Issue XCVI

21 OCT 2016

Arts

11/01/2013

D- Last Vegas

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The high point of Last Vegas is also arguably the low point of Robert De Niro’s career. Early in the film, Paddy (De Niro) and his retirement-age buddies—Archie (Morgan Freeman), Billy (Michael Douglas), and Sam (Kevin Kline)—bribe their way into judging a poolside bikini contest that is being emceed by LMFAO member RedFoo. As “Party Rock Anthem” blares in the background, RedFoo rips off his pants and leaps onto Paddy’s deck chair, rhythmically thrusting his Speedo’d crotch into the older man’s face. De Niro, the lion of American acting, reacts with the bemused half-grimace, half-smile of a man whose infant grandson just peed in his lap.

Last Vegas spends much of its running time skirting bad taste, but this is the only moment when it goes all-out. Though director Jon Turteltaub (National TreasureThe Sorcerer’s Apprentice) has a knack for making diverting effects-driven camp, he sputters here. Reality-bending silliness—or even a good gross-out joke or two—would be preferable to the stale, corny jokes this movie tries to pass off as comedy. 

Sam takes off his glasses and accidentally tries to pick up a drag performer at a bar. Archie busts some disco moves on the dance floor, which is supposed to be funny because Freeman is an old person. A young casino guest is tricked into believing the four friends are East Coast mobsters, which is supposed to be funny because De Niro is in the movie. There is a cameo from 50 Cent, which qualifies as a joke because the concept of 50 Cent is inherently funny.

Gaps between “jokes” are filled with schmaltz. Paddy, Sam, and Archie have come to Las Vegas to celebrate Billy’s marriage to a woman roughly half his age. Each character is portioned out a subplot and a lesson: Archie has recently suffered a mild stroke, and is keeping the trip a secret from his overprotective son; Sam’s wife has given him permission to cheat on her while he’s in Vegas; Paddy is angry at Billy for not attending his wife’s funeral; Billy starts falling for a lounge singer his own age (Mary Steenburgen) and having doubts about his impending marriage. Steenburgen is appropriately alluring in the role, and wasting her performance on a second-rate love triangle in a third-rate geezer comedy is downright criminal.

 


'Last Vegas' review: It's surprisingly heartfelt

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Comedy-drama. StarringMichael DouglasRobert De Niro,Kevin KlineMorgan Freeman andMary Steenburgen. Directed by Jon Turteltaub. (PG-13. 105 minutes.)

From a distance, "Last Vegas" looked like something not worth seeing, sentimental, not very funny, glossing over the real issues surrounding the shift into old age ... but no. "Last Vegas" is an entertaining movie with a lot of integrity, and it gives all of its actors - all heavyweights and Oscar winners - real moments to dig in and play something.

It's the story of four childhood friends who've fanned out to different parts of the country but remain in touch. All are facing 70 and are reacting in different ways. Billy (Michael Douglas), who has become wealthy, is about to end his long bachelorhood by marrying a 30-year-old woman. Paddy (De Niro) is recovering from the death of his wife and can barely get out of his bathrobe. Archie (Morgan Freeman), having had a mild stroke, has to overcome his fear and resume life. And Sam (Kevin Kline) has lost his zest and can't shake a mild depression.

The friends reunite in Vegas for Billy's bachelor party, and the story takes place over the course of a couple of days. Paddy has a grievance against Billy: Though they're supposed to be best friends, Billy didn't come to Paddy's wife's funeral. As is typical of the movie's honest willingness to present unpleasant emotions in a comedy, there is nothing funny about Paddy's anger. He is as nasty as Robert De Niro can be.

Meanwhile, Sam is walking around with a condom and a little blue pill burning a hole in his pocket - gifts from his wife (Joanna Gleason), under the old clause in the marriage contract that says what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Anything to bring him back to life. As Sam, Kline brings up the laugh quotient, in a subplot that lands perfectly.

Mary Steenburgen plays a former professional woman pursuing her dream as a singer, and she becomes the romantic interest of two of the men. That a 60-year-old actress can be cast in a romantic role is a welcome sign in a Hollywood movie - usually they cast a 45-year-old and take it for granted that a woman should be interested in men old enough to be her father. But it's even better that Steenburgen is so convincing in the role, as in feminine and desirable and totally believable as someone men would be fighting over. Movies like this usually...



10/31/2013

Ebiri: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa Is the Anti-Borat

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Theorists and historians who study the early days of cinema like to talk about “the cinema of attractions" — movies that didn’t try to tell stories or reproduce reality but rather relayed exhibitionist spectacle through images that inspired everything from awe to lust to disbelief.  You can carry the idea across film history and use it to explain the appeal of everything from Golden Age musicals to 2001: A Space Odyssey. And, of course, the Jackass canon. Director Jeff Tremaine, producer Spike Jonze, and star Johnny Knoxville's ball-busting stunt extravaganzas, in both their MTV and cinematic iterations, are the very definition of non-narrative spectacle. Consider the stripped-down, prehistoric simplicity of the standard Jackass gag: Knoxville (or Steve-O, or whichever other accomplice) announces the name of the stunt to the camera, then goes and does something horrifically dangerous and/or gross and/or stupid, much to our delight. (Sometimes, part of the fun is in the very names of the stunts themselves: Public Boner, the Alligator Tightrope, the Poo Cocktail Supreme, etc.)

So the idea of Bad Grandpa, a road movie in which Knoxville puts on old-age makeup and proceeds to pratfall and shart his way through an unsuspecting America, accompanied by a young boy pretending to be his abandoned grandson, feels, at first glance, somewhat pointless. Narrative padding merely dilutes the Jackass experience. Besides, hasn’t the Boratapproach pretty much run its course by this point? Aren’t we tired of watching ordinary folks be made to look like gawking, double-taking fools while highly-paid international celebrities in disguise have one over on them?

The experience of watching Bad Grandpa, however, is a decidedly more complex one than you might imagine. Yes, there are some Jackass-worthy stunts here: At one point, Irving Zisman (the name of Knoxville’s 86-year-old alter-ego) gets repeatedly flattened by a folding bed gone haywire, while bystanders look on in horror; elsewhere, he gets his dick stuck in a soda machine and begs befuddled spectators for mercy. But the film also makes some cursory attempts to play its story straight, giving us scripted scenes between Irving and his grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) — just like, you know, a real movie.

But we suspend our disbelief during regular narrative movies; we don’t suspend it when...


Bad Grandpa

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A choppy, feature-length progression of crude, predictable gags, Bad Grandpa plays like a variety show, and yet its main attraction is barely funny enough to warrant his own brief sketch. Following in the footsteps of Bad Santa and Bad Teacher, this is the latest high-concept comedy to defile a figure of apparent, universal goodness, and it's surely the worst of the lot. Starring Jackass king Johnny Knoxville in layers of old-man prosthetics, including fuzzy drooped earlobes and a fake, age-spotted schnoz, the film may well be the laziest of the year, despite the efforts of its makeup artists. You'd be hard-pressed to find a single novel idea here, as Bad Grandpa doesn't just recycle the tired punk-the-public Jackassformula, it apes the similarly candid, one-man-army pranks of Sacha Baron Cohen, whose fame has killed the anonymity vital for future street-side antics. The movie also manages to eventually rip off Little Miss Sunshine, and right when you're ready say, "I've seen all these jokes before," one character tells another to "suck a bowl of dicks," meaning the script is even swiping material from Louis C.K.

The plot, if you can call it that, concerns 86-year-old Irving Zisman (Knoxville), who's thrilled to suddenly be a widower ("We're free, Leroy," he says to his penis), but must try to curb his oat-sowing to look after his grandson, Billy (Jackson Niccoll), whose mom is headed to jail for abusing Hollywood's favorite punchline drug, crack. Irving is tasked to take Billy on a road trip to live with his father, whom a seemingly unsuspecting female social worker meets via Skype, during a session that sees the father take bong hits and learn from a scantily-clad guest that custody of Billy could net him $600 a month. All of this unfolds blandly as hell, and Bad Grandpa's deficit of originality is made doubly worse by its lack of spontaneity. It may have helped that they weren't hampered by bogus, overarching narratives, but at least the Jackass movies boasted the dangerous sense of flying by the seat of one's pants. Virtually every Bad Grandpa stunt feels both telegraphed and overly choreographed, from Irving's wife's corpse falling out of her coffin during her funeral to Irving being launched, via a "malfunctioning" child's ride, through a storefront window.

The...



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