare I say—killer one-liners. He was terrifying and funny, so joyous skulking around in his boiler room and your subconscious. No surprise how the Elm Street franchise has endured. Can’t help but relish that car accident. Freddy’s yer boyfriend now. Funny sh*t. You could die laughing.

Please allow me that. Please?

The other side of the cinematic coin is the romantic comedy, often more querulous than any nagging Maguffin in Hitch’s arsenal. If you think about it romance can be scary, too. Regarding the object of your affection that is. As long as we’ve been able to breathe we’ve always been kindly against the opposite sex. Be it male, female or another trying to scrye what those dang butterflies are doing to your stomach. Those fears of rejection, self-doubt about your looks and your presence and a holy host of crap beyond your control because you must allow your love object to take your extended, open palm. Just like with Jung’s theories, you may get wounded, but you still try anyway. Coming back for more. Over and over. Masochistic. And that, my children, is why Only Fans is in such a tumult right now. A great many of us need to see the wrecks, literally and metaphorically.

Rom-coms mostly tease us. We’d all like to believe in Princess Bride true love, but that’s just wishful thinking. Feeling in love is indeed a scary feeling. If you are fortunate the love of your life accepts your hand and a romantic relationship begins it doesn’t necessarily mean the race is won. Even more imps may darken the day. Commitment issues, jealousy of another, failure to communicate, all such woes that taint any and all relationships. I speak from experience that whenever these issues rear their ugly faces I need to go to the bathroom. And they always do appear. At the back of your committed-to-the-other’s mind there’s always a lurking fear of when this crap happens again will that be the last time? Ask any divorcee for advice. Such going unease is scary, and often takes the legs out from under you. Hence why dark comedy exists. Yin and yang. Life goes on.

Consider it. Doesn’t the above seem scary, yet tantalizing? What? Were you never in middle school? Don’t puff out your chest. You’re lying. Accept that, as well as accept the fact that when romance goes sour—at least on screen—it’s cringy funny. Been there, don’t wanna go back there, will return there again. It’s a shared thing we never talk about yet is universal. Catch and release. Confidence and deferment. Swingers. That weird query that gnaws your mind to bits whether your crush is worth it. Worth what? A buffet of butterflies maybe? Such questions have informed the late John Hughes’ filmography. Being young and in dope love is never easy. Less so once married. And that’s when love truly becomes an algebraic problem…but with some luck mutually willing to solve. This is the ideal, mind you. You get it.

Hence the Hallmark side of things, so long as you don’t think too hard accompanied by a bowlful of micro’d popcorn. Maybe some Kleenex also.

The final flip side. Rom-coms are nothing but we wished would happen. The aforementioned Hallmark Channel is always happy to oblige a mismatched, forlorn, torn grocery bag romance that happens every New York minute. It’d be nice if that were true in real life, but it never is. And thank goodness, because it’s an ideal and they are seldom satisfying. Even stating that is cliché. That’s also kinda scary in the abstract.

Romance and humor is just as a tasty release and is horror and humor. Pleasure and pain walk along the same razor’s edge. That is why Trent Reznor’s ouevre still appeals. Time to get graphic and put false propriety to bed. Hold my hand once more, and don’t tell your father we made out.

The best rom-coms dispense with the usual schmaltz. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Kiss and make up. Boring. One must drip a little urine into the maple sweet saccharine to make a good rom-com come to life. Namely be both comedic and romantic in even doses, and not only please one side of the metaphysical waffle. Most rom-coms are either too romantic or too comedic because—again the Hallmark Channel’s stock in trade—the push and pull of drama is absent. If you consider it, most scary movies are at their core dramas. Using suspense to draw you in is nothing new in making movies. It worked for Casablanca as it did for Alien. Tight cast, solid story, and great pacing knows no genre. The gut feeling of “what happens next” is vital to all horror, comedy, romance and drama films. Right, like for all movies, but the key element is balance. Tip to far left or right and you end up feeling cheated. Not unlike every evil Eli Roth horrorfest I’ve even been subjected to. Man, grow up already. Your middle school bullies are all accountants now.

Not everything in rom-com romps is all puppy dogs, ice cream and young divorcees returning home to New England. No. Again boring with a capital B. That crap is all PG-13 bodice ripper. Style over substance, as well as cheaper to film. In case you haven’t noticed, America is lousy with single, capable white women that the Wayans can not wait to parody. Discussing this schism, funny marrying scary, dark comedy is the razor. Long argument short, in order for one to appreciate the relief of a dark comedy one must be awaiting it. I’ve had a sh*t life. I need a laugh and vengeance. Hey, is that my old beater DVD of Evil Dead 2? Press play. Maul me again. Let me laugh and squirm in equal doses so I can face the next day. I’ll rewatch Pretty Woman again come Friday with some hot slices of (Mystic) pizza.

Okay. Don’t allow me that.

Anyway, is the above cynical? Correct. That’s the crux. Now please, enjoy the car wreck and quit being ashamed for being curious. We’re all only human.

In the endgame how does dark comedy shake hands with romantic comedies? When done right look for subversion. Flipping the script, remember? Twist expectations just enough to get a foothold in the curious audiences’ mind and attention. Those dark comedies I mentioned above trick you into thinking you’re going to watch a straight ahead drama, comedy and/or character study. For example, when I first watched Arsenic And Old Lace I did not understand what Cary Grant was freaking out about when he opened up the cubbyhole. Then I did, and the film took on a darker bent despite still being grimly funny. Grant had great comic timing, and you know what they say about timing with comedy. It’s when the director of the beloved holiday classic It’s A Wonderful Life spins a tale about a pair of old spinsters euthanatizing lonely old men as a public service.

*squealing tires*

Script flipped. Gotcha. Like romance squeezes your guts into jelly—think James Garner in the gooey adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook (yes, I saw it. Not bad)—all widdershins. Also when you found out what Mrs Vorhees was all bent up about. One and the same; give in to your vulnerability for a possible great trade. You dig?

No? I guess you’ve either watched too many of one over too little of the other. Or are just in denial of getting stood up at Prom, opting to hang with your low-life buddies instead, spiking the punchbowl with lighter fluid. Such shenanigans are rather devious but also downright funny, considering what inebriation may lead to on with the dancing couples.

Right, binge watching Hallmark with a Rachel McAdams TV movie marathon. Now that is scary!


The Story…

Breaking up is hard on you. When a relationship ends sometimes all you really need is a change of pace, a change of space. And what better change of place than the south of France?

Jen (Heigl) and her mom and dad (O’Hara and Selleck, respectively) are all gonna get away from it all. Too bad that Jen’s ‘rents won’t lay off on her crappy, failed marriage. We’re on vacation! Let’s get away from all it all, right!

Jen finds Nice nice. Chill place, pristine beaches, servers with flutes of the local brut at the beck and call. She’s totally off on her ownsome, in her happy place, until she meets Spencer (Kutcher) en route to the hotel pool. He says he also has a lot to get away from, especially the drudgery of his government job. It’s taking its toll on him and also wants a change. No shock. Jen can relate. They strike up a conversation and way leads onto way, which leads to a nice dinner, a nice club date and some nice skinny dipping.

…Three years later…

Jen and Spence are happily married. Spencer is out of his old job, and Jen can concentrate on her career. All is bliss, until it isn’t. Turns out Spencer offered out lies of omission Jen’s way. His old government gig? A hired assassin for the CIA, disposing of America’s enemies with extremely extreme prejudice. One mark at a time.

Spencer’s old boss Holbrook (Mull) comes calling, warning that Spence’s unfinished business is about to catch up with him. And he ain’t talking about be overextended on some mortgage. There’s a price on Spencer’s head. No one ever truly gets out.

And all Jen wanted was her own office.


The Review…

I think I was poorly prepared to watch Killers. loves this movie, however her movie tastes aim towards the Disney/Pixar angle. Apropos of nothing, her TV habits vacillate amongst 7th Heaven, Bones, Gilmore Girls, NCIS, Supernatural, the many DC Comics TV adaptations (especially Supergirl) and the myriad CSI series. In sum, I never know what she’s into at any given week.

So a dark comedy? She still has the ability to surprise. She made me an ardent fan of 7th Heaven, so all is possible. Don’t scoff; it’s enjoyable to watch an 11 season comedy-drama about a minister’s dysfunctional family. Good characterization, which is vital for such a program. Now please quit judging me and let’s keep going.

had the right view with Killers. She recommended it for RIORI and it met the Standard. I found the flick refreshingly funny. And it was funny, but I think she got lost on the satirical angle. She’s my kind of cute, so I allowed it. To be honest, I found it a bit disturbing how much she giggled when the gunplay was center stage, and I always leave the toilet seat down. However it was a cute send up of modern rom-coms. Cute was the key word. KIllers‘ plot was nothing new, and has admittedly been done before better with more panache (read: Cameron’s True Lies, Liman’s take on Mr & Mrs Smith and Zidi’s La Totale!, which inspired True Lies BTW). To the point we’ve seen Killers before, but if you consider the MPAA’s rating of the movie PG-13, that was only there to sell tickets, as it always is. Killers should have been “honored” as the first, official PG dark comedy, so light and fluffy it was. Bring your kids. And blindfolds.

At first I thought Killers was going to be some James Bond spoof. Nope. It was a rom-com spoof. A very deviant one at that. From what I had whined about regarding rom-coms and their all too predictable plot devices are indeed front and center, but were twisted in such a way that you figured out the inevitable before the first act finished and were eventually rewarded for it, albeit subverted. Nice work, You already knew where the story was headed and dispense with such rigamarole ASAP. That sh*t’s not vital to anything related to the gonzo plot. The setup was short and sweet within the first fifteen minutes. Director Luketic didn’t waste our time, hopefully out of respect. Worked for me.

Regarding Killers’ tone I was at first unsure about chemistry. From what I’ve seen about our two leads Heigl is best known as a difficult yet has an awesome head of hair and Kutcher being a goof as an affront to his male model good looks. Heck, even I could plant one on him. But Killers was all about subverting expectations. Heigl wasn’t bitchy. Kutcher wasn’t aloof. Both were maladroit incarnate. A prime way to earn sympathy; we are all thumbs most of the time. Clever use of that; endearing. In fact that may have been the underlying tone of the plot. A perverted take on wedding vows. If so, it was properly ridiculous.

With that “saw this coming” precept in place I guessed that the whirlwind romance thing was unavoidable. A sop to the regulars who stone into rom-coms. Killers might have been designed to annoy such fans. The trick with rom-coms is that they strictly adhere to familiar tropes. It’s like comfort food in a way; nice people finding each other despite some odds with the principals all having high cheekbones and no pores. Any deviation from this formula is almost anathema in this genre. What’s wrong with stirring the soup some? I mean, really all those tepid rom-coms on Hallmark all have the same plot. It’s akin to being an ardent HGTV viewer; every show is the same show. I know because I have shared time watching my mother’s favorite show, Love It Or List It. It’s the same ep over and over again. Well-heeled couple either wants to find a better house or renovate their current abode with an obscene budget at their disposal. My mom’s a Realtor, so the show must be some soft-core porn to her. I get it, but I don’t. It’s like other straightforward/disposable infotainment all lukewarm mac and cheese dappled with ketchup. Harmless, predictable and in poor taste.

That being said, some ubversion might spice things up. Killers did yeoman’s work at upsetting the  balance. Disrupting the foreseeable. Sure, there were the nods to typical rom-con tropes (EG: Jen expecting by accident, Mom and Dad’s meddling, lies of omission to save the relationship, etc), but it was all eyewash until the fit hit the shan. This was made evident in the final act, when the bullets were ricocheting off bullets and dead shots aplenty. Any cutesy schtick was avoided at all costs, natch. Such pap would just soften the madcap action. Truth be told, when Spence finally began to open fire the flick truly got funny. That and Jen went along for the ride, literally and figuratively. Talk about for better or for worse. The worst was best.

Hold. On second thought, Killers wasn’t outright funny. It was witty, but at times confusing. It sometimes felt as if the director was attempting to shoehorn too much banter making light of Jen and Spence’s plight. To paraphrase Pacino in Godfather III, “Just when I thought I was out, I get pulled back in.” To the formula, skewered once too often. The setup allowed some breathing room, but sometimes also lent a lull in the pacing. The second act was a blur of Three’s Company-esque miscommunication and sitcom hijinks paired against frenetic gunplay. It was all so rapid fire—so to speak—it came across all lazy. I was all down with the story until it began to bottom feed. Thank hell Luketic attempted to channel his notorious debut, Legally Blonde. Yes, that infamous fluke. Cutesy, sweet daffiness and satire then worked surprising wonders. I supposed his stuttering direction here allowed us to catch up on what the hell we were watching, but it made the implied urgency sag. The witty banter between buoyed the dark humor. Frankly, I was awaiting more senseless violence with an abundance of winking. Endgame: pandering to the small masses. I’d’ve rather watched Kutcher whack soccer moms instead. A lot.

In a curious way, Killers had an air of “Apatow light.” The flick was nowhere near as deadpan, but had a similar cadence. It’s like what I griped about a bit ago; Apatow’s comedies are rapid fire doggerel, jokes that are gone once before you catch them and always low key and dismissal. Not so much here. Killers is deliberate, perhaps another paean to how rom-coms attempt to hamstring your heartstrings. Things fall into and apart here with sharp precision. Once you accept the dirty deeds—which are more or less eyewash come the third act—you’re wrapped up the the anti-schmaltz. Yes, it often felt draining, but at the core love and death are welcome partners. Get that? That kind of nervous tension makes dark comedies work. Namely, you can’t believe what you’re watching—and maybe even enjoying—such nonsense. Face facts, we all want to snicker during the eulogy. I barked out laughs often with some precision, shame attached gladly. This may be the way I have been so forgiving of Killers‘ flaws; funny is funny. Right?

Killers scratched an itch. It alternated between between goofy and espionage (almost in the same breath). It had pretty cool, gonzo fight scenes. It had the atypical family drama feel set on its ear. It had a lushy Catherine O’Hara role. Killers was a kind that I would allude to being the first proper dark comedy for the family. It was overall ridiculous, but in a fun, gleeful way. A fine mess and a decent waste of time. Other movies like Killers did a better job of skewering the rom-com formula with much more elan, but to its credit Killers was the dark rom-com variety equivalent of a Bic Mac and large fries. Namely, this is not necessarily a good thing, but…

*nom nom nom*

Oh, crap.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. To the quick: f*ck the Hallmark Channel.


The Stray Observations…

  • “I’d kill for a normal life.”
  • I always wanted to know what Heigl felt like. I mean, felt like. K: *smack*
  • “Excellent mustache…Gorgeous.”
  • Aimes. Clever.
  • “Please, call me sir.”
  • Is that a spatula?
  • “I’m going to feed you.” Selleck had the best one-liners.
  • That’s a knife!
  • “Let’s go steal a car.”
  • Maalox. It’s not just for dinner anymore.
  • “if I was going to kill you I would have shot you back at the house.” Ah, marital bliss.
  • Can’t say Spence doesn’t come unprepared.
  • “Ooo, I’m Swedish!”
  • K: Piggy!
  • Wait. Kmart?
  • “Is anyone not trying to kill me?

The Next Time…

There is a property dispute regarding The House Of Sand And Fog. It’s not about who owns the land, per se. It’s about who has the right to live there.


 

RIORI Presents Installment #195: Bergeron, Letterman & Jenson’s “Shark Tale” (2004)


The Film…


The School…

Will Smith, Jack Black, Robert DeNiro, Renee Zellweger, Angelina Jolie and Martin Scorsese, with Peter Falk, Vincent Pastore, Michael Empirioli, Katie Couric, Doug E Doug and Ziggy Marley.


The Plot…

No one likes a loser, but that’s usually from the loser’s point of view.

Oscar is a little fish in a big ocean. Sure, he has a secure life at the whale wash, but he can’t help but dream about being the cream of the crop on the high cliffs on the Reef. Only to hope for the better.

Lenny is a big fish in a small pool. He’s a disappointment to his Don of a shark, and won’t chomp lesser fish for ethical reasons. Lousy philosophy for an apex predator, and a disappointment to Pop. Only to hope for the worst.

So what are these odd couple of fish coming together gonna do to reach their goals?

Simple: social media and spray paint. Worked for David Flowie.


The Rant…

Got a meaty one for you this week. Ready?

This one was not my idea. I actually wrestled with it. Animated movies are almost unheard of here at RIORI for scrutiny. There was the recent Looney Tunes: Back In Action installment, but that was a mix of live action and cells. There was my take on Pixar’s Brave, which in my opinion was a very creaky, non-Pixar endeavor if there ever was one after the first Cars flick (IE: Cars 2 was deplorable, where the merch hit the stands before the movie proper hit the theatre). I’ve strayed away—mostly—form tackling mediocre animated flicks here because on the whole there is no specific audience. Unlike anime features, where there is a line always in the sand about where the content of a film takes you (EG: Akira and Ghost In The Shell is not Studio Ghibli), American animated films are designed to appeal to both young and old at the same time. Then again, if I have to sit through Frozen ONE MORE TIME I’m gonna have to let it go. Let it all go.

*applause*

Yer welcome.

Shark Tale was a favorite flick for K. She loved this pastiche. Then again, she’s a gourmet regarding animated films. She’s a Pixar junkie, just like me. She is a dyed-in-wool Disney fan. Stone cold. She appreciates my adoration of Studio Ghibli’s output. We both dig the Looney Tunes (well, I dig. She goes along with them). I always have to be on top anyway we dig animated flicks. However there must be a line in the sand. Just because a movie is pixilated or celled does not a good film make. Passable yes, but not necessarily good. Ever watch the House Of Mouse’s output during the 70s? ‘Course not.

It was federal law to watch animated flicks when I was a pup. I was a Reagan Baby, and across the 80s there was a crazy quilt of animated feature films available to entertain and warp me at an impressionable (read: dumb) age. I wasn’t aware at the time, but there were a handful of what could be considered “subversive” films in that animated universe. Don’t quote me on this, but in hindsight the 80s might’ve been the watershed to introduce “adult” concepts into ostensibly movies designed for the junior set. Granted, there were classic Disney films the pushed the envelope. Sleeping Beauty featured baddie Malificent morph into a demonic dragon. Some asshat shot Bambi’s mom. The donkey-as-sin scene from Pinocchio is still harrowing. Hell, Cruella DiVille got her own movie recently, which admits her staying power as a palpable, lizard-like villain. So yeah, Uncle Walt’s early triumphs did not shy away from the more unpleasant aspects of life, real or imagined.

The following is all hindsight 20/20, 30 years on and not so dumb anymore (hopefully less dumb). Although I didn’t take much notice at the time, I’ve since recalled a handful of animated flicks that, well, left a curious taste in my brain. If you’re a member of Gen X you might dig what I’m sharing. Come, walk with me. It’s down a foggy memory lane. I have cookies.

Recall the Rankin/Bass meditation on death and rebirth that was The Last Unicorn. The creepiness of conspiracy and tyranny with The Secret of NIMH, what with its literal backstabbing. Heck, before the first act of the original (animated) Transformers movie began the nasty Decepticons whacked dozens of Autobot stalwarts from the TV series into so much scrap metal (I was really bummed how Ratchet—the Autobots’ medic—got mowed down by the nasty Megatron in gun form, which was based on a Nazi pistol). The flick had a stellar, old skool celebrity voice cast (EG: Orson Welles, Robert Stack and Lionel Stander, all hamming it up and having a blast). Some coarse language and lots of violence pervaded the film rendering our Autobot heroes from the last three sanitized seasons on TV rendered into smoldering slag. And the perquisite, unrelenting, insufferable, cheezy 80s soundtrack courtesy of Vince DiCola to boot. There was me as an eleven-year old: Cool! Ugh.

Finally, the proud, meat-of-the-matter example of us Gen X kids growing up too fast, the original (again animated) G.I. Joe movie had a very terse scene. The climax. It occurred when one of the principal protags—I think was Special Forces agent Flint—got shot by a COBRA operative pointblank and bled out so fast he slipped into a coma. And never returned to the film. Go figure it out.

These were animated flicks. Cartoons. And were acceptable as kids’ “entertainment” by the MPAA. Times sure have changed. Maybe a tad too much.

Word is born. Good luck finding any straightforward “serious” content in kiddie flicks nowadays, save Pixar’s output and much of that is drama driving any conflict. Now for real, I’m not trying to romanticize the past. In fact above I tried to and I don’t feel so romantic. Hold me. It was not that long ago that a hard-nosed plot element made kids think as well as entertain. Again, raise a glass to Pixar, possibly the last bastion in animated studios that “get it.” Good, if not great animated movies are both provocative as well as endearing. Once again with Pixar, the opening montage in Up speaks volumes with no voices to be heard. Prods your brain, invites you into Carl’s worldview and why. Can’t lie that it’s my fave Pixar movie, and always enduring once you own up to the message of loss and redemption. It’s not about cranky Carl. It’s not about Russell and his dim-witted Kevin. It’s all about Ellie. Chew on that.

And WALL-E is all about conspicuous consumerism. And Charlie Chaplin. Sorry about the headache.

Enough about Pixar. I mean enough about Pixar. Time to talk about the competitors, specifically DreamWorks. They’re the guys responsible for fodder like Shark Tale.

I will be polite. I am allegedly an adult now. If I was able then to deal with one of my fave actors Jeff Bridges as Prince Lir getting gored by the devil Red Bull and reviving in the drink, I can play nice now (sh*t, tell me your best bar story). I’ve learned/understood a few things as of late regarding modern animated films. I’ll get back to that after this one thought:

I never killed the school back in my junior high days suffering under the influence of watching Voltron. Nowadays I suffer this…


The Story…

Oscar (Smith) has always dreamed he’d hit it big someday. Instead of toiling at Mr Sykes’ (Scorsese) Whale Wash he rather be with his head in the clouds. Jet set. Living a life of luxury at the top tier of the Great Reef. But nooooo, whales are endangered and need regular flossing. Crap in a hat.

Lenny (Black) is a shark of ethics, and has never wanted a piece of the action like his pop, Don Lino (DeNiro). Lino is the head of the local shark Mafia and his cosa nostra shakedown is pretty straightforward: gobble up fish. It’s what sharks do, except pacifist Lenny, disgrace to The Family. All he wants out of his miserable existence is to have dad’s respect. Be someone, but that means putting his conscience aside. What to do?

Well, as comedy of errors go, both Oscar and Lenny meet at the crossroads of fate. Square peg Lenny feels he has no business with the sharks, and Oscar has no business with his head in the clouds of the rich and famous. Due to accidental destiny, between them both Oscar succeeds in reaching the high life thanks to Lenny’s bumbling, and Lenny finds a new family amongst the lesser fish of the reef.

Until Don Lino and his crew come looking for his cowardly son. And the wrasse-hole that “slayed” Lenny’s big bro Frankie (Empirioli).

Now it’s all up in the foam. Well, thank goodness what the right swatch of blue can do.


The Review…

Picking it up now, there were quite a few detractors who regarded Transformers: The Movie as nothing more than a glorified toy commercial. They weren’t entirely wrong. As a kid what I dug about the film (besides the collateral damage and Spike shouting “sh*t” out of panic) was not so much the prospect of new toys on the horizon and new eps on TV. Nope, it was the movie’s introduction of new characters. Consider this, really do. When you consider a film to claiming “a cast of thousands” (hyperbole aside) don’t you groan a bit at the claim? I understand it’s an old gimmick, and now a cheesy cliche, but really. Most films seldom have too many principals. If you think about it Star Wars: A New Hope only had seven leads. The film series invites grand things, but with a small, core cast. Luke, Han, Leia, Threepio, Artoo, Obi-Wan and Vader. Everyone else is just gravy, no matter how core Peter Cushing’s role of Moff Tarkin was central to the plot. Lesser fans of the movie forget about him regardless. Fanboys…never say much either. Hope was no Spartacus, and for good reason.

The core cast thing works wonders for most live-action films. There may be a lot of secondaries and extras (EG: every Woody Allen, Robert Altman and/or Lawrence Kasdan film) in big flicks with big stories, but that eyewash is only there as filler. When that formula goes awry—read: David Lynch’s Dune or DeMille’s The Ten Commandments as examples—it’s akin to getting dinner at your local Italian red sauce joint where the menu folds out like a road map atlas with over a hundred meal options taunting you. You eventually just settle on the lasagne. Like last time. Every time. Too many options.

Ah, but for animated movies it’s practically de riguer to have a “cast of thousands.” It’s always the more the merrier. Consider this, Disney’s first theatrical, animated release was Snow White & The Seven Dwarves. The title alone speaks of a broad spectrum of players. Okay, maybe not, but back in 1937 a full length feature film that was fully animated was an unusual achievement. And never mind Snow or her charges, or the Wicked Queen or Prince Charming. Instead recall that this was the 30s. There were no such tech as we have today for sound effects. An unholy host of “extras” provided bird whistles, other nature sounds and even singing as backdrop to match the soundtrack. I recently checked the manifest of voice actors, et al that provided sound for Snow White. It took 20 people—voice actors and F/X crew alike—to imbue the film with the warmth we all recollect from seeing Walt’s big deal animated movie. Not a thousand people, but you get it, and it set a standard being followed my modern animated films to this day.

*crickets*

Okay, okay. In short if you’ve ever seen the Toy Story films, the Shrek movies, the Madagascar flicks, Sing, Over The Hedge, and if you wanna count Despicable Me with its myriad Minions a big animated voice cast works. It’s required these days. You gotta have that cast of…tens to make sure they are sewn into the tapestry of the story. And naturally there are no small roles, small parts, just small attention spans. Those help also when trying to digest so much technicolor upchuck.

Swing and a miss.

A big vocal cast to a big feature animated movie. Sometimes it works and sometimes it “works.” Shark Tale was on a fence here. It’s not the notes its how you play blah blah blah. There was no economy of dialogue here to warrant a big cast, except for cheap, there-and-gone gags. That and this high profile cast of yeoman voice actors didn’t help move the story along. Good thing there wasn’t much of a story I guess. Look, for once I’ll upchuck all of the lousy parts from this week’s hanging and get on to the praise. Both are in equal parts BTW. I’d like to be mannered this time out.

Ahem. The story. Shark‘s is a tried-and-true plot device. Read: boring. Our two misfits from opposite sides of the tracks do some wheeler-dealing to get in good graces with the right crowd. In this case, Oscar wants to make a name for himself and Lenny wants to be accepted for who his. It’s a riff on Trading Places, or Strangers On A Train, or A Bug’s Life, before God. It’s been done before and with more panache, but was lost on Shark. It’s merely a canvas for wisecracking and getting all goofy on yo ass. There ain’t much meat on this whale fall, and for all it pluses, there is way to much filler and pandering to kids and adults alike. The story is stale and no amount of pop culture asides can redeem this tale twice told ten times over. A shame.

It’s understood that I am an unabashed Pixar fan. Beyond the cutting edge CGI, Pixar’s flicks have healthy, well-built stories with fleshed out characters and a certain plot pinion—the almighty Maguffin—that informs the entire story. With Up, Coco, Inside Out, WALL-E et al, there was a single trigger to set the story in motion. EG: Millie’s death, Coco’s fading memory of her beloved Hector’s music, Riley’s troublesome move and solitude against conspicuous consumerism respectively. Unlike Shark, these stories don’t use tropes as a crutch, but as a launchpad.

This is my issue with DreamWorks’ animated movies. It kinda goes along with the line about “cast of thousands.” As of late, there is only one DreamWorks animated I’ve loved, and oddly enough the plot is based on a million other stories (EG: our protagonist put in a responsibility to care for a troubled pet), as with a fave of mine How To Train Your Dragon, which had some weight being based on a series of books. It was a boy and his dog, classic. It’s that blues riff again. Unfortunately most of DreamWorks CGI output lacks nuance, since nuance doesn’t sell well with most animated films for a fast buck. Think again about Despicable Me and its sequels following the laws of diminishing returns.

DreamWorks as well as other animated studios of a similar ilk (EG: Illumination with those damned minions again) cage way too many pop culture riffs to serve as humor. Think Family Guy. At least with Disney/Pixar there’s some breathing room, some satori with tasteful exposition. With most DreamWorks animated flicks it’s all about flash, dash, splash and being utterly disposable. Sometimes such disposable fluff’s a welcome thing, but when there is precious little meat on the plot to begin with, and all that flash gets hella boring f*cking quick. I mean name one memorable scene in DreamWorks’ production catalog beyond Fiona singing the bird to death. Right. Gimmicks as entertainment. All of Shark‘s pop culture refs would go over the kiddies’ heads, and just came across as trying too hard.

Rough, I know. However the big deal redeeming factor of Shark is its animation. The whole movie is f*cking beautiful. The whole show is very pretty, very colorful, very vibrant. Luscious is the watchword with Shark, and majority of the budget been spent on pixels upon pixels. Sure wasn’t invested in sharp scenarists (ow!). It’s a gorgeous movie. I can’t stress that enough.

Beyond just being lovely to look at, the animation was also quite clever. Unlike Finding Nemo, our fishy friends in Shark are over top anthropomorphic and all the better for it. I loved how the character’s faces resembled their flesh-and-blood human counterparts. Oscar looked like Smith. Lenny looked like Black. Don looked like DeNiro (note the birthmark on the cheek). Check out Mr Sykes’ bushy brows. And Lola was Jolie. Amazing, and very amusing. I ain’t made outta stone, people.

Natch, voice acting always brings out the best in actors with unique voices and their cadence. For example with Shark, Smith got to ham it up to 11, channeling his inner Fresh Prince. His spin seemed almost cathartic. Let’s expel some serious goofiness akin to primal scream therapy. Well, that and taking time to skewer his public image. As did the supporting cast, especially Black whose squeaky Lenny was barely recognizable as Black himself (and for a first, no histrionics. Didn’t think it was in him).

Here’s another nifty example about healthy self-parody Shark permitted our vocal cast. For years Jolie has more or less having her acting chops be waylaid by her looks. Here we have a great parody of that dilemma. In the endgame her best roles downplay her pretty face. Ever see Malificent? What’s I’m saying—despite the weak story and splash and dash—is that the voice actors get to tear it up, make fun of their public image, or embrace it with more cheeze than the Kraft conglomerate. Yeah, the pop riffs were lame, but the execution was a delight. Kind of a weird paradox.

So what’s my final word? Well, Shark was madcap, exquisitely beautiful to watch, funny in fits and starts, freaking loud in execution (like sporting an orange shirt at the beach) and definitely all about style over substance. K loves this movie, probably for the same reasons I’ve been all meh about it. Still, what I loved about Shark was not what she liked. Call this a lesson in cinematic life: it takes all kinds. A kinds of takes. Get it?

Go fish.


The Verdict…

A mild relent it. This ain’t Pixar territory here, and that’s okay. On another hand Shark Tale should be mandatory viewing for every budding CGI animation student.


The Stray Observations…

  • “Is that supposed to be the Titanic?”
  • “That’s not how you sing that song, mon.”
  • “Nobody loves a nobody.”
  • Danger: Heavy Load.
  • Echo!
  • “Go be useless somewhere else.” I must use that line at work.
  • License plate. Ever see Jaws? Heh.
  • Crazy Joe. Sorry, not sorry.
  • What was that thing a while back when Scorsese derided the MCU as “not cinema?” Huh.
  • The Whale Wash is like a dentist appointment from Hell.

The Next Time…

Why didn’t the folks at Disney call the sequel Tron 2.0 instead of Tron: Legacy? Some people don’t have a Clu.


 

RIORI Presents Installment #193: Joe Dante’s “Looney Tunes: Back In Action” (2003)


The Film…


The Humans…

Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman, Timothy Dalton, Joan Cusack, Heather Locklear, Bill “Goldberg” Goldberg and Steve Martin.


The Tunes…

Joe Alaskey, Jeff Bennett, Billy West and Eric “Not Goldberg” Goldberg.


The Plot…

When Daffy Duck quits his job as second banana at Warner Brothers, security guard DJ gets tasked with keeping that ungrateful quack off the lot.

On the flip side, comedy maven Kate needs Daffy back in the ranks—you can’t have Bugs without Daffy after all—so she and star wascally wabbit Bugs Bunny are on the case.

But this is no simple snatch and grab/road trip. Oh no. The secrets this goony quartet discover along the way might alter the course of history!

And maybe coerce Daffy to come home and renegotiate his contract. Maybe.


The Rant…

Let me share with you my late Saturday mornings back when I was a pup. Betcha most of you out there in the blogosphere have a similar story.

Before Saturday morning cartoons were relegated to cable on the Disney Channel and Nick the major networks gave over their usual airings of game shows and talk shows to broadcasting cartoons from, say, six AM until noon to bring in the weekend for kids like me. We were glad and relieved to get away from schoolroom drudgery for 48 hours (unless that dope of a 5th grade science teacher gave us homework over the blessed weekend. I could’ve cared less about what mitochondria do for the cell. Ugh). giving over to a morning of silliness, action and whatever you could describe Pee-Wee’s Playhouse was. That and too many bowls of neon colored cereal designed to overload your carburetor, God willing.

Getting right to point (for once) my Saturday morning viewing habits concluded with Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends (Iceman and Firestar of the X-Men), The Bugs And Daffy Show and finally Soul Train, where I caught up on the newest rap artists. Then I had to go mow the lawn. That’s how it went for a lot of Gen Xer’s I’ll bet. Not just the lawn mowing, nor grooving to the likes of Run-DMC or Kurtis Blow (an aside: opposite Soul Train was American Bandstand, which I detested. What turned me off was the prattle of America’s oldest teenage dork Dick Clark, which cardboard had more charm), but the immortal Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. The Looney Tunes! Classic and timely in the same package.

Those cartoons had something for everyone, kids and adults alike. Keep in mind that those classic ‘toons were shown after the previews in theaters back in the 1940’s and 50’s, aimed for mass appeal. Well before Pixar. Well before pixels even. For children of all ages. If you consider it, the Looney Tunes were the progenitors for the likes of modern parody and satiric cartoons like The Simpsons, Family Guy and South Park. Okay, granted the Looney’s were not as overtly topical or scatological as the aforementioned establishments, but they were damn good at poking fun at…well, everything, at least back in the early 40s. They could also skirt around being subversive when they wanted to (EG: what was with all the cross-dressing?). Some of the best shorts was when the toons directed their mockery at real life celebrities, skewering the pop culture of the day. Example, sister series Merrie Melodies provided “Slick Hare,” which both lampooned and celebrated all the real-life stars in the Warner Studios in the forties. Here’s a sample. Check it.

I’m figuring that was Lauren Bacall as Bogie’s date.

So why have the Looney Tunes endured, while equal acts back then like Woody Woodpecker and Popeye kinda fell into obscurity? Because, Doc, on the most part they could be reinterpreted by each generations’ audience. They were funny, they were topical, both factors carry over, as well as being their being irreverent. I believe that’s the key; the Tunes winking and nudging and trolling and just being zany enough to ignore the rules of physics, both scientific and why the hell don’t any of Wile E’s Acme deliveries never work yet he won’t delete his account profile? And where’s he getting the funding for all the crap? We don’t care. Just keep being funny, guys. Just keep being.

That zaniness paired with irreverence—the self-effacing, wink wink nudge nudge delivery—is why the Toons have survived for so long. Even back in the 90s, with the updated gags of Tiny Toon Adventureswhere Buster and Babs Bunny took cues from Uncle Bugs, there were even more sight gags of social relevance as well as pop culture roasting of the trends of the day (EG: I really dug the ep of TTA when it was all music videos highlighting the goofy brilliance of They Might Be Giants. Buster: “Who are these guys?”). Thus saying, the Tunes can adapt to the times, as well as be revisited in all their silly, non-PC glory from back in the day. Circle of life. As comedy goes, the tropes that got it right as far as staying power goes follows like Monty PythonSNL, MST3K and of course the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies franchise. And how’s this? Relevance, dependability and reinvention, which is all those series had in spades. Still do.

I get it that the Tunes aren’t that sharp to reinvention, despite they originated in the movie theaters, which mocked their output. However when it came time for a live action adaptation (a la Roger Rabbit), which was far overdue for the big screen, how would Bugs and crew adapt this time out? We’re in the 21st Century now, and a lot of the non-PC gags which made the shorts so great back in the day would be taboo now. We’re not talking cancel culture here, and I kinda doubt Yosemite Sam hamming it up as a demented Johnny Reb, the Kaiser’s egotistic WWI pilot or the hare trigger happy outlaw Yosemite Sam we know and love today would translate across the decades. A lot of the Tunes mana was parody, slapstick and occasional satire. All welcome today—I repeat, South Parkbut the Tunes modus operandi was not to offend any sensibilities. They were drawn to be funny, packed fair and square. These days we can plainly see a bit of cultural insensitivity here and there, but it’s there and gone in a flash and not the whole of the short, as opposed to Walt Disney’s “blackface” animation Song Of The South, released in the same period. All anyone got out of that mistake was the catchy “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” song that, admittedly, won the Oscar for best original song. Precious few know that song due to the ultra-conservative take on it. However up the ladder almost anyone knows “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down,” the Looney Tunes theme song. There, now you know the title.

As venerable as the Looney Tunes franchise is it’s still lucrative. Still appealing. Consider the Space Jam sequel. Heck, when ten-year-old me was wedged between Peter Parker and Don Cornelius I thought the Tunes were new-fangled, custom made for Saturday mornings. What a shock it was to find Bugs and Daffy were older than my parents. And yes, sometimes the gags haven’t aged well, or at least inspired by arcane studio system trivia from back in the very day. All things considered, the Tunes back on the silver screen was a long time coming. So did Bugs, Daffy and the whole crew have the moxie to pull it of like back in the good ol’ days?

Let’s find out, folks…


The Story…

You’ve heard about things in threes? Beware, beware. But what about things in fours? Or fives even?

DJ (Fraser) is a crummy, clumsy stuntman at Warner Brothers studios. After one too many botches, he’s relegated back to his original job: security guard. He’s not very good at that either. It’s really embarrassing since his dad Damien Drake (Dalton) is their superstar action spy leading man…who scored his klutzy son the guard job in the first place. The apple fell far from the tree regarding DJ.

Meanwhile…

Daffy Duck (Alaskey) has had it being second fiddle to Bugs Bunny (also Alaskey), always enduring Elmer’s shotgun blasts to his feathered face. Daffy’s fed up and won’t renew his contract with the Warners for another season unless he gets his props. WB’s exec of comedy Kate (Elfman) is now tasked to get the duck back in action because, hey, without Daffy Bugs has no cachet. So she and the rabbit jailbreak from the studio to catch up with their duck amok.

Meanwhile…

JD received an urgent message from his superstar dad to come back home…with stowaway Daffy in tow. Dad’s mansion is a tribute to Damien…with a lot of odd decorations. After Daffy accidentally trips a secret message, turns out Damien is a for real spy, and has crucial info regarding the Acme Corporation’s nefarious Chairman (Martin) and his latest plan to generate more nefarious revenue. The Acme Corp? Don’t they fund the Looney Tunes? Oh yeah, and Damien is in their clutches.

Meanwhile…

Looks like it’s up to DJ and Daffy to complete Damien’s mission, not to mention Kate and Bugs’ mission hot on their trail to secure their jobs.

Meanwhile…

What the hell’s a Blue Monkey…?


The Review…

Right off the bat, I must say that this flick wasn’t for everyone. It’s clear that I’m an ardent Looney Tunes fan, but I feel for most my ardor runs very close to culty territory. Most folks I’ve found regard Bugs and company as quaint. A portrait of the animated comedy of yesteryear. In their time the Tunes were cutting edge. Not nearly as polished as their Disney rivals, and all the better for it. Let’s put it this way: no matter how new fangled the latest smartphone gets, the old model that fit the bill (and your palm) was the best phone you ever had, despite its limitations. Mine was my old iPhone 5. It was perfect, and I’m sometimes tempted to assault eBay for a retro purchase. The Tunes aren’t considered flashy now, or even en vogue as far as cartoons go, but they were solid pieces of animated comedy. Always reliable for a laugh. If you disagree you have no sense of humor. You are, as it’s been said, a maroon.

The raw animation of the Tunes couldn’t hold a blowtorch to Mickey’s motley crew, all watercolors and chirpy dialogue. However, the best take on how the Tunes trumped Disney when it came to humor came from disgraced comic Louis CK. His was something along the line of “Bugs Bunny is f*cking funny! Mickey Mouse is like: ‘Oh! Too much water!’.” When I claim that Chuck Jones was a genius the gentry responded with polite indifference: “Didn’t he own that kiddie pizza place?” Most folks don’t know (let alone care) what an acme* is anyway.

So yeah, the Tunes haven’t been much of a going concern lately what with every big budget animated feature having tossed pen to cell into the Dumpster decades ago. Along with my busted iPhone 5, with the ghost of Steve Jobs cackling. Agony. Sure, as of the time of this installment the Space Jam sequel is on it’s way, featuring this generation’s best b-ball players alongside the Tunes. Brand new live action married to CGI animation that is often better than expected. However, there is something to be said about the organic charms of the Tunes old skool cell animation. For one, it was pretty damned good animation. Again, not as polished as Disney, but what the Tunes lacked in technical merit they made up for it in spades when it came to tongue in cheek fun. Tunes tries a good deal to recapture that lightning in a bottle, even with CGI enhanced whatsits. Director Dante got the manic feel right, that zaniness across the board, but the execution felt a bit forced. It scanned like he had a dire mission to bring the Tunes to a 21st Century audience, where everything was madcap, frenetic and ultimately too busy to sit back, inhale and laugh. Blink and you’ll miss it. Tunes was indeed witty, but there was this Doppler effect that when a gag launched, it took a few long seconds to catch up with it. It got kinda exhausting. I’m all for swift pacing, but the parallax shift in Tunes got hard to take let alone me following the story. That was my immediate carp with Action. I wished it would have slowed the f*ck down. ADHD makes for a bad mindset when it comes to watching (and dismantling) any movie, but all was not lost on a Ritalin smoothie. I know that I’m always harping on pacing either making or breaking a flick, and Tunes was hell bent on recreating the zaniness we know and love from the originals at mach 10. The gags and one-liners in Tunes were delivered at such a frenetic pace it left one’s brain swirling on an existential Tilt-A-Whirl. What I’m saying is I needed some breathing room. Ever take in a Michael Bay movie? Get tired of all the boomy things? Me too. It kinda ruins the narrative, even when it doesn’t really matter. Like with The Island.

Zing!

I reckon director Dante was just as much a fanboy as I, and earned his bones with Tunes covering the spread of the WB cartoon universe. Hell, these characters made me laugh as a child of the 80s, and were created in the 40s before my parents knew how to eat solid foods. There’s a lot to digest here (pun intended) canon wise, and like I implied Dante made sure we suffered an overdose. That’s either a delight or a caution depending where you’re perched on the fence. Dutifully, Dante’s output has been pretty hit-or-miss. All of the fantasy films he’s helmed over the years have been a bit fevered, attempt to reconstruct an homage (or mimicry) to Spielberg. However, unlike Steve’s flights of fancy films, which always had a thread of “seriousness” to them (read: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, ET: The Extra-Terrestrial and even Hook, before God) Dante’s catalog lacks no such pretense. I’ve gathered he’s made films based on cutting his teeth with the B-flicks he loved as a kid. That shows; there’s a teenage guile behind his camera work, snickering all the while. His sh*t won’t win awards, and it doesn’t matter. Ain’t you having as much fun as I am? Your loss. Like with his Innerspace, The ‘Burbs and Matinee (a very telling culprit in his oeuvre), his muse is an amusement park, freewheeling against Spielberg joyously navel-gazing. That sort of aesthetic explains his directing Tunes. It invited migraines, but it worked. Pass the Advil.

To his credit however, Dante did a decent job honoring the legacy as well as acknowledging the fans, Red Bull enemas notwithstanding. What was great about this movie was that virtually ALL of the Looney Tunes got screen time, even the obscure ones like dopey Beaky Buzzard and outlaw Nasty Canasta. Tunes was a who’s who in WB toon-dom, perhaps an urgent plea to indifferent Millennials to get off TikTok for a blip toiling over their lame animations (mostly ripping off the Toons at the outset. It’s a judgement call, but I’m making it) and embrace the feels of old skool animation. Tunes did have a certain scent of catching up the under-informed how vital these characters were and still are. Perhaps not on a collegiate level, but it was very obvious Dante loved and respected the Looney Tunes and wanted to share all with an unassuming love letter. A frothing frenzy of a love letter, but in good spirit dang it.

I figured that Tunes was another nod to all the goodies Dante scooped up and digested as a teenager. My eye spied a fanboy a mile away, and not just towards Looney Tunes. Nope. Tunes was dappled by many nods to classic scenes from the WB vault. Dante was a fan. The riff on Psycho‘s infamous shower scene, maverick and influential filmmaker Roger Corman shows up, a black-and-white Kevin McCarthy shows up at Area 52 lugging an alien pod. And that Pixar dig. The guy did his homework. Not necessarily about out of time pop culture, just to know what to dapple the LT universe with. A tribute, you see. However Dante’s wink wink nudge nudge schtick got to be somewhat tiresome after a while. In other words from fellow LT fans: “We get it.” I guess sometimes there’s always too much of a good thing. Ah, me.

It’s easy to say that the voice cast performed admirably. Alaskey was the primary voice of the Tunes, but the others (particularly West, who has a résumé a mile long, from Ren & Stimpy to Futurama) did their yeoman’s work. I remember seeing Alaskey on several stand-up comedy shows as an impressionist. His bit about Jack Nicholson as Eddie Haskell coming on to Leave It To Beaver‘s June Cleaver was hilarious, as well as Edith Bunker from All In The Family reciting Juliet’s soliloquy from Shakespeare’s best known romantic tragedy was truly inspired, not to mention Ralph Cramden deconstructing the events surrounding Laura Palmer’s murder in Twin Peaks. The guy knew voices, and not just sounding like the characters. The man could enunciate. He had nuance. He wasn’t just sounding like Bugs Bunny, he was Bugs. And I was nothing short of impressed that Alaskey was not only Bugs, but Daffy, and Sylvester, and Tweety, and… Well, the voice crew were no Mel Blanc, but then who could be? Daffy was his usual apoplectic slapstick. Bugs was all cool and detached. Taz slobbered a lot, all in the best honor to Blanc’s polymorphic vocals. Who could ask for anything more? Alaskey was a student, as was West. I’ve seen quite a few YouTube interviews with the man as to how he developed his voice. It was akin to method acting, only with your throat (he voiced Elmer Fudd, ha ha ha). It must’ve been a bit tricky when the casting call came down for all those voices. Wiser heads prevailed. Good job, Mary.

It’s the flesh and blood actors I want to talk about now, and the casting was right inspired. Fraser has been underrated for his skill with physical comedy. Doubtful? Check out Encino Man, George Of The Jungle (hey, that Eiffel Tower rescue scene. Did you think? Nah) or Monkeybone. Sure, none of them were designed to earn awards (let alone recognition), but they do illustrate Fraser was at home with the Tunes. When you consider it, most of Fraser’s memorable roles have an element of physical comedy (think Airheads, The Mummy and even him being rather aloof in Crash). His toony body language worked well in context with Tunes. It helped that his DJ took nothing seriously, even when trying to, which resulted in a seamless performance when interacting with his animated co-stars. Best proof? Check out the fight scene between DJ and Nasty Canasta. Again, seamless. Fraser was the ideal guy as our beleaguered protagonist.

Speaking of goony, it appeared that old skool, “wild and crazy guy” Steve Martin reared his madcap head as Mr Chairman of Acme Corp. If you ever caught Martin’s old comedy shows back in the 70s, you understood he played to the crowd a lot, as if breaking some fourth wall. Only Martin could make that dumb arrow-through-the-head gag funny. The look of Mr Chairman was “my look is my act look.” The thick horn rims, the Prince Valiant haircut gone horribly awry, the twitchy gesticulations of a six year old desperately in need of a public restroom. It’s all there, and Martin played to the hilt, not giving a damn how annoyingly cringy he got. In sum, Mr Chairman was a dopey bad guy we all would like to smack in the face with a flounder. Too bad he’d probably enjoy it. We all love a villain we love to hate, even if it was the live action cartoon like Steve Martin. Thumbs up overall.

Nonentity Jenna Elfman starred here in Tunes also. Moving on.

Okay, okay. Minus the dig at Elfman and her Sprite commercial appeal, Tunes did a decent job bringing Bugs and the gang into the 21st Century. Considering the last time they were on the silver screen was with 1996’s Space Jam (not to mention that sequel again right around the corner at this time of writing), Dante did a solid job representing all the glorious goofiness of the Tunes in the theater, even without Air Jordan. Yes, there were hiccups (EG: the pacing required crystal meth to follow, the action-comedy came across as forced, Jenna Elfman was cast, etc), but if you’re a fan of the Tunes, this was the greatest hits album. Not a fan? A simple curiosity with a lot of dumb jokes. It’s a good lazy Saturday afternoon movie. Perfect for after the debut of the new LL Cool J single and later on when the backyard needed mowing.

That’s all folks!

(C’mon. You gotta gimme that. 🙂


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? A mild rent it. Looney Tunes are a unique taste. I love ’em, however their return to the silver screen lacked a lot of the charm the original shorts had. Still, the Loonies are like pizza: even when it’s bad it’s still better than no pizza.


The Quips…

  • *The highest point. The pinnacle. Yer welcome.
  • “I found Nemo!”
  • Elfman is not hot. Don’t believe whatever hype.
  • “You got rid of our best duck.”
  • Lotsa cool cameos here, wide and varied and prob’ LT fans themselves.
  • “Y’know, I’m getting really tired of throwing you out of the car.”
  • Dalton’s better here as a spy than he was as 007.
  • “Shh. I’m about to defy you.”
  • I loved the vintage horror aliens (as well as Robbie the Robot’s cameo) on the rampage.
  • ” – Run! –”
  • Wait a minnit. That’s an Indian elephant.
  • “I did not order the pendulum of doom!”
  • This sure ain’t no Roger Rabbit.

The Next Time…

Welcome to Paterson NJ, where we spend a week with Paterson the man. Bus driver by day, poet by night. Where to?


 

RIORI Presents Installment #181: Judd Apatow’s “This Is 40” (2012)



The Players…

Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd, Maude Apatow and Iris Apatow, with John Lithgow, Albert Brooks, Megan Fox, Charlyne Yi, Jason Segel, Chris O’Dowd, Lena Dunham, Melissa McCarthy and Graham Parker.


The Basics…

Middle age creeps into the lives of Pete and Debbie and certain things aren’t so certain anymore. Then again, on the brighter side, some things always are.

The tough stuff? Financial woes, naturally. Parenting headaches. Extended family members always politely but disdainfully asking, “What are you going to do with your life?” Such things can be a melange of hard questions with no easy answers as the reality of your life being half over gradually sinks in. Uncertainty pervades every aspect of your life.

So what’s the good news? The certainty that no matter how nuts and how fast your life is winding down your family and friends will do the best to get your back. Even if you’re both grown-ups and you don’t want them to.

Best embrace that. Won’t come around again.


The Intro…

I’ve done this before, section off the rant. This time out there are stipulations. This iteration should be read as an essay, like for a college course (or an early Kevin Smith film). Gauged and patiently that.

Never fear, however. None of this will be on the final exam.


The Rant, pt. I: Denial and Rationalization…

When I turned 40 I could’ve cared less. Sure, it’s considered a milestone, however as you get older those ages capped with a zero start taking on a less-than-pleasant connotation than your first 30 years. Meaning no one 29 and under trusts you anymore. You’ve seen the tee shirt.

A lifetime ago I covered The Wolverine and went on this fantastic tangent about how the West and the East regard youth. It was an X-Men movie; I was in rare form. To recap, most countries in Asia venerate seniors for their experience, knowledge and all of Grandma’s secret recipes. In the West we praise youth, meaning potential, wide horizons and well-skilled with the ideal time to nuke a Hot Pocket to drippy perfection. Consider the matter of a very young, hotshot lawyer becoming a partner before 30, such skills they have. Success then knowledge! You follow. And it sounds good—and often is—but my bet is on the friendly, tenured philosophy professor whose knows all his students by name and walks 30 minutes to class each day, Red Bull in hand, for reliability.

Yeah, I respect my elders. Even though I ain’t eld. Yet. Put down your Blue Books.

So yeah, when I turned 40 it was just another day. Most people chalk that birthday up to identity crisis. Me? I fixed my old video game consoles from the 8-, 16- and 32-bit years and told my then wife I needed to dress better. So between engaging in another round of Ocarina Of Time and purchasing a few smart sweaters life went on as usual. But it was the year that the fateful age began yelling at me nonetheless.

I had a crap day at work (had quite a few of those back then). Someone leaked that it was my birthday. I gave up counting when 30 rolled around and the Millennials dubbed Interpol as “classic rock.” Kept feeling razzed. Already had enough frustrations in my life—financial, marital, parental, still unable to catch all those stupid Poes—that being treated like a kid almost not a kid. Whatever my fellow deviants’ brand of salt felt ideal to rub into my wounds wasn’t something I needed. That and my back was bothering me.

I was at the barest end of my thirties. I felt that all my efforts to get my sh*t together were in vain. Was drummed out of my first chef’s position. Had kicked the pills but beer always reared its frothy head. Three degrees on my resume but still pulling slave wages for 60-plus hours a week (if it weren’t for overtime I couldn’t pay for jack since the wifey refused to get a job). Stuck at home with my parents with my family in tow after being evicted years back. No social life. No social time (save churning out these screeds, and just barely). A bum knee. Dandruff. An acquired hatred of shrimp cocktail. The list could’ve gone on. I was not a happy camper. I figured while most Gen X thrity-somethings were climbing the corporate ladder, I kept going below decks to scrape out the grease trap.

The following is exaggerated. Makes for a better story. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend:

My fortieth year was the year when my body began to rebel. A decade plus working in kitchens will take its toll as folks who have gone over Kitchen Confidential with a highlighter know. It’s not being on your feet all day—it’s not just that—but it is a piece of the puzzle as the hours upon weeks upon years roll on. All that bending and stretching. Knife cuts and burns. You’re hearing gets low level tinnitus from the constant drone of the hoods. You’re expected to work sick, even if you have a doctor’s note (never happened). However it wasn’t my age that did me in, per se. Just warned me about possible wreck and ruin.

I’ll cut to the chase: had a few falls in my career—physical ones as well as otherwise—which screwed up my lower back. Took to wearing a brace from time to time, but only as a Band-Aid. The joint where I was working come that fateful shift was a wellspring of tumbles for me. Crappy shoes, wet floor, pow, ow. Slipped on the ice off the loading dock. Lost my footing in the stairwell. I’m not a clumsy person, not really, but those imps of the perverse were out to get me. Even after I invested in some better footwear.

The pièce de résistance came when I literally fell out of the kitchen. Like outside. Onto the sidewalk. Mats weren’t laid down flat. Trip and oopsie. Did and somersault and landed on all fours with a mighty pop! I suddenly had no spine. I could not move. All was numb. The wind knocked out of me. I was afraid to move. My coworkers wanted to give me a hand up but I waved them off. I was still assessing the damage.

When I was sure nothing was broken I laid down on the ground. The pain was there, this dull, throbbing, really pissed off pain. The kind that mocks you. I laid there until one of my supers came by. He had back trouble also and sympathized, carefully helped me up. I was scared. With that terrific header I had no idea what had caused what and was afraid to move…period. He helped me fill out the incident report, let me go home, gave me a Vicodin and took me to my car. He asked if I was okay to drive. I was and called him once I got home. There I called the doctor, made an appointment and laid down on my bedroom for a while, letting the pill do its thing. Didn’t really help.

I confessed to the skylight—Roger Murtaugh-style—uttering out loud, “I’m getting too old for this sh*t…”

Quit laughing. It’s no big shocker as you get older you don’t recover from anything fast, and the older you get you may not recover period. I don’t mean the Grim Reaper knocking at your bathroom door, not yet anyway. Just things ain’t gonna be the same anymore. In your 20s you could survive on 3 hours of sleep, Natty Ice, Red Bull and a Snickers bar a week. When you hit 40 you hopefully have learned Red Bull is made from bile, Natty Ice is paint stripper and Snickers bars are made from lies and deception. Better belly up to the trough with strong coffee (for its wake-up call after its wake-up call), Grape-Nuts and Icy Hot applied when needed. Ha ha. You’ll get there you whelps, saving up for your PS5s and perpetual adolescence upkeep. I’m jealous really.

My debilitating fall had much to do with my age. Plain bad luck was closer to the truth. It was more akin to someone who had recently suffered a concussion should not be allowed to take a nap. The grind was all over me, paired with the never-ending stress of being broke and being broke. But really, I think it took that incident to get me to do some real self-assessment. I was talking to a window, let’s start there. An angry back isn’t anything fresh sweaters could remedy. My 20s were long gone; those college days as a punker/raver desperate writer were out to pasture. My 30s were just yesterday when I was doing restaurant work, had a radio show on the side and started this dimwit blog. Then here I was—am—with a bum back, still a bum knee, divorced from both my wife and my job and left wondering “What happened?” All that and me fumbling through Riven again on the PS2 like I did 20 years ago on my PC, which is now scrap.

Kinda like me.


The Rant, pt. II: Acceptance and Capability…

I think that is the crux of the turning 40 dilemma: what happened? It’s around that age when one starts either a full blown or low key existential crisis, whether they realize it or not. You get hair plugs or refurbish old video game consoles respectively. Turning 40 is the gateway to old age, when nostalgia really starts to matter. It’s when you begin to consider fiber more than just an ingredient in morality. It’s when you start voting straight ticket—regardless of the candidates’ Grape-Nut intake—so long as they won’t raise taxes (EG: “Hey, the guy might’ve murdered 30 children and made boxer shorts out of their hides but at least he won’t raise taxes”). Is the Clash really considered “oldies?” Why is it whenever I watch Jeopardy! all the advertisements are peddling heavy pharmaceuticals? How does Wi-Fi work and why can’t I master the 720º? I mean, Tony Hawk is over 40 and he can…because he’s in better shape than me. Strong back. Whimper.

It’s all about insecurity and uncertainty, but without the panache of getting older and therefore wiser living in the Land of the Rising Sun. No. We live in American, Home of the Whopper, and knowing better we still get pissy when the shake machine is down. We’re confused. Hitting 40 does not necessary mean you’re old. It means you’re on your way. Consider this: based on anthropological studies that without readily available food and water sources, modern medicine and reliable shelter the average human lifespan would be approximately 35 years in the wild. See all you birthday buddies? You’d already be a feast for worms by now without aspirin. Now life is simply metaphorically short, but that doesn’t mean you don’t begin winding down at 40. It’s about your perceived obsolescence, reinforced by what Madison Avenue pitches to you and the younger generation no longer regarding you as on the bubble. Recall the retro gaming references I made above; vital to me, maybe to you but most likely not to Gen Z. Or Gen AA. You know, the future consumers. The past is always catching up to you—whether it be in the forms of playing outmoded video games or nasty falls past—and the future is a maw that can’t be fed.

Scary. And inevitable. All apologies.

Despite it all, turning 40 can be fun, at least with us, the rabble that is Gen X. We’ve since reached that cachet of pop culture loaded with high watermarks of hipness. And some were. As we live on, nostalgia is the yardstick by which we measure our cultural awareness. Discounting technological advances it’s safe to assume our parents would never have dreamt that their progeny could make a living blogging about video games of have a YouTube channel devoted solely that is the magic that is James Blunt (with a million-plus subs, and BitCoin out the bum). Nostalgia idealizes the past and fandom defines the present now, and thanks to the Internet and a million ways to be trolled, Gen X is swamped in pop culture as personal definition, then and future.

If you caught my take on High Fidelity way back when, there came a scene where John Cusack’s disenfranchised 30-something character Rob confesses: “I agreed that what really matters is what you like, not what you are like…Books, records, films—these things matter. Call me shallow but it’s the f*ckin’ truth.” And it is. At least for forty-somethings like me, barely aware (barring the occasion back injury) we’re getting up there. Probably because there is so much saturation and value of innumerable pop culture touchstones these days. What I mean is akin to every Boomer boasting they were at Woodstock—the first time—there will be a Gen Xer claiming they caught one of Billie Joe’s dirt clods at Woodstock ’94 (and also boast that Dylan was there, not so back in 1969. Nyah). We win. F*ck age and Rogaine. We’re always on the hunt for cool and obscure Americana that memes are made of. Fruitless passion for sure, but at least its passion ignoring you old arse. For instance I studied large wads of Shakespeare in college, but am only able recall famous lines these days (EG: “To be or not to be!” “My kingdom for a horse!” “Stop!” etc). But ask me to flip the switch you can guarantee I’ll shout with Shakespearean gusto: “There are four lights!” You get it or you don’t.

My generation is indeed defined by pop culture, and not the other way around. We don’t create it as much as we engulf it. Every age has their high points and gravedigger lows. It’s all about where we focus the lens and what comes into view. What Cusack said in the movie is apt in keeping Gen X creaking towards obsolesce in check. You doubtless have noticed all the pop culture crap I rattled off above, and doubtless many of my generation raised more than a few eyebrows. You may lurch through your day with aches and pains, but all gets lost in a blur as soon as someone starts quoting lines from Dazed And Confused. Or GoodFellas. Or The Big Lebowski (ah, I can hear them brows a-bristlin’). Pop touchstones are what Gen X social circles run on. And on. And on and on.

I’m guilty of it, too. We are not the generation that sit by the fireside with snifters of brandy, waxing philosophical about which existentialist was correct in gauging the human condition: Kirkegaard or Sartre. No. We don’t even while our time in front of a few eps of Star Trek. We binge from Kirk to Picard to Picard and back again, covered in Cheeto dust. We have 1,000 friends on  FaceBook, but we don’t. Just a feed to 1,000 Trekkies waxing philosophical about things like: “Wait, if Discovery takes place before TOS, then how come Mr Spock only as access to buttons?” And we raise our glasses. Such dialogues in echo chambers is what we’re all about. Hell, we invented the Internet after all, for shopping and stealing music and PornHub and establishing once and for all was Simone de Beauvoir Sartre’s girlfriend or not (not exactly: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/beauvoir). Just like that. Tidbits of trivia define Gen X, and boy are we adept at calling them out. Such goofy knowledge is a clarion call to all other would-be slackers to declare we are alive!

Which kinda makes socializing a one-trick pony, especially regarding relationships. Who we are is what Rob declared/warned us about. It’s more about things than exhaling ideas these days, and you can’t build a relationship on how many still-in-box first gen Transformers you own, how you successfully translated Wookkie into Japanese and how well-versed in how many lead singers Black Flag had and why. Why do we do this? Is this easier than asking, “How’re you doing?” I don’t know. I’ve done similar things in “conversation” as much as the next dork.

And hell, in billions years when the Earth gets engulfed by the expansion of a dying sun and has its atmosphere boiled off like so much toasted bread through fondue, it will not matter who was more vital a human. Cobain or Einstein?

When that time comes, my money would be on Kepler.


The Story…

The dull ticking of the clock is slowing down. Pete and Debbie (Rudd and Mann) are feeling the grinding, almost arresting halt that reaching 40 does to your average Gen X’er with kids, mortgages, business matters and an unhealthy adherence to a fitness regime. Silly biker shorts and all.

It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. The kids of the 80s had enough to fear already (read: toughen them up for the big bad real world) what with the Cold War and MAD ever looming, the evil specter of AIDS, massive savings and loans collapsing into a financial canyon and the peril of New Coke. The couple should be tougher for it all, and yet someone or something yanked the carpet up from under them.

It’s called a midlife crisis. It’s not just time crawling ever onwards, it also realizing things don’t always work out according to plan, even if you didn’t exactly have one.

Debbie’s fashion boutique is inexplicably losing money despite doing good business. She suspects someone is stealing, like one of her trusted employees. Debbie has trust issues, but not with Desi and Jodi (Fox and Yi). She refuses to not trust them. Ever since Deb was a kid she’s had trust and abandonment issues stemming from when her estranged father, the successful surgeon Oliver (Lithgow) divorced her mom when she was nine. How could she bail on her staff? Um, wait a minnit.

Pete’s indie record label is slumping because he won’t represent new talent, only classic indie rockers…that he likes. Even scoring a record deal with the venerable British rocker Graham Parker (himself) isn’t attracting much business. That and Pete’s financial woes are doubled (if not tripled) by his dad Larry (Brooks) who found himself suddenly in the family way due to an all too successful fertilization procedure. Not to mention Pete is the only typical white male American who even knows who Graham Parker is.

Pete and Debbie hemorrhaging cash all over the place. The spats between their kids Sadie and Charlotte (the Apatow girls) are reaching the intestine of an Olympic event. Deb can’t kick smoking. Pete is addicted to sweets. Both are unable to give up the ghosts that embody daddy issues. And to top it all off, our struggling couple are looking down another daunting deadline:

Pete and Debbie are both turning forty.

Dear Lord, who needs a cupcake? How ’bout a loosey?


The Breakdown…

Apatow. You either enjoy him or don’t. Or merely tolerate him. I think I may be in the latter camp.

I dug The 40-Year Old VirginKnocked Up was enjoyable enough, if that’s the adjective to use. Funny People wasn’t really. Haven’t seen Trainwreck (yet). All the movies in his oeuvre have a sort of “take it or leave it” quality about them. Either go along for the ride or get kicked to the curb, and make sure to establish how not cool you are to appreciate such breathtaking scatological discourse. It’s all about the fractured human condition. Ever hear of Sartre?

This Is 40 follows in Apatow’s usual vein. Clumsy romance, the strains of relationships (both family and romantic), one too many sight gags involving weed and/or booze, megadoses of pop culture references that only…well, a guy like me would get. All of which hangs together in a ramshackle fashion like rats abandoning a sinking ship, yet still makes sense anyway against all odds and breaking many unspoken rules about making movie.

Clutter never has seemed to bother Apatow much, though. His movies will go on as long as they have to in order to make their message known. Or simply entertain you. Or frustrate you. Or whatever. Still, 40 is patchwork entertaining with all the above Apatow hallmarks (including working with the same actors, who are usually great). And discounting all the meatball surgical direction of 40, it all hung together pretty well—like Calder mobile made of fart jokes—but I did have a nagging concern that I just couldn’t shake about 40. It was about the plot.

There wasn’t one.

The flick was strung together by a series of vignettes that did not provide a cohesive narrative, just scenes pertinent to the overarching idea of what Apatow thought it meant to reach middle age. A collage, if you will. If you’ve never seen it (which is unlikely come holiday time) Bob Clark’s perennial fave A Christmas Story toes the same line. It’s also a series of vignettes strung together with a common thread of little Ralphie getting his ultimate Xmas present. Half the film isn’t even about Xmas, let alone the wishes for the ideal gift. There is no plot, just scenes to entertain, not unlike a few of artsy-fartsy Jim Jarmusch’s arthouse cinema for the masses. No story. Nope. Just a theme. And with 40, there was barely even that.

It got tricky fast for Apatow to let me in on where the hell was he going. The man used to be a stand-up comic, and his credentials led to him co-creating the sketch comedy program The Ben Stiller Show back in the 90s. I’m gonna assume that Apatow took something away from Stiller, that is how his directorial style “flows.” 40 plays out like sketchy comedy, one wacky bit precedes another wacky bit. Good for sketch comedy, bad for comedy films. Everything getting disjointed and muddled and all head-scratchy ain’t funny, unless you’re in Monty Python, but they broke the mold.

Okay, okay, okay. There are some one-trick pony comedy upstarts out there that have made painfully funny films based almost totally on one-liners and sight gags. The ZAZ team for one (EG: Airplane!, The Naked Gun series, etc), 99% of Mel Brooks’ catalog and the Marx Brothers’ antics to name a few. I’ve seen most of those kinds of films, and precious few have anything approaching sticking to the narrative.

But they have plots, and Apatow cannot have his both ways. You cannot direct a comedy film comparable to a sketch show, and some splash and dash by introducing insight into the lives of a family in distress and rely on Family Guy-like pabulum/Gen X pop culture conventions to stand in for a cohesive script. 40 came across to me as plundered the endless well of 90s nostalgia to lure us in. But I got tired of South Park after its second season. I got the joke real quick like: enjoying pop culture en masse is always pleasing, and that’s a gyp. The literal translation from Latin is “a return to home.” Sounds like comedy cheating to me. Based on that precept, Apatow was shoehorning gags in the very slight crevices of a potential story. Like with poor Ralphie, there were underlying themes to 40, but there was no underlying direction, which I felt it was so muddled.

There. Now please open your textbooks to page…

BONK!

Moving up to empty bottles now, eh? Hm. Might deserve it.

Since the rant was cleaved in twain and regarded as a term paper I’m going to get all collegiate and analytical on 40‘s ass. After what I was treated to, the curious will thank me later.

What I took away from 40 was a tableau of how white people react to turning forty years of age. That was about it. Scenes upon scenes of the oys and joys of middle aged suburbia and all its trappings with maniac Apatow at the helm. Again, that was pretty much it. Don’t misunderstand me though, there were plenty of laughs—the awkward, self-deprecating kind that is the director’s signature—drawn from a pretty apt portrait of family politics in the 21st Century. The man must’ve taken notes drawn from personal observations of married couples trying to communicate. Poor communication is another well Apatow draws from when creating his comedy worlds. That and, hell, being Gen X himself making movies to personify a whole generation’s cynicism and anxiety.

I spoke of my generation’s obsession with pop culture as identity. There was a subtext to 40 that keenly addressed that trap. Was the film trying to make Gen X feel old, yet still “cool?” Back to that nostalgia fest again. It was one idea of a paltry few that held this sketch comedy together. We can all rally around screaming Pixies’ songs in the car, much to our kids’ chagrin as well as…everything we do to our kids’ chagrin. Gen X is terminally trapped in their 20s, always pushing against that feeling of “What happened?” I do. I have a kid. I like the Pixies and she’s never heard of them, despite the fact she has free reign over my iTunes library and can have access to all their albums including the reunion ones. Means something to me, now and then, but she loves My Chemical Romance and TikToks of MCR and neither of the three things were around in my 20s so I just lean back. Lean back into that trip realm of “What happened?”

Let’s expound on that, shall we? My generation is arrested development personified. Apatow gets this, which is why his films soar on wink wink nudge nudge. It’s the same as what I commented about before: Family Guy and South Park humor. Dropping the dime on pop culture without really considering it. It works for us, since we were/are so media drenched. Don’t believe me? My generation created “binge watching.” We also claimed that too much TV made you stupid. Perhaps Apatow’s movies are a reflection of that. At least his characters magnify that conceit.

When I was in college in the late 90s, in my early 20s, I thought I had it knocked when it came to personal identity. I was an English scholar, focused on writing and education. I was in the band and played a few different instruments to varying levels of skill. I was a punker/raver guy, replete with leather, baggy torn jeans, broken wing fashion sense and multiple piercings (most self-administered). I had a healthy library, both books and music. I was a member of the anime club and made sure to keep abreast of what Spidey was up to each and every month. I ran with many crowds but was always myself.

“What happened?”

Maturity. Parenthood. Bills. And being 40 does not warrant one to go around looking like Joey Ramone and Keith Flint had a baby. Both are dead. ‘Nuff said. Still collect comics, though. Those were my halcyon days, but I never realized it until I hit 40. Such angst it well illustrated by Pete and Debbie; they’re not afraid of middle age. They want to scream out loud they are still relevant, if only to themselves.

Pete and Debbie are the self-appointed gatekeepers of cool, despite what they deem cool is lost on the Instagram crowd. Debbie owns a semi-failing chi chi boutique in a business world where such things are no longer viable (that’s what Etsy is for). That and she’s in denial of her actual age. Pete runs a flailing indie record label promoting sundown artists that only he deems worthy based on personal artistic merit when what he needs is a Lady Gaga. I like both Parker and Gaga. Pete’s in denial of being out of touch with an audience. Any audience. Couples always fight about sex and money. Such things are not necessary endemic to a mid-life crisis, but through Apatow’s lens it sure seems that way.

Despite my griping, the man does have a way with a camera. His illustrations of aging Gen X frustrations are attentively apt. I’ve been there. Like parents getting caught by their kids doing anything they don’t want them to see. I’m not just talking about the silly, clumsy REDACTED scene, I’m talking about arguing over non-finances being frittered away by flying in the Rumour to back up Graham like back in the day to a half full club date. Like hacking into the kids iPad to scan their texts, or even monitor the store for possible theft. Don’t these idiots know what’s good for them?!? Sorry guys, your kids don’t care about your fleeting dreams. They care about you and getting fed on a regular basis. Wake up.

But no. No they won’t. They don’t have to. It’s the other side of 40‘s coin. Celebrate and dissect our generation getting old, then go into screaming denial when such an epiphany comes. Although Apatow’s work here is scattershot, his message (if there is one) here is there is always an element of deception creeping in order to keep the status quo status between family, work and ego. Denial is the watchword of 40 and Gen X. All will be well in the end run if we deny an end run.

My take is pretty heavy on such a frayed film. What it lacked in substance, originality and cohesion good jokes and a stellar cast stuck to my ribs. But in the endgame 40 feels like there was no solid story. And in particular no resolution. It just ends. That might’ve been some kind of existential meditation on how life gets frittered away on outside influences, within and without.

So what? Is there a message here with 40? Middle age sucks? Family sucks? Lady GaGa sucks? Everything sucks? Or does it all work out somehow?

Well, recall that this was an Apatow movie so insert dick joke here and go along with the ride.

Get it?


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? A mild rent it. It’s funny, but needs some Krazy Glue to hold the imperfect narrative together. That and it’s aimed at a specific demographic, insinuated like when I feel a headache coming on and pay close attention to Jeopardy!‘s second commercial break. Here comes the rooster.


The Musings…

  • “Forty can suck my dick!” Yep.
  • As Apatow’s films roll ever onward, he must accept the value of an editor, and not include outtakes and gag reels within the movie. Gag reels go at the end of the movie. This might explain why such a 90 minute movie needlessly bloats into over 2 hours. Just saying.
  • “Sometimes I wish just one of you had a dick.” “Well, we don’t want one.” Modern parenting.
  • I’m actually a big fan of Graham Parker. No, really.
  • “You’re so mean since your body got weird.” Such knows no generation.
  • Scripts are nice sometimes.
  • “Are you trying to start a fight?”
  • Was the entire birthday party scene improvised? I’d like to believe so.
  • “Hello. There are children around.”
  • You ever notice how often I bring up retro gaming as a metaphor and/or barometer of cultural awareness? Um, how old did I say I was again, you nerf herder?
  • “Don’t blink!”

The Next Time…

Dive! Dive! U-571 is a Nazi sub! Launch torpedoes! At her Allied crew! Featuring Jon Bon Jovi! You read that right!


 

RIORI Presents Installment #179: Barry Sonnenfeld’s “RV” (2006)



The Players…

Robin Williams, Cheryl Hines, Joanna “JoJo” Levesque and Josh Hutcherson, with Jeff Daniels, Kristin Chenoweth and Will Arnett.


The Basics…

A classic scenario. An overworked dad needs to reconnect with his family and plans a vacation. You know, to relax and get away from it all. To the perfect vacation spot to chill and definitely get away from it all. But the very reason Dad needs a break follows him down, and such pressure from work defiantly gets him away from all that plagues him.

So now what? Risk his career or risk his family? Both! Let’s rent a clunky RV and head out to Hawaii!

Um, who’s got the map?


The Rant…

As many movies have informed/warned us full-blown family vacations are rarely ever what they’re cracked up to be. Except the whole cracking up part. That’s a given.

Oh sure, it seems like a good idea at first. Whether it’s a road trip with no real destination in mind (or at least mediocre one), a week at the beach, blazing a trail through the great outdoors or dedicating just one weekend to cleaning out under the couch cushions—eventually to the couch itself—to find that dang Amazon Fire remote that got lost one day after the installation. And if that isn’t quality family time, what is (besides also finding all that loose change so one may buy a replacement)?

It’s that nagging “quality family time” bit, that’s what always trips the trip up. As we’ve learned from quarantine (at this time of writing) being cooped up with your loved ones for too long devolves into the love scene from Lord Of The Flies. Whatever skewed and misguided Rockwell-esque dream trip you were imagining stresses you the f*ck out when it doesn’t come to fruition. And why is that? Because Rockwell painted ideals, not actuality, and your imagination has been palsied by too much work, pointless PowerPoint presentations, lousy coffee and those irritating motivational posters that litter your office walls like so many stray bullet holes. One always makes vacation plans when one is desperate to get lost, an end-of-the-rope kinda scenario. How can you think straight when you’re so stressed out? Right.

Getting away from the humdrum is necessary once and again, and of course there are good parts and bad parts to that idea. Especially if you’re strung out at both ends. The good’s obvious: heading away from said humdrum! To the beach for swimming and sun! To the woods for camping and hiking! To Vegas for free shrimp toast and to lose and lose again! Change of scenery is what it comes down too, kinda like that Jimmy Buffet tune, “Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes.” At least that’s what one expects. Hopes.

Now this is the rub. An essential need in going on vacation is a routine. This facet may be why vacations get so damned stressful, Rockwell notwithstanding. Okay, home/work life is getting you down and you demand an escape. Understood. However in order to take a vacation you must leave that routine—that lifeline—at home for a while, which is in and of itself stressful. Sure, you might’ve gotten tired of dopey Reddit forums and resolve to not touch your phone on your getaway, but by day three you’re back at it again, all wiry and frustrated. See where I’m going here? A vacation is as only as relaxing the further you leave your daily routine behind, however in order to enjoy a vacation your daily routine must be put in perspective; you don’t give it up. You can’t. It’s SOP. You can’t appreciate a vacation unless you measure it against your normal life, and that normal life is what you get homesick for by day three. Doubt me? How many times have you been on holiday when someone in your family/party says something like: “Wonder what the others are doing back home?” or “This sure beats your desk job, right?” Folks don’t truly appreciate vacations at face value. All they are is distraction. Distractions that come with distractions, like scrolling trough Reddit again, foaming at the mouth all the while. And of course you all have to come home eventually, lest have the RCMP form a search party.

BTW: Why is it called Reddit when most posts are written by folks who obviously can’t read and simply adore comma faults?

English lessons aside, one takes a vacation to escape the stress and strain of the daily grind. One gauges how good the trip is against your daily grind. Eventually one needs pieces of that daily grind to deal with the stress and strain of a vacation. Out comes the iPad you should’ve left at home and whatnot. Sure, that hotel room sure is sweet, but that’s not your bathroom. Stocked with rinky-dink soaps and shampoo bottles that aren’t your brand and you didn’t bother bringing your brand anyway because, hey, the hotel provides soap.

You get it. You have to take it with you, otherwise you can’t appreciate the getaway, and you need some anchor with a very, very long chain to keep you balanced. Seems like a lot of baggage to carry while you carry your baggage to the trunk of the sighing minivan. You can leave but you can never escape.

I know, I know. I’ve once again shellacked a cynical veneer across a universally wonderful idea like a vacation. But am I wrong? When I was a pup I was glad—happy—to spend another summer on Fire Island (well away from the gay communities, which sounded like fun incarnate but I didn’t know any better). However over the years the conveniences of the mainland ever creeped onto my summer idyll. First it was my CD player. Then the VCR with a clutch of choice tapes. Then the NES (so long sunset watching). Then cable. Then BOOM, I was home again away from home with no homework. At least there were beaches, but being in the sun between 11 AM and 3 PM were bad for my skin and I was working my way through Legend Of Zelda‘s second quest and…

A trap of bringing too much home with me. Some of it by choice, like the Nintendo. Some of it unavoidable, like hanging and dealing with the extended family. Some of it essential, like the Nintendo. You can’t really “get away from it all.” That’s a myth. You always bring something along to ground you, something you. Hopefully it’s something pleasant, like that book you meant to read, or a pair of field glasses to do some birdwatching, or your Nintendo.

CLONK!

Right. Got it.

What I’m getting at is that if you go hit the road, you gotta throw out a safety line; bring along a bit of the home life you’re tired of to take the edge off. Bring something “me.” Your phone, a book, your 3DS, whatever. Better yet, take your vacation alone. Otherwise your time away hearing other mouths whine and warble can be…well, kinda stressful…


Bob Munro (Williams) is an overextended workaholic of which he is keenly aware. He’s been losing touch with his family for years, always in the grind to make him feel like spent coffee dregs. It’s to be understood he’s good worker, and has earned his bones, but his sympathetic side to his burnt out co-workers has earned him the reputation as a softie. It’s all about the bottom line and whom one must answer to.

That one is Bob’s shrill boss Todd (Arnett), a scheming, self-entitled boor who after his business garden party was ruined by Bob’s leftist teenage daughter Cassie (JoJo) Bob must atone for her sins. Guilt by association and all that. Turn over this ailing account Colorado way and maybe, just maybe Bob’ll get back on Todd’s good side (if he even has one).

But wait. Understanding his predicament that work has trumped family for far too long, Bob booked a vacation in Hawaii for the summer. Hawaii and Colorado are not next to each other Bob explains to Todd. But it’s either a fresh proposal or his job, which means surfing has to wait. Is there a work around? Have a cake and share it too?

Sure! Rent a big ol’ dumb RV and rewire the Hawaiian getaway to a cross-country road trip to go “camping” in Colorado. Bob’s long put-upon wife Jamie (Hines) isn’t so sure about the idea and earth-crunchie Cassie and prison thug-in-training son Carl (Hutchinson) hate it. What about Hawaii? What about beaches and surfing? What the blank’s in Colorado that so urgent?

For one, Bob’s career. For two, winning back his family. What’s going to take priority?

Most likely figuring out the dang seat belt on this mother-trucker…


Both Barry Sonnenfeld and Robin Williams are frustrating talents.

On the whole, Barry’s work is ideal for family fun. Big, brash stuff like The Addams Family movies, the Men In Black franchise and the goof-tastic, so-bad-it’s-good send up of TV’s Wild Wild West. He’s never tried to win awards, he just wants to have fun and wants the audience to take his hand. However when the guy gets lazy or simply complacent it shows. “Fun” films like For Love Or Money, Nine Lives and Big Trouble are terrible yawns, as if the director swore off coffee in favor of an evening melatonin regimen. Barry’s either really into his films, or just calls it in. There’s no grey area that says he’s trying. Instead, his movies get trying. His directing style has bipolar 2.

Same could be said of Robin. He had a lot of good roles nailed down, enough to dismiss (but not eradicate) the crapola he churned out either trying to learn how to ply his trade or just pay the wireless bill on time. Consider this: for every Dead Poet’s Society, The Fisher King or Good Will Hunting he has to answer for HookToys and Father’s Day. Granted, the latter movies are not the former, but it was the same Williams all along. The guy wasn’t stupid, but maybe chose to be stupid just to let the manic comic man-child come out and play. It was more bad than good most of the time, and we as the audience were made to suffer. Care to watch Jack again, anyone?

Pairing such manic depressive talents together made for a very schizo comedy with RV. As far as Shakespeare saw it a comedy has a happy ending and a tragedy has a sad ending. RV twists that conceit backwards. It’s a comedy that we wish to end badly. Like with a thud.

Not surprisingly, RV feels cookie cutter. Ever since National Lampoon’s Vacation we all know what to expect from vacation movies. Everything that can and does go awry and all the antics can only be labeled as “zany.” Not funny, mind you, but definitely zany. BTW, what the f*ck does zany even mean? It means clownish, which is an apt term to describe Robin’s acting and Barry’s direction with RV. Except the usual motormouth comic histrionics are missing here, as well as the goofy zest Barry tries to imbue into his craft. Nope, what we got here are two very tired people. The air was out of the balloon before the opening credits were over.

This is a dumb thing to say but Robin was quite adept at tickling our collective funny bone back in the day. No, really. Look it up. Some of his early onscreen fluff—Popeye, Moscow On The Hudson, The Survivors, etc—just that, disposable entertainment, where acting craft came after the chuckles. His schtick both served and later haunted him as well, I feel. Over the years he became less coked-up man-child to solid character actor. He even got an Oscar under his boot. However all that time since Dead Poets’ Society audiences could never truly shake Robin’s—well—zany sense of humor and ADHD timing. Hey, when you land roles in films like Dead Again and The Final Cut it’s doubtful you’re going to reach for your old whoopee cushion any time soon.

So here, with this fluff titled RV a singularity appeared over Robin’s head and delivered a character completely devoid of clownish. In a comedy. A road trip comedy. Instead of rapid fire dialogue chased with quips aplenty we have Robin as frustration incarnate. Mostly with his character’s predicament but perhaps also with his career choices. It’s the first time I ever saw the man work a slow burn rather than manic panic. It’s oddly refreshing, but not for here and not now. Robin sells it so well it never appears like he’s having any fun at being Bob Munro. And he’s not. Even as the rest of the main cast proffer up their uptight, antisocial charm, Robin was living it in this movie. Come to think of it, none of the main cast seemed to having fun. That was sort of an inside joke at the film’s outset, but it sputtered, rusted and went clank by the end of the first act.We’re all in agreement here that Barry prized capital F fun in all his movies. Didn’t happen with RV. It just came across unfocused and wheezing. Ridiculous, and not in the best way.

The flaws with RV are myriad, but ultimately boils down to this fact: the movie just wasn’t funny. Beyond the stiff performances by Robin et al there were a lot of technical hiccups that pulled what few cards the movie had against its chest. Conflict is important is telling stories, even if it supposed to be for laughs. Hard to build that when the director is in a hurry. There was too much foreshadowing, still I couldn’t wait to see how the story would pan out. No surprises at all, but it’s like when my friend spoiled the twist in The Sixth Sense. Okay, I know Bruce Willis REDACTED, now I just wanna how we get there. Seeing everything coming is (say it with me) not fun.

Now hold on there. I’ve only outright hated just one movie here at RIORI (EG: Project X), and have always tried to find something redeeming about a big batch of bleah. Too put it simply, what was wrong with the Gornike’s? Jeff Daniels’ and his film family were a hoot and a holler, and much more interesting than the Munros, as well as enjoyable. The “down home” gig of the Gornikes might be real cornpone, but they’re a lot wiser and happier than Bob and company. Might be a lesson in there somewhere, like there ever is sequel to RV in the works (never gonna happen) ditch the Munros and bring back the Gornikes. Remember that crucial scene in National Lampoon’s Vacation with Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie? There you go.

We were trying to laugh here. We were really trying, but it was all so bland. Robin’s (and Daniels’) comedic talents were all but wasted here. Both called it in to some level. Even decent agents can make mistakes. Despite all the hackery I was really disappointed in Barry’s unfunny direction. Like almost everything Blake Edwards cut after Breakfast At Tiffany’s, the law of diminishing returns (and laughs) can’t be avoided unless you care. Believe in your product, lest no one else will.

Best be getting to returning that rental. Got that deposit and all.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. Pretty sluggish and joyless flick for being about a cross-country road trip. Don’t forget to buckle up!


The Musings…

  • “Try to remember we’re not friendly.”
  • The whole RENT ME thing is a decent metaphor for Bob’s predicament. And Robin’s.
  • I lost track of my facepalms.
  • “I’ll get some music!”
  • It’s amazing how technology can date a movie so fast.
  • Why do I get the feeling that the motivation here is all about cleavage?
  • “Wipe your feet.” Thank you unknown Amy Schumer!
  • Okay, the “not meat” scene’s final edit was great.
  • “Honey…honey…”

The Next Time…

Willem Defoe and Robert Pattinson are trapped inside The Lighthouse they’re supposed to man through the densest of rolling fog. However insanity can really hamper one’s ability to stay focused.


 

RIORI Presents Installment #177: Brendan & Emmett Malloy’s “Out Cold” (2001)



The Players…

Jason London, Zach Galifianakis, Derek Hamilton, AJ Cook, Flex Alexander, David Koechner and Lee Majors, with David Denman, Caroline Dharvernas, Thomas Lennon, Victoria Silvstedt and Willie Garson.


The Basics…

Once again it’s a story of a venerated mom ‘n’ pop business being shoved aside by some upstart, fancy-schmancy, “better” version, threatening the local, maybe too long-in-the-tooth operation.

What’s that? A restaurant that gives discounts for fire fighters? No. The local hardware store being edged out by some big box store where no employee knows your name? Uh-uh. A giant, corporate multiplex theatre running the beloved drive-in into the ground that still show Saturday matinee double features? Nope.

It’s Bull Mountain, a ski resort in Alaska, being overhauled into a frou frou, gentrified tourist trap. New money in favor of freestyling and jibbing? This will not stand. Not if the reliably unreliable ski instructors at Bull Mountain have anything to say about it.

Let’s hit the slopes!


The Rant, pt. 1…

This is gonna be somewhat academic. Never fear, it’ll be quick. Just a quick pinch.

Hey. Another co-directed movie. Back to back here at RIORI. It’s a coincidence; I pick these films at random. This filming method allows me to wax even more philosophical about how such movies get shot. Call me psychic, but I think Out Cold is not in the same league as The Road. Might be a judgment call, but I’m making it.

In the previous installment I spoke briefly of how does a film achieve synergy with two directors. Two visions, two egos, two potentially hardheaded filmmakers trying to reach an accord to get the job done and done well. Make it seamless, even before the editors take their turn. I turned to Quora last time to get some feedback and most of the forum agreed on compromise and good rapport as vital to get down and get with it. All responses sounded pretty reasonable. I got to wondering if there was something more. I dug in. I am a geek, and it is my duty to spout opinions I deem necessary to share with the lot of y’all about how films get pieced together. I’m doing a public service after all.

Here’s what I extrapolated: if you think about it, and being a movie dork like myself all movies have more than one director. If you consider multiple units or specialized experts (EG: stunts, F/X and post-production to name a few) the majority of American films are directed by several heads put together. Oh sure, the head director gets all the accolades and glory, but what would a film like the original Matrix look like if it hadn’t had Woo Ping Yuan to oversee the stunts and gift his acumen of “wire fu?” Right. In short, it’s all about a group effort to get from studio to streaming. Collaboration and probably some head-butting. That’s the angle I wanna tackle here. Not the head-butting though. Not yet.

I bumbled around Reddit for clear, informative and above all non-geeky discourse. Kinda hard to do on those forums, because once a know-it-all chimes in, all the know-it-alls chime in effectively shoving the sane and non-salivating voices away leaving shavings of uniformed opinions, informed options, half-baked opinions and opinions strewn all over the cutting room floor. Reasonable discourse, professional input and proper grammar jumped ship months ago.

Fortunately that didn’t happen in the forum I uncovered. Again, it was on Reddit (yes, I was surprised, too). Here’s what I learned: most of a director’s job is to work solely with the actors. They drive the story, right? So the director drives them. Any other technical aspect of shooting the film is handled by the other directors and their crew. Keeping that in mind, it’s a pretty straightforward albeit time-consuming skill to be Scorsese or Spielberg or Waters. Of course some directors do better PR than others; they are behind the camera and have learned how to be in front of it also. Two heads are better than none only works if the directors are keeping their foci on the game and not fretting about the nits and nats of production. That stuff the other dudes are in charge of. Or if there’s some bad vibes (brewing) between the pair the end result might be both losing sight of the common goal. Or one of the co-directors is goldbricking. That’s pretty much how the road to Development Hell is paved according to the actors and amateur auteurs on Reddit.

I think that was the first and perhaps only time that social media was helpful, no BS and well-constructed. Glad I wasn’t investigating how best to feed a fussy cat. Maybe next time.

What’s beneficial to a movie directed by two people? And what is unique in getting such films made? Synergy, plain and simple. It’s that two heads thing. Sometimes it does benefit production if one director focuses on the acting and the other supervises the tech stuff, so long in the endgame they’re on the same page. Must work well with co-directors who are related (EG: the Coens, the Wachowskis, the Hughes, etc), since they “get” each other hopefully. You’re more likely to be open to opinion/criticism to some you really know and trust. What’s more is that the two directors have different skillsets in getting the job done. Citing the Coens again, ever notice in the opening credits of their films you see a lot of “co-this” and “co-that?” The brothers trade off one another very well, and since neither brother is solely in charge of directing or writing or producing a different movie twice, you get a good mix. The best of both worlds if you will.

Well, that’s kind of how the Reddit discussion spelled out. Sounded logical to me, but I have a theory of my own (of course). The subject matter of the movie. Dig this: we all liked the original Matrix. Existential Philip K Dick-like hard sci-fi with cool fight scenes that also tickled your intellect some. Good fun. And the “brothers” should’ve stuck with sci-fi. Instead they delved into high fantasy. Both genres share similarities, but it’s like comparing a Ferrari to a Volkswagen. Sure, they’re both cars, well-designed, well-built and guaranteed to get you from A to B in a timely fashion (however the Ferrari will prob get you there faster). But they’re not the same. The “sisters” may have put their all into Speed RacerCloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending, but they missed the mark, because they didn’t understand the nuances of the fantasy genre. Fantastical doesn’t automatically mean fantasy. And no budget set aside 70/30 for CGI can fix a marred script.

The putting together of heads works the best when the co-directors are working in a genre they’ve proven successful with prior. Never minding the Coens, we’ve had Faxon and Rash’s The Way, Way Back, with their experience in quirky comedy in writing Little Miss Sunshine came in handy. Hoofer Gene Kelly wanted to cut a musical like the flicks he performed in, so he hooked up with his choreographer Stan Donen to co-direct Singin’ In The Rain, one of the greatest movie musicals ever (and one that still holds up to this day). There’s the original Poltergeist, with Tobe “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” Hooper at the helm and master fantasist Steven Spielberg (with the always scary Jaws under his belt) as his wingman. Let’s not forget the Hughes Bros with twisting, cringeworthy drama (in the best way) with Menace II Society, From Helland The Book Of Eli. They’re good at being gritty, and none of the team players I mentioned here didn’t really stray from a winning formula.

I guess some genres prove more flexible for co-directors. Or how they get flexed. One thing’s for certain it’s all about the synergy between co-directing seminal horror, resolute drama or silly, lowbrow slobs vs slobs comedies. Which brings us to…


The Rant, pt. 2…

Whew. Done with that. Sorry for being so academic. Time to get to the real meat of this week’s matter. Huh-huh. Meat.

Okay, classic formula: slobs vs snobs comedy. Lotta golden examples out there in Movieland. We’ve had Animal House (prob my fave comedy, always reliable), Caddyshack, Meatballs, Revenge Of The Nerds, Stripes, Trading Places, etc. The list goes on, mostly with good results. Sure, the formula is always the same, but need I remind you how the blues are played? Nah. What would be simpler is to say how the game is played, interpreted, tweaked, sent on its ear and still have some great lowbrow humor, lumpy fart jokes and new, devilish applications of beer. It’s the slob-com CV.

However—

Drop that sandwich. Won’t be that guy. Not another fussy list with an answer key. You all out there know good from bad, and since slobs vs snobs comedies are fairly straightforward/unsophisticated I ain’t gonna wax philosophical about either good or bad. I did enough waxing above, so much so I need new eyebrows. Let’s just play it as it lays: slob comedies are joyfully dumb, will never win any awards and that’s the idea, on both fronts. It’s stupid fun, and we all need that now and again.

Since these premises are always broad, loaded with misfit characters plucked right from the funny pages and always have a happy ending. It’s the old blues schtick again. Endlessly riffing on tried and true notes. However none of these films are interchangeable. Oh sure, the setup is always the same, but there always has to be some kind of cagey nature as the plot unfolds. Most slob coms have a sort of improv voice to them (and many are loaded with such on-the-fly scenes), almost like watching a stand-up comedy act. Yes, and a lot of the bits are populated with erstwhile comics; think Saturday Night Live alumni (EG: Bill Murray, John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, Eddie Murphy, Adam Sandler, etc). In any event, there’s always this overarching feeling in such comedies that anything can go wrong at a given moment, and usually does.

A good slob com requires spontaneity. I know, I know. Most comedy does. It’s gotta. You need to keep that ball of wax a-rollin’ along. Some kind of comedies require a slow burn or some time to digest what just happened (most of Woody Allen’s funnies came to mind). Black comedies make you feel uncomfortable about laughing (think Harold And Maude, MASH or Withnail And I). Don’t get me started on those Monty Python flicks. However like those rapid-fire ZAZ comedies, any lull in the shenanigans and we immediately lose interest. If a good portion of a slob com requires a nonstop slough of dick jokes, boozing it up and pratfalls any exposition crashes the roller coaster ride. Don’t believe me? Watch Animal House again. Every darn scene is either snide, gross, scatological and has plenty of collateral damage. No time to sit back and chew it over. We gots horses to murder.

Okay, so speed is crucial, as well as a nervous anticipation of everything going off the rails. Bad taste in humor, natch. A feeling of winging it and often does. All these elements make up the backbone of a slob com. My rules. I call it like I see it. Nyah. Refute me.

But every experiment in madness needs an out of control control. What happens when a slob com is a hit-or-miss? That’s also an aspect of the genre; let’s throw these jokes against the wall and see what goes ker-splat. I mean what happens when a slob com may come across as unhinged and maybe unfocused? Like fog on little cat’s feet? Or rather tracks in the snow?

I’m glad you asked.


The Story…

Ah, the Great Outdoors. And nothing is as great as winter in Alaska. Especially if you get to spend the days outdoors at the Last Frontier’s no frills ski resort: Bull Mountain. That’s how Rick (London) and his ski bum buddies feel. Fresh powder, thrashing and beer. Lotsa beer. Lotsa snowboards. Lotsa goofing off. Life is grand.

Rick has all he needs, as does his low-life chums. We have Luke (Galifianakis), the resident practicing boozer, approaching pro. His dizzy bro PigPen (Hamilton), who’s better at shredding than…everything else. Cutie pie Jenny (Cook) who can drink anyone under the table and into the basement. Klutzy Anthony (Alexander), who prob should stick to double planks. So out-of-the-closet barkeep Lance (Denman) that he’s in desperate need of a BJ with a mustache. And slightly demented Stumpy (Koechner) expert on all things Bull Mountain, booze and not knowing what time zone he’s in.

Despite the colorful cast, willing to be willing, the mountain’s not profitable. It’s bleeding cash. Owner Ted Muntz (Garson)—who ungratefully inherited the place from his late, drunken, ski-crazy father—is setting his sights higher. Bull Mountain should be sold off to a resort franchise, attract a monied clientele instead the dippy locals and low-rent tourists. And boorish, wealthy entrepreneur John Majors (um, Majors) with his resort empire crossing the Lower 48 has his checkbook at the ready.

Majors first wants to know if his potential investment has…well, potential. So Ted shackles Rick into giving Majors the dime tour. Rick’s not so keen on Bull Mountain get all yuppied up, but Majors hints that if he helps sway the locals into buying into his franchise, there might be some nice kickbacks waiting.

Rick’s torn. A better job drenched in cappuccino, or the lure of seasonal debauchery, shreddin’ the gnar and more debauchery? What’ll his crew think if he turns to the Dark Side? What’ll his rent say when it’s due again? “What about last month?” What’s a professional slacker snowboard slinger to do?

Seek wisdom within what ol’ Papa Muntz always said after he had a few and a few more:

“Bull Mountain! Don’t go changin’!”


The Breakdown…

There’s another thing that gives the slob com that je ne sais quoi: the cast. I think the wing trait of a slob com is likable, relatable characters regardless whether being heroes or bullies. Just as long as both camps are cheerfully goofy and clueless. You know what the literal translation of je ne etcetera is? “I do not know what.” That’s pretty accurate for a film of this ilk. And boy, does Out Cold have that I don’t know what going for it big time.

So we got slobs vs snobs for the New Millennium, and wouldn’t ya know it but it’s Meatballs on ice. Like that prerequisite, perennial rainy day at camp movie, Cold has its alluring charm. The movie has a homespun feel to it, mostly thanks to its lowbrow but not dumb characters and their jokes. In addition to the yuk-yuks the Malloy brothers cut their teeth on snowboarding videos so they knew a few things (what did I say about synergy?), there was a certain feeling of whimsy during the run of the show. The cast felt like family, directed by family. I guess Cold is best described as “chummy.” Equal parts goofy and friendly, an ideal combo. You’d like to hang with these dudes, if only for one night out. And only one.

Okay. We got the likable characters down, even the rotten ones like Lee Majors’ Majors (Christ, that’s confusing. Was it intentional?) and the icky Thomas Lennon’s toady act. To think after years of being a TV action star, Majors missed his chance at comedy until here, and his does a good job at it, too. C’mon, there’s nothing funnier in villain being boorish, snarky and quick with a quip. Majors did this is spades, and with nary a Million Dollar Man joke cracked. Majors’ role was a highlight of the goofy fun. You wanted to shake his hand and slap him at the same time.

The rest of the friendly, albeit bland crew were witty in fits and starts. The pacing was sluggish, and had definite feelings of “get on with it” even if I knew all would out in the end. Still, the folks were likable. Heck, this was London’s best role since Dazed And Confused, sorry to say. At least it didn’t go straight to SyFy. Truth be told, I liked all the characters…in a muted way. Maybe I could see where all of it was going as I have seen it before, but there was a general lack of tension in Cold. Right, we had gags aplenty, dappled with sexual dalliances, alcohol abuse and Galifianakis and Hamilton taking turns doing a two-man Three Stooges routine so may argue tension in a comedy like this alien.

WRONG!

Tension is what drives story, and regardless of how dopey, mindless, vulgar and of no redeeming quality a comedy is tailored, there has to be some trouble to overcome. I can’t beat on this chevaline enough, but regardless of genre, pacing and tension are key—key!in how this dope values his flicks. As I said above any slowing down and/or reflection in a slob com dooms it to the bargain bin. Hell, I think that’s where I scored it. At Costco. On Betamax. It skipped.

Sigh. Anyway…

I had a funny thing going on regarding the technical aspects of Cold. There were none. The Malloys got their start in commercials, and the camerawork proves thus. I did like the ski tricks, and the opening scene is doubtless a first in skiing comedies (yes, there have been others, like Hot Dog! and Ski Patrol, neither are worth mentioning here), but the shredding is more of a bookend to an otherwise rote sports comedy. Kinda like a philistine Maltese Falcon. It looked like the directors were trying to sell me something, like snowboards or how snowboarding is cool or how cheap-ass beer is cool or somehow the toilet brush that was Zack’s beard was cool, which may explain the follicular explosion of the past few years. tLike I said, all slobs coms are interchangeable, so even if the skiing shenanigans were cool, I wasn’t buying into it. Hell, I wasn’t even shopping. I just came here to laugh. I didn’t need passive product placement.

I did find myself giggling however, then later laughing out loud (the Casablanca nods were pretty clever). The humor was lowbrow, but not dumb. In truth the wisecracking was pretty sharp, esp thanks to Majors and Galifianakis’ motormouth delivery and the dopey innocence of the rest of the cast. Sure, the dire situation of Bull Mountain getting yuppified was always floating in the background, but it was pressing enough an issue to disrupt the laughs and stupidity. Like I said, all slob coms are the same. Cold must’ve been the most laid back pervy yukfest I ever saw. Truth be told, it was the silliest movie I ever chilled out to. Must’ve been that I dunno what.

Whatever, Cold teetered on the precipice of boring, but ultimately saved by the dopey et al recipe and a likable cast. Might be a gateway to a full blown 80s style comedy revival. Maybe not. Cold does make for a decent Saturday afternoon movie. It gratefully never takes itself, you know.

Don’t forget the beer. And to wax down.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? A mild rent it. Sure, nothing new here, but the cast was cool and I am a sucker for comedies like this. Might’ve been funnier if I were pished before I hit play. Wait…I think I was.


The Stray Observations…

  • “Are you sniffing me?” The dice have been cast.
  • I love that Eve 6 song, God help me.
  • “I am not gonna take romantic advice from somebody who cannot spell romantic or advice…or bong.”
  • I thought black dudes didn’t ski. It’s a new world.
  • “Speaking of testicles, let’s get a beer.”
  • Best gag/outtake reel I’ve seen in a while (that wasn’t animated).
  • “Hey, retard…”
  • Ah, chatrooms. Once the 7th level of the Web.
  • “It’s called the ’80s! Ford was president, Nixon was in the White House, and FDR was running this country into the ground!”
  • Derek Hamilton, the poor man’s Crispin Glover.
  • “I don’t have to write a test to tell ya I take drugs!”
  • I love that Andrew WK song, God help me.
  • “Seize the carp!”

The Next Time…

We bow before the Lords Of Dogtown in awe of their smith grinding, acid drops, bitch slaps and other skateboarding moves, the likes of Nature has never seenAs is it written.


 

RIORI Presents Installment #173: David Gordon Green’s “Your Highness” (2011)



The Players…

Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel and Rasmus Hardiker, with Justin Theroux, Damien Lewis, Toby Jones and Charles Dance.


The Basics…

Sibling rivalry. Anyone who’s had one often shares the oys and joys about the black sheep competing for attention and praise with the white knight. So to speak.

Prince Thadeous has always been blanketed in the shadow of his brother, the golden boy Prince Fabious. Fabious is as noble and fair as Thad is a lout. Seeing no real pressure into saving damsels in distress or doing his part for king—his father, mind you—and country, Thad is comfortable, if only to be spiteful, gambling, getting stoned and practicing at being a professional lothario. King Dad always asking no one what he did to deserve this clown and possible heir apparent? Who knows what may happen to the kingdom after he is gone and Fabious fails to return from slaying the dragon? The castle converted into an opium den, forsooth?

Well, thank Heavens that Fabious is around, and has his kindly betrothed Belladonna to keep him grounded…until a nasty wizard kidnaps her and Fab loses his sh*t.

Only now can Thad be of any use to his baby bro, let alone the kingdom, in getting Bella back home safe as well as ensure he doesn’t get banished. No more foot rubs, wine or wizard weed. It’s time for Thad to earn his royal bones. Or else get packing.

Who says chivalry is dead?


The Rant…

What ends with fantasy films and their fandom begins with hearth baked pizzas.

Wait! Please come back!

Thank you, and leave your shoes by the door. This might get a bit sticky. And will get a bit bizarre.

I went on record with the Oz, The Great And Powerful installment that I’m not much for fantasy films, but I’m not made of stone either. Certain flights of cinematic fancy do tickle me. The original Wizard Of Oz, natch. The Thief Of Arabia is a stone cold classic and was way ahead of its time regarding special effects and minimal cheeze, proving fantasy can ne more than just kids’ stuff. There’s Krull (a prime example of a movie that has “cult fave” smeared all over its noble gob). The Neverending Story was dark, twisted and pretty cool for that. The Princess Bride? Nuff said. And if we accept the Star Wars saga as fantasy and not sci-fi (or a religious doctrine to its fans akin to the followers of Scientology, which was esablished by a S/F writer to boot), I enjoy that stuff, too. And I do not care whether Han shot first or not. Quit whining. It’s just a movie, invest in some Clearasil and just have fun.

Those “true” fantasy franchises, however, are lost on me. Never seen a Tolkien flick, but I did read The Hobbit when I was 12 (it was a qualification then for pre-teen boys), which gave me the general flavor of such stories (that I didn’t take to). Those Divergent series diverge. Who’s Harry Potter and why is Danny Radcliffe starkers on broadway for Equus? Sounds muggle-y to me. I like to keep my feet on Earth, so to speak, when it comes to fantasy films. To wit, some of my fave films are fantastical, albeit a bit dark, weird, dystopian and sometimes outright weird. Films like Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix trilogy and innumerable anime movies and OVAs that wrangle with the human condition in rather inhospitable settings. Most of the works of Hayao Miyazaki oeuvre follow this principle of humanity borne from fantastic stories; Totoro is a fine demonstration.

I need to have a foot in reality when watching a fantasy movie. The plot device of Bastian reading The Neverending Story cum narrator is a fine example, especially since I saw it as a kid and knew what it was like (and still do) to get wrapped up in a good book. I need a tether like that. I’m not really capable of suspending my disbelief so far as to embrace an entire virtual world of swords and sorcery. Ask any Game Of Thrones follower; to get it is akin to cramming for the SATs 1 hour before the test and the reefer buzz has yet to wear off. I don’t want homework, I want a good movie without water wings, crib notes and the salivating dork screaming in my ear every nanosecond every detail before I register a detail, Cheeto dust staining my jaw an unnatural orange color.

Look, I’m not decrying the genre. I can’t hate a dish I’ve once only merely picked at. I guess my beef is the whole “grandiose” delivery of modern fantasy films, like their release is on par with unravelling DNA’s double helix (and believe me, some of the fans look and act like there’s an extra chromosome floating around in there somewhere). I cannot handle the Nuremberg fandom. I need to see bubbles popped. Like with The Princess Bride. Or even Blade Runner 2049. Light some fire under my ass and grab my attention.

In the best, worst Princess Bride way, Your Highness had a freshly filled Zippo giving me a colonoscopy.

But wait, you may be asking me, “Hey blogger, what does lighting farts have to do with coal fire pizza?”

I’m glad you asked…and boy, this will be ever the dumbest comparison to what’s up and what’s down I had suffered. So join me.

I live in a community where pizza is a big deal. That’s true for a lotto places, like New York or Chicago or Rome. However where I live is not as big as those metropolises; our collective populace wouldn’t even scratch the census forms. Nevertheless, we got mom-and-pop pizza joints out the wazoo and up the ying yang round these parts. I know this to be solid, as I did the math:

Offering comparisons, The Big Apple has a population of 8.3 million souls (calculated in 2017). Where I hail from the greater metro area inhabits 840,000. One fifth of NYC, give or take. According to Quora, there are approximately 32,000 pizza joints in the five boroughs. That’s a lotta cheese. My stomping grounds has, according to Google, (with me adjusting for ads, random hits and dead ends. I have to much spare time) over 70,000 restaurants that sell pizza, including franchises. Where I live covers a bit over 42 square miles; the Five Boroughs covers a bit of 300 square miles.

Do you see what I getting at here? Yes, my math is fuzzy, but if those numbers are correct (and my Calculator app isn’t using Romal numerals again), all adjusted it seems like a relative one to one ratio. We got a lot of pizza joints with a very large, very vocal crowd who can’t wait to crow about where to get an awesome pie, and how your pet choice is substandard. In sum, toss a rock in the air and it’ll most likely land on the roof of a pizza shop ’round here. That or a Denny’s.

Must be only Naples that crows about pizza more than we in the LV do. Not sure why. I think all the red sauce joints were set up in direct retaliation to the original, local fare. Down with PA Dutch pickling f*cking everything—even scrapple. We want baked, circular things that serve as a platter! Stop eating hog maw! You have Wegman’s! And refrigerators! Have a slice and don’t goddam smother it in brine!

Maybe like that. In essence, PA Dutch cuisine is akin to a short bus food truk menu. That was not a misspelling.

Back to the point, such as it is: we got a lotta fans arguing over the same thing as microcosm for the country’s largest city/cultural tossed salad about—of all things—freakin’ pizza. Such fandom and dedication can lead to some very healthy, hearty and misguided stances on who’s the best and why and the differences that make it worth debate. It’s never neapolitan versus deep dish, never crust versus sauce, never a pie cut into eight slices has fewer calories than one cut into ten (it’s a thing here). It’s about a dozen local joints all in competition for your dollar and your palette, and we’re all willing, vocal guinea pigs champing at the bit for a slice and extolling it against your friend’s slice for the same reason. Around here, it’s like the old joke: “What does pizza have in common with sex?” “Even when it’s bad, it’s good.”

My take on all this pizza doggerel? Where does my loyalty lie? Easy. Coupons and Grubhub.

*cold winds whistle through the canyon*

So what’s all this jazz have to do with fantasy film fandom? Be patient. Like a boomerang with a sex drive: it’ll come to you.

In the past two decades or so my city’s downtown was undergoing gentrification. You know: out with the chains and in with the local businesses. Focusing on local history as commerce and generally giving the whole neighborhood a fresh coat of paint. Along with new stores of course came unique shopping opportunities which eventually leads to tourism. A good example of this is how Times Square kicked out the whores and junkies and replaced them with the brightest neighborhood in the world, even after Vegas. In fact, one snow cannot set up business on or near the Square without paying a pretty penny for plasma JumboTron advertising. Considering that, it’s in part how BubbaGump Shrimp Company came into being. I’m just as offended as you are.

So now with my downtown got a wake up call and brushed the eye boogers from it’s new, authentic gas-powered street lights (which stay on 24/7, like some spiritual collective pilot light to make sure we’ll see more money to burn from eager albeit naive tourists. Is there any other kind?), the local restaurant scene began to grow also. There were a few (read: two) bistros that were tentpoles for dining out before the whitewashing. Now there are dozens, all of different gastronomical stripes vying for your dollar, as well as the vital out-of-town cash. We have the bistros, the wine bars, the regular bars, the ma-and-pa Italian joints, the tapas place, the grand hotel and Subway. Now foodies stick out their necks and tongues to both hail and decry all these new places to gorge their tummies and egos until the Rapture.

And of course and you guessed it…

For those of you who have copped a squat here at RIORI before you know that my day job is a cook. I know a bit about food and restaurants. I’ve seen how the sausage is made, both literally and figuratively. Tony Bourdain notwithstanding, restaurant kitchens are indeed a hotbed of culinary experiments, hopefully yielding yummy plates to sell. There’s a lot of heat, hazards and harsh language as well. To call a restaurant kitchen on a busy Friday night organized chaos is to fancy the Atlantic Ocean as damp. Yet through all that wreck and ruin, we’ll get your food out fast and make is seem effortless. We hope.

I feel I’m losing some you. Fear not, I always have a point to make, no matter how flaccid.

Of course the pizza crowd wasn’t left out of this gourmet uprising. We had three new, upscale Italian places that served pie: the coal oven place, the wood oven place, ultra high tech gee whiz bucky gizmo brick oven place (at the place worked at for a time. Guess who thought our pizzas were the best?) and the old stalwarts which had been around forever and outlasted most marriages. You know the places: nuttin’ fancy but reliable. Only the Pyramids are more eternal.

Soon foodies chewed their way out of the wainscot trumpeting about which was better: coal, wood, brick or Mario’s? In my culinary circle, these debates got as intense as the SALT talks, but much more dire. With all the pizza joints in town—”upscale” and otherwise—those who claimed to “know pizza” inside and out and were not flummoxed over the end scene of Inception knew and told all about man and god and mozzarella. It got so crazy that a custom order pizza place opened adjacent to my favorite coffee shop. And really, does tuna and pine nuts really scream “yummy” to you (I sh*t you not. That was two of too many options you had to punish your dinner guests with)? My neighbor was one of the few who got caught up in the folderol and kept putting his two cents in whenever we invited him over for pizza…which gradually began to happen less and less.

The debate was on. Which method of baking a pizza was best? Coal, wood or whatever? Let me tell you something about baking a pizza: all you need is a good, hot oven, regardless of the fuel. Oh sure, burning wood some argue imbues a unique smoky signature on the pie. Well, yeah, however it is usually overrun by the sauce and the cheese and those other goodies you slap on it. Best to reserve that for the cappicola.

No. How it is baked has nothing to do with fire source. All one must do is properly gauge the temperature, the timing and keep that brick hearth scrubbed. Lather, rinse repeat. No mesquite, anthracite or Kingsford necessary. Just steady heat and steady hands.

*pant, pant*

Here is what I am getting at, the parallels of pizza and fantasy films. Dismissing the toppings, the methods and for God’s sake all the albacore and pignolas, all pizzas are the same, even if we feel different. Yes, there are endless variations on a theme, and we have of faves, but at the end of the day its always crust, sauce, cheese, not necessarily in that order. Debating this and debating that ruins one of the simple culinary delights of the past few centuries. Shut up and eat.

That being said, at their base all fantasy films are the same, inasmuch as they virtually all start with the same device—the same Maguffin, if you will—to get the Sisyphusian rock rolling: SOMEONE/THING NEEDS TO BE RESCUED. The key word is “rescue.” Not found, not avenged, not destroyed. RESCUED. Has a romantic air, doesn’t it? Saved, protected, liberated. Better than conquered, acquired or, well, lost. For want of a nail and all of that.

I can hear the grumbles now. Stale, half-eaten crusts clattering onto your plates. “The hell you talking’ ’bout, blogger? You can’t compare Monty Python’s Holy Grail to Excalibur to The Princess Bride to the Tolkien movies!”

Au contraire. I can and I will fantasy geeks. And I deliberately truncated the Pythons’ film title just to get your anal anuses all taut and mean. You’re welcome.

Rescue, that’s the rub. There is always something to rescue in a fantasy film. Frodo’s gotta rescue Middle Earth from the doom of Sauron. Westley’s gotta rescue Buttercup. Dorothy has to basically save herself. Prince Colwyn has to rescue his bride Lyssa (refer to the Westley/Buttercup paradigm). Bastian has to rescue Fantasia from The Nothing. The list goes on and the formula for a fantasy film never really diverges much from SAR. Then again some films do stand out and others doth fizzle (EG: the lines of my long-winded pizza metaphor above, duh). That and until The Lord Of The Rings epic made it to theaters, the genre was usually derided to the dollar bin at Best Buy before the tickets had been sold. A genre not to be taken seriously has never been taken seriously. Often for good reason.

Okay. Ignoring all the precious few good fantasy films that exist, the rest of the rabble demands rescuing. They are all one-note. The plot device is always the same. Everyone has a British accent—even on planet Krull. The rest is always swords and sorcery. Sometimes even the mundane of these work (EG: Conan The Barbarian), but more often not (EG: Conan The Destroyer) and just call it all in. Fantasy flicks are supposed to be the penultimate genre of escapism (the peak being horror films, letting out the terrified animal inside you. Snarl), but when it’s all couched in amazing CGI trying to run interference with the same ol’ dopey rescue quests, you gotta stick a pin in it.

Of all the convention subcultures—Trekkies, cosplayers, comic book geeks, Furries, the KISS Army, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc—fanatics of the Renaissance Faire and/or LARPing get very touchy about Outsiders who don’t get their fetish, and quick to rile if questioned about its value. With other groups I mentioned (perhaps excluding the Latter Day Saints) the response is usually a shrug, sigh, too bad you don’t get it, your loss. And back to shopping for that all elusive whatsit one can only buy at cons at shameless prices. Like the time I got my replica Star Trek: TNG chirping combadge back in high school. Don’t judge, and I wish you’d get me.

Folks who delve into fantasy do it hardcore. Escapism is a f*cking job for these hapless souls. One must wonder why LARPers pay more on a suit of armor made from polycarbonate fiber that is also used on the stealth bomber than they would on food and rent? So they can render themselves invisible to the Orc Ninjas and SCUD missile launches?

Hold on. That was mean. I of all people should not be bashing strangers with their predictions for D&D, Tolkien and Arthurian legends. I have a basement full of comics, every Sega console ever made daisy-chained to my TV and way, way, way too many albums in my iTunes and vinyl library. I shouldn’t judge either. Still I stand by my claim that fantasy filmgoers have been ripped off time an again by way of the superior pizza argument: it’s all the f*cking same, just different pixelated toppings. You’re all getting duped, you cinephile muggles you. Stand up and be counted. And admit it: you kinda did like Krull, didn’t you? Betcha bought the game version for the Atari 2600.

I have now officially dated myself and forget to bring flowers.

We’ve established I’m not the big fantasy film fan because one: I need to have at least one toe in the relevant, and; two: the thread through virtually all epics are all about the rescue. Hollywood should try and rescue moviegoers with some fresh concepts. To be sure, there have been films who’ve skewered the genre to good to even great success employees the mead-soaked goodness of comedy. Spoonful of sugar and all of that, and Mary Poppins rocks.

Monty Python And The Holy Grail, Jabberwocky, Time Bandits, The Princess Bride and now Your Highness all sent up the stuffy fantasy genre with a little pin pricking. Often most fantasy films come off rather pompous, as if engaging a viewing of such a film is tantamount to deciphering the Dead Sea Scrolls. Come on, even Elvis poked fun at his own dancing. And granted Grail got made and broke the mold, but the imitators came a-calling. Let’s face it, the genre is to rich to not poke fun at. Our suspension of disbelief goes into overdrive when we watch such movies, because none of it exists or could ever exist. This can get exhausting, so let’s lower the bar a little for everyone with some chuckles.

So how does all this deconstruction of pizza snobbery relate to fantasy filmmaking? Again, like the old joke: How is sex like pizza? Even when it’s bad, it’s good. And if the wrong crowd starts to get all up in sweaty arms about either, remember to rescue them from their one vitriolic fanboy-ism with hard truth. Namely, it’s only dinner and a movie; shut up and chill. For the love of all that is holy. Tolkien was writing his retirement fund, not a third testament. Papa John’s pizza is only good for dipping that lovely crust into that soufflé cup of delicious, carcinogenic oil and yellow dye number 5.

In the endgame, how relevant is a tale of pizza pairing with a tale fantasy to getting the munchies?

Ask the wizard who sold you his weed. Or mozzarella.


The Story…

Like Mel Brooks told us, “It’s good to be the king!” Old Mel was right, but he never knew about the plight of poor King Tallious (Dance), blessed and cursed with two sons. Blessed because noble Fabious (Franco) is the apparent heir apparent. The stories of his valiance are legend, and he has the kindness and charisma to back it up. He is the King’s favorite son, you know.

Which means…

To Fabious’ yang is his older brother yin Prince Thaddeus (McBride). Thad is the epitome of the green-eyed monster. So what if Fab is an incredible warrior? So what if he’s handsome and brave? So what if he scored his hot fiancée Belladonna (Deschenel) on personalty, fealty and nice hair? In his grumpiness, Thad would was while the day away drinking, hittin’ that wizard weed and chasing tail. Hence the King’s double-edge sword of family affairs.

What boorish Prince Thad needs is a dose of reality. The King is sick of his slovenly son Thad lounging around, taking the wrong advantages a prince can mooch off. He needs a role model, or rather the threat of being disinherited and let lovely Fabious have everything…especially if this new/only quest proves successful.

Which quest? Well, the nasty sorcerer Leezar (Theroux) kidnaps Bella on the day of her nuptials with a wicked, world-conquering scheme on his mind. So, duh, Fabious must rescue her and embarks on (another) quest of dire consequences. But this time, it’s gonna be family affair. Thad is reluctantly in tow so he can see how a real bold prince behaves in times of crisis…but moreover to not to written out of the will. Eye roll and put the mead down for a small spell.

And who knows? If both pull off rescuing the hapless Bella from Leezar, who’s to say that Thad’ll ask if she has a sister? Again, who says chivalry is dead?

Perhaps like Prince Thad’s number here.


The Breakdown…

Right.  But since you’re still here, thanks for listening.

The whole genre of fantasy is decidedly one-note to me. Someone/something has to be RESCUED in order to set right what has been wronged. And be it D&D geex or pizza-faced freaks, you have reach a crisis and not take sh*t so damned seriously. Sometimes this staid genre needs to be rescued from itself. Even in spite of itself. Happily, Your Highness aims to let air of the balloon and into your whoopee cushion. Its goal was to walk alongside comedic romps like The Princess Bride, Monty Python And The Holy Grail and even Robin Hood: Men In Tights to a small degree. Sweep away the pompous dust that has long settled on spent carcasses like Dragonslayer and The Beastmaster.

At least I think that was Highness’ goal.

Let’s get this out of the way: even though I’m not big on fantasy films I’m not a hater. Just isn’t my thing. Sure, like I said a few I enjoy and am well-versed enough in the genre to connect the lines and dot the Ts about what makes the magic work. I’ve said enough about the rescue thing, but there also many other tropes fantasy has to have or it just ain’t the surreal deal. Stuff like swords and sorcery, fantastic beasts of legend, raw noble-on-noble action and British accents. And by the way, why do all actors in fantasy films affect a British accent anyway? Even with non-Albion legends like Troy, et al. Hell, Krull‘s setting wasn’t even on Earth. Must be something about sounding both regal and amused at the same time.

Highness has those two qualities in spades, but in an offbeat package you’d probably expect from director Green. There is a lot to be amused about here, but not out and out ha-ha. Mostly snickering and eye-rolling. We get it; the movie’s whole spin is mocking the fairy tale adventure combo meal with extra mutton. Duh. For all it’s winking however, Highness somehow misses the mark of true parody and convention smashing, and I don’t mean crashing TrekCon dressed like Boba Fett wielding two rather large jugs of some blue Molotov cocktail straight outta Mandalore.

Have I got yer breeches in a twist yet, nerds? Cool!

Yeah, so since our expectations were more or less met when we heard about the movie, Highness is silly. Not exactly funny. More like lewd and ridiculous. It’s gotta be something screwy if we’re gonna parody some tired, old genre. Mel Brooks was a genius at it, as is former Python Terry Gilliam, albeit with a darker vision. And a zany one regarding the ZAZ team (EG: Airplane!, The Naked Gun and Top Secret!). I feel what made all their parodies work and work so well is because the creators took their subject matter seriously.

The what now?

Sure. There is a serious side to comedy, especially in the realm of parody. It helps that you do your movie genre device homework before you get to the skewering. There first must be a respect to the old warhorses, and then slaughter them with extremely extreme prejudice. For example, Brooks knew his way around a Western, and how to correctly lampoon it with Blazing Saddles (even the title sez it all). Party line goes that he even wanted The Duke himself John Wayne to be cast as the Waco Kid. Wayne found the script hilarious but was afraid it would affect his movie rep. “I’ll be the first in line to see it!” he told Brooks, so if that kind of endorsement doesn’t ring true, then old Mel was probably ghostwriting (he wasn’t BTW; that was Richard Pryor). Nearly all of Brooks’ parodies are informed—if not steeped—in traditional genre formats and tropes. You gotta be wise to know when to call out the naked emperor. Highness does a decent college try at it, but like with the last time Green teamed up with Franco and McBride for his stoner/action/comedy mishmash Pineapple Express he just, just missed the mark. Almost there, but no banana. Or pineapple for that matter.

Yes, Highness delivers the goods in bitch-slapping the tired, overblown mystique of fantasy films, but its execution is too overarching. It’s too wink-wink-nudge-nudge get-it-audience see how clever we are at poking fun at fantasy films? That was the same impression I had with Pineapple, also. “Yeah, yeah. I get it already.” Having this type of attitude is why I got tired of South Park after its second season. I get it already. I’m in on the joke. Green and crew were just plain trying to hard. Despite Green approaching getting it “right,” too many of the gags, concepts and dialogue seemed half-baked.

Segue…

So to speak, McBride is the only thing spot-on about Highness that Green invested himself in: Thad’s droll, cynical, naked emperor-like disdain for this whole misadventure. Not to be crawling up thine own arse too much, McBride’s mornings are akin to a Greek chorus, expounding the truth to the audience against all this drama and outright nonsense. EG: You can’t bullsh*t a bullsh*tter, and Thad is having none of this, missing bride or no. Sure, he’s not outright funny here, but his Laurel and Hardy-esque “another fine mess” attitude is the best thing in this movie nudging the audience (but his lech routine does get rather tiring. Echoes of South Park, season three). In Thad’s philosophy, the joke’s truly on all of us. All 12 bucks of it.

Speaking of acting, consider McBride’s foil, Franco. The dashing warrior to the debauched, black sheep of the royal family. It took a while for me to get some shine to Fab. Like the execution, Franco’s almost got the right idea. He’s almost hamming it up. Almost. It would’ve been better if he did. Fab’s got the Strider blues bad, and more freak outs over “why is this quest so trying!” would’ve been welcome. Fabious is self-parody as Prince Wonderful and all. Franco should’ve let it all out and get to Shatner scenery chewing. Overall though, Franco’s Fab was just naive and pouty enough to make we wanna reach into the screen and slap his candy-ass around. It’s not a John Wayne endorsement of effective emoting, but I’ll notch it up to a B-.

Biggest quibble over Highness? Bingo: slow pacing. Not good. I say this based on how the third act panned out. Despite the simplicity of the plot (essentially a Renaissance Faire meets a Gallagher concert), the story took its sweet ol’ time to unfold. There was a lot of dead air trying to deliver those winky winky jokes I keep going on about. True, the other fantasy fable foibles I said that worked didn’t overtly sacrifice genre for yuks-yuks (The Princess Bride is still a Chuck Jones style romp with the edges sanded off), but they sure didn’t drag for two actsI kept tweaking the timer to not keep track of how long the film elapsed. Again, not good.

I can’t bring myself to bash Highness too hard, though. Why? Because what Green and Company got right, they did so with elan. Moments few and far between, but still there. Eventually. For instance, although it took awhile, I did like the progression of Thad finally getting a pair…sorta. Or Portman’s backstory taking its time…sorta. Or Lazarr’s mommy issues…sorta. You get it. There was a head of steam slowly boiling away in Highness until the third act, but I never saw it coming. That’s a glaive (French for “double-edged sword,” as well as the mystical boomerang thingy in Krull. Multitasking). It’s cool to get a surprise ending, and the final act was indeed fun, but where the hell was the snappy fun two acts ago? The plot to Highness is threadbare and hackneyed and decidedly so on purpose. Green could’ve baited us a little with the barest scintilla of twists. Yes, the film is a gag reel, but it still should act like a movie first.

All in all, the recurring theme of Highness was “almost.” It almost, almost made it. Almost. Still, the thing didn’t stink like a hillock of orc dung. Wasted potential maybe, but not outright sh*t. In the endgame Highness was a good, late night time waster. Pair this with Pineapple Express for a midnight double feature. They’re almost companion movies anyway. Almost.

Ah well. Paraphrasing Sean Connery in Finding Forresterthis ain’t exactly a pizza question: Who wants more mead?


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? A mild relent it. Stick with the classic Brooks-type parodies first, then burn one and appreciate Your Highness. Kaff!


The Stray Observations…

  • “God, if your mother could see you now.”
  • There’s something about the lighting…
  • “Teamwork!”
  • McBride stares really well.
  • “Magic…motherf*cker.” Hell to the yeah. I mean: uh-oh.
  • Lame Indy tribute there.
  • “To the f*ckening!” Best. Bedroom line. Ever.
  • The chase scene was good. Nothin’ fancy, just meat and no filler.
  • “And if your vagina is anything like my hand, there will be no problem.” Kinda sez it all.
  • It felt like Franco improv’d everything, with not a lot of conviction. Remember the “serious side of comedy” thing? Yeah.
  • “This quest sucks!”

The Next Time…

“I do so like green eggs and ham! Thank you! Thank you Sam-I-Am!”

That Dr Suess line is how the writers’ named the movie I Am Sam. Sorry to ruin that.