Month: May 2017

The Heartbreak Kid (2007)

The Heartbreak Kid is not a good movie, and it deserves to be thrown into the Hall of Shame alongside Adam Sandler’s oeuvre. Plenty of films are tedious, populated with grating characters, some are dull and infuse no life into routine plots, and still others overestimate an audience’s tolerance for whatever shtick they’re trying to peddle (see every Adam Sandler movie). The Heartbreak Kid, based off a Neil Simon screenplay and corrupted by the Farrelly brothers, combines all these into one steaming pile of dung.

After San Francisco sports store owner Eddie (Ben Stiller) is humiliated at his ex’s wedding and then berated by his father (Jerry Stiller) for being single and forty, he runs into Lila (Malin Åckerman) while trying to stop a purse snatcher. He doesn’t get the guy but he does get a date with her. A mere six weeks later, he proposes, partly because she’s hot and partly because her job wants to relocate the single people to Rotterdam. Despite reservations, he decides it’s the right decision and starts to look ahead to his honeymoon in Cabo.

The first twenty minutes are, like the characters, deceptively normal if a little dull, but things go downhill in a flash. The script draws from a wellspring of misogyny that Eddie dips into immediately after taking his vows. He and his friend Mac (Rob Corddry) balk when they see Lila’s overweight mother, a sure sign that this relationship is going to end in disaster. His father only adds to the shameful behavior with a mouth that would make Donald Trump proud.

Lila though is hardly a model of maturity and compassion either. She’s even more self-absorbed than her husband and possibly one of the most annoying characters I’ve ever seen. The wife from hell, she earns the title several times over. Some of her habits can be reduced to harmless personality quirks – she’s a little overenthusiastic about carpool karaoke, for example, but much of her behavior would be grounds for annulment. Lila’s tortured relationship with the truth means that she’s lying even if when she thinks she isn’t. She’s not upfront about her troubled finances, the nature of her environmental research job, or her former coke habit. Moreover, marriage seems to make her feel more entitled and demanding, thus confirming all of Eddie’s fears about long-term relationships and reinforcing multiple stereotypes in the process.

In most cases, I’d be side with Eddie, but Stiller doesn’t give much reason to warm up to his character. He plays the guy he usually does, a beleaguered everyman trying to make the most of a bad situation. It’s not very compelling and he lacks the charisma to justify sticking it through with Eddie. Åckerman, on the other hand, gives Lila an abundance of personality; unfortunately it’s the kind that makes you want to throttle her character.

There’s not one sympathetic soul until Miranda (Michelle Monaghan) breezes in. She’s vacationing with her family, good, sensible Mississippi folks, and is too pure for this mess. But Eddie gets involved anyway, adding yet another layer of deception and hysterics. At one point, Miranda rightly decides she’s had enough, which is that attitude we should all take with this movie.

Released: 2007
Prod: Ted Field, Bradley Thomas
Dir: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly
Writer: Scot Armstrong, Leslie Dixon, Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly, Kevin Barnett
Cast: Michelle Monaghan, Malin Åkerman, Jerry Stiller, Rob Corddry, Carlos Mencia, Scott Wilson, Danny McBride
Time: 116 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2017

Girlfriend’s Day (2017)

The greeting card writers in Girlfriend’s Day sit in a grey box of an office, their empty desks facing a neglected white board and reflecting the dull glow of fluorescent lights. The characters mirror their environment – humorless, disinterested, blank. A commentary on the greeting card industry perhaps, or changing personal communication habits, or a writer’s life? I doubt any of these. This brisk Netflix production, written and produced by star Bob Odenkirk, is the kind of quirk we’re used to seeing from the streaming site, but it’s the kind that falls on the wrong side of the experimental line.

There’s dry humor aplenty. Ray (Odenkirk) is a washed up card writer who speaks in pithy, easily illustratable one liners. Once honored for writing the top-selling Valentine’s Day card three years in a row, he now finds himself being let go from his company and chooses to drown his sorrows at the local bar, the one where all the other card writers congregate. He’s also reduced to watching bum fights, that is homeless people beating each other up and not a category of porn. Adding to his increasingly desperate situation is the reoccurring vision of his ex-wife being screwed by a giant owl. He can’t get past this, and I can’t get past their shared custody of the cat.

I also can’t get past the fact that this 70 minute film is a chore to get through, a genre-defying piece that is both beautifully odd and utterly senseless. Ray’s at his lowest, babysitting his landlord’s nephew in lieu of rent, when the governor declares a new holiday and gives him a chance to restart his career. Girlfriend’s Day will kick off with a contest for the most romantic greeting card, and conveniently, only non-professionals and unemployed writers are allowed to enter. That’s a straightforward plot, you think, with plenty of possibilities but nowhere does murder appear on that list.

Someone gets killed on the card factory floor and suddenly Ray’s chasing down the killer, trying to avoid being killed, and/or suspected of doing the killing. I have in my notes that Taft is the character who died, “killed to death,” remarks someone. But not two hours later, I can’t remember who he is and why he matters. Ray also meets his fangirl turned love interest, played by Amber Tamblyn, who is just slightly more memorable than the mysterious Taft.

The film takes pains to present itself as an eccentric neo-noir; every scene is meticulously shaped and carved, and visually, the results are striking. Ray’s L.A. is bleak and he’s often overwhelmed by his surroundings – the dystopian card factory, the barren, Wild West streets, even his ex-wife’s stark mod abode. But the deliberation also slows the narrative, so much so that elements fall off entirely. After three aborted attempts, I was finally able to plow through this molasses. Ray’s depressed ennui infects the whole project and, though Odenkirk’s wry humor occasionally breaks through, keeps the mystery from ever gaining life or momentum.

Released: 2017
Prod: Bob Odenkirk, Marc Provissiero, M. Elizabeth Hughes, Bryan DeGuire
Dir: Michael Stephenson
Writer: Bob Odenkirk, Philip Zlotorynski, Eric Von Hoffman
Cast: Bob Odenkirk, Amber Tamblyn, Rich Sommer, Toby Huss, David Sullivan, Stacy Keach, Andy Richter, Natasha Lyonne
Time: 70 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2017

So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993)

Netflix is taking me down a most unexpected nostalgia trip. So I Married an Axe Murderer is a movie I saw once in high school; my freshman math teacher gave us extra credit for watching what at the time was his favorite film, and still may be. We also got points for bringing in the previous night’s hockey scores, so you see why engineering was never going to work out for me.

Many years later, I find myself surprised by this offbeat romantic comedy, even though I never warmed to Mike Meyers’s humor. That’s not to say there will be a third screening, but the crazy pieces fall into place and it was nice to lose myself in this bananas plot. Meyers, who tinkered with the script, tones down his manic Saturday Night Live sensibilities, the ones that made him a hit on the show and that propelled him to Wayne’s World stardom.

He plays Charlie MacKenzie, a low-key San Francisco spoken word poet, insomuch as one can be low-key and a spoken word poet in San Francisco. Charlie’s proud Scottish family includes his father (also played by Meyers), mother (Brenda Fricker), and mop-headed little brother (Matt Doherty). Besides giving Meyers a chance to test run his Shrek voice, the family’s Scottish background leads Charlie to Harriet (Nancy Travis), a butcher whom he encounters when buying haggis. It’s safe to say that she’s the best looking meat dealer in town, and just like that, the two are dating. Commitment-phobe Charlie is eager to get things right this time, though when he does, he hesitates to take the relationship further.

Around this time, his mom clues him in on a National Enquirer story about a black widow, a nameless bride suspected of killing at least three of her husbands on their wedding night. Keep in mind this was before that venerable publication was bringing down presidential candidates with its relentless investigating. But Charlie’s an astute observer and begins to doubt his girlfriend’s intentions.

The movie could have benefited from more comedic moments. There are some clichéd romantic montages that don’t add much personality to the film or the characters. The humor sometimes defaults to the mainstream, though there are some truly zany bits that stand out, Charlie’s rendition of his classic poem “Whoa Man” is one. Also, the story promises a level of suspense that just isn’t there, which is kind of a let down if you’re a fan of the genre crossover.

The actors compensate with truly likable performances, however. Well, maybe likable doesn’t describe Amanda Plummer’s character so much; the actress makes crazy eyes playing Harriet’s high-strung sister. But Anthony LaPaglia as an easygoing sidekick, a cop and Charlie’s best friend, is fun to watch. I won’t say Travis is born to play this role, but she does have a disarming sweetness that makes you wonder if she’s hiding a dark secret. Meyers, chill but still funny and slightly eccentric, pulls the whole crew together.

Released: 1993
Prod: Robert N. Fried, Cary Woods
Dir: Thomas Schlamme
Writer: Robbie Fox
Cast: Mike Myers, Nancy Travis, Anthony LaPaglia, Amanda Plummer, Brenda Fricker, Matt Doherty, Charles Grodin, Phil Hartman
Time: 93 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2017

I’ll Be Home for Christmas (2016)

Sometimes you come across Christmas TV movie that looks – for a few precious moments – like it could be tolerable, a treat even. The opening scene is picturesque, the music gets you in the mood, and the lead actor rumbles onto the screen with little apology. I’m describing the first minutes of I’ll Be Home for Christmas, where James Brolin meanders through the countryside in a rusty RV while his wife, the divine Ms. Barbra Streisand, sings the title song. It’s certainly a step up from your usual TV fare, and you’ll be forgiven for wanting a little more from Hallmark.

As it turns out, a compelling script would have been enough. Granted, you’re not watching this or any other Hallmark offering for its original screenplay, but a fresh idea would be wonderful and, please, dialogue that wasn’t lifted from a 8th grader’s journal. But, no, this movie is a depository of clichés with two big screen actors standing around to make the whole thing look respectable.

The movie starts with an argument between Jackie Foster (Mena Suvari) – assistant DA, single mom, and estranged daughter of Jack (Brolin) – and Mike Kelly – police detective, single hot guy, and loyal protégé of Jack. They fight over a parking space, not knowing that this is only their first of three run-ins that day. The Pride and Prejudice rule applies here. Jackie and Mike can’t stand each other, and besides, she’s in a Very Serious Relationship with rich guy Rand (Jacob Blair). That can only mean one thing; Jackie and Mike are bound to be together. (By the way, if movies are anything to go by, single ladies, go out and get yourself into a feisty tête-a-tête right now with the first hot dude you see.)

While they’re busy doing their thing, Jackie must also figure out what to do with Father, as she calls him. This one’s harder to decipher. The status of their relationship is never that clear. Jackie has far more animosity towards him than he does towards her. She resents all the time he spent away from the family, especially during the holidays, while he was working as a police officer and is also upset that he upped and left after her mom died three years ago. I can’t tell when Jackie’s hating on her dad though and when she’s stressed out and exhausted by her slavish need to follow a schedule. For his part, Jack seems conciliatory, awkwardly trying to make amends with his precocious granddaughter (Giselle Eisenberg) and forever delaying a planned fishing trip in Mexico. Brolin doesn’t seem to know what his character is up to, which is strange since he directed the damn movie.

Mostly, I’ll Be Home for Christmas is frustrating for its dullness. The predictable plot doesn’t bother me so much as the lack of imagination when it comes to characters. Jackie, Jack, and Mike are entirely forgettable and without one spark of wit. Pretentious Rand stands out a little thanks to his villainy. I mean, the guy scoffs at the mere suggestion of volunteering at a homeless shelter. Various subplots and secondary characters also get thrown in – a destructive police dog, a theft at the local tree lot, the closing of said shelter, but none of this makes the movie more engaging. If, like me, you get to the thirty minute mark thinking you’ve reached the third act, then give in to your urge to change the channel.

Released: 2016
Dir: James Brolin
Writer: Robert Bernheim
Cast: James Brolin, Mena Suvari, Giselle Eisenberg, John Reardon, Jacob Blair, Angela Asher, Laura Miyata
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
Reviewed: 2017

Rodeo and Juliet (2015)

First things first, Rodeo is actually a horse, so I’m not sure this metaphor works. Secondly, two young lovers who hide their romance from bickering parents does not a Shakespearean adaptation make. Thirdly, no one dies. Where is the happy dagger? Where is the grave man?

Now, I know I should have known better – I always should know better, but the earnest Shakespeare scholar in me thought I might give this a chance for the sake of research. So putting my ninety minutes to use, this yawning horse show is getting filed under “adaptations that allude to Bill S. but in fact are completely unrelated.”

Besides the curious title, which seems to endorse bestiality, the movie tries to capitalize on the timeless tale of forbidden young love with one of its own. City girl Juliet (Nadine Crocker) gets hauled to the countryside following the death of her grandfather, and her new environs do not agree with her – because hello, no cell coverage and what is that fresh air smell? But lucky for her, there’s a barn dance the very next night, and who does she meet but her gentle Romeo Monty (Zeb Halsell). Hands touch, eyes meet, sudden silence, sudden heat – wait, wrong fantasy. But hearts do leap in a giddy whirl, one that’s immediately quashed by Juliet’s mom, Karen (Krista Allen)

This Lady Capulet will not stand by as the nephew of her avowed enemy woos her daughter with his cool country ways. And Lord Montague (Tim Abell), well he’s not just the cowboy who supervised Karen’s dad’s ranch all these years while she was off writing saucy romance novels. Hugh wants a share of the property and, more importantly, a second chance with his old girlfriend.

I can accept this twist on warring houses and in fact think it makes the classic love story more compelling, but this isn’t exactly challenging TV. Karen and Hugh are a world apart from Juliet and Monty; they’re living in a Lifetime movie while the young’uns inhabit a poorly scripted CW spinoff. We’re only reminded that one story has bearing on the other when Karen checks in to make sure her daughter’s having quality alone time with her horse Rodeo and not her man Romeo. Those wanting a countrified Shakespeare will find only a scant two acts from the bard’s play, and those wanting an engaging romance shouldn’t be watching bad TV in the first place.

But if you want some rural landscapes, say because you grew up next to a soybean field and now live in a 250’ flat in Hong Kong, then by all means pop this on while you’re doing the ironing. There were plenty of open fields and tree-lined ranches to sate my country soul. I also gave the movie a single point for including a black character, a wide-eyed rodeo girl who takes on a Nurse/Friar Laurence role. Otherwise, seek out quality Romeo and Juliet adaptions. Even the one about garden gnomes is better than this.

Released: 2015
Dir: Thadd Turner
Writer: Stephen Beck, Harry Cason
Cast: Tim Abell, Krista Allen, Nadine Crocker, Zeb Halsell, Ariel Lucas
Time: 83 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Up TV
Reviewed: 2017