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AS OF APRIL 1, 2016, I WILL NO LONGER POST REVIEWS TO IMDB. PLEASE VISIT MY WEBSITE TO READ AND BROWSE ALL OF MY FILM REVIEWS, http://stevethemovieman.proboards.com
Illumination finally gives their formula the life and respect necessary for it to succeed
After wading in the water in terms of quality for the better half of this year, Illumination Entertainment finally gets the above-average film they deserve with Sing. The sad part about a film like this - which is basically an animated variety show of animals covering yesterday and today's pop tunes - is it's more likely to fail than succeed on the simple merit that its narrative prompts for things like humor based on recognition, general unevenness, and lazy screen writing. While all of those certainly come into play sooner or later, you might just be surprised, as I was, how Sing's effervescent charm sneaks up on you well into its second act and manifests its way into becoming an enjoyable, character-centered experience.
The film revolves around the perky Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey), a Koala bear who owns the historic Moon Theatre and has for the past twenty-five years. In the present day, however, the theater is dilapidated, with crippled, worn infrastructure that can barely stay intact. Buster hasn't put on a show in three years, but with the help of his elderly, but well-meaning lizard assistant Ms. Crawly (director Garth Jennings), they decide to host a singing competition which will eventually pave the way for a variety show of sorts for the entire neighborhood.
Originally intending the winner of the competition to get $1,000, a typo by Ms. Crawly renders the cash prize $100,000, money that Buster doesn't have but must fake like he does until the show is over. This becomes harder to do when he sees exactly how troubled most of his talent are, and how they're all singing to escape or better themselves. There's a teenage gorilla named Johnny (Taron Egerton), who is trying to forge a path for himself unlike his father's that doesn't involve petty crime and gang activity, a mouse named Mike (Seth MacFarlane), who is in total debt with no immediate relief, a young elephant named Meena (Tori Kelly), who needs to overcome stage-fright in order to pursue his dreams as a singer, a porcupine named Ash (Scarlett Johansson), who gets accepted while the other half of her duo/boyfriend Lance (Beck Bennett) does not, and a pig named Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), who is caught in the middle of a struggling marriage with her husband and twenty-five piglets as she tries to relive her years as a performer.
A movie where animals sing once-popular radio hits feels like the "cat video"-infested bowels of Youtube taken to the next level, so on that note, much like their film The Secret Life of Pets, Illumination has cracked the secret to getting people interested in their films on a purely conceptual (no matter how basic) level. But after insulting us with Minions and shortchanging us with Pets, the studio finally gets it right with Sing by giving us what we subconsciously expected to see, which was a bit of a story behind the characters. We'll come for the cuteness, but we'd also like to be given a reason to stay and a reason to connect to the film.
Sing features an amiable cast of characters with familiar voices - McConaughey and MacFarlane are very good, for that matter - and infuses their stories with enough interest to make them transcend the tropes they could've fallen into it quite easily. For example, the stories of Meena, Rosita, and Ash are actually kind of sad, and give way to the wonderful idea of female empowerment based on breaking out of "your place" or your comfort zone and fully becoming your own, confident person. Common, absolutely, but screenwriter Jennings infuses a bit of disillusionment into their stories to give them an emotional layer that might even echo or resonate with parents, who thought they were taking their kids to see another cute and cuddly kid movie. Maybe they might even see something in the way the Johnny character feels, as he's constantly pressured by his father to be tough and to be a part of his gang rather than encouraging him to be his own person.
Sing has moments where its lazy screen writing does prevail, such as the handful of montages we get that show a goofy pig dancing to Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" or kangaroos singing the Men Without Hats' "Safety Dance." They're moments of brief amusement until you realize how entirely vapid and distracting they really are. Thankfully, where Jennings could've stopped writing, he decided to keep going, and the result is a modestly successful animated film that at least makes an admirable attempt to give us more than the internet and other movies of the like already have.
Voiced by: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Taron Egerton, Scarlett Johansson, Tori Kelly, Beck Bennett, and Garth Jennings. Directed by: Garth Jennings.
Addiction Incorporated (2011)
A fairly necessary reminder of a story we think we know entirely
I write this review of the documentary Addiction Incorporated as not only a casual smoker of both cigarettes and cigars myself, but as someone fascinated by the variety of tobacco and tobacco-related products in the United States. Ever since I turned eighteen, I've been a casual smoker, smoking no more than three cigarettes a day, researching on tobacco trends and specifics of particular cigarettes and cigars, while frequenting tobacco shops and lounges with my friends. It's a culture that's attractive because of its variety, history, and stigma, especially in recent time. I distinctly remember being a young child going into Red Lobster or another restaurant and having my mother, a smoker for several decades, and my grandmother, another smoker for several decades before quitting in the late 2000's, asking for a "smoking table." Now, you'll be lucky to smoke immediately outside of that same building.
Addiction Incorporated is a documentary about tobacco losing its respectable place and staple in American culture. What was once a proud staple of unabashed freedom and Americana has now become viewed as a gross habit with seriously lethal consequences, with concrete evidence and support to back up such statements. It concerns a man named Victor DeNoble, with a cool demeanor and relaxing narrative voice that was made for any documentary, who was hired by Philip Morris several decades ago to develop an equally addictive substitute for nicotine. This was during the time that companies like Morris (Marlboro) and R.J. Reynolds (Camel) were beginning to succumb to proof from studies that a correlation between cigarette smoking and lung cancer was undeniable and prevalent. Nonetheless, even DeNoble himself confirms that they did want to develop an alternative to nicotine. After all, as stated in the documentary, dead smokers don't buy cigarettes.
DeNoble worked with a man named Bill Farone to help develop the substitute, but during this process, DeNoble worked with lab-rats as he worked to discover what nicotine really does to the brain. In DeNoble's experiment, rats were given doses of nicotine to their brain respective to their body-size whenever they pressed a button. Eventually, over the course of just a few days, the rats went from pushing the button just a few times a day to pushing it over one-hundred times a day. After this discovery, the evidence was indisputable; nicotine did dangerous things to the brain and was delivered by way of one of America's favorite social activities and passtimes.
We're told when nicotine enters the body, it directly affects a person's breathing as well as their heart-rate. It also is something that has to be introduced to the body; once acquainted, it activates nerves and emotions in the brain that weren't previously known to the body, which is what results in a sudden craving for a cigarette and the ongoing addiction. DeNoble was also one of the first people to look at acetaldehyde, a chemical that serves as one of the key factors in getting nicotine to resonate in the body and the mind. With that, DeNoble looked to present his research to the tobacco companies, who, regardless of the scientific findings, had two prime goals - sell more cigarettes and make more money.
DeNoble states that while companies like Philip Morris were selling a lifestyle, they were really engaging drug marketing. They were engaging in normalizing drug use in popular culture, where people could regularly purchase and use a legal drug while skeptically observing or writing off others perceived as "more dangerous" or "more deadly." The anomaly such a thing presents is quite striking, but DeNoble reminds us of a time where Americans refused to accept that one of their favorite, more cherished things was slowly killing them and turning them into addicts.
Addiction Incorporated covers all that and more, including the long legal battle between DeNoble and Philip Morris that famously had the tobacco company denying any prior knowledge that their product lead to a variety of diseases and resulted in a countless number of deaths. Curiously enough, I don't recall the word "cancer" being uttered once in the film; that's because the focus is largely on DeNoble, his findings, and Philip Morris's response to those findings. As a result, Addiction Incorporated winds up being a documentary that retraces well-covered steps, but nonetheless basks in an aura of importance with an engaging presence and understandable storytelling devices at its core. It doesn't predicate on fear, but on proved sentiments and winds up being thoroughly enjoyable and informative at that.
Directed by: Charles Evans Jr.
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
"Where else but the streets?"
Whether or not Exit Through the Gift Shop is an authentic documentary, showcasing real-life events without a hint of fabrication or mockumentary-esque sentiment, I cannot say and I'm not prepared to wrap my brain around the multitude of justifications and possibilities. What I am prepared to do, however, is talk about what a visceral and entertaining experience Exit Through the Gift Shop is, and how its effective use and depiction of street art and the politics of street artists is something that deserves your attention. In a film that predicates itself off of portraying and capturing "art terrorists" in the action, and the limitless creative ways they can express themselves, this documentary works to be both an unabashed plunge inside an underground community, as well as a beautiful iteration of something many of us probably took for granted or didn't quite look at so deeply before.
Shot by an English street artist who goes by the name of "Banksy," and also assisted by Shepard Fairey, another street artist who is responsible for creating Barack Obama's animated, red/blue campaign image for his 2008 election campaign, Exit Through the Gift Shop chronicles the life of Thierry Guetta, a quirky Frenchmen living in Los Angeles who, since he can remember, shot and recorded everything that occurred in his life. No matter where he went or what he did, Thierry was always armed with a camera and collected thousands of tapes with unique footage stored on them. One thing Theirry was always fascinated with was street art, and learned that one of Los Angeles's most prolific street artists, a man named "Space Invader," who goes around tagging images around town of characters and sprites from video games, is one of his cousins.
This sparks a sudden interest in Thierry to begin documenting street artists in Los Angeles. Street artists are known as people that go around town illegally spray-painting, posting, or sticking images in public places. Often times it's taking traditional graffiti and vandalism to the next level by having enormous thirty-feet by forty-feet prints of quirky images plastered on the sides of brick buildings, drawing a countless number of eyes onto your work. Thierry winds up getting in touch with both Fairey and Banksy, and before long, after tirelessly following them around and capturing their process, gets the urge to make his own art under the name "Mr. Brainwash" (MBW), a name he gets from having the desire to infest the minds of who sees his work with his elaborate art involving everything from exaggerated images of celebrities, Warhol-style interpretations and manipulations of popular culture, to images made up of barcodes that distort and render the image into a series of parallel lines if you observe them from a close distance.
Through intense marketing by inspiring word of mouth through the Los Angeles area, and requested promotions via Banksy and Fairey, Guetta goes from an underground oddity to a mainstream sensation almost overnight, so much so that he begins crafting an art show so he can sell some of his own works. His inspiration to host a show comes after Banksy creates a storm of positive reception and sales by selling his eclectic street-art at a wild, unconventional art show of his own. This is where the politics of street art begin to conflict. Can one really say that Guetta and Banksy's work, at that point, adheres to the basic principles of underground, illegal art? When something becomes commercialized or licensed, often the authenticity and the roots of the work is compromised, and through Guetta's strives towards fame and acceptance, the concept of boasting "real" street art is almost entirely lost on him.
Banksy and crew present this progression so subtly that you might miss it. For example, when the film concluded, I felt a sort of malice and anger towards Guetta for reasons I couldn't adequately summarize. Most films or documentaries that make you detest a person leave you with the ability to summarize that person pretty cogently upon finishing the film, but with Guetta, who is so fundamentally interesting and layered, it took me a significant amount of time to pinpoint what exactly about him and his ways infuriated me. With contemplation, I realize I didn't necessarily hate or dislike him, but seriously pitied him.
Here was a person with such a passion and love for what he did, shooting countless hours of video and following around street artists, that he got so invested he wound up exploiting both for monetary and societal gain, in turn, losing the core thesis of what those ideas, particularly the latter, usher in for people and a neglected subculture.
What we're left with is Exit Through the Gift Shop, a film with a pulse and a sense of urgency. A film that reminds us of the fluidity and nonlinear capabilities of art, while showing us that it retains an inherent purity unless it is wrongfully utilized or manipulated by people. By having a clear emphasis on the eclectic and the silenced, and helmed by three truly unique and revolutionary artists, who take their voices to the streets to risk it all, real or not, authentic or fabricated, Exit Through the Gift Shop bears ideas that make it almost impossible to ignore. How many potentially fabricated documentaries can you say that about?
Directed by: Banksy.
Best Friends (1982)
When a film simply can't pick a genre and stick with it
Norman Jewison's Best Friends is a hopelessly lost film, and I think I'm going to leave it at that when it comes to trying to classify this. From the looks of the theatrical poster and DVD cover, showing a happy and carefree Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn obviously engaged in romantic playfulness, one would assume it's a romantic comedy when it's anything but romantic. One could call it a drama, but there are too many incredulous sequences and silly inclusions of comedy to adequately and properly bill it as such, and finally, simply stamping the "comedy" label on it would be pretty disingenuous as well, since the film is rarely funny. It's a film with a cynical, if considerable, idea that does nothing but spit in the face of anyone expecting any one of those three things executed on a competent level.
The film follows Richard Babson and Paula McCullen (Reynolds and Hawn), a reliable screen writing duo who have worked together for years and have churned out successful, quality screenplays for many different genres. They've also been living together, with Richard suggesting the two get married and make their relationship official, with Paula being hesitant to do so, believing marriage is the root of all failed relationships. Despite her believes, knowing how important marriage is to Richard, Paula accepts Richard's advances and the two get married without telling anyone.
Their honeymoon, however, is spent traveling to one another's parents' houses in order to inform them of the news. Paula's parents in New York get to hear first before the two fly down to Virginia to see Richard's family. The result is a groggy film with a premise that slithers by at a snail's pace so we can see the reactions of each person's family to a union we're surprised they didn't see coming in the first place. Did the parents not know that the two were living together to begin with? Did the parents not expect at least some certification of commitment between the two after years of collaborating and cohabitation?
We don't know and that's one of the many problems with Best Friends. For as much as we're allowed to see, we're not allowed to know very much about the characters and their dynamics, which makes this film a very lackluster attempt at looking at marriage and the potential flaw with having so-called "best friends" marry one another. As the two wind up becoming more and more disgruntled with one another, Paula begins to resort back to her original claims that marriage is the root of the evil, which is flawed because of the fact that she agreed to the union and didn't have to if she didn't want to. With that, the fault is not marriage in itself, it's both Richard's for pressuring Paula into marriage and Paula for not taking a stand and affirming that this isn't what she wanted.
But nonetheless, we have to hear from Paula about how their disagreements and quibbles is the fault of marriage, and over the course of one-hundred and ten minutes, watch this couple fall apart and resort to domestic harassment and violence. Where's the joy in that? For a film titled "Best Friends" with two strong actors at the helm, not to mention a poster and premise that boasts a completely different story, why is the end result so melancholic and miserable? Perhaps if the film had a direction or a more credible thesis as to why it felt that marriage was such a disparaging and flawed way to bring two people together, then maybe there would've been some value. Unfortunately, this is a mean-spirited and downtrodden work for the sake of being both miserable and down-trodden, and the end result is nearly two hours of arguments and repetitive echoes of previously disclosed sentiment, all of which you can probably find at your own family's house without the need to go to the theater or rent a film.
Starring: Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn. Directed by: Norman Jewison.
Again, what I do in the bedroom is all of your business
Set on the eve of the presidential election that put Richard Nixon in the oval office, Shampoo revolves around George Roundy (Warren Beatty), a successful, Beverly Hills-based hairdresser, who has ostensibly skated by in life solely on his good looks, charisma, and easygoing charm with women. Despite living and committing to his girlfriend Jill (Goldie Hawn), George still seeks sex from many other women, often his regular clients.
One thing George has consistently wanted to do is open his own hair salon; one day, he turns to Lester and Felicia (Jack Warden and Lee Grant), a wealthy, local-area couple. However, another problem emerges for George and that is the fact that Lester's current mistress (Julie Christie) is one of George's former girlfriends. Lester just outright assumes George, because of his appearance and choice of occupation, is gay, and doesn't see him as any legitimate sexual threat. It isn't until George becomes closer to Lester, meeting his wife, rekindling things with Lester's mistress, and even becoming entranced with select other women that George succumbs to furthering his pedigree as a sexual deviant.
Shampoo subtly evokes the breakdown of the limiting and often sexually regressive sexual politics and standards of the 1960's; it plays similar instruments as Paul Mazursky's brilliant and underrated Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice where the very nature of its plot is subversive because it takes a sensitive, introspective camera into characters' bedrooms rather than simply closing the door on it. It's a period of time in American cinema that I cheekily bill "what I do in the bedroom is all of your business," due to the liberal mindset and furtherance of sexual freedom, orientation, and behavior in public. In the contemporary, sex is still a social taboo in America, but with each year, be it what is accepted by the MPAA, or what is casually discussed by young people in a serious, social setting, the stigma of sex is continuing to be broken in many ways.
Shampoo looks at the social mores by picking a character who is contemptible not because he loves his sex but because of how dishonest he chooses to be. There's nothing wrong with having multiple sexual partners, nor is there nothing inherently wrong with practicing polygamy or sleeping around. There is something wrong, however, with being dishonest or deceptive about it, which is what George consistently is. With that, screenwriters Robert Towne and Beatty seem to recognize this, and Beatty himself seems to recognize it as he's playing the character. Nonetheless, he challenges you to like him largely by the quick-witted and zippy way he moves and conducts himself, as well as the way he works and entertains his clients. He may not be an easy character to like, but he's not an easy character to write off.
With that, Beatty gives an entertaining performance and effective turns an ensemble film into what could easily be mistaken as a one-man show, if it wasn't for the significant presences of Goldie Hawn and Lee Grant, specifically Grant who winds up having some strong scenes with Beatty during more pivotal moments of the film. These inclusions make Shampoo more likable throughout all the contemptible attributes of the film, and the film winds up addressing sexual politics in a way that doesn't tell the audience, but show them. It sort of walks in circles, not always coming to a clear point, but Beatty's performance and its more subtler approach to the material is enough to make it, if nothing else, a thematically and fundamentally interesting piece for the time.
Starring: Warren Beatty, Goldie Hawn, Julie Christie, Jack Warden, and Lee Grant. Directed by: Hal Ashby.
Get a Job (2016)
After four years of rotting on a shelf, it does nothing but further blemish great actors' careers
It's always hard to completely blast films like Get a Job because beneath an exterior of crude humor and a meandering narrative lies themes and ideas with underlying truth. The problem is that Get a Job brings such ideas to the surface but fails to capitalize on them, so it feels like they were just mere coincidences and conveniences. This wouldn't be such an issue if the film wasn't ostensibly in a hurry to go nowhere, predicating itself off of characters that feel cloyingly artificial and impractical, as well as introducing a plethora of subplots that serve no purpose other than to clutter a story with the overarching idea that life and employment in the modern world is hard, man.
The story follows Will and Jillian (Miles Teller and Anna Kendrick), a pair of recent college graduates who are looking to move in together and break out into the real-world. Will looks to have a promising gig lined up as a video-maker for a magazine, and Jillian has just taken a position in sales. Throughout his entire life, Will has heard from his father (Bryan Cranston) about his own struggle with trying to move up in the world to the position of power he's currently in, until, in a twist of events, him, Will, and Jillian are all laid off from their jobs.
This is one of the films where Will and his three deadbeat friends (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Nicholas Braun, and Brandon T. Jackson), who all appear to have no immediate goals besides getting high and playing Xbox, can somehow afford a beautiful loft overlooking the city. The only one who seems to be doing something productive with his time is Charlie (Braun), who is somehow certified to teach chemistry to grade-school children. After a long search, Will winds up finding a position as a digital marketer under the order of Marcia Gay Harden, who implements somewhat oppressive and dehumanizing standards in her workplace, so much so that Will feels limited in his creativity when he finally begins working the job.
The remainder of the film is a whole lot of nothing, with characters wandering around, but never saying anything too compelling, Jillian becoming a lazy pothead with Will's best friends, and Will's father losing his entire identity upon being canned at his workplace. For a brief time, screenwriters Kyle Pennekamp and Scott Turpel's screenplay seems like it is going to etch in some commentary about Will's father's lack of self-identity outside of his office-duties, potentially leading down a path that highlights ideas and commentary on the millennial workplace and how young people are not letting jobs define them as people.
But that part never arrives, and we're left with watching mostly strong actors aimlessly navigate through pitfalls and trappings of lame comedic conventions. For a screenplay so generic and remarkably dry given all it has to work with, it's the kind of vehicle that you can tell attracted its young actors and actresses as a means of getting their foot in the door to hopefully bigger and better projects. Justifying what Bryan Cranston and Marcia Gay Harden saw in the material, however, is a bit tougher.
Apparently, Get a Job was shot in 2012 and planned for a larger theatrical release, but it sat on the shelf for four years, at one point with Kendrick commenting how it may never get a release due to distribution issues. Finally, in 2016, it was given a very limited theatrical and video-on demand release on various platforms, ending the film's checkered history, which we'll probably never get to fully know anyway. If nothing else, this only furthers the above assumption as to why talents like Teller and Kendrick would even bother with such a subpar script, as Get a Job's belated release only works to effectively remind and blemish both actors' (particularly Teller's) iffy filmographies when they're simply trying to be tomorrow's Oscar winners.
Starring: Miles Teller, Anna Kendrick, Bryan Cranston, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Nicholas Braun, Brandon T. Jackson, Marcia Gay Harden, Alison Brie, and John Cho. Directed by: Dylan Kidd.
R2-D2: Beneath the Dome (2001)
Does what everyone Star Wars fan wants from its friends and acquaintances
I never saw the original Star Wars trilogy until I was well into my high school career, but that didn't stop me from having several Star Wars action figures as a young kid. Specifically, I remember three - Mace Windu, C-3PO, and R2-D2. Despite not knowing a single thing about these characters, their origins, or their intricacies, I was drawn to their plastic appearances and their pristine and immaculate detail even as a young child. I didn't need their backstories to have complex, imaginative adventures with them on my ledge overlooking my street. That's the beauty of Star Wars; even if we have no background or knowledge of the characters, most of us can still pick up the toys and create adventures that are just as satisfying to that small candle of childhood nostalgia we still have lit in the back of our minds.
R2-D2: Beneath the Dome, a three-part, twenty-minute mockumentary, takes the lid off the character figuratively and literally to explore the interworkings of one of the most fascinating and intricate characters of the Star Wars universe. Told in a style reminiscent of talk show specials answering the much-asked question "where are they now?," with an aesthetic resembling VH1's Behind the Music show, we learn of "Artoo"'s beginning as an actor and a friend of George Lucas, as struggled to obtain more complex and challenging roles in feature films and TV shows. However, all it took was Lucas to have a bit of faith in his robot companion, and following the success of A New Hope in 1977, R2-D2 became a household name and a movie-star overnight.
As with many celebrities, the fame gets to one's head and a downward spiral ensues, which is what parts two and three of this film concern. In addition to "archive footage," we see interviews with people like Lucas and Artoo's co-stars Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and even his pregnant girlfriend Bitsie Tulloch. As a fun and creative exercise, R2-D2: Beneath the Dome is a real treat for Star Wars fans because it ultimately does what every fan wants out of people who view the movies - to take the events and the characters seriously. When you start subscribing a detailed history and resume for a robotic droid, in addition to giving him a girlfriend, I think it's safe to say that you've taken him about as seriously as you could.
R2-D2: Beneath the Dome is a cute film for its casual humor and the way it personifies a character that was instrumental to so many peoples' lives arguably for just being so simple, yet so immaculate. The result is a lively and spirited, with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek and unwilling to move or displace it.
Directed by: Don Bies and Spencer Susser.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (2016)
It's the best sequel you could've made twelve years later, and if that's good enough for you, it's good enough for a rainy day at the movies
"My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" is probably the best sequel that could've been spawned from a largely forgotten but monstrously successful independent romantic comedy from twelve years ago. One could theoretically call it a "too little too late" sequel, something Hollywood has been good at churning out recently with sequels to "Barbershop," "Joe Dirt," and "Zoolander," but when a sequel is so similar in line with its predecessor after so many years and practically oozes the same kind of sentiment, one has to be a bit forgiving and credit it for what most sequels fail to capture.
Both sequels to "Joe Dirt" and "Zoolander" were flawed from the very concepts, and when it came time to try that concept again, over a decade later, it felt stale and desperately forced when it came to trying to modernize it for the times and the now-grown up audience. While "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" has obligatory scenes of poor Toula (Nia Vardalos) trying to teach her loving father Gus (Michael Constantine) how to work a computer, it nonetheless manages to effectively work as charming comedy of moments, even if its structure and narrative theme is about as basic as it can get.
The film reenters the lives of the characters we fondly recall from the first film, only now, well into their married lives and elder years. Toula and Ian (John Corbett) are having the typical kinds of struggles most semi-long/long-term married couples have emotionally and romantically, especially with their teenage daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris) in the midst of deciding where to go to college. While she wants to go off to New York University, her parents want her to stay in Chicago and go to Northwestern University, but Paris has been constantly smothered by her borderline insufferable Greek family to the point where she wants none of it.
Meanwhile, Toula's parents Gus and Maria (Lainie Kazan) are getting well into their old age, especially Gus, who has had hip and memory problems for a while now. All is going well between him and his wife until Gus uncovers a much-repressed family secret that the priest never signed the certificate of marriage to make Gus and Maria an official union, meaning Gus and Maria aren't legally married, despite fifty years of togetherness. How this was never uncovered before, as if the two never had to file taxes or partake in any other legal activities, I'm not sure, but long story short, they're not married. Rather than doing the logical thing and just going down to the courthouse to make the marriage official, of course the family must complicate it, starting with Maria wanting not only a real proposal from Gus, but a full-blown, bank-breaking wedding. So we're back to square one, this time planning a wedding for the older couple, rather than the younger one.
The scene-stealer this time around, however, isn't so much Vardalos playing a role she can practically sleepwalk, but Aunt Voula, played by the lovely Andrea Martin. Not a hugely significant presence in the first film, it would appear that Vardalos decided to give some of the best quips and zingers to her character's aunt, whose loud presence and boisterous, if invasive, mannerisms often result in some strong belly-laughs. Also giving his all in a performance that he can probably perform at any given time of the day is Michael Constantine; despite his character, the actor can't hide his energy and Jack Lemmon-esque grouchiness when it comes time to really commit to being an enthusiastic presence. He winds up being the most commendable presence here.
The rest of the film is damn-near what you can imagine if you close your eyes and picture potential setups and events for the Portokalos family. Paris is a fascinating character, but unfortunately underwhelming because, fitting for her character and her situation, she keeps getting nudged out of the frame by her louder counterparts. It would've been nice to see a setup solely involving Paris and her decision of grappling with her parents, her heritage, and her decision of where to go to school. Instead, we get a pretty lukewarm plot involving her making impromptu prom plans with another boy (The Naked Brothers Band's Alex Wolff) after he is rejected by the prettiest girl in school. That's about as cliché as Greeks kissing each side of another person's face when they first see one another.
However, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" has some remarkably funny moments. A scene involving Gus stuck in a bathtub isn't played for the kind of bawdy and slapstick gimmicks you'd expect and a scene between all the female Portokalos members at a beauty salon is the epitome of what I wanted from this film all along: good conversation amongst people you can believe are family. Because of their general talent and the fact that they've done this before, the cast's chemistry is fun and the events of the film are lively and concise enough to assure it's never boring and always moving. It's the best sequel you probably could've made twelve years later, and if that's good enough for you, it's certainly good enough for a rainy day at the movies.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949)
As amiable as the actors themselves
Take Me Out to the Ball Game is a spirited musical-comedy, resting its quality almost entirely on the weight of its performers, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, as they play two baseball players who experience the shock of their careers when they find out the new owner of their baseball team is a woman (Esther Williams). At first, with her name announced as K.C. (Katherine Catherine) Higgins, the players, including Eddie O'Brien (Kelly) and Dennis Ryan (Sinatra), all assume by default that she's a man, but after a downright awkward mix-up at the train station when it comes time to pick her up, both Eddie and Dennis vent their frustrations about their new owner to one another.
It would be a lot easier for them to stick to their simple frustrations if they both didn't find themselves rapidly falling in love with Katherine as soon as she became their new owner. Along with the difficult task of trying to get their team, the Wolves, to win another pennant, the boys must find a way to control themselves around Katherine, as well as work out some sort of cogent lines for respect when it comes to flirting and mingling with her.
Punctuating this muddled relationship triangle are the film's most enthusiastic and accomplished features - its musical numbers. One of the first involves both Eddie and Dennis singing an infectious, harmonious ballad about past lovers called "Yes Indeed" with a ravishing song and dance number to accompany it. This is where the film finds its energy put to good use being that scenes that take place on the actual baseball field are slight and the relationship drama is overall petty and largely uninteresting. Having Kelly and Sinatra serve as vaudevillian performers in addition to rather narcissistic baseball players is a nice touch that works to lift the film out of whatever drudgery it would've succumbed to had it just been about the love triangle.
With that, Williams holds her ground quite nicely in a film that's populated and controlled by men and their raging hormones and pride. Her character's snarky comments and incorruptible demeanor makes her a dominant force in the film that doesn't make her easily fazed by the multitude of sexually charged comments being spewed her way for much of the film. As a result, she becomes an admirable presence with a great deal of energy and charm to offset the frequently simple-minded behavior of Eddie and Dennis.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game was the final film directed by Busby Berkeley, but was originally supposed to be directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. With Kelly's success as a performer, he was originally contracted by MGM to direct this film, but after the studio hired Berkeley to helm the project, Kelly and Donen were shifted to a screen writing credit by their producer Arthur Freed. As part of a compromise, Freed allowed Kelly to direct some of the musical scenes he did with Sinatra, despite leaving the bulk of the directorial duties to Berkeley. The result is a film that's charming through all its discombobulation, yet always watchable thanks to its gifted performers, especially Williams, who shouldn't be overshadowed by the performers with bigger names.
Starring: Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Esther Williams. Directed by: Busby Berkeley.
Grim to the point of breeding contempt, lacking in excitement, and an overwhelming feeling you've seen it all before
I may indeed be the only one who finds it fascinating that both "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" are released on the same weekend. The former is a heavily hyped film that has the ambition to finally kick off the DC Extended Universe while the universe's competitor likely doesn't even see them in its rearview mirror, and the latter is a sequel to a romantic comedy from fourteen years ago. The reason these releases are so germane is that both are highly likely not to leave much of an impact on pop culture, and that even accounts for the original "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," which, despite boasting the title of the "highest grossing romantic comedy of all time," left no footprint either.
I only mention this because the idea of Batman squaring off in an epic battle against Superman, in a time where comic book movies are more popular and some are more subversive than ever, with a nine-figure pricetag is something that should've been the battle of the ages. A remarkable duel between two of society's most beloved heroes that should've enthusiastically set up a universe. However, this is a film that will come and go like few superhero films of the last decade, I predict. This is a remarkably bleak letdown of a film, grim to the point of being effectively joyless, bloated and crippled by trying to serve as too many components to the stalled development of a universe, and unexciting while boasting one of the most exciting battles in movie history.
The film takes place eighteen months after the events of "Man of Steel," another horribly forgettable picture, where Superman (Henry Cavill) has become a hot topic of debate, so much so that even Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) can't stand the very sight and idea of him after he defeated General Zod, thanks to the onslaught of chaos he brought to Metropolis. Superman, however, cannot stand Batman and works to expose him while continuing to work for "The Daily Planet" newspaper as journalist Clark Kent.
Meanwhile, LexCorp's new frontman Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) finds Superman to be the biggest threat facing humanity today and works with Senator June Finch (Holly Hunter) to help him recover Kryptonite in order to defeat the caped vigilante. This would also involve working to replicate the late Zod's DNA in order to help Lex wage a battle between two of the greatest heroes in history: a battle between man and God.
Much has been made about the casting of Ben Affleck and Batman, and just to get that note out of the way, he's fine, and does a comparable amount of brooding to Christian Bale's Batman. Henry Cavill is still a relatively lesser presence mainly because, like Superman in general, his character is very archetypal and predicated upon moral good, two things that don't go over too well in a new age of superhero films based upon gloom and doom. And that's exactly what "Batman v Superman" is, two hours of nonstop gloom and doom that effectively robs the film of any conceivable excitement and momentum one had going into this picture.
The film is unbelievably murky, and unlike with Christopher Nolan's "Batman" trilogy, where character interest and relationships were pushed to the forefront with a superhero story existing in the background, this film can't keep either one straight. There's too much clutter that makes this film a bloated work of sonic noise and narrative exhaustion, such as the repeated focus on Eisenberg's convincing but wayward performance of the loose cannon Lex Luthor, in addition to questionable and rather unnecessary emphases on Bruce Wayne's schizophrenic dream cycle. Both are just perplexing additions to a film where its title could serve as a plot description.
But the biggest problem facing screenwriters Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer is how much weight they have placed on this very film. While trying to serve as a followup to "Man of Steel," Terrio and Goyer also try to make this film stand on its own while foreshadow the upcoming Justice League film. This means including Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) in on the chaos in the middle of the third act, as well as highlight Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash in cameos, making for a film that's crippled by a to-do list the lengthy of a grocery shopping list. I'm reminded of how "Spider-Man 3" found itself drowning in so many things to include that the only thing left to marvel was the visual scheme.
And even with that, "Batman v Superman"'s visual palette is so unattractive it winds up significantly lessening the excitement on-screen. By the time we get to the actual fight between our two titular heroes, a combination of fatigue and the idea that we've seen it all before coupled with the gray and black visuals sets in and makes for a film that underwhelms in nearly every sense.
"Batman v Superman" may indeed be one of the biggest letdowns of the year, save for a nicely handled conclusion and a memorable performance by Eisenberg, who seven months ago was a stoner superhero before becoming a psychotic supervillain. It packs everything we've become so accustomed to in superhero films, leaving nothing special for this particular installment, in addition to its grimness breeding contempt and an appalling lack of excitement and its agenda being cluttered to the point of alienation. Chalk up DC as 0-2 going into one of the biggest moves of the brand's existence.