Ruben Fleischer

Superstore (2015) s01e05 – Shoplifter

The cold open has Jonah (Ben Feldman) and Garrett (Colton Dunn) discovering a dead body in the store, which doesn’t turn out to be foreshadowing because neither Feldman or Dunn have anything to do with the resulting dead body in the store C plot. Dunn’s just around this episode, checking in for the occasional one or two-liner (though I guess he does have something to do with the C plot).

Feldman’s busy all episode babysitting America Ferrera’s daughter (Isabella Day) while Ferrera has to counsel boss Mark McKinney, who’s the only one freaked out about the guy dying in the store. The counseling bit falls on Ferrera because actual assistant manager Lauren Ash is busy trying to bust a shoplifter (Natasha Leggero). Ferrera’s going to end up in that plot too, because “Superstore” is really good about keeping its characters nimble as they bounce around the store.

Nico Santos and Nichole Bloom end up with the biggest parts in the C plot, as they both want to buy the couch the guy died on.

If the episode’s a showcase for anyone, it’s Ash, who doesn’t just get to go off on suspect Leggero, but there’s also some character development (ish) for Ash regarding Ferrera. Plus some of her weird flirting with Feldman. Feldman’s mostly doing physical comedy with props and he’s good at it. The episode’s not heavy on belly laughs; Jackie Clarke’s script more goes with constant situational amusement (getting a lot of mileage out of three basic events, the dead guy, the tween babysitting, the shoplifter) and Ruben Fleischer’s direction is focused on the cast’s performances.

McKinney’s really good this episode too. Figuring out he should be autonomous from his workers’ perceptions continues to succeed and he and Ash get into some rather amusing banter without interruption from the rest of the cast, but still some good reactions.

So not the uproarious heights the show’s recently hit but consistently amusing, leveraging the cast over the situations. “Superstore”’s developing nicely.

Superstore (2015) s01e03 – Shots and Salsa

This episode is one of those sitcom episodes where you’re laughing so loud and so constantly, there’s a chance you’re going to miss something. If it weren’t paced well. And it’s paced extremely well, between Ruben Fleischer’s direction and Justin Spitzer’s writing, there’s always the right amount of time to get the giggles out.

It starts immediately with the laughs—store manager Mark McKinney getting everyone to do the pre-opening chant. It’s absurd and inappropriate (McKinney’s Christian religiosity is a very reliable punchline).

From the second scene, the show splits off its two storylines, one for America Ferrera, one for Ben Feldman, with Colton Dunn providing something of a bridge as he advises still new Feldman on how not to fall into the “quicksand” of helping customers and coworkers. Dunn’s fantastic. His deadpan deliveries are probably the best on the show, though Lauren Ash—who I’m warming to, even if she’s still the subject of laughs versus the situations she finds herself in—is getting to be a reliable second.

Ferrera’s plot line is about the store’s new house brand salsa promotion. McKinney wants someone Hispanic to sell it, which Ferrera finds gross. Her coworker, Grace Parra, doesn’t see it that way, neither does Filipino Nico Santos, who doesn’t mind McKinney can’t see the difference. Lots of funny stuff as Ferrera tries to have some morals in the face of capitalism.

“Superstore” also goes in hard on how awful Americans are going to get when it comes to racializing their consumerism. It’s shocking, accurate, and hilarious.

Meanwhile Feldman makes the mistake of helping jackass pharmacist Josh Lawson with some boxes and ends up an assistant pharmacist for the day.

Ferrera, Feldman, and Dunn are all varying comedic straight men, though Feldman a little less as he’s got some quirks more similar to the absurdist coworkers; with Feldman and Ferrera, it’s all about their facial reactions foreshadowing their eventual lines, while Dunn’s got a much shorter lead time before he makes his sardonic response.

It’s a really, really funny episode.

Really funny.

Oh, and the corporate anti-racism video… wow. So funny. And way too realistic, which is the point.

Venom (2018, Ruben Fleischer)

For most of the movie, Venom’s greatest strength is its potential. It certainly seems like lead Tom Hardy can do anything but as things progress, it becomes more and more obvious the potential is an illusion. Director Fleischer just hasn’t done a big action sequence yet, so the movie hasn’t shown its hand–Fleischer’s action sequences are awful–and there’s literally nothing Hardy can do. He’s along for the ride down the proverbial drain.

Of course, even when Venom seems like it might go well–and for a while, it’s shockingly all right–there’s the problem of the villain. Riz Ahmed is a billionaire super-genius who’s funding space exploration to bring organisms back to Earth to try to cure cancer. All of his experiments involve killing San Francisco’s homeless population and Ahmed has one of the worst written god complexes in motion picture history. Venom’s script is frequently bad, but the better actors work through it, as they get no help from Fleischer who’s concentrating on… something. Nothing good, nothing relevant, but presumably something. Ahmed’s terrible though. He’s the worst performance until the “surprise”–but credited–end credits cameo. And Ahmed’s quite bad throughout, so for the surprise cameo to be worse? Well, it’s an achievement of sorts.

The movie starts with a private spaceship crashing in Malaysia. Ahmed’s spaceship. It picked up some alien lifeforms–symbiotes, which are kind of like CGI slime but never green–and one of them escapes. Meanwhile, Hardy is an investigative reporter with his own TV show, which has opening titles where Hardy rides his motorcycle around San Francisco looking tough.

This opening is not where Venom shows potential. It’s all quite awkward and flat, also introducing Michelle Williams as the fiancée Hardy will betray to get dirt of Ahmed and Jenny Slate as one of Ahmed’s scientists. Once Hardy betrays Williams–for nothing, his network fires him for not brown-nosing Ahmed–Venom skips ahead six months. Hardy is now unemployable, broke, living in a bad neighborhood and a gorgeous, enormous San Francisco apartment, and feeling sorry for himself. And even though he says he’s given up on helping people, he’s really nice to his new supporting cast, primarily homeless lady Melora Walters and convenience store owner Peggy Lu.

It has somehow taken that escaped alien in Malaysia six months to get to an airport, but it’s finally on its way to Frisco to confront Ahmed, which has been its plan since… the second or third scene in the movie. Again, bad script.

Like when Hardy meets up again with Williams, who has moved on and is now dating nice guy surgeon Reid Scott. Though she apparently hasn’t gotten a new job. Because in Venom’s San Francisco, you can apparently just not pay rent.

Eventually Hardy breaks into Ahmed’s brodinagian research facility and picks up a symbiote of his own. Shockingly light security–including no security cameras–and the safety protocols for the hostile alien life forms are rather lax as well. Hardy and the alien talk to each other–Hardy, with some modification, also voices the alien (Venom, who comes from a planet where all the creatures were named by eight year-old boys)–before Ahmed sends his private security force (led by paper thin Scott Haze) after the new partners.

There’s also some stuff where Hardy gets help from Scott and Williams for his alien problem, which is where the film’s best. The character drama isn’t well-written or well-directed, but Hardy, Williams, and Scott all give good performances. So they get it through. They’re all likable, all sympathetic, all wasted.

The movie’s got three big action set pieces, four if you count a motorcycle and drone chase through San Francisco. Incidentally, that chase sequence is where it becomes obvious Fleischer’s never going to deliver good action. It just gets worse after that one. When it’s the alien in control–when the alien takes over, he’s like seven feet-tall and eats people’s heads–the film loses the Hardy grounding, which does help it. It can’t save it, but it does help it. Including Hardy’s voiceover talking to the alien always feels forced. Though the talking between Hardy and the alien always feels forced. Even when Hardy’s good. Crappy dialogue. Again, bad script.

Technically, Venom’s perfectly competent. It’s got no personality, but it’s competent. Well, some of the digital mattes are really bad; the digital effects are never great. Fleischer actually seems to get that shortfall. Even after the movie’s done hiding the shark and Venom is out of the water, the alien is a special effect not a character. He’s always turning back into Hardy in between action requirements.

For the first forty-five minutes, I was surprised how… mediocre it seemed like Venom was going to turn out. Then it started getting bad and just kept getting worse.

Given its subject matter and artistic ambitions (wokka wokka), Venom shouldn’t be a disappointment. But thanks to Fleischer and–to a lesser extent Ahmed)–it sure manages to be one.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ruben Fleischer; screenplay by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, and Kelly Marcel, based on a story by Pinkner and Rosenberg and the Marvel Comics character created by David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Alan Baumgarten and Maryann Brandon; music by Ludwig Göransson; production designer, Oliver Scholl; produced by Avi Arad, Amy Pascal, and Matt Tolmach; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Tom Hardy (Eddie Brock), Riz Ahmed (Carlton Drake), Michelle Williams (Anne Weying), Jenny Slate (Dr. Dora Skirth), Reid Scott (Dr. Dan Lewis), Peggy Lu (Mrs. Chen), Scott Haze (Treece), and Melora Walters (Maria).


Zombieland (2009, Ruben Fleischer)

I can’t believe Zombieland got made. I mean, I understand it’s a reasonable financial success and all, but who greenlighted this film? It’s from a couple no name writers and a no name director and the best known cast member is Woody Harrelson.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Woody Harrelson and have been an avid supporter for many a year, but really… it’s way too… smart to be a studio picture. Even when it does silly, obvious things, it’s leagues better than what I was expecting.

For instance, the Bill Murray cameo–it does work; it’s funny but it’d be funnier if it were someone who hadn’t been through a nasty public divorce and needed to do image clean-up. Plus, there’s a comment about Murray’s dramatic turns, but nothing about him running out of the Oscars in a huff when he doesn’t win.

I think Mel Gibson would have been a much better choice, especially since he isn’t a comic actor in the same way. But then, Mel Gibson isn’t a Sony slash Columbia slash Tri-Star actor and Zombieland is one of the biggest studio pictures I can think of–it’s the Gremlins 2 of the zombie genre.

Acting wise, it’s all solid, but unspectacular. Jesse Eisenberg is really good, but he’s playing the same character he played in Adventureland. Harrelson’s funny and good but it’s no surprise he’s either.

Fleisher’s direction is comic-oriented, so it’s hard to tell about him.

But it’s really good stuff.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ruben Fleischer; written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick; director of photography, Michael Bonvillain; edited by Alan Baumgarten; music by David Sardy; production designer, Maher Ahmad; produced by Gavin Polone; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Woody Harrelson (Tallahassee), Jesse Eisenberg (Columbus), Emma Stone (Wichita), Abigail Breslin (Little Rock), Amber Heard (406), Bill Murray (Bill Murray) and Derek Graf (Clown Zombie).


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