Stand Up Guys

Good and holy mother of dog, I was looking forward to seeing this movie. I don’t really think I need to justify my reasons, but I’ll state them anyway, in order: Pacino, Walken, Arkin. Old guys! The best guys! The guys we all do impressions of! The best actors in the business. Come on. Stand Up Guys, in my eyes, was going to be the best film of the year. Obviously.

It wasn’t though. I’m not the first to say this. It was terrible, and almost painfully so. The script was so empty, so devoid of wit and punch, that I was truly amazed these three dudes signed on for it. Maybe they wanted a last hurrah of some sort, no matter the cost (which is actually sort of the plot of the movie, go figure), but its utter lack of grace was appalling. Each sentence they uttered should not have come from seventysomethings. In theory, maybe, thirtysomethings, but most of the sentence structure was too generic for any one demographic to stake claim over it. Of course, the three amigos being pros and all that, they sold their lines as best they could, but I can’t imagine it was easy. Or maybe it was too easy, and I was fooled by their cool demeanor. Maybe they just phoned this whole thing in.

The premise here is that Val (Al) and Doc (Walk) are besties, and Doc comes to pick up Val from being in jail for half his life, and Val wants to go on a hardcore bender and have a great time because he knows that Doc is eventually going to kill him. Turns out, half a lifetime ago, Val killed Mr. Shickadance‘s kid, and he wants Val dead, and he ordered Doc to do it. Because they did this for a living or whatever. So, Val and Doc proceed on this bender, picking up their old driver Hirsch (Ark) from the nursing home and proceeding to bang hookers, take drugs, cross paths with a looming Bill Burr every once in awhile, and hang out at this one diner a whole lot within a span of about 18 hours. Though the diner scenes were a bit much, particularly because I’m pretty sure Val orders a steak every damn time he’s in there, which would have killed him even without the drugs, they did provide the setting for the more meaningful interactions of the movie, which were between Doc and his granddaughter, Alex (Addison Timlin), who is adorable. Between Alex and and Sylvia (Vanessa Ferlito) and Wendy (Lucy Punch) and the lineup of other young females strewn about this movie, unknowns got more screen time with three legends than they’ll ever know what to do with, and they all actually handled it beautifully. They put up with all the sexist bullshit, and yet they had complete control over all of the bullshit, too. Timlin was particularly sincere, and her storyline with Doc was borderline sentimental, as their grandfather-granddaughter relationship wasn’t fully realized until the end of the movie anyway. I’d have said spoiler alert, but you would have already seen this movie by now if you really wanted to. Don’t worry about it.

So, of course this thing culminates in a big shoot-em-up finale, which seems absurd, but it’s totally fine. This is a bad movie, but it’s enjoyable if you enjoy the trifecta, because their presences alone up the ante. Even though they’re spouting generic one-liners (and one truly genius comedic spat about bees and dicks, just trust me), they still manage to tug at your heartstrings a tiny bit and make you think about mortality and time limits and living life to the fullest and all that. Or maybe it was just me. What can I say? I had a great time watching this awful movie. Maybe you will, too.

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Argo

I told myself I wouldn’t rant about this one thing that happened in the movie theater, but I have to do it. Pardon me.

From the second the room went dark and the screen lit up until about the last 20 minutes of the movie, I was unfortunate enough to sit in front of a man who consumed popcorn at an alarming rate and at an audible level. It was disgusting and distracting. I’m all for having a good time at the theater–especially when the movie itself is a good time, a la Rocky Horror or Skyfall or Twilight or any other one of these things that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. But in the context of something like Argo, something mostly serious, something that most of the people in the theater probably haven’t seen yet, something that requires attention to be paid to the dialogue, lip-smacking is completely uncalled for. I wish I were exaggerating when I said that he chomped down a handful of popcorn every five seconds. That’s what I meant by “alarming” before. I was amazed he was able to chew and swallow at all. So, to that man, show some decency in the theater next time. Argo fuck yourself very much.

Off the soapbox now! Argo was great! Probably everyone has told you this. Probably everyone has told you that it’s a thrilling movie, and that everyone in it is fantastic and Ben Affleck is only okay. I agree with the first part of that, but I strongly beg to differ with the second. B-Fleck had a bit of a lot going on here, what with directing and producing the damn thing, so yeah, maybe he didn’t deliver his Best Performance Ever. (Though he was a little awesomer in The Town.) Anyway, I didn’t hold the stiffness against him, because I was fully convinced it was part of his character. Tony Mendez was a stone-faced guy, a CIA specialist, a person paid to be stoic. He wasn’t about to show emotion and nuance because he had been trained not to for so long. He was subtle, under-the-radar, and simple for a reason–to save people’s lives. And even though we all knew the ending to his triumphant story, it was still enthralling to watch it all unfold, and even stressful at times. Affleck-as-director should be especially proud of this fact: To turn a true story into an edge-of-your-seat thriller on the big screen is a huge feat.

Of course, he had star-studded help, but everyone’s hairdos and leisure suits helped disguise them well enough. Bryan Cranston, Kyle Chandler, Chris Messina, Victor Garber–all these familiar faces walked and talked through government buildings so much I swore I was watching a Carter-era version of The West Wing (which, by the way, I would totally watch). Even though it was clear that painstaking measures were taken to ensure period accuracy–especially with the self-congratulating side-by-side comparison slideshow at the end of the film–the movie really did teleport me to the late 70s-early 80s era. Everything was accounted for; cars driving around in the background were old, collars were big, phones were rotary. But nothing was exaggerated or obvious. It just all blended together really well.

Back to the star-studded help, though. Whereas the G-men kept things serious, especially because they were all essentially high-stakes yelling at each other the whole time, in an attempt to keep the hostages in Iran safe), the comic relief came from two designated hitters: John Goodman and Alan Arkin, the Hollywood players in this whole scheme. In case you aren’t familiar with the story, Mendez decides to pretend to make a movie and have the hostages be his film crew so he can get them back to the US safely. Goodman and Arkin’s characters help the movie gain legitimacy in actual Hollywood, shedding some cynical light on just how much farce goes on behind-the-scenes of the farce that actually is Hollywood. It’s all very meta and layered, and brilliantly done. And the timing of the climactic scene, in which calls are made, questions are asked, guns are cocked, the whole bit–it’s what real movies are made of. Or, in Argo‘s case, what real movies about movies are made of.

Second City: First Family of Comedy

Sometimes I think Netflix instant serves my needs better than an actual living, breathing human person would. Is that weird?

I found this three-part special on the ‘flix and devoured it instantly (har!) because it gave me exactly what I wanted—the nerdy history of the birthplace of American improv, rarely-seen footage from the early Chicago and Toronto days, and talking-head interviews from my favorite comic actors. It’s everything a comedy nerd could want. With Canadian accents!

Granted, the special isn’t for everyone. It’s a little repetitive, which is only nice if you take a little time off between viewings. And some of the interviews get a little preachy. But it’s a fascinating look at an institution that really doesn’t get enough credit for preparing improvisers for a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

If you haven’t heard of Second City, shame on you! Kidding. It’s a glorious place in Chicago that essentially became a graduate school for a certain kind of performer: the improviser. Funny people from all over the country flocked to this place to hone their skills, improve their craft, and work with equally talented on-the-spotters, with the hopes of making it big someday. Many of them did; check out this this impressive list of alumni if you don’t believe me. Most Saturday Night Live performers came from SC (until UCB and the Groundlings came to LA, anyway). And when SC opened up another theater in Toronto, that second location basically doubled the amount of comedic talent and gave SC an even better reputation for readying comedic talent for the stage. Without this “comedy college,” we wouldn’t have Dan Aykroyd, Martin Short, Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, Alan Arkin, John Candy, Eugene Levy, John Belushi, Chris Farley, and everyone else that we now rely on for laughs and feel-goodery. The special gives each of them (and many more) the chance to reveal their deepest love and truest feelings for their SC experience, which is genuinely heartwarming, and it also gives some insight into the difficulties of being this type of up-and-coming artist at a time when improvisation was not on everyone’s entertainment radar. It’s both inspirational and brutally honest, and it’ll give you a huge amount of respect for the people who make a living out of making fools out of themselves in front of complete strangers. I know I’d like to someday.

Sunshine Cleaning

Not great, not bad, but interesting enough—AGAIN!—to make me think that I, too, could write a movie. So… inspirational?

Yes, and I’m not just being egotistical here. This movie was a dark comedy, but also one about believing in yourself. Amy Adams was Rose something-or-other, some really fake Movie Last Name, and she wanted to do something with her life with the skills she had. So she heard that people make bank cleaning up crime scenes and enlisted her sister to start the business with her. Her sister screws up along the way, her son needs to go to private school, she is the “other woman” in an affair, blah blah blah, her father helps them out, all works out in the end. It’s not a complex story, but at least the characters seemed normal, and not trying-too-hard-to-be-normal normal.

I think that normalcy is attributed to the actors. Amy Adams is endlessly likable, and Emily Blunt is too, even when she’s speaking with an American accent and sporting all kinds of tattoos and a studded belt. That woman has talent. Her British accent could only be heard a couple times, when she got emotional. But it happens to the best of ’em; even Dominic West couldn’t hide his UK-ness on The Wire because Jimmy McNulty got heated so much.

I digress. The depth of this movie came from the sisters’ backstory, which was that their mother committed suicide so they had to deal with these bloody scenes as part of their job, which kind of sucked. But the whole thing was so sincere, not contrived, so it was pleasant, almost enjoyable. A creative, simple story, a cast of respectable actors, and enough humor to keep things light when they need to be. Sometimes, you just want to watch a movie and enjoy it for no reason. I think you can do that with this one.

PS, Clifton Collins Jr? I saw a resemblance between him and JGL. Just saying.