White guy here. I’m tempted to just punt on writing about movies involving racism. Take Jordan Peele’s recently released horror comedy Get Out. How am I possibly supposed to critique a film about an African-American’s perspective on race relations? If I don’t enjoy the movie, do I shit on it and risk being viewed as narrow-minded, or worse? If I love the movie, do I overly praise it and come off like the Malcolm X quoting, trying too hard to be “down,” Craig from Atlanta’s Juneteenth episode? “Preach, Ava DuVernay. You tell ‘em.” says the white guy currently wearing Rainbow sandals. I don’t know, it’s a fine line.
From left to right: Missy (Catherine Keener), Dean (Bradley Whitford), Rose (Allison Williams), Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) in Universal Pictures’ Get Out, a speculative thriller written, produced and directed by Jordan Peele.
Anyways, fuck it, I LOVED Get Out. It’s perfect. Easily the best movie I’ve seen so far this year. In Get Out, Marnie from Girls takes her boyfriend (Sicario’s Daniel Kaluuya) back to her rural childhood home to meet Mom and Dad for the first time. Marnie (I’m just gonna call her Marnie) claims she doesn’t see race nor sees the point in letting her parents know ahead of time that she’s dating a black man, but Chris, said black man, is not as naïve. I’d rather not reveal much more than that premise to avoid spoilers, but needless to say Greg Focker had it easy compared to this weekend visit. Get Out is classified as a horror, but I really urge people that generally avoid the scary genre to give this a shot. For one reason, it’s just as funny as it is scary. And two, it’s gotta be one of the most thought-provoking films you’ll see all year, especially for those not accustomed to encountering casual discrimination. Costarring a suddenly grey Bradley Whitford & Catherine Keener. Grade: A+
- One last item of note. This film is currently at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, factoring in over 130 reviews. That is CRAZY. Honestly never seen that before. As mentioned in my blurb on Moonlight, there’s always one asshole that ruins a perfect RT score, but somehow Get Out pulled it off. Does Breitbart not have a film critic?
The 30% of jokes in Central Intelligence that really hit outweigh the 70% that don’t, mostly thanks to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s performance. While he’s inarguably the biggest action star on Earth, I don’t think The People’s Champ gets enough credit for how funny he is. Case in point: his born again, ex-con, drug addict, 40 year old with a longboard take in 2013’s Pain & Gain. He’s all over the place in that A+ movie and dominates every single frame he’s in. One wonders why he doesn’t take more roles outside of the tough guy straight man we all know so well, but hey that’s his brand (same goes for Tom Cruise).
For the first time since P&G, Central Intelligence really allows The Rock to stretch his temperaments. Playing a CIA agent to Kevin Hart’s accountant, he’s still obviously the tough guy but a very strange, man-child one at that. The fact that he outshines Hart, an actual comedian, really says something. But again, while most of this movie is pretty bad but there’s a half dozen scenes that make it work. Also, shout out to movies that show funny outtakes over the credits. Why don’t all movies do this? Seriously, I’m not just talking about comedies. There has to be an outtake somewhere of Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck cracking up somewhere in the Manchester by the Sea archives. Grade: C
Rated Greg’s Top 10 “One Tough S.O.B.’s”*
- Rama (Iko Uwais) – The Raid
- John McCLane (Bruce Willis) – Die Hard
- Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) – Predator
- John Wick (Keanu Reeves) – John Wick
- The Bride (Uma Thurman) – Kill Bill
- John Creasy (Denzel Washington) – Man on Fire
- Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) – Con Air
- Maximus (Russell Crowe) – Gladiator
- Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) – Mad Max: Fury Road
- Dalton (Patrick Swayze) – Road House
*No, I have never seen Rambo or Death Wish.
In John Wick, Russian gangsters kill Keanu Reeves’s puppy and steal his 1969 Mustang Mach1. Big mistake. They come to find out later that Keanu is a former assassin and is dead set on seeking vengeance for taking away the two things most important to him. It’s a fantastic one-man wrecking crew of a movie that came out of nowhere in 2014. I know Keanu’s acting style can be viewed as kind of a joke, especially in action movies (I AM AN EFF BEE EYE AGENT!), but his physical performance in this is quite impressive (also, after listening to a recent Nerdist podcast with Keanu I really think he’s in on the joke. He doesn’t seem to talk like such a dummy in real life). Anyways, I highly recommend John Wick if you dig action shoot-em-ups. There’s a B-A-N-A-N-A-S fight sequence in a Russian bathhouse/nightclub that is an absolute all-timer.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is like 99% of the other action sequels. It takes a similar storyline but doubles the explosions, doubles the body counts, and doubles the stakes, diluting what audiences enjoyed so much in the first place (Chapter 2 might actually quadruple the body count. I swear Keanu kills must hit three figures here). This is how John McLane went from saving an office building in 1988 to saving an airport in 1990 to saving New York City in 1995 to saving America in 2007 to saving the world in 2013. I don’t really know what the solution is. Studios don’t want to make the same movie twice, but nonetheless I tend to prefer the lower scale action movies like Bad Boys to the “bigger, badder” Bad Boys 2.
Wick 2 is still definitely worth seeing though if you’re an action head. The fight sequences again are equally top notch and ridiculous. Director Chad Stahelski is a former stuntman so he certainly knows what he’s doing in that department. Everything else however is just not as charismatic as the original. Grade: B-
Rated Greg’s Top 5 Batman Movies
- The Dark Knight*
- Batman Begins*
- The Lego Batman Movie
- Batman Returns
*These are all interchangeable. More like 1A/1B/1C
Do kids love The Lego Movie as much as I do? I honestly have no idea. I once tried to show it to my four-year-old niece but she may have been too young since Will Ferrell’s President Business scared her off five minutes in. From what I gather, Frozen is the clear leader but I’m interested to see how a panel of brats would stack it against Despicable Me, Dory, Life of Pets, etc. To me, the humor of The Lego Movie is so intertwined within my wheelhouse that I have it as the second best comedy of 2014 (Neighbors #1). After all, it was made by Phil Lord & Chris Miller, the comedy team behind the R rated 21 Jump Street movies as well as the quirky Last Man on Earth TV series. But I’m curious if the millennial wavelength of the animated blockbuster lessened its enjoyment from the younger target audience. Do they really get how funny this is?!
I think most would agree that the standout from The Lego Movie was Will Arnett’s Batman, a perfectly cast parody of the overly serious, grumbling dark knight that Christian Bale portrayed in the most recent trilogy. But by creating a spinoff focusing entirely on this character, it’s easy to wonder if that would be too much of a good thing (like when Ja’mie got her own show after the success of Summer Heights High or when Ken Bone went mainstream).
Well, I can report back that Batman is more than up to the task, so much so that I would rank this even above The Lego Movie. Aside from a brief cameo by The Super Friends, none of the original characters besides (obviously) Batman appear in Lego Batman. Instead, the film incorporates literally every single villain to ever step foot in Gotham, along with a plethora of baddies from over a dozen other franchises ranging from the 80’s to present day. I won’t dive into which one’s because that would give too much away, but to give you an idea of the scope of this project, one of the villains left on the cutting room floor was apparently none other than Bill the Butcher from Scorsese’s Gangs of New York.
Like all kids movies the narrative pushes a clear, positive message, something about the importance of working together blah blah blah, but in terms of the humor it really seemed like the majority of jokes were directed more towards children of the 80’s & 90’s than second term Obama babies. References to all eight Batman movies as well as the campy 60’s TV show are scattered throughout the 100 minutes. This is Chris McKay’s first time directing a feature film, which seemed like a risky move for WB, but all of this made perfect sense once I realized he directed three seasons of the late night stop motion sketch comedy series Robot Chicken. Sidenote: You remember Robot Chicken? I think the last time I watched Robot Chicken I was drinking a Genny Light in a Boston College dorm room. Grade: A-
Most of you are aware of the term hatewatch. It’s a show or movie you openly hate but for some reason or another choose to keep watching to fuel said hate. Some people hatewatch Girls. Others hatewatch Ballers. Personally, I hatewatched The Walking Dead for several seasons before finally breaking up with it in 2014 (is Carl still wearing that stupid fucking hat?). It’s what people watch if they feel like being angry. I can’t put into words why someone would openly want to feel angry but it might be similar to the reasons people are compelled to look at certain social media accounts no matter how much they despise that person’s outlook on life.
I mean, in 2017 it’s easy to feel desensitized and cynical. What with levels of corruption in leadership that would make even Nino Brown blush, the New England
Cobra Kai Patriots winning Super Bowls, OUR PETS HEADS FALLING OFF! But then you watch something like Lion. What’s this weird, unrelenting, warm and fuzzy feeling creeping into my gut? This my friends, is a hate[yourself]watch. Quite simply, it’s something to throw on when you’re feeling a little downtrodden. I joked with friends recently that I preemptively downloaded episodes of This Is Us to have in my back pocket on a returning flight home from a boys trip to Montreal, when I would likely be sleep-deprived and grumpy. It’s the quintessential TV show to bring someone back into the light and the Best Picture nominated Lion has a similar effect on the soul.
In 1980’s India, a five year old boy accidentally finds himself lost and completely separated from his family, far from home without the necessary comprehensive tools to make it back. Twenty years later, having eventually been adopted by an Australian couple and now a young professional, he drops everything to search for his biological mother, brother, and sister. Lion may not have made my top 15 of 2016, but I understand why the Academy deemed it exemplary. The first half in particular, supposedly inspired by WALL-E, is really something. Grade: B+
One & Done/Ben Simmons provides a behind the scenes look at an elite basketball prospect from his senior year in high school to his mandatory year in college to the 2016 NBA Draft. While Simmons is the best incoming basketball talent since LeBron James, he’s not exactly Mr. Personality. I love the NBA. It’s my favorite sports league and am fascinated by all things hoops, but the filmmakers could have picked a better player to focus on than Simmons (for instance Joel Embiid).
The most important aspect of a documentary is authenticity and the Simmons family just comes off a little fake throughout this film. Like they were acting for the cameras or something. I will give Ben props for the unabashed contempt that he displays toward the NCAA during his year at LSU. He makes it very clear that he thinks it’s bullshit he can’t just go straight to the NBA from high school and treats classroom commitments like a complete joke. I do see his point, however that’s more so on the NBA, which has every right to keep an age limit for the betterment of its product. By far the best part of the film is when Rich Paul, Lebron’s agent, gets involved. Now Paul is somebody I’d like to see a documentary on…. but he’s too smart for that. Streaming on Showtime. Grade: C
Rated Greg’s Least Realistic Movie Couples
- Jon Favreau & Sofia Vergara/Scarlett Johansson – Chef*
- Seth Rogen & Rose Byrne – Neighbors
- Jason Segal & Mila Kunis – Forgetting Sarah Marshall
- Giovanni Ribisi & Nia Long – Boiler Room
- Molly Ringwald & Jake What’s His Name – Sixteen Candles**
*It’s so funny to me that Jon Favreau, writer/director/lead actor of Chef, cast these two as his love interests. As Shea Serrano says… “Shoot Your Shot.”
**I wanted to include at least one instance of the girl being out of her league but there’s really not a lot to choose from. Other considerations were Renee Zellweger & Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire and Mireille Enos & Brad Pitt in World War Z.
In 2009’s coming of age classic, Adventureland, Kristen Stewart decides to stop sleeping with Ryan Reynolds in order to pursue Jesse Eisenberg. No I did not mix those names up. This isn’t Kelly choosing between Brandon and Dylan or Teen Wolf choosing between Boof and Pamela. This was more like if the Washington Wizards could go back, do the 2011 draft over again, and still choose Jan Vesely over Kawhi Leonard. It’s probably the most unrealistic thing to happen in the movie but I was willing to look past it because I love Adventureland so much.
SPOILER WARNING: I’m always very careful to reveal minimal plot points in most of these blurbs, but I go a little deeper here. It’s not like this is Arrival or anything but just covering my bases here.
I can’t look past such nonsense in Café Society. Woody Allen’s mediocre latest is about a young go-getter (Eisenberg) in 1930’s Hollywood trying to follow in the footsteps of his very successful movie agent uncle played by Steve Carrell (who’s becoming quite good at playing assholes despite his nice guy reputation I might add). The film runs back Kristen Stewart falling for Jesse Eisenberg and doubles down by adding goddess BLAKE LIVELY (Ryan Reynolds’ wife IRL, bringing things full circle) to form an old fashioned love triangle. I just don’t buy it. Eisenberg is a good actor (Zombieland, Social Network, The End of the Tour, etc) but he’s just not a convincing ladies man despite the film’s efforts to turn him into one. I’m generally not a huge fan of Woody Allen’s films (the only one that I like a lot is Match Point) and Cafe Society doesn’t do much to change that. Streaming on Amazon Prime. Grade: C
At the behest of my good friends Diana and Anita (Danita for short), I watched the 2016 rom-com How to be Single. It’s definitely one of those good bad movies in the truest sense. A big ensemble cast with story lines zigzagging all over the place, I think it’s best to break it down by character arc, take the average, and call it a day.
Grade F: Unwatchable. Along with Jimmy Fallon, Kevin Hart, and me on Saturday nights, her “shtick” is getting really old.
DAMON WAYANS JR.
Grade D: If only because he probably has three total minutes of screen time despite being billed 4th.
Grade C: She’s one of the five hottest actresses on the planet and yet is always the one chasing the guy (see Community and Sleeping with Other People). What’s up with that? Would have been a D but again, she’s Alison “Have Mercy” Brie.
Grade C: There’s some potential here for his post-Workaholics career that I didn’t see coming. Very reminiscent of Kelly Oubre this season.
Grade B-: Whatever, she’s fine (I’m running out of steam).
Grade B+: What is she doing in this movie? She’s way too good for this shitshow.
Overall, How to be Single meets the bare minimum if you’re desperate for something to watch. Much better iterations of “contemporary dating in the big city” can be found on TV shows like Insecure and Master of None. Grade: C
20th Century Women wins the prize for 2016 movie least likely to be seen by an adolescent boy if all he knew about it was the title (second place goes to The Accountant). Several people asked me “what’s that even about?” when I mentioned seeing it last weekend, and another simply assumed it was a documentary. It’s not a documentary, but real people inspired it.
In 1979 Santa Barbara, California, a middle-aged single mother (Annette Benning) enlists a 24 year old, punk rock loving, feminist (Greta Gerwig) and the 17 year old girl next door (Elle Fanning) to help raise her 15 year old son (no clue). It’s a makeshift family drama with a soothing ambiance and provides differing perspectives on a rapidly changing country. While writer/director Mike Mills wrote Benning’s character very close to the memories of his own mom, the Gerwig and Fanning characters are fusions of the types of women that would come in and out of his life as a late bloomer teen on the west coast. Each of the actresses is great in her respective role and could have been Oscar nominated in another year. Even Gerwig, who I’ll admit tends to annoy me with all of her Gerwigness in other films, really nails this. Oh and before I forget, I’d be remiss not to mention Billy Crudup. He fits in perfectly in any style of movie and always seems to deliver no matter the size of the part. Crudup may as well be cinematic mayonnaise. Anyways, that’s 20th Century Women. It’s an appropriate title once you see the film. Grade: A-