I never thought I would see the day that 1980s-style teen sex comedies would return to theatres. Movies like Porky’s and Bachelor Party, or even Meatballs(you’ve come a long way, Bill Murray) exemplified Reagan-era excess, the sort of self-centered pleasure seeking that spawned yuppies, coke binges, and the economic recession. Not only were the characters in those movies hell-bent on having a mindless good time, but also the audiences. They were comedies for the monkey in all of us, that feces flinging fornicating inner primate. As the me-decade passed away, so did the me-comedies. Indulgent teen comedies today primarily take the form of the post-modern pastiche, such as the Scary Movie franchise or any of its bastard offspring, referencing so many other movies that they play like a sit-com “clips episode.”
It takes someone like Seth Rogen to bring back the 1980s teen sex comedy. Apatow’s recent films have proven him the fastest pop-culture slinger east of the Mississippi, and funny to boot. Putting that knowledge to use in Superbad, his first self-penned film (along with childhood friend and co-writer Evan Goldberg), Rogen pays tribute to the teen sex romp not through eyebrow arching, wink-wink references, but by building his own from scratch. If you were to take the standard formula that yielded, say, Weird Science, season liberally with Generation X pop-culture, add a dash of Scorsese’s After Hourstransplanted to suburbia, and garnish with Michael Cera you would have Superbad. It is an all-inclusive inventory of one of American cinema’s strangest genres: alcohol? Check. Sex? Check. Dick jokes? Check. Belligerent homeless man? Check (trust me, it’s a common paradigm). And don’t forget all of that madcap tomfoolery! The only thing missing is a stripper or a mud-wrestling match. Though there is a painfully awkward scene involving menstruation.
Normally this type of comedy only succeeds if you are already a fan. A perhaps not-so-shocking admission is that I am not, yet I still enjoyed Superbad. I’ve never liked 1980’s sex comedies. I didn’t even like American Pie. But Superbad is different. One difference is in the atmosphere of the films. In Porky’s, the excess and animalistic indulgence seems like a product of debauched nihilism. In Superbad it is the product of teenage stupidity and experimentation, which takes some of the shaming sting out of it. Another major difference is in the heart. Rogen seems to have learned a bit from working with Apatow, because hidden beneath the motley, hormonally charged exterior of Superbad is a real and in many ways sentimental story, and it works as a film both on its surface (jokes) and at its core (story)—a tack that Apotow has worked magic with twice already.
The MacGuffins that drive Superbad are oh so familiar: get alcohol, get laid. But it is really about friendship and growing up. The focal point of the movie is the relationship between Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera). As their names indicate, they are in fact based on Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Their friendship has reached that awkward point when one has matured, and the other has yet to catch up. Seth exemplifies adolescent obsessions, talking constantly about porn, sex, and … well, that’s mostly what he talks about. In the meantime, Evan has rapidly become a sensitive, caring young man, quietly rebuffing Seth’s sexist comments or consoling their nerdy friend Fogell.
Evan may sound more mature (and in many ways he is) but both have something to learn. Seth, of course, needs a reality check in regards to sex, but Evan has yet to learn the value and meaning of his friendship with Seth. All of this caring and learning is carefully secreted behind a veil of populist humor (quickly becoming a trademark trick of Rogen’s colleague Apatow). An example is when Fogle (or, by this point, McLovin) is drunkenly making out and he offers the complement, “well… I have a boner.” Some will laugh because they remember being so awkward and naïve about sex and their own bodies. Others will laugh because he said “boner.”
This illustrates how Rogen and Goldberg’s writing is just as adept at hitting you in the heart as kicking you in the groin, thanks in no small part to some very talented young actors, perhaps the most capable of all being Michael Cera. By now best known for his role as George-Michael Bluth on the ill-fated Arrested Development, Cera has already proven his comic chops further via his web-sitcom Clark and Michael. He’s in top form in Superbad, possessing a sort of graceless intelligence that comes in stutters and one-liners muttered between innocent grins. He provides the right mixture of naïveté, awkwardness, and subtle wit for the subject matter at hand.
In the end, Superbad is admirable, if only for its dual aims of creating the best teen sex comedy ever, and telling an honest story about coming of age, but it is not perfect. The movie is less polished than Knocked Up, or even The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and it is dangerously overloaded with lowbrow jokes and non sequitur profanity that goes for the crotch level laughs (sure, this is about teenagers, but I’ve never known a kid who used the word “vagina” and permutations thereof so many times in a single day.) But while this element of Superbad gives the distinct impression of hedged bets, its heart is in the right place and somewhere beneath all of the pituitary excretions there is a rough but promising sense of compassion and sense of humor.
Directed by: Greg Mottola
Cast: Michael Cena, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen
Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Spider-Man: Far From Home is a splendid coda to the Avengers
Save the world, save the girl?
Where do you go after Avengers: Endgame? The finale to an 11-year journey was always going to be a heavy exhale. But with much of the story finding conclusion, it was only natural that the next chapter would be something a little lighter, less fraught but still tense with importance. The question of responsibility and the burden of carrying it has been a fundamental principle of being a superhero in this universe, a burden that only continues in the final film of this phase. So where does the Marvel Cinematic Universe go after Endgame? Well, on holiday of course. Spider-Man: Far From Home is not only a splendid film but a nice coda to the biggest cinematic undertaking we’ve seen in recent history.
You can find Spider-Man: Far From Home nestled in the cinematic landscape somewhere between Iron Man 3 and National Lampoon’s Vacation. Peter Parker (Tom Holland, really solidifying himself as this generation’s best Spider-Man) is Clark Griswolding himself across Europe to chase the heart of MJ (Zendaya). As a bumbling 16-year-old who only wants to find the girl, his romance is cut a little short by the expected Marvel cinematic tomfoolery we’ve come to expect from our arachnid hero. Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn as Mysterio is a concerted effort; a cross between Tony Stark’s wise but too cool tutelage and Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin (take that how you will). As the carnage across Europe unfolds, the film becomes a well-balanced juxtapositioning of the kind of humor we’ve found appealing within in the MCU and action and adventure that doesn’t become overly burdensome or heavy. Far From Home keeps things light and breezy, but you never forget the stakes or think that this is just a tacked on fling after the events of Endgame.
The cast are well rounded and the addition of Marvel players we’ve come to love (Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan, Spider-Man sidekick Ned, and both Nick Fury and Maria Hill) makes it hit with almost the same gravitas as the previous films. But more importantly, they never make the film feel like an overstuffed mess that plagued outings like Age of Ultron. The pace is engaging, and as the story unfolds amongst the smoke and mirrors, you can’t help but feel a kind of comic book happiness that you felt through Homecoming. It’s charming, it’s earnest, it’s funny, and at times, doesn’t take itself too seriously (Spider-Man video game in-joke included!). Plus it has those little moments that while may have been written for fans, will appeal to anyone who enjoys a good laugh, a touching moment, and good filmmaking. While the death of Tony Stark looms large within the narrative of the film, it doesn’t become baggage- but rather the catalyst for growth within Parker and helps propel the story to its conclusion.
However, one can’t help but feel that the continued presence of Tony Stark, and the reminder that he is gone, really does give this universe a sense of finality. If you stay for the end-credits (both scenes), you’ll know that Marvel has plans both big and small in the coming years. Far From Home is both the end and the beginning in a sense. It’s a nice coda to Endgame, and for some, probably a good place to step away from the past 11 years. Far From Home is also continued proof that heart and the desire to do good doesn’t always have to follow the same tired script. Save the world, lose the girl? Maybe not this time.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is in cinemas now.
SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by: Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna
Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, Colbie Smulders, Marisa Tomei
Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Run time: 129 minutes
Film Review: Murder Mystery
Murder Mystery is a pretty crap film.
Murder Mystery is the next film in the long line of terrible Adam Sandler films distributed by Netflix. At this point we’re not sure that Netflix actually watches these movies before they put them on their service but here we are. Murder Mystery, like many of the recent Sandler-helmed flicks, seem less like movies than they do lavish holidays that Adam Sandler and friends go on where filming of random skits tied together loosely by some semblance of narrative occurs. Much of the film is slapped together with the kind of duct-tape storytelling you’d find in all those mediocre SNL movies.
There is star quality though. Jennifer Aniston is back, after working alongside Sandler in 2011’s equally terrible Just Go With It, and they’ve roped in some pretty prominent names, including Luke Evans (Fast & Furious series, The Hobbit), Gemma Arterton, and a happily cashing in his check Terrence Stamp. What happens can be best described as stupid Cluedo, or more blatantly, a dumb Murder On the Orient Express where Sandler and Aniston’s characters, a bumbling New York cop and hair dresser, stumble upon a high-stakes inheritance-grab murder mystery where absurd things happen. It never makes much sense but the biggest problems with these movies are not so much the cartoony skits (Sandler’s cop is so bad at shooting his gun that when he does, it’s a cartoon-like hail of bullets missing their target), but just the insanely unbelievable characters that fill these movies. It’s OK to suspend belief, but at this point, you don’t believe for one second any of the characters would exist in real life or that any of them act like actual humans do. There is also no shortage of cartoon bozos: Fat New York cop sidekick? Check. Buffoony Inspector Clouseau French detective? Check. Overly Spanish Spanish guy? Check. Ali G Indian guy? Check. Even Gemma Arterton’s Jessica Rabbit-esque character would make Jessica Rabbit shake her head in disbelief. At least Rob Schneider isn’t in it.
Is it funny? No, but there are actually some moments worth a chuckle. And that’s already better than Sandler’s previous Netflix outings. Murder Mystery’s jokes are mostly at the expense of the exaggerated caricatures and Sandler’s goofy self, but for the most part, its pretty bereft of humor. To make matters worse, the film has that cheap Netflix sheen to it that makes it even more of a TV movie than it already is. In the end, the movie is such a blatant Murder on the Orient Express rip-off that the end scene literally shows the Orient Express train. Unironically too.
Netflix’s has a serious movie problem- one that we’ve talked about before. Murder Mystery, is no different. You can’t fault Sandler for continuing down this path. Same goes for Aniston. Both have more than established their craft over the years that at times, you can’t help but feel envious of the position they’re in. So what if they just want to put their feet up, cash in a nice pay check, and enjoy the nice sights? Who wouldn’t?
Murder Mystery is a pretty crap film, but it’s what happens when we’ve given this much clout to Netflix. Spielberg had a point when he said Netflix movies shouldn’t be competing for Oscars. It is not only because they eschew theatrical traditions, but it should also be because they’re crap. And not even in the Spielberg Artificial Intelligence sense of being an average movie- but in the Lifetime channel level of crap. So really, when you think about, Murder Mystery is all our fault.