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Entries in Kristen Wiig (6)

Tuesday
Dec242013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

It’s hard to watch a movie with a lot of pretense. When you watch one that has really fooled itself into thinking it’s something special when you know full well that it’s not, it brings forth a peculiar kind of embarrassment. You start to feel bad for the filmmakers because their expected feedback is not going to match the feedback they actually receive. Such is the case with Ben Stiller’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” an adaptation of James Thurber’s 1939 short story of the same name (which was previously adapted to film in 1947 with better results). It’s still a movie that is easy to enjoy, but it’s far from the poignant tale Stiller undoubtedly wanted to tell.

The film follows our titular protagonist, Walter Mitty (Stiller), a man who lives many different lives: the one that is real and the ones in his head. He’s a fantasizer and is known to zone out at random points in his days, heading off on grand adventures that allow him to life and feel how he wants to. In real life, his day-to-day is decidedly humdrum working as a negative asset manager for Life magazine that the new management is going to turn into an online exclusive publication. This means many folks are going to be losing their jobs, though they don’t know who. His job is already up in the air, but when he can’t find one photo that renowned photographer, Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), sends in, the one he claims is the absolute best photo he’s ever taken and should be the cover for the final issue, Walter decides to take action. He doesn’t know where Sean is, but he nevertheless hops on a plane and follows his only lead to find him.

Of course, in true Hollywood storytelling fashion, his motivation stems not from his desire to keep his job, but from his pretty co-worker crush, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), who urges him to become more adventurous. Their relationship is smooth and easy to watch, if a bit frustrating. Cheryl clearly has an affection for Walter, so his timidity comes off as forced, which is a criticism that is indicative of the film as a whole. The film isn’t as funny as it thinks it is nor as imaginative as it wants to be, as laughs come infrequently and the imagination on display fails to captivate.

Nevertheless, part of the fun of the film comes from the mind game it plays: are these grand adventures we’re witnessing real or are they simply something that is playing out in Walter’s mind? When Walter brings home a longboard he got in Iceland to give to Cheryl’s kid, is there a chance that it’s really just something he bought down the street at a local skate shop? The problem is that if it’s real, it’s a bit bland and if it’s in his head, it’s lacking the excitement and imagination that was so prevalent in the film’s opening moments.

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” has an inspiring message of living your life and simply going for it, whatever that “it” may be, but it’s surprisingly thin for a movie so singularly focused on it. Furthermore, the blatant product placement does everything it can to obscure that message. When Walter calls Cheryl from Iceland and he tells her he’s in a Papa John’s, she doesn’t express her disbelief that he actually took the initiative to do something spontaneous. She just talks about her amazement that they have a Papa John’s in Iceland. “They have those there?” she says. Moments like these are distracting and insulting inclusions that detract a significant amount of charm from the overall product.

But even with all the complaints, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” isn’t a bad movie. It’s merely a lackluster one, one that receives more criticisms than praises only because the final result is such a letdown from the promising idea. It still has a good amount of heart to it, particularly from the delightful Wiig who somehow manages to create an interesting and empathetic character out of thin material, but “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is just missing that extra, unexplainable quality that real special movies have.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty receives 3/5

Wednesday
Jul032013

Despicable Me 2

When I originally wrote about the mediocre “Despicable Me” back in 2010, I ended my review on somewhat of a snarky note, saying that it was “like a fat kid running down the street” and that “it probably won’t get far, but at least it’s trying.” Three years later, my foot has been firmly planted in my mouth and the film has found enough success to warrant a sequel. Yet some things never change. What worked before works here and what didn’t is still ever prevalent. This isn’t a case of a sequel trying to improve on the original. It’s a case of a studio looking at their product, seeing how closely it resembled its predecessor and saying, “Good enough.” Fans of the original will likely enjoy this as well and bring it plenty of success, so I guess I should update my snarkiness to fit a more believable outcome. “Despicable Me 2” is like that surprisingly athletic fat kid running down the street. It shouldn’t get very far, but it somehow does.

Gru (Steve Carell) has given up his evil ways. Those three kids he fell in love with in the first movie, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Agnes (Elsie Fisher) and Edith (Dana Gaier), are now his entire life and he wants to support them through legitimate means, namely by producing the most awful tasting jelly imaginable. However, he’s soon recruited by Agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) and the Anti-Villain League, an organization dedicated to stopping crime on a global scale. Their current investigation has to do with the disappearance of a top secret research facility in the Arctic Circle that contained a dangerous transmutation serum. Given that Gru was once the most brilliant villain on the planet, they need his help, so despite his initial reluctance, he sets out to find the serum and stop the mastermind behind its disappearance.

Like the previous installment, “Despicable Me 2” does not lack an imagination. The sight gags, particularly that come from the mall Gru and Lucy spent most of their time in, are clever and well placed and the minions, those adorably clueless little yellow guys, are just as loony as ever. Their expanded roles in this movie that, without spoiling anything, are central to the overall plot, make way for some great moments that are easily the most memorable and enjoyable of the entire thing. The problem is that much of their humor and, indeed, the entire film’s humor derives from slapstick comedy, the laziest, cheapest, most lowbrow from of humor there is.

Within the first 10 minutes alone, someone falls off a roof, gets hit with a medieval type mace and car, sprayed with a hose and tasered. The movie clearly has a young demographic in mind, an understandable focus, but it caters to them not by offering witty and well written stories like the majority of Pixar or DreamWorks animated films, but rather by appealing to their most basic senses, not unlike when a baby laughs at their parent getting hit in the face with something. What little story it does have is rudimentary and predictable: another love story. The kids, as much as they love Gru, want a mother, so they pressure him into dating, which leads to an overarching theme that is no more effective than the underexplored blossoming of young Margo.

What “Despicable Me 2” is sorely missing, and what “Despicable Me” had in abundance, is a strong antagonist. Vector, voiced so wonderfully by Jason Segel, was a strong character whose eccentric personality and ideals conflicted with Gru’s, leading to a battle of wits that added an ever-so-subtle layer to the original film. This movie lacks that. Because the bad guy is a mystery for the majority of its runtime, no real threat or character is every really established, just the veiled persona the villain hides behind.

Still, “Despicable Me 2” does offer up the same charm of the first movie, even if it is less significant in what amounts to little more than a rehash. It’s inoffensive, goofy and bound to put smiles on the faces of the children and parents in the audience. But with a plethora of other, more meaningful animated films with wonderful messages about growing up and coping with the harshness of life (including the recent “Monsters University”), this just feels like a time waster. It’s by no means terrible, but “Despicable Me 2” needs to do a whole lot more than throw its characters around like abused ragdolls to make it worth the price of admission.

Despicable Me 2 receives 2/5

Friday
May132011

Bridesmaids

If you’re a fan of The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up or pretty much any raunchy R rated comedy to come out in the last few years, pay attention because this movie is for you. Bridesmaids is easily the funniest movie to be released since Get Him to the Greek and could prove itself to be the funniest movie of the year if The Hangover II fails to reach expectations. Coming from Apatow Productions and channeling much of what made his movies so popular, Bridesmaids nails it. It’s a filthy movie with a cast of strong females that can easily stand toe-to-toe with the big boys. While it is certainly nice to see a film of this ilk filled with strong, prominent women rather than big, loud men, focusing on that would be a mistake. Regardless of gender, Bridesmaids is flat out hilarious.

Kristen Wiig plays Annie, an approaching-40-years-old woman who has yet to settle down. She fools around with Ted, played by Jon Hamm, but he isn’t anywhere close to making a commitment and more or less kicks her out of his house after they’re done having sex. One day, her best friend Lillian, played by Maya Rudolph, surprises her with an announcement. Her boyfriend just popped the question and she wants Annie to be her maid of honor. She accepts, but a fellow bridesmaid named Helen, played by Rose Byrne, starts a competition and does everything she can to take the coveted title from her.

If there was ever a cast worth mentioning, it’s this one. On top of those already mentioned, Bridesmaids stars Jill Clayburgh (in her final role), Melissa McCarthy from TV’s “Mike & Molly,” Wendi McLendon-Covey from Comedy Central’s “Reno 911!” and Ellie Kemper, best known as the always smiling secretary from “The Office.” While I can’t speak for their comedic talents solo, putting them together is magic. All of these women bring their own unique style to the show, which creates comedic diversity and keeps the movie from becoming stale too quickly.

Most importantly, however, is that each character is likable, even when they have tantrums that may or may not be warranted. The girls aren’t written like generic romantic comedy females who embarrassingly drown themselves in ice cream and complain about not having a man. Rather, they are three dimensional characters with real problems and emotions that ring true. The parts are written so well and played so convincingly that you’ll find yourself engaged even when you aren’t laughing.

And that’s good because it has stretches where the laughs just don’t come. Many of the jokes stem from the feud between Annie and Helen and they play out for far too long, like an early scene at Lillian's engagement party where they take turn giving speeches in an attempt to one-up the other, passing the microphone no less than six times. Another example comes on an airplane where Annie’s fear of flying, an overused screenplay fear that is boring to begin with, creates a string of unfunny jokes that run on for what feels like at least a good 10-15 minutes. Thankfully, these don’t-know-when-to-quit moments are few and far between. Just when it looks like it’s going to lose itself, Bridesmaids bounces back, usually thanks to the lovely Kristen Wiig, who is so affable and funny you can’t help but fall in love with her.

But just like most other movies with Judd Apatow’s name attached to it, Bridesmaids is too long, running all the way to two hours. Along with the scenes already mentioned, there are plenty of moments that could have easily been cut, tightening the picture and making it that much better. But to complain about such short stretches of tedium seems frivolous considering that the rest of the movie is so wonderful. It’s funny, it has a big heart and it ranks among the best comedies of the last few years. And that’s saying something.

Bridesmaids receives 4/5

Friday
Mar182011

Paul

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are unquestionably one of the greatest comic duos working today. When separated, their abilities are easy to scrutinize (as seen with Pegg in the atrocious How to Lose Friends & Alienate People), but put them together and the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. If Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz were grand slams, consider their latest, Paul, an inside-the-park home run. The reaction may be the same, yet you can’t help but feel like it isn’t entirely deserved.

Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) are sci-fi nerds. They produce their own science fiction comic book, they staunchly believe in aliens and they even speak Klingon. Their dorky personalities mean they belong at one place: Comic-Con. And that’s where they are when the film begins. When the event is over, however, they embark on a tour of American UFO hot spots, only to accidentally run into an alien. His name is Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) and he has just escaped Area 51 where the government was planning on cutting out his brain and studying it. He needs to get home, so he convinces Graeme and Clive to help him.

Paul is funny. Getting that statement out of the way seems necessary because that’s what most people want to know. Its primary goal is to make you laugh and it mostly succeeds. What disappoints the most about Paul, however, is that it also aims to be a satire of the science fiction genre, but mistakes satire for references. The film features some clever nods to everything from Mork & Mindy to Star Wars and includes a particularly funny bit that shows how Steven Spielberg came up with the idea for his classic hit, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, but aside from a few moments, like a great joke poking fun at how slow spaceships take off at the end of sci-fi movies, Paul doesn’t so much satirize as it does pay homage. Their previous, aforementioned films, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, wickedly satirized the horror and action genres, and the former was even able to make an interesting statement on apathy in regards to a generation that lumbers around like they’re already dead. When compared, it’s easy to see that Paul is empty. It lacks the intellectual depth of those films and instead relies on four letter words to garner laughs.

So I suppose it’s good I’m immature. I couldn’t help but get a kick of the foul mouthed Paul, who in one breath denounces religion in front of a Bible thumping, trailer park owner, played by Kristen Wiig, who finds logic in what he says and begins to go down the path of impurity, which includes cursing for the first time (a trait for which she just can't find a rhythm). Along with Wiig, there’s a great supporting cast here, including, but not limited to, Bill Hader, Jeffrey Tambor, Jane Lynch and Jason Bateman. With the exception of Bateman, whose comedic talent is wasted playing the straight faced, no nonsense FBI agent, everybody lends some much needed help to the film by making otherwise unfunny jokes funny through their delivery.

The would-be best supporting player, however, the one who is known for playing one of the greatest sci-fi heroes of all time, is seen and not heard until the end, a reveal that would have been amusing had this person’s voice not been so recognizable. It’s a wasted opportunity and an easy laugh is lost, which is similar to how the whole movie plays out. Paul hits just enough right notes to be passable, but if you’re familiar with Pegg and Frost’s previous collaborations, it’s impossible not to feel somewhat underwhelmed.

Paul receives 3/5

Friday
Dec102010

All Good Things

There’s nothing worse than watching a bad movie that you know had the potential to be so much better, a movie with an interesting idea and a terrific cast that does nothing to set itself apart from the rest of the crowd. This notion lingered in the back of my mind the entire time I watched All Good Things, a supposed mystery thriller that slowly spiraled downward the further it went on. I tried to like it, but by the time I reached the end, I had given up.

The story is inspired by what the press release says is the most notorious missing person’s case in New York’s history. Ryan Gosling plays David Marks, the young son of real estate mogul Sanford Marks, played by Frank Langella, who narrates the movie through his testimony at his trial. His story spans multiple generations and he begins in 1971 when he meets the love of his life, Katie, played by Kirsten Dunst, whom he eventually married. Their rocky relationship raised the eyebrows of those around them and after Katie went missing, David quickly became the prime suspect.

All Good Things is a movie in search of a tone. It tries to be a romance, drama horror and thriller all in one, but it mixes them together poorly resulting in wave like tonal changes. For instance, one scene shows David as he violently grabs Katie by the hair and drags her out to the car, which then instantly cuts to inside their home where she acts like he’s done little more than burned dinner, least of all physically abused her. Once Kristen Wiig shows up, it even turns into a kind of light comedy, though the laughs are outmatched by the unintentionally funny final third of the film where David starts to dress up in drag, effectively creating one of the most unconvincing women in Hollywood since the Wayans brothers in White Chicks.

Much like this year’s Charlie St. Cloud, only a musical change would be required to completely flip the meaning of a scene or shot. The ominous music that plays while lingering on David’s empty stares show him as unstable and evil, but without it he would merely look depressed. Similarly mishandled, his evolution to violence is faulty. Before his aforementioned violent eruption, he is shown talking to himself, a supposed sign of mental instability, which at this point has become a cinematic cliché. Lots of people talk to themselves (hell, I do) and scientists have actually found it to be beneficial. More needed to be done to convince me to be afraid of David.

All Good Things looked like it was going to redeem itself in its closing minutes. Its ending is interesting and, assuming you haven’t done your research prior to viewing, unexpected. However, once you learn what he was on trial for, it makes you wonder what exactly the point was of the first hour. The two events portrayed in this movie are only loosely linked, so the beginning comes to feel kind of unnecessary upon reflection.

If it can be praised for anything, All Good Things wrings out some good performances from its cast. Gosling and Langella are effective as usual, but Kirsten Dunst, who hasn’t impressed in many years, shows she shouldn’t be written off yet. She has the most emotionally nuanced role of all and she carries it out with poise. But aside from that, I’m afraid there isn’t much to All Good Things. Its title is a lie. It isn't even mostly good things.

All Good Things receives 2/5