Jen Wang is one of the smartest women I know — so who better to bring with me to see “Lucy,” a movie about the smartest woman on the planet?
Jen is a fellow school mom — our sons have been classmates and buddies for the past couple years — and the co-creator of the website DISGRASIAN.com, which focuses on Asian American issues and race. She always has inspired, thoughtful takes on a wide range of pop-culture topics. And she loves movies. And she loves drinks. You can see why we’re such good friends.
We met at the ArcLight Hollywood for a press screening of “Lucy” — starring Scarlett Johansson as a woman who accesses unprecedented brain power after being turned into an unwitting drug mule — then chatted afterward over watermelon tequila cocktails across the street at The Hungry Cat. I cannot vouch for how much of our own brain power we used in this discussion — the percentage might have dropped as the night went on.
CL: So what did you know about this movie going into it? You mentioned that you thought it would be a lot like “Transcendence.”
JW: Well … that was just Dave’s (her husband’s) opinion. He was like, “Isn’t it a lot like ‘Transcendence,’ which we just saw, which was terrible?”
CL: Right. It’s got some “Transcendence” to it. And some “Matrix.” And some “Tree of Life.”
JW: I thought about those movies, yeah. To me, it’s like the third installment in the holy trinity of Scarlett Johansson not-quite-human movies that she’s been doing. I mean, in the end, she basically becomes who she is in “Her.”
CL: It’s a great hybrid of her characters in “Under the Skin” and “Her.” She’s driven and predatory and not human like in “Under the Skin,” but she’s changing and she’s evolving and her brain is exploding in ways she doesn’t understand like in “Her.”
JW: And when she becomes that weird kind of black goo, that reminded me of “Under the Skin.”
CL: Because that’s what’s … under the skin. Spoiler alert. I like how she’s had this reinvention — and I’ll add the “Avengers” movies to this, too — in that she’s not the sexpot in a Woody Allen movie. She’s not confused or lost or vulnerable. She’s a bad-ass and a strong woman and she’s using her looks totally to her advantage to get whatever the hell she wants in whatever setting she’s in.
JW: Yeah. In all those three movies that we were just talking about, she doesn’t have a body, she borrows a body and then her body becomes a computer. And she’s so known for her body. It feels like she went to a backroom and calculated something with somebody where they were just like: “Look, this is the second phase of your career.”
CL: I should mention right now that Jen ordered oysters … those are all yours for your enjoyment. I’m gonna watch you eat oysters.
JW: Is this gonna be, like, exactly transcribed?
CL: Quite a bit of it, yes. I edit out me babbling. But when I’ve done it with Nic, for example, that’s four minutes of tape, and of me getting mm-hmms and yeahs out of him.
JW: Well that’s the only reason I agreed to do this was because I was like, well, if she can get a 4 1/2-year-old to do it …
JW: Then that’s OK.
CL: But speaking of our kids, though — as a parent, watching her brain explode reminded me of watching our kids figure things out. And she speaks about the primal nature of humanity and that’s like our kids.
JW: Also the phone call to her mom …
CL: That was very emotional.
JW: It was super emotional, although I was like, can she only cry out of one eye? She only cried out of her right eye the whole time.
CL: Well once she gets to use 100 percent of her brain, she gets to cry out of both eyes. Did you like this movie?
JW: I thought it was fun. I liked the actiony parts — the car chase, the shoot-outs.
CL: When she’s manipulating the guys in the sky.
JW: That’s hilarious.
CL: But that’s the shitty, EuropaCorp, Luc Besson, B-movie standard stuff he has to do. I think he’s trying to get at something much more profound — perhaps he doesn’t articulate it all that effectively — but I think he’s getting at it, but he has to have the car chase through Paris in order to get the financing.
JW: The ideas in “Her” that are about how this is what we’re doing with our lives, to some degree this is like the photo negative of that movie. I feel like I’ve seen movies that are more interesting — what was that weird Bradley Cooper movie where he takes the drugs?
CL: “Limitless”! Yeah. It’s a lot like that.
JW: I don’t know that there were really profound ideas here. It was like: “Now go out into the world and do this.” What, use all our brains? … Another thing that disturbed me: So many of these movies are multicultural, multinational. This had that same vibe where they were all picked up in these different European airports and all the cops are so perfectly cast.
CL: And it takes place in Taipei at the beginning. That’s calculated as hell.
JW: It is, for so many reasons. I mean, international box office, but also just like: The Asians are all the bad guys?
CL: I was seriously about to ask you that question.
JW: Like, we see the globe and we go all over the world and everybody is sort of multiethnic, multiracial, multinational, and they’re all trying to do some good. And then there’s just the bad Asians with big guns.
CL: Does that bother you?
JW: You know, it didn’t occur to me until the middle and then I couldn’t stop seeing it because it felt so one-dimensional on one side and also, like, a calculated bid for an Asian audience. But it’s a really low barrier of entry, like: Let’s get some Asian characters, and they’re the only ones who don’t speak English. They’re Korean but they’re in Taipei. Who knows why. And they take mostly white people to be their drug mules — which I felt was some, like, Western cultural anxiety about the rise of Asia.
CL: Whoa! So it is profound, see?
JW: But it’s profound in a totally different way.
It’s been a few months since I’ve done one of these Movies With Friends things so I thought it was time, and I thought I’d try it again with Nicolas. About a year ago, I took him to see “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” and we talked about it afterward, with varying degrees of success. Now, he’s almost 5, so I wanted to give the whole process another shot with “Planes: Fire & Rescue.”
The original “Planes” from last year, in which Dane Cook provides the voice of a cropduster who dreams of being a racer, was not Nic’s favorite, as he would say. Toward the end, he crawled into Chris’ lap and fell asleep during the screening, he was so bored. Still, he’d see ads for the sequel around town and he seemed vaguely curious about it. Nic and I went to a press screening last night at the ArcLight Hollywood, then stopped by Yogurtland on the way home. (Strawberry with strawberries and sour gummy worms for him, cookies and cream with cookie dough and Oreo pieces for me. We’re not exactly on the same page dessert-wise.) Here’s our chat, between bites.
Nic: That’s an awesome phone.
Me: It’s not a phone, it’s a recorder. OK so: What movie did we just go see?
Nic: “Planes: Fire & Rescue.”
Me: Careful of your yogurt, it’s gonna spill. And what did you think of it?
Nic: I liked when there was fire.
Me: You liked when there was fire?
Nic: Mm-hmm (chewing).
Me: It wasn’t scary?
Me: Because I recall you going into this thinking it might be scary.
Nic: Well, it wasn’t.
Me: And what did you like about it?
Nic: I just liked the fire!
Me: And what about it did you like?
Nic: I don’t know.
Me: Are you going to be a budding pyro like your father was when he was young? Are you going to set things on fire just to make me nervous?
Me: So what was better about this one? You notoriously fell asleep in the first “Planes.” What held your interest this time?
Nic: I liked when there was fire!
Me: Did you like when the planes were putting out the fire? Ooh, careful careful! (Nic drops his yogurt cup, spills strawberries and sour gummy worms on the sidewalk and his shoes.) Shoot. Darn it. All right.
Nic: Oh …
Me: It’s OK, we’ll just pick it up.
Nic: (Starts to fake cry.)
Me: That’s why we gotta pay attention, dude. All right, so. Continue. They’re putting out the fire. What about that did you like? Was it exciting?
Nic: Now I’ve got yogurt all over my shoes.
Me: Well, that’s ’cause you spilled it, but the world keeps turning. I’m trying to keep you on track here, baby. So what about the fire did you like?
Nic: I liked when they put out the fire.
Me: What did you think about Dusty Crophopper?
Nic: (Shrugs and smirks.)
Me: (Laughing.) You had no thoughts on Dusty Crophopper?
Me: He’s, like, the main guy. Did you enjoy his journey?
Nic: Yeah …
Me: Did you enjoy how he reinvented himself as a firefighting plane?
Nic: Yeah …
Me: Is this the best movie I’ve taken you to see? What’s the best movie I’ve taken you to see?
Me: “The Lego Movie”?
Nic: Mm-hmm (chewing).
Me: Why is that one better? I mean, I agree, but why?
Nic: Because Emmet watches “Where Are My Pants?”
Me: Because you like “Where Are My Pants?”
Nic: Mm-hmm (chewing).
Me: (Laughing.) That’s the most important thing you got out of “The Lego Movie” — “Where Are My Pants?” All right, so. In conclusion, any other thoughts on “Planes: Fire & Rescue”? Was it pretty, was it colorful, was it scary, was it thrilling?
Nic: (Chewing.) It was colorful.
Me: It was colorful? That’s it?
Me: What? Stop spilling on yourself. All right. Anything else you want to add?
Nic: I don’t want that. I don’t want you to use that anymore.
Me: You don’t want me to use this anymore? How come? You’re not enjoying being interviewed by me?
Me: I ask the tough questions. Is this fun?
Me: All right, we’re done.
Jennie Morris and I have been friends for so long that when we were kids, we’d spend hours at one another’s houses playing Atari video games — specifically, Pitfall and Megamania, in case you were wondering. (Yes, we are dating ourselves.) Now, we’re both grown-ass women with husbands and sons and careers that incorporate our love of film — and technology has improved significantly since 1982, thankfully.
But given our fond childhood memories, I thought “Her” would be a good fit for us to see together and have a Movies-With-Friends discussion afterward. I’d already seen Spike Jonze’s beautiful and brilliant drama about a lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with his operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) in a near-future version of Los Angeles, but loved it so much that I was happy to revisit it in the theater with her. Jennie also happens to know a little something about movies — she’s the senior vice president of acquisitions and operations for Pivot TV and was a longtime Sundance Channel executive — so I wanted to hear her opinion on Jonze’s film.
We saw “Her” together recently at the AMC Century City, then chatted about it over veggie burgers and glasses of zinfandel at nearby Gulfstream — and we kept our phone-checking to a minimum. (Warning for folks who haven’t seen “Her”: There are a few spoilers here.):
CL: There was so much hype surrounding this movie. Did it live up to the hype for you?
JM: It’s a really interesting movie but maybe not for the reasons it purports itself to be. I think it’s interesting mostly due to the fact that it just sort of explores relationships. The OS device is sort of superfluous, in a way.
CL: Because she makes it so real. She creates such a real person.
JM: She does. And then it really is about people and relationships.
CL: If you feel it, is it real?
JM: Right. The thing I liked least about the movie was when it became less about people in real relationships — when it was that she was talking to 641 people or 8,000 people.
CL: But that’s a great twist! You don’t see that coming. The first time I saw this movie, I didn’t see that coming.
JM: When he’s sitting there looking at all these people talking, that’s when I knew. Actually what I thought was when Amy Adams brings up her OS friend, I thought maybe they were the same person.
CL: That would be the big, cheesy, studio-comedy version of this — that they’re having a three-way.
JM: I didn’t like the last half hour nearly as much as the rest of the movie.
CL: The twist — the revelation that she is in love with other people — I think so mirrors the real expectations we often have about love, about fidelity. We have expectations that love is supposed to be monogamous, that you never even look at anybody else. That element of the film addresses that — the letdown that love often creates for you.
JM: Yeah. I didn’t need it to be a thousand people or 600 people. The OS gimmick is really a gimmick to talk about people and relationships — particularly, obviously, people nowadays who are so connected to technology.
CL: We both checked our phones before we sat down to eat.
JM: Totally. We definitely are addicted, connected in that way. And it’s meaningful to us, just as it becomes extraordinarily meaningful to him. So there is that piece of it. I guess in my mind it’s sort of two separate things. One is, what does it mean to be in a relationship, how do share your life with someone? That, to me, was more interesting than the tech piece.
CL: OK. What year do you think this takes place in?
JM: I sort of imagined it, like, 50 years in the future.
CL: It’s definitely LA but he also shot it in Shanghai. I was amazed at how grounded it is for a Spike Jonze film. It’s his least fantastical — it’s his most recognizable in terms of actual emotions and I like that about it. It’s not inside someone’s brain. It’s not overlapping narratives reflecting on each other. It’s not about giant, furry creatures on an island. And I love all those films and I love his eye and I love his daring.
JM: I love the slightly futuristic feel. The fashion, everything being slightly off.
CL: Oh my God, the clothing is horrible in the future! Why? Everything Peter Sarsgaard wears …
CL: The high-waisted pants. Do you think it will now create a trend of high-waisted pants?
JM: It might.
CL: I’m really afraid of that, actually.
JM: It very well could.
CL: They even make Amy Adams frumpy. Look at her in this and then look at her in “American Hustle,” where it’s all big hair and sequins and side-boob.
JM: She’s very sweet in this, though. I always like her.
CL: I always like her, too. And so was (Phoenix). This is probably the sweetest, lightest role I’ve ever seen him in — especially compared to his recent stuff like “The Master” and that fake documentary he did. I’ve never seen him be funny — I can’t remember him being funny.
JM: He is lighter but he’s still super intense. But he definitely had a human quality. He’s definitely relatable as a person, and as a sad person.
CL: There is a theory — and I didn’t know this when I first saw it, but I’ve heard it since and watched it with an eye to this –that this is Spike Jonze’s response to “Lost in Translation,” and his reflection on his divorce from Sofia Coppola. What do you think of that?
JM: That all totally makes sense and sounds right on.
CL: Rooney Mara (as Phoenix’s ex-wife) has a similar figure and she even looks like her.
JM: She does kind of look like her. She’s not especially appealing in the film.
CL: But she’s also not evil. She just wants what she wants and they’re not on the same page.
JM: Mm-hmm. The “Lost in Translation” thing is interesting.
CL: And Scarlett Johansson is in both of them.
JM: Totally makes sense.
CL: When I first heard that theory, I thought: “My mind is now blown.”
Royal expert Kelly Lynch and I enjoy better chemistry just sitting around chatting over a glass of wine than Naomi Watts and Naveen Andrews have while swept up in a passionate and doomed love affair in “Diana.”
Kelly is a dear friend of ours who’s a contributing editor at Spin Media and the creator of The Duchess Diary, your one-stop source for all things regarding HRH Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. So I knew that when the melodrama about the Princess of Wales’ secret fling with Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan hit theaters — to abysmal reviews — I’d have to bring Kelly with me and do a Movies-With-Friends chat afterward. We saw the movie (with only a dozen other people — seriously, we counted) at the AMC Loews Broadway 4 at the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, then picked it apart over chardonnay (for her) and cabernet (for me) at Swingers. Herewith are the best bits:
CL: So had you heard of this guy, her alleged true love, before this movie?
KL: Hasnat Khan? Yes. He was treating her friend’s husband and she was immediately smitten kitten with him.
CL: So had you read this book that the movie is based on?
KL: I actually haven’t. It’s Kate Snell’s book. I have it in my possession. I’ve heard from many a reliable source that this was wildly inaccurate and that these people that wrote the script have no idea what they are talking about. That actually came from the lips of Hasnat Khan himself.
CL: But the woman who wrote the book is an associate producer on the film.
KL: She is, but she only had a few conversations with Dr. Khan. That’s what he told The Daily Mail. He said that she met him briefly in the late ’90s and he didn’t really go into anything with her because he’s a very private person, but she kind of took that and went to the production company. They claim that they had Hasnat Khan’s blessing, he said that they did not.
CL: So the book is inaccurate and the film is inaccurate. All right. So as a movie, as a piece of “art,” what did you think?
KL: I thought it was crap. It did Naomi Watts a disservice as an actress. She’s done so many wonderful pictures, and then she does this. It was better off as a Lifetime movie.
CL: I never forgot that I was watching Naomi Watts.
CL: Despite the hair, despite the nose, whatever they did to her.
KL: No. And that was the worst part — I didn’t either.
CL: I never felt like I was watching Diana.
KL: It was as if Naomi was falling in love with Dr. Hasnat Khan.
CL: So why does it fail, then? Is it the script? Is it the performances? What’s wrong with it?
KL: It was all just so contrived and it felt so forced and silly. There was a scene where Diana and Hasnat Khan had an argument at his apartment, and she went back to her apartment and was crying over a letter and all of a sudden Paul Burrell, her butler, let him just storm into the palace. I don’t think so — she’s a princess.
CL: How do you walk in like that?
KL: You don’t walk in like that. You don’t just storm in. It’s so ridiculous.
CL: Well I was wondering why it is that she felt the need to stalk him by phone and then stand outside of his window and yell …
KL: Oh yeah, what about that scene? The Princess of Wales would never do something that crazy. She knows the photographers would be following her.
CL: Well that’s a whole other question — sometimes they’re all over her, sometimes she can walk around with no problem. How is it possible that a brunette wig somehow makes her unrecognizable, like she’s Clark Kent?
KL: It doesn’t!
CL: And then she can enjoy life as a brunette.
KL: The paparazzi will find you everywhere. They’re tipped by everyone. So the fact that she was outside of his flat screaming at he top of her lungs …
CL: And they already knew who he was at that point!
KL: Of course they did. People would be stalking his place 24/7. And I can’t see her climbing over a fence to avoid them … oh, the pain. It was awful. The whole movie was rubbish.
CL: I don’t know what it is that she saw in him. She tells a lot about how, oh, you’re beautiful, you have this great focus. But I found him to be an abrasive and dismissive and rigid jerk. They don’t make him out to be this great, romantic hero.
KL: And he wasn’t. He was always very reserved, he had a disgusting diet. He was a structured man — he was a heart surgeon. That was his life. And I think her coming in and upsetting the apple cart threw him for a loop. In the end I think he couldn’t handle the press and the publicity that came along with dating her. It was too much for him. I think that’s why she liked him, though — he didn’t treat her like a princess.
CL: I never got any sense of who she truly was. I got a sense of what the public image always was, which was the landmine issues, and dealing with children and the poor, and that truly seemed legitimate. But again, that’s her well-known public image. But I didn’t feel like I learned anything I didn’t already know, and I’m not a big royal watcher like you are. The one thing that really struck me, since I’m a mother myself: I got no sense of her as a mother and what those boys meant to her, how she parented them.
KL: And that was the best part of her, was how great she was as a mother to her kids.
CL: Because she exposed them to things outside of the monarchy.
KL: That’s why they’re such great men today.
CL: That felt like a giant, gaping hole as far as fleshing out who she was. Did they do anything right here, either historically or just in terms of being engaging?
KL: They got her shoes right.
CL: The clothes are fun.
KL: The clothes are great.
Phil Johnston is not easily offended.
The writer of “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Cedar Rapids,” who’s working with Sacha Baron Cohen on a spy comedy that’s in development, is a dear friend of ours from our days in Brooklyn over a decade ago. One of the many things we love about him is that he seems like such a mild-mannered, decent-hearted Midwesterner — and genuinely, he is — but as my husband likes to say, he’s also a twisted bastard.
So I knew he’d be the perfect person to bring along with me to see “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa,” in which Johnny Knoxville dresses up as an inappropriate octogenarian who messes with people while on a road trip with his grandson. Phil and I attended a screening at The Grove, followed by beer (for him), wine (for me) and nachos (for both of us) at nearby Mixology. The wittiest and most insightful of our observations on the movie, opening Friday, are below.
CL: So you had not seen any of the “Jackass” films previously.
PJ: I had not seen any of them, no.
CL: Did you feel lost?
PJ: (laughs) Yes, the complicated plot and intricate characterizations left me flummoxed. I kinda think you know what you’re getting with his brand, right? It was, I thought, very funny. The minute, though, that they got into whatever limited plot there was I was like, OK, what’s next?
CL: I kinda strangely admire the intention, the ambition, to have some more structure, to have an actual plot of some sort, versus: Here’s a raunchy bit, here’s a raunchy bit.
PJ: And unlike Adam Sandler movies which try to shoehorn some bullshit emotion into the movie, this weirdly had actual emotion at times. I didn’t fully buy it but somehow I appreciated their intentions more. It didn’t feel as manipulative — maybe because it was so half-assedly done. But I was rooting for them to end up together, even though it’s inevitable.
CL: It didn’t go totally soft and gooey. There’s some sentiment but they’re still crass people.
PJ: Every time, when they went into the soft and gooey, they would end it with a hard joke. That scene in the restaurant was probably the worst and most treacly of all the emotional scenes but then ends — to me — with the best joke, when he shits on the wall. (laughs)
CL: See, is that the best joke? To me, that’s the worst.
PJ: (still laughing) I mean it’s not, it’s a stupid joke. It’s a useless joke. But I am a sucker for shit and dick jokes.
CL: It’s a guy thing, isn’t it?
PJ: Yeah. The huge, dangly balls and the shit on the wall. … Anyway, the times when they weren’t in public it felt very weird when they were acting together. Without the audience, without the dupes, it becomes almost surreal.
CL: The kid (Jackson Nicoll) is great, though. His timing is excellent.
PJ: He was really funny. He reminded me of the kid in “Bad Santa,” sort of, but with much better timing.
CL: We touched on this a bit in the lobby: the uncomfortableness of making fun of the lowest common denominator, and does that seem like low-hanging fruit? Does that seem cruel?
PJ: Kind of, except in this case there was no satire, there was no political message that accompanied it.
CL: Like in “Borat.”
PJ: Like in “Borat,” or “Bruno” to a lesser extent. You can look at those and go: OK, they’re shining a light on a segment of our society that is bigoted or stupid, and in their stupidity, causing all kinds of problems in the world. This is just dumb for dumb’s sake.
CL: People are gullible.
PJ: People are gullible, and watching people react. It’s very much “Candid Camera.”
CL: And it works every time.
PJ: It does.
CL: You know the reaction’s coming and it’s still funny.
PJ: It’s funny. And I think because in the end credits they reveal what they were doing, it sort of excuses it. Also somehow it doesn’t feel mean-spirited to me. Maybe because it was a grandfather-grandson story at its core, it didn’t offend me. I didn’t think it was mean, did you?
CL: No, but I mean, in the bingo parlor: You’ve got these heavyset, uneducated, toothless people hoping to win big, and they’ve got their troll-doll daubers and all that. But they seem to be having fun with him quite often — they seem to be enjoying joking around with him — so that takes a bit of the edge off the meanness. The only time in all the scenarios where there was a glimmer of the kind of social satire that “Borat” aims for was in the little-kid pageant at the end, and just the grossness of that. But again, as we were saying: low-hanging fruit. “Toddlers & Tiaras” has been on for a while — these people are horrible, we all know that.
PJ: I’m curious as to how you approach something like this because it’s barely a movie. This is the same medium and the same ratings system, ostensibly, as “Gravity.” I was entertained and that’s kind of all movies are supposed to do, I guess. I laughed more than I’ve done in almost anything I’ve seen lately. I’m not gonna think about it tomorrow, but that’s all right.
CL: So how do I assess it? I guess I look at it like I look at all movies in that, is it achieving what it sets out to do? And for the most part, it is. With these kinds of movies — any kind of sketch comedy, any kind of “Jackass” movie — it’s going to be hit and miss. And the question is: Is it shocking you? Is it making you laugh? And for the most part, it did. When it’s really firing on all cylinders, it’s great.
PJ: I admire the tone of this because it never varies. It knows what it is and, for the most part, it does it well.
CL: So can Johnny Knoxville act?
PJ: I don’t know. Maybe.
CL: He kind of stayed in character for the most part. But a lot of times when he’s driving with the kid and just sort of yammering, I had the sense that that’s what a road trip with Johnny Knoxville would be like. … I interviewed Johnny Knoxville, it had to have been about eight years ago at this point — whenever the “Dukes of Hazzard” movie came out. And there was all this talk back then about how he could be a serious actor. I interviewed a lot of people, including John Waters, who had worked with him and said there is definitely something more to him. And then that element of his career just kind of petered out. There were a couple of attempts at more serious drama that didn’t really go over so well. Now here he is, all this time later, back to his roots with the gross-out jokes and shocking people — it’s like he knows where his bread and butter is. He likes working with his friends.
PJ: I thought he was pretty natural in that character and pretty consistent. I believed it. It was good makeup.
CL: He’s about our age, acting twice as old.
PJ: Did he seem like a lovable guy? Or was it too much, like, him doing his press thing?
CL: I mean, it’s hard to know. With him, his shtick is who he is. He even said to me that people walk up to him in bars and have certain expectations that they can fuck with him. … He was a polite, sweet Southern guy.
PJ: Now I want to look at some of the old stuff — wait, I don’t actually.
PJ: Like, I’ve had enough. Like that was just enough. But I kinda liked it.
So I thought I’d try a little experiment this week by taking my son, Nicolas, with me to see “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” and then doing a Movies With Friends with him. The drill with this feature is that I bring a friend with me to see a movie and then we go have a drink somewhere and talk about it afterward.
Being the son of a film critic, Nic has seen a lot of movies, and he’s not quite 4 yet. He has an actual basis of comparison. And he’s not exactly a shy individual, so I figured he’d have a lot to say. But he wasn’t terribly fond of this sequel, which features the voices of Bill Hader and Anna Faris and includes a bunch of food-animal hybrid creatures like shrimpanzees and tacodiles. A half an hour in, he wanted to leave. An hour in, he started playing with the Gumby and Pokey toys he’d brought and singing that “I like to move it, move it” song from an animated movie he likes better, “Madagascar.” And toward the end, he actually turned to me, made a frowny face, threw his arms around my neck and got a little choked up.
Not napping might have been a factor — for both of us.
Nevertheless, I thought I’d try and go through with the whole process. We saw “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” at a packed Sunday afternoon showing at the AMC Century City, then sat down at the counter at The Counter for some cheeseburgers. Because all those gooey, menacing cheese spiders were making me hungry. Here is our totally incoherent conversation, which I recorded:
Me: So we’re going to talk into this and it’s going to hear us talking. So what did you think of the movie? Tell me again what made you sad …?
Nic: Um … um … when the baby started to cry.
Me: The baby marshmallows? Why did they make you sad?
Nic: Because they come there and they make me cry.
Me: But what about them made you sad?
Nic: I don’t know!
Me: Was it because they were hugging?
Me: So what did you think of the movie otherwise?
Nic: I want to drink my lemonade.
Me: Drink your lemonade. So, several times you said you wanted to go home. Why did you want to go home?
Nic: I want to have that (grabs for the digital recorder).
Me: Well let me hold onto that first, and then we can have my phone maybe later on. I’ve got a question for you: Why did you keep wanting to go home?
Nic: Because I didn’t want to watch the movie.
Me: How come? You were all excited about it. What didn’t you like about it? Was it too scary?
Me: What part was scary? You were laughing a lot — you were laughing at the cute, little strawberry who was talking. You liked her, right?
Nic: (Nods while he sips on his lemonade.)
Me: What did you like about the strawberry? Was she funny, was she cute?
Me: So of all the movies we’ve seen together, which is your favorite?
Nic: “Despicable Me 2.”
Me: And why is that your favorite still?
Nic: Because I don’t like the purple minions.
Me: Because you DON’T like the purple minions? You’re a tough interview, dude. You’re very evasive — bobbing and weaving. So was this better than “The Smurfs 2”?
Me: ‘Cause that was horrible — you hated that.
Me: Why was this better? Did you like the tacodiles?
Me: Why is that?
Nic: Because they bit everyone.
Me: And what about the cheese spiders?
Nic: I think they were trying to walk to them and then ran away, so I don’t like the cheese spiders.
Me: OK. Well, who do you like in the movie?
Nic: I like Sam.
Me: You like Sam, the weather anchor? Why do you like her?
Nic: Because … um … what’s the white one’s name?
Me: The guy in the white lab coat? Flint?
Nic: Sam was trying to touch the spider and then they chased them.
Me: And then they chased them. But why do you like Sam, is she pretty?
Nic: Mm-hmm (sipping on his lemonade).
Me: Did you like Barb, the ape? What did you like about her? You’re shrugging your shoulders and you’re grunting?
Nic: Phone! Phone!
Me: You want my phone now? Is there anything else that you want to say about this movie?
Me: So, in conclusion, you did not like it?
Nic: I want to play with your phone now.
Me: All right. What game are you going to play?
Nic: Bad Piggies.
Me: Is that more fun than talking to Mommy?
Me: All right, we’re done.
Amy Nicholson and I know our way around a boy band. The LA Weekly film critic and I are grown-ass women, but we’re not above singing along to the Backstreet Boys in my kitchen — and harmonizing. That’s how dorky we are.
So when I saw that the documentary “One Direction: This Is Us” was coming out Aug. 30, I knew we’d have to see it together and have a Movies-With-Friends discussion afterward. Amy (@theamynicholson) and I went to our favorite Koreatown diner, The Pipers, after a recent screening to talk Harry, Zayn and the rest of the lads over carne asada fries, Coors Light (for her) and cabernet (for me). Here are the good bits, luv:
CL: So what did you know about this band beforehand? I knew nothing.
AN: Absolutely nothing. I knew that there was a weird thing with (film producer) Keith Calder where, like, Keith Calder was being stalked by One Direction fans …
CL: So, what, he did not like One Direction and he dared say so publicly?
AN: He was accused of being the brother of a girl who was supposedly dating one of the guys in One Direction, but I don’t know which one. But that was, like, the sum total of what I knew — and I knew that one of the boys in One Direction dated Taylor Swift.
AN: Harry. But I could not have named a single one of their songs.
CL: Yeah, even during the concert I’m listening and thinking, do any of these songs sound familiar to me? And they didn’t, because they’re all essentially interchangeable pop songs. The only songs I knew were the songs they did covers of.
AN: I’d heard that song “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful” before — I didn’t know it was them — and I hated that song because it’s a song that basically says: “I like you because you don’t have any self-esteem about how pretty you are.” That’s a terrible message.
CL: So did this movie at all make you a fan of these people? Are they endearing? Are they talented?
AN: It’s interesting. Did you see the Justin Beiber documentary?
CL: Yep — I’ve seen them all: The Jonas Brothers and Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus documentaries.
AN: Yeah, and what’s weird is, like, you watch those — especially the Justin Bieber one — you watch that and it’s like, this is a kid who just had musical talent pouring out of his ears. You watch those videos of him drumming at age 2 and you’re, like, aware that this kid had to do this, that he’s a prodigy and you respect him, even though he’s a horrible person. And they do a decent job in the Justin Bieber one of sort of hiding that he’s a horrible person.
CL: Back then, we didn’t know how bad it was.
AN: But this one, they just come across as really likable. How edited do you think it is?
CL: I mean, you very vaguely get the sense of them as humans with original thoughts in their heads and doubts and fears. Given that it was directed by Morgan Spurlock, it is mind-numbingly repetitive. I was really shocked. When I first saw he was directing it, I was like, “Oh, I am now interested in this in a way that I was not before.” And I would say that this does not differ in any way from the overblown infomercials of The Jonas Brothers movie or whatever.
AN: It’s just like: “We couldn’t do this without our fans.” “But you know what? We couldn’t do this without our fans.”
CL: “You know what? We’re just five lads. We’re just mates. We’re just brothers.” They say that about eight times each. We get it.
AN: I like that they’re so deliberately manufactured and they just admit it. I mean, did you spend the whole time trying to figure out who was who? Like, who was the rebel?
CL: Who was the cute one? Who was the strange one? At one point, during one of the rare conversations that they have with each other, Harry and Liam were talking about how Zayn is the mysterious one. So clearly they are cognizant of what their pre-assigned roles are.
AN: There were the two blonde guys I couldn’t tell apart, like, ever.
CL: The one who looks like a young Frank Sinatra is Louis.
AN: OK. Is he the one who wears rolled-up jeans?
CL: (Laughs) Don’t they all wear rolled-up jeans?
AN: I felt so sorry for the blonde Irish one, the kind of punky one.
AN: His uniform is, like, the pants with the low crotch that go to the knees. He’s going to be so embarrassed by that in 10 years.
CL: Well, one of them is wearing an acid-washed jacket. That’s worse. … But we’re grown-ass people — if you were an 11-year-old girl, would you be in love with them? Or would you be in love with one of them? Do you get the allure of them?
AN: I’m a grown-ass woman but I walked out of there in love with Harry. There’s something about him. He’s not even the cute one. The cute one is obviously Zayn.
CL: Zayn has amazing eyes.
AN: Oh my God, Zayn is beautiful.
CL: Harry’s cute. He’s got a young Mick Jagger thing going.
AN: I mean, this felt really sanitized. There’s no way that these five guys who are of legal age — legal drinking age in England — are all sober and not banging groupies left and right. You don’t see them even get close to fans.
CL: And only at one point does Liam lament: “I’m really curious if anyone is ever going to love me for me.” And then Harry at one point says: “I have to admit that I don’t always love it.” That’s the closest that any of them comes to, like, recognizable human emotions, and not just joy or gratitude. So I don’t know that I really learned a whole lot. I learned their names — you didn’t even learn their names!
AN: They don’t seem to have a drive for music, which is weird. You didn’t feel that they had to be singers — it’s kind of, like, they really enjoyed being famous. Especially because they don’t even write their own songs.
CL: Justin Bieber wrote his own songs. Say what you will about him, he wrote: “Baby, baby, baby, oh.”
AN: That’s a lot of syllables. … It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. Which one of them is going to be the one that comes out of the closet? ‘Cause there’s gonna be at least one. Which one is going to be the one that gets the drug problem? I mean, it’s not going to end well. Which one is going to be the one that everyone forgets about?
CL: And which one becomes Justin Timberlake? Because there’s going to be that, too.
AN: I bet Harry.
CL: I was gonna say, it’s gotta be Harry, right?
AN: Although Harry could also be the drug-addict one, too.
CL: That’s true. They’re not mutually exclusive.
“The Act of Killing” has inspired so much passionate praise and such emotional reactions that I knew I had to see it, and I knew it was the kind of meaty movie I’d have to talk about afterward to make sense of it all. Hence, I’m launching a new feature here at ChristyLemire.com: Movies With Friends. It’s exactly what the name suggests — I go see a movie with a friend, then we have a drink somewhere and discuss it.
My first Movies-With-Friends friend is Vince Grashaw, producer and co-star of the 2011 micro-budget drama “Bellflower” (which I loved) who’s just directed his first feature, “Coldwater.” Vince likes dark, intense films, so I figured that a documentary in which Indonesian mass murderers recreate their acts of genocide on camera would be right up his alley. We saw director Joshua Oppenheimer’s deeply disturbing film Sunday afternoon in a packed audience at Cinefamily, followed by a long chat over vodka gimlets down the street at The Kibitz Room, the excellent dive bar next door to Canter’s deli.
Here’s the good stuff from our conversation, over the din of AC/DC and the Rolling Stones. FYI, there may be some spoilers:
CL: What did you know about this movie going into it? I didn’t read any reviews, but people I trust and respect on Twitter were saying it was devastating and life-altering.
VG: I had heard it was a game changer in terms of documentaries. And I knew that Tim League was putting it out — I’m starting to really like Drafthouse movies.
CL: They choose interesting, eclectic stuff. You can’t really put a finger on what is a Drafthouse film — it’s always good but it’s a wide range of stuff.
VG: Yeah, but I think he’s starting to come up with his own niche. … One of the things about this movie, in terms of when you’re making a movie that’s really violent — I can see, ’cause I’ve directed violent shit — you’re excited when things are being done well. There’s this weird kind of rush you get. And not just violent stuff, but when it’s going well. It was the first time where I felt like, that guy in reality (lead executioner Anwar Congo), he must have been feeling that way when he was doing it.
VG: Yeah. Just totally satisfied. And it was just interesting, the whole end of the film, him coming to terms with the whole thing. I mean, I was expecting that in a way.
CL: I wasn’t necessarily.
VG: Really? It’s so weird because it’s real and it’s a documentary but I love the part where he’s like, puking, or trying to throw up at the end. I was just like, what is happening?
CL: That’s his catharsis. He’s so wrenched with guilt or remorse or fear or whatever it is that is overtakes him. So does this live up to the hype?
VG: Yeah, definitely. Every time they’re shooting one of those crazy scenes of the reenactments — especially when it’s groups of people and children — sometimes I’m like, wait, is this real?
CL: And are the emotions real?
VG: Right. The kids’ emotions are obviously real. And I felt like with these grown men, there’s still a sense of like, they don’t care. There’s a kind of disregard for them. Those kids are bawling because they think their parents are being murdered, right there. I mean, they’re reenactments.
CL: The emotions are real for them.
VG: For the children, right. I don’t think they were really considerate to it. And that third guy, the one who was saying he would rape a 14-year-old girl …
CL: How much of that is real, though, and how much of that is bravado — all these guys beating their chests and bragging?
VG: It’s almost like they see their own celebrity, too. And I bet you while the documentary was shooting, that was just being refueled more and more.
CL: Reliving their glory days, as it were.
VG: Like, (Congo) bragging and showing his grandchildren that scene …
CL: I viewed that at first a little squeamishly, like, why would you show this to your grandchildren, yourself being tortured? And then I thought, this must be a teaching moment in his eyes to show them: This is what I did, this is the depth of humanity. … It’s all so meta, though. It’s a film that knows it’s a film, and it has these reenactments where, in theory, the emotions are all fake because they’re all just acting. But again, the real feelings bubble up after all these decades. The blurring of reality is really disturbing, and yet there are these moments of release when they’re done. So much is going on emotionally in this film.
VG: And I feel like there’s this whole commentary with that and violence in movies. I remember you doing a story about the shooting in the movie theater …
CL: Oh, when “The Dark Knight Rises” came out.
VG: Yeah, and how violence in film, this and that, and for me, violence in film is a form of expression. I had said I’d hate for that to be stripped from any filmmaker because that’s a form of expression. Like these guys reenacting it — it was kind of a release to them.
CL: But they look to movie anti-heroes for almost, like, a playbook of what to do. The people they look up to are Brando and Pacino. … What do you make of the interludes where the kind of heavyset guy is in drag with the dancers? Is that for some kind of comic relief because it would be just too intense otherwise? What’s that about, do you think?
VG: You know what? I was gonna ask you that. I really couldn’t tell, because that guy was involved in some of the actual reenactments and he was, like, a cross-dressing fat man.
CL: I wonder if it’s just to reinforce that everything is artifice — things that are beautiful and things that are ugly.
VG: I think still, in their eyes, it’s all exciting and they’re glorifying it because there are no consequences.