Tag Archives: Comedy

Mad About You (2020)

[3 stars]

Remember that couple you used to hang out with all the time, but then they had a kid and you drifted apart as life pulled you in different directions? Well, the Buckmans are that couple and, with the child about to fly the coup, they’re back. Paul Reiser (The Little Hours) and Helen Hunt (Ride) are still at the center of this odd romantic sort of comedy, but Abby Quinn joins them as their suitably neurotic daughter, and holds her own. Other notables returning are Jon Pankow with a fun storyline of his own that he shares with Antoinette LaVecchia. And Richard Kind (Ride), likewise, with the wonderful Kecia Lewis. Another amusing add, for Quinn’s benefit, is Asif Ali (WandaVision), who delivers his broad humor with incredible precision and confidence.

The season, much like any long comedy set, has it’s weak moments. But Reiser, who wrote a good part of the season, also gave it a particular shape. The dozen episodes hold together for a very satisfying conclusion and pause, setting up another season if that should ever come. If you liked the original run, you’ll slip back into this extension fairly seamlessly. It has all the warts and flaws of the original, but it has evolved to fit in with the times and it has embraced the long gap between our view of their lives. And, as with the original, it stays just meaty enough in its examination of marriage to avoid being easily dismissed.

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Space Jam: A New Legacy

[3 stars]

OK, I get it. I understand why some folks will just love this crazy and silly romp through parenthood and basketball. And, to be completely fair, LeBron James actually pulls off his role believably. And Don Cheadle (Avengers: Endgame) gets to eat some serious scenery as well.

As a story, this is about on par with a Looney Tunes cartoon. It doesn’t hold up under any scrutiny. But the Tron/Matrix send up, and totally unabashed WB advertisement for every bit of IP they still own, entertains on several levels. The more you know, the more you’ll enjoy the references and background characters. (Though I also have to admit that voices for the classic ‘toons and some of their characterizations, esp. Bugs, didn’t quite work for me.)

Helping James out as his on-screen son, Cedric Joe feels about perfect. And Sonequa Martin-Green (Star Trek: Discovery) got to show us a new side of herself as James’ partner.

But most of the kudos really have to go to director Malcolm D. Lee who found the tone and the pace to keep it all going. He’s the core reason this crazy gamble worked. A brilliant classic? No. But certainly not an embarrassment. And while it will work on the big screen, it honestly is fine on a smaller one as well.

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Boss Baby: Family Business

[3 stars]

Wow there’s a lot going on in this movie. It’s not only frenetic in the extreme through the first two thirds, it’s packed with comments and commentary. Logic?? Well, not so much of that, but it is certainly (and surprisingly) entertaining. I have to admit, I have almost no memory of the original Boss Baby. Fortunately, that didn’t matter too much as they recap what’s necessary…at least enough to jog your memory.

There is a lot of great voice talent throughout the movie, but the highlight is Alec Baldwin (Motherless Brooklyn) and Jeff Goldblum (Hotel Artemis) trying to outdo one another as oily characters with nothing but disdain for the world. That, of course, shorts the plot considerably, but it isn’t like the plot makes tons of sense. And the satirical edge of it all is nicely played; the kids pageant is particularly scathing if you really listen to it.

Writer/director Tom McGrath (Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted) delivered again one of those movies you come to in order to turn off your brain and take a funny, pretty ride with some laughs. I suspect it will live in my memory only slightly longer than the first film, but will remain roughly as ephemeral. It certainly aims at all ages for its entertainment.

The Boss Baby: Family Business Poster

Luca

[3.5 stars]

After the amazing journey of Soul, Luca had some fairly high expectations to meet. And it didn’t, at least for me. While this latest Pixar does pay off by the end, it is a slightly mixed path to get there. Mixed messages. Mixed accents. Mixed clichés. It was just unable to commit to being Italian or American’s ideas of Italian. I also found myself more than a little uncomfortable at times with the choices, even as other aspects were hilarious. Ultimately, I found myself enjoying the idea of Luca more than the movie itself.

Part of the problem is that the logic of the world is mutable. The rules keep changing to meet the convenience of the plot. Another issue that the characters are all pushed to such extremes as to break their credibility. The trick is to dance up to that line and then pull back…get the laugh but ground the character. Instead this all came off as a grand cartoon rather than a wonderful film.

The voice talent is, overall, sufficient. The drifting accents didn’t help, and the silly situations made some of the choices forced. Jacob Tremblay (Doctor Sleep) didn’t really get to explore his character. And Jack Dylan Grazer (Shazam!) tried, but didn’t really capture the nuance that might have been there in Alberto. Even Maya Rudolph (The Mitchells vs The Machines), who had some real fun, didn’t manage many levels. And the less said about Saverio Raimondo’s over the top villain, the better. The best performances were the small cameos: Sacha Baron Cohen (Trial of the Chicago 7), Sandy Martin, and Marco Barricelli. Interestingly, all three older characters in the cast.

I do have to say, though, that the animation did capture the quality of the Italian sun beautifully. And some of the aspects of family and growing up were depicted quite well too.

Luca is a fun distraction with a lot of poor choices. And, perhaps director Enrico Casarosa will get to try again as it certainly was impressive for a first time in the chair, despite my misgivings. What it comes down to is, sure, see it if you’ve got D+. But, honestly, this could have been so much more.

Luca Poster

 

We Are Lady Parts

[4 stars]

Come for the title, stay for the utter hilarity with just enough truth to keep it grounded. In true-to-the-best of Brit humor We Are Lady Parts is part fantastical, part reality, and all heart. And to describe it at all is to blow some of the fun and surprise in this 6-episode first series.

Like other unexpected comedies such as Uncle and Moone Boy, it shouldn’t work, but it really does thanks to the incredible writing and direction of Nida Manzoor’s solid cast of mostly unknowns. Top among them is the band members Sarah Kameela Impey, Juliette Motamed, Lucie Shorthouse, Faith Omole, and our main narrator Anjana Vasan. A couple of better known faces in peripheral characters help it all along as well, especially Shobu Kapoor and Aiysha Hart (A Discovery of Witches).

Suffice to say it a fun and sympathetic look at a culture that rarely gets that treatment. And a bit of female punk rock to boot. At 22 minutes an episode, it isn’t a huge investment to find out if this is for you or not. I highly recommend giving it a try.

We Are Lady Parts Poster

Wish Dragon

[4 stars]

When Wish Dragon starts, you’re sure you’ve got it sussed. I mean, c’mon, a wish granting dragon stuck in a teapot…shades of Aladdin, right? Well, yes and no. Certainly there are commonalities, but writer/director Chris Appelhans not only steeped the tale in Chinese culture, he also told it simply and with unexpected honesty. And while aimed at and safe for kids, adults will find plenty in it to be entertained by. Impressive for a first-time effort in the driver’s seat.

Jimmy Wong (Mulan) plays the guileless and true-hearted master of the teapot trying to reconnect with his friend Natasha Liu Bordizzo. Their path and relationship are the heart of the tale while Constance Wu (Solos) and Will Yun Lee (San Andreas) voice the parents of the respective kids. And none of it would work without the vocal acrobatics of John Cho (Mirai) as the dragon, Long.

I can’t pretend this isn’t a movie for children, but I found myself utterly drawn in and entertained. Maybe that says more about me or my current state of mind, but I recommend this one and even plan on watching it again. It has wonderful messages and reminders of life. And, most importantly, manages to get there in some surprising ways, even if other aspects choose tried and true paths. Could it have been more realistic or included more of the real world? Sure, but it doesn’t feel lacking for its efforts. And, sure, it has to wrap it up on a high note, but the successes are all through human toil and effort, not through wishes granted, which is a more powerful message than you typically get in these stories.

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Raya and the Last Dragon

[3 stars]

There is something wonderful about Raya and it’s message. It’s timely and important. Sanitized and simplified to be sure, but a message that is needed right now in a way that it hasn’t in decades. However, with 8 writers and 4 directors it is hard to provide credit for the results to any individuals (at least while looking from the outside). I do wonder just how much more focused it might have been had there been fewer cooks in the kitchen.

Kelly Marie Tran (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) gives voice to our hero with a fierce energy, despite some of the less-than-mature choices in the script. She is surrounded by great talent as well. Daniel Dae Kim (Stowaway), Gemma Chan (Captain Marvel), Awkwafina (Paradise Hills), and Benedict Wong (Gemini Man) rise to the top in that group. Every one of these characters hints at depths that never really get plumbed, but it does help provide some weight and tension to the story.

Of course the animation is often gorgeous, but it is also odd. I was often dropped into the uncanny valley, not because of human characters, but because the water effects have gotten so photo-realistic that the choice to keep human and animal characters clearly nonrealistic was often jarring.

The movie itself is definitely worth checking out, at least once. Had the story had been a bit more brave and bit less managed, it could have been a classic. But by focusing on the cute too much, and avoiding real cost and pain, it ends up as more typical Disney fare regardless of the non-typical character design and casting.

Raya and the Last Dragon Poster

The Mitchells vs The Machines

[3 stars]

Gravity Falls writing duo Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe have delivered an entertaining, if somewhat frenetic and younger-focused bit of story. The visually vibrating world is filtered through the eyes of 18 year-old Katie, voiced by Abbi Jacobson. Jacobson manages to capture that sweet spot of teenage-dom between complete independence and the need for family quite nicely. Her mother, given life by Maya Rudolph (The Happytime Murders), dances between parent and peace-maker for the family in some really wonderful ways as well.

And then there’s the villain of the piece, Olivia Colman (The Father). With quiet, London-ium charm, Colman tries to bring down the world.

The story itself is one very long setup for a nicely tight final half-hour. That long setup, however, can drag a bit and feel more than a little forced, and this is where Rianda’s new director chops show the most. He and Rowe do a solid job of using everything they put on screen, but the pacing is a little slow and the humor isn’t quite enough keep it going on its own until the threads come together.

All that said, for an afternoon’s distraction, it isn’t a loss. Certainly, the younger you are the more enjoyable it will be (down to about age 10). And, to be fair, that is probably where they were aiming the story. Originally planned for a theatrical release, it was pulled onto streaming… and given the world-crashing calamity of it all, not to mention the younger audience, that was probably the right choice. On the smaller screen it is significantly less imposing. But, ultimately, this one will have to be up to you in terms of whether to spin it up or not. I can tell you it does know where it’s going in the end, just be prepared wade through a lot of silly to get there.

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Thunder Force

[3 stars]

There is a place in this world for silly comedy. I don’t deny that and, in many cases, I don’t shun the results. But I do get frustrated when I see there was more potential. The simple fact is that Ben Falcone (Superintelligence) just isn’t a great writer or director. He has one trick: he’s married to Melissa McCarthy (Superintelligence). And while McCarthy often falls back on a smallish bag of tricks, especially when working with her partner, she is also capable of great acting (see Can You Ever Forgive Me?).

It isn’t that Thunder Force isn’t entertaining. It has some really funny moments and is an amusing send-up of the genre. But it is full of flawed logic and weak plotting. Those two things turn a satire into sketch comedy. And sketch comedy works best in shorter delivery systems rather than stretched over 115 minutes.

However, the approach does allow Bobby Cannavale (Superintelligence – seeing a trend on this one?) and Pom Klementieff (Ingrid Goes WestGuardians of the Galaxy) to chew the scenery in entertaining ways…at least for them. Even Octavia Spencer (The Witches) can’t help but tear a few splinters with her teeth, though her comfort with the type of humor in this movie is palpable.

Only Jason Bateman (Disconnect) and Taylor Mosby (The Last OG) tackle their roles with a quiet intensity that drops comedy softly amid the din of the rest of the movie. Melissa Leo (Equalizer 2, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn) certainly holds her own in this way, but her character is oddly downplayed in this final cut. Or, perhaps, Falcone just cast too good an actor in the tiny role.

For some distracting laughs, this isn’t time poorly spent. It is very much in the vein of Mystery Men, but without even the craft of that silly and flawed comedy to pull this off completely (and it certainly isn’t The Heat on any level–which I respected but didn’t care for). Superintelligence was a much better result…and the difference, in part, is that Falcone didn’t write that one. So go into this with some popcorn and salt between your cheek and gum. Enjoy it for what it is and let go of what it could be. For the end of a long week as a distraction, it wasn’t unwelcome.

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A Pastiche of Pixelated Drama (aka more TV)

So here’s that next round of TV this winter that I promised. Actually, some of them were worth the wait, though none are a runaway must-see.

Equalizer
This one really surprised me. The writing and chemistry are there right out of the gate. The rhythm needs some work, but the creative team is doing justice to the core of the original story while updating it for the current times. Queen Latifah (Ice Age: Collision Course) is a force to be reckoned with, but with the heart that made the first iteration of this story work so well. And it’s already been renewed for a second season.

Resident Alien
Alan Tudyk (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) is just fun to watch, even when the scripts aren’t entirely up to snuff. But though the show sort of stumbles out of the gate, it is quickly finding its feet with the help of Sara Tomko and Elizabeth Bowen (Upload). It may never be a classic, but it tackles some unexpected storylines and keeps it all fun, if improbable and, at times, predictable.

Clarice
Rebecca Breeds nails Clarice at the early point in her career, just post Buffalo Bill. The show embraces the Silence of the Lambs plot (though closer to the movie than the book) and spins it out to show us Clarice in the years between that story and the follow-on Hannibal. It seems only fair as Harris wrote up Hannibal’s whole journey eventually. It’s time to see Clarice’s. Helping her along are Lucca De Oliveira and Caitlin Stryker, both of whom add nice emotional and occupational support to the struggling Clarice. To be fair, they’ve diminished Clarice more than a little for their own dramatic purpose, but the core of her is still there. If there is a weakness in this show it is down to the insufferable boss character created by Michael Cudlitz. That isn’t Cudlitz’s fault, but the show’s. Unless he becomes and remains a bit more competent and human, I’m out. That dynamic just isn’t interesting to me.

Debris
A strong, if somewhat handwavy start to the series sets up an X-Files vibe with a bit more emotional touchpoints. It will remain to be seen if they maintain the interesting plots and overall arc without it getting either silly, stupid, or too outrageous to support. At least the production values are pretty good and Riann Steele (Crazyhead) and Jonathan Tucker (Charlie’s Angels) make for an interesting combination.

Young Rock
There is little doubt what Dwayne Johnson (Jumanji: The Next Chapter) is attempting to do with this show; he tells you up front. But political ambitions aside, the question is whether it’s a good show. The answer is mixed. The story is amusing and touching, and it opens a world that the greatest majority of the audience will have no connection to, making it interesting. However, the structure is odd and I can’t quite see how it will sustained for more than a few episodes. That said, the cast is solid and it is certainly something different and new. I’m giving it a couple more episodes to see if it can find its legs and keep me interested.

Superman & Lois
I’ll give them credit, they found a new story to tell rather than rehashing what we’ve seen before a million times. And the casting was done well too with Tyler Hoechlin (Palm Springs) and Elizabeth Tulloch (Grimm) in the title roles. But, like most DC and all CW shows, I can already see my boredom kicking in. The melodrama and the predictability, even with the new twists expanding on the set-ups from the tie-in shows, is beginning to weigh heavily from the 3rd episode. I suspect I’m out in one or two more unless I see something to really invest in. I know I’m going to be in the minority here, but I’ve struggled with the DCU TV shows for years now. Very few manage to tickle my fancy. But I’ll try to keep an open mind and give it at least a little more of a chance.

Snowpiercer (series 2)
Well, damn them. At the end of season one I was ready to walk away, but I wanted to see where they would go. And, as it turns out, they managed to avoid the obvious and boring track they appeared to be on. By the second episode, everything shifts and new possibilities make it all much more interesting. And, it has to be noted, Sean Bean (Wolfwalkers) has created one of the creepiest characters I’ve seen in a long time. Jennifer Connelly (Alita: Battle Angel) continues to deliver a nicely shaded performance, and the addition of the very capable Rowan Blanchard (A Wrinkle in Time) adds some good tensions. Alison Wright (The Accountant) is also getting to do a lot more this round, deepening her character and bringing a sort of redemption to her story.

Pretty Hard Cases
A Canadian comedy detective show in the vein of 911. If you enjoy The Baroness Von Sketch series, this one’s for you. If you are at all middling about broad comedy, it isn’t.