Sex Tape – A Review

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This has been, in my opinion, a pretty lackluster summer at the movies. Usually there are a bunch of summer blockbusters that I’m looking forward to seeing, but there hasn’t been very much this year that has captured my attention. I realized last night that I had not been to the movies in over a month, which is a really long time for me to take a break from going to the cinema. Part of that is that I’ve simply been really busy with concerts and other activities, but part of that I simply haven’t been in any big rush to see anything. There are some smaller films that I do want to check out – Chef and Belle top that list – but when it comes to big summer movies, the only thing that I’m really looking forward to is Guardians of the Galaxy in August. There have of course been big movies this year – I will never understand what people see in the awful Transformers franchise – but, other than 22 Jump Street, nothing that is even remotely appealing to me.

One film that I held out a glimmer of hope for was the new Jason Segel/Cameron Diaz comedy, Sex Tape. The previews looked pretty promising – watching Segal ask Siri how to give CPR to a dog was consistently funny – and I find the two stars particularly affable. The premise of a couple trying to get back their homemade sex tape that as accidentally distributed to all their friends and family had real comedic potential; enough so that I finally ended my month long hiatus from the movie theater and went to check out the first screening of the film.

Unfortunately, Sex Tape is not the movie that is going to turn around my summer doldrums at the cinema; despite all the ingredients being present for a theoretically hilarious movie, Sex Tape fell pretty flat. There were individually funny moments scattered throughout, but ultimately there weren’t enough laughs to make this a successful film. The likability of Segel and Diaz softened my criticism a bit, but this was a movie that just didn’t have much more to it other than a funny idea. It failed to perform, which is really the worst thing for a sex tape.

Diaz and Segel play married couple Jay and Annie who are in something of a rut; when they were dating they used to have sex all the time, but marriage and two children have cooled things off. When Annie’s blog may be purchased, the pair decided to celebrate by trying to spice things up and making a sex tape. When Jay fails to immediately delete the tape, it is inadvertently distributed to many people that they know and Jay and Annie try to scramble to delete the tape before anyone has the chance to view it. This of course leads to a comedy of errors and misunderstandings as the couple try to protect their privacy.

What was most surprising about Sex Tape is the lack of chemistry between Diaz and Segel; the two have worked together previously on Bad Teacher, but in a movie that is all about a couple’s sex life there is a lack of any real spark between the two of them. It’s hard to root for this couple when there isn’t any clear reason why they belong together other than the film tells us that they do. My inherent goodwill for both of these actors helped cover up some of this problem, but it wasn’t enough to completely eliminate it. I simply didn’t buy that the two of them were a couple that loved each other.

I wouldn’t have been able to dwell on this lack of chemistry if the laughs were coming fast and furious, but there were enough lulls that I had time to contemplate the relationship dynamics. Sex Tape isn’t without laughs and there are some moments that serve as a glimmer of the film that I think that they were hoping to make. But the film doesn’t seem to grasp the idea of diminishing returns and goes back to the same source of laughs one too many times on more than one occasion. A particular sight gag involving Rob Lowe’s character was amusing the first few times, but by the fourth time it is used it is no longer funny. There feels like there is a lot of filler in this film; the writers has a fun idea for a movie, but had no idea how to flesh out the concept and make a full feature. So the plot meanders and jokes last a beat or two too long and it winds up weakening the parts of the film that are successful. The writers just didn’t have enough material. Most of the laughs are frontloaded in the beginning of the film and as the story progresses it slowly begins to run out of steam.

It is also worth noting that for a film about a sex tape, I didn’t find the film all that salacious. We saw more of Jason Segel in Saving Sarah Marshall; in fact, the only nudity that we get from either actor is shot from behind. The sex that is shown isn’t particularly sexy either – it’s all for comedic effect. The film is rated R, but I’d argue that is more for language and subject matter more than sex or nudity. I didn’t go to this film expecting to be titillated or scandalized, but some people may not exactly be getting the film that they thought they were getting. Even the humor isn’t all that adult in nature; there honestly won’t have to be that many edits made when this film inevitable winds up on FX in a few years. Some people will be offended because people are always offended, but I didn’t find much in Sex Tape that you wouldn’t find permissible on basic cable. Any kids that sneak into this film thinking that they are going to see something indecent are going to be sorely disappointed.

Some other thoughts:

  • No need to stay after the credits; unlike most films in this genre, there are no hilarious tags at the end. And don’t Google “Sex Tape post credit sequence” like I did, because you probably aren’t going to want the majority of the results. Or maybe you will – to each their own.
  • I’m still a little freaked out by how skinny Jason Segel has gotten; his face is so much thinner than I’m used to seeing him.
  • This film tonally is a little inconsistent; the scene with Rob Lowe in the middle is genuinely very weird.
  • For a woman who is a mommy blogger, Diaz doesn’t seem to like being a mommy all that much.
  • I’m not usually a Jack Black fan, but he is used just the right way in this film- though I did notice that his dialogue seemed very repetitive.
  • A lot of the plot of this film is like a Rube Goldberg machine – it’s very clearly an overcomplicated contraption to keep the movie plugging along. There were several times during the film where I thought to myself that this problem could be solved in a much more efficient manner. Again – not as noticeable or problematic when there are more laughs, but with time to dwell on things it becomes apparent that everyone is working very hard to make this as complicated as possible.
  • Is a woman in roller skates a male fantasy? First Boogie Nights and now Sex Tape.

Sex Tape isn’t as dreadful as its current rating on Rotten Tomatoes – hovering around 17% – but it isn’t the comedy that is going to ignite the second half of the summer movie season either. It certainly isn’t worth plunking down your hard earned money to see it at the theater. But in some ways it is worse than simply being bad – it’s ultimately just forgettable. By the time I got home from the movies, I’d pretty much wiped the film from my memory, which is never good but is especially telling since I live one mile from the cinema. The premise of Sex Tape isn’t the problem; it’s the execution that fails this movie. The lack of chemistry between the stars and the sporadic laughs illuminate the fact that the writers only had a half-baked concept when they started filming. Sex Tape isn’t all that sexy, but the much bigger problem is that it isn’t all that funny.

Sex Tape opens nationwide today.

Some Thoughts on the How I Met Your Mother Finale

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER

Kids, let me tell you a story……

Sometime back in 2006, I decided to take a chance on a show that a lot of people were very enthusiastic about. It’s not often that the critics that I respect and the general consensus of the general public are in agreement, but the consensus of both groups was that CBS’s How I Met Your Mother was worth my time. Though I thought the title and premise were a little silly, I got the first season on DVD to see what all the fuss was about and I was instantly charmed by the show. I devoured that first season and was quickly up to speed, watching the antics of Ted, Barney, Robin, Lilly and Marshall live with the rest of America. While many people were fascinated with the idea of figuring out the identity of the mother, that quickly became a non-issue for me. I was far more charmed by the story of five friends than I was in the ultimate resolution of the shows titular question. The cast has such great chemistry and the show was so funny and well written that I was enjoying the journey and wasn’t too concerned about the destination. The show was quickly becoming one on my favorite comedies on TV.

And then…..it all sort of changed. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment that it happened, but the show started to go off the rails. It was subtle, at first, with a few uneven episodes somewhere in the 4th season that were not up to quality previous offerings. I initially chalked this up to age; the longer that sitcoms stay on the air, there is inevitable a period where the quality dips a bit as the series begins to run out of stories and some fatigue sits in. I was hoping that this was just a momentarily blip in the arc of the show. But as the season continued, the episodes did not improve. The characters that had been so well written were now shadows of their former selves. The writers appeared to be far more invested in the mythology that they created in the show and their constant focus on clues and misdirection became tiring. It was becoming harder and harder to become involved in any of Ted’s relationships when we knew from the beginning that none of these women were “the Mother.” The show paired Robin and Barney to great effect and then broke them up as quickly as they got them together for no apparent reason. By the time Jennifer Morrison turned up in the sixth season (and we all know how I feel about her), I was watching the show purely out of habit. But the combination of the horrible Zoe character and story lines that were not that funny (some by design, others not) was the ultimate death knell for the show for me. I hung on into the seventh season, but the episodes began to pile up on my DVR. It took this as a sign and just stopped watching, expecting to feel a little sad about abandoning a show that I had once enjoyed so much. Instead, I felt relieved that I was no longer forcing myself to waste my limited free time on a show that I had long since ceased to find any pleasure in.

I had not originally planned to revisit the show for its season finale; by this time, I knew the identity of the the mother (as did the rest of America) and figured that was all the closure I needed. But as the finale date drew closer, I began to sucked in to all the hype surrounding the end of a long running series. Lord knows that I hate to miss out on a pop culture phenomena and didn’t want to be excluded from the post finale chatter that was inevitably going to dominate the pop culture landscape the following morning. I was still on the fence until I watched the HIMYM cast on Inside the Actor’s Studio; I was reminded how much I enjoyed these actors and reliving some of the great moments of the show made me second guess myself. With so many delightful moments, had I misjudged the show? Perhaps I had been too harsh in my initial assessment and the show was not as bad as I remembered it to be in its later seasons. Nostalgia is a funny thing – it makes good things great and softens or eliminates your memories of the bad. So with an open mind and renewed affection for the show, I decided to watch the series finale despite having skipped seasons 8 and 9 in their entirety.

My mother raised me to believe that if you don’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all. So……

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just kidding. I have no problem with saying not nice things. When it comes to how I felt about the series final of How I Met You Mother, I think my feelings can best be summed up by these characters from In Living Color:

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I have never felt more vindicated for abandoning a television show. Last night’s finale was seriously the worst. THE.WORST. Damon Lindelof may finally be off the hook for the ending to Lost, a finale that was disappointing but also made me feel actual emotions. By the time How I Met Your Mother ended, all I felt was rage which is pretty impressive given my total indifference to the show going in to the finale. I was still mad about it this morning.

To make this easier and to keep my ranting somewhat focused, I’m going to break down my problems with the finale into 5 major issues (spoilers from here on out):

 

  • Barney and Robin’s divorce -You cannot decide to spend the entire span of the final season on Barney and Robin’s wedding and they have them divorced within fifteen minutes of the final episode. Nope. Try again. The creators are basically admitting that they wasted your time and nothing that happens means anything – and I say this as a person who didn’t even spend the better part of six month watching the buildup to this big event only to see it unceremoniously dismantled almost instantly. Perhaps if the whole thing had been better paced or executed more precisely it wouldn’t have been so infuriating. But how it played out, it felt forced and rushed and just very manipulative. It also made it very clear that the creators’ end game was always Robin and Ted, which I don’t think anyone was hoping for.
  • The last episode was WAY too rushed – Again, this goes back to their terrible decision to focus on a single weekend for most of the final season and then suddenly kick the show into high gear for the last 60 minutes. There were enough major life decisions and events in that finale to have filled an entire 22 episode season; because it all unfolded so quickly, none of the events were given any time to breathe or have any real impact. Seriously – in the course of the finale, Ted meets the mother, they have 2 kids, Robin and Barney get divorced, Barney becomes a dad, Lily and Marshall have their third child, Ted and the mother get married, Robin becomes famous, Marhsall becomes a judge and the mother dies. That is a hell of a lot of ground to cover and ultimately it was all done so rat-a-tat-tat that none of it meant anything. I’m assuming some of these moments were supposed to illicit some sort of emotional response, but by the time most of them unfolded everyone at home realized where this all was headed. The pacing was just dreadful – with ten minutes left in the show, I had no idea how they were going to wrap this all up.
  • Not enough of the mother – The one thing that I think the show did right in the final seasons was in the casting of the mother; Cristin Milioti is great and fit right in with the rest of the group. The series has been building up our expectations for the mother over the last nine years, highlighting how awesome she is and all that jazz. So for a show that’s called How I Met Your Mother, it was conspicuous how little of the mother there actually was in the finale. Ultimately, she was a huge MacGuffin for the story that the creators decided to tell; in the end, she really didn’t matter at all, except allow a story telling device. The moment when Ted finally met Tracy – the moment the entire series was ostensibly building to –  was sweet, but within minutes of that she was dead (we assume) and Ted’s kids were encouraging him to ask out Aunt Robin. It felt like a tremendous cheat. I don’t even really care that Robin was the ending in theory- though considering all the time that they showed Ted getting over Robin and Robin falling in love with Barney it didn’t feel authentic – but for God’s sake, give the mother her moment in the sun. I guess they didn’t think they could get a show on the air that was called Why I Want to Bang Your Aunt Robin Now That Your Mother Is Dead. And really – do we think that the main fivesome are going to be able to handle Ted dating Barney’s ex-wife? I’m going to go out on a limb and say no. There will always be issues. Always.
  • There is no way Ted would wait so long to marry the mother – Yeah – this is a guy that tells people that he loves them on a first date, yet we are supposed to believe that it took two kids and 5+ years for him to make Tracy his wife? No sale. We have spent the last 9 years watching Ted showing what a grand romantic he is and his burning desire for a wife. And then he just doesn’t get around to making it legal? Do you even know your characters.
  • Most of the finale was pretty depressing – The first 30 minutes of the show were nothing but people be miserable. I get that life isn’t always fun and everything doesn’t have to end up with a big shiny bow on it, but this show is supposed to be a comedy. I don’t know that I laughed once during the finale. That is a problem for a comedy. There were attempts at jokes in all this nonsense, but they felt old and tired. A funnier finale and I may have been able to forgive some of the other flaws, but watching the How I Met Your Mother finale was nowhere near a pleasurable experience. It felt like work; the only joy I derived from it was knowing that my instincts to bail on the show were dead on. Watching this show again was like going back to an ex and trying to make it work. When I walked away, I should have stayed away.

I have basically nothing redeeming to say about the ending of the show. What is even more infuriating is that this is the ending that was planned all along – the final scene with Ted’s kids was filmed back in the second season (to avoid the issue of the aging of the actors playing the kids). This was always how it would end; I can’t even give the writers the benefit of the doubt that they came up with this on the fly and hadn’t thought the series through fully. This makes some of the choices over the last nine years all the more baffling. Their rigidity to this predetermined outcome was ultimately their undoing, in my opinion – they decided that Ted would end up with Robin (we presume – though I kind of like the idea of Robin rejecting him AGAIN and that Ted and the mother wouldn’t meet until the final episode and refused to budge on either, even when creatively that handcuffed them and resulting in an unsatisfying ending. Had they plotted this out better or introduced the mother earlier in the process, I could vaguely see how this all could have worked out. But the piss pour execution has soured me not only on the finale, but on the entire series. And there is no way in hell that I’ll even consider watching How I Met Your Dad (and so help me God if that show winds up being the story of how #31 meets Barney).

There’s no other way to say it: that was a terrible finale. I’m glad that those actors now have the chance to go off and do other things. I’m just mad that I wasted an hour of my life getting sucked back into this garbage. At least one final issue was resolved – the last remaining slap from the Slapsgiving bet was apparently reserved for the audience.

What did you think of the How I Met Your Mother finale? Do you agree with me or did you think it was satisfying? Sound off in the comments below.

 

Pop Culture Odds and Ends

It is time once again for your bi-weekly round up of pop culture stories that you may have missed. I like to think of these roundups as pop culture cheat sheets for people. If you see a story that you think should be included, please feel free to pass it along to me on the blog’s Facebook page (like me!), Twitter (follow me!) or in the comments. I’m always interested in reader feedback. And a special welcome to all my new blog followers – thanks for reading!

Let’s get some of the sad stuff out of the way first:

Now on to the more sublime:

  • Vin Diesel announced that Fast and Furious 7 will be released on July 11, 2014. The sixth installment of the franchise will open nationwide on May 24th of this year.
  • A new red-band trailer has been released for Netflix’s new original series Hemlock Grove. As this comes from director Eli Roth, it is most decidedly NSFW:

 

  • Speaking of Adam Scott (the actor, not the golfer):

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  • Vulture also imagines Mad Men as a kid’s Saturday morning cartoon spinoff, Mad Men Kidz.

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  • Apparently the Academy didn’t received the memo from the American people – the producers for this year’s abysmal Oscars ceremony will be back.
  • Tonight may be the last episode ever of Southland, which would be a real shame.
  • If you go to see Iron Man 3, stay through the credits (and if you want to know what happens now, click here *spoilers*)
  • The winner of random video of the week: Macaulay Culkin singing “Kokomo”:

 

  • A prequel to the film adaption of The Mortal Instruments is already being planned, despite the fact that The Mortal Instruments hasn’t even been released yet.
  • The fictional Veep and the real life VP met:

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  • The casting for the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy continues to intrigue me. The newest member of the cast is The Walking Dead’s Michael Rooker.
  • Watch Community and Mad Men‘s Alison Brie recreate some popular memes (her grumpy cat is pretty spot on):

 

  • Grantland looks at the career arc of friend of the blog, The Rock (I’m assuming, if he knew this blog existed)
  • Ryan Murphy has a deal with HBO. I can only imagine what he’ll do when not restricted by basic cable.
  • The Awl debates which song is worse: the Brad Paisley/LL Cool J song “Accidental Racist” or Ray J’s song “I Hit It First” about Kim Kardashian. I vote for the latter – though misguided, Paisley was at least trying to do something good. Ray J is just a jerk.
  • Oy. Amanda Bynes continues her quest to be the craziest of them all with this new video that she posted on YouTube:

 

  • Patrick Duffy is game for a Step-by-Step reunion.
  • I am a grown-up, so I didn’t watch the MTV Movie Awards, but if you are curious who won or what people wore I have you covered.
  • Funny or Die has released their Steve Jobs movie, iSteve (starring Justin Long).
  • Jon Hamm was on Seseme Street, apparently in attempt to see if he could make me love him more:

 

  • See Jaime Foxx as Electro on the set of The Amazing Spiderman 2. Or is it The Amazing Spiderman: Ghost Protocol?
  • Snoop is a busy guy – he also collaborated with Miley Cyrus

 

  • Interesting – the same kid who played a young Don Draper on Mad Men also played a young Michael Bluth on Arrested Development and a young Ice Truck Killer on Dexter.
  • Steve Carrel made an appearance on last night’s Deadliest Catch’s new pre-game show, The Bait.
  • New trailer for Man of Steel:

 

  • This Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle/Entourage parody is better than either of these shows separately:

 

  • NBC’s never ending quest to beat every good idea they have into the ground continues – a kids version of The Voice is allegedly in the works.
  • Here’s a Conan double shot. First up, Conan hosts a roundtable discussion with some of his former colleagues from The Simpsons’ writers’ room.

And now the mashups and super-cuts:

  • A super-cut of fake websites featured on TV shows:

 

  • Love this – the synopsis of every romantic comedy ever made. It’s funny because it’s true:

 

  • A supercut of Tyrion Lannister’s best lines on Game of Thrones (NSFW )

 

  • A homemade version of the final race from The Fast and the Furious:

 

  • And finally – an Anchorman/”Thrift Shop” mashup:

 

Have a wonderful Wednesday!