By: Kevin Jordan
A tale of two movies.
Sitting next to each other, in the same theater on the same night, my wife and I saw two entirely different movies. I saw a heartwarming movie with adorable, courageous kids, a solid story, and a tight running time that kept the film from meandering. My wife saw a jumbled, sometimes-incoherent story, writing that failed to make her care about any of the characters, and a running time that made the movie feel rushed. Am I right? Is she right? Am I cutting this movie slack because I just watched three turds in a row (Underwater, Dolittle, Bad Boys for Life)? Is she dead inside?
(Side note: she is your editor, so delete that last bit before she reads this.)
(Editor’s note: Dick.)
Christmas Flint (Mckenna Grace) is a tween girl trying to cope with the death of her mother. Living alone with her father, Ramsey (Jim Gaffigan), in their trailer/law office (in rural Georgia circa 1977), Christmas spends countless hours staring at the night sky, convinced that her mother has passed on into the stars. One day, she overhears Miss Massey (Allison Janney), the school principal and local Birdie Scout leader, talking with a NASA scientist (Ash Thapliyal) about the upcoming Birdie Scout Jamboree. Whichever troop wins first place at the talent show gets to record a message on a golden record that will be attached to the Voyager Probe, soon to be launched into space. Loving space as much as she does, and desperate to send a message her mother might hear, Christmas sets forth to win the prize. Unfortunately, she is not a Birdie Scout. When she approaches the older girls in the troop, asking to join them to help them win, they respond by stuffing her into a locker.
Determined not to be denied, Christmas decides to start her own troop, enlisting four other outcasts – Joseph (Charlie Shotwell), Hell-No (Milan Ray), Smash (Johanna Colon), and Anne-Claire (Bella Higginbotham). Christmas also convinces her dad’s secretary, Miss Rayleen (Viola Davis), to be their troop leader. The group is every bunch of misfits you have ever seen throughout dozens of films, just with different names. The Mighty Ducks, the Goonies, the Bad News Bears, the oil workers in Armageddon, and, now, Troop Zero.
(SPOILER ALERT – I need to talk about some scenes that my wife and I agree on and some that we don’t.)
Between the inception of the troop and the Jamboree is when almost all of the character building happens. In order to qualify for the Jamboree, each of the kids has to earn a patch to be considered an official Birdie Scout. This second act is the part that really lost my wife and I can understand why. Miss Massey hands Miss Rayleen a nearly-empty jar with a handful of misfit patches representing very random skills. I get that this was supposed to be a metaphor for the troop, but it doesn’t make sense in any context. Along with those patches, Miss Massey issues a warning that the kids have to earn the patches honestly; they can’t just grab a patch and pretend they earned it. This makes sense until you see that nobody is actually monitoring or testing the kids besides Miss Rayleen. And the tasks they perform to earn the patches are questionable at best. They don’t really serve to build the characters so much as to serve as punchlines for some sight gags. Which, in this case, was good enough for me.
The other part that kills my wife – and this goes for me too – are movies in which bullies never get punished for assaulting other children or even questioned by authority figures. It is an incredible turn off that always takes us out of the film because it is so unbelievable. This film has two major examples of this. One is a food fight in which Miss Rayleen conveniently cannot hear despite being in the next room and which all of the blame falls squarely on the misfit troop. The second is how troop zero is treated during their performance at the Jamboree, to the point of abject humiliation while a tent-full of grownups literally do nothing to stop it. I get that some people are assholes, which is why their kids are assholes, but you not only have to suspend your disbelief during this scene to accept it; you have to beat your disbelief into submission.
You think your shit don’t stink?
Despite those flaws, the film worked for me. There was enough earnestness in the kids’ performances that I looked past the haphazard writing. Gaffigan, Janney, Davis, and Grace gave great performances, with a very solid assist from young Shotwell. I wanted them to defeat the older girls’ troop because those girls were shitheads and Miss Massey let them get away with being shitheads. Christmas’ happy-go-lucky attitude in the early part of the film, even after being bullied by several other kids, rubbed me the right way. And, I really liked the way the kids became friends and banded together by the end of the film.
Sure, rooting for the underdog here was exceptionally easy and there are clearly some backstories and character relationships that were dropped on the cutting room floor in order to keep the running time at ninety minutes. But, the underdog is Mckenna Grace. She is impossible not to root for. She emotes better than almost any actor out there and she is now three-for-three in making me sob during a film. Looking back, I probably am cutting this movie some slack. But I felt for these kids and any film that can make me cry is worth it in my book. I think it is pretty clear who is right in the instance.
Rating: Ask for two dollars back. If you are dead inside, ask for ten dollars back. (Editor’s note: Dick.)
By: Kevin Jordan
As usual, my son is providing the meat of the review of new, animated, The Addams Family movie. But this one has a slight twist – his grandma and grandpa are asking the questions. Buckle up folks. Also, he gives lots of SPOILERS, but I doubt any kids are reading this.
Have you ever seen the old TV show The Addams Family?
Yes, I’ve seen it.
In this Addams Family, is there a hand called Thing?
Yes, there’s a thing.
Is it a smart thing?
Yeaahhhahah – it’s a really smart thing.
Is there a normal person who isn’t scary?
Who is that person?
Like a camera girl that’s on TV. For like furniture advertisements.
Does she have a name?
I forgot her name. Even if she did have a name.
What did you like the best about this movie?
Something that made you laugh or you could relate to?
I think the best part – actually, I don’t know.
The best part for you.
Ohhhh. For me. When Wednesday made the frogs come back alive.
Who is Wednesday?
You don’t know who Wednesday is?! She’s the same girl from the old tv show.
Best line of the movie happens here. For me at least.
If I remember, there was a father and a mother and a brother and sister and an uncle and another big guy.
Who was the Uncle?
What did you enjoy about Uncle Fester?
That he threw bats everywhere and that he told the furniture lady “I just tooted.” And there was a toilet lady, that she sat on the toilet backwards, but the furniture girl secretly put video cameras on everyone’s house to secretly watch them.
What is the movie about? What was the big problem in the movie?
The problem is the opposite of the Addams family had a catapult and launched big giant boulders at the Addams family mansion at the top of the hill.
Oh. So they were trying to get rid of the Addams family?
They helped them rebuild the house and lightning struck the house and turned it back to the old way the house was. First, the house was abandoned and then they moved in. And there was a big sound in the house like ERRERRRREERRRRR.
Who was the bad person in the movie?
The furniture lady was the bad person and she wanted to destroy the mansion. That way, there wouldn’t be a foggy area and it wouldn’t be near the nice neighborhood anymore.
Did you say frogs?
Yeah, Wednesday made the frogs come alive in junior high.
Were they her friends?
Did the furniture lady have other people who were bad?
There were other people that wanted to make the Addams family go away.
What changed the town’s opinion about the Addams family?
They thought what they did was pretty rude, but the furniture lady didn’t think it was rude. But the other people did and helped them rebuild the house.
And the Addams family lived there happily ever after?
Which Addams family character did you not like the most?
Well, I liked Lurch. My least favorite character was…the old grandma – the really tall-slash-short grandma. She was wearing a dress that made her look really tall, but she came out of the dress and was really tiny.
Was the hand, Thing, really funny?
Was there anything the hand did that you remember was funny?
When Lurch was trying to play on the piano, bud-du-du-duh, but the hand kept going *fart noise, thumb’s down*
So Thing knew how to tell Lurch how to play music?
Yeah, like sign language?
Do you think the Thing could help you with your music practice?
What if the Thing was our music teacher?
What if indeed.
What was your favorite part of the movie?
My other favorite part, besides the frogs, was, after the wedding, the mom and the dad were at a wedding, and when they were driving up to the mansion and they hit something. And the dad was like “we hit something!”
What was it?
What was the most amazing, magical thing that happened?
When the lightning struck, it turned the mansion back to its old version.
Was the movie scary at all?
Not really. But it was good for kids. Kids liked it.
Was it scary, kid fun?
Fun for kids, but not for dads and parents. They were kind of bored. They took their kids to the movie.
Did the mom and dad make the kids in the movie behave?
Oh yeah, I remember part of it. The boy, Pugsley, was on a like a rocket thing and the dad was like “you need to do your sword practice. Last warning!” And the kid went up in the rocket and blew up. Then he was in a parachute and he landed on the ground and did his sword practice.
How did he do his sword practice?
He just swung his blow up sword.
Did Morticia look like a vampire?
Yeah, but there was technically a vampire, like Uncle Fester was kind of a vampire. Who is Morticia?
She was the mom.
So just call her the mom please.
And she wore black dresses?
Yeah. She wore a dress that had squid tentacles that helped her move.
Well, we don’t have any more questions.
We have to do the rating.
Rating: The movie is better than ten dollars because it’s at least twenty-five dollars. If it was longer it would be more. One last thing – bud-du-du-dun *snap, snap*
By: Kevin Jordan
A little bit.
(It’s award consideration season and I’m playing catch-up. As I tear through them, I thought I’d try mini-reviews. Enjoy!)
In 1994, Tonya Harding was the most hated person in America (well, at least until O.J. Simpson went for a drive in his white Bronco). In 2017, anyone who watches I, Tonya is going to have at least the tiniest change of heart unless you are dead inside. I’m not excusing her role in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, but after watching I, Tonya, I was forced to remind myself that she is a human person. I, Tonya is a biography of Tonya Harding (brilliantly portrayed by Margot Robbie) from childhood through her conviction and ban from figure skating. According to the screenwriter (Steven Rogers), everything we see in the movie is based on interviews with Harding and her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan, also brilliant). The construction of the film and the writing have you constantly wondering what the true story is by giving us two different versions of the same story as told by two people whose best interests lie in making themselves look as good as possible. I loved looking for the common threads in the two stories to try to make sense out of what happened, including motivations and psyches. Was Gillooly truly as abusive as Harding claims? Was Gillooly really just trying to scare Kerrigan with death threats, not masterminding (and I use that word very loosely) a physical attack? Was Harding’s mother, LaVona (Allison Janney and brilliant undersells her performance), really the monster we see on the screen? Did we all really look and dress like that in 1994? All great questions with multiple answers to choose from, depending on who you want to believe. But, between the story we are told and Robbie’s performance (especially at the trial), I finished the movie feeling just a little bit sympathetic for Harding. Just a little bit.
Rating: Do not ask for any money back, not even a little bit.
By: Kevin Jordan (Number9)
Is this really what the Fourth of July has come down to?
Remember when the Fourth of July weekend featured the opening of the biggest movie of the entire summer? From the moment school let out and the summer officially started, everyone looked forward to that date on the calendar because it meant the film with the biggest budget, most dazzling visual effects, most entertaining popcorn flick (usually featuring Will Smith) would be satisfying our senses at the height of the summer. From 1996-2008, here are the movies that dominated that holiday weekend:
Men in Black
Wild Wild West
Scary Movie 2
Men in Black II
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
War of the Worlds
With the exception of Scary Movie 2, every one of the those movies screams blockbuster (!!!). Then, something inexplicable happened in 2009, and the big releases were Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and Public Enemies. A cartoon and a Johnny Depp movie that didn’t feature pirates? Was Hollywood changing their thinking, hoping that the holiday weekend would provide a boost to two movies they weren’t very confident in? Were they hoping to squeeze extra money out of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen by opening it the week prior? Were they blackmailed into opening lesser movies by people who wanted to be, you know, outside during the summer time?
2010 got even weirder when the two major releases were Twilight: Eclipse and The Last Airbender. Why would they release a movie aimed specifically at teenage girls on a day known for blowing things up? More importantly, why was M. Night Shyamalan being trusted with the most important weekend of the summer after previously releasing the atrocious Lady in the Water and nearly-as-bad The Village? Did we (the audience) do something to upset Hollywood that they would ruin National Explosion Weekend?
They seemed to realize their mistake and attempted to fix it by releasing Transformers: Dark of the Moon in 2011, The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012, and The Lone Ranger in 2013. Unfortunately, the damage seemed to be done. While Dark of the Moon was exactly what we were expecting, The Amazing Spider-Man was a disappointing and unnecessary retread, and The Lone Ranger was just short of a complete disaster. At this point, Hollywood has completely confused themselves and, in 2014, we’ve somehow ended up with a trio of less-than interesting movies that scream anything but “Today we celebrate our Independence Day!” : Deliver Us From Evil – a random horror flick; Earth to Echo – a movie that hasn’t even been advertised; and Tammy – the next installment of insisting Melissa McCarthy is actually funny. Transformers: Age of Extinction may have been a complete disaster in the story department, but at least things explode. If only that had happened to McCarthy’s completely unsympathetic Tammy, the weekend might have been redeemed.
If you saw any of the trailers for Tammy, you probably voiced the same question I did – what is this movie actually about? After seeing it, I can confidently tell you that it is about absolutely nothing. Seriously, it has no plot. It doesn’t even have a premise. Typically when I say a movie has no plot, what I’m saying is that there was a plot but it was either poorly developed or made no sense. In Tammy’s case, I’m being literal. The movie has no plot. The closest comparison it has is to a biography, but Tammy isn’t telling someone’s life story, just an event from a person’s life. Tammy isn’t even an interesting person. She’s just a fat, stupid slob who runs away from home after getting fired from her job at a fast-food restaurant. That’s not me being mean; the character is purposely written that way. She blames other people for her problems, misuses words throughout the film, she can barely read (mispronouncing “Twain” – as in Mark Twain – while reading a sign), and cheated on her husband (who, in all fairness, was cheating on her as well) with the ice cream man. The best part is that she co-wrote the film with her real-life husband (Ben Falcone), who also directed the film. I’d call it self-deprecating humor except the movie isn’t funny (in fact, Kathy Bates’ character, Lenore, asks Tammy’s grandmother if Tammy even has a sense of humor).
To be fair, much of the audience was laughing at the screen, so there are some people out there that think she’s funny. And that’s okay – there are things I find funny that other people don’t. My problem with the writing is that the things that are supposed to be funny have no impact because there isn’t a story to give them any context. All good comedies (and even bad comedies) rely on the premise and plot to give the jokes a base to launch from and something for the audience to relate to. Office Space is funny because anyone who has worked in an office understands the situation. Horrible Bosses is funny because everyone has had a boss they’ve thought about murdering. Super Troopers is funny because we can all imagine bored cops inventing silly games to keep from shooting themselves after pulling someone over for speeding for the umpteenth time.
The closest thing Tammy gets to as a plot is a road trip with her grandmother (Susan Sarandon) because her grandmother just wants to get out of the house. They aren’t going anywhere in particular or for any reason, so when something written as comedy occurs it usually just comes off as uncomfortable. Examples include: her grandmother being an alcoholic – so drinking is supposed to be funny; her grandmother being a diabetic – so swollen feet are supposed to funny; and her grandmother being kind of slutty – so Tammy sleeping outside of the door of their motel room while her grandmother nails Gary Cole is supposed to funny. The only times I found myself chuckling (and there were very few) were at a couple of Sarandon’s lines and a couple of Bates’ lines. If you start to think about those things, you start to think that maybe this movie is actually a tragedy.
Compounding the terrible writing is the terrible casting. While the movie is filled with very good actors, the roles they fill are not good fits. Allison Janney plays Tammy’s mother and I’ve already told you that Sarandon plays Tammy’s grandmother. The problem is that McCarthy is 43 years old, Janney is 54, and Sarandon is 66. I know that casting often asks us to believe in bizarre age differences, but this one was too much to take because we have eyes and this isn’t radio. McCarthy and Janney look the same age (plus, McCarthy looks like a very old 43) and Sarandon doesn’t look even close to old enough to pass for her grandmother (not to mention the makeup and styling crew barely even tried to make her look older, giving her some grey curls and calling it a day). Janney also has so little screen time that it would have made far more sense to just cut her out completely and make Sarandon Tammy’s mother. I also thought Bates and Sarandon’s roles should have been switched. Bates’ Lenore is a successful, hippie lesbian – a role that seems right up Sarandon’s ally, though Bates gave the best performance in the film by far. Bates would have made a much better mother/grandmother because has the same body shape as McCarthy, she could pull off mean, drunk, and crass without even trying, and has a better comedic delivery than Sarandon. Toss in a pointless cameo by Dan Aykroyd as Tammy’s father (who is Sarandon’s age, no less) – and the severely unfunny Sandra Oh and Toni Collette in bit roles – and you can at least understand where I’m coming from.
As you might have guessed by now, I’m not a fan of McCarthy’s films (or her television shows, for that matter). Bridesmaids was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen (my wife hated it more than I did), Identity Thief was a miserable and unwatchable, and The Heat was unable to crack a smile on my face even though I was borderline delirious on an international flight when I watched it. I was hoping that if I saw Tammy in a crowded theater, I might be more inclined to laugh along with everyone else, but that didn’t work either. Instead, I left the theater missing Will Smith and wondering who decided to replace explosions, special effects, and absurd car chases with a woman who is typecasting herself as disgusting, crass, dumbass with no comedic timing. Ugh. Happy Fourth of July.
Rating: Ask for all your money back, unless you find McCarthy funny, in which case you are on your own.