'You're All Wrong!': Mark Breslin & Thom Ernst revisit recent films and reaction

Original-Cin welcomes back guest columnists Mark Breslin and Thom Ernst - respectively the founder of Yuk Yuk’s comedy chain and the former host of TVO’s Saturday Night at the Movies – and their occasional contrarian feature called You’re All Wrong!

THOM: I like comics but I’m not keen on comic book movies - save for a few independents like My Friend Dahmer and A History of Violence.  I don’t get the culture and understand even less the massive private club mentality that goes with it. 

It’s easy to spot a Marvel fan when you see one; They’re the ones who still laugh out loud every time Stan Lee makes his onscreen cameo.  And I’m particularly indifferent to superheroes, despite possessing my own incredible powers that turn me from billionaire philanthropist by day to super film-critic by night.  (It’s not something I tell everyone, but I feel my secret is safe with you, Mark).  

 "T'challa! I thought everybody liked us."

"T'challa! I thought everybody liked us."

Then along comes Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther. Yes - you heard me, Mark, I said Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, not Marvel’s Black Panther. And if by saying so I bring the hammer of Thor crashing down on my head, so be it. What is Thor to me anyway, but a Harlequin Romance cover-model who doth speak anachronistically?

Okay, Black Panther is part of the Marvel Universe, but he’s like an adopted child who recognizes his roots run deeper than the people overseeing him (it happens). So, regardless of how accurate Coogler’s vision is to the Marvel universe, it’s still a helluva vision. And it’s a story that goes well beyond the traditional super humanoid battling the crazed maniac who’s inadvertently turned himself into a Metallic Butterfly - or what have you.    

Not to dump on Irish Independent critic Ed Power any more than he’s already been dumped on. But I’ve got to question his motivation when he writes, 

“What he (T’Challa) doesn’t get to do much of is jump around beating-up bad guys. That’s a shame. Marvel has finally given us an African superhero. The hope surely was that he would be allowed do super heroic things.”  

Okay, so what is Power really hoping for? That T’Challa follows the same code as his white counterparts?  That would be fine if the world were to treat all heroes equally but it doesn’t.  We can’t expect BP to adhere to the same rules that apply to a privilege billionaire outfitted in Iron, a hormonal teenager who spins a web any size, a brooding, orphaned playboy who hide in a self-made Bat cave, or a gravity defying super dude from the planet Krypton? (Yeah, yeah, I know… Batman and Superman are D.C. heroes not Marvel. Such is my super film-critic prowess that I can reference two franchises in single sentence).    

I actually don’t think Power’s review is as unfair nor as negative as purported, but my answer to him is:  Yes, we finally have a hero who is black – but one can imagine that a Black superhero is not immune to the conflict and issues of race.  

Not surprising that Black Panther is ranked one of the top grossing movies of all time. And that, for a change, is truly Marvel Worthy.  

What say you Mark my Super Marvelous Friend?

MARK: I never liked Marvel comics. Never really liked comic books in general, which means I'm out of touch with 70% of Hollywood product. 

But Coogler sure has created his own universe in Wakanda. But I was filled with questions at the first glance of the Wakanda shimmer. How do the Amazon packages get through? How is the wi-fi? Do those magnificent skyscrapers house condos that are cheaper than those in Toronto? 
I played a game with myself as I watched the movie, pretending (taboo alert!) that the characters were white. Would the movie still work?  It was an impossible task, and I finally had to put down my watercress and mayonnaise sandwich and accept the film on its own merits. Because it is possible to have a movie that is a leap forward for an important cause, but still not be a very good movie.

The film looks great, but that wasn't enough for me. Thom, you are right that the strength of Black Panther is a credible villain whose point of view is entirely seductive. I kept thinking that if Killmonger had been allowed to arm the Black world with that energy goo, Trayvon Martin would still be walking the streets of Florida in his favorite hoodie.
I'm not calling out any particular critic here, but a 97% score on Rotten Tomatoes shows me that the critics weren't being very critical, but were channeling some of T'Challa's idealism.

THOM:  Let’s go back in time, Mark.  Remember a decent little Bill Murray vehicle called The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997)? It was a slight comedic twist on Hitchcock with Murray believing he’s participating in an interactive theatre performance when in fact he inadvertently got himself messed up with some very dangerous and unsavoury characters. 

 "Look out! Thom is hurling a barrage of board-game puns at us."

"Look out! Thom is hurling a barrage of board-game puns at us."

Now there’s Game Night, a tidy little comedy starring Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams that seems to have Murray’s film close at hand. Game Night is the most recent dark comedy to kerplunk itself onto Jason Bateman’s lap.  Bateman doesn’t have a monopoly on dark comedies, but it does boggle the mind as to how many he popamatics up in. 

Premise: Bateman and McAdams play a couple with an incurable board game dependency. In their trivial pursuit of the perfect game experience, a company is hired to stage a live action, full on mock murder/mystery. From there it’s a series of mix-ups, slip-ups and subplots. A lot of it works, some of it doesn’t. 

“Balderdash!” some will say, “Game Night is perfection!”  

Well, not perfect but worth the risk.  And like Murray’s film, Game Night gets it’s laughs from characters mistaking carnage as sport. The audience is in on the joke but the characters have no clue. It’s an ideal formula that's not too taxing on the cranium

MARK: When I heard the title "Game Night" I thought it was about that chef at Antler. But alas, it was only a Jason Bateman pseudo-comedy. A bit of fun, perhaps, but forgettable

The moment we all left the theatre, some critics saw way more in it than I did.  Carl Kozlowski of the esteemed Pasadena Weekly wrote that "Bateman and McAdams should do a string of films together like a modern-day Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn.”

First, I'm glad he used their first names so we'd know who he was talking about. Second, has someone put LSD in the water supply in Pasadena? Game Night is not a screwball  classic to be parsed by future students at NYU.

THOM:  I also saw A Wrinkle in Time.  Had to. I have an 11-year old.  

A Wrinkle in Time is a mix-brew of epic fantasy, trippy psychedelic weirdness, and Disney channel friendly. (I prefer the trippy psychedelic weirdness). 

As a parent I must acknowledge A Wrinkle in Time for taking on issues of abandonment and rejection, and showing us what it’s like to stand tall in the face of adversity even when….actually, now that I think on it, Nut Job 2 has the same values.  

Three problems with AWT: Witherspoon, Kaling and Winfrey are all unable to effectively lose themselves in the roles of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which. I know this comes from an award-winning novel, but really, did the author have nothing but Dr. Seuss’ Guide to Naming Your Characters? 
Witherspoon's Mrs.Whatsit floats about the screen like a ditsy mismatched blend of Gilda the Good Witch and Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother (the animated Disney version). Then there’s Kaling as Mrs. Who. Kaling’s easy charm works nicely on the small screen, but on the large screen she comes across like an oversized self-promoting billboard ad. Then there’s Oprah, weighed down so heavily in oversized gowns and hair pieces that she can barely summon the muscle power it takes to smile.  

 "I can smile. I just don't feel like it."

"I can smile. I just don't feel like it."

The sad fact is, this is a magical movie with very little magic. Even the effect of traveling from the real world to the other world is no more impressive then ripples made on a painted backdrop.  

So maybe I’m not the right age group.  After all, it is my 11-year-old who suggested the film.  She insists she loves the movie.  I suspect there’s a bit of preteen rebellion going on here because at one point during the movie I caught her squinting her eyes and squishing Oprah’s screen-size head between thumb and forefinger - which, to her and the film’s credit, is a far better use of our time and definitely one of the film’s better special effects. 

 The 15:17 To Paris: "I don't know but I've been told... This acting racket's oversold..."

The 15:17 To Paris: "I don't know but I've been told... This acting racket's oversold..."

MARK: Didn't see it Thom, so I'm off the hook. But I did see The 15:17 To Paris, which was originally titled The 14:13 to Paris, except that studio execs thought the former would sell better. Most agreed that the movie was snoozier than one of director Clint Eastwood's midday naps, stretching a five-minute action sequence into ninety minutes of torpor. But I thought NOW's Norman Wilner's belief that the heroes should be played by real actors missed the mark. The only reason to see the film is to watch the real-life heroes fluff their own lines. It's Warholian, it's postmodern, it's a shite movie.

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THOM ERNST

Thom is a longtime broadcaster and film critic living in Toronto and is formerly the producer and host of TVOs Saturday Night at the Movies. Thom can be heard weekly on This Movie’s About You, available on iTunes.

 

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MARK BRESLIN

Mark founded the Yuk Yuk's comedy club chain -  launching pad for the likes of Jim Carrey, Russell Peters and Norm Macdonald. A veteran TV producer and writer (Friday Night! With Ralph Benmergui, Kenny vs. Spenny), he  was artistic director of the Humber College Comedy program and a founder of the Canadian Comedy Awards.