TV Review: Pam & Tommy “Destroyer of Worlds” (dir by Lake Bell)


After two blissfully Rand-free episodes of Pam & Tommy, Rand Gauthier (Seth Rogen) returned to dominate this week’s episode.  As soon as things opened with a close-up of Rand looking like someone had just run over his favorite pet, I groaned very loudly.  Rand is such an unlikable character and the show insists on trying to make us feel sorry for this loser.  Even if Seth Rogen wasn’t both miscast and intent on giving the worst performance of his career in the role, Rand would make Pam & Tommy difficult to watch.

Rand (or Reed or whatever his name is supposed to be) was basically upset because he wasn’t making any money off of the Pam and Tommy sex tape.  Instead, the bootleggers were making all the money.  Rand/Reed also got upset because cocaine addict Uncle Miltie (Nick Offerman) turned out to be a bad business partner.  Meanwhile, Butchie (Andrew “Dice” Clay, acting up a storm with little to show for it) wanted his money and demanded that Reed/Rand turn into a debt collector.  “I AM THE DESTROYER OF WORLDS!” a frustrated Rand declared as he collected a debt and seriously, what the heck?  (Folks, I gave up cursing for Lent.  Just go with me here.)  The episode’s best moment was when Rand tried to blackmail Tommy and Tommy reacted by setting the money on fire while Randy Reed watched.  What made this scene so great was that Tommy called Reedy Rand a loser.  Again, I got the feeling that we were supposed to feel bad for Rand but …. eh.  Who cares?  Rand is a loser and the mullet isn’t making him look any better.

If the highlight of the episode was Tommy setting that money on fire while taunting Rand, the show’s second best moment was Pam appearing on The Tonight Show and having to deal with a series of disrespectful and infuriatingly sexist questions from Jay Leno.  The actor playing Leno essentially played him as being the devil, which was kind of amusing.  Watching the scenes with Leno acting like a member of the Spanish Inquisition, I found myself thinking about how Ken Russell probably could have done something amazing with this material.  The scene ended with Pam having to talk Tommy out of beating up Jay Leno, which again was kind of amusing.  Just imagine if Tommy had stormed onto the Tonight Show set and thrown a punch while Jay was introducing Hugh Grant.  That would have been classic television.

As the Tonight Show debacle indicated, the release of Barb Wire was overshadowed by Pam and Tommy’s court case against Penthouse.  The judge ruled that the 1st Amendment gave Penthouse the right to publish still from the tape.  Tommy was too stupid to realize that the judge had ruled against him.  Pam responded with a monologue about how the judge was actually saying that it was okay to exploit her because she wore a swimsuit on Baywatch and she also previously appeared in Playboy.  Pam had a point but, as so often happens on this show, that point was somewhat negated by the fact that the real-life Pamela Anderson never signed off on having her life dramatized in Pam & Tommy and, as a result, the show is itself a bit exploitive.

The show also continues to feel a bit pointless, despite Lily James’s frequently excellent performance as Pam.  Again, it’s hard not to wonder why exactly this story demands the limited series treatment as opposed to the 90-minute movie treatment.  Indeed, by stretching thing out over 8 hours, Pam & Tommy just reminds us of how superficial this story really is.

One final note: early on in the episode, Butchie is shocked to discover that there’s a new coffee company in Seattle that’s called Starbucks.  I’ve noticed this is a joke that’s popped up in a lot of movies about the 90s and it feels rather lazy.  They should have made an AOL joke instead.

TV Review: Pam & Tommy 1.4 “The Master Beta” (dir by Lake Bell)


“I’ve made a terrible mistake.”

That was my thought after I published my review of the first three episodes of Pam & Tommy.  Don’t get me wrong.  I stand by everything that I wrote in that review.  The first three episodes were relatively well-made and they captured as specific point in time and Lily James was likably earnest as Pam.

Instead, my concern came from the fact that, by reviewing the first three episodes, I had now committed myself to watching and reviewing the entire series.  And, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there was no way that Pam & Tommy could remain interesting for a total of 8 hours, not unless the show abandoned its Ryan Murphy-lite approach and did something really unexpected with its recreation of the story.  There’s just not enough there.  This is a good 2-hour story but Pam & Tommy is an 8-epiosde miniseries.  That’s 8-plus hours of Pam getting upset, Tommy acting like a dumbass, and Rand being every creepy guy who has ever approached you in a bar and started asking you about the book you’re reading.  (It would, of course, never occur to him that the main reason you’re reading the book is to avoid talking to guys like him.)

Having now watched the fourth episode, it’s hard not to feel that I was very much correct in my concerns.  Don’t get me wrong.  The fourth episode had its moments.  It featured an enjoyably intense performance from Don Harvey as the legendary Hollywood private investigator, Anthony Pellicano.  Once Tommy finally discovers that his safe has been stolen and Pam reminds him about the videotape, Pellicano is the man who they approach to track down the perpetrator.  This leads to a scene of Pellicano beating the crap out of Rand and it’s fun to watch.  Some of that is because Don Harvey is a master of portraying urbane menace.  But I have to admit that a lot of it is because Rand himself is such an annoying character.  This episode opened with Seth Rogen, as Rand, wandering around a porn set and trying to reconnect with his estranged wife (Taylor Schilling), who significantly was just trying to read Anne Rice’s latest book when he approached her.  Just the sight of Rand, with his mullet and his sad-sack facial expression, was so annoying that it was actually cathartic to see him get tossed around his apartment.

The problem is that the show wants us to feel some sympathy for Rand but there’s nothing sympathetic about him.  He’s a loser and the fact that he still loves his wife and still wants to take care of her doesn’t make him any less of a loser.  He’s a thief, a guy who accidentally stole a sex tape and then decided to put it online.  The fact that he later feels guilty doesn’t change the fact that he did it.  There’s as scene in the fourth episode where Rand is upset to see someone else selling bootleg copies of the tape.  On the one hand, it’s not a bad scene.  There’s an enjoyable irony to Rand discovering that someone has essentially stolen the tape from him after Rand went through so much trouble to steal the tape from Tommy.  But the show doesn’t seem to be sure whether it wants us to laugh at Rand’s misfortune or to sympathize with him as he realizes that the consequences of his actions are out of his control.  As a character, Rand is not compelling enough for both to be an option.

As for the title characters, both Sebastian Stan and Lily James do their best but I get the feeling that we’ve already learned all the we need to know about them.  There was one good moment that examined Pam and Tommy’s different reactions to the release of the sex tape but otherwise, neither Tommy nor Pam are really that interesting as characters.  I ended the fourth hour of Pam & Tommy very much aware that there were still four more hours to go.  What else, I found myself wondering, could be left to be said?

TV Review: Pam & Tommy Episode 1-3 (dir by Craig Gillipsie)


Currently (and, presumably, forever) available on Hulu, Pam & Tommy is a miniseries about …. well, it’s about many things.

It’s about the mid-90s, a time when people still used terms like “World Wide Web” and where no one thought twice about having to wait two or three minutes for one lousy web site to finish loading.  It’s about a time when dial-up internet was still considered to be something of an exotic luxury.  It’s about a time when the number one show in the entire world was the critically derided Baywatch and the show’s star, Pamela Anderson, was trying to make the jump from television to film.

It’s also about the early days of online porn and how it was first discovered that people would pay money to watch celebrity sex tapes.  It may seem strange to consider that this was something that needed to be discovered but, if you believe Pam & Tommy, apparently no one thought there was an audience for celebrity sex tapes before 1996.  Today, of course, celebrity sex tapes are so common place that they’re often leaked by the celebrity themselves.  Where would the Kardashians be if not for the celebrity sex tape industry?  Could it be that Kim owes as much of her success to Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee as she does to O.J. Simpson?  Perhaps, which is a polite way of saying yes.

Pam & Tommy is also about the brief marriage of Pamela Anderson (Lily James) and Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan).  When Pam & Tommy begins, Pam, as mentioned above, is the star of the number one show in the world.  Despite being a star, she’s not respected as an actress.  Instead, she’s usually treated as just being a body.  The show’s producers and directors have no trouble cutting her big monologue on a whim but they spend several minutes discussing just how tight her red swimsuit should be.  (After cutting her monologue, they condescendingly thank her for being a team player.)  Pam has a very earnest and somewhat heart-breaking desire to be taken seriously as an actress.  She describes Jane Fonda as being her role model.  Meanwhile, Tommy Lee is, for lack of a better term, an idiot.  He’s also a drummer for a band that used to be big.  He travels with an entourage.  His body is covered with tattoos, the majority of which have no meaning to him beyond, “I just thought it looked cool.”  Tommy is usually an arrogant bully, the epitome of the spoiled rock star.  Occasionally, with Pam, he’s sweet but if this miniseries stays true to what actually happened during Pam and Tommy’s marriage, that sweetness is not going to last.

Finally, Pam & Tommy is the story of Rand Gautheir (Seth Rogen).  Much like Tommy, Rand is a moron.  However, Rand has neither Tommy’s looks nor his swagger.  Instead, he’s just a schlub who works as a carpenter and tries way too hard to present himself as being an intellectual.  After Tommy humiliates Rand by firing him from a remodeling job, Rand retaliates by stealing a safe from Tommy’s garage.  (Tommy doesn’t even notice that it’s missing.)  Inside the safe, Rand finds a sex tape that Tommy and Pam made on their honeymoon.  With the help of gangster Butchie Periano (Andrew Dice Clay) and adult film veteran “Uncle” Miltie (Nick Offerman), Rand puts the video on the internet and plans to make a fortune.  Rand tells himself that he’s doing it because Tommy didn’t pay him for his work but it’s clear that Rand’s main motivation is jealousy.  Why should Tommy get a huge house and a beautiful wife while Rand is stuck in his little apartment?  Rand is at least as smart as Tommy.  Of course, the same could probably be said of the dog that Pam purchases when she and Tommy return from their honeymoon.

In other words, Pam & Tommy is about a very specific cultural moment.  So far, the series is taking a stylized approach to the material, mixing occasionally broad comedy with more dramatic moments.  Needless to say, it’s a bit uneven.  During the second episode, Tommy actually has a conversation with his penis about whether or not he should marry Pam.  It’s a funny idea but the scene itself goes on forever and, ultimately, the whole thing says more about the importance of generating twitter buzz than it does about why Tommy and Pam ended up getting married after knowing each other for only a handful of days.  The first three episodes were directed by Craig Gillipsie, who also directed I, Tonya.  Much like that film, Pam & Tommy is occasionally insightful but it also sometimes seems to get bogged down in its own condescending attitude towards the people who are at the center of its story.

And yet, there are also enough moments that work in Pam & Tommy that I’ll definitely watch the rest of the show.  So far, this is a series that is largely saved by its cast.  Seth Rogen has recently been so intent on presenting himself as being the only man in Hollywood with integrity that it’s easy to forget that he’s always been at his most entertaining (and sympathetic) whenever he’s been cast as a complete loser and it’s hard to think of anyone who could be a bigger loser than the character he plays in Pam & Tommy.  Sebastian Stan plays Tommy as being a destructive manchild and, for the first two episodes, he’s pretty obnoxious.  By the third episode, though, Stan is given a few quieter scenes and he manages to suggest that there’s something more to Tommy than just rock star bravado.  And finally, Lily James gives a wonderfully empathetic performance as Pamela Anderson, capturing her earnest desire to be something more than just a sex symbol.

The first three episodes of Pam & Tommy dropped on Hulu this week.  The remaining five episodes will be released on a weekly basis.  I don’t really know how you get 8 episodes out of this particular story but I guess I’ll find out soon.  Hopefully, the show will continue to focus on the best thing that it has going for it, its cast.

What If Lisa Picked The Oscar Nominees: 2020 Edition


With the Oscar nominations due to be announced tomorrow, now is the time that the Shattered Lens indulges in a little something called, “What if Lisa had all the power.” Listed below are my personal Oscar nominations. Please note that these are not the films that I necessarily think will be nominated. The fact of the matter is that the many of them will not. Instead, these are the films that would be nominated if I was solely responsible for deciding the nominees this year. Winners are listed in bold.

I should also point out that I’ve only nominated films that were actually released in 2020.  Undoubtedly, Nomadland, Minari, Judas and the Black Messiah, and The Father will do very well with the Academy tomorrow but, as far as I’m concerned, they’re 2021 films and not eligible for my nominations.  They will be eligible next year, when I do my 2021 edition of What If Lisa Had All The Power.

It should also go without saying that I’ve nominated films that I’ve actually seen.

You’ll also note that I’ve added four categories, all of which I believe the Academy should adopt — Best Voice-Over Performance, Best Casting, Best Stunt Work, and Best Overall Use Of Music In A Film.

Click on the links to see my nominations for 2019, 20182017201620152014201320122011, and 2010!)

Best Picture

The Assistant
Bad Education
First Cow
The Girl With A Bracelet
i’m thinking of ending things
Lovers Rock
Palm Springs
Promising Young Woman
Soul
The Vast of Night

Best Director

Stéphane Demoustier for The Girl With A Bracelet
Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman
Charlie Kaufman for i’m thinking of ending things
Steve McQueen for Lovers Rock
Andrew Patterson for The Vast of Night
Kelly Reichardt for First Cow

Best Actor

Ben Affleck in The Way Back
Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
John Boyega in Red, White, and Blue
Hugh Jackman in Bad Education
Delroy Lindo in Da 5 Bloods

Best Actress

Alison Brie in Horse Girl
Sidney Flanigan in Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Julia Garner in The Assistant
Melissa Guers in The Girl With A Bracelet
Sophia Loren in The Life Ahead
Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman

Best Supporting Actor

Brian Dennehy in Driveways
Aldis Hodge in One Night In Miami
Orion Lee in First Cow
Clarke Peters in Da 5 Blood
Paul Raci in The Sound of Metal
J.K. Simmons in Palm Springs

Best Supporting Actress

Jane Adams in She Dies Tomorrow
Glenn Close in Hillbilly Elegy
Olivia Cooke in Sound of Metal
Allison Janney in Bad Education
Chiara Mastroianni in The Girl With A Bracelet
Talia Ryder in Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Best Voice Over Performance

Jack Cruz in What Did Jack Do?
Bruce Davis in The Vast of Night
Tina Fey in Soul
Jamie Foxx in Soul
Nick Offerman in Frances Ferguson
Chris Pratt in Onward

Best Original Screenplay

The Assistant
Palm Springs
Possessor
Promising Young Woman
Soul
The Vast of Night

Bad Education

Best Adapted Screenplay

Bad Education
Emma
First Cow
The Girl With A Bracelet
i’m thinking of ending things
The Outpost

Best Animated Feature Film

A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
Onward
Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs
Soul

Best Documentary Feature Film

Alabama Snake
Athlete A
The Mystery of D.B. Cooper
Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind
The Social Dilemma
Tread

Best International Feature Film

Figurant
The Girl With A Bracelet
Gunpowder Heart
The Hater
The Life Ahead
The Shock of the Future

Best Live Action Short Film

Basic
Figurant
Host
Run/On
Waffle
What Did Jack Do?

Best Documentary Short Film

Betye Saar: Taking Care of Business
John Was Trying To Contact Aliens
Lions in the Corner
Quilt Fever

Best Animated Short Film

Canvas

If Anything Happens I Love You

Best Original Score

Call of the Wild
First Cow
Mangrove
Possessor
She Dies Tomorrow
The Shock of The Future

Best Original Song

“Boss Bitch” from Birds of Prey
“Diamonds” from Birds of Prey
“Everybody Dies” from The Outpost
“Future Shock Work in Progress” from The Shock of the Future
“Gratia Plena” from Fatima
“Husavik” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
“Jah Jah Ding Dong” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
“Metamorph” from Gunpowder Heart
“The Spirit of Christmas” from The Christmas Chronicles 2
“True Love’s Flame” from What Did Jack Do?

Best Overall Use of Music

Bill & Ted Face The Music
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Lovers Rock
Proising Young Woman
The Shock of the Future
Soul

Best Sound

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Lovers Rock
The Outpost
Possessor
The Shock of the Future
Sound of Metal

Best Production Design

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Emma
First Cow
i’m thinking of ending things
Possessor
The Shock of the Future

Best Casting

The Assistant
First Cow
Lovers Rock
Palm Springs
Promising Young Woman
The Vast of Night

Best Cinematography

First Cow
i’m thinking of ending things
Lovers Rock
Mank
She Dies Tomorrow
The Vast of Night

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Bill & Ted Face The Music
i’m thinking of ending things
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Hillbilly Elegy
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Promising Young Woman

Best Costume Design

Emma
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Fatima
First Cow
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Tesla

Best Film Editing

Extraction
i’m thinking of ending things
The Outpost
Palm Springs
Promising Young Woman
The Way Back

Best Stuntwork

Bad Boys For Life
Birds of Prey
Bloodshot
Extraction
The Hunt
The Outpost

Best Visual Effects

The Christmas Chronicles 2
The Midnight Sky
The Outpost
Possessor
Radioactive
Tesla

Films By Number of Nominations

8 Nominations — First Cow, Promising Young Woman

7 Nominations — Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, i’m thinking of ending things

6 Nominations — The Girl With A Bracelet, Lovers Rock, The Outpost, Shock of the Future, Soul, The Vast of Night

5 Nominations — Palm Springs, Possessor

4 Nominations — The Assistant, Bad Education, Sound of Metal

3 Nominations — Birds of Prey, Emma, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, She Dies Tomorrow, What Did Jack Do?

2 Nominations — Bill & Ted Face the Music, The Christmas Chronicles 2, Da 5 Bloods, Extraction, Fatima, Figurant, Gunpowder Heart, Hillbilly Elegy, The Life Ahead, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Onward, Tesla, The Way Back

1 Nomination — Alabama Snake, Athlete A, Bad Boys For Life, Basic, Bettye Saar: Taking Care of Business, Bloodshot, Call of the Wild, Canvas, Driveways, Frances Ferguson, The Hater, Horse Girl, Host, The Hunt, If Anything Happens I Love You, John Was Trying To Contact Aliens, Lions in the Corner, Mangrove, Mank, Midnight Sky, The Mystery of D.B. Cooper, Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind, One Night in Miami, Quilt Fever, Radioactive, Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs, Red White and Blue, Run/On, A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, The Social Dilemma, Tread, Waffle

Films By Number of Oscars Won

3 Oscars — The Girl With A Bracelet, Promising Young Woman

1 Oscar — The Assistant, Bad Education, Driveways, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Figurant, First Cow, Frances Ferguson, If Anything Happens I Love You, i’m thinking of ending things, John Was Trying To Contact Aliens, Lovers Rock, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Outpost, Palm Springs, Possessor, Shock of the Future, The Social Dilemma, Soul, Sound of Metal, The Vast of Night, What Did Jack Do?

Tomorrow, the Oscar nominations will be released and we’ll see if how much or, more likely, how little the Academy and I agree upon!

Film Review: Frances Ferguson (dir by Bob Byington)


Frances Ferguson takes place in a town in Nebraska.  As the film’s narrator (Nick Offerman) explains it, it’s a town where everyone knows everyone else.  It’s a town where your mechanic knows your bartender and no one can really keep anything a secret for too long.  For instance, it’s the type of town where there’s no way that a substitute teacher in her mid-20s is going to be able to get away with having an affair with a 16 year-old student.

The teacher in question is named Frances Ferguson (Kaley Wheeless).  Frances wanders through her days in an apathetic haze.  When she steps outside of her house, she sees her useless husband (Keith Poulson) masturbating in the car.  When she spends time with her mother (Jennifer Prediger), she is criticized for every little thing.  On the rare days when she gets called to teach, the students look down on her and Frances thinks about how little she knows about any of the subjects on which she’s giving instruction.  Frances goes through her day holding back her emotions.  She only screams on the inside and, when she does, only she and the viewing audience can hear.

Things start to look up when Frances teaches a biology class and notices a handsome but vacuous student named Jake (Jake French).  When she finds out that Jake has been given detention, Frances volunteers to supervise him.  When Frances flirts with him and the scene cuts way, the narrator asks us, “Was this a crime?”

(Yes, it was.)

Frances and Jake have a short-lived affair, though it doesn’t seem to be particularly passionate.  If anything, Jake seems to be even more blase about it than Frances.  Wearing her old cheerleader uniform, Frances meets Jake in a laundromat.  “I’d never date a cheerleader,” Jake tells her.  We, the viewers, notice that there are other people in the laundromat.  Does Frances want to get caught?

Get caught, she does.  “This is the last time we see Jake,” the narrators tells us as Jake fades away.  Frances, meanwhile, sits in court.  Her mother comes to the trial and tells her that her clothes make her look fat.  Frances is convicted and sent to prison.  Her mom brings her a chocolate cupcake for her birthday.  Frances announces that she’s allergic to chocolate before taking a big bite and then pretending to die.  “Get off that dirty floor!” her mother orders her.

You may getting the impression that Frances Ferguson is a strange film and I supposed it is.  It’s a comedy but it’s an extremely deadpan comedy, with most of the humor coming from Frances’s seeming apathy to ever single thing that happens to her.  It’s not that Frances doesn’t have feelings or emotions.  We hear her inner scream enough times to know that she’s not as apathetic as she seems.  It’s just that Frances is so consumed with small town ennui that she realizes it’s pointless to react one way or the other.  Life is what it is and it continues regardless of how annoying it may all be.  Whether she screams on the inside or on the outside, she’ll still have to wake up every morning in the same situation.  One day, Frances Ferguson was a teacher.  The next day, she was a prisoner.  And the day after that, she was on parole and a minor celebrity.  (“You’re that teacher!” is a phrase that she continually hears.)  What happens, happens.

Here’s the thing …. though it may not sound like it from my description of the plot, Frances Ferguson is an incredibly funny film.  A lot of that is due to Nick Offerman’s performance as the snarky narrator.  (The narrator has a tendency to wander off topic.)  A lot of that has to do with the performance of Kaley Wheeless, who perfectly communicates Frances’s suppressed irritation.  Over the course of the film, Frances has to deal with a lot of people who, if not for her one mistake, she would have otherwise never had to deal with.  Some of them get on her nerves and some of them — well, two of them — provide her with some comfort.  I loved David Krumholtz’s performance as a beleagured but optimistic group leader.  Martin Starr also gets a nice bit at the end, though it would be too much of spoiler to say anything else about his role.  I also enjoyed the performances of Jack Marshall and Yoko Lawing, as the two detectives who investigate the charges against Frances and who explain that, because of TV cop shows, they can no longer get away with playing good cop/bad cop.

Frances Ferguson is good film.  It’s also a short one, clocking in at just 74 minutes.  To be honest, it’s the perfect running time for the story that this film tells.  We follow Frances’s story for just as long as we need to.  Frances Ferguson is on Prime so check it out.

Film Review: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (dir by Mike Mitchell)


Sometimes, it’s hard not to feel that the Lego movies are their own worst enemy.

I mean, they’re just so cute and fun and likable and cheerfully dorky that it’s easy to overlook just clever they often are.  Everything is Awesome may have been a cute song but it was also a pitch perfect parody of mindless conformity.  And yes, The Lego Batman Movie got a lot of laughs out of Will Arnett’s guttural growl but it was also the best Batman film since The Dark Knight and it also had a lot to say about how lonely it can be when you’re an extremely paranoid super hero.  As for The Lego Ninjago Movie …. well, give me a minute and I’ll think of something.  Uhmmmm …. it had that cute kitty!  Woo hoo!

Beyond all that, all of the Lego movies — from the best to the less-than-the-best — celebrate imagination.  They celebrate being an individual and the joy of creating your own world as opposed to just conforming to someone else’s rules.  As much as I loved Chris Pratt as Emmett and Elizabeth Banks as Wyldstyle, the heart of the first Lego Movie is to be found in the scene where Will Ferrell essentially realizes that he’s being a jerk when he won’t let his son build what he wants to build.

That said, the main appeal of the Lego movies is that they’re incredibly cute.  Just take The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part for instance.  Especially when compared to the first Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie, this sequel has its flaws.  Admittedly, some of those flaws are unavoidable.  Just the fact that we start the movie knowing that everyone is in Will Ferrell’s house means that the sequel can’t take us as much by surprise as the first Lego Movie did.  Though the film’s original directors, Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, wrote the script and contribute some genuinely witty dialogue, the sequel’s pacing occasionally seems a little bit off.  There’s a few slow spots, the majority of which are really only noticeable when you compare the sequel to the flawlessly paced first film.  And yet, in the end, it’s such a cute movie that it’s easy to overlook those flaws.

The sequel begins immediately where the first ended, with Will Ferrell decreeing that both his son and his daughter are now allowed to play with his Lego collection.  Jump forward five years and this has basically led to chaos.  The Lego Universe is now a Mad Max-style wasteland.  Not surprisingly, both Wylstyle and Batman have really gotten into their new dystopian lifestyle.  Meanwhile, Emmett remains just as blindly cheerful and optimistic as ever.  He still feels that everything is awesome.

Or, at least Emmet feels that way until all of his friends are kidnapped to the Systar System, where Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) wants to marry Batman.  Determined to rescue his friends, Emmett decides to travel to the Systar System himself.  Helping him out is Rex Dangervest, who seems like the type of adventurer that Emmett has always dreamed of becoming.  Chris Pratt voices both Rex and Emmett and the film has a lot of fun playing with Pratt’s post-Guardians of the Galaxy stardom.  Rex is not just an intergalactic explorer.  No, he’s also a cowboy, a dinosaur trainer, an archaeologist, a first baseman, and — we’re told — a script doctor.  (Those, of course, are references to Pratt’s roles in The Magnificent Seven, Jurassic World, and Moneyball.  Interestingly enough, his work in Passengers goes unmentioned.)  Rex pressures Emmett to become more cynical and ruthless in his efforts to save his friends and destroy the Systar System and Chris Pratt does a great job voicing both roles.  Indeed, if nothing else, this film will always stand as a tribute to the incredible and unending charm of Chris Pratt.

If Lego Movie 2 never reaches the glorious heights of the first film, that’s because the element of surprise has been lost.  There’s no moment  in the sequel that’s as memorable as when a live action Will Ferrell suddenly showed up in the first movie.  (In the second movie, Ferrell appears in a flashback and has a brief voice cameo as President Business.  Maya Rudolph does show up as his wife but the sequel’s live action scenes just don’t have the emotional impact of the first film’s.)  But, with all that in mind, it’s still an undeniably cute and entertaining movie.  All of your old favorites back — everyone from Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as Superman and Green Lantern to Alison Brie as Unikitty to Charlie Day as the astronaut. (Sadly, Liam Neeson did not return as the Good Cop/Bad Cop and his absence is felt.)  The film is full of clever parodies, my favorite being the references to Mad Max: Fury Road.  There’s more than enough witty lines, visual gags, and sweet moments that Lego Movie 2 will hold your interest and bring a smile to your face.

At the box office, Lego Movie 2 fell victim to the same Lego fatigue that took down the Lego Ninjago film and it did not become quite the phenomenon that the first movie did.  Regardless, it’s still a worthy sequel.  I wouldn’t quite say it’s awesome but it’s definitely a lot of fun.

Catching Up With The Films of 2017: The Little Hours (dir by Jeff Baena)


You don’t necessarily have to be from a Catholic background to find The Little Hours to be hilarious but it probably helps.  You also don’t have to be an expert in satirical Italian literature from the Medieval era but, again, it probably helps.  Of course, what helps the most is to have a good sense of humor.

Technically, The Little Hours is based on The Decameron, though not even that famously bawdy  book featured dialogue like, “Don’t fucking talk to us!” and “Stop fucking looking at us!”  Both of those lines are delivered by Aubrey Plaza, who plays a nun in a medieval convent.  The fact that Plaza is playing a nun tells you a lot about the humor in The Little Hours.  The sets and the costumes are meticulously accurate. It’s easy to imagine that, if you got your hands on a time machine and traveled back to the Fourteenth Century, what you would see would look a lot like The Little Hours.  But the dialogue and the attitudes are all straight from the 21st century.

The Little Hours tells the story of three nuns and the people who get in their way.  Aubrey Plaza plays Sister Fernanda, the sarcastic nun who is willing to beat up anyone who looks at her for too long.  Ginerva (Kate Micucci) is the repressed nun who can’t wait to get everyone else in trouble.  Alessandra (Alison Brie) is the nun who is only a nun because her father (Paul Reiser) is making her.

When you’re bored and stuck in a convent, you find interesting ways to keep yourself amused.  For instance, gossip is always a fun way to pass the time.  Or you can get drunk on communion wine.  If you get really bored, you can always join the local coven and dance around a fire.  Or you can lust after the new handyman, a handsome deaf-mute named Massetto (Dave Franco).  Of course, Massetto isn’t really a deaf-mute.  He’s just pretending because he doesn’t want to be executed for having sex with his former master’s wife.  Life was never easy in medieval Italy.

The film may be based on The Decameron but all of the dialogue was improved.  Whenever I hear that anything’s been improvised, I always know that the end result is either going to be hilarious or it’s simply going to be unbearable.  Fortunately, the cast of The Little Hours is full of comedic pros.  They all play off of each other well.  Each line of dialogue seems like a challenge being delivered by both the character and the performer.  Behind every joke is a subtext of “Try to top this.”  Supporting roles are played by everyone from Molly Shannon to Nick Offerman to John C. Reilly.  Fred Armisen plays the Bishop who has the unenviable task of trying to keep straight everything that’s happened and his display of exasperation is absolutely brilliant.

As you can probably guess, I enjoyed The Little Hours.  It’s probably not a film for everyone.  As I said, it helps to not only have a Catholic background but to also have a sense of humor about it.  But, for those in the right mood, it’s a hilarious film.

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: The Hero (dir by Brett Haley)


It’s too bad that The Hero didn’t get that much attention when it originally released because, towards the end of the film, Sam Elliott has a scene that features some of the best cinematic acting that I’ve ever seen.

I’m not going to spoil the scene, because I think you should experience it for yourself.  I’ll just say that it’s a scene that will take you totally by surprise and force you to reconsider everything that you had previously assumed about both the film and the lead character.  I’m not ashamed to say that the scene brought tears to my mismatched eyes.  When you hear Elliott say, “I’ve wasted your time,” it will bring tears to your eyes too.

And that’s all I’m going to say about that scene.

As for the rest of the film, it’s a character study of an actor.  Sam Elliott plays Lee Hayden, who we’re told was one of the top actors in the world in the 70s.  He specialized in westerns, films and TV shows in which he always played the hero.  Of course, that was a while ago.  Lee is 70 years old now and both westerns and heroes are out of date.  At this point, Lee’s only steady work comes from doing the voice over for a series of steak commercials.  He spends most of his time smoking weed with his best friend, Jeremy (Nick Offerman).

It’s not a bad life though Lee certainly has his regrets.  For instance, he hasn’t always been the best father.  His daughter (Krysten Ritter) doesn’t seem to want much to do with him.  He misses acting.  As is made clear in the film’s opening scene, doing 6 different takes for a commercial voice over isn’t exactly the most challenging or rewarding way for a former star to spend his semi-retirement.  But he has his one friend and he has marijuana and what else does he need?

But then one day, Lee is told that he might have cancer.  He might be dying.  Lee starts to think about his life and his legacy.  He tries to reconnect with his daughter.  He accepts a lifetime achievement award from the Western Hall of Fame and, just when you think both the film and Lee are about to get snarky, they surprise you by treating the award and Lee’s aging fans with a poignant respect.  Lee also pursues a relationship with a much younger stand-up comedienne (Laura Prepon) and while I did arch an eyebrow at the huge age difference between them, the film itself actually addresses the issue in an unexpected way.

It’s not the most tightly constructed film.  Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler was an obvious influence but The Hero never quite matches that film’s fatalistic glory.  But no matter!  The Hero is mostly about celebrating Sam Elliott, an underrated actor who shows that, much like Lee, he’s capable of much more than most viewers assume.  Elliott gives a poignant, wonderfully human performance as a flawed man who still deserves to be known as The Hero.

Everything Is Awesome! The Lego Movie Is Still Great!


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Have you ever rewatched a film that you remembered as being pretty great just to then be totally shocked to discover that it really wasn’t even that good?

It’s happened to me more times than I care to count.  Often times, it seems like the films that have the most immediate impact on us are the same films that, in a matter of weeks, we often end up forgetting.  My personal theory is that these films are so designed to make an immediate impact that there’s often little room for the subtext that would be necessary for a movie to actually linger in the mind.  These are the type of films that we remember enjoying but it’s often a struggle for us to explain why we thought it was great.  (“Oh my God,” we say, “it was such a great movie!” and then we leave it at that.)  When we do get around to watching the film for a second time, we’re often left slightly disappointed.  Now that we know what’s coming, the film no longer has as much of an impact.

It happens all the time and I hate it.  That is why, often times, I find myself dreading the second viewing.  Will the film still work the second time or will it turn out that the film only truly works when viewed with virgin eyes?

That’s one reason why I was feeling a bit of trepidation about rewatching The Lego Movie when it showed up on HBO this month.  After all, I loved the Lego Movie when it was originally released earlier this year.  As soon as I got home from seeing it at the Alamo Drafthouse, I jumped on twitter and tweeted out, “EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!”  For the past few months, I’ve been telling everyone that the Lego Movie was great.

But was it really?

Of course, everyone knows what The Lego Movie was about.  President Business (Will Ferrell) is seen by the residents of the Lego Universe as being a benevolent ruler but actually, he’s an insecure control freak who enforces strict conformity and who is planning to use a mysterious weapon known as the Kragle to rob everyone of free will and imagination.  A group of rebels — known as the Master Builders and led by Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) — hope to stop him.  According to Vitruvius, a chosen one will defeat President Business and, to everyone’s surprise, the Chosen One turns out to be a cheerfully ordinary construction worker named Emmett (Chris Pratt).

There were so many things that I remembered loving about the Lego Movie.

I loved the voice work done by the film’s talented cast.  Along with the perfectly selected Ferrell, Freeman, and Pratt, the cast also includes: Will Arnett as a hilariously pretentious Lego Batman, Elizabeth Banks as the rebellious Wyldstyle, Liam Neeson as Bad Cop, the always brilliant Nick Offerman as a pirate called Metal Beard, Charlie Day as a “space guy,” and Alison Brie as my favorite character, Unikitty (a unicorn/kitty hybrid, and who wouldn’t want to own one of those?).  And, of course, there were also cameos from Channing Tatum as Superman and Jonah Hill as a hilariously obsequious Green Lantern.  I remembered that all of these actors had done great work, bringing very vivid life to their characters.

And I remembered that all of the actors were aided by a script that was full of funny lines and clever bits of satire.  I remembered loving the enthusiastic way that Charlie Day talked about making a spaceship.  I loved Will Arnett’s pretentious hipster posturing.  I loved the way that Chris Pratt could deliver a line like, “I understand what you’re saying but could you repeat it again because I wasn’t listening?”  I loved Liam Neeson switching back and forth from being the ruthless Bad Cop and the painfully nice Good Cop.  And most of all, I loved Morgan Freeman.  Freeman, of course, is known for having the most God-like voice in the movies and, in this movie, he delivers even the most over-the-top dialogue with a calm and soothing authority.

And I loved the song Everything Is Awesome, an earworm if there ever was one!

And finally, I remembered that — as funny as The Lego Movie was — it also made me cry.  The theme of being yourself and going your own way is a common one but the Lego Movie expressed it with such sincerity that it was impossible for me not to be moved as if I was hearing it for the very first time.

So, as I lay down to rewatch the Lego Movie, I asked myself if the movie would live up to my memories.

Well, guess what?

EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!

The Lego Movie is just as good on subsequent viewings than on the first!  So, if you somehow haven’t watched it, then watch it now.  And if you have watched it, watch it again!

Back to School #73: 21 Jump Street (dir by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller)


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Though the TV series that its based is a bit before my time, the 2012 comedy 21 Jump Street is a personal favorite of mine.  The film tells the story of how nerdy Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and popular but none-too-intelligent jock Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) first met in high school, went to the police academy together, both turned out to really bad cops together, and then returned to high school together.

Why did they return to high school?  Because they’re both working undercover now!  As part of a recently revived program from the 80s (and that would apparently be the original television series), young cops are being sent undercover into high school.  As all the other cops involved with the program appear to be super cops, Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube) has every reason to believe that Schmidt and Jenko will be able to discover who is responsible for dealing a dangerous new synthetic drug known as HFS.

One of the things that makes 21 Jump Street work is that, at no point, does the film pretend that either Channing Tatum or Jonah Hill could still pass for a high school student.  One of the film’s best moments comes when a drug dealing environmentalist/student named Eric Molson (Dave Franco, brother of my beloved James) tells Jenko that he suspects that Jenko may be a cop.  “Why?” Jenko asks.  “You’re taste in music. The fact that you look like a fucking forty-year old man,” Eric replies.

Not surprisingly, Jenko and Schmidt prove themselves to be fairly clueless about how high school has changed.  One thing that I’ve always found interesting about high school films is that often times, regardless of when a particularly film might be set, it still feels like it’s taking place ten to twenty years in the past.  That’s largely because most high school films are made by directors who are trying to relive their youth and, as a result, they end up making a film about a high school in 2014 where all of the students look and act as if they’re living in the 90s.  The truth of the matter is that things change pretty quickly.

That’s one reason why I haven’t set foot back in my high school since I graduated.  As much fun as I did have in high school and even though I’ve been told that I can still pass for high school age (and I still constantly get asked for ID), the fact of the matter is that it’s no longer 2004.

When Jenko and Schmidt return to high school, they do so expecting to have to return to their previous teenager personas.  That’s good news for Jenko and not so good news for Schmidt.  However, once they arrive (and after their class schedules accidentally get switched), they discover that high school has changed.  Jocks like Jenko no longer rule the school and Schmidt is now one of the popular kids…

Before I saw 21 Jump Street, I knew that Jonah Hill was funny.  But the film’s big surprise was that Channing Tatum is just as funny.  Throughout the film, Tatum shows a willingness to poke fun at his own image and proves that he can deliver an absurd one-liner as masterfully as just about anyone else working today.  There’s a lot of reasons why 21 Jump Street is a funny film.  It’s full of funny lines and the movie features a lot of very sharp satire of both the action and the teen genres.  But the true pleasure of the film comes from the comedic chemistry between Tatum and Hill.

It’s just a lot of fun to watch.

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