films

3 Days to Kill is Two Hours of Kevin Costner Acting Ridiculous: Should You See It?

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Brent Hopkins

In our rarely-running kinda-series Should You See It? we talk about movies that just came out. You can figure out the rest of the premise from the title of the series. That’s right: We talk recipes. Should you see 3 Days to Kill?

3 Days to Kill stars Kevin Costner as Ethan Renner, a CIA agent who is the best cleaner in the business. He is in the middle of a job when he gets a notification that it is his daughter’s birthday. Being the awesome dad that Kevin Costner is, he decides to take a break from killing everyone to call home. As CIA operations are wont to do, things go south quickly and he ends up going head to head against bomb smuggler “The Albino.”

You can tell he’s a bad guy, as he has no hair or eyebrows. Ethan has The Albino dead to rights and then he suddenly starts coughing and bleeding from the nose. End scene, and the next time we see Ethan he is told that he only has a few months to live due to a terminal illness.

This leads Kevin to retire from the business and go to his family, a wife and daughter in Paris, to reconnect, as he has been a vacant father and husband for a few years. He goes to his separate home and comes to find a full African family squatting in his place. They have redecorated and rearranged everything, and he reacts about as crotchety as you would expect old Kevin Costner to react. He chooses not to murder the whole lot — there are more than a few children and a pregnant girl — and we see the grinch in him slightly melt. He chooses to make amends with his final months but gets a new lease on life when a CIA operative Vivi Delay (played by Amber Heard), asks him to help kill quite a few people (namely The Albino and The Wolf) in exchange for an experimental drug that will keep him alive, 50,000 dollars, and a million-dollar life insurance policy. The twist is, of course, that there are side effects to the experimental drug that keep rearing their ugly head at the worst times for Ethan.

There are the requisite awkward family reunions that take place with Ethan trying to pick up as if his daughter hasn’t aged a bit and their worlds collide fittingly. That is actually what the whole movie feels like, multiple worlds slamming into one another and never quite aligning properly. This movie is all over the place and it is definitely a bad film. The thing is, the movie is so scatterbrained that it comes off as aggressively fun as opposed to just hours of wasted time.

The violence is graphic but never really that excessive. The daughter-father story is brown-sugar sweet, yet I found myself chuckling at the ridiculousness of their interactions more than anything else. The bad guys are named The ALBINO and The WOLF, the former being a creepy lunatic and the latter being anything but a wolf. Vivi Delay is supposedly equal in skill to Ethan, but for the life of me it felt like a showcase of how much sexier Vivi looks than everything else in Paris.

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Also, smoldering seriousness is a must.

This is a bad movie. Kevin Costner places this corpse of a script on his back and carries the whole thing. Without him this movie would be worth walking out of in the first 15 minutes, but there is something about Costner in this film where I actually felt like he thought the whole thing was as ridiculous as it actually is and just ran with it. There are so many moments in this film that left me saying “Well, that is not what I expected from Hollywood.” Costner takes it in stride and constantly makes this face… and I love him for it.

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I have no idea what’s happening either, folks.

Should You See It? Yes, if you are not a film snob, this movie was bad but quite fun. It takes the Taken premise but removes most of the stress from the plot and replaces it with quirky scenes.

Images: Film School Rejects 

What is Reading at Recess? It’s (Popular) Cultural Reading

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Austin Duck

Recently, at a party, someone considering coming to write for Reading at Recess expressed her hesitation to me; she said “Austin, I don’t work in a field where we attempt to elevate things. The blog comes off as pretentious, as a bunch of guys with semi-valid credentials writing as if they actually know something, as if they have the cultural authority to write toward taste and value or the knowledge to sort out this from that,” and, I’ll admit, it took me aback.

I never really considered our project here at RAR to be about superiority or ethos-building, a kind of talking from the Silicon tower (if you will), but maybe it is. I don’t know. But I feel like, and perhaps I’m a bit misguided here, that our project is not so much pretentious (if you take a look back at the majority of the posts [mine excluded because I am, in fact, pretentious] you’ll see that most are just fan-boy diary entries) as it is an effort in cultural reading.

As you may have noticed, our title Reading at Recess has very little to do with reading in the traditional sense. Sure, I normally write about books, and Andrew Findlay writes about sci-fi, and Jon May definitely touches on the literary from time to time, but this isn’t, and has never been, a blog about books. Instead, RAR is about reading culture (well, elements of it anyway) and presenting responses to those readings (which, inevitably, are so intertwined with our particular tastes and our socio-economic positions as middle-class men who came of age in America that it’s impossible to separate the objective (Hah, that doesn’t exist! Suck it, Science) from the subjective). I don’t think, though, that this failure of impartiality or this desire to elevate our topics—video games, movies, television, or other cultural miscellany—is useless, invaluable, or altogether insensitive to the desires of our readers to access, be informed of, or make up their own minds regarding the texts (and I use text in terms of any piece of information that we interpret) we focus on. Instead, you could think of our discussions here at RAR as corollary to your own, as models for personal cultural inquiry (though that, I think, might be a bit of a self-aggrandizing vision on my part), or just as our desire to have these conversations with each other and ourselves, a kind of self-obligation we set forth toward always writing, being critical of what we see, using what we know and where we’re from to make some kind of sense of the element(s) of culture that obsess us.

And that’s what cultural reading really is. It’s engaging what obsesses you, exploring it far beyond what most people have with it, a casual relationship, and, most importantly, not interacting with it passively. At this point, I don’t read a sentence in a book without thinking why is that here? What’s it doing? and it’s not because I think I’m smarter than anyone else, nor because I want to be perceived as that guy who does those things. It’s because, at a baseline, I’ve become so involved with literary texts that I want to see what they really are, how they work, how they’re made, and why they’re made that way. Because, however they’re made (and for whatever reason), I too am made that way; I am a construction of the same language, the same culture—possibly we (the text and I) are separated by history, but in that way I am of it, a response to it, the next (or next to next) logical (or illogical but extant) step in linguistic, grammatical, philosophical, scientific, historical systems.

Sure, that sounds grandiose and crazy, and it is, but I’ve written it that way because it’s important. Because that’s how I experience it. I gave up on reading for pleasure a long time ago because I discovered that, through work, pleasure comes in the cultural (and, by extension, the self-reflexive) discovery of the real-to-me, those iterations and patterns and texts that become more than books or movies or games, that become part of my thinking and thereby reveal (if I’m willing to look) what elements of culture inform me and my decisions, what makes me up and allows me to see (a little) beyond the scope of myself precisely because I’m able to see a piece of my self’s scope.

If you’re starting to think to yourself that this project sounds very selfish, that’s because it is. But be real with yourself. You’re not reading this because you care about the content. Good content lives in straight journalism, where writing disappears and all that’s left are ideas. Go to Vox or The New York Times or something if you want that. You come to these blogs to learn about new things, movies you haven’t seen, games you might want to play, sure, but you come here, likely, not for what we’ve selected but why we’ve selected it; because we care. Because it obsesses us. Because every time we sit down to meet our weekly deadline, it’s not rote or filler or because we have to because we don’t. Each of us, in our own small, sometimes glib way, is engaged in a kind of cultural self-discovery and everything the comes with it: the biases, the crass reality, the meaningless, waste-of-time attentiveness, the existential void that opens up every time you realize your entire life is built on the words of others, TV shows, shitty commercials, and movies you were told were good but just aren’t. Cultural reading, then, fills the void, one text at a time, by making sense of it, at least from one perspective, so that we don’t get even more lost.

That’s not to say we’ll ever be found, or find ourselves, or that RAR specifically will help at all. It’s not about help, or us believing we know something you don’t. Yes, we’re writing to you because you are also we (just look at Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”), but, more-so, to discover why we write, to ask questions we don’t know the answers to, to identify (and, in identifying, attempt to come to some understanding of) the fundamental impasses, paradoxes, hypocrisies, and identifications with the (popular) cultural of our moment that seem, to us, to mean something (or not).

For the love of god come write with us.

Austin Duck lives and blogs in DC. He can be reached at jaustinduck@gmail.com.

Image: NBC

Noah is about Vegetarianism, Religion, and the Nature of Man: Should You See It?

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Brent Hopkins

In our rarely-running kinda-series Should You See It? we talk about movies that just came out. You can figure out the rest of the premise from the title of the series. That’s right: We talk recipes. Should you see Noah?

I watched Noah a week ago in theaters and I must say I was completely caught off-guard by what I witnessed. To start, I am not a particularly religious person but I have beliefs and I took the smallest bit of them and my fuzzy knowledge of Old Testament scripture with my girlfriend (who is more Buddhist than anything) to the theaters to see the latest Bible film.

Right from the opening scenes you know that this is not going to be a bright and sunny telling. There is the hunting of an animal for its meat and the immediate comeuppance from Noah (Russell Crowe) showing that hunting animals and consuming them is bad for your health because he will murder punch you into seeing his side of the story. This gives a slightly Gladiator-esque feel to the movie, but instead of fighting Rome, Crowe is now pitted against the fallen of humanity. This is an even more epic scale and the film does a good job of portraying this.

The film is relatively visceral, as much of the Old Testament is, but there are definitely a lot of modern day problems brought up by director Darren Aronofsky. The one that kind of turned me off the most was the heavy handed message that eating animals and general lack of conservation is the stem of humanity losing itself. One of the first things you hear Noah tell his sons is why the humans are hunting animals for meat. He tells them it is because humans are ignorant and think that the meat gives them strength. That was such an in-your-face advertisement for vegetarianism that I felt like I got hit with a Whole Foods ad. This theme is the main thread that continues throughout the film and each time it rears its head I just wanted to scream “I GET IT! ANIMALS ARE SACRED.”

Noah has always been a story about a boat big enough to hold two of every animal. The logistics of this have always been fascinating to me and now that technology and computer graphics have advanced enough to maybe handle this I was intrigued to see how Noah would build this thing and keep all the animals from massacring one another. The world Noah lives in is completely barren of vegetation and animals for the most part. Humans have ravaged the land and nothing is really left. Noah finds a workaround for this by planting a seed that gives him plenty of treesources (get it) to build his Ark. Even still, this would be an impossible task for just Noah and his family (three male children, his wife, and a girl they saved) so Noah gets more physical labor help from The Watchers. These guys are stone-covered golems who have been punished for going against The Creator’s (“God” is never used in the entire film) wishes by being bound to terra firma as opposed to being allowed to fly freely as they once could. They were mostly slaughtered by the evil humans but the remaining ones decide to help Noah as he is the only person they have met to have contact with God in a very long time.

The Ark is built over the course of a few months and the way the animals are dealt with is a huge letdown. They just quietly come in groups of two, they don’t really fight, they don’t really do anything, they just go inside then get put to sleep with a concoction Noah’s wife creates. This is a bit of a copout and I felt like it ignored probably the biggest characters in the Noah story.

Now this would be a pretty boring movie if there was no conflict and well, this is a blockbuster film, so revenue must be made. The conflict comes from Cain, the other side of the human coin. He is the king of the humans and when he notices that all this forest has sprung forth and all this meat is traveling to one location he takes the right amount of interest in the situation and has to see what the deal is. Cain is a savage man who has no qualms with killing animals, humans, and everything in between. He feels The Creator abandoned humans so he is just making do with what he has left. Noah says the people aren’t welcome on the Ark and Cain lays down the gauntlet by saying “when this deluge comes to end humanity I am going to come and take this Ark from you and The Watchers and we will eat all of the animals.” You know he will keep his word and the story gets its big action conflict.

This would have made for a good film but this take pushes the envelope in a great way by focusing on Noah as a human. The Creator has said that animals are the innocent on Earth so Noah takes this extremely literally and makes the jump that he must kill himself and the rest of his family must die as well. You watch the deconstruction of a righteous man over the entire course of the film and the pressure that is placed on a family when going against a higher being. Noah becomes a person you grow to somewhat despise over the film, and by the time he and his family are on the Ark it feels less like a new beginning for the world and more like a suspense thriller. You know something is going to have to give but you don’t know how Darren Aronofsky is going to take the story.

Should You See It? 

I would have to say yes. This is not the best film I have ever seen, but I will say it raised a lot of questions for me and really makes you think about the story of a human dealing with a superhuman situation. You never think about all the people that Noah has to knowingly leave to perish or how a person would have to deal with unclear directions from The Creator. I have had more conversations with people about this film than many others I have seen over the years, and it has something for religious and non-religious persons alike. I can see why this caused controversy among a bunch of different factions because it is not a movie to please one group or the other, it is merely an adaptation of a story that does have some open-endedness to it.

Image source: Daily Mail

Tough Questions: What’s the Worst Movie that You Love?

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Every Monday we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week?

What’s the Worst Movie that You Love?

Rules are simple: “worst” means the one the critics hated the most. We’re using Rotten Tomatoes for critics, and we want to know your great shame. What’s that one movie that you love and defend constantly? What is your guilty pleasure that really ain’t so guilty in your eyes?

Austin Duck

Unfortunately, I’m not really a movie guy. I used to be, but my wife’s not that into them, so I don’t see new movies very often. My favorite bad movie is easily Pacific Rim. Now, I know it was a steaming pile of crap, but it was one of the most exceptional dumps I’ve ever seen. Watching a movie like that, you can so clearly see directorial intention, it’s exciting. You see a man who, known for quality and intelligence in film, tries to make the perfect dinosaurs vs. robots movie. And he does. There’s not one saccharine-y second wasted in that movie; from the building of the universe, the establishment of the problem, the execution, it’s perfectly articulated. And while a lot of people trash it for failing to transcend its genre, I disagree. Well, I don’t disagree that it didn’t transcend its genre, but I don’t think it was about that. It perfected the genre and, as such, created a work from which the Syfy network might never recover.

Rotten Tomatoes: 71% (!)

Mike Hannemann

It was a December night. I was at a Target. Not one close to home – it was one by my office in Naperville, IL. It should be noted that this was a good hour’s drive on the highway away from my apartment on the south side of Chicago. I saw a DVD for a movie I had never seen before. I purchased it immediately and I will never be able to explain my reasoning. It sat on my DVD shelf for about two weeks. I never gave it a second thought, let alone expressed any desire to watch it. Christmas came and went, and I found myself alone in my apartment Christmas night with a bottle of Scotch. This was the only time I ever watched Paul Blart: Mall Cop. But it was glorious.

Rotten Tomatoes: 33%

Alex Marino

If you’re not down with Hook you can go to hell. Dustin Hoffman puts on one of the greatest villain performances of all time. There’s no green screen or camera tricks, just elaborate sets and memorable moments. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been drunk at a bar and have awkwardly quoted this movie only to have no one recognize it. It’s basically the perfect movie when you’re 14. So all the 14-year-olds out there reading this should really see it.

Rotten Tomatoes: 31%

Alex Russell

There’s only one answer to this: Pootie Tang. This movie is misunderstood. If you really read about people’s response to this movie they are furious about it. It’s a weird homage of a movie made out of love for a long-gone genre at the time. It’s all about the character Pootie Tang who is supposed to represent a kind of cool that’s unobtainable. I have no problem with someone not getting what they were trying to do with a movie where the greatest line is “Sine your pitty on the runny kine” but you know, not everything is for everyone. Y’all just need to get slapped with a belt.

Rotten Tomatoes: 29%

Andrew Findlay

There isn’t so much a single terrible movie that has won my heart, more a genre. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra stands as one of the greatest ambassadors of that genre: the stupid action movie. I respect and understand Tycho’s response to this kind of movie, but if there are enough explosions I honestly do not care. The plot is weak and the dialogue is shitty? They use bionic suits to jump through an occupied trolley, your argument is invalid. This reasoning extends to most kung-fu movies as well. Oh, this plot has been done a quintillion times before? Who cares, that dude just got kicked in the face, and it was awesome.

Rotten Tomatoes: 35%

Brent Hopkins

I actually have two terrible movies that I love but I chose the one with the worse score on Rotten Tomatoes. The two movies are 1997’s Volcano and 2002’s Juwanna Mann. Guess which is lower rated based on the titles with a chart-searing 10% compared to 44%?

Juwanna Mann is a film I saw in theaters in 2002 with a bunch of my friends and a visitor named Alex whom you may have heard of [Editor’s note: Alex Russell, on here, sadly. I want to deny this, but cannot.]. This film came out after Eddie Murphy popularized the multiple characters played by a single actor in The Nutty Professor. The story is extremely simple: It follows a basketball superstar who is kicked out of the league in his prime and loses everything. This would be a normally sad tale except he is the stereotypical jock archetype who is rude and misogynistic. With no place else to go he decides to conjure up the character Juwanna Mann to play basketball in the women’s professional league and all sorts of hilarity ensues. I know in my heart that jokes didn’t actually ensue but I loved watching this movie because it is a black film (Kevin Pollak being the only white actor of note in it) and I watched it with a few white friends and an Asian friend of mine. I found myself laughing extremely hard because of the sheer amount of awkwardness caused by jokes. My friends looked genuinely uncomfortable because I could see a laugh start to form on their lips but the immediate reaction after that was… is it racist if I laugh? I am sure this makes me a terrible person but I still have fond memories anytime it happens to be on TBS and I let it play in the background.

Rotten Tomatoes: 10%

Scott Phillips

The Brothers Solomon is my favorite bad movie to watch. It’s so stupid, it’s somehow funny to me. This film bombed so badly that it has a 15% score on Rotten Tomatoes, recouped only $900,000 of its $10 million budget in theaters, and is the first movie that Richard Roeper ever walked out on.

I can see why people would hate this movie, though. Most of the comedy bits could potentially work in an extended Funny or Die bit, but they’ve spliced about 10 of those ideas together to form this movie.

Ever wonder how funny a scene would be if two brothers were racing to the hospital to see their dying father only to stop at a video store — because it’s on the way to the hospital — to dispute a late fee for the movie Ulee’s Gold [Editor’s note: 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. Certified fresh.]? This movie has that in there.

Ever wonder how funny a scene would be if two brothers wrote a prolonged apology via SkyText from a plane? This movie has that in there.

And so you get my point. There’s some amusing stuff in here — that is just downright weird — and for whatever reason I’ve never been able to shake it. Most of it makes me laugh, for some reason?

The opening credits are fantastic, so that doesn’t hurt.

But fuck Richard Roeper. That dude doesn’t hold a candle to Siskel or Ebert so his opinion means pretty much nothing anyways.

Rotten Tomatoes: 15%

The Lego Movie is Entirely About Fun. Should You See it?

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Mike Hannemann

In our rarely-running kinda-series Should You See It? we talk about movies that just came out. You can figure out the rest of the premise from the title of the series. That’s right: we talk recipes. Should you see The Lego Movie?

Back when I was in high school, making Lego movies was a big fad. There was an early YouTube clip of the “Camelot” song from Monty Python and the Holy Grail re-done entirely in Lego that I watched daily. I had friends that tried to re-create Star Wars scenes with them well before the video game franchise came around. I get it. Even before the hugely successful video game franchise, people were making Lego movies. I say that to say how much I thought The Lego Movie was going to be embarrassing.

The elevator pitch for The Lego Movie is, essentially, just “oh, it’s a movie about Lego.” I’m terrified to think of the board meeting where this was greenlit. On paper, there’s no way this could actually be a good movie. It seems like the lowest hanging fruit to base a film on (Battleship from a few years ago takes second place). It almost feels like something a TV show would use as an idea when making fun of Hollywood for trying to shovel-feed easily consumed movies to mass audiences. “Ball: The Movie” is probably the only thing easier to use as a joke.

But then, somehow, it works.

At this point, you’ve probably already heard about the universal acclaim The Lego Movie is bringing in. As of this writing, it’s boasting a 95% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. “How could this go so wrong?” is a question that’s frequently asked when it comes to Hollywood but in this case, we’ve got ourselves scratching our heads asking “how could this go so RIGHT?”

After seeing it, the answer is pretty simple. The writers (of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs fame) choose to air on the side of caution and just… well, want to have fun. It’s a simple comparison to the actual point of using the blocks themselves, but I couldn’t help coming back to that fact when watching it. The movie never tries to be more than it is, it doesn’t try to reach Toy Story-esque heights or re-imagine the way we look at a toy that’s been a staple of childhood since the mid-1950s. It just simply tries to tell a fun story. And because of it, it works.

Chris Pratt plays the main character – Emmet – a construction worker who becomes the film’s “Chosen One.” I won’t waste time talking about the plot. It’s simple enough to engage but children and adults but that means discussing any real story points would be to spoil it. So, instead, let’s just talk about this one character. He’s simultaneously the story’s hero but it also feels like the movie itself is designed off of him.

The character is a simple-minded, good-hearted, silly guy. And this is all the movie sets out to be, too. Jokes don’t always land (although thankfully the laughter overshadows the clunkers) but that takes a backseat to the good-natured charm. While the plot gets over-the-top with how ambitious it becomes, it still feels like a simple narrative hitting all the familiar beats one would expect in a “save the world” story aimed at nostalgia.

It’s because of this that the voice acting works so well, too. Throughout the entire film, it just feels like these actors are having the time of their lives. Nick Offerman voices the pirate Metal Beard with such enthusiasm that I actually didn’t realize it was him until the end credits. Charlie Day brings his It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia manic charm to a role that would otherwise have just been a filler character. And throughout the entire film, Chris Pratt and Elizabeth Banks are the two main characters that have as much charming back-and-forth as any non-animated on-screen duo. Pratt, especially, deserves praise for managing to portray a character that is simultaneously bland yet still “the most interesting person on the world” (the film’s words, not mine).

The final element that lets the movie play around with its story is the visuals. This, at face value, is probably the only thing that was assured to be solid from that initial pitch meeting. Done in full CGI (with a few real Lego sets sprinkled in), the movie looks like it was done in stop-motion. It actually looks like these figures are all just interacting on a physical Lego set, adhering to the real-world limitations of the bricks themselves. For as broad and expansive the world the film takes place in is, the figures still have that waist that only allows them to bend in certain directions. It’s this crazy dedication to letting the animators run wild but while still confining them to a set of rules that makes this whole thing work. It feels real, in the weirdest sense.

At the end of the day, it works for one reason and one reason alone: it isn’t cynical. It genuinely feels like everyone involved, from the animators to the actors to the directors, are just having fun. They aren’t creating what could easily be the biggest product placement film in history (that damned Coca-Cola polar bears movie takes the crown on that one). This isn’t a corporate tie-in for them. This is a chance to create something legitimate based off of a culture’s shared experience of playing with these multicolored bricks and using one’s imagination.

Should You See It? Yes. That’s the film’s biggest achievement: for an hour and a half, there’s no cynicism. You’re earnestly encouraged to just smile and enjoy yourself. “Everything is awesome” is the refrain for the movie’s main theme the characters sing while completing mundane tasks. For a film that could have been a colossal failure and turned out to be weirdly charming, there couldn’t be a more appropriate sentiment.

Image source: ABC

An Obama Campaign Worker Watched the Documentary Mitt. Should You See it?

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Alex Marino

In our rarely-running kinda-series Should You See It? we talk about movies that just came out. You can figure out the rest of the premise from the title of the series. That’s right: we talk recipes. Should you see the new doc about Mitt Romney?

Given that all my other pieces here are about yelling at kids to get off my lawn, I could understand the belief that I spend my days sitting on a porch in a lawn chair being grumpy at the world.  But before all that I worked for the Obama campaign doing data work in North Carolina for all of 2012. It was exhausting and exciting and unhealthy and incredible all at the same time. Like so many of my colleagues, once everything was over and I actually had an ounce of free time I decided to occupy it with reading as much as I could about the election. I’ve read almost every book that’s been written about the campaign. Hell I was reading short e-books about the campaign during the campaign. It was always interesting to see what journalists got right (that we used data incredibly well) and what they were completely clueless about (how we used that data). I had read so much that by the time the highly-anticipated sequel to Game Change called Double Down came out there really wasn’t a whole lot of never-before-seen content. I finished it craving an account that actually understood what we did or at least brought a fresh perspective to the race. But I never thought that a documentary about the guy I worked to beat would be that account.

Mitt isn’t about the inside politics of a national campaign. It’s not about the internal struggles or the war room drama. You don’t see Paul Ryan until 70 minutes in. You don’t see the campaign manager until 80 minutes in. It’s the story of a man and his family on the campaign trail since 2007.

When you work on a political campaign it’s easy to lose perspective on how you view your opponent. For so long I held this belief that Romney was completely out of touch with working-class Americans. And while Mitt didn’t show any evidence that directly refutes that belief, there was a really touching scene where he talks about his father, former Governor of Michigan and candidate for president George Romney. He was showing the notes he took while on stage at the first debate. At the top of the first sheet was “DAD”.  He went on to explain:

“I always think about dad and about [how] I’m standing on his shoulders… There’s no way I’d be running for president if dad hadn’t done what dad did. He’s the real deal. The guy was born in Mexico. He didn’t have a college degree. He became the head of a car company and became a governor. It would have never entered my mind to be in politics.  How can you go from his beginnings to think ‘I could be head of a car company. I can run for governor. I can run for president.’ That gap. For me, I started where he ended up. I started off with money and education and Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School. For me, it’s moving that far. (moves his hands, palms facing each other, slightly apart) For him it was like that. (moves hands considerably apart)

Even after the first debate I felt so confident that Obama was going to win that I couldn’t imagine the conversations going on at Romney HQ. I thought they had to be living in some strange bubble where only good news gets passed along. But after the first and second debates it was Romney who was even-handed. He knew he did well in the first debate and he knew he didn’t do as well in the second. This was in the face of his family being excessively supportive (as they should be). Even on election night as everyone else is trying to find ways to hold on to the belief that he can win, Mitt is well aware that it’s over and seems remarkably relaxed.

I remember feeling so strongly that Mitt was this out of touch rich guy.  His life consisted of car elevators and dressage horses! I never once thought that those things helped make his wife’s life a little easier as she dealt with multiple sclerosis. And while those things may seem excessive, if you were as rich as the Romneys wouldn’t you do everything in your power to make coping with a disease like MS easier?

But while Mitt did such a better job than the campaign in making the candidate seem human, there were many puzzling things the film revealed how informed Romney was about the state of the race. In the last few weeks of the race he saw huge crowds everywhere he went. I understand how he could feel like things were on an upswing. But a look at the numbers would have quickly brought him back down to Earth. During election night Ann mentioned that they were hoping to win Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Polling just before election day never showed any of those states as even being close. The fact that the candidate and his wife weren’t aware of their path to victory is baffling to me. They got most of their return information from external news sources rather than their internal analytics team. But was he actually not briefed on these things or did the documentary just not show any of that?

The scene that hit me the most took place the day after election day at Romney HQ in Boston. After he and his campaign manager each spoke, you saw the tears of sadness streaming down the faces of his staff. Most people don’t understand what’s in those tears.  For so many of us this race meant moving across the country, barely seeing friends and family, putting off school for a year, relationships collapsing under the stress of the campaign, 3:30 a.m. wake up times, 10:00 p.m. checkout calls, 11:00 p.m. dinners, and more takeout than you can imagine. It was our entire life and to not have it all end with a victory is nothing short of devastating. I was lucky to be on the winning side that was filled with tears of happiness on election night.  I can’t imagine how I would have felt had the results been different.

Should You See It? If you have Netflix make sure to watch Mitt. If you don’t have Netflix what the fuck is wrong with you; are you 90? Because while it’s easy to get caught up in the passions of a long political campaign and view your opponents as enemy robots seeking to destroy your entire existence, it’s healthy to remember they’re people too, from the field intern all the way up to the candidate.

Image source: ABC

Louis C.K. Made a Movie in 1998. He Just Released it for $5. Should You See it?

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Alex Russell

In our rarely-running kinda-series Should You See It? we talk about movies that just came out. You can figure out the rest of the premise from the title of the series. That’s right: we talk recipes. Should you see Louis C.K.’s “lost” movie Tomorrow Night?

The entire world knows who Louis C.K. is, more or less. Sure, you have to restrict that to the “English-speaking world” and within that “people with TV or web access” and within that “people who aren’t the worst or have friends who aren’t the worst” but that’s basically everyone.

The unlikely hero of American alt-comedy (and really more than that, but let’s leave it there) shows up on Facebook whenever he weighs in on people whining about the Internet on planes or kids with cellphones. This is great, because it means that more people have access to someone that everyone should already love. Louis C.K. is one of the few comics (see also: Oswalt, Patton) that you absolutely have to like if you like comedy. He’s unassailable because he is unstoppable. He helped pioneer the idea of writing a new hour every year and retiring the old one completely. He still does it better than just about anyone and he’s as such raised the bar so high that comedy is in a better place in 2014 than almost ever in history.

If that sounds like high praise, good. You don’t need me to tell you Louis C.K. is one of the greatest comedic minds of our generation, but you might want me to give a quick history lesson. Louis C.K. comes from the old guard of comics that you expect your friends to know but don’t. He made it where many of them didn’t, and that’s into the world of people who don’t “know” stand up comedy. Louis C.K. is a name that someone who didn’t hear a single comedy album or watch a single comedy special last year will still likely know. He transcended comedy geekdom in a lot of ways, but the one that’s most interesting is with his show Louie.

Louie is a 30-minute exploration of the fictionalized life of Louis C.K. He shows the gritty, depressing, and sometimes-funny world of raising two daughters and not understanding the cards dealt to a person. It’s beyond me to describe it — it’s my favorite show on television, and the number two spot isn’t close — but all that need be said is that it is an Emmy-winning show that is essentially labeled perfect by the people that label TV for a living. Even if it isn’t your favorite show or you don’t even watch it, you have to be aware of the fanfare around Louie.

Louis C.K. made a show before Louie for HBO: Lucky Louie. There’s a different sensibility to Lucky Louie. The dark-at-times, surreal-all-the-time nature of Louie is replaced by brighter-but-not-happier themes and situations. Lucky Louie is about another fictionalized Louis married to Pamela Adlon (who you most likely know as the voice of Bobby from King of the Hill). They’re broke, they have a kid, and they live imperfect lives. It’s a show that Louis C.K. has likened to a modern-day The Honeymooners for good reason. Life is hard for the people in the world of Lucky Louie, but it’s a life worth living.

On Wednesday at noon, Louis C.K. released a feature-length film he made in 1998. You can go buy it and watch it for five bucks. I’m just not sure you’re going to like it. It depends on what you want out of Louis C.K.

It’s weird, but everything’s weird about Louis C.K. His “big break” in stand up style came when he started talking honestly about how hard it was to sometimes hate things he wasn’t supposed to hate. He talked honestly about the struggles of marriage and raising children and he didn’t couch his feelings in the typical hypotheticals. He brought a new voice that demanded to be heard because it didn’t sound like anything else.

Tomorrow Night is weird for a lot of reasons. He talked about the movie on his recent appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and detailed the story of borrowing money to make it. His description to Jon Stewart — that it’s a movie about a guy sexually excited by sitting in ice cream — is technically a true description, but it masks the tone of the movie completely.

The main character works in a photo store. He’s miserable because he can’t stand the untidiness of life. He decides that the way he can take back his little corner of the world is to call up every single person who has photos waiting to be picked up — the first of many reminders that it’s almost two decades ago in the world of this movie — and demand that they come in that day.

That drives the action. The guy meets a hypersexual woman who tries to seduce him and a mailman (played by J.B. Smoove, who is seemingly always just his character from Curb Your Enthusiasmwho wants him to get out of his shell. At night, he goes home and sits in bowls of ice cream.

It’s an absurd way to show that the character leads a double life. He’s obsessed with cleanliness, so he must defile himself in a graphic way to experience true freedom. He finds himself drawn to an elderly woman who keeps a tidy house and the wheels fall off in increasingly absurd ways. Someone is killed by wild dogs in the street. They go see a 1998 Conan O’Brien (who is a timeless man and possibly a wizard). They ride in carnival rides. There’s lots going on.

The movie isn’t “random” or exactly “surreal” because all of this really happens and it all happens for a reason. It’s just a little bit too much. One character, a dopey soldier stuck forever “at war,” sends letters hope to his mother only to have them all be thrown away by two cackling mail room guys played by Steve Carell and Robert Smigel. The results are hilarious here (and possibly worth viewing on their own) but they don’t fit well with the surrounding set pieces.

Tomorrow Night is more Louie than Lucky Louie, but it’s a little bit of both. It’s getting mixed reviews for good reason: parts of it are just bad. The husband of the elderly woman is played so cartoonishly evil that it’s impossible to even hate him. Lucky Louie-veteran Rick Shapiro plays a woman in mostly-unexplained drag that doesn’t really go anywhere. A lot of this movie is Louis C.K. saying “it would be funny if X happened” and going for it. He’s mostly right, but the results aren’t essential viewing.

Should You See It? It depends on your level of obsession with the creator. If you love the sensibility of Louie, there’s something here for you. If you don’t, or if you can’t get past that “sitting in ice cream naked” is supposed to represent something else less gross, then you can probably skip this. It’s a great piece of history to have, but it’s going to be too weird for people who just think he’s really damn funny.

Image source: ABC News