Get a Job (2016)
★★ / ★★★★
The comedy “Get a Job,” by director Dylan Kidd, has the potential to make a true and lasting statement about the millennial generation and the real struggles involved in finding a well-paying, stable job right out of university. It is a major disappointment then that the picture often goes in the direction of lame-brained comedy, sacrificing intelligent and precise commentary about what is wrong with the current job market for millennials as well as what is wrong about the subjects themselves—generally speaking, the unchecked attitudes and unrealistic expectations, for instance—while still delivering the requisite comic punches.
Miles Teller and Anna Kendrick, playing Will and Jillian, respectively, are a couple who landed good jobs before college graduation. The focal point is Will and during his first day at the LA Times, he is informed that there is no position for him after all due to recent job cuts within the company over the summer. With the rent due in a few days, he feels an extreme pressure to get a job—any job—during the transitory phase. Meanwhile, Will’s friends (Nicholas Braun, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Brandon T. Jackson) and girlfriend face their own battles with snagging and keeping a coveted position.
There are two great decisions in the film. The first invokes the question of why millennials, generally speaking, tend to have a sense of entitlement so powerful that they feel they deserve to get a career they’ve always dreamed about right after college. And when they don’t get what they want, why is it that there is usually an overall feeling of insurmountable or crippling failure that prevents said individuals from bouncing back and trying much harder to go after what they want. This is partly but only superficially answered in a subplot involving one of Will’s friends, Charlie the chemistry teacher.
The screenplay by Kyle Pennekamp and Scott Turpel ought to have given more time to allow Charlie’s story to grow and evolve especially because the character has direct access to youths. I found it disappointing that the children are not allowed to say or express anything that may be considered too risky although such claims may hold a grain truth. There are very smart children out there and they are written as too passive in this film. Instead, the material would rather rely on a running joke that Charlie smokes a lot of weed and yet he is a teacher—like it is supposed to be ironic.
The second involves Will’s father, Roger, having separated from a career he so valued, there is a moment in the film where he confesses to his son that sometimes he loved his job more than he loved anybody else—including his family. I appreciated that honesty because it points to what is wrong about the American culture of productivity and how the culture can shift our priorities. When Roger’s job is taken away, he is adrift and Bryan Cranston plays the character with tragic realism. The performer overcomes a limited script by highlighting humanism over comedy. He may not be in control of how the character is written but he has control of how the character is portrayed. I wanted to know more about Will’s father.
It is sad and outrageous that the rest of the film tries too hard to become a mainstream comedy where feel-good messages triumphs over difficult truths and realities. “Get a Job” could have really made an impact and appealed to its subject if it had been completely true to the subject at hand. That is, it is a tough life after college and the paper given to you during graduation may not actually mean anything. By avoiding to tell specific and difficult truths, the film, while tolerable, turns into mere afterthought.
★★★ / ★★★★
“ParaNorman” began with Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) sitting on the floor and watching a grindhouse horror flick where an actress, barely acting, screamed to the top of her lungs as a zombie crept toward her and finally lunged at her head to eat her deliciously juicy brain. Norman’s grandmother, sitting on the couch, asked him to turn up the heater because her feet were cold. Norman got up to see his family in the kitchen and when he informed them of his grandmother’s request, Mom (Leslie Mann) and Dad (Jeff Garlin) became upset: Grandmother had been dead for a while. Norman, as it turned out, had the ability to communicate with the dead. Written by Chris Butler, the film had a surplus of ideas in order to make Norman’s small town bizarre enough to be unique and yet relatable enough to be enjoyable. Clearly influenced by scary movies, the film was almost made for fans of the genre more than children, from its eerie atmosphere directly taken from George A. Romero’s undead classics to the menacing beats of Lucio Fulci’s score. Its first half was rather mysterious in that it took a bit of time for us to be fully understand what it was supposed to be about. At school, Norman was bullied by Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) for being a weirdo and befriended by socially awkward Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), a kid picked on for being fat. The picture could have used a little more interaction between Norman and Neil. Since the two had opposite personalities, when the script focused on conjuring reasons why the duo were a good fit for one another, the human factor really shone and made their universe more realistic. Their most effective scene involved Neil asking his new friend to throw a stick for fun. Norman, barely having any fun in his life, found it difficult to perform such a simple task. One could detect an underlying message regarding Norman’s reluctance to throw caution to the wind in relation to his negative experiences with the living: they wanted Norman for feel embarrassment or shame for his contentment in being different. Its more sensitive moments and dirty jokes, like a broken sign flashing “Itchy Wieners” which was originally “Witchy Wieners,” were clearly designed for adults. The exaggerated images, on the other hand, were aimed for kids. The young characters on screen were pleasing to eye but the adults had an almost toady quality to them. It seemed like the older the character, the features were bigger, saggier, more abstract. It was an interesting technique. Because a lot of its jokes were adult-oriented, the filmmakers had to make its younger characters visually appealing so that the children could root for them. About halfway through, the film finally found its footing with respect to Norman’s mission. Creativity was abound as Norman and Alvin were chased by zombies in the woods as well as the awkward but hilarious car ride with Neil, Courtney (Anna Kendrick), Norman’s short-tempered sister, and Mitch (Casey Affleck), Neil’s muscular but dense brother. Although “ParaNorman,” directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell, featured a lesson about forgiveness toward the end which I found too slow and sentimental, its other severed parts were edgy and fun. When was the last time you saw an animated film in which its kid protagonist had a chance to engage with a corpse and its bodily functions?
Fright Night (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
Charley (Anton Yelchin) used to be a dweeb. His former best friend was Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a complete nerd whose hobbies consisted of dressing up and role playing. Charley’s recent surge to popularity earned him a girlfriend, Amy (Imogen Poots), and much cooler but insensitive guy friends (Dave Franco, Reid Ewing). Ed had a growing suspicion: that Charley’s new neighbor, Jerry (Colin Farrell), was vampire and he was responsible for their classmates’ sudden disappearances. Charley didn’t take Ed seriously. He thought Ed’s suspicion was a sad cry for them to be friends again. That is, up until Ed failed to show up to class the next day. “Fright Night,” written by Marti Noxon and Tom Holland, was a fast-paced vampire film, set in the suburbs of Las Vegas, equipped with modern twists to keep us interested. The characters were likable even though they weren’t always smart. We knew Charley was a well-meaning young adult because he considered and questioned if he was doing the right thing. The checkpoint that went off in his head was his best quality, but it was also what Jerry tried to exploit. The predator must exploit its prey’s weaknesses. There were predictable elements in the picture. For instance, we expected the characters who chose to run upstairs to hide from the blood-thirsty vampire to never make it out of the house alive. And they didn’t. Maybe they didn’t deserve to. After all, with all the references thrown in the air, the teens must’ve seen a vampire movie or two prior to being vamp food. However, the writing was self-aware of the conventions and it wasn’t afraid to throw allusions to the original film, vampire movies, and literature. Though the expected happened, I felt as though it was more concerned with giving the audiences a good time. I loved its somewhat elliptical storytelling. The rising action was often interrupted by a mini-climax. The drawn-out set-up of investigating, hiding, being hunted, and escaping worked quite effectively. By giving us small but fulfilling rewards, it kept us wondering what would happen next. Still, the story could have used more character development. Charley’s mom (Toni Collette) felt like a cardboard cutout of an unaware parent. She knew her son had unique interests but to not question him seriously when their neighbor seemed to have a genuine complaint in terms of privacy being breached felt too convenient. Charley’s mom seemed like a tough woman but she wasn’t given room to grow. What the film needed less was of the self-described vampire expert/magician named Peter Vincent (David Tennant). Obviously, he was necessary for comic relief. I laughed at his ridiculousness, but what I had a difficult time accepting was the fact that he could survive a vampire attack multiple times. His backstory was sloppily handled. I commend “Fright Night,” directed by Craig Gillespie, for taking the original as an inspiration and telling a different kind of story. Its flaws didn’t matter as much because it had fun. It sure is more interesting than a shot-for-shot remake of the original which most likely would have forced us to ask why they even bothered.
★★ / ★★★★
Aaron Johnson stars as Dave Lizewski, a typical geek who goes to a typical high school with typical hormonal friends (Clark Duke, Evan Peters). But what’s not typical is his dream to be a superhero, serving people at a time of need and rescuing them from bullies or dangerous criminals. I liked the first and last forty minutes of this film. The first forty minutes was amusing because the lead character was still trying to figure out how it was really like being a superhero; that one does not win every battle and sometimes a trip to the hospital is necessary. In a way, it worked as a spoof of those extremely serious adapted-from-comic-books superhero movies. The last thirty minutes was pure action. Comparisons of Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl to Uma Thurman’s The Bride was pretty accurate because both can deliver the eye-popping violence and snarky sense of humor. However, I didn’t like the fact that Moretz’ character overshadowed the lead character. After all, the movie was supposed to be about the blossoming of a nobody to a possible somebody who everyone adored on YouTube. As for the middle portion of the film, I thought it was weak and lazy. The bit about Christopher Mintz-Plasse as a rich boy wanting to be a superhero was very formulaic. I constantly felt that he was trying to be funny but falling flat every single time. I like Mintz-Plasse, especially in “Superbad,” but I thought he was miscast here. A pompous, know-it-all, conniving kid would have been a much more interesting a character instead of a wimpy wannabe. Other fatal shortcomings involved Nicolas Cage as the father of Hit Girl (and also a superhero). There was a history about his character that I wanted the film to get into. Whenever the camera was focused on Cage, “Kick-Ass” had an added gravity that it desperately needed in order to be something other than a spoof of superhero films. Instead, the movie unwisely spent much of its time showing us scenes involving the main character being mistaken for a gay guy by a girl he liked who happened to want a gay BFF. As cheeky as it was, it was also unnecessary; it got old pretty quickly and I wished I had a fast-forward button. Overall, however, I did enjoy “Kick-Ass,” directed by Matthew Vaughn, despite its shortcomings in terms of pacing and not focusing on the more interesting characters that could potentially provide an extra dimension to the project. The film did hint on a possible sequel which I think is a great idea because there were a number of questions that remained in my head by the time the credits started rolling. People compare this film to “Kill Bill” in terms of violence but I think “Kick-Ass” doesn’t hold a candle to Quentin Tarantino’s bloodbath. I think it’s more accurate to say that this is a teenage version of “Watchmen” that is less focused, less ambitious but more amusing with a modern twist.
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★
This enormously entertaining PG-rated children’s movie was about a small and skinny Viking named Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) who had to capture a dragon and kill it so he could prove that he was a real Viking and make his father (Gerard Butler) proud. Well, he managed to accidentally capture one but he decided to train it instead because he saw a part of himself in the dragon’s eyes when it was scared and helpless. In general, what I love about most about children’s movies is their simplicity. But what I think makes a superior animated feature is how the movie can explore that simplicity and extract valuable lessons about life that even some adults haven’t quite grasped. I think “How to Train Your Dragon,” directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, managed to capture that essence so I was highly entertained. But I must warn others that this film was more about the story than the jokes. The humor was certainly there, especially the scenes that involved Hiccup and his rivals (America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig) fighting dragons, but the focus was on the bond between a boy and his pet dragon. I think it’s a great movie for children to watch because it’s highly energetic, colorful, and there were real moments of suspense (the impressive dragon nest scene and the final battle) and wonder. A main lesson that could be learned was acceptance: treating others with respect even though we don’t agree with their beliefs, putting our feet in someone else’s shoes in order to understand someone better, respecting animals and nature, and being comfortable with who we are even though we may not look or feel like the ideal at the moment. It’s funny because I think in some ways this was comparable to Tim Burton’s version of “Alice in Wonderland.” Both movies ask us to jump into a world where pretty much anything could exist. However, “How to Train Your Dragon” was a superior experience because it did not sacrifice its storytelling and character development for the sake of visual complexity (which was very strong but it was secondary compared to everything else). Moreover, “How to Train Your Dragon” was consistently amusing while “Alice in Wonderland,” lest we forget was also a PG-rated movie, left me somewhat confused and frustrated with how it wasted its potential. In a nutshell, “How to Train Your Dragon” was inspired–inspired to entertain and to just tell a story that was simple but highly involving. In the end, it made me want to have a dragon as a pet so I could train it just like in those very addictive Pokémon games.
Role Models (2008)
★★ / ★★★★
I thought I would enjoy this comedy a lot more because my friends highly recommended it. Directed by David Wain, “Role Models” stars Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott as two energy drink salesmen who go to various school to preach that drugs are bad. I liked the humor of the first half more than the second half because the former deals with Rudd’s frustration with his brainless job. His perception of the world contrasts with Scott because Scott actually enjoys his job. When Rudd finally lost it after his girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks) dumps him after he made a spontaneous (if not ill-timed) wedding proposal, the two are sent to a mentoring center (jail was the alternative) which was led by the fantastically scary, on-the-edge ex-convict played by Jane Lynch. I also liked the dynamics between Rudd and Christopher Mintz-Plasse because the two of them have this inner geekiness that made me smile; while Scott and Bobb’e J. Thompson share a crude sense of humor that made me laugh out loud. What didn’t work for me was the whole thing about the medieval battles that pervaded the second half. I was bored out of my mind because I felt like Rudd and Scott were pushed aside instead of staying on the foreground and do what they do best: providing the audiences jokes that are witty and dirty (sometimes both at the same time). Instead of staying rude and crude, it somewhat took the safer route toward the end. I almost wished that it didn’t have a heart and embraced the dark comedy genre instead. At least that way, the film wouldn’t feel as though it was holding back in order to achieve some commercial success. It’s a shame because it does have funny material and enthusiastic actors but it didn’t quite push through in order to get to the next level. I say only see it if one has nothing better to do.