Tag Archives: Comedy

Crazy Rich Asians

[4 stars]

So all that joy, surprise, and summer delight that I had hoped Mama Mia! Here We Go Again would bring me is here in this movie. It is a broad rom-com to be sure, but it manages to go a bit beyond that. By the end this is more about real love than it is about idealized stories. Not that this isn’t a fantasy, it surely is, but it is one that does what it wants to do well and you’ll willingly go along with it.

In the leads, Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat) and relative new-comer Henry Golding make a wonderful couple with great chemistry. You can believe and invest in them, even when Golding’s choices are a bit less than supportive around his family.

And it is Golding’s family that is at the core of challenges, with Michelle Yeoh (Star Trek: DiscoveryThe Mechanic: Resurrection) as his mother. A side-plot with Gemma Chan (Humans) as his cousin is also well-delivered. In many ways, Chan’s presence actually starts to steal the movie, but that is kept in check by limiting her story’s screen time.

Wu’s Rachel has her own set of friends in Singapore, led by Akwafina (Ocean’s 8) and her crazy family. These are the broadest characters we meet. Given her father is Ken Jeong (The DUFF), that isn’t much of a surprise. Only Nico Santos (Superstore) matches their antics as part of the story. We expect a certain amount of this in a rom-com, but it sometimes skirts the edge of the cliff if it isn’t your type of humor. There are some side characters that actually jump off that cliff, but they don’t really matter for the plot in any real way.

After the bomb of Jem and the Holograms, director Jon M. Chu is probably breathing a huge sigh of relief at the success of this release. He manages the story well, never quite letting it get out of control and delivering the wrap-up with a solid punch. It leaves you smiling, tapping your feet, and celebrating love (and wishing you, too, were super rich, of course). This is a great piece of escapist fun and, as you’d expect, a great datenight flick.

Crazy Rich Asians

Mama Mia! Here We Go Again

[3.5 stars]

Here we go again, indeed. And why the hell not? Sure, it is treacly pointlessness with a beat, but it is certainly a welcome break from reality. This installment does suffer a bit from sequel-itis in that it is a bit less focused and not quite “new,” but the cast and production throw themselves into the story to bring it all nicely full-circle.

The original cast return, picking up where they left off, but the real focus is very much in the past. Lily James (The Darkest Hour) as the young Meryl Streep (The Post) is magnetic and wonderful. And Jessica Keenan Wynn, in particular, nails Christine Baranski (Into the Woods) beautifully.

What is most interesting, at least for me, was watching how director/writer Ol Parker (Now is Good) structured the movie to get the effect he wanted. The initial songs and performances are purposefully lack-luster to leave room for the bigger and better-known numbers and stars later on. The first 15-20 minutes of the movie is all about breaking down the happy ending of the previous film so the characters have something to fight for. The inter-cuts from past to present are expertly and interestingly woven together. And the drive to the finale is inevitable. The rhythm builds like Grand Budapest Hotel, compressing as we get closer to the ending.

But therein lies the rub. For me, the film never quite peaked. We’re promised a huge finale, and there is a nice emotional one on some levels, but we never quite have the musical finale we deserve. Think The Greatest ShowmanMoulin Rouge, or Across the Universe or just about any Broadway show. And I say this especially because Cher (Burlesque) was in the mix. The fault really lies with the music arrangements. In every case they seem to hang back or back off the blow-out ending. Whether that was to accommodate the actor’s abilities or to keep Cher from stealing away the film, I don’t know, but it was very palpable for me. The trailers had more showmanship for me than the movie itself.

All that said, the two hour diversion was welcome and entertaining. If you liked the first, you’ll like returning for the second. There is a sweet story, both romantic and personal, being told and ABBA’s music remains unavoidably foot-tapping. Just stay through to the end of the credits for a final, short scene.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

[3 stars]

You don’t check into the Hotel Transylvania expecting depth or subtlety, even though it was directing and co-written by Genndy Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack). You check in for silly fun, like its previous installments.

There isn’t any voice talent really worth calling out other than Chris Parnell (Life of the Party), whose silly fish was nicely surprising and dry. The rest are either reprising their roles from the past movies or are standard cartoon. Even the new additions of Jim Gaffigan and Kathryn Hahn (Flower), while effective, weren’t great performances.

There some good aspects to this cinematic distraction. Primarily, it is some silly distraction and humor for the summer and kids. The message is solid and well placed for its young audience (and even a good reminder for adults these days). Oddly, the best joke of the entire film is a throw-away chupacabra reference for which the film pauses and then moves on. It doesn’t really come back or mean anything, but it is clearly a gift that Tartakovsky or the producers weren’t willing to give up, even though it added nothing other than a brilliant nod and wink to the audience for those that understood it.

There are some big issues as well. The animation is a bit uneven in design approach. There are very realistic moments followed by oddly flat, cartoonish sequences. Though you can can clearly see Tartakovsky’s sensibility in some of the characters, but it isn’t nearly as inventive overall. Also disappointing was the ending battle, which desperately needed a music expert to pull it off. The idea was a riot, but the presentation was far too clunky to get to the result. A shame, really. It could have been an amazing final sequence.

If you enjoy the series, be assured it hasn’t really diminished over time. It is what it always was and even opens up some new avenues to continue. It isn’t really aimed at adults, though there are some gifts sprinkled in the script throughout. Go to escape the heat or distract your kids, but it isn’t some high form of animation.

Ocean’s 8

[4 stars]

Caper films are a wonderful and difficult genre. They can go hyper-violent, like Den of Thieves, or incredibly staid, like Topkapi (or it’s earlier incarnation, Rififi) and everything in between. There is always a challenge, a personal angle (usually revenge), and, often, a death. But what drives a great caper film is the tension and pace and the great chemistry of those involved.

Ocean’s 8 has the chemistry in spades, led confidently and in style, by Sandra Bullock (The Heat) and Cate Blanchett (Thor: Ragnarok). The rest of the gang is entertaining and, if not entirely credible, engaging enough to make us forget that aspect. Made up of Sarah Paulson (Carol), Mindy Kaling (A Wrinkle in Time),  Helena Bonham Carter (Alice Through the Looking Glass), Awkwafina (Storks), and Rhianna (Zootopia), the group play off each other well and create fun characters that feel like they have full lives. Even Carter, who plays into type (especially how she is dressed during the gala), still manages to give us something grounded and a bit new for her. With Anne Hathaway (Colossal) in the mix as the target L’Enfant terrible, great fun is had by all.

There aren’t a lot of surprises in this reboot of the series, but the more you know how these things work, the harder it is to misdirect. Logan Lucky learned that lesson last year.  But co-writers Gary Ross (The Hunger Games) and first timer Olivia Milch do some clever work to keep us wondering nonetheless. However Ross’s directing didn’t quite get the pop and flow that would make this film a classic. The pace is just a bit slow, the rhythm just a bit off. It feels polished, but not perfect.

However, it isn’t so far off as to be disappointing. The performances are fun and the dialogue and intent satisfying, pretty much all around. And, for those keeping count, the men are fairly incidental: Richard Armitage (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies), and James Corden (Into the Woods).

If you like amusing, quick-paced caper antics, you need to make time for this film. It may translate to the small screen, but you’d be hard-pressed to find another film with so many great female actors in once place (and I’ve only listed a few…there are some wonderful surprises too).

Ocean

Just Getting Started

[1.5 stars]

To riff on a theme from this empty, poorly-directed distraction, life is too short to waste it on this movie. Ron Shelton (Bull Durham) had some fun ideas and a very talented cast, but no sense of pace or character. Honestly, I turned it off after half an hour of waiting for it to gel.

Save yourself some time and skip this one…it isn’t even worth it for Morgan Freeman (Going in Style), Tommy Lee Jones (The Mechanic: Resurrection), Renee Russo (The Intern), Jane Seymour and the rest of the recognizable and very talented cast.

Just Getting Started

Book Club

[3 stars]

Book Club is exactly what you expect it to be: a semi-sappy, slightly sarcastic look at love later in life for four women. What makes the movie is who those four women are. Each is a solid actor and comedienne. Each brings a slightly different type of outlook, and each manages to make you invest in them.

It is also true that they are each somewhat typecast. Diane Keaton (Love the Coopers) is slightly neurotic, lost, and sweet. Candice Bergen (Boston Legal) is tough but seeking connection even as she denies it. Mary Steenburgen (A Walk in the Woods) is the devoted wife with a bit of romantic wild-side. And Jane Fonda (Youth) is the tough-as-marshmallow-filled-nails successful woman who’s denied herself to avoid pain. All of this is laid out for you in the first few minutes and you know exactly what is to come: the men that will change their lives.

And the male cast makes as much a difference here as the female. Primarily that is Craig T. Nelson (Grace and Frankie), Don Johnson (Django Unchained), and Andy Garcia (Geostorm). But there are a few nice cameos and smaller roles as well. There are no cads in this story, just mismatches. It maintains its light and fluffy sensibility through to the end.

First-time director Bill Holderman re-paired with his A Walk in the Woods producing partner, Erin Simms, to write this diverting bit of trifle. It is effective at what it does, well-paced, and, of course, expertly acted. In fact, it is the smartest thing Holderman and Simms did was in the casting. And, I admit, I had all the right Pavlovian responses to the tale.

That aside, the story, left me vaguely uncomfortable. On a sociological level, we’re looking at 8 white adults of privilege, who have never suffered or wanted, complaining about their lives. But more disturbing was the odd sense of anti-feminism. Yes, the women are strong and, eventually, in control of their lives (sort of). But they are also very clearly incomplete without a man and, in several cases, having their lives dominated by the choices of the men around them…even when they seem to be in control. It isn’t overt, nor it is it even enough to ruin the film, but it was there as a feint odor under the light comic romance that may have been unavoidable given the genre. The central role of 50 Shades of Grey didn’t work for me either. Admittedly, they needed some MacGuffin to get the story rolling, and it was perhaps the right choice, but it was also about a year or two late for social relevance.

So, if you know what you’re looking for and are willing to be swept up in its highly myopic view of the world, it is worth seeing. If you simply love the actors involved, it is worth it for them as well. If you are hoping for something a bit more transformative or with a conscience…you’ll probably be more like me and wonder why the silly and light fantasy that worked while it was running left an odd flavor in your mouth as you left theater. That isn’t so much an indictment as it is a recognition.

Book Club

Life of the Party

[3 stars]

Some films live on one scene, and this is definitely in that category. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t entertaining nor that there aren’t many entertaining bits. But, there is a single scene worth your price of admission (or rental) in this bit of popcorn silliness that should live in the halls of humor for years to come. It cracked up my audience and had them groaning, shouting, gasping, and laughing out loud. You’ll know it when you see it and I’ll say no more.

This is a female dominated cast and story. Melissa McCarthy (Ghostbusters) and Molly Gordon (Love the Coopers) make an amusing mother/daughter pairing and drive the story in a nice, light way. Gillian Jacobs (Don’t Think Twice) and Heidi Gardner get to tackle and breathe life into a couple unconventional characters that each have contributions to make. Maya Rudolph (We Don’t Belong Here) delivers some great side-kick moments alone and with her screen partner. The rest of the sorority and side-characters deliver as well. And on the male side, Luke Benward provides a surprisingly genuine and grounded love interest who manages to do his part without ever taking over the screen (in a good way).

Generally, this is better than I expected, but still not a great film or classic. Like all of Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone (The Boss) movies it takes short-cuts, though it avoids most of the cliche pitfalls, and never quite how far not to take a joke. The result leaves the story fairly predictable and the characters and choices often way too broad for credibility. They do keep trying to come back to center to keep the wheels on the crazy bus…and they succeed enough to make the story enjoyable.

Like I said, this film really survives on one scene, so I can’t deny its success. Absent that moment, it would have been fairly empty and forgettable. But for that moment, which they work for and set up beautifully, make time to catch it eventually. It doesn’t have to be on the big screen, so there’s no rush, but you owe yourself that solid a belly laugh at some point.

Life of the Party

I Feel Pretty

[3 stars]

Sure, this is exactly what you expect it to be…though, actually, it’s probably a bit better. Despite over-reaching a few times on the humor it still manages to be effective. Frankly, I was surprised as I’m not a fan of self-deprecating, broad humor based on silly or stupid choices. But Amy Schumer (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) manages to pull it off by embodying the fears and insecurities (and ultimately the egos) we all have. Yes, this is directed at women, heck you even get to hear the film pitch in the climax, but the message is pretty much universal.

While Schumer’s personality and delivery make this work, it is only because first-time directing and long-time writing duo, Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, knew when to pull back and reset the boundaries. Their script is passable, but their control of the acting and the pace keep you there. And though this deals with some adult subjects, it really does stick to its PG-13 intent without losing its impact.

Opposite Schumer are a few roles that serve a grounding purpose. Yes, there are her friends played by Aidy Bryant and Busy Philipps with rather obvious and surfacey efforts. But it was more Lauren Hutton and Michelle Williams (The Greatest Showman) that gave her something to bounce off of. Williams, despite an inconsistent, if very funny, portrayal creates an hysterical character of insecurities and depth. Sadly, it doesn’t get paid off as completely as you’d like, but doing so would have delayed the the ending. What these two women manage in their short scenes is still very entertaining and pivotal to the story.

There is actually something in this flick for men as well. Rory Scovel’s (Those Who Can’t) non-traditional character helps mirror Schumer’s for men. That is highlighted by Tom Hopper (Merlin), whose not-quite-nere-do-well role is almost throwaway, except for his moment of catalyst related to Scovel’s.

There is nothing surprising in the plot of this film. It is pure entertainment with a message. And the message is simple, but rather important these days. It is actually a great delivery mechanism for anyone doubting themselves in just about any way. And, yeah, it’s a bit of amusing distraction as well. Whether you see it now or the small screen, when you’re looking for this kind of humor, you won’t be disappointed.

I Feel Pretty

Love, Simon

[4.5 stars]

Simon delivers in the most wonderful ways and still finds a core truth to make it work. In fact, my theater broke into applause more than once during the movie (once at the penultimate moment we’d been waiting for and once at the end credits). In the last 20 years I can only think of a few films that got genuine, spontaneous applause in a general viewing, so that’s saying something.

Nick Robinson (Jurassic World) does a great job embodying Becky Albertalli’s title character from her book. He gives us a Simon that is easy to like and understand, not to mention who you want to slap silly for his missteps (and then forgive him all the same). There is no nod or wink, he simply is a teenager dealing with life.

Robinson is helped along with a collection of other young actors, all dealing with life in their own ways. Katherine Langford (13 Reasons Why), Alexandra Shipp (X-Men: Apocalypse), and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Brigsby Bear) complete the core group of friends. Logan Miller (Before I Fall), Keiynan Lonsdale (Legends of Tomorrow), Miles Heizer (13 Reasons Why), and Clark Moore are all nice additions around the rest of the tale.

Jennifer Garner (Men, Women, Children) and Josh Duhamel (Unsolved: Tupac and Notorious B.I.G.), as Simon’s parents strike just the right tone for this somewhat idealized, gee-I-wish-this-had-been-my-home feel. I dare you to make it through their critical scenes without shedding tears. Even Tony Hale’s (American Ultra) over-the-top Vice Principal manages to strike a tone that works for the story.

Speaking of tone, director Greg Berlanti did a brilliant job with that throughout, no doubt helped by his extensive background as a producer and writer. He took what writing team Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker (This is Us, About a Boy) delivered and made it sing. Their script manages to tease out the humor and the emotions without wallowing. As a first feature film script, they also proved they can leap media. And, as a team, Love, Simon brings us the first major, main-stream release of a gay rom-com to screen. That it is aimed at teens should be no surprise since that generation is significantly less judgmental than most of their parents. The irony is that on a personal level, the struggle is still the same in any generation; coming into your own is never easy.

Which means there is both a specific truth and a general truth to this story, which is what makes it so wonderfully universal. The specific truth, the stress of coming out as a teenager, is the written core of this relatively faithful adaptation. But different is different in High School, regardless of what that difference is. And, of course, we all feel “different.” That is the general truth.

Go see this movie. Admit going in that when you see a film like this, you are accepting a contract to be manipulated. You do so not only willingly, but with the desire for the release. But it is wonderful and uplifting and, no matter how manipulated or idealized, it feels true or like you want it to be true. It is well acted and well delivered and will leave you holding someone close to you and grateful for having them in your life.

Love, Simon