The Brothers Grimsby

It's been a few years since Sacha Baron Cohen has released a movie of his own, but 2016 has brought us The Brothers Grimsby (AKA Grimsby). This weekend, I went to the theater and gave SBC's latest flick a watch.

Cohen plays a working class football hooligan named Nobby Butcher that reconnects with his long lost secret agent brother. In spite of being torched by critics left and right, The Brothers Grimsby was actually a pretty good movie.

There's a strong blend of action and comedy with the classic Sasha Baron Cohen heaping spoonful of absurd nastiness. The movie opens with a particularly well choreographed first person action sequence. I was actually surprised by how well done the action scenes were throughout the tight 83 minute run time. The producers certainly spared no expense in making things as crazy and over the top as possible.

Of course, this being a Sasha Baron Cohen movie, there were plenty jokes, many of which push the envelope of basic human decency. Once scene that stands out in my memory involves an elephant and two men that need someplace to hide. I'll let you fill in the blanks from there, but I will say that it ends with the two men covered in a foreign substance that's white and sticky. 

There are other scenes whose humor come from Nobby's bumbling attempts to be a secret agent. The writers take cracks at all of the classic spy tropes: gunplay, gadgets, and girls. Nobby tries his hand at these with varying degrees of success. A particularly funny scene has Nobby attempting to seduce an important target by adopting a Connery-esque accent and donning a silk robe. What nobody tells him is that the important target is actually just the maid trying to do her job.

Overall, I had a great time watching the Brothers Grimsby. Were some of the jokes off the mark? Yeah. Were some scenes depraved and disgusting? Of course. That's what you sign up for when Sasha Baron Cohen is the writer. But on the whole, I had a good viewing experience and left the theater satisfied. I can see why other people wouldn't enjoy this movie because it's definitely an esoteric subculture that Cohen is spotlighting. It's safe to say that most Americans know little to nothing about football hooligans. If you decide to sit down and give this a watch, I think you're gonna have a good time. 

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. 

NTWON: Welcome to Me

This month, my dear friend Amy recommended that I watch the movie Welcome to Me for this segment. So I did.

Welcome to Me stars Kristen Wiig as a woman with borderline personality disorder named Alice Klieg. Alice lives a mostly sedentary life going to her therapist (played by Tim Robbins) and watching Oprah re-runs. Then she wins 87 million dollars in the lottery and decides to host her own talk show where she discusses whatever she feels like at the time.

There's a lot of potential for wacky hijinks with this plot. It wouldn't be the first movie where a mentally unstable person got a TV show. However, Welcome to Me remains firmly rooted in reality. It can best be described as a black comedy, as there are some scenes that get a little...real.

Kristen Wiig nails this performance. Alice is unstable, but seems to have things under control. However, as things progress with her show, she grows more and more unhinged and alienates all of her friends and family. There are no wacky hallucination sequences or weird Twin Peaks dreams. We see Alice as she is: a woman who is unwell, who feels marginalized and wants to be noticed.

The whole cast gives an exemplary performance, which comes as no surprise since it's pretty stacked. Linda Cardellini (from Freaks and Geeks, Mad Men, a whole bunch of other shit) plays Alice's put-upon best friend. James Marsden (Cyclops from X-Men, one of Liz Lemon's boyfriends) plays the studio executive who has to control the chaos of Alice's show. Wes Bently (the creepy video-camera kid from American Beauty) plays Alice's main love interest/ James Marsden's brother. Joan Cusack (too many roles to list)  rounds out the cast as the show's cynical producer. 

Welcome to Me is absolutely a funny movie. However, it's not exactly lighthearted. Like I said, there are moments that get pretty uncomfortable so get ready for that. Check out this movie if you're feeling like watching something that's gonna make you laugh, but also make you think.

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.

vlcsnap-2015-02-02-16h36m18s80.png

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!