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?