erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews - 2014 posts

Sunday December 28, 2014

Movie Review: Foxcatcher (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher” is a great indictment of the American class system. It’s about the need we breed into the poor and dislocated, and how that need—that fury—can sometimes lead to excellence, and how that excellence can be bought by the idle rich. It’s a movie about the sadness of people with too few options, and the sadness of people with too many. It’s about these words, “No, Mark, stay,” which implies a dog you can control, and “No, John! Stop, John!” which implies a dog you can’t.

The dog you can’t control is the very rich, who are very different from you and me.

The pace of the film is slow and measured but with an angry intensity always ready to uncoil itself. It’s a movie that blasts you with quiet, and then—per George Stevens’ gunfire in “Shane”—blasts you with the final, sad, incomprehensible act. It ends with a lusty crowd chanting “USA! USA!,” which Miller cuts off mid-chant like a rebuke.

Buying friends and enemies
First off: Holy shit, Channing Tatum, where did that come from? The first third of the movie is his brooding intensity, his seething anger—not to mention his athleticism. He’s a big man who moves with sudden speed. Foxcatcher, with Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Steve CarellHe grabs, spins, you’re down. There’s beauty in it.

It’s March 1987. Mark Schultz is a freestyle wrestler who won gold at the 1984 Olympics but lives by himself in a dingy, second-floor walk-up. He gives stuttering talks to uncomprehending elementary school kids in half-filled auditoriums, then trains for the ’87 world championships and the ’88 Olympics with his brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo), at Wexler University.

They’re opposites. Mark understands little and forgives less, while Dave understands much and forgives more. Mark is bottled-up and resentful, Dave is outgoing and gentle. During their training session, Mark headbutts Dave in the nose, drawing blood. It seems intentional, his resentment getting the better of him; but Dave simply steps back, wipes the blood off, continues. No looks, no accusations. Dave has a wife and two kids, and he’s good with them; Mark is alone with his thoughts and ramen noodles.

Then the deus ex machina of Mark’s life arrives—a phone call from John Eleuthere Du Pont—and he’s spirited away, by helicopter, to the vast Du Pont estate, called Foxcatcher, outside Philadelphia. There, the heir to the Du Pont chemical fortune (Steve Carell) invites him to stay: to train for the Olympics as part of Team Foxcatcher. The Soviets have state-sponsored training, so why not, in the U.S., idle-rich-sponsored training?

Here, Mark’s eyes light up for the first time in the movie. He sees the wealth, the purpose, the call to patriotism, but he doesn’t see what we see: Du Pont’s slow-motion creepiness. With head slightly raised, Du Pont, who wants to be called “Eagle” or “Double Eagle,” speaks with interminable pauses, as if he’s still learning the language; or as if he’s used to people waiting on him. There’s a trophy room filled mostly with the medals and ribbons of his mother’s prize horses. Mark is warned to steer clear of Mrs. Du Pont (Vanessa Redgrave), and we expect her to be batty, or mean; but beyond the isolation of her class, and her view that wrestling is a “low sport,” she doesn’t seem too bad.

Does John go for the “low sport” to spite her? Because it’s macho? Homoerotic? All of the above? Is he interested in another trophy for the room? Is Mark that trophy? The questions mount and Miller doesn’t quite give us answers. We get why Du Pont comes between Dave and Mark—he wants greater control of, and greater credit for, the Olympic champion—but why offer Mark cocaine? Because he doesn’t understand what it takes to succeed? And why does Mark give up training? Why dye his hair blonde? Are he and John lovers? We also get why Du Pont finally brings in Dave to shape up Team Foxcatcher—they really need a trainer—but why does Dave accept? He was offered the gig before and turned it down.

Du Pont: How much does he want?
Mark: You can’t buy Dave.
Du Pont [long pause]: Huh.

There’s a moment in the movie when we actually feel for Du Pont. It’s when he tells Mark that he only had one friend growing up—the chauffer’s son—but later found out that his mother paid the boy to be his friend. And here Mark is unintentionally saying the same thing: You bought me, but you can’t buy Dave. But then Du Pont does buy Dave. Was the money better this time? Were the accommodations for his family? Was Dave worried about his brother? His country? USA, USA?

We all become our parents. As a child, Du Pont’s mother bought friends for him, and as an adult he does the same for himself. But he knows enough to not trust what he’s bought.

The relationship between John and Mark is awful and symbiotic. John needs to prove to his mother that he has value, and Mark needs to prove that he has value without his brother. Neither man succeeds. Mrs. Du Pont seems to see through her son’s charade—there’s a painful scene where, with his mother watching, he shows champion wrestlers basic moves—and Mark not only doesn’t succeed without Dave, he falls on his face. He loses his first match in the ’88 Olympic trials, and only makes the team because Dave nurtures him back to health. After that, Mark’s resentment shifts—from Dave, whom he felt overshadowed his success, to Du Pont, who undid it. He winds up leaving Foxcatcher; Dave stays.

We live here
It would be interesting to hear Bennett Miller talk about why he made the decisions he made in condensing the “Foxcatcher” story. In real life, Dave and Mark were never at Foxcatcher at the same time. In real life, more than seven years passed between Mark leaving and Du Pont killing Dave Schultz in cold blood, but Miller makes it seem a couple of months. Reports also indicate that Du Pont began to act crazier in the months preceding the shooting. In the movie, he starts out odd and doesn’t change much.

Indeed, for all of the film’s opaqueness, are the characters themselves too obvious? One-dimensional? Du Pont begins and ends odd, Mark begins and ends with an angry glower, Dave is thoughtful throughout. I got such a feeling of warmth around Dave. I don’t know how Ruffalo conveys that, but he does. Carell’s Du Pont? Icky. Even the gummy teeth was apparently real.

Was Miller warned away from Du Pont’s apparent homosexuality? Did he find it inconclusive? Irrelevant? I suppose I would’ve liked less ambiguity in terms of motivation and more ambiguity within the characters themselves.

Even so, what an indictment of our class system. Near the end, the Schultzes return from the’88 Games—which Mark apparently threw so Du Pont wouldn’t get credit—and they’re confronted at the gate by a suspicious security team, who ask them to state their business. “We ... live here?” Dave says. But he's no longer sure. Even if it wasn't an intentional message, a message was still sent. We are allowed this small space at the sufferance of our betters. We ... live here.

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Posted at 08:29 AM on Dec 28, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Friday December 26, 2014

Movie Review: The Interview (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Thanks for making me watch this crap, North Korea.

I’d seen the trailer. A shallow talk-show host, Dave Skylark (James Franco), who is good at getting celebs make the big reveal (Rob Lowe removes his toupee, Eminem admits he’s gay), turns out to be a favorite of North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un (Randall Park of “VEEP”); so Skylark and producer Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen) jump at the chance to interview him. Then the CIA, in the form of “honeypot” agent Lacy (Lizzy Caplan of “Masters of Sex”), asks the two doofuses to “take out” the dictator. Yes, kill him. It’s a comedy.

To be honest, I didn’t plan on seeing it. I mean, the trailer wasn’t bad (I liked Rogen’s line reading, “That is not an actual thing people say”), and the plot seemed pretty outré (actually assassinating a dictator?). But the scatological stuff? Doofus Hollywood? Rogen and Franco? I’d seen it before. I wasn’t a big fan of “This Is The End,” for example. Maybe eventually I’d watch it on Netflix, I thought. Maybe. Eventually.

The Interview, with Seth Rogen and James FrancoThen the Guardians of Peace hacked Sony, spilling its embarrassing emails into the world, then threatened any theater showing “The Interview.” This caused theater chains to pull out, which caused Sony to suspend release, which caused Pres. Obama to suggest Sony made a mistake in doing so, and ... Here we are. Instead of maybe eventually watching it on Netflix, Patricia and I watched it Christmas Day on YouTube. It almost felt like our patriotic duty to do so.

Thanks for nothing, North Korea. Assholes.

Banging the hot Korean general
Here’s the big question that the trailer doesn’t answer: What happens when Skylark and Rapaport get to North Korea?

Well, they prove surprisingly adept at the spy game and have plenty of opportunities for assassinating Kim Jong-un. But after several deep “My Dinner with Andre”-type conversations, they realize that what they prize about America is not its global-policemen capabilities but its adherence to democratic principle; and that they, as citizens of this democracy, have no right to assassinate the leader of another country, no matter how megalomaniacal. So they return home, chastened but wiser, determined to turn “Skylark Tonight” into a source of legitimate rather than celebrity news.

Kidding.

Instead, Skylark gets suckered into liking Kim, who lies to him about Korean prosperity but is truthful about his inner heart. (He likes Katy Perry’s music.) Meanwhile, Rapaport, after an encounter with a tiger, and forcing a CIA-delivered projectile up his anus, becomes involved with a hot Korean general, Sook (Diana Bang), who secretly hates Kim. The three resin strips the CIA provides to assassinate Kim? One is swallowed by a Kim lieutenant, who dies a horrible, convulsing death; a second is thrown on the ground by Skylark to protect his buddy Kim; a third winds up on Rapaport’s hand while he’s trying to make love to Sook.

The titular interview, being broadcast live around the world, hedges on whether Skylark has been taken in by Kim. (He hasn’t.) Then it hedges on whether Skylark can outdebate Kim. (He can’t.) “You have failed,” Kim tells him triumphantly. “You made a long journey just to show the world they were right about you: You are incapable of conducting a real interview. You are a joke.” Which is idiotic several times over. How is the whole thing suddenly about Skylark? Besides, doesn’t Kim want the world to think he’s outdebated a Mike Wallace rather than a Ryan Seacrest? So why would he ... ?

Anyway, at the 11th hour, while Rapaport and Sook fight technicians in a bloody, over-the-top battle in the broadcast booth (during which Rapaport has two fingers bitten off), Skylark asks Kim about his father, and about margaritas, then sings from Katy Perry’s “Firework,” all of which causes Kim to break down and cry on international television. Then Kim lets out a long fart. A shart. Which he denies and blames on a cameraman. “Ladies and gentlemen,” Skylark announces. “Kim Jong-un has just pooed in his pants.” Since he’s supposed to be a God with no bodily functions, this comes as news to the North Koreans.

After that, there’s a chase, Kim is killed by a missile, our heroes escape, and Sook leads a revolution toward a democratic North Korea.

Funny or die
Actually, there’s a bigger question that the trailer doesn’t answer: Is the movie funny?

Not enough. I had a few laugh-out-loud moments. I loved the cute Korean girl singing in the beginning about death to America. I liked Dave’s tone-deaf speech upon landing in Pyongyang, which he ends with “Konichiwa.” I liked this exchange between Dave and Kim as they look over a tank:

Kim: It was a gift to my grandfather from Stalin.
Skylark: In my country, it’s pronounced Stallone.

It’s just not funny enough. Patricia, who tends to like dopey comedies, was bored a third of the way in.

But “The Interview” is, in its way, prophetic. It’s a nothing comedy that actually made the real Kim Jong-un, a totalitarian dictator, shit his pants. That’s worth something. Right?

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Posted at 02:30 PM on Dec 26, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Monday December 22, 2014

Movie Review: Hercules (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Hercules Hercules Hercules!

We hear this chant several times in Brett Ratner’s “Hercules,” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and I laughed every time. Because Eddie Murphy. He’s completely ruined this word for me—for the better—as Steve Martin did with the word Oklahoma ... Oklahoma Oklahoma!

Or did “Hercules” come to us ruined?

He’s never exactly been an A-list character, has he? He gets played by musclemen who don’t have a wide range of talent: Steve Reeves, Lou Ferrigno, Kevin Sorbo. We like our 20th century updates of Hercules—Superman, Conan, Hulk—better than the ancient Greek myth, which, after all, is ancient, and Greek, and mythy.

Ratner’s version doesn’t begin badly because it takes apart the myth. “You think you know the truth about him?” a voiceover asks. Hercules 2014“You know nothing.” We think the voice is addressing us, but it’s actually the voice of Ioalus (Reece Ritchie), Herc’s nephew and chief storyteller, who is being held captive by some scummy pirate or something. And the story Ioalus tells? Of Hercules’ 12 labors? Of being a demi-God and the son of Zeus? It’s bullshit. The myth is the myth, and Ioalus is the first P.R. man in history. Sure, Herc is big and strong, and each of the 12 labors is based on something, but they’ve been greatly exaggerated to instill fear in tyrants.

Who is Hercules really? He’s a former orphan and a former general who’s now a mercenary—a man who leads a team of experts:

  • Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), the right-hand man
  • Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), the seer
  • Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), the crazy mute
  • Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), the tough chick/archer

We see them in action once, and then in repose; and then they’re hired by Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson), daughter of the embattled Lord Cotys (John Hurt), whose kingdom is being threatened by the rebel demon Rhesus (Tobias Satelmann), who ravages villages and leaves a stream of refugees in his wake. Herc takes the gig. He trains Cotys’ men into a strong army. And off they go—too early, in Hercules’ mind—to fight.

In the first battle they’re ambushed by bald men, painted green, who come out of the ground and attack with fury. They’re like the zombies in “World War Z,” and Herc and everyone win in the end ... but just barely. So, more training. Who were these green men? The villagers themselves that they were supposed to save? Did Rhesus do something to them to make them bald? Or green? I never quite got it.

At this point, and even earlier, we have two options as to where the movie’s going to go:

  1. Herc and his team will lose badly to Rhesus, be forced to regroup, and come back and win in the last act.
  2. It’s a trap. Cotys is a tyrant, and Herc is training the men he will have to fight in the end.

I suspected No. 2. Mostly because Cotys’ right-hand man, Sitacles, is played by Peter Mullan, who’s played villains in “Red Riding” and “Top of the Lake” and pretty much everything. You’d have to be a fool to trust that guy.

Which turns out to be the case. In the second battle, against Rhesus himself, who is simply a tall, blond, handsome dude, the battle ends quickly in Herc’s favor. But in the aftermath at Cotys’ castle, it’s all quickly revealed: Cotys, Sitacles, they’re dicks. The refugees? Cotys’ fault. Ergenia? Forced to fool Herc because Cotys threatened the life of her son—the true king. But Cotys isn’t a fool. He offers Herc a generalship, and, when this is declined, he simply pays him and lets him leave. But Herc can’t. He has to do what’s right. And in doing so—after being captured, chained, yadda yadda, and after Autolycus does the Han Solo thing by abandoning him but returning for the decisive blow—Herc becomes more than a man. He becomes more than his P.R. He lives up to the whatever.

Ratner, in other words, takes apart the myth in order to redeliver the myth. We’re too smart for the wish-fulfillment fantasy but we’re too weak to not want it.

Even so, beats hell out of “300.”

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Posted at 05:56 AM on Dec 22, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Wednesday December 17, 2014

Movie Review: Whiplash (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I thought “Whiplash” was about a sadistic teacher who makes life hell for an innocent kid who just wants to be a jazz drummer.

Instead, “Whiplash” is about a sadistic teacher who makes life hell for an arrogant bastard ... who just wants to be a jazz drummer.

So it’s much better than I thought.

At first, Andrew (Miles Teller) seems another fish-out-of-water kid. He’s at a prestigious school, Shaffer Conservatory of Music, seemingly without friends, and goes to the movies (“Rififi”), with his father, Jim (Paul Reiser), a put-upon teacher whose wife left soon after Andrew was born. At the theater, an unseen man bumps Jim’s head with a bucket of popcorn and it’s Jim who apologizes. He’s that kind of guy. Whiplash, with Miles Teller and J.K. SimmonsThe kind of guy, it turns out, that Andrew doesn’t want to be.

The movie opens with Andrew on the drum kit, playing away, when the school’s best teacher, Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), arrives and listens. Andrew stops when he sees Fletcher. “Why did you stop playing?” Fletcher asks. So Andrew starts again. “Did I ask you to start playing again?” Fletcher says. “Show me your rudiments.” The kid is desperate for attention and Fletcher enjoys not giving it. He leaves without a word (to Andrew’s disappointment), then returns (to Andrew’s relief). But instead of encouragement, he says, “Oopsie-daisy, forgot my jacket.” Then gone again.

The “oopsie-daisy” is like a little knife in the side. The knives will get bigger.

Third division
Initially we think Andrew is like us—just more talented. But he’s not like us. And he doesn’t want to be.

This becomes painfully clear at an extended family dinner. His accomplishment—making Fletcher’s class—is run over by family talk, and when he returns to it no one seems to get it. They shouldn’t, really. Fletcher? Who’s Fletcher? Plus it’s jazz, not football. Now Uncle Frank’s boys, they’re on the football team. “Yeah,” Andrew says dismissively, “third division.” In the next minute, we get Andrew’s philosophy. It’s all about the work, the music. Friends? Family? They just get in the way. Charlie Parker is held up as the exemplar, to which Jim mentions his drug-addled death. Andrew’s response? “I’d rather die drunk, broke at 34, and have people at a dinner table talk about me, than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remembered who I was.”

In this sense he’s the perfect student for Fletcher.

Is that why Fletcher focuses on him so much? Because he senses this drive in him? The anecdote that’s constantly brought up is that moment in 1937 when drummer Joe Jones threw a cymbal at a teenage Charlie Parker. Parker was humiliated, but practiced for a year until he was, well, Bird. Then he blew everyone away. That’s what Fletcher says he hopes to do: be the Joe Jones who brings out the Bird in a new Charlie Parker.

Does he see that in Andrew? Or is it simply the sadist feeling out the masochist? Because—beyond an introductory lesson in humiliation in which Fletcher calls out a student for being out of tune (even though he wasn’t)—Fletcher focuses completely on the drum kit.

Andrew starts out as alternate, replaces 1st drummer Carl  (Nate Lang) when he misplaces Carl’s sheet music, then competes with both Carl and Ryan (Austin Stowell) for 1st chair, and Fletcher’s attention. Fletcher keeps them all off balance and yearning. With Andrew, he tells him he’s rushing or dragging. “Not my tempo,” he says over and over.

That’s among the nicer things he says. His talent for invective would give R. Lee Ermey a run for his money:

  • Parker, that is not your boyfriend’s dick: do not come early.
  • If you deliberately sabotage my band, I will fuck you like a pig.
  • Oh dear God, are you one of those single-tear people? You are a worthless pansy ass who is now weeping and slobbering all over my drumset like a 9-year-old girl!

Also this: “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.”

Does the movie agree with this assessment? Is this a wake-up call for the audience, sitting in the dark, listless, munching on popcorn and wish fulfillment, about what it really takes to get ahead? The rest of us are the family at the dinner table, or Jim apologizing because someone else was rude, or Nicole (Melissa Benoit), whom Andrew dumps two scenes into their relationship because she’ll just get in the way. Andrew, willing to get blood, sweat and tears on the kit, is ruthless in his determination. That’s why he gets where he does.

I buy that argument to some extent. In my own life, I’ve made choices, and they’ve invariably been “Minnesota Nice” choices. What ruthlessness I’ve displayed is usually followed by pangs of guilt and self-abnegation. I think most of us feel trapped between these two unpalatable options: getting run over by life, like Jim, or being a massive asshole like Fletcher.

But there are other options.

Twenty-game winner
The counterbeat to all of this played in my head even as the story played out onscreen. It’s the story of Ferguson Jenkins. I don’t remember where I read it—I can’t find it online—but he was a pretty good player, a Major Leaguer, certainly, but he wasn’t great yet. Then a coach instilled confidence in him. The coach made him believe he could be what he became: one of the great pitchers of his era, a 20-game winner for six years in a row, and an eventual Hall-of-Famer. That coach built up; this one tears down.

“Whiplash” is written (sharply) and directed (beautifully) by first-timer/squeaker Damien Chazelle, and it progresses smartly. Andrew’s bus breaks down on the way to a concert, he has to rent a car to get to the hall—but he leaves his drumsticks behind. When he goes to retrieve them, there’s a car accident, a truck upending his rental (beautifully filmed), and Andrew crawls from the wreckage and runs to the show, where, despite being in shock, despite being bloodied unable to hold his sticks, he sits in. Does Fletcher appreciate this? Show concern? No. After Andrew flubs it, Fletcher dismisses him. Then Andrew attacks him and is expelled; then he becomes an unnamed part of a lawsuit against Fletcher for abuse. An earlier student, whom Fletcher had held up as an exemplar (and who died, he said, in a car accident), had actually hung himself—in part, the lawyers say, because of the years of psychological abuse Fletcher had inflicted on him.

When Andrew sees Fletcher again, he’s playing piano in a jazz club, and he asks Andrew to play drums with his band at the JVC Jazz Festival at Carnegie Hall. Andrew hasn’t been practicing much since his expulsion, and he’s slightly worried as he sits at the kit. Someone doesn’t play well at JVC, they’ll probably never get another gig. That’s the idea. And that’s Fletcher’s idea. Because he knows it was Andrew who ratted, and he begins with a song that Andrew has never practiced, and for which he has no sheet music. He’s humiliated, leaves the stage and collapses into the arms of his father, who consoles him.

The end? No. He doesn’t join the Jims of the world. He goes back and fights the Fletchers.

Andrew returns to the kit, and without instruction begins playing; then he tells the band when to join in, and they do. (Why do they listen to him exactly? What’s the protocol on this?) It’s like he’s taking away Fletcher’s band from him. He’s the leader now. But that’s not it either, exactly. There’s no comeuppance for Fletcher. By the end, Fletcher and Andrew are working together. You can see Fletcher’s eyes light up in a way they haven’t yet. He’s wondering if this is the moment. He’s wondering if he’s finally getting his Charlie Parker.

It’s a triumphant ending. Two jerks create something beautiful. That's kind of ... beautiful. 

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Posted at 06:17 AM on Dec 17, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Monday December 15, 2014

Movie Review: Top Five (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

There aren’t many movies that make me think, “Thank God Adam Sandler’s arrived.”

What a disappointment this thing is. I guess hoping for Chris Rock’s “Annie Hall” was too much, but maybe his “Radio Days”? Instead we get his “Celebrity.”

Remember “Celebrity”? Kenneth Branagh plays a Woody Allenish reporter named Lee doing a magazine profile on a Hollywood star (Melanie Griffiths), and they visit her childhood home, where, in the bedroom, he makes a pass. She turns him down  ... only to give him a blowjob. “There are many things to be said about this sequence,” Anthony Lane wrote back then for The New Yorker, “but you could not, with a clear conscience, call in cinema vérité.”

In “Top Five,” The New York Times sends reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) to interview former standup comic/movie star Andre Allen (Rock, homage alert), whose new serious film, “Uprize,” about a 19th-century Haitian slave rebellion, is opening that day, and who is getting married to reality-TV-star Erica Long (Gabrielle Union) that weekend. Top Five Chris RockAllen is against the interview, since the Times movie critic, Dave Nielson, has always slammed his films, including the hugely popular “Hammy the Bear” series (a man in a bear suit with a machine gun); but eventually he goes along with it.

Too bad. Because she’s the worst reporter in the world.

The worst reporter in the world
First, she shows up unprepared—without her tape recorder. Then she insists on retrieving it at her home (rather than using her iPhone’s built-in recorder) because that’s her lucky one. Then she spends half the day talking about herself and her problems. We get to witness one of those problems—her boyfriend, Brad (Anders Holm), who turns out to be gay, or bi, and who’s cheating on her. At that point in the movie, upset and humiliated, she actually walks away from Allen. She walks away from her story. He’s an alcoholic, she’s an alcoholic, but she walks into a liquor store and contemplates drinking.

Oh, and guess what? It turns out she’s Dave Nielson; she just writes the reviews under an alias.

Think about that for a moment. The New York Times has a beautiful—and I mean drop-dead gorgeous—Latina movie critic, but they choose to hide her identity behind a stodgy white male persona, because ...? I’m at a loss. Is it 1952? 1919? Should we check to see if A.O. Scott really looks like Eva Mendes but the Times thinks “white, dumpy, male” sells better in the digital age? No offense intended, A.O.

And it’s not just reporters or the media that writer-director Rock doesn’t get. He doesn’t seem to know movie stars, either. He doesn’t know the movies. I assume “Hammy the Bear” is a takeoff on Rock’s successful “Madagascar” movies, but those don’t look like crap; “Hammy” does. There’s no way that thing’s making $600 million worldwide. And the interview takes place on the day “Uprize” is released? Isn’t that a bit late? And Allen thinks that “Uprize” will do well at the box office? Is he that clueless? Even “12 Years a Slave”—which isn’t about a slave who killed white folks—opened in only 19 theaters. Allen is lucky “Uprize” is opening anywhere. He should know that.

Throughout the first two-thirds of the movie, I kept thinking “Fake fake fake fake ...” like Elaine in that episode of “Seinfeld.” Then Jerry Seinfeld arrives and saves the final third.

Chris Rock’s problem
There are a few good lines throughout. I like this Bob Newhartish conversation, for example, as Allen is doing promo and explaining “Uprize” by phone to some radio station somewhere:

Allen: It’s about the greatest slave rebellion of all time.
Allen: Slave rebellion.
Allen: It’s when slaves rebelled.

Then the plot kicks in again. He and Chelsea argue, make out, nearly have sex in a bar bathroom; then he borrows her phone and discovers she’s his arch-nemesis Dave Nielson; then he discovers no one’s going to see “Uprize”; then he gets drunk in the aisle of a mom-and-pop market, winds up in jail, is sprung, heads to his bachelor party at a strip club.

That’s where he meets Seinfeld, Sandler and Whoopi Goldberg, who, all sunk into middle-aged senescence, give him straight shit on marriage. It’s funny. Seinfeld “makes it rain” at the strip club. He accuses a bikini-clad stripper of taking his wallet, and when she asks where she would put it, he says, in that classic Seinfeld manner, “Do I have to say it?”

After that, Allen goes through with the marriage to a reality-TV star and lives happily ever after.

Kidding. The movie is set up so he doesn’t. We know that going in. In fact, we know exactly how it’s going to end. Earlier in the movie, Chelsea talks up the Cinderella complex:

Chelsea: Cinderella did what girls do when they want to see a guy again.
Allen: Handjob?
Chelsea: She left something behind.

Make a note: She’ll leave something behind. And she does.

At the strip club, she reappears, takes Allen to a comedy club, where he gets up on stage for the first time in years—he’d avoided it because he’d never done it sober—and kills, with, one assumes, old material. Then they say their tearful goodbyes. Then in the backseat of the limo he’s going through the bachelor party gift bag and finds something she left behind: a Cinderella-ish shoe. And he tells his right-hand man, Silk (J.B. Smove, who, cameos aside, is the best thing in the movie), to ... Actually, I think he just says his name. We know what’s going to happen. So Rock just ends it. It’s a good end to a bad movie.

Here’s Chris Rock’s problem. Actually, he has two. The first is he’s not a very good actor. He’s just not. The second is the difference between what made him a star (stand-up), and where he’s currently placing his star (the movies).

The best stand-up, including Rock’s, is generally funny because it’s true. People get up on stage and say the shit that everyone’s thinking but no one’s saying. Or they reveal the absurdities/hypocrisies of race (Rock), modern culture (Louis C.K.), the Bible (Ricky Gervais), relationships (everyone), that most of us haven’t thought of. But the absurdities/hypocrisies have to be true or they’re not funny. Stand-up is a delivery device for truth-telling.

The movies are a delivery device for wish-fulfillment fantasy: good beats evil, boy gets girl, etc. On screen, we’re tougher, braver, sexier than we really are. Most movies lie, in other words. The best movies don’t. Think of Woody Allen’s best. He gives us “Most of us need the eggs,” and “You have to have a little faith in people” and “You’re God’s answer to Job.” Rock needs to revisit these movies if he’s seriously interested in taking over the mantle. Because Chris? We really do need the eggs.

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Posted at 05:32 AM on Dec 15, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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