Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas Entry: Bad Santa

Marcus continues with the plans to rob the store, Bernie Mac appears as a crooked store security officer, and Willie continues his slow slide into oblivion. But there are all manner of ways back from the edge of oblivion, and Willie finds his when he beats the shit out of some teenaged mall bullies who have beaten up Thurmond. “I think a turned a corner today,” he says philosophically later. “I beat up some kids, but it was for a good reason.”

It has a magic all its own!

Things have been heavy around here for a little while, so it’s time to lighten them up!

Different families have different kinds of traditions. Some families all put on matching holiday sweaters and sing carols, and talk about how much they all appreciate each other. The rest of earth doesn’t do anything remotely like that, and the holidays can be a time of heightened tensions and old emotions broiling forth. Stress and the holidays go together like peas and carrots, and there’s a reason that liquor store owners don’t take the holidays off.

I saw Bad Santa in the theater with my folks in the merry old year of 2003.  I have no idea why we wound up seeing it, it wasn’t the sort of thing my parents usually watch, but my gosh, it made us laugh. Of course most of it is in bad taste, but sometimes a good, old-fashion blitz on the senses is necessary to retaining one’s sanity.

“What? What do you want? GTF out of here.”

Bad Santa is the story of Willie (Billy Bob Thornton), a safecracker with a personal history as scrawled and dreary as bathroom stall graffiti, whose drinking has left him with one foot in the grave. He and his little person partner, Marcus (played by Tony Cox) have a pretty sweet scam set up where Willie poses as a mall Santa and Marcus as his elf. They meander through the month of December, and then on Xmas Eve, mercilessly rob whatever mall they’ve been working at. There’s just one problem – Willie has become worse and worse over the years, barely able to maintain his drinking so that they can get through the job. At the beginning of the movie they pull off another heist, with Willie swearing he’s done, Marcus disgusted with how wasted he is, and promising that Willie’ll be begging him for work come the next Xmas Eve.

Bad Santa is abrasive and downright hostile – laughing at it can make you feel guilty, but it’s also damn near impossible NOT to laugh. There’s loads of foul language and sight gags – a bedraggled, wilted mall Santa passed out on his throne who has also pissed his pants in a stupor, being berated by an indignant little person… it should be grossly offensive and tasteless, and yet it’s not. On the surface, it’s a movie about miserable people doing shitty things, but of course, it has a subtext: it’s about dealing with the adversities of life.

Everybody is doing their best in life, for different values of “best.” In Willie’s case, his best means he is at least not murdering co-eds and dumping their bodies somewhere. A creepy drunken skeezebag who’ll steal a car, ogle teenage girls, and commit all manner of property crimes, but at least he’s not a murderer! Like many people handed a raw deal in life, Willie defines himself by negatives rather than positives, by things he hasn’t done rather than by things he has.

Willie’s path staggers across that of Thurmond Merman, a child borne to bear the cruelties of mankind with none of the harsh defenses that Willie has learned. Thurmond is rotund, with tightly-curled golden hair, a round guileless face, and a predilection for non sequiters and endless questions. His father is “exploring mountains” (imprisoned for embezzling) and he is cared for by an elderly Grandma who splits her time between watching television and making sandwiches, while laboring under a case of severe dementia. A walking target in a cruel world, Thurmond seems to find a surrogate father in Willie, who he insists on calling “Santa” and invites back to stay in his McMansion in an Arizona suburb.

He’s a giver!

Marcus continues with the plans to rob the store, Bernie Mac appears as a crooked store security officer, and Willie continues his slow slide into oblivion. But there are all manner of ways back from the edge of oblivion, and Willie finds his when he beats the shit out of some teenaged mall bullies who have beaten up Thurmond. “I think a turned a corner today,” he says philosophically later. “I beat up some kids, but it was for a good reason.”

As I said before, everyone is doing their best, for certain values of “best.” And just like real life, all you can worry about is what you have accomplished, rather than what you haven’t.

I will drop my usual caveat that Bad Santa isn’t for everyone – it is bleak, dark, and profane. However, like Willie, it is not without redemption.

Here are some of the highlights from the film. TOTALLY NSFW!!!! 

BUT! If you enjoy the bleak, dark, and profane, then get ready for a REAL holiday treat!

 

 

 

The Incredible Hilarity and Brilliance of “Pain & Gain” : Michael Bay is Fooling Us All

So the tl;dr of this is I laughed my ass off, although there are some seriously bloody bits later in the film. And it’s VIOLENT. Michael Bay took time off from his ridiculously expensive film schedule to make this movie, and Johnson and Wahlberg actually waived their usually hefty fees to appear in it. And Mackie is a natural fit, being both built physically for the role and drawn to subversive stories about the dark underbelly of American anyway. I feel like it might be a bigger hit overseas, with audiences who are already aware of the comedic concept of the American tendency of excess.

Bottom line? I laughed SO HARD at parts. When Wahlberg’s character blurts out in desparation, “WHAT THE F*CK IS A NOTARY?” I almost fell off my couch. I think the reason it didn’t make more money in theaters is because it tends to a sly kind of comedy rather than overt smartness. Things are implied, rather than stated, which is weird coming from Michael Bay. It sucks because if this had come from George Clooney or the Cohens and had just a sliiiiightly different angle, it would have been buried in awards. Ah well, it’s at least a secret success!

Don’t be fooled, the chick is barely in this. Sorry straight guys . But good news, gay guys who love giant built guys!

I’m drunk, let’s do this!

A week or so ago, I sat down with the intention of finally watching Pain & Gain, which I had heard a lot about in various communities here and there. I am a a bit of a fitness nut and wanted to see how fitness was portrayed in this film.

My PS3 stopped working, after about the first minute.

Now, in the first minute of this movie, I went through the following mental journey:

  • I heard about this movie when it came out and it was supposed to be good. Now I shall see. *Hits play on Netflix Instant Watch*
  • Sweetass guitar riffs. Thumbs up!
  • It is off to a good start, and I laughed pretty early in.
  • Mark Whalberg is funny, why do I keep forgetting that? Three Kings? He was so good in that! And other things! His rapid-fire delivery of self-assured foolishness is always a hoot!
  • Ha ha! “I’m big! I’m hot!” *looks behind him, sees cops* “FUCK!” Leaps down and begins a pretty awesome chase scene.
    “I’m Daniel Lugo, and I believe in fitness.”

*BLACK SCREEN PS3 FAIL*

So I was pissed. But! Later, I was able to get it working and view the whole thing and I literally haven’t laughed that much in a while.

Watching this movie helped me remember exactly why Michael Bay can write any check and have Hollywood cash it. The man can shoot some beautiful shit. I mean BEAUTIFUL. I have been to Miami, several times. It’s not one of my favorite places. Nice place to visit, but after the second day I am ready to go. Everything is hilariously overpriced and it might be even more superficial than Hollywood, because at least Hollywood can claim the Hollywood “dream machine” historical angle. Miami was literally built by drug dealers who needed to launder their money. Sure, there are cool historical pockets, but Miami was largely built on the proceeds of cocaine.

But I digress!

Now, Pain & Gain’s biggest reason for not being a hit, I suspect, was because it was based on a true story and the true story was not handled as … tactfully… as it could have been in the film. The Sun Gym gang was a real thing, and it was a real, honest tragedy. So making a dark, dark, DARK comedy out of it could be construed in bad taste. Real lives were affected, real people were given the death penalty. I suspect that this film was supposed to be Michael Bay’s Fargo, and in that sense, it is PERFECT. It skewers the American dream, it lampoons a subset of society obsessed with appearance over performance (yes, I am saying that as a fitness snob) and it beautifully photographs ugly and beautiful things with equal amounts of gruesome detail. Huge breasts, tight asses, fast cars, shitty hotels, broken bodies, blood, and massive amounts of stupidity are served up like it’s last call at a cheap  buffet.

If you can divorce yourself from reality, and you enjoy dark comedies, this movie is so funny it might make you pee yourself.

Daniel Lugo is a personal trainer in Miami. He has already been convicted of fleecing the elderly and given a second chance, and so his appointment at Sun Gym is his big chance to straighten up and fly right. Which he does, for while. Under his sweaty, somehow desperate tutelage, the gym prospers.

However, Daniel Lugo also suffers from the very American attitude of entitlement, and that is where things begin to go horribly wrong for him.

Now, nothing that happens is up to fate. EVERYTHING that happens is his own glorious, damn fault. And yet he refuses to see!

Daniel lives in Miami, for one thing. Having been there several times and absorbed a bit of the fake, cheeseball atmosphere of the city, I am here to tell you that yes, people live and die by their image down there. If there is a “skin cancer brought on by fake tans and breast implants” capital of Earth, I feel that Miami is in the top 10. There’ s a reason that someone hasn’t written paeans to Miami the way that they have been written to Las Vegas, LA, or New York. There’s no dark romantic saving grace to the city. It’s entire civic platform is a desperate cash grab, and the whole city only came into existence on the global business radar in the last 30 years.

Again! I digress!

Every since 2001, when I heard all this hoopla about how great Dwayne Johnson was, I have been waiting for his ‘It’ vehicle. I saw the Scorpion King and thought it was pretty good, but not great. I have missed a lot of his other movies, but I follow him on Facebook and Twitter and I think that if aliens ever menace our world and we have to come up with an ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes/Avengers’ kind of team, The Rock is going to be on that list. The man inspires loyalty like a kindly old lady handing out candy and puppies.

My daily goal is to have as much fun as The Rock does. I fear it might be an impossible goal to meet. I might only have as much fun as Plaid Shirt 2d guy in Row 3.

I love knowing people are multifaceted. A weightlifter plays a drag queen? YEAH! A woman usually typecast as ‘The Middle-Aged Mom’ plays a heroin addict? Love it!

The Rock plays an ex-con former coke addict with a violent past who has found Jesus.

Through weight lifting.

It’s just…

The problem with the Academy awards is that there are only so many THE BEST that people can give out. “Oh, it’s great you spent a year living with AIDS victims in Nigeria so you could make this movie about them. But unfortunately X A-lister played a man with Down’s Syndrome, and Y A-Lister played Historical Personage #1 (BUT NEVER THEODORE ROOSEVELT DAMMIT) and Z A-Lister lost 10 pounds to play a man haunted by the sins of his past. So your role where you play a galactically perfect and yet drug-addled version of yourself where you had comedic timing down to the NANOMETER is just not going to make the cut this year.”

SUCKS!

I mean, LOOK AT THIS TRAILER!!! LOOK AT IT!

MAN!!!

All right! On with the rest of the review.

Daniel Lugo has a massive chip on his shredded shoulders, and it’s just so damned AMERICAN, his position on what he should have because of how he should look. If I ever meet Michael Bay I feel like I need to do the ‘finger on the side of the nose thing’ and go “I’m on to you Michael Bay! You make movies about American excess because you know EXACTLY what American excess looks like!”

Lugo believes that because he is able to bench X and squat Y, HE should be making mad bank. Instead, he has to spot sweaty, skeevy guys like Victor Kershaw (and Tony Shalhoub deserved some kind of award for playing the Jewish Miami business guy so perfectly, you’d think he was grown in a lab) and listen to them talk about their amazing money and lives. But of course, that’s Danny’s downfall–he has no concept of who he’s dealing with, or how hard they’ve really worked, or when someone is blowing smoke just to sound cool.  Kershaw’s blatant and gauche bragging about his success is so pathetic and also so apt- he’s a middle-aged guy, not much to write home about physically, but he also lives in an incredibly shallow society where that kind of thing might be considered normal. Or maybe not! Maybe that’s just his way of viewing the world, as adversarial, as a line of rubes he has to win over with his charm. Either way, Lugo is charmed.

Anthony Mackie, best known (to me!) from Captain America:Winter Soldier, is a strong supporting character as Adrian, another trainer who buys into Lugo’s Kool-Aid idea of ‘survival of the fittest.’ As a nerd who has been following evolutionary biologist PZ Myers‘ blog for about five years, I can say that the actual quote is more aptly ‘Survival of the most adapted.’  Kershaw adapted. Lugo expected the world to adapt to him. Mackie is swept up in all the money, and his rampant use of steroids has left him with the American nightmare, impotence.

Lugo hatches a scheme to kidnap Kershaw and force him to sign over all his worldly assets. He enlists The Rock (Paul) and Adrian in his scheme to kidnap Kershaw and hold him hostage in his own warhouse, which holds sex supplies, and force him to sign over all his wordly assets in the interim. What happens after that… Lugo hasn’t really thought that far ahead.

Since i keep beating this dead horse, the Rock really is amazing in this movie. Some day, he will get an Oscar for something. I don’t know what, or how, but I am sure it will happen. He has a gift for performance of all kind, and in this movie, his gift for comedy shines. Now this link is SO NOT WORK SAFE, and also probably out of context. But it is quite funny. If you have any grasp of Spanish at all it is also quite amusing to read the attempts at translating. Some things just don’t have cognates. Also, that little montage left out the best scene of all: The Rock rampaging through a Miami hair salon while fried on a coke binge, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas-Style, dressed in a cheesy white suit. If nothing about that sentence interested you, then you have wasted some time reading this blog, sir or madam! At least give it until the scene in the strip club where Mackie’s Adrian is asking about supplements, and starts explaining how he uses human breast milk as part of his growth regimen, and the Rock makes this face. (and yes, there is a booty there!)

Because what else face would you make in that situation?

The Weightlifter gang, in their attempt to “defend the American dream” from “un-Americans” (as they put it) could not have chosen a worse target. Kershaw, and I really have to give it to Shalhoub here, is an awesome character. The grandson of a Holocaust survivor, he is literally a walking embodiment of the American dream and all the ugliness that it can entail. Does he employ unethical business practices? And how! Does he revel in his largess like a Croesus of old? Hell yeah! Does he verbally abuse his employees and act like a general shit? You betcha! And, most crucially, did he work his ASS off and play the game as smartly as he could? OH YEAH. But, and the ugly American truth here, is that he worked for that privilege. In the US, money is power. It buys respect, and nowhere is that more true than in places like Miami. Built by drug dealers? Who cares, if you pay in cash!

So the tl;dr of this is I laughed my ass off, although there are some seriously bloody bits later in the film. And it’s VIOLENT. Michael Bay took time off from his ridiculously expensive film schedule to make this movie, and Johnson and Wahlberg actually waived their usually hefty fees to appear in it. And Mackie is a natural fit, being both built physically for the role and drawn to subversive stories about the dark underbelly of American anyway. I feel like it might be a bigger hit overseas,  with audiences who are already aware of the comedic concept of the American tendency of excess.

Bottom line? I laughed SO HARD at parts. When Wahlberg’s character blurts out in desparation, “WHAT THE F*CK IS A NOTARY?” I almost fell off my couch.  I think the reason it didn’t make more money in theaters is because it tends to a sly kind of comedy rather than overt smartness. Things are implied, rather than stated, which is weird coming from Michael Bay. It sucks because if this had come from George Clooney or the Cohens and had just a sliiiiightly different angle, it would have been buried in awards. Ah well, it’s at least a secret success!

Bruges is Totally Not a Shithole Entry: In Bruges (2008)

It’s a hard movie to pin down – it worked hard to earn its R rating, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it, either. I’m an atheist, but I still appreciated its message of hope in the face of sorrow, of changing your ways, forgiveness, et cetera.

I can definitely recommend it as a great film, but I would say it’s probably not to everyone’s tastes. But all you can do is try!

In Bruges Poster.jpg
Atmospheric!

*THIS ENTRY WILL NOT CONTAIN SPOILERS*

I will now be absolutely 100% honest and say that it took me so long to see In Bruges because I am not a fan of Colin Ferrell. I don’t know what it is about him, but when I find out he’s in a movie my interest plummets. Which is unfair, because he’s a decent actor and I really found myself liking his character in this film.

In Bruges was nominated for a wagonload of awards after its release in 2008, including both its leads, Ferrell and Brendon Gleeson, being nominated for Golden Globes. Ferrell won, and he did earn it, I have to say.

In Bruges is a few different things:

In Bruges is about two hitmen laying low in an otherwise quiet and beautiful city at the behest of their boss after a  job goes bad. Ken, played by a calm, avuncular Gleeson, is enchanted by the history and architecture and begins sightseeing tout suite. Open-mouthed and bright-eyed, he is overjoyed by the chance to spend sometime in such an old, unpretentious city. Ray, played to the douche-hilt by Ferrell, refers to Bruges loudly and often as a “shithole” and bitches nonstop about their location.

One of the most important qualities a hunter must possess is patience, and I am going to extrapolate that Ken must be the greatest hitman in the history of murder due to the unending patience he has when dealing with Ray. My GOD, does that man know how to FUSS. It’s also a fascinating character study to consider how patiently Ken puts up with such a difficult person, considering he could just off the guy and the world would be the better for it.

A Sample of Ray’s Good Attitude

Ray really is his own worst enemy, as he can barely stay still five minutes without getting into some kind of trouble. He gets into an altercation with a nice American family by making fun of their “robust” build; he whines nonstop about their location and how bored he is; he begs Ken to let them go out and explore the city when they are supposed to wait at the hotel for their boss to call.

It’s all but impossible to avoid spoilers, but I want to say that the main theme of In Bruges is purgatory, or the place where you wait for judgment. AND THAT IS ALL I SHALL SAY. You’re smart, you can probably guess the rest!

Central to the plot is a little person, alternately referred to as a dwarf, a midget, Jimmy, and “that fuck who didn’t wave at me because he was on horse tranquilizers.” He plays a crucial role in a main character’s road to redemption.

It’s a hard movie to pin down – it worked hard to earn its R rating, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it, either. I’m an atheist, but I still appreciated its message of hope in the face of sorrow, of changing your ways, forgiveness, et cetera.

I can definitely recommend it as a great film, but I would say it’s probably not to everyone’s tastes. But all you can do is try!

In Bruges is currently available on Netflix Instant Watch.

EDIT: God I am dumb. I did this whole entry and meant to link to my friend Stephen’s blog entry about Bruges! He’s living in Germany and visiting as much of Europe as he can, and his blog is a great read for any travel buffs. Please jump over to his entry on Bruges!

In Bruges 

Enjoy!