Masterminds

There are classic comedies and then there are the ridiculous comedies that are so outrageous you sometimes feel uncomfortable. Masterminds is the latter. Here’s the thing — it’s not the BEST movie you’re ever going to see, but it’s not supposed to be. It works because they crammed a solid array of actors and SNL rockstars into it, namely:

  • Zach Galifianakis
  • Kristen Wiig
  • Owen Wilson
  • Jason Sudekis
  • Kate McKinnon
  • Leslie Jones

Zach Galifianakis plays David Ghantt, a guard at Loomis Fargo armored car company in North Carolina. David lives a horrifyingly boring life with his soon-to-be wife, Jandice (Kate McKinnon). Jandice is legitimately scary, which makes sense because she’s played by Kate McKinnon and everything she does on SNL terrifies me. Jandice isn’t all bad, though. Her best quality is that she takes fantastic engagement photos. 

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So majestic. 

David’s only source of excitement is his attractive coworker Kelly (Kristen Wiig). When Kelly gets fired from Loomis Fargo, David is devastated. That is, until one day she calls him and asks him to meet her for lunch. David is surprised to learn that Kelly’s friend Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson) wants to make him a proposition. Kelly and Steve want David to help them rob Loomis Fargo. Blinded by his love for Kelly and desperate for money, David agrees, and the plan is set in motion. 

tumblr_nqgl8answS1qcjzvuo2_500.gifThe most insane thing about this movie is that it’s based on a true story. In 1997, the real David Ghantt actually did rob Loomis Fargo.  At the time, it was the second largest cash heist in U.S. history. Too bad everyone was an idiot.

If you read the story of how it all went down, Masterminds stuck pretty close to the real happenings. The writers certainly took some creative (and comedic) liberties, but these people were such characters in real life that they practically wrote the script themselves. For example, Steve Chambers warned all the participants not to draw attention to themselves by spending the money, but once he got his cut, he and his family moved into a huge mansion and furnished it with Elvis paintings, cigar store Indians, and many other disturbing items. 

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Don’t eat the chicken, just ball up the fried skin in your hand and eat that.

David Ghantt was betrayed by Chambers, and when Chambers realized David had become a liability, he sent a hitman (Jason Sudekis) to Mexico to kill him. The problem was, once he got there, the hitman couldn’t bring himself to kill Ghantt. Instead, he ended up befriending him and the two enjoyed some time together on the beaches of Mexico.

You can’t make this shit up. 

Watch the movie to see just how outrageous these “masterminds” really were. 

The Girl With All the Gifts

Ah yes, the very familiar zombie horror genre. I assumed I’d seen all the variations of zombie apocalypse movies, but this one offers a fresh take.

The Girl with all the Gifts is set in a dystopian future where a flesh eating fungus has consumed the minds and bodies of most of the human world.

The movie starts with the day-to-day of children living in what seems to be some sort of military prison. They’re locked in cells every evening and taken out (at gunpoint) in restraints every morning. Hard core.

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The film asks a new question about zombies: What would happen to pregnant women infected with the virus? Their children would be born with the second generation of it in their system.

In this generation, the fungus has evolved.

The children of these zombie Moms remain completely “normal” in nearly all ways. They think for themselves. They have personalities. They learn. The fungus hasn’t turned them into mindless killing machines. Their desire for human flesh can still overtake them, though. 

When the children smell human scent, they instinctively start growling and trying to attack. It’s nearly impossible for them to control, which is why they are restrained. The staff of this military prison/research facility also wear a special skin lotion to help make their scent “invisible” and keep the children’s’ fungus from acting up.

It’s because of these magnificent fungus evolutions that Dr. Caroline Caldwell feels justified in experimenting on these children. She believes she is close to finding the cure that will save humanity, but she needs to get inside the children’s minds to do it.glenn.jpeg

Dr. Caldwell is played by Glenn Close, who —  if you’ve ever seen her play Cruella DeVille you’ll agree – makes a superb villain. 

One of these children – Melanie – stands out. She is highly intelligent–— both mentally and emotionally. She is the girl with all the gifts. Melanie has a particularly close relationship with her teacher, and when zombies overrun the prison, she teams up with her to get out safely. 

The rest of the movie involves Melanie using her zombie skills to help a ragtag crew of leftover humans safely navigate the zombie-filled streets. tumblr_ov5f8yiJyK1rcrn00o4_500.gif
There are a few plot weaknesses in this movie, for example, the military base being so poorly guarded. I mean, come on people! There are like, 36,000 zombies outside your gates and you’re using chicken wire as the barrier?! Seriously??? 

But aside from tiny issues like that, this movie remains a unique zombie suspense film with a surprising end. It’s worth the watch!

Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book

Slow clap to Disney on this masterpiece; it may be one of the best movies they ever made.

Their live-action interpretation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is nothing less than mesmerizing. The film is gorgeous, thrilling, and charming as hell.

I’m fairly certain most people have seen or at least heard the concept of The Jungle Book, so instead of getting into the story, I’d rather lay out the key aspects of this version that make it particularly worth the watch:

1. The cast is ridiculous.

Mowgli is played by Jason Scott Lee (no relation to Bruce Lee) and he is absolute perfection — curious and innocent,  but also wild, fierce, and emotionally intelligent. Jason Scott Lee coordinates all these personality traits to make you fall in love with his benevolent character. Plus, the little boy who plays Mowgli as a child also happens to be a national treasure. He’s so young, and yet so talented. mowgli

Cersei murders everyone in the Red Keep. Oops, wrong Lena Headley role. In The Jungle Book, she plays Kitty, the adventurous and bold daughter of Officer Brydan, and friend to Mowgli. lena.gif

Sam Neill is Officer Brydan of the British army, and he is as adorable as ever. Hashtag Old Man Crush. So kind hearted and brave, that one. Sigh. images.jpeg

John Cleese is Dr. Plumford, Brydan’s friend and the resident doctor on staff. His awkward British charm is a great addition to the film.

Then there’s Cary Elwes. Maybe best known for his role as the Dread Pirate Roberts in the Princess Bride. Unfortunately, our little Cary Berry is the villain in this movie. He’s Captain Boone, a soldier in the British army under Brydan’s command, and a man who also happens to be Kitty’s current beau.

2. The score and cinematography are on point.

A good score can launch a good movie to greatness. This film’s score does not disappoint. It was crafted by Basil Poledouris, who scored other great box office hits like The Hunt for Red October, Les Miserable (1998), Starship Troopers, and several others. His music offers epic and beautifully arranged pieces that add layers of emotion to every shot.

Location shooting definitely happened because I just don’t see how all the lush, beautiful jungle, and rolling waterfalls could be fake. Speaking of things not being fake…

3. Hi, animals!

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I have mixed emotions on using animals in entertainment, but I would also like to believe Disney had high standards for the care of these creatures? Panthers, brown bears, wolves, tigers, elephants, monkeys, orangangutans, snakes — you name it. The gang’s all here. It definitely adds something special.

4. Terror is a thing.

This is a “children’s movie” but there are some surprisingly distressing scenes. People getting mauled by wild animals, drowning in quicksand, and being buried alive to name a few. Not pleasant. 

Combine all of the above elements together and you have the majesty that is The Jungle Book. The story of a young boy named Mowgli who, while accompanying his father in the jungle, finds himself separated and lost. A tiger named Shere Khan is the cause of the commotion that separates him. 

Mowgli spends the next several years growing up the unforgiving jungle and learning to live by his own resourcefulness. He makes a few animal friends along the way and even earns the respect of King Louis — the orangutan Ruler of Monkey City — by fighting valiantly for the return of his stolen bracelet.

King Louis’ abandoned palace is home to hundreds of monkey squatters and mountains of gold. Although, none of this is of any significance to Mowgli, who grew up valuing animals and nature instead of material goods. 

In a fluke encounter, Mowgli is reunited with Kitty and with civilization itself. Once she realizes who he is, she and the doctor start teaching him language and the ways of modern society. learn.gif

Meanwhile, Kitty’s greedy fiance, Captain Boone, takes notice of the knife Mowgli wears on his belt. It is a dagger from Monkey City made of pure gold and valuable jewels. Boone lurks patiently, waiting for the opportune time to press Mowgli on the city’s location.   

As he navigates the strange new world, Mowgli learns the hard way that, unlike animals, people can be evil. The story takes a dark turn when Kitty rejects Boone’s marriage proposal and Boone quickly decides to kidnap her as a way to blackmail Mowgli into taking him to the gold. Meanwhile, Shere Khan, the tiger King of the jungle, has been watching the goings-on…and he is NOT pleased.

The action-packed adventure is full throttle as Boone and his team forge through the jungle in search of the lost city. 

Who will live and who will die in the black jungle? Will Mowgli win the respect of Shere Khan? How will the power of nature balance the greed of man? Only the jungle knows…

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Snowpiercer

An imaginative and unique science-fiction thriller. That’s how I would define Snowpiercer. Is it highly improbable that an experiment meant to slow global warming could backfire and kill off the majority of the planet? Well, yeah, but it still works.

This movie has a lot of post-apocalyptic subplots happening. In the year 2031, the only remaining people on Earth live on a train called Snowpiercer, which apparently will just zip around the frozen world forever (global warming experiment = new ice age) using a perpetual-motion engine.

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But it’s not all “kumbaya” on the choo-choo.

People exist as the haves and the have-nots. The poor are treated like slaves and fed a weird gelatin substance while the Richie Riches’ occupy a completely separate part of the train and have fancy dinner parties. Military police keep the peasants at bay by beating old women and yelling aggressively.

Curtis (aka Chris Evans, aka Captain America) is one of these lower class passengers, and he has had ENOUGH. He devises a scheme to get to the classy part of the train and take it over. Curtis believes he and his motley crew must aim for the train’s engine. He who controls the engine controls the world.

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Everyone keeps asking Curtis if it’s time to execute his big plan, but he’s still figuring out the details. In the meantime, the psychopathic upper class steals tiny children from their moms (Octavia Spencer for one), freezes a man’s arm off, and generally treats the oppressed people like subhumans. Tilda Swinton plays the creepy, sadistic leader with John Hurt as her regular-guy adversary.

Finally, after all the waiting, Curtis’ plan is set in motion. The back-of-the-train people use metal barrels affixed together as a giant battering ram. They ram through each train car and fight the military police they meet. Once they enter the prison, they release the cracked-out genius who designed the train’s locks and security systems to help them make headway.

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Each train car reveals a new nightmare and each step unravels their master plan a little bit more. The closer they get to the front of the train, the crazier and more brutal things become. I’m not one for brutality, but there is a pretty epic hand-to-hand combat scene at one point.

Nothing is constant and the story takes several horrifying turns as we discover new truths about the characters’ backstories. The end may surprise you. 

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Babies taste best.

The Incredible Shrinking Man

LISTEN – if you’ve been dismissing black and white movies because you think they’re not “sophisticated” enough for your fancy expectations, then this film is your challenge.

The Incredible Shrinking Man is a 1957 film with all the pizzaz of your precious modern-day blockbusters, but without the help of CGI, which makes it WAY more impressive.

The Incredible Shrinking Man also does something I find especially powerful: it builds visceral empathy for the main character. You literally FEEL his suffering. The basis of the film is sci-fi-of course, but the intensity makes it more of a drama. 

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It all starts when Scott Carey and his wife are vacationing at sea. When his wife goes inside their boat to grab beers, a strange mist passes over, leaving a residue on Scott’s skin. Weeks later, he starts noticing odd changes in his size.

Scott is getting smaller every day, and he decides it’s time to seek professional help.  A team of doctors run endless tests, and finally, a breakthrough occurs. They identify two factors contributing to Scott’s ailment: his exposure to the apparent radiation cloud that passed over him on the boat, and (because his luck isn’t bad enough) his accidental exposure to a powerful insecticide sprayed near his house two weeks later. This combination of radiation and chemicals sparks a condition for which there is no precedent.

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When you forgot your keys and your husband’s late opening the door.

It’s not long before Scott’s story goes public and he and his wife find themselves confined to their home, hiding from reporters and gawking neighbors. Meanwhile, Scott’s team of doctors work feverishly to find an anecdote. Sadly, when they finally discover a serum they think may help, it’s not enough. Scott continues shrinking, now living in a doll house on the floor of what was once his home.

Hashtag depressingggg.

Living in a doll house may sound kind of awesome, but being that small comes with some serious dangers. Cue Scott’s inevitable run-in with the cat, which spurs the turning point of the film.

This movie is surprisingly DARK. From almost being eaten by a cat, to nearly drowning, to fending off a giant spider, the main character is in constant conflict. We watch him teeter between losing his mind and fighting for survival for most of the film. 

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Oh look, it’s my LITERAL NIGHTMARE.

I mean, imagine if you were shrinking. Do you really think your wacky inventor Dad would nuke you with his laser and bring you back? That some rude caterpillar would feed you a psychedelic mushroom to make you normal again? No. You’d be screwed and therefore horrified.

This film accurately captures that anxiety and imagines how a person would react mentally, physically, and emotionally to such a life event. It’s also a testament to the awe and wonder at a universe bigger than us — even us normal-sized, non-shrinking humans.

 

What We Do in the Shadows

Vampires + Reality TV = what? You’ll find out if you watch the comedy/horror mockumentary, What We Do in the Shadows (2014). The film was written and directed by two of its stars, Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, and it has it all: deadpan comedy, relatable roommate squabbles, social rejection, darkness, aggressive artery punctures (which I could do without), a feeling of general creepiness, documentary vibes, and old timey clothing.

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Oh dear, Petyr..

What We Do in the Shadows is set in modern day New Zealand, where four roommate vampires are trying to navigate 21st century life. I say four vampires because technically it is four, but one of the vampires, Petyr, is every child’s nightmare, so he only makes limited appearances. The other three vampires – Viago, Deacon, and Vladislav – are the main subjects of the “documentary”.

This film is bizarre, creative perfection. It must have been pretty amusing to sit in a room and brainstorm all the ways modern life would be inconvenient for vampires. Today’s vampires not only have to deal with the whole ‘drinking blood and staying out of the sun’ thing, but also negotiate the stale day-to-day conflicts of us “regular people”. Arguing about whose turn it is to do the dishes. Who forgot to pay rent. Which friend is trash talking the other one. We’re all just people/immortals trying to find some joy in this crazy world.  

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The vampire roommates struggle with issues us humans would never have to worry about. Not having a reflection, for instance, makes it pretty hard to play “What should I wear tonight?” before you hit the club. And then, even if you do pick something suitable, you can’t actually get into the club unless the bouncer invites you.  

At the beginning of the “documentary” each vampire explains how they became who they are. I don’t want to ruin their backstories, but here are their general personalities:

Deacon: Deacon is described as the “bad boy” of the group. He is a sensual, wild, vampire nazi.

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Vladislav: Vladislav has been around since the medieval times, so he has a more old school mentality about vampiring.

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Viago: Viago is the diva who often appoints himself the leader and mediator of the group.

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How else will you soak up all the blood? Duh.

Although their lives are restricted, the vampires aren’t living in complete isolation. Not only are they interacting with humans like Deacon’s servant Jackie and their friend Stu, but they know other vampires and creatures as well. In fact, there’s a bustling society of vampires, werewolves, witches, zombies, and other nonhuman beings running rampant around the city. The “documentary” is filmed as a lead up to the Unholy Masquerade, which is an annual gathering of all these creatures.

If I reveal too much about the plot it may ruin the experience, so instead, I’ll end this post with a few teaser quotes to look forward to when you watch it….

[On why they like virgin blood]
Deacon: I think we drink virgin blood because it sounds cool.

Vladislav: I think of it like this. If you’re going to enjoy a sandwich, you would just enjoy it more if you knew no one had fucked it.


Anton the Werewolf: [to all the werewolves] What are we? We’re… [All, together] We’re Werewolves, not Swear-Wolves.


Stu: [Showing the vampires Google] Anything you want to find you type it in.

Viago: I lost a really nice silk scarf in about 1912.

Deacon: Yes, now Google it.


Nick: Twilight!

Deacon: Shut up, Nick! You’re not Twilight.

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Lars and the Real Girl

Remember all those films where Ryan Gosling plays the deliciously dreamy heartthrob who consumes every woman’s deepest fantasies? Mmyeah, this is nothing like any of those.

In Lars and the Real Girl, Ryan Gosling plays Lars Linstrom, an exceedingly awkward man who lives in his brother and sister-in-law’s garage. The majority of Lars’ time is spent trying to avoid human contact and minimize the duration of conversations.

I think Lars’ awkwardness is supposed to be endearing, but it also comes off a little murdery. Lars is like the guy you hear about on the news who committed a heinous crime and all the neighbors comment that he “always kept to himself” and “seemed like a nice guy”. He rocks an unsettling mustache and often sits alone on his bed at night…in the dark…staring down at the floor. If that doesn’t scream SERIAL KILLER, I don’t know what does. And yet, as you watch the movie, you grow to appreciate his strangeness.

MV5BMjA5NzQ0NDg1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMjg3NDQ3._V1_Lars’ sister-in-law, Karin (Emily Mortimer) tries desperately to get Lars to come and spend time with her and her husband, Gus. Karin is a compassionate, motherly type who has made it her personal mission to help Lars. Perhaps one of my favorite scenes in this movie is in the first act where Karin is trying to get Lars to come over for a meal. First, she invites him to breakfast, but he makes the excuse that he has to go to church. So, she says he should come by after church. Not wanting to be rude (and also hoping she’ll go away) Lars reluctantly agrees. But he still doesn’t show up. So when Karin sees him pull in the driveway the next night, she runs out to invite him to dinner. After several pleading exchanges, Karin ends up physically tackling Lars to the ground. It is quite hilarious, but it also shows us how seriously Karin worries about Lars’ isolationism.

Other than being a total weirdo, Lars leads a normal(ish) life. He has an office job where he shares a cubicle with a porn-addicted creeper, and fends off advances from his innocent coworker, Margot, who has a crush on him. One morning, the cubicle creeper shows Lars a website for anatomically correct sex dolls, which is seemingly of little interest to Lars. However, six weeks later, a large package is delivered to the garage. Lars shows up at Karin and Gus’ door to let them know he has a visitor — It’s Bianca, his new “girlfriend” who he “met on the internet”. Karin and Gus are thrilled at the prospect of Lars having a girlfriend, and Lars explains that he needs a favor for his new lady. Bianca is very religious and doesn’t feel comfortable staying in the garage with Lars, so he asks if Karin and Gus will allow her to use their guest bedroom. They agree with an almost giddy enthusiasm. Of course, that’s before they “meet” Bianca and realize the situation they’ll now be forced to navigate. 

To Lars, Bianca is not a doll. She is alive. She has a story and a personality. Their relationship is not based on sex (phew!), but rather on companionship. Lars knows nearly everything about Bianca, and his descriptors give us an idea of who he imagines her to be. Here are a few facts about Bianca (according to Lars):

  • She’s half Brazilian and half Danish
  • She used to be a missionary
  • She doesn’t speak much English
  • She is in a wheelchair
  • She is very religious
  • She’s not superficial
  • She cannot bear children
  • She loves kids3iAw.gif

After recovering from the moment of shock, Karin and Gus immediately start strategizing what to do next. In an ingenious move, Karin suggests taking Bianca to the doctor to make sure she’s “in good health” after her long trip. Unaware that the general practitioner is also a psychologist, Lars agrees to go and hear what the doctor has to say. The savvy psychologist gradually gains Lars’ trust as he returns each week to bring Bianca for “special treatments”.

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Her blood pressure is low, obviously.

The doctor explains to Karin and Gus that Lars is experiencing a delusion. To help him, they will need to play along. Karin and Gus take her advice but worry how the town will react and how they personally will get through it. They meet with the counsel of the local church for additional support.

This is where the film really becomes charming.

The entire town bands together for Lars, with each person generously playing into his delusion and including Bianca in their activities and social functions.

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Bianca gettin’ her hair did. 

Through Bianca’s social engagements, Lars’ relationship with everyone else grows and he starts learning to interact with the people he’s been trying so desperately to avoid. But the closer he edges away from his social anxiety, the more Lars and Bianca drift apart. They start to fight and Lars becomes jealous that Bianca’s regimented social schedule is interfering with their alone time. Slowly but surely, we see a glimmer of change in Lars, and we start to learn about the issues from his past that are making him feel so secluded.

Lars and the Real Girl
is a poignant, clever, and whimsical dramedy that reminds us what being human is truly about. Watch the film to discover how Lars evolves and what ultimately happens between him and Bianca.

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