Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates


Huddle up.

Huddle up.

(2016) Comedy (20th Century Fox) Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Adam Devine, Stephen Root, Stephanie Faracy, Sugar Lyn Beard, Sam Richardson, Alice Wetterlund, Lavell Crawford, Mary Holland, Kumail Nanjiani, Jake Johnson, Marc Maron, Erik Griffin, Jake Szymanski, Eugene Cordero, Wendy Williams, Kyle Smigielski, Andrea Micelli, Nancy Micelli, Christina Souza, Olga Kalashnikova. Directed by Jake Szymanski

 

In this modern age, relationships can be a bitch to establish. We’re more likely to meet someone on the Internet than in real life. In many ways, it’s much harder to find someone now than it was just ten years ago.

Mike (Devine) and Dave (Efron) Stangle are two brothers who like to have a good time. However, sometimes their desire to be the life of the party overwhelms what little common sense the brothers possess. There have been so many occasions at family gatherings that their plans have caused havoc and chaos to the point where their Dad (Root) doesn’t want them near any family events.

But he really can’t keep them away from their little sister Jeanie’s (Beard) Hawaiian wedding, so he gives them an ultimatum; they are to bring nice girls to the wedding as dates, or they can’t go at all. The problem is that the boys don’t really know any nice girls.

So Mike, the liquor salesman who employs his younger brother, gets the bright idea of putting an ad on Craigslist. The responses are many and varied and it lands them on the Wendy Williams show. This brings them to the attention of Tatiana (Plaza) and Alice (Kendrick), a couple of party chicks who may be even wilder than the Stangle brothers, but they don’t know that. The two girls want a Hawaiian vacation and Tatiana knows instinctively this is the best way to get one. So she schemes her way into meeting the boys and voila! Instant wedding dates.

Of course, while the girls masquerade as a hedge fund manager (Alice) and a teacher (Tatiana), they have as little common sense as their dates. This leads to an ATV accident, an X-rated massage for the bride and to the boys getting into a huge fight. The problem is that Alice and Dave might have genuine feelings for each other, but when Alice tries to calm Jeanie down with a little ecstasy, it leads to something that may bring the entire marriage to a screeching halt even before it’s begun.

Fans of the comedy that Judd Apatow and those inspired by him have been promulgating for the last decade or so will probably eat this up. It is vulgar, outrageous and occasionally downright mean. That pretty much seems to be the state of comedy 2016 when it comes to the multiplex and there’s something to be said for that kind of humor, but to be frank I’m getting kind of tired of it. I’d like to see some variation in the types of comedies we’ve been seeing; everything seems to be so over-the-top, from the spoofs to the romantic comedies that we’ve lost the art of subtlety when it comes to comedy.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some really funny moments; the sensual massage that Jeanie gets from a very limber masseuse (Nanjiani) is hysterical and some of the more slapstick bits are also bound to get more than a polite chuckle. Kendrick and Plaza are two of the most versatile actresses in Hollywood and they both have some truly memorable comic performances in their pockets, but while they do their best here, it’s not enough.

Efron, who isn’t one of my favorite actors, actually comes off extremely likable here and shows that when he relaxes a bit he has all the screen presence he needs to be a star. However Devine simply tries too hard to be funny and ends up looking the buffoon. He’s a bull in a china shop and while that can be useful from time to time, it just ends up being distracting here.

I guess my biggest problem with Mike and Dave is that it all seems recycled to me. As I watch it doesn’t feel original or exciting; in fact, it made me feel tired, like I’ve seen this movie before. And I have, in several other movies. It’s disappointing; I like the cast a lot, particularly the lady leads but there wasn’t enough creativity in the writing to make this worth recommending.

REASONS TO GO: Some genuinely funny bits from a talented cast.
REASONS TO STAY: Definitely a kind of “you’ve seen it all” vibe here. It may have been dumbed down a little too much.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s quite a bit of crude sexual content as well as some graphic nudity, a whole lot of language and some drug humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is based on an actual Craigslist ad placed by two real-life brothers named Mike and Dave Stangle. In reality, the ad received more than six thousand responses and netted the boys not only a movie deal but also an appearance on the Today show. The real life Stangle boys cameo here as a pair of guests at the wedding whom cousin Terry offers to be the center of a sandwich for.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/3/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 39% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Hangover
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT: Front Cover

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Red State


What Pastor Abin Cooper REALLY wants to be is Vulcan.

What Pastor Abin Cooper REALLY wants to be is Vulcan.

(2011) Horror (SModcast) Melissa Leo, Kyle Gallner, Michael Angarano, Michael Parks, Ralph Garman, Kerry Bishe, Jennifer Schwalbach, Stephen Root, John Goodman, James Parks, Molly Livingston, Catherine McCord, Alexa Nikolas, Ronnie Connell, Haley Ramm, Nicholas Braun, Cooper Thornton, Kevin Pollak, John Lacy, Anna Gunn, Kaylee DeFer. Directed by Kevin Smith

Life is full of it’s real horrors. Both conservative and liberal alike are outraged and disgusted by the antics of Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church whose fundamentalist Christian zealotry borders on the batshit crazy. More accurately, is full on over the border and deep in crazy territory. You have to wonder what goes on in a congregation like that.

Travis (Angarano), Billy-Ray (Braun) and Jared (Gallner) are three horny high school buddies who answer a Craigslist ad from an older woman (Leo) who wants to have sex with three guys at once. They drive to her trailer where she serves them some beer before the festivities begin – except the festivities never begin since the beer is drugged and the boys pass out.

When they awaken they are in the church of Pastor Abin Cooper (M. Parks) who makes Fred Phelps look like a Girl Scout. They are treated to one of his fire-breathing sermons of hating sin and hating the sinners, ranting against the evils of homosexuality, adultery and premarital sex. Basically, against anything fun I suppose.

When a gay teen who was similarly entrapped is executed while immobilized and tied to a cross with saran wrap, the three boys realize they are in mortal danger. Travis is being bound to the cross when a deputy rolls up looking for the boys car which had sideswiped the Sheriff’s car while the Sheriff (Root) was parked on the side of the road having sex with his partner. Billy-Ray is able to free himself and manages to escape into the armory where he gets into a shoot-out with Caleb (Garman). This attracts attention of the deputy who calls in the shots fired to the Sheriff, who in turn calls in the ATF in the form of Agent Keenan (Goodman).

Soon the compound is surrounded and a standoff of Branch Davidian proportions; the well-armed zealots facing off against the might of a government which wants the situation ended without any surviving witnesses. Horny teenage boys, take note.

This is very much unlike any other Kevin Smith film; while there are humorous elements here it is most definitely not a comedy. This was also distributed in a unique way – for the most part, Smith took the film on tour with Q&A sessions following the screenings. There was also a one-day screening of the film just prior to its VOD and home video releases.

Smith is a well-known fan of genre films and while he doesn’t have the encyclopedic knowledge of B-movies like a Quentin Tarantino I do believe his affection for horror, action and comic book genres is just as passionate. He has tackled religious themes before in Dogma albeit in a much more satirical vein. He also is one of the finest writers in the business in my opinion with dialogue that is second to none in making onscreen characters talk like people you’d run into at the grocery store. Believe me, that’s a lot more difficult than it sounds.

The part of Pastor Abin Cooper was written specifically for Michael Parks and he delivers a blistering performance that will chill you to the bone and stay with you for a long while afterwards. His delivery is so smooth and so gentle that you are almost fooled into buying his message which you come to realize is absolutely whacko.

Goodman is solid as usual as the government stormtrooper who is tasked with bringing a situation that has spiraled wildly out of control back in control and who has no problems with carrying out orders that to you and me might seem immoral. In many ways, Cooper and Keenan are opposite ends of the same coin.

There is plenty of violence here and while I would hesitate to label it strictly as a horror film mainly because the gore and level of terror isn’t in line with, say, a Hostel movie. As thrillers go however, it is on the gruesome side. To my mind the movie winds up being somewhere in the middle – call it throrror. The overall tone is pretty bleak so be aware of that and the body count is high; if you like to play the game of “who’s still standing at the end credits” chances are you’re gonna be wrong. Some main characters barely make the second act and some surprising characters are still around when the dust settles.

There is a lot of things going on here of a topical nature, dealing with religious fanaticism, government overkill and homophobia which makes for entertaining viewing. However, the movie lacks a strong center – Gallner as Jared kind of assumes that role by default but is never really fleshed out enough to get the audience intrigued. Still, it IS Kevin Smith and the guy can write so there is entertainment value here. Hell, ALL of his movies have entertainment value (except for maybe Cop Out) of at least some degree. Still, one wonders what direction he is going to head in next – genial raconteur or all-out revenge film slasher found footage supernatural thriller.

WHY RENT THIS: Terrifying portrayal of religious fanaticism. Very topical.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Too tame to be good horror, too bloody to be a thriller.

FAMILY VALUES: The content here is awfully disturbing and violent with plenty of foul language and sexuality. There’s also a bit of nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The character of Abin Cooper was named after Abin Sur from the Green Lantern comic book series.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s an informative interview with Michael Parks, a Q&A session with Smith from Sundance and a making-of feature which includes the Westboro Baptist Church’s reaction to the film and finally a series of Smith podcasts recorded while the film was shot, in post-production and finally in theaters.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.1M on a $4M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Children of the Corn

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Blackfish

Craigslist Joe


Craigslist Joe

Joseph Garner needs all the help he can get if he’s going to make it through 30 days.

(2012) Documentary (CLJ) Joseph Garner, Gina Keatley, Fran McGee, Kristos Andrews, 357 Magnumm, Craig Newmark. Directed by Joseph Garner

 

For better or for worse, our lives have become dominated by the Internet, most prevalently in young people; say under 30 for now, although those on the north side of 30 are also plenty engaged by social networking, online auctions, web surfing and of course porn perusing. Much of our purchasing is done through websites rather than through traditional brick and mortar retail stores and sevices.

One of the more useful websites that has emerged from the dot com explosion is Craigslist. It has become the equivalent of the village marketplace. Not only are goods exchanged, but services as well. People meet on Craigslist and develop meaningful relationships. It’s like a classified ad section, bulletin board and social networking site all in one. There are many people who spend a good part of their days scanning the simply designed pages of Craigslist looking for things to do, places to go, apartments to rent, people to meet and well, just about everything.

Joseph Garner, a young 20-something filmmaker from Los Angeles noticed just how important Craigslist had become in our lives. With that in mind, he decided to film an experiment. He would leave his home with no money, a backpack full of clothes, no job, no transportation and only a laptop and a cell phone with a new number that he didn’t give to his friends or family, as well as a new e-mail account that he also didn’t give to friends or family. Thus armed, he set out.

For 30 days in December 2008, he meant to live off of whatever he could find on Craigslist. He’d exchange work and volunteering in exchange for food, transportation and shelter. He would travel wherever he could find rides to. In essence, he’d be living off the charity of others. When times are hard, often generosity shrivels up as people go into self-survival mode. In that kind of environment, can a young white man possibly find kindness?

Well, yes. I’ve always believed that people are inherently good and will help someone in need when they can. In Garner’s case, he was experiencing it directly and there are times that he is genuinely moved by it. While critics have brought up with some legitimacy that the presence of a cameraman might have urged some to be more generous than they might have been otherwise, a lot of kindnesses are volunteered over the phone with people unaware that they are going to be part of a documentary at the time.

Garner travels from L.A. to Seattle, from Seattle to Chicago, Chicago to New York, New York to Tallahassee, Tallahassee to New Orleans, New Orleans to Houston (with a stop in Juarez, Mexico) and Houston to San Francisco to meet Craigslist founder Craig Newmark who has long espoused the principal that people are generally kind and willing to help out their fellow man, which has come a long way from a mailing list for Bay Area computer professionals with events, seminars, and job opportunities.

Garner is a sweet-natured young man with a naive veneer that puts one at ease; certainly his attitude promoted kindness. One wonders though if he had been a young African-American male with a rapper vocabulary if he would have had the same success. Maybe Spike Lee could act as producer for a young filmmaker from the African-American community to try the same experiment (comedian Zach Galifianakis was a producer for Craigslist Joe).

There are some moments that will get to you; one that I’ll remember vividly for a long time to come is an encounter in New York with a former actress who appeared in such films as Home Alone 2 and now lives as a hoarder with emotional and possibly mental issues. She offered Garner a place to stay and he helped organize her apartment so that she could move around it more easily. She hadn’t requested that he do it but the act so moved her that she broke down and opened up about her fears and her life to Garner; it was obvious he was moved as well.

Near the end of the film, when Garner returns home from the experience much thinner, wiser and a little humbled by his experience, he tried to tell his mother what he learned and chokes up when he talks about how he found generosity of spirit still alive in this country. I found myself getting misty as well.

It is an election year and the vitriol is flowing like it is coming from Niagra Falls. As the Democrats rant against the Republicans, the Republicans rage against the Democrats and the independents remonstrate against everybody, it’s easy to believe that the milk of human kindness is in short supply. Craigslist Joe on the surface is not an important film; it’s a tale of a single journey among many and the lives that it touched. It would be a mistake to underestimate it though; to my way of thinking, it is very important to remember that people are not always douchebags and that we are still capable of making the world a better place – one act of random kindness at a time.

REASONS TO GO: Uplifting and inspirational in places. Garner is an engaging personality.

REASONS TO STAY: Presence of cameraman probably skewed the humanity quotient more than a little.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few bad words, some drinking and smoking and some adult themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the second documentary film in which Craigslist played a significant part; the first was 24 Hours on Craigslist (2005).

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/20/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 25% positive reviews (officially no score as there aren’t enough reviews in on the film yet). Metacritic: 45/100. The reviews are not good.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Into the Wild

ROAD TRIP LOVERS: Joe’s travels take him from L.A to Seattle to Chicago to New York to New Orleans to Houston and back to L.A, essentially touching on nearly every region in the country.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

NEXT: The Dry Land