Movie Review: ‘What Men Want’ Mines Humor, But Not Much Else, From Its Gender-Flipped Premise

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CREDIT: Paramount Pictures

Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Aldis Hodge, Tracy Morgan, Josh Brener, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Tamala Jones, Phoebe Robinson, Max Greenfield, Jason Jones, Kellan Lutz, Brian Bosworth, Chris Witaske, Erykah Badu

Director: Adam Shankman

Running Time: 117 Minutes

Rating: R for Aggressive Sex, Alpha Dog Profanity, and Bachelorette Party Drug Imbibing

Release Date: February 8, 2019

The ability to read minds is a rich comic premise. That holds true even when it is done in the service of outdated ideas about gender differences, or in service of a more enlightened view of gender differences, which perhaps demonstrates that any grand statement on this topic is quite possibly a folly. While saying “men are like this, but women are like THIS” can easily be a problematic minefield, as long as you show the distance between what characters say and what they leave unsaid, the formula for laughs is there. What Men Want does not screw that formula up, at least not completely. But does it offer anything more than raucous unintentional confessionals?

I have not seen What Women Want, but from what I know about it, it cannot be so easily pinned as too reliant on stereotypes or a deconstruction of said stereotypes. The same is true of What Men Went. Taraji P. Henson plays Ali Davis, a sports agent who can match her male colleagues in alpha dog aggressiveness, but she is struggling to make partner at her agency, and it is clear that that is because of assumptions of what women can or should do in a professional setting. Frankly, she does not need to read minds to know that, as she is already a decent judge of character anyway. Ultimately, her newfound ability is little more than a parlor trick. What she really needs to be able to get over the humps in her personal and professional lives is to fully listen to what the people who truly care about her are saying, which is not the same thing as hearing their thoughts.

That is a valuable lesson, but also fairly pedestrian considering the unusual circumstances. What Men Want is not fundamentally obvious, but it does feel like a bit of a wasted opportunity, because its premise is not really essential to its conclusion. Luckily, these types of movies are often reliable for memorable side characters, and we have got some delightfully kooky ones here. In particular, Tracy Morgan more or less plays himself as the father of a top NBA prospect, spouting claims like how Abraham Lincoln was “part Eskimo” and Richard Nixon “shot and ate a panda.” And then there is Erykah Badu as a self-made psychic/weed dealer, gloriously mystical and loopy as ever.

What Men Want is Recommended If You Like: Taraji P. Henson Upgrading Average Material, Tracy Morgan Running His Mouth, Erykah Badu at her zaniest

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Head Konks

This Is a Movie Review: Ralph Breaks the Internet

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CREDIT: Disney

Ralph Breaks the Internet presents a remarkably satisfying and accurate (such as it is) cinematic version of the Internet (minus all the porn, of course). It’s filled to the brim with buzzy avatars representing pushy autofill, distracting suggested ads, and the like. There are also scores of little blue birds tweeting a bunch of nonsense (there should probably be even more of those). If the references look like they will be instantly dated, look again, and see that it is actually an ouroboros/phoenix of eternal present and unceasing nostalgia constantly eating itself and being reborn. The story zips along weightily with the technical dangers of a connected world grounded metaphorically in the emotional lives of Ralph and Vanellope. And the much-hyped inclusion of all the Disney Princesses is more significant than expected, with the ladies proving to be narratively essential as they also remain thematically true to themselves. All in all, as much as constant connectivity has transformed society (often for the worse), Ralph Breaks the Internet demonstrates that there is still room for friendship.

I give Ralph Breaks the Internet 23,000 Hearts out of 27272 Viruses.

This Is a Movie Review: Hidden Figures

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hidden-figures-janelle-monae-taraji-p-henson-octavia-spencer

This post was originally published on News Cult in December 2016.

Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst

Director: Theodore Melfi

Running Time: 126 Minutes

Rating: PG for the Everyday Realities of Racism

Release Date: December 25, 2016 (Limited), Expands Nationwide January 6, 2017

Hidden Figures tells the true stories of African-American mathematicians Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, who were essential employees to NASA during the Space Race. Let me reiterate: this is a TRUE story, but somehow these ladies are not an iconic part of the fabric of American history. Surely, there is institutional sexism and racism at play here, but less insidiously, there is also the fact that most workers at NASA who remained on the ground are not household names. But also, come on! – Katherine Johnson was John Glenn’s trusty confidant, relying on her for accurate calculations during his time in the stars.

As Hidden Figures kicks off, we know we are in good hands. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe (Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson, respectively) are stuck on the side of the road due to a broken-down car while on their way to work. I think I speak for most of humanity when I say I would happily watch these ladies just hang out and do anything. The white Virginia traffic cop who pulls up to inspect their situation apparently feels the same way. This scene looks like it is about to play out like a typical example of civil rights-era Southern racism, but instead the officer is impressed that these ladies know their science and offers them an escort service.

This is how much of the film plays out. The racism and sexism these “hidden figures” experience are institutional and not personal except insofar as any instance of discrimination is personal. Everyone in this story wants to see America succeed above the clouds, and these women meet resistance only when their efforts get in the way of standard practice. For Henson, that means a hilarious/heartbreaking routine of racing 20 minutes each way across the NASA campus to the nearest colored restroom. Indignities like these are eventually beaten into submission, and the crowd-pleasing meter is constantly at its highest level.

I would be remiss not to mention the wholesome and sweet love story between Katherine, a single mother widower, and her second husband Jim. I don’t know if the real-life Johnsons are as gorgeous as Taraji P. Henson and Mahershala Ali, but I am convinced that they must have been. Otherwise, Henson and Ali are miracle workers.

Hidden Figures is the sort of movie that you take your mother to see because you know she is going to love it. It is also the type of movie whose relatively unambitious filmmaking techniques you might criticize, or at least excuse. But in the case of a story as inspiring as this one, that feels unnecessarily petty. Hidden Figures does not gussy itself up, because it will be inspiring even without all the frills. Besides, putting on such airs would be anathema to its humble origins.

Hidden Figures is Recommended If You LikeApollo 13A League of Their OwnThe Help

Grade: 3.75 out 5 Hammers to Racism

 

2015 Emmy Nominations Predictions and Wishlist

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For my detailed thoughts on my predictions and wishlists in the major Drama, Comedy, and Variety categories, check out these links:
Comedy
Drama
Variety

Guest Actor, Comedy
John Hawkes, Inside Amy Schumer
Michael Rapaport, Louie
Chris Gethard, Parks and Recreation
Dwayne Johnson, Saturday Night Live

Guest Actress, Comedy
Susie Essman, Broad City

Guest Actor, Drama
Mel Rodriguez, Better Call Saul

Guest Actress, Drama
Allison Janney, Masters of Sex
Linda Lavin, The Good Wife

Directing, Comedy
Rob Schrab, “Modern Espionage,” Community

Directing, Drama
Adam Arkin, “The Promise,” Justified

Writing, Comedy
Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna, “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television,” Community

Writng, Drama
Thomas Schnauz, “Pimento,” Better Call Saul

Animated Program
Bojack Horseman – “Downer Ending”
American Dad! – “Dreaming of a White Porsche Christmas”
The Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror XXV”

Commercial
Android – “Friends Furever”

Host – Reality/Reality Competition
RuPaul, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”

Interactive Program
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Main Title Design
Man Seeking Woman

Single-Camera Picture Editing, Comedy
Bojack Horseman – “Downer Ending”

Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Program
Too Many Cooks
Billy On The Street With First Lady Michelle Obama, Big Bird And Elena!!!

Stunt Coordination for a Comedy Series or a Variety Program
Community

Special Visual Effects in a Supporting Role
Man Seeking Woman – “Traib”

SNL Recap April 11, 2015: Taraji P. Henson/Mumford & Sons

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My full review of this episode can be found on Starpulse: http://www.starpulse.com/news/Jeffrey_Malone/2015/04/12/saturday-night-live-season-40-episode-

Hillary Clinton (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – B+

Taraji P. Henson’s Monologue – B

Depend Legends – B

Hot for Teacher: The Janet Johnson-Luna Civil Trial – B-

Dreamworks Sneak Peek: Home 2 – B-

QVC – C+

Game of Thrones South Centros – C-

Mumford & Sons – “The Wolf” – B+

Weekend Update
The Jokes– B
Cecilia Gimenez – B-
Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy – C+

Hollywood Game Night – C-

How 2 Dance with Janelle – C+

Sesame Street – B-

Cinema Classics – B-

Mumford & Sons – “Believe” – B

Connectatron – C