Listen to My New Podcast: Made Up Movies

My friend Mike Kolar and I have a new podcast for you. (You might remember our previous podcast collaboration, Bunker Brothers, an audio drama sitcom about two half-brothers whose dead dad left them an underground bunker.) On our new show, Made Up Movies, listeners submit fake movie ideas, and we review them as if they are actually real. It’s a fun mix of improv, movie tropes, and listener participation, and it’s already gaining a loyal fanbase.

Our listeners have submitted movie ideas like Zombie Guitar, a horror comedy about a wannabe musician possessed by a dead rock star, and Unhappy Meal, a Bulgarian rip-off of Die Hard set entirely in a McDonald’s. We use our amazing improv skills to review the movies like we actually watched them, coming up with the plot of the movies in real-time, all for your listening enjoyment.

Made Up Movies is available now on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Please consider listening, subscribing, and leaving a positive review to help us grow the show. If you’re interested in submitting a Made Up Movie idea, shoot us a tweet @madeupmoviespod on Twitter.

Movie Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming


Like Wonder Woman before it, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun-filled adventure that falls apart under scrutiny, more a movie theater equivalent of a Disneyland ride than a fully formed story. What keeps the action piping along is the charismatic acting and winsome dialogue that manages to genuinely capture the quippy character of Spider-Man. Star Tom Holland works well, but baddie Michael Keaton shines especially brightly in this flick. It’s just that- as the third film incarnation of Spider-Man in the past fifteen years, and the umpteenth film under the Marvel Cinematic Universe umbrella, certain aspects of the movie feel tired, if not wholly redundant.

Much was said about how Homecoming wouldn’t be an origin story, but in terms of how adept the web-slinger is with his abilities, it might as well be. Spidey stumbles, slips, slides and argues his way out of jams so consistently that he feels more like Spider-Twerp than Man. Again, Keaton is the real star of the show here. Not to disparage Holland’s performance, which is wonderful in its own right, but Keaton pushes the MCU into Oscar-worthy acting, a feat previous performers have failed to accomplish. His sinister sneer and hard-luck, working-class-hero routine alternate keenly to give the MCU something it’s been sorely lacking- a villain with some measure of depth. Keaton has the skill of taking even the most generic dialogue and infusing it with real, relatable character. Holland’s performance, for all its charm, never exceeds the bounds set in Captain America: Civil War.

Beyond the leads, Homecoming’s supporting cast is packed with lovable character actors and comedians. The casting and referential writing do a good job of playing bait-and-switch with the audience, hinting at the potential for certain players to take other forms in future films, but never revealing more than they need to. Most of these players inhabit Peter Parker’s school life, making the movie more coming-of-age comedy than superhero adventure. Compared to other Spider-flicks there’s less time slinging webs, and more time slinging one-liners.

The action is well-conceived, fairly inventive and occasionally well-shot, but never so iconic as the train sequence in Spider-Man 2. The movie is light on melodrama, choosing cerebral comedy and a few brief moments of visceral tension instead. A better Spider-Man movie might have borrowed some of the physical humor of Raimi’s films to fit more snugly into the same vibe as the raw physicality of Keaton’s drama, but that’s more of a nitpick than a glaring error.

The real glaring error is the hovering parental supervision of Tony Stark. The gag here is that Tony has Spidey on “training wheels” protocol, and the storytelling reiterates this fact constantly. Whenever there’s an opportunity for Spidey to be- dare I say, spectacular?- Tony swoops in and provides his trademark brand of ‘do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do’ lecturing. For a hero who was totally okay throwing Spidey against Captain America last time, (not to mention having a ten-year old rebuild his suit in Iron Man 3) this new, sterner Stark is more a deus-ex-killjoy than a wise-cracking mentor. Those hoping for scenes of Tony and Peter soaring through skyscrapers after a winged foe (and solving their differences) will be sorely disappointed.

The messaging of the movie is kind of corrupted by the randomness of Tony’s intrusions and the fact that character motivations stop mattering by the three-quarter mark. Keaton’s Vulture vows to kill Spider-Man around the same time a twist provides reason for him not to, but due to the necessity of a surprisingly sinister car ride scene, this logicality is ignored. Who needs to make sense when you have Keaton acting his ass off? A friend once criticized my writing by saying, “I guess nothing else matters so long as it’s funny,” and I see the point of his sarcasm here. Sometimes an acrobatic hero like Spidey bends so far backwards to get a reaction, the reasoning for it suffers.

This is not to say you will not enjoy Spider-Man. You’ll likely have a blast, as I did, for the most part. This just isn’t that perfect Spider-Man movie fans have been waiting for, in the sense that The Dark Knight is the perfect Batman film for many Bat-fans. Nothing in this movie sings as loudly or as memorably as that great airport fight in Civil War, though overall this story is more consistently enjoyable. And certainly this is leaps and bounds above the travesties of Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. This is more of an improvement on Amazing Spider-Man 1, a fun, watchable entry mostly distinguishable by its villain. But like many a Marvel movie, I was left hoping they’d get to the “really good part” in the next one. Knowing Marvel, there’ll be no short supply of “next ones” to keep that hope alive.

Birth of the Modern Comedy


Here’s a link to my new article about why I think The Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle are even funnier than Anchorman 2 This second sentence serves no purpose other than to make the previous link stand out. Let’s face it, you’re paying more attention to Jennifer Lawrence.

New Page: Production Stills

Picture 15_3 17676_570959426248230_1014731025_n HardcoreBillandGinaI am collecting all my still photographs from set and putting them on the PAGE marked PRODUCTION STILLS on the bar to the right. Sure, they have fewer frames than the videos, but there is something calming about knowing I’m not flailing around like a madman. I hope you enjoy!


Top Ten Best Movies of 2012

Here I will collect my thoughts on the creamiest of the cream of the crop. As we plunge further into Awards Season, it’s important to remember the dear-departed films of yesteryear. These are the movies I most enjoyed in 2012. Let me know if you agree or not by tweeting me @shorester.

I liked how the bong was a thermos. Genius!

10. The Cabin in the Woods

Director Drew Goddard surprised me many times in the best Whedon-fueled movie of the year. The Cabin in the Woods starts with the abrasive surreality of Funny Games then dips back toward rote idiocy, only to turn the tropes of the horror genre on their head in way that I wish Scream had. Reminiscent of the equally funny Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, this paint-by-numbers slasher picture evolves into a twisted tongue-in-cheek mind-bender. I loved the clever blend of horror and comedy. A movie so esoteric and strange, replete with genre meta-commentary is usually shot down at a scripting stage. Cabin‘s mere existence is proof that sometimes the filmmakers and the filmgoers are on exactly the same wavelength.

Argo Fuck Yourself!

9. Argo

Ben Affleck further proves his filmmaking prowess with Argo, a steeped-in-history yet too-juicy-to-be-true tale of espionage and Hollywood magic. Affleck stars as real life spy and award presenter Tony Mendez, the man behind one of the strangest and most roundabout escapes in history. Mendez enlists a team of Hollywood executives to build hype around a fake movie, a movie that will provide a cover story for the real operation: a rescue mission to save American hostages. The tense direction and wonderful cinematography make this movie more exciting than your average trip to the airport, although security is just as painstaking.


8. The Dark Knight Rises

Nay to ye haters! The Dark Knight Rises closes the Dark Knight trilogy in fine fashion, tying together the first film and the second nicely, while adding enough new elements to provide the necessary drama. As a fan of the franchise, I can’t help but praise the picture for its ability to accurately present a Batman story in the light I’ve always wanted to see: as if the old Animated Series had been brought to life, shot-for-shot. Sure there’s a gritty air of realism to it, but this is a cartoon, complete with the outlandish villains and their equally ridiculous plots to back it up. To those who claim Rises is a travesty in comparison to its predecessors, I will remind you: Batman never intended to be Oscar bait. Ledger raised it to that level. And insulting the follow-up for never matching an uncanny performance by an unmatchable actor is short-sighted. This movie makes no attempts to replace or undermine the power of The Joker’s role in this universe, only to show the next horrifying inevitability. Conquering the psychological torture of a madman was no easy feat, and overcoming the intense physical challenges of Bane is Batman’s final battle. Kudos to this flick for rounding out the Ra’as Al Ghul story line. Now let’s move on to Clayface.

WTF is Happiness Therapy? Also, I wish American movie titles were more honest like this too.

7. Silver Linings Playbook

This movie was a great surprise. The previews made it look like a romantic comedy, or an awkward dramedy, neither of which really fit the bill. This film is a character study with the same vibes and undertones as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. There can be no doubt that this is Bradley Cooper’s finest performance to date, and Jennifer Lawrence is unstoppably charming playing opposite him. It’s weirdly nice to see Chris Tucker again, even in a limited role. DeNiro’s father character begins fairly predictably then evolves into one of his gentlest and most nuanced performances. There’s a lot of good acting in this picture. The movie leaves you with a feeling that is far more pleasant than you’d expect from any movie about mental illness, and that includes another movie on this list. I enjoyed the ride throughout, and I hope that David O. Russell continues to innovate.

So Fresh! So Fierce! So UNSTOPPABLE.

6. Zero Dark Thirty

This film was predictable because I watched a lot of news last year. That being said, this movie is something of an upgrade from your standard episode of Homeland. Though it’s hard to say Claire Danes is any less talented than Jessica Chastain, the stakes are higher, and wouldn’t you know it, this all “really happened.” I put that in quotes because the CIA made me. They said if I claimed that Zero Dark Thirty is based on a true story they would do stuff to me that they would never ever admit that they would ever do to anyone. But you know what? They can kiss my {REDACTED}. I loved the emotional roller coaster of Zero Dark Thirty and would gladly compare the experience to a ride at Universal Studios, if the comparison didn’t make me feel so tawdry and cheap. We get it now. Katherine Bigalow knows how to direct a movie. Now can we stop forcing her to film in the desert? Give that poor woman a break!

What a great movie!

5. Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson is consistently one of my favorite directors, and this movie is nearly perfect. It’s a spirited love story with enough family drama to make it a spiritual prequel to The Royal Tenenbaums. Everything takes place in Anderson’s too-twee universe as usual, but this time the emotions are grounded like in Rushmore. Only the visuals feel pretty but unknowable. We hear two stories of star-crossed love and get funny performances out of wonderful actors. In some ways the whole thing feels like a response to the delightful innocence exhibited by Anderson’s so-called children’s movie, The Fantastic Mr. Fox. In the end, we’re left with a charming anecdote of a film that provides as much edgy humor as heart.


4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

This film was another surprise. I had not anticipated liking it, but having it recommended to me I gave it a shot. Perks is not only a great film, it’s a boundary pushing one. Sold to me as coming-of-age story with some American version of Hermione, I was shocked to discover that this film had more heart and integrity than most movies about full-grown humans. The hard part is discussing its emotional affect on the viewer without revealing too much of the plot, so I’ll simply say that once you’ve given your heart over to the characters, you’re in for a bumpy ride.

Cool Pic Bro

3. Beasts of the Southern Wild

I watched this movie with my family, and we all struggled to make heads or tails of it. It’s like a trip through the rabbit hole for people in the upper-middle class, and I think that’s why it’s so effective. Not only is it strange and sometimes wonderful to live with Hushpuppy and her family, it’s also tragic. Beasts is a microcosmic example of life’s beauty. All living things struggle to stay alive, and yet, what of the inherent futility? Beasts suggests that there can be delight in spite of the tragedy, and that the struggle for life can be beautiful in itself.

Let's Go Exploring!

2. Life of Pi

The sheer beauty and spectacle of the journey cannot be overstated. Everything fires on all cylinders, from the acting of the young lead to the special effects work abounding in every frame. Beyond the sheer sensory overload, there’s something magnificent about presenting an audience with a movie about religion that is non-denominational. It forces them to think and to consider the nature of faith without preconceptions. Even when the movie is heavy-handed or worse, intellectually stimulating, there’s something noble and artistic about Pi’s ability to communicate with the viewer visually. Life of Pi is a living work of art.

I guess I can see why he was so desperate to get back to her.

1. Django Unchained

An edgy, exciting movie no matter how you slice it, Django Unchained surpasses Inglorious Basterds in terms of skillful use of revisionist history. Django faces its controversy head on, forcing the viewer to do the same. Rather than shy away from the violence or brutality, Tarantino exemplifies it. But never does Tarantino want you to forget his purpose. This isn’t a Lincoln-like attempt to recreate minutia in detail. This is a character study by way of Kill Bill, a revenge picture with wonderful dialog and fantastic performances. Leonardo DiCaprio succeeds in shaking the dust off his character work, and Christoph Waltz shines as well. Jamie Foxx’s understated, restrained performance may deserve the most credit. Rather than embracing the blacksploitative origins of such a ’70’s-infused premise, Foxx plays Django as realistically as possible, giving a terse and evocative performance that provides the heart of the movie.

I did not see The Master or Cloud Atlas, so let that be known. I plan to, but it’s already February and therefore, far too late to wait on my account.