Category: Critique

Summer Update 5/27/16 – Star Trek Beyond, Ghostbusters, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping; What I’m Watching: Neighbors 2 and more

If you missed me saying it in last week’s podcast, we are on a summer vacation from recording the show. [sadface emoji] But I’m in love with my own opinions too much to go a week without rounding up my thoughts on some new trailers and things I’ve been watching. I mean come on, I’m a white dude with a podcast–albeit one that’s on hiatus.

New Trailers

A handful of trailers released in the last couple of weeks have brightened my outlook on their respective films…

Star Trek Beyond (Paramount Pictures) — in theaters July 22, 2016

Back in January (Trailer Home Podcast: Episode 184) I expressed the same disappointment many other people felt for the teaser trailer for the 13th film installment in the Star Trek franchise. It was heavy on action and light on story, which is antithetical to what Trek has traditionally been in its 50 year history. This new trailer, unveiled at a Paramount fan event last week, is still pretty heavy on action and still prominently displays the fact that Fast & Furious director Justin Lin is at the helm (more on that below). But it also tones down the bro factor at least a little. Coupled with accounts of footage from the movie that was also screened at the event, it makes me more optimistic that Beyond will at least be on par with J.J. Abrams’ previous two installments and not just Fast & Furious in Space.

On a side note, last week was a pretty good one for Star Trek fans. In addition to the new movie trailer and footage, there was CBS’s unveiling of a teaser for next year’s new Star Trek TV series. (Yeah it’s pretty basic, but hey…something I guess!) And there was the announcement that Paramount is dropping a lawsuit against the producers of a fan-made film. That decision was due in part to campaigning by Justin Lin directly to studio heads, which also raises my hopes that Lin may be treating Star Trek Beyond with reverence to the franchise’s hardcore fans–something that some people felt even Abrams’ films were lacking.

Ghostbusters (Sony Pictures) — in theaters July 15, 2016

Ever since it was first announced that Ghostbusters was being rebooted with a core cast that just happened to feature all women (Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones), expressing even just skepticism at their involvement without being labeled a sexist has been a delicate balancing act. Don’t get me wrong: I recognize that there has unquestionably been a LOT of sexism in the criticism of the film’s female cast. My own problem has nothing to do with the fact that the cast are women or even with the fact that they’re remaking Ghostbusters. (At I least I don’t think I’m that dude….) Rather, I’m simply not a fan of McCarthy nor of director Paul Feig.

I missed out on the podcast where the rest of the guys talked about the first trailer back in March (Trailer Home Podcast: Episode 193). Suffice it to say I mostly agreed with their thoughts on it. This new trailer is at least…better. There were a few laughs, the action and ghosts look cool, and it appears to clear up some of the confusion over whether this movie is a separate story from the original movies or a continuation of them. (Melissa McCarthy says it’s the former and that even she wasn’t thrilled with the first trailer.) The new trailer upgrades my outlook on Ghostbusters from “Ugh, this looks really dumb” to “Well, I guess I’ll see it and maybe it will be OK.” I’m working on making those ratings a little more succinct.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (Universal Pictures) — in theaters June 3, 2016

Whereas Star Trek Beyond and Ghostbusters are both movies that I want to like but had initial trailers that just didn’t appeal to me, Popstar is a movie I never really had much interest in to begin with. After watching the first trailer in March (Trailer Home Podcast: Episode 194), I was noncommittal about seeing the Lonely Island comedy starring Andy Samberg as a Bieberesque celebrity punk. The new trailer starts with a rehash of some of the same scenes from the first one, but about 30 seconds in (about the time it takes to get to Mars) the new gags start. And if you didn’t get that last joke, watch this trailer. Oh, and it has Seal and wolves. Seal and wolves, people. I just might go see this in the theater. You’re welcome, Cody.

What I’m Watching

It’s fitting that within the first week after we begin our vacation, my schedule opens wide and allows me to watch a whole bunch of new things. Mostly I’m working on a lot of TV shows (more on those below), but I did get to one movie last week…

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (now in theaters)

Neighbors 2 (Universal Pictures)
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (Universal Pictures)

What surprised me most about this movie is that, for a gross-out/stoner comedy, it’s pretty socially conscious. Not only does it take a unique approach to empowering college-age women by making them as gross and irresponsible as men their age, but it also unexpectedly–and somewhat awkwardly–takes a stab at promoting gay rights by making one of the frat brothers from the first movie suddenly gay. For the most part, the social progressivism unfolds naturally through the plot rather than being telegraphed, and I actually appreciated that. Overall, though, the sequel feels like a collection of less funny jokes and bits that might have been cut out of the first movie, and perhaps the funniest thing in the entire film was a recycling of the airbag prank from the first one.

The Night Manager (AMC)

AMC aired the final episode of this imported British miniseries this week. As I mentioned on last week’s podcast, the spy thriller is a slow burn rather than a punch-a-minute action fest. It ratchets up the tension from episode to episode. By the last half hour of the last installment, I was watching with my jaw clenched waiting to find out what would happen. Based on a book by John Le Carré, it most definitely has the feel of an airport novel, but it’s very entertaining.

Documentary Now 

Cody previously endorsed this IFC mockumentary series from Fred Armisen and Bill Hader, which is now available for streaming on Netflix. The series is masterful in its parody treatment of various documentary styles, from found footage horror to Vice-style edginess to crime stories and others. Each episode is so well done, and the humor sometimes so subtle, that it’s sometimes easy to forget you’re watching something totally made up. It’s difficult to pick a favorite installment. This season is probably one of my favorite seasons of television I’ve watched in a long time, and so is…

Catastrophe – Season 2 

Also previously endorsed by Cody, the second season of this Amazon series (actually another British import) is maybe even better than the first one. Technically a romantic comedy, it’s one of the realest portrayals of relationships I’ve seen on TV. Whereas a typical romantic comedy would have its couple overcome their troubles with jokes and almost invariable schmaltz, Catastrophe proudly displays the flaws of its couple, even after they’ve committed to each other, and leaves you never quite certain whether their decision to stick together is turning out for the best. The season ends on a cliffhanger that makes my heart hurt. Season 3 can’t come soon enough.

Well, that’s what’s up with me. What are your thoughts on the new trailers for Star Trek, Ghostbusters, and Popstar? What movies or TV have you been enjoying? Share in the comments below. Maybe even Andy, Cody, or BK will share what they’re up to. Quite probably they aren’t even reading this, so I can freely say whatever I like about them. I’m not that mean, though. After all, they are the village that makes me look dope.

Cheap insults fail in “The Heat”

The+HeatThese are some expanded thoughts that stem from our review of The Heat in Episode 73. Written by Andy.

I think everything is open to being made fun of. But there is a difference between “laughing at” and “laughing with.”

How you frame the joke and who is in on the joke makes a difference.

Too often, The Heat chooses to laugh at people who are different as a means of creating an easy joke, rather than working a little harder to make fun of stereotypes and the people who use them. Example:

Scenario A:

Our hero is making fun of another character who happens to be albino, disabled, or minority. This character is played by someone who is not actually a part of this community* and is portrayed as a jerk, calling our hero offensive names.

In retort, our hero calls this character offensive names as well.

The joke comes purely from the offensive names, relying on stereotypes and insults (based purely on how someone looks) for humor.

They keep this up through the whole movie.

There is no resolution to this joke. There is no payoff. (In fact, our supporting character ends up being killed for being “annoying”)

Scenario B:

Our hero encounters the supporting character (albino, disabled, minority, etc.). The actor playing this character is actually part of this community. This is the first step of them being IN on the joke.

Our hero (or better yet, the villain) says something stereotypical or offensive to the character. “Hey snowcone! You look like some kind of demon.”

Our character embraces the insult and flips the tables on our hero (or villain). “That’s right. I am a snowcone. I am made out of snow. I’m actually one of the X-Men.”

Our hero realizes she was being insensitive and rights her behavior. Or, the villain, realizing their insults aren’t working, ups the ante with worse and worse insults as our character embraces them all in funnier and funnier ways.

Now the humor comes from how silly the stereotypes look and how useless the insults are. The supporting character is empowered by what makes them different, not belittled by the hero because of it.

Conclusion:

I care less when someone from a privileged position is mocked: they can fall back on their money or position of power in society when the joke is over. I care more when it is someone from a disadvantaged position that is the object of cheap jokes.

Now, my expectations are probably way too high at this point. After all, this is just a Hollywood movie with a budget of $43 million, not some kid’s YouTube video. Come to think of it, I’ve seen 6-second Vines with more social commentary than what we find in The Heat.

I love funny names as much as the next guy, but context matters. Are you insulting a minority with a stereotype just for the sake of the stereotype? Or are you trying to bring light to the stereotype and make fun of people who rely on it as an insult?

It is possible to make a successful politically incorrect movie where you laugh at stereotypes in spite of yourself (Blazing Saddles, Team America, Tropic Thunder), but The Heat ain’t it.

*I don’t think characters always need to be played by an actor who belongs to that community or group. You pick the best actor for the job. But I don’t like the whitewashing of movie roles (See The Last Airbender). It’s lazy and propagates a very bland popular culture. 

Celeste and Jesse Forever?

CelesteandJesse
Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg star in Celeste & Jesse Forever, now available on Blu-Ray, DVD and On Demand

by Rua, Trailer Home blogger

First off, I’ll be blunt. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with this movie. I don’t tend to like things that force me to feel the feels and get all emotional about the characters and plot. Ugh. I just don’t need it. However, Celeste and Jesse Forever, co-written by Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation) and Will McCormack (In Plain Sight) and directed by Lee Toland Krieger (The Vicious Kind), was skillfully written and directed, so I’ll forgive it.

The story follows two best friends, Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg), who have been married, are currently separated (but not emotionally) and going through a divorce. They’ve been through so much together and have so many inside jokes that it really seems at first that they’re still together. Jesse makes one more attempt at reconciliation, which fails due to Celeste’s cavalier attitude that he will always be there. He finally makes the decision to move on.

I’ve always enjoyed Jones in her performances on Parks and Recreation and The Office and have figured she had a bit more depth than she was really able to portray on either program, but the real standout in this film was Samberg. I was stunned by his performance. He’s usually in so many goofy roles that I really couldn’t see him in a character like this. His role here was beautifully acted, and I largely underestimated him. I hope he takes on more roles in the future that force him to stretch more like this one.

Another bright spot was Elijiah Wood as Celeste’s friend/business partner Scott. His part seemed to be a commentary on the role of the stereotype of the “sassy gay best friend” in romantic comedies. I liked that Wood’s portrayal of Scott (and Jones’ and McCormack’s writing of Scott) were much more realistic. Scott was her good friend who just happened to be gay. It wasn’t really a huge part of his character until he’d have an awkward line here and there where he’d try to be the “sassy gay best friend,” and Celeste would make fun of him for not being true to his character.

For all the reasons I loved this movie (see above), please see it. It’s beautifully written, acted and directed. Subtle in all the right places and gut-wrenchingly emotional in all the others. This film is an anti-romantic comedy, which automatically gets a thumbs up.

However, I don’t know that I can watch this one again. It was much too relatable. I think it’s due to the age of the characters, their stages in life, etc. Breakups are a terrible part of life, whether it be of a romantic relationship or even a close friendship. It doesn’t matter. They both sting, and we’ve all been through them, making this movie hard to watch at times.

So to recap: you’ll laugh, you’ll cry. Watch it. It will make you stronger. And who doesn’t want to be stronger?

Celeste and Jesse Forever is available on Blu-Ray, DVD or On Demand 
Rated R for language, sexual content and drug use

Which movie is fairest of them all?

Aimee here! I recently watched both 2012 releases of the take on the Snow White story. While there were some mildly amusing scenes and some moments of original cinematography in each movie, they were very few and really far between. Mirror, Mirror was bland and while they sort of tried to make Snow more of a hero and less of a victim, she didn’t really make the greatest choices in terms of a life partner.

Snow White and the Huntsman was completely unoriginal leaning heavily on influences from Lord of the Rings, What Dreams May Come and other science fiction fantasies. Kristen Stewart plays the same character she has in every single film, sneering and brooding her way through the story. While, in my opinion, I was a little less bored by Mirror, Mirror, I’m not suggesting you should run out and rent either one. I have, however, managed to compile a small list of topics to compare. Though, because I couldn’t really remember most of what I watched, I did rely heavily on IMBb and Wikipedia.

Dwarves
Mirror, Mirror: Butcher, Wolf, Half Pint, Grimm, Chuckles, Grub, Napoleon

Chauvinistic, self-centered and spring-loaded stilt wielding thieves. Apparently they have chips on their shoulders after being cast out of society during the reign of the evil queen.

SW&TH: Muir, Beith, Gort, Coll, Duir, Quert, Nion, Gus

Best character development in the movie. They seemed to be the most sane, reliable storytellers. So much more could have been done with their presence. The oldest was a clairvoyant and the youngest was a sweetheart.

1937 animated Disney movie: Happy, Dopey, Sleepy, Sneezy, Grumpy, Bashful, Doc

Charming little fellas that will let SW stay with them provided that she cook and clean up after them. Sold! They do chase after the queen after SW is poisoned with the apple. The queen falls to her death and they encase SW in a glass coffin, so there’s that…

1912 play: Blick, Flick, Glick, Snick, Plick, Whick, Quee

First appearance of names for the seven dwarves. I’m guessing there wasn’t a seventh strange name that rhymed with ick.

Queen
All versions of the Queen are intensely vain, otherwise the story doesn’t make any sense.

Mirror, Mirror: Clementianna

Delusional and mean, not a great combination. Other than riches, doesn’t seem to have much of a motive.

SW&TH: Ravenna

B@t$h*t crazy! Soulsucks the youth out of young women and a has magic bathing ritual to stay fair. Charlize Theron puts in a great performance with some major temper tantrums. All this rage and madness in attempt to get revenge on men because she was young and beautiful and feels that she was taken advantage of. I’m not sure but could she be overreacting?

Interesting to note that in looking up the Dwarves’ names from previous versions, I found that evil witches have to have odd names too with Disney’s Grimhilde and Brangomar, from the 1912 play.

Reflections
Mirror, Mirror: The queen’s older, wiser, more Victorian clown-like self, in an upside down water world, accessed through a walk-in closet.

SW&TH: A Terminator-esque blob of metallic fluid.

Both film’s mirrors/mirror worlds were visually interesting and neither actually reflects the actual image of the character using different actors/siblings to portray them.

Charmed, I’m Sure
Mirror, Mirror: Prince Alcott was a cartoonified, stereotypical knight-in-shining-armor until the magic spell turned him into a cartoonified, puppy-in-human-body. Other than good looks, what does SW see in him?

SW&TH: Is Prince Charming the Duke’s son William, Snow’s childhood friend or the Huntsman? Or perhaps the better question is: do we care? Supposedly the Huntsman role was offered to Tom Hardy, Johnny Depp, Viggo Mortensen and Hugh Jackman before Chris Hemsworth eventually snatched it up.

Apple Trickery

Both movies paid homage to the witch bringing Snow White an apple. In SW&TH, Ravenna is disguised as William, and the result played out more or less like the original with Snow White being comatose (how was that different from the rest of the movie?) until true love’s kiss. Mirror, Mirror had the witch disguised as an old hag but came after the marriage and there was no need for the glass coffin because SW was smart enough not to eat the poisoned fruit.

There are many other tributes to the original story sprinkled throughout, including Snow White’s animal camaraderie. None of them are really well done and certainly not worth exploring deeper. In conclusion, neither movie is recommended. But if you are absolutely hankering for a Snow White story, go with Mirror, Mirror.

And I lived happily ever after…

A.V. Club 50 best films of the 90s

See parts one, two and three.

Any list is obviously going to be subjective, but here is their top 10:

1. Goodfellas
2. Pulp Fiction
3. Toy Story 2
4. Dazed and Confused
5. Chungking Express
6. Out of Sight
7. Reservoir Dogs
8. Unforgiven
9. Rushmore
10. Being John Malkovich

Andy’s top 10 in no particular order

Hoop Dreams (#14)
American Movie (which is #49.. behind Starship Troopers!)
Fargo (#21)
Pulp Fiction (#2)
Fight Club (#25)
Groundhog Day (#15)
The Matrix (ignore the sequels) (#33)
Toy Story 2 (#3)
Seven (#34)
Schindler’s List (#18)

I have to admit, the last time I sat down to watch Goodfellas (which was a while ago), I thought the first half was compelling but the second half sort of dragged on.

Thoughts?