Out in Theaters: ST. VINCENT

I could watch Bill Murray read a phone book. Or hose down a patch of dirt. Correction: I did watch Bill Murray hose down a patch of dirt. For about five minutes. This is what makes up the end credits of St. Vincent, a somewhat sentimentally told tale of a sun-ripened curmudgeon softened by the articulate innocence of the new runt neighbor kid. The kicker is a brilliant ploy to get people to stay through the bitter end: frame Bill Murray chewing a cigarette, rambling along to Dylan’s “Shelter from the Storm”, playing with a watering hose. I’d watch Murray butcher Dylan all day.

Eleven years after Lost in Translation, nine years out from Broken Flowers, Murray’s career has been more an internet sensation than anything resembling that of a hard worker’s. He picks his project like I shop for pomegranates. Very carefully, except sometimes when, fuck it. And good on him. But don’t get me wrong: Bill Murray is the best thing that has ever happened to the internet and, quite possibly, humankind. He lends his face to each and every Wes Anderson project, to the undying thanks of this critic (though he hasn’t had anything particularly juicy since what I just might consider his best ever role as Steve Zissou in The Life Aquatic). He mic dropped perhaps the ultimate all time cameo in Zombieland (the man really needs to be knighted the king of meta). He even tried his best for gold with the critically dumped upon Hyde Park on Hudson, the FDR handjob in a field story. With St. Vincent, Murray’s not only returned to comedy but to the spotlight. Where he belongs.

Throughout the years, the one thing that has made Murray so infinitely watchable is his 8-mile thick slab of sarcasm, a trait that writer/director Theodore Melfi exploits to the fullest. With a (not totally consistent) Brooklyn accent, Murray’s drab sense of banter makes him the perfect jackass. Here’s a guy who’ll crash into his own fence, blame it on the neighbor and insist she pay for it. And yet, we’re still able to like him through it all. He gets cut off at the bar (with child in tow), smashes a glass and is kindly escorted out. Who other than Murray could pull off such a feat?

After a night of particularly committed drinking, Murray smashes up his face like he owes himself money. Bleedy, grumpy and hungover, he emerges from his dinky man-cave the next morning to a moving truck smashing its way through his yard. Without holding back a full blown hissy fit, he meets new neighbor Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) and her shrimpy son Oliver, played by notably not annoying newcomer Jaeden Lieberher. Maggie’s a single mom and an MRI tech so her hours are numbered. When Oliver gets a beat down at his new Catholic school – Chris O’Dowd plays his irreverent but nonetheless clerically collared teacher – he’s sans keys and can no longer get into his house. With a politely timed “Excuse me, sir?”, he asks to take shelter in the very, very humble abode of the crotchety “but interesting” neighbor, Vincent.

At first, Vincent treats Oliver as one would a louse with halitosis. He makes him a plate of sardines and saltines (a dish my inner-child would very much not be opposed to) and calls it sushi. He takes him to the bar to get some drinking done. “Shut up” is the word of the day most days. He’s the babysitter equivalent of Taz, after a bottle of bourbon and a bong rip. Along the way, the two become accidentally close (as they always do in movies of this sort.) A trip to the horse races is laced with a real mix of uplifting dramatics and laugh out loud humor. There’s a montage to follow that will get you grinning like a loon. But it always comes undone. Vincent won’t ever leave good enough alone and Melfi won’t let his lovable asshole off that easily.

There’s tension were it needed be – bookie tough guy Terrence Howard adds nothing to the bigger picture – and that distracts from the emotional honesty at St. Vincent‘s core but as it crescendos towards its heart-rending finale, you’ll find yourself uncommonly willing to forgive it its sins. Scenes Vincent shares with his hospitalized wife are few – almost leaving me (shockingly) wanting more – and handled with delicacy and care, the touch of a director with real sensitivity. The more layers of the onion we peel back on old man Vincent, the more pavement is laid for the barrage of third act lumps in your throat.

By most accounts, St. Vincent shouldn’t work. It’s too tender in some parts, too chewy in others, like a microwaved steak. The conveniences are many, the happy resolution unnaturally tidy. Cruddy, pervy old men, though cruddy and pervy, can be made of gold. We’ve seen it before. It’s basically the Weinsteins’ retelling of Bad Grandpa. And did I mention Naomi Watts is a pregnant Russian prostitute? That casting alone is unthinkable strange, but it somehow works. And like the choppy cadence of Watts’ prego lady of the night, it moves indelicately, but ultimately wins us over. It just goes to show that maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but when you’re old dog is Bill Murray, you don’t need any new tricks at all. Then, the old ones do just fine.


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Out in Theaters: SABOTAGE

Directed by David Ayer
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mireille Enos, Sam Worthington, Olivia Williams, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard, Harold Perrineau
Action, Crime, Drama
109 Mins
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Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn’t been in something as good as Sabotage for more than twenty years. In fact, this may be the best performance we’ve ever seen from the California-governing, “It feels like I’m cumin” body-building, Austrian-American action actor guru. Ever since his tenure as the Governator, Arnie’s been busy punting around DOA ideas that rely on his faded muscular glory. He’s more comfortable dog piling onto projects with old buddies rounding out their sixties (who look equally shabby firing large caliber rounds in the revealing light of slow motion.) All the black gear in the world can’t disguise the onslaught of nature’s clock.

Now attached to the Terminator reboot, a third Expendables movie and a preposterous follow up to Twins called Triplets (in which Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito realize they have a third sibling in the form of Eddie Murphyseriously), Arnie’s star hasn’t fallen so much as hitched itself to the good will of his former A-list image. In so much as Schwarzenegger has become a hackneyed impression of himself, director David Ayer‘s willingness to work him into a straight-faced leading role is the first feat of bravery to run from Sabotage‘s gates. Arnie may get one masturbatory scene of pumping absurd amounts of iron but his role is never one of sinewy commando. Instead, he’s left to do the heavy lifting character-wise. It’s a novel idea: Arnie the actor. As the film races on, Ayer takes an increasingly sigh-inducing action behemoth and directs him back to relevance.

That feat is achieved with a pinch of reinvention and a chill gust of sobriety. Arnie’s dropped the shtick, lost the catch phrases and not relied solely on people’s collective memory of some impossibly jacked action hero. He does though, like the rest of his crew, go by a smarmy nickname: Breacher. He’s a rough and gruff veteran who chews on his cigars as much as the scenery, haunted by a gruesome snuff video that opens the film. In the grainy lo-fi of a dusty den, we watch Breacher watch a woman plead for her life, clawing in terror, calling out the name of her would-be savior. Her fear is absolute. The knife goes in clean, comes out stained.   

There’s no context for what we just saw, just the arcane knowledge that it’s supremely fucked up. ‘8 Months Later’ flashes on the screen and we pick up in the midst of a DEA raid on a Cartel drug mansion. Surrounded by a motley crew of B-list gold including, but not limited to, Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard and a scene stealing Mireille Enos (each with their own goofy, 80s homaging handle) Schwarzenegger is the cadence-garbling brains behind their lock-and-load-’em brawn. Charging through the confines of what resembles Tony Montana’s compound, Breacher and Co. off baddies without batting an eye. An army of squibs erase the need for cheap looking, post-production digital blood painting. Ayer’s use of practical effects are a sigh of relief for any adrenaline junkie tired of violence as a CGI exercise.

Ayer instead directs the chaos like a boxer, tucking into the action and ducking out into fisheye landscape pans. He compliments bloody close-ups with composition shots that keep the frenetic setting, with its many window dressings, established and consistent. With action shots this clean, you’d think he’s filming on a Swiffer. And never one to downplay the gruesomeness nature of violence, Ayer hangs viscus like a horror show. His revenge train is a trail of sanguine, a bouquet of grisly moxie. At the expense of satisfying character development, Sabotage is Ayer’s gift to the action nut, wrapped in a steamy shawl of intestines, large and small.

Playing with so much camp, the proceedings can become bumbling and even dumb at times, but that comes with the territory. Sabotage is an homage to the action delights of the past; campy, twisty, and at times noodle-brained but always enjoyable and usually about one step ahead of the audience. In the battle of tipping the hat to classic action movies, Ayer proves he knows what he’s doing best. In a John Breacher vs Jack Reacher showdown, the later doesn’t stand a chance. The only real unforgivable aspect is they never fit the Beastie Boys anthem in there somewhere.


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Arnold Schwarzenegger's (Actual) Comeback Staged in David Ayer's SABOTAGE Trailer


Arnie has had a bit of a tough go returning to the spotlight with his latest starring vehicles failing to open to a sum larger than $10 million on opening weekend, receiving rotten aggregate reviews, and failing to have much tenure at the box office. But up to this point, his post-gubernatorial films have mostly tried to use the Austrian tough guy as a hammy one-liner machine. In steps David Ayer, writer of Training Day and director of last year’s excellent End of Watch, and it looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger might have a chance to become a legitimate badass once more.

In Sabotage, Schwarzenegger leads a group of an elite DEA task force that find themselves being taken out one by one after they capture millions at a cartel safe house. Joining him is a group of certified talent, with Mireille Enos, Joe Manganiello, Sam Worthington, Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard amongst others rounding out the cast.

In order to turn his campy, geezer with a gun image back an intimidating beefcake of a man, all Schwarzenegger might need is a great director. There’s few men standing who can handle edge-of-your-seat action/drama like Ayer, so he might be what Schwarzenegger’s late stage career needs – a shot of adrenaline to the heart. Even I think this looks very promising and will most definitely be catching it in theaters.

Sabotage is directed by David Ayer and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mireille Enos, Joe Manganiello, Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard. It bursts into theaters on April 11, 2014.

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“The Best Man Holiday”
Directed by Malcom D. Lee
Starring Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut, Monica Calhoun, Melissa De Sousa, Regina Hall, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, and Nia Long
Comedy, Drama
123 Mins


The Best Man Holiday is half of a fun Christmas comedy. The other half is a way-too-long, predictable, cliché of a drama. It’s fitting that Malcolm D. Lee is Spike Lee’s cousin, as they are the opposite kind of black filmmakers. Spike’s films focus on social problems and have something to say, while Malcom makes crowd-pleasers. This isn’t to say that there isn’t a place for crowd-pleasing films aimed at aging black women, they’re just not necessarily my cup of tea. If internet demographics are any indications, and you are reading this, it probably isn’t for you either.

That said, the screening I attended was the most packed I’ve ever been to. A crowded venue laughed endlessly, hooted, hollered, and cracked jokes the entire way through, while absolutely eating up Lee’s work, making the experience much more enjoyable. As I have not seen The Best Man, I felt like I wasn’t in on some of the jokes, but the film starts with a summary of the first that did a good job of catching me up. I half expected it to say, “Previously on The Best Man” like a new season of a BET series.

To be as objective as possible, the first half of this is a clever comedy script, with several good laughs. Every character has a distinct personality, their own agenda, and they riff off each other well. Terrence Howard stole the show in his scenes, playing the comic relief in a film where every character has Whedon syndrome (they are far too clever for their own good). He also provided some of the only enjoyable moments in the awful second half. Taye Diggs returns as Harper, the intellectual writer, desperate for money, who is trying to cash in on his famous football star friend Lance. Of course, every character is ridiculously famous and successful because this film is predicated on pure realism.

Unfortunately, the women in the film are defined by their male counterparts. They exist to mediate misunderstandings and scarcely talk about anything other than men, while also being at each other’s throats over previous sexual encounters with some of their respective spouses. Make no mistake, these characters were written by a man.

A convention that really needs to go, because it is pure lazy writing, is this: the misunderstanding that would be easily explained away, but the character does not try to explain it or the other party won’t listen. For example, every romantic comedy, where the protagonist gets kissed for a split second by a drunken girl, right as his significant other walks in. She will walk out and he will say, “No. Wait.” But he won’t do anything else. This convention is used three times in this film and every times it is so poorly executed that you see it coming miles away. Making it more disgraceful is how blatant it is. The character literally says, “Wow it would really look bad if so-and-so saw this out of context.”  Gee, I wonder what’s going to happen. The problems inevitably work themselves out, even though the easy explanation never happens.

All of this isn’t enough, as Lee wants to drink your tears. The serious turn in the second half is so laughable that it was like one of those extremely satirical “dramatic” South Park episodes. To call it a spoiler would be as big an insult to your intelligence as calling your inevitable aging a spoiler, but I will refrain. This plot device brings everyone together, making everyone bummed out, before making them eventually triumphant. It wouldn’t be shocking to find out that Judd Apatow was responsible for the final cut of this nonsense.

Meandering, preachy, and cliché, there is nothing else to say about it. Every serious scene ends with a Terrence Howard line to try and lighten the mood, but it’s not enough in a film stuck dragging its feet in an otherwise pleasant Christmas comedy. The only thing Christmasy about this film, though, are the religious overtones at the end, as some of the characters talk at length about the importance of faith and prayer, while briefly touching on the problem of evil. Other than that, this has more penis jokes and cat fights than any other Christmas movie I’ve ever seen.

I know I’m repeating myself here, but there is really so little about this film that isn’t surface and contrived. If there were more to warrant a merit-based discussion, this wouldn’t be such a scathing review. Hey, though, if you only have 50 minutes and like this kind of humor, catch the first half and read a synopsis of the second. If you loved the first film, you will probably like this, as you probably have a lot more investment in these characters. For a first time viewer, though, it fails to build that bond. It’s one of the few movies I recommend seeing with a crowd. That means it’s bad.


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