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Entries in Comedy (104)

Tuesday
May152012

The Dictator

Sacha Baron Cohen is no stranger to the absurd. After three progressively ridiculous films, Ali G Indahouse, Borat and Bruno, all of which were based on characters from his HBO program, Da Ali G Show, it’s clear the man has no limit. He’ll go anywhere and everywhere if it means he’ll get a laugh, even if that means pushing the boundaries beyond what many would deem tasteful. What those people fail to see, however, is the biting satire hiding beneath its immature and offensive veneer. His show as well as his films (Ali G Indahouse notwithstanding) have displayed unimaginable examples of racism, homophobia, religious bigotry and more through a mockumentary style where the camera is turned on us, exposing the more hateful thoughts some of us manage to disgracefully conjure up. His latest film, The Dictator, abandons that mockumentary style and, transitively, much of its satirical bite. Save for a few inspired moments, The Dictator is more absurd comedy than social commentary, but it’s one that is undeniably funny, right on par with 21 Jump Street as the funniest movie of the year.

The tagline for The Dictator reads as such: “The heroic story of a dictator who risks his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed.” If you find humor in that sentence, this movie is right up your alley—no further convincing should be needed—but I’ll continue on for those who want a bit more background. Baron Cohen plays Admiral General Aladeen, the dictator of the fictional North African country of Wadiya. He’s in the process of creating nuclear weapons, which the United Nations isn’t too happy about. In response, they demand he address them regarding his plans for the weapons, so he heads off to America. However, his backstabbing advisor, Tamir (Ben Kingsley) has plans of his own and orders to have him killed. After escaping his seemingly inevitable death (now without a beard—his single most defining trait), he learns of a double being used to eventually sign a constitution that will bring democracy to Wadiya. He can’t let that happen, so he begins working at a hippie, left wing shop run by a feminist named Zoey (Anna Faris) that is catering the event in the hopes of infiltrating it, taking back his rightful place as dictator and assuring his people don’t receive democratic freedom.

It’s understandable to bring some hesitance into a viewing of The Dictator. One of the main reasons Baron Cohen’s two best films are so good is due to their approach. They followed only the most thinly mapped out stories and allowed the comedy to surface not so much based on Cohen’s presence, but more so on the reaction of the unwitting participants to what he was actually doing. The same can be said for the satire, as shocking and disgusting as some of it may have been. By throwing himself into precarious situations that yielded interesting (and sometimes dangerous) results, Cohen was able to point out flaws in our actions and beliefs. Leaving all that behind could have led to a movie that felt too safe, one that stuck too closely to a script and didn’t allow his sensational improvisational skills to shine, but such is not the case. The Dictator doesn’t necessarily feel scripted—the string of events in this movie are so bizarre, they feel more like random happenstances—and the ad-libbing remains intact. The narrative dialogue that must be said for the story to progress is never prominent enough to overshadow some of the film’s on-the-spot vocal concoctions.

Whether Admiral General Aladeen is learning the joys of self pleasure or giving a speech about what’s possible in a dictatorship, (of which all were done in the democratic America), the end result is almost always hilarious. What disappoints the most about The Dictator isn’t that the expected commentary isn’t there, but rather that it tries to be there, but isn’t fleshed out enough to work. It occasionally brings forth the wretchedness of many people’s discriminatory behavior, but those themes were explored more thoughtfully in his previous films. Although a spoof on dictators and dictatorships in general, it too fails to make any real point about them, instead only pointing out the obvious, like the superiority complexes that can rightfully be assigned to any dictator. Not every movie has to include an enlightening take on a particular subject—leaving it out is just fine if you have a technical prowess behind the production—but including it and failing is something worth addressing. That unfortunately happens here.

Still, The Dictator delivers on the laughs so frequently that you don’t miss the commentary that was featured so prominently in Borat and Bruno. Sacha Baron Cohen is once again fearless with his performance, proving he’s a force to be reckoned with in the comedic world and the soundtrack, which is full of Middle Eastern renditions of popular American songs like Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode,” is so offensive you can’t help but laugh at it. I may never look at Forrest Gump the same way ever again, but that’s a small price to pay to laugh as much as I did while watching The Dictator.

The Dictator receives 4/5

Friday
Apr272012

The Five-Year Engagement

Romantic comedies so often rely on formula, one should be praised when it dares to break the rules. The last film to do so is 2009’s wonderful (500) Days of Summer. This week’s latest, The Five-Year Engagement isn’t quite as delightful or original as that film, but it avoids many of the usual romantic comedy clichés, including the “meet cute” and the initial dislike between the two main characters before they fall in love.

At the outset of the film, Tom (Jason Segel), a sous chef in a San Francisco restaurant, and Violet (Emily Blunt) have already been together for a year. It’s New Year’s Eve and Tom’s acting a little weird, but it’s only because he’s going to propose to Violet. When he does, she accepts and they begin planning their wedding, but a kink is put in those plans when Violet is accepted into the University of Michigan where she hopes to earn a doctorate in psychology. The plan is to do so in two years, so they put off their wedding until she’s done and Tom quits his upscale job to move with her to Michigan. However, she excels in her field and is eventually promoted, so they find themselves stuck there for a few more years, but Tom’s unhappiness is growing and it’s going to put a strain on the relationship.

The Five-Year Engagement grabs you right off the bat. It presents two likable actors playing two very likable people who love each other deeply. It circumvents the overused screenplay tactics like dramatic misunderstandings and the general awkwardness that most romantic comedy screen couples are forced to go through. They’ve already gotten passed all that and even though it’s only spoken, you can feel that they’ve been together for a year already. Segel and Blunt are simply fantastic together and you can’t help but cherish the love they cherish so much themselves.

You could make the argument that Violet is too much of a looker for a tall, pudgy guy like Tom, but it’s not difficult to see what she sees in him. He’s one of the most dedicated, unselfish people in the world and when she breaks the news to him that she was accepted to Michigan and will be moving there for two years (over a bottle of wine she uses to calm her nerves), he’s genuinely happy for her and actually suggests quitting his job and moving there with her; she doesn’t have to ask. Even after he hears from his boss that she was going to make him the lead chef at one of her new restaurants, he still packs up and leaves, knowing that Violet is well worth the sacrifice. He’s willing to give up his dreams and desires he’s worked so hard to obtain so she can have a chance at obtaining hers. It’s impossible not to like Tom.

Violet isn’t selfish either (despite a poorly expressed sentiment that maybe she deserves to be). She never pressures Tom to do what he does and she is always aware of his feelings. She asks him about them so much, in fact, that he tells her to stop, assuring her he’s okay with the situation. Of course, he’s just being his usual supportive self and isn’t entirely okay with it, especially after she breaks the news to him that her two year stay has been extended (a two year stay that is breezed through far too quickly). After sacrificing two years of his life, he’s ready to move on and get back to San Francisco, which is now impossible if he wants to stay with Violet. This inevitably leads to some unavoidable relationship problems, both wanting to follow their dreams without causing the other to give theirs up, a hope that is unattainable.

The unhappiness of such a stressful situation is more than enough to bring forth drama—and in a way that isn’t indicative of your usual formulaic romantic comedies—but The Five-Year Engagement nonetheless falls victim to screenplay doubt, forcing in unnecessary drama on top of the problems at hand, like when Violet’s professor (Rhys Ifans) kisses her after a night of drunkenness. Their friendship is charming at first, so it’s that much more annoying when it devolves into typical rom-com fare. (It’s such a shame that a man and a woman can’t be friends in a Hollywood movie without eventually hooking up.)

At over two hours, The Five-Year Engagement goes on for too long, especially considering so much of the late movie drama stems from that redundant affair and could have been cut out altogether, but what it botches with the drama, it nails in the comedy. This is a very funny movie—not quite as funny as this year’s 21 Jump Street (but then again, it isn’t trying to be)—and it will leave you smiling more often than not. Regardless of its problems, it’s a movie that just makes you feel good and that in itself is worth giving it a recommendation.

The Five-Year Engagement receives 4/5

Friday
Apr202012

Goon

What is it about sports that bring out our bloodlust? Why do we cheer for and encourage hard hits in football, fistfights in hockey and beatings in the ring? For one reason or another, normally peaceful human beings turn into barbarians when watching sports, but why? It’s a question I can’t answer and, evidently, neither can the new hockey “comedy” Goon, a movie without purpose, structure, flow or brains. It celebrates our desire for sports related violence without ever truly saying anything about it. It doesn’t add to the conversation; it’s merely an example of it. It’s not insightful, interesting or funny in the slightest and you should absolutely skip it.

Apparently based on a true story, the film follows Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott), a dimwitted bouncer living in Massachusetts. He’s never known how to do anything except for protecting others through fighting. One day, while at a hockey game with his best friend, Ryan (Jay Baruchel), a disgruntled player jumps into the stands and attacks him, only to be beaten down easily by Doug. The coach of the team is impressed and brings him on to drum up interest. Eventually, his notoriety begins to travel and he is promoted to a minor league hockey team in Canada, to an area where people end their sentences with “eh” and pronounce “out” closer to “oat.” Soon, another player by the name of Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber), who is also well known for his ability to beat down other players, catches wind of Doug and their big game is coming up. Who will win the fight?

Who cares? Goon has one of the lamest, most inconsequential stories I’ve seen in a while. When the crux of your film rests on who’s going to win in a fight between two no name minor league hockey players, you’re in trouble. This story isn’t like one of last year’s best films, Warrior, where the fighting worked as a metaphor for something greater, which transcended the brutal act of beating each other mercilessly. No, Goon is just about cheering on the senseless violence the sport is known for while ignoring the actual playing of the sport itself. Eventually, you’ll learn a playoff berth is on the line for Doug’s team, but the movie seems so uninterested in their actual record that you have no choice but to reciprocate the feeling. So while his fighting is supposed to mean something greater to the team and the players on it, it instead simply feels unnecessary.

The violence is brutally depicted and glorified to the point of sickness, made all the more so since, as mentioned, the story about glory through fighting is so bare. There’s no momentum to it and no true character arc; Doug ends the movie just about the same way he began it, albeit with a swollen eye and numerous lacerations. There’s so little going on here, even in its brief 85 minute runtime (sans the credits), that the filmmakers threw in a flimsy, poorly developed schoolboy crush side story with a random girl he meets named Eva (Alison Pill) that exists only so someone will actually care about him in his time of need, since his parents are only in two scenes total, working as the obligatory villains who aren’t proud of him, and with good reason—they don’t want to see him make a living off brutalizing others. Clearly his parents are being unreasonable.

Goon also boasts ugly cinematography and horrible editing, with so many obvious jump cuts you’ll swear the copy of the film you’re watching is missing bridging shots. It’s nice to see Seann William Scott break his usual typecasting as the outgoing, crazy character—he’s timid (at least when he’s not fighting) and not so quick with the tongue here—but simply accepting a role that’s different than your norm isn’t enough to make a good movie. There has to be some meat to it, some type of theme or meaning to hold everything together. Goon has nothing of the sort and it’s a complete waste of time.

Goon receives 1/5

Friday
Apr132012

The Three Stooges

As time goes on, things change. Fashion, social norms, political topics, religious thoughts and even senses of humor are all affected by time. Things that were interesting 20 or 30 years ago look strange and archaic today (look no further than the style of the 80’s for proof of that). The Three Stooges is a good example of something that hasn’t aged well. Watching the classic skits the trio was known for today is interesting only for their pop culture history value; the skits themselves don’t hold up well and most certainly aren’t funny. But that isn’t stopping the Farrelly brothers from resurrecting them with a brand new feature length film, simply titled The Three Stooges, and it’s as awful as can be.

The movie follows Moe (Chris Diamantopoulous), Larry (Sean Hayes) and Curly (Will Sasso) as they attempt to save their childhood orphanage from bankruptcy. Along the way, they find themselves stuck in the thick of a murder plot and even starring opposite the cast on Jersey Shore. It’s a loose plot if there ever was one, given that the physically abusive humor the Stooges are known for can happen anywhere. They could be on a farm, in the middle of a big city or on the moon and it would hardly make a difference. Slapstick humor by its very nature is random and unnecessary, rarely generating from the necessity of the story at hand. Therefore, the story is inconsequential, the orphanage a meaningless plot device to throw the trio out into the world to act like idiots.

One could make the argument that the Three Stooges pushed the envelope in their heyday. They were harming each other well before Looney Tunes popularized it among children. In a time when little was tolerated in the media, the Three Stooges were making violence funny (or at least trying). However, we’ve progressed since then. Critics constantly criticize a film that relies almost exclusively on slapstick humor, and for good reason—it’s the lowest form of comedy and requires no creative talent—yet slapstick humor is all the Three Stooges are known for. They have little to offer in the way of depth or innovation and their brand of comedy is simply not funny by today’s standards, rendering them irrelevant.

But their general unpleasantness goes further than just bad comedy. We’re in a time when children can’t even go to school without being bullied, including by those they call their friends, highlighted well in this week’s succinctly titled documentary, Bully, yet bullying is all the Stooges do. The slightest thing happens and the Stooges, particularly Moe, become angry and begin to attack those around them. The film may be rated PG and targeted at kids, but I’m not too sure this movie is appropriate for them, partly because many of them imitate what they see. Aside from the expected eye poking and face slapping, you’ll see the Stooges take a chainsaw to Curly’s head, crush others under heavy objects, shove someone’s head into a microwave and turn it on and even attempt to murder someone by pushing a man in front of a moving truck. Later, when they find out their attempted murder failed, they venture to the hospital to smother their victim with a pillow and finish the job. This behavior is, for lack of a better word, unacceptable and unsuitable for the growing minds of children. A post-film PSA about the illusion of film from two good looking men claiming to be the Farrelly brothers does nothing to negate its harmful and mean-spirited nature.

The Three Stooges have no place in today’s world. This update includes modern day references to things like Facebook and iPhones, but it doesn’t change the fact that its humor is cruel and stuck in the past. There’s maybe one clever joke in the entire film and it’s a spoken line, not an image of someone getting poked in the eye or hit in the groin or punched in the face, and it’s not nearly enough. With inflation occurring alongside a weakening dollar and an economy that is forcing many to struggle to get by, we should demand more for our money than what this abysmal movie has to offer.

The Three Stooges receives 0.5/5

Friday
Mar162012

21 Jump Street

A great comedy is hard to come by. A great film adaptation, be it of a book, graphic novel, video game or television show, is even harder to find. To find one that is both an adaptation and flat out hilarious seems impossible, but this week’s 21 Jump Street reminds us that both are possible. It takes a largely forgotten show from the late 80s/early 90s and reinvigorates it with style. It deviates from the drama of the original show, spicing things up with over-the-top humor and action cliché spoofing. Much like Bridesmaids last year, it probably won’t make many definitive December awards lists, but it should go down as one of funniest genre exercises of the year.

Schmidt (Jonah Hill) used to be a nerd. He dressed like Eminem (complete with dyed bleach blonde hair), wore braces and had no chance of getting the pretty girl in high school. Jock and fellow schoolmate, Jenko (Channing Tatum) was the exact opposite. He was a popular, good looking sports star that was loved by the ladies. Flash forward a few years and they’re both trying to become cops in the Metropolitan City Police Department. Schmidt isn’t the athletic type and Jenko isn’t brainy, so the two join forces to help each other in their weaker departments. After graduating, they become best friends and are assigned to the Jump Street division, where they go undercover posing as high school kids to find whoever is supplying a new synthetic drug called HFS before it spreads to other areas.

This new film adaptation may not sound like a funny movie, but it most certainly is. Laughs come flying from every direction in 21 Jump Street, with only the occasional lull to bring it down. It’s a buddy cop comedy, action film, parody and self-parody all in one. It specifically makes jokes at the expense of its own existence, commenting on how Hollywood is recycling old ideas hoping no one notices. It embraces old action stereotypes only to mercilessly skewer them moments later, like a late movie bit regarding explosions. For all its zaniness, the writing is sharp, a pitch perfect parody of police procedurals, undercover investigations, and typical teenage behavior. The kids in this movie, for instance, are environmentally aware and study during their free time. The normal pyramid of popularity is flipped upside down, the athletes seen as conformists and the nerds as technical and scientific wizards, able to work together with Jenko as he employs them to tap suspected drug runner Eric’s (Dave Franco) phone.

21 Jump Street is good, smart, vulgar fun. It has more laughs per minute than any movie in recent memory (including Bridesmaids). Much of that is due to the pairing of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, the latter of which has done so little in his career to impress, it would be easy to write him off here as a poor casting decision, but Tatum is spot on. His action movies may be bland and his parts as a romantic lead unconvincing, but his comedic timing is near perfect. Who knew? The only faults that come with his character are purely of the screenwriting variety, which forces him to develop a feeling of jealousy towards Schmidt for now becoming the popular one while he’s seen as the nerd, a status he’s certainly not used to. When he overhears Schmidt talking down about him, presumably for the purpose of the case, his feelings are hurt, a ridiculous and meaningless narrative progression. These dramatics don’t work and serve only to distract from what is otherwise a very funny movie.

A couple other problems drag 21 Jump Street down as well, including an awkward romance that blossoms between Schmidt and high school student, Molly (Brie Larson). Although it doesn’t go too far (at least not until the very end of the film), he’s a cop and she’s likely underage. It’s uncomfortable and unnecessary, but it’s a small oversight in an otherwise hilarious movie. Fans of the original show have every right to be skeptical of the film’s new comedic direction, but this is one of those few times where those skepticisms can be put to rest with relative ease. It’s not the most faithful adaptation in the world, but 21 Jump Street simply works.

21 Jump Street receives 4/5