Saturday, September 03, 2016

At the Movies

Maggie's Plan -- On paper, the lineup for this little indie thing seems solid -- Greta Gerwig, Julianne Moore, Ethan Hawke, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph. In practice, these insufferable Park Slopeheads become tiresome within minutes after you meet them. These are Woody Allen characters without any of the charm or personality.

Gerwig plays the titular character, a New School administrator (I know, right?) who wants the kid, but not the relationship. She decides to go the in vitro route and gets some monkey butter from her friend who runs an artisanal pickle shop (for fuck's sake), but then meets half-cute with a struggling married writer (aren't they all), played by Hawke. They hook up, he knocks her up, they get married and have a kid, and then Gerwig decides she'd rather not be tethered to this guy after all, and so concocts a plan to reconcile him with his ex-wife (Moore).

It would actually be nice to say, even sarcastically, that the proverbial hijinks ensue, but alas no, there are zero hijinks to be had. It is less inventive than a typical Three's Company rerun, and Three's Company had Mr. Roper. These douchebags would have improved things by literally digging up the amazing Norman Fell, and simply placing his rotted, desiccated corpse in the shot, a la Weekend at Bernie's.

This is by no means a political film, but if you want some insight as to the current political climate, this is not a bad place to start. These character archetypes are exactly the kind of people conservatards in general and Drumpftards in particular despise, and rightly so -- spoiled, brainless, limo-lib yuppie assholes spouting terminally bad, self-absorbed dialogue. They're all terrible people, and you don't care about any of them.

Fergodsake, Gerwig's master plan to get Hawke and Moore back together involves a conference where Slavoj Zizek is speaking, because of course they both love Zizek. I'm half-surprised there wasn't a scene where Hawke and/or Moore didn't weigh in on Hegelian dialectics, while molding their own poop into a perfect sphere, and getting hung up on how to remove the handprints from the sphere. It's that fucking bad.

Did I mention there's an artisanal pickle guy named Guy? This could be a funny thing if done right, except it seems weirdly earnest about it, and doesn't seem to find the humor in such a thing. Gerwig seems to be channeling Jason Schwartzman's character in Rushmore (one of my all-time favorite movies), except Max Fischer is a sixteen-year-old dork, and Maggie is supposed to be a responsible adult around the age of thirty.

Say this for the characters -- they all have very punchable faces and personalities, even the women. It is at least heartening to see that, according to Rotten Tomatoes, this movie mode only $3,302. That is not a typo -- three thousand, three hundred and two dollars -- and the audience score is nearly thirty points lower than the critics' score, usually not a good sign. So there are countless YouTube videos of random idiots thumbing their dicks, that cost nothing to make, that have monetized themselves better than this movie.

There are some nice location shots of the NYC. That is the only positive thing I can say about this tedious, insufferable time-suck.

Grade: D

Green Room -- This is a strangely fun genre romp, about a punk band trapped in a neo-Nazi skinhead club owned by none other than (who else?) Patrick Stewart, who has traded in his elegant elocution for a slightly more working-class rumble, almost like Lemmy at times. The action starts quickly and never lets up, ramping up the tension at just the right times. The ending is somewhat anticlimactic, and there are a couple of minor drops along the way, but overall this is a lean, mean machine that really should have done a lot better than it did.

I'd give you more details, but as long as you're down with the genre and have a strong stomach (there are a couple of scenes of fairly graphic violence), you'll enjoy this one.

Grade:  B+

The Lobster -- Even though my tastes tend to run more fartsy than artsy, I wanted to like this, I really did. The premise seemed ripe for satire and metaphor -- in a dystopian future, single people are given 45 days to find love, or be transformed into the animal of their choice and set loose in the forest. Sounds fun, right?

Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz are pretty solid in the lead roles, so the acting is not the problem. The problem is in the heavy-handed production, with repeated bursts of morose Beethoven and Shostakovich string quartets barging into scenes that are too quiet and slow in the first place. THE STRINGS AREN'T HELPING, GUYS. Additionally, the premise itself makes little sense in the context of the film -- no rationale for such a policy, much less a real mechanism for enforcement (considering the participants are consenting to irreparably disfiguring themselves) seems to exist. There's no Handmaid's Tale or even Hunger Games explanation for this. They're just doing it because they're supposed to.

I suppose The Lobster was intended to function as some sort of satirical tone poem on desirability as a component of sexuality, and how people can define themselves solely by what they have to offer to others, instead of developing themselves and presenting that. What hope for the thoughtful soul in a Tinder hookup world, that sort of thing. Whatever. At two hours, it feels more like three, and ultimately there's no point, not even a satirical one. Again, strong performances and great location shots abound, but there's just not a lot of plot to hold things together.

Grade: C-

Okay, let's dip into the recent past for what I would consider a "new millennium classic":

Bad Santa -- As you might imagine, I can take or leave Christmas in general, and Christmas movies and music in particular. As far as Christmas music goes, there are only three songs -- Fairytale of New York, Father Christmas, and everything else. I fucking hate most Christmas music -- derivative, sappy, consumerist jabber.

And I don't need to see the Peanuts Christmas special ever again; the only reason I ever watched it more than once in the first place is because I grew up with literally three teevee channels, until I was in my twenties. There was nothing else on, and no internets yet. No wonder I played guitar, rode motorcycles, brought girls home to bang in the hot tub, and partied as hard as anyone has outside of Motorhead. Seriously, there are days when I wonder how I made it to my 28th birthday.

As far as Christmas movies go, I tend to like The Ref, Die Hard, and (oddly) Elf, maybe a couple others here and there. Bad Santa was one that had slipped by me when it first came out, but a recent spate of summer reruns on HBO served to remind me what a terrific movie it is in general, and what a great Christmas movie in particular.

Billy Bob Thornton is spot-on as Willie, the mall Santa from hell. With his dwarf/elf sidekick, played with hysterical energy by Tony Cox, Willie works the malls during the holiday season, then robs the safes of the proceeds. It's a low-bar racket, but one that works well for these two unambitious losers.

Director Terry Zwigoff nails everything down to the details in this movie, from the music used throughout the movie to Willie's nihilistic alcoholism and his against-all-odds friendship with a weird, inscrutable kid. Thornton drinks, bangs, and bellows his way through these interchangeable consumerist shitholes, never looking up, never wanting more, knowing all the while that he's running head-first to a early grave.

In lesser hands, this would have been an unrelentingly bleak vision, but Zwigoff remembers that it is a Christmas movie after all, finds the humor in it, and doesn't resort to that sappy Miracle on 34th Street bullshit. It doesn't hurt to have two great comic actors (Bernie Mac and John Ritter, both sadly gone far too soon) supporting things.

There are a couple of discordant notes, but no bad ones, and Thornton and Cox chew up the scenery like a couple of wolverines. Christmas movie or no, this is one of the most mordantly funny movies around, but the fact that it is a Christmas movie makes it even better. If you had told me a year ago that I would have watched a Christmas movie multiple times throughout a blazing hot summer, I would said you were out of your fucking mind.

But I'd watch it again tomorrow, even though I just saw it about ten days ago, and I've watched it probably six or seven times in the past twelve weeks, and we're months away from Christmas, for the same reason we listen to great songs over and over again -- to savor the notes, the rhythm, the arrangement, the virtuosity of the players, to feel the hair on your neck or arm stand up because everything hits just right. Such a great movie.

Grade: A

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