Comet

Release: Friday, December 5, 2014

[Netflix]

Written by: Sam Esmail

Directed by: Sam Esmail

Comet can pretend it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event but the stars shone so much brighter in the universes it has been melded by, spectacular constructs like the intricate and heartrending Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and 500 Days of Summer.

Bearing the heartbreak of the former while resembling more of the latter’s narrative nonlinearity and sophistication, Comet isn’t exactly a bad film when comparisons to romantic dramas of that ilk occur so naturally. It’s just unfortunate there isn’t much beyond a different cast that distinguishes Sam Esmail’s work. Of course, the case could be made that his film pays homage but where exactly does one draw the line between dedication and duplication? A few colorful, creative scene transitions beautified by special effects don’t quite cut it for this cynic reviewer. Oh, and the film is supposed to be set within a parallel universe. Although a bit hokey, that angle is one I can work with.

Prior to what is purported to be a spectacular meteorological event, Dell (Justin Long) bumps into the beautiful Kimberly (Emmy Rossum) as they wait in a line to access a park that will provide the ideal vantage point. Caught up in one of his verbalized streams of consciousness stating his lack of faith in humanity, as only a character played by Long can, Dell is saved from being hit by a passing car by the new girl. He spends the remainder of this evening pining after her, lamenting the fact she’s already spoken for by some guy who happens to look good but quite clearly has no personality. He decides the meteor shower can wait until he’s finished his stalking.

Comet then jettisons us out of this present tense and into another, one somewhere in the near future (this film covers a six-year period), where the two are now an intimate couple. Times haven’t changed so much as the dynamic of Long and Rossum’s interactions. We’re privy to heated arguments, weird phone calls, insults stemming from two people slipping out of love and into something more akin to hostility. Resentment. Chain smoking cigarettes becomes a motif. And Long’s character doesn’t become much more likable, though he is certainly interesting. This is probably one of his better performances, though it’s veiled behind pretentiousness and petulance. Conversely Rossum magnetizes with her quick wit and hipster glasses.

Then the narrative shifts yet again, sending us back into a place where things were more romantic. The story constantly moves and changes, with almost every scene introducing a different phase in the relationship. And the process is far from chronological. That the film manages to maintain our interest at all stems from an incisive, brutally honest script that lays bare all the faults — some of which are all too apparent and others that are created through the simple but terrifying passage of time — of a relationship that seems to have been contrived from the very beginning. Who shakes hands to formally kick off a relationship? Who does that?

Apparently this couple. Comet would be a memorable picture but — at the risk of repeating myself — it’s far too reminiscent of Tom and Summer’s experiences together and the slide into their own private oblivion. Whereas 500 Days of Summer justified its experimentation with practical structure (“500 days” prepared us for the inevitable) Comet seems to just drag on and on, never seeming to settle on a pattern or even pretending like one would make any difference. It’s a shame because the performances are strong, the cinematography gorgeous and emotions do run high. Truly, it’s difficult at times to believe Rossum is in fact not in a real relationship with Long but the director himself. (I’m sorry, was that a spoiler?)

Comet has its moments of brilliance but it’s a true challenge shaking the feeling of déjà vu. Of course, there are worse fates for a film steeped in a generally predictable and melodramatic genre.

Recommendation: Visually dazzling and capably performed, it’s frustratingly difficult to ignore Comet‘s contrived nature. For great performances from its two stars, I do recommend a viewing. But be advised, you probably should have a high tolerance for Justin Long. He tested my patience at times and there’s a good chance he will yours. Emmy Rossum is a newcomer to me and she’s a delight. I’d recommend it more for what she puts forth actually.

Rated: R

Running Time: 91 mins.

Quoted: “Why does it feel so impossible to let you go? It’s an addiction, you know. That’s all it is. It’s a biochemical addiction. It’s so stupid. If you think about it relationships are totally narcissistic. Basically, you’re just looking for someone who’ll love you as much as you love yourself. That’s all it is.”

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Tusk

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Release: Friday, September 19, 2014

[Theater]

Written by: Kevin Smith

Directed: Kevin Smith

No walruses were harmed during the making of this film, though you better believe the human component didn’t fair so well. Particularly those in the audience.

Kevin Smith I find a gamble even at the best of times. His scripts, though often clever, intelligent — laced with profanity, sure, but that’s not part of it — and fairly accurate reflections of small-time American life, frequently tread the line as to whether there’s enough material to justify a full-length feature.

If ever one was curious about life at the convenience store Smith used to work at when he was young, there’s always Clerks, a genius bit of social commentary. Then there was one in color too, as if to prove he wasn’t just being pretentious. Zack & Miri, though one of his lesser-knowns, offered an interesting take on the things people would do for one another in a time of need. It was packed full of real flesh-and-blood characters, even if categorically perverted the lot of them.

Jay & Silent Bob (how could I forget?) was yet another intimate little story involving two stoners feeling insulted for being excluded from a movie adaptation based on their life. We’re actually trending away from reality a little more here but that’s quite convenient actually, because I’m about to drop the bomb on everyone.

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Now this is terrifying. . .

In 2014 we’re presented with Tusk. And don’t I feel like a fool now, thinking almost every one of his productions thus far have come at the cost of his own sobriety. Surely he had to have been tripping on some kind of amazing hallucinogenic when conjuring up some of these outings. No, I stand corrected. We have finally found that which exists as purely one drug addict at a party’s proposition to another, laid prostrate on the ground, foaming at the fucking mouth:

“Hey, I know what’ll make for a good movie: let’s shove a pair of walrus tusks up someone’s face as part of an homage to the weird-looking mammal, one in which the victim is a complete douche and deserves virtually everything that happens to him. Here’s the kicker: we won’t tell Tom Six about how much we really enjoyed his experiment!” (Six was the director of that horrible thing some might affectionately refer to as The Human Centipede.)

What you’ll find here is hardly a rip-off of that production. Tusk is superior in its construction, and possibly even in its conception. One major difference is Smith’s decision to fuse comedic elements together with its horrifying content. Unfortunately another is that Smith half-assedly presents his case. There’s too much talk-talk and not enough warrooo-warrooo (that’s the sound a human-turned-walrus makes), and the build-up shows footprints after being trampled on in order to deliver a gimmick that can’t in any way, shape or form be taken seriously. Make no mistake: the walrus, visually, is a huge disappointment.

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What now, bitch?

Wallace Bryton (Justin Long. . .in the tooth) and his buddy Teddy (The Sixth Sense‘s very own Haley Joel Osment) run a semi-successful podcast based out of Los Angeles. They call their show the Not-See Party. See what they did there? When a story idea presents itself to Wallace, he takes off for the land of funny-talking Americans (boy does Kevin Smith hate Canada) in search of his next opportunity to blow off his extremely attractive girlfriend who is with him for some unexplained reason. That these two are together is, when compared, the kind of cinematic injustice one can get over in a hurry. He fails to return, however, after stumbling upon a much more interesting lead.

A note in a bathroom beckons the tragically curious to an isolated mansion located on the outskirts of civilization (a.k.a. Manitoba). Wallace comes, he sees, but does he conquer? Tusk no. Neither does the polarizing Kevin Smith, whose life work may be best summarized as some of the most inspiring and ambitious slacker cinema. Tusk succeeds in grossing out the audience but only for a very brief period of time. The shock value is quickly ousted by bouts of hilarity, but we’re never sure if we’re laughing with the director or at him. And the ending is bound to leave the average audience in a most befuddled state.

Tusk is best summed up as wire-to-wire disappointment. Unable to truly capitalize on horror until too late, one thing it does have going for it is a delightfully sinister performance from Michael Parks, who plays some deranged Canadian version of Jigsaw, bent on establishing a relationship with the only thing he can seemingly identify with. Also, see this for another virtually unrecognizable Johnny Depp. But I have the distinct feeling these things aren’t the primary reason audiences are lining up to see this ‘truly transformative tale.’

Sigh.

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1-0Recommendation: Smith’s latest is as bizarre as — if not more so than — advertised. But it fails perhaps more than anyone might have imagined. Put it this way, when Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” hits, and you find yourself actually getting into the film, it’s a testament to how long we’ve been awaiting a distraction. Or, how much we really dislike the lead character. A recognizable song trumps any of the events on screen. I started tapping my legs. . .the legs that I still have. I started fidgeting in my seat. I had forgotten how good that song is. I highly encourage a rental rather than shelling out money to the theater for this one. It hardly beckons to be experienced on a big screen.

Rated: R

Running Time: 102 mins.

Quoted: “I don’t wanna die in Canada!”

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TBT: Accepted (2006)

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Well today, I went from this to that, and that to this and that to that and finally from this to this. It’s been a struggle. While all this dilly-dallying is going on, there are kids going back to school. Or college students preparing to do so. For those people I spare no sympathies because I too was once there. I was once lugging around unreasonably weighty backpacks filled with textbooks I barely cracked all semester. I was once a freshman, riddled with pimples (ew). I was once a senior slowly but surely accepting that all of this — this façade that had come to define who I was for this part of my life — was no longer my reality. Here’s a throwback that actually still manages to recall some of those feelings. This isn’t by any means a technically accomplished movie, but it’s still 

Today’s food for thought: Accepted.

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Release: August 18, 2006

[DVD]

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Bartleby “B” Gaines (Justin Long), a high school graduate falling perilously short of not only his own standards of who he ought to be (or — and how’s this for nursing those cliché withdrawals — who he is destined to become) but those of his parents as well. Bartleby is kind of falling behind as compared to his graduating classmates, and it probably doesn’t help much that he’s named Bartleby.

With frustration and pressure mounting — his parents nagging him at every second, begging and imploring him to get into a “good school” (as all loving and devoted parents ought) and his miss Smarty Pants sister egging on his fears about never getting into college — B finds very little comfort in the fact his other friends are off on a good foot, many of them getting into the first college they applied to. Left in the dust, B comes up with an off-the-cuff plan to establish a fictitious school, one in which walk-ins can sign up for any class as if it were a public health clinic. Classes they so desire in order to set foot on a path that is uniquely their own, and one constructed for their own individual brands of success. How quaint!

That Accepted is plastered with sentimentality and dick jokes — a really weird mix, bro (kind of like vodka and cat food. . .trust me, don’t try it at home) — won’t surprise anyone who happens upon the title and then chooses to embrace its contents. Everything about the process of Bartleby accruing a group of unlikelies for a common cause screams cliched and unoriginal. And that’s precisely what this is. But we aren’t meant to use our heads for this hysterical interpretation of the drafting of high schoolers into institutions of higher education. We’re meant to sit back, laugh and enjoy time going by. That’s a task made easier by certain presences in this film, in particular Lewis Black. And a task also made more difficult by director Steve Pink’s incredibly low ambitions. What could have been a film devoted to revealing the painful truth about the realities of colleges accepting more applications than they have spaces to fill, instead devolves into a raunch-fest filled with overhyped sex, drugs and rock-and-roll jokes.

I wish I were just being cute with that last line. Unfortunately all three of those boxes get ticked with no degree of shame, with a Steve Buscemi-look-a-like fulfilling the rock-star student quota (random). Accepted is a terribly lazy movie, a rehash of several other similar films whose perception of the world may not be any more healthy but are certainly more well formed than this. For the very definition of contrived is now spelt S.H.I.T. (South Harmon Institute of Technology, the fictitious community college B drafts up in an effort to show his parents he is actually attending school and not just. . .yeah, making them up off the top of his head).

Accepted gets high off of making a mockery of the college application process. It features a group of mis-fits — they are unsympathetic in this way as none of our central characters are particularly charming or even likable —  that includes Long’s “B;” (chubby) Jonah Hill’s Sherman Shrader; Maria Thayer’s Rory Thayer (hey, she used her last name!); Columbus Short’s ‘Hands’ (which isn’t nearly as perverse as it may sound); and of course, the token stoner dude, Glen (Adam Herschmann). . . who is conceived of as the dumbest person possibly on this campus. What is his major malfunction? Inhaling too many pot leaves, apparently.

This is a comedy that caters to the lowest-common IQ level and has no qualms with sticking it to ‘the man.’ The man in this case, being whoever decided that four-year degrees are the only ones worth pursuing. Steve Pink actually wisely selected Lewis Black as the mouthpiece for this particular viewpoint. His character, Ben Lewis (who happens to be Shrader’s uncle) can’t help but let his mouth overflow geyser-esque on the subject of educating America’s youth today. He always has an opinion and always has to share it loudly with the rest of us. I’m game for that, but not for the fact that no one seems to take notice of his impassioned gimmickry. Every note that Black hits is loud, but rings false. He couldn’t give a shit either. The script dictates that he should at least try.

Yeah, I can’t (and won’t) be the judge here, despite how much this movie annoys me. Extending one’s own educational background, be it for an extra semester or the pursuit of another doctoral degree, is a noble investment of one’s personal time and the film’s core message highlights the importance of staying in school and improving upon one’s self.

That’s good. That’s actually healthy. Unfortunately what Steve Pink et al chooses to do with his material is not. Rather than portraying a rather mature landscape of alternative-education avenues, his film marginalizes the individual seeking an alternative scholastic path as someone who must have something inherently wrong with them. On top of this film being an amateur production, I disagree with this film on principle. It sends all the wrong kinds of messages and for that reason, this film is bothersome.

Film Title: Accepted

“Oh man, something stinks!” (Yeah, it’s the script!)

2-5Recommendation: Don’t watch this film unless in the mood for some inane comedy, comedy that works much better in other more fully-developed films of the same ilk. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 93 mins.

Quoted: “. . .I got fired for making a shrimp slushy.”

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Waiting… (2005)

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 A famous quote from this movie might just sum up my experience spinning wings in hot sauce and obeying literal five-to-ten second rules at Buffalo Wild Wings (B-Dubs, to the in-crowd), as accurately as it sums up the movie itself: “Don’t f**k with the people who handle your food.” (Don’t worry — not ALL of the stuff in this movie happens in real life . . . )

Today’s food for thought: Waiting..

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Release: October 7, 2005

[DVD]

Another gross-out comedy to satisfy my summer-after-graduation-from-high-school palate, Waiting… has become gospel to any who have worked in the restaurant industry and who have had a nasty taste left in their mouth because of it. It’s not a particularly well-crafted piece, but it is alarmingly accurate in some sense. It is also pretty hilarious in spots, as well, and I still keep it in high regard when thinking of all the gross-outs that I have seen.

Employees of Shenanigans — a fictional knock-off of Chili’s and other such establishments — more or less hate their jobs, but it’s what they’ve got. So they deal. Rob McKittrick directs his talented cast as they walk through a day-in-the-life story about the frustrations of working a dead-end job. Along the way we deal with difficult customers (the source of that excellent quote that is used in my intro), employee relationships, and all the while trying to answer the question of “is this what I want to do with my life?” It is certainly a cliched, hackneyed thought, but McKittrick approaches the matter lightheartedly to affect us with just the right amount of poignancy and disgust.

Justin Long plays Dean, a nice enough guy who knows he’s seriously shortchanging himself in terms of reaching his career potential. He’s become comfortable in the routines and familiar faces that grace the premises of this burger-and-beer establishment. With the likes of Monty (Ryan Reynolds), his best friend that also happens to be a supreme underachiever and something of a womanizer; Serena (Anna Faris), a cool chick who’s “way too cool” to be working at this place; and Amy (Kaitlin Doubleday), who’s his major crush, Dean finds it difficult to move on and do that next great thing.

The movie takes place over the course of a single day, and it factors in all of the nuances of working in a restaurant. The hostess (Vanessa Lengies) is extremely professional, as she lusts after Monty despite the (illegal) age difference; the bus boys are. . .well, whiter than white trash but still dream of becoming a successful rapping duo (this was just a brilliant use of Andy Milonakis and Max Kasch, as Nick and T-Dog respectively); management is reasonable (David Koechner is Dan, a General Manager who seems to be more immature than most of his staff); and the kitchen staff is matured and remarkably cooperative. The kitchen crew is the source of one of Waiting…‘s longest running jokes — a game in which members of the kitchen staff will expose their genitals at random and if another employee sees them doing so, they get kicked in the ass and called a variety of homophobic slurs. It’s a perfectly functional environment, if I’ve ever seen one. And oh yeah, that Naomi girl (Alanna Ubach). She’s downright hilarious in this movie as that one member on staff who can’t f**king take it any longer. A constant stress mess, she’s always seen clutching a cigarette and muttering some combination of obscenities under her breath about the latest annoying customer. She adds just another level of crazy to the staff, and for me, it was one of the more memorable touches.

The icing on this cake is the overriding plot device McKittrick chooses in revealing the whole process. Using Monty as the vehicle for our Tour-de-Shenanigans, and a new hire in Mitch (John Francis Daley), we explore the ins-and-outs of the small building and it is through these two we get to intimately know the staff. . . some better than others. Considering the circumstances, Daley’s character is limited in his responses to it all, and makes for a second effective long-running joke. It all culminates at a party at someone’s house wherein the entire staff joins and lets off some steam. I could go on and on about this scene, but in keeping this relatively brief and spoiler-free, I’ll choose not to. You’re welcome.

There’s no denying that Waiting… succeeds 95% because of its cast. The script is nothing remarkable and the jokes, well you’ve heard a lot of them somewhere else at some point. The day-in-the-life formula has been used better before, but this is an interesting environment in which to apply that simplistic of a storyline since most of us at some point in our lives have eaten in a sit-down, franchised restaurant. However (and this is a big exception), the level of enjoyment probably increases tenfold if you’ve ever been more than just a customer in a restaurant. No matter if you’re currently in the industry or not, you may find yourself repulsed by what you see going on in Shenanigans’ kitchen, or you may find yourself doubled-over in pain from laughter. Either reaction constitutes a more personal experience with these things than if you were just the casual diner. The humor is low-brow one way or another, but a lot of what makes Waiting… a worthwhile experience is its exaggeration of the truth.

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3-0Recommendation: As previously stated, it helps if you find yourself in the specific target audience for this movie. If you’ve worked shifts (or doubles) serving tables, then you’ll feel some of these people’s pain. You may not be able to identify with their unique “issues” — who among us has ever been subjected to “The Goat?” — but I think a lot of us can identify with being grossly undertipped or underpaid. Long’s character takes the brunt of the emotional storm, and if you like Justin Long, you’ll probably enjoy this movie a fair amount.

Rated: R

Running Time: 94 mins.

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