Friday, July 29, 2011

Friends With Benefits

When I first saw the trailer for the new film “Friends with Benefits” I could help but think, “Haven't I see this movie already? It came out back in January and was called 'No Strings Attached' , and it was a confused mess.” That's right, two movies in the same year with the same sex-without-emotional-attachment concept both starring members of the cast of “That 70's Show”. “But hey,” I thought, “At least it will be fun to write a bad review of it.” Of course what I didn't know is that it was directed by Will Gluck (“Easy A”); had I known that I might have gone in with higher expectations.

Mila Kunis (“The Book of Eli”) plays Jamie, a corporate recruiter who is trying to lure Dylan (Justin Timberlake: “The Social Network”) to New York to interview for a position with GQ magazine. She manages to win him over, and he trades his Los Angeles life for a new home in New York.

Of course the only person that Dylan knows in New York, aside from his new employees, is Jamie, and seeing as neither of them have much luck with dating due to their various personality issues they begin to hang out regularly. After a night of drinking and watching a hilariously bad romantic comedy (starring Jason Segel and Rashida Jones from ”I Love You, Man”) the discussion turns to sex as an activity instead of as an expression of emotion. The discussion quickly turns to an action, and the pair's emotion-free relationship begins.

“Friends With Benefits” wants to be to romantic comedies what the original “Scream” was to horror films; it completely takes the piss out of the genre while still being faithful to it. “No Strings Attached” sort of tried to do this by including ever RomCom trope ever into one film, and it ended up being a complete mess of a film, but this movie finds its focus and sticks with it. There are no zany best friends in this film, no beta couple, no jerkass trying to steal the heart of one of the main couple; it's just two people trying to be best friends who just happen to have sex with each other... a lot.

Of course the lack of wacky best friends and beta couples doesn't mean there is no supporting cast; there's a very strong one in fact. Through the course of the film we get to meet Jamie's mother (Patricia Clarkson: “Easy A”, Dylan's father (Richard Jenkins : “Six Feet Under”, “Hall Pass”), sister (Jenna Elfman: “Dharma and Greg), and nephew (Nolan Gould: “Modern Family”). Of course it would'nt be right to not mention who might be the funniest actor in the entire film: Woody Harrelson (”Zombieland”) as Tommy, GQ's manic sports editor.

There are also a lot of really fun cameos sprinkled throughout the film. Aside from Jason Segal and Rashida Jones, keep an eye our for appearances by Masi Oka (“Heroes”), Andy Samberg (”I Love You, Man”), Emma Stone (”Zombieland”, “Easy A”), and a very unusual appearance by Olympic athlete Shaun White.

While this movie is not ultimately as good as “Easy A”, it does manage to keep some of the fast-paced humour, as well as a loving willingness to mock its own genre. The movie's only real weakness is when they try to cram some conflict into the film. Even this stuff is entertaining, but it does not feel particularly natural, and it has a negative effect on the quality of the story.

At 109 minutes, “Friends With Benefits” is probably longer than it should be, but chances are that you'll be enjoying it enough to not notice. Its a fast, funny, crude movie that eschews Easy A's walking of the PG-13 boundaries for full-on R rated language and even a bit of nudity (and not all of it Justin Timberlake's arse). What it's not however is a must see. Compared to “No Strings Attached” it's an absolute masterpiece, but taken on its own it's nothing to get too excited about. I don't suggest paying full theater dollars for this, but it is certainly worth giving a rent.

“Friends With Benefits” is in theaters now.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

If You're Going to Complain

If you are from California then you probably are aware of our current budgetary issues. Governor Brown did exactly what he said he was going to do: pass a “balanced” budget (there is plenty of debate on just how balanced it is, but it's certainly the closest we've come in a long, long time). Unfortunately he could only do this by deeply cutting a lot of things that effect all of us since he was not allowed to do much of anything to increase state revenue.

As a result of this “austere” budget, we are facing cuts to our police, fire departments, schools, courts, the DMV, schools, universities, etc are all facing severe budget cuts which mean, in the case of universities, increased fees, and in the case of pretty much everything else a cut in services and lay-offs. These changes are not something the public at large is finding pleasant, and the fact of the matter is that it's going to get a whole lot worse.

I'm not writing to talk about the budget cuts per say, nor about who I hold responsible (although if you want to know, I think the issue is that we need to increase revenue, so you can probably guess who I give the lion's share of the responsibility to); instead I want to talk about the public's reaction to this.

Everyday the news has stories now about people whinging about these cuts and tuition increases, at least they do when they can find space between talking about Jaycee Dugard, that Anthony woman (Guilty? Innocent? I don't care), and the recent royal visit. They show footage of protests at universities, upset members of the community who don't like fire station brown outs, or police cuts, and of course there's always teachers ready to yell for the cameras.

No protestors to show? Well, the news has a back-up plan when this happens. When there are no indignant members of the public to show, they simply focus on how much the heads of various agencies make. The head of one of the State Universities makes four-hundred thousand a year? Yeah, that's a lot, probably too much, but do you know what the effect of cutting his pay would be on the tuition of individual students? No, neither do I, but I know it's not going to be more than a few dollars, which is to say that it's only a drop in the bucket.

Now I'm not saying that drops in the bucket don't count, enough drops can eventually fill a bucket, but that if you, my fellow Californians, wish to complain, at least complain to the right people. Who are those people you ask? The legislators. You know, the folks who actually passed the budget. The folks who were not willing to compromise at all. The folks who had the opportunity to at least let us vote on continuing already existing taxes, but would not. The folks who are more interested in trying to make their political opponents look bad than they are in doing what is best for their constituents. The folks we voted for!

In the interest in full disclosure, I am a government employee, and my agency has been heavily hit by these cuts. Even our agency head (who is undoubtedly overpaid, but even if he worked for free it would not fill the budget hole) has said that layoffs are likely, so now we get to wait and see what comes of discussions between the agency and the union (both of whom still seem more interested in making the other look like the bad guy than anything else) to see if I, and a lot of my co-workers, get to keep our jobs.

Still, I'm not writing this to get your pity (although if you have an opening for a smartarse writer, let me know), I've just grown very tired of seeing the news completely miss the point about what the real problem is. It's not unions, it's not overpaid management (they are a problem, but at this point it's like complaining about a leaky faucet while the stove is on fire), and it's certainly not the workers. It's the people who control the money, so stop protesting against the wrong people, and let your elected officials know that you are not happy, and what you are willing to do about it. Are you happy with reduced police protection, longer lines at the DMV, the courts, and wherever else you may wait in line? Then let them know you're cool with it. Are you willing to pay a little more in taxes to continue receiving the services you're used to? Let them know that. It may not ultimately do any good, but at least you'll be bitching out the right people.

Of course this wouldn't be a ramble if I did not put something completely off-topic into it, and that usual off-topic thing is my writing. I am still in process of working on a second draft of the Typewriter Challenge story.

Yes, that would be the story I intended to finish the second draft of back in May, but I am not finished with the first half of the climax, so there's only about ten pages to go, then I just need to come up with a better title. I am happier about the final conflict in this version, as I totally had the scale of the scene off originally (and I was not about to retype four pages to fix it at that point). As for the title, it is currently called “That Type of Adventure”, but I really want to come up with something better.

Finally, for now anyway, it's state fair time here in California, and the weather was really nice for the start of it this year. I may or may not do a proper blog post about it later, but I do have a growing collection of pictures from it on both my Facebook and my Google+ if you are interested.

I guess that's about it for now. Remember to tell your friends to read “Mallville”, as it's still up there in all of its first draft gloryt, and until we talk again: don't trust the darkness.