Serenity – In Space No One Can Hear You Fanboy

What up, Buttercups?

Again we’re back to one of my favourite films. I love it so much and not just because it has Nathan Fillion (it does and he’s awesome). I’ve watched it so many times I can quote it by heart.

You can’t really talk about this film without mentioning the background behind it. Firefly was another Joss Whedon TV series but this one wasn’t as well-received as Buffy or the spin-off show Angel. Now, I could write an entire blog about the problems Firefly had. I will say that there were problems with the network re-ordering episodes and never giving Firefly a set airing time, which made it hard to judge whether the show had developed a fan base.

Right, now the Fox in the room has been dealt with on to the movie which gives us something very few cancelled television shows rarely do. Closure.

Serenity first and foremost is the end of the story that was set forth in the series. Now, with that being said you don’t actually to have watched the TV series to understand the film. There is enough backstory covered so you can watch this film on its own.

The premise, simply put or as simply put as I can make it, is justice. The Alliance of planets, created a scourge in the form of the nightmarish Reavers whether knowingly or unknowingly. River (Summer Glau) is a psychic who knows this secret. Her brother Simon (Sean Maher) rescued her and smuggled her on to the ship Serenity.

Captained by Malcolm Reynolds (the above mentioned awesomeness that is Nathan Fillion) and crewed with what could be a rough version of the Guardians of the Galaxy. The strong warrior Zoe (Gina Torres), the thugish Jayne (Adam Baldwin), the genius mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite) and the ace pilot Wash (AlanTudyck).

It is a masterclass of storytelling and subversion of the usual cinema tropes (as is Wheddon’s way look at Avengers Age of Ultron and how everything about Hawkeye in that film told you he was going to die). In this film the trope dodge comes in many forms but non so overt and in your face as that of Shepard Book (The late great Ron Glass) who knows much more about the alliance then he is letting on. Book has a shadowy past; in every other film would mean that he will spill all he knows and everything that happened to him. But Serenity leaves us guessing.

Whedon, as always, is a master of dialogue. It’s witty and fired like a bullet. There’s dialogue happening off-screen that serves to build relationships and connections between characters and the events of the film. Tying everything into one big, self-contained universe.

This film makes a point of being so beautifully feminist. It is an amazingly brilliant show of feminism in its many forms. All of the female characters are strong in their own ways.

Zoe is an ex-soldier, she is hard, efficient and loyal but with a softer side that you only see when she is with her husband.

Inara (Morena Baccarin) is a companion – this universe’s version of a high end call-girl – she is in control of her sexuality and is the most respectable member of Serenity’s crew.

River is a psychic and military trained bad ass. In an early scene we see her fighting prowess in a bar, up to an including overpowering and incapacitating Jayne who has the drop on her.

Kaylee is the most ostensibly feminine member of the crew and even she is an empowering feminist force in her own right. She is made out to be pretty, naive and ditzy at times – she is the heart of the crew, a little sister in many ways to them all – she is a genius mechanic, a field that is seen as a man’s world but she still retains her femininity, she’s not a stereotypical tomboy.

Malcolm Reynolds might be the best hero ever created. He’s a faceted and flawed character with a complex moral code. In this film we see him shoot three unarmed men but never lose our faith or liking for the man. He is, essentially, thrown into a situation he didn’t ask for or want and is struggling to do what’s right by the people in his life while playing a role in a much bigger game that he doesn’t understand.

The Antagonist in this film is the government, working through a singular Operative (an impressive, charismatic and powerful performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor – another man who can seemingly do no wrong).

It’s a simple plot but filled out with complex characters and big concepts and themes. It touches on freedom, authoritarianism, the right to choose for ourselves, accountability, belief and the evils done in the name of a “Greater Good.”

It provides closure to the firefly story while leaving us with an image of hope that the crew will go on to do more capers, even if we aren’t around to see them.

RTJ

*Note: I won’t usually do this, but considering while I was writing this post the Joss Whedon divorce fallout broke and I felt it was best to address it as a dedicated fan of his work.

While I don’t condone the actions he took (I’m not a cheater by nature and have never understood the mindset needed to be a cheater) I’m confused by the assumption that him cheating makes him a hypocrite to the feminist ideals put forth in his work.

It makes him a bad husband, certainly.

It makes him a human being with all the flaws inherent with that.

While this will certainly tarnish his reputation, it shouldn’t destroy work that he has done for feminism.

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Waitress – Seconds? Thanks!

What up, Buttercups?

This film. This. Film.

There are times when I cannot make heads nor tails of it and there are times when I love it intensely. It is a character study on so many levels.

We have Jenna (Keri Russell) the eponymous waitress who has a talent for making pies who finds herself in a life she hates, married to a controlling man she can’t stand.

There is Dr Jim Pomatter (Nathan Fillion. God can that man do any wrong?) who is new to town and caught up in events and a lifestyle he wasn’t expecting. He is charming in a goofy, bumbling kind of way that only Fillion can pull off.

There’s Jenna’s husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto) is a controlling, overbearing man who, when it boils down to it, is a man who peaked in high school, married the best looking girl in school and now realises that he has no way of keeping her is to be controlling.

The film is amazing tale of the things we mean to do and the things that just happen. It is about the choices we make and how they always have consequences and life is about how we face them.

The romance between Jenna and Dr Pomatter is something organic and funny and touching. You get a real feeling that neither of them have the slightest idea what they are doing. There is nothing premeditated in their actions, they are just two people caught up in the emotions.

The film closely follows Jenna’s dilemma from finding out she’s pregnant with a baby she initially doesn’t want with a man she cannot stand, the affair she has with her Dr right through to her choices she makes at the end of the film. The choices that up until then she doesn’t feel able to make.

Though she is cheating on her husband, something Hollywood normally shows us in a bad light, we have sympathy for her. We’re shown her relationship with Earl through little cuts and slices that never come out looking good for him.

He is constantly belittling and even openly physically abusive. Then we’re shown a slice of him that cuts right down to the very core. He is insecure. Her realises that the best days of his life are long behind him and the only thing that he has that reminds him of his long ago glory days is Jenna. She isn’t really his wife she is a trophy of his past victories.

The dialogue throughout the entire film is smart and hysterically funny at times. It’s delivered blisteringly fast and Nathan Fillion’s lines are filled with his awesome rambling charm. The man is brilliance incarnate!

There is poetry in this film. Such poetry that comes out of nowhere sometimes and it’s amazingly poignant and brilliant and perfectly timed. Aside from the single massive blast of it in the form of Old Joe’s description of Jenna’s Chocolate and Strawberry pie and the awkward stumbling poems that Ogie (Eddie Jemison) recites.

The biggest expression of poetry in this film are the cuts to Jenna making up pie recipes in her head. The names are always a little on the nose, but that is the point of them. They are supposed to show exactly how she feels. Her recipes are a barometer for her emotions. She’s like every other creator, what we really feel comes out in what we do.

Old Joe (Andy Griffith), crotchety though he may be, is almost a second heart to the film, doling out good-natured advice when it was needed. He is the catalyst behind the changes that Jenna is able to make at the climax of the film. He shares his experiences, both good and bad, with her and passes on his wisdom to her.

There are a few thought-provoking moments. The conclusion that we’re lead to is that happiness is what you make of it.

RTJ

Leaves of Grass – Two Eds Are Better Than One?

What up, Buttercups?

This is really a film of two parts. It follows the stories of a pair of twins (Brady and Bill) both played by Ed Norton.

Brady is a weed farmer with a relaxed attitude and Bill leads a buttoned down life as a professor and renowned philosopher. The plot is basically Brady wants to go clean and needs Bills help to do so. Hi-jinks ensue.

But there are moments of brilliance. Kerri Russell plays a poet with a beautiful world view who can also noodle a catfish. Reciting Walt Whitman while gutting a catfish is odd but a perfect juxtaposition for a character that his this unique world view while living back where she grew up.

Whereas Bill would rather be away from the small town life and his family.

It’s stated early on in the film that Brady is the smarter of the two and it shows. He has his own ideas about the world. It’s a simpler view than his brother’s. He is filling the film’s role as a permanently stoned philosopher. A man who has the ‘mojo’ to talk people into doing things they don’t want to, or more accurately, talking them into doing things they don’t think they want to.

Its a story of how two people so alike can be comfortable in different skins. Brady is happy in his little world. He his friends, his girlfriend and is about to become a Dad.

Bill, on the other hand, is living this single almost lonely life in Rhode Island. He’s on the career fast track and can talk beautifully about his subject but everything in his life is skewed towards discipline. He teaches the classics and during the first few minutes of the movie he espouses the notion that logic and passion are irreconcilable. That for the few fleeting moments that we think we have a balance between the two of them we are pretending to be God and are heading for a fall.

So the comedy in the film is very formulaic. Two people forced into a situation while they have wildly different attitudes. It’s very much in the vein of the Odd Couple. Then they add in a “It’s not what it looks like” subplot between Bill and one of his students and a blackmail subplot.

It’s not Hollywood’s finest movie. There are times when I was watching this film that I was overwhelmed with the feeling that when this film was being made they weren’t sure what they wanted it to be. There are moments of comedy, romance, deep thought and crime.

This is an odd film. One that I’m not sure I’d watch again considering I struggled to get through it the first time. There were moments of brilliance sprinkled throughout the film but it quickly dissolved into a mess that left me feeling so much of the potential in this film was wasted. It feels like nothing gets resolved.

The epiphany comes at the very end. There are murders and some romance and acceptance in some form but it all feels hollow in a beautiful way.

It’s a film about acceptance; of where we come from, of who we are and the life we find ourselves living. There is an element of facing our fears and, by facing them, realising there is nothing to be scared of in the first place and continuing to be afraid of them is pointless.

There are a lot of setups for jokes and comedy moments that don’t pay off in the way you’d think they should and I can’t decide if that’s bad writing or something new that didn’t work out as first intended.

Richard Dreyfuss plays a Jewish drug kingpin for a handful of minutes and Susan Saradon plays Brady and Bill’s hippy mother again in a role that feels more like a cameo.

There is plenty talent in the picture but the story feels somewhere between a life changing movie and a crime caper.

My biggest feeling after watching this is that there was so much potential that went untapped.

RTJ

Ted 2 – Romancing the Stoner

What up, Buttercups?

I saw Ted 2 when it was in cinemas way back in 2015. I saw it as part of a date and night out with my then girlfriend.

My first impression of the film was that it was an unnecessary sequel. The original Ted was almost an adult version of Toy story. What happens when the kid grows up and so does the toy?

It was interesting and this was back during a time when Family Guy, American Dad and, by extension, Seth MacFarlane could do no wrong.

Ted 2 is part of the fall of Seth MacFarlane. It came a year after A million Ways to Die in the West; which, let’s face it, isn’t exactly pure gold and Ted 2 follows in that vein.

I rewatched it before writing this and the first thing that struck me was the entire unnecessary dance number right at the beginning for the opening credits.

From there the rest of the film is almost a set of loosely connected skits and cameos before we get to about the halfway mark where it feels like someone finally asked: what’s the actual story? Whereas Ted had a fairly well put together story that had well-placed comedic moments that fed into the plot and enhanced the story.

Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) wants to adopt a child with his wife but can’t because he is a living teddy bear and has no rights because he’s technically property. This means that he and his newly divorced best friend John Bennet (Mark Wahlberg) need to go to court to get him his rights back.

They are joined by their lawyer Sam L Jackson (Amanda Seyfried) who loves to get stoned but is completely oblivious to their pop culture references.

The best part of the entire film for me is Sam’s rendition of Mean Ole Moon in the middle of a field after Ted crashes the car into a barn. Considering she was in Mamma Mia I’d completely forgotten she could sing. It’s a beautiful mellow moment after all the jokes about a dick shaped bong and a rip off of Jurassic park where, instead of dinosaurs, they stumble across a field of pot. Ted reciting the line “They do move in herds.”

There are cameos aplenty; Sam Jones, Tom Brady, Liam Neeson, Jay Leno. All of whom are the centre of a little one-off joke that does little to further the plot. There’s also a bizarre music video segment in the middle of the film that feels much like an homage to the Breakfast Club and Seth MacFarlane’s known love for EVERYTHING from the 80s.

The humour in the film comes in a few different flavours:

1) Gross out (John getting covered in jizz at a fertility clinic).

2) Ridiculously, stupidly offensive (See the first courtroom scene where Ted likens himself to the “fags” before changing it to “homos”).

3) Pop culture references that Sam doesn’t get (mostly jokes about the size of Amanda Seyfried’s eyes – Like we didn’t get enough of that in a Million Ways to Die in the West – and Gollum references).

4) Stoner humour (mostly in the vein of funny names for various blends of pot and the effects they have).

There are a few meta moments. My favourite is Guy (Patrick Warburton) at Comic Con dressed as The Tic – a reference to him being playing the character earlier in his career.

Considering the film deals with big themes of humanity and civil rights, so much of the writing in the film feels lazy. There are jokes that seem to have been yanked straight out of rejected Family Guy episodes. They bear (pun intended) the same fingerprint as any Pete Griffin story from the show.

Maybe that’s another meta riff to follow up on a throw away joke fropm the first film that Ted’s voice sounds like Peter Griffin but if so it’s poorly executed.

And yet…

And yet.

I still enjoyed this film.

After all that you might think I hate it. I don’t. It’s an enjoyable film if you just want to get a little drunk and turn your mind off. Maybe it helped that I was drunk when I rewatched it but it was enjoyable enough that I wasn’t actively throwing my head back and wishing God would make it stop. It will never be in my top ten list of films… but it’s also not a film I’d turn over if I found out it was on.

RTJ