Archive 1
Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life  —  The Magnificent Seven  —   Snowden  —  Sully  —  Hell or High Water  —  War Dogs  —  Sausage Party  —  Florence Foster Jenkins  —  Jason Bourne  —  Hillary’s America  —  The Infiltrator   —  The Secret Life of Pets  —   Free State of Jones  —  Central Intelligence  —  Can We Take a Joke?  —  Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
 
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Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life


CHRIS MIKSANEK - THE MED CITY MOVIE GUY
It might sound a little out of my wheelhouse, but it’s not been that long (geologically, anyway) since I was entering 6th grade as a dorkish insecure dweeb. That’s why I simply don’t buy Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, the pre-teen comedy based on the popular James Patterson series. Teen Vogue models having a tough time in middle school? Boo-Hoo.

Replete with requisite but thinly-defined characters like the “cool teacher” (better executed by Jon Stewart in The Faculty), a standardized-test-obsessed principal, and the stock one-dimensional bully.

But wait, there’s more. The attempt to make the story more mature, v. for instance, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, by adding a dark backstory — main character Rafe Khatchadorian communes with his recently deceased brother — comes off forced on screen though it probably played better in print. For my money, Zac Efron in Charlie St. Cloud was much more moving in a similar situation though I more quickly warmed-up to Thomas Barbusca as Rafe’s imaginary brother Leo and was actually disappointed to learn he was not real. (Lila & Eve, Fight Club)

Laughs are few and Rafe’s mom’s jerk of a boyfriend Rob Riggle gets them all.

If authentic, funny, and poignant grade school narratives are what you’re after, rent a copy of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules.

 








 
 
 
The Magnificent Seven


CHRIS MIKSANEK - THE MED CITY MOVIE GUY
The title is a bit misleading. This is actually just the Magnificent Denzel Washington and the pretty good six. (The John Sturges 1960 original teamed Academy Award winner Yul Brynner at his peak, “The King of Cool” Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, “and the rest,” to borrow from the season one Gilligan’s Island theme. Technically, they weren’t all magnificent either, I suppose, but it was one of my dad’s favorites which means I was introduced to it growing-up. It’s my baseline.)

Understandably then, the hardest thing for me was getting past the whole  why would they even remake this masterpiece, next thing you know they’ll be redoing Ben Hur, too  rhetorical indignation. The partnership of Denzel and Antoine Fuqua (who together gave us Training Day and The Equalizer) intrigued me so I pushed past my reservations.

Here, like in 1960, downtrodden townspeople hire seasoned guns to get the yoke of oppression off their backs. (Film writers are mandated to point out that this is merely an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, though I am convinced that only makes them sound lofty. The American West invented the western and was Kurosawa’s influence. So, there, Professor Fleeber!)

I’ve grown tired of remakes in general and the hackneyed excuse that they serve to introduce a new generation to a classic film plot. Thus, how you enjoy this revision (one man escapes the hangman when the latter is unable to assemble his mail-order “Gallows by IKEA” but the plot is otherwise intact) depends on whether you think Fuqua adds actual value by amping-up the action, depicting gritty and more realistic violence, and servicing fully all of the mercenaries’ backstories — something Sturges did not do.

Regrettably, for Denzel fans, too much screen time is exhausted on the diversity of the team while never actually demonstrating the value of it. The Comanche is good with arrows and the Korean good with knives — “quaint” 19th-century caricatures at home in the Rose Creek of 1879 where hardscrabble settlers, farmers most of them, just want to be left alone to work hard and keep the fruits of their labors.

Chris Pratt as Josh Farraday, “a gambler with a fondness for explosives,” probably does the best job though his ribbing of Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) is cringe-worthy at times. The unlikely standout is Vincent D’Onofrio as a grizzly mountain man. Rounding-out the seven are Ethan Hawke, Byung-hun Lee, and Martin Sensmeier.

I expected more though we did get a treat during the end credits: a few bars of the original Elmer Bernstein theme.

Pretty good but far from “magnificent.”

 









 
 
Snowden


CHRIS MIKSANEK - THE MED CITY MOVIE GUY

“I thought things were going to get better under President Obama,” NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) says in the eponymous docudrama. “I was wrong.” Obama, he says, assured supporters there would be no domestic surveillance. Not only had our intelligence agencies been spying on us all (all!) though backdoor access to emails, chats, SMS, Skype, and remote activation of laptop webcams (I have a Band-Aid covering my peephole now, and so will you after watching this one) but on foreign leaders, as well.

 

All the while, of course, denying doing so. (“Yes we scan!” reads one protestor's sign in the film. And not to pile on, but Obama dismissed Snowden as just a “hacker.”)

  

Snowden didn’t start-out an enemy of the state. He came from a long line of public servants and himself began adult life as a would-be Army Ranger. But when an injury led to his discharge (he broke a leg falling out of bed, does it get any more ignoble than that?) he looked for another way to serve his country, unwavering patriot that he was then.

 

The math- and cyber-wiz has no problem landing a gig with the CIA where he excels, though in short time hes exposed to agencies’ dirty deeds, weak rationalizations and their barely legal programs.

 

Adding to his demoralization is liberal girlfriend (Shailene Woodley); soon he’s thinking maybe our government is not infallible after all. (“This is not about terrorism,” he says in a revelation, “Terrorism is the excuse; it’s about economic and social control.” Maybe. Probably. Let’s talk.)

 

Director Oliver Stone both leverages and puts behind him his reputation as a conspiracist; i.e., if you were to suspect your own government of doing what Snowden (and WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange) has demonstrated they do, your character (or worse) would be assassinated marking you just to the right of Dale Gribble.


But when it’s true?

 

Right, so that’s when the dialog begins. Unfortunately, few films evoke the conversation they purport to. This one, though, makes-salient issues like privacy, government trust, and the delineation of whistleblowing v espionage.

 

With amazing performances by Woodley and Gordon-Levitt, this is a must see, but if you go... pay with cash. 











 
 
Sully


CHRIS MIKSANEK - THE MED CITY MOVIE GUY
OK, he didn’t do that thing Denzel did in Flight, land a plane upside down, but the emergency maneuver US Airways Captain Chesley Sullenberger exercised back in 2009 is still pretty remarkable.

Sully (Tom Hanks in yet another award-worthy performance), unable to safely return to New York’s LaGuardia airport, managed to remarkably land his plane on the Hudson River without a single loss of the craft’s 155 souls.
When Harry met Sully


Before he was Captain Sully, he was Captain Phillips. I caught-up with Tom Hanks at 2004’s Critics Choice Movie Awards where we reminisced for 45 seconds about the old days and futons. But unlike the US Secret Service, George Clooney, and Leonardo DiCaprio, Hanks was unimpressed with my little Sony camera. Hmmm...


Hungry for good news to latch onto, NYC immediately heralds this Miracle on the Hudson and declares Sully a hero, and indeed he was/is. But barely before the ice-waterlogged survivors are helped aboard first-responder boats the NTSB starts supposing that Sully might have unnecessarily risked the lives of his crew and passengers. Simulations, they say, demonstrate the plane could have made it back. Sully’s experience told him otherwise but that doesn’t prevent him from second-guessing a lifetime of flying. He’s vindicated, of course, though not before undeserved public persecution.

Clint Eastwood, noted for bringing the tales of alternate American heroes to the silver screenNavy SEAL Chris Kyle (American Sniper), self-sacrificing everyman Walt Kowalski (Gran Torino), and legendary FBI Director J. Edgar [Hoover] (if you swing that way)outdoes himself here. Unfortunately, when it comes to the politically-outspoken director, Hollywood’s been as stingy with awards as Delta is with peanuts.

And for those playing the “Do any of the rescuers say No one dies today? drinking game,” of course they do.

0 Honks!

(Because the geese, who I regard as the real stars,

die in excruciating pain when sucked into the jet’s engines.)

 

 

Just kidding.

Buh-bye.

 

 

 







 
 
Hell or High Water


CHRIS MIKSANEK - THE MED CITY MOVIE GUY
Reminiscent at times of the magnificent Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men, Scottish director David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water is handily one of the year’s best and a treat for any fan of well-executed westerns.

The Taylor Sheridan-penned story follows Howard brothers Toby and Tanner (Chris Pine and Ben Foster respectively) who orchestrate a string of bank robberies in an economically-savaged region of West Texas with a crusty Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) in close pursuit. While Tanner is game for anything, Toby has a motive that involves revenge for a predatory reverse-mortgage so the lines of morality are blurred and the delineation between hero and villain is not always clear.

Extremeley well written and immediately engaging with just enough humor to humanize the characters without making them caricatures. Special call-out to T-Bone Café waitress Margaret Bowman (who, coincidentally, had a small role in the aforementioned Coen 4x Oscar-winner)… you’ll know what I mean when you see it.

 

 

 





 
 
War Dogs


CHRIS MIKSANEK - THE MED CITY MOVIE GUY
Jonah Hill works up from a “bottom feeder” to a major player in the shifty world of defense contractors in the Falcon and the Snowman-esque comedy War Dogs.

A bulked-up Hill (admit it, though he has an appointment with a coronary we like him better this way) partners with an old friend (Miles Teller) in need of a career bump. The two make a nice dollar off the crumbs larger suppliers don’t bother with during the peak of our involvement in Afghanistan. Then they get greedy.

Lots of laughs and surprising intrigue from Hangover director Todd Phillips.

Hill’s confident and obnoxious character is one of his best performances to date.







 
 
Florence Foster Jenkins


CHRIS MIKSANEK - THE MED CITY MOVIE GUY
There’s an old Yiddish saying: “With money in your pocket you are wise and you sing well, too.” It’s tempting to levy that axiom on Florence Foster Jenkins, the 1940s New York City music patron who’s surrounded by a cadre of socialites and columnists bribed by a husband self-charged with protecting her from the scoffers and mockers.


The things is, though it has the vibe (humor + pathos) of a Woody Allen film (e.g., Radio Days) and some comical moments (a tubful of potato salad is a guaranteed guffaw, Shakespeare wrote), it’s hard to laugh at her positively atrocious singing for her sincerity is so strong.

Meryl Streep is the delightfully deluded Jenkins in perhaps the first awards-worthy performance of the year; Hugh Grant is her dutiful husband. Upstaging them all whenever he’s around is Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg as her accompanist.

A joyful film that skews to an older audience who can relate to the T-shirtism: Dance like no one’s watching. Jenkin’s version, “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.

Music to my ears.







 
 
Sausage Party


CHRIS MIKSANEK - THE MED CITY MOVIE GUY

Less than sophomoric, Seth Rogan’s animated comedy Sausage Party is freshmanic and replete with double single entendres ... yet it is not without laughs.

 

Or at least “a” laugh. The single-joke premise: a hotdog named Frank (the first of the so-called “obvious humor” that plagues this one) voiced by Rogan wants to, err, get into Kristen Wiig’s bun.

 

First, they need a shopper to deliver them from their shelf to the great beyond — a Valhalla for consumables where they are liberated from their packaging and all of their wild fantasies will come true.

 

Unfortunately, before that happens they are separated from the shopping cart and left to fend for themselves among mostly harmless ethnic stereotypes like a Woody Allen-ish bagel (voiced by Edward Norton) who constantly quarrels with a Middle Eastern flatbread complaining the former is “occupying shelf space;” their relationship is straight outta Don’t Mess With the Zohan.

 

The spiritual examination falls flat even before it’s revealed the Great Beyond was a just myth created by the nonperishables (Mr. Grits, Twinkie, and a bottle of Firewater) to give comfort and insulate the consumables from the brutal reality. (Their ultimate revelation is reminiscent of the famed Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man.”)

 

While this one deserves its R-rating for language and food carnality, remarkably it is not short on violence, either. Those edibles that did manage to make it out of the market and into a comfy condo kitchen face savage fates. A potato with a cheery Irish brogue screams as his skin is peeled from his body and thrown into boiling water. Once jolly bacon fries. Chips and cheese anguish in a microwave. And the baby carrots? It’s just too terrible to describe.

 

One brilliant — brilliant — moment: singer Meat Loaf’s cameo.

 

But otherwise, Sausage Party is … not fit for human consumption. 








 
 
Jason Bourne


CHRIS MIKSANEK - THE MED CITY MOVIE GUY
We should demand more from Matt Damon and the wildly popular spy thriller Bourne franchise than this fourth (or fifth, if you count Jeremy Renner’s The Bourne Legacy) installment: Jason Bourne.

Ending it once and for all, a mantra repeated throughout, Jason Bourne (Damon) modulates between avenging his father and helping to prevent the CIA from obtaining a backdoor into a Facebook-like social app called Deep Dream. And though there are mentions of Edward Snowden, privacy and government overreach, the topic is never fully explored. The Zuckerberg-like creator of Deep Dream (Nightcrawler’s Riz Ahmed) merely has a crisis of conscience over the app’s start-up dollars. (A plot explored in Sandra Bullock’s The Net though there with more leg.)

Irritating shaky cam shots and unnecessarily-long scenes like an early 15 minute chase in Greece saddle the pic though it does finally get traction midway through and from there is riveting.

Damon is flawless but the plot is uninspiring.

For fans only.

 

 





 
 
Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party


CHRIS MIKSANEK - THE MED CITY MOVIE GUY

“Expect the empire to strike back,” Dinesh D’Souza says from a jail cell early in his new documentary, Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party. The Indian-America director not-too-subtly attributes his stripes to the hand of our President and his delicate ego over D’Souza’s earlier scathing film, 2016: Obama’s America. The director’s crime? A $20k political donation he made but neglected to call a ‘speaking fee.’

 

Like Michael Moore’s cinematic screeds, best-selling author Dinesh D’Souza’s hit-piece is unlikely to change minds. (More on so-called ‘confirmation bias’ here.) Still, if even only a fraction of Hillary’s America is accurate, writer William Peter Blatty’s pull quote describing it as “Utterly terrifying” says a lot. After all, who knows ‘terrifying’ better than the author of the shorts-soiling classic chiller The Exorcist?

 

D’Souza spends most of the film’s 107 minutes preaching to the choir; illustrating what the Right believes are indictments and what the Left waves-off as either conspiracies, irrelevance, “no evidence of,” or “Dude, that was years ago.” To wit:  

 

  • Democrats formed the KKK to frighten newly-freed slaves from voting for carpet-bagging Republicans from the north who vowed to disenfranchise white southerners. (To be fair, except for persisting in their low expectations, the party has since moved left of the notorious hate group they founded.)

  • JFK would not recognize his party today. For example, more Iowa Dems identify with socialism than with capitalism and President Obama has embraced the same Cuban regime Kennedy once fought.

  • The so-called “Big Switch” is nonsense. Democrat archetype Andrew Jackson, father of the party, drove Native Americans off their land, created reservations, and made the indigenous people dependent on the government. Little has changed since: minorities in most large cities, in President Obama’s own words, are victims of similar ‘plantation policies’ and government codependence. (D’Souza reminds us of the administration’s creepy cradle-to-grave adverts, e.g., “Under President Obama, Julia decides...”

  • Liberal darling and eugenics advocate Margaret Sanger drew some of her loudest huzzahs when she spoke to a Klan rally.

  • Less than 10% of the cash (cash!) that the Clintons solicited for Haiti was disbursed to ailing country.

 

Then D’Souza starts on Hillary herself concluding — surprise! — Ms. Clinton deserves not the White House but the Big House. (He calls both Clintons corrupt and congenital liars demonstrating once again that it is a mathematical certainty that any talk of Bill Clinton eventually gets around to mentioning genitals.) And the director had better hope for the latter because if Hillary wins in November it’s a cinch that come the morning of January 23rd, 2017 either a drone or the IRS will be visiting him.

 

Of course, much of the dot-connecting is specious, as is the case with films of this ilk and politics in general. But with so many individually damning nuggets, how long can the Clintons continue to play their supporters for fools with shameless carefully-worded non-statements like “[I'm not saying I didn't, just that] there is no evidence of” or the insufferable “it depends on what your definition of is is?”

 

For D’Souza, none of this made sense until his time behind bars. (“Locked up,” he says, “not in a nice Martha Stewart-type accommodation, but in a barracks-style jail among robbers and murderers.”) There, he met a gang leader who helped him draw a connection between the Democrats’ reign and grifters, in general — both swear by the mantras “Never give up the con,” and “deny, deny, deny.”

 

Perhaps most remarkable: Hillary’s America comes from producer Gerald Molen who brought us the films Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Rain Man and others. So there’s that.

 

The Right doesn’t need this one to tell them that the Clintons are slippery and nothing will convince the Left of their fallibility so take this one at face value.

 

Still, as an entertainment piece, it’s not without merit.  

 

 

 





 
 
The Infiltrator

 
CHRIS MIKSANEK - THE MED CITY MOVIE GUY
In the mid-80s, at the height of the War on Drugs, we were desperate to try just about anything, even a stab at the simplistic with, “Just say no.” Short of legalizing everything and hoping free-market pressure would disincentivize third-world suppliers, for reals, what could be done?

U.S. Customs agent Robert Mazur thought it would be novel to follow the money, which proved to be both the brass ring and the bane of dopers south of the border. After all, tons of cash were unwieldy flowing. Disrupting that might just draw-out the cartel leaders. Thus was born Bob Musella, The Infiltrator.

Based on Mazur’s book of the same title, director Brad Furman’s film more than sufficiently mixes intrigue and suspense with Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston deeply — often times in over his head — undercover as a virtuoso money launderer.

Personal favorite John Leguizamo co-stars as Mazur’s partner but the standout is Benjamin Bratt as Roberto Alcaino whose family “Musella” and his pretend wife befriend to help take down the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar as well as the corrupt multinational bank that helped sterilize his cash.

Though it loses its period vibe after only about twenty minutes, it maintains a feel of authenticity reminiscent of the best of the genre including Donnie Brasco and American Hustle.







 
 
The Secret Life of Pets


CHRIS MIKSANEK - THE MED CITY MOVIE GUY
Though no one is knifed walking through Central Park, the New York City depicted in The Secret Life of Pets otherwise captures the urban spirit of NYC from the upscale Brooklyn neighborhoods to the pampered pets of the hipsters who live there.

One of the coddled is Max (Louis C.K.), a pleasant Jack Russell whose owner (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Ellie Kemper) takes good care of until one day she brings-home a rescue the size of the Chrysler Building and upsets the apartment’s dynamic.

The two canines find themselves heatedly at odds one afternoon and tussle their way out of familiar territory. Lost, they scamper the naked city until falling-in with a comical group of sewer thugs: misanthropes who’ve been flushed by their original owners and led by a white rabbit named Snowball (Kevin Hart), himself abandoned by a magician.

Meanwhile, back in the safety and comfort of their co-op, a search for the two is underway by a white Pomeranian neighbor (Jenny Slate) with feelings for Max.

Fun for all, but mostly for younger demographics. Unlike a Pixar tale, here there is no deep transformational moral takeaway. In other words, this one is filled with empty calories but it is nonetheless delightfully innocuous. The animation is fresh and colorful and the action is well-paced without exhausting.

Props for the reference to Some Like It Hot — when an old dog is hitting on a fat feline, she protests, “Dude, I’m a cat;” The dog shrugs, “Well, nobody’s perfect” — but I would have liked to see a nod to Ed Norton, the original King of the Kosciusko Street Sewer.

From Despicable Me director Chris Renaud and preceded with a Minions short.

 

 







 
 
Free State of Jones

 

CHRIS MIKSANEK - THE MED CITY MOVIE GUY

Lazy scholarship and derisive political narratives would have you believe that everyone south of the Mason-Dixon Line is/was a racist and that what we generally call the Civil War was all about the South’s desperate struggle to maintain the deplorable practice of slavery.

 

In fact, few that fought even owned slaves and the so-called “peculiar institution” was already in a swift decline towards extinction  the North had only recently forsaken it themselves. What is telling is how each side referred to the conflict. Unionists (the North) viewed it as a “Rebellion” by those states daring to leave the superior jointure (a sort-of 19th-century Brexit); the South, conversely, saw it as their dutiful fight for independence, for self-determination, likening it to the break eighty-five years earlier from British tyranny. In many ways, then, this one was similar to every war since in which we asked ourselves: Why are we here?  What is the real cost?
Three essential Matthew McConaughey movies that are alright, alright, alright…

Tropic Thunder   In this outrageous send-up of A-list egos, McConaughey is Ben Stiller’s devoted agent.

Dallas Buyers Club   McConaughey took home a number of accolades — including our Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Actor — for his portrayal of real-life AIDS patient Ron Woodroof who resorted to unconventional treatments that helped extend his and other victims’ lives.

A Time to Kill    “It’s easy when you have great writing,” the actor told me in 2013 when I brought-up this John Grisham story of a young lawyer (McConaughey) defending a Mississippi man (Samuel L. Jackson) who killed the men who violently assaulted his little girl.

2013 Chris Miksanek, The Med City Movie Guy, with Matthew McConaughey at 2013 Critics' Choice Movie Awards, BFCA

 

If you’re still with me, Free State of Jones may be the truest telling of real life during the War Between the States.

 

Matthew McConaughey is Newton Knight, a nurse for the South who deserts in 1862 and takes-up with a band of runaway slaves in the swamps of Jones County, Mississippi where they make life difficult for confederate tax collectors and supply foragers. As time goes on, other deserters join Knight and he takes for a wife a slave named Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Eventually the outlaws proclaim their own independence as the titular Free State of Jones. People deserve to keep the fruits of their own labor,” is their motto and in the course of exercising that right, this one at times has a Robin Hood feel with the swamp their Sherwood Forest and a predatory Lieutenant (Brad Carter) their Sheriff of Nottingham.

 

It’s loosely based on a true story and intercuts with 85-year flash-forwards in which a descendant of the pair is on trial for the preposterous charge of intermarrying. The cuts jolted me from the mid-19th-century vibe and I would have preferred them left out (especially that the film both runs and feels long).

 

Still, it’s a well-executed film but will have trouble finding an audience. That’s a pity.

 

Co-stars Keri Russell and House of Cards’ Mahershala Ali. 






 
 
Central Intelligence

 

CHRIS MIKSANEK - THE MED CITY MOVIE GUY
You never really know what to expect in a Dwayne Johnson movie but you can be pretty sure that Meryl Streep is not going to co-star. Double sure when the Rock is teamed-up with comedian Kevin Hart. (Though to be fair, Al Pacino was a Dunkin’ Donuts spokesman in Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill so the realm of the impossible is smaller than it was back in cinematically-saner times.)

The phrase that comes to mind with Hart’s hyper-comedic persona is “typecast.” He’s virtually the same character in every movie: Ride Along, Ride Along 2, Think Like a Man, Get Hard, The Wedding Ringer. That’s not necessarily bad as two other phrases come to mind: “Give moviegoers what they want,” and, “Laughing all the way to the bank.”

Much of the same can be said of breakout action star Dwayne Johnson (exceptions being Empire State, Be Cool, and Hercules) whose career apex was probably flexing his arm muscle to pop-off a cast in Furious 7, which was pretty cool.

So don’t get all uppity if this mash-up of the two is not your cup of Kickstart. After all, it’s not in the running for a Palme d’Or at Cannes, though that might make for a sequel plot with delicious opportunities for A-list cameos.

That said, Central Intelligence was, hands-down, one of the best comedies I’ve seen in a long time.

Hart is Calvin Joyner who in high school was a big deal (The Golden Jet). For Johnson, a/k/a Robbie Weirdicht, it was just the opposite. He was the target of every bully there. Twenty years later, Calvin has little to brag about at an upcoming class reunion until Weirdicht comes back into his life as a buff, possibly rogue, CIA agent.

The teaming makes for great laughs (Johnson sporting a fanny pack and unicorn t-shirt in virtually every scene and Hart reluctant to jeopardize his marriage or career) and the intrigue surprisingly engaging.

Johnson’s comic chops impress and Hart does not annoy.      






 
 
Can We Take a Joke

 

CHRIS MIKSANEK - THE MED CITY MOVIE GUY

Trigger warning: if you need/heed trigger warnings you will find this review (and film) offensive because you are the documentary’s raison d’etre.

 

President Obama will be remembered for a number of accomplishments among them ushering-in an unprecedented hyper-level of sensitivity.

 

Can We Take a Joke director Ted Balaker credits this unfounded outrage for both the demise of comedy and the erosion of free speech. And it has fomented in the most unlikely place: college campuses once charged with the intellectual maturation of nascent generations in whose hands our liberties are entrusted. The original “safe space” for diverse speech and controversial ideas is now occupied by pajama boys suckling into their late 20s. Indeed, 47% of 18-30-year olds, we learn, think the First Amendment goes too far. Goes too far. Take a moment to get your arms around that one. Traditionally liberal bastions think free speech goes too far. This had even taken the great George Carlin aback. “I have come to expect censorship coming from the Right-Wing,” he says in Balaker’s film, “but from the Left PC crowd it was surprising.” A disappointment that comic icons Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock recently lamented, as well.

 

The documentary opens with, what else, an apology tour. Gilbert Gottfried, Jimmy Kimmel, Jonah Hill, Don Imus — all of them making public allocutions and begging forgiveness for entertaining their audience at the expense of a few grievance interlopers. This, Balaker intersperses with scenes of villagers taking-up torches from 1931’s Frankenstein, a visual for popular podcaster Adam Corolla’s assessment that the perpetually outraged assume a mob witch-hunt mentality when you dare deviate from their SJW narrative.

Know-it so you don’t blow-it:
Inappropriately-directed laughter
means you should be ashamed (and punished) for laughing at something that someone else thinks is offensive.
 

Veteran comics like Penn Jillette especially “rage against the outrage.” His career inspiration came from the archetypal line-crosser Lenny Bruce, who was himself a textbook example of government policing (literally) speech. Yet only a generation later (Bruce died in 1966 after being sentenced to real, not suspended, jail time for obscenity) we’ve regressed from kicking down the door of censorship to being too frightened to open it.

 

And where does it end? Balaker makes what at first seems like a leap connecting the outrage movement to the Charlie Hebdo shooting in which 11 people on the staff of the French satirical magazine were killed. But as the film carries on the tragic conclusion feels less like a stretch than it does the logical progression.

 

“Outrage is a powerful political tool,” Jillette says. As the symbiotic two-step between appeasers and the always-offended group circles the bowl, the siphon effect sucks us all down.

 

Thoughtful commentary that is entertaining, infuriating, and cautionary.







 
 
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
 


  
CHRIS MIKSANEK - THE MED CITY MOVIE GUY
SNL alum Andy Samberg and longtime comedy partners of ‘The Lonely Island’ comedy troupe, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, are the fractured pop/rap boyband ‘The Style Boyz’ in the funny-as-hell mockumentary, “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.”

Samberg never veers far from the formula of these types of gone-solo and/or reluctant-reunion send-ups (e.g., Sam Jackson’s and Bernie Mac’s “Soul Men”) but what makes this one stand out is the outrageous humor and spot-on parody. There is, for instance, an ever-developing TMZ lampoon (Will Arnett kills it as a Harvey Levinesque gadfly) and some of the hits from ‘Conner4Real’ (Samberg’s solo character) — “Bin Laden” and “Mona Lisa, You’re an overrated piece of s***” (the R-rating is well-earned) — are themselves worth the price of admission.

Clearly this would not work without an ‘air of authenticity’ so there are plenty of solid cameos. The best are Seal and Martin Sheen though for the brief moments he’s on screen, Justin Timberlake, as Tyrus Quash, Conner’s personal chef, steals the show.

 
     


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© 2008, 2016 Chris Miksanek, The Med City Movie Guy
  Last updated: 2016 December 1
  Contact: chris @ miksanek.com