MOVIE DIARY 2018 has moved to its new home! Hope you like it! I'll cross post on Medium still because I think it's fun to see what people like to highlight, but this is where our beloved MOVIE DIARY 2018 lives now. I'll probably try to mess around with the design a little more and maybe I'll add some new stuff too, so keep an eye on geoffreylapid.com, the number one place to read MOVIE DIARY 2018!
This week, I'm joined by longtime friend of MOVIE DIARY 2018, Brett Rader! Feels good to kick off a new era with an old friend!
Game Night (2018)
SPECIAL GUEST WRITER: BRETT RADER
Game Night is a movie that is better than it should be, but worse than it thinks it is. It's also the most successful comedy of 2018. When it came out, it felt like many Twitter Comedy Knowers proclaimed its success as a referendum on comedy not being broken. If you build a well-written comedy with good jokes-- they will come.
Here’s what’s great about it: It gets incredible mileage out of being a pretty straightforward studio comedy that's intentionally shot like a David Fincher film. Establishing shots of residential streets are filmed tilt-shift a la the regatta scene in The Social Network. A car pulls into a parking lot and the camera follows it directly overhead like the original Grand Theft Auto games, or likely a Fincher movie at some point. The camera stays fixed, but rolls sideways along with the turning of a door lock, which probably wasn’t in Panic Room, but feels like it should’ve been in Panic Room.
The cast is a treat to hang out with for 100 minutes. It’s great to see Lamorne Morris from New Girl get to play in the big leagues for a bit. I love my man Jake Johnson but sheesh, we need another movie where he plays a bartender like I need another hole in my head. It’s also nice to see Sharon Horgan grace a gauche, American romp with her slick Irish brogue. And Jesse Plemons gets amazing usage as their weird neighbor.
All that being said, I’m beginning to be quickly repulsed by jokes that are merely passing references to other movies. Even in the most recent Avengers film (which I loved), a character starts rattling off a plan to kill a baddie with, “have you seen Aliens?”
Needless to say, Game Night has a ton of these jokes and they rarely land. One of the few times these references work is an early reference to Pulp Fiction. A character very charmingly recites a very famous line in a heightened situation. However, any levity from the moment is immediately squashed by another character peevishly clarifying, “that’s from Pulp Fiction.” SHUT UP! WE KNOW, DICKHEADS!
In the final action sequence of the film, Jason Bateman is about to do a thing to a thing and Rachel McAdams lends some support with something like, “oh, this is like Taken 3 honey, you love that movie!” And again, this is the climactic action sequence of the film. The joke needs to be a reference to something, a n y t h i n g that’s happened previously in the movie or that fits with the characters. We don’t know if Jason Bateman’s character likes movies at all, let alone 4th-rate action threequels. The Taken franchise has never been mentioned in the film up to that moment. So what’s the point? So six people in the crowd can grunt, “huh!”
Taken 3 didn’t even crack $100 million domestically, so you’ve got to be pretty into the fucking Taken movies to even understand the reference. I didn’t see Taken 3, so I’m taking McAdams at her word that the action Jason Bateman carries out is a thing that even happens in that movie.
I know this variety of joke is a reaction to the feeling that your media doesn’t exist in the same world that you do. The classic example is the zombie movie where none of the characters have seen a zombie movie before, and therefore, act like doofuses who deserve to get their insides mauled apart. They don’t even say the word, “zombie,” because even to use that term would suggest a level of surrealism that COULDN’T BE TOLERATED in a movie where a woman is chainsawed in half.
So, that’s my rant on an annoying joke that seems to happen fifteen times in every modern comedy now. Thanks Obama Judd Apatow!
I know, I know. It’s not me. It’s the children who are wrong.
I should also mention that this movie was only available to purchase on iTunes and not to rent, and after a large, yet lighthearted fight with my girlfriend about the principle of not buying some movie that we haven’t even seen yet and definitely won’t watch again, I lost and we now own it. So if you want to come over and watch Game Night, please do. It’s flawed but pretty enjoyable and gets in and out in under 2 hours. I own it for eternity now.
Brett Rader is a podcast producer in Los Angeles. He's worked with Cracked, Earwolf, Vice, and Techwalla. He currently works with the Unpops Podcast Network and his podcast Hey Julie will be returning to your podcast app of choice this summer to recap America's favorite guilty-pleasure summer pastime: Big Brother on CBS.
Mamma Mia! (2008)
I’m not sure that I, or anyone, can fully capture how deranged this movie is, and I guess in that sense Mamma Mia! is that special kind of movie that is not just a movie— it’s a full e x p e r i e n c e. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen anything like it. I’ve seen musicals, and I’ve seen musicals with big name actors clumsily singing their way through, but this is somehow wholly different. Some quick summary is in order! Amanda Seyfried finds her mom’s (Meryl Streep) old diary, and she discovers that her father (whom she’s never known) could be one of three people: Stellan Skarsgård, Colin Firth (the best one imo), or Pierce Brosnan. She secretly invites all three of them to the secluded Greek island where they live and manage a struggling hotel for her wedding, believing that she will be able to just tell who her real father is and they’ll have a moment and he, whoever he is, will give her away at the wedding. Meryl Streep is understandably fucked up about seeing three ex-boyfriends that she hasn’t been in touch with for twenty years on her secluded island. They all sing ABBA songs to express themselves.
The plot is a fun set up for a good ol’ farce to play out, and it is definitely that, but it’s also so bizarre. For one thing, this movie, despite its scenic location and its big name cast and its top tier ABBA song licensing, looks surprisingly low rent! Maybe all the budget went to those things and they had to just make do with whatever was left? I don’t know, it’s none of my business to know how the producers of Mamma Mia! spent their money (*cough*vacation to Greece*cough*incidental movie*cough*), but I can’t help but wonder when this big production ends up looking like something that could sit comfortably next to Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.
Probably the most bizarre thing about Mamma Mia! is the way they use ABBA songs the way traditional musicals would use their songs to illuminate the inner life of a character or to underscore some kind of action. I realize that noting the absurdity of using ABBA songs in Mamma Mia! is like complaining about how there are too many stunts in the Jackass movies, but I swear it’s more than that. I’m no scholar of ABBA, just a fan who loves hypnotic, pulsing rhythms, but I can say with relative certainty that ABBA was probably not thinking of a wedding farce movie when they were writing their songs. There’s this disjointed quality to this movie as it becomes apparent that they’re really just shoehorning in these songs to try to fit with what’s going on with the plot, or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, there’s a lot of gymnastics that need to be done to make this combo work, and you can definitely see the effort on the actors’ faces. Look, I’m not saying that any of this needs to make sense, they’re clearly less concerned with the lyrics and content of the song lining up with what’s happening onscreen and more concerned with the overall vibe of the song fitting with the overall vibe of whatever the scene calls for, which is totally fine, and I know that happens with other movies and musicals, it’s just wild to me that it’s ABBA song after ABBA song and it’s the basis of the whole movie.
I’m no expert on singing, but I’d like to give a special shoutout to my man Pierce Brosnan for doing his best. He is clearly not a singer, but he’s trying so hard, it’s very endearing as someone who also is not a singer but is trying so hard. In fact, no one in this movie has a really amazing voice, they’re all mostly passable, but it actually does seem like they’re having a great time doing it. Plus everyone is so committed to this extremely goofy idea, it’s hard not to get swept up in all of it. You kind of just start thinking like “Well I guess this is how ABBA sounds?” Then there’s a part near the end where they play an actual recording of ABBA singing one of the songs, and while I was having fun listen to Pierce Brosnan belt his part of “S.O.S.” or whatever, hearing the real deal ABBA even if just for a minute felt like such a huge relief, a reminder that ABBA exists and has always existed beyond this. Mamma Mia! is a loving tribute, and like all the best tributes it’s fully and confidently committed to its own strangeness.
The Glass House (2001)
Leelee Sobieski and her annoying kid brother are orphans and their adoptive family, Stellan Skarsgård and Diane Lane, gaslights them throughout the movie in an attempt to siphon off their trust fund to pay for Stellan Skarsgård’s mob debts and Diane Lane’s fentanyl addiction. It’s a pretty by the numbers thriller, but the performances are just entertaining enough to string you along. Stellan Skarsgård in particular is great in this as his performance gets increasingly creepy and over the top as the movie progresses. For a while it seems like he’s trying to fuck his adopted daughter, which I’m sure would already be a solid premise for this movie, but then this mob debt angle is introduced and our boy Stellan really gets to ham it up, flipping a switch and going from insidious creep to cartooonishly craven villain.
The movie is like this weird time capsule of 2001 sensibilities. The annoying little brother expounds on the differences between Playstation and Nintendo 64, the titular glass house is this glass and chrome minimalist nightmare, the movie itself is a lower tier remnant of the teen thriller genre that was already on the wane at this time. Looking back at it, that The Glass House wasn’t preceded with a Dimension Films logo is the first real shock the movie delivers, maybe even the only real one in the whole thing given how predictable all of it is. Predictability doesn’t particularly bother me all the time. Sometimes it’s comforting or it’s done in such a charming way that it’s easy to give a pass to predictability, but in this case it ends up being kind of tedious since nothing is shocking or violent enough to make you question where this is all going to end up. And again, it’s fine for movies to end up where you originally thought they were going to end up, but if you’re movie is supposed to be a thriller, I would think you’d want to try to get the audience to keep guessing or at least doubt their speculation.
The movie is unexceptional but I think we’ll all be able to enjoy this selection from The Glass House Wikipedia entry:
––THE WIDE WORLD OF MOVIE DIARY 2018––
Check out some more writing from former MOVIE DIARY 2018 special guests!
- Did you read former special guest Sean Witzke's new essay yet? It's called Local Color and it's a tremendous piece of work about dark times and finding solace in horror movies and a whole lot more. I feel like I'm diminishing it by trying to sum it up, so I'll shut up and let you give it a read.
- In addition to his entry on Game Night, this week's special guest, Brett Rader, sent me the following list of 10 things that happen in Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018). I liked it, so I'm running it here! That's what THE WIDE WORLD OF MOVIE DIARY 2018 is for, baby!
A List of 10 Things that Happen in Solo: A Star Wars Story
by Brett Rader
(spoilers, if you care)
1. In a space airport, there’s a holographic advertisement for the Empire. In the ad, “The Imperial March” plays. The piece of score. From the movie Star Wars.
2. Jon Favreau plays a Star Wars version of Rocket Racoon that lets you know he fucks.
3. When Han and Chewbacca first meet, they have a full conversation in Wookiee (with subtitles):
3a. This never happens again in Solo or any of the 4 other movies starring Han and Chewy.
4. TWO scenes where Han and Lando play space poker, a completely made up game that no one knows the rules to because it’s fake. It’s treated with the gravity and consequence of the card scenes in Casino Royale, but reenacted by a high school improv troupe playing made-up fake space poker (a game that doesn’t exist).
5. The cosmos-wide involuntary servitude of droids is called into question, bringing into this cinematic universe a never-bef0re-seen, real-life consideration of racism, slavery, sentience, civil rights, labor trafficking, colonialism, animal rights-- NAH NEVERMIND LOOK AT THAT CUTE LIL ONE STOMP ON A CONTROL PANEL
6. A robot mentions she may have a clit?
7. Lando fucks a robot?
8. A macguffin deus ex machinas an action sequence to a close in literally the exact same way an identical scene plays out in Star Trek (2009). A very popular movie from 9 years ago.
9. A crucial reference to The Phantom Menace, an almost universally loathed film.
10. A new addition to the canon of weird alien songs sung by puppets in bars. It’s not this by a mile, but it’s up there.