LIVE: WEDNESDAYS 6-8pm MT (on our “HOME” page)
By: Kevin Jordan
It’s not even Thanksgiving yet.
This week, I had to choose between two movies – The Night Before and Creed. On one hand, The Night Before looked like it could be really funny and I’m always looking for a good laugh, but Seth Rogen and friends have been responsible for some really unfunny movies. On the other hand, Creed looked like the latest desperate attempt by Sylvester Stallone to stay relevant, but almost assuredly promised to be a terrible film that would be fun to destroy in a review. I mean, how could it not be terrible; have you seen the premise and previews? Rocky trains Apollo Creed’s son and suffers some sort of near death/death ala Mickey from Rocky III? Seriously? I know Michael B. Jordan needs a win after the embarrassment of Fantastic Four, but I’m pretty sure Creed won’t be that win. Anyway, despite the ease at which a review of Creed would write itself, I decided not to punish myself by sitting through it and chose to risk punishing myself by sitting through The Night Before.
Before I get to the rest of the review, I want to point out that The Night Before is the second Christmas movie I’ve seen in as many weeks (Love the Coopers). For everyone out there who believes in the mythical war on Christmas; that Starbucks hates Christmas because they decided to serve coffee in cups not featuring a Christmas tree (yet the cup is red with a green Starbucks logo; you know – Christmas colors), you can shut up now. Not only does every store have all of their Christmas merchandise out; not only is the shopping mall near my house already decorated to the hilt in Christmas gear, but we’ve now had two Christmas movies released well before Thanksgiving. If there’s a war on Christmas, the anti-Christmas team is getting crushed.
(Very mild SPOILERS ahead.)
Anyway, The Night Before is about three friends, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Rogen), and Chris (Anthony Mackie), trying to find the ultimate, but well-hidden, Christmas party known as the Nutcracker Ball. They’ve been at it for ten years and the only thing they know is what the invitation looks like. At this point in their lives, Chris is now a famous football player, Isaac is about to be a father, and both of them are ready to end the hunt because they are grown-ups now. Conversely, Ethan is single and works as a waiter for a catering service, and doesn’t want to let go of their annual tradition (and all of the things they repeat during the tradition) because it’s all he has (his parents died just before the Christmas Eve that led to said tradition). Predictably, all of these issues will be addressed (Chris is on steroids and Isaac is terrified of fatherhood) and all three guys will have to deal with these issues by the end of the film. I know this doesn’t sound funny yet, but all of that stuff is really just the dressing. The turkey is the series of events that occur during their final attempt to find the mythical party.
Actually, finding the party turns out to be the easy part of the night. While Ethan is at work, he stumbles upon three invitations to the party while checking coats. He steals the invitations and bolts to find Chris and Isaac so he can share the good news. After calling the number on the invitation, they learn that they have several hours to kill before the location will be revealed, so the party turns out to be the big gift-wrapped MacGuffin of the film. The hard part of the night is actually making it long enough to even go to the party, as a combination of drinking, drugs, and squabbles threaten to derail the quest. Yes, this is a quest movie and Ethan must complete the quest. But, what quest isn’t complete without trials and tribulations?
Knowing that this is their last time doing this tradition, Isaac’s wife Betsy (Jillian Bell) gives Isaac a box filled with “every kind of drug in the world.” As you probably already know (based on the previews), this leads to Isaac being high off his ass (to put it mildly) for the entire film, which is the biggest hurdle for Ethan. It also leads to nearly all of the best jokes in the film because no one does high off his ass better than Rogen. Then, there’s Chris’s side quest to obtain some weed for his quarterback (Chris is desperate for his teammates to like him). This quest includes an old teacher (and marijuana dealer) of theirs – Mr. Green (Michael Shannon) – and a slutty, anti-Christmas thief named Rebecca Grinch (Ilana Glazer). Yes, her name is Grinch and no, it was not funny (or clever). Finally, there’s Ethan’s ex-girlfriend, Diana (Lizzy Caplan). For reasons not even remotely explained, she and her friend (Mindy Kaling) were legitimately invited to the party, so you can bet your ass that the party is going to be trumped by whatever happens between the two of them.
At this point, I need to give credit to the writers (Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, Jonathan Levine, Ariel Shaffir) because I went into this film with zero expectations of any kind of plot more than “hijinks galore.” Getting a film with a decently organized plot on top of a cornucopia of comedy was definitely worth the earlier start to Christmas (and that’s why I spent so many words talking about it). Goldberg in particular has been responsible for some awful movies, so getting something that didn’t feel like it was written with paste and glitter deserves attention.
Most importantly though, the comedy was well worth the decision to see this film. Every now and then, you hear or see something that makes you laugh so hard that you cry and can’t breathe. This happened to me during the church scene in this movie, which is also shown in the previews (so I can say it here without feeling bad). Watching Rogen hiss at a baby, then ask his wife who the guy on the cross is by emulating Christ’s position, then try not to puke at the thought of crucifixion, then hear his wife say “don’t you dare throw up. You swallow it like a girl would,” nearly broke me and most of the audience as well. If this is what Christmas coming extra early brings, I’m all for it.
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back and get over the Starbucks thing. It’s a cup.
LIVE: WEDNESDAYS 6-8pm MT (on our “HOME” page)
By: Kevin Jordan
Merry effing Christmas (or, a real sausage fest).
Do you love ensemble movies featuring fourteen different main characters and six stories? Do you love Christmas movies? Do you love the thought of attending the annual family Christmas gathering with people you don’t particularly like, but suck it up because you share a few chromosomes with them? If you answered yes to all three of those questions, then have I got the movie for you – Love the Coopers. Also, when are you due back at the ward?
The difference between Love the Coopers and other, similar movies (like Love Actually) is that pretty much every character in Love the Coopers is a dick. Hey – don’t get mad at me, I’m just repeating what Madison, one of the characters in the movie, says. She may only be six years old, but she’s just telling it like it is. Let’s go meet these dicks, er, characters, and hear their stories.
First up is Bucky Cooper (Alan Arkin). He frequents a local diner every day for one reason – Ruby (Amanda Seyfried). Yes, I said Amanda Seyfried, and I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not like that. Okay, it’s kind of like that, but it’s much more innocent than a dirty old man stalking a beautiful young woman. Bucky just misses his dead wife and Ruby reminds her of him. They joke about the quality of the food, he suggests movies for Ruby to watch, and they have a good time together. They are two of the nice people in the film, though they do share a moment where they are dicks to each other.
Next up is Hank Cooper (Ed Helms). He is divorced with three kids, Charlie, Bo, and Madison (Timothee Chalamet, Maxwell Simkins, and Blake Baumgartner, respectively). He and his ex-wife, Angie (Alex Borstein), hate each other and he is trying to get a new job, but is lying to Angie about still having one. They are serious dicks to each other, though most of the blame lies on Angie since she is a dick all of the time and Hank is only a dick when Angie brings it out of him.
This leads us to Hank’s kids. Madison spends time with her grandparents, Hank’s parents, Sam and Charlotte. You know her story already – she owns the catch phrase of the film. On the other hand, Charlie and Bo are hanging out the mall. Bo is looking for the perfect gift for Charlie while Charlie is trying to flirt with his crush, Lauren. Surprisingly, none of these kids are dicks, which is a nice change for a movie involving teenagers. In fact, they provide the best part of the movie – a French kissing scene between Charlie and Lauren in which they manage to not touch lips. Imagine the way two golden retrievers would look if they were making out and you’ve got the idea.
Coincidentally, Emma Cooper (Marisa Tomei) is also at the mall, but not for very long. She has serious issues with Charlotte (her sister), shoplifting, and lying and spends most of the movie in the back of Officer Percy Williams’ (Anthony Mackie) police car. In an attempt to not go to jail, Emma decides to use her social worker skills to provide Percy some therapy to help him come to grips with his lack of emotions (due to an abusive mother). On one hand, I feel bad for Percy because he has to sit and listen to Emma dole out unsolicited advice, but on the other hand – where the hell is the police station? They drive around for hours, so either he’s lost or he really hates his mom.
Sam (John Goodman) and Charlotte (Diane Keaton) are a whole different story. Charlotte is a Cooper by birth (Bucky’s daughter) and is the mother-in-law (or mother) that every stereotype was born from. Everything is always about her, which drives her two kids – Hank and Eleanor – crazy. Be it Hank’s inability to keep a wife or job or Eleanor’s affair with a married man, Charlotte always wants to know “was it something I did?” After forty years of marriage, a continuing, unhealthy obsession with her kids, and an untold number of broken promises (including a 35-year delayed trip to Africa), Sam is at the end of his rope. He doesn’t want to give up, but Charlotte devoted everything to her kids and Sam waited decades for her to devote some time to him. It’s tough to blame a guy for wanting to have a little happiness before he dies after forty years of being little more than a prop. And, you would want to leave too if your wife (or husband) insisted on elaborate Christmas gatherings including forcing everyone to say what they are thankful for around the dinner table and sing Christmas carols in the living room as a group. Dicks like Charlotte are a special breed.
Finally, we have Eleanor Cooper (Olivia Wilde). She is hanging around the airport after having arrived in town, stalling as much as she can before heading to the big gathering, when she meets Joe (Jake Lacy). The two of them are as opposite of each other as two people can be, but they are easily the most interesting people in the movie. They are also the obvious love story of the film, but what makes them interesting is that they are caricatures of the two sides of our political system. Eleanor is an insufferable, liberal democrat who feels the need to lecture Joe about everything he’s “wrong” about. Joe is a religious, conservative republican who looks down his nose at Eleanor’s beliefs and judges her on everything. Also, he’s an Army soldier, just to complete the stereotype. Joe’s flight is cancelled (which is why they’re both still in the airport) and after several cutesy moments and misunderstandings, Emma convinces him to pretend to be her boyfriend and accompany her to the family gathering. These two people are not good humans, but they are entertaining. They also provide the best exchange I’ve heard in a long time:
Eleanor – “You probably don’t even believe in evolution.”
Joe – “If we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?”
Eleanor – “That’s funny; my dog asked me the same thing about wolves.”
I sincerely hope I get to use that last retort in real life because it (and the French kiss scene) made this entire movie worth watching.
By the time the movie gets to the big Christmas dinner, you will be so thoroughly depressed (or disgusted) at either the characters or their lives that you won’t really care if they forgive each other by the end of the film. This, in a nutshell, is why the vast majority of critics did not like this movie. There’s no plot to speak of; just a bunch of related people winding their depressing stories toward the inevitable dinner explosion between some, if not all, of them. And, despite all of that, I found myself not hating this movie. As much as I didn’t care about any story save Joe and Eleanor, I never once thought I should get up and leave the theater. Maybe that’s the real power of Christmas – it allows you to see the entertainment value in the numerous dicks in life, rather than just getting angry about them. You’re looking forward to Christmas dinner now, aren’t you?
Rating: That sloppy kiss and evolution quote are worth the price of admission…if the price of admission was half of what it is today.
By: Kevin Jordan
Harking back to earlier times.
Ranking things has become a staple of American media and might be what they spend the most time and effort on. From power rankings to best-of rankings to “which candidate was the least deplorable during last night’s (pick your party) debate” rankings, they have majorly impacted the way news is presented and consumed. Heck, I do it myself every year in my annual Year in Review piece. So, with the release of James Bond 24 – Spectre – it was predictable that nearly every entertainment outlet would rank all things James Bond. From Bond Girls to villains to henchman to cars to gadgets to the movies themselves, those sites ranked everything short of Bond haircuts (and it wouldn’t surprise me if a search turned that up as well). While these are fun exercises, they get old after the thousandth one written and are always biased depending (mostly) on the age of the writer (if you want to test that theory, find a baby boomer and tell him Pierce Brosnan was a better Bond than Sean Connery. Then, duck the incoming punch). I’m not going to rank anything here, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least answer a similar question – how does Spectre compare with the other Daniel Craig Bond films?
Let’s just get this out of the way up front – Casino Royale was a nearly perfect film and none of the subsequent Bond films have come close to matching it (I didn’t write a full review of Skyfall, but I found it slightly overrated, as noted in my 2012 Year in Review). Having said that, I enjoyed all of them because they are well-produced, Craig is fantastic, my wife will go see them with me, and they are better than nearly every other action movie out there. Spectre is no different, delivering well on all three of those qualities. However, some chinks in the armor are beginning to show.
Spectre is a bit of a throwback to pre-Craig iterations. Remember all of the jokes in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me that ridicule the clichés of Bond flicks? Well, pretty much every one of those clichés was on full display in Spectre and, disappointingly, the movie was only aware of one of them (I’ll get to them in a moment). To me, the lack of these clichés is what made the previous Craig films so good and refreshing, so bringing them back was a head-scratcher. So, let’s talk about them.
Adele set a very high standard with “Skyfall,” so following it up was going to be a tough chore for anyone. Unfortunately, Sam Smith and the producers decided not to even try. I’ve always wanted to use the word caterwauling and singer Sam Smith was caterwauling with the best of them in “Writing’s on the Wall,” one of the worst openers for any Bond movie. Smith himself said it took half an hour to write the song and the demo version was used in the final cut of the film. I’m guessing the folks who approved had listened to the demo shortly after firing guns without wearing ear protection. Guys, that ringing in your ears wasn’t exploding gunpowder, it was Smith.
Previous Craig films wisely stayed away from the silly gadgets of yesteryear, but director Sam Mendes apparently thought it was time to bring them back. Exploding watch? Check. 60’s era toggle switches in Bond’s car to set off fire, bullets, and ejector seat? Check. Nanobots in Bond’s blood to track his vitals and location? Check. Headshakes from me every time one of these appeared? Check. To be fair, the film is mildly aware of this trope, adding a toggle switch in the car for pre-selected music (the car was intended for agent 009) and, upon receiving the watch from Q (Ben Whishaw), Bond asks “Does it do anything?” to which Q responds “It tells the time.”
Every Bond movie has a car chase (or four) and this one features an Aston Martin DB10 with the previously mentioned toggle switches. Every Bond movie also wrecks Bond’s car, which I find tired. I know it goes along with the recklessness of Bond’s character, but couldn’t we save the car just once? Or at least, can’t Q give him a car that doesn’t cost three million pounds (Q actually tells us the cost, which also made me wonder why he used ten cent toggle switches. Whatever).
Some people think Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) counts as a Bond girl, but I don’t think so. Bond girls are one of two things – the damsel in distress or part of the villain’s gang (or both). Sleeping with Bond does not make a Bond girl, though all Bond girls sleep with him. That leaves Dr. Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) – damsel, and Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci) – part of the gang (though only by marriage). Nothing sets these two apart from most Bond girls, especially Bellucci, who serves no purpose in the film other than to have sex with Bond after Bond eliminates her assassin husband. But, hey, they’re hot so…mission accomplished?
Did anybody miss the villain’s right hand man? Me either. But what true Bond villain doesn’t have a cartoon character henchman to execute his evil plans? Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) fills out that role while almost over-filling out his suits. His job is busting heads without asking questions and if he had any lines at all, I don’t remember them. He doesn’t have metal teeth or razor-edged hats, but he does like to kill people by pushing his fingers through their eyes, so he achieves the same effect – ewww, gross.
The villains all tend to be the same – super intelligent sociopaths with ridiculously complex evil plots and some quirk. Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) is the leader of the evil organization called Spectre, which contained Quantum, the previous evil organization thought to be THE evil organization. Franz claims to be the one responsible for all of the bad things that happened in the last three movies and to that I say – really? But he’s not done. He’s also trying to get a system approved and online that connects national surveillance systems all into one system that he would control because…um…hmmmmm. Actually, we never find out. He’s actually pissed off at Bond for a completely unrelated reason – and had daddy issues – thus creating the wildly convoluted plot of Spectre. And Franz has a cat, aka – his quirk.
The “Death Ray”
Invoking The Spy Who Shagged Me again, remember when the bad guys capture Powers and the villain decided to kill Powers with an elaborately designed device, but the villain’s son says “why don’t we just shoot him right now? Here, I even have a gun” and the villain argues with his son? Yeah, well, Franz has a remote controlled chair will drills on either side that he uses to drill holes into Bond’s head. Egads.
Every villain has to have an absurdly elaborate lair, right? The villain in Quantum of Solace had a hotel in the middle of the Bolivian desert, powered by hydrogen-fuel cells. The villain in Skyfall had an abandoned village/island filled with computer servers. Franz has an energy-independent compound inside a crater in Africa in which his surveillance system is housed. Also, the drill chair is there. I rest my case.
Every Bond movie reflects current real-life politics. In addition to mass surveillance, Spectre throws in drones, plus, another worn-out trope – the spy agency is obsolete, so must be dissolved. If there’s one thing to truly dislike about this movie it’s the idea that MI6 needs to be dissolved because we have drones now. I’m pretty sure a Predator drone is incapable of wearing a suit and dancing without someone noticing that it’s an airplane.
If you’re like me, you will be disappointed that this movie took several steps backward by bringing back many of the silly tropes and clichés that previous Craig movies had seemingly (and thankfully) moved beyond. But, you will forgive that for the reasons mentioned earlier (production, etc., etc.), plus good performances from Ralph Fiennes (M) and Andrew Scott (C – you know him as Moriarty in Sherlock). And if you still want to know where Spectre ranks, even in just the four Craig movies, I’d say Brosnan over Connery.
Rating: Ask for a dollar back because there really should be a penalty for Mendes caving in to nostalgia.