December 31, 2016

13th (2016)

Ava DuVernay

Documentary filmmakers don't get the exposure they deserve. Probably because the majority of the general population internally cringes at the thought of having to learn something from a movie. (I'm not exempting myself from this category.)

But there are different kinds of documentaries. Some focus on a particular person's life. Others chronicle particular points in time. 13th is unique in that it spans both a huge swath of time and individual experiences while tying it all back to its main theme: the mass incarceration of African-Americans in the US. 

It's shocking. Even as someone who used to teach history, it's still shocking to watch all of it, laid out from the end of the Civil War to today. You can know every single incident covered in the film and still be shocked--it never goes away.

But this film wasn't put together with the intention of shocking the viewers. Sure, it shows photos of lynchings and videos of police shootings which are always difficult to watch, but really, this aims to educate people; educate anyone not intimately familiar with what it means to be black in America on the sobering fact that black men have a 1 in 3 chance of being incarcerated at some point in their life. 1 in 3. I'm going to repeat that again. 1 in 3.

There have been other avenues that have exposed the inner workings of the prison system and how dysfunctional it is. Lisa Ling, one of my favorite journalists, recently devoted an entire episode of This is Life to it. 13th, on the other hand, delves into the history of incarceration and the systemic biases built into the system and perpetuated throughout generations. Because as one interviewee in the film says, you can't understand why we have 2+ million people incarcerated and militarized police forces that kill nearly 1,000 people a year without learning the nuanced history of race relations and politics in America.

Lest anyone believe this is a "leftist piece of propaganda" (or whatever insult the internet trolls are using these days), it's worth mentioning DuVernay does give a voice to the dissenters--those who deny that mandatory minimums were racially motivated or that private prisons lobby for the incarceration of citizens for profit. It's not a large voice, but they are shown in the film. The film attacks politicians from both sides of the aisle and even black people themselves, for perpetuating this deep-seated belief that African-Americans are criminals. It leaves no angle untouched.

This is a learning movie. But a deeply important one and I hope the prospect of being educated on an uncomfortable and depressing subject doesn't deter people from hearing this message.

Final word: If I were still teaching Social Studies, this would absolutely be shown to every one of my students.

December 27, 2016

Moana (2016)

Auli'i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson

[I'm not going to lead with how hot The Rock is. I'm not going to lead with how hot The Rock is.]

The Rock is so hot.

People's Sexiest Man Alive, in fact.

So it is slightly disappointing to see his on-screen persona so unattractive (see below), but that's probably my biggest complaint about the movie. At least Maui has the cool tattoos like The Rock.

Moana is a beautiful story, told with a real sense of authenticity to the Polynesian people. The characters look accurate, the music throughout has the island feel, the story references both folklore and the actual history of the Polynesian people, and the main characters are actually voiced by islanders. So even before we delve into the specifics of the movie, it gets an A for effort. One of the favorite things about the movie is being able to hear hear the slight accent of Auli'i Cravalho come through when she pronounces certain words. It's the the little things.

Don't worry, I'm not going to turn this post into a dissertation on the importance of representation in media, but I will just say I teared up a bit thinking about how excited children of Pacific Island descent must have felt seeing their heritage shown accurately and positively for such a wide audience. I certainly remember the impact on my life as a kid just seeing the trailer for Mulan before it was released.

A lot was made about Moana lacking a romantic storyline and a Prince Charming, so to speak, to which I say, doesn't anyone remember Brave? But Moana takes the strong, female independent spirit a step further by focusing not on familial relationships, but solely within herself--her confidence, ability, and resolve to complete a mission she believes vital to save her people. To me, it's this generation's Mulan. Or a female Percy Jackson, but without all the extra characters.

It's difficult not to go on and on about all the details Disney got right about this movie because it is so important considering their history of being a bit insensitive about these things, but I also don't want to give anyone the impression that this movie is one big hyped-up PC fest. The story itself is very good, as is the music. It starts out a bit slow, with the unfolding of folklore tales and setting the stage for a young Moana who yearns for a bigger life (not unlike many of her Disney princess counterparts), but quickly picks up with more catchy songs and a lot of humor, courtesy of her very, very stupid chicken Heihei and Maui (the Rock), who sings my favorite song of the movie. The format is very reminiscent of the "classic" Disney movies with its soft animation, female heroine, and catchy soundtrack. I hope it signals a return to these types of movies from Disney in the future.

In a way, the entire thing feels less like an actual movie and more like the beautiful manifestation of a storybook. There's a sort of enveloping warmth created that makes you feel as though you are watching the legacy unfold in front of your eyes as someone tells you a story. It's quite magical.

The only lingering question I had at the end was...

Final word: Will Moana or Zootopia take home the Oscar?

But seriously, all that money spent on marketing this movie and they couldn't find a distributor who could create a better likeness of her? I personally took this photo at Target.

December 19, 2016

How To Be Single (2016)

Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Alison Brie, Leslie Mann

This movie is bad. And by bad, I mean terrible. And by terrible, I mean atrocious.

I understand all those words basically mean the same thing, but I'm searching for the exact right word to describe just how stupid this movie is.

I'll start with Rebel Wilson.

Rebel Wilson is the Napoleon Dynamite of actors: some people think she's hilarious, while the rest of us hate everyone who thinks she's hilarious because it means she keeps getting cast in movies.

So...she's in the movie. Does she single-handedly ruin it? No, because that would mean there was a meaningful plot to destroy. Instead, it's a Coke Zero version of He's Just Not That Into You with less famous, less attractive people. No offense to Alison Brie, whom I recently praised in the very watchable Sleeping With Other People, but she's just no Gennifer Goodwin. Nor is Fifty Shades actress Dakota Johnson, though this movie at least convinced me she does actually know how to act.

As it turns out, this movie is so reminiscent of He's Just Not That Into You because it's written by the same person, former Sex and the City writer Liz Tuccillo. Except that in this movie, not all storylines are equally interesting. Leslie Mann does her crazy lady thing, which is always entertaining, even if she's played it a million times before. And when Leslie Mann playing a stereotypical hormonal pregnant woman is the best part of the movie, well...

The best thing I can say about it is that I don't hate myself for watching it.

Final word: See the bolded statement above.

December 16, 2016

10 More Things I've Learned About The Hallmark Christmas Movie Universe

I'm deep into my fifth year of watching every Hallmark Channel #CountdowntoChristmas movie (and tweeting about them! Follow me!) and even after 2 articles on the subject, I'm still finding new things to mock. At this point, I can't even be sure I enjoy these movies or if I am hate-watching them. I eagerly look forward to watching them each week, only to talk trash about them all the way through. Needless to say, my husband avoids coming home until late on Saturday and Sunday nights.

By branching out and also watching all the original programming on the Ion and UP Channels, I get some additional diversity (both in plot and actual diverse actors), but I also risk sitting through a lot more sludge. But with the exception of slightly racier fare on non-Hallmark channels (people make out!), they're all basically same.

Here are some more ridiculous things I've noticed this year:

1. Old people have nothing better to do than fix up any younger single people they come across. (On second thought, this might reflect real life.)

2. Big-city dwellers are obnoxious eaters, always unaware of their surroundings, and go into a small diner to order egg white omelettes with gluten-free toast and low fat, no foam lattes or whatever.

You can almost believe
it's Christine Taylor!
3. And the main character, luckily, always loves kids! How could anyone possibly be annoyed by a small human following you around and pouting when you can't make their Christmas play/concert/talent show, even if you're not related to them? Everyone loves watching untalented children act and sing in excruciatingly long school productions!

4. Everyone looks vaguely like someone else. Couldn't get a legitimate B- or even C-List star? No worries! There's a knock-off version of hm/her out there who needs a paycheck.
I was really excited about this duo
until I remembered
Danica McKellar isn't Asian

5. Minorities are generally limited to the following quotas:
  • 1 minority assistant to the main character
  • 1 minority in a vague position of power, who may or may not have any actual lines, but will appear just so you know they exist (This movie is diverse! The Board chairman is black!)
  • No more than 3 minority extras, often scanned past in the background, such as carolers on a street (who are always dressed in Dickens-era clothing)
Nope. Not her kid.
6. All kids are sweet, polite, and generally yearning for an additional parental figure.

7. Small towns are like cults, trying to ensnare any newcomer into staying there forever. (This one might be true too. I wouldn't know, small towns freak me out.)

8. Women are always choosing between their careers and love because there is no compromise in a Hallmark movie, so she usually passes up the big promotion and/or quits her job to stay with the small town guy she met 3 days ago. Yay love?

9. Emotional affairs: OK. Physical affairs: OMG NEVER.

10. Every family has a secret recipe for something because people in Hallmark movies are better cooks than the common folk who just use recipe books.

**I can't possibly let this article end without mentioning the highlight of this year's lineup: a Center Stage ripoff called A Nutcracker Christmas, featuring "Charlie from Seattle" aka Sascha Radetsky. It wasn't good, and more importantly, didn't have Cooper Nielsen, but it was still exciting.**

December 5, 2016

The Nice Guys (2016)

Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe

This movie was odd. Like, Big Lewbowski odd.

Ok, not quite this weird
First of all, it's a comedy, but also a serious mystery. It's complicated enough that you can't even guess the full plot or who's behind it all until at least halfway through, which is sort of impressive because I can always guess the end. It makes me really annoying to watch movies with. (I suppose I could just keep my predictions to myself, but what fun would that be??)

This movie was marketed really badly. I remember watching the trailer and having no idea at the end of it what the hell the movie was about. Maybe the producers thought they could sell the movie on the backs of Gosling and Crowe's names alone? It's too bad, because the movie is quite clever and I'm sure I'm not the only one who skipped it in the theaters because of the way it was promoted.

Seriously. I'm semi-concerned.
Gosling, as a single father and alcoholic PI, does a brilliant job of being both a lovable drunk and a scuzzy businessman and father. Though maybe he's just lovable because you know, Ryan Gosling. It's impossible to dislike him. Even when he's ugly and in horrible movies like this one. Crowe, on the other hand, despite having put on a distracting amount of weight, plays an even-tempered muscle man who beats people up for a living. The combination of the erratic Gosling and the deep-voiced Crowe is perfect.

Fake Anna Chlumsky, aka Gosling's daughter in the movie, also does a fantastic job and deserves a shout-out because believable child acting is such a rarity. She adds an extra element of absurdity to the events and keeps the plot lighthearted even throughout intense action sequences.

With movies becoming seemingly more and more dumbed down with sequel upon sequel, let's all take a moment and recognize some appreciation for a movie that manages to craft a cagey little plot that uses its action to further and enhance the plot, not cover up the lack of one.

Final word: Entertaining. Surprisingly so.

November 16, 2016

Sisters (2015)

Amy Poehler, Tina Fey

I usually think of celebrities writing memoirs as a sort of vanity exercise. I still read them, but mostly because I like easy reads and I'm in three book clubs and don't always get to decide what we read. Bossypants has been a complete game changer for me, as it's not only improved my opinion of Tina Fey, but Amy Poehler too. It's a shame I never got into 30 Rock or Parks and Rec.

In fact, Bossypants is pretty much the only reason I even decided to watch this movie. One look at the cover and I assumed it would be just another Baby Mama, but where Amy and Tina trade roles of "uptight one" and "party girl."

It turns out this movie is actually not bad. Don't get me wrong--there's plenty of terrible. Some of the jokes go on for way too long, just like most SNL skits, and the cameo of Bobby Moynihan almost single-handedly ruins the movie. (Seriously. No matter how terrible he is as "drunk uncle" on SNL, it cannot compare to how obnoxious he is in this movie.) And OMG, the teeth on this guy. Amy Poehler may not be the hottest woman on Earth, but come on! Men always cast themselves with hot women--couldn't she do the same?!?

But the movie relies heavily on high school nostalgia and having had plenty of parties in high school myself, it's a fun trip down memory lane without veering too far into the pathetic realm of wanting to settle old scores or reignite old flames. It also has a little bit of a Bad Moms vibe with the desire to ignore responsibilities and party (though yes, I realize this was, in fact, made before Bad Moms came out). It's similar to the celebrity memoirs that both Ms. Poehler and Ms. Fey themselves wrote: easy to watch, not too serious, and mostly enjoyable.

Final word: The female, non-sexist version of a Judd Apatow movie.

November 2, 2016

The Orphan Master's Son [book]

We love to make fun of North Korea and Kim Jong Un. That haircut! He banned sarcasm! (He didn't, actually, but the fact that it seems plausible says something.) The more severe and outlandish the story, the more we roll our eyes at it.

But the fact is, we laugh at North Korea because the it keeps us from having to actually imagine what life must be like for its citizens. If we mock it, we won't have to deal with the uncomfortable truth that there are still hundreds of thousands of citizens suffering under a ruthless dictator and there is not much of anything we can or are willing to do about it.

Dad had better hair
This book rips off that comedic facade we hide behind and forces us to become intimately familiar with the oppressive day-to-day structure of North Korean life under Kim Jong Il (Though I assume it's basically the same under Kim Jong Un). Though technically fiction, Adam Johnson captures the spirit of the North Korean experience through the lens of his not-quite-orphaned hero, Jun Do. Through him, we experience actual historical events (like the kidnapping of foreign citizens) as well as sensationalized accounts of torture and the execution of elderly citizens. (But again, it still seems plausible.)

In making this book more of a "thriller," Johnson demands that we suspend our disbelief at some rather incredulous plot points, but he at least takes the time to try and explain how such unbelievable events could happen in this setting. Ultimately, however, what endures is the portrait he paints of the bleak and desperate life many live in North Korea, contrasted against the fact that they do not know any other alternative. If you didn't already know that North Korea was a real country that was this isolated from the rest of the world, you could easily be fooled into thinking this was a dystopian fantasy.

Historical fiction can often be too stilted in trying to capture too many facts, or infuriating because it plays fast and loose with too many details, but Johnson has struck a balance between crafting an original story while maintaining the integrity of his subject matter. So while the story arc of Jun Do may not have made a huge impact on me, the small details in the lives of the citizens around him will stay with me to serve as a reminder of the freedoms we often take for granted here in the US.

Final word: You'll never look at a can of peaches the same way again.

October 24, 2016

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)

Bel Powley, Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgård

I work with teenagers. And most days, I love it. They are impulsive, they are overly emotional, and they make terrible decisions. Seriously terrible decisions. But they are also refreshingly honest, sweetly vulnerable, and mostly optimistic. This movie is the epitome of teenage angst. Portrayed in a completely disturbing way, of course.

Minnie is a 15-year-old in 1970's San Francisco who decides she is grown up enough to start an affair with her mother's 30-something boyfriend. Everything that happens after that is basically visual birth control for anyone on the fence about having kids. It is brutal; it is raw; it is beyond uncomfortable to watch. At first I thought it was set in the 70's to make the rampant drug use (by both Minnie and her mother), child neglect, and statutory rape more...acceptable, but it turns out this story is semi-autobiographical. Which makes it more impressive and more horrifying at the same time. It's like a far less glamorous Almost Famous, if the story starred Penny Lane instead.

My usual complaint about YA fiction is that it's not quite authentic enough. It often feels sanitized, as though adults wanted to only suggest adult themes but actually portray them because [pearl clutch] think of the children! The issue with that, of course, is that teenagers are not sanitized versions of adults. They say and do very adult things, whether the adults in their lives want to accept that or not. This movie cuts to the heart of that and shows it in a very real, non-judgmental way.

Is every teenager like this? No. But are a lot of them? Yep. Or at least, they embody parts of Minnie's psyche and parts of her life. And if you want a complex movie that acknowledges that teenagers are real people, this is the best I've seen. It's a shame it almost ruined Alexander Skarsgård for me by making him a pedo with a 'stache, but on the plus side, I now know Kristen Wiig can be a serious actor.

Final word: It should come with a trigger warning. 

P.S. There is an odd, artsy drawing thing that happens throughout the movie that makes a lot more sense if you know going in that the book it's based on is a kind of a graphic novel.

October 6, 2016

Sleeping With Other People (2015)

Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie, Adam Scott, Amanda Peet

I've watched and reviewed so many rom-coms by now, I'm basically running out of ways to point out the cliches in them. But considering how surprised I was by this movie and how much I actually enjoyed it, I think it's worth the effort to break down a bit why it transcends most in its genre. So instead of a regular review, I'm going to list each potentially negative thing about the movie, then explain why it didn't dampen my enthusiasm in recommending it.

Con: Jason Sudeikis wouldn't be my first choice as a rom-com lead.
Pro: He's a much better alternative to other tall, nondescript white guys who supposedly get girls in movies, like Ed Helms or Jason Segel. Besides, he's certainly as plausible as Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally.

Con: Though both characters attend a sexaholics meeting, Jason Sudeikis' character supposedly bangs everything that moves while Alison Brie's character remains celibate. How, exactly, does that qualify them *both* as sexaholics?
Pro: Both characters at least seem equally messed up about sex, even if they display it in stereotypically gendered ways.

Con: The movie plays into some lame cliches, like the fact that Lainey is a kindergarten teacher because you know, that makes her seem more nurturing or whatever.
Pro: She's trying to become a doctor.

Con: Amanda Peet's bangs. They are terrible, and they are distracting.
Pro: Her scenes are short, and she's still cuter than Alison Brie.

Con: Pretty sure it fails the Bechdel test.
Pro: It's a rom-com, so only talking about the opposite sex is sort of acceptable.

Con: Everyone in the movie is white. Like, everyone. It's hard not to notice.
Pro: Jason Mantzoukas is Greek and olive-skinned and he sports a full beard in the movie, so it's almost like there's someone of color.
Rebuttal Con: Jason Mantzoukas is the person to blame for both Neighbors and Dirty Grandpa. We're just giving this guy more money.

Obviously some of those cons are more lefty than other (like Amanda Peet's bangs--why?!?), but I assure you any negatives are vastly overcome with the remaining pros.

The dialogue is fast and witty.
The supporting characters are strong. (Andrea Savage for the win!)
There are actual jokes. And they are funny.
The movie manages to be heartfelt without skewing into cheesy.
There are no long speeches where one person recites all the wonderful qualities of the other person.
Most importantly, both main characters are actually likable.

In all seriousness, I never gave Jason Sudeikis much thought before this. I sort of lumped him in with Jason Bateman and Will Farrell as someone who plays a good supporting character but not someone I would go out of my way to watch. But this movie, charming and unexpected as it was, has convinced me of his ability to headline a movie. Who knows, I might even watch Son of Zorn, knowing he voices Zorn.

Final word: It didn't get as much attention as I think it should have. It's certainly better than Trainwreck.

September 23, 2016

Queen of Katwe (2016)

Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong'o

There's something I hate about the term "feel good" when applied to movies. It reduces them to cliched, sappy stories in my mind. When I hear "feel good movie," I think Dolphin Tale. And while I know plenty of people really liked that movie, I sat through its sequel and there was nothing good about it. Just, as I suspected, a lot of cheesy inspirational dialogue and cuddly animals. So I was a bit hesitant that this movie might fall into the same trap, except we'd sub out dolphins for adorable, barefooted African children. 

It turns out, this movie embodies the "feel good" term without the inherent terribleness the genre tends to invoke. For one thing, its focus on people and their issues instantly makes it more relatable in my book. It's not that I didn't enjoy Eight Below or whatever other pet-friendly family movie out there would be classified into this same genre, but I have loads more empathy for a teenaged girl in Uganda than I do for puppies in the South Pole. I guess I'm just cold like that.

But seriously, it's hard not to be hooked into this story. There are a lot of inspirational stories out there. The trick is what else the movie brings to convey that story. The plot loosely follows a typical sports drama pattern (set-up, early success, challenges, doubt, ultimate success), but adds the twist of being A. not actually about sports, and B. set in Uganda, starring an entirely African and African-American cast. But instead of panning the camera around poor Ugandan neighborhoods like an extended infomercial for Christian Children's Fund, where the audience is reduced to anxious gawkers plagued with middle-class guilt, Mira Nair (the director) manages to make it all seem relatable.

By focusing on the relationship between Phiona and her mother, and her struggle to find her place in the world, it becomes a movie that transcends its location and cast and becomes a movie for anyone who has ever dreamt of doing something more with their life. It's exactly the kind of movie people like me have been dying to see from Hollywood--an original story with a talented cast of people of color that doesn't center around slavery or the Civil Rights Movement. It could certainly use a better title, though.

Final word: The fact that it's a true story, and that the lead actress' life mirrors that story, will make you love it even more.

P.S. I didn't see 12 Years A Slave, so this was my film introduction to Lupita Nyong'o. I want to point out that she is distractingly beautiful. And that she should wear nothing but Ugandan street clothes from now on.

September 8, 2016

Skiptrace (2016)

Jackie Chan, Johnny Knoxville

Rush Hour, this is not. Shanghai Knights, this is not. Even The Medallion, this is not. Jackie Chan may be playing the same "play by the rules" Chinese guy set against a kooky American counterpart, but somehow, it's so much worse this time. Worse than The Tuxedo.

It's not Jackie's fault, of course. The man can only do so much. He's busy doing every stunt imaginable (even at 62!) and spouting an entire script's worth of English dialogue he can't possibly be responsible to teaching Johnny Knoxville how to act.

In case you are fortunate enough to have never seen a single episode of Jackass, Johnny Knoxville can most recently be described as "that guy who wrote Bad Grandpa."

So the standard "trying to expose the bad guys and save the girl" script is instead transformed into an interminable action movie that leaves you wracking your brain for better casting alternatives to Knoxville. Lucas Black, aka Paul Walker's replacement in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, who doesn't sound like he's faking his Southern accent? The guy who played Stifler in the American Pie movies, who seems like a comedic genius in comparison? Zac Efron, who is in every other terrible movie except, as it seems, this one? A brown paper bag with a smiley face drawn on it? 

All of these would have been better options.

P.S. The fedora is a dead giveaway
you're well past middle age
I hate to be so harsh on a Jackie Chan movie, especially on the heels of the news that he'll receive an honorary Oscar later this year, but his awesome stunt work is not enough to save an otherwise abysmal movie. I would have preferred he simply make a Youtube video of the stunts he would have performed and I could have paid him $6 directly to watch it since those were the only worthwhile parts of the movie. And as an added bonus, it would have allowed me to skip over a completely inappropriate romantic paring between Chan and a woman who looked to be no older than 30. Just to refresh your memory: he's 62. And not like an "Asian" 62. You can tell he's 62.

But to end on a positive note (because yes, I did find one), this is literally the most Asian people I've ever seen cast in an English-speaking movie. Almost every single person (aside from Knoxville and a small group of Russians) was Asian. It was glorious. I only wish it had been in a real movie. You know, something people would actually want to see.

Final word: However bad you think this would be: it's worse than that.

P.S. IMDB shows this movie was released in the US on September 2nd (as in 6 days ago), yet I was able to watch it OnDemand from Comcast. Whatever you think of my opinion above, that fact alone should tell you all you need know.

August 30, 2016

Bad Moms (2016)

Mila Kunis, Christina Applegate, Kathryn Hahn, Kristen Bell

I never read A Tale of Two Cities, but this movie is a tale of two motherhoods: one in which moms strive to be perfect and shield their little snowflakes from any disappointment or discomfort; the other in which moms put self-care front and center and let their kids sort things out for themselves. Doing the latter, apparently, makes you a "bad mom."

So ignoring the sort of offensive terminology for the way some of us already parent (ahem, ahem), the movie speaks pretty bluntly to the challenges of motherhood. I'd be politically correct and say "parenthood," but frankly, it's not the same. Dads - even stay-at-home dads - just don't have the same societal expectations placed upon them that this movie quite poignantly addresses. This movie is a mainline into the average mom's brain.

This isn't just a movie to giggle at with mom friends after having a few drinks, though that's certainly been a selling point of the experience. I don't actually know anyone who has seen it who isn't a parent, though the stoned 20-something couple behind me in the theater certainly didn't enjoy it as much as I did. And judging from their loud commentary, they didn't understand it either.

The movie premise isn't difficult or even very complex--Mila Kunis is an unbelievably hot mom of middle-school aged kids (ok, I added that part because really, what mom looks like Mila Kunis after having 2 kids?) who basically has a breakdown trying to "do it all" and decides to rebel against the expectations of her fellow moms, her family, and even herself. The movie's appeal is in making jokes about the mundane and ridiculous everyday crap of motherhood. Mom bras? Bake sale restrictions? Grocery shopping without kids? Check, check, check. Many of the jokes are pretty safe but entertaining, but it does have a couple moments of rolling-in-the-aisle laughter which is more than can be said for most comedies.

The rest? Well, the rest is sort of depressing. Many of the issues and stresses of relationships and work and parenting depicted in the movie are a little too realistic at times. Fighting with a spouse about household duties? Failing at work because of childcare obligations? Secretly wishing you were injured in an accident so you could rest in a hospital by yourself? Check, check, check. Even when done in a cheesy and over-the-top kind of way, the message of "moms struggling against expectations" still rings through enough for viewers to relate to it.

But naturally, I couldn't ignore the fact that this is a pretty white, middle-class storyline. Sure, Jada's in it (and not ruining the movie!), but all the moms are white and the way they deal with their problems tends to be pretty... suburban. I know it's just a movie, and it's marketed to capture the largest swath of people, so I'm not going to ask why they couldn't have cast one of the main characters as a person of color (oops, I guess I just did), but if you don't fit neatly in the demographic box this movie was clearly written to appeal to I can't say whether or not you'll like it. Which really, I'm ok with. Women deserve their own movies, especially comedies, whose success doesn't hinge upon whether or not male audiences will watch it.

Final word: A bit safe, but makes for an entertaining night out for middle-class moms.

P.S. I hate the idea of agreeing with Michael Bay on, well, anything, but I will say the attractiveness of Mila Kunis is sort of distracting and maybe this is petty, but does ever so slightly diminish my sympathy for her character. She doesn't appeal to me as an "average" mom. Unlike men, who seem to enjoy movies where below average-looking men land women who are completely out of their league (see: anything by Adam Sandler or Judd Apatow), women only get paired with hot men if they, too, are hot. And I look nothing like Mila Kunis. Luckily, I am able to exercise my imagination and put myself in her place. =)

August 22, 2016

Sausage Party (2016)

Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Edward Norton, Salma Hayek, et al

I don't want to open by saying this a stupid movie, because that would be overly dismissive of the things it got right. But it certainly seemed as though Seth Rogen wanted to make it as stupid as possible.

Let me clarify: I strongly dislike Seth Rogan. And by that, I mean I hate him. I hate the characters he plays, I hate the movies he's in, and I really, really hate listening to his voice. So I probably would have automatically liked this movie more had literally anyone else voiced the main sausage, Frank.

Alas, I was not so lucky, so the movie was spent imagining his dopey face making sexually suggestive passes at a hot dog bun voiced by Kristen Wiig, who apparently could not stop herself from doing that thing where she half sings her lines. Ever since I read this article, I can't stop wondering how many actors force screenwriters to write in little character quirks to match the actor's "trademark." Ugh.

Voice acting aside (don't even get me started on the casting of Michael Cera), the movie had potential. Considering the number of Biblical epics Hollywood makes us sit through, it was refreshing to see an unapologetic representation of atheism. It was cleverly done by using food and human consumption of it as an allegory for faith and religion. 

BUT, I also feel inclined to say that this movie does no favors to the prevailing feeling that atheists are smug and condescending towards people of faith. (Not saying it doesn't also often go the other way.) People take religion very seriously and while I understand this is sort of a silly movie, it tackles a pretty hefty topic and I wish they had treated it with a touch more reverence for a more effective message.

I realize how asinine that sounds considering yes, I am talking about a movie that features animated food items talking about boning each other every five seconds. The humor, while occasionally showcasing some brilliance in the use of puns and cultural stereotyping, mostly consists of dick jokes and stuff Seth McFarlane would find funny. I guess my appreciation of humor extends beyond what a stoned frat guy would find funny. But I suppose I should have known I wasn't its target audience when every preview beforehand was for a horror movie.

All in all, the movie was certainly interesting and different enough to hold my attention. I think it was quirky and silly and yes, very stupid. But also funny. Maybe I would have had a different opinion of it had I been completely stoned, much like the writers probably were when they wrote this.

Final word: It's a love it or hate it type of movie. And the ending is fucking weird.