Tag Archives: comedy

‘Dory’ keeps Pixar’s solid sequel run intact

Bravo, Pixar.

Rather than roll out some shitastic money-generating two-hour waste of my time – yes, Independence Day: Resurgence, I’m looking at your lame ass – Pixar did what it always does: Made a great film.

Finding Dory succeeds precisely because it doesn’t attempt to be or to recycle Finding Nemo. Finding Nemo is two films: And epic (the journey of Dory and Marlin) and escape/heist pic (Nemo’s attempt to get out of the dentist’s fish tank). The epic journey portion provides us with the bulk of the tension, and Marlin and Dory try to traverse the ocean while navigating its numerous dangers. Nemo’s fish tank efforts are largely comic relief, a break from the constant danger hovering over the rest of the film.

Finding Dory is a traditional Hollywood comedy, period, with a hefty dose of unreliable narrator in the form of everyone’s favorite short-term memory-challenged fish. When it comes time to travel from their home on the reef to the Marine Life Institute, Dory, Nemo and Marlin merely hop a ride with their old pals the sea turtles and bang, there where they need to be. No sharks, no jellyfish, no weird bottom of the sea fish with a light on its head. That’s not what Finding Dory is, and it makes no attempt to be that. Yes, there’s an escape element in Dory, but that’s where the real action in the film is, as opposed to functioning as comic relief and break from the darker elements.

Is Finding Dory the game-changer that Finding Nemo was? No, but it couldn’t be. Nemo introduced us to a lush, animated underwater landscape viewers had never seen before. There was really no way for Dory to top that.

Thank goodness Pixar didn’t attempt to do that. Finding Dory is all the better for it.

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‘Cooties’ is child’s play

My kids had a ball with Cooties.

Cooties is the story of Clint (Elijah Wood), an aspiring novelist doing a summer school substitute teaching gig at the school he went to as a kid. Unfortunately for Clint, some toxic chicken nuggets from the local processing plant have been consumed by one of his students, who is about to go full-on 28 Days Later on her classmates, who, after they turn, start to look at school’s faculty and staff as a potential food source.

A solid cast – including Rainn Wilson (The Office), Jack McBrayer (30 Rock), Jorge Garcia (Lost), Nasim Pedrad (Scream Queens), etc. – makes up for what the script lacks. Ian Brennan and Lee Whannell co-script (and appear in) Cooties, and their writing experience – Brennan with Glee and Scream Queens, Whannell with the Saw and Insidious flicks – would seem to be a good mash-up for this sort of film. And at points, they are. Whannell’s Doug, a science teacher who lacks basic social graces and may be hearing voices, is a hoot. When Clint and Wade (Wilson) argue over the best way to proceed, Wade yells, “Oh, you’ll sneak around, huh? Sneak around like a little Hobbit. No way! I’m taking the fight to them like a fuckin’ orc!” The overall horror arc is also well done, as the outside world reacts to the pandemic while our heroes deal with it face to face. There are some good reasons my junior high-age offspring liked Cooties.

Unfortunately, for me, the grownup in the room, it fell a little flat. The dialogue has its moments, but generally feels forced, saved some by the talent of the actors saying the lines. And certain things don’t make sense. For example, during a number of escapes, Clint braves potential gnawing by running back to grab the first chapter of his novel as the hordes of junior high zombies close in on he and his new pals. But nothing comes from that, no grand resolution, not much in the way of tension, nothing. It’s noted prominently a few times, then evaporates. The ending also seems anti-climactic and a bit abrupt, leaving an opening for a sequel that I can’t imagine will actually happen.

The talent was available, and there was no lack of financial support holding Cooties back. A sharper script would have likely resulted in a movie beloved by many – think Gremlins – instead of a film forgotten by few.

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‘Catastrophe’: It’s all about the laughs

My wife and I had a ball watching the first two seasons of the Amazon comedy, Catastrophe. I don’t think I could have put my finger on just what makes it so much more satisfying than your average network sitcom, although I enjoyed it much more than, say, Big Bang Theory or Modern Family. But after a few episodes, I think my wife figured it out.

They laugh at each other.

American boy Rob (Rob Delaney) and Irish girl Sharon (Sharon Horgan) have a torrid affair while Rob is in London on business. The affair results in pregnancy, and Rob and Sharon decide not only to have the child, but to get married. Blend in a number of wacky characters with ties to our newlyweds – Rob’s druggie pal Dave, Sharon’s helicopter mom frenemy Fran, Carrie Fisher (yes, Princess Leia) as Rob’s eBay-addicted mother – and hilarity ensues.

Really, this isn’t any different than any meet-cute scenario for any rom-com. What makes it work is the chemistry of Delaney and Horgan, who are also the show’s creators and writers. They will frequently hurl insults and curse words at each other, and as the scene develops, you’re never sure if they’re going to end up enraged or humored by the whole situation.

And Rob and Sharon do laugh. At each other. It’s not the typical deliver-the-funny-line, keep-a-straight-face sort of banter. It’s the laugh of two people who are intimate, sometimes laughing at things only they think are funny. It’s genuine, sometimes painfully so.

I can’t imagine this is for everyone (there’s a ton of cussing, some nudity). But Catastrophe is greater than the genre it represents if you’re willing to go along for the ride.

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‘Eddie the Eagle’ good family fun

I’m not a fan of sports movies. They all tend to be cliche, similar in pacing, hitting the same beats. It doesn’t make any of those movies bad, necessarily, and some are quite entertaining. But it’s the rare sports film – Bull Durham, for example – that I’m willing to sit through even once, let alone multiple viewings.

Eddie the Eagle isn’t exceptional. It’s a well-told story about ski jumper Eddie Edwards and his ridiculously long-shot attempt to compete in the Olympics. Taron Egerton is terrific as the titular athlete, an awkward, sincere young man, who, when told as a child that he will likely never walk right, let alone compete in any sports, decides his future is as an Olympian. Hugh Jackman plays a watered-down Logan, a smoking, hard-drinking ne’er-do-well and former ski jumper who helps coach Eddie. (The smoking and drinking are likely responsible for the PG-13 rating. I was surprised after watching to learn it wasn’t PG.) From here, of course, the movie writes itself, as these two mismatched pals take on the British Olympic establishment to compete in the world’s biggest sporting event.

So would I recommend Eddie the Eagle? It’s not my kind of thing, and had it not been a family movie night selection, I’d have never watched it. But as a family movie night selection, it was a satisfying choice. It’s funny and heartwarming, the kind of thing that thirty years ago might have ended up on Wonderful World of Disney instead of in theaters.

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Time to ‘Party’

Christopher jumps into the deep end of the Murder Party.

Christopher jumps into the deep end of the Murder Party.

I am fond of writer-director-cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier’s 2013 revenge flick Blue Ruin (Thoughts on Blue Ruin). The plot is dark, the violence merciless and the conclusion inevitable, but the quiet, deliberate pace, the performance by lead Macon Blair and the overall craftsmanship of Saulnier combined to create a powerful if somber film.

After seeing Blue Ruin, I was eager to see what else Saulnier had done. Most of his credits are for cinematography, but he did direct one other film, his debut, Murder Party.

Whoa.

Talk about film-viewing whiplash. On the one hand, Blue Ruin gains its power from the quiet and the contemplative. It is open, with space for the viewer to meditate on what’s happening. On the other hand, Murder Party has a guy wearing a werewolf Halloween costume who accidentally sets himself on fire while smoking a cigarette.

I really enjoyed Murder Party. Is it a great film? No, but watching a bunch of pretentious, dipshit art students completely fail in the simple task of murdering a man who practically volunteers to be the victim is a hoot. From the homages to other films – the art students are dressed as a zombie, the aforementioned werewolf, a vampire, a replicant from Blade Runner and member of the baseball gang from The Warriors – to the complete absurdity of the deaths of most of said artists, Murder Party builds relentlessly to a completely over-the-top ending. It’s also an example of great low-budget filmmaking, maximizing humor, personalities and the ridiculous elements of the unfolding events, and minimizing the lack of money available for FX.

If Army of Darkness and Shaun of the Dead are your kind of thing, check out Murder Party. Bask in its bloody foolishness.

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Think you need to see ‘Dumb and Dumber To’? Think again

I hope they collected enormous checks for this crap.

I hope they collected enormous checks for this crap.

You think when you show your son movies like Robin Hood, Men in Tights, Airplane!, Ace Venture, Pet Detective, Spaceballs and so on, you’re bonding over silliness and fun, as well as passing along a humorous legacy.

Then your son sees the commercial for Dumb and Dumber To and won’t stop talking about it. And you realize you only have yourself to blame.

My son, daughter and I trekked to the theaters to see Dumb and Dumber To. Afterward, my son wanted to recite line after line, laughing again at his favorite parts. But his sister and I weren’t playing along, and the gag rehashing instead turned into a bitter argument between my daughter and son about funny and/or less than humorous moments from the film.

So I guess what I’m saying is, Dumb and Dumber To divides families.

The situation is more dire than that, though. It’s not funny. At all.

Of course, you may say, “Adam, that’s just your opinion.” Well, yes, on the one hand. On the other, I have a half-full theater of people who would support me on that one. We all sat there together, for the most part not laughing, even cracking smiles. I’ve been part of audiences that laughed our collective asses off: The Hangover, Pineapple Express, South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut, There’s Something About Mary. Hell, man, even Disorderlies.

There was none of that with Dumb and Dumber To. It was mostly collective boredom, a unity in our desire to see it end and be on our way.

Don’t watch Dumb and Dumber To. You’ll wish you hadn’t.

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‘Heat’ has the laughs, but …

Melissa McCarthy is comedy gold, and Sandra Bullock plays the ultimate straight man in "The Heat."

Melissa McCarthy is comedy gold, and Sandra Bullock plays the ultimate straight man in “The Heat.”

… The movie isn’t that good.

Yes, I fully admit that laughed my way through most of The Heat. Melissa McCarthy’s turn as the unhinged and unsanitary Detective Mullins was a hoot. Her energy and that maniacal glint in her eye stole the show, as did her chemistry with Sandra Bullock as the straight shooting FBI Agent Ashburn. From questioning suspects to a night out drinking to confronting the bad guys, this duo was lights-out funny.

But is funny enough when the movie itself is pretty lame? The set-up is nothing special, the plot is serviceable, but everything other than the comedy is pretty much the standard buddy-cop formula. Good for Demian Bichir (who is awesome on the FX Mexico-U.S. border drama, The Bridge) for getting some screen time in a popular movie, but he’s really wasted here as the concerned supervisor of Bullock’s Ashburn. Marlon Wayans is fine, but again given little to do as the token love interest of Ashburn. Most of the characters around Bullock and McCartney come off as little more than extra set dressing.

Even the direction shows a less deft touch than expected from a veteran like Paul Feig. A scene where Wayan’s character runs a late-in-arriving file to Bullock’s character as she gets ready to head off on her investigation is clumsy, a poor transition that feels like it may have been tacked on later. Why is a mystery. The scene offers nothing new, more of Ashburn’s blunt and awkward behavior, more of Wayan’s character trying to catch her eye. In a movie that runs close to two hours, those two minutes could have been excised with a minimum of pain and helped streamline the final product.

None of this is to discourage anyone from watching The Heat. The humor is undeniable. I’m just disappointed that there is so little else from it worth mentioning.

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‘The World’s End’: It could have been worse, but it’s too bad it wasn’t better

Can this motley, drunken crew save the world from alien invasion? ... Sort of.

Can this motley, drunken crew save the world from alien invasion? … Sort of.

Is it possible to make a serious comedy?

It’s not unusual to find funny moments within serious movies: Oldboy, Pulp Fiction, The Matrix, Goodfellas. Plenty of great movies out there that can deliver the humor between the grimness, terror and violence. But the dark comedy of Dr. Strangelove, which simultaneous skewers the war pig mentality while delivering laugh after laugh, is the only truly great hilarious/serious flick that comes to my mind.

Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and The World’s End crew aren’t able to pull it off like Stanley Kubrick and Peter Sellers did with Strangelove. Thematically, the flick explores the problematic mix of dealing with an idealized adulthood that never comes together when it arrives, as well as leaving behind those missed opportunities that will never return. It’s rich territory to explore, and at moments, The World’s End has some interesting things to say.

Unfortunately (or not), The World’s End is also a comedy about an alien invasion discovered by five guys on a pub crawl as well as the final part of Wright’s and Pegg’s Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, which includes Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The plot leads to assorted moments of true hilarity – the two main fights, first in a bathroom, then in the pub proper, come to mind – which are the equivalent of Sammo Hung kung fu flick if the warriors going head-to-head were drunken Englishmen and awkward alien robots. The little back biting that starts among the friends eventually involves out-of-control, raging arguments that lead to plenty of laughs.

But reconciling the serious thematic aspects with the goofy plot, it never really happens. You end up with two shorts films that feel incomplete, or one big film that just doesn’t ever quite hit the mark. The balance is rarely found, and never extended beyond brief moments.

In the end, I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re thinking of watching The World’s End, it might be better to just to pop in Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz and enjoy what was, instead of being disappointed by what never quite came together.

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‘Walter Mitty’ not worth the time

We had to wait for a "Zoolander" sequel so you could make this, Mr. Stiller?

We had to wait for a “Zoolander” sequel so you could make this, Mr. Stiller?

Sigh.

I think The Secret Life of Walter Mitty wants to be Forrest Gump. It wants to capitalize on my generation’s acceptance of the fact that we are no longer young, fearless and out to conquer an ever-changing world that we kind of wish would slow down a bit.

The problem is Mitty doesn’t want to admit it’s Forrest. It wants to be cooler and more removed and play Arcade Fire songs in the background of beautiful, exotic vistas. It wants to be the Forrest Gump for the Pulp Fiction generation. And the problem is, those two things don’t work together. Gump is merely the re-packaging of all things boomer to bring a tear to that generation’s eyes. Pulp Fiction was the movie that jumped up and stomped on that sentimentality, re-appropriating the best of the past to make it new and vital again. And being unable to bridge that impossible divide is what hurts Mitty the most.

The good? The relationship between Walter (Ben Stiller) and Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) is incredibly well done. It never feels forced, rushed or convenient to the plot. It develops naturally, two people starting to learn about each other and feeling better about the other the more they hear. And it doesn’t come together with a bang, some big, significant kiss at some supremely romantic time or a wild roll in the hay that signifies the deal has been sealed. No, Mitty is happy, content, feeling as good about himself as he ever has, and the woman he loves appears to care about him, too. So he holds her hand. And she smiles. I’m not a romantic dude by any means, but this may be one of the most genuine, loving moments I’ve ever seen in a film.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to save Mitty from its poor pacing or sentimentality. But it does make it worth a viewing if you’re looking for something mildly humorous and unchallenging.

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‘Anchorman’ out-sequels ‘Thor’

These seriously un-serious fictional newsman have more important things to say about the world than anything you're likely to see on any real-life cable news network.

These seriously un-serious fictional newsman have more important things to say about the world than anything you’re likely to see on any real-life cable news network.

A caveat before I begin my tirade: If you don’t like Will Ferrell, nothing said here is going to change that. While I am fond of Will, I get that not everyone is, and that many feel about him the way I feel about actors/comedians such as Adam Sandler or Jim Carrey, both of whom I have very little interest in.

That said, Anchorman 2 is a better sequel than Thor: The Dark World. Not necessarily a better movie, per se, but a better sequel. It comes down to one thing: Anchorman 2 knows what it is and effectively adheres to its vision, whereas Thor: The Dark World lacks a central theme to drive it.

In the original Thor, the story really is this: Spoiled, privileged heir to the throne gets smacked down by daddy until said heir learns that yes, his shit does stink. That makes Thor work. The costumes are ridiculous, the animated Asgard is ridiculous … there’s a lot of ridiculousness going on in that film. But Thor works because the story is grounded in the maturation of its title character. It isn’t about ice giants or Loki or the Destroyer. It’s about growing up, taking responsibility and recognizing that you aren’t the center of the universe. That’s the center that the plot and action revolve around, and even Loki’s sub-plot – where he becomes the entitled brat who throws a tantrum until he gets his chance rule the universe – is tied to this one theme.

And what is the Dark World‘s central premise? It’s that, er, um, well … yeah, I’m not sure. Actually, the whole movie seems to be one enormous red herring designed to get you focused on Thor and his crew and ignore the fact that what the flick really is just a set-up to get Loki out of prison. That’s it. That’s the only truly important thing that happens in the film. Everything else is really just big explosions or small things to move the Marvel-verse along until the next Avengers film. It’s a fun action flick, but there’s no meat, just fluff.

This is why Anchorman 2 is the superior sequel. The main, driving focus of the original Anchorman is the loss of male privilege and the ascension of women to places of power within the news industry specifically, the working world in general. Yes, there’s a whole lot of stupid shit that revolves around that, but that is the central premise that holds Anchorman together.

In the sequel, the central theme is the moron-ification of television news. It’s driven home repeatedly throughout Anchorman 2. When the world looks away from the Yasser Arafat interview to watch a car chase in Milwaukee, when Brick stands screaming in the middle of terrifying storms, when Champ sits there and screams “Whammy!” for every slam dunk and home run, yes it’s funny and foolish, but is it really that different from what one might see on any given day on Fox News, ESPN, CNN, etc.? The continual demeaning of real news to provide light, mindless content that the masses will love is at the very core of the 24-hour news cycle. The elevation of non-stories – anything involving the British royal family, Benghazi, Duck Dynasty – while the Serious News People completely ignore the economy, the racist Republican house and their never-ending war against a black president, how the American system has been perverted to punish workers and reward those born with silver spoons in their mouth is an hourly event on television news. Anchorman 2 is an insanely ridiculous movie that hammers on some very serious points. And that hammering is what keeps Anchorman 2 from completely going off the rails like other Will Ferrell vehicles (The Other Guys, Stepbrothers, etc.).

Or like Thor: The Dark World does.

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