What Are We Up To? 11/20/22
Don’t worry Criticult Guy. You’re better off without her.
It’s been a wild month. The economy is still a flaming coal train on greased tracks, the whole country just had layoffs, and the woman in Criticult Guy’s life traded
me him in for a younger (and almost certainly dumber, right?) model. But hey, some days you’re the cheerleader and some days you’re the chain saw. And for a few weeks, my friends, a prominent figure associated with this site has been the cheerleader.
Not politically, but technically correct.
But don’t feel sorry for him. Criticult Guy is still the face of a widely respected entertainment website with…(checking)…definitely some readers. So enough about the ways in which
my his relationship status mirrors common horror movie tropes.
Let’s get to what I’ve been doing this week.
And when I say “this week”, I mean almost a month ago. There’s a pipeline of material coming, and these are a couple of the things that came through right before the chainsaw metaphor that totally happened to someone else.
Little Nicky (2000)
It’s the character moments that make this movie work.
You know how I know the world has gone mad? Because it has. There’s no joke there, I just wanted to get off to a strong start.
On this day, I was in the mood for some comfort and reassurance. Part of me longed for a simpler time, before the Pandemic. Before the social upheaval, and the social upheaval before that. Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Even before 9/11.
It was an age of adventure that saw Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston swing at each other and miss, J-Lo poppin’ out of that dress, and Tiny Lister legally required to appear in forty percent of all movies.
And Adam Sandler, the patron saint of Generation X, stood alone in an oblique corner of the comedy world. You know how you can’t find anyone who likes Michael Bolton, but somehow he’s sold 75 million albums?
Someone is lying.
Similarly, there’s a substantial “Sandler Sucks” contingent online, despite the man’s films having made around four billion dollars worldwide.
Sandler spent five years on Saturday Night Live, got fired, started his own production company, and made his own films. Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Waterboy, and The Wedding Singer are stupid, charming fun. Sure, they’re full of toilet humor and juvenile mugging. And if you watch him for too long, you realize that all of Sandler’s characters are just Adam Sandler, kind if doing the same dumb voice.
No, this is not for everyone. It’s certainly not for people who are unfeeling monsters, allergic to the laughter and joy of others.
But then you watch a lesser SandlerVerse entry like Little Nicky, and you kind of understand where the hate comes from. Little Nicky isn’t as loved as those other films because, quite frankly, it isn’t good. But it’s kind of funny, and it’s occasionally charming.
Just…not enough of either at the same time.
Sandler is the eponymous youngest son of Satan (Harvey Keitel), who is about to retire. But Old Scratch’s two scheming older boys (Rhys Ifans, Tiny Lister) aren’t about to let little Nicky have a crack at the throne. Shenanigans ensue when Nicky and his brothers take their dispute topside, raising a ruckus in New York City that, for reasons I honestly can’t remember, threaten Daddy’s very existence.
You’ve got two hours to shoot me, then I’m on a plane to Ibiza.
So, there’s a ticking clock. And, because it’s an Adam Sandler story, there’s a love subplot for our goofy protagonist. The lovely and talented Patricia Arquette has the misfortune of having to act interested in one of the most off-putting characters Sandler’s ever put on screen.
She finds a way to have fun with it. And for the most part, so did I. Little Nicky is a little Chihuahua that thinks it’s the same size as other dogs but isn’t. And yet, it’s kind of adorable the way it barks and snarls, and when you scratch it behind the ears, it reveals itself to be harmless and kind of amusing.
But it’s nothing special – not that it needs to be, but since it follows the same template as most of Sandler’s early work, it should be.
Now, let’s talk about something that’s also unremarkable, but still a notch or two better than Little Nicky.
This is the End (2013)
Ironically, this is how everyone else sees James Franco.
I never saw This is the End when it came out because it seemed like navel-gazing, overly aggressive act of cultural subversion. This is why you should just watch something and let it either please you or not, rather than make a decision based on information you do not have. This is not my way of saying that This is the End is unmissable. That’s only true if you’re a devotee of the Apatow Cinematic Universe and its adjacent world of Acting Bros.
I wasn’t against it so much as I just wasn’t really into it. But I’m not ambivalent about the following question:
What if the end of the world came and James Franco, Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson and Emma Watson were all there? In this version of the universe, Jay Baruchel (Tropic Thunder, How to Train Your Dragon) is a snide hipster who’s grown tired of the Hollywood lifestyle, but not enough to keep him away from his good friend, Seth Rogen.
Legend says all Canadians abroad seek each other out, like the ancient Highlanders.
So Jay decides to pop in one weekend for some quality time. Despite his friend’s reservations, Seth drags Jay to a party at the home of fellow actor and occasionally problematic person James Franco (127 Hours, The Disaster Artist). Whether Franco’s performance is meta or ironic depends on how far you’re willing to go down the social media hellhole.
Meanwhile, Jay frets like a nagging spouse while Seth leans into the night. Jay’s apprehension is not exactly the work of a prudish teetotaler – neither man is above drinking a little beer or smoking a little tree. But outside the decadent fun, you get the idea Jay is concerned for his BFF and wants to pull him away from something corrosive for his own good.
Sound a little grim for a comedy? Ha. Just wait.
During a quick trip to a convenience store for whatever the hell is worth leaving James Franco’s party, an earthquake strikes Los Angeles. Bright blue beams of light begin to pull random people from wherever they are. Cars crash, planes fall from the sky and everyone left behind (pun intended) is forced to scramble for their lives.
It looks a lot like the traditional depiction of the Biblical Rapture.
At this point, I briefly struggled. Perhaps I confused This is The End with The World’s End (2013), Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012), Warm Bodies (2013), or 2012 (2009), all part of an Apocalypse themed glut that occupied Hollywood for a while on either side of the turn of the century.
Honestly, 1999 felt almost as bleak as 2019.
I assumed that a satire about the End Times through the eyes of Seth Rogen / Evan Golberg (Superbad / Pineapple Express) would have a greater sense of dissent to it. This is because the event we’re watching isn’t explicitly defined as the Rapture, at least at first.
So in keeping with the spirit of subversion everyone’s reaction is, initially, hilariously self serving. For a while, though, it’s hard to determine exactly what is being made fun of.
Despite the potentially dicey topic, there’s a fiercely talented group of friends behind this movie. It’s difficult not to sense more than a little vanity behind it, but if you could gather some of your pals together and do something fun – and profitable – wouldn’t you?
I certainly would. But while I’m not a religious person I have trouble getting on board mean-spirited, cynical humor that feels more like lashing out and less like astute discourse. In other words, if you’re gonna take a comedic shot at religion, make it count.
Don’t be a hack.
Thankfully, This is the End forsakes that angle and appears to be a simple story about two friends trying to reconnect at the worst possible time, surrounded by out-of-touch peers. Humans become focused on protecting whatever they consider most important in times of peril, and circumstances tend to govern how deeply we’re willing to dig in on that topic.
So as the situation unravels some well-liked celebrities of the time, all playing outsized depictions of themselves, hole up at Franco’s place. Often it’s funny, like when Danny McBride (The Righteous Gemstones) burns through their food and water in one night’s drunken bender. Other times it’s a borderline horrorshow, such as when all the guys (This is the End could also be called Sausage Party if that weren’t destined to be another Seth Rogen movie) briefly consider turning on Hermione Granger.
That is NOT cool.
Silly cameos, ironic deaths, friendship, betrayal, and redemption all take thematic turns in front of the camera, and it’s mostly an exercise in absurdist fun. But what I walked away with was the idea that the way into Heaven is to just…be cool, man.
And that Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel are probably going to be buried next to each other.
My misfortune is your blessing. You’ve been given Fair Warning. Also, Fair Warning is Van Halen’s most underrated album.
Criticult will return...
Bruce Hall View All
When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like that: "Have ya paid your dues, Bruce?" "Yessir, the check is in the mail."
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