Tag Archives: Comedy

The Librarians (series 3)

[4 stars]

The Librarian movies weren’t brilliant pieces of fantasy adventure, but there was something wonderful about the concept and the characters in the franchise. The first movie, in particular, struck a chord. Then it began a long slide into silliness and, frankly, weaker and weaker writing. Entertaining, but not memorable.

When it was reimagined into a series, it carried that sensibility with it and, through sheer energy, overcame the overly simplistic, Nickelodeon-style approach to the tales. Nothing brilliant, but some fun distraction that I certainly took part in, being the geeky book collector and lover of genre that I am.

With season three, the show found its footing again. The story plots are full of short-cuts on the order of Scooby Doo, but the subject matter is, at its core, stuff adults can appreciate too. It has fun while being entirely self-conscious of its intentions. Much like a good library, the goal is to pull in younger viewers and excite them to learn more about all the stories and history. I don’t really classify this as educational TV, but it certainly plants seeds and introduces those who are curious to ideas and facts that could take root later.

The cast have always worked well together but, like their characters, they’re cooperative energy has gelled in their third season. Christian Kane (Leverage), Lindy Booth (Kick-Ass 2), and John Harlan Kim are more a cohesive unit and Rebecca Romijn (X-Men: First Class) more of the leader she needed to become as Noah Wyle (Falling Skies) has stepped further away from being the overriding authority. And, of course, John Larroquette (Me, Myself, & I) always brings a fun energy and delivery. Each season has its particular arc, and this one brings in Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty) to provide the friction. She provides a nicely myopic antagonist and walks a good line for younger and older viewers alike.

The writing and directing are less bombastic this season, which has helped its sensibility. Sure there are prat falls, but far fewer. And the scenery is only mildly chewed upon by the cast, and only on occasion. It is a fun run and suggests a stronger season to follow if they can stick to their creative guns and direction.

The Librarians

Coco

[5 stars]

This is every bit as good as you’ve heard. And, yes, the 3D is even worth it, though not necessary. The story is more than enough to stand on its own without it if you don’t want to spend the dollars for the format. 3D simply adds some richness to it all. Still, you must see this on a big screen, so don’t wait for disc.

I honestly was worried at the top of the film. Primarily this was due to the Frozen short, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, that fronted the film, but more on that in a minute. The story, Coco, starts off so obvious and simple that I honestly didn’t give it the credit it deserved. I was sure I knew what I was in for and how it was all going to get there, so might as well lay back and and enjoy the art. What was provided, instead, was both provocative emotionally (as you’d expect) but also evocative in many ways, which you really only ever hope for and rarely get to see. Co-writers and co-directors, Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) and first-timer Adrian Molina, kept attacking the ideas with the rest of the writers until it was something more complex and interesting than, say, Book of Life managed even though they both tackle the same cultural tales.

The voice cast is solid, but it is dominated by three actors: Anthony Gonzalez (The Bridge), Gael García Bernal (Mozart in the Jungle), and Benjamin Bratt (Doctor Strange). Though special mention for Natalia Cordova-Buckley (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as Frida Kahlo really need be made. It isn’t that the other voice work isn’t good, but they are all side-notes to these stand-outs. As a whole, the world comes together gloriously in vision and sound. But it isn’t just at the macro level. There are also a lot of subtle clues and tiny details that will make this worth seeing more than a few times.

I do wish it had a bit more Spanish throughout to really make it feel more natural, but there is at least some. And it would have been better with a few strong female characters to help drive the story; there are women, but this is a male dominated tale without question. And I could have done without the (generally) reused face of the boy from The Good Dinosaur. But these ended up minor concerns compared to the overall success of the movie.

OK, back to Olaf’s intrusion into my viewing pleasure. Now I want to be clear that I loved Frozen. I will admit that Olaf wasn’t my favorite character, but my frustration with the short had less to do with that and more to do with the story. It was a flat-out Christmas tale, already jarring against the Día de Muertos story that was to follow, but also because it was only a Christmas tale. By the time it began explaining what all cultures do during “that time of year” as part of their Christmas tradition, my teeth were so on edge I wanted to scream.

To be clear, the religious observance of Hanukkah, as an example, existed millennia before the holiday traditions of Christmas. Literally. The Hanukkah lights are not lit because it is Christmas, which the story suggests in its plot and lyrics. And Hanukkah is only one of the observances subsumed into the tale. The short cartoon manages to avoid the worst of what it could have devolved into, but is still a misstep for Disney in terms of inclusiveness and cultural sensitivity. Actually pretty surprising given their foray into new cultural areas that Coco tries to map. It was also just a very bad match artistically for the main feature that followed, in my opinion.

That I still rated Coco so highly, despite the Frozen short, tells you how much power it had to get me over that hill of annoyance. Go see Coco and enjoy the magic, family, message, joy, and loss that is its world. There is something for all ages in its story and the production is a wonder to behold on the screen.

Coco

Hocus Pocus

[2.5 stars]

Just about 25 years ago Disney was back on the upswing in its animation department and they took a swing with this live-action fantasy stocked with a couple rising stars [Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City 2) and Kathy Najimy (King of the Hill)] and one powerhouse: Bette Midler.  What was created embodied the best and worst of Disney, leaving a classically bad film in its wake.

Hocus Pocus has all the modern sensibility of a film from the 50s or 60s, but it is set, sadly, in the early 90s. It is all easy, breezy, and without much consequence despite high stakes. But in typical Disney sensibility of the time, there are no real risks or danger or doubt about what will happen. That could be acceptable if it also meant we got characters we could care about, but we don’t. Only the young Thora Birch (The Hole) manages to really dominate the screen and our interest.

A lot of the feel of this film comes from the creative roots of its crew. Co-writer Mick Garris has additional cred as a primary writer on the primarily-lost (though fun) TV run of She Wolf of London. Director Kenny Ortega was and remains primarily a TV director, like his remount of Rocky Horror last year. The fact that Hocus Pocus seems like a Wonderful World of Disney, Sunday night offering should be less confusing with that knowledge. About the only real risk they took was in who the virgin was in the curse…and they ran with that…often.

So it really all comes down to how much you like bad films that somehow transcend their badness enough to be entertaining. Either you laugh with them or against them. There are some good spot-the-actor moments in this one (one soon-to-be Buffy alum shows up and several adult roles are worthy catches too). But as a film, it is painfully sweet, silly, absurd, and intelligence insulting. Perhaps it is just aimed younger than I’d have liked, but I don’t think the plot points speak to a young audience, only to young minds.

Hocus Pocus

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

[3 stars]

I’ll admit that I was never a huge  fan of the Pirates series. I always found them empty vessels of pretty pictures filled with action and broad comedy, but not much else. This most recent installment isn’t that much different, but I have to admit I found it more satisfying. The push into a new generation with Brenton Thwaites (The Giver) and Kaya Scodelario (Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials) was done well and Scodelario gave us a strong, intelligent woman to help balance it all out.

The rest of the returning cast produce everything you’d expect and what has kept this series moving along for five films. The only character that was forced into the plot and, frankly, was just frustrating, was David Wenham’s (Marvel’s Iron Fist) Scarfield. His character was there for continuity, but wasn’t really effective nor anything but annoying to me. However, I did think the rest of the overall story held together better than the previous films. Admittedly, not much better, but everything is relative and I could at least follow and believe(ish) in this plot. It also buttoned up some nice aspects of the previous films.

The film is filled with great action, including an hysterical opening that rivals the bank heist in Fast & Furious 6. It isn’t that you can’t build a film on effects and action alone, but they aren’t the kind that tend to keep me coming back. Even broad comedies or action need fun characters and a good plot to make me want to revisit their world or remember it past the final credits. This installment isn’t going to live long in my memory, but it did keep its gasping life alive longer than the previous four films, so that’s something.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

The Emoji Movie

[2 stars]

Let’s start with the obvious. Emoji is like watching a grade-schooler’s attempt to re-imagine Tron. Mind you, whoever thought making a flick about emoji’s should have been laughed out of the pitch room to begin with. But they weren’t, so here we are.

That stated, Emoji does have two things going for it. First, there is a tough(ish) female hacker in a lead role. Second, its message is a solid, “be yourself.” Other than that it is a vacuous, obvious, unimaginative tale aimed at 6 year olds.

So, yeah, skip this unless you need to entertain a youngster or need a brain power-down from a crazy day. It is certainly an empty piece of colorful motion with a dance track. Which, honestly, is why I put it on in the first place. And yet, I could have, and wish I had, done better.

The Emoji Movie

Baywatch

[3 stars]

Yes, I know, even I’m embarrassed to admit I made time to watch this. Why did I? Curiosity, mainly. I never watched the show and never wanted to. I guess I was looking for a bit of harmless distraction in the midst of trying times and a rather challenging week.

There is certainly no complexity in this story to force you to think. There are some pretty bodies, some light action, some gnashing of teeth, and a lot of broad humor. The humor is probably where it falls apart the most for me. It is all so cheap and obvious, aimed at teenage boys when their audience was older. It also made Dwayne Johnson’s (Moana) and Zac Efron’s (The Paperboy) characters come across as just, well, dumb. But, then again, I wasn’t looking for the next Seventh Seal when I put this on, so I shouldn’t complain; but neither was I looking for The Three Stooges.

Though this tale is very much dominated by the men, there are several women who are more than just pretty faces, though not much leverage in the plot. Ilfenesh Hadera (Chi-Raq), Alexandra Daddario (San Andreas), Kelly Rohrbach, and Priyanka Chopra (Quantico) are all strong and with brains and bods. It would have been better if they’d also been instrumental in the story rather than just connective tissue, but it really isn’t that kind of movie.

I’m not sure this trifle is even something I can recommend as a distraction you should seek out. If it came on unbidden in the schedule, it is probably not something you should run from, but even fans of the show were disappointed by the lack of actual Baywatch-ness to the flick. They had their nods (a couple actually amusing) but generally managed to be neither satire nor homage…it simply co-opted the title for marketing purposes and tried to run with it. The result isn’t unwatchable, it is just not recommendable. So this is entirely up to you on whether to make a beach party of it or to choose a different distraction.

Baywatch

The Curiosity of Chance

[3 stars]

Up front, you watch this film for what it does right rather than worrying about what it doesn’t quite nail. The reason is that when it gets it right, it really gets it right, so I was willing to cut it a break.

Chance is a bit St. Trinian’s, a bit Sing Street , and a bit of Ferris Bueller thrown in for good measure, not to mention a bevy of Belgian drag queens. It has heart and humor and, with some teeth grinding exceptions, tries to avoid the obvious.

Tad Hilgenbrink (Disaster Movie) leads the movie with a sense of confidence, strength, and fearlessness. He is out, proud, and a vulnerable teenager all at once. His charisma drives the story. Along with sidekicks Brett Chukerman and Aldevina Da Silva, the three tackle high school and the school bully together-ish. As his father, Chris Mulkey also adds a nice and unexpected layer. Well, not entirely unexpected, but nicely executed. 

For an early film, writer/director Russell P. Marleau manages to pull off a difficult balancing act. He gets the emotional core of the story he wants to tell and entertains us while he delivers it. Unfortunately, the presentation is just a tad off. Transposing the tale to Europe fails (and doesn’t even really feel believable–it just doesn’t feels like Europe at all). The humor is often either too broad or not big enough. The pacing isn’t tight enough to pull off the absurdities but it is just as often too tight on the triumphs. 

As I said, you watch this for what it does right, and it really does a lot right. You’ll recognize the characters from your life and you’ll sympathize with the plights and fears. It is a credit to the actors and, when he did nail it, the director that it succeeds despite tripping over its own feet. I honestly rather enjoyed it enough to ignore the flaws to recommend it (I’m even ignoring the silly title that doesn’t quite work either).

The Curiosity of Chance

Sylvia Scarlett

[2 stars] Way back in 1935 Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant (An Affair to Remember) were to meet for the first time on screen. The results were not what you’d expect given their better remembered history. In fact, there is no romance between the two.

The object of Hepburn’s attention is not Grant but rather Brian Aherne. She and Grant are really more intended as comedy duo along the lines of Abbot and Costello or William Powell and Myrna Loy. But the movie really doesn’t work very well. Even Edmund Gwenn, who plays Hepburn’s father, is wasted in this film as he flails about and attains no sympathy from us, starting with the first scene. 

So, why watch this film at all? Well, it has three interesting aspects to it. Primarily, Hepburn is dressed as a boy for a good part of the film. It is intended to lead to hijinx and hilarity of mistaken intentions and confused sexuality (all with a laugh, of course). It didn’t work then. It works a little better now as gender roles and societal norms have relaxed. A little better. Hepburn is, mostly, a strong character in this story. But there are no guts to the script and barely a good joke, though Hepburn does a game job of jumping back and forth in her makeup and movement. And with Mel Berns make-up, Hepburn almost passes, looking like a young David Bowie in her drag.

The second bit of trivia for this film is Grant. It was, essentially, his breakout. Not with the film itself, but it was the first time his trademark personality on screen was exhibited and noticed. It led to his subsequent stardom.

The final interesting aspect of this film, especially given this summer’s misfires at the box office, was that Sylvia Scarlett was a massive bomb (losing about 350,000 or over 6M in 2017 dollars) when it released. It almost cost Hepburn her career. Three years later she would return triumphantly, and with Grant again, in Bringing Up Baby (followed in quick succession by Holiday, Philadelphia Story), and then Woman of the Year.

You don’t often get to see what didn’t work from years past. For good reason they tend to fade and be forgotten. In this case, the star power kept it alive until it found an audience, however tenuously. You’d never expect that George Cukor, who would go on to direct My Fair Lady, Philadelphia Story, and Adam’s Rib, just to name a few, was at the helm of this damaged ship. But he did see the spark in the pairing of Grant and Hepburn and got to use it later on.

Sylvia Scarlett is not a great film, even in retrospect. But it is a fascinating piece of film history, with some moments to recommend it. I have to admit, I had to skip a small chunk of the film near the beginning because it was just so uncomfortably bad. But curiosity had me finish it. I also wonder if, in title and nod to theme, they weren’t playing on the previous year’s Marlene Dietrich success: The Scarlet Empress, but I don’t think anyone is left to ask that one.

 

 

Going in Style

[3 stars] This is more Tower Heist than Hell or High Water, which is a bit of a shame as the talent in the film is pretty stand-up. Top lining are Morgan Freeman (Last Vegas), Alan Arkin (Love the Coopers), and Michael Caine (The Last Witch Hunter); three guys who have massive presence on screen and can still share it with others.

And this bouncy comedy, with a tinge of seriousness, has a great supporting cast as well. Ann-Margret, John Ortiz (Kong: Skull Island), Joey King (Independence Day: Resurgence), Matt Dillon (Wayward Pines), and some extra silliness by Christopher Lloyd fill out the lives of our main characters with some nice color.

The thing is, the story had more potential than that. Much like a ton of other options like Now You See Me, Stand Up Guys, Lavender Hill Mob, Topkapi, there were depths to be plumbed. It starts off more serious and on a note that will resonate with much of the audience out there. But that note, instead, is just a MacGuffin that has little bite and barely any threat.

A better script would have helped. Writer Melfi (St. Vincent), despite some good moments, really fell into cliche and obvious choices. Some of that blame, though, has to go to the director, Zach Braff (Scrubs), who has little sense of subtlety and who clearly played this for broad laughs rather than something, potentially, richer. It still could have been fun and funny, but it could also have had a bit more grounding to raise the stakes and involve the audience rather than solely using cheap tricks, like kids and hospitals, to win our affections.

I’m not saying don’t watch this movie. It is diverting. It is funny. It is relatively satisfying. But, much like eating a single Cheeto, once it dissolved I found I was still hungry.

Going in Style