See “The Boss” If You Really Love Melissa McCarthy

The Boss is a formulaic redemption comedy the likes of which you’ve probably seen dozens of times, but if you really love Melissa McCarthy’s comedy chops, you might find a lot to appreciate here despite an overwhelmingly negative critical response. Ben Falcone, McCarthy’s husband and creative partner, wrote and directed The Boss with a strong emphasis on McCarthy’s feminine bravado, avoiding the dopey qualities of Tammy that earned that film such hatred. While you’re likely to see where the story is going more than an hour before it happens, the steps taken to get to the conclusion have some genuinely funny and honest moments.

While McCarthy’s performance here is strong, there’s a lot lacking in the supporting elements of the film. That’s not to say Kristen Bell, Ella Anderson, or Peter Dinklage acted badly, but their characters weren’t developed strong enough to counter McCarthy’s powerful energy. The weakest character in this bunch is played by Tyler Labine, who comes in during the second act to provide some extra comic relief as Bell’s new boyfriend. Unless you’re wooed over by his sensitive and water-cooler funny personality, you’ll find his presence rather pointless.

The biggest disappointment about The Boss, however, is its squandered potential, both in terms of humor and social commentary. Many scenes could benefit from just a little bit of punch up or reworking, and there’s a lot of mean spirited energy to the physical comedy that dampens juxtaposing lighthearted scenes, making much of the film feel tonally off. The Boss also aggressively steers clear of making comments about income inequality or capitalism in general, topics you would think belong in full focus in a film about wealth.

Despite all of these setbacks, I recommend The Boss to McCarthy fans based on her performance alone. This is unlikely to convert people who are tired or unimpressed by her antics, but fans like me will have a good time.

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“Demolition” May Be a Fantastic Film Half Baked

If you decide to watch Demolition, there’s likely to be a point in the film where you’ll ask, “Where is this all going?” There’s plenty of great movies where this question comes up, but Demolition isn’t one of them because it can’t decide whether or not it has an answer. Demolition’s themes are common in modern cinema: struggling with loss, connecting with others, and finding something important to live for. Bryan Sipe’s screenplay and Jean-Marc Vallée’s direction explore each of these themes well by allowing emotions to marinate. We learn about characters slowly, moments flash in and out of existence quickly, and memories seem both intimate and distant.

In Demolition’s opening moments, we’re witness to an emotionally stilted conversation between a husband named Davis, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, and wife named Julia, played by Heather Lind, that abruptly ends in a violent car accident. As viewers, we’re kept away visually from the trauma of this accident, so it would be normal for us to feel emotionally detached from the news of Julia’s death. This deliberately distant presentation of events connects us immediately with Gyllenhaal’s character, who appears to numb during the entire hospital sequence.  We can now avoid judging his behavior as he spends the rest of the film dealing with what his emotions, or lack thereof, mean.

Naturally, Davis’ aloof attitude in the aftermath of the accident greatly upsets Julia’s family even though they attempt to be understanding at first. Rather than trying to connect with Julia’s mother and father, Davis reaches out to a vending machine company and ends up meeting Naomi Watt’s character, Karen. His relationship with Karen and her son, Chris, played by Judah Lewis, ends up forming the emotional core of the film. Lewis plays off Gyllenhall in unusual but extremely effective ways, gradually allowing Davis into his character’s emotions while still retaining a hard edge that he presents to the outside world. On the surface, these two characters seem very different, but their inability to fit in with their surroundings grounds their relationship.

Unfortunately, Demolition doesn’t quite no where to go with the world its built. When Chris comes out to Davis as gay in a hardware store, the teenager gains the confidence needed to start expressing himself to the outside world. This leads to a tragic incident in which he and a friend are savagely beaten, ostensibly by bigots. The single shot we see of the result of Chris’ beating is absolutely brutal, yet the film doesn’t seem to reflect the gravity of the situation emotionally like we may think it would for Davis. Dealing with Chris’ injury offered a great opportunity for Gyllenhaal’s character to relive the trauma of his wife’s death in newly enlightened context, detonating his emotional grenade. The film, however, refuses to pull the pin.

Demolition ends with Gyllenhaal running down the beach with a bunch of kids laughing, a kind of conclusion that fervently tries to project profundity but is really just confusing. It’s disconnection from the emotions and themes of the rest of the film prevent it from having an effective impact.

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Revisiting the 3 Ninjas Franchise

My first memory of the Three Ninjas movies was in the early 1990’s when I watched Kick Back with some family friends. This is not a very good memory. I remember being bored, frequently wishing I was somewhere else, perhaps watching Terminator 2 for the hundredth time or laughing maniacally at Ren and Stimpy. Nearly 20 years later I have decided to revisit these films in order to discover what about them was so offensive to my young mind as I have completely forgotten everything but the distaste. Sitting through even a third of these movies was a real chore, and I was quickly reminded what garnered my hatred in the beginning.

Warning about the following clip: This is only a small sample of what 3 Ninjas has to offer, and watching the full length of these movies is like watching this clip over and over again for several hours.

There’s no point in going into the details of these movies with such a glaring and obnoxious presence in nearly every scene. 3 Ninjas is a treasure trove of horrible children’s media cliches and practices, but rather than try and dissect the films in a traditional sense, I would like to examine the reasoning for saturating these movies with the “Ay-Ya’s”. Below are some speculations I’ve made as to why the producers and directors thought it was a good idea to make this irritating sound so pervasive throughout the movies.

Karate Studio Marketing – Karate studios in the 90’s were in desperate need for an increase in enrollment. Since no individual studio had enough money to create effective advertising, they decided to pool their money together (much like beef and milk) and create a series of kids’s karate movies that would encourage youth to beg their parents to join a karate class. The idea behind the Ay-Ya’s was that kid’s would mimic this extremely irritating sound and yell it into their parents face while punching and kicking sofas and family pets. Parents would have no choice but to enroll their kids in karate class or they would have to face the never ending onslaught of Ay-Ya hell.

The New Catchphrase – Catch phrases are often an effective marketing tool for corporations to create greater awareness about their brand. Ay-Ya may have been an attempt by the producers of 3 Ninjas to create a catch phrase that would rocket the movie series into ever increasing popularity. Everywhere kids and teens would be saying “Ay-Ya” to all sorts of situations. “Ay-Ya” would replace such sayings as “I’ll kick your ass” or “Watch out there is a ninja behind you.” Decades later VH1 would remember “Ay-Ya” against the backdrop of flying toaster screen savers and high-kicking 4th graders.

Subtle Indoctrination – If you play the “Ay-Ya” sound in 3 Ninjas at very slow speeds you will notice something very eerie. It sounds like a deep growling voice saying “Invade Iraq”. The true rulers of the United States government knew long before the Bush administration and 9/11 that an invasion of Iraq was inevitable. In order to indoctrinate the usually rebellious anti-war youth into accepting and even joining the war effort, they placed this subtle message into pretend violent kid’s movies in order to expose as many children who would come of age in 2003 as possible. It’s no mystery that the target demographic for the 3 Ninjas movies would be between the ages of 17-24 when the invasion of Iraq began.

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WaPo Exposes Addict’s Record to Criticize Mass Incarceration Reform

On Sunday this week, The Washington Post published an article titled “A ‘Virtual Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card,’” referring to the reforms in sentencing made in Proposition 47 in California. The focus of the article is on a 36-year-old homeless man in San Diego named James Lewis Radenburg, a non-violent drug addict who finds himself constantly in conflict with the justice system, yet remains free because of new laws preventing prison sentences for misdemeanor offenses.

Radenburg’s star role in the article is used to highlight a criticism of the justice system not heard much since the early 90’s, the revolving door of justice. Reporter Eli Saslow peppers Radenburg’s arrest record evenly throughout the article, making sure to note the quickness of his release on each occasion. Police officers in San Diego supposedly call people like Radenburg “frequent fliers.” According to many in law enforcement, the ability of frequent arrestees to go back on the streets is removing the deterrent effect.

“How can we change behavior when they know there’s no real threat of punishment, no incentive?” -Jan Goldsmith, San Diego City Attorney

Goldsmith’s quote relates to his involvement in San Diego’s alternative drug court, which is an avenue of treatment for offenders facing potentially long prison sentences. In the past, someone like Radenburg would have to face the choice of hard time in one of California’s overcrowded prisons or an extended rehab and treatment program. That less addicts may be seeking treatment is, of course, a problem, but the idea that threat of punishment is the only solution lacks critical thinking.

Saslow’s article briefly covers some of the people affected by the justice system the most, families of the incarcerated, by speaking with Radenburg’s mother. She laments her inability to have contact with her son due to his drug addiction, describing his descent from outdoor adventurer to a hopeless addict. In her continual effort to try and maintain contact with her son, she hired a private investigator. According to Saslow:

“The private investigator had taught her how to type Rabenberg’s name into the San Diego jail database to see whether he was in custody. A few times she had seen his name in the arrest logs and felt some measure of relief. Maybe he would be forced to detox. Maybe he would get help.”

Radenburg’s placement in a jail cell may be of some comfort to his mother, but the point ignores what most families experience when their loved ones are incarcerated: fear, shame, humiliation, and financial ruin. To completely ignore the positive aspects of Proposition 47’s reforms on the families of minor drug offenders appears to be an attempt to support a single viewpoint in the struggle for reform.

While Saslow’s article shows an overwhelmingly negative portrayal of prison reform in California, recent articles in the San Diego Union Tribune and Los Angeles Times highlight the way reforms are helping individuals and families in drastic ways. According to Saslow, the only positive to come out of Prop 47 may have been the throngs of cheering supporters celebrating its passage.

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