Month: March 2017

Accepted (2006)

Accepted passes with a low C, which is about the same average grade that the students in this film receive and the reason why they have trouble getting accepted into traditional four year colleges. Bartleby (Justin Long) is one of these seniors. His father has high hopes for him, and those begin with a degree from Harmon College. When he doesn’t make the cut, Bartleby has to trick his dad into thinking he’s still college-bound. He asks his best friend and incoming Harmon freshman, Sherman (Jonah Hill) to create a website for a fictional school to placate his father. A fake acceptance letter and webpage prove insufficient though, and Bartleby finds himself having to create and run an entire school to maintain the façade.

He has a support from a few other drifters. Football star Hands (Columbus Short) loses his athletic scholarship after an injury, brain Rory (Maria Thayer) is rejected by Yale, the only school she applied to, and spacey Glen (Adam Herschman) is just biding his time as a gas station attendant. All of them want something more than a seat in rejection limbo while they wait for another shot at college, so they help Bartleby spruce up an abandoned building that will serve as South Harmon Institute of Technology, or S.H.I.T. Things indeed go to shits when Sherman’s website accidentally sends acceptance letters to prospective students, resulting in a deluge of freshmen on the first day of fake class.

There’s not much room for things to escalate. Bartleby and friends must immediately find ways to cope with actual expectations, and sending students, or their checks, home is not an option. As he tries to keep order though, a funny thing happens and some semblance of class and learning begin to take shape. Unburdened by the academic rigors of an accredited school, the students explore their own interests and craft their versions of degrees and coursework. We see them become adept at woodwork, fashion and design, and skateboarding, which I’ll assume requires some knowledge of physics.

The movie’s energy comes largely from Bartleby averting one crises after another. If he’s not trying to fool his father, he’s trying to impress his high school crush (Blake Lively) or fend off a land grab from Harmon College’s dean. It’s unsophisticated tension that comes from wildly unbelievable yet still predictable scenarios. Everything that could go wrong at a fake college does, from holes in dorm room walls to wacky fill-in dean (Lewis Black) to unexpected parental visits. The humor is lifeless, run-of-the-mill stuff that doesn’t even land with a thud; it just lands, ignored.

But amidst the antics, Accepted does push an argument for education reform or at least expose some cracks in our tertiary school system. It’s not the most compelling defense for why we should reexamine higher education but at least it is one. Bartleby demonstrates intelligence, curiosity, and resourcefulness, qualities we try to cultivate in students and desire in graduates. There’s no reason why more students like him and those at S.H.I.T. shouldn’t have more opportunities that conform to their needs rather than the other way around. One of the few moments that gets an above average grade is when Bartleby realizes that his school didn’t attract a bunch of lazy misfits but a group of people left out because of their unconventional interests and motivations.

Released: 2006
Prod: Tom Shadyac, Michael Bostick
Dir: Steve Pink
Writer: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Mark Perez
Cast: Justin Long, Jonah Hill, Blake Lively, Columbus Short, Maria Thayer, Adam Herschman, Mark Derwin, Anthony Heald
Time: 92 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2017

Michael Bolton’s Big, Sexy Valentine’s Day Special (2017)

Michael Bolton, that curly haired crooner of romantic pop rock ballads, fell into VH1 obscurity after a solid run that lasted from the late 80s to mid 90s. He reentered the cultural mainstream in 2011 after singing and starring in a viral Lonely Island video “Jack Sparrow,” in which he played his Pirates of the Caribbean-loving alter-ego. The gamble paid off – adults chuckled at the freshly shorn Bolton having a go at himself and the kids found a kindred, if slightly older, spirit. The singer briefly reunited with the musical comedy trio last year for their feature film, the mockumentary Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, belting out another soulful number, so it was only a matter of time before we’d see a third collaboration, this time with the help of podcast Comedy Bang! Bang!

The resulting comedy-musical variety hour, Michael Bolton’s Big, Sexy Valentine’s Day Special, is their response to celebrity-filled Christmas specials and charity telethons. It’s also a parody that fits right into Netflix’s wheelhouse. The streaming site is an incubator for niche, off-beat comedy, and this celebrity love-in tries for that perfect balance of goofy irreverence.

Things aren’t quite as magical this time around though. While the show has its cheeky moments, it’s never laugh-out-loud funny and fails to deliver a truly memorable sketch. Bolton’s willingness to poke fun at himself does make for some amusing viewing. Dressed in a jacket that looks like it was cut from the drapes at Trump Tower, he introduces each new act from his Love Nest. The set, which might be a leftover from one of his music videos, is a luxury satin and fur covered suite boasting a grand piano, gilded nudes, a Swedish designed fireplace. But despite his charged surroundings, Bolton maintains an adult contemporary innocence and decency that his fellow and more juvenile performers purposely try to undermine.

Childish sex jokes aren’t what cause this special to stray, however. This is, after all, from the group that brought us the infinitely watchable “Dick in a Box.” Instead, it’s more a case of too much of a good thing. “Jack Sparrow” was funny because it provided a few minutes of pure confusion, joy, and nostalgia. MBBSVDS, meanwhile, takes one long, meandering hour to achieve the same effect, without ever doing so.

It’s framed as a baby making telethon, spurred by an overproduction of toys at the North Pole. Santa appeals to Valentine’s Day king Bolton to help boost baby numbers, and the crooner sings, “I know what I must do to make them copulate.” As various acts – a raunchy Sonny and Cher-like duo (Randall Park and Sarah Silverman), a versatile diva (Maya Rudolph) – take the stage, celebrities like Bob Saget and Brooke Shields man the phones, dutifully recording each new conception. Some performances stand out more than others; Michael Sheen is effective as a batty, chainsmoking choreographer and Chris Parnell elicits a few chuckles as a batty, jealous virtual reality sexpert. But other sketches drag on, chocolatier Fred Armisen’s take-down of personalized Valentine’s Day sweets, for example. The obligatory bit with Kenny G (Andy Samberg) detours into something about cat blood. The only times the special really hits its stride is when the man himself starts singing, his mournful eyes gazing off in the distance, a montage of galloping horses fading into view, a naked, busty stick figure gracing his Love Nest.

Released: 2017
Prod: Russell Sanzgiri, Jason Korstad, Joe Saunders
Dir: Akiva Schaffer, Scott Aukerman
Writer: Scott Aukerman, Dave Ferguson, Mike Hanford, Tim Kalpakis, Joe Saunders, Akiva Schaffer
Cast: Michael Bolton, Adam Scott, Sarah Silverman, Randall Park, Andy Samberg, Fred Armisen, Jorma Taccone, Michael Sheen, Akiva Schaffer, Chris Parnell, Maya Rudolph, Will Forte, Kenny G
Time: 54 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Netflix
Reviewed: 2017