'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!

 

MARK BRESLIN: Thom, Happy Chinese New Year! I’d like you to know there is something wrong with me. I may be the only person alive who thinks Roma is a boring, beautifully shot home movie. Was David Alan Balto right when he accused me when I was seventeen of being an “insensitive party goer?” And why do I think Escape Room is a better film? Let me explain:

         -Roma has no trick ending.

         -Roma doesn’t have a scene that’s upside down

         -Roma doesn’t have a scene that reminds me of my friendship with Dr. Timothy Leary

         - Roma doesn’t kill off its characters one by one in gruesome ways.

         - Roma’s lead actress would look terrible in a catsuit.

Well, Thom, tell me. Am I beyond hope?

 THOM ERNST: Gung hay fat choy, Mark. I am taken aback by this sudden, unexpected bolt of self-reflection. 

Aquaman: This fish stinks!

Aquaman: This fish stinks!

I feel a page has turned in our co-writing partnership allowing for a new chapter to begin.  And the chapter starts with the sentence, “No, you are not beyond hope.”

I like Roma. I fully expect it to win this year’s Best Picture. But, not liking Roma is—in principle—okay too. It’s okay, because maybe it’s not your fault. Not Roma’s fault either. 

I fear, Mark, that you might be suffering from an undiagnosed case of slow-paced film deficiency. It’s a common affliction among movie-goers and if left untreated it can cause a severe rash of super-hero flicks and a recurring bout of unwanted sequels.

But there are positive side-effects too…like heightened appreciation for horror films. 

I have yet to see Escape Room.  Really? Trick-ending, upside down rooms, gruesome deaths, Timothy Leary and a cat-suit?  I’m in. 

MB:And then there’s Bohemian Rhapsody, one of the least bohemian films ever made. I can’t believe it won best drama at the Golden Globes AND IS UP FOR A BEST PICTURE OSCAR! It took all the decadence and sleaze of rock n roll and left it on the cutting room floor. Don’t talk about the orgy, man, show it!!!!

And Rami Malek as best actor? Sweatiest actor, maybe, but he deserves nothing more than Most Method Moustache at best. I’d say the critics are wrong, but it’s the Golden Globes and the Oscars, so no critics were actually involved.

TE: I think the theme song for Bohemian Rhapsody should be, “We Will, We Will Rook You!” 

Take an icon who became a legend and reinvent him as a character in his own (posthumous) Saturday Morning Cartoon.  I’m surprised the movie ends at Live Aid, and not with the band becoming cartoon super-sleuths.  

I don’t even care that it fails as a bio pic. Make up anything you want about Mercury and the band’s life, just make sure that what you invent is more interesting than the real story. 

The only revelation this film had for me is that there was ever any uncertainty that Freddie Mercury was gay.

I’ll say one thing for the film – its fans are saner than the fans of Aquaman. I’ve taken some hits for not liking Bohemian Rhapsody, but it’s nothing compared to ire I hear from the Aquaman fandom.  

I rate Aquaman as coming in well below ‘C’ level despite Now Magazine’s top-critic Norm Wilner’s amiable plea that, “Aquaman works, you guys,” or The Gate’s, Andrew Parker’s asserting that Aquaman “effortlessly entertains”.  I don’t know. Trying to enjoy Aquaman feels like swimming upstream.  Judging by the Aqua-fans swarming by twitter-feed like I’m shark-chum, I’m definitely going against the current.  

So Aquaman is doing well.  Great. That still says nothing about the film’s quality or confirms its appeal. MacDonald’s is still the world’s number one food joint, but I doubt anyone can rank it as fine dining.  

MB:I haven’t seen Aquaman, but it couldn’t be worse than Vox Lux. Critics are at least divided about this student film, but I can’t believe Mick Lasalle from the San Francisco Chronicle called it “a little masterpiece” and Manohla Dargis from the New York Times called it “deeply satisfying and ambitious.” Great. Two more cities I no longer want to visit. 

Meanwhile, Philip Martin of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette called Natalie Portman’s performance “hard to watch.”  So I guess it’ll be spring break for me in Little Rock!

TE: The only other movie disappointment for me this month is Stan and Ollie, the biographical account of the famous comedy duo on their final hurrah through the playhouses of the United Kingdom. I get that there is sentimental currency in a story about Laurel and Hardy that (thankfully) isn’t out to destroy the beloved image the world has of them, and I understand that the film stars two of cinema’s best actors, John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan offering impressing performances of two Hollywood icons. 

I don’t disagree with Richard Crouse’s assessment that Coogan’s and Reilly have an “easy chemistry”. But for all the film’s merits, I couldn’t help but be distracted by my desire to watch the real Laurel and Hardy in the original Way Out West, regardless how impressive the recreation is.  

MB:I’m not a fan of comedy duos, except for perhaps Leopold and Loeb, so I haven’t rushed to the film yet. But speaking of duos, I wonder who the first rep cinema will be to double bill Beautiful Boy and Ben Is Back.  I may have to start using again!




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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.

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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, AND SATURDAYS ON JAZZ-FM 91.

PODCAST! Ep. 5: The Real War on Xmas, Bombs Hollywood has dropped on the season

In this episode, Original-Cin writers Liam Lacey, Kim Hughes, Jim Slotek, Bonnie Laufer and moderator Gene Valaitis talk about the death of Christmas movies, why films like Transformers and this week’s Aquaman are so bloody long, and great movies of 2018 that were overlooked in awards season.

A scene from the dreaded Fred Claus.

A scene from the dreaded Fred Claus.

We also round up the plethora of films being released in the next week so you don’t have to talk to your visiting relatives.

Aquaman: A big dumb entertaining CGI acid trip, and an empty-calorie seafood feast for the eyes

By Jim Slotek

Rating: B

A big dumb acid-trip of a super-hero movie, Aquaman is relentless, noisy, entertaining nonsense – particularly in 3D IMAX - as overlong as any of them, but not boring, and as I say, at times trippy (imagine an octopus playing drums).

It has the by-now-predictable elements of the genre, a reluctant inheritor of great-power/great-responsibility, a McGuffin capable of destroying worlds (if it’s Marvel, it’s the Tesseract, if it’s DC’s Aquaman, it’s the Trident of Atlan, a talisman supposedly involved in the ancient destruction of Atlantis itself).

Jason Momoa and Amber Heard in Aquaman. Not all tridents are created equal.

Jason Momoa and Amber Heard in Aquaman. Not all tridents are created equal.

To stake his claim to the throne of Atlantis – and not incidentally, head off an invasion of the surface by the current unscrupulous King Orm (Patrick Wilson) – big, gruff Arthur (Jason Momoa), a half-Atlantean surface dweller by dint of his mother the Queen (Nicole Kidman)’s love affair with a human lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) simply has to find this long-lost trident to present as his bona fide to be king and save the day.

That seems simple enough – almost Raiders of the Lost Ark-ish in its simplicity of purpose (the search moves swiftly from the ocean to the Sahara to Sicily to an undersea sea with dinosaurs and krakens). So how does this story get to be two-and-a-half hours long? Well, you lard it – with one extraneous villain and, especially fights and battles (some between different sects of Atlanteans, resembling fish and crabs). 

James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring) painting with a humongous palette and enough CGI to light a city, manages to lighten the mood of cascading action with visual gags (example: the aforementioned octopus and a wedding dress largely made of jellyfish) and with the biker-dude wisecrackery of Momoa’s Aquaman, always ready with an insult even when getting the sea-snot beaten out of him. During the first of two “battles to the death” with his half-brother, he responds to Orm’s stentorian threats by calling him a “dick.” Sophomoric, yes, but appreciated following a string of leaden DC superhero tent-pole films like Justice League and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Arthur even has an equally-super angry comic sidekick, Princess Mera (Amber Heard), with whom to trade insults as their pursuers cause destruction damage all over Sicily.

These pursuers include the high-tech pirate Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a signature Aquaman villain of comic book fame going back 50 years, who’s in this movie for that reason alone. You could remove him entirely from the plot, and it would change nothing (and the movie would clock in at a more kid-friendly two hours or less). 

That said, the last act is a constant stream of CGI monsters, some of them derivative (are those Jurassic Park compys on the beach in the undersea sea?), others are impressive marine nightmares seemingly tributes to Bosch or Giger. The final battle features a giant King of the Brine crab-creature that would be at home on Godzilla’s Monster Island.

It has its faults and narrative logic holes (Why is Arthur, who can talk to and command fish, able to summon an army of same at the end, but doesn’t do it at the beginning of the movie when he’s getting his butt kicked? And if what I think is a Mosasaur has him in its jaws, why doesn’t he just tell it to let him go? ). Still, compared to the jumbled mess that was Justice League (where this rebooted character was introduced), Aquaman seems less forced and more committed to its noisy silliness. It’s an eyeful, even at a length where Visine is recommended.

Aquaman. Directed by James Wan. Starring Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman. Opens wide, Friday, December 21.