Taylor Reviews: Popstar

My dear friend Taylor Raj is full of opinions. He's always going on about what he likes and doesn't like. Always rating things on a scale from one to ten. Finally, I lost my temper and said "God damn it, Taylor, if you've got so many opinions maybe you should just write reviews for my website ALSO THAT!"

And Taylor said "Okay."

I'm proud and pumped to share his very first review here on ALSO THAT.

-Mick Theebs

I’ll start this review by saying that this was the first time in years I've left a movie and primarily negative thoughts swirled in my head. I openly admit that I laughed out loud at portions of Popstar: Never Stop, Never Stopping. I enjoyed the previous movie The Lonely Island (which is the name adopted by stars/directors/writers Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer) group put out in 2007, Hot Rod, well enough. I even paid actual money for the first two Lonely Island albums. How could this movie have possibly left a bad taste in my mouth?

Popstar follows Samberg’s Conner “Conner4Real” Friel, a pop-music celebrity flailing through life after releasing a terrible and over-produced sophomoric album. Of course, Conner’s narcissism and ineptitude cause him to stumble into a spiral of poorer and poorer choices beget of its comedy movie format, culminating in his realization that maybe true friends are worth more than fame.

For a parody rap-group’s movie parodying the current state of pop music and trying to bring to mind Justin Biebers “Never Say Never” tour movie from 2011, you would expect the movie to have decent beats pumping out comedic lyrics for the entire movie. Instead, all but one song are distilled to twenty to thirty second clips that leaves the viewer wanting more. The only song that was played in full throughout the entire movie was the single “Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)”, which had actually debuted on Saturday Night Live two weeks before. Unfortunately for the movie, the SNL music video is an objectively better watch than Popstar’s “dancing around on stage for a while” and the scene is hurt heavily by already knowing the hook of the track.

Another crux of the faux-documentary style format was the cameos. The likes of Justin Timberlake, Usher, Mariah Carrey, Snoop Dog, and even a fleeting glimpse of Weird Al Yankovic were each used in quite humorous ways; you could see the actors enjoying their roles and delivering laughs. Danger Mouse, Arcade Fire, Questlove, and Ringo Starr, on the other hand, made phoned-in efforts for throw-away cameos in what seems to be a vague attempt to garner respect from the viewer. “Oh, they booked (X) for this movie” even though they added nothing of content, not even a chuckle between them all. DJ Khaled should be celebrated in-that he was on-screen for a total of forty-five seconds and only spouted one of his stale tagline/memes once; Spoiler Alert: it was “you played yourself.”

So where’s the problem? A few misused celebrities when the cameos were almost filling the film to burst in the first place isn’t enough to subtract if the jokes are hilarious, and again, some of them are. The issue is that the script forces all of the jokes to become stale after numerous repetitions and reuse. Hilarious jabs at celebrity rumor-mill TMZ (referred to as ‘CMZ’ in the film) hit hard as Will Arnett and Eric Andre chew the scenery during the first two iterations but ultimately falls flat on it’s third bit. A “maybe I did do it… or maybe I didn’t… but I probably did…” ad nausem joke actually goes on for around a full minute. The entire proposal scene crowning with Seal being attacked by wolves adds not a second more of footage than that which was shown perpetually as THE SCENE for TV and YouTube ad spots.

And in that lies the answer. Popstar finds Samberg & crew once again breaking their normal 3-4 minute long skit formatting that was so popularized by the group via SNL’s Digital Shorts like “I Just Had Sex” and “I’m On a Boat.” The shorter format calls for every second to be packed to the gills with visual humor, scrupulously edited to be punchy and concise, and that catapults the videos to viral status. There’s no time for repetition and down-time. Instead, the group’s directing/writing/starring/producing quadruple-threat efforts ends up exhausting the documentary style tropes over the ninety minute run time and leaving the viewer feeling drained as well.

Ultimately, I recommend that people wait until the best/watchable portions of this movie are severed from the rest in four or five months when clips begin hitting YouTube, and stay optimistic that The Lonely Island will craft more digital shorts (with increased effort) in the meantime. There are laughs for sure, but they’re not worth sitting through ninety minutes and $12 to get to.

Final Rating: 5/10


Taylor Raj operates a TV studio and can't enjoy movies since he learned cinematography. He's scared one day his skeleton will escape. You can find his inane rambling at @TaylorR37

Hail Caesar!

When I first heard about Hail Caesar! I was psyched beyond belief. The Coen Bros were dropping a new flick and the cast was out of control. Clooney. Brolin. Scar-Jo. Jonah Hill. The trailer teased at the plot: A big-time actor (played by The Cloonster) in a period piece has gone missing and he needs to be found before the production goes belly-up. It was a implied promise that the Coens were harkening back to their Big Lebowski days: a surreal comedy where the main character, Josh Brolin, searches not to replace his rug, but to find his missing movie star.

The reality of the situation is very different. Brolin plays a big-shot Hollywood producer named Eddie Mannix and spends roughly 100 minutes playing 1940's celebrity Wack-A-Mole. Problem after problem after problem springs up and Eddie is the only guy who can fix them. The search for George Clooney is the A problem, but Mannix also devotes a substantial portion of his time to his B, C, and D problems as well. 

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that Hail Caesar! is very much a character-driven movie. And a little digging revealed that Eddie Mannix is based on a real producer. Apparently, the real Eddie Mannix was what they call a "fixer" in the biz. Basically, it was his job to keep the trainwreck that was most celebrity personal lives under wraps in order to maintain their clean image to keep the public adoring.

As it turns out, there were many, many, many, many nods to the Golden Age of Hollywood in this movie. Long song and dance numbers that (without this knowledge) seem shoehorned into the plot. A synchronized swimming scene that frankly ran on way too long even though my future wife Scarlett Johansson was splashing around with the best of them. It's no surprise that critics loved this one because it's a movie about movies.

The thing about movies about movies is that they are very alienating to audiences because while it's fun for filmmakers to turn the camera around and give us normies a glimpse behind the curtain, we also miss 75% of the jokes because "you had to be there."

This isn't to say that Hail Caesar! was a bad movie. It was very funny. Mostly because the Coen brothers take refuge in absurdity. Strange things happen in Hollywood and the brothers let moments land. There's lots of breathing room, which makes sense considering the plot is basically a loose collection of characters. There were also plenty dumb little visual jokes and audio gags that kept me smirking throughout the show.

Unless you're a huge Hollywood buff, I wouldn't bother schleping out to the theater for this one. Absolutely worth watching on Netflix/HBO Go/ Crackle though. 

Groundhog Day

Since today is February 2nd, it's only fitting that I do a little write up on one of my favorite movies- Groundhog Day. I should note that there's gonna be spoilers in this write-up, but you know, it's a 22 year old movie, so you had your chance. 

For those of you living under a rock, Groundhog Day features Bill Murray as a weatherman who inexplicably gets caught in a time loop and is forced to relive the same day over and over. It was pretty much an instant classic and is considered by some to be Bill Murray's greatest movie.

And even though I could write at length about how well shot the movie is, how slick the jokes are, or how tight the plot is, I want to take a closer look at the development of Bill Murray's character, Phil Connors, as there is something to be taken away from his journey.

Phil Connors starts the movie as a spoiled, arrogant prima donna. In a lot of ways, he's similar to a two-year old child: he thinks he's the center of the universe, he has no appreciation for anything anybody does for him, and has a complete lack of empathy.  He's snarky and bitter and has a generally shitty attitude when he could instead make the smallest effort toward having a good time on Groundhog Day.

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Phil soon realizes that he can do whatever he wants without consequence, as he will always wake up at 6am on February 2nd. So, like an unsupervised child, Phil takes complete advantage of his situation and uses it for his own personal gain: he steals a bunch of money, he tricks women into sleeping with him, and basically treats the village of Punxsutawney as his own personal playground. 

It's easy to commit yourself to someone when you don't have to see them in the morning. 

It's easy to commit yourself to someone when you don't have to see them in the morning. 

Things continue to repeat. There can only be so much fun before things start to run smooth. Phil becomes extremely dejected and depressed. He's run out of ways to entertain himself. So he lashes out. Phil kidnaps the Groundhog and sends the Punxsutawney police force on a chase through the city that ultimately results in Phil dying in a fiery crash in the hopes that his death will break the cycle of repetition.

Phil jumps from a building in one of his many suicides.

Phil jumps from a building in one of his many suicides.

But, Phil wakes up at 6am on February 2nd like the hundreds of times he had before. He chooses to wallow in his despair and kills himself in a variety of ways. Even then, he still cannot find peace. The only thing that keeps him from killing himself for the rest of time is Rita, his producer. Phil has been able to get every other thing he's wanted thus far, save for her affection. So Phil tries (and tries and tries and tries) to woo her, shaping his personality into what he thinks she wants. All this gets him is several slaps in the face.

It's here that Phil makes a conscious choice to make the most of his infinite time in Punxatawney. Starting small with music lessons, this is the first instance where Phil tries to better himself by learning a new skill. From there, Phil goes on to learn French and ice sculpt. Yes, he learned these skills in order to impress Rita, but he is still growing as an individual.

Phil then realizes that while he knows everything about the citizens of Punxatawney, he has done almost nothing to better their lives. The first time we see Phil reaching out is when he tries to save an old homeless man who is destined to die on February 2nd. Eventually, he becomes so well acquainted with the needs of everyone that he must follow a strict schedule in order to help everyone who needs helping. His string of good deeds makes him a celebrity in the small Pennsylvania town, which of course makes him more appealing to Rita.

Phil helps some old ladies change a flat.

Phil helps some old ladies change a flat.

The cycle gets broken when Rita finally accepts Phil's love and they wake up together on the morning February 3rd. But what does this mean? Consider the fact that there is no villain in this movie. Phil Connors just keeps reliving the same day over and over. Instead of an interpersonal conflict, Phil is stuck only with himself. He even admits to Rita (albeit jokingly) that he hates himself.

Phil sacastically expresses his dissatisfaction with his career.

Phil sacastically expresses his dissatisfaction with his career.

This self-loathing helps inform Phil's bitterness. It makes sense that he behaves selfishly and treats everyone else like garbage because he is desperately unhappy with who he is as a person and wants to make everyone else as miserable as he is. When he is given a reprieve from the unhappiness of his everyday life, Phil is ecstatic at first. Since his problems stem from his dissatisfaction with himself, he grows bored and unhappy. It's only when Phil betters himself and the lives of those around him does he get to continue with his life as a new, happy individual.

Groundhog Day is a brilliant film with a wonderfully original plot and amazing acting on Bill Murray's part. However, these qualities cause us to overlook the deeper meaning of Phil Connor's character arc: that self-improvement and helping others is the path to self-satisfaction.

Anyways, you should check this one out since, you know, today's Groundhog's Day and all. 

Inherent Vice

It's that special time of year between the insanity and overblown commercialization of December and that insane and overblown award ceremony where they give out little gold statue-men. It's during that choice gap where the theaters are packed with really good movies all vying for one of those little gold guys.

Inherent Vice is one of those movies, as it meets several of the necessary criteria:

  • Period Piece
  • Stars Joaquin Phoenix
  • Directed and Written by Paul Thomas Anderson

However, I'm sure that this movie will be snubbed by the committee (if it even gets nominated for anything) because it is one of the most ridiculous Oscar-bait movies I have ever seen. I don't mean that it was a bad movie. Rather, it was a wonderful cinema experience. It was just so complicated and convoluted that I can't imagine that it would garner awards because the jury would need to watch the movie three more times just to make sense of what they had seen. 

A friend of mine described the plot of Inherent Vice as "a darker Big Lebowski with more drugs". I don't think there's a better way to succinctly explain this film. The plot is equally (if not more) tangled, with a parade of characters that have their own distinct quirks and personalities.

Phoenix plays a PI/Hippie named Doc who is trying to unravel a bizarre conspiracy involving a missing saxophone player, a bunch of white supremacists, a real estate mogul, and a dentist with a coke problem. I can't really go into much detail here without giving anything away, but I can assure you it's quite a ride.

One thing that really struck me about this movie was how subtly hilarious it was. One moment that stands out in my mind is Doc having a serious conversation with several FBI agents, but everyone is picking their noses without any comment from anyone involved. There are plenty of overt jokes as well and tons of clever dialogue, so even if you can't follow the plot you'll still be amused as you watch Doc chain smoke joints and watch the madness unfold around him. 

I had a great time watching this movie, even though I definitely didn't catch all of the subtle nuances. I know I'm gonna watch this one two or three more times just to soak everything up. 

Check this one out for sure!

Interstellar

I rarely go to the movies. There's something about being surrounded by strangers in a dark room that's not in my house, unable to get up to even use the bathroom without missing key plot points. 

However, this weekend I had the pleasure of going to the movies and seeing the film Interstellar.

Since winning an Academy Award, Matthew McConaughey has been enjoying A-lister status and when he's not making commercials that make no fucking sense, he's making awesome sci-fi films. 

Interstellar is an amazing film. I went in expecting it to be a movie with lots of special effects, little to no dialogue, and a generally unsatisfying ending.  Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Interstellar is a film with great special effects, engaging characters, and a tight plot.

I really can't stress how well written this movie is. Everything lines up perfectly. There is not a single plothole or loose end. Details are included with the touch of a pickpocket, especially the back story of humanity on the brink of extinction, which is never overtly explained, but never far from the main character's motivations.

This film is also beautifully shot, with many scenes reminiscent of sci-fi masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. And even though it acknowledges its roots, Interstellar manages to carve out its own space in space.

There are many themes explored in this movie besides mankind's next step. It also explores the concepts of survival, isolation, and sacrifice, giving the characters a wide range of dimension and humanity. 

In short, this is an amazing movie and you should definitely go see it on the big screen.