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Palm Springs

Palm Springs

Would you trust either of these jerks with your existential crisis?

dir: Max Barbacaw

2020

So, basically, we’ve seen enough variations on Groundhog Day, or enough variations have been done that it’s become a genre unto itself, fit for movies and tv shows, in any form. Person or persons get trapped in a loop and have to figure a way out of it.

The original movie had a guy be perplexed by his circumstances, fight against it by lashing out, try every form of suicide and crime, but eventually come to terms with it and become a better person, who then, when released from the loop, decides he’s going to stay in the place he was trapped in.

Some see it as a Buddhist story about reincarnation, some see it as a different philosophical or religious tradition pointing to a similar outcome, but ultimately it’s a story about a person getting multiple chances to get “it” right, however “it” is defined, and being set free, whatever that entails.

Palm Springs has the guy trapped already when we start; he’s been trapped for a long time, so long in fact that he doesn’t really give much of a shit about anything. It’s kind of the antithesis of what character work Groundhog Day tried to establish: instead of someone coming to realise what’s important in life from multiple goes around, he comes to believe that this perpetual November 9th at a wedding reception at Palm Springs means nothing means anything. Life is meaningless when you’re trapped in an unending loop. You learn nothing new, you do everything possible, but you don’t get better or worse, just bored.

It’s a pretty grim message. Nyles (Andy Samberg) does the same stuff Phil Connors does in Groundhog Day, as in he gets to know everything about everyone, and has sex with almost everyone, male or female, but it only brings him to a lower state of being, not transcendence. It doesn’t make him awful, it just makes him not care about stuff, or anything, other than drinking as much beer as he can.

Into this mix drops another person, being Sara (Cristin Milioti), who Nyles pretends to be chatting charmingly with for the first time, but you just know, based on the fact that he’s been here a long while, that they’ve probably hooked up before. But just before they hook up for the first time, someone appears out of nowhere, trying to kill Nyles, forcing him to crawl into a mysterious cave with a glowing light in it, that he keeps begging Sarah not to go into…

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Eurovision Song Contest - The Story of Fire Saga

Fire Saga

Her hair is still better than yours, Lars, live with it

dir: David Dobkin

2020

Eurovision Song Contest – The Story of Fire Saga is not about either the song contest or about Fire Saga. We have been misinformed. Lied to. Fake news etc.

It’s really just about the singular talent that is Will Ferrell. He has made a career of playing a particular kind of man-child lunatic (as opposed to the very different man-child lunatics played by Adam Sandler or Zach Galifianakis or Seth Rogen or probably fifty other guys you can think of), which only achieves more poignancy / hilarity as he ages. There’s Peter Pan, an ageless sprite who never wants to grow up, and then there’s Will Ferrell, a very much aging sprite who never wants to not play a lunatic with a dream.

In this film his dream is winning the Eurovision Song Contest, to the exclusion of anything and everything else. Somehow, or somewhy, this story is set in Iceland, a small island nation that is famous for a lot of things that have nothing to do with Will Ferrell or the Eurovision Song Contest. As a child his character of Lars Erickssong is entranced by watching ABBA winning the contest with Waterloo, and, sad about his mother’s recent death, he vows to honour her and, um, himself by squandering his entire life in the pursuit of winning the contest.

Because, reasons. Over forty years later, he’s still trying, but at least he has a luxuriant wig and a great film clip for his song Volcano Man, which was so great, and so very much more like a clip by Empire of the Sun rather than an entrant in Eurovision, but then the rug is pulled out from beneath our feet when we see that the clip is only in Lars’ imagination, as he bangs away on a keyboard in his dad’s garage.

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The King of Staten Island

The King of Staten Island

"and as he surveyed all before him, he wept, for there were no
worlds left to conquer"

dir: Judd Apatow

2020

These films, from Judd Apatow, about men (almost exclusively men, except for Trainwreck, where the emotionally immature main character was a woman), very immature men, straining to grow over the course of the movie in order to be better people and be worthy of some other character’s love, are right up my alley. Sure, it indicates that Apatow never really wants to do anything that different from what he’s done before, but who are we to complain in these difficult times?

I mean, the value of entertainment cannot be understated given what's going on in the world at the moment. Thank Christ, the Buddha and maybe Satan as well that all these productions were waiting in the wings, waiting for a docile and compliant and famished audience to hoover down, like so many Twisties from a Party Size bag.

Unlike the other flicks, one could argue, this time telling this kind of tale, they are using a doozy of a story, and a doozy of an actor to play the main character. Pete Davidson is notorious for a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with movies or Saturday Night Live, and more to do with his mental health struggles and unapologetic drug use. At least here it is in the service of telling a story that’s not too dissimilar to his actual life.

It's a backhanded way of saying that though the characters in his other flicks, that aren’t the ones about how growing older and having families suck (Funny People, This is 40), might have had issues and hang ups, but not like this guy. He’s always on drugs and is clearly suicidal, and makes terrible choices that any person can see are terrible.

The film starts with Scott (Davidson) driving a car, deciding he doesn’t care if he lives or dies, nearly having a serious accident, but at the last second swerving out of the way because there’s already a car wreck on the road. He hits a couple of cars, yells sorry, but doesn’t really do anything about it.

The main characterisation of Scott is that there is the fundamental absence in his life, being that of his father, which has contributed to his fuckedupedness. It sounds pretty simplistic, doesn’t it? Like, that one thing surely doesn’t explain or excuse the countless terrible things he does here.

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Sorry to Bother You

Sorry to Bother You

... but have you accepted Jesus as your personal saviour?

dir: Boots Riley

2018

Any film can go off the rails in its third act, but few do it in such a bonkers, catastrophic fashion. If you’re going to crash and burn, I say do it as spectacularly as possible, and this flick certainly gives it a red hot go.

I could not even begin to describe what genre this movie slots into. I guess you could kind of say it was a comedy? Corporate satire with racial / social commentary? I mean, it’s pretty funny in parts, but it tries to do so much in its running time that to say it transcends traditional restrictions in favour of making an insane set of literal and allegorical points would really not even scratch the surface.

Maybe it’s just easier to call it a satire, though a satire of late-stage capitalism and the pretentiousness of performance art, or the way African-Americans have to commodify themselves in order to eke out a living, I could not rightly say. It’s saying something, or a lot of somethings, it’s just that I don’t know ultimately what it means, if anything.

Our Hero Cassius, or Cash as he’s referred to more often, is played by Lakeith Stanfield, probably best known for playing Darius in the FX series Atlanta. The characters, at least initially, aren’t that dissimilar. He also had a brief but memorable role in Get Out, as someone who clearly wasn’t feeling like himself anymore.

Here he’s a financially disadvantaged bum who lives in his uncle’s garage, and is desperate for work. We see him trying to put 40 cents of petrol in his car, one which needs literal strings to be pulled in order to get the wipers moving. I wouldn’t have mentioned the uncle except that the uncle is played by the sublime Terry Crews, who is confidently working towards taking over America by appearing in everything and on everything. If there is only one person on the planet I can accept getting to refer to themselves in the third person, and there is only one, it’s Terry.

I have however expended more words in the last paragraph than Terry gets in the whole flick. Let me not give the impression that Cash’s uncle Sergio plays any significant part in the proceedings. He doesn’t, other than as an occasional antagonist.

Cash tries to lie his way into a job at a telemarketing place. He unfortunately perpetrates a bit of resume padding claiming he worked as a manager at the Bank of Oakland during a particular time period, not knowing of course that the jerk interviewing him was the manager at that bank at the same time. Other places would show you the door, but this is telemarketing, of course, where being an awful person is its own reward and a valuable skill. Cash’s initial attempts to sell bullshit to people on the phone fails because the second people hear his voice they hang up.

An old hand at the job, Langston (Danny Glover), advises Cash to speak with his white voice. A voice that reassures the listener, that calms and comforts them, radiating ease and privilege, a voice that never knows want or fear of being able to pay the rent. When Cash finally masters that kind of voice, his rise through the ranks becomes stratospheric.

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

So quirky there should be laws against it, forcing them to go on the run

dir: Taika Waititi

2016

Sometimes you watch a trailer and say to yourself “I must watch that movie.” Sometimes you watch the movie, and think “That movie was nothing like the trailer, and now I am sad.” Other times you watch the movie and say “that was exactly like the trailer, but eh.”

But this time? This time? I was really excited about seeing Hunt for the Wilderpeople, we saw it (as a family), and I loved it thoroughly and utterly.

Perhaps we shouldn’t have seen it as a family? I thought it would skirt the edges of its PG rating, but it kinda went a tad further than I would have expected. Having your nine-year-old daughter ask you out loud at the Westgarth Cinema on a Friday night “What’s a molesterer?” is perhaps a conversation for another time.

I was, at least in some respects, pre-programmed to enjoy this. I loved Waititi’s film Boy, liked What We Do In the Shadows, and occasionally enjoyed Flight of the Conchords (the tv show he occasionally directed, whereas the band will always rank in my heart as the greatest musicians to ever come out of New Zealand except for all the other ones).

Taika makes some very quirky movies, filled to the brim with quirky characters and 80s aesthetics. Sometimes it’s oppressive. Sometimes it gibes just right with the material. In this case, it’s a pretty good fit (in terms of the actors, the quirks, and the story).

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Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar!

I think a better title might have been "A Tale of Two Tildas"

dir: Coen Brothers

2016

Eh. I didn’t really get it.

This is fairly minor Coen Brothers as far as I’m concerned. Yes, I get that the Coens love the Golden Age of Hollywood. Yep, okay, got it. In case I’d never noticed before, most of the Coen Brothers’ movies are about movies. Some of their greatest work or funniest sequences have harkened back to times of yore and movies of days gone by.

But, yeah, it’s not a matter of just doing a homage/reference, or enjoying a homage/reference. The whole point of this flick is that there doesn’t really seem to be a point, other than Hollywood continuing to do what Hollywood does is probably a good thing(?)

It's the feeling I had, when Hail, Caesar! ended, that I also had at the end of Burn After Reading, a flick I genuinely, actively disliked before it ended, and downright hated once the ending basically stated outright "We have no idea what the point was, either". Endings like that are such a shoulder shrug of a statement that I can't help but feel insulted.

There's some kernel of an idea, several ideas, even. There are some keen or even endearing performances. There's an almost structure, one almost kinda similar to a detective trying to navigate a corrupt world and solve a mystery.

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Zoolander 2

Zoolander 2

These people are all very dangerously dumb. They shouldn't
be allowed to drive, or vote, or drink, or do anything, really.

dir: Ben Stiller

2016

Ye gods and little fishes – this movie is fucking terrible! This is like an anti-comedy, in essence almost every scene seems to have been put together to be as deliberately unfunny as the preceding scene, if not more so.

How do you manage to be so unfunny? How do you make it so it isn’t even accidentally funny some times, like, according to the law of averages?

Zoolander 2 doesn’t have far to drop in terms of quality as a sequel, because, in my unhumble opinion, Zoolander itself wasn’t that funny anyway. It wasn’t, I don’t think, as aggressively unfunny as this one, though. Or maybe it seems less unfunny by comparison.

I find it somewhat unfathomable. Ben Stiller has made some very funny movies. I won’t list them all, but even fairly recently, Tropic Thunder was pretty goddamn funny (for my money). I’ve even liked him in more (slightly) dramatic roles like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. But nothing could prepare me for just how awful I found this.

I laughed once during a nearly two hour film. Well, hour and forty minutes, probably. Break that down further: 100 minutes of a movie, and I laughed for about 1-2 seconds, from one gag. As a ratio, it doesn’t look good in terms of return on investment of my precious time, does it?

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Trainwreck

Trainwreck

Oh, Amy, maybe you'll get so famous from this hit that you won't have to
yell "I'm Famous!" at the people at your gym in order to be let in

dir: Judd Apatow

2015

Amy Schumer plays a thinly veiled version of Amy Schumer in a romantic comedy about Amy’s difficulties with relationships and managing her copious consumption of booze and smoke.

Can she get away with this flagrant laziness?

It’d be like me playing a nervous Comic-Book Guy lookalike who drinks a lot and plays computer games late into the night.

It’s not a challenge. It wouldn’t even really register as fiction. It’d just be a sad documentary. I also can’t imagine there’s much of a market for it. Ryan Gosling is in talks about playing the lead as we speak, so, you know...

For Amy, though, there is a market for her not-so-unique brand of self-deprecating and caustic humour, resting, as it does, on pre-emptive admissions of what a drunken strumpet she is who doesn’t fit in comfortably with conventional standards of American / Hollywood 'beauty'.

The difference is (between my autobiographical existences and this movie), the massive difference is that Amy Schumer is incredibly funny and a great stand up performer who’s taken 11 or so years of hard work to get where she is. She’s hardly an overnight success, and she’s earned every dollar and every compliment, critical or otherwise.

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Pixels

Pixels

From the Jerks that brought you all of Adam Sandler's other movies,
and your last hernia, comes Pixels! A colonoscopy in cinematic form!
Just don't bring your kids

dir: Chris Columbus

2015

Bleurgh.

It’s not in my nature to put the boot in when someone’s already down. It’s not really in my nature to put the boot in at any time, really. Being a Buddhist and all, being fairly squeamish and not ever liking getting my boots dirty, I don’t like causing pain to anyone or anything. Least of all my own foot.

I wish the people who made this flick had the same impulse.

Pixels has already been lambasted as being one of the shittiest flicks to come out in 2015, and that very consensus is what made me think the flick deserved a second chance, or at least a first viewing on my part. If anything, I would argue that the almost universal condemnation wasn’t universal or condemnatory enough.

Pixels is fucking terrible. It masqueraded as a kid’s flick in order to trick parents into taking their kids along, at least in Australia when it was released during the school holidays, but, to sound like a Concerned Parent writing a letter to a Murdoch newspaper to express my outrage simultaneously in a tizz and in high dudgeon, this flick is not for kids.

What I mean is, while the makers certainly intended for it to be watched and enjoyed by the dumbest potential mass audience, it’s not in actuality a kid or family movie.

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The Interview

The Interview

The fate of the world rests in the hands of these two dick
and arse-obsessed jerks. The world doesn't have a hope.

dir: Evan Goldberg & Seth Rogen

2014

Over this? You caused an international incident and nearly caused a nuclear war to start over this?

Only time will tell if The Interview was worth it. In the short term, it’s led to a baffling case of international espionage / bastardry in the form of either North Korean hackers or someone in the employ of North Korea achieving a massive hack on Sony, the company that was threatening to release this flick. And it has achieved a notoriety that it otherwise would never have earned based on what the movie is actually like.

I’m sure Sony will inflate the dollar cost of what was done to them for insurance scam purposes, like when you get burgled and you tell the guy or girl from the insurance company “why yes, and that’s where the Picasso used to hang on the wall”, but the impact on them has been huge. The infiltration of their company has resulted in bunches of films that weren’t yet released being flooded onto torrent sites, and the internal communications of the company going back years being revealed for all the world to see.

Sony’s Playstation Network, through which people can buy and stream movies, through which people could buy and stream THIS movie, was taken down, and so was the one for the Xbox, at least temporarily. All those gaming nerds… forced to step away from their screens, it must have been hell for them.

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