The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Posted on April 21, 2022 at 5:50 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Very strong language, crude sexual references
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drug use
Violence/ Scariness: Extended acton-style peril and violence, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 15, 2022

copyright Lionsgate 2022
I’m not sure what it says about where we are in history that 2022 has become the year of movie meta-verses but, oh, forget it, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is a total hoot, and hilarious fun on every one of its meta-levels.

Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage is played by….Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage as a heightened (and lessened) version of himself, the best. and by that I mean most committed version of that since John Malkovich in “Being John Malkovich.” The movie version of Nicolas Cage has all of his credits, a dozen of which are amusingly referenced throughout the film. And the movie version plays on news reports of Cage’s sometimes-volatile personal and financial life, with a second Nicolas Cage playing the younger version of himself and with the situation that set up the film. Movie Nicolas Cage (just referred to as Cage from now on) loses out on a big role in a film and is locked out of his hotel room for failure to pay. His 16-year-old daughter is barely speaking to him because he is so self-involved. His agent (Neil Patrick Harris) tells him he has been offered a million dollars to attend a birthday party in Mallorca. He reluctantly accepts.

At first, he something of a diva, insulting his host, Javi (a sublimely unhinged performance by Pedro Pascal). Surprisingly, it turns out that Javi is something of a kindred spirit, almost as in love with cinematic story-telling as he is. Javi’s unabashed fanship is also a solace for Cage’s bruised ego. Perhaps less surprisingly, in fact most predictably, like everyone else who strives for an encounter with a movie star, Javi has written a script.

This is when the CIA shows up (Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz). Javi is an international arms dealer and they think he has kidnapped the Spanish President’s daughter. They cannot get into Javi’s compound, so they want Cage to spy for them.

The story works on many levels, as the kind of buddy story Javi wants to write, as the kind of action story they conclude they can get financing for, and above all as a knowing comedy with many references to Cage’s wide-ranging oeuvre, from “Cross 2” to “Guarding Tess,” “The Wicker Man” to “Con Air,” “Face-Off,” and “The Rock,” and to over-arching issues of the way movies tell stories and the way movies get made. Of all the Cage movies it nods to, the most foundational one is “Adaptation.,” itself a meta-movie about cinematic story-telling (and a lot of other themes), with Cage playing a version of the movie’s screenwriter and talking to himself, or close to himself, because he plays twins.

And like that film it is is very funny. Cage and Pascal have terrific chemistry and are clearly having a blast. Sharon Horgan is terrific as Cage’s ex-wife, but Barinholtz and Haddish are under-used and the mayhem is not always as effectively handled as it should be to work as action or as commentary on action. Or maybe it is commentary on the silliness of action. By that time, there are so many layers you are likely to have found at least two or three to enjoy.

Parents should know that the movie has very strong language and crude sexual references, alcohol and drug use, and extended and intense peril and violence, with many characters injured and killed.

Family discussion: Why did Nicolas Cage want to spoof himself this way? What do you learn from his conversations with his younger self? Why was it hard for him to connect to his daughter?

If you like this, try: Some of the movies referred to in this one like “Con Air,” “The Rock,” and “National Treasure” and “JCVD” with Jean-Claude van Damme spoofing himself and his films

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Schmigadoon! Coming to AppleTV+

Posted on May 2, 2021 at 8:25 pm

Copyright AppleTV+ 2021
Apple TV+ today announced “Schmigadoon!,” the six-episode musical comedy series executive produced by Lorne Michaels (“Saturday Night Live”) and starring Emmy Award-nominee Cecily Strong and Emmy Award-winner Keegan-Michael Key (“Key and Peele,” “The Prom”), will debut on Friday, July 16. Two episodes will be available at launch followed by one episode weekly every Friday.

“Schmigadoon!” is a parody of iconic Golden Age musicals. Cecily Strong “Saturday Night Live”) and Keegan-Michael Key (“Key and Peele,” “The Prom”) play a couple on a backpacking trip designed to reinvigorate their relationship who discover a magical town living in a 1940s musical. They then learn that they can’t leave until they find “true love.” The first season also stars Alan Cumming, Kristin Chenoweth, Aaron Tveit, Dove Cameron, Ariana DeBose, Fred Armisen, Jaime Camil, Jane Krakowski and Ann Harada, with a guest appearance by Martin Short.

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Irresistible

Posted on June 25, 2020 at 5:21 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language including sexual references
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: Cultural diversity a theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 26, 2020

Copyright Focus 2020
Jon Stewart swings for the fences with “Irresistible,” and you’ve got to respect that, even if he only hits a double. He has taken a whole bunch of what bothers him the most about our political system, not the fumbles, pettiness, missteps, and corruption of the individuals but the more systemic problems of money and messaging and he has tried to create a Preston Sturges/Armando Iannucci-style movie that uses humor to illuminate. Sharp one-liners and a top-notch cast come close to making the characters human enough to be interesting but they are still two-dimensional. And some uncertainty of tone throws the movie off-kilter when it shifts from slightly heightened to over the top. When it leaps so far outside the bounds of the real, it undermines its best scrutiny of what is actually happening. I live inside the Washington DC beltway and exposes of political abuse are my jam, so I enjoyed it, but even I thought it made some unfortunate blunders.

The opening is promising, with Steve Carell as Gary, a Democratic political strategist and Rose Byrne as Faith, a Republican political strategist, in the post Clinton/Trump “spin rooms,” where each team tries to explain to reporters why their candidate was brilliant and definitively trounced the other side. But what we get to hear is what’s inside their heads. Gary says he will persuade them “as long as I say it repeatedly and with confidence,” and Faith concludes, “I look forward to lying to you in the future.” We get it. They’re there to win, not to be honest. But Gary was probably being honest when he predicted that Clinton would win. He was just wrong. And so for his professional future and possibly for the good of the country, he has to get his credibility back and he has to figure out how to communicate with the “rust belt blue wall” he thought was “impenetrable” until Trump got a lot of those votes and won the electoral college.

He sees a chance to prove himself when a video of a Deerlaken, Wisconsin city council meeting goes viral due to an impassioned speech by a local farmer, a retired Marine named Jack (Chris Cooper), speaking out plainly but eloquently on behalf of immigrants in his community. Gary tells the Democratic party leaders that “this square-jawed paragon of Americana is our key back to the Forbidden City. He’s a Democrat, but just doesn’t know it yet.” He thinks if he brings his national-level political expertise to a small town in Wisconsin, he can persuade Jack to run for mayor, get him elected, and “road-test a more rural-friendly message” in a place he refers to as “the middle of nowhere” he can re-invigorate progressive messaging and, by the way, his own career. So, he fires up the private jet and checks out what Wikipedia has to say about Wisconsin. In real life, he would have a ton of data in a briefing package, but it’s more fun to make him look like a big city doofus.

Jack agrees to run, the race gets some national media attention, and so Faith arrives, to make sure that they do not break the city’s record of not electing a Democrat since Robert LaFollette (Governor 1901-1906). In Stewart’s view, the only issue anyone cares about is the power of the parties; any specifics are about leverage, with no more focus on reproductive health or even the immigration issue that Jack spoke about in the viral video than on gaffes and embarrassing secrets about opposing candidates. It’s just about votes. The weakest part of the film is the blaming of the consultants who are the symptom (okay, a truly unpleasant one), not the disease. The movie very briefly touches on the funding issue, with stand-ins for the Kochs and a generic, literally high-tech billionaire with just one issue literally half a world away from Wisconsin and a scene at a Manhattan fund-raiser but barely addresses the real and most democracy-destabilizing problem of dark money and Citizens United. The small reference to super PACS, with a winking nod to “non-coordination” deserved more attention.

It’s fun to watch because it has a great cast and clever dialogue and more substance than most feature films. But it is a disappointment that someone who has such a deep understanding of American politics goes for cheap laughs about clueless big city folks not understanding the folks in the heartland instead of looking at the less-examined obstacles at least equally rich in potential for satire. The movie has at least four different endings, and at least three of them seem to undercut the point the film is trying to make. Stewart makes the same mistake Faith and Gary do; he condescends to his audience.

Parents should know that this movie includes very strong language and very crude sexual references.

Family discussion: Which candidate would you vote for and why? Would you ever run for office? What changes in the system is this movie promoting and what changes would you suggest?

If you like this, try: the documentaries “Slay the Dragon” (about the fight against gerrymandering in Wisconsin and other states) and “Primary” (about John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey campaigning against each other in Wisconsin for the Democratic nomination for President) and “Welcome to Mooseport,” with Gene Hackman as a former President who runs for mayor in a small town in Maine.

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Trailer: Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television*, Season 2

Posted on January 15, 2019 at 11:20 am

I signed up for YouTube Red to see the first season of Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television*, and am really looking forward to Season 2, which starts January 30. It is smart, fresh, and very funny, with great guest stars, a lot of sharp, knowing, meta-commentary on pop culture, and a lead performance by Hansen that is so resolutely self-involved lesser-Hollywood bro it is almost impossible to believe it isn’t real.

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I Do…Until I Don’t

Posted on August 31, 2017 at 5:27 pm

C-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sexual material and language
Profanity: Very strong and explicit language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 1, 2017
Copyright 2017 Ways & Means

Hopes are high for Lake Bell after the delightful “In a World….,” which she wrote, directed, and starred in.  A terrific cast, a peek at the unfamiliar world of voice actors, and an endearing heroine made it an exceptionally promising debut.  Unfortunately, her sophomore effort retains only the superb casting and the affection for title ellipsis. “I Do…Until I Don’t” is more like an r-rated episode of the cheesy anthology series “Love American Style” than it is like “In a World.”

Bell clearly wants to explore the challenges of monogamy and marriage, a topic well worth exploring because most movies about romance end with the wedding, the “happily ever after” to be imagined.  Where “In a World…” benefitted from the sharp, vivid observations of a person who thoroughly understood a world that the audience had never seen before, in “I Do…Until I Don’t,” the barely-out-of-the-newlywed-stage Bell (she and her husband were married in 2013) is trying to explain marriage to an audience who have all literally lived in or with the experience of marriage as husbands, wives, children, and family members.  Her portrayal of three different couples is immediately apparent as superficial and unrealistic.

The entire premise is artificial.  Bell imagines a cynical documentarian named Vivian (Dolly Wells) who is determined to expose the essential impossibility of the idea of marriage.  Her theory is based on the tired theory that the idea of lifelong monogamy was developed in an era when the average lifespan was less than four decades and is therefore unrealistic when we are living twice as long.  Of course when the lifespan was three decades marriages were more likely to be based on alliances of property and money than romantic love, which might have played into the expectations of the participants, but that has nothing to do with Vivian’s premise.  And of course she has a villainous British accent just to remind us that she’s the bad guy.

Three couples become the focus of her film.  Two of them are so unpleasant it is impossible for us to care very much whether they prove Vivian wrong, except to keep them off the market so they can’t marry someone nicer.  All three of them are so thinly conceived that even the very able work of an outstanding cast cannot give them any depth or reality, even in a heightened comic setting.

Bell plays Alice, married to Noah (Ed Helms).  Their business is failing. So are their efforts to become parents.  Alice tells Noah Vivian will pay them a lot of money to be in her film. It is a lie. She has to find the money somewhere, so she agrees to provide “happy endings” at a massage parlor run by Bonnie (the terrific Chauntae Pink).

Harvey (Paul Reiser) and Cybill (Mary Steenburgen) are middle-aged and constantly snipe at each other, especially Cybill, who puts real effort into it while Harvey is mostly playing defense.

The third couple is not married and has an open relationship because why not.  They are Fanny (Amber Heard) and Zander (Wyatt Cenac), free-wheeling hippie stereotypes.  Alice thinks Noah is into Fanny for no particular reason other than her own insecurity over not being honest with him about pretty much anything.

These people are not interesting and their realizations are completely unfounded.  My advice: don’t.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong and explicit language, explicit sexual references and situations, prostitution, drinking, and marital problems.

Family discussion: Why is it so important to Vivian to be right about marriage? Which couple changes the most?

If you like this, try: “In a World…” from the same writer/director/star

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