Culture Feature

Happy Festivus: An Airing of Grievances Against 2020

We got a lot of problems with this year, and now you're gonna hear about it!

It's December 23rd again, which means that once again it's time to ditch the distracting tinsel, reject the commercialism of Christmas — the hordes worshipping at the alter of consumer capitalism — and celebrate the only holiday for the rest of us: Festivus!

There are many ways to celebrate this venerable holiday: You can erect a traditional Festivus Pole — we recommend aluminum for its very high strength-to-weight ratio or you could make a generous donation to The Human Fund. And of course Festivus isn't over until the Feats of Strength are completed.

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Jerry Stiller, a mainstay of the American comedy world since the 1960s, has died of natural causes at 92 years old.

His son, Ben Stiller, an actor and comedy legend in his own right, tweeted confirmation of his father's death on May 11.

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FILM

10 Best Celebrity Cameos in Movies

Impress your friends by identifying major celebrities in movies.

Dreamworks Pictures

Every movie buff loves a great cameo.

A well-placed cameo can even be the highlight of an already great film. Who doesn't love turning to their movie-watching partner and whisper-shouting, "GADZOOKS! THAT'S (insert person you recognize)!" We've compiled the 10 best movie cameos of all time (in no particular order). Check them out and then go impress your friends with your crazy movie knowledge.

Ben Stiller in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Dreamworks Pictures

Anchorman had a ton of great cameos, but none of them beat Ben Stiller as Arturo Mendez of the Spanish Language News Team. Just breathe in that mustache.

TV Lists

The 7 Worst TV Shows Coming in 2019, Based on Their Terrible Descriptions

James Corden probably sleeps at CBS Studios, Rob Lowe is a "Mental Samurai," and Jennifer Carpenter was definitely on Dexter.

Bad TV is a career-killing disease that turns celebrity death rattles into song.

In 2019, the sickness will spread gangrenous reality TV and perpetuate the vicious myth that all small towns are full of human interest stories. The lineup of new shows coming to prime-time is one long fever dream featuring Rob Lowe's puns, sub-par government espionage, and Frankenstein's monster solving murders.

We all deserve apologies for these 7 upcoming shows:

1.The World's Best (CBS, February 3)

WNBS

Mark Darnell at CBS says he's "coming for" NBC's crown with a talent competition to rival America's Got Talent. With James Corden somehow hosting this in addition to The Late Late Show, the hodgepodge panel of judges includes RuPaul, Faith Hill, and Drew Barrymore. Soon there will be a reality TV show pitting all the talent competition shows against each other, a Most Dangerous Game of network bigwigs in which Darnell hunts Simon Cowell.

2. The Enemy Within (NBC, February 25)

Ain't it Cool News

Remember how Jennifer Carpenter used to be on Dexter? Apparently, now she's starring as "former CIA agent Erica Wolfe, the most notorious traitor in modern history and most hated woman in America." Yes, her new character is let out of federal supermax prison to "help the FBI stop some of the most dangerous acts of espionage threatening the United States today," but mostly, Jennifer Carpenter once played a detective on Dexter.

3. Mental Samurai (Fox, February 26)

YouTube

Who better to host a reality show professing to "push every aspect of human intelligence and mental agility" than Rob Lowe? Contestants will tackle an obstacle course that somehow "tests their knowledge, memory, numbers, and sequencing," as well as the precision and speed of their answers. Rob Lowe is their leader, because he and Ken Jennings are probably a lot alike.

4. The Village (NBC, March 12)

The Knockturnal

NBC continues its role as America's middle school guidance counselor with another show about people from disparate backgrounds sharing "hopeful, heartwarming, and challenging stories...that prove family is everything, even if it's the one you make with the people around you." This show's set in a "unique" apartment building in Brooklyn, where the compelling takeaway is that people as diverse as a single mother, a veteran, and a young immigrant can all get along.

5. Abby's (NBC, March 28)

IMDB

The best bar in this probably quaint small town is Abby's (Natalie Morales) backyard, "the perfect gathering place for locals to find camaraderie and sanctuary." We want the best for Morales (BoJack Horseman, Parks and Recreation), so the trailer makes us sad.

6. In the Dark (CW, April 4)

CW

Instead of the CW network developing storylines that slowly mature with its primarily teenage audience, they're combining coming-of-age elements with Law & Order: Criminal Intent and hoping it works itself out. In the Dark stars a "flawed and irreverent woman who just happens to be blind and is the only 'witness' to the murder of her drug-dealing friend, Tyson. When the police dismiss her story, she sets out with her dog, Pretzel, to find the killer while also managing her colorful dating life and the job she hates at Breaking Blind—the guide-dog school owned by her overprotective parents." The final incongruity: it's executive produced by Ben Stiller and Michael Showalter, so it's a funny but serious crime drama that's also about living with your parents.

7. Frankenstein (CBS, Unannounced)

TV Watch US

It's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein set in modern day San Francisco. Just kidding, it's Frankenstein retold as a detective story. Still worse, it's an abomination of both. Detective Frankenstein "is mysteriously brought back to life after being killed in the line of duty. But as he resumes his old life and he and his wife realize he isn't the same person he used to be, they zero in on the strange man behind his resurrection – Dr. Victor Frankenstein." It gets worse; it's not even unique. In 2015, Fox developed the short-lived drama The Frankenstein Code on the same premise. Jason Tracey and Rob Doherty of Elementary are the inventors of this nightmare.


Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.


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FILM & TV

FILM | 'Brad's Status' is a bit of a problem. What was Ben Stiller thinking?

REVIEW | Is this how millennials will feel in twenty years?

A phrase rarely uttered in Hollywood is, "There just aren't enough movies about white men."

That's because it wouldn't be true. Despite the conversations that are frequently being had in arts communities about the diversity issue on screen, it isn't one we necessarily see being revolutionized anytime soon based on the box office features list. However, this begs the question of whether or not a film should be considered poor because it is simply doing nothing new, or if it's bad for artistry reasons.

Enter Brad's Status, the latest flick in the portfolio of Mike White, previously known for his work on School of Rock, The Good Girl, and surprisingly, The Emoji Movie this past summer. It stars Ben Stiller as the titular character, a middle-aged man who runs a non-profit and lives in the seemingly sad Sacramento, California, questioning what he has accomplished and the decisions he's made in life over the course of his son's college tours in Massachusetts. "Anxious" mostly likely would be the word the film and its creator would use to describe the energy surrounding the story. "Self-interested" might be a better call.

Brad worries about money, and his son's future, and just about everything else, too. When he realizes Troy has the right set of skills and talents to make it into Harvard through the music program, Brad wants to work in every way to accomplish it. However, he also flips back and forth between admitting the reality of the situations he's in and how much they suck compared to how his friends live.


A token of what seem like cameo appearances arise throughout as Brad thinks about the lives of his more successful former college friends, a group as twisted up on the inside as they seem content on the outside. Craig (Michael Sheen) is a D.C. insider-turned-writer who's as dated as they come in ideology and also miserable at home. Jason (Luke Wilson) runs a massively successful hedge-fund with a beautiful wife and family by his side, until one of the children gets sick and his financial crimes come back to bite him. Billy (Jemaine Clement) was able to retire at forty after selling his tech company, but his time on the beaches of Maui with his two bikini-clad girlfriends is only a mask for his severe alcohol and drug addictions. The only exception to this pattern is Nick, played by Director White, who we never hear about being any less posh and placid than he and his husband appear in their Architectural Digest spread.

In short, the lives we think we desire are not always the lives we actually would like to live.

Brad comes to this conclusion more than once during the film, realizing that he wouldn't have wanted to marry anyone other than his simple, loving wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer), nor would he have given up the time spent with his son. The problem is that his lesson does not stick, and instead makes audiences sit through scene after scene of his winded narrations about the pros and cons of his life. In things we could have just as easily seen play out on camera we must hear in Brad's head, whether he's getting dinner or sitting up in his insomniac ways at night.

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The acting in this film redeems the at times petty plot lines. Despite Brad's almost textbook blandness and un-favorability, Stiller keeps us open to his ability to lighten up and be grateful almost through to the end, as we watch him crawl back into the bed (the same place we found him in the opening scenes, the place he leaves around the midpoint to try and find more meaning to his life) and reflect on what he's "learned." The only positive for the heavy narration may be that it is so super-imposed we blame the filmmaker and not the character for its burden. This is also likely to be a breakout role for relative newcomer Austin Abrams. Stiller might have had our hearts, but Abrams steals them each time he forgives and comforts his dysfunctional father, somehow managing to be a truly genuine kid while still coming off as totally normal. It's subtle and it's superb.

The problems Brad's Status looks to address are out there, but modernity has encouraged us to turn a blind eye to them, the way you might to a suburban children's soccer game. These issues don't require the massive platform they're given here to play out on. That's not to say there's nothing to be showcased in the common male midlife crisis. It's instead to confidently defend that there are stranger turns this film could have dabbled in taking that perhaps wouldn't have left me as lethargic and in need of my bed as Brad.

Brad's Status will be released limitedly September 15th via Amazon Studios.

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FILM & TV

“The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” at Cannes Film Festival

FILM | The buddy film brings Netflix to the big screen and showcases a big, tumultuous, relatable family

There are numerous films about confusing, complicated families based on the simple reason that they tend to narratively work.

Such films perform especially well when the family is eccentric and privileged enough that their emotional problems take center stage to larger worldly issues looming in the background. "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)" is no exception to this general rule of thumb in storytelling.

Debuting at the Cannes Film Festival, "The Meyerowitz Stories" chronicles the story of three adult siblings — Danny, Jean, and Matthew — in a blended family who are brought back together after their aging father, Harold, becomes faced with health issues. It's the latest work from Noah Baumbach of "Kicking & Screaming" and "Mistress America" fame, and incorporates a cast of familiar faces including Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, and Ben Stiller.

From their chemistry in the film and their tears at the premier, it is clear that the set of the film was composed of friends who wanted to be working on a project together. For right or for wrong, it makes it a pleasure to watch. Using the format of different chapters, the film explores the individual stories of the members of the Meyerowitz family, outlining each person's virtues and their vices and how they're connected to the other members.

We first learn of Danny (Sandler in arguably his most mature role to date), an aging musician who has never lived up to his full potential and is now in the middle of a divorce without a home or a job to his name. His one victory is his delightful daughter, Eliza (played by talented newcomer Grace Van Patten), a first year film student at Bard.

COURTESY OF THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

We then see Harold (a terrific Hoffman), the patriarch of the Meyerowitz clan, and his fourth wife Maureen (an almost unrecognizable Emma Thompson), and learn about Harold's struggles with aging as a mediocre artist and a retired sculpting professor. It's a pain he takes out on all of his children, holding them up as failures as he struggles to acknowledge perhaps he is a failure, too. The one he favors is the one who differs most from the rest, Matter (Stiller), a "personal wealth" consultant living on the West Coast and far away from the familial tension.

The siblings must reconnect when Harold becomes hospitalized due to a head injury. They find themselves working together to curate a show of their father's work and being faced with the issues no one wants to confront, such as whether or not Danny is a failure for never having seriously pursued his music talents or if Matthew is repeated the same absent behavior with his son that Harold did with Danny and Jean. Slowly, they learn about forgiveness, about love, and about the process of moving forward. It's played out slowly and untidy enough that it feels authentic. Even when Harold eventually recovers and the siblings cease their mental preparations for his loss, much of the tension remains on whether the ability to apologize is as easy as the act of saying such.

COURTESY OF THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL

The biggest shortcoming in the film is the limited serious screen time given to the female characters. Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) is arguably the most interesting Meyerowitz offspring, but is never given the attention from her parents or from the camera that she deserves. The other characters in the film are consistently claiming they have no idea where Jean's opinion is on family matters, and are admittedly shocked when she reveals to having had an awkward sexual experience in her youth with a friend of her father's, but it never occurs to them to ask her thoughts. Both Maureen and Harold's second ex-wife, Julia (a brief appearance by Candice Bergen) can be considered flighty and irrational in their decision making. And despite the frequent praise Eliza is given as a filmmaker, her incredibly erotic, poorly edited shorts are clearly intended to ensue audience laughter and not to help us respect her art. The focus of the film could afford the same lesson the parents in the film need: spread your attention more equally to all of your children.

Aside from the content, the discussion about the film's distribution through Netflix is something new for competition features in Cannes. "The Meyerowitz Stories" was originally backed by IAC Films and then later acquired by the streaming service, resulting in the film being shot just like any other indie film. Rather than hurt the project, as Cannes purists suggest, this move seems to be able to help the film garner a wider audience in a multimedia culture.

Regardless of whether people will be watching in their local art house theatre or on their couches in their pajamas, larger audiences will likely turn out to see "The Meyerowitz Stories" when it is widely released because of its ability to connect to a universal message of family drama — or at least they should, in order to feel better about their own parents and siblings.

A complete list of films in competition for the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the Palm d'Or, is available on the festival's website, as is a press conference with the team from "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)."

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