Friday, December 5, 2014

Bad Santa (2003)

Bad Santa (2003)
Rated R
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, John Ritter, Bernie Mac, Lauren Graham
Directed by: Terry Zwigoff
Tagline: He doesn’t care if you’re naughty or nice.
Running time: 91 Minutes

Quick summary (from IMDB): A miserable conman and his partner pose as Santa and his Little Helper to rob department stores on Christmas Eve. But they run into problems when the conman befriends a troubled kid, and the security boss discovers the plot.

It’s December, which in our house means it’s time for Christmas movies.

Normally, we begin the holiday season on the Saturday after Thanksgiving by putting up the Christmas Tree, ordering pizza and watching Christmas Vacation. It’s a fine and fun tradition, mainly because I love both pizza and Christmas Vacation. Going to the attic and getting out the tree and decorations and putting them all up, not so much. But this year, for some reason, my wife decided that we needed to have our tree up a full five days BEFORE Thanksgiving. We ordered pizza and put the tree up and it was fine, but I stopped short of watching Christmas Vacation because November 22nd was just way too early. We’ll watch it soon, as it’s a tradition, but it won’t be the first Christmas movie of the season. That honor belongs to Bad Santa, which we actually started watching Thanksgiving Night.

Bad Santa is currently my favorite Christmas movie and it’s entirely because of Billy Bob Thornton. He’s such a dirty, gross and awful character, but almost every single thing he says is funny. I laugh over and over again every time I watch the movie. He plays that character so well that I think he might have actually just been drunk for the entirety of filming and just said whatever came to mind. That’s how ridiculous some of his lines and deliveries are in the movie.

Billy Bob’s not the only one who gets the great and memorable lines, though, as Thurman Merman gets quite a few quotes all to himself. The “Are you spry” line gets me every time. It's in the first couple of seconds of this clip (which is totally NSFW, by the way): 

Even watching that clip by itself made me laugh. His earnestness and the way he delivers his lines, it’s fantastic. It must have been really weird to be around Billy Bob all that time when he was in character, being such an asshole and cursing so much all the time, but the kid (Brett Kelly) seemed to turn out okay.

I think Bad Santa was the first (and only?) time I’ve seen Lauren Graham outside of the Gilmore Girls, so it was kind of weird to see her as the hot, dirty bartender with a Santa fetish. When I asked my wife what her favorite things about Bad Santa are, she always says the scene from above and the sex scene between Thornton and Graham in the car. It’s so weird and off-putting and hilarious to hear somebody say the things she was saying. It’s so ridiculous.

The only scenes in the movie that don’t are as funny for me on repeat viewings are the scenes between Bernie Mac and John Ritter. They are really funny scenes, especially with how awkward and timid Ritter’s character is and the fact that Bernie Mac’s facial expressions almost never change no matter what Ritter says. They’re both great in their scenes together, but watching it now several years after both of their untimely deaths makes me feel weird for some reason. I don’t really understand it, because I never feel weird watching other movies with actors who have died, but for some reason, their scenes in Bad Santa bother me and I comment on it every single time we watch the movie. I still love the movie even though a few scenes bum me out.

I love when December rolls around because it means we get to finally watch Bad Santa and Elf and Christmas Vacation and Die Hard again and have it be seasonally appropriate.

4.5 out of 5 stars


Thursday, December 4, 2014

FIlth (2013)

Filth (2013)
Rated R
Starring: James McAvoy, Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Imogen Poots
Directed by: Jon S. Baird
Tagline: No one gets off. Until he does.
Running time: 97 Minutes

Quick summary (from IMDB): A corrupt cop manipulates and hallucinates his way through a bid to secure a promotion and win back his wife and daughter.

Looking at my bookshelves, I am amazed by the number of books I have that were later turned into movies.Fight Club, Choke, Black Hawk Down, The Blind Side, Mars Attacks!, Diarios de motocicleta, Jon Dies at the End, Trainspotting, The Perks of Being aWallflower, No Country for Old Men, and a bunch of others. There are at least a handful of those books that I believe(d) would never have worked as a movie. Fight Club, Jon Dies at the End, and Trainspotting were probably at the top of that list that were just too out-there for me think they’d ever transition from books to movies ,though all three of them ended up being solid, if not great movies. After reading Irvine Welsh’s novel Filth a few years ago, I just assumed it was another one of those books. There are portions of the book that are narrated by a tapeworm living in the main character’s intestines (bowels, colon?) and the protagonist was such an un-likeable and awful person that I just didn’t think it would translate well into film.

And then a few weeks ago, I was browsing Netflix, and there it was. Without even clicking on the movie to read Netflix’s blurb description, I knew it was Welsh’s Filth, despite having no idea that it was being turned into a movie. I don’t know if it was the font or the look on James McAvoy’s face on the cover art, but I just knew it was this book, and I had to watch the movie.

I don’t know that McAvoy would have been my first choice for Bruce Robertson; he’s just a little too handsome. I was picturing someone fatter, uglier for the character when I first read the book. He was just such an awful character that I assumed he would be uglier and dirtier. I definitely need to go back and re-read the book with McAvoy in mind for Ray and see how that changes my opinion of the book and/or the movie.

I was concerned with how they would handle the tapeworm narrative in the movie, because that was the most interesting aspect of the book, and the reason I bought the book in the first place. When looking through the book at the store, I noticed that a box would pop up every so often, interrupting the regular text of the novel with bizarre and seemingly nonsensical text. It was baffling and weird and I had to read the book. It’s all I could think about once I started the movie. I quickly realized that they almost completely removed the tapeworm from the movie, with only a trippy dream sequence or two mentioning anything about parasitic worms. The tapeworm was such a huge part of the book, and ostensibly the reason for Bruce’s obscene behavior. The Wikipedia for the movie doesn’t mention the tapeworm at all.

Normally, I’m okay with some slight changes when adapting a book into a movie, but this seemed like too much of a change. The movie wasn’t terrible. It was weird and interesting, and much like Welsh’s Trainspotting, almost impossible to understand at times due to the Scottish dialect. There is one more movie based on an Irvine Welsh book that I own on Netflix that I need to see, and that’s Ecstasy. But I probably need to actually read the entire book before I watch the movie.

3 out of 5 stars


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

BASEketball (1998)

BASEketball (1998)
Rated R
Starring: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Dian Bachar, Ernest Borgning, Robert Vaughn, Yasmine Bleeth, Jenny McCarthy
Directed by: David Zucker
Tagline: Two guys invented a game... and turned the sports world upside down!
Running time: 103 Minutes

Quick summary (from IMDB): Two childhood friends are pro athletes of a national sport called BASEketball, a hybrid of baseball and basketball , and must deal with a greedy businessman scheming against their team.   

While absent-mindedly browsing through Netflix the other day, I happened to notice that BASEketball was back, so I watched it immediately. Because BASEketball is awesome. It's directed by David Zucker, one of the guys behind Airplane!, and starring the creators of South Park. It’s the second best movie featuring both Bob Costas AND Robert Vaughn

A few years back, I did a post about titled “Top Five: 'As Himself' Cameos”, and it could have been comprised entirely of cameos from this movie. As it was, only Bob Costas/Al Michaels and Reggie Jackson made the cut, but a case could be made for Robert Stack, Dan Patrick and Kenny Mayne and Dale Earnhardt to be included as well.

BASEketball is one of a handful of movies, along with Pootie Tang, Not Another TeenMovie, Super Troopers and Anchorman, that I will preemptively laugh while watching. I’ve seen them all so many times that I will laugh in anticipation of the joke that’s about to happen. I never really noticed that I did it until watching this movie. And it started as soon as I pressed play and saw Reggie Jackson in the opening scenes, I was laughing more than an hour in advance from one of my favorite lines in the movie. Watching BASEketball with me is probably a terrible experience for the other person, but I love it so much.

Back in college, I had a burned copy of the movie on CD that I used to watch all the time. I still have the disc, but the last time I tried to watch it, and copy the file over to my PC, it was all scratched up and corrupted. I was more upset than I had any right to be over a $0.10 CD-R not working.

For as much as I love what Tray and Matt have done in the 17-plus (!) seasons of South Park and the movie, it’s the non-South Park movies that I love the most. Cannibal: The Musical!, Orgazmo, BASEketball and Team America: World Police are among the funniest movies of the last two decades. Because of the breakout success of South Park and the timing of the release of BASEketball, it’s hard to overlook the similarities between some of the voices that Trey Parker uses in the movie. There’s the Cartmen-esque voice during one of his psyche-outs, and his Mr. Garrison voice when Coop is talking to Matt Stone’s Remer.

I was surprised to learn that one of my favorite parts of BASEketball is the song playing on the radio as Coop is driving. I laughed harder at that than anything else in the movie. It’s Parker singing, and I find it hilarious. Some of my favorite parts of their movies are the songs. Everything from Cannibal, “Now You’re a Man” from Orgazmo, and any of the songs from Bigger, Longer and Uncut and Team America. Parker just has a way with writing hilariously ridiculous, catchy songs that just worm themselves into my brain and I love it.

I know I probably tried to recreate BASEketball in my driveway, but it was damn-near impossible to do, at least for a 12 year old. It seems simple enough, playing basketball with baseball rules, but finding enough people who’ve seen the movie, understand the rules and want to play that way was way too difficult to every actually execute a real game. Plus we always ended up copying the psyche-outs from the movie rather than coming up with our own, with “Steve Perry” as the most frequently used.

I hope BASEketball doesn’t disappear from Netflix again, because I’d like to be able to fire up my PS3 and watch it whenever I want. Or I guess I could just buy the DVD.

5 out of 5 stars


Monday, November 17, 2014

The Guilt Trip (2012)

The Guilt Trip (2012)
Rated PG-13
Starring: Seth Rogen, Barbara Streisand, Adam Scott
Directed by: Anne Fletcher
Tagline: Get ready for one mother of a road trip.
Running time: 95 Minutes

Quick summary (from IMDB): As inventor Andy Brewster is about to embark on the road trip of a lifetime, a quick stop at his mom’s house turns into an unexpected cross-country voyage with her along for the ride.

I’m going to admit that I had absolutely no interest in watching The Guilt Trip when it came out back in 2012. I like Seth Rogen as much as the next guy, heck, I might have been the only person who didn’t hate The Green Hornet, but there was just something about a road-trip buddy comedy starring Rogen and Barbara Streisand that sounded incredibly off-putting to me. And yet, I watched it anyway. I waited nearly two years and made sure it didn’t cost me anything more than 95 minutes of my time. I was home sick, and had no intention of moving off of my couch for at least that long, so it worked out pretty well.

Getting past the initial apprehension I had about this movie not being funny (and it wasn’t), there were several additional hurdles for me to get over. For starters, Seth Rogen plays a scientist and inventor. I don’t doubt that Rogen is actually pretty smart in real life, otherwise he wouldn’t be as successful as he is, but playing smart really isn’t his strong suit. He makes a much better stoner idiot than he does a scientist. And I could never get over it.

And then there’s Barbra Streisand.

I have nothing against Barbra Streisand. She has just never been interesting to me. She’s a legend, one of the most acclaimed and famous people on the planet and one of seventeen people in the history of the world to go EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and an honorary Tony), but when I see her pop up in a trailer or hear about a new movie she’s in or a record she’s releasing, and my immediate response is “Meh.” I feel the same way about Bette Midler. There’s no denying the talent, but they just aren’t for me.

Before I watched the movie, I did not know that Barbra Streisand was born in 1942, during World War II. She was 70 years old at the time of filming, a full forty years older than Rogen, who is playing her son. And she looks maybe forty-five. Fifty, tops.
And that is the most interesting thing about the movie. Not watching Barbra Streisand tackle a 50 ounce steak. Not hearing her drop the one gimme f-bomb a PG-13 movie is allowed. Not watching her play drunk. And not hearing Rogen try to say smart, science-y things about his cleaning product. It’s the fact that Barbra Stresiand is seventy but looks thirty years younger.

I had a hard time figuring out who this movie was for. On the one hand, it’s a comedy starring Seth Rogen. As a thirty year old male, this should be squarely in my wheelhouse. But then you add in Barbra Streisand, whose last movie roles I recall were in the terrible Meet the Parents’ sequels, and the target demographic probably skews quite a bit older. Was I supposed to take my mom to see this movie? Cause I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have liked it either.

1 out of 5 stars


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Nebraska (2013)

Nebraska (2013)
Rated R
Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Running time: 115 Minutes

Quick summary (from IMDB): An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.

I usually like to pride myself on watching as many movies as possible, and I will typically watch a new disc from Netflix within two or three days of it arriving in my mailbox. There have been times when a disc sat for a few weeks before I eventually watched it, but for the most part, I try to get them in and out as quickly as possible. The only movie to make it longer than a month without going watched was Dark Shadows, which sat for a month and a half before I sent it back to Netflix unwatched. In the four plus years since I’ve joined Netflix, that was longest a movie sat, and the only time I’ve ever returned a disc unwatched.

Nebraska sat on my TV stand for 63 days and was in serious danger of being returned to Netflix. The problem stemmed from the fact that my wife and I had a bunch of other things we were watching at the time – getting caught up on Game of Thrones and binge-ing season 2 of Orange is the New Black took up the vast majority of that time. But we also didn’t watch Nebraska because my wife showed no interest in it. I was thinking the combination of Alexander Payne and Bob Odenkirk would interest her enough, but she just never expressed interest in watching it. Her not wanting to see it contributed to my not watching it either, because I didn’t have a bunch of free time to sit through a nearly two hour movie on my own, nor did I have the drive to watch a black and white movie about an old man who thinks he won a million dollars.

Much like my wife, the idea behind the story wasn’t doing a whole lot to peak my interest. But the same could be said about Sideways and The Descendants, and I really like both of those movies (and Election). Given Payne’s history and the fact that I love both Will Forte and Bob Odenkirk, this should have been a no-brainer. Add in the fact that it was nominated for several Academy Awards, and I should have watched this movie months and months ago.

The delay in seeing it didn’t really affect my appreciation of the movie. I thought the acting, notably Bruce Dern, June Squibb and Will Forte, was fantastic and the movie looked amazing. I’m not sure what caused Payne to choose black and white for this movie, but it works. I don’t think this movie is half as enjoyable or as visually striking if it were in color. It added a layer of grittiness and set the tone for the movie.
Even with the great acting and the great cinematography, I don’t know that I really loved Nebraska. It was interesting and I was pretty entertained throughout, but I wouldn’t consider it one of the best movies from 2013. I think Dern and Squibb deserved their Oscar nominations and I wouldn’t have minded if Will Forte received some sort of recognition for his work and Payne is almost guaranteed to get nominated for Best Screenplay and Best Picture anytime he makes a movie, but I don’t know that Nebraska was the best work that he’s done. A solid movie, but not better than Gravity, Her, Dallas Buyer’s Club, The Wolf of Wall Street or (probably) 12 Years A Slave.

And of course it’s now available streaming on Netflix.

4 out of 5 stars