Archive for the ‘Comedy’ Category

Couples Retreat

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

1158770350.JPG

Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau have a chemistry together that few really funny comedic duos have. They have a rapport, a riff that sets them apart. Even when they appear together in a film that’s beneath them, like The Break-Up, or way beneath them (like Four Christmases), their scenes together have a spark. So, it’s strange that they have so few scenes together in Couples Retreat that have that comic energy. Stranger still since they wrote the film (along with director Peter “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” Billingsley).

It seemed like a great idea for a film: four couples, all friends, go to a tropical island paradise to work out their relationships. The fact that the cast includes many talented actors gave hope. The trailers were funny. So, why is the final product so routine? It doesn’t help that most of the main actors don’t seem that interested here; the characters don’t really behave like real friends.

You’d think that a film that’s cast included Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell, Faizon Love, Kristin Davis, Malin Akerma, Vaughn and Faverau would, you know, give them interesting and funny things to do. Not the case. Of the main characters, only Faizon Love and Kali Hawk (as Love’s much younger girlfriend seem to be having any fun). Jean Reno appears as the self-appointed relationship expert, but his ponytail is about the only joke he’s given. Much funnier is Peter Serafinowicz as Sctanley, the resort’s second-in-command. He has a definite comic presence (and he also could probably do a pretty killer Terence Stamp impression). Dr. Ken Jeong and John Michael Higgins show up as counselors, but their appearances are pretty much the joke.

I’m making it sound like this film was a chore, it wasn’t. There are some genuinely funny moments, including a climatic battle with a certain video game franchise, and some one-liners provided by Vaughn and Ackerman’s children. Plus, Hawk gets to deliver some very awkward and hilarious dialogue. It’s just, with a cast like this, you’d expect more than a mediocre comedy that you’ll forget almost immediately after viewing.

Zombieland

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

zombieland-harrelson.jpg

A great deal of the success of Zombieland, the latest film featuring those popular, peculiar undead pests, can be credited to the presence of Woody Harrelson. Harrelson is a performer who has such energy, humor and, simply put, joy of his craft that he infects (zombie pun intended) just about any project he’s working on. As Tallahassee, the good ol’ boy who relishes shooting, hacking, smashing, chopping and stabbing zombies more than just about anything. Woody (and another actor who appears later in the film) give the film a spark it might have not had otherwise.

Zombieland is not, as you may have guessed from the trailers, really a horror film. It’s a comedy, a buddy film and a road movie. I read on IMDB.com that the director, Ruben Fleischer, intended Zombieland as a comedy in the vein (zombie pun intended, again) of Shaun of the Dead. Let me just say right now that Zombieland is not in the same league as Shaun of the Dead; not as funny, not as scary. That said, it is a good zombie movie, and worth checking out.

Although Harrelson gets top billing and steals the movie, he is not the main character. That would be Columbus (played by Jesse Eisenberg, star of the excellent The Squid and the Whale and Adventureland), a nerdy loner who is compiling a list of so-called Zombie rules to stay alive in “Zombieland.” Along the way, he teams up with Tallahassee, and before too long, two sisters join this small band of survivors: Wichita (played by Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin).

In addition to the four main characters, there is another key role played by a very famous actor, in a role I found to be hilarious. This actor’s performance is the second best thing about Zombieland, and although this actor’s identity has been revealed in other places online, I will leave it as a surprise to the reader. Let’s just say it’s a good one.

As I watched the film, I realize how ripe (third zombie pun intended) a monster the zombie is for the cinema. While other monsters (vampires, werewolves and the like) seem to fluctuate in popularity on the big screen, zombie films have done good business (and churned out some very good, and a few great, films). Zombieland is not a great zombie flick, but it’s entertaining, funny and it has several death scenes that are a hoot. Plus, more proof that Woody Harrelson is a terrific actor.

Happy-Go-Lucky

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

sallyhawkins.jpg

Mike Leigh remains a director who is impossible to pin down, which is exactly why his films are so unique, so original, so unmistakably his own. There are those contemporary directors who have a style, a look, a presence that is instantly recognizable. Leigh is like that.

He starts with an idea, works it out in his head, casts the film himself, gives the cast bits and pieces of information, and then begins massive improvisations, for a long period of time. There is never a traditional script, but I would argue that Leigh is a complete and masterful storyteller. He has crafted many remarkable films, including Secrets & Lies, All or Nothing, Vera Drake and Naked.

Happy-Go-Lucky, like many of his films, is centered on a remarkable performance, and that role is like a starting point for a rich, complicated movie full of terrific actors and memorable scenes. That performance would be Sally Hawkins as Poppy, the irrepressibly sunny school teacher. Hawkins is an actress I was only dimly aware of (she has a supporting role in Vera Drake), but now I will never forget her. This is one of those roles where it would be impossible to think of anyone else in the role.

The film is basically a chronicle of Poppy’s day to day existence, her relationship with her roommate Zoe (Alexis Zegerman) and her various friends, family and co-workers. Oh, and with a bitter, angry driving instructor by the name of Scott (Eddie Marsan, in a brilliant supporting performance that deserves lots of accolade recognition). The film is an endlessly fascinating look on an unshakable, resilient spirit. Poppy is definitely one of the strongest film characters I can remember seeing this year.

Hawkins and Marsan share some terrific scenes, and the contrast between their personalities is astounding. Poppy, who is optimistic and cheerful to a fault, and Scott, spewing hatred out of his mouth and contempt for just about everyone on the planet. It all culminates to a scene of great power and strength, a scene that shows the strength of one character, and the weakness of another.

The whole cast is exceptional, but I always notice the roles in Leigh films that could probably be called “small roles” in a big Hollywood movie, but in a Mike Leigh film these roles are given the same care and attention to detail as the lead performances are. Karina Fernandez as the flamenco teacher is funny and a little terrifying, and does with five minutes of screen time what many actresses cannot do with two hours. And no one will be able to forget Stanley Townsend’s haunting work as a homeless man that Poppy meets late one night.

Happy-Go-Lucky is an exceptional film by a world class director. Just great.

Four Christmases

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

alg_christmases.jpg

Just in time for Christmas comes a holiday film so dismal, so unfunny, so bland, that it can make one question the very point of Christmas movies, or Christmas, or movies for that matter. Ok, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but this movie is pretty lame. I sat in my seat after the film a little depressed, a little tired, a little less confident in the films of Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon.

Looking on the IMDB box office chart this morning, I see that this film is number 5 at the box office right now. Ugh. I understand that audiences want to see a Christmas film in the theaters this time of year, but, c’mon, this is crap. I’m getting really tired of Vince Vaughn appearing in films that are way, way, way beyond his talent and range. He’s a very funny guy, but recently, I wonder about his film choices.

It’s also odd that a film this bad could round up five (count ’em, five) Oscar winning actors: Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spaceck, Mary Steenburgen and Jon Voight. I hate to be cynical, but maybe it was the big paycheck. This movie is about a couple (Vaughn and Witherspoon) who wind up having to spend Christmas with all of their parents (since both sets of parents are divorced, guess how many Christmases that makes). Oh, the hilarity!!!

Another surprising thing about this film is that it’s directed by Seth Gordon, who helmed the excellent documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (which was one of the best films of 2007). Why he chose a stinker like this for his first foray in live-action films, only he and his hopefully-soon-to-be-fired agent know for sure. Again, ugh.

There are a lot of poop jokes in this, and puke jokes. There’s also a extended sequence where Witherspoon is attacked by a gang of six year olds in an inflated fun house. I guess that’s supposed to be funny. Jon Favreau and Tim McGraw show up as Vaughn’s violent brothers, and Dwight Yoakam is here too as a sleazy preacher. Tee hee.

This movie probably cost millions of dollars to make. It also probably made millions of dollars. I don’t know which statement is more depressing.

Role Models

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

 

 

role_models_movie_image_paul_rudd__seann_william_scott_and_christopher_mintz-plasse.jpg

Has there been a weaker preview for a funny movie this year? The trailers for Role Models show some of the jokes, and give the basic premise for the film, but they make it look lame, annoying and silly. In fact, I was probably going to pass on this film, until I read a few inspired reviews and decided to take a look on my own. I’m glad I did.

Role Models is a sarcastic, at times hilarious film, with a great comic cast and inspired moments of vulgarity. I liked that the plot is basically that of a PG-rated family comedy, but it’s delivered in what is very much an R-rated film. In this respect, director David Wain definitely has dared to subvert a film genre.

Role Models stars Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott as Danny and Wheeler, two employees for Minotaur, which is an energy drink akin to Rock Star. They drive around to different schools and extol the virtues of Minotaur, while also warning teens on the dangers of drug use. “Say no to drugs, and drink Minotaur!” Before too long, Danny and Wheeler wind up in a bad situation, and they have two options: jail or community service.

Danny and Wheeler end up at Sturdy Wings, a Big Brother type program, and here we are introduced to Gayle Sweeny (played by the great Jane Lynch), who is an ex-addict and runs the program. Lynch is hilarious in this role, and indeed, has some of the film’s best lines. Danny is paired with Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, McLovin from Superbad), a teenager obsessed with a medieval game that is played every Saturday in a local park. Wheeler is paired with Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson), a foul-mouthed 10 year old who just might give the funniest performance in the film. In a movie with great comic performances, this is saying something.

Rudd is a gifted actor, and he projects hostility, sarcasm and bitterness like bullets. Seann William Scott is also funny playing the same sort of role that he became famous for, only now it’s extra funny, since it’s been about nine years since he started playing the party animal, and here he creates the perpetual man-child. The film certainly feels like a Judd Apatow production, although his name is nowhere to be found in the credits. In addition to Rudd and Lynch, Apatow regulars in the movie include Elizabeth Banks, Ken Jeong (a terrific comic role) and Joe Lo Truglio. Also cast in funny supporting roles are Ken Marino, Kerri Kenney and A.D. Miles.

I thought the film was pretty funny, and also was warm and had a message, but Wain is admirable for not making it saccharine and sweet. It’s also been a while since I’ve seen a movie where the music of KISS becomes important to the film’s climax.

 

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

porno.jpg

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Kevin Smith’s latest film, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, is a funny movie. Smith has always been a gifted writer, and the dialogue in his films are witty, intelligent and incredibly profane, but in a good way. What I was surprised by was how sweet the tone of this film is. Yes, it’s vulgar, but it’s got a heart, and you care about the characters.

A good deal of the credit has to go to the lead actors: Seth Rogen and Elizbeth Banks. They have a natural chemistry, that helps immediately convince us that these two characters have in fact known in each other for years. This isn’t one of those movies were the two main characters are supposedly lifelong friends, but the actors don’t pull it off. We sense a history between the two.

Elizabeth Banks is beautiful, of course, but she is also a gifted comedienne (just look at her work in The 40 Year Old Virgin or her stint on the TV show “Scrubs). She has an early scene where she’s attempting to seduce a classmate at her high school reunion. Watch Banks’ timing, and her physicality in this scene, and also watch the reactions of the classmate (played by Superman himself, Brandon Routh). Banks’ makes Miri an endearing and alluring heroine.

Seth Rogen is quickly becoming a star, and his natural humor and comic presence is instantly apparent in this film. Rogen, who is also a gifted writer, has a way with dialogue, and can make seemingly inconsequential lines hilarious. He makes Zack a slacker with an acid tongue, but also a big lug with a bigger heart.

I’m sure I’m making Zack and Miri Make a Porno seem like an uneasy combination of smut and saccharine, but Smith has the audacity and the comic sensibility to pull it off. Although his name is nowhere on the film, I feel like at least the spirit of Judd Apatow was somehow in involved in this film. Rogen and Banks are both Apatow regulars, as are Craig Robinson and Gerry Bednob (who played Mooj in 40 Year Old Virgin). The film also has the mix of the sick and the sincere that Apatow films generally possess.

It is a Kevin Smith film, though, so Smith regulars crop up too. Most notably Jason Mewes (Jay of Jay & Silent Bob), as a dim-witted porn star, and Jeff Anderson (Randy of Clerks and Clerks II), as Deacon, the camera man. Smith also gives the film a dash of authenticity by casting real-life adult film stars Traci Lords and Katie Morgan in notable roles. Look fast for a cameo by horror make-up master Tom Savini.

I really enjoyed the work of Robinson as Zack’s co-worker Delaney, who winds up as the producer of the adult film that Zack and Miri set out to make. Robinson is a very funny actor (as his work on NBC’s “The Office” shows), and is a great asset to this film. I also thought that Justin Long was well-cast in his supporting turn as a gay porn star.

Although there are definitely some great gross-out gags (one particular scene involving Anderson’s put-upon cameraman comes to mind), but I think that Zack and Miri Make a Porno resonates after the credits because of the believability that Rogen and Banks bring to their characters. They give the film a realness and freshness that many gross-out comedies severely lack.

Army of Darkness

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

    evildead31.jpg

    While the original Evil Dead was a brutal, straight-up horror movie, and the second was a blood-soaked, comedy/horror hybrid, Army of Darkness is sillier, lighter, breezier.  Yes, it still has monsters and demons and mutilations and possessed people, but it also has a goofier tone, and Bruce Campbell as Ash is now basically an honorary Stooge. The film would probably best be described as a slapstick horror/fantasy.

    At the end of the second Evil Dead film, Ash winds up in Medieval England, where he slays a Deadite (that’s what the demons are called in these films) and is praised as a hero by the people of Medieval times.  In this film however, Sam Raimi retells the story, this time having Ash being immediately captured by the knights, led by King Arthur (Marcus Gilbert).  It should also be noted that in this film, Linda is played in the opening sequence by Bridget Fonda (it’s amusing that Linda is played by a different actress in every Evil Dead film).

The film is basically an excuse for Bruce Campbell to get into fights with demons, get hit, punched and kicked by just about every character in the film and for there to be a variety of terrific quotes.  Everybody has got their favorite, mine just might be “Well, excuse me, mister fancy pants!  You ain’t leading but two things right now: Jack and Shit, and Jack just left town.”  While the first two films really felt like Raimi’s unique vision, this one has the distinct feeling of studio involvement, in this case, Universal.

Raimi’s directorial style is apparent in a few scenes, most notably the moment where an unnamed enemy soldier gets thrown into a pit, and a long silence begins, as various characters peer into the pit, waiting a show.  After a moment of silent anticipation, we see Ash’s reaction shot, as a geyser of blood erupts from the pit.  It’s bizarre, gory and hilarious.

The film contains a few great movie in-jokes, I think immediately of the skeleton army that is a direct homage to Jason and the Argonauts (another favorite line is when the skeleton screams “Let’s get the hell out of here!”).  There are also shout-outs to the animated version of Gulliver’s Travels and to The Day the Earth Stood Still.  Of course, Campbell is ridiculous (in a good way), mugging and over-the-top and reminding us that he is a fine actor.

Originally, the film was supposed to end on a much different note, with Ash waking in a post-apocalyptic future.  This ending I think better fit with a recurring theme of the films, which was how Ash is an idiot and has horrible luck.  The ending the film has now, though, is a happy ending, of sorts, and does give us a super closing line: “Hail to the King, baby!”

2001 Maniacs (2005)

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

dvxkvzycdo1kae_l.jpg

If horror film in-jokes alone made a good horror movie, then 2001 Maniacs may have been on to something. First of all, it’s a remake of the film Two Thousand Maniacs, directed by cult horror icon Herschell Gordon Lewis. It was produced by Eli Roth, who made the Hostel films, and Scott Spiegel, who co-wrote Evil Dead II (Roth and Spiegel head up Raw Nerve Films, alongside director Boaz Yakin, who also produced). The film features roles from many prominent horror film icons, including Robert Englund, Kane Hodder and Roth himself.Unfortunately, a horror film can’t be good just because it knows it’s a horror film and has lots of in-jokes and references other horror movies (although often it helps a little); if the film isn’t scary or funny or suspenseful or interesting, than all that in-joke stuff just doesn’t matter. Sure, Englund as a crazed, cannibalistic Southern mayor is fun, but the film isn’t about him, or the tyrannical Southern matriarch Granny Boone (Lin Shaye, who is also well cast), it’s about a bunch of horny, boring college kids on their way to spring break, who take a wrong turn and end up in a Southern town still miffed about the Civil War.

In fact, (and I’m not giving anything away, trust me) they’re upset because they were all killed by embittered Yanks. That’s right, the film is about a town of vengeful Civil War ghosts who kill goofy, stupid college students. It’s a great set-up, but there’s not much else to it. There’s a few great death scenes, like when one of the slutty college students gets ripped apart by four separate horses (one tied to each of her limbs), or when the young man gets his stomach burned through with acid while he’s having sex with one of the Civil War ghosts.

If it’s sounds cool, that’s because I’m only mentioning the interesting parts. I’m not mentioning of all of the pointless, uninteresting scenes between the various college students (all of who are young, pretty and really, really bad at acting) or how the movie screeches to a halt when one of the vengeful Civil War ghosts (or CWGs, as I should refer to them) is not murdering a devastatingly boring college student (DBCS).

This movie needs more CWG, and less DBCS. But, that’s not how it works out, is it? For some reason, Peter Stormare and Travis Tritt (yes, the country singer) appear in small roles. I thought Tritt was effective in his very brief appearance as a gas station attendant, he should have had a bigger role. So should Eli Roth as a psychotic hitch-hiker. 2001 Maniacs would have been more enjoyable if it had pushed the limits of the gross-out humor, and the ghoulish murder scenes, and less of the crummy stuff. A mixed bag.

Evil Dead II

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

18946315.jpg

There is a sadistic, savage sense of humor that pulsates through Evil Dead II. While Sam Raimi’s original film in the trilogy, The Evil Dead, was a terrific, inventive horror film, his sequel is a gory, intense horror/comedy hybrid, right up there with An American Werewolf in London, Shaun of the Dead and Re-Animator. It’s like Night of the Living Dead meets Deliverance meets The Three Stooges, co-directed by Dario Argento and Buster Keaton. Yeah, it’s kind of like that.

A good deal of the credit, of course, goes to the genius of Sam Raimi, who takes the film to the limits of taste, and then pushes it a little further. His vision in this film is cartoonish and horrific, subtle and over-the-top, super-cool and chaotic. The special effects team, led by the legendary Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger and Robert Kurtzman, also is responsible for a great deal of the impact that this film still has. Surely composer John LoDuca’s chilling and beautiful score is part of it, too.

But, without the inspired performance by Bruce Campbell, the film probably would not have such a devoted following, nor such a cherished reputation. In the first Evil Dead film, Campbell’s performance as Ash was competent, but there was a bit of woodenness to it (this was understandable, since it was his first film). However, his work in Evil Dead II is a joy to behold. It is over-the-top, ridiculous, undeniably hip and incredibly demanding from a physical stand point (there are scenes where Campbell’s body movements are timed to the slightest detail). There is a sequence where Ash’s hand becomes possessed by an evil spirit, and the hand retaliates against its master. It is a masterpiece of comedy and of suspense, and Campbell pulls it off perfectly.

There is a mini-controversy over whether Evil Dead II is a true sequel, or if it’s a remake. Here’s the story: the film is a sequel, but since Sam Raimi could not start the film with a recap from the original (there was a problem over the film rights with the distributors), Raimi retold the story of the first film at the beginning of this one. So, at the seven minute mark, the sequel officially begins.

In this one, Ash and his girlfriend Linda (this time played by Denise Bixler), drive up to an old abandoned house in the middle of the woods and Ash plays that dang recording and unleashes the dark forces of Hell, who immediately possess Linda, forcing Ash to chop off his darling’s head with a shovel. And then it gets weird.

Evil Dead II is funny because of its over-the-top presentation of the violence, especially in how many of the fights seem like they were staged by a Three Stooges fanatic (oh wait, they were). The excessive amounts of blood, guts, shattered bones, entrails and assorted body parts stop, at a point, being nauseating and start being funny. Two of the supporting performances also add to the underlining humor of the film, those would be the performances by Dan Hicks and Kassie DePaiva as the country bumpkin Jake and his hillbilly princess Bobbie Joe. Hicks, especially, balding, sweaty and sneaky, creates a human character every bit as reprehensible as the demons in the film. Sarah Berry as Annie, the missing professor’s daughter, adds a gentle, kind touch to a dark film. Richard Domeier, as the tall, blond hero type Ed, is your typical B-movie performance, until he turns into a hulking monster, that is.

I must, of course, also mention Sam’s younger brother Ted as Henrietta, the professor’s possessed wife, who was buried in the fruit cellar. His first appearance is an especially creepy moment. I can’t tell you how much I love Evil Dead II. It’s a blood-soaked treasure.

Made of Honor

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

made-of-honor-poster.jpg

I guess it serves me right. This trailers and ads for this movie looked horrible, and its star, Patrick Dempsey, I find to be one of the least talented “big” name contemporary actors. I had no reason to see this movie. None. So, on the plane from Barcelona back to the United States (Newark, New Jersey, to be exact), after I had watched three worthwhile films on my laptop computer, I decided to watch Made of Honor on the Airline TV in front of me because…I don’t know. I guess, as one of my friends so aptly put it once, I am a movie whore.

Anyway, no big surprises here, but this movie is pretty bad. Not only is it bad, but it’s also not funny. One reason the film doesn’t work is about 20 minutes into the film, when platonic best friends Tom (Dempsey) and Hannah (Michelle Monaghan) are slow dancing, looking into each others’ eyes, we know they’re in love, and the movie should have ended there. It would have if the film didn’t have a case of what the great critic Roger Ebert calls an “idiot plot,” where the plot could be resolved much earlier if all the characters in the film weren’t idiots.

Ok, I’ll admit it, most romantic comedies do not have interesting, fascinating plots. We pretty much know that the two characters will get together at the end. But, you see, good romantic comedies have a few elements missing here: funny dialogue, funny characters, funny situations and, oh yeah, THE LEADS SHOULD AT LEAST HAVE SOME CHEMISTRY TOGETHER. Sorry, but that felt like an all caps-lock kind of moment. Dempsey and Monaghan are supposed to be best friends, but they don’t even seem like neighbors who speak to each other occasionally. So, the lack of any feeling at all between them doesn’t help.

It also doesn’t help that the romantic rival, played by Kevin McKidd (from the terrific HBO show “Rome”) seems like a better fit for Hannah than Tom does. Ok, he’s a bit bland, but then again, so is she. So is Tom. In fact, so is everybody just about. Even Kathleen Quinlan, who usually adds a little something to the films she appears in, seems totally at a loss in this film. The only actor who gives a decent performance is the late Sydney Pollack as Dempsey’s often married (and divorced) father. But, he’s in it for maybe eight minutes.

This is a boring, watered down romantic comedy, the kind of cookie-cutter garbage that gets churned out quickly, consumed by mass audiences of bored, sheltered movie-goers, then quickly scuttled to DVD where it can make a few bucks. It’s not interesting, it’s not romantic, it’s not funny, but most of all, it’s not good.