Bad Moms

Posted on July 28, 2016 at 11:18 pm

Even the most outrageous comedy has to have some grounding in reality, if only through taking place in a world that is consistently imagined. If we don’t know where we are, there may be jokes, but it is not truly comedy.

Writer/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore are not people with a lot of ideas. Their “21 and Over” was pretty much the same movie as their “Hangover.” And the big innovation here is that this time it’s girls-gone-wild instead of boys. But it plays like it was inspired by a couple of women’s magazine articles about the impossibility of “having it all.” The movie says it comes down on the side of not judging other mothers, those who seem to be losing it and those who seem to be holding it together. The message is that it’s good to forgive yourself for not being able to be perfect all the time. And it’s important to understand that loving your children means letting them learn to be responsible and not doing everything for them. But those good thoughts are undercut by the unexpectedly sour triumph of the main characters, with antagonists who must be shown as spineless or pitiful.

The reality of women’s lives is a target-rich environment for comedy and the reality of mothers’ lives is especially so. But this script is so lazy that it does not meet the level of basic cable sitcoms for originality and wit. Those shows may be bland and formulaic, but they have humor in 22 minutes than “Bad Moms” does in 101.

This is a movie that is supposed to be about female empowerment. There are two specific instances that involve women telling their cartoonishly awful husbands that they need to take more responsibility for their children and their households. And yet, this is a movie that consistently shows the PTA as apparently entirely made up of women, with the exception of one man who is shown at a PTA meeting specifically so he can be humiliated in public by his wife. Funny. amiright? And this is a school that apparently includes elementary, middle, and possibly high school students, does not notice when a mother does a child’s homework, and has a pot-smoking principal who can’t stand up to the President of the PTA. What?

“Hangover” worked because most of the movie was about dealing with the horrible consequences of a major sort-of-accidental bender. “Bad Moms” tries to persuade us that a bender and attendant irresponsible behavior are signs of liberation. The bender is a mild one, no tigers or tooth extractions. On the other hand, the issue of money is raised but in the kind of fairy tale way that suggests no one connected with the movie has had to think about how to pay for groceries — or damage inflicted on a grocery store — in a very long time.

We’re supposed to believe them when they talk about how much they love their kids and would do anything for them, but they don’t really seem to enjoy or support them.

And newsflash — jokes about foreskins, butt stuff, and girl-on-girl kisses as a sign of rebellion and edginess are so 1998.

The one-dimensional characters are as follows: Mila Kunis plays Amy, the exhausted mom of two who boots out her childish, cheating husband. She’s had no sex in years. Kristen Bell is Kiki, the exhausted mom of four whose husband treats her like Cinderella. They have sex once a week (“After “Blue Bloods!”) but he is not very, uh, excited or exciting. And Kathryn Hahn is Carla, the happy, unreliable slut who does not even know what a standardized test is, much less whether her son has to take and pass them. She talks about sex all the time but does not seem to be having any either. Christina Applegate is Gwendolyn, the Mean Girl (with henchmen played by Jada Pinkett-Smith and “Bridesmaids” co-writer Annie Mumolo (who should have done a major rewrite here).

One thing Lucas and Moore get right is the combination of the humblebrag and the insult-wrapped in a compliment handed out by the ladies who run the school. Yes, when they flutter their eyelashes and say, “I don’t know how you do it,” to Amy, she understands that they mean, “You’re doing it badly.” And there is a lot to be said about impossible standards and judgey people, especially when it comes to parenting. But that requires actually saying something, not just pointing it out.

Amy blows her top, decides not to try to be everything to everyone any more, and then when Gwendolyn lashes back, involving Amy’s daughter (in the Bizarro world of this movie, the head of the PTA is in charge of everything in the school), Amy decides to run against her, on a platform similar to but less authentic than that of Tammy in “Election.” Even in a PTA election, someone has to propose something more than “let’s do less and not judge each other.”

All four women are brilliant actors and comedians and make as much of this material as they can, but they all deserve much better. Jay Hernandez transcends the thankless role of the hot guy, making him the only male in the film who is not completely infantilized. Someone needs to put him in a leading man role. And someone needs to start putting women in the leading role of writing and directing stories about women, or at least men who can do better than this.

NOTE: The highlight of the movie is the series of conversations over the credits with the actresses and their real-life mothers, filled with exactly the wit and heart missing from most of the film.

Parents should know that this film is crude and explicit language throughout including very strong and crude language, drinking, drugs, sexual references and explicit nudity, and comic peril and violence.

Family discussion: Who is responsible for the standard the moms felt they had to live up to? How would this be different if it was about dads?

If you like this, try: “The Hangover”

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Jason Bourne

Posted on July 28, 2016 at 5:29 pm

Copyright Universal 2016
Copyright Universal 2016

Whoever thought that the “Fast and Furious” series would keep getting better while the once-smart “Bourne” series is the one that drives off a cliff?

During the boring parts of this movie, I played a game I made up that I called “Same or Different.” For example, in one of the earlier Bourne movies, our hero, the once-amnesiac CIA assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) grabbed a limited-use anonymous cell phone for a particularly clever maneuver. In this one, he grabs a small tracking device handily left out in a bowl like peanuts at a bar for happy hour. Same or different? Different because the first one was plausible and this one was ridiculous.

The earlier films had exceptionally well-staged fight scenes that felt like real people who get out of breath and hurt each other and jockey for advantage. In the first moments of this film, in addition to completely unnecessary jumps between five different locations around the world for no purpose, he knocks out an enormous professional fighter with one punch. Same or different? Same answer as above.  And if we distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys by how much collateral damage they inflict on the world — how many innocent bystanders get killed, the answer here is more same than different.

There are franchise films made for fan service and then there are those that do not even service the fans, are merely a cash grab, and retroactively devalue the franchise.

This is a movie that asks us to believe that the head of the CIA and a Mark Zuckerberg-young titan of the world’s coolest social media company, a sort of cross between Google and Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat, decide to have a conversation of the utmost secrecy in a posh Washington DC restaurant, the kind where everyone eavesdrops on the big shots at the next table, especially reporters, politicians, and Hill staffers.

The first three Bourne films transcended the action/spy genre with a gritty, almost intimate feel far from the glossiness of James Bond, and with an expanding, deepening storyline that, as the then-LA Times critic Manohla Dargis said, began with the existential in “Identity” (Who am I?), extended to the moral in “Supremacy” (What did I do?). With the third film, the question of culpability extended to the larger “I” of the government: Who are we and what have we done? We will put aside for the moment the non-Bourne “Bourne,” which mistakenly went in the direction of a secret government program that was more “Captain America” than Bourne, with a mysterious ability-enhancing drug that removed the somber reality that resonated with the era of waterboarding and Abu Ghraib. There is plenty to explore and attempt to expiate now, and the movie tries to touch on contemporary issues explored in far more compelling — and terrifying — terms in documentaries like Alex Gibney’s “We Steal Secrets” and “Zero Days.” It just doesn’t do anything interesting with them while it is piling improbable motivations and preposterous situations almost as high as the carnage and wrecked cars.

Parents should know that this film has constant spy-related action-style peril and violence, many characters injured and killed including many innocent bystanders, themes of government corruption, and some strong language.

Family discussion: Who should decide the balance between privacy and security and how much information about those decisions should be public? What real-life events inspired this story?

If you like this, try: the other “Bourne” films and “Zero Days”

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Action/Adventure Series/Sequel Spies

Interview: Clay Tweel on the Steve Gleason/ALS Documentary

Posted on July 28, 2016 at 8:00 am

Clay Tweel was presented with hours of footage prepared by football star Steve Gleason and his family and was challenged to make it into a feature film documentary about Gleason’s struggle with ALS, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.   He had been a New Orleans Saints defensive back who won the hearts of the community with by blocking a punt to win the game in the team’s first time back on the field following Hurricane Katrina.  It was a welcome symbol of resilience for the city and a signal to the world.

He faced a more daunting personal challenge when he was diagnosed with ALS.  Six weeks later, his wife Michel learned she was pregnant.  Steve began to record what would amount to more than 1300 hours of videos while he could still talk and move for his son to watch when he got older.  That was what Tweel had to start with when he made the new documentary “Gleason.” In an interview, he talked about what it was like to try to tell this story honestly with new footage and the most compelling of what Steve had recorded.

“For the first three or four years it was pretty much under Steve’s purview to come up with the content for this movie. So he was recording videos for Rivers his son and also he had a couple of guys who came on to help him film when he would no longer do so because of his loss of motor skills. These two guys, Ty Minton-Small and David Lee, who became part of the family and caretakers and babysitters, they are the reason that the footage is so intimate and personal. So it was such a great thing to have Steve who was thinking like a filmmaker, who is framing up shots and is drawing on these trips and adventures to Alaska and shooting sunsets and car ride. He became very passionate about documenting his life, whether it’s for Rivers or eventually for the world to see. So I feel like I got pretty lucky in coming aboard the project when they were about three or four years in, there was all this great footage captured by the team already.”

Tweel acknowledges that the film had “excruciating moments” as Steve’s abilities became more and more diminished and had to allow others to take care of him. “Those excruciating moments were mostly shot by them. My job was to come in and distill the story down to find the through lines to this giant amount of footage and keep it compelling. And so we did have to go back and film a few sit down interviews to tie them in together because in those four years of filming and no one ever really asked, ‘What’s happening?’ or ‘How do you feel about it?’ So we had to go back and add a little context. But we tried to keep that to a minimum and really leave the the experience the film as in the moment and verite style as possible.”

The progress of the disease dictated a chronological approach. “ALS is a degenerative disease and so we felt like it was important to keep pretty tightly to the chronology because if you show Steve in a wheelchair and the next scene he’s standing up it’s going to not really jibe and it’s going throw people off and be distracting. So we held to a pretty strict timeline of keeping the footage in chronological order, so that gave us somewhat of a restriction or a box to play in and then in sequencing out what were the kind of strongest moments in the footage. So the story kind of revealed itself. The father and son storyline was very strong, and then what was a great surprise to me was I actually found these moments that were really amazing between Steve and Michel. We get to delve into her role through this whole thing which I really personally enjoyed because with all the focus on Steve, Michel doesn’t get highlighted that much. It was an interesting way to show a further background to their journey. She is more than any documentarian could ever ask for in terms of someone who wears their heart on their sleeve and is completely open and honest. We really have to first and foremost take our hats off to Steve and Michel for being as vulnerable and open and honest as they were and allowing us to tell the story that is this personal and intimate. So Michel, she pulled no punches, she held nothing back and it really made for some compelling footage.”

One of the hardest scenes to watch is when Steve, by then talking through a computer like Stephen Hawking, tells the exhausted Michel how devastating it is for him when he does not get his “Rivers Sandwich” kiss goodnight. It is painfully intimate to hear that argument with a mechanical voice that does not express the feeling of the words. “That was Ty and David. They were filming but if you notice at a certain point in that scene it was kind of tense and they just left the room. But they left the cameras on. I loved that scene. That’s one of Michel’s favorite scenes as well because she’s like, ‘That night I was so tired that I just could barely keep functioning.’ What I love about it is, yes, it’s a scene between a caretaker and a patient but it is also just a fight between a married couple and it’s done in such a raw way that I feel like any married couple can relate to that kind of conversation where one person is sick of dealing with something and doesn’t really want to talk about it and other person does. So hopefully there are lots of moments in the movie that go beyond the experience of ALS patients.”

At one point in the film, words on the screen tell us that almost all ALS patients choose not to get a breathing tube, meaning that when they can no longer breathe on their own they decide to stop medical treatment and they die. But Steve chose to continue. “One of the more powerful sentiments certainly in the movie is that issue with mortality and the will to live. There was really no discussions on camera of Steve and Michel talking about that but I think at that point Steve had discussed it and decided that he wanted to try to continue to live for as long as he could to be a part of his family’s life. So being around for his son was paramount to him and whatever he could do to be there he was going to try it. And it was a risky surgery and it worked out he hasn’t had too many complications with it so it seem like he is going to be able to, if things go well and he can avoid infection, be around hopefully for a good long while to get to know Rivers even more.”

There are two important father-son relationships in the film. We also see Steve and his own father struggle over their different views about God, and how important it is to Steve that his father accept him even though they disagree. Michel’s warm and understanding relationship with her own father provides contrast. “There are so many things that the film says about fathers. I think one of the more interesting sentiments along that dramatic thread is this idea of passing yourself on to the next generation. There is an interesting dichotomy between what Steve’s dad said in one scene where he is talking about generational sin, you know that you pass on your flaws to the next generation, whereas Steve at the end of the movie says that you passed on the best part of yourself. I think that you get the good and the bad and that is important to know I guess as an overarching statement. It is important to know where you come from because that is a part of what you are for the rest of your life.”

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Directors Documentary Interview

Exclusive Clip from Home: Tip and Oh

Posted on July 27, 2016 at 12:00 pm

This new series takes of from the delightful movie Home, about a girl who befriends a hapless alien named Oh. It picks up where the hit 2015 animated film left off with best friends Tip & Oh navigating through the kooky combination of alien and human culture they now live in. We are delighted to present an exclusive clip from the series, premiering July 29, 2016 on Netflix.

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Elementary School Trailers, Previews, and Clips VOD and Streaming
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