DriverX


After midnight, he’s gonna let it all hang out.

(2018) Drama (Sundance Selects) Patrick Fabian, Tanya Clarke, Desmin Borges, Travis Schuldt, Melissa Fumero, Oscar Nuñez, Nina Senicar, Iqbal Thebal, Max Gail, Josh Fingerhut, Jennifer Cadena, Camille Cregan, Kyra Pringle, Blake Robbins, Alison Trumbull, Tiffany Panhilason, Caitlin Kimball, Anne Moore, Heather Ankeny, Kristina Jimenez. Directed by Henry Barrial

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the workplace is changing. At one time, a single family member – usually the male – was able to support his family from working a job that he would likely stay at for most of his life. People were loyal to their employers and quite frankly, their employers were loyal to them.

Inflation changed all that and soon women were forced to enter the job market rather than their traditional role of staying home and taking care of the house and children. Both parents were working often long hours, giving them less time with the kids and less time for themselves. People were less loyal to their employers as they moved readily to better paying jobs elsewhere when the opportunity arose.

Employers were also less loyal to their employees, ending pensions in favor of 401k plans and slowly but surely cutting down on health care benefits, going for less expensive plans as the price of health insurance skyrocketed. To make matters worse, the availability of jobs that pay decently have dropped in favor of contract work, job sharing and gig employment, forcing a lot of people to work two or more jobs in order to make ends meet. The fact of the matter is that people are a commodity that have become less valuable over time.

Leonard Moore (Fabian) is a victim of a changing economy. He once was the owner of a thriving record store – back in the day when records came on vinyl – and stayed with it until the bitter end when even compact discs were rendered obsolete. Unemployed, he’s a stay-at-home dad whose wife Dawn (Clarke) is the breadwinner but who is getting stressed as the home insurance bill is coming due and they simply don’t have the funds to cover it. As most homeowners know, if you can’t get homeowner’s insurance, your mortgage company will foreclose. People can and have lost their homes because of a high insurance bill.

When his extensive vinyl collection proves not to be the financial windfall he was hoping for and an interview with a social media firm ends up fruitless, he does what a lot of people do – he takes up using the family Prius as a taxicab for a (fictional) ridesharing service called DriverX. Leonard stays home with the kids while his wife’s at work and when she gets back home, heads out into the streets of L.A., generally well into the night only to return home after his wife has fallen asleep.

He meets all sorts; drunken millennials riding from party to party and often ralphing in his car or on it which he dutifully cleans up; rude folks who belittle the driver or talk as if he isn’t even in the car and women who come on to him with a thought of a late night cable TV-like experience in the back of his car.

The service is so stingy that riders are unable to tip him, leaving him to rely on good ratings to get customers. Customers complain there’s no complimentary bottled water or charging cords for their phones. Although he is a friendly enough person, that doesn’t seem to factor in to how others relate to him. The middle-aged Leonard also finds it hard to relate to his Millennial customers, most of them more tech-savvy than he and few of them understand him either, seeing him as a relic with an encyclopedic knowledge of bands not relevant to themselves.

Writer-director Barrial based the film on his own experiences as an Uber driver and there is a feeling of genuineness that comes out of it. While there may be a few too many drunken Millennial scenes to do the movie any good – one gets the sense that Barrial isn’t too enamored of that oft-criticized generation – there is a lot of genuine insight into the older generations ability to adapt to a changing world. While the younger passengers are adept with their smart phones and seem to know what to expect from their tech, older passengers seem to struggle and often need instruction from Leonard to get to where they’re going.

Fabian, best known for his work on Better Call Saul, is an engaging presence. It’s a rare opportunity for this veteran character actor to get a lead role and he handles it nicely. The chemistry between Clarke and Fabian is a little weak but then again, their characters are having some fairly serious marital issues so it makes sense that the bond between them feels wonky. Clarke has the unenviable job of playing a bit of a bitch – she rarely gets any sympathetic moments. Few women in the film do, coming off as drunken hoes or cast-iron bee-yatches. A couple of sympathetic female characters would have been nice.

There are some nice cinematic moments as Leonard cruises the post-midnight streets of the City of Angels, his face aglow in the neon “X” that he displays to let all and sundry know he’s a DriverX drone. Although this is essentially a serious drama, there are some light hearted moments as well, as when Leonard gets into a fender bender and tries to resolve the insurance in paying for the damage; the office of DriverX has seemingly no human presence and when he finally speaks to a human being, she is as robotic as the machines that glide about the quiet, dark office of the app giant. I suppose that makes as proper a metaphor for modern society as any.

REASONS TO GO: Interesting points are made about the gig economy, the generation gap and the role of technology in the workplace. Fabian has an engaging screen presence.
REASONS TO STAY: There is more vomiting here than any film needs. There are not many sympathetic female characters here.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexual content as well as profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The actresses who play Leonard’s daughters are sisters in real life.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/30/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Taxicab Confessions
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer

Vacation


Some swimming holes are best left alone.

Some swimming holes are best left alone.

(2015) Comedy (New Line) Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins, Chris Hemsworth, Leslie Mann, Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Charlie Day, Catherine Missal, Ron Livingston, Norman Reedus, Keegan-Michael Key, Regina Hall, Emyri Crutchfield, Alkoya Brunson, Nick Kroll, Tim Heidecker, Michael Pena, Colin Hanks, Kaitlin Olson, Hanna Davis, Kristin Ford. Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein

Vacations are the source of a good percentage of our fondest memories. Who can forget that road trip to a national park, or to Disney World, or that trip to grandma’s house in the country? These are memories we carry with us for a lifetime.

Rusty Griswold (Helms) can vouch for that. As a pilot for a small commuter airline, he is used to flights in which the final descent begins five minutes after take-off. He is a decent sort, if a little bit on the white bread side. He has two kids; James (Gisondo) is the eldest who wants nothing more than to play guitar and daydream. The other one, Kevin (Stebbins) who might well have been named Satan, bullies his older brother unmercifully and doesn’t really have respect for anyone to be honest. His wife Debbie (Applegate) is beautiful but the spark has gone out of their marriage in a big way.

Rusty decides that rather than go to the same Michigan cabin the family has gone to for years on their vacation, he’d take a page out of his own scrapbook and take his family on a road trip to Southern California’s best theme park, Wally World.

However, his family is less than enthusiastic about the idea, especially when he turns up in a rented van, from the Honda of Albania with a key fob that does everything but what normal key fobs do. It is the only vehicle where the cup holders are on the outside of the car and comes with a self-destruct mechanism, which can be activated by pressing the swastika button on the fob.

Getting to Wally World will include detours to the most vile hot springs on earth, a visit with Rusty’s sister Audrey (Mann) and her hunky meteorologist husband Stone Crandall (Hemsworth) who is more than happy to see Debbie, a visit to Debbie’s old sorority house in Memphis where Rusty learns a few things about his wife that he never knew, a stop to go white water kayaking in the Grand Canyon with a guide (Day) who’s having a horrible day, and finally, a stop in San Francisco to visit some familiar faces.

This is a peculiar entry into the franchise as it is both a reboot and a sequel; it’s a reboot in the sense that it is a brand new entry in the franchise after years of inactivity with an entirely new cast, and it takes place where the events of National Lampoon’s Vacation and its sequel happened. It can even be said to be a remake since the plot of this one is essentially the same as the first.

Ed Helms, the sixth actor to play Rusty (which is some kind of record), takes over for Chevy Chase as the head of the Griswold clan. Like Clark, Rusty is both optimistic and oblivious. He tries to do what’s best for his family but often overlooks not just what his family wants but simple common sense as well. He, like his dad before him, is the king of good intentions gone bad. Helms is a terrific comic actor who not only highlighted the Hangover franchise but was amazing as a lead in Cedar Rapids as well. This is less successful in that sense but not because of anything Helms did or didn’t do; we’ll get into that in a minute.

Applegate, like Beverly D’Angelo before her, is a gorgeous blonde who tries to reign in her husband’s quirkier inclinations but unlike the Ellen Griswold character, Debbie isn’t happy in her marriage. Given her wild past, that’s not unexpected. Applegate is one of the most underrated leading ladies out there, particularly in the comedy genre. She has great comic timing, is sexy as all get out and can play just about any character she chooses to. She doesn’t get the leading roles that a Tina Fey or an Amy Poehler might get (or even a Cameron Diaz) but she is to comedies what Maria Bello is to dramas; a strong, beautiful and desirable performer who never upstages the lead.

The rest of the cast is pretty decent with plenty of cameos by fairly well-known names (although I must admit that the Chase/D’Angelo cameo was the most welcome) but the best support actually comes from Stebbins as the badger of an 8-year-old who humiliates his teenage brother and is essentially an unholy terror. Some of the best moments in the movie are his.

The humor here is like a lot of comedies, very hit or miss depending on your sense of humor. There is a lot of scatological jokes and plenty of rude, crude bits that may either delight your inner twelve-year-old boy or cause you to purse your lips in distaste. Many of the best jokes (the hot springs incident) are spoiled by their appearance in the trailer sadly, so be warned. They do get the family bonds thing right, so in that sense this movie has the same vibe as its 1983 predecessor. That much is entirely welcome.

This isn’t the greatest comedy you’ll see this summer. It isn’t even the best of the Vacation movies, albeit it is the first without the National Lampoon label. However, it has enough going on that’s good to give it a mild recommendation. Think of it as less of a Vacation and more of a weekend getaway.

REASONS TO GO: Some of the scenes are genuinely funny – most of them appear in the trailer. Helms and Applegate are always engaging.
REASONS TO STAY: Very, very hit and miss. Something of a hot mess.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of crude humor, sexual situations, brief graphic nudity and foul language throughout.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Released on the same day as the original – July 29 – only 32 years later.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/17/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 27% positive reviews. Metacritic: 33/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: National Lampoon’s Vacation
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT: Walt Before Mickey

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist


Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

You know it's love when you're alone in a crowded room.

(Screen Gems) Michael Cera, Kat Dennings, Ari Graynor, Jay Baruchel, Rafi Gavron, Aaron Yoo, Alexis Dzieno, Jonathan B. Wright, Zachary Booth. Directed by Nick Sollett

They say that there is somebody out there for everyone. I suppose that’s also true of insufferable, sensitive hipsters with indie rock leanings.

Nick (Cera) has broken up with his girlfriend Tris (Dzieno); well, it’s more like she broke up with him and while his head realizes it, his heart doesn’t. He leaves her pathetic messages on her answering machines and has made a series of “breakup” mix tapes which are numbering in the double figures at this point.

Tris, like Nick, is a high school senior and she doesn’t have time for mopey losers like him. She already has a new boyfriend and is more concerned with having fun her senior year. She wants to go out, and her besties Caroline (Graynor) and Norah (Dennings) must go with her. Caroline, a party girl of epic proportions is fine with that but Norah, who is less outgoing, is just along for the ride. As Tris throws another mix CD from Nick into the trash, Norah retrieves it, convinced that Nick (who she’s never met) is her musical soul mate.

Nick is certainly musical; he is the only straight member of a New York indie rock band called the Jerk Offs along with butch gays Dev (Gavron) and Thom (Yoo). Apparently their only purpose in life is to jumpstart Nick’s romantic life, since they are sick and tired of Nick moping around. So when Norah kisses Nick in order to make an ex-boyfriend (Baruchel as the loathsome Tal) jealous, they are only too happy to nurture a budding romance, even though neither Nick nor Nora have any romantic intentions in the slightest.

They both have a good deal of baggage; Nick with his lovesickness, Norah with being the daughter of a music industry legend which, while it gets her into clubs without standing in line, often leaves her wondering if the friends in her life are only in it for the perks she brings to the table. She might not be wrong on that score.

As it turns out, Nick’s favorite band (and Norah’s too) Where’s Fluffy are playing a surprise mystery show somewhere in Manhattan and a number of clues have been left as to its location in toilets and clubs around town (I often get my information in toilet stalls, don’t you?) and most of the Scooby gang are eager to chase down this Epic band of Awesomeness.

Unfortunately, Caroline gets soooooooooooooo wasted that she needs to go home and it is up to the gay bandmates to get her there, but she flees when she figures out she’s in a strange van and so the rest of the movie is spent finding Caroline and, in the case of Nick and Norah, romance as well.

Let’s get a couple of things straight; I have no problem with indie rockers, twee hipsters or romantic comedies in general. I don’t even have any problems with high school kids. I do have issues with movies that purport to talk down to me and tell me that because I don’t like Vampire Weekend I’m some sort of clueless idiot. I also don’t like movies that paint themselves in hip colors but are really disguising the fact that they’re a standard Hollywood romantic comedy, even if they started out life as a novel.

The soundtrack for the movie is awesome, as a matter of fact; whoever picked out the music (and the highly cool Bishop Allen makes a concert appearance in the movie) can pick out my Infinite Playlist anytime they want. However, I have an issue with the movie’s internal logic. Here, the kids exist in a kind of fairyland New York City where there’s plenty of street parking, nothing bad ever happens to young women in cocktail dresses left deserted at the side of the East River in the early hours of the morning. In this world, suburban New Jersey kids are apparently able to spend the entire night out in the Big Apple without their parents freaking out and calling the National Guard. In this fairyland New York City, no parents appear other than Norah’s dad and even he is merely a picture on the wall. His presence exists to get Norah into nightclubs.

Cera is an actor who has plenty of appeal; I can see it. What he doesn’t appear to have is the ability to vary his performance much. He’s the same guy in Superbad and Juno – hell, he plays the same guy in Paper Heart when he’s purportedly playing himself. We get it – he’s sensitive, kind and far cooler than anyone else in the room. He just doesn’t play a character I connect with.

Dennings has some real chemistry with Cera and that is what makes the movie more than just a soundtrack with pictures. She’s funny, she is less too-hip than the other characters in the movie and she alone of all the people who get more than a few moments of screen time is the one I’d want to hang out with.

I will give the filmmakers credit for utilizing their location to its best. This isn’t the highbrow Manhattan of Sex and the City but more like the underground Chicago of High Fidelity. These people may have the same taste in music that I do, but they are not my people.

WHY RENT THIS: The soundtrack is great, and there is considerable warmth at the movie’s heart.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: It’s too self-consciously hip for its own good, and while I dug the music, I didn’t want to spend any time with the people.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some lewd and crude behavior, a smattering of foul language, a bit of sexuality and some mature themes, including teen drinking and drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The names of the title characters are based on Nick and Nora Charles, the main characters of the “Thin Man” series of books and movies.  

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a music video for “Middle Management” by Bishop Allen, the song that is played at the club when Nick and Norah first meet; there’s a faux interview given by American Pie’s Eddie Kaye Thomas with the pair, and a puppet version of the movie performed by Kat Dennings and a group of cardboard cutout puppets (with many bear attacks thrown in for good measure). 

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Open Road