Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Lass is More Hates Guilty Pleasures but loves "Bad Boys"

We at "Lass is More" hate the term "guilty pleasure."  We find it repugnant.  Have the courage of your conviction.  If you want to watch nothing but "Real Housewives" for the rest of your life, stand up and say you want to watch nothing but "Real Housewives" for the rest of your life.

No one is defined by their viewing choices, but it's silly to think that those viewing choices don't offer some sort of hint about some aspect of your personality.  Why hide that?  Why hide who you are?  Why be embarrassed by your choices?

We aren't.  We don't mind saying that we watched "Bad Boys" and "Bad Boys II" this weekend and we loved every big, dumb, minute of both of them.  And boy, there are some big, dumb minutes in those movies.

photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Friday, November 20, 2015

Movie Review: "The Night Before" (2015)

Being funny isn't always enough. Or, maybe more accurately, being occasionally funny isn't enough. At least for movies. If a person is occasionally funny and not a complete drag the rest of the time, that's probably acceptable. It doesn't work for movies though. That's the biggest takeaway message from the Jonathan Levine directed "The Night Before" (2015) -- being funny isn't enough.

The new holiday comedy has some hugely funny people up front in Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anthony Mackie. It also has an incredibly funny supporting cast in Jillian Bell, Lizzy Caplan, Ilana Glazer, Michael Shannon, and Nathan Fielder. It even has great cameos by from Jason Mantzoukas, Tracy Morgan, Jason Jones, and more. Did I laugh? I did. But I also left the theater disappointed.

We find Ethan (Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Rogen), and Chris (Mackie) out on their last Christmas Eve together. The three are friends from high school who have had a years-long, boozy holiday tradition which is ending as Isaac and Chris feel as though they've gotten too old for it. This annual event began after Ethan lost his parents near the holidays and the other two tried to snap him out of it.  It sort of worked, they had a great time, but Ethan's found himself emotionally stuck at that point ever since.

Yup, it's a case of arrested development with a bunch of 30-something guys acting like the worst sort of college guys you can imagine. It is a tale of perpetual adolescence, and as much as Isaac and Chris may say they want out, their actions throughout the night do nothing but reinforce their desire to have things remain as they are. Mostly, it seems, because that's funnier.

Naturally, both Isaac and Chris are dealing with issues of their own – Isaac is about to be a first time father and Chris has finally gotten good at professional football via his use of performance enhancing drugs. Isaac's excuses for acting poorly on this particular Christmas go beyond the dad thing as his wife, for reasons that are wholly inexplicable, gives him a box of illegal drugs as he's on his way out with the boys. She says it's so that he can have one last fun night which is just about the weakest excuse the movie could possibly use for a bunch of drug-induced humor.

Boy, that all makes me sound angry at the movie and I'm really not. As I said up top, some of that humor, even the drug-induced stuff, is great. There are plenty of laugh out loud moments in the film, it's just that the rest of it is flat and the story—much of which surrounds the guys looking for mythical alcohol and drug filled holiday part—is boring.

One of the big reasons for this is that there is simply not enough there there. By giving each of these three main characters their own distinct story, none of the stories gets enough depth or time. This is made worse by the film's obsessive need to explain everything, including some jokes, two or three or more times (as though we all have short term memory loss).

If "The Night Before" had just gone out and tried to be funny and not cared at all about having "heart" and telling a story with a strong emotional base it could have been fantastic. Instead, it comes to a crashing halt more than once so that we can all be reminded that Ethan lost his father or that Isaac is having a kid or that Chris is cheating at his chosen profession.

By attempting to satisfy everyone, it ends up disappointing. I say go for the gusto, go big or go home. More people aren't going to go see "The Night Before," which is absolutely being pitched as a crass drug-filled comedy as it has a serious set of stories going on. An overall lighthearted tale would have gone a lot further.

But, because I'm now repeating myself (like the movie), I'm going to roll the credits.

photo credit: Sony Pictures

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"Lass is More" Finds Comfort in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"

Let's face it, the news from the world hasn't been great as of late (when is it?).  And movies provide one way of taking break from all the awful that is out there.  I don't advocate sticking your head in the sand, but there's a happy middle ground between a constant onslaught of horrific news and being completely oblivious to the world.

Today's minisode looks at what I did on Saturday night to take that short little break.  I found a movie sitting there on the DVD/Blu-ray shelf, a movie that I hadn't seen in years but which has never failed to make me smile, and I just watched it.  Nothing more, nothing less.

"Monty Python and the Holy Grail" truly is a brilliant movie, and while I think everyone should see it, there are any number of movies out there which might have the same effect for you as this one does for me.

Listen to the podcast and hear a couple of reasons I think some movies act this way.

photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Friday, November 13, 2015

"The 33" & "By the Sea" - I say Pass on Both

If you head over to IGN today, you can read my reviews of both "The 33" and "By the Sea."  Not to spoil those pieces, but I'll tell you right here and now that I was disappointed by both movies.

These are both movies that could have been great.  One has a brilliant true story to tell and can't manage to, while the other has two excellent actors front and center (and I think Jolie Pitt is a solid director, too).  I don't mean to sell "The 33" short in the acting department either, but it doesn't fail there, it fails in telling the story.  "By the Sea," doesn't so much fail in telling the story as in failing to have a story to tell.

They're both just so disappointing.  But, don't take my word for it here, read what I say over there.

My IGN review of "The 33." 

My IGN review of "By the Sea."

photo credit: Warner Brothers

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"Lass is More" Revisits Character with "Before we go" & "The End of the Tour"

On Friday, Lass is More spent its time on character and discussing the importance of character in film.  But, naturally, a few minutes on character isn't quite enough to tell the full story, so we're looking at it again this week.

Specifically, we're looking at "Before we go" and "The End of the Tour."  These are both movies where two people spend the majority of the film talking to one another, but because of the characters themselves one of the movies works beautifully and one doesn't.

You won't be surprised to hear that both of these films are currently (recently) out on Blu-ray.  One of them, of course, is worth your money and one is not.

If you don't already know which is which--and, frankly, even if you do--you should listen.  Trust me.

photo credit: Radius-TWC/A24

Friday, November 06, 2015

"Lass is More" on "The Professional" and "The Fifth Element"

On the surface, these two movies look pretty different.  Sure they both have Luc Besson as the man at the wheel and they both feature Gary Oldman, but one of these movies is a small story about a small-time hitman and a young girl.  The other features the potential end of all humanity and a far more grand scale.

But, when you look at them, both Besson movies work for the same reason -- a focus on creating interesting characters, and not just Oldman's (even if he is great).  Character is what makes a movie work.  If you don't find anyone on screen in a film remotely interesting, you're going to have trouble enjoying the movie as a whole.  Character is essential.  Character is why both "The Professional" and "The Fifth Element" work.

Want more thoughts on the specifics of the characters in question (as well as one big failure of the new Blu-ray releases)?  Click play below.

Photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Movie Review: "The Peanuts Movie"

Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. It offers us a rose-tinted memory off what was rather than a true depiction. Consequently, when we return in the present to that which we are nostalgic for, the potential for disappointment is great – we are forced to see what truly is (or is now) rather than see what our memory would have us believe existed.

Of course, it doesn't always work out like that. Sometimes, just sometimes, the thing, whatever it is, is just as good—or better—in the present than it was in the past.

This week, "The Peanuts Movie," based on those classic characters by Charles M. Schulz, hits theaters and it is wonderful. It hits all the right bits of nostalgia in all the right ways while being beautifully updated for today. Director Steve Martino and writers Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz, and Cornelius Uliano have delivered a nearly perfect update for Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of the gang. Truly, it is amazing what they have done with the characters and stories.

Wisely, rather than placing the Peanuts gang into a world of iPads, iPhones, and constant connections, having the Peanuts ruminate on the ways in which our world have changed, Martino offers us a timeless interpretation. Phones still have cords, the library is where you go to do research, and book reports are handwritten. As presented, it isn't dated, it just is.

Told over the course of, roughly, a half-year of school, the story revolves around Charlie Brown (voiced by Noah Schnapp) trying to find a way to get the new girl, The Little Red-Haired Girl (voiced by Francesca Capaldi), to notice him. Yes, it is a tried and true Charlie Brown storyline, but as with everything else, the story of a crush is timeless.

Over the course of the movie we get to see Charlie Brown try any number of different things which, potentially, might get The Little Red-Haired Girl's attention. Over and over again he tries and, because he's Charlie Brown, he fails. That isn't a spoiler, it's just Charlie Brown. And, because it's Charlie Brown, he gets back up, brushes himself off and gives it another shot.

Along the way we get glimpses into the lives of the other members of the Peanuts gang and sly nudges to earlier episodes in their lives (Linus offers up a Great Pumpkin thought). The most prominent of these secondary stories follows everyone's favorite beagle, Snoopy. He spends a lot of the movie creating a story about the World War I flying ace in his Sopwith Camel (though they never identify the make of the plane) trying to defeat the Red Baron and impress the lovely Fifi (voiced by Kristen Chenoweth). It is a tale wrapped around whatever Snoopy is doing in the present and heavily influenced by what he sees in the present. Consequently, the movie is able to seamlessly move in and out of the Flying Ace's tale without greatly disrupting the proceedings.

The only way in which "The Peanuts Movie" reinvents the wheel is in the CG animation. There are moments which harken back to the old style of Peanuts animation, but if you've seen any of the trailers (or even glanced at the picture above), you know exactly how this new Charlie Brown looks.

There are, of course, people out there who will scream and shout and shake their fists to the heavens that someone has dared—dared!—change the animation from the old TV specials. Here though, I'd say that nostalgia is coloring their opinion.

The animation is perfect. It is updated, unquestionably it is, but it maintains the sensibility of the old animation. It truly makes one believe that the producers of the movie sat down and contemplated what the updated version of those old specials would be, what they would have looked like if they were first made today, and then went out and produced that update.

"The Peanuts Movie" isn't going to please everyone. There is always someone out there who will complain and holler and give you a "back in my day." Ignore them, they're wrong. "The Peanuts Movie" is incredibly great. It is exactly what it should be and done with all the love and care you'd want from such a project.

We are already trying to figure out when we can go back and see it again.

Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

007(x3) Weeks of 007 #24 - "Spectre"

"Spectre." It is what 007(x3) Weeks of 007 has been buildings towards. One James Bond movie a week for 23 weeks. The good, the bad, the ugly. The trends, the changes, the consistencies. The friends, the villains, the henchmen. The cars, the gadgets, the clothes.

The rewatch couldn't have worked out better, and it couldn't have worked out better because "Spectre," perhaps more than any other Bond film before it, is concerned with the legacy of our hero. Oh, we had an idea that this would be the case with "Skyfall" going back to the classic Bond mold and the classic mold requiring the super-group threat, but that is nearly all "Spectre" is concerned with, nothing more.

Everything in the Sam Mendes film overtly attempts to tie Daniel Craig's three previous Bond outings together and through subtle (or not) references brings in the older Bond movies. Moment after moment, scene after scene it occurs.

I actually am not quite sure how to proceed with discussing the movie as every previous entry in this series as been full of what would be spoilers if the films were new. To continue in the same mold, to point out all the references and all the ways Mendes brings things together would be to ruin a film that is not yet in release in the U.S.. I can't bring myself to do that.

What I can tell you without spoiling anything is this – finally, for the first time in the Daniel Craig era, the movie starts correctly. Yup, the gun barrel walk and turn are back, they are the first thing that happens, and it's great to see. How do you do classic Bond without that? How did they possibly let it go so long? I don't know.

The sad thing is that the brilliance of that is soon undercut with a shooting style that is more "Quantum of Solace" than "Skyfall." Action scenes are full of quick close-ups, handheld and jerky. It is difficult to see—or feel—what is happening, especially on a truly big screen. Watching "Quantum of Solace" and "Skyfall" it is clear which style works better, why do the other one? Even if one disagrees with which style is better, why shoot it in the manner of the less good film? "Skyfall" is one of the best Bond movies made, "Quantum" is somewhere near the bottom. Why not add more references to the better film than remind people of the less good one?

Other elements from "Skyfall" do carry through to here – Naomie Harris is back as Moneypenny, Ralph Fiennes' M remains on the side of the Double-0s, and there is a new threat from within the government about the future of spydom. Bond, too, is still haunted by the events of "Skyfall," and even the death of Vesper in "Casino Royale." They don't jettison character, just style, but Bond is so much about style that the choice makes little sense.

As I said, "Spectre" is so incredibly concerned with these past movies. Over and over and over again the new movie offers winks and nudges and nods about the previous Craig entries. Names are mentioned, locations are mentioned. Heck, even the opening credits offer faces from those earlier Craig movies.

The goal, of course, is to bring back SPECTRE, to tie the group into the current franchise, and to point the way forward. Well, maybe not this last one. One of the things I find fascinating about the Craig era is that more than any other time in the franchise's history, these films look backwards. They almost feel as though they are about filling in the gaps in Bond's history. So, are we looking forward or back or both? Let's say both.

One of the basic problems with "Spectre" is its desire to establish said organization. If you go back to our early 007(x3) Weeks of 007 discussions and those first films, you'll note that while SPECTRE comes up, it's tossed off as just a line or two. Dr. No mentions the organization, but nothing else. There is more to it in "From Russia with Love," but still no shot of Blofeld except from behind. It isn't until "You Only Live Twice" that we see Blofeld's face, that he's the chief villain Bond is going after.

"Spectre" is all about getting to the "You Only Live Twice" scope without three other films where the group is involved. Oh sure, Christoph Waltz's Oberhauser can say all he wants that he is the author of all of Bond's misfortunes, trying to convince the audience that those three earlier Craig movies really saw Bond going after SPECTRE, but they didn't, and the more "Spectre" says that he was, the less believable it feels.

It is too much, too soon, and consequently lacks the appropriate grandeur. SPECTRE requires more setup than "Spectre" allows.

Because it is so concerned with convincing us of the evil of SPECTRE, other things fall by the wayside, like Dave Bautista's Hinx. Billed as a henchman, Hinx finds himself with a seat at the big boys' table when SPECTRE meets. That makes him an equal to Dr. No or Rosa Klebb or Emilio Largo, not an Oddjob or a Jaws. If the former group are henchmen, then certainly Hinx is, but those bad guys got a full movie to do their thing, to have their plot, not Hinx. No, Hinx is stuck, quite overtly, as being Jaws without the camp element. He is definitely menacing, but he is derivative in so many ways.

Okay, so that's a lot of bad and disappointing up above and I don't want to offer the wholly wrong idea – "Spectre" has a lot of good going for it. I think the way Craig has built his representation of Bond through these four movies is wonderful. He has made Bond his own while still fitting him into our overall view of the character and the previous representations we've gotten.

Léa Seydoux's Madeleine Swann feels like a great counterpoint to our hero in "Spectre." She is someone who circled the same sort of life as Bond for years, but eventually found a way out only to get sucked back in by 007. As with everything else in the movie, the need to build SPECTRE gives Swann short shrift, but she's still a great lens through which we can see Bond.

Perhaps the one character the movie has time to build appropriately is Q. Ben Whishaw's portrayal of the Quartermaster was fun in the last movie and is stupendous here. He is all the right amounts of techie combined with a love-hate thing with 007 and M. Wherever the franchise goes next, whether or not Daniel Craig decides to leave the role, please, someone lock Whishaw in for another half-dozen films as Q. As Desmond Llewelyn was Q, now Wishaw is Q. He is perfect.

Where will Bond go now? When will we next see him? What will he look like when we do? Will SPECTRE be there? There are so many things we just don't know. All that is assured at this moment is that James Bond will return, and when he does, so will 007(x3) Weeks of 007.

photo credit: Sony Pictures

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

"Lass is More" on Legos, "Aladdin," and "Inside Out"

We have a big discussion today on Lass is More as we look into things that are meant for kids but great for adults too.  Actually, as I've said before (and totally mention in the podcast), all the best kids things work for adults as well.  There truly is something cross-generational about so many "kids' movies."

Most of the podcast is a discussion with Oscar-winning director (and two-time nominee) Daniel Junge.  His most recent film, "A Lego Brickumentary," is out on Blu-ray and DVD, but I also spend a bit of time before the interview talking about two other examples of kids' things working for adults, "Aladdin" and "Inside Out."

Truly, this last one, "Inside Out" is the perfect example of what I'm getting at with this kids-stuff-that-works-for-adults line of thinking.  Your mileage may vary on something like "Aladdin" (which I see differently now than I did 20 years ago but still love), but "Inside Out" is all about that transitioning from childhood to adulthood, what it means, and how your views change.  Riley experiences such an incredible shift over the course of the movie and starts to see her world in a new light.  It takes her time, but she eventually works out that while she may feel differently about her memories now than she did years ago, they're no less powerful.  In fact, they're more powerful, more dynamic.  She finds a different sort of enjoyment/fulfillment from her memories than as a kid, but they're still there.  It is a brilliant movie and hands down one of my favorites from Disney-Pixar.

Both "Inside Out" and "Aladdin" are now available on Blu-ray and, as ever, Disney has done a stupendous job putting them out with great sound/video, digital versions, bonus features, etc.  They would go on my Christmas list if I didn't already have them.

But, now, click below, listen, and enjoy.

photo credit: Disney/Pixar, Radius-TWC, Disney

Monday, November 02, 2015

007(x3) Weeks of 007 #23 - "Skyfall"

The time has come on 007(x3) Weeks of 007 for "Skyfall," the last entry of the rewatch and the second-to-last entry overall. Tonight, I see "Spectre" and the plan is to post that review Thursday (if all goes well).

Actually, "Skyfall" is the perfect movie to end the rewatch on because it is, beyond a doubt, one of the best Bond movies. The truly interesting thing though is that it is one of the best Bond movies because it is such a throwback to the classic Connery films.

Consider this – people love the first Craig Bond film, "Casino Royale" because it is about destroying the Bond mythos, it is about taking apart everything that people know and love about the character. It builds some of it back slowly, but it is really about Bond before he's Bond. Now here we are with the third film and people love it because it is entirely built around reestablishing that same mythos that was destroyed. Sam Mendes has characters say it at least twice, "sometimes the old ways are best." It isn't just a reference to fighting in the film itself, it's a reference to the old Bond movies and establishing that classic mold.

It also helps shine a lot on just why "Quantum of Solace" is so disappointingly filmed. Fine, I get that you can't always have Roger Deakins shoot your movie, but it's not just the shots that Deakins and Mendes give us, it's larger and goes to the composition of scenes as a whole and the way the pieces are edited together and what makes for a classically good movie as opposed to a flash-in-the-pan ridiculous style.

Bond fighting with the assassin in China here in "Skyfall" is one of the greatest fight sequences the franchise has put together and just watch it – the fisticuffs portion is one shot and even though the characters are silhouetted, you know exactly what's happening. You can still have style without fast cuts. You can establish tension and drama without fast cuts. Plus, avoiding hyperactive editing allows the viewer to know what's going on. "Quantum of Solace" just misfires so badly in terms of the actual filming/editing.

But, I'm not going to dwell on that (any more than I just did), because "Skyfall" works as more than just an antidote to "Quantum." As with other Bonds, especially latter day Bonds, "Skyfall" tosses a bunch of references about other films in the series (Q makes an exploding pen wisecrack, referencing "GoldenEye"), but there's more of the Connery era to it than anything else, that hard-nosed Bond and the simplicity of the gadgets and story. Particularly genius is Bond's witty repartee with Moneypenny at headquarters (or their makeshift headquarters), even if we don't know that Eve's last name is Moneypenny. Once you do know that and you watch the scene, it's just that much better.

And what about the reestablishment of Q branch as a thing in the franchise? This is the first time we've gotten a Quartermaster since "Die Another Day," and where there we were offered an invisible car, here we get a gun and a "Goldfinger"-like radio transmitter. Yup, Goldfinger." Again. I have lost track of the number of times that the franchise has referenced "Goldfinger," but they do it again here.

One of the other brilliant callbacks is another "GoldenEye" one, but it's subtle. If you recall when M was establishing her bona fides with Bond in that film she talks about having the "balls" to send a man out to die. Here, she essentially orders the death of more than one agent. She tells Bond to go after the NOC list rather than stopping an agent from bleeding to death and then has Moneypenny take a shot which could kill 007. Oh, she'll order a man's death without thinking about it. "Take the bloody shot."

I'm going to miss Judi Dench in "Spectre." This new movie is the first time in 20 years she's not in a Bond movie. 20 years. I have to wonder how she feels about that and desperately wish I had the opportunity to ask her.

Her character over those 20 years changed dramatically. There she was in "GoldenEye" as "The Evil Queen of Numbers," the new person who wasn't down with the old ways of spycraft. Now, here she is in "Skyfall" where she's a member of the old guard, with old school techniques. Ralph Fiennes' character makes that leap from a numbers guy to an agent guy just over the course of "Skyfall," but that seems more like a necessity of heading back to the Connery era – you can't have an M who doesn't believe in field agents in a Connery style film.

And how good is Javier Bardem here in "Skyfall?" Wow. Not to harp more on the stupendous work of Deakins and Mendes, but go back and watch the first Bardem scene. Again, it's a single shot as the elevator comes down and he walks towards Bond telling that insane story about the rats (and if you can't hear him do the rat nibble sound you really do need to watch it again). He doesn't come into focus even until the story is nearly done. It is just masterful storytelling and Bardem relishes the opportunity to play it up. I can't say I like his overall plan, even the movie doesn't (it drops the NOC list pretty quickly), but he's great and a true throwback to a Blofeld or a Dr. No or a Auric Goldfinger or an Emile Largo.

I guess my point here is this – no matter how far away we get from the Connery era and those classic Bond films, that will always be the franchise. I spent several weeks early on in this rewatch delving into the tropes of the Bond films and when exactly they were established. Here we are now, 50 years later, and "Skyfall" works because it shows us that those same tropes are still relevant in our world today.

You can makeover Bond as much as you want. You can call him "a new Bond for a new era" repeatedly. You can explain just how different the world is and how he's the guy to handle these new threats. It's all just lip service. The Connery movies established our hero, his look, his style, and what we expect from his movies. You can make them bigger, you can make them smaller, you can make the gadgets fancier. But, people are always going to be happiest when you just tell us a good tale in the classic Bond style. Fifty years later there's no need to reinvent the wheel, and it's best when you don't try.

There you have it.  Why is "Skyfall" great, because it's just as timeless as our hero. 007(x3) Weeks of 007 will return with "Spectre."

photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment