Why Him?


Talk about a generation gap...

Talk about a generation gap…

(2016) Comedy (20th Century Fox) Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Zoey Deutch, Megan Mullally, Cedric the Entertainer, Keegan-Michael Key, Griffin Gluck, Zack Pearlman, Jee Young Han, Tangie Ambrose, Mary Pat Gleason, Kaley Cuoco (voice), Steve Aoki, Richard Blais, Elon Musk, Adam Devine, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Andrew Rannells, Casey Wilson. Directed by John Hamburg

 

The father-daughter relationship is a very special one. A man’s daughter is always his princess; the light of his heart, the twinkle in his eye, she inevitably has him twisted around her little finger. It goes without saying that no man will ever be good enough for Daddy’s Little Princess.

Ned Fleming (Cranston) is by all appearances a successful guy. He’s a pillar of his Michigan community and runs a paper company that has been one of the most successful in the Midwest for years; he has put his daughter Stephanie (Deutch) through college at Stanford where she is nearing graduation and his life is generally going just swell.

His bubble is on the verge of bursting though; his company is in serious financial trouble and there isn’t much of a future for it anyway – paper is going the way of horse and buggy given that most communication is electronic these days. His wife Barb (Mullally) and son Scottie (Gluck) are mainly unaware of this. However, the biggest blow is that Stephanie has a boyfriend that they don’t know about and what’s worse they’ve been together for more than a year. This disturbs Ned who had always assumed that his daughter told him everything. It seems she has a whole lot of secrets that he isn’t aware of. With the holidays coming, Stephanie invites her family to spend them in Northern California.

Said boyfriend is Laird Mayhew (Franco) and rather than being a doe-eyed college boy he turns out to be a 30-something tech magnate who earned his billions developing videogames. With a chest full of tattoos and absolutely no filter, he is a bit of a handful and a lot for the conservative Fleming family to take in. Most parents would be overjoyed that their daughter had caught the eye of a billionaire and seemed to be very much in love with him besides but not Ned. He’s suspicious of Laird and is positive that he’s up to something and Laird, to be honest, is a fairly manipulative guy. His high-tech Palo Alto mansion is full to the brim with all sorts of gadgets and toys, including a Japanese toilet/bidet combination that doesn’t quite work right (and hilarity ensues), a Siri-like house computer whose voice is that of Kaley Cuoco from Big Bang Theory and who tends to get cranky from time to time (more hilarity ensues) and a brand new bowling alley that Laird installed because he heard that Ned loves to bowl. Midwestern, right?

There is also a stuffed moose preserved in an aquarium full of it’s own urine which you just know is going to get all over someone sooner or later (not a spoiler: it does) and a valet named Gustav (Key) who is about every Eastern European goofball that populated sitcoms and movie comedies in the 80s and 90s and who, like Kato in the Pink Panther movies, attacks Laird with martial arts without warning (although to be fair the movie does name drop the series for additional laughs).

Laird means to marry Stephanie and wants Ned’s blessing, a blessing that isn’t forthcoming. It’s Christmas though and miracles can happen – although it might take several miracles to make this happy ending come true. Stephanie tries to make her father see that beneath the cursing (Laird drops F bombs constantly, a product of having no filter) and the sometimes bizarre behavior Laird is really a very nice guy, but that will be a tough sell to a father who already thinks that no guy is good enough for his princess.

In many ways this movie perfectly illustrates the disconnect between Hollywood and Mid-America which in turn spotlights why Donald Trump won the 2016 Presidential election. Ned and Barb as well as son Scotty are portrayed as extremely naive particularly about pop culture sexuality, not knowing what either motorboating or bukake mean – not that those are common terms but certainly the way that it is portrayed here is that they’re the only ones not in on the joke and quite frankly it’s a bit cruel. The West Coast hip tech types, standing in for the elite liberal crowd, are condescending and a little put off by the squares. It may interest the left to know that there is Internet in the Midwest and most of the people living there are a lot savvier than given credit for.

Cranston and Franco are no strangers to each other and it shows here. The chemistry between them is letter perfect and both exhibit a lot of give and take in terms of who gets the laughs and who is the straight man. Both perform beyond what you’d expect for what is essentially a holiday comedy which often tend to be just paychecks for big name actors. Cranston and Franco earn both of theirs.

But all the good intentions and strong performances can’t save a script that has little bite and feels more like a sitcom than a big screen comedy. There are some really funny moments (like when Laird brings in Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley from KISS for Ned and Barb who are avowed members of the KISS Army) and a few cringe-worthy moments (the aforementioned moose piss gag) but by and large there’s nothing truly offensive here. Neither is there anything truly noteworthy either.

REASONS TO GO: Cranston is on point as always and he has some terrific chemistry with Franco.
REASONS TO STAY: The plot is a little heavy-handed and riddled with clichés.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of foul language and some sexual innuendo throughout.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Ape Assassins game that made Laird Mayhew famous is available for download on the iTunes App Store.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/30/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 39% positive reviews. Metacritic: 39/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Father of the Bride (1991)
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: 13th

Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel


Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel

Sex in the early '60s: Hef and the Bunnies.

(2009) Documentary (Metaphor) Hugh Hefner, Bill Maher, Tony Bennett, George Lucas, Joan Baez, Jim Brown, James Caan, Jesse Jackson, Jenny McCarthy, Gene Simmons, Shannon Tweed, Pete Seeger, Mike Wallace, David Steinberg, Dick Cavett, Tony Curtis. Directed by Brigitte Berman

There have been many polarizing figures in the 20th century. Ronald Reagan, for example; conservatives look at him as a great president, one whose economic philosophy have shaped our economy for the past thirty years and have led us to unprecedented prosperity. Liberals look at him as the architect for our greed-dominated society and see his presidency as an American tragedy.

Hugh Hefner gets the same sort of reception. The publisher of Playboy magazine is responsible for the popularization of the centerfold. To the minds of the radical feminists, he has led to the objectification of women and is indirectly or directly responsible for the rape and abuse of women by men who have bought in to his philosophy. To conservatives, he is an immoral man, dedicated to the destruction of American society and the corruption of American morality.

Most people see the swinging lifestyle; the pajamas, the pipe, the smile and the 20-something women cavorting at the Shangri La-esque Playboy mansion. They see an octogenarian with seven girlfriends young enough to be his great-great granddaughters and yes, there is an element of the ridiculous to it. Overkill at the very least.

But there is more to Hef than meets the eye, and those who have followed his career will know that. Hef has been a crusader for First Amendment rights through his magazine, supporting the legal defense of those rights (often with cash donations) and during the Blacklisting era, printing pieces by Dalton Trumbo and other writers who could get no work elsewhere.

He has also been a champion for civil rights. His Playboy clubs and “Playboy After Dark” television show gave exposure to African-American performers who might never have gotten an audience. Sammy Davis Jr., Dizzy Gillespie and Dick Gregory all regularly worked in Hefner’s establishments. He supported Martin Luther King’s agenda both editorially and with contributions to his cause.

And he has also defended women’s reproductive rights as well as their civil rights as well. He has supported the “Equal Pay for Equal Work” theory as well as nurturing the careers of women into executive positions at his own company. He works tirelessly for the environment as well as for the preservation of jazz, an art form he’s passionate about.

Berman was given unprecedented access to the magazine’s archives and to Hefner’s own personal collection of letters and documents; she also was able to get her hands on footage from Hefner’s television shows which are some of the most fascinating moments of the film.

Hefner is often simply thought of as a pornographer and a fairly mild one at that; his pictorials tend to be much more artistic and less hardcore than those of, say, Larry Flynt or Bob Guccione. In some ways, he’s rather archaic – Playboy is essentially less of a factor in publishing the pictures of naked women than the Internet is. His legacy, however is far more complicated.

Hef didn’t invent sex but he brought it out of the recesses of puritanical dogma. He didn’t make it okay for women to like sex, but he supported the concept and helped popularize it. He didn’t objectify women – that’s been around far longer than Playboy – but he did help develop what the male ideal was for women physically (can we all say big boobs?) and make being a centerfold an aspiration for many women.

There is nothing wrong with sex. There is nothing wrong with being sexual. Pleasure doesn’t have to be a dirty word. But sex goes arm in arm with responsibility and Hef knew that. He used the prurient interest in his magazine to fund his social causes and there is some irony in that.

Tarring Hefner with the brush of a pornographer misses the point of what he’s done, and is rather simplistic and naive. I don’t always agree with his lifestyle and I wonder why he has rarely gone for women closer to his own age – I also wonder if there is too much emphasis on sex in his philosophy. Sex is, after all, only a part of life and while it is an important part, it’s not the most important part.

But that’s once again not all there is to Hefner. He has championed causes that have needed a champion, and has stood up for things that were unpopular back in the day. Most importantly, he has helped usher in a change of American values and hopefully, not all of it has to do with sex. Some of it has to do with compassion and the dignity of all people. Hugh Hefner may not be a hero to most, but in all honesty he deserves to be and this movie captures that largely unremarked upon aspect of him.

WHY RENT THIS: A fascinating look inside the legend. Some great footage from the old “Playboy After Dark” television show. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Doesn’t really challenge much. Presents Hef as a bit of a saint.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some nudity (of the Playboy centerfold variety) and a bit of sexual content as you might imagine.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Berman’s previous documentary was about big band leader Artie Shaw.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $10,000 on an unreported production budget; I suspect the movie was unprofitable.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: J.Edgar

Extract


Extract

Kristen Wiig finds out Dustin Milligan has all the right moves.

(Miramax) Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Ben Affleck, Mila Kunis, J.K. Simmons, David Koechner, Clifton Collins Jr., T.J. Miller, Beth Grant, Dustin Milligan, Gene Simmons. Directed by Mike Judge

In the classic 1999 film Office Space, writer/director Mike Judge looked at the life of a cubicle drone in a fairly sympathetic manner. Not only was it one of the most hilarious comedies of the ‘90s, it’s one of the funniest films ever. Despite a lackluster box office performance, it found cult status on home video afterwards.

Now a decade later, Judge is revisiting the work environment in Extract. Here, however, his sights are set on management, in the person of Joel (Bateman), the owner of an extract business (extracts are the flavor essences of various spices, fruits and vegetables used in cooking). His life could use some spice; his workers are mostly a dissatisfied, unmotivated lot. The one who had any enthusiasm at all, Step (Collins), had one of his testicles shorn off in a freak accident caused by one of the shrewish entitlement harpies who decided that she shouldn’t have to work as hard as the temporary worker they recently hired.

Now, Step has been enticed into suing the company by Cindy (Kunis), a self-serving con artist recently hired on as a temp and looking to make some easy money at the company’s expense. She’s convinced the slightly moronic Step that she has the hots for him. Yeah, right…as if. Now, the pending lawsuit is being pursued by rabid dog lawyer Joe Adler (Gene Simmons) just when General Mills is showing interest in buying the company, which would essentially set up Joel and his partner Brian (J.K. Simmons) up for life. Instead, the lawsuit would effectively shut the company down for good.

Things aren’t much better for Joel at home. His wife Suzie (Wiig) has essentially lost interest in sex; if he arrives home after 8pm (which he almost always does), the sweatpants will be cinched tightly around her waist ; once that occurs  any chance he might have at sex that evening gets vaporized. Sometimes, the dreaded sweatpants of abstinence might be on before 8pm. Joel complains about the situations to his good friend Dean (Affleck), a bartender by trade and pothead by avocation who can usually offer bad advice on any subject. This time, his stoner friend advises him to cheat on Suzie but Joel is unable to do it. So Dean recommends that he get Suzie to cheat instead; once she does, he won’t feel as bad about getting sex outside the marriage.

To do this, Joel hires a dimwitted mono-browed gigolo named Brad (Milligan) to seduce his wife, but the plan works too well; Brad falls in love with Suzie and starts to make regular visits. So too does Nathan (Koechner), quite possibly the most annoying neighbor in the history of neighborhoods. Joel’s world is crumbling around him and it isn’t really fair; after all, he’s just a nice guy who only wants to sell cooking extracts – and he’s really, really good at making them.

First of all, this isn’t Office Space. While there’s a similar style to both movies, they’re two completely different kettles of fish; comparing them is kind of a waste of time. Oh, certainly you’ll form an opinion and chances are that if you liked the first movie, you’ll probably like this one too. However, Office Space is far more satirical that this puppy and goes for a much broader kind of humor. Extract makes a lot more hay based on feeling and environment.

Of course, there’s Jason Bateman who is emerging as the kind of likable Everyman sort of guy that used to be the sole province of Greg Kinnear. Bateman’s so completely nice as Joel that you can’t help but root for him. The rest of the cast does pretty good as well, particularly Affleck sporting an al Quaeda beard as the well-intentioned friend. Affleck has really emerged as a reliable supporting actor; I’m curious to see how he does in a lead role again in The Town when it opens later this fall.

Kunis, who has recently been cast in action roles that don’t seem to suit her nearly as much (see Max Payne and The Book of Eli) seems way more comfortable in this comedic Jezebel role. J.K. Simmons and Clifton Collins are both reliable character actors who don’t disappoint here, and Wiig does her best MILF impression as you can see in the photo above.

Extract was overshadowed by comedies like The Hangover and Funny People when it was released last year, and like Office Space didn’t do gangbusters box office. It’s available now on DVD and cable, so do yourself a favor and check it out. Hopefully it’ll get a similar kind of cult following Office Space did on the home video market.

WHY RENT THIS: A return to form by Judge after his godawful Idiocracy. Bateman is becoming adept at the everyman role.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Humor can be pretty scattershot in places.

FAMILY VALUES: The language is a bit foul in places, there are some sexual and adult situations and a little bit of drug use; this probably isn’t for sensitive souls.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Gary Cole, who played Bill Lumbergh in Office Space, makes a cameo in the bar scene standing between Dean and Joel.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Get Low

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage


Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart and Geddy Lee.

(Banger Films) Geddy Lee, Neil Peart, Alex Lifeson, Jack Black, Sebastian Bach, Gene Simmons, Billy Corgan, Matt Stone, Trent Reznor. Directed by Sam Dunn and Scot McFayden

Some bands are high profile due to their outrageous personalities, some because of how many tickets, downloads and/or albums they’ve sold. Some bands, however, may make a lot of money but fly completely under the radar, a spirit of radio that survives into the digital age.

Canada’s Rush is like that. They started in the late 60s as a kind of psychedelic hard rock band, evolving into a more heavy metal incarnation in the 70s, before morphing into a progressive rock outfit in the 80s (which was, ironically enough, the height of their sales and popularity). In the 90s, they became a bit more of a hard rock band, which is where they’ve been ever since. Obviously, time stands still for some bands but not for Rush.

Even though the band has sold tens of millions of albums, sold out arenas and stadiums all over the world and are considered to be some of the finest musicians in rock and roll, they have never really gotten their due. I’m not sure why that is; it’s a subject that is often brought up, particularly by the musicians and celebrity talking heads, but there are no real answers. I don’t think there’s a ghost of a chance we’ll ever really figure it out other than to say that there are a lot of people who have crap taste in music, but that’s the music snob in me talkin’.

Part of the reason is displayed in this documentary. The three are actually very nice guys who don’t party like rock stars, who don’t do outrageous things and essentially stay out of the limelight. While never a fly by night kind of band, they’ve kept the same lineup for nearly their entire history, with only a single drummer change very early on in their career. In the very maleable world of rock and roll, that’s quite the rarity.

Drummer Neil Peart writes most of their lyrics with an eye towards science fiction, fantasy and philosophy. Watching the interviews with him and his mates, one gets a sense of how intelligent all three of them are. They haven’t squandered their fortune on ostentatious homes, toys and drugs; they haven’t got an arrest record a mile long. In that sense, they’ve managed to stay out of the camera eye. They’re basically decent family men who work in a peculiar industry, but otherwise they’re just like you or me.

Stars in both hemispheres, their music is complex, layered and yet melodic. It has influenced a diverse group of musicians, from hard rockers Kirk Hammett and Sebastian Bach (who claims he was the third member of the group’s fan club) to alt-rockers like Billy Corgan and Trent Reznor, all of whom appear here singing the praises of Rush along with filmmaker Matt Stone and actor/musician Jack Black. Influencing guys like this is launching mystic rhythms into the ether that will come back in the future in unexpected ways.

I admit to being a big fan of these guys, which makes it hard to be objective about a film like this. I enjoyed watching the concert footage, the fan love and of course the interview segments; however, it is the band’s home movies from their early years that I found most fascinating. Hearing them discuss their goals and aspirations sitting around a kitchen table at their suburban Toronto home, you get kind of a sense that they had a clear vision even back then. After all, even Tom Sawyer went to high school.

I can admire that these filmmakers give you a very detailed, intimate portrait of a band that I happen to care about, but even if I didn’t this is still a wonderful introduction to their music and their career. Whether you’re fans or not, chances are you’re going to like these guys who refer to themselves in very self-deprecating ways as boring and uninteresting. If you are fans, this will be a gold mine of rare footage and concert films of old favorites. It’s not quite going home, but it’s close. However you term it, this is a good way to get closer to the heart of an influential yet largely non-respected band.

WHY RENT THIS: An in-depth look at a band that never got the respect it truly deserves. Some really interesting home movie footage gives you a real sense of how the band evolved.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: While accessible to non-fans, certainly it won’t hold much appeal to those who aren’t into the band’s music.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few bad words here and there but otherwise this is perfectly fine for Rush fans of all ages.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Neal Peart replaced John Rutsey as the drummer for the band; he also became the lyricist, allowing Geddy Lee to concentrate on the music and vocals.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray edition includes an extra disc with an hour and a half of live performances not seen in the film, deleted scenes and a 12-page booklet.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Adventureland