The idea of watching two Will Smiths battle each other for two hours is enticing. The trailer was enough for me to head on into the theater on opening night. The movie poster, flashing multiple Smiths and promising epic, superhero-esque showdowns, was a bit of icing on top. It was hard to turn down this movie, especially watching it on a big screen.
Gemini Man, Ang Lee’s directorial disaster, is a fun movie, but only part of the time. That’s the issue. It brings together elements of a successful movie: Will Smith being charming, Will Smith being an action hero, Benedict Wong being reliable, Mary Elizabeth Winstead being a badass, Ang Lee being a visionary, and even Game of Thrones’s David Benioff being a main-stage writer.
The movie opens on Smith, playing Henry Brogan, a fantastic name for an action movie lead. He gets his 72nd confirmed kill by shooting someone long-distance on a moving train. He goes back to his home in Georgia, though not one person in this film has a Southern accent, and puts up a birdhouse. He’s an animal man.
So much of this movie is ridiculous, and the chief problems are with the script, but we’ll trudge on. He cracks open a Stella, as Brogan has to be a beer man, and is set to retire from a life of governmental assassin work.
Smith soon finds out that he didn’t kill a terrorist, but rather a biologist! Then, his friends die, he gets hunted by his own government agency, grabs Danny (Winstead), and we’re off. A few fantastic things happen in the first 30 minutes.
Brogan is seen drinking Stella Artois, Budweiser, and Hoegaarden. He’s drinking beer throughout the movie, and in the final scene, Budweiser boxes are blown to smithereens by gunfire. Lots of beer in this movie.
When Brogan wakes up to find that his house is being surrounded, he’s fully clothed. When he wakes up Danny, she’s fully clothes, yet he says to her, “Get dressed.” That’s actually hilarious and no one can say otherwise.
Brogan and his friends always use the same line when they cheers when taking a shot. “To the next war, which is no war.” How can you not love that?
Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman” plays and it’s truly not relevant but just a great song.
None of the above make this a better movie in terms of cinematic storytelling, but they do make the experience much more enjoyable.
The rest of the story plays out without much surprise: Brogan begins being hunted by Junior, his younger clone, and they have a few huge fights. Brogan convinces Junior that he’s being used and then they team up to take down the bad guy. One of the fights deserves a bit more attention though: the motorcycle chase.
The motorcycle chase is the best scene of the film and once it’s over, you wish you could watch it again. The younger clone, Junior, chases Brogan through side streets and busy streets and on rooftops, all while both are riding motorcycles. It’s fast-paced, fun, and entertaining as can be. It’s action movies at their best.
Outside of the that chase scene, the rest of the film ultimately falls flat. The gimmick of two Will Smiths begins to fade and you’re wishing the runtime was 20 minutes fewer. The dialogue is formulaic and the characters aren’t given a chance to grapple with the questions that could’ve been asked. Smith isn’t allowed the opportunity, by Ang Lee, to breathe life into either of the two roles, regardless of his commitment and stardom within the film.
The acting isn’t bad by any means by any of the main or supporting characters, and the cloning technology didn’t take me out of the film until the final scene. The action sequences were big, as promised, but the payoff was minimal. Our connection to Brogan, to Junior, and to this world was small and untethered. Not even a third Will Smith brought me the joy it should have.
When I was 12 years old, the Scrubs episode titled ‘My Last Words’ premiered. There are a few different storylines of the episode, but only one that this article is discussing: Turk and J.D. talk with a man during the last hours of his life. Scrubs never did mess around with titles and ‘My Last Words’ is exactly what it sounds like.
Things to note:
‘My Last Words’ was the back half of a two-episode premiere, jammed together with ‘My Jerks’, an episode that kicked off Season 8, the last great season of the show. ‘My Jerks’ is fine, but it lacks an emotional punch and is playing up to more laughs. Watching these two episodes together does create a tremendous building of emotion though, and so I stand by that decision, whoever made it.
These two episodes were the first to be shown on ABC, after the show moved networks from its longstanding home of NBC.
As I stated, I was 12 years old and about to turn 13, which means I was in 7th grade. Very impressionable and turbulent time for a kid, and I was unsure of what I liked or why I liked it.
It felt like Scrubs was always on during this time of my life. I was constantly watching the show, though I wasn’t always keeping up on a week-by-week basis. It was an all-consuming phase.
I found out that 6.7 million people watched this episode. If we say that one out of every two people cried, which is likely, that means at least 3.35 million people cried at the same time that I cried. That is just wild to think about.
Scrubs had already been going for close to a decade. It started in 2001 and this was 2009.
This episode in particular
Scrubs came out 18 years ago, two days ago. Dr. Cox wouldn’t be proud of my tardiness. Each episode followed a pattern: happy, funny stuff to start, a little bit of heavy/sad news in the middle given usually by a J.D. voiceover, more funny stuff, and then really heavy/sad news at the end given by another J.D. voiceover. Shea Serrano details it with some hilarious eloquence for a piece at The Ringer.
Because of the above pattern, you can brace yourself for the sad times. You know that they’re coming and they become less sad. That is how it works for almost all situations in life, except for one: death.
The show has never shied away from death, as it’s featured in dozens of episodes. Patients dying is a regular part of working at a hospital and I’m assuming creator Bill Lawrence wanted us to know that.
In this particular episode, Turk and J.D., perennial best friends played by real-life best friends Donald Faison and Zach Braff, are having their annual steak night. It’s a big occasion with a song and dance.
They are also dealing with interns, one of them being a fresh Aziz Ansari. But that’s about it. Several main characters are not even mentioned or shown in the course of the episode, an oddity for the show.
This episode is fully about Turk, J.D., and their talks with a patient named George Valentine. Glynn Turman was tapped to play Valentine and boy was that a good choice by the casting director.
Valentine is in Sacred Heart because he’s dying and these are his final hours. He has a terminal illness and is going to drift off into an endless sleep on this particular night. Steak night night. This episode doesn’t have all of the funny parts of other episodes. There aren’t lots of “lighten the mood” moments. It’s about death and that’s it.
Why I cried
When J.D. finds out why George is in the hospital, he says, “We think of hospitals as places where people go to heal, but they’re also places where people go to die.” Unpacking the gravity of that sentence is an entire different article, but it hits you as if you forgot you were standing on the tracks.
Scrubs does that to you, as you often forget the bleakness of situations because you’re too busy laughing at “Giant Doctor” or Dr. Cox’s demeaning remarks or J.D. daydreaming once again. You don’t forget in this episode. Upon rewatch, it was the same arresting feeling I felt 10 years ago, and knowing the end didn’t make watching it any easier.
The three talk about death and how none of them are scared of it. The doctors have lost their fear over time, and George has had a good, long life. All he wants is an ice cold beer before he goes.
When J.D. and Turk find out that George doesn’t have family coming to stay with him in his final hours, they stay instead. “When you get down to it, taking care of a patient means more than anything, even steak night,” says J.D. It’s the reason they’re such good doctors and after seven seasons of learning, they’ve grown not just as medical professionals, but as people as well.
They pull up chairs and sit with George, talking about their fathers, their college days, and their views of an afterlife. J.D. even gives a rundown of his and Turk’s first day in heaven, a small respite to the sadness clouding the screen.
“I’ll tell you one thing. I sure didn’t think I’d go like this,” says George, finally speaking up after letting the two friends spout on. George’s entire life “boils down to these four pages”, or his will. He’s grappling with death. We see a man struggle in (almost) real time, a focus on a singular death in a show filled with dying.
Finally, someone says what every audience member is thinking. First J.D. pipes up, and then Turk affirms.
“George, I’m terrified of dying.”
It’s a moment I’ve remembered for the last 10 years, and a reason I’ve always defended Scrubs. The comedy might miss at times and some dialogue might not work in today’s climate, but scenes like the on in “My Last Words” are unforgettable. They’re so important to watch and experience, and to see them while you’re young, it makes them all the more memorable.
This episode of Scrubs was the first time that a television show or a movie made me cry. I remember tearing up, curled up on our old green couch and covered by a homemade, blue-and-white checkered blanket. It wasn’t the waterworks, but tears were shed, and this so-called comedy was the reason.
It sounds weird but I didn’t realize that fiction could make you cry. I didn’t understand the power of film and television. Maybe I just didn’t allow other stories to affect me, too closed off by how I thought I was supposed to react. I’m not completely sure why this put me over the edge. I felt the wave crashing upon me once again though, 10 years and lots of life experiences later.
Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark” is still, and always will be, one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard, a go-to when life takes a wrong turn, when disappointment hits or when heartbreak comes.
J.D. says something though at the end of the episode that has particularly stuck with me.
“I would just hope that my last thought was a good one.”
Busy, busy, busy week for the young Peach Fuzz Critic. On this site, I wrote about Ad Astra, James Gray’s space odyssey featuring the everlasting Brad Pitt. I attempted to dissect the many questions Gray is posing and some of the answers to those questions.
On Cinema Sentries, I wrote about Los Tigres del Norte and their historic trip to California’s Folsom Prison. I watched a little film called Koko-di Koko-da, a Swedish horror-comedy-thriller flick that was just fantastic.
That’s about it! Thanks for following along. I’ll be doing this little recap each and every week so just you (mostly I) can remember the writing I did over the last seven days.
It’s been the day, the month, the summer, and the year of Brad Pitt. He’s shared that highest Internet honor with Keanu Reeves. While Keanu dominated the first half of 2019, Pitt has taken the virile title belt, jockeying for position by appearing on Ellen, avoiding the Oscars race, and starring in two massive films, one by Quentin Tarantino which I’m sure you’ve heard of, and James Gray’s new space odyssey Ad Astra.
Gray’s film is full of questions, some he cares to answer, some he prefers to leave dangling on the edge of space. The film’s plot interested me, but Gray’s character study on Brad Pitt as a man, a father, and a superstar was enthralling. It came in with huge expectations with a man at the height of his powers, focusing on his most vulnerable moments and delivering a space thriller, a bit of a generous categorization, for watchers to process.
Ad Astra asks these questions to Pitt, to Pitt’s alter ego Roy McBride, to the audience, and to society at large. Gray is attempting to tackle longstanding concerns and ideas in the span of two hours. It’s a film I enjoyed much more after reflection, and I’m already convinced a second viewing would act as a palate cleanser, rather than a bland main course that doesn’t satiate your hunger. I can’t stop thinking about Ad Astra, not about the film itself, but rather the uncertainties it can’t help raising.
Should we have the same profession as our parents?
In the film, Brad Pitt’s father was an astronaut, committed entirely to his job and to the places beyond Earth’s graspable elements. Pitt, playing McBride with self-efficacy and awareness, becomes an astronaut as well. His choice, a decision we’ve all thought about, to follow in his father’s footsteps is a choice with stages.
Stage 1: you idolize your father and you develop similar interests to him. This is more about acceptance than it is about passion. You, I, most people want to be loved by their fathers, so we pick up the same habits, learning about their professions. Stage 2: you reject your father (and/or mother) and want to be an individual. You’re in middle school and you decide to be your own person, choosing a path that your parents would never expect. Stage 3: you circle back around and are genuinely interested in the same profession as your father, or you find what you’re truly passionate about and follow that instead.
Many people I know have followed those stages at one point or another. There are of course exceptions, like Pitt, who falls somewhere in the middle of these stages. He hasn’t processed his father’s disappearance, or abandonment, and is dealing with decades of trauma throughout the film. He believes his father to be a hero, then a villain, then a hero once again, back to a villain, and finally just an old man that wanted to die. His choice to pursue his father’s livelihood has resulted in heartbreak and closure. He has been given the opportunity to save the world and lose his father in the same trip. Now that’s quite a job.
Pitt has the conflicting desires of wanting to be as successful as his father but also needing to be a better man than his father. He will never reach his father’s impact, nor stoop to his dad’s level of pain-infliction.
Answer: Roy McBride likely should have gone into real estate.
Does Brad Pitt look good in an space suit?
Come on. It’s Brad Pitt.
Answer: Yes. Of course. Why would we think otherwise?
What if our destiny, the path we choose to follow, is wrong?
Gray raises this contention through both Pitt’s portrayal of Roy McBride and his father, played by a wrinkly-as-ever Tommy Lee Jones as H. Clifford McBride.
Roy McBride seems to be an astronaut because he hoped to one day find his dad in space, while Clifford McBride was obsessed with finding intelligent life somewhere in the galaxy. Clifford believes that his destiny is to find extraterrestrial life, and Roy, as we find out throughout the film, is chasing a destiny of finding living up to his father’s name and finding him once he knows he’s alive. Ad Astra is addressing failure on both accounts. Clifford has failed in his efforts to find what he’s been looking for, while Roy finds exactly what he has always wanted, only to be let down in the most severe way possible.
Once we study in and graduate from college, we are expected, by society’s standards, to choose a career path and stick to it. We were required to pick a major for a reason. More often that not though, we change, we grow, and we adapt, leading us to switch the path we’re marching on. This is pegged as a mid-life, or for myself and the people I orbit, a quarter-life crisis. Clifford even has a three-quarter-life crisis towards the end of the film.
But it’s far from that. We are gravitating closer to fulfillment, something Clifford McBride never took the time to feel, and something Roy McBride seems to be grasping by the end of the film. His destiny has been altered, and in that way, it wasn’t his destiny in the first place.
Answer: Gray doesn’t know, and neither does Pitt. We choose something and just hope that it’s right. When we get pulled in an opposite direction though, we need to follow that tug.
Is Brad Pitt okay?
This is one is a bit tricky. Just like in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Pitt is playing a version of himself. He’s a lonely man in Ad Astra, with no wife, no kids, and dedication to his job. His family is rife with instability, and he doesn’t seem to be nurturing anyone outside of himself. He’s one-track, plowing his way forward, causing death and destruction around him, despite his best intentions. In the end, he’s successful, but he took an awful woeful path along the way.
Pitt has been in the public eye since 1991, when he had a small but memorable role in Thelma & Louise.
He’s been engaged or married to Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, and Angelina Jolie, all massive stars. He has gone through very public breakups and even more public divorces. He has six kids with Jolie, all of whom have grown up in the eyes of paparazzi. According to IMDb, Pitt has appeared in 80 films and produced over 50 films. He’s a busy guy with a shocking amount of fame thrust his way, properly earned in most respects.
None of us know how lonely or happy Brad Pitt truly is. Every long-form interview he gives, and he’s given quite a few in the past half-year, details his struggles but also his laid-back triumphs. Roy McBride is similar to Brad Pitt in more ways than one.
Answer: Who knows? It seems so, but it’s been a bumpy road to get there.
Have we had too many movies (recently) about space?
People seem to be discussing this with some serious contention. There’s no need to compare Interstellar, Gravity, The Martian, and Ad Astra. Let them be stand alone projects made by important directors highlighting fantastic actors.
Answer: No, space movies are great, but we might need to find some new stories, new angles to explore. Make a space movie with Adam Sandler and I’ll be in the theater before you can say “sandman”.
What happens when a film tries to answer too many questions at once?
I’ve seen several reviews describing Ad Astra as a “slow burn” of a film. Usually, the result of a slow burn is the bubbling up of anger, frustration, or conflict. Gray’s film ended with a fizzle, not a bang. He’s tackling a monster amount of topics in a two-hour window. These questions are raised throughout the film, but there’s not nearly enough time to figure out the thought-provoking mess of his own creation.
The universe Gray crafted is commendable yet it’s surprising a film like this, a solemn character study with an $80 million budget, can still get made in today’s shifting industry. It’s a big, beautiful, bonkers film.
As Norman Vincent Peale, a famously positive man, once said, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” And Grey certainly is somewhere, even if he’s a bit lost, deep in the galaxy of stars.
I saw Joe Talbot’s directorial debut The Last Black Man in San Francisco about three months ago. It was a Sundance award-winner with rave reviews, an A24 darling, and high on my list of 2019 movies I needed to watch on the big screen. I saw it on opening weekend, which was a limited release to seven theaters. My theater was filled, not packed. If it was a salad, we amounted to the croutons, not the lettuce.
What transpired over the course of the next 121 minutes left me speechless. There are several reasons a movie can transfix you. The acting can be spectacular. The cinematography can be sweeping and beautiful, finding angles you thought impossible. The story can resonate with depth that didn’t previously reside within your body. Or you can see art in a way you haven’t seen before. Talbot’s film accomplished all the above.
The 2-hour affair chronicles the futile attempts of Jimmie Fails, played by Talbot’s childhood friend and co-writer, the real-life Jimmie Fails. Both men grew up in San Francisco, soaking up the Bay Area’s gentrification even when they wished the fog would roll over the sunshine. The story is their collected experiences: their love towards a hometown and their uncertainty towards its unstoppable changes. It’s one of the most gorgeous pieces of art I’ve ever seen, and the shot of Fails dropping leaves onto Mont remains etched into my brain. Fails’ singular mission, though, unfolds like clothes thrown into the wash, locked, messy, and jumbled together with a speed that doesn’t allow your eyes to adjust.
Fails and his best friend Mont, played or rather achieved by Jonathan Majors, are in a movie-long tug-of-war to take back Fails’ childhood home, the one he believes was built by his grandfather, a Victorian mishmash of beauty in the Mission District of San Francisco. Fails’ effectiveness can’t be understated, as every scene has the feeling of a home-video, watched by an intrusive audience. There’s a power in telling your own story, a command that is rarely on display and hardly considered for opportunity.
Currently, the film festival season is in full swing. Toronto, Venice and Telluride, along with NYFF later this month, have been vehicles for new films to garner widespread praise, gravitate performances to create Oscar-buzz, and shift the discussion to a select few directors and stories that the film community have deemed important. Last Black Man has been put in the back of the pantry, and to me, that’s a problem.
The relevance of these characters is not forced, but given to the audience. The effect of change emanated from this portrait of a hometown continues to cause me to stop on busy streets in New York City, just to remember to look at what surrounds me. I watched this film from a different state than my hometown, from a different state than my family and friends. I grew up driving up the coast to San Francisco, spending weekends there through college, appreciating the city more with each visit. It’s a painstaking painting of a city that’s been in flux for the entire 21st century.
Fails and Talbot spent close to a decade making this film. Their journey as filmmakers is as worthy of praise as their finished product. Every interview they give is inspiring for those that don’t have it all figured out. They’ve certainly become indie idols for young people across the country, especially those in the Bay Area.
I’ve never watched a film that encapsulates loss like Last Black Man. As Jimmie’s frustrations burst and fester, the realization of pain and loss we’ve encountered grows stronger in each of us. It’s unshakable and for me, undeniable. It captures the emotion and realization we normally can’t put into words: when you don’t recognize your hometown, you don’t remember the roads, and your childhood home, full of the memories you made, belongs to another. The city, his home, has changed without Jimmie Fails. We’ve all been outgrown in our lives, unable to stop natural forces, unable to understand what went wrong, and desperately reaching to conjure up the past.
Jonathan Majors, as the feeble yet loving Montgomery Allen, deserves words of praise at this point. He deserved it much higher in article. Majors is remarkable, and is worthy, though not likely to be recognized, of a Best Supporting Actor nod by the Academy. His presence almost steals the movie from Fails, and it feels to be his hometown as well. He doesn’t fit in, either, and that’s what drew me to him. While Fails shows us what happens when you don’t fit into your city, Majors shows us, with immeasurable grace and ingenuity, what happens when you don’t fit into your community.
The supporting cast, Danny Glover particularly, are worthwhile in contributing to the mood of the film. An ensemble, with this many newcomers, with this talent is a feat in casting, directing, and pure opportunity. The dialogue is smart and a couple of lines are sure to be remembered by all who see the film. The chief of these being said by Fails to two griping (and new) San Francisco residents. “You can’t hate something if you didn’t love it first.” Truer words are sparsely spoken without an element of insincerity.
As big budget films with big budget actors shove into your timelines and into the larger public sphere, don’t forget about Talbot’s tale of loss. Don’t forget about Fails’ and Major’s human performances. And certainly don’t forget the way The Last Black Man in San Francisco made you feel. It’s one of the warmest love letters written this century. It will and should last longer than the rest.
During one of the film industry’s “worst” summers at the box office, first-time director Gene Stupnitsky’s Good Boys stood out above the rest. It broke through the flop-machine of comedies from Seth Rogen’s other project Long Shot to Mindy Kaling’s Late Night and everything in between: movies with big names that received rave reviews, yet failed to reach the audiences they hoped to snatch up.
The budget for Good Boys was $20 million. How much it made on its opening weekend? $21 million. The almost-perfect storm of Rogen’s stamp of approval, middle school humor that grosses its viewers with both sweetness and a slew of sex jokes, and a well-made trailer signifying the end of summer led to a surprise success, a feel-good film that both critics and audiences have gushed over.
It was easy and enjoyable. The performances from the bean bag boys along with the entire supporting cast were just lovely, and the ending provided a gentleness I could feel coming yet still led to a smile on my face. The ridiculousness of the boys taking sips of beer and running through crowded highways made me laugh just enough for me to leave the theater feeling it was money well spent.
Yet 20 minutes later, I couldn’t tell you all three of the main characters names. I couldn’t recall specific lines of dialogue, or even tell you what the conflict (or the overcoming of that conflict) of the story turned out to be. I forgot it almost immediately, looking back with fondness on a memory that feels vague because of its age.
It felt like a movie from my childhood, relatable in terms of the feelings associated with seeing the film and all the now disassociated scenes and songs, but not recognizable and certainly not memorable. To me, it was a Netflix movie you decide to watch because it’s simply there, and you forget the next day because it’s not in front of you anymore.
I’ve seen Good Boys before. We all have. We’ve seen it in theaters, and we’ve certainly seen it on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. Iterations of middle school boys doing dumb shit pass more frequently than we even realize. This doesn’t make it less enjoyable, nor does it make it less necessary. At this time, it might even have a larger impact in creating a ray of light on another awful news day. The originality of the bean bag boys feels a bit washed, dried, folded up, and shoved right back into the machine, and that doesn’t sit well.
Compare this film with Booksmart for example. Both films were made with first-time directors: Stupnitsky and Olivia Wilde. Both films were released by mid-major studios: Good Universe and Annapurna. Both films are raunchy comedies focused on young friend groups having one wild day (or one wild night). Both are “certified fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes. Both films even have doses of Molly Gordon, for good reason, peppered in.
Though differing marketing campaigns and distributors should be noted, it’s a harsh comparison once you look at the box office results. Booksmart, made by a female director and showcasing a fresh (and mostly) female cast, operating on a $6 million budget, grossed a total of $23 million after 77 days in theaters. In contrast, after 22 days in theaters, Good Boys, made by several hordes of white men, has grossed $75 million and counting. I’m glad a mid-major comedy is making money. I just think it’s the wrong one.
Not all critics lauded Stupnitsky’s film, though. It was hardly enough to garner an R-rating. The 25th “FUCK” by the bean bag boys was an endless echo. The runtime was 89 minutes yet it could have been 60, maybe even a clean 30. The heralded kissing party was, somehow, underwhelming. And I’m skeptical that these boys would even be friends.
I liked Good Boys and I look forward to half-watching it on Netflix while making dinner 3 months from now.