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Entries in Comedy (104)

Friday
Jun292012

Ted

I wanted to start this review by saying that expectations were high for Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane’s first feature length film, Ted, but let’s face it. Being a fan of that show (especially after its return from cancellation when it devolved from cheerful subversion into intentional offensiveness) means already having such low expectations, it would be impossible to not exceed them. Ted thankfully manages to build some heart amidst its inanity, which is something Family Guy has never done in its 13 year existence, but its comedy is still well within MacFarlane’s comfort zone. He fails to branch out like he should, making Ted one of the most redundant comedies to come out in quite some time.

The movie begins in Boston in the mid-80’s. A young John Bennett (Bretton Manley) goes about his days friendless and lonely until one Christmas morning his parents give him a stuffed teddy bear. That bear eventually becomes his best friend and one night he wishes that he would come to life so they could be best friends forever. A voice over narration provided by the always wonderful Patrick Stewart explains that there is nothing more powerful than a child’s wish (except for an Apache helicopter, of course) and the next morning, the bear springs to life. He becomes an overnight celebrity, but never forgets his friend John. Now John (Mark Wahlberg) is all grown up and he and his bear, whom he named Ted (MacFarlane), live together with his girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis). Lori is becoming tired of being the third wheel in their bro-mance, however, and things begin to change, much to the chagrin of the two friends.

There’s a joke fairly early on in Ted where Ted makes a joke, then Lori makes essentially the same joke in a different manner. Ted then condescendingly remarks on how Lori basically just took his joke and then repackaged it. It’s an ironic moment because MacFarlane has been doing that for years. The same handful jokes have been played over and over and over again in Family Guy and his lack of comedic flexibility pours over into Ted, to the point where at least one of the characters in the movie is nothing more than a live action version of someone from his show. Aside from the greater freedom provided by the film format in regards to content and the language used, this is simply more of the same from MacFarlane, including copious amounts of out-of-date or obscure pop culture references to things like Diff’rent Strokes, Top Gun, Saturday Night Fever, the Pink Floyd song, “Another Brick in the Wall,” and even Flash Gordon, the latter of which plays from nearly the first frame to the very last.

But it’s not just the pop culture references that are played out. MacFarlane, being the outspoken atheist he is, makes quite a few religious jokes, at least two in the first few minutes, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing had he not already beat us over the head with his beliefs in his television shows. Similarly, the film makes multiple references to 9/11, another strange obsession MacFarlane has joked about far too many times before, and it’s just not funny, not because it’s offensive, but because it’s unnecessary. One must praise him for his political incorrectness in a world that stresses the importance of the opposite, but you can’t help but feel like he says these things solely because he knows they’re controversial, hoping the audience will mistake forced controversy for humor.

It’s such a sad state of affairs because MacFarlane is a gifted voice actor, even if his style of comedy has run its course. He delivers his lines with spot-on comedic timing and an enthusiasm that few match. Put him in an animated movie written by someone who has comedic range beyond controversial topics and bodily function jokes and he’ll amaze like none other.

Because it spends so much time on pop culture references and jokes about defecating on a hardwood floor, Ted barely manages to muster up much of a story and the character relationships are thin, the little bit of its aforementioned heart coming more from childhood memories over the loss of a loved toy than from the movie itself. That’s not to say those references aren’t occasionally amusing (and if there was ever a movie that delivered a poop joke as well as one possibly could, it’s this one), but Ted is hardly breaking new ground. This is the same old same old we’ve grown accustomed to through the many years of Family Guy’s existence. Of course, if you’re still a fan of that show, I imagine you’ll find Ted hilarious. As for me, though, I wanted something more than what I’ve seen nearly 200 times already on television.

Ted receives 2.5/5

Friday
Jun152012

That's My Boy

Someone needs to put on an intervention for Adam Sandler. The man is so talented and has proven that talent through some amazing performances in dramas like Reign Over Me, Punch-Drunk Love and Funny People, yet he constantly relegates himself to insipid tripe like this week’s That’s My Boy. I suppose one could make the argument that it’s better than his last few movies, but he set the bar so low after Grown Ups and Jack and Jill that he had nowhere to go but up, so that’s hardly saying anything.

Back in the mid-80’s, Donny (played at this time by Justin Weaver) got involved with one of his teachers, the sexy Ms. McGarricle (Eva Amurri Martino). Eventually, they were caught and Ms. McGarricle was thrown in jail while Donny became famous. Before their relationship ended, however, Donny got Ms. McGarricle pregnant and because she was about to serve 30 years in prison, Donny was tasked with bringing up the kid, whom he named Han Solo (Andy Samberg). When Han Solo was 18, however, he left and never looked back. Now years later and with the new name of Todd, he is about to be married to the beautiful Jamie (Leighton Meester). He has become hugely successful while Donny (now played by Adam Sandler) has squandered his fortune and is in danger of heading to jail if he can’t pay $43,000 in back taxes. In an effort to get that money, Donny shows up mere days before his kid’s wedding, which is certain to make an otherwise exciting time an anxiety filled nightmare.

As dreadful as That’s My Boy is, its opening isn’t bad. It’s silly, sexy and has one hilarious joke mocking the idea that a young boy who has sex with his insanely attractive teacher is somehow a “victim.” Turn the sexes around and that may be the case, but any male who has gotten through school will tell you of that one teacher they had the hots for, the one they fantasized about during class and would have done anything to mess around with. Parodying the scornful attitude such an event elicits in our society, the film treats Donny like a king, the one who lived out every boy’s dream. While the women condemn the action, the men high five each other over how great they perceive it to be. As a man who had a few attractive teachers in his day, I feel I have the authority to comment on these kids who are lucky enough to bed them. They’re not victims. They’re awesome.

Unfortunately, that bit is the only one that works in That’s My Boy. Other laughs are few and far between, maybe one for every half hour, so at an entirely too long running time of two hours, that’s about four laughs total. The film is full of scatological, masturbatory humor (including an embarrassing scene where Sandler uses Jamie’s grandmother’s picture as inspiration) and we once again have to listen to Sandler speak in a goofy, grating voice. When will he realize it’s not how you speak, but how you deliver the lines that makes what you’re doing funny? Ever since 1998’s The Waterboy (an undeserving hit if there ever was one), Sandler has insisted on crafting a silly voice for many of his roles. Rarely (if ever) has it been funny; this movie doesn’t change that.

Perhaps Sandler and the filmmakers simply forgot what year it was. Sandler tries to hearken back to his “silly voice” days (even predating The Waterboy with his work on Saturday Night Live), while writer David Caspe references pop culture phenomenon that died out over a decade ago, including the “Whassup?” Budweiser beer commercials and the Ricky Martin singles, “Livin’ la Vida Loca” and “She Bangs.” This movie is so outdated that its younger target audience probably won’t even get many of its references, like the one to the late 70’s/early 80’s sitcom, Diff’rent Strokes (yes, it has that line).

But as I’ve said before, even the least funny comedies can be good if they offer up a decent story with likable characters, but That’s My Boy doesn’t muster up much of anything, at least nothing that can be considered good. The characters are either despicable or annoying (usually both) and they give us no reason to care. Donny, for example, was such a terrible father that he forced Todd at a very young age to get a tattoo that encompassed his whole back (and is now distorted thanks to his growth) and he turned him into a diabetic by allowing him to eat candy and cake for breakfast every day. Todd should have been taken away by Child Protective Services at a very young age. Now that he’s older and can look back, Todd hates his father and we understand because we hate him too. Why would we want them to reconcile?

That’s My Boy fails on nearly every level, only conjuring up a few laughs here and there while Sandler pockets another huge paycheck for intellectually crippling our society. I’m sure he’s a great guy and I know he has talent, but the characters he chooses to play are terrible and don’t allow him to showcase it. Despite my frustration, his last few movies sadden me more than they anger. Sandler is capable of so much more and he either doesn’t know it or doesn’t care. Regardless, That’s My Boy is neither funny nor heartfelt and it’s absolutely not worth seeing.

That’s My Boy receives 1/5

Friday
Jun152012

Your Sister's Sister

Your Sister’s Sister begins with a somber moment. One year after the death of a man named Tom, his friends and family have gotten together to remember him. Most talk about how special and kind he was, a person who was always willing to lend a helping hand, but his still grieving brother, Jack (Mark Duplass), remembers him differently. He remembers him as the little hellion he was when they were kids, before everybody else in the room met him. After ranting about how terrible he could be (not out of hate, but out of his disgust for people who claim to know so much about him, but really don’t), his best friend and Tom’s ex-girlfriend, Iris (Emily Blunt), tells him to take a load off and get away for a while. She tells him to go to her father’s cabin where he will be shut off from the world, but when he gets there, he finds her lesbian sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), who has also retreated there to get away from a difficult situation.

This is where the movie takes a turn. It becomes more humorous and the two characters who have never met each other before begin to form a bond. After a long night of drinking, they end up having sex with each other. What’s clear in these early moments is that the characters are indeed facing central problems that motivate their actions, but the movie smartly never dwells on them. It never forces us to feel bad for either of them, instead allowing us to make up our own minds based on what they do and say, not how the screenplay wants us to feel.

A large portion of this could be because of its improvised nature, a staple of the recent so-called mumblecore film movement, but this isn’t like, say, Humpday, which consisted of 10 written pages with no dialogue. Your Sister’s Sister is a 70 page treatment that clearly has a narrative and emotional path in mind, yet it allows the actors to forge that path themselves. It’s the best blending of mumblecore with traditional filmmaking to date.

But while the characters are strongly defined through equal parts performance and writing, they’re stuck in a story that would feel like a gimmick in a romantic comedy. When Iris shows up the next morning after Jack and Hannah’s rendezvous, a number of things are learned, of which I’ll leave secret for fear of revealing spoilers. Although the events are handled more delicately than they would be in a more conventional rom-com, they are no less banal and inconsequential, the latter adjective used only because the film wraps up a hugely complex and precarious situation in an unbelievably tidy manner. The overly simplistic conclusion makes the conflicts feel minute in scale, despite their essentiality to the story.

Nevertheless, Your Sister’s Sister is a solid movie, featuring a trio of excellent performances and dynamic character relationships that ring true in every scene. Above anything else, the film is about sibling love and forgiveness, even when that sibling has done something unforgivable. For the most part, it succeeds both narratively and emotionally in what it sets out to do (despite a silly and heavy handed end speech), but Your Sister’s Sister never rises above that humdrum feeling its premise elicits.

Your Sister’s Sister receives 3.5/5

Friday
Jun082012

Peace, Love & Misunderstanding

Peace, Love & Misunderstanding aspires to be an indie darling, a movie that is seen by few, but is recognized by critics and indie film fans alike as something special. It will most likely get the first half of the equation right, but I’d be shocked if it got the second. Peace, Love & Misunderstanding is so outrageously bad that even the impressive and talented cast couldn’t pull it anywhere near the point of mediocrity, much less quality. This is one to avoid at all costs.

The plot involves Diane (Catherine Keener), a conservative lawyer who has just been asked for a divorce by her husband. Upon hearing the news, she grabs her two kids, Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) and Jake (Nat Wolff) and sets off on a trip to visit her hippie, left wing nut job of a mother, Grace (Jane Fonda), who she hasn’t seen in 20 years. There she meets the hunky Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who looks like he may help her begin her healing process, while her kids find their own romantic interests in Tara (Marissa O’Donnell) and the town butcher, Cole (Chace Crawford).

Peace, Love & Understanding tries to do many things and it fails at all of them. At its core, it’s a movie about the crumbling of a dysfunctional family and the effect that dysfunction has on the growing minds of the kids. It’s like The Squid and the Whale, only without the profundity, subtext or three dimensional characters. It attempts to make statements on a number of things, including war, love, sensationalist infotainment as “news” and the idea of peace being an antithesis to freedom, but these things are said in passing and featured in so few scenes as to have no impact. The one thing it explores in depth is the idea of forgiveness and loving those who love you, different though they may be, but the contrived set-up that throws characters with differing viewpoints into each other is uninteresting and a perfect example of shallow screenwriting. Diane’s conservative attitude is constantly at odds with Grace’s liberal sensibilities, for instance, while Zoe’s love for all life clashes with Cole’s job of cutting up animals for sale. When Grace drags Zoe and Jake to an anti-war protest (which she does every Thursday if for no other reason than because she thinks the government is waiting for her to tire out), Diane freaks and pulls them away, not wanting the hippie mindset to take control of her kids, which is understandable given how bizarrely they act. I would say jokingly that hippies were more realistically represented in this year’s Paul Rodd comedy Wanderlust if my friend and critic Nell Minow hadn’t already said so seriously.

Peace, Love & Misunderstanding wants so badly to be interesting. It tries to be profound, but its observations are trite. It tries to be dramatic, but it’s too cheesy to be so. It thinks it’s a deep study on human emotions, motivations and reason, but it’s really no more than another silly romantic comedy. It has a few good messages, like the idea that our deficiencies are really just a state of mind and all we need to succeed in both life and love is a little courage, but it’s portrayed in such an obvious and heavy handed way that its effect is rendered moot. The film’s problem isn’t so much that it lacks substance—even thematically simple movies can be good—but that it tries so hard to be deep yet reaches the cinematic equivalent of a kiddie pool.

From a technical perspective, the film is a mess as well, complete with occasional awkward framing and editing (the movie has such a poor flow that even the filler shots fail to make a convincing transition between moments), but the majority of its deficiencies continually stem from a group of characters that are impossible to root for or care about. Grace, in particular, is beyond annoying and speaks in more prophetic phrases than Robert Duvall in Seven Days in Utopia and their manufactured problems are all resolved so quickly, it’s like they never happened at all.

Peace, Love & Misunderstanding has an arrogance about it, as if it’s as thoughtful a movie that has ever come out, but its ignorance knows no bounds. If “thoughtful” is on one end of the spectrum, Peace, Love & Misunderstanding is on the other.

Peace, Love & Misunderstanding receives 0.5/5

Friday
May252012

Men in Black 3

Men in Black 3 is an oddity. Nobody was really asking for it, but at the same time, it’s easy to understand why it’s here. It comes from a popular franchise with a likable, funny star that has always churned out impressive box office numbers and this new installment is likely to do the same. Still, Men in Black 3 shows its age and while it’s not the funniest movie in the world (especially when compared to the previous installments), it makes up for it with a surprisingly affecting story and an ending that makes you completely reevaluate the relationship between the two main characters.

The film begins with a sultry vixen who is about to break the last Boglodite in the universe, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), out from a top secret prison located on the moon. He has been locked up for over 40 years thanks to Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), who shot off his arm in the apprehension, and his first order of business is to take him out before that fateful day. He succeeds in doing so, but only after going back in time, all the way back to 1969. K’s partner, Agent J (Will Smith) is the only person who isn’t affected by the altered history (for nebulous reasons), so he also heads back in time to save the young K (Josh Brolin) from an untimely demise.

The first thing one notices when watching Men in Black 3 is how much its stars have aged. In the other films, Jones played the hardened older man who had to put up with the uncouth style of a young Will Smith. Now, Jones isn’t playing the hardened older man. He has actually become one and his lack of caring shows. He coasts by in this role, almost as if he’s wondering why he’s there dressed up once again in a black suit, shooting CGI creations with silly looking plastic guns. The filmmakers try to recreate the magic from the other films, but the original film came out 15 years ago and Smith doesn’t fit the young, quick witted role anymore. He’s old enough where he could play the hardened older K from the original film and a younger face could play him.

In their attempt to recapture the olden days, the humor comes off as outdated as well. This futuristic, science fiction, alien invasion movie, which should be able to come up with better jokes than the typical “look how old this stuff is” material so many time travel movies rely on, succumbs to just that. The neuralyzer, the spiffy device used to wipe the memories of those who witness the actions of the Men in Black, takes time to charge and is attached to a battery pack, for example. It’s this type of laziness that keeps the movie from matching its predecessors in laughs. If you’re going for the comedy, you might as well not go at all.

However, what Men in Black 3 misses in that area, it makes up for with its solid story and emotional ending. It may have an uninteresting and barely menacing villain played by a miscast actor who isn’t all that compelling to begin with, but viewers aren’t going for him. They’re going for the connection between K and J, to watch their relationship grow, and boy does it ever. The final scene, a twist that is satisfying without being obvious, works incredibly well and makes you appreciate their characters that much more. It adds a new, more personal, layer to their relationship that works in the moment, even if it may not necessarily work in conjunction with previous films.

Only repeat viewings of the other two movies will be able to tell if it does or not, sans for a few unmissable plot holes like the supposedly long history Agent K has with Agent O (played in the present day by Emma Thompson and in the past by Alice Eve), despite her exclusion in the series up until this point. The character is connected very loosely to what’s going on, serving only as an expositional narrative device, and fails on multiple levels of poor screenwriting because of it. But the movie as a whole, as cliché as it is to say, is greater than the sum of its parts. Men in Black 3 isn’t a reinvigoration of the franchise or particularly interesting as a standalone film, but as the emotional bookend to two memorable and lovable characters, it works.

Men in Black 3 receives 3/5