Tag Archives: Comedy

The Lego Batman Movie

Yes, you probably saw this ages ago, but I wasn’t going to go pay for it in theaters. The Lego Movie was amusing, but not brilliant, at least for me. I am mainly writing this up as a measurement of my comedy preferences so you can judge my other recommendations.

My biggest question by the time I got to the end of this latest block adventure was: Why had they trusted such a lucrative franchise to the writer of Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, Seth Grahame-Smith and first-time feature director Chris McKay? Perhaps they thought the series was bullet-proof? It isn’t.

While it has a solid overall structure and story ideas, the result is uneven, at best, when it comes to flow and dialogue. It also lacks the layers that the original Lego had, trying instead to riff off of the absurd Batman character and relying on shots at Marvel and, even more often, DC and the overall history of Batman since the 60s in media. Cause, let’s face it, it has had quite the meandering road starting with Adam West and ending, for now, with Ben Affleck.

But it wasn’t just the execution and editing of the tale that was off, it was also the voices. They just didn’t quite ever feel right. This was especially true for Zach Galifianakis’s (Birdman) Joker for me, though many others didn’t quite fit either. The movie is loaded with voice talent…some surprising, but none brilliant. This really felt like a money grab by the studio and supported by the late night party game of a lot of actors who just did it for a lark. To be fair, Will Arnett, Michael Cera (Sausage Party), Rosario Dawson (Marvel’s Iron Fist), and Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash) all did fine in the main roles, but not memorably so.

Basically, if you need a distraction, you could do worse than this mostly empty confection. But, that also means you could do way better.

The LEGO Batman Movie

A Dog’s Purpose

Sometimes you just hate a movie for making you like it. This film is in that category. It is a near bullet-proof collection of puppies, romance, comedy, and life lessons. It isn’t a great movie, but it knows how to pull heart-strings. I have a love/hate relationship with being emotionally manipulated by a flick in that way. Sometimes it is just what I’m looking for, but I always feel dirty afterwards.

The primary success of this tale is down to a very few actors. K.J. Apa (Riverdale) and Britt Robertson (Space Between Us) in the primary section make a great couple. [For the record, this confluence of Robertson movies was  unintended and unexpected and there is still one more to come.] Robertson makes her moments seem almost improvised. Her naturalness and charisma are necessary to make the whole movie make sense. She has to become a true “love of his life” so that Dennis Quaid’s (The Words) resolution of the tale makes sense. And I also give props to Quaid for capturing some of Apa’s mannerisms to let us feel he is the older version.

And, of course, the voice of the various dogs by Josh Gad (Angry Birds Movie) creates the entire emotional level-set of the piece. Gad is kept at a very even energy, allowing the situations to speak mostly for themselves. He never goes to his extremes, which keeps it all at just the right sensibility with a loving and slightly baffled dog viewing the world through a very narrow lens and a pretty small brain.

Director Lasse Hallström (Hundred Foot Journey) is very comfortable in this arena and he keeps the script moving along. He lingers on the darker moments just long enough to allow another dive into the comforting light of reincarnation, which keeps him from having to keep raising those stakes past credibility.  I will admit that the handling of the transitions between segments was handled pretty well on those lines. The cadre of 5 writers on the script managed to merge their voices to something cohesive, but not something overly memorable. There were also some definite gaps in research on their part around K-9 dogs and police procedure.

See this with someone you care about or when you just need a sugary drink to raise your spirits. Or see it for Robertson, if you’re following her career. Or see it if you’re a dog freak and love pretending you know what’s going on in their furry brains. There is entertainment to be had here… not a lot to return to, but enough to snack on once.

A Dog

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Oh yeah, summer is here! James Gunn (Super) gave it a heck of a kick-off with GOTG Vol 2. If it isn’t quite as surprising as his first, it is still one crazy roller-coaster of a tale, retaining its unabashed and unapologetic sense of fun. The original movie was the origin of the team. This second go round is about fixing all the relationships and tying up the loose ends as we head into the Infinity War. In many ways it is what Fast & Furious wants to be, but has never had the writing and acting to match.

From the moment the movie starts you are set up to understand that the action will always be secondary to the characters and the fun this round. While not nearly as perfect as the opening to Deadpool, it comes close in its intention for setting the first frame. Admittedly, the rest of the movie tries just a bit too hard on all counts, but I suspect it will even out with rewatching. And, yes, I will be back watching this again.

In an effort to keep my promise and avoid spoilers, I can’t really go into much. I will say there are a couple fun cameos, such as Ben Browder (Farscape) who pop up. And Elizabeth Debicki (The Night Manager) did  a very credible Tilda Swinton/Cate Blanchette as one of the many challenges the Guardians face this round.

However, I will say, nay beg, Gunn to get rid of the Howard the Duck references. They are really jarring at this point and, frankly, pull me out of the movie every time. I get it is an 80s nod, but who really cares anymore?

Start your summer off right. I have no idea how the rest will go, but I’m glad it began with the crazy, psychedelic joy that is the Guardians. Sure it is sugar for the brain, but sometimes, that’s just fine!

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Why Him?

Why Him is, at times, hysterical. But between those moments it is clunky and almost unwatchable. The result is a like a rosary of humor, moving from one bead to the next as the touch-point to get to the end. Of course, I knew this was a gamble for me as it was from the writer of Zoolander 2 and Little Fockers, John Hamburg. Neither of these were on target for me. Even with the addition of his more adept co-writer, Ian Helfer (The Oranges), I probably should have known to run away.

Comedy is hard. This is a truism in entertainment. Hamburg is more often a writer and TV director. It really is more the directing than the writing I object to in this tale. He should have taken pause before diving into this stew. Another truism: Comedy is also highly personal. So, yes, I should have taken a pause as well.

Zoey Deutch (Everybody Wants Some) is the thread that keeps all the beads of this comic rosary from rolling away; she remains grounded through the whole tale. Without her I would have turned this film off in the first 10 minutes. The rest of the cast all have their moments, but none ever felt entirely real to me. James Franco (True Story), Bryan Cranston (Power Rangers), Megan Mullally (Hotel Transylvania 2), Griffin Gluck (Red Band Society), and Keegan-Michael Key (Don’t Think Twice) are all talented comedians. But they are all also talented actors, though you’d never know that from their roles in this movie.

In a weird twist, the best comedian of them all never shows her face: Kaley Cuoco (The Wedding Ringer). Much like Emma Thompson in Men, Women, Children, she gets to have a sort of running commentary in the film and does it well.

If you want some broad humor and don’t really care how well it is packaged, you’ll enjoy this. I don’t judge, but, really, you could find something better to waste a couple hours on.

Why Him?

Carrie Pilby

Pilby is a balancing act of coming-of-age and romance in about equal measures. While not perfect, it is very sweet and funny and doesn’t quite fit into any particular box thanks to its plot; Pilby’s age, combined with her intellect, helps it bridge a broader audience than you’d typically expect.

Now, I do have to admit that I may just be crushing a bit on Bel Powley (Equals). Powley’s characters are intelligent, witty, charismatic, vulnerable, and honest. Carrie Pilby is no exception, and she carries the movie admirably. She reminds me of a young Emma Stone or a less-edgy Ellen Page, though entirely her own persona.

Into Pilby’s life comes Colin O’Donoghue (Once Upon a Time), Jason Ritter (The East), and William Moseley (Chronicles of Narnia). Each has their qualities, but they are all really there for her to respond to as she finds her way. And while Ritter has some depth, and O’Donoghue is a recognizable rake, only Moseley feels entirely whole.

Amusingly, this film also matches up Gabriel Byrne and Nathan Lane again, close on the heels of No Pay, Nudity. And with Byrne in the lineup, almost all of the main characters in this comedy are from the UK, though only half are putting on an American accent.

As director Susan Johnson’s first feature, there is a solid sense of character. Johnson’s empathy is touching and her love of the character is clear. Indications of time passage still needs some honing, but there are enough clues to keep it all working. Find someone to share this with and make some couch time.

Carrie Pilby

Queens (Reinas)

If you like broad comedy with just a bit of bite, this will fill an evening for you. It is a borderline telenovella in feel, but manages, through clever storytelling and wide pallet of issues, to keep it interesting and moving. What is fascinating, and sad, is that this was done in 2005 in Madrid, almost a decade before marriage equality hit the shores of the US.

Despite being about a collection of gay relationships, it is really focused more on the parents, particularly the mothers. And the cast of moms is pretty solid, with several known actors who boast more than a handful of awards: Carmen Maura (Volver), Marisa Paredes (All About My Mother), Verónica Forqué  (Kika), Mercedes Sampietro (Unconscious), and Betiana Blum. Opposite them, are a couple of equally talented men: Lluís Homar (Broken Embraces) and Tito Valverde who bring some balance and, in Homar’s case, a solid bit of plot. 

The young men of the families are a mix of ability, but none are playing it to extremes. They are, generally, less well known than their on-screen moms and dads as well. A couple of those I could pick out were Hugo Silva (Witching & Bitching) and Daniel Hendler (Whiskey). But the gents, in general, are a pretty standard bunch.

This isn’t a must-see comedy, but it was certainly amusing and entertaining. Embrace its genre and intent and you’ll find it a relatively satisfying confection. It even manages in its final scene to impart a final bit of social commentary to the audience, which took it up a notch for me.

Queens

Boy

I’ve been rolling somewhat backwards through Taika Watiti’s (What We Do in the Shadows) films. This early film of his is only his second feature, but it still displays his incredible ability to balance comedy and truth. More so, it is told deftly in the language of a child, through Boy’s eyes. It is easy to see this and expect something like last year’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople down the road.

Boy is emotionally raw and certainly not a high fidelity movie. It is about growing up and accepting responsibility. It is also about what happens to you when you have responsibility thrust upon you too early (or too late). It is painfully funny at times, with scenes from childhood that transcend continents and moments of unavoidable tragedy due to choices.

It isn’t a brilliant film, but it is effective, well done, and well recognized. If you are getting to know Waititi’s work, you need to see it. You also get a sense of Waititi’s casting ability. In the lead, and his first role, James Rollerston (The Dark Horse) was an incredible find in a young man. And Rachel House (Moana) was already becoming a staple for Waititi’s casts. Be aware, the mealy mouthed New Zealand accent will be a challenge at times unless you’ve got an ear for it.

This early example of his work only whets my appetite for what he can bring to a big budget film with Thor: Ragnarok, coming later this year. His sense of family and comedy could drive a whole new view to that universe. So, yes, do see Boy, but it isn’t going anywhere, so you can queue it up for later.

Boy

If I Were You

Romantic farce is difficult to pull off along with dark comedy. Very difficult. The story and the actors have to ride the line of credibility and the absurd and never fall off in one direction or the other. When it works it is, often, great. When it doesn’t, it is painful to watch. I’ve rated this a bit higher than I should mainly because writer/director Joan Carr-Wiggin pulled it off, even if it isn’t perfect.

However, while there are weaknesses in the movie, Marcia Gay Harden (Grandma) is not one of them. Harden’s often subtle performance is a near tour de force; it is certainly brilliant comedy and acting. She takes an impossible premise and makes you believe her choices and actions. Within the first 5 minutes you’ll realize just what a Herculean feat that is.

Which is also to say that the less you know of the story, the better. Don’t read the blurbs. If you like romance and comedy, just get your hands on a copy and enjoy. There is great fun in the surprises as the story spins out of bounds before pulling it all back together.

There is a competent cast supporting Harden, but they are mostly foils for her efforts. Even Leonor Watling (The Oxford Murders), who is her ostensible partner-in-crime, exists for Harden to work with and against. The one exception is Aidan Quinn (Elementary). His character is designed to be part of, but outside the chaos and Carr-Wiggin guided him well in that aspect.

Make time for this one when you’re in a silly or sappy mood (it really works either way). And watch it with someone; it deserves a shared response.

If I Were You

Trolls

Sometimes an absurd premise can work. Trolls, those silly long-haired toys from the 60s, have been given an entertaining world and story that evokes the stop-action holiday specials of the same era, but with a bit of a nod and a wink.

Sure there is humor, often slapstick and non-organic to the story. Sure there is music, forced in by design and well executed, but you had better hope you love dance music. Anna Kendrick (The Hollars) and Justin Timberlake (Inside Llewyn Davis) do work well together. Though, I have to say, the story could have and should have made Kendrick a lot stronger. This story really fails the Bechdel test, sadly.

But as a bit of distraction and humor, it is perfectly entertaining and with a number of surprising voice talents lending their chords. It isn’t a film I need to see again, but parents roped into an endless loop won’t necessarily want to poke out their eyes if forced to hear and see it again. Faint and damning praise, I know, but what I’m trying to say is that there is more meat and adult humors in this than you’d expect.

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, this was part of a self-made double feature in my household with Nocturnal Animals. There were no young eyes to protect from the first film, but this certainly helped raise the mood and return some sunshine to the room after the darkness of the first. And, interestingly, it turns out they are thematically compatible. Both films are about finding and defining happiness. It was a mentally bruising pairing, but it was interesting to feel them play off one another in my head afterwards.

Trolls

The Edge of Seventeen

Adolescence is rife with opportunities for humor…though usually only from a distance. And the problem with distance is that then it usually doesn’t feel at all real. There are exceptions, of course. Perks of Being a Wallflower, Diary of a Teenage Girl, Submarine, Easy-A, and now Edge of Seventeen. Each of these tackles the life of a young adult as they hit bottom on the cusp of adulthood.

This newest entry is rather good, but the story is a little broader, spanning the family, which makes it a little less focused than its companions above. However, Hailee Steinfeld (Pitch Perfect 2) delivers a fabulous performance that retains the edge of teenage surety and capriciousness tempered by the yawning chasm of the abyss under it all. It is a painful and funny performance that will have you rooting for her all the way.

The story spans five main relationships that Steinfeld’s Nadine needs to navigate. Her brother, Blake Jenner (Everybody Wants Some) , and she must navigate loss and reparations of their sibling relationship. Her best friend,  Haley Lu Richardson (The Bronze), and she must survive growing up and the unavoidable challenges that brings. Not to mention a friend that could be more or not, played by Hayden Szeto.

Already a barrel of problems, but there are two adult relationships in play as well. Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer), as her mother, delivers a solidly performance of a messed-up adult finding her own way while Woody Harrelson (Now You See Me 2), as her somewhat combative and reluctantly interested teacher, provides a foil and some great comic relief.

As you can imagine, there are lots of opportunity alternately, and in combination, for painful and funny moments. First time director/writer Kelly Fremon Craig did a great job designing and executing Nadine’s tale of woe and joy as she marches toward life proper. The broad scope of the story keeps it from being the classic it could have been, which is unfortunate, but that doesn’t make it any less of a good movie. There is also bit of distance, of viewing the story from adulthood, that probably lost it the young adult audience; the movie is a bit too honest rather than “in the moment” at times. Again, it doesn’t diminish enjoyment of the film, but probably keeps it from having a long life in the cinematic universe and from resonating completely with young women.

All of that said, you should see this. It is funny and fun and painful and joyful and, well, teenage. It may not be her Juno, but it is full of solid performances and a good peek at Craig’s ability, who will likely be coming at us with other great movies down the road.

The Edge of Seventeen