Why Him?

why-him-movie-poster

Release: Friday, December 23, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: John Hamburg; Ian Helfer

Directed by: John Hamburg

My biggest gripe with Why Him? It’s actually not that it represents yet another painfully unfunny Christmas comedy. Well, it kind of is. I’m dismayed more because it is a painfully unfunny Christmas comedy starring James Franco and Bryan Cranston.

Bryan Cranston! Also translated as: Walter White, Shannon, Robert Mazur, and of course, Hal Wilkerson.

Now he’s Ned Fleming, a name you won’t be able to remember beyond the parking lot of your local cineplex. It’s always painful to see a great actor slumming it, but for Cranston to star in a vehicle that made me mad at even James Franco — someone whom I actively defend for being unusual and pretentious — it begs the question why do we even try to admonish professional actors for the choices they make in careers that never directly affect us? It’s clear our outrage, pretend or real, never accomplishes anything.

Ned Fleming is the father of Stephanie (Zoey Deutch), and he shares in my pain. When he is invited to California for Christmas, forced to buck family tradition of spending the holiday in Michigan, he becomes dismayed by the man his daughter is currently seeing: James Franco with a shit ton of tattoos! He plays a billionaire game developer named Laird Mayhew, an obnoxious caricature of the actor himself whose own modus vivendi runs counter to just about everyone on the planet because he himself is an art project constantly evolving and expanding.

The Ned-Laird feud could have been played for laughs, but a script co-written by director John Hamburg and Ian Helfer seems to have forgotten to incorporate the jokes. Unless the joke is, of course, ultra-meta: everyone who just bought a ticket hoping for the good times to roll via a decent if disposable new entry into the crowded genre of farcical family/Yuletide comedies has just gotten ripped off. And Bryan Cranston and James Franco are in it — why them?!

why-him

Recommendation: Goodness, no. But I will say this: the film at least afforded fans of KISS to watch Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons stoop to a new low by making a totally awkward cameo towards the end of the film. So there is that.

Rated: R

Running Time: 111 mins.

Quoted: “I mean, what in God’s name is a double-dicker?” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Daddy’s Home

Daddy's Home movie poster

Release: Christmas Day 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Sean Anders; Brian Burns; John Morris

Directed by: Sean Anders

Will Ferrell may not yet be suffering late-stage DeNiro, but if he’s not careful he can still emasculate his career if he keeps up the habit of portraying people who get off on being abused by everyone else in the movie. He needs to go back to playing the egomaniac, his nice guy schtick just isn’t working.

In Daddy’s Home, the experiment to see whether Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg truly have chemistry or if The Other Guys was just a one-time thing, he plays the hapless (and almost hopeless) Brad Whitaker, a stepdad who really, really enjoys parenting. I suppose the suburban household remains one of the few domains his comedic antics haven’t yet targeted. Satirically speaking, the subject seems fitting; there’s something about the mundanity of parenting and living in a four-bedroom house, surrounded by a white picket fence that offers itself up to parody. And no, this isn’t me being sarcastic.

The movie is about Brad fighting for the right to be called ‘dad’ by his children. His domain is threatened when their biological father, a motorcycle-riding alpha male named Dusty Mayron (Wahlberg) — only a few letter changes away from being a Moron — suddenly reappears in their lives when he comes to visit them and his ex-wife Sara (Linda Cardellini) for a week.

As expected, a game of one-upmanship ensues, beginning with Dusty trying to win his children over with bedtime stories of heroics and a crisp $20 bill. Not to be outdone, Brad springs an impromptu Christmas upon the family. One of the gifts is a pony for his stepdaughter. Before long, Dusty’s taking off his shirt and doing one-handed pull-ups in the garage (fuck yeah bro, you totally win the Chiseled Abs award).

The nadir of this protracted pissing contest occurs when Brad clocks a cheerleader in the head with a basketball at the Lakers game, to which he takes the whole family assuming he finally has the upper hand. Unfortunately, he doesn’t factor in Dusty’s popularity, a privilege that grants the kids some face time with Kobe Bryant. Brad has seemingly overstepped a line and is temporarily booted from his own home. Le weep.

Brad Whitaker, who is introduced immediately as a man who has struggled with infertility after a freak accident at a doctor’s office some years ago, represents Ferrell at his most self-deprecating. It’s the epitome of a comedian softening in his older age. Ferrell’s less animated and more straight-laced in his portrayal of a suburbanite stepdad trying to do right by his family. It’s a role that simply doesn’t fit. Unfortunately his awkwardness isn’t the full extent of the issues with Anders’ latest.

Disregarding the mean-spirited nature of the comedyDaddy’s Home also commits a genre-specific cardinal sin: it just ain’t that funny. Thomas Haden Church, as Ferrell’s boss at the Panda radio station, is absurdly annoying. Hannibal Buress has good comedic timing but is stuck with a character that offers precisely nothing of value. Linda Cardellini drowns in a pool of testosterone. And are the kids being spoiled twerps supposed to be some kind of commentary on modern consumerist behavior? Probably not, this movie isn’t that ambitious.

Good news is, Wahlberg, ever the American inamorato, continues being immune to enmity, even when his character is specifically written to incur it. He’s Ferrell’s opposite in every way, a guy we’re meant to be rooting against. Or, someone from whom maybe . . . just maybe, Brad could learn something as two different parenting styles — one a caring, loving presence and the other a total ghost — clash in a comedy that seems to think it’s humorous to debase a human being because of his inability to reproduce.

It’s a minor victory that Wahlberg and Ferrell work well together in their second collaboration, but I’m still not really laughing.

Recommendation: It’s a comedy with Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg in it, but the stars of the film are much easier to find than the comedy. The Other Guys is the superior outing, even though it’s not exactly comedy of the year either. Nonetheless, and somewhat strangely, the two have an easy chemistry that makes looking forward to their next project together more exciting than it probably should be. Here’s to hoping no more potential goes wasted.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 96 mins.

Quoted: “I’m a hot habenero pepper right now.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

TBT: Love Actually (2003)

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Once more I’m faced with writing about a movie I have never seen before. (Shouldn’t these TBTs be movies from my past, from my childhood? Isn’t that what a ‘throwback’ really is, a memory?) Yes, somewhere along the way I kind of lost my focus, or maybe I just don’t watch enough movies to make this a legitimate feature. I suppose what this has turned into is okay in the end, because I have only seen a finite number of films in my past; there’s (almost) no limit to what I can see in the future. Even still, I can’t help but think that maybe this part of the blog has run its course. With that in mind, we go to yet another new (to me) entry for the final segment this year!

Today’s food for thought: Love Actually.

Love Actually movie poster fart-fanugens

Loving, actually since: November 14, 2003

[Netflix]

Despite heartwarming performances from a stellar ensemble cast, this is actually a pretty terrible movie. Love Actually may not be quite as stuffed a turkey as more recent holiday disasters like New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day — here’s a hint: if you want a quality bit of entertainment, you’d do well to stay away from films named after a holiday — nor is it quite as blatant in its commercialization of those holidays. Love Actually is, all the same, entirely too ingratiating.

The impressive ensemble helps make proceedings go down a little easier, but it’s still like trying to chew a wad of taffy that’s way too large for one person to handle. And taffy is kind of gross anyway.  But it’s not as gross as watching actors as talented as these try to make something out of a script that contrives human interaction in such a way that Love Actually becomes quasi-fantastical in its attempts to sell the events as something born out of love — you know, the kind of stuff that gets people by in the real world, not the sweet syrupy stuff in movies. Oh, how the irony stings.

After enduring these spectacularly unspectacular interweaving love stories for more than two hours, I can now only question my thoughts and feelings — all of which were positive — towards Curtis’ similarly precious About Time, in which Domhnall Gleeson discovers he could manipulate his ability to travel through time to build the perfect relationship with Rachel McAdams (or make her his concubine, I’m not sure which). Maybe I ought to just chalk that overly enthusiastic review up to being blinded by Gleeson’s likability. The guy can almost do no wrong. Add in Bill Nighy and you have a cast that’s hard not to be won over by.

Love Actually at least somewhat benefits from a similar reality, except this is a much larger pool of talent and not all participants fare well in this sugary, sappy mess. Like kids in grade school, the ensemble pairs off into smaller groups to tackle ten interrelated, England-set stories that end up coming together through circumstances that I feel more comfortable calling serendipity. I certainly can’t call it the product of good writing.

We have Nighy’s rock’n roll legend Billy Mack who is recording a Christmas song even he despises but goes on to promote it anyway because it has a chance of becoming a #1 hit. Throughout the film he lays on his anti-charm pretty thick, abusing his fat manager Joe (Gregor Fisher) and seemingly bent on self-destruction in a very Russell Brand-like way. His is one of the few stories that actually remain engaging throughout and ends up being far less manipulative. Maybe it’s just coincidence that his is the only story to remain completely independent from the others.

Liam Neeson, playing stepfather to Thomas Brodie-Sangster‘s Sam, sets himself apart from the chorus of others who can only sing in one key: and that is feeling lovelorn and lonely. His Daniel represents an entirely different, more tender side of Neeson that is entirely welcomed. It’s too bad his backstory revolves around the painful loss of his wife (the same wife, we assume, that many of his characters in later action thrillers will too be mourning). Daniel is a warm presence and his relationship with his stepson (also played very well by Sangster) affords Love Actually at least one or two brownie points.

Outside of these threads we start venturing into stories that become less interesting by powers of ten. The best of the rest manifests in Colin Firth’s genuine, affable Jamie, a writer whose girlfriend has been having an affair with his brother. Devastated by the discovery, he retreats into a cottage he owns in France where he meets Portuguese housekeeper Aurélia and soon falls for her, despite the language barrier. So he learns to speak Portuguese and tracks her down after making a brief return trip to England, because, well the movie’s all lovey-dovey like that.

The rest of the picture can be filled in as follows: Keira Knightley and Chiwetel Ejiofor, who play newlywed couple Juliet and Peter, contend with the latent feelings of Peter’s old friend Mark (Andrew Lincoln); Martin Freeman and Joanna Page, body doubles in movies who find attraction to one another while staging sex scenes; Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson, a longtime married couple now face a crisis in the wake of Karen (Thompson)’s discovery of an affair her husband is potentially having with a coworker; Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister, the most self-deprecating individual ever to find himself in a position of such power, can’t help but feel attracted to one of his secretaries even after her indiscretion with the sleazy U.S. President (an absolute waste of Billy Bob Thornton’s time). Rowan Atkinson has a slightly amusing cameo. And the less said about Laura Linney and Rodrigo Santoro’s parts, the better.

Love Actually too forcefully reminds the viewer that the world is indeed a small place and, playing out like one of those old McDonald’s commercials from the ’90s (“hey, it could happen!”), it champions taking a risk on romantic gestures over the holiday season. Because, hey — that thing you really want to have happen, it can happen. Because, as the movie justifies itself, it’s Christmas and it’s a time to be bluntly honest with each other.

So let me be bluntly honest with you. I took a chance on this film actually making an attempt to be believable after a few head-scratching developments up front, but too much of a good thing — the spreading of joy in this case — is worse than not enough of that good thing. Mr. Curtis apparently isn’t familiar with the concept of ‘less is more.’ Choked with coincidence and serendipity, Love Actually may spread holiday cheer like a wild fire but the feeling I get from it is more like . . . well, hate actually.

Liam Neeson and Thomas Brodie-Sangster in 'Love Actually'

Recommendation: Star-studded romantic comedy bogged down by unabashed sentimentality. Stars are good, story is horrendous — played out, predictable, way too cheesy and not subtle in the slightest. A few supporting turns make some of the effort worthwhile but in the end, Love Actually isn’t one you turn to for performances. You turn to it to feel much better about getting to escape the banality of real-world Christmas events. A feel good movie that made this little grinch feel quite bad.

Rated: R

Running Time: 135 mins.

TBTrivia: Kris Marshall, who played Colin, a caterer at Juliet and Peter’s wedding, apparently returned his pay check for the scene where the three American girls undress him. He said he had such a great time having three girls undress him for twenty-one takes, that he was willing to do it for free, and thus returned his check for that day.

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Photo credits: http://www.playbuzz.com; http://www.fanpop.com  

Krampus

Krampus movie poster

Release: Friday, December 4, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Michael Dougherty; Todd Casey; Zach Shields

Directed by: Michael Dougherty

Is Krampus the next Christmas classic? No, not by a long sleigh ride, but at least it offers some respite from the other bullshit holiday films we’re routinely forced to endure for the sake of good tidings and shameless studio profiteering.

Michael Dougherty’s subversive seasonal offering is best described as one-part wicked horror, and two-parts ruthlessly silly comedy. It introduces a mythical, quasi-Satanic creature famous in Austro-Bavarian folklore for representing the polar opposite of everything Father Christmas stands for. Krampus, a long-horned, long-tongued, hulking, cross-dressing nightmare is conjured by misbehaving children who no longer believe in the spirit of Christmas. Instead of giving gifts to Nice Boys and Nice Girls, he takes away something dear to those on the Naughty list.

This year is the year Max (Emjay Anthony) finally loses faith in Santa after being humiliated at the dinner table thanks to two of his miscreant cousins who, in an almost unbearably mean-spirited scene, make fun of the letter he planned to send to the North Pole. He shreds the note and tosses it out the window, and that night a fierce blizzard descends upon the town, burying the community in snow and knocking out the electricity. Max’s parents, Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette) and sister Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen) will have to contend with keeping their rather obnoxious in-laws happy during the power out, while Max quietly switches into emo mode, wishing they would never share Christmas together again.

Krampus takes some time getting going, but to Dougherty’s credit the slow-burn set-up is justifiable as it allows us to get to know this family and at least try to build empathy for one side before all hell breaks loose. On one hand there’s Max’s immediate family, comfortable middle-class suburbanites. On the other, Howard (David Koechner) and his wife Linda (Allison Tolman) are Pittsburgh Steelers-worshipping, lower-middle class, gun-toting loudmouths who seemingly don’t know how to raise children in any way, shape or form.

If there is meant to be some commentary on the differences between social class status, Krampus doesn’t fully take advantage of it. The two halves of this family seem to exist as exaggerated versions of blue collar versus white collar lifestyles and perhaps it’s merely coincidental (or me reading into things too much) that Koechner, Tolman and Conchata Farrell, who plays the classic overbearing, alcoholic Aunt Dorothy, stand in stark contrast to the more financially secure Scott and Collette. And when Krampus comes a-knockin,’ he certainly doesn’t discriminate.

The real fun lies in the film’s latter half, wherein the titular creature starts to make its presence known. Dougherty and his special effects team impressively restrain themselves at first, parceling out only glimpses of the demonic beast in an effort to build suspense for a later grand reveal. (Or what we’re hoping to be a grand reveal.) As the situation becomes more desperate, we’re fed bits of backstory courtesy of the wizened old Omi (Krista Stadler), Tom’s Austrian mother, who has seen all of this before. Of course she has. Meanwhile Max tries to assuage his guilt by coming clean about what he did the night previous.

Krampus proves itself adept at balancing comedic and horror elements, deploying outrageous visuals — you’ll never look at Gingerbread men or Jack-in-the-Boxes the same way again — alongside moments of dread-inducing suspense. The beast himself may not factor in as much as many might assume he would given he bears the title of the film, but there’s no denying this anti-Santa earns his screen time. He makes for a satisfying monster, one that could just as easily manifest as a metaphor for the worst in all of us when it comes to our tendencies to want more given to us than what we give to others. (Naturally this doesn’t apply to me because I’m perfect.)

When it comes right down to it, Krampus offers more fun than it really ought to, blending larger themes of forgiveness and personal sacrifice with more acute notions like family togetherness and being thankful for living in a part of the world where it actually snows on Christmas. It may never amount to a holiday package that you can share with generations of family but it will probably make do until next Christmas when some other jaded filmmaker comes up with the next bright idea. (Please Santa, no — not a sequel.)

oh fuck, it's Krampus

Recommendation: Highly entertaining diversion will appeal to viewers in search of an alternative to the typical Christmas movie and those who like their horrors served up with a heaping helping of outlandish comedy. A fun thrill ride but not much more. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 98 mins.

Quoted: “. . . I just got my ass kicked by a bunch of Christmas cookies.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.cinemania.es 

TBT: Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

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If you’ve been following along with this segment, you might be aware I’ve spent the last several installments picking titles at random — and in a slight panic, with several of them being decided upon (or even watched) at the very last possible second — so it’ll be nice to reintroduce some semblance of consistency here again, in the form of Holiday Cheer movies. Granted, the next several posts should be fairly predictable. Let’s just say that I’ve graduated from scrambling for random film titles to scrambling to find an appropriate monthly theme. 😉 With all that said, I know this entry today revolves around Thanksgiving rather than Christmas but you know what, I’m prepared to take the flak. You want to hurt me? Go right ahead if it makes you feel any better. I’m an easy target. 

Today’s food for thought: Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Planes Trains and Automobiles movie poster

Being victimized by public transportation services since: November 25, 1987

[Netflix]

I can’t believe I’ve only now sat down to watch for the first time Steve Martin interact with the comedic genius that was (is?) John Candy. Now the real question: is that something I should have admitted?

I suppose it doesn’t matter as I can say with Del Griffith-like confidence that John Hughes’ classic fits snugly into the brand of comedy I cherish more than any other. That’s not to say, however, that Planes, Trains and Automobiles is the kind of story you can’t find reproduced elsewhere. It’s a tried-and-true road trip adventure featuring two distinct personalities who, despite all odds, wind up growing on one another having endured several days’ worth of mishaps that border on the (amusingly) catastrophic. Replete with sight gags and punchlines that, by comparison to today’s standards, feel sophisticated and novel, Planes is of course capped off with a happy and wholly satisfying ending that epitomizes the feel-good spirit of the holiday season.

The film explores the dichotomy of the psychological effects the hectic holiday season has on people. Ignoring the isolated incidents that seem to occur on Black Friday, the day where everyone seems to take pleasure in being their worst selves, the days and weeks leading up to Christmas have potential to be some of the most stressful all year. It’s that reality that Hughes taps into using Martin, who plays an uptight and rather uncharitable marketing executive named Neal Page, and his polar opposite in Candy’s happy-go-lucky, perpetually cheerful shower curtain ring salesman Del. While it might be more comforting — beneficial, even — to assign personalities and dispositions to a spectrum ranging from very negative to positive, there’s no denying the stereotype is alive and well during the holiday shopping season.

In Planes, Neal faces one setback after another in his attempts to get back to his family for Thanksgiving dinner, starting with missing a taxi to the airport that almost causes him to miss his flight home to Chicago from New York. This is where he first bumps into Del, who would later laugh about how amusing it was that Neal tried to steal *his* cab. Wouldn’t you know it, the two end up sitting next to each other on the flight, one that ultimately ends up having to land in Wichita due to a terrible snowstorm in Chicago. Del is quick to remind Neal once on the ground that given the circumstances it will be next-to-impossible to book a hotel room anywhere, and the two end up taking a room at some seedy motel miles away, which sets up the iconic “I don’t judge you, so why do you judge me” speech.

Things only get worse from there, as Neal is faced with the prospect of continuing to travel with Del as he seems to be the only way he’s going to get out of this crummy town. They board a train that later breaks down and end up having to cram into a city bus that threatens to fall apart at any moment. Much to our amusement the quality of transit vehicles only adds to Neal’s mounting frustrations. It all culminates in a literally explosive car ride that sees the pair brought to their knees at yet another cheap-o hotel, where the question finally must be asked: “is it me, or is it just everyone else around me that’s crazy?”

Existential rumination aside, Hughes’ judgment of character development couldn’t have been more satisfying. There are so many instances throughout the course of this escapade where we think there’s no way Del can screw things up any more than they already are; there’s no way Neal can possibly be any more unpleasant than he was trying to rent a car. And yet developments belie expectations, but only to a point. There’s a wonderful scene at another rundown motel in which the pair are confronted by their own consciences. It’s not like the humbling process isn’t unexpected. Even if you’re unfamiliar with Hughes’ filmography, it should come as no surprise the slide into relative despair can’t be sustained; this is a road trip comedy after all. Yet it’s the aesthetics of the scene that really impact. There’s something about the faux-wooden interior of this particular room that resonates warmly.

In the end, Planes‘ episodic nature epitomizes the oft-exaggerated emotions and experiences of the holiday season. Whether it’s finding the ideal gift for a loved one, putting together a master shopping list for the big dinner or simply attempting to shoulder the responsibilities of throwing a seasonal party, this time of year presents stress in many forms. Hughes is keenly aware of that reality, and he has a field day with it thanks to the interplay between these comedic greats.

Planes Trains Automobiles Martin Candy Fire

Recommendation: Planes, Trains and Automobiles satisfies on many levels with its diverse and highly effective collection of comedic situations and running jokes. It’s another one of those entries that makes one sorely nostalgic for the days of quality comedy. Thanks to great turns from Steve Martin and John Candy this is a film that fans can re-watch over and again.

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

TBTrivia: Perspectives are a funny thing. John Candy and Steve Martin have both named this film as their favorite films of their own. Ask other crew members who worked on the film and they’ll describe the shoot as “hellish,” as they were obligated to drive back and forth between locations on the East Coast and the Midwest since each time they arrived at one place the snow they were hoping to find melted too quickly. According to some crew members, John Hughes was in a terrible mood for much of the process as he was enduring difficult times in his personal life.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.filmschoolrejects.com; http://www.haphazard-stuff.blogspot.com 

The Night Before

The Night Before movie poster

Release: Friday, November 20, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Jonathan Levine; Kyle Hunter; Ariel Shaffir; Evan Goldberg

Directed by: Jonathan Levine

I was enjoying, for the most part, the latest incarnation of the Seth Rogen and Friends Show, finding myself more than a little amused by their storming of New York City in an effort to live it up one last time this Christmas Eve; finding comfort once more in the familiarity of their crassness and the simplicity of the mission: let’s get wasted and have a blast, maybe even learn a thing or two about each other in the process. (Yes, people actually get paid millions to do this.)

Then suddenly, from out of nowhere, Jason Mantzoukas shows up, dressed as one of two drunken Santa Clauses and wipes the smile from my face. This I don’t call a Christmas miracle. This I call a threat to a movie’s enjoyability. Seriously, this guy is the worst. Is this his talent, being a buzz kill? If the name’s not familiar, you’re either lucky or you haven’t caught many episodes of The League. In which case you are also lucky. Mantzoukas doesn’t appear for long in The Night Before but apparently it’s enough to cause me to go off on a rant about how much I dislike the characters he plays.

Where’s my egg nog? Ahh, there it is. Right. Now we can actually talk about the film.

It’s no secret Seth Rogen isn’t a man of great range. A few weeks ago he managed to impress me with his dramatic turn as Steve Wozniak in Danny Boyle’s intriguing examination of the late Apple CEO and he also played it somewhat straight as Ira Wright, an up-and-coming comedian in Judd Apatow’s underrated Funny People. However, nine times out of ten you know what you are going to get in a film bearing his name prominently on the poster.

The Night Before, in which he plays Isaac, a mild-mannered (when sober) thirty-something, is the long-lost lovechild of This is the End and Knocked Up. It’s a film that knows when the party should stop and embrace important life events like childrearing, relationship-building and aggressive product placing. While it will never be as good as vintage Rogen-inspired raucousness — I refer to the likes of Pineapple Express and Superbad — this collection of Yuletide yucks offers a suitably raunchy alternative to the saccharine stories about family and togetherness we’re about to be hit with in the coming weeks.

We’re introduced to Isaac and his buddies Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) via a cringe-inducing voiceover that plays upon the titular poem, explaining how Ethan had lost both parents several Christmases ago and has since spent the holiday with his pals. Despite the support, he has found himself stuck in a rut while constantly running into obstacles in his personal and professional life. He’s no longer with his girl Diana (Lizzy Kaplan) and he works odd jobs, most recently as a miserable little elf.

The others take it upon themselves to make this Christmas the best one ever, as Chris’ NFL career is starting to take off and he finds himself with less time to spend hanging out, consumed ever more by social media and the associated vainglory. Betsy (Jillian Bell) hands her hubby (Rogen) a bag of drugs before they hit the town, reassuring him he’s earned himself a night of recklessness before properly settling down. Say no more, we know where this is all going. Mostly.

Along the way we bump lines, ingest psilocybin by the ounce, hallucinate in a manger, buy pot from Michael Shannon (can this guy do any wrong?), take relationship advice from Miley Cyrus, play some Goldeneye (yes, on N64!), promote Red Bull and even find time to reconcile past and present tensions in a subway car. All of this farce ultimately leads us to the Nutcracker party, the party anyone who’s anyone finds themselves at after midnight on Christmas Eve. That includes Ethan’s ex, which means you know the guy is bound for redemption sooner or later.

The Night Before settles on tried-and-true Rogen/Goldberg formula, simultaneously  mocking and embracing the spirit of Christmas by developing a none-too-surprisingly wholesome bromance between a never-more-stoned Rogen and his cronies. ‘Tis the season to be giggling uncontrollably, although I couldn’t call you a grinch if you wanted to take a pass on this hit.

JGL is a Wrecking Ball with Miley Cyrus in 'The Night Before'

Recommendation: The Night Before doesn’t rank amongst Rogen’s best but it’s a perfectly satisfying blend of juvenile humor and sight gags as well as heartfelt relationship building. (Interestingly it manifests as only the second time Evan Goldberg wrote a script without Rogen.) Save for a few questionable cameo appearances, this still manages to offer the quota of amusing supporting roles and it is nice to see Rogen reunited with Gordon-Levitt.

Rated: R

Running Time: 101 mins.

Quoted: “You have been such a Rock throughout this whole pregnancy. You are like my Dwayne Johnson.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.movie-torrents.net

The Franco Files #11

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Welcome to December, and the 11th and final installment of the 2013 run of The Franco Files.Sniffles. It’s really real now you guys. Last post I may have prematurely started the countdown but now it’s. . .well it’s all over but the crying. Fortunately. . .I already have something in the works for the New Year.

For this last edition I’d like to do things a little bit differently. Rather than looking back on yet another role from his past, let’s take a look into the very near future and make some (un)educated guesses about what he’ll be contributing to upcoming political satire The Interview, set to release Christmas Day. It will once again reunite Franco with his old buddy Seth Rogen and for now at least appears to be set up to be another potential hit in the same vein as Pineapple Express and This is the End.. This might be fun trying to speculate just what he’ll be doing and then actually see the movie — only to find out how wrong I was here. (Or, you know. . .how right I was.)

(I will also include a list of every Franco File I’ve posted in case the other links are hard to find. . .which they shouldn’t be, but sometimes these little lists are just easier. I hope you have enjoyed this feature. To the future!)

James Franco

Francophile #11: Dave Skylark, The Interview

Role Type: Lead

Genre: Comedy

Character Profile: Dave is the host of his own celebrity talk show, Skylark Tonight, a production overseen by his good friend Aaron Rapoport (Rogen). Now then, given the controversy already being kicked up by this movie — from North Korean leaders’ point of view this movie is poised to “make a mockery” of their militaristic methods and dictator, Kim Jong-Un — it would stand to reason Franco’s character is going to embody a lot of the ignorance foreign leaders often view Americans as having. I am just spitballing here, but here’s a character that very well could make us (me?) cringe at the lack of social/political etiquette a person in this position ought to have.

If you lose Franco, the film loses: any hope for keeping the peace! (Why do I think Franco is going to be the only thing Kim Jong-Un and his cronies are going to take a shine to?)

Out of Character: “[on the Sony hacks — the ones that Kim Jong-Un wishes he had actually been behind] All the girls who got any Instagram messages from me this year, or last year — the hackers did it! It was the hackers!”

SPECULATE the Performance (relative to his other work): 

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THE FRANCO FILES:

  1. Aron Ralston, 127 Hours
  2. Saul Silver, Pineapple Express
  3. Alien, Spring Breakers
  4. James Franco, This is the End
  5. Harry Osborn, Spiderman trilogy
  6. Oscar Diggs/Oz, Oz, the Great and Powerful
  7. Mr. B, Palo Alto
  8. Marty Freeman, The Iceman
  9. Will Rodman, Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  10. Mr. B, Palo Alto (yay for glaring editing errors! I seriously haven’t noticed there were two of these until just now. . .wow)
  11. Dave Skylark, The Interview 

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Photo credits: http://www.showbizz411.com 

TBT: The Santa Clause (1994)

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Jolly ol’ Saint Nick crashed into my roof late the other night. When he squeezed his wide self down the chimney and caused a mess with equal gracelessness minutes later, the two of us had a chat about his job and how under-appreciated it really is. After I got over my initial shock about the fact that the guy was actually real, we sat down and I cracked a beer, while the big man gorged himself on milk and cookies that for years I swear were always going to waste at the fireplace. The chat would be quite brief as he obviously had many millions of other homes to get to over the course of the night (stressful much?) but in the end, I got excellent insight into the true identity of the man, the myth and the legend Santa Claus. Turns out, his image had been concealed the entire time. Actually an alcoholic by the name of Tim Allen, his festive alias had been successful covering up incidences like this one for centuries. To prove this was the case, he took a big swig of my 40-oz Old English, threw his toy bag over his shoulder and headed out the front door, asking kindly for a ladder so he could access the roof once more and head on out. I obliged and bid farewell to the bumbling man behind the bushy beard. 

Today’s food for thought: The Santa Clause.

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Release: November 11, 1994

[VHS]

When up on the roof there arose such a clatter, Scott Calvin reluctantly dashed outside to see what was the matter. . . .

Looking back, it seems strange now to imagine the great Bill Murray magically transforming into the beloved and iconic role of Santa Claus in this Disney classic. In fact it’s impossible.

Maybe Tim Allen’s seemingly natural fit for this role is enhanced by the realization that this was his big-screen debut. Anytime one thinks about the man’s acting chops, they are likely to think back to The Santa Clause, the serendipitous tale about a man whose family life is falling to the wayside when suddenly he’s given a second chance after he inadvertently kills Santa and takes over his duties having donned the big red coat.

Scott is recently divorced and only gets to see his son, Charlie (Eric Lloyd) over the holiday season. His ex-wife Laura (Wendy Crewson) is now seeing a shrink. . .and not for the therapy sessions, either. Dr. Neil Miller (Judge Reinhold) is a psychologist, a nice man with an apparent taste in tacky sweaters, and a skepticism of Scott. The Millers represent something of the perfect Christmas family, one that’s likely to receive nothing but nice gifts; whereas Mr. Calvin over here is doomed for a stocking full of coal.

All of that would soon change following his initial half-hearted completion of Santa’s route across the planet that one fateful Christmas Eve.

To think that someone with a criminal record could play the role of St. Nick is a little disconcerting, especially for those making the film. This is like learning the guy who played Barney the purple dinosaur detested children, or that Steve from Blue’s Clues enjoyed a cocaine high perhaps a bit too much. However, Disney and director John Pasquin felt more comfortable with this particular casting choice than paying attention to some little gray area and hence, Allen’s big screen break.

The casting of the former Home Improvement star is particularly amusing in the first installment as we get to witness the transformation. Allen’s character reluctantly goes from regular guy on the street to a mythical, jolly and lovable spirit. The way the film handles such a transition is perhaps the most enjoyable aspect to The Santa Clause because we get to see the practical implications of his physique. We see his belly rapidly expanding and his facial hair growing as if he’s experiencing a second bout of puberty — times ten! One particular shot of him on a park bench watching Charlie play is priceless.

Allen is good here, no doubt about it. He’s an actor with some great comedic timing, an asset put to good use in this film. However, that’s not to suggest he was starring in a perfect one. Far from it, in fact. The Santa Clause has been accused of excessive sentimentalism, some rather lame joke-telling, and one or two questionably adult themes (the ‘1-800-SPANK-ME’ line apparently caused a real-life outrage) that tended to mix awkwardly with material that was clearly aimed at the more youthful crowd. There’s no steering your sleigh around those facts; this movie dangerously towed the line between dark drama and inane comedy (going to the North Pole proved to be a great example of the latter in the significantly worse sequels), and made this film more unbalanced than it needed to be.

All the same, one can’t deny the twinkle that Allen had in his eyes when the transformation was finally complete. Touching moments abound when Scott finally lets go of all of his previous misconceptions about the holiday, and this is especially true when his identity is eventually revealed to the public (or at least, the people who matter — like the Millers) the very next Christmas. Seeing adults react to the knowledge that Santa is indeed a real person was one of my favorite experiences with this film as a child, an effect that has only moderately weakened over time. The Santa Clause may not be the definitive Christmas classic, but it does just fine on its own.

Creepy Claus . . .

Creepy Claus . . .

3-5Recommendation: An admirably clever way to break down some of the mystery surrounding one of the most fabled characters of all time, Pasquin’s full-length feature debut is certainly more desirable over his next outing with Tim Allen (the downright atrocious Jungle 2 Jungle). It also manages to entertain adults and children alike, even though the emphasis is unarguably on the latter. Still, grown-ups could do a lot worse than this as far as kids movies are concerned.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 97 mins.

Quoted: “Well, isn’t that a pretty picture, Santa rolling down the block in a PANZER! Well kids, I. . .I certainly hope you have been good this year, cause it looks like Santa just took out the Pearson home. Incoming!”

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Bad Santa (2003)

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Growing up, one of the harshest realities we all had to come to grips with was the fact that jolly ol’ Saint Nick was in fact, not real. But oh boy, is he! He comes to life on the big screen in this knock-out raunch-fest in ways no good little Johnny or Jenny should ever know. . . at least not until they hit puberty. This might be one of the all-time greatest darkest Christmas comedies ever made, and I apologize in advance for the insane amount of gushing that is to come. In an effort to tone that down a little, I want to do something a wee bit different here with this TBT. Therefore, we will have a letter in response to this movie, written by an 8-year-old Tom Little (because, unlike many, I’m not ashamed to admit that that was the age when I finally resigned to Santa being nothing more than my parents’ best-kept secret).

Today’s food for thought: Bad Santa

BAD SANTA

Release: November 26, 2003

[Theater]

Dear Santa, when did you turn into a depressed, raging alcoholic?

I thought you were supposed to be jolly! Instead what I am seeing here is one, big, fat jerk!!! Actually, you seem to be too skinny to be Santa. And that beard that hangs awkwardly underneath your chin. . . . are you sure you are the real Santa?

When I first saw you in this movie, I didn’t know what to think. Mostly because I was sad. You dashed the hopes of millions of children like me. How could Santa be such a mean, uncaring person — a man who likes to drink more than deliver gifts; a man who, when saying “Ho-ho-ho!” is really meaning something else, I think, because he always says it when he’s around girls. I don’t understand what this means, but you’re not being nice I don’t think.

But not only is there scene-after-scene of you being a grumpy old bugger, but you steal! You are obsessed with fancy, pretty jewelry! Maybe it’s because I am young and don’t understand yet — is this how you give people gifts so easily in one night, you just take things and then give them to others? Can I get a piece of jewelry?  Also, for being jolly old Saint Nick, boy do you swear a whole lot! I don’t think there’s anything weirder to me than seeing you yelling and cursing at all those innocent kids that sat upon your unhappy lap in the mall. Except for one kid in this film, you seem to hate everyone. How big is your ‘Naughty’ list? How small is your ‘Nice’ one? I wonder which one I would get put on to. . .

Don’t you get any joy at all getting to hang out with your elf-friends. . .or midgets? Er, no, I think they are elves. I have never been to the North Pole, so I don’t know what a real Santa’s helper is supposed to look like. All I see you do here is go to bars and say rude things to people — even your short little elf pal who helps you steal stuff from stores you work in. Bad Santa. Very bad.

There’s another really big question I have. Is the lady that’s in this movie who is on the DVD cover putting her tongue in your ear — is she Mrs. Clause? Why is she doing that kind of stuff? Is that some sort of adult secret I don’t know about yet? I have to say, Santa, the way she acts around you kind of makes me uncomfortable. But she must like you because she always is near you and tries to make you feel happy.

Anyways, a lot of what I am finding out about you, sir, shocks me. I do have to say, though, it was nice to see you actually sort of trying to be nice and be a role model of sorts to this one fat awkward kid named Thurman Merman. He reminds me of some of my friends, who get bullied. For some reason, other people think it’s fun to be mean to those around them and make them feel really badly about themselves. But this is one time where you, “Santa,” actually stick up for something. This makes me a bit more happy. You probably aren’t the best role model ever but it kind of looks like you are trying to do the right thing towards the end of the movie.

I hope you eventually do cheer up and start enjoying yourself. You have a pretty special life, and you should make the most of it! You might not like your job but I don’t think a lot of people do. Please stop drinking so much because I am afraid that one day you might crash your sleigh into someone’s roof and get the reindeer all hurt. No one wants that!

Sincerely,

A concerned kid named Tom.

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Naughty List:

  1. Not a film for everyone by any stretch of the imagination. This movie really limits its potential audience with the vast sea of profanity, depressing themes and Willie T. Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton)’s excessive alcohol abuse.
  2. This movie ain’t for kiddies, and is the epitome of what it feels like to be disillusioned. If you believed in Santa Clause before this movie, you sure as hell won’t afterwards.
  3. The plot is paper-thin but we’ll let it slide. Its “story” takes a backseat to the outrageous comedy.
  4. Santa’s not only mean, but racist. In the parking lot scene he accuses his assailant of being the reason his brother lost an arm fighting the Vietnamese back in the day. The guy was clearly from the Middle East.
  5. The passing of both Bernie Mac and John Ritter makes watching this movie now a very bittersweet proposition.

Nice List:

  1. Billy Bob Thornton goes against-type in one of the most offensive, but painfully funny lead roles he’s stepped into. His completely amoral, alcoholic mall Santa who doesn’t like kids is rather ingenious, and, dare I say it, refreshing.
  2. The Thurman-midget fight scene is one of the funniest things I’ve personally ever witnessed. From what little I remember of being in this theater ten years ago, I do recall nearly peeing myself in this moment.
  3. That Thurman actually ends up bringing Willie out of his deep, dark depression is kind of heartwarming. Emphasis on “kind of.” Everything in this movie is relative, so this relationship mostly is built on tough love. But it works, and its nice to see Willie actually have a change of heart.
  4. John Ritter and Bernie Mac contribute to the film’s comedy, but they offer different kinds of comedy, rather than the dark, bleak style that Thornton’s anti-hero and Tony Cox’s midget-elf offers. Their interactions with the wayward Santa makes for some pretty memorable moments.
  5. Even Santa needs a pick-me-up. In this case, it’s the cute bartender, Sue (Lauren Graham).

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3-5Recommendation: It’s possible this is one of the most sacrilegious films ever made, but if you’re into that kind of thing, Bad Santa makes for gleefully offensive entertainment. Thornton’s performance churns out a line-o-rama that most kids shouldn’t be able to repeat after watching, but then again, kids are hardly this film’s target audience. Understandably viewed by opponents as an unnecessarily vulgar product and maybe even a waste of time, this is one strictly for the cynics.

Rated: R

Running Time: 91 mins.

Quoted: “Is granny spry?” 

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Jingle All the Way (1996)

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This particular usage of the former Mister Universe is so much fun I almost want to dedicate all TBT‘s this month to Arnie. Although I would simply love to analyze his endearing accent to death all month long, it is December after all and, let’s face it — I couldn’t really get away with not seeking out all movies mistletoe-y and Santa Clause-y. These films are all going to be movies that I flat-out love (though the critical score at the bottom may not always show it), and the goal here is to start with my “least” favorite-favorite, and move towards what I believe is the film that defines this particular season; coincidentally it’s one of my favorites ever made. Despite premature Christmas jingles being more annoying than having your prized action figure snatched out of your hands by some overzealous mail delivery dude, there’s nothing wrong with getting into the spirit of things early by diving headfirst into the season via movie reviews. . . right? I don’t think there is, anyway. And now that I’ve got that out of the way, IT’S TURBO TIME!!! 

Today’s food for thought: Jingle All the Way

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Release: November 22, 1996

[VHS]

Arnie and Sinbad team up to provide a holiday comedy that is nearly too silly for it’s own stockings. Both star as fathers turning to desperate measures to obtain their kids’ Christmas gifts, which just happen to be this year’s mega hot item. And yes, it may look like a fictitious rip-off of a Power Rangers action figure, the Turbo Man doll is actually the coolest, most awesome gift you could get your child this holiday season. Unfortunately, Arnie, as Howard Langston, always puts work before family and is consequently not involved in his son Jamie’s life too much. He has this one opportunity, though, to prove A) he’s not a completely absentee dad and B) that he can maybe even avoid divorce, as his relationship with wife Liz (Rita Wilson) isn’t exactly great either.

Sinbad plays a similarly desperate father. Myron has poor relationships with family too, and after spending all day determined to get a hold of this special Turbo Man doll, he insists that he and Howard are the same person deep down. More than Howard cares to admit. The two chuckleheads come across one another while waiting for stores to open on Christmas Day, because both have appropriately procrastinated in getting their precious doll until now. Surrounded by a mob of equally crazed shoppers, Howard and Myron start off exchanging pleasantries until it becomes clear to Howard that this guy might be mentally unstable.

It turns out not to be such an easy task, claiming one of these highly sought-after plastic toys. Situations slowly get out of hand as despair changes from the mob mentality to becoming a personal battle between Myron and Howard. While it’s difficult to say whether Myron and Howard’s relationship was really legit from the start, as the day progresses things get hilariously more hostile between the two.

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I don’t recall Arnie starring in a Christmas-zombie film, but this looks spectacular.

Along the way they bump into some other caricatures that help set Jingle All the Way a few mistletoes apart from other Christmas comedies. I can’t go as far as saying there’s material in here that’s offensive, but a few moments — particularly the Santa showdown scene — offer up lines that adult viewers will find more comical than the film’s necessarily younger, less mature target audience, and more importantly, worthwhile sitting through this Christmas farce.

Fortunately, this is mostly “for the kitz,” as Howard would say in his thick Austrian accent. The movie’s slapstick humor conveniently and, for the most part, successfully diverts the viewer’s attention away from the fact that this movie skimps on character development, dialogue and story, and more towards just having a good time. Oh, what fun it is to ride in Howard’s SUV as he charges around the city finding someone who will sell him a little plastic action figure. And to also poke fun of all the ways in which selling Christmas is downright kitschy. Indeed, this is a film that oftentimes shows the dark side to what is otherwise perceived as the happiest, brightest time of the year.

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Buzz Light-who? Sinbad as the Dementor is far more classic. . .

Naughty List:

  1. The Mall of America scene. Bad Arnie, don’t you know people generally frown upon grown men chasing children (who are not their own) through an indoor playground? The little kid may have the lottery number you need, but you’re lucky all you got was beaten by angry mothers and their purses.
  2. Feeding reindeer beer. Shame on you, Mr. Langston. That’s sick.
  3. Sinbad’s bomb in the mail trick. Sure, it was only grumpy Officer Hummell, but this particular gag might have been a bit overreaching, particular in light of recent national tragedies. Still, it was kind of funny at the time.
  4. Not showing up to your kid’s karate class graduation.
  5. Sinbad as the Dementor. What a bully. Was it just inevitable that he wound up symbolizing evil after all he and Howard go through together. . .? Methinks not.

Nice List:

  1. Justified violence as comedy. Fighting counterfeit toy-makers disguised as Santa Clause(s) was actually an act of self-defense and thereby justifiable. Otherwise, this would go on the Naughty List because who in their right mind would sucker-punch St. Nick?!
  2. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife. Literally. More justified violence in the form of hot coffee in the face may become necessary when your name is Ted and you’re knowingly making inappropriate advances on Howard’s wife.
  3. Howard eventually does offer an apology to Officer Hummell. . .dressed as Turbo Man.
  4. “. . .AND A ROCK-EM, SOCK-EM JETPACK!!!”
  5. Jamie gives the doll to it’s rightful (?) owner at the end, because he’s got the real Turbo Man at home!

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I’ll leave you with this.

3-0Recommendation: Kudos to director Brian Levant for trying to parody Christmas shopping and the stress it puts on people, even if it goes far and beyond reasonable at times. Jingle All the Way cannot be viewed as anything other than a silly 90-ish minutes to gather family around and watch Arnie get his over-sized body out of bizarre situations. One of my favorites from my childhood, I shamefully have not returned to this for years.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 88 mins.

Quoted: “Put that cookie down. NOW!”

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