Tag Archives: Comedy films

I, Tonya-2017

I, Tonya-2017

Director-Craig Gillespie

Starring-Margot Robbie, Allison Janney

Scott’s Review #712

Reviewed January 10, 2018

Grade: A-

I, Tonya is a 2017 biopic telling of the life and times of the infamous American Olympic figure skater, Tonya Harding, notorious, of course, for her alleged involvement, along with her husband and his friend, in the attack of fellow skater, Nancy Kerrigan during the 1994 Winter Olympics. The event drew monumental media coverage after the attack with the uncertainty of Harding’s knowledge or involvement and her subsequent guilt or innocence continues to be debated.

The film itself is a dark and violent comedy, never taking itself too seriously, and immediately presents the disclaimer that the stated “facts” in the film are open to interpretation and dependent on who you ask. In this way, I, Tonya is far from preachy or directive to the viewer, but rather offers up the life and times of the skater in a story form. The film features tremendous performances by Margot Robbie and Allison Janney as Tonya and her despicable mother, LaVona.

I, Tonya is told in chronological fashion, culminating with “the incident” in 1994. However, the story begins  back in the mid 1970’s as Tonya, just a tot at the tender age of four, is as cute as a button and shrouded with innocence. One cannot help wonder if director, Craig Gillespie, known for independent films, purposely made this wise casting choice. We see Tonya, once an innocent child, journey into a life of violence, abuse, and tumultuous living. Harding grew up cold and hard and endured an abusive, difficult relationship with her mother- the pressures to be the best skater simply never ended. Even upon achieving success Tonya never felt good enough or loved by her mother.

We then experience Tonya as a fifteen year old girl, fittingly first meeting her boyfriend and later, husband Jeff, Gillooly played well by actor Sebastian Stan. The early scenes between the two are sweet, tender, and fraught with the emotions of first love. As explained by the actors, this was a short-lived time of bliss, and the relationship soon disintegrated into abuse, rage, and chaos.

Certainly the main point of the film is to debate the guilt or innocence of Harding, which Gillespie peppers throughout, so it is never clear what to believe or how the audience should be made to think. “Interpretation” is the key here- some may see Harding as a victim of life’s circumstances and the hardships she had to endure and may place sympathy upon her. Others may view Harding as off-putting, potty-mouthed, and even icy and violent herself with a big chip on her shoulder. In one scene she publicly belittles the hoity toity judges who never cut her a break and give her less than perfect scores.

A clever technique that the film delivers is to have the actors frequently speak to the camera, and thus the audience. This is achieved by either interview style or for the action in the film to simply cease and either Robbie, Janney, Stan, or whomever, turn to the camera and express their version of the events. In this way, I, Tonya possesses a creative, edgy, indie feel.

How brilliant are the performances of both Robbie and Janney. Robbie, a gorgeous woman, portrays a “red-neck” to the hilt. Through her bright blue eyes , her face is quite expressive- relaying pain, anger, and a seldom triumph. The film often slants the scales in a sympathetic way towards Harding, but it is the talents of Robbie that make us feel this sympathy. Janney hits the jackpot with a delicious role she sinks her teeth into. A cold-hearted, vicious character, through facial expressions, we occasionally get a glimpse of LaVona, perhaps softening, but as we do, the character does something even more despicable.

A good surprise for fans who remember the real-life events and the real-life players, will be treated to a sequence of the real Tonya, LaVona, Jeff, and Shawn Eckhardt, which play over the films ending credits. How similar in looks are both Robbie to Harding, with her feathered, frizzy, 1980’s style hairdo, and Janney, a dead-ringer for the boozy, chain-smoking LaVona, with her mousy brown bob haircut, complete with scruffy bangs.

Viewers will leave theaters confused, unsure, or perhaps just simply perplexed by what they have just seen, but will most certainly feel thoroughly entertained and may even depart chanting some upbeat 1980’s rock tunes that the film uses throughout. Thanks to wonderful acting and a strong story, I, Tonya is a success.

Bad Moms-2016

Bad Moms-2016

Director-Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Starring-Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn

Scott’s Review #706

Reviewed December 20, 2017

Grade: D+

Bad Moms tries to do for women what The Hangover did for men and create a raunchy, R-rated party romp that haggard mothers everywhere can relate to and appreciate. The films billboard presents the three main characters boozing it up under a caption of “Party Like a Mother”. Perhaps since I am not a mother I did not fully gravitate towards this film, but despite a smidgen of mild laughs, Bad Moms fell flat for me, mostly because of tired characters, gimmicky situations, and an over-the-top tone. Not surprising is that the film is written by the same individuals who wrote The Hangover- as it comes across as a direct ripoff with a different gender in the drivers seat.

The central character in the film is Amy Mitchell (Mila Kunis), a thirty-two year old mother of two, living a busy life in the Chicago suburbs. Considered “old” by her hipster boss, and with a porn obsessed husband, she runs around frazzled and behind schedule most of the time. After a particularly hairy day, Amy abruptly quits the school PTA run by militant Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate), and befriends fellow moms, sex-crazed Carla (Kathryn Hahn), and timid Kiki (Kristen Bell). After she incites Gwendolyn’s wrath, Amy decides enough is enough and embarks on a plot to win the PTA presidency, while dumping her husband and dating hunky widower, Jessie (Jay Hernandez).

Admittedly, Kunis is very likable as Amy- a cool chick with energy that most would love to befriend -we empathize with her predicaments and juggling schedules. But this can only go so far in a comedic film, and the setup pieces and the supporting characters are way too plot driven and lack authenticity that the end result is little more than one root-able character. Applegate as an actress, is quite capable, but Gwendolyn, the clear foil, is largely written as a cartoon character. Her bitchy comments to her underlings, who inexplicably are afraid to cross her, seem too staged. Jada Pinkett Smith, clearly in need of a paycheck, is disposable as “second in command” crony, Stacy. Furthermore, Amy’s husband Mike (David Walton) is portrayed largely as a buffoon and childlike. The point of these character examples is to stress that the film contains too many caricatures rather than characters

An irritating quality to Bad Moms that I simply cannot shake is that the film is written and directed by a duo of men! Jon Lucas and Scott Moore are the individuals in question and the mere fact that the film, clearly painted as a female empowerment story, is not written by females is almost unforgivable. Case in point involves a bathroom scene where the ladies discuss uncircumcised penises- a dumb scene if you ask me- that is retched considering men wrote and directed it. In this day and age of Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment suits bubbling to the surface, the scene seems icky. It should not be this hard to find women to write for other women.

Of the additional trio of females, Kathryn Hahn’s Carla has a few funny scenes, but is written as so sex-obsessed that it is impossible to take the character seriously and the same goes for Bell’s Kiki. When mousy Kiki finally lays down the law and tells her boorish husband to deal with their kids, it is meant to be a rah-rah moment, but instead becomes eye rolling. Not the best actress in the world, Bell continues to get roles like this in sub-par films.

An attempt by film-makers to make a girl film on par with male driven raunchy comedies thrust on moviegoers over the years, Bad Moms comes across as too unoriginal and too desperate for laughs. Undoubtedly hoping to win over the same audiences who flocked to the last funny female driven comedy hit, 2011 Bridesmaids, the film falls flat and lacks genuine funnies. Its score is bolstered slightly by the successful casting of Kunis in the lead role and the sweet romance her character shares with Hernandez’s Jessie.

Why Him?-2016

Why Him?-2016

Director-John Hamburg

Starring-John Franco, Bryan Cranston

Scott’s Review #704

Reviewed December 6, 2017

Grade: D

Why Him? is epic film drivel, starring quite capable actors in a mish-mash of dull, predictable story, obnoxious characters, and a need to attempt to go raunchier and raunchier for the sake of a cheap laugh. Why there is a market for films like this is beyond me as no thinking is required (maybe the film will please those fans!), but the film scores slightly higher than a solid “F” based solely on a few chuckles uttered thanks to the only dim bright spots in this mess- Bryan Cranston and Megan Mullally.

In a story told dozens of times before in “slapstick comedy” fare, the premise is tired beyond belief- good girl meets bad boy, they fall head over heels in love, and must deal with the aftermath of her parents meeting, and hating, said bad boy. The main gimmick is the rivalry between boyfriend and girlfriends father- think an unfunny Meet the Parents.  A silly and uninteresting plot point about each characters business success or lack thereof is mixed in, as if anyone cares. As with all films of this ilk, the story is wrapped up in a neat, tidy, little bow by the time the credits roll and all characters live happily ever after in perfect harmony <gag>.

Cast in one of his most disappointing  roles, James Franco stars as Laird Mayhew, a wealthy, eccentric, thirty-something CEO of an upstart video game company. He is foul-mouthed and comically speaks his mind or absentmindedly shows his ass on a skype chat with his girlfriend (Zoey Deutch) Stephanie while her parents are linked to the chat at a birthday party.  Stephanie Fleming (Deutch), a college student,  and girlfriend of Laird, decides to invite her parents, Ned and Barb (Cranston and Mullally), along with their fifteen-year old Scotty for Christmas holidays.  In predictable fashion, Stephanie’s parents are appalled by Laird and want her to have nothing to do with him. When Stephanie arranges for Ned, Barb, and Scotty to stay at Laird’s spacious home, the antics really take off as feuds and misunderstandings erupt.

The main problem with Why Him? is that director John Hamburg (famous for mainstream comedies such as Along Came Polly and I Love You, Man), seems determined to push the raunchy comedy elements further with this idiotic film. He makes Laird as obnoxious and crass as possible, yet tries to make the character more “likable” by giving him a clueless quality- therefore he is not really mean-spirited and should therefore be loved by the audience. The character does not work at all- especially having seen Franco in some terrific roles- specifically 127 Hours and  Howl. Being a fan of the talented actor I expected more from him, but alas, some performances are only as good as the material written.

If there is a bright spot worth mentioning it is with the casting of Cranston and Mullally. Two actors undeniably good at physical comedy, they do as much as they can with poorly written, stock type roles. Cranston’s Ned, a middle-class small business owner from Grand Rapids, Michigan, is both envious and resentful of Laird, perhaps admiring the young man’s business savvy and regretting not being as successful. Barb is a one-note, ditzy yet lovable wife- a role made slightly better by Mullally’s goofy portrayal. In one of the best scenes, Barb smokes pot and becomes a disheveled mess in the bedroom. Ned, trapped on the toilet the next morning, has an embarrassing experience with Laird’s best friend, Gustav. These scenes, while juvenile, are made better because of the likes of the funny actors.

Suffering greatly from a tired and overused story-line that falls flat, unlikable and dull characters, the film offers nothing of substance or worth. Why Him? is entirely plot driven with no character development or well-written characters to speak of. The film is a complete waste of time, resulting from a studio hoping to achieve box office success by churning out a poor comedy with wasted talent that will please only those audiences not expecting much out of their films.

Lady Bird-2017

Lady Bird-2017

Director-Greta Gerwig

Starring-Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf

Scott’s Review #700

Reviewed November 28, 2017

Grade: A

Lady Bird is a 2017 independent film release and a wonderful effort by actor turned writer/director, Greta Gerwig, in her solo directorial debut. No stranger to the indie syndicate herself. Gerwig puts her own unique stamp on the film with a rich, female centered perspective that works quite well and that is seeping with charm and wit. Worth noting is how the story is a semi-autobiography-one based on Gerwig’s own life and her stormy dealings with her own mother. The story is well-written, well-paced, and empathetic as the audience views a slice of life through the eyes of a restless yet kindly teenager on the cusp of womanhood.

Saoirse Ronan gives a bravura performance in the title role. Her given birth name being Christine, she defiantly changes it to Lady Bird, in a show of adolescent independence, and much to her parents, Marion and Larry’s (Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts ) chagrin. Christine lives in suburban Sacramento, California, and yearns for a more exciting life in New York City, and far away from what she considers Dullsville, USA. Now in her senior year- attending a Catholic high school-Christine applies to college after college, hoping to escape her daily dilemmas. Christine’s best friend Julie and somewhat boyfriend Danny (Lucas Hedges) are along for the ride. The time period is 2002- shortly after 9/11.

The brightest moments in Lady Bird are the scenes between Christine and her mother, which are plentiful. The chemistry between Ronan and Metcalf is wonderful and I truly buy them as a real mother/daughter duo, warts and all. They fight, make up, get on each others nerves, fight, cry, make up, etc. I especially love their knock down-drag-outs, as each actress stands her ground while allowing the other room to shine- feeding off of each other. My favorite Metcalf scene occurs while she is alone- having gotten into a tiff with Christine and giving her the silent treatment while Christine flies to New York, Marion reconsiders as she melts into a ball of tears while she drives away- regretting her decision and missing her daughter already. Metcalf fills the scene with emotional layers as she does not speak- we simply watch in awe as her facial expressions tell everything.

Comparably, Ronan- likely to receive her third Oscar nomination at the ripe old age of twenty three (Atonement and Brooklyn are the other nods), successfully gives a layered performance of a teenage girl struggling with her identity and restless to see different worlds and get out of what she sees as a bland city. Of Irish decent, Ronan is remarkable in her portrayal of a California girl- sometimes selfish, sometimes sarcastic, but always likable and empathetic.

In fact, the casting from top to bottom is wonderful as the supporting players lend added meat to the story. Christine’s best friend, Julie, played by young upstart Beanie Feldstein (Jonah Hill’s sister) is compelling as the lovable, chubby, and nerdy theater geek. Letts is perfect as Christine’s father, depressed at losing his job in the tough economy and having to compete with young talent as he sees his career slip away. Legendary actress, Lois Smith, adds heart to the role of Sister Sarah Joan- a by the book nun, who proves to be a cool, old chick. Finally, Hedges, seemingly in every film in 2016-2017, is emotionally resounding as Danny, the troubled boyfriend of Christine- struggling with his sexuality.

Gerwig simply does it all with this piece of film- she directs and writes, scripting both laugh out line moments and eliciting heartfelt emotion from her enchanted audience. A hilarious scene occurs as Christine attends a dreary class assembly- an anti-abortion themed one- by a woman who almost did not exist, but for her mother’s decision not to have an abortion. When a bored Christine icily points out that had the woman’s mother had the abortion, she would not be forced to sit through the assembly, it is a laugh out loud moment.

Lady Bird, thanks to a fantastic writer and director, and superlative casting, is a film that has it all- heart, emotion, humor, and great acting. The film is intelligently written and forces the audience to quite willingly embrace its characters. Gerwig carves a story, perhaps done many times before in film, but with a fresh and energetic feel to it.

Little Miss Sunshine-2006

Little Miss Sunshine-2006

Director-Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Starring-Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell

Scott’s Review #697

Reviewed November 23, 2017

Grade: A

A film that became a sleeper hit at the time of release in 2006 and went on the achieve recognition with year end award honors galore, Little Miss Sunshine holds up quite well after over ten years since its debut. Combining family humor with heart, audiences will fall in love with the antics of the dysfunctional Hoover family, warts and all, as they strive to persevere endless obstacles to enable precocious, seven year old daughter, Olive, a chance at competing in a beauty pageant hundreds of miles away. The film is a comedic treat with charm and contains uproarious fun.

Directors  (and husband and wife team) Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris start right to work kicking off the humor in style as the one hour and forty one minute film introduces depressed Uncle Frank (Steve Carell) to the rest of the Hoovers as he comes to live with the family after a failed suicide attempt. Frank, who is gay and has recently been dumped, is Sheryl Hoover’s (Toni Collette) brother, and has a dry sense of humor. He fits in well with the other peculiar members of the clan- Dad Richard (Greg Kinnear), a struggling motivational speaker, Grandpa Edwin, a vulgar, irritable man, brother Dwayne, angry and refusing to speak, and finally, pudgy faced, Olive.

The brightest spots in Little Miss Sunshine are the exceptional writing and the nuanced, non one-dimensional characters. Each character is both good yet troubled in their own way and the overall message of the film is an important one. The plot of the film encompasses a beauty queen pageant and the lifestyle this involves- the hypocrisy and plastic nature is a main theme. When the family stops at a roadside cafe for breakfast, Olive hungrily orders ice-cream and is shamed by a member of the family- she must watch her figure, she is told. Other members instead encourage Olive to be herself. In this way, Little Miss Sunshine poses an interesting dissection of the pressures very young people face to be perfect, especially in the beauty pageant business, and the message society sends. Shocking is a scene where many of the contestants, all under the age of ten, appear in sexy, glamorous makeup, and bikinis.

Little Miss Sunshine is a very funny film and this undoubtedly is due to the chemistry that exists among the cast of talented actors. Quite the ensemble, all five of the principle characters has an interesting relationship with each other. Too many film comedies suffer immensely from forced jokes or typical “set-up” style humor, plot devices created to elicit a response from the audience- to which I call “dumbing down”. Little Miss Sunshine, however, feels authentic and fresh- a situation becomes funny because there is an honest reaction by the characters. The film is a slice of life experience of an average blue-collar family.

A standout scene to mention is the hysterical one in which the Hoovers are pulled over by a highway police officer. To say nothing of the fact that the Hoovers are “escorting” a corpse to their destination, along with pornographic magazines, their classic, beat-up, yellow Volkswagen bus barely runs and contains a malfunctioning horn that beeps at inopportune times. This hilarious scenes works on all levels as the comic timing is palpable and leads to a laugh out loud response.

Furthermore, the climactic “beauty pageant” scene is fraught with physical humor. Olive, clearly the oddball in a group of hypersexualized, young starlets, takes inspiration from her grandfather to simply “be herself”. She does so in a hilarious version of “Super Freak” that is clearly R-rated, both shocking the audience and celebrated by others- specifically her entire family. Olive successfully proves that she can be herself and happily do so.

How wonderful and refreshing to find a comedy with honest, ample humor and real integrity that is able to shine many years after its first release and retain the richness and zest that originally captured legions of viewers. As proven over time with many independent films, wonderful writing and directors sharing a vision, go a long way in achieving a quality piece of film making.

Other People-2016

Other People-2016

Director-Chris Kelly

Starring-Jesse Plemons, Molly Shannon

Scott’s Review #676

Reviewed August 24, 2017

Grade: B+

2016’s recipient of numerous Independent Film award nominations is equal parts a touching drama and equal parts witty comedy, providing a film experience that successfully transcends more than one genre- is it a heavy drama or is it a comedic achievement? Without being sappy or overindulgent, Other People is a film that will elicit both laughs and tears from viewers fortunate enough to see this film focused on a tough to tackle subject- a woman dying of cancer. The title of the film, which one character states he always thought cancer was something that only happened to “other people” is poignant.

Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon play son and mother in the brave film both written and directed by Chris Kelly. The very first scene is a confusing one and caught me off guard- we see the entire Mulcahey clan- father Norman (Bradley Whitford), three kids, David (Plemons), Alex, and Rebeccah, along with their dead mother Joanne (Shannon), all lying in the same bed, sobbing and clutching hands. Clearly Joanne has just succumbed to her battle with cancer. This powerful opening scene, which ironically is also the final scene, sets the tone for the entire film as Kelly, works his way back, beginning a year prior to the important “death scene”.

Cancer is a very tough subject to cover in film, especially going the comedy/drama route. The sensitive film maker must be careful not to trivialize the subject matter with too many comedic elements nor go for the heavy drama. Kelly successfully mixes the humor and drama well so that the film works as a cross-genre film. He achieves this by putting capable talents like Plemons and Shannon to good use- they share tremendous chemistry in every scene they appear in together. Scenes that show David and Joanne cry in each others arms work as well as others, such as when David takes a giddy Joanne to meet his comedy friends.

Most impressive is that the story in Other People is largely autobiographical- Kelly, a gay man like the character of David, moved from New York City to Sacramento, California, to tend to his ailing mother, who had also died from cancer. Actress Shannon reminded him so much of her that he had the fortune of casting the talented lady in his film- the part originally slated to go to Sissy Spacek instead.

Mixed in with the Joanne’s battle with cancer is also a nice story about David. A gay man, David has broken up with his boyfriend Paul, previously living together on the east coast (though still pretending to in order to spare Joanne worry), to return to the west coast. Over the course of the next year we see Joanne and Norman slowly come to terms with David’s sexuality- more so Norman than Joanne. In fact, the turbulent father/son relationship is explored during the course of the film as Norman, initially hesitant to even meet David’s boyfriend, Paul, in the end, pays for his airline ticket to attend Joanne’s funeral.

A slight miss with the film is the Norman/David dynamic-besides a few hints of Norman encouraging David’s struggling writing career and his obsession with David joining the gym and boxing, it is not really clear what issue he takes with his son being gay or why he is uncomfortable with it- other than the implication that the family is rather conservative no other reason is given. David’s sister’s and grandparents do not seem to take issue with David’s sexuality, though it is not made certain if the grandparents are even aware of it. Is it a machismo thing with Norman? This part of the story is unclear.

Still, in the end, Other People is a good, small, indie film, rich with crisp, sharp writing and a tragic “year in the life of a cancer patient” along with good family drama and the relationships that abound when a family comes together and unites based on a health threat. The film is certainly nothing that has not been done before, but thanks to good direction and a thoughtful, nuanced, approach, along with one character’s sexuality mixed in, the film feels quite fresh.

White Chicks-2004

White Chicks-2004

Director-Keenen Ivory Wayans

Starring-Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans

Scott’s Review #647

Reviewed May 29, 2017

Grade: D

Anything but high art, though at the time of release (2004), seeming like a clever, yet silly, slapstick farce, White Chicks was a film that I found rather enjoyable. Watching the film in 2017, some thirteen years later, however, the film feels dated beyond belief and as dumb as can be. The film also contains Paris Hilton gimmick characters and racial overtones that were lost on me when I first saw the film.

Clearly influenced by the drag comedy (and classic) from 1959, Some Like It Hot, the premise sounds interesting and comical. Kevin and Marcus Copeland (played by the comical Wayans brothers) are a pair of black,  masculine, F.B.I. agents who bungle an undercover investigation and are given one last chance to redeem themselves before being booted from the bureau for good. They are assigned the task of protecting the mega-rich cruse-line heiresses Brittany and Tiffany Wilson, who are in town (at the Hamptons) from a planned kidnapping plot over Labor day weekend. Kevin and Marcus don blonde wigs, freakish makeup, and awkwardly pose as the Wilson sisters in order to save their jobs.

As the story goes on, Kevin and Marcus (as Brittany and Tiffany) develop relationships with various characters including millionaire Latrell Spencer (Terry Crews), who takes an interest in Marcus (thinking he is Tiffany, and white). Other antics occur as the “girls” try their best to formulate friendships with the heiresses snotty friends as they attempt to foil the kidnapping plot.

Similarities to the classic Wilder hit, Some Like It Hot, are tough not to notice, and director, Keenen Ivory Wayans, is smart to borrow from a film considered one of the greatest comedies of all time. Just as Joe and Jerry (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) go on the lam to escape mafia figures out of desperation, Kevin and Marcus are desperate to keep their jobs, causing both sets of “impersonators”, to suffer from dire circumstances. Also worth mentioning are similar conclusions in both films as love interest Osgood Fielding III, also a millionaire, as is Spencer in White Chicks, each are not phased by the “big reveal” as the men are de-masked as actually being males.

Clever in 2004, the incorporation of celebrity Paris Hilton, in 2017 now all but faded, seems dated and of the past. In real life being a hotel heiress, characters Brittany and Tiffany (cruise line heiresses) clearly mirror Hilton as spoiled, self centered, and oblivious to everyone around her. The aspect was a good idea at the time of the films release, but now is irrelevant, not even as a nostalgia gag- perhaps in the year 2037 White Chicks might be appreciated more, but I would not hold my breathe.

The overall tone of White Chicks is also fraught with silliness and with one gag after another. Rather than being believable as females, the Wayans brothers look downright frightening and robotic as Brittany and Tiffany. Certainly in comedies suspension of disbelief is required, but the producers should have done a bit more to feminize the characters instead of playing them as goofs.

The ending of the film is no frills and formulaic with no real twist or surprise ending to speak of. The ridiculous misunderstandings with Kevin and Marcus’s real significant others, foolishly believing the men are having affairs with other women seem forced and amateurish. Predictably, when the men profess their love for the girls in earnest fashion, they fall for it hook, line, and sinker and the film wraps in disappointing, standard fashion.

Cute and fresh feeling at the time, White Chicks now feels stale and tired with racial overtones, deemed amusing back in the day, but now seeming mean-spirited and unnecessary. The film is an attempt at recreating a classic comedy for a younger audience, but I would recommend seeing the original Some Like It Hot instead- it is much more enjoyable.

The Lobster-2016

The Lobster-2016

Director-Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring-Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz

Scott’s Review #635

Reviewed April 20, 2017

Grade: A-

One thing is certain about the puzzling 2016 film, The Lobster- it is a film worthy of discussion long after the end credits roll and will leave the viewer pondering many facets of the film- a great film to dissect, if you will. This in itself is worth recognition and praise to the power of the film- so many questions abound. I was immediately struck by how heavily The Lobster contains major subject matter influences from “message novels” (and films) such as Brave New World, 1984, and A Clockwork Orange, as well as creative, stylistic recent film influences from The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom.

The story begins somewhere outside of Dublin, where David (Colin Farrell) has recently been dumped by his wife in favor of another man. Now single, he is whisked away by authorities to a luxurious hotel in the woods, where he (and the other guests) are given forty five days to find a suitable romantic partner, or else they will be turned into an animal of their choice. David is accompanied by his brother, now a dog, and has decided, should he be turned, that he will become a lobster because he loves the sea and they tend to live to be over one hundred years old.

The hotel management adheres to strict rules- no masturbation, mandatory temptations by hotel employees, and a strange outdoor hunting game where the guests hunt other guests to win extra days extended to their stays. As David befriends fellow hotel guests, he is conflicted and desperate to find a mate. Events take a surprising turn when circumstances allow the rules to change for him and he becomes involved with a short-sighted woman (Weisz).

The plot of the film is strange beyond belief, yet also incredibly creative and thought provoking. The subject matter is pure dystopian- a facility, presumably controlled by the government, with a rebel group intent on ruining the “status quo”. Mixed in with all of this suddenly appears an odd little secret romance between David and Shortsighted Woman that begins only during the final act of the film.

One aspect to the film that I found interesting was the odd monotone dialogue that the characters used- almost matter-of-fact in whatever they were saying, even while expressing anger. This peculiarity perplexed me, but the more I think about it, the more this decision makes the film dark humored and dry with wry wit.

Another interesting nuance to the film are the multitude of quirky characters, many of whom are mainly referred to by their nicknames. Lisping Man, Limping Man, and Nosebleed Woman to name a few. And what viewer would not spend the duration of the film imagining which animal he or she would desire to be turned into and why?

My favorite aspect of the film is the offbeat performance by Colin Farrell- typically a rugged, sex symbol, he goes against the grain and plays a pudgy, socially awkward, insecure man, but all the while instilling the character with enough warmth and likability to make the character work- and his chemistry with Rachel Weisz is fantastic. This turns the strange dark comedy into a strange romantic drama.

A beautiful forest becomes the backdrop for a large part of the film as does the city of Dublin itself, contrasting the film in nuanced ways. Combined with the lavish hotel, the film achieves several different settings for the action, each meaningful in its own right.

Without giving anything away, the conclusion of the film- the final scene in particular- is positively gruesome in what goes through the viewers mind, and the resolution is left very unclear. Does David do it or doesn’t he? Clearly, much of the film is open to one’s interpretation and imagination.

Black humor and cynicism are major components of The Lobster, which is a thinking man’s movie. In fact, I continue to think of this film as I write this review. The film flairs with originality and thought and this is a great positive. Confusing and mind blowing? For sure. A run of the mill film? Absolutely not. The Lobster is a film that gives no answers and is not an easy watch, but an achievement in film creativity- something sorely needed.

Sleeper-1973

Sleeper-1973

Director-Woody Allen

Starring-Woody Allen, Diane Keaton

Scott’s Review #631

Reviewed April 5, 2017

Grade: B

One of the earliest of Woody Allen’s enormous list of film’s that he both directed and starred in, 1973’s Sleeper is a comedic, science-fiction film, and a blueprint for future Allen masterpieces, such as Manhattan and Annie Hall. While this film has it’s moments of intelligence and clever dialogue, it too often teeters into straight up slapstick and silliness to be held in the same esteem as the aforementioned richer films. Rather it is a juvenile effort as compared to masterpieces to follow, but admittedly with some laughs and creative moments. Sleeper is the first of several to pair Allen with longtime co-star, Diane Keaton.

Allen portrays Miles Monroe, a nerdy jazz musician and owner of the “Happy Carrot” health-food store in Greenwich Village, New York City sometime in the then present time of the 1970’s. In the hospital for a routine surgery, he is cryogenically frozen for two-hundred years, waking up in an otherworldly police state and frazzled beyond belief. The scientist’s who revive him are part of a rebellion and beg Miles to assist them as they are taken into police custody, pleading with him to search for a secret plan known only as the “Aries Project”. Miles then poses as a robotic butler and goes to work for Luna (Keaton), a spoiled, bitchy, socialite. The duo ultimately bond together and spend the rest of the film outrunning and outsmarting their pursuers.

Sleeper succeeds as a novel story, one filled with unique and interesting gadgets from a futuristic world, with clever, witty, crisp dialogue and odes to the past world, now deemed irrelevant. Amusing are scenes when scientists explain that natural foods and products, at one time thought to be healthy and natural, are actually not so much. This makes the world that Miles is used to seem silly and superfluous in their minds.

I also enjoyed the physical humor that the film contains, as when Miles (as his robotic persona) serves dinner to a sophisticated group of Luna’s friends, accidentally destroying their expensive outerwear in a garbage incinerator as well as botching dinner. As all of the attendees are high on hallucinogenic drugs (including Miles), they fail to realize that he is a human being- they dance with glee and stumble around in a haze, largely unaware of their surroundings. This is one of the best scenes in the film.

The plot itself is fairly predictable though and almost forced. Certainly, as Miles and Luna are the couple we root for in the film, the introduction of handsome rebel leader, Erno Windt (John Beck) doesn’t stand a chance and is somewhat of a foil for Miles and Luna. Much of the time, the pair are on the run and sparring with each other. The actors involved have wonderful chemistry with each other, but the central story is not the strongest suit- rather, the weird and unique gadgets and intricacies of the film, are.

Albeit, an introduction for anyone intrigued by the comic genius that is Woody Allen, other polished Allen gems are a better start than this early offering, but that is not to say Sleeper is not a good, entertaining film, with imagination, merely that it lacks all of the elements to rank it among other Woody Allen greats.

BearCity-2010

BearCity-2010

Director-Douglas Langway

Starring-Joe Conti, Stephen Guarino

Scott’s Review #626

Reviewed March 19, 2017

Grade: B

BearCity is a small, independent, LGBT, coming of age film that tells of a young man living in New York City, and his exploration of a sub-culture within the LGBT community and a subsequent romance that follows. The film is a comedy and has a “Sex in the City” or “Queer as Folk” approach to its storytelling- a group of close knit friends and  raunchy and gratuitous to be sure. The budget is very small and some aspects rather amateurish, but the film is enjoyable, especially for those exposed to the LGBT lifestyle. The film is not a heavy nor are any of the characters dealing with “coming out” issues, but rather it is a fun sex comedy romp.

Our central character, Tyler (Joe Conti), is a young man in his twenties, an aspiring actor, who moves to New York City to pursue his career, with a mind for casual dating. His roommates encourage him to date Abercrombie and Fitch types, but Tyler comes to realize he prefers “bear” types- mature, hairy men. On the sly he begins to pursue this sub-culture and makes many friends. The apple of his eye, handsome Roger (Gerald McCullough) is a popular mature man, distinguished in the bear circle, and risks his reputation with “the bears” by falling in love with Tyler. The two men spend the greater part of the film conquering their respective fears and finding their way into each others arms in a predictable ending.

BearCity is a fun farce and nothing very heavy and the featuring of a strong circle of friends is a nice, positive portrayal- all of the friends connect well and stick by each other through thick and thin. Comical sub-plots abound such as one couples (Brent and Fred) awkward parlay into the world of threesomes with unsuccessful results. Another bear who is unemployed, and grossly obese, decides to undergo weight loss surgery much to the chagrin of his hunky boyfriend.

The main story though, belongs to Tyler and Roger and their inevitable reunion can be seen miles away. The film throws various hurdles in their way, such as a third person briefly dating Roger, or Roger’s commitment issues, but the climax of the film will be no surprise to anyone. Tyler and Roger make a nice couple as a whole, but perplexing is how the film makes Roger the undisputed leader of the bear group, when he is actually a lean, muscular man- not a “bear” at all! This is odd to me, but BearCity is so light hearted that I suppose I can let this detail slide in favor of a good romance.

Critically, the film is nice, but quite amateurish, and super low-budget. The acting, especially by some of the supporting characters (the pre-surgery guys boyfriend is the most glaring example), is not great. I half-expected him to accidentally look at the camera. Additionally, the film has a low-budget look and feel, which on one level is fine, but combined with the not so stellar acting, enhances the inexperience of the cast and crew. The film is tough to take too seriously- if this is even the intention of the filmmakers.

The film is a logistical treat for anyone privy to popular gay hangouts in New York City- specifically The Eagle and The Ramrod, both locales are featured prominently, and the use of many real-life people who hang out at those establishments are used throughout the production.

BearCity is not a bad experience and certainly a film that is light and comical within the LGBT community seems rather fresh compared to the myriad of dramatic and heavy films that exist. At the same time the film teeters towards goofy too much with more than one bafoonish, sex-crazed, stereotypical gay man, that it almost gives a bad impression, so the film has mixed results for me.

The Player-1992

The Player-1992

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Tim Robbins, Peter Gallagher

Scott’s Review #601

Reviewed January 11, 2017

Grade: A

The Player ranks up there with other Robert Altman classics such as Gosford Park, Network, and Short Cuts. The film is an excellent piece of Hollywood satire and centers around a jaded movie executive, played by Tim Robbins, who does an incredible job with his role.

Robbins plays Griffin Mill, a man with no scruples. Feeling usurped by a younger executive, played by Peter Gallagher, as well as receiving death threats, he goes on the hunt for the person he feels responsible, which leads to murder.

The audience is unsure whether to love or hate Mill, thanks to Robbins performance. He is snarky, but also vulnerable and a tad sympathetic.

The film contains a slew of real Hollywood celebrities (Cher, Malcolm McDowell, Bruce Willis) playing themselves and is largely improvised (as many of Altman’s films are). Whoopi Goldberg and Lyle Lovett star as odd police detectives.

The plot is nothing that hasn’t been done before, but it’s the realness and the direction that make this movie a must see, especially for Robert Altman fans. A hidden gem.

Tropic Thunder-2008

Tropic Thunder-2008

Director-Ben Stiller

Starring-Ben Stiller, Robert Downey, Jr.

Scott’s Review #593

Reviewed January 8, 2017

Grade: D-

Tropic Thunder was a ridiculous film that I found to be harsh, tedious, and very loud.Attempting to be a satire of sorts, it fails on almost every level. The main issue was with the characters, who are abrasive and unlikable. The only redeeming qualities are Robert Downey Jr.’s and Tom Cruises portrayals, though they both play idiotic characters.

The plot is something of an ode to 1979’s Apocalypse Now, in that it the plot throws back to the Vietnam war. A group of narcissistic actors are filming a Vietnam memoir on location in the jungles of Southeast Asia, when they are abandoned and forced to fend for themselves amid a group of drug lords.

The films attempt at humor fell flat for me. It just seemed like a group of crazed guys running around the jungle acting wild and the film held little point for me. Cruise’s part was interesting, but way too small.

Directed by, and starring Ben Stiller, who should stick to acting (if that). How Downey, Jr. scored an Oscar nomination for this drivel is beyond me- despite his acting being one of the better efforts in the film.

The Hangover-2009

The Hangover-2009

Director-Todd Phillips

Starring-Bradley Cooper. Ed Helms

Scott’s Review #590

Reviewed January 7, 2017

Grade: B+

It was not my idea to see this particular film- the raunchy, mindless “guy” films have always seemed lackluster and cheesy to me, but I confess to finding The Hangover, a novel and entertaining, summer blockbuster film. I did not expect much from this film, but instead found it comical and fun. Certainly, it has the “dumb frat boy/jock” shenanigans, and not much thought is needed, but it is good old boy entertainment.

Similar to the American Pie films of the 1990’s in which a group of guys find themselves mixed up in amusing, and sometimes humiliating situations, after a night of boozing, The Hangover has a likable cast led by, then up and coming star Bradley Cooper. What sets The Hangover apart is the great chemistry among the cast (Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis, specifically) that other flaws or generic writing, can be overlooked or forgotten altogether. The group goes from one hysterical situation after another.

Set in Las Vegas (a great decision), three men awake to find the groom to be missing after a night of debauchery- they are there to celebrate via a wild bachelor party. In their hotel room is a tiger and a six month old baby. From this point, the film goes back to the arrival of the gang and the events that transpired leading up to the hotel room acquisitions. This is fun and keeps the audience engaged in the hi-jinks.

The Hangover was followed by the inevitable two sequels, neither of which was as good or as successful at the box office to the surprise of nobody except maybe movie studio executives.

Julie & Julia-2009

Julie & Julia-2009

Director-Nora Ephron

Starring-Meryl Streep, Amy Adams

Scott’s Review #588

Reviewed September 4, 2009

Grade: A-

Julie & Julia is a darling film about cooking and centering on the legendary chef Julia Child. It is for the foodie or culinary geek in all of us. The film is lighthearted and will ruffle no feathers, but a delicious, well told treat.

The film tells of the life of Julia Child, at one time an aspiring chef, contrasted with the life of a young New Yorker, blogger Julie Powell, who is determined to cook all 524 recipes in Child’s famous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, within a one year period.

The film, of course, would not be half as good without the amazing talents of Meryl Streep, who portrays Julia Child herself. All of Julia Child’s personality characteristics are portrayed exceptionally well by Streep. Her laugh, her voice, her zest for life, are all perfect. Of course, since Streep is not nearly as tall a woman as Child was, liberties had to be taken by way of camera trickery.

Regardless of Streep’s performance, and props for a nice performance by Adams as well. Julie & Julia is a cute, charming, light, fun movie. I thoroughly recommend it.

Zombieland-2009

Zombieland-2009

Director-Ruben Fleischer

Starring-Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson

Scott’s Review #586

Reviewed January 6, 2017

Grade: B

Zombieland is a fun, entertaining, popcorn-style flick. The film is not designed to be taken very seriously given the subject matter of zombies- nor should it. Rather, the film goes over the top frequently to elicit a good time and plays for laughs. Sometimes it is successful, adding dark comedy to the story, other times the film comes across as silly.

The story takes place during a time when zombies have overtaken the world, and humans are left to fend for themselves and survive. The film is actually a more cartoon version of the popular television series, The Walking Dead, despite pre-dating it. It lacks the heavy drama of the series.

Still, for 2009, the film is a novel idea and the movie works more often than not. Woody Harrelson is amusing and charismatic. Jesse Eisenberg is falling into the Ben Stiller and Will Farrell trap of playing the same character over and over again, and I am personally a big fan of Abigail Breslin and she does not disappoint in this film.

Zombieland will likely only be remembered as a fun midnight, Saturday night fluff film.

Everybody Wants Some!!-2016

Everybody Wants Some!!-2016

Director-Richard Linklater

Starring-Blake Jenner, Zoey Deutch

Scott’s Review #585

Reviewed January 5, 2017

Grade: A-

A follow-up to the successful 2014 film Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater, Everybody Wants Some!! is another slice of life story with interesting characters, trials and tribulations, and a coming of age theme centering around the main characters struggles to identify with themselves and each other. Like Boyhood, a time-line is used, but instead of taking place over the span of seventeen or so years, it takes place over the course a long weekend preceding the start of the college semester- a blissful, yet melancholy time for many.

The setting is steamy Texas in the late summer of 1980. A few freshman baseball prospects, superstar athletes in high school,but unknown here, move into a large house inhabited by other baseball players all hoping to make it to the majors. The college is fictional, but is a Southeast Texas Cherokees team. The main character, freshman Jake, arrives to find a bevy of drunken jocks carousing for a good time. He bonds with the other guys, but is more introspective and complex, and embarks on a flirtation with a theater student, Beverly, while also connecting with various other jocks whom he lives with.

The film is successful in that it is a quiet story, Linklater, similar to Boyhood, choosing to focus on relationships and good storytelling rather than big bombastic moments or cliched stereotypes. We simply observe a large group of acquaintances living life and getting to know each other, having fun, rather than taking life too seriously. At the same time worrying over their futures and choosing to live for the moment, not knowing what tomorrow will bring- they are stuck in a moment in time.

The musical soundtrack is wonderful- interspersing 1980’s bands like Van Halen (known for the title song), Pat Benatar, Devo, and a myriad of others, while mixing in classics artists like Neil Young and Led Zeppelin. The film focuses on a bonanza of rock n roll history.

Everybody Wants Some!! is well written and intelligent. Fellow intellectual jock, Willoughby, neither he nor Jake quite fitting in with the other, loud and self-centered jocks, forge a close friendship, discussing intricate aspects of rock songs by Led Zeppelin, and dissecting the arrangements and simply talking about life, rather then guzzling beer and chasing girls. Ironically, Linklater chooses to have Willoughby diss Van Halen as a corporate rock band, despite branding the title name of the film.

One may argue that nothing really happens throughout the film, but that is the beauty, and what makes it work as an honest, truthful piece of film making. How novel that the film does not contain any contrived plot devices intended to create tension between the characters- the film simply is, and that is the beauty of it. Everybody Wants Some!! is intended to be observed.

The romance between Jake and Beverly is sweet and unassuming. They come from different backgrounds- he a jock, she a theater major, yet they connect innocently. The film displays different social groups coming together- a major accomplishment of the film. We witness the jocks attend a theater style party and enjoy themselves. The film successfully merges differing social groups together as one, but the key here is that the film never does this in a contrived manner- it simply happens organically.

Some complain of the age of some of the actors- many considerably older than teenage years- donning wigs, but that did not bother me. In fact, I enjoyed the maturity of the seasoned actors in these roles.

Linklater is a modern director daring to tell interesting stories about ordinary individuals who the audience can immediately identify with and that is what makes him a worthy talent of today.

A Serious Man-2009

A Serious Man-2009

Director-Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Starring-Michael Stuhlbarg

Scott’s Review #582

Reviewed January 4, 2017

Grade: B

A Serious Man is a quirky, odd film that is definitely a character study. Directed by the Coen brothers who typically have an offbeat style to their films (No Country For Old Men and Fargo spring to mind), A Serious Man is no different, offering wonderful, richly written supporting characters.

The film, however, lacks the violence of other Coen Brothers films, instead, adding more humorous situations and an overall comical premise. It tells the story of a Jewish Professor, Larry Gopnik, living in the 1960’s, who has a string of bad luck. People close to Larry begin to drop dead all around him and he seems cursed with a string of bad luck. The film centers around how he deals with crisis after crisis.

The first half of the film admittedly drags a bit, but the second part really picks up nicely. The plot suddenly comes to a head rather quickly. To stress, A Serious Man is a witty, dark comedy, so many of the dialogue is either tongue in cheek or dry in nature.

The rabbis that Larry meets, combined with his son Danny and wife Judith are very funny and well carved out characters, many certain “types”. The character of Larry also contained elements of the Larry David character on TV’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Also, for those cinema lovers who pay close attention to or have an appreciation for good set design, the film captures 1960’s style (dress, furniture, cars), perfectly.

A Wedding-1978

A Wedding-1978

Director-Robert Altman

Starring-Carol Burnett, Mia Farrow, Paul Dooley

Scott’s Review #539

Reviewed December 17, 2016

Grade: A

A Wedding is an obscure, brilliant gem penned and directed by Robert Altman- a film genius in my opinion and one of my most adored directors. I love most of his movies and A Wedding is no exception. The creative way that Altman weaves intersecting story-lines and dialogue, thereby creating a real-life tone, gives immense realism to his films.

In A Wedding, he takes a basic life event, and turns it into a well nuanced, fascinating, comical, yet dramatic story. He is known for having enormous casts (in A Wedding it is forty eight principles), but every character serves a purpose. The viewer will feel that they are a fly on the wall of a real wedding.  Altman’s actors primarily improvise the dialogue, speaking at the same time, bringing a reaistic edge. I adore this quality.

The film is a satire- people either love or loath attending weddings and Altman’s film caters to the latter. He creates a setting, from the ceremony, to the reception, riddled with awkward moments, and social guffaws.

In pure satirical, soap opera fashion, two wealthy families gather at a lavish estate for the ceremony to commence. Hilarity ensues when the dead corpse of the matriarch of one family lies in her bed, nobody realizing she is actually dead. Other hi-jinks, such as the revelation of a nude, life-size portrait of the bride, the caterer falling ill, and a tornado wreaking havoc.

Slowly, secrets are revealed by the families, as the alcohol flows and the characters become involved in the perilous situations. Altman does it again as he creates a masterpiece based on a real-life situations that most can relate to.

Desperate Living-1977

Desperate Living-1977

Director-John Waters

Starring-Mink Stole, Liz Renay

Scott’s Review #534

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Reviewed December 4, 2016

Grade: B

Desperate Living will certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea. It is a raunchy, late-night comedy, in similar fashion to other John Waters directed cult-classics. This one however, suffers from the absence of Waters staple, Divine, who did not appear due to scheduling conflicts. For this glaring omission, Desperate Living is not the greatest of the Waters films, but it is a fun experience all the same. The film has choruses of political satire, specifically fascism, and overthrowing the government.

Mink Stole (Peggy Gravel) takes on the lead role as a crazed, mentally unhinged, neurotic woman on the lam with her maid, Grizelda, after they accidentally cause the death of Peggy’s husband. Peggy has been in and out of mental hospitals and is clearly off her rocker as she yells at neighbors about communism. After an encounter with a lewd police officer, the duo are banished to Mortville, a town filled with outcasts and social deviants. They align with others in the town to overthrown the tyrannical Queen Carlotta, played by Waters fixture Edith Massey. Carlotta plots to spread rabies throughout the community and is at war with her daughter, Princess Coo Coo.

The issue with Desperate Living really is the absence of Divine, originally set to play Mole McHenry, a self-loathing female wrestler, determined to receive a sex change operation. One imagines Divine in this important role, which was played by Susan Lowe, a capable star, but no Divine. With Divine in the part, the hilarious possibilities are endless. Mink Stole carries the movie well, but traditionally being a supporting player in Waters films, is not quite the star the film needs to be a true success.

This is not to say that the film is a dud- it is entertaining and will please most Waters fans. It contains gross-out moments and vulgarity from the very first scene- as the opening credits role, we see a roasted rat, daintily displayed on good china, on an eloquent dinner table, presumably to be served.

Later, Carlotta meets her fate by being roasted, pig style, on a spit with an apple in her mouth. Another character is executed by being shot in the anus. The offensive moments never end!

There also exists a quite controversial scene that I am surprised made the final cut. Peggy, already in a frazzled state due to a neighbor-boy accidentally shooting out her bedroom window, she is shocked to find another boy playing “doctor” with a little girl in her downstairs basement. Both children are completely naked, leaving not much to the imagination. This scene is tough to watch as one wonders what the child actors thought of all of this. I have never viewed another scene quite like this in film.

Otherwise, Desperate Living is filled with cartoon-like characters, lots of sexually deviant leather men, grizzled men with facial hair, and other odd looking characters, making up the community of Mortville. Water’s set creations for the exterior scenes of the town are great- using mainly cardboard and rubbish he found throughout Baltimore where the film was shot, the sets show a bleak yet colorful underworld.

Desperate Living is a raunchy good time with over-the-top acting, trash filled moments, and laugh out loud fun. The lack of any Divine makes it not the first offering to watch from the Waters collection. Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble would take that honor.

You Again-2010

You Again-2010

Director-Alan Fickman

Starring-Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver

Scott’s Review #510

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Reviewed November 4, 2016

Grade: C

If not for the cast (Jamie Lee Curtis, Betty White, and Sigourney Weaver) You Again would have been a bad experience and a dimwitted, by the numbers comedy, but the talent involved has helped matters greatly. This is not meant to parlay much credit to the film.

As it is, it is not a great film, and quite silly and dumb, but the cast successful turns it into a light, fun, dumb movie instead of solely drivel- with a cast of lesser this would have undoubtedly been the case. Bell is not my favorite actress, but alas she seems to be currently receiving star turns in these types of films.

The premise is basic and tried and true- A twenty eight year old “beautiful” woman (Kristen Bell) who was an ugly duckling in high school, returns to her hometown for her brother’s wedding and his fiance turns out to be her high school nemesis. It is a standard Hollywood comedy cliched with typical gags, and a “we have seen this before” story. A gripe- Kristen Bell is cute, sort of all-American, girl next door, but I would be remiss if I did not point out she is not the beauty they make her out to be.

Thanks to the aforementioned cast, and the wit that Curtis and Weaver bring to their rivalry (as mothers of the respective fiancé and Bell’s character- they were high school rivals a generation before), the film does get some meager credit. Not much, but some.

Solitary Man-2009

Solitary Man-2009

Director-Brian Koppelman, David Levien

Starring-Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon

Scott’s Review #508

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Reviewed November 3, 2016

Grade: B-

Solitary Man is an indie drama that has good points and bad. Michael Douglas stars as a one time successful, but womanizing, car dealership owner who hits rough times and loses everything.

Michael Douglas’s performance is very good and believable as a cad who hits a difficult stretch in his life. As an actor, Douglas still possesses his good looks and charm despite being an older leading man by this time- he plays 60 very well. The film centers around him and wisely so- despite the film containing other notable actors. His character of Ben Kalman has swagger and is narcissistic, but yet lovable at the same time and this is unmistakably due to Douglas’s talents.

Annoyingly, the supporting characters played by Susan Sarandon, Danny Devito, and Jesse Eisenberg are quite one-note and not terribly interesting, which is really a shame in light of their immense talents..

The story is okay, but nothing fantastic. I felt as though I had seen films like this many times before- the quirky edge and the attempted dark humor with laughs and some melodrama mixed in was forgettable. However, as a character study, the movie succeeds. Recommended for Michael Douglas’s performance only.

Date Night-2010

Date Night-2010

Director-Shawn Levy

Starring-Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg

Scott’s Review #481

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Reviewed September 17, 2016

Grade: D+

Date Night is a perfect example of mediocrity in modern film making. We have two current comedic actors here- Steve Carrell and Tina Fey- circa 2010- at the top of their game. The film makers idea is to pair these two and make an appealing romantic comedy appealing to the masses. The main issue with this film is that the result is generic and a quite average offering. And the entire film is incredibly plot driven with no character development to speak of. If I am being too harsh, admittedly there is rather nice chemistry between the two leads, but it is wasted because of sloppy writing.

A couple from the New Jersey ‘burbs, Carrell and Fey portray husband and wife, Phil and Claire Foster. Saddled with two kids and their romance reaching dullsville, Phil decides to take Claire to a ritzy Manhattan restaurant. When they arrive, they cannot get a table, but pretend to be another couple (the Tripplehorns) in order to obtain their table after the other couple no-shows. This leads to a tale of mistaken identity as the  Tripplehorns possess a flash drive that a mobster (Ray Liotta) wants. This leads to a chase throughout Manhattan to outrun and outwit their pursuers. Wahlberg plays a hunky client of Claire’s, always shirtless, who is meant to threaten Phil and Claire’s marriage. Yawn.

Several other of the current Hollywood elite- Kristen Wiig, James Franco, Mila Kunis, and Mark Ruffalo, make small and somewhat pointless appearances. Specifically, Franco and Kunis as a stoner-type bickering couple is really silly and unnecessary to the story.

Carrell and Fey are actually quite funny as individuals and as a duo- Date Night, though, does not capitalize nor showcase their respective talents. The film tries too hard to come up with scenario after scenario of the two on the run and encountering one problematic situation after another.

As the plot of Date Night wears on, I found myself noticing that each situation that occurs is a measure of convenience. Conveniently, Claire has a client in town (Wahlberg), who is a security expert. They go to him for help and, predictably, his hunkiness bothers Phil and piques Claire’s interest- though of course we know full well Phil and Claire will end up together- that is how these mainstream films go. In another scene. Phil and Claire are able to break into an office building unnoticed, trigger the alarms, conveniently find a needed file, and escape, miraculously all before the police arrive minutes later. Very plot driven.

The lead actors in Date Night are appealing and even charming together, but the silly, inane plot make it unappealing to watch and the slew of stars that somebody decided would be a great addition to a lukewarm film is odd. The roles written had little bearing on the central plot so it was apparent why they were added. Date Night is a film we have seen time and time again with other actors in similar roles.

Easy A-2010

Easy A-2010

Director-Will Gluck

Starring-Emma Stone

Scott’s Review #478

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Reviewed September 10, 2016

Grade: B-

Easy A is an example of a film where some parts are good, other parts dumb. However, at the end of the day it is forgettable and who will remember a film like this in ten years?

The film is a teen comedy about a girl who makes up a rumor about herself to gain attention from her peers. Emma Stone is great in this movie and shows enormous potential of her budding film career. She reminds me a bit of Lindsay Lohan. She is likable and great at comedy and present a fun persona. Also deserving of credit is Lisa Kudrow who appears in the movie.

At times, the dialogue is intelligent and witty, other times it turns into a typical dumb comedy and that is sad because based on the star power involved, Easy A might have been a better film than it was.

This Is 40-2012

This Is 40-2012

Director-Judd Apatow

Starring-Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann

Scott’s Review #473

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Reviewed September 6, 2016

Grade: B

I must admit, I was not looking forward to seeing this movie, and my initial thought was “typical dumb comedy” that has been seen a million times before. While the film does contain those elements and is clearly marketed toward a certain target audience, this movie is, surprisingly, smartly written and intelligent…overall.

I have not viewed Knocked Up, but I understand it’s a somewhat follow-up to that film, as the two central characters appear- now married and traversing through a different time in their lives-adulthood.

I enjoyed Paul Rudd’s, Melissa McCarthy’s, and whomever played the oldest daughter’s, performances the most, though Rudd has become the latest actor to play the same role over and over again. I enjoyed the rock n roll elements and the confrontation scenes as these were very cleverly written and nicely acted.

Sadly, at times the film relies on the standard bathroom humor done thousands of times before- a clear attempt at a laugh, and Jason Segal’s and Megan Fox’s characters are unnecessary to the main plot. This Is 40 is a film that, at its heart, shows the trials and tribulations of generations of families, in a humorous way, and done rather well.

Bernie-2011

Bernie-2011

Director-Richard Linklater

Starring-Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey

Scott’s Review #472

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Reviewed August 30, 2016

Grade: C-

Bernie is a film that, surprisingly, received critical acclaim, as well as Golden Globe and Independent Spirit award nominations, but that I was left quite disappointed in. Categorized a dark comedy, it contains a morbid premise, which is not the issue, I just did not find it very good overall.

Despite being a true story of Bernie marrying and murdering millionaire Marjorie Nugent in Texas, the film was not compelling and was written too over the top. Inexplicably, the townspeople refused to believe Bernie’s obvious guilt.

To be fair, the film does contain a few funny and interesting moments and was based on factual events, but I didn’t feel connected to this movie as I expected and honestly found it a bit dull.

Jack Black is impressive as the title character- Bernie,  but only because it is a departure from his usual slapstick film roles. I don’t get the accolades being reaped on him for his performance. Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey are capable with the parts written for them, but one-note characters. Meh.