The Oscars Recap: A Night Full of Disappointment

US-OSCARS-SHOW

When my fiancee picked me up at the airport in Los Angeles on Sunday evening, she told me how she had never seen Trader Joe’s more packed than when she went there earlier in the day. The employees at the grocery store told her the three busiest days every year are the day before Thanksgiving, Super Bowl Sunday, and Oscars Sunday.

I knew plenty of people liked to watch Hollywood’s biggest night (Robin Roberts’ words, not mine), but I never thought it was cause for madness at the local markets.

I guess that means there should be lots of people eager to read a recap of last night in running diary format. Let’s dive in:

  • 4:00pm (Pacific Time): The Oscars Red Carpet Ceremony kicks off with Robin Roberts telling us we’re going to see the red carpet tonight like we’ve never seen it before. Which I think just means it’s a slightly different color of red this year.
  • 4:02: The first celebrity shown during ABC’s opening is Anna Kendrick. Never have I been more optimistic about the next six hours of my life. Kendrick = happiness.
  • 4:04: The first live interview by Roberts is with Common, his mom, John Legend, and his wife Chrissy Teigen. And four minutes into the coverage, we have our first name screw-up as Roberts calls her “Christy”. We can also hand out the award for the most aggressive dress slit of the night, as Teigen’s goes well above her vagina.
  • 4:11: Sorry, Rosamund Pike, but your dress slit is laughable compared to Teigen’s. Better luck next time. Also, adding to my dislike of this woman is the fact that her two children are named “Solo” and “Atom.”
  • 4:15: I support ABC’s decision to replace last year’s red carpet style expert (Tyson Beckford, whose most notable style comment was “She’s wearing a nice pink dress tonight.”) with this guy from Yahoo who is considerably more knowledgeable about style and considerably more gay. I mean, I don’t personally care, but I’m sure the people who watch this show to hear about the dress makers and the stars’ accessories love it.
  • 4:32: Robin Roberts says “congratulations” to Julianne Moore and it seems like they both know Moore is the guaranteed winner for Best Actress in a Leading Role tonight. There’s a chance this is going to be a very, very boring Oscars. It feels like one of those years where the odds-on favorites are going to win in each major category. Let’s hope that’s not the case. There’s nothing more boring than predictability.
  • 4:41: Kerry Washington, wear an uglier dress, I dare you to. Here’s my simple advice to the Oscars women, as a man who likes looking at women: Don’t make your hips or hip area look larger than it is. Should be simple.
  • 4:42: Chris Pratt and Anna Faris should host awards shows. I’m assuming it would be the first ever husband-wife combo to do so, but they’d kill. I would actually watch a three-hour show where Pratt does nothing more than cut a loaf of bread. He’s that hilarious.
  • 4:52: Reese Witherspoon brought her A-game tonight. And it’s not a coincidence that her dress doesn’t enlarge her body by 36 sizes like half of the actresses here tonight.
  • 4:55: I’m nominating Jennifer Lopez as the person that sparks the most “she’s still so hot at her age” Tweets throughout the awards ceremony. I think she looks fine, but nothing special.
  • 5:19: The ABC correspondent interviewing Lady Gaga says, “You never let us down with your fashion.” Really? I would have said, “You always let us down with your fashion.” And I would have put the word fashion in air quotes.
  • 5:30: And finally, we’re live from the Dolby Theatre as the 87th Academy Awards officially gets underway. Neil Patrick Harris is the first-time host. It’s raining in LA. I think the last time it did that was during last year’s Oscars. I’m going out on a limb and saying NPH’s first joke will be about 50 Shades of Grey. (He can’t joke about the weather because Ellen led off last year’s telecast with rain jokes.)
  • 5:31: “Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest…I’m sorry, BRIGHTEST.” Dammit, he went with a race joke to lead it off? Who knew?
  • 5:33: Anna Kendrick joins NPH during his opening musical number. Between Anna being the first celeb shown on the red carpet and now putting her front & center during this opening, it’s like the Oscar producers are trying to make sure one specific person stays tuned in all night long: Me. And they’ve done their job. I’m hooked.
  • 5:36: NPH’s six-minute song & dance ends after Jack Black joins in as the comic relief. It was a solid performance, but I’m already thinking this should be the new normal for The Oscars: NPH and Ellen co-host, and NPH is in charge of all the theatrics, singing and dancing, while Ellen is the joke-teller. I feel like that’s a solid compromise.
  • 5:41: I do appreciate that the Academy gives us a taste of what we’re actually here for by announcing the Best Supporting Actor as the first award of the night (before boring us with hours of technical and irrelevant categories). And in what will likely be the least surprising winner of this night, J.K. Simmons takes The Oscar for his role as the abusive jazz conductor/teacher Terence Fletcher in Whiplash. If you don’t know how large my erection is for Whiplash and Simmons, you can read all about it HERE.
  • 5:42: Wait a sec. Was Simmons tearing up while watching the 15-second highlight of his performance that the show played when announcing the nominees? Does that immediately make his performance the most powerful in acting history? The actor who played the role is crying while watching himself in that role!
  • 5:47: Liam Neeson makes what must already be the 10th joke of the night about the movies being criticized for constantly basing its stories on comics, books, remakes of old movies, etc. The football equivalent would be if the NFL did a “year in review” montage during halftime of the Super Bowl and it highlighted Roger Goodell’s 176 missteps of 2014. It’s teetering on that line between self-deprecating and awkward.
  • 5:49: Wow. I was way off tonight. It took 19 minutes into the telecast for NPH to make a 50 Shades joke. Dakota Johnson’s on stage to intro Maroon 5, who is performing a song from some movie that Adam Levine apparently acted in? This seems like a great time for my annual “this is why I DVR The Oscars” comment. No one can force me to listen to this pompous, talentless jerk-off sing on live television.
  • 5:56: And here we go. The start of what I’m sure will be a long run on categories absolutely no one cares about. J-Lo and Chris Pine are announcing the “Achievement in Costume Design” category. The Grand Budapest Hotel wins the first boring award of the night! Congrats.
  • 6:00: Reese Witherspoon, who was intro’d by an awful NPH joke about “she’s so lovely you could eat her up…with her spoon,” announces Grand Budapest as the winner of “Achievement in Makeup & Hairstyling.” Since this movie has almost no chance to win for Directing or Best Picture, I’m glad to see it taking home some of the more technical categories.
  • 6:03: Channing Tatum is on stage talking about something even more boring than the technical categories: The “Team Oscar” winners. No one understands what this is and no one cares. Who are these people? What is their purpose? Why should we care? It’s like ABC forgets that the point of a TV show is to hold viewers’ attention and therefore make money from advertisers who want as many eyeballs on the screen as possible.
  • 6:12: Congrats to Poland (or more accurately, the director from the Foreign Film winner who happens to be from Poland) for being the first to get the “wrap up your speech” music of the night. Except even that couldn’t deter him. They had to stop the music and re-start it just to let him know they meant business.
  • 6:18: Lonely Island is performing “Everything is Awesome,” the theme song from The Lego Movie. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person left in America who hasn’t seen that movie. More importantly, I wonder how many people predicted Lonely Island would eventually be on stage at The Oscars when they were producing “Dick in a Box” and “Jizzed in My Pants” a decade ago?
  • 6:26: With Jason Bateman and Kerry Washington announcing the “Live Action Short Film” award, we get a rare moment where my fiancee and I are both satisfied with the eye candy on stage.  Meanwhile, we started down this boring categories path 30 minutes ago and we’re still going strong. If only they could do the pointless awards at some off-screen ceremony where people could still be honored but the TV audience wouldn’t be subjected to such lame entertainment….Oh, what’s that? They have that exact scenario in place already? They gave out a bunch of awards on February 7th this year? Then what the hell am I doing watching speeches from the winners of “hairstyling & makeup”?? C’mon, Academy!
  • 6;27: I hate to stereotype but it appears only the foreigners don’t understand what the “get off the stage” music means.
  • 6:32: iaasieeieeeieieeeieejnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn””””””””doookkkkkkkkkffffffffffff
  • 6:34: Sorry, I passed out on my keyboard from boredom.
  • 6:35: Gwyneth Paltrow comes out…See? Here you go, Oscars. If you’re going to bore us to death with content, please roll out the hot blondes to deliver that boring content.
  • 6:46: Sound Mixing category up next. And just like that, they put Sienna Miller on stage. One minute before, they had Margot Robbie presenting (the actress from The Wolf of Wall Street and some upcoming Will Smith movie). This is a calculated move by The Academy to keep our attention just a little during this downtime.
  • 6:51: They throw us a curveball by bringing out a hot brunette as the next presenter. It’s Jared Leto! (Sorry, that was a recycled joke from last year. Had to do it.) Mark it down. Fifty-five minutes of bullshit categories and announcements. And Patricia Arquette wins for Best Supporting Actress, another category that seemed decided before the ceremony even started. Let me take this moment to wonder out loud if Keira Knightley is simply Winona Ryder after the name change?

ryder knightley

  • 7:06: Anna Kendrick is back out there to present “Best Animated Short.” Here are the people and order in which I’d organize the presenters for the entire night: Anna Kendrick, Jennifer Lawrence, Reese Witherspoon, Margot Robbie and Kata Mara (who I didn’t even know existed until I binged on House of Cards recently). Repeat that order over and over until there are no more categories left to present.
  • 7:09: I’d like to make an immediate amendment to that order above. Zoe Saldana absolutely should be included. And she will be. Once I’m the producer of this awards show.
  • 7:17: I would rate NPH’s hosting attempt as adequate so far. He’s not doing outstanding; he’s not doing horribly. He just doesn’t have the comedy chops of Ellen. I know some people will ridicule that, mostly the people who assume Ellen is only funny to middle-aged women. But she’s an experienced stand-up comedian who has been on TV, in movies, on talkshows and even host of awards shows. Bring her back in 2016!
  • 7:37: Over the past 20 minutes, they ran through a couple more technical categories and did the “In Memoriam” tribute. As we kill some time, I’ll go ahead and nominate Robert Duvall as this year’s “person in the audience who refuses to laugh or smile at any of the jokes, specifically any aimed at him.” Because this night is NOT about having fun and being self-deprecating if you’re a super serious actor, apparently.
  • 7:44: I’ve reached that point in the night where I’m fast forwarding almost every acceptance speech. I guess I’m truly in this for just the seven major categories, the hot blondes and the Ellen jokes.
  • 7:46: As Terrence Howard speaks, I have to ask, are any actors in Hollywood actually American? Or are they all from England and have simply perfected their American accents? Every year I’m confused by the number of actors with British accents.
  • 8:03: Idina Menzel is on stage. Hey, Idina, thanks for costing me $5 with your extra long rendition of the National Anthem before the Super Bowl! I hate you!
  • 8:04: Holy shit! I just heard thunder for the first time in the three years I’ve lived in LA! THUNDER! IN LA! THIS CAN’T BE! WHY DO I LIVE IN THE CITY THAT HAS THE WORST WINTER WEATHER IN AMERICA?!?!
  • 8:08: John Legend accepts the award for Best Original Song and says, “There are more black men in correction facilities today than there were slaves in 1850.” One person in the audience claps. Perfection.
  • 8:12: ScarJo! Say it ain’t so. Why are you purposely trying to look like Tilda Swinton? I know this is blasphemy, but 1) I dislike short hair on most women, and 2) That slicked back short blonde hair looks like, well:

[www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilda_Swinton linktext:Tilda Swinton]

  • 8:20: As Lady Gaga sings The Sound of Music medley and then Julie Andrews joins her on stage, my fiancee, who never wants to watch movies and seems generally disinterested in the film industry, is now schooling me on the deep history of all things Julie Andrews…vocal chord problems she used to have, reciting her IMDB page from memory. This is weird.
  • 8:21: OK, Grand Budapest just won its 4th award of the night. Granted, they are all in minor categories, but I’m starting to wonder if this groundswell of winning is going to lead to an upset in the Directing or Best Picture categories.
  • 8:23: “Wes Anderson, you are a genius” has replaced “I want to thank Harvey Weinstein” as the most uttered phrase at this year’s Oscars.
  • 8:29: Eddie Murphy is now presenting. He could say no words and just urinate on stage and it would still be more compelling than his appearance on the Saturday Night Live 40 show.
  • 8:30: I love how they stretched all those meaningless awards out over an hour in the middle of this broadcast and now they’re going to rip through the remaining five or six important categories in the final 30 minutes. This makes no sense. Anyway, Birdman wins for Best Original Screenplay.
  • 8:33: The Imitation Game wins the Best Adapted Screenplay award. I’m just going to say it and hope it doesn’t come off as offensive: These award winners make it very very difficult to make fun when every speech includes something about gay rights, racism or gender inequality.
  • 8:44: Ben Affleck announces the Directing winner, and it’s Birdman. It’s on its way to sweeping the major categories now.
  • 8:47: Cate Blanchett presents the Best Actor category, which is won by Dennis Reynolds of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fame:

dennis

  • Whoops, sorry. Turns out Eddie Redmayne is actually the winner, for his role in The Theory of Everything:

eddie redmayne

  • 8:52: Julianne Moore wins Best Actress. So at this point, the favorite has won in the following categories: Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Actress, Directing and Best Original Screenplay. This is a tough year for underdogs.
  • 9:00: Only one more category left, the big one, the moment we all tune in for, the award we’ll be taking about for years…AND MY DVR STOPPED TAPING RIGHT AFTER JULIANNE MOORE’S SPEECH!! I EVEN EXTENDED THE BROADCAST FROM THREE HOURS TO 3.5 HOURS, AND IT STILL WENT OVER!
  • FUCK YOU, ACADEMY AWARDS! I’M BOYCOTTING NEXT YEAR (unless Ellen returns to host).
  • Oh, and Birdman won for Best Picture, which I had to google to find out.

I saw this headline on Monday morning: ABC Telecast of The Oscars down 10% in overnight ratings to four-year low.

See? It wasn’t just me. Everyone hated this year’s Oscars. So here are my quick fixes that The Academy should immediately adopt:

  1. Do away with most of the live music. It’s boring and there are almost never any songs we want to hear being performed.
  2. Do away with that full hour of bullshit categories.
  3. Fill time, if you must, with trailers for upcoming movies, highlighting specific performances that The Academy is excited about. This is a win-win because people love seeing movie previews, and it would almost definitely cause more people to go to the movies in the upcoming months.
  4. Stop celebrating arbitrary things that happened an arbitrary number of years ago (“Sound of Music turned 50 this year, let’s spend 10 minutes on that!”)
  5. Put Jon Lovitz as the last face of the “In Memoriam” tribute.

Can someone please start a petition for Ellen’s big return in 2016?

Also, where the F was Jennifer Lawrence this year?

What a disaster the 87th Academy Awards were.

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Getting Ready for The Oscars With the Best Picture Nominees

best picture 2015

For those of you who strictly adhere to the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS) when deciding which movies to see, you’ve probably been a bit disappointed over the last few months by my lack of movie reviews. You’d think that as we got closer to Oscar night, I’d be seeing more nominated films and spreading the word about them. Well it turns out I have been seeing a lot of those films, but I haven’t done a good job of putting up my reviews (blame it on football season, the Patriots’ extended run through the football season, or just plain laziness…all are valid).

With the 87th Academy Awards (fancy name for Oscars) taking place only a couple days from now, I wanted to post a little primer to get people excited. Maybe this column will spark some debates, maybe it’ll cause you to run out to the theaters and see a few of the nominated films before Sunday evening, or maybe it’ll just get you in the mood for Hollywood’s most self-righteous night.

No matter your feelings on the topic, The Oscars will be talked about a lot in the days following the event. Don’t be the jerk who didn’t tune in.

Beyond this preview for the award show’s most important category, you can also expect a recap in the form of a running diary on Monday morning. Since Sunday is Hollywood’s night of unnecessary self-congratulations, allow me to be the first celebrity to do exactly that…

I pretty much CRUSHED IT with my running diary of last year’s Oscars (which you can find HERE). I just re-read it, and I’m still laughing at jokes that are now a year old. I’m the best.

OK so here’s the deal: I’ve seen six of the eight Best Picture nominees. I might see a seventh on Friday afternoon, but this blog needed to go up on Friday morning so you all could make your weekend plans accordingly. The two that I didn’t see are Selma and The Theory of Everything. So there’s a chance those two films are awesome. But I doubt it.

Here is how I would rank the Best Picture nominees that I’ve seen in order from worst to best:

6. Boyhood – The worst movie of the group wasn’t bad by normal standards, but it most certainly is not Oscar worthy. It was basically a three-hour gimmick where we got to see the actual actors age over 10 years in the context of a family in Texas growing and living, just like many families do. It was certainly an outside-the-box concept to film the story over a decade, but the stakes weren’t very high and it didn’t keep me glued to my TV at all. It was just OK. The plot could be boiled down to “boy moves through childhood and adolescence in a very normal way, with the usual highs and lows of a human life.” So someone please explain to me why this is considered one of the best eight movies of 2014??

5. American Sniper – Here’s how loaded the top five of this category is this year: American Sniper was a fantastic movie and it’s only the fifth best! It seems like this movie needs the least explaining out of all of them because there have been dozens of web articles and TV stories about this war story. And recent events have put Sniper back in the mainstream news (sorry for being vague, but I’d hate to spoil the ending). Even though this particular war movie focuses on a very specific person—the greatest sniper in American history—it’s still mainly about war in the Middle East. So I had to dock it points for originality. In many years, this could easily be the best movie. Bradley Cooper was fantastic and deserving of his Best Actor nod. But it didn’t hold my attention quite like these next four did.

4. The Grand Budapest Hotel – These days you could lose a lot of friends simply by saying you didn’t like a Wes Anderson film. It’s not very cool or hip to dislike anything this great writer and director does. But I promise you it’s not just peer pressure that made me love Grand Budapest. In classic Anderson style, we get to see a very intricate plot dressed up in colorful, precise scenery while still feeling like we’re watching an easy-going, fun adventure. If you’re at all familiar with his previous work, then you know exactly what to expect walking into this movie. This particular tale starts off a little slow, but once you get past the opening 20 minutes, the pace picks up and you really have to pay attention to keep up. The characters and the action move at light speed. Grand Budapest follows a concierge of the fictitious hotel and his loyal Lobby Boy as they try to prove the concierge’s innocence in a murder case. Like many films from the Wes Anderson archives, the plot is almost an afterthought as the characters and dialogue take center stage. Buckle your seat belts and hang on tight as this movie speeds down the proverbial (and real) alpine ski slope.

3. The Imitation Game – Trust me, I was just as surprised as you are at how much I enjoyed this Benedict Cumberbatch starring film. Set in the 1940s and ’50s, specifically during World War II, this is the true story of how Alan Turing and a handful of England’s top mathematicians cracked Germany’s brilliant Engima code. The code is what the Nazis used for all wartime communications (where to position their troops and U-boats, where to bring supplies, the positions of the Ally armies, etc). The movie includes Turing’s life before being recruited to the top secret code-cracking sector of England’s military, and his postwar life, where he was prosecuted for being a homosexual. The reason this movie is so compelling is because of the perfect blend of the high stakes of war (this small group of geniuses seems to be England’s only hope for saving millions of lives and ending the war) and the captivating story behind Turing himself. Technology buffs will also tell you that the machine Turing created during this time period was technically the first computer in human history. Not too many movies can boast that level of importance in its story. When I exited the theater after seeing The Imitation Game, I didn’t think I’d be ranking it this high, but it’s grown on me the more I’ve thought about it. Cumberbatch was so good, I think he deserves runner up in the Lead Actor category to the man who starred in this next movie.

2. Birdman – This is the one Best Picture movie that I actually did write a review for, which you can find HERE. In a nutshell, Birdman was a fantastic independent “artsy” film that featured the shoo-in Best Actor winner in Michael Keaton and a handful of other outstanding supporting performances by the rest of the cast. The parallels between Keaton’s actual career and the fictitious Riggan Thomson are impossible to ignore, and there wasn’t a more uniquely shot movie in 2014. Please click the link above to read about the plot in more detail. It’s a must-see, and for me it almost made it to the Oscars finish line as the best movie of the year. However…

1. Whiplash – For three months I’ve been telling people it would take a miracle for any movie to knock Birdman off the top of my 2014 “best films” list. At the 11th hour, a miracle is exactly what occurred. I finally saw Whiplash on Thursday and it BLEW EVERY OTHER MOVIE OF 2014 OUT OF THE WATER. I’m not exaggerating even slightly. In fact, I went into the theater hoping not to like it that much because there’s this one particular person in my life who I hate having to admit to that he’s right, and he told me a couple weeks ago that this was the best movie he’s seen in a while. Even while trying to be stubborn about it, Whiplash lapped the field in this year’s Best Picture race in my opinion. The story follows student jazz drummer Andrew (played by Miles Teller) at America’s finest music school, Schaffer Conservatory in New York. He starts on what is essentially the Junior Varsity team of bands, but is aiming to get to the next level, the studio band conducted by the legendary Terence Fletcher (played by J.K. Simmons). Let’s stop right there with the plot because we need to talk about Simmons (who has acted in a ton of stuff, with the most notable role for me being Paul Rudd’s Dad in I Love You, Man…remember his best friend, Hank Mardukas?). In Whiplash, Simmons plays the role of the fearsome, abusive, uber-demanding teacher. And he plays it just about better than any actor in any role that I’ve seen in my lifetime. As I watched him, I laughed and trembled with fear at the same time. Teller also played his part phenomenally, I thought, but sometimes an actor and a role are like a tornado ripping through the movie and leaving destruction in its wake. That was Simmons in this particular film. He’s nominated for the Supporting Actor Award on Sunday, and I don’t think a category has been this locked up before the ceremony since Daniel Day-Lewis actually mutated into Abraham Lincoln in 2012’s Lincoln. I can’t say enough about Simmons or the movie in general. Beyond the characters, the plot was even better than you could ever imagine considering it’s a story about jazz and music school. The writer/director of Whiplash, Damien Chazelle, sets us up for the ultimate “HOLY SHIT” moment not once, but twice in the second half of this movie. And to top it all off, the final 10 minutes are the most fun you will ever have watching actors play music on the big screen. After writing all this, I really want to go see Whiplash again. Like right now. You should do the same.

And because I thought Whiplash was so amazing, I’m hoping one more miracle happens. Below are the betting odds for the Best Picture category. I just had to put a few bucks on Whiplash at 66/1 odds. I’m hoping the Academy members saw what I saw in this movie and decide to reward it in the way it deserves. Fingers crossed.

Enjoy Oscar Night!

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Movie Review: Inherent Vice (or was I just hallucinating?)

inherent vice

Inherent Vice is one of two movies I’ve been chomping at the bit to see ever since the trailer was released months ago (the other being American Sniper). And it most certainly did not disappoint.

First, the boring stuff: Inherent Vice is a crime/whodunit story that mixes equal parts comedy, drama and trippy insanity. It was directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, and it’s based on a novel by Thomas Pynchon. And it feels like everyone in Hollywood has a starring or supporting role in the film.

The twisting, looney plot unfolds as a 1970s private investigator, Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), gets pulled in a thousand different directions while trying to find the whereabouts of his missing ex-girlfriend and her new lover, a real estate mogul named Mickey Wolfmann. The film begins with the ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fay, visiting Doc at his home in a little California beach town and asking for his help in stopping a plot by Wolfmann’s current wife to have Wolfmann committed to an insane asylum so she can take all his money.

Then Shasta goes missing. Then someone murders one of Wolfmann’s bodyguards. Then, in seemingly a completely separate plot, a woman contacts Doc about her missing husband, who’s actually in hiding while working as a police informant.

And then an organization (or maybe it’s just a boat?) called the Golden Fang comes into play because they’re smuggling drugs into the United States.

There is so much more to this movie that I can’t even begin to dive into. There seem to be unlimited plots, side stories, twists & turns, and all of it is supposed to tie into the main story. Once again, that main story is Doc trying to find Wolfmann and Shasta after they disappear (you’ll need to remind yourself of this several times during the movie).

Now for the fun stuff: This movie is The Big Lebowski on a mix of speed and mushrooms. Seriously, if you close your eyes at different times during the film, you’d swear you’re hearing the characters of Lebowski. Doc is a ’70s version of The Dude, if only The Dude had more motivation and a more extensive use of drugs.

I know the unrolling of the different plots I mentioned above is confusing, and it’s just as tough to follow in the movie. But it doesn’t matter. You can keep up with the major twists & turns, get lost in the subplots and side stories, and still laugh your ass off.

I haven’t even talked about the LAPD Lieutenant “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), Deputy DA Penny Kimball (Reese Witherspoon) or a dentist played by Martin Short. But they’re all there. And they all try to push their agendas on Doc, who seems to do a lot more wandering around aimlessly for information than hunting with a purpose like a real detective.

When we first meet Doc, it’s impossible to expect that he’s a competent PI. He’s a hippie dopehead who can’t seem to keep up with anything. He tries to jot down notes in his notebooks as someone’s asking for his help, but usually he just writes something like “not hallucinating.” Is he talking about the person presenting him with a case? Or is he reminding himself that he’s not currently hallucinating?

I can’t stress enough how wacky, scatterbrained and bizarre this movie is…but I mean that in the best way possible. Seeing Inherent Vice was one of the most fun times I’ve had at the movies in years.

You should see this movie if: You like the idea of a crazier Big Lebowski; you like stoner movies; you’re a fan of crime stories and 1970s drug culture; you love Paul Thomas Anderson films; you want to see an epic performance by Joaquin Phoenix that I think should earn him Best Actor consideration at The Oscars; you appreciate films with confusing plots that will force you to watch it at least a second and third time to really nail down what the hell happened; you’re looking for something to watch while really REALLY high.

You should not see this movie if: You’re a narc and despise everything the ’70s culture stood for; you don’t like your comedy to include a side dish of violence; you don’t want to see great acting and silly plots; sex and drugs on the big screen scares or embarrasses you; you hate all those actors I mentioned above; you can’t handle being confused during or after a movie.

Like I said, this was one of the most enjoyable movie experiences I’ve had, so there should be no surprise that I’m ranking this high on the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS). I’m going with a solid 9 out of 10. Not only is it fantastic the first time, but I imagine any time it comes on HBO or the other movie channels later this year, I will stop what I’m doing and at least watch parts of it.

If you missed my movie review from earlier this week and want to read about a film that’s on the opposite end of the RWS spectrum, check out my thoughts on The Gambler here.

Movie Review: The Gambler

the gambler

I saw two movies in the theater last week. The one I had been looking forward to for a while was Inherent Vice (review coming later this week), and the one I kind of just stumbled into and thought, “Eh, why not? This could be fun” was The Gambler.

After all, you know how much of a gambler I am (or maybe you don’t, but just take my word for it).

The Gambler was a lot of things, but unfortunately fun wasn’t one of them.

This film is set in modern day Los Angeles, contains no super natural beings or wizardry, no special effects or sci-fi aspects, and yet I’ve seen movies set in Middle-earth that were more believable than this sucky piece of art.

The plot is straight forward enough. Jim Bennett, played by Mark Wahlberg, is a college professor who has an insane gambling addiction. He falls into trouble early in the movie when a man who operates an underground casino informs him he owes $260,000 in gambling debt. It gets worse when he borrows money from a loan shark named Neville Baraka (played Michael Kenneth Williams…Omar, to you fans of The Wire) and immediately loses it doing what else, gambling of course. And from here it’s just a downward spiral. He has multiple opportunities to pay off his debts or come damn close, but instead he takes any money he has and keeps gambling with it until he loses.

And this is where The Gambler leaves the real world and enters a dark, twisted fantasy (not a nightmare because it never seems like the main character is too upset about his predicament). You can’t convince me there’s a single person on this planet who would gamble as recklessly as Bennett does in this story. It just doesn’t make any sense, unless he wants to die. And if that’s the case, fine, die already. Don’t come to a sudden realization that you do indeed want to live and then start to pick up the broken pieces of your life, all of which come through self-infliction.

It’s amazing that the marketing tag for this movie is “The only way out is all in” because that’s not even remotely true. It should say, “The only way out is all in…or by borrowing the money from your filthy rich mother.”

Bennett has real death threats hanging over his head from all the people he owes money to, but every time he’s given money, he just goes to a casino and blows it. It’s ludicrous.

In case the tone of this review isn’t crystal clear, this movie was infuriating. It was such a waste of time. It was a stupid, pointless, unbelievable story that made me long for a good gambling film like Rounders.

In fact, do yourself a favor and skip The Gambler and instead watch Rounders again (conveniently available on Netflix Instant). It’s a much better use of your time.

You should see this movie if: Ummm…hmm…I guess if you like semi-suspenseful casino scenes enough to overlook the horrible 95 minutes surrounding those scenes; if you are a family member of Mark Wahlberg’s (after all, he’ll probably ask you if you’ve seen it).

You should not see this movie if: You’re a human being with functioning eyeballs and ears.

It’s probably not a shocker that this movie is going to get the worst rating ever on the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS). I’m giving it a 1.5 out of 10.

Here’s a little teaser for the Inherent Vice review coming later this week: I rate it higher than The Gambler.

NFL Week 16 Picks: Taking Stock of the Quarterback Landscape

Chicago Bears v San Francisco 49ers

We’re almost at the finish line of what’s been a highly entertaining season of football, even while being a major drain to my bank account. Of the many years I’ve been following the NFL, this might be the most depressing in terms of all the side competitions I participate in. It’s the first time I didn’t even sniff the playoffs in any of my fantasy leagues. It’s the first time I really bottomed out in my Pick ‘Em Leagues, and it’s my second straight year of ending the regular season well under .500 when picking against the spread.

From my depression to most of the NFL’s depression…let’s talk quarterbacks.

Yes, it’s true that the highest paid player in football, Jay Cutler, was benched this week for Jimmy Clausen. The Carolina Panthers chose Clausen in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft, he played 13 games for them his rookie season, and then didn’t get a single snap in an NFL game until 2014, where he’s thrown nine passes for Chicago so far.

So the quarterback with the largest contract in the league is backing up a colossal draft bust who has completed 160 passes in his entire career.

And this is why coaches, scouts and personnel people go crazy over quarterbacks. Because success in the NFL is tied to that position. Whether your team has a franchise quarterback, is paying the wrong guy as if he’s a franchise quarterback, or waiting on that long-term solution and just biding its time with underwhelming castoffs…you live and die in the current NFL by how that person performs.

There may be no better illustration of how a team’s success is tied to its quarterback than the quarterbacks page of FootballOutsiders.com.

It’s not perfect, but almost every team that’s going to the playoffs or still fighting for the playoffs has its quarterback in the top 15 of that list. The middle tier, spots 16-30, is for players like Eli Manning, Brian Hoyer and Colin Kaepernick. And the bottom rung of that ladder is a who’s who among the worst teams in the league. Most of the rookies like Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles occupy that section of the list, along with usual suspects EJ Manuel, Geno Smith, Josh McCown and every single quarterback the Washington franchise has tried out this year.

Every year I try to do a count of how many teams are feeling great about their quarterback situation and how many teams are kind of screwed going forward. Currently I’ve got 17 teams that are OK on their QBs. There are nine from the NFC and eight from the AFC. (This assumes that after the Bengals lose their first playoff game they don’t decide they’ve had enough of Andy Dalton.)

So we’re left with 15 teams that’ll go into the offseason either actively shopping for a QB or secretly shopping for a QB while telling the incumbent that his job is safe. This is why Brian Hoyer will get a good-paying job in 2015. This is why Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston will probably go 1st and 2nd overall in the draft even if there are major red flags in their games or with off the field stuff.

Quarterbacks rule the world.

Now let’s dive into what’s going to rule my Sunday. Good football, hopefully.

By my count there are only 11 games remaining across these final two weeks that we can appreciate from a pure football standpoint. These are games that obviously have a lot of playoff meaning. In week 16 I see six such games:

  • Baltimore (9-5) @ Houston (7-7) – Sunday 1pm ET: This game is interesting because a Baltimore loss ends their division title hopes and hurts their Wildcard chances. Also, Houston is playing with a slim chance at making the playoffs, and more importantly, a 9-7 record might allow some more voters to think J.J. Watt worthy for MVP.
  • Atlanta (5-9) @ New Orleans (6-8) – Sunday 1pm ET: The winner of this game will control its own fate for the NFC South title.
  • Kansas City (8-6) @ Pittsburgh (9-5) Sunday 1pm ET: Crazy important game for both teams. The winner has a great chance of getting the AFC’s #6 seed.
  • Indianapolis (10-4) @ Dallas (10-4) – Sunday 4:25pm ET: Ya know, this game should almost be meaningless for Indy. If it was meaningless, they’d probably rest guys and Dallas could coast to a playoff spot. But the week 16 schedule causes Indy to need this game. While the Patriots could lock up a bye with a win in the early game Sunday, the Broncos don’t play until Monday. So the Colts have that glimmer of hope of catching Denver when Indy plays Sunday afternoon.
  • Seattle (10-4) @ Arizona (11-3) – Sunday 8:30pm ET: Doesn’t get much bigger than this. The NFC West and a 1st round bye are on the line. [Insert one of many jokes here about Ryan Lindley, Logan Thomas, the fact that Carson Palmer can make or break a team’s Super Bowl chances, Bruce Arians’ overconfidence that anybody with a heartbeat can get his team to a Championship. They’re all applicable.]
  • Denver (11-3) @ Cincinnati (9-4-1) – Monday 8:30pm ET: Of course Denver needs this to keep pace or move ahead of the Patriots for the AFC’s top spot, but Cincy could still finish anywhere from #1 to out of the playoffs. And when this game kicks off on Monday, Cincy could be in position to mathematically lock up the AFC North (though unlikely since Baltimore would need to lose to Case Keenum/Thad Lewis this week).

And now for the picks.

Tennessee @ Jacksonville (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Jacksonville
  • The Score: Jacksonville 15, Tennessee 2

This is most definitely a critical game for each team’s future. The losing team maintains a stranglehold on the 2nd overall pick in the 2015 Draft and positions itself for the top pick if Tampa Bay accidentally wins one of its last games (hosting Green Bay then New Orleans). The winning team on Thursday could drop to as low as 6th in the draft.

So with that in mind, I looked up the lowest scoring games in the past 30 or so years. It turns out a game ends with the final score of 3-0 about once every decade. The most recent one was a Monday Night game on November 26th 2007, when Pittsburgh beat Miami 3-0. Amazingly it improved the Steelers to 8-3. The Dolphins fell to 0-11 and Ricky Williams made his comeback in this game! The field had been resodded or something and everyone said it was the worst conditions they’ve ever played in.

Both the Titans and the Jaguars should try to make this game worse than that one from seven years ago.

Since Tennessee seems to be rolling over with a lot of commitment and an aggressive lack of shame, I’m taking the Jags. But by rule, no one should be gambling on games this late in the season where neither team has anything to play for, and more importantly, one or more teams could be actively tanking.

Philadelphia (-9) @ Washington

  • The Pick: Philadelphia
  • The Score: Philadelphia 28, Washington 14

A common thread across everything I’ve read about Dallas’ win in Philly is that Tony Romo was phenomenal. This was one of the few games this year where he really had to carry the offensive load and he was unbelievable.

And I mostly agree.

RG3 has been announced as the starter for Washington. He, nor any other QB on the PotatoSkins’ roster, could make me think twice when picking the Eagles to cruise in this one. If Mark Sanchez does nothing else, I need him to win this game so that we’re guaranteed two more intriguing games in week 17 as both Philly and Dallas would still be in line to win the East.

San Diego @ San Francisco (-1)

  • The Pick: San Diego
  • The Score: San Diego 26, San Francisco 17

When I initially looked at this line on Monday night and started writing my first draft of this column, it was San Francisco -2.5, and I made a note that my online sportsbook will not be publishing a line for this game where San Francisco is favored. Sure enough, my book still hasn’t posted a line and now I’m seeing on other sites that this has dropped to just a single point. Makes sense. I can’t imagine anyone is really backing the 49ers at this point.

Beyond the internal turmoil going on with San Francisco, there’s this: For the second straight year, teams coming off a game versus Seattle in the previous week have a terrible record in the next game. I think teams that just faced the Seahawks are 0-8 in their eight follow-up games over the past two months.

Plus, the 49ers just experienced the gut punch of being eliminated from playoff contention for the first time in four years. A lot of their players have never experienced that feeling. Hangover, mail-it-in game for San Francisco.

Baltimore (-6) @ Houston

  • The Pick: Baltimore
  • The Score: Baltimore 27, Houston 15

Another game where I looked at the opening spread (Baltimore by 4.5) and figured it could look significantly different by the time Sunday rolls around. The Texans have to start Case Keenum, Thad Lewis or J.J. Watt at quarterback. And it’s a bad thing for their chances that we’d all pick Watt to start at QB among those three options.

How about that Ravens finishing schedule? Week 15 vs Jacksonville/Blake Bortles, Week 16 @ Houston/Case Keenum/Thad Lewis, Week 17 vs Cleveland/Johnny Manziel.

If Baltimore doesn’t win the division, it better be because Cincy somehow swept Denver and Pittsburgh to hold the Ravens off. No excuse for Baltimore to lose another game.

Green Bay (-11) @ Tampa Bay

  • The Pick: Green Bay
  • The Score: Green Bay 94, Tampa Bay 6

Here’s a crazy fact: Assuming a Detroit win at Chicago this week (kind of a given if you watched their Monday Night no-show), if the Packers were to somehow lose in Tampa, they’d be unable to win their division. The Lions would be NFC North Champs.

What’s crazier is that Green Bay is just sketchy enough on the road and the NFL is just fucking nuts enough to make me pause and consider predicting the Bucs to get the impossible win. But that’s silly talk. Even if I don’t trust the Packers, I do trust that Lovie Smith feels his job is safe and would like to wrap up that #1 overall draft pick.

Gimme the Packers to ensure a great week 17 finish in the NFC North.

Kansas City @ Pittsburgh (-3)

  • The Pick: Pittsburgh
  • The Score: Pittsburgh 26, Kansas City 22

Every time I try to bet against Kansas City, I look at their schedule and realize they’ve beaten a shitload of good teams. They have a chance for eight wins over legitimately good football teams.

And yet, the Steelers might be a bad matchup for the Chiefs. Kansas City’s best defensive asset is its pass rush, but Ben Roethlisberger is a master under pressure and has been even better with quick passes and using his running back when under siege this year. On the other side, Pittsburgh’s defensive backs are their weak link, but wait a minute, what’s that? Kansas City cannot complete the uber difficult task of a throw & catch between quarterback and wide receiver. So Pittsburgh has that going for them.

I’m such a sucker for doing this, and it’s likely because I have Pittsburgh in so many preseason bets about win totals and making the playoffs, but I’m taking the Steelers with the most important win of the week.

Cleveland @ Carolina (-3.5)

  • The Pick: Carolina
  • The Score: Carolina 12, Cleveland 6

What an incredible swing for the Browns! Vegas had Cleveland favored in week 15 by 1.5 or 2 over the 8-4-1 Bengals. And now, that same team, Johnny Manziel and all, is a four point underdog against a 5-8-1 team?!?!

By picking Carolina, I’m banking on Cam Newton playing and being mostly healthy. I’m also counting on the Browns to stay true to form on the road. Two of their three road wins were against NFC South opponents and were decided by less than a field goal. (The other road win was 24-3 at Cincy, but that was a Thursday game and Andy Dalton was in the middle of a drug-and-booze-fueled bender that night.)

Detroit (-8.5) @ Chicago

  • The Pick: Detroit
  • The Score: Detroit 33, Chicago 4

I mean, come on. This line actually moved from 4.5 to 8.5 when the Bears announced Clausen as the starter. I’m undeterred by that four-point swing.

Meanwhile, after awarding “Coordinator of the Year” to Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin in Monday’s column, I’m awarding “Least Valuable Coordinator” to Aaron Kromer. He’s the Bears’ offensive coordinator who’s now infamous for throwing Cutler under the bus to a NFL Network reporter and then tearfully admitting to the team that he did it. He’s not loved right now. Kromer also has another mini-legacy under his belt. In 2012, he was the interim interim Head Coach for the Saints in their first six games. Sean Payton was suspended for the year and interim Head Coach Joe Vitt was suspended for those opening games. Enter Aaron Kromer, who promptly led a team coming off a 13-win season to a 2-4 record to start the year.

Minnesota @ Miami (-7)

  • The Pick: Minnesota
  • The Score: Minnesota 25, Miami 21

Miami is on the same wavelength as San Francisco here. They too just lost a physical game on the road to their division rival to end their playoff hopes. It just can’t be easy to get up for some of these remaining games.

It also looks like Minnesota hasn’t played a bad game since week 6. They’ve won four games and lost by eight points or less in four other games since then.

Atlanta @ New Orleans (-6)

  • The Pick: Atlanta
  • The Score: Atlanta 33, New Orleans 27

Two trends going in Atlanta’s favor: The Falcons are 4-0 in division games this year, and the Saints have lost four straight games at home.

Spending more than 13 seconds on this game feels like a waste so I’m looking for any signs. Those two streaks give me what I need.

New England (-11) @ NY Jets

  • The Pick: New England
  • The Score: New England 36, NY Jets 6

I’m not sure Vegas could set a line high enough that would cause me to back the Jets in this game. I’m always suspicious of Rex Ryan’s ability to keep some games relatively close when his team should have no chance…

…But more likely, this will be a massacre of epic proportions.

“But, Ross, the Jets have played the Patriots extremely tight in four of their past five meetings.”

Sure, a valid concern.

Counterpoint: I will give you $1,000 if you can create a semi-plausible scenario where the Jets score even a single point in this game.

NY Giants @ St. Louis (-5.5)

  • The Pick: St. Louis
  • The Score: St. Louis 27, NY Giants 20

I’m very comfortable with St. Louis up to and including a seven-point spread. The Giants’ two consecutive wins coming into this game aren’t because of a sudden surge in New York’s talent or execution, but rather because Tennessee and Washington are tanking even harder than them.

At least the Giants, in this season of misery, have something a lot of these other laughingstocks don’t have: A highlight machine. A reason to get excited when the Red Zone Channels shows a “NYG @ TEN Update Next” graphic on a Sunday where you’ve already written off the team for the year. Odell Beckham Jr. gives us a solid reason to keep one eye on the Giants as they trudge toward a top 10 draft pick.

Indianapolis @ Dallas (-3)

  • The Pick: Dallas
  • The Score: Dallas 30, Indianapolis 20

You know, I really like Andrew Luck a lot. And the Colts can’t help their schedule or the fact that they play in the putrid AFC South, but looking at what they’ve done this year…ugh, they’re not a very good football team. The impressive wins have come against the AFC South and the NFC East’s two bad teams. There was the 27-0 win over Cincy. That’s their one claim to being good right now.

There’s a small drumbeat of people wanting the Colts to rest some starters considering they’re unlikely to move up or down in the playoff standings regardless of their final two outcomes. But they do still have an outside shot at a bye, and Chuck Pagano confirmed this week that he doesn’t rest starters, no matter the situation.

But my thinking is that DeMarco Murray is going to play and be effective on Sunday, and the passing attack is coming off a game that saw three Tony Romo to Dez Bryant touchdowns. It feels like the Cowboys are handling this game, setting up a nightmare loss at Washington in week 17 to miss out on the playoffs.

Buffalo (-6) @ Oakland

  • The Pick: Oakland
  • The Score: Oakland 24, Buffalo 14

Sometimes the schedule can dictate how a game will go. The Bills’ slim playoff hopes rely on several teams losing their final two games, including Baltimore, Kansas City and San Diego. All three of those teams will have completed their week 16 game before the Bills take the field, and almost definitely one or more of those teams will have won. To me that means Buffalo can be excused for coming out deflated, a suddenly meaningless road game against the 2-12 Raiders. If/when the Bills look awful in this game, don’t be too hard on them. It’s a crappy situation to find out you’ve been eliminated from the playoffs less than an hour before you take the field.

Seattle (-9) @ Arizona

  • The Pick: Arizona
  • The Score: Arizona 26, Seattle 16

What we have here is a case of the least credible 11-3 team in NFL history facing the World Champs who just so happen to be playing their best football of the year over the past month. The line started at seven and clearly no one has faith in Ryan Lindley and the Cardinals.

I’m absolutely wiling to accept a reality that has the Seahawks go into Arizona, where the Cardinals are undefeated this year, and win by double digits.

But what if Seattle, especially their defense, is being overrated right now? In their past eight games, Seattle’s 7-1, but look at who they’ve played: @Carolina (13-9 win for Seattle), vs Oakland (30-24 win), vs the Giants (38-17 win), @Kansas City (24-20 loss), vs Arizona (19-3 win), @San Francisco (19-3 win), @Philadelphia (24-14 win), and vs San Francisco (17-7 win).

I know those last four games look difficult, but in reality it was a home game against Drew Stanton, two wins against a 49ers team that was in the burn part of “crash & burn”, and a 10-point win over Mark Sanchez in Philadelphia.

I’m just proposing that they’re probably not as great as they’ve seemed in their last eight games, that’s all.

On a related note, the Cardinals are such a fun team to root for if you don’t have loyalties to any other NFC team. Go Cards.

Denver (-3.5) @ Cincinnati

  • The Pick: Denver
  • The Score: Denver 31, Cincinnati 16

Cincinnati needs this game a lot more than Denver. That doesn’t mean a thing in terms of how it’ll play out. This is such a ridiculous mismatch in Denver’s favor that I can’t envision a single scenario where the Bengals win.

The Broncos are assured to be playing for positioning so don’t go thinking they might rest players for part of the game. In fact, if the Bengals win this game, they’d only be a ½ game behind the Broncos for the #2 seed in the AFC.

No offense to the other four teams that qualify for the AFC playoffs this year, but can’t we just use the three weeks of playoffs before the Super Bowl to have a Denver vs New England best-of-three series?

At this stage of the season with me having such a bad against the spread record, I’m gearing my picks more towards what I want the outcomes to be rather than what I’m expecting them to be. Proceed with caution.

And enjoy week 16!

Movie Review: Foxcatcher

foxcatcher

The buzz around Foxcatcher leading up to its release date had me believing I’d be seeing a fantastic movie and an even better individual performance out of Steve Carrell’s serious turn as John du Pont.

One of those two things was true. Carrell was incredible in seizing his first role that was 0% comedic. He’s certainly had some jobs that showed glimpses of his dramatic side (Little Miss Sunshine and Crazy, Stupid, Love come to mind), but never a leading role as serious as portraying the real life du Pont, the heir to the du Pont family fortune who took a particular liking to the sport of wrestling and the U.S. National Team.

If you don’t know the story behind du Pont and his wrestling passion that was at its peak in the ’80s and ’90s, you aren’t going to get a ton of backstory or explanation in this film. But we’re able to piece things together quite nicely.

John du Pont is a middle-aged man born into wealth due to his family’s history selling gunpowder and other military ammunition items during the wars. He lacks interest in his mother’s main hobby, horses and equestrian competition, but he finds his competitive passion in the form of wrestling. This interest coincides with brothers Greg and Mark Schultz rising to the top of the wrestling world after both of them won gold medals in the 1984 Olympics (two more outstanding acting performances were given in the form of Mark Ruffalo (Greg, the older brother) and Channing Tatum (Mark, the younger brother) playing these wrestling heroes).

John du Pont convinces Mark Schultz and then later Greg Schultz to join him at his Foxcatcher Farm to build and train the next great U.S. Men’s Wrestling Team.

If at this point in reading the review you’re wondering where the drama and the movie-like feel is going to come from, I understand your concern. While there are scandalous moments ranging from Mark getting sucked into drugs and du Pont getting too physical with his discipline, the movie ended with me wondering where the hell the plot went.

For anyone who does know the story and infamy behind du Pont, there is of course a major climactic moment after the brothers distance themselves from the seemingly crazier-by-the-day old man, but even that didn’t turn into a major payoff for the audience.

It was all so boring and slow. Even the Oscar-worthy performance by Carrell (and possibly others) couldn’t mask the lack of gripping plot.

You should see this movie if: You’re a history buff that takes a particular interest in the more obscure topics like amateur wrestling and historic American families; you want to see an awesome Steve Carrell performance along with great supporting work by Ruffalo & Tatum; you like a slow deliberate pacing to your movie (it felt like a typical movie about an English king or queen where there’s lots of slow, soft talking and almost no action); you want to see Tatum with his shirt off so badly that you’ll waste $15 and two hours of your life (this is only applicable if you lack the internet where you’d be able to look up any number of pictures of Tatum’s chiseled bod).

You should not see this movie if: You only like good movies; you are only entertained by action or comedy; you need you movies to have essential elements like a plot, raising of the stakes and an eventual climax; you hate Carrell, Ruffalo or Tatum; you fall asleep easily; you have no interest in competition.

On the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS), unfortunately I have to give this movie one of my lowest scores of all time…a 4 out of 10. It wasn’t a complete abomination and I didn’t walk out of the theater early (something that’s only happened once in my life…it was during A Walk In The Clouds).

But it’s bad when I can’t think of a single person I know who might enjoy Foxcatcher.

Movie Review: Birdman

birdman

Normally I wouldn’t be first in line to see an under-the-radar black comedy about a washed-up Hollywood star who’s battling demons—real and imagined—while trying to write, direct and star in a Broadway play just to announce to the world that he’s still relevant.

Normally I wouldn’t be the second in line, the 12th, the 100th or even the 10 millionth for a movie like that. But over the past couple weeks, everywhere I turned, I kept hearing the whispers about this incredible little film starring Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson, the main character trying to restart his career (or put on his final act…it’s definitely ambiguous as to what his ultimate goal is with opening a Broadway play).

We’re into November now, which means movies with Oscar aspirations are finally being released in theaters. The buzz over Keaton’s performance is what got me into a theater this past week, and that buzz is 100% deserved.

Birdman is the name of the movie because it’s the name of the fictitious Superhero that Keaton’s Thomson played in three hugely successful movies 20 years earlier. Then he walked away from that career-making & fortune-making role, and presumably he vanished from the A-list for the next two decades.

It isn’t too big of a leap for people to think about Michael Keaton’s career as a parallel to this storyline. He starred as Batman in the late 80s/early 90s, but walked away from the franchise after two films. We all know subsequent Batman films have gone on to make a ton of money over the last 20 years, and Keaton hasn’t really been relevant for a long time now.

Even though Keaton says in this interview that the main character’s backstory in Birdman couldn’t be any less similar to his real life, you can’t help but make the comparison while watching the onscreen Riggan Thomson in action.

This movie is so much more than “struggling actor tries to save his career by performing on Broadway.” It has many layers. Thomson and his best friend/co-producer Jake are nearly out of money before the play’s opening night even arrives. (Finally! Zach Galifianakis plays a character that doesn’t just feel like a regurgitated version of his role in The Hangover films.)

When they need to find a last-minute actor to fill a major role in the play, they’re ecstatic to land Broadway veteran Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), but that ultimately comes with problems. First, in order to pay Shiner’s ridiculous salary, Thomson has to refinance his Malibu home that was supposed to be given to his daughter one day (she’s a recovering drug addict played by Emma Stone). Then Shiner starts to steal the spotlight and go rogue on the script.

The revolving love triangles among the cast and crew are minor conflicts compared to Thomson’s internal demon. He can’t get the voice of Birdman out of his head. It’s the voice that’s repeatedly telling him he doesn’t need this Broadway play or the hassle it brings. He’s a star. He grossed more than $1 Billion worldwide.

All the pressures and issues facing Thomson come to a head when the play is running its final preview, a showing attended by the New York Times theater critic Tabitha, who has the reputation of either making or breaking your success on Broadway.

What happens in the movie’s final 30 minutes will make you laugh, cry and walk away extremely satisfied.

You should see this movie if: You love artsy indie movies; you like black comedies; you want to see a movie that’s totally unique and original compared to a lot of the repetitive junk that the studios usually put out there; you’re OK with laughing and crying at the same time; you’re a big Michael Keaton and/or Edward Norton fan; you’re into Broadway and want to see a somewhat fictitious take of what goes on behind the curtain; you want to see what will most likely be an Oscar-nominated performance (Keaton’s for sure).

You should not see this movie if: You only like films that have lots of action and a ton of special effects; you couldn’t possibly picture liking an artsy movie; you only like comedies that are pure laughs and don’t have any drama; you hate Michael Keaton and/or Edward Norton; just thinking about plays and Broadway makes you start yawning.

On the Ross Watchability Scale, I’m giving Birdman a 7.5 out of 10. The acting is incredible throughout and the plot actually held my attention a lot better than I was initially expecting. I’m very glad to have heard that buzz that got me into the theater for this one.

One final note: If you’re considering a few different movie options for this weekend, you can compare my thoughts on Birdman with two other movies that should still be in the theaters: Gone Girl and Fury. Of course, there’s a very strong chance that you’re seeing Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar on its opening weekend, but if you want to avoid those crowds, check out one of the three movies above.

Enjoy.

Movie Review: Fury

fury

Wasn’t there a time when every film starring Brad Pitt would be released with a lot of fanfare and media coverage? Nowadays it seems like only one out of every handful of his movies gets any type of publicity.

In fact, his perfect appearance on Zach Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns” earlier this week got a lot more buzz than anything else he’s done recently (And I highly recommend watching that five-minute skit. You won’t be disappointed).

I almost forgot there was a new movie featuring Mr. Jolie out in the theaters when I stumbled upon Fury the other day.

And good thing I found it. What a cool little World War II flick this is!

It’s simple, focused, uncomplicated and limited to just a few main characters. I suppose most WWII movies have a pretty narrow scope. You can’t really tackle the entire war in a two-hour film.

Fury focuses on the end of the war, when the Americans are marching on Germany. The story follows a tank and its crew, led by Pitt’s Staff Sergeant “Wardaddy”, as they try to hold off the Germans at a critical crossing where the Allies are moving their supplies.

More important than the step-by-step plot is the men inside the tank. Five soldiers with differing levels of experience, four of whom have been together in this tank (named “Fury” by the way) since the war began.

The fifth guy? That’s where all the drama comes from. His name is Norman Ellison, and he’s the baby-faced war virgin (and possibly sexual virgin) who recently enrolled in the army to be a typist, not a driver of a tank, and certainly not a combat soldier. But he’s thrust into this situation, and as you’d expect, he’s immediately in over his head. He’s never been in combat, never killed a man, and doesn’t seem like he belongs in any way.

His “orientation” happens as Fury leaves an Ally base and moves into hostile territory. Bonds among men are formed, lives are lost and very cool war battles are fought. This is not a war movie that has the typical slowness to it. These guys are in danger the entire time, and the movie makes sure we feel that suspense and anxiousness throughout.

You should see this movie if: You love war movies, especially WWII stories; you worship Brad Pitt and all that he does; you like watching two hours of film where there’s a ton of action and only a little character development; you like cool battle scenes; you like your movies as gritty and grim as possible.

You should not see this movie if: Graphic images, specifically dead bodies and severely injured body parts, make you sick; you’re simply not a fan of war movies; you like your films to have female actresses with significant roles; you require the happiest of happy endings; you like those movies that have tons of character development and backstory; you only like comedies.

On the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS), I’m giving Fury a solid 6.5 out of 10. I’m not the world’s biggest war movie fan so it would be tough for me to put anything in this genre much higher than a 7 or 8 anyway. If you read my review from earlier this week on Gone Girl, then you know which of these two films I’d recommend you see in the theater this weekend.

Movie Review: Gone Girl

gone girl

Perhaps more appropriate than describing the plot and quality of this movie with the typical 500-800 words, a series of GIFs is more appropriate:

 

Three days after seeing the Ben Affleck-starring Gone Girl, I’m still trying to process it all. That’s one reason why I can’t possibly give a full review. The other reason is that I’m terrified of inadvertently spoiling the movie for you. There are so many intricate plot twists in this mystery that anything I tell you could provide more information than you’d want before seeing it.

I’ll simply tell you that it was awesome. That it was the first movie in a long time that made me want to stand up in the middle of the theater and ask the theater operators to pause the film so I could take five minutes to think about what I had just seen. And if I had my way, I would have done that two or three times throughout Gone Girl. It was just such a cool movie.

On the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS), I’m giving it an 8.5 out of 10.

Just see it.

Movie Review: This Is Where I Leave You

thisiswhereileaveyou

If you’ve always wanted to know the answer to the question, “Can Hollywood make a movie that’s depressing from start to finish that people will still show up to see?”, it seems like This Is Where I Leave You has given us a resounding “YES.”

This book-turned-dramedy, based around four adult siblings who have to spend seven days essentially under house arrest in their childhood home after their father dies and grounds them as his last wish, was made for about $20 million and has already grossed over $22 million at the box office over its first two weeks in theaters.

Depressing might be too general of a description and one that turns people off. Maybe a better way to frame this movie is to say it makes a concerted effort not to give any of its story lines a happy ending just for the sake of it being a movie (where, generally, people want to see happy endings or at the very least clear-cut resolutions).

There’s a lot of raw human emotion, uncomfortable arguments and hurt feelings.

BUT IT’S FUNNY!

The humor comes specifically from these four siblings who want nothing to do with each other and have pretty much neglected one another over the past decade.

Here are the four siblings, in a nutshell:

  • Judd: The main character who has tried to plan out his life so it would be perfect and uncomplicated. The movie begins with him discovering his wife is cheating on him with his boss.
  • Wendy: The one daughter among the siblings. She’s married with two kids, but it turns out her husband’s an asshole and she’s still hung up on her ex-boyfriend that she ditched years ago.
  • Paul: The tough guy of the group who runs the family business and has a bat-shit crazy wife who will stop at nothing to get pregnant.
  • Phillip: The baby of the family who has grown up to be….a grown-up baby! He’s a womanizer, irresponsible, always expecting someone to bail him out of his troubles. You know the type.

You can tell from those descriptions that each character has his or her own set of problems and it seems like this unwanted reunion comes at a time where each of their lives are unraveling (some slowly, some quickly).

You should see this movie if: You worship at the altars of Bateman and Fey (Jason Bateman plays Judd, Tina Fey plays Wendy); you don’t mind having your humor with a large helping of sadness and depression to go with it; you enjoy that helter skelter type of movie where a lot is going on and you don’t really understand how everything intertwines until the very end (a la Crazy, Stupid, Love); you want to see the most perfectly-placed joint smoking scene in movie history (with all the depression, it was very necessary to give us a scene purely for comic relief purposes in the middle of the movie, and that’s what they did with this no-strings-attached marijuana scene at temple).

You should not see this movie if: You can’t control your tears…seriously, my fiancee cried from start to finish and she only cries for the ending of Armageddon; if you want happy endings; you can’t handle the thought of a dysfunctional family and siblings who possibly hate each other; you don’t like swearing and other R-rated components of movies; you prefer plot-driven action movies (like Transformers for instance) to subtle character-driven films; you hate to laugh.

On the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS), I’m giving This Is Where I Leave You a 6 out of 10. I’m not sure it’s one you’ll want to watch more than once due to the heaviness, but it’s worth it for the story and the laughs.

How I Choose To Remember Robin Williams: A Perfect Day in 1992

aladdin

One of those unavoidable truths of growing up is that other people will die. Of course the truly devastating losses are the people you actually know and love…family, friends, coworkers. But sometimes the death of a well-known person who you never came close to meeting, yet still gave you some incredible memories, can be equally jarring.

It can happen any time, but for me it feels like the age of 25 is when some celebrities who were big influences on my childhood started passing away. To name a few: Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Adam Yauch (MCA from Beastie Boys), Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Kelly from Kris Kross and of course, the Ultimate Warrior.

But none of those unexpected deaths, not even The King of Pop himself, stopped me cold and brought my day to a halt quite like Monday’s stunning news about Robin Williams.

My plan for Monday night was to get home from work, turn on the TV and immerse myself in all the NFL preseason games I taped last week that I hadn’t gotten around to watching just yet. I wanted to do a ton of football prep and writing.

I got as far as turning on the TV. That’s when I saw the news about Williams. For the next 90 minutes, I sat at my computer, looked through Twitter, and watched every clip that every person on my feed linked to. There were so many: snippets from Williams’ movie performances like Good Will Hunting, Awakenings, Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, and then a bunch of clips from his standup routines and appearances on late night TV through the years (amazing that his career spanned five decades and he was only 63).

You gotta hand it to Twitter. For all the negative that comes from social media, we get access to an immediate oral history whenever something tragic like this happens.

I’m not writing to pretend like I was the biggest Robin Williams fan. I’m not able to rank all of his performances because out of his 102 acting credits that I just reviewed on IMDB, I’ve probably only seen 15-20 of them. I grew up in the 90s so movies like Hook, Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji and Good Will Hunting were in my Robin Williams wheelhouse.

Of all his incredible, pioneering performances, I think Williams’ Genie in Aladdin was my favorite. There are two reasons for this. First, because if you think about it, he was born to be a cartoon. I bet if you asked him his biggest complaint with acting, he’d say that it sucks to have physical limitations with your body. You can only disguise yourself in makeup and prosthetics so much. You can only contort your face in certain ways. Same with the rest of your body. Animation gives your acting a kind of freedom that the real world could never do. And Williams, more than anyone, lived for that physical side of performing.

The second reason Aladdin is my favorite in the lengthy Robin Williams Canon is because of the memory I have from seeing it in the theaters. I was nine years old in 1992, the right age for that movie. My two older brothers had no interest in a kid’s movie so I went to see it with just my parents. In a family of three brothers all born within five years of each other, there were almost never any “with just my parents” moments, so this was special. I sat in between them with the gummy bears on my lap (fuck popcorn). Part of me thinks I could go back to that very movie theater in Leominster, Massachusetts, and find the exact three seats we sat in. The memory is that vivid.

Aladdin was an incredible movie, probably my favorite Disney movie of all time. And while the other main characters were fine (Aladdin voiced by D.J. Tanner’s boyfriend, Princess Jasmine with a body that nine year olds wouldn’t even know what to do with), Genie stole the show. It was his movie and everyone else was just along for the ride. It was scary how much you could see Robin Williams in the Genie.

So really, that day at Loews, it was me, my Mom, my Dad and Williams. One detail I can’t remember is whether or not I drank a Diet Coke. If I did, it was truly a perfect day.

What especially bummed me out on Monday when I heard the news was that none of the good memories from Williams’ years entertaining us came immediately to mind. Instead, I couldn’t help but think of how much I had dismissed him in the past 10 years or so. For whatever reason, he had turned into that annoying guy who’s always doing that schtick where he talks in a million voices, doesn’t make very good jokes and is showing up on crummy TV shows with Sarah Michelle Gellar.

For you sports fans out there, isn’t this the way it always happens? We don’t remember the 1990s version of Brett Favre who led the Packers to a Championship. We remember the interception machine from the mid 2000s who permanently ruined the concept of gracefully retiring for everyone else. We don’t remember how Nomar Garciaparra was THE BEST shortstop in baseball for those first few years of his career. Instead we recall how he became ornery with the media, got unceremoniously shown the door in Boston and then had his body betray him until he retired as an afterthought in 2010. Even with a guy like Michael Jordan, I sometimes find myself focusing on his Washington Wizards days and his failure as an NBA owner more than the prime of his career that earned him Greatest Of All Time status.

I wish it didn’t have to happen like that, but that’s how our memories work. Unless you go out on the very top of your game, we’re going to diminish your greatest moments in our heads.

I can’t imagine even Williams himself would say he went out on the top of his acting game, but that doesn’t mean I should penalize him for that. Instead, I’m choosing to remember him for that perfect day he gave me, capped off by the best two minutes and 30 seconds of his best movie:

The Definitive TV Comedy Power Rankings (Getting You Through The Rest of Summer)

dvr

There are certain unmistakeable truths of every summer:

  • You start all conversations by commenting on how amazing the weather is.
  • While you love that it’s light out until 8pm, you hate that the sun rises at 5:30am.
  • That “beach body” you’ve been working on for the past few months disappears rapidly due to the constant binges of barbecued meats and beer.
  • You complain constantly about the lack of quality TV (even though you try to pretend like you don’t spend much time on the couch due to those previously mentioned amazing weather days and BBQs).

It’s that last point that I’d like to spend some time on today. Don’t even attempt to talk yourself into summer no longer being such a bad time for TV. It’s still awful. Instead of trying out new and obviously terrible shows, do yourself a favor and catch up on some already existing shows you’ve been ignoring.

Since summer is all about turning off your brain and being in a good mood, I want to specifically suggest you catch up on comedies. Dramas can wait for the depression months (November – April in places like New England, February 1st – February 4th in a place like Los Angeles).

While everyone has their own preferences, here’s a handy power rankings guide authored by a person who has an incredibly good pulse on what’s funny and what’s not. Use this to navigate through the backlog of shows you’ve been meaning to watch. Go for the shows ranked highest; avoid the shows ranked lowest. Easy enough?

[Quick side note: As a rule, I’m only including shows that I’ve seen at least one full episode of within the past calendar year. Therefore shows like The Simpsons and The League are both out, even though I’ve seen many episodes of each in years past. I’m also only including current TV shows. This is not an article on TV comedies throughout history. That means Seinfeld and The Office didn’t crack this list either.]

Legend

⇑ means the show is on the rise

⇓ means the show is on the decline

⇔ means the show is neither rising nor falling

TV Comedy Power Rankings

1. Modern Family⇔

Continues to be the gold standard of comedy after five seasons. You can argue that because it’s a network show, it’s never going to be as edgy or out-of-control wild as some shows on HBO or other premium channels. But from a pure comedic storytelling standpoint, you can’t beat it. As an aspiring writer, I can tell you I watch this show weekly and hang my head in jealousy. Even if given the opportunity to practice for 500 years, I could never write such perfect characters, plots and jokes that all intertwine as well as Modern Family does.

You can watch past episodes on ABC.com or Netflix Instant.

2. Veep ⇔

If this HBO satire that revolves around Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the always-stepping-into-the-proverbial-pile-of-dog-shit Vice President isn’t at “gold standard” level, it’s damn close. This show was hilarious and fresh in its first season, and it’s only gotten stronger since. There isn’t a show out there that produces more jaw-dropping moments on a weekly basis. It’s awkward, raunchy and intelligent humor all rolled up into one amazing creation.

You can watch past episodes on HBO GO or Netflix (not instant).

3. Brooklyn Nine-Nine ⇑

Some people will probably argue that the #4 show on my list should be in this spot instead, especially because Brooklyn just finished its rookie season. I get that it might be too soon to put it in the upper echelon. But watch the full season and tell me it wasn’t a masterpiece. Each character is perfect. Every joke and gag works. Despite obvious reasons to be worried, Andy Samberg’s character is not over the top obnoxious or goofy. The blending of the major and minor characters helps the show create jokes out of episode-long plots and fire off the quick-hit jokes. I fell in love with it the moment Jake Peralta wore his necktie around his belly (and continued loving it through the Kwazy Cupcakes Cwaze).

You can watch past episodes on Hulu Plus (and the most recent ones are still on Fox.com).

4. Parks and Recreation ⇔

No doubt you’ve been told to watch this show dozens of times by the same people. We’re a small but rabid fan base. You might recognize us from other low-rated TV show audiences such as Arrested Development. Now is a great time to finally listen to that annoying Parks fan. Dive into the first couple seasons this summer, and if you like it, you can catch up through the first six seasons in time to enjoy the seventh and final season this Fall with the rest of us. Leslie Knope and her motley gang of small-town government workers are finally going away for good. What started out as “the next Office” starring “Amy Poehler playing a female version of Michael Scott” has blossomed into so much more than that. We’ve gotten to know every member of the Parks cast better than we ever did with The Office crew. And somehow we care so much more about the fate of Leslie’s political career than the fates of those Dunder Mifflin employees. While it didn’t crack my Top Three, Parks has delivered consistent A material for more than 100 episodes. It’ll be sad to see Leslie and company go away next May.

You can watch past episodes on Netflix Instant.

5. Mindy Project ⇑

A show centered around an early 30s woman who’s a gynecologist and wants her life to mimic Meg Ryan’s in all those old chick flicks. And yet, not a TV show just for women by any means. I’ve watched this from day one mostly because I was such a big Office fan that I just had to check out what the woman behind Kelly Kapoor was cooking up with her first show as creator and star. What’s great about Mindy is that it takes those cliched romcom story lines and instead of delivering a happy ending, it pulls the rug out from under the main character (and us) repeatedly. It’s an incredible parody of those female-driven fairytale relationships. The supporting characters, especially male nurse Morgan Tookers, come through in a big way to make the show wacky and complete.

You can watch past episodes on Hulu Plus and Netflix (not Instant).

6. Silicon Valley ⇑⇑

The extra arrow pointing up is because Silicon Valley ended its first season on possibly the highest of high notes. Even people who haven’t watched this show yet have heard about “the greatest dick joke in TV history” that this show delivered in its season finale a few weeks back. And while that five-minute gut-busting scene should get a lot of publicity, it was really just a microcosm of how funny this show can be with nothing more than four or five nerds standing around trying to figure out life in the cutthroat high tech world. If you’re looking for something with a little more edge, more of that R-rated comedy, this is absolutely the one for you.

You can watch past episodes on HBOGO and soon enough on Netflix (not Instant).

7. Nathan For You  ⇑⇑⇑

This faux-reality show/documentary (think Ali G skits but with a much more American and awkward guy) actually jumped up a good four or five spots in these power rankings over the past few weeks. The episode titled “Souvenir Shop / ELAIFF” broke the unofficial record for laughs experienced per second. No lie. I dare you to watch it and not have stomach pains. In fact, I dare you to watch any of this current season’s episodes and not fall in love with Nathan Fielder.

You can watch past episodes on ComedyCentral.com or by DVRing it on Comedy Central.

**Note: I consider this the line of demarcation between the cream of the crop and the shows that are merely “solid watches.”

8. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia ⇔

A little bit of a sad moment here as It’s Always Sunny once ranked at the very top for me. But that was a good five years ago when every episode was better than the previous. Now IASIP has more misses than hits. Their good episodes still trump almost everything else on this list, but the consistent excellence is gone. This is a show where you definitely want to watch from Season 1 because those first few seasons are the strongest.

You can watch past episodes on Netflix Instant.

9. Big Bang Theory ⇔

Out of all the shows I watch, this one seems to confuse people most often. I guess that’s because it just doesn’t fit the mold of all these other comedies on the list. It’s certainly the only show I watch that has the live audience and laugh track. But if you spend a few hours observing Sheldon Cooper and his Aspergery ways, I promise you’ll fall in love with him. It’s a really weird feeling to like a main character who is rude, selfish, socially inept and downright robotic, but somehow Big Bang has pulled it off. It can never get up into the cream of the crop section due to it’s strong association with other crappy network sitcoms, but I’m still glad it’s part of my life.

You can watch past episodes on Netflix (not Instant).

10. Broad City ⇔

A show that’s incredibly rough around the edges…due to the fact that it was a web series online that recently got promoted to the TV big leagues, and because it focuses on the more depressing side of being a single 20-something woman in New York. It’s what Girls would be if Girls was legitimately funny and less serious. Amy Poehler as an executive producer immediately gave this show street cred, and I’m guessing that’s why many of us got on board with season one. The good news is that they’re moving forward with a season two. The bad news?

You cannot watch past episodes anywhere at this time (except for the pilot episode on ComedyCentral.com).

11. Workaholics ⇓

Much like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, when this show creates a hit episode, it’s a HUGE HIT. But sometimes the plots and jokes are just a tad too crazy and raunchy even for me. Workaholics is an incredibly simple and funny take on cubicle life for a few mid-twenties stoners who have no interest in doing any real work.

You can watch past episodes on Netflix (not Instant).

12. Drunk History ⇓

Perhaps it was a one-year wonder. Perhaps I’m just getting old. Either way, I just can’t get on board with this show in season two like I was for its first season in 2013. Don’t get me wrong, it still has funny moments (otherwise it would be much lower on this list). But the format feels a little played out already. I’m much more interested in getting some friends together and creating our own drunk version of a historical event than continuing to watch this show every week.

You can watch current season two episodes (and probably some season one episodes) on Comedy Central.

**Note: This is the line of demarcation between shows I that I like a lot and shows that are pretty bad but I watch sometimes anyway because sitting on the couch and staring at a TV is so easy. The following shows also fall into the category of “my fiancee has a broader sense of humor than me and therefore I’m sometimes forced to watch this junk.”

13. The Goldbergs ⇔

14. About A Boy ⇓

15. New Girl ⇓⇓

16. 2 Broke Girls ⇔

17. The Millers ⇔

18. Growing Up Fisher ⇓

19. Crazy Ones ⇓

20. Dads ⇓⇓⇓

“Bad Words” Movie Review: Introducing you to Jason Bateman’s best (and so far only) directing job

bad words

It’s amazing that the recently released black comedy Bad Words is going to be a mild success.

Amazing because I can almost guarantee you’ve never heard of it, that’s how nonexistent their marketing was (The only reason I stumbled upon it was due to a trip to Universal Studios where they happened to have a very small poster advertising it).

Amazing because the $10 million movie is the story of a vengeful adult who finds a loophole that allows him to participate in—and possibly ruin—a children’s national spelling bee. Not really a film that screams “Must See!” to the masses.

And amazing because the only bankable actor in the film was Jason Bateman…not someone you’d normally associate with carrying a movie.

But I’ll be damned if he doesn’t do exactly that. Bateman gives this cynical character plenty of dimensions, and he somehow pulls off becoming an empathetic figure while simultaneously being reprehensible.

And it turns out he also made his directing debut with Bad Words.

When you see the boring story lines and the blah locations, you’ll agree that he made something above average without much help.

I’m really not sure why Universal/Focus Features came to the decision to spend exactly $179 on worldwide marketing for this movie. If they had bothered to promote it, here are a few marketing pitches I heard they were considering:

  1. “Come watch Jason Bateman do things to prepubescent children that would get a normal man five to 10 in state prison.” (Seriously, there’s some indecent exposure in front of a 10-year-old that Bateman facilitates, and there’s a girl-becoming-a-woman situation that he uses to his advantage.)
  2. “We thought of a hilarious Saturday Night Live sketch that we think we turned into a decent 90-minute movie because we gave the main character a hidden emotional motivation and made him flawed yet somehow likable. Do come see it.”
  3. “Innocent children getting emotionally abused, verbally assaulted and cheated out of achieving their dreams. What’s not to love?

Bateman is basically doing the intellectual version of the grown up who goes balls-to-the-wall in a children’s basketball game. Just swatting the ball away on every shot attempt; firing the ball at a child’s face to “save it from going out of bounds”; trash talking the poor kids off the court.

For a sense of comparison, I’d go so far as to say Bateman’s performance is on par with his funniest acting jobs, but the overall quality of the movie doesn’t touch his high water mark, Horrible Bosses (a movie that has somehow climbed so high on my all-time comedy rankings that it would probably be the runner-up to The Big Lebowski if I was forced to choose one movie that I had to watch every day for the rest of my life).

You should see this movie if: You worship at the altar of Michael Bluth or Jason Bateman; you are so in love with comedy that you can’t wait for something to come out on DVD even if you know the overall story can’t possibly be worth paying for; you enjoy watching children suffer; you can get on board with a movie that depicts the bully as the hero; you want to see an inexperienced 10-year-old actor hold his own in this made-for-adults comedy; and like me, you know that Bateman is on a slow yet steady ascent to being a legitimate A-list comedic actor.

You should not see this movie if: You know you’re going to feel bad for the children; you take the treatment of children so seriously that you can’t even fathom laughing at something bad happening to one of them; you need an airtight plot to enjoy a movie; you need the cliched happy endings and the convenient wrapped up loose ends; you hate Bateman (in which case my girlfriend will gladly recite a list to you called “101 reasons that Jason Bateman is the greatest man on this planet”); you aren’t the type who could realize this is all just scene after scene of SNL skits and yet still enjoy it.

In terms of ranking this movie regardless of where you watch it, I’d have to give it a mere 5.5 on the Ross Watchability Scale (RWS). But of course it would be a little higher if we’re just determining whether or not it’s a worthwhile Netflix rental. You will laugh (and gasp) enough to  justify giving Bad Words 90 minutes of your precious time.

TV Preview: A First Date, A Great Fling and A Complicated Lover

(WARNING: There might be some spoilers for those who aren’t up to date on Game of Thrones.)

The end of football season in early February is so cruel.

A weekend during football season means 51 hours of enjoyment. It starts Friday at 5pm and goes right through Sunday Night Football. And those Sundays, oh boy, those Sundays…11 straight hours of football…11 straight hours of indoors, on the couch, getting your fat on.

A weekend during the other seven months of the year means a fun Friday and Saturday but a boring Sunday spent thinking about that dreadful Monday morning. Worst of all, you’re expected to go outdoors on these Sundays!

Unfortunately I don’t have a solution that will get you back in front of the TV for the entire day, but I can give you a few hours of awesomeness to look forward to starting this coming Sunday, April 6th.

Fine, I’m not giving this to you so much as HBO is giving this to you.

Starting Sunday we get a brand new and very promising comedy called Silicon Valley (the first date), the return of one of the best comedies you’re probably not watching, Veep (the great fling), and finally, as you may have heard, a little fantasy drama called Game of Thrones is premiering its fourth season (the complicated lover).

All on HBO. Consider me a subscriber for life at this point.

Let’s tackle these three shows in detail.

Silicon Valley – Series Premiere, Sunday at 10pm

I was in on this show the moment I heard the words “Mike Judge” and “Silicon Valley.” Mike Judge because he has an incredible track record (Office Space, Beavis & Butthead, King of the Hill). Silicon Valley because I lived there for seven years and have always thought there was plenty ripe material for a TV show.

In fact, one of the first ideas I worked on when I moved to LA was a TV pilot about a group of young sales guys making way too much money in Silicon Valley.

Judge’s Silicon Valley has this as its premise: “Six programmers live together and try to make it big in Silicon Valley.”

He went with programmers; I went with sales guys. He actually wrote it and followed through with the idea; I wrote enough first drafts to fill a warehouse but never returned to it. The lesson? The line between success and wannabe in Hollywood is razor thin.

It seems to me a comedy about the fast-paced world of technology on a channel that allows for plenty of swearing, sexual content and whatever the hell else this show wants to do is easily worth tuning in to on Sunday night.

Fingers crossed that this is a good first date and not one of those encounters that ends with an awkward hug at the car while the girl waits for me to say I’d like to see her again.

Veep – Season Three Premiere – Sunday at 10:30pm

I wrote earlier that this is the best comedy you’re not watching. Maybe you are watching it, but I just haven’t heard enough people say that they are. Either way, you should be. This is Julia Louis-Dreyfus at her finest. This is political humor, satire and subtle comedy at its finest. This is intelligent humor at its finest. In fact, if you try watching Veep and “don’t get it,” well, I hear there’s a great lineup on CBS that’s probably more your speed.

And to pat myself on the back just a bit, I’m the king of finding niche comedies right before they blow up and go mainstream (see: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, August 2005).

I’m calling this show the great fling because it shows up once a year for a short time (10 episodes), we always have a good time with each other, and there’s never any drama or seriousness. No emotional baggage. I love it when it’s around, but don’t think about it too much when it’s gone.

Game of Thrones – Season Four Premiere – Sunday at 9pm

And then there’s the complicated lover who leaves me with plenty of emotional baggage at the end of each season. This isn’t a fun, easy-going fling. This is an intense relationship with weekly roller coaster rides that leave me feeling exhausted.

But I haven’t looked forward to a TV show this much since the early days of Lost.

In fact, my GoT withdrawals got so bad a couple weeks ago that I ordered all five of George R. R. Martin’s books during a random Amazon.com binge. I haven’t read a book in quite some time so trying to take down roughly 4,500 pages of a fantasy world is going to be quite the feat. But I simply needed my Khaleesi fix.

Game of Thrones is currently the crown jewel of television. I won’t accept a single argument against that statement.

And starting on Sunday maybe we’ll finally get to see the good guys of Westeros live long enough to take down the bad guys. But based on past performance, I won’t hold my breath for that.

Game of Thrones…she’s a complicated bitch, but she’s my complicated bitch.

And now I’ll leave you with six random thoughts about the best show on TV:

  1. The best part of GoT is that it could legitimately go on for 10, 15, 20 years. It’s self-perpetuating. Who wouldn’t want to see these story lines play out over decades? The amount of family backstabbing, the juggling of power and priorities, the 150 or so different people with claims to the Iron Throne. I see no end in sight.
  2. At this point if you’re not rooting solely for Arya and Khaleesi (really the only interesting “good” people left), what the hell are you doing with your life?
  3. And if it came down to choosing, I’m going Khaleesi over Arya 100 times out of 100. And yes, it’s a completely sexual thing.
  4. There’s a very decent Game of Thrones the Politics of Season 3 playing on HBO this week. Watch it.
  5. This really has nothing to do with GoT per se, but all this talk about strategy, intricacies and roller coaster rides got me thinking about Settlers of Catan. It’s simply the greatest board game ever invented. And I just felt like giving it a plug. Try not to be confused when you play it someday and it has nothing to do with Game of Thrones.
  6. Even with only three seasons in the books, Joffrey has already established himself as a lead candidate for the most evil villain in cinematic history. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, makes my girlfriend’s blood bubble like the site of Joffrey (even when she once saw a picture of the actor not in Joffrey character in Entertainment Weekly). One more indefensible murder by him and I might think about permanently removing my girlfriend from LA so we don’t accidentally bump into Jackie Gleeson (the guy who plays Joff) some day and then 10 months later I’m sitting in a courtroom at my girlfriend’s 1st degree murder trial.

Enjoy Sunday night all you HBO subscribers (and those of you “borrowing” your friend’s HBO GO login information).

Hollywood’s Super Bowl: Could It Possibly Be Better Than The Real Thing?

oscar

My, how fast a monthlong writing hiatus goes by.

When I last left you, I was picking the Denver Broncos to win the Super Bowl. A fitting end to a season of football picks that hit rock bottom about five times and never hovered much above it.

Since my last post was about the real Super Bowl, I figure I’ll kick off my comeback tour with a running timeline of the Super Bowl of Entertainment…The Oscars of course.

And who wouldn’t want to read all about Hollywood’s favorite self-congratulatory night from someone who’s actually in the industry?

As with any Super Bowl viewing, the action doesn’t begin at kickoff. It starts with an unforgettable pregame show to get the juices flowing. Let’s see what went on during ABC’s 90-minute Red Carpet broadcast:

  • 4:02-4:06pm (PST): We begin with three interviews that all land on the bizarre scale: Sidney Poitier can’t hear a damn thing the interviewer is asking so he vaguely tells us how “things are different than they used to be;” then Viola Davis and her husband tell ABC that they don’t do date night at the movies…they do date night by getting freaky in the hot tub (paraphrasing); and finally, June Squibb, the 84-year-old Best Supporting Actress nominee, tells us about her days as a stripper…or her days playing the role of a stripper. I can’t remember which it was. All I know is this event is giving off a strong elderly sex vibe already.
  • 4:12-4:14pm: ABC apparently gets the ship back on course as they do back-to-back interviews with people we’d much rather associate with a hot tub, Amy Adams and Anna Kendrick. Adams made the crucial mistake of not continuing her side boob dominance over the rest of the female population, opting instead for a dress that shows off only the standard top boob.
  • 4:15pm: Sally Hawkins, a nominee I’ve never heard of, shows up in what I’m guessing is the same dress my grandmother wore at her wedding in the late 1940s. You couldn’t cover more skin with ugly lace if you were trying to win a bet.
  • 4:20pm: A very pregnant Kerry Washington reminds me that as luck would have it, roughly 27 of mine and my girlfriend’s friends are currently expecting a baby. This is particularly insane and if it’s this year’s version of “everyone’s getting married,” consider me not on board. It’s just difficult to keep up with. So I’m proposing that from now own, my friends whose last name begins with A-M are allowed to have a baby only on even years, and my friends whose last name begins with N-Z have dibs on the odd years.
  • 4:23pm: You know why DVR exists? So I can skip over a taped piece called “how a handbag became such an important character in the movie Blue Jasmine.” Seriously.
  • 4:30pm: ABC runs a slow motion replay/montage of all the people who have been interviewed over the first 30 minutes of the broadcast. Why? We already need to be reminded of those four atrocious Q&A’s?
  • 4:31pm: Ahh, and finally we’ve reached the portion of the show titled “People I’ve told my girlfriend I’d leave her for.” Enter Jennifer Lawrence.
  • 4:33pm: ABC shows a clip of actors talking about their first time getting nominated. Wait, thee only explanation for Christopher Walken’s appearance is that the producers literally just dug him out of a grave, slightly brushed him off and stuck him in front of a camera. Don’t believe me? See for yourself:

Christopher Walken

  • 4:51pm: Thank god, I thought the awkward interviews were over after the first half hour. But here’s Jamie Foxx telling the world that his daughter, who he’s here with, is 20 years old and showing a lot of leg. Thanks for pointing that out, Jamie.
  • 4:53pm: Jared Leto is maybe the most naturally beautiful woman to walk the red carpet so far tonight (I just want everyone to know I made this joke roughly 40 minutes before Ellen did).
  • 4:55pm: I’m pretty sure Tyson Beckford is doing a horrible job as ABC’s fashion correspondent, and it’s confirmed when my girlfriend finally starts paying attention to the broadcast and rips him to shreds. Can’t blame her considering Beckford’s most insightful statement so far is “We’ve got Matthew McConaughey’s wife in a nice pink dress, and we’ve got Sandra Bullock in nice blue dress.” Groundbreaking work.
  • 5:17pm: This is so boring. Why would anyone watch this? Now they’re showing a montage of how this area of Hollywood was made ready during the rainy LA weekend. Which reminds me, I’d be willing to bet my prize-winning dog on Ellen’s opening joke being a poke at how everyone in LA is reacting to this rare monsoon.
  • 5:19pm: Here’s a good idea, let’s interview the guy who’s singlehandedly responsible for tonight’s ceremony about five minutes before it starts. I’m sure he’ll be nice & relaxed, casual, natural…as a single stream of urine slowly drips down his leg.

So basically, this pregame show was just as compelling as every sports pregame show. What a waste.

Let’s blast through the timeline during the three-hour broadcast of the actual awards ceremony:

  • 5:32pm: Aaaand we’re off…and ChaChing! As expected, the very first thing Ellen jokes about is the rain. We celebrities are a predictable people.
  • 5:39pm: Ellen finishes her seven-minute opening monologue with this killer line: “Possibility #1 is that 12 Years A Slave Wins. Possibility #2 is that you’re all racists.” She might earn herself permanent Oscar hosting duties tonight.
  • 5:41pm: Jared Leto is our first winner (Supporting Actor), and makes every other winner not want to give a speech the rest of the night because he gives the greatest “thank you, Mom “speech ever.
  • 5:43pm: ….And he’s still going, moving over to politics (thanking people in Ukraine & Venezuela) and then to actual thank you’s for his colleagues.
  • 5:44pm: ….And he’s wrapping it up with a political stand on AIDS. He really covered everything he cares about in this world, apparently.
  • 5:48pm: Jim Carrey makes a good LSD joke, the camera catches Bono laughing, he realizes the camera’s on him, he abruptly stops laughing. How dare we think he has a sense of humor.
  • 5:50pm: Brief aside: During the animation montage, there’s a quick clip of Fantasia. Listen, how could you sleep at night if you made that movie? A children’s movie featuring the most famous cartoon character in history and not a single word is uttered the entire time??? I’m still stewing over the time my Mom let me rent this at Blockbuster and I cried for 75 straight minutes while waiting for Minnie Mouse, Goofy and others to show up and start interacting with Mickey. That movie will haunt me for life.
  • 5:58pm: Seeing these celebrities not be able to connect on the single cheek kiss or the double cheek kiss makes me so happy. I thought I was the only one who could never read that situation properly.
  • 6:50pm: That 60-minute gap in my timeline is due to the producers running through 11 categories that no one could possibly care about. Would it kill them to mix in one popular category every 30 minutes or so?
  • 6:52pm: This seems like a good time to clarify my “read about The Oscars from someone who’s in the industry” comment, especially to new readers. I should have written “from someone who lives in the city where the industry is headquartered.”
  • 6:57pm: U2  performs and it’s not very exciting. How could The Oscars get this wrong? You elevate any bad awards show musical performance by planting Taylor Swift in the audience and panning to her overdancing repeatedly.
  • 7:47pm: This installment of The Oscars is dedicated/themed around Heroes In Movies…and by definition, every single movie ever made has a hero. So The Oscars were dedicated to movies? Way to go out on a limb with the theme.
  • 8:30pm: Turns out a run on relevant categories isn’t that much more exciting than the irrelevant categories.
  • 8:58pm: The night ends with 12 Years A Slave winning the coveted Best Picture category.

I think we need to split up the Best Picture category. One award should be for “the movie we enjoyed so much that we’ll probably watch it over & over for the next few years” (That’s my definition of Best Picture, which is why American Hustle got my vote). The other award should be: “The best ‘well done yet difficult to watch’ film.” Pretty self-explanatory. I think most Best Pictures land in this latter category and I hate it.

It turns out Hollywood’s version of the Super Bowl is about as entertaining as watching Peyton Manning compete in the real Super Bowl. Not sure which Super Bowl over this past month was the bigger waste of time.