December 31, 2015

21 Observations About Star Wars From A First Time Viewer

Confession: I've never seen Star Wars before. Like, any of them. I never thought of this as some kind of deep, dark secret, but with Star Wars: The Force Awakens taking over all aspects of life (Star Wars themed home decor! Star Wars shaped food! Star Wars sponsors Grey's Anatomy!), it seems my lack of Star Wars knowledge is putting me increasingly in the minority. So I went on a 4 day binge, watching all 6 previous movies in preparation for joining the masses at a screening of Star Wars Episode VII.

As a classic series debuting before I was even alive, I went in expecting some hokey graphics and other often-overlooked flaws many of our favorite childhood movies have. But as a set of fresh eyes watching the entire series start to finish (in the recommended order of 4, 5, 1, 2, 3, 6), I noticed a few things along the way:

1. As Yoda would say: Cute, young Anakin Skywalker is. Carry long portions of dialogue, he cannot. Elijah Wood, he will never be.

2. George Lucas loves an extended flight scene. Like, really, really, extended.

3. It seems the whole "rebels wear leather jackets" thing extended back even into the 70's. Clichès really are clichès for a reason.

4. The casting of Samuel L. Jackson as a Jedi is bizarre. George Lucas does realize Jedi are supposed to be calm, rational people right? Do you realize Samuel L. only shouts once in all 3 prequels? Did he forget to bring his personal writer on board or something?

5. Anakin Skywalker is the whiniest character since Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator. He's even more annoying to watch than Harry Potter when he falls under the negative influence of the horcrux.

6. Also, Padmé can do so much better than Anakin Skywalker. Sure, he's a Jedi, but she's a freaking former queen! And wouldn't that whole "I killed them all--not just the men, but the women and children too" confession send up some red flags to preclude you from marrying him?!? (And doesn't anyone find it creepy they first met when he was like, 8, but "fell in love" when he conveniently reached an appropriate age? Yuck.)

7. My theory of prequels and sequels remains intact: they are never as good as the original. Sequels lack the excitement of the first, and prequels rarely surprise you because you know where the story is headed.

8. Jar Jar Binks might be the worst sidekick ever created. If the Star Wars franchise were controlled by CBS, they would probably give him his own spin-off with Kat Dennings.

9. I don't want to be overly sensitive, but between the inexplicable Japanese accent of the viceroy of the Trade Federation and this guy to the left, I'm starting to wonder if George Lucas has something against Asians.

10. I know it's a fantasy story, but are we really expected to believe an 8-year-old Anakin Skywalker built and programmed a droid, built a racing pod, and taught himself to fly? He doesn't even look old enough to cut his own steak.

11. I appreciate that female characters (while few and far between) are not simple-minded, weak women, waiting to be rescued. Aside from the whole Leia/Han Solo "I love you." "I know." And Padmé once she gets pregnant and just stands around with worried looks.

12. I now understand why fans and critics hated The Phantom Menace. Natalie Portman is like a cardboard cutout of herself and I cannot un-see that terrible Mexico spring break braid in Ewan McGregor's hair.

13. I'm still fuzzy on exactly what "the Force" can and can't do. Apparently it allows Jedi to leap buildings like Superman and throw heavy objects around with their hands, but prevents them from actually flying, thrusting opposing planes out of the way, or even deflecting bullets?

14. There is no way Luke and Leia are twins. They don't even look to be in the same age range until Episode VI.

15. I know "the Force" was weak or whatever, but it seems the whole Darth Vader transformation could have been avoided if they hadn't kept Anakin Skywalker on the sidelines like a JV player.

16. This series never would have made it if not for Harrison Ford. He makes everything better. (Except 6 Days, 7 Nights. That couldn't be saved.)

17. I used to dream of owning a pet wallaby. Now, I dream of having a little Yoda who can limp around my house and give me wisdom. (Though I'd also settle for an ewok.)

18. Anakin seems to be the only person unable to correctly pronounce Padmé. He calls her Padamé. Like he couldn't read his script or something.

19. Obi Wan turned out to be significantly less badass than I had imagined. R2-D2 is significantly more so.

20. This series remind me a little of The Fast and the Furious--each subsequent movie had to up the ante on finding new ways to incorporate fast rides, fighting, and explosions.

21. If the promotion and box office success of Episode VII are any indication, I can safely assume sequels will continue to be made until my grandkids are old enough to watch them.

December 28, 2015

The Good Dinosaur (2015)

There are two questions you never want to find yourself asking while watching a movie:

1. Of what other movies does this remind me?
2. How long is this going to run?

The answers to which, were:

1. The Lion King, AvatarCity Slickers, and Mater from Cars
2. Long enough for me to get bored. Then realize there was still 30+ minutes left. Of a 90 minute film.

The Good Dinosaur started with some good ideas, some amazing animated cinematography, then got sidetracked by making the most sappy, predictable, boring story possible with its components.

The animation of the landscapes are amazing. Really. When the movie first started, I thought it had been photographed and we were going to end up with a throwback Disney Mary Poppins-type animated and real life mixed movie. It's that good.

And the idea of dinosaurs never going extinct, but surviving until they overlap with humans? Interesting premise. And sort of clever to make the dinosaurs the protagonists, with their "civilized life" of domesticated agriculture, while humans remain essential wild and dangerous. But is it 90 minutes-worth of clever and interesting? Not by a long shot.

The characters are weak and predictable. Yeah yeah, everyone loves an underdog, but isn't there anything else to be added to this narrative of "weak and timid protagonist with a good heart proves to himself and his bullying sibling/parent/friends/whatever that he is actually strong inside through some arduous journey?" Blah, blah, blah.

What makes a movie like this boring and a movie with a similar premise--say, Hercules--interesting is the detail surrounding the main narrative. In Hercules, the supporting characters are more numerous and have more depth. Meg layers the complexity of good people who do bad things, Hades and his sidekicks are both evil yet provide comic relief, etc. Even Pegasus the horse (who doesn't talk) is more entertaining than the wild little boy in The Good Dinosaur. All we get here are short cameos from redneck dinosaurs like Buck and Butch and Nash. Didn't we already have to suffer through a prototypical "hick" character in both Cars and The Frog Princess?

This movie relies on only two characters--one of whom doesn't speak a word--to fill the entire time and carry the emotional load it tries to dump on the viewer. Instead, it comes off as predictable and trying too hard. Castaway, this is not.

Maybe it was the Western theme. I don't hate Westerns, though I am hard pressed to think of any I love beyond Young Guns (Kiefer!) and Tombstone (Val!). Or maybe it was the fact that a movie about dinosaurs managed to only have a whopping 5 types of dinosaurs (one of which was in the movie for about 30 seconds). Or the fact that the apatosaurus kids' entire goal in life was to put their stupid footprint on a grain storage bin.

In the current climate of remakes and sequels, I was genuinely excited to see a new movie with original characters. But I haven't been this let down from a Disney movie since Brave. At least I can rest assured it won't win Best Animated Feature against Inside Out.

Final word: It's a bad sign when the best part of the movie is the animated short beforehand.

P.S. I hate to give publicity to other blog posts I find offensive or ridiculous, but this one about the movie being blatantly anti-Christian and the author "having to explain to his kids about Hinduism" because of the short beforehand almost made my eyes roll out of my head.

December 17, 2015

15 Things I've Learned About the Hallmark Christmas Movie Universe

It's been two years since I first wrote about made-for-TV Christmas movies. It was slim pickings back then, with The Hallmark Channel trying it's very best to churn out cheesy holiday goodness starring actors who were relevant 20 years ago (Dean Cain, I'm talking to you).

Since then, watching these has become some sort of a trend. Lifetime, TV One, and Ion have all jumped into the mix, making "original" (the use of that term is highly debatable) holiday movies, and Hallmark has expanded into it's "Movies & Mysteries" network with movies that are still Christmas-themed, but attempt to be more dramatic. Even the pool of actors has exploded. Now, for every movie starring Lacy Chabert or Candace Cameron-Bure, there is one with someone who is still acting in things besides TV movies.

Through 3 seasons of nightly Christmas fare consumption, I've learned a few things about the Hallmark-version of life.

1. Both ice skating and picking out a Christmas tree are extremely romantic, but only if one of the two people on the quasi-date are completely inept at the activity. I'm not sure how anyone can be inept at picking out a tree, but this somehow makes for lots of prolonged eye glances and coyly ducking behind trees.

2. Speaking of Christmas trees... only real trees are acceptable. Having a fake tree is the mark of a soulless individual who absolutely cannot sustain a relationship. Real trees are part of the "magic of Christmas."

3. Really rugged men cut down their own tree, but just picking a pre-cut tree off a lot still qualifies as being "super into Christmas" for women and men in office jobs.

4. Sexual harassment is totally ok in the workplace if your boss is cute.

5. Stalking: also ok if you are attractive.

6. All women work the same three jobs: advertising, journalism, or owning a bakery. Her job determines her personality: corporate jobs = single and too busy to date or make more than one friend. Bakery = warm and kindergarten teacher-ish.

7. All men are either slick advertising/finance executives with little time for basic human decency, or down-to-earth guys who do "manly" work like furniture making or construction. Basically, they get the same characteristics as the women, except they get paid more for their jobs--just like real life! *snap*

8. If the main character works in an office, she/he is always up for a promotion--but only if they nail the Christmas story/deal.

9. Someone always has a secret passion for something artistic but lacks the self-confidence to pursue it.

10. There are always kids or animals involved. Someone is always a single parent, aunt, or volunteers at a shelter to help amp up their dating appeal by seeming maternal or nurturing.

11. There are only two ways people are single: recently dumped and bitter about it, or widowed. No one ever gets divorced.

12. People in relationships do not kiss. Nor do people who are basically dating but haven't had "the talk" yet. In fact, no one kisses until a dramatic moment presents itself.

13. It's not weird at all to tell someone you love them after only knowing them a few days. They totally won't panic or be weirded out.

14. Only white people celebrate Christmas. Visible minorities are relegated to friends, co-workers, and the occasional extra. (Seriously. There is never more than 2 black people in a single movie unless it's starring Christina Milian.)

15. It always snows on Christmas. It doesn't matter if it's LA or Seattle or Tennessee.

Don't miss my follow-up post, 10 More Things I've Learned About the Hallmark Christmas Movie Universe

December 14, 2015

Trumbo (2015)

Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren

My social media news feeds have been chock full of political statements lately: Syrian refugees, gun control, Planned Parenthood, Black Lives Matter (yes, this is still happening), Supreme Court Justice Scalia's weirdly racist statement, anything out of Trump's mouth, etc. And like everything else in life, each side staunchly believes it is the correct side. 

Where I start to lose my sh*t is when people start calling for the infringement of First Amendment rights. A quick lesson out there for everyone who wants to scream "freedom of speech" anytime they want to say something hateful. Yes, you can say it (so long as it is not threatening harm to someone else). But people can still judge you, respond to you, and repeat in the same hateful manner. Hence, the comment section of any article on the internet. Freedom of speech is protection from government persecution of your speech, not public opinion. *steps down from teacher's podium*

I bring all this up because in the wake of all this political turmoil, I watched Trumbo, a movie about Hollywood's blacklist of workers based on their affiliation with the Communist party. And man, did it get my blood boiling. Because no matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on, don't we all agree that Congress wastes far too much time and money on stupid investigations while ignoring actual problems? (see: The Mitchell Report) I thought this was a universal truth.

But I watched this movie and realized how little has changed. People's fear of Communists, either blatantly led or at least egged on by the government, allowed thousands of people to be fired, lose their homes, become ostracized from their communities, etc. I want to be sympathetic. I do. I get that people are/were scared. But at what point does your fear get to trump fellow citizen's civil liberties? At what point does your fear get to ruin other people's lives?

This movie was heartbreakingly sad. But not because of Dalton Trumbo suffering, though that was of course, tragic. This movie made me sad because I can't help but wonder how many people will watch it and think "wow that's terrible--good thing those times are over." Or "thank goodness for people like Trumbo, who stood up for what's right." Or worse, "he got what he deserved."

Because the fact of the matter is, those times are not over. We are facing an assault on our civil liberties every day, on different fronts. And how many people are going to be willing to risk their livelihood for what they believe in? How many people will stand up for what they believe in if they don't personally have a stake in it? Are we going to leave it to the persecuted to fight their own battles?

I am reminded of the little seen movie, Flash of Genius with Greg Kinnear, in which he spends his entire life fighting court cases against the Detroit motor companies for essentially stealing his patent of the intermittent windshield wiper that can now be found on every single car manufactured across the world. He lost his family, his credibility, his health, and probably a good deal of his sanity fighting for his right to what was already legally his under the law. And yet he had to fight a battle most would not survive. Thank god for him. And thank god for people like Trumbo, who was willing to fight for his Constitutional right to believe whatever he wanted to believe, whether or not I agreed with his philosophies. How many of us would go to prison defending our beliefs and rights (because reminder: Trumbo and the Hollywood 10 actually did NOTHING ILLEGAL). I'd like to believe I would, but I honestly don't know if I would have the courage.

I realize I addressed very little of the movie itself and instead went off on a political tangent. That wasn't by accident. The movie, while compelling, is good precisely because it causes you to think about the political atmosphere of then and today. Of course the acting is good--it's Helen Mirren and Walter freakin' White (who looks more than a little like Geraldo with that moustache), with a dash of John Goodman, who should never act without holding a baseball bat. Everyone plays their part like a good waiter at a fine dining restaurant: the experience is seamless and they call no unnecessary attention to themselves. The characters resist becoming one-dimensional "good" or "bad" guys, with shades of fallibility and valor on both sides. And Louis C.K. is in it, which only makes it more awesome. 

This movie, at it's core, is the quintessential Hollywood movie: it stars big, serious names, is historical, is a drama, and of course, is about Hollywood itself. It's just a shame it wasn't nominated for more Golden Globes.

Final word: If this movie doesn't at least frustrate you in some way, I question your moral compass.

P.S. Roman Holiday is my favorite movie of all time, so it doesn't hurt that Dalton Trumbo also wrote it. Freaking genius, that man. 

December 9, 2015

Jurassic World (2015)

Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard

When did we stop demanding that our summer blockbusters have real plots? Have I become the cranky old lady in a rocking chair, complaining bitterly about "the good old days?" Sure, summer blockbusters have always been known for emphasizing action over substance, but when did we reach Transformers 4-levels of CGI completely replacing a script writer?

The overall premise is believable--that is, if we as a society had already found a way to bring back dinosaurs, that someone would capitalize on its marketing appeal and create an interactive theme park of sorts. You know, the same plot as the first movie. I can even get on board with the fact that eventually, some dumbass would start mixing genes to create some sort of super dinosaur that could basically kill everyone. But outside of those two points? Everything else is a stretch. And I do mean everything else.

Why is there no governmental regulation or oversight of this very obvious potentially dangerous park? Why is the design of the headquarters copied from watching Apollo 13 or really any other NASA-themed movie? Do the writers understand they're writing about a theme park/zoo? Why would a theme park ever allow visitors to actually drive their own bubbles through open fields of dinosaurs? Is everyone operating on the "honor system?" Did the writer of Fifty Shades of Grey write the banter between Pratt and Howard? Is this movie for real?

Add to that, Vincent D'Onofrio's appearance as the most unintentionally ridiculous villain since Hugh Jackman in Chappie and this movie was practically a comedy. An action comedy, of course.

Maybe I missed something, watching it at home on DVD instead of in a big dark theater, but this movie was lacking the suspense and terror the first movie brought. Instead, you just knew the dinosaur was going to be waiting around the corner or above someone's head every time the camera did a slow pan. Granted, I don't watch a lot of suspense movies, but there has to be other methods of drawing that same sensation. It was as if this movie copied every technique from the first movie (with the exception of more updated CGI), except badly.

Which leaves you with only CGI and action--both of which are good. It's hard to hate any action sequence, really, outside of the ending of 22 Jump Street. So that's something, I guess.

Final word: It plays like the 4th movie in a series that never needed a sequel. Which it is. 

November 30, 2015

Trainwreck (2015)

Amy Schumer, Bill Hader

Remember when Margaret Cho was really popular, then she got her own TV show and it wasn't funny? This is kinda like that...

I really like Amy Schumer. I didn't watch her season of Last Comic Standing, but I've seen her HBO special and some of her skits from Inside Amy Schumer and think she's pretty funny. I love her take on feminism, dating, and her wry humor, though it may be a bit crass for me at times. (Note to Amy: even women don't like to listen to the word "vagina" that much.)

But this movie wasn't funny. I shouldn't be surprised. The combination of Judd Apatow at the helm and the studio likely steering Schumer's humor more mainstream resulted in cliched, boring jokes about sleeping around and bodily functions. I mean seriously, why is it ever necessary to see someone on a toilet? 

That being said, it wasn't terrible either. Sure, Schumer's character follows the typical "career-driven woman" story arc of being selfish and mean, but she also manages to show a glimmer of depth in the relationship with her dad. And of course, in her aspirations as a journalist. Sigh. Do women in movies ever work in regular office jobs? (Literally the only one I can think of off the top of my head is Sanaa Lathan as a CPA in Something New.)

I suppose I should commend Schumer on at least breaking Apatow's trend of good looking, uptight women with unattractive, slacker guys that have no business dating women do far out of their league. Yes, Schumer is unequivocally better looking than Bill Hader, but considering he's a doctor and seemingly pretty normal, it appears he's the catch in the relationship. I wish his character had a bit more dimension, but I guess they substituted all those scenes to accommodate appearances from LeBron instead. *eyeroll*

There were funny moments in the movie. John Cena in particular was surprisingly good and made me almost forget how much I hate that anyone let him into acting. And Tilda Swinton was the best unrecognized cameo in a movie since Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder. But the realistic moments of relationships stole the show, making the movie far more serious than I ever would have imagined. Humor is rooted in realism--I just wish it had been funnier.

Final word: I'm still not sure what to make of it.

November 20, 2015

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

Ben Stiller, Kristin Wiig

This movie is kind of awesome. Not just because it's the only movie outside of a Bond franchise to even bother to make interesting opening credits. Not just because the cinematography is enough to make anyone quit job and travel the world.

This movie is kind of awesome because it is so different. Remember when Will Ferrell did Stranger Than Fiction? It was a quirky, off-beat movie that was so far from the types of comedies he was known for and everyone was too weirded out to watch it? Well, this movie is what that movie should have been. It has the same odd vibe with pockets of unexpected humor, except that the pairing of Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig in this movie are much more pleasing than Will Ferrell and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

I think the reason this movie flew so under the radar is because no one knew what to expect from it. I remember when it came out, yet never felt compelled to see it because all I knew was that it wasn't a straight comedy that starred Ben Stiller. (Though don't get me wrong--I'd probably feel less compelled to watch if it had been.) In fact, I might have missed this movie all together if I hadn't been stuck on a plane that offered free movies in place of customer service or decent food.

But no one should miss this movie, least of all those people who list "travel" as an interest on their resume (because there are people who don't like to travel?). This movie toes a tricky line between reminding us of the depressing grind of daily obligations and restoring a sense of wonder and excitement about the world around us. And it does it with Ben Stiller.

Final word: Good enough to re-think your stance on Ben Stiller movies.

November 13, 2015

San Andreas (2015)

Dwayne Johnson, Paul Giamatti

Everyone likes the Rock. It's just a fact. It is impossible not to like him. Which really explains his continued success in the acting world, despite an actual ability to act.

This is not to say he's painful to watch. We're not talking about John Cena, after all. It's just that Johnson manages to act like, well, himself, in every movie. So viewers enjoy his movies just enough for him to stay employed. I'm guessing this is how Diane Keaton keeps getting roles, since the only thing she seems to do in movies these days is flail her arms wildly and act like an uptight nag.

This movie fits precisely in his wheelhouse. It's a lot of action, a paper thin plot, and people who are just attractive enough to help you gloss over the ridiculousness of the plot, but not so attractive that you don't take them seriously (you know how Hollywood does things). Oh, and Paul Giamatti thrown in there for good measure.

On one hand, this movie was great for showing strong, capable women lead in times of crisis. Both the mother and the daughter were not the usual meek woman, waiting to be saved, but proactive participants in their own fate. On the other hand, it showed people looting and gun violence in Bakersfield and well, Bakersfield just doesn't need that kind of piling on. People already don't want to go there.

In the end, this movie is almost exactly what you'd expect, right down to the ending. But hey, the only reason you're watching it is because The Rock anyway, right?

Final word: At least it'll make you go out and buy an earthquake kit.

November 4, 2015

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante [book]

This book had so much hype I should have known it was going to be split into four parts. Books are the new movies, apparently--they're not really successful until they spawn their own franchise.

Everything I heard about the book before reading it talked about this "amazing friendship" between the two main characters, girls who grow up together in a poor neighborhood in Naples, Italy. I went in expecting a girly lovefest. Instead, I got Mean Girls, but not funny.

These girls are not friends. At least, not in any way I would consider a friendship. Luckily, it's 2015 and we now have a word to describe such a relationship: frenemies. The main girl, Elena (aka Lenuccia, aka Lenu) is a whiny, self-esteem-deprived girl who can't see anything beyond wanting to be as cool as her "best friend" Rafaella (aka Lina, aka Lila because everyone in this f*cking needs a nickname or two, apparently). Lenu does nothing but compare herself to Lila and surprise! always finds herself coming up short. Wah wah.

Lila, on the other hand, is a snobby, self-absorbed, bitch. Even at the beginning of the book, in which the girls are 6 years old. Especially when she's 6. Granted, the book is written in the first person view of Lenu, so it's hard to say exactly what Lila's motives are, but her actions portray her to be the kind of person really no one would want to be friends with. So the book is sort of baffling that way.

The entire childhood of Lenu and Lila is quite the task to get through. Between their not-really-friendship and a list of characters befitting a Shakespeare play, I'm not sure I would have persevered through the first third of this book if I didn't feel so embarrassed about showing up to book club unprepared.

Luckily, things pick up quite a bit as the book skips ahead to their adolescence. Lila becomes slightly less annoying, though I can't say the same for Lenu. (I'll never be as good as Lila! I need to prove I'm better than her! Sigh.) And the action heats up with interest from boys and shadowy mob-type families with lots of money.

The story is that "Elena Ferrante" is a pseudonym because it is a true story and the woman who wrote it doesn't want the mob coming to kill her because of what she wrote about them. With the amount of detail in the book about the location, people, and family histories, it's certainly a believable story. But then again, we live in a cynical enough world where it's equally believable that her agent crafted this story to generate buzz for the book. Either way, the world Ferrante creates and describes is so rich in detail you can practically watch the story in your head as if it were a movie.

So just as I began to get interested in the story, it ended--on a cliffhanger, of course. It's the first in a series of four books, after all. I can't say I'm going to run out and read the remaining books, but I'm certainly not opposed to finding out how the story ends.

Final word: Surprisingly engaging, considering none of the characters are likeable. None.

October 18, 2015

Whiplash (2014)

Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons

Ahhh... abuse. We're all against it, unless it's helping someone get better at sports.

I'm just going to put this out there: the treatment of Miles Teller by J.K. Simmons in this movie is only shocking to people because Teller's character is training to be a drummer and not a quarterback or power forward. Think about it: how often do we praise hockey players for getting stitched up without aneasthetic (because it would take too long) and going back out on the ice? Or players who compete with broken limbs? Why do you think the former NFL players with brain damage from sustaining repeated concussions had such trouble suing the NFL over their injuries? We worship the "tough guy" approach to coaching. It's the same reason Bob Knight keeps getting hired.

I feel sort of on the fence about this whole scenario. On one hand, I had some hard ass coaches myself growing up and frankly, I responded to their methods of "encouragement." (Though to be clear, nothing anywhere as extreme as what's shown in the movie.) When you want to improve and be the best in your field, you are willing to do whatever an expert tells you you need to do to achieve it. It's perverse, probably, but it also likely explains the baffling number of professional athletes who have seemingly decent IQs yet took steroids. Not excusing cheating (which really what steroids are), but an addiction to winning can certainly warp people's sense of right and wrong.

Speaking of sports, I'm not going to lie--the extended practice sequences would have been more entertaining for me had it been sports and not the drums. Sure, I appreciate music, but I really don't have an ear to know what is good drumming. Obviously Teller's character is really good at them, and we see him sweating profusely over rapid fire movement, but I have no way to tell you what it should sound like. So it's impressive, but not as impressive as it probably should have been.

What is impressive is J.K. Simmons. He is simultaneously terrifying and intriguing, not the least of which is because he also does those Farmers Insurance commercials. I don't often go back and watch Oscar-nominated (or winning) movies afterward because the hype frequently outweighs the actual film, but his Best Supporting Oscar was rightfully earned. Simmons is actually so good, I found myself mentally forgiving Miles Teller for Divergent just for being in this movie.

I'm also selling the movie short with my sports analogy. It's not just a sports movie for music people. It's less about a regular underdog story and more about the our complex need for approval from authority figures and the intricacies of abusive relationships. You see the justifications from both sides, and it's both horrifying to watch and impossible to look away. It's certainly a thinking movie. You know, once you get over the shock of it.

Final word: Intense.

October 12, 2015

Hotel Transylvania 2 (2015)

Adam Sandler + posse, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Steve Buscemi

As a friend told me after hearing I paid to watch this movie, "If you watched [the first one] and went for a second helping, it serves you right." But I didn't watch the first one! And the first one was nominated for an Oscar! Doesn't that mean something? Sure, so was this movie, leading me to believe basically any semi-successful animated movie gets nominated for an Oscar, but...straws...grasping...

So yes, I watched this. I paid money. Theater money. It's hard to pinpoint what exactly made it so disappointing. Shockingly, it wasn't Adam Sandler's weird Transylvanian accent. Except for the musical interludes (because like Jason Segal, Adam Sandler seems unable to keep himself from singing in every movie), I might not even have recognized his voice had I not already known it was him. 

Simply put, the movie is boring. It's not aggressively bad--just not enjoyable to watch. All the jokes read exactly as if a group of 40+ year old men sat together in a room and decided what kids and parents would think was funny. Because apparently kids are stupid and parents only think parenting jokes are funny. It just tries way too hard. Oh, look how hip these old guys try to be when dancing! And differences in parenting style! Hilarious! It was Parental Guidance meets Madagascar 3.

At the end of the day, I realize this is a sequel. And sequels are almost universally disappointing, but there was a lack of a single original idea or joke in this entire movie. And I'm saying that without even having seen the first one. Even the baby in this movie looks like he was copied from the annoying brothers in Brave

This movie isn't scary, it's not funny, nor is it cute. I'm not sure what purpose it serves other than for Adam Sandler to hang out with his friends and rake in money from parents who have no other options for movies to take their kids to. The only character in the movie I enjoyed was Wayne, who is voiced by Steve Buscemi. Go figure. The only real actor of the bunch. (No offense, Selena Gomez, but Spring Breakers and Monte Carlo isn't convincing anyone of your acting prowess.) 

Final word: I can't even.

Side note: The main girl's name is Mavis, and every time they say it, all I can think of is Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. Did anyone else use that computer program as a kid?

September 29, 2015

9 Questions I Have About Kid's Shows...

I have some legitimate questions about the TV shows my kids watch. No, no, not about whether they're "educational" enough or not (come on, it's a substitute babysitter--stop trying to rationalize it) or even age appropriate (should my 4-year-old not watch America's Next Top Model with me?). My questions stem from watching these shows on seemingly repeat with no attempt on the part of the creators to address the following:

1. Why is Swiper such an a**hole?
Swiper the Fox from Dora the Explorer has one role: to steal Dora's stuff. Except he doesn't even use it for himself, which would make sense. If he gets a hold of it, he usually just chucks it somewhere far away for them to retrieve, then laughs about it. It's a pretty dick-ish thing to do.

2. How is no one bothered by the rip-off that is Go Diego Go?
Diego is Dora's equivalent of The Cleveland Show. He's a decent character within a larger story, but probably shouldn't have had his own show. Or, at the very least, could have been given a different show--not just a sub par version of the original. Practically everything is the same: animal sidekick? Check. Talking backpack that shows up with a song? Check. A helpful tool to assist in the mission? Check. Friends along the way? Check. A designated troublemaker? Check. Every last detail has been copied. Except baby jaguar's role in on par with that of an actual baby (read: sit there and look cute), the camera doesn't have an awesome insect mariachi band to introduce it, and no matter how much of a jerk Swiper is (see above), he's still infinitely better and more interesting than the stupid Bobo monkeys, who don't even talk.

Side note: this is my daughter's current favorite show. I've had a lot of time to think about how Diego is inferior to Dora in every way, except that his backpack's song is more zesty. Seriously. That's all I came up with.

3. If everyone hates Caillou so much, why is he still on TV?
Ask any parent, and Caillou will be atop their list of worst children's shows. He is this generation's Barney. Is this show intended to teach kids empathy toward whiny, self-entitled, inexplicably bald children with stupid names? I seriously do not understand the purpose of his show. Even his parents speak in those annoyingly soft, calm tones that make you think they are child therapists or something.

4. How is Ninjago a thing?
I get that people love LEGO. I love LEGO too. Even The LEGO Movie was surprisingly awesome. But doesn't there come a point when you can't turn everything into a LEGO? Apparently not. Not only are these books, but also a TV show, and of course, paraphernalia. Because LEGO Star Wars wasn't enough for this world.

5. Are Brits really that boring?
As an adult, I love British-produced television. (Ok, movies). But even other adults in my household often find them boring. So how any child, with an attention span slightly longer than that of a gnat, manages to sit through an entire episode of Peppa Pig is beyond me. I'm not saying kids should be constantly bombarded by neon colors and flashing lights, but even I use this show to put myself to sleep. Maybe that's the intent? Those cheeky Brits!

6. Am I the only person who didn't know how to pronounce The Berenstain Bears?
Growing up, my sisters and I collected these books. We had almost every one (except The Berenstain Bears and the Sitter. Damn it! The deprivation still stings!). And I made it through decades of life pronouncing it The "BerenSTEIN" Bears. Because really, shouldn't it be pronounced that way? It wasn't until I had kids and watched this show (which is one of those snobby examples of "the books are much better") that I realized I've been saying it wrong my whole life. Please tell me I'm not alone.

Update: I found out that this Berenstein bv. Berenstain Bears is very much a thing and that I'm totally correct.

7. How can anyone watch Curious George after reading the original book?
This isn't me being snobby again about the books being better than the show. Honestly, have you ever read the original Curious George? Haven't you always wondered how George came to live with the man with the yellow hat? Let me recap it for you: the man with the yellow hat (whose name now sounds suspiciously like a police description) goes to the jungle and lures George into a trap so he can kidnap and bring him home to put in a zoo. While at the man's house, George dials 911 because he wants to see the trucks with all the sirens come on. They arrest him and put him in jail for falsely dialing emergency services. The book actually has a picture of George sitting in a jail cell! Eventually he breaks out, the man with the yellow hat gets him, and they put him in a zoo. Yay?

8. Doesn't anyone care about quality animation anymore?
It feels like anyone with a pencil is allowed to make an animated show these days. Maisy? Peg + Cat? Watching these shows is like walking through a modern art gallery. All I can think is, "I could draw that!"

9. SpongeBob SquarePants
People don't really show this to their kids, do they?