Sorry, I just can’t hate Transformers: The Last Knight (***)

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Transformers: The Last Knight – 2017

Director Michael Bay
Screenplay  Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, Ken Nolan
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Josh Duhamel, Stanley Tucci, Anthony Hopkins, Laura Haddock, John Turturro (with the voices of Peter Cullen, John Goodman, Erik Aadahl, Ken Watanabe, Jim Carter, Frank Welker, Steve Buscemi, Gemma Chan)

There was a point a decade or so ago when Anthony Hopkins still had a sterling reputation. He decided to retire, presumably to avoid having to reduce himself to less impactful roles. Stanley Tucci has never had the height of critical stature from which to be reduced. It is almost certain Michael Bay is sitting there, behind the camera, saying something like “just put more Tucci into it!” John Turturro, my Lord, he can be in anything good or bad. There will always be something along the lines of The Night Of for him to look forward.

There is a feeling of hanging around the savanna’s watering hole as it begins the process of drying when seeing the likes of these three in a Michael Bay film. With nothing to do but keep feeding on the animals approaching the ever decreasing water, they don’t need to lie in wait or put any skill into the hiunt. Instead, they just pick off the distracted animals, one by one, like moviegoers heading into a googleplex. Meanwhile the smell about the swamp attracts all sorts of pestilence.  It is hard to smell, much less respect.

Is this trash?  Yes. Is it congruent in any way with how humans (much less award winning thespians) act? Well, no.  But look!  They’re destroying the Pyramids again! And Sir Anthony is looking cool shooting Megatron with a cane!

That said, despite every column inch of negative press regarding this film and how uselessly complicated (and just plain useless) it is, I still can’t bring myself to dislike it. The film is the same as each of the others in terms of plot devices, MacGuffins and General Sharp / Morshower. This time though, they actually took the time to build on the half-ass ending they had in Age of Extinction with a somewhat decent first half of the film.

The biggest advantage the film has early on is the general absence of Optimus Prime, who is back on the Cybertron being bitch slapped by a floating sorceress (Chan) and then charmed with stories of their home planet’s once and future greatness. Not slowly and without subtlety, Prime is won over to the side of whatever causes humans the most damage.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, we have a chance to actually get to know some of the other Transformers. This is a great opportunity that has largely been wasted in previous films. We are usually stuck listening to the boring leader of the Autobots opine about virtue and never again losing trust in humans while Megatron plans and schemes to be that one extra bad guy in the end who gets destroyed as a prelude to the big finish.

The point this time is to see, hear and feel the interaction with the other characters who have not had opportunities for forming anything more than thumbnail generalities previously. Bumblebee is the big winner here. Likewise, Carter’s Cogman, who exhibits a feeling of dedicated servant coupled with unhinged sociopath that is warily fun.

Less fun is the precocious little girl who acts as though she is a protector of Autobots. The little kid was focused in an ill advised early round of commercials which I think significantly diminished this film’s already waning appeal. No one liked Scooby Doo once they added Scrappy.

If one can get past the historical hogwash of King Arthur’s court, the Nazis and other points that directly contradict at least the first two films.  And if you can look past the fact that yet another large mass is coming to our orbit and trying to destroy us without affecting things like, say, our gravitational field. And if you can just accept that character A has to get to point B in the first act, then character C is the only person that can help with situation D. And if you get around the idea that for all but the first one of these films, Bay has not bothered with concepts like gravity, space or coherent editing…you should be just fine.

Do I understand if someone hates this film? Sure. It’s not that good at all. But is it too complicated and silly at the same time as it has been accused? If anything, this plot has been the most straightforward of them all.

The bots benefit from more screentime, and become more like-able, just like the film itself. I never disliked Optimus Prime, but in no way did I realize that boring Peter Cullen would have 90% of the dialogue for all of the Transformers up to now. I don’t mind looking at Prime. I just want to hear someone, anyone, else.

Here’s a general rule when evaluating this film: if you didn’t enjoy any of the previous movies, then move along. This one won’t change your mind. If you think that somehow Bay took a dip in skill, energy or just plain continuity this time around, you picked the wrong reviewer to follow. I have a hard time writing reviews on films as if they should suck and just saying they are just too complicated to explain. When it gets down to it, there are plenty of nonsense reviewers out there that just took this film off. Bay has not gotten any better in these 5 films, but he certainly hasn’t gotten any worse.

(*** out of *****)

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Kong: Skull Island (****) great taste and it’s sort of fulfilling

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Kong: Skull Island 2017

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Screenplay Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly
Starring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary, John C. Reilly

I was 5 years old when they released King Kong with Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange. I saw later as part of  a drive in double bill with Orca, The Killer Whale. I must have thought enough of it then, because I got a lunch pail of the movie and carried it to school for half of my elementary school years. Watching it now I wonder how much the film must have been a torture for my parents to watch. It’s unbearable and quite impossible to imagine how it was nominated for any awards. It is quite easy to imagine why Lange took 3 years off before hitting the big screen again.

It was this film that was in my mind when I watched Peter Jackson’s overzealous 2005 take. I loved the film on the big screen, but it’s easy to overlook that unnecessary 1.5 extra hours when you are not sure when the next fight with another monster will occur. The effects were as excellent as one could expect. The dialogue, story and acting for everyone outside of Naomi Watts and Adrien Brody were all pretty bad.

When 2014 brought a new Godzilla and Legendary pictures moved the Kong franchise from Universal to Warner Bros., it was finally revealed that there would be a Monsterverse which would eventually bring Kong and Godzilla together after a few films.

So far, so good. Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla was the best version of the film in our generation, even if it wrought so much destruction as to be numbing. Now Voght-Roberts has made an accessible Kong without dragging the big ape’s ass back to the mainland. The best thing about it is, we know it can’t happen for at least another 40 years in cinematic time.

Kong’s Skull Island is the desired destination of Goodman’s Bill Randa, Special Government agent in the Monarch division. After convincing a senator (played by Richard Jenkins) to help him piggyback on an expedition to the secluded island, he also secures the services of a military unit on it’s way back from the freshly completed Vietnam action lead by United States Army Lieutenant Colonel Packard (Jackson). Then after securing Hiddleston as James Conrad, a former British Special Forces guide and Brie Larson as Mason Weaver, an “anti” war photographer, Randa and his partner Brooks (Hawkins)  head out.

Good God, those are a lot of characters. And that isn’t even the half of it. Even so, Gilroy, Connolly and Borenstein are able to successfully weave them into a story that is cohesive, comprehensible and doesn’t even skimp on the monsters.

That’s because we don’t waste that much time getting to the action. Everyone knows that they have to float to the island. We all know it’s shaped like a skull, sort of. Everyone knows there is an atmospheric cloud preventing the outside world easy access. Let’s get in there and start throwing bombs, dammit!

What we find out after the bombs fly is that big monsters don’t like bombs, and this island has a hollow core that hides things. There is some science behind it which makes sense to Randa and Brooks, but the important thing to remember is that it doesn’t take long after they start knocking for someone to answer the door in a bad mood.

This rough reception puts Kong at odds with Packer, who just lost one war and damn sure isn’t in the mood to lose another. The cast is split up though. So while Jackson and his military brethren try to recoup one of their lost compadres (and the weaponry nearby) the rest of the team goes about finding more about the island.

The first thing they discover are some natives. They all have paint on their faces and look like they haven’t bathed in a while. Reilly’s Marlow, a pilot shot down in WWII has gone even longer without bathing. Fortunately, he still speaks English enough to give Conrad and Weaver the lowdown.

In layman terms, Kong is good. Skullcrawlers bad. In case you have a hard time remembering, the latter have inset eyes that are almost invisible and Kong’s peepers are so deep and wide, one can almost imagine he’s going sing a sad song.

From here, we know the good guys have to find their way to the proverbial “rendezvous” point and there will be at least two or more attempts on Kong’s life, because…revenge.

It’s a good, if predictable movie about giant stuff in a lost world. None of the characters embarrass themselves and for such a large cast, we really get a sense of a lot of them, even if the growth is minimal.

If anything, we don’t see enough of Kong. After an amazing start, he is mainly around to drift in and out of the scenery until the last 15 minutes.The animation is quite remarkable, though, and thank God he doesn’t feel the need to start climbing when the bullets fly.

The true highlight of the film is clunky old Reilly. His inherent goofiness is a huge positive in that it brings out some personality in everyone else, including Hiddleston, who by now must have forgotten what it is like to play Loki.

The scenery is breathtaking, even if there is no real sense of direction in the film. The people cover so much terrain, one never knows if they are aware that it might be easier to always stay in near the boat.

There are many stories strewn throughout the wasteland of Skull Island. There is a point near the end, where we see a collection of ships that have been left abandoned there through hundreds of years. What happened to all of those people?  It would be nice to get a hint of just a few of those stories.

This one is going to have to do for now. It’s a good enough start that doesn’t overstay its welcome. This alone makes it the best one yet.

(**** out of *****)

10 Cloverfield Lane: Children behave… (****1/2)

10cloverfieldlane10 Cloverfield Lane – 2016

Director Dan Trachtenberg
Screenplay by Josh Campbel, Matt Stuecken, Damien Chazelle
Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher, Jr., Bradley Cooper (voice)

After being rumored for years, word of a Cloverfield sequel dissipated with the release of Pacific Rim and Godzilla. Truthfully, it was not something I looked forward to, after getting caught up in the onslaught of press surrounding the original, I found it is nearly unwatchable a 2nd time.  This was for no other reason than the jarring hand held camera bestowed by the incredibly annoying T.J. Miller, at his most T.J. Millerest. Still, the concept was sound, they left the film at the right moment and we realized the human race is certainly doomed.

Forward to January  15, 2016 when people watching 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi got to see one of the better trailers of the last 5 years. The reveal is slow and ominous take on a survival bunker that could be any other film (and originally was a script called The Cellar). In the end we are given the title and a completely unexpected tie in when the title hits the screen.

It would have been a hollow victory if the movie had sucked.

Starting off in some unnamed coastal town on the Gulf of Mexico, we see Michelle (Winstead) driving through rural Louisiana away from her fiance (voice of Bradley Cooper). She is distraught and distracted and as a result she is involved in an accident. Next time we see her, she is cuffed to a wall and on a mat in a concrete room, patched up and connected to fluids.

Howard (Goodman) is the man responsible for her being there gives her an explanation on why she should be grateful for him getting her there. They have been attacked by some foreign entity. Could be another country or another planet. The world is doomed because there is a contagion out there as part of the attack. No one is safe outside of the bunker that he created. She is safe now, thanks to him. It may not surprise anyone that she fails to feel that safe.

Also in the bunker is Emmett (Gallagher, Jr.), a fellow survivor who saw the attack first hand and came there to survive, given the fact that he helped Howard build it. The relationship between the trio shifts through varying degrees of trust, but there is something seemingly wrong with Howard beyond the fact that his ex-wife took away his daughter Megan.

It is through the passages back and forth within the confines of the bunker that the story excels. If it had been developed more actively with Cloverfield in mind, it’s doubtful they could have come up with something that is so satisfying on its own before we even get a chance to see what is really happening outside of the bunker. There are some pretty drastic surprises and exceptional interplay between the 3 leads. Goodman has not been this uncomfortably entertaining since The Big Lebowski. With Emmett, he has another Donnie. And I kept waiting for him to tell the hapless guy “you’re out of your element.”

This is the rare case where the tie in works for the right reasons. This film should be a hit of pretty good proportion. Most are going to be drawn in by the title and the fact that while it’s related, it’s not filmed the same way as the first. People will definitely enjoy this film more than they did the first one and it’s that element that has the potential to push it beyond the first, as shelf life goes.

Winstead is an underrated actress who has a yeoman-like ability to be in films without leaving a huge impression. When discussing the film with my friends Binage and Doug, I asked if I was the only one who saw the irony of seeing John McClane’s daughter crawling through air ducts like her father. Both of them just stared. Then it slowly dawned on them as I reminded them that she played his daughter in Live Free or Die Hard. I didn’t bother going into her other stranded in a bunker sequel (well, in the cold) The Thing.

That the movie feels complete without even leaving the bunker is a good thing, because the only real backward step is once CGI is involved. It’s not horrible, and it certainly ads another twist. The story comes to an end just before becoming another type of movie entirely. Here’s hoping that if they make a third film, they take another left turn rather than following any of the threads from the first two films.

(****1/2 out of *****)

Transformers: The Age of Extinction: Remember Chicago?

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Transformers: Age of  Extinction – 2014

Director Michael Bay
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Kelsey Grammer, Sophia Myles, Li Bingbing, Titus Welliver, T. J. Miller, John Goodman, Ken Watanabe
Screenplay by Ehren Kruger

Alright, let’s get this thing over with.  It’s bad, yes.  There are the customary Michael Bay touches here.  The slightly unhinged brilliant guy (Tucci), the slightly unhinged hippie buddy (Miller), there is an everyman (Wahlberg) and his hot, barely pubescent daughter (Peltz).  There is a stud foreigner (Reynor) who is after her body, but only in the “good guy” way.  There is a guvment big wig (Grammer) who is keeping his agenda secret from the kind wonderful president who would never go after the kindly autobots.  Oh, and he has a henchman (Welliver) who is really slumming it based on what he is really capable of (LOST and Deadwood).  We haven’t even gotten to the Transformers, yet.

This is because the Robots in disguise have less personality than normal.  Optimus has added vengeance to his vanilla repertoire.  He is very angry early on, because the Autobots, like their nemeses The Decepticons, are being sought by the guvment.   The man (Grammer) leading the round up has, quite strangely, struck up a deal with another Transformer, intergalactic bounty hunter Lockdown (Mark Ryan) to pick up all extra robots and do varying things with them. Some will become hostages, some will become experiments and some will become whatever else Bay needs at the time in the story.

We do get John Goodman Autobot.  He seems like he might have a personality, being large and violent.  Kind of like Sully meets Walter Sobchak  Then there is the Samurai Warrior (Watanabe).  Then there is Bumblebee.  Oh, and then the Dinobots.  They, don’t talk much, but this is alright.  The original cartoon was low on personality and Bay is even lower with dialogue.  Gotta save money where you can.

So there is action that looks pretty good, even if it is hyperkinetic and not based on any sort of logic.  Filmmaking like this is a series of  “wouldn’t it look cool” moments in which the screenplay is shaped around the scenes.  Any resemblance to a coherent story is as coincidental as the roomful of monkey’s replicating Shakespeare. The other thing driving many blockbuster stories these days is the custom scene taking place in another big demographic.  In this case, as well as Iron Man 3, we have China.  The former film just made an extra scene for the film which it later excised from the U.S. version of the film.  Michael Bay did that one better, but having the Autobots hijack part of the bounty hunter ship and flying it to China with Dinobots in tow.  Having the last battle of the film take place in Beijing works in many ways. For Joe six-pack in middle America, its nice to see some other country’s cities being destroyed for once.  The Asian marketplace is nothing to mock.  This movie will likely be the biggest one of the summer.

Bay does not think his lack of logic or interesting characters is a flaw. When in the midst of another action scene, one character (Myles) all of a sudden needs to tell the strange and stupidly valiant Tucci that she is proud of him, no one in the world even has an inkling of why this should matter.  Sure, he is his assistant.  Sure, she had been disappointed in him.  There was no call for this fact to change at any point in the film. It makes no sense to resolve this right in the middle of an action scene, but that doesn’t matter to Bay.  He loves this scene as much as any explosion, it’s safe to say.

There have been many cities destroyed in the midst of this series.  This one asks us to remember Chicago.  Okay, how about the Pyramids?  Maybe the Hoover dam?  Maybe the many military bases and ships destroyed, or even that unnamed town in the first movie? We don’t remember them, and why should we?  What I remember about the Transformers movies is stuff gets blown up.  Yay.

Wahlberg is not effective here, unless you count that he is NOT LaBeouf.  That seems to help a lot these days.  Tucci is weird as Tuturro was, and Miller only brings smiles upon his exit stage left.  Peltz is not the victim of leering that critics would have you believe.  She caught a break when she caught Bay’s eye and now she has the option to be seen by more eyes than any other film this year.  Grammer could be in every movie and it would not move me.  Overall, I am thankful for the cast turnover.  It makes the rest of the movie seem a bit different.

Red Letter Media recently released a video in which its staff watched the first three Transformers films simultaneously.  The result was astonishing in the way that – almost scene for scene – Bay made the same loud mess of a film three straight times.  It is brilliant in much the same way that a C-student decides that the best way to improve the same stale paper he keeps writing is by adding special effects to accentuate its flaws.  Not to hide the flaws, per se.  But to bring the party to the flaws, and loosen up around them.  The effect is not good film making, but it sure is effective, by God.

(*** out of *****)

The Monuments Men: Thankful for those with vision

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The Monuments Men – 2014

Director George Clooney
Starring Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bob Balaban, John Goodman, Bill Murray, Hugh Bonneville, Jean Dujardin
Screenplay Grant Heslov and Clooney based on the book by Robert M. Edsel

Monuments Men tells the story of those who paid attention in the midst of a war.  So many people displaced, wounded and killed would be enough to set civilization back hundreds of years.  If we’d lost all the artwork that Hitler had his eye on, who knows how far back we would be as people.  George Clooney knows and appreciates the efforts made bu some non-traditional soldiers who left the comfort of their lives behind and undertook the effort of tracking down the works and, if possible, rescuing them.

The story is one of those “mostly true” accounts where a bunch of likeable actors go through the motions, show up in a few places of historical significance, sacrifice a few people at the end of the credits (bye-bye, Bonneville, and welcome to the rest of your American film career, Dujardin) and then with a heavy heart, the rest of the team accomplishes its mission in the nick of time.

If it sounds like I am slighting a major subject, I don’t mean to.  I am happy for the effort Clooney and his team put into bringing this key story to light.  Due to their efforts, I will now read the book that the movie is based on.  The limits to what one gets from a movie like this is everything one can get in an hour and a half.  The vision of Clooney as a director is minimal, but there are some pleasant touches, including a cameo with his dad towards the end of the movie.

If you are here for the actors, only Balaban and Murray have exceptional moments.  For the most part, everyone is willingly absorbed into the story, even if it does not add all anything to the proceedings.

The film is definitely worth the time of those who have a keen interest in humanities.  Some of our better versed artistic historians will enjoy this very much.  For the rest of us, yes, its worth a once through, on the way to the book store to pick up a copy, or just before prayers, so we know who to thank, besides God.

(*** out of *****)

Cool Papa E’s Favorite Comedy Films of All Time

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Live action comedy films are inexpensive to make but they are incredibly hard to master.  It’s a generally accepted axiom that there is no generally accepted axiom as to what is universally funny.  That said, most makers of comedy barely even try.  Whether it’s the rancid Scary Movie franchise, Tim Matheson’s  Animal House / Meatballs clone Up The Creek, or the recently half-assed  college movie in disguise, The Internship, most comedies have the feeling that they were written on a bender while watching better (or even poorer) films.  Most comedy films seem labored and pushy, with absolutely no flow.  They are just a movement from one set piece to the next, with scat jokes and T&A thrown in to make one feel like they have seen something.

Bachelor Party is a good simile for its counterpart in the real world.  Everyone has likely experienced it (or claim to have), and smiles about it when it’s brought up.  In the end, no one really thinks it was anything more than degrading for those who made it, those who watched it and those forced to compromise themselves for it (Zmed, anyone?).  Yet, they still happen.

Once in a while, a directorial tour de force, like Billy Wilder, Mel Brooks or The Farrelly Brothers will create a niche that others will copy (usually poorly).  More often you will see an actor or actress make a pile of films that, for better or worse, will dominate the charts for a decade or so.  Tracy and Hepburn, Wilder and Pryor, Murphy, Carrey, Sandler and Will Ferrell have made their own stamp on decades, for better or worse.

When thinking about my favorite comedies, there are a few things I need to make clear.  This is not a far-reaching list, time wise.  There is nothing older than 1974.  It’s not that there were no funny movies before then.  It’s just that I don’t find films prior to that time period all that funny.  Comedy is often a product of the times, and I just wasn’t made for those times.  Were going to go backward from 10 through 1.  Aside from the basic information and a small review, I will discuss the best lines, moments and anything else I can think of.

Airplane! – 1980airplane-movie-poster-1980

Writers and Directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Starring Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Lorna Patterson, Stephen Stucker, Frank Ashmore, Jonathan Banks, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Craig Berenson, Barbara Billingsley

Review: King of all the movies that parodied movies.  Unlike many of the clones that followed, this film actually has a plot that holds together all the jokes.  It’s an important distinction to know that later, when the shit hits the fan, there is a reason for it.  Leslie Nielson found a 2nd life as a straight comic genius.  Robert Stack and Lloyd Bridges also play against type to great effect.  This film is so funny, it even survived having Robert Hays and (especially) Julie Haggerty as the leads.  Of course Haggerty’s style of never getting “it” was perfectly suited for the material, but it was the Zucker-Abrams-Zucker treatment that made the two work so well.  Without those two, their careers went exactly nowhere.  Peter Graves proves that there are some questions that are bad.  And Johnny, oh Johnny.  Has there ever been a better smart-ass?

Best Lines:

Steve McCroskey: Johnny, how ’bout some more coffee?
Johnny: No, thanks!

[All reading papers]

Rex Kramer: Passengers certain to die!
Steve McCroskey: Airline negligent.
Johnny: There’s a sale at Penney’s!

Rumack: Can you fly this plane, and land it?
Ted Striker: Surely you can’t be serious.
Rumack: I am serious… and don’t call me Shirley.

Roger Murdock: [breaking character] The hell I don’t! LISTEN, KID! I’ve been hearing that crap ever since I was at UCLA. I’m out there busting my buns every night. Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes.

Best Moments: 

Everything with Johnny is pure gold, but when Barbara Billingsley takes over as translator for the Jive speaking duo, the material reaches another level.  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s reaction to the kid’s criticism is priceless.

Odds and Ends: 

Stephen Stucker, who played Johnny the air traffic controller, was one of the first actors to admit he was suffering from A.I.D.S. after being diagnosed on June 12, 1984.  He died from complications, April 13, 1986.  He was my first exposure to someone so completely flamboyant.  I think he may have moved the acceptance movement forward a few years with his brutally witty performance.

Bridget+Joness+DiaryBridget Jones’s Diary – April 13, 2001

Director Sharon Maguire
Starring Renée Zellweger, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent, Embeth Davidtz, Gemma Jones
Writers Andrew Davis, Richard Curtis

Review: Pride and Prejudice as a modern comedy.  The lead actress, a Texas native playing a British girl.  It shouldn’t have worked so brilliantly.  Richard Curtis and Andrew Davis are a big reason it does work.  Having Colin Firth and Hugh Grant as the other two sides of her love triangle don’t hurt either.  Sharon Maguire has never shined so brilliantly, and so far, she hasn’t ever since.

The genius of the comedy is the way it trades upon the subtle frailty of one on the fringe of love.  It seems likely that it would be such a sad place to inhabit, but Zellweger makes the vulnerability hilarious.  Colin Firth, playing on his classic portrayal of the original Mark Darcy, is the perfect counterpoint to her character.    The side story of her mother and father (Broadbent and Jones) is equally poignant.

So many ups and downs commandeered with such authority and tenderness and humor, it’s the film that rightly catapulted Firth into the pantheon of romantic leading men, and gave Zellweger a similar boost which she never was able to capitalize on.

Best Lines:

Bridget: Bridget Jones, wanton sex goddess, with a very bad man between her thighs… Mum… Hi.

Mark Darcy: I realize that when I met you at the turkey curry buffet, I was unforgivably rude, and wearing a reindeer jumper.

Richard Finch: Why do you wanna work on television?
Bridget: I’ve got to leave my job because I shagged my boss.
Richard Finch: Fair enough. Start on Monday.

Bridget: Did I really run round your lawn naked?
Mark Darcy: Oh, yes. You were four and I was eight.
Bridget: Well, that’s a pretty big age difference. It’s quite pervy really.
Mark Darcy: Yes, I like to think so.

Best Moments: 

When, after reading her diary, Mark Darcy walks off, out of her apartment.  She runs him down, looking to avert the false crisis, to find that it wasn’t a crisis at all.

The Tarts and Vicars party…that wasn’t.

Bridget’s slide down the firehouse pole, right into the camera in the most indelicate way.

Odds and Ends: 

This is the movie that, upon its release, April 13, 2001, I met my wife for the first time.  It just so happened that this movie was a classic, but I have to admit, the result of seeing the film has done nothing to damage its memory for me.

Kingpin-1996Kingpin8

Directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly
Starring Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, Vanessa Angel, Bill Murray
Screenplay Barry Fanaro, Mort Nathan

Review: There are a few other Farrelly Brothers movies that come to mind when people discuss best of lists.  Something About Mary or Dumb and Dumber, to name a couple.  This one has everything those films do, but one extra-awesome factor.  Bill Murray as Ernie “Big Ern” McCracken.  Trying straight up antagonism in place of his antagonistic protagonism.  Every little facial tic has a wonderful, gigantic reason to be.  Murray’s smarm is right at home with the Farrelly’s unsentimental comedy.  Perhaps the best part is the big swirl of comb over in the last frame.

The rest of the story has more going for it that one look at the meager box office would suggest.  Woody Harrelson’s willingness to victimize himself for purposes of the story works, especially when one sees the way he’s fallen apart.  Randy Quaid has held no appeal whatsoever in any of his other work.  Something just feels right seeing his Amish yokel Ishmael taking a dump in the urinal while reading a paper.  Seeing Roger Clemens as the meathead everyone knows he is.

The second best thing about this movie, beyond Murray’s epically brilliant performance, is Vanessa Angel.  I never remembered seeing her before, and I can’t recall seeing her since, but she has real comic charm as Claudia.   She has a genuine chemistry with Harrelson and her looks are at once beautiful and intelligent.  It should have been a throwaway role, but her performance still brings a smile after all these years.

Even more memorable – in the most creepy way possible – is the sight of Lin Shaye demonstrating to Woody’s Roy Munson what it will take for him to pay rent.

There is some real goofball cheese going on here.  Some of the scenes travel well over the border of absurd, but in true Farrelly fashion, the characters move right through, never taking the time to admire themselves.  They believe it and it makes us believe.

Best Lines:

 Roy: Some of the dresses ya’ got, ya’ need two hairdos to wear.

Ishmael: Run for the hills everybody, there’s a giant shit-cloud coming.

McKnight Bowl Bartender: So, you two are dictionary salesmen?
Roy: You would be punctilious in assuming that.

Ernie McCracken: Hi… not you… hi.

Little boy: Sometimes when I wake up in the morning Mr. McCracken’s already there.

1979 Waitress: Tanqueray and Tab.
Ernie McCracken: Keep ’em comin’, sweets, I got a long drive. Do me a favor, will you? Would you mind washing off that perfume before you come back to our table?

Ernie McCracken: Finally, Big Ern is above the law!

Best Moments: 

This is perhaps the funniest fight scene in a comedy:

It takes courage to make a fight scene so honest.  Great punches, a nice wide foot, and superior music.

I may be the only one who notices, but Ishmael’s getting up and leaving while Roy goes for the roll of his life, all without the overly dramatic look back: that’s gold.

Nothing resonates more than every single line Murray has as Big Ern, topped with this:

Odds and Ends: 

post-elmoreleonard-getshorty

Get Shorty – 1995

Director Barry Sonnenfeld
Starring John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny DeVito, Dennis Farina, Bette Midler, Delroy Lindo, James Gandolfini, Jon Gries

Screenplay Scott Frank based on the book by Elmore Leonard

Review: 
The tightest script and an impeccable cast.  It’s like The Player, but instead of seething behind one venomous joke, we get to see it played for a layered series of laughs in the bubble popping style only Sonnenfeld can make.  Hollywood and the mob world are both played expertly and with a lack of sentiment that is morally ambiguous.

John Travolta completely owns every scene with a joint sense of natural intimidation and a wonder for all things cinema.  Scott Frank immerses the story into Leonard’s relaxed tone, completely surrounding Travolta’s Chili Palmer with a supporting cast that is loud and idiotic or low-key and smart. Every single performance is a brilliant one.

Seeing Palmer interact with people who think they know the score is like a gift.  Characters that would normally have their way in a story like this are doormats to this low-level Shylock.  When he meets his equal, in the person of Renee Russo’s Karen Flores, both characters shine.  For Hackman, it was an opportunity to play completely against his history.  His Harry Zimm is great as a foil for Palmer, as he does his best to stay in step and constantly undermines Palmer’s attempt to turn negatives into positives.

Two other components without whom the story could not have succeeded without are Dennis Farina and James Gandolfini.   Farina’s Ray “Bones” Barboni plays the consummate tough guy.  His character is a loathsome one that would intimidate most other actors in any story.  He does some really intense and mean things here.  In front of anyone else, he would be in control.  Chili Palmer, a step removed, is unflappable.  Farina’s greatness only makes Travolta better.

As Bear, Gandolfini is allowed to emerge from the shadows of being a tough guy meant to physically embarrassed into a complex and conflicted character coming into his own.  Delroy Lindo’s Bo Catlett sees him as a blunt tool to be used and dismissed, to his eventual chagrin.  It’s perhaps the first glimmer of light in what would be a classic career.

The best two things about the film are the soundtrack and the way Travolta works with it.  It’s so perfectly synchronized it makes him seem even more stylish than he naturally is.

Best Lines:

 Chili Palmer: Look at me.

Bo Catlett: Harry called you his associate. What exactly does that mean? I mean, I never heard your name, or read it in Variety, or The Star, or anyplace.
Chili Palmer: It’s what he said, I’m his associate.
Bo Catlett: You must bring something heavy to the deal.
Chili Palmer: I do: me.

Ronnie Wingate: Excuse me bro’, but who the f— are you?
Chili Palmer: I’m the one tellin’ you how it is…

Chili Palmer: Harry, look at me. You’re trying to tell me you f—ed up without sounding stupid, and that’s hard to do.

Ray Bones: F— you, f—ball.

Best Moments: The nose punch

Who am I talking to?

Odds and Ends: The entire cast competed on a game called “Death is not an option,” during the making of the film.  In the game, one is given a choice between two people who one has to be intimate with.  They have to choose one and, you know, death is not an option.  This is a game I have played with my friends many years before and since.  It has different options, eternal purgatory with someone instead of one intimate session, but the same deal applies.

The 40 Year Old Virgin – 2005the_40_year-old_virgin

Director Judd Apatow
Starring Steve Carell, Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Leslie Mann, Kat Dennings, Jane Lynch
Screenplay Judd Apatow, Steve Carell

Review:  
A movie with a great amount of heart, edgy humor and wisdom, it is the first directing effort of Apatow, whose earlier work included the unheralded television masterpiece Freaks & Geeks.  Carrell gives the performance of his life, mastering both the comic and the dramatic aspect of the character, Andy Stitzer.  While making him likeable and only slightly non-functional and having the courage to make the other characters equally flawed and real, he gives the situational comedy some grist.

It’s in the peripheral characters that this comedy becomes more than just an average comedy.  Rudd, Rogen and Malco carry a significant part of the story, existing not for one liners exclusively but they are funny none the less.  The women of this film, Lynch, Mann and Banks, were largely unknown as the men. Most worthwhile comedies made since this film have featured at least one of them.  The most consistent source of laughs, though, is Gerry Bednob’s Mooj, who almost steals the movie with his few scenes.

Best Lines:

 

Cal: You’re gay, now?
David: No, I’m not gay. I’m just celibate.
Cal: I think… I mean, that sounds gay. I just want you to know this is, like, the first conversation of, like, three conversations that leads to you being gay. Like, there’s this and then in a year it’s like, “Oh, you know, I’m kinda gonna want to get back out there, but I think I like guys,” and then there’s the big, “Oh, I’m… I’m… I’m a gay guy now.”
David: You’re gay for saying that.
Cal: I’m gay for saying that?
David: You know how I know you’re gay?
Cal: How? How do you know I’m gay?
David: Because you macramed yourself a pair of jean shorts.
Cal: You know how I know *you’re* gay? You just told me you’re not sleeping with women any more.
David: You know how I know you’re gay?
Cal: How? Cause you’re gay? And you can tell who other gay people are?
David: You know how I know you’re gay?
Cal: How?
David: You like Coldplay.

Andy Stitzer: You know what? I respect women! I love women! I respect them so much that I completely stay away from them!

David: [watching The Bourne Identity] Y’know, I always thought that Matt Damon was like a Streisand, but he’s rocking the shit in this one!

Best Moments: Mooj with Ray (not for kids) and Mooj with Andy (not for most adults).  Mooj rules…

Odds and Ends: This scene was  real (language)

blazing_SaddlesBlazing Saddles – 1974

Director Mel Brooks
Starring Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, Slim Pickens, Madeline Kahn, Mel Brooks, Dom DeLuise
Screenplay Andrew Bergman, Mel Brooks, Richard Pryor, Norman Steinberg, Al Uger

Review: 
Brooks had a lot of great films in the 70’s.  For the longest time I thought High Anxiety was my favorite.  Re-watching this one, though, reminded me how beneficial it was to have Wilder and the under-appreciated Cleavon Little   Both were the second choices for their roles, but now we can’t imagine the movie without them.  Wilder, in his best roles, always seemed calm, assured and like he was savoring every moment in the environment within which the story was taking place.  Little has the presence of mind to approach the heavy material with deftness and wackiness, without being an ass in the slightest.  The most telling moment for him in the film is when he handles Mongo (Karras) with the exploding candy gram.  He is Bugs, we are all Daffy Duck.

The subject matter did not necessarily lend itself to comedy, but that did not stop Brooks from going after it anyway.   It’s one thing to lampoon something, it is something more to take firmly established prejudices and show their idiocy in the most irreverent way possible.  Once you’ve gone after Hitler, I suppose anything is possible.  Harvey Korman and Madeline Kahn were both brilliant as usual.  Each were by this point at home with Brooks style.  They helped to define the style.  Slim Pickens was never better, and Alex Karras knocked a horse out.  Cold.  Who would imagine he’d have such a nice touch with little Webster 10 years later.

Best Lines: 

Hedley Lamarr: My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.
Taggart: God darnit, Mr. Lamarr, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore.

[Bart, disguised as a Klansman, describes his qualifications as a villain]
Bart: Stampeding cattle.
Hedley Lamarr: That’s not much of a crime.
Bart: Through the Vatican?
Hedley Lamarr: [smiling] Kinky. Sign here.

[to two members of the KKK, while pretending to capture Bart]
Jim: Oh, boys! Lookee what I got yuh.
Bart: Hey, where the white women at?

Hedley Lamarr: Men, you are about to embark on a great crusade to stamp out runaway decency in the west. Now you men will only be risking your lives, whilst I will be risking an almost certain Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Taggart: I got it! I know how we can run everyone out of Rock Ridge.
Hedley Lamarr: How?
Taggart: We’ll kill the first born male child in every household.
Hedley Lamarr: [after some consideration] Too Jewish.

Best Moments: Well, I quoted almost every one of Korman’s lines…but let’s go with the lead dancer saying “They hit Buddy (DeLuise)!  Come on, girls.”

Odds and Ends: Pryor was deemed too big of a loose cannon, with his rumors of rampant drug use and a lack of mental stability.  Wilder replaced Gig Young after one day of shooting.  The reason: alcohol withdrawal.

There was a television pilot made called Black Bart (one of the early titles of the film)  that was shown but never picked up.  Brooks had little to do with it.  Black Bart was played by Lou Gossett, who looked the same then as he does now.

The Big Lebowski – 1998lebowski-(2)

Writers and Directors Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro

Review: Bridges Dude is perhaps the greatest comic character of all time.  More likely the greatest duo, if you include Goodman’s Walter.  This movie is masterful storytelling.  We are lulled through the amazing story of a slacker getting his butt kicked routinely for things he should have nothing to do with.  The discussions between The Dude and his friend are a constant source of tension that is immediately alleviated when they both agree (or not) on another poor decision.

It took years for me to warm up to the Coen brothers directing style.  I still don’t like most of their early stuff  (only Raising Arizona is the only one I can stomach through Hudsucker Proxy).  Here their skill seems effortless, lackadaisical almost.  Based upon recollections of friends, and characters written for Goodman and Buscemi, they have a most homogenous style that feels like we are gazing in on the lives of those barely aware of their own existence.

This movie is perfect – pure genius – and it just gets better with age.

Best Lines:

 The Dude:  That rug really tied the room together.

The Dude: Let me explain something to you. Um, I am not “Mr. Lebowski”. You’re Mr. Lebowski. I’m the Dude. So that’s what you call me. You know, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.

Walter Sobchak: Nihilists! F— me. I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.

The Dude: Walter, what is the point? Look, we all know who is at fault here, what the f— are you talking about?
Walter Sobchak: Huh? No, what the f— are you… I’m not… We’re talking about unchecked aggression here, dude.
Donny: What the f— is he talking about?
The Dude: My rug.
Walter Sobchak: Forget it, Donny, you’re out of your element!
The Dude: Walter, the chinaman who peed on my rug, I can’t go give him a bill, so what the f— are you talking about?
Walter Sobchak: What the f— are you talking about? The chinaman is not the issue here, Dude. I’m talking about drawing a line in the sand, Dude. Across this line, you DO NOT… Also, Dude, chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian-American, please.
The Dude: Walter, this isn’t a guy who built the railroads here. This is a guy…
Walter Sobchak: What the f— are you…?
The Dude: Walter, he peed on my rug!
Donny: He peed on the Dude’s rug.
Walter Sobchak: Donny you’re out of your element! Dude, the Chinaman is not the issue here!

Blond Treehorn Thug: [holding up a bowling ball] What the f— is this?
The Dude: Obviously you’re not a golfer.

Maude Lebowski: What do you do for recreation?
The Dude: Oh, the usual. I bowl. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback.

The Dude: Hey, careful, man, there’s a beverage here!

Best Moments: After getting an earful about achievement from The Big Lebowski, then, outside the room, Brandt asks what he said.  The Dude, without missing a beat, tells Brandt he was told he could take any rug in the house.

Then there is the beverage scene.

Oh, then there’s this scene:

Odds and Ends:

Dudeism.  Oh, and they are teaching college courses on The Dude and Walter.  That is all.

anchorman sex pantherAnchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy – 2004

Director Adam McKay
Starring Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, David Koechner, Fred Willard
Screenplay Adam McKay and Will Ferrell

Review:  Time has been kind to this seemingly overwrought comedy from the minds behind Funnyordie.com.  Initial reviews were mixed to the point that we have grown accustomed with Farrell films, but repeated viewings have shown a film chock full of in jokes and inspired bits.

Koechner, Rudd, Carrell, Willard and Applegate are so at home in this environment, it makes up for any seemingly out-of-place  events.  It is the oddities that make Anchorman such a delightful boon.  The street fight, the office musical number, the flute solo, Baxter, and even “milk was a bad choice,” all flow in a brilliantly incongruent way.

Even after his significant breakthrough in Elf, Will Ferrell found his best self in Burgundy.  Ignorant, arrogant and unreasonably confident, he personifies all that was so right and so wrong with 1970’s culture and media in general.  His journey is our journey to find out that it is not necessarily okay throw a burrito out of a car while travelling on a bridge.

There are so many aspects to the film that you can enjoy different things each time.  If you don’t believe me, then just see if you can find “Escupimos en su Alimento” next time you see the film.

Best Lines:

Announcer: You’re watching Channel 4 News with five-time Emmy award-winning anchor Ron Burgundy and Tits McGee.
Veronica Corningstone: Good evening, San Diego. I’m Veronica Corningstone. Tits McGee is on vacation.
Ron Burgundy: And I’m Tits… I’m Ron Burgundy.

 –

Ron Burgundy: Boy, that escalated quickly… I mean, that really got out of hand fast.
Champ Kind: It jumped up a notch.
Ron Burgundy: It did, didn’t it?
Brick Tamland: Yeah, I stabbed a man in the heart.
Ron Burgundy: I saw that. Brick killed a guy. Did you throw a trident?
Brick Tamland: Yeah, there were horses, and a man on fire, and I killed a guy with a trident.
Ron Burgundy: Brick, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that. You should find yourself a safehouse or a relative close by. Lay low for a while, because you’re probably wanted for murder.

Ron Burgundy: Let’s go to Brian Fantana who’s live on the scene with a Channel 4 News exclusive. Brian?
Brian Fantana: Panda Watch. The mood is tense; I have been on some serious, serious reports but nothing quite like this. I uh… Ching… King is inside right now. I tried to get an interview with him, but they said no, you can’t do that he’s a live bear, he will literally rip your face off.
[to the Panda]
Brian Fantana: Hey, you’re making me look stupid. Get out here, Panda Jerk!
Ron Burgundy: Great story. Compelling, and rich.

Frank Vitchard: [shouts after having his other arm ripped off by a bear]: Aw, c’mon! It’s getting to be ri-goddamn-diculous.

Ron Burgundy: You stay classy, San Diego. I’m Ron Burgundy?
Ed Harken: Dammit. Who typed a question mark on the Teleprompter?

Brian Fantana: [about Veronica] I’ll give this little cookie an hour before we’re doing the no-pants dance. Time to musk up.
[opens cologne cabinet]
Ron Burgundy: Wow. Never ceases to amaze me. What cologne you gonna go with? London Gentleman, or wait. No, no, no. Hold on. Blackbeard’s Delight.
Brian Fantana: No, she gets a special cologne… It’s called Sex Panther by Odeon. It’s illegal in nine countries… Yep, it’s made with bits of real panther, so you know it’s good.
Ron Burgundy: It’s quite pungent.
Brian Fantana: Oh yeah.
Ron Burgundy: It’s a formidable scent… It stings the nostrils. In a good way.
Brian Fantana: Yep.
Ron Burgundy: Brian, I’m gonna be honest with you, that smells like pure gasoline.
Brian Fantana: They’ve done studies, you know. 60% of the time, it works every time.
Ron Burgundy: That doesn’t make sense.
Brian Fantana: Well… Let’s go see if we can make this little kitty purr.
[snarls]

Best Moments: 

This is perhaps my favorite line of all time:

Odds and Ends: The soundtrack is an absolute work of art.   It is not so much a listing of the songs, as it is an opportunity to hear Burgundy talk about each song, which he titles Ron Burgundy, A Life in Song.  The best example of the brilliance is the song Shannon, by Henry Gross.  There is not other performance that shows the true character of Ron Burgundy.

Stripes – 1981StripesMoviePoster

Director Ivan Reitman
Starring Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Warren Oates, P. J. Soles, John Candy, Judge Reinhold, John Laroquette, Sean Young
Screenplay Len Blum, Harold Ramis, Daniel Goldberg

Review: 

The greatest slacker film, featuring the best movie comedian of his generation just hitting his stride.  It wasn’t the biggest film he would ever do, but it is still the best.  Joining the U.S. Army because you have…no other real options. The premise is lazy and really shouldn’t have worked.  It’s quite likely that had Ramis and then Murray become involved, this movie would have been long forgotten

The film is a loosely cobbled together series of scenes, most of which work really well, but all of them work  in general.  Most of the actors, outside of Murray and Oates, were no names at the time of filming.  Many of us know their names now.

It’s almost impossible for me to review this film.  I can repeat almost every line of dialogue.  I find every character easy to identify with, other than the old hag in the back of the taxi at the beginning of the story.

The only part of the film that does not work is the last act, taking place in Russia.  It’s has some funny moments, mostly by Ox. Other that and seeing Sgt. Hulka kick some ass, the whole segment is unnecessary.  The film would be perfect if they ended it at graduation.

Best Lines:

[Sergeant Hulka is on the ground after getting blown off of a tower]
Oxburger: Sergeant, does this mean we’re through for the day?

Oxburger [Talking to guy in the top bunk]: See, you gotta make my bunk. See, we’re in Italy. The guy on the top bunk…has gotta make the guy on the bottom’s bed all the time. It’s in the regulations. If we were in Germany…I would have to make yours. But we’re in Italy, so you’ve gotta make mine. It’s regulations.

Recruiter: Now, are either of you homosexuals?
John Winger: [John and Russell look at each other] You mean, like, flaming, or…
Recruiter: Well, it’s a standard question we have to ask.
Russell Ziskey: No, we’re not homosexual, but we are *willing to learn*.
John Winger: Yeah, would they send us someplace special?
Recruiter: I guess that’s “no” on both. Now if you could just give Uncle Sam your autograph…

Psycho: The name’s Francis Soyer, but everybody calls me Psycho. Any of you guys call me Francis, and I’ll kill you.
Leon: Ooooooh.
Psycho: You just made the list, buddy. And I don’t like nobody touching my stuff. So just keep your meat-hooks off. If I catch any of you guys in my stuff, I’ll kill you. Also, I don’t like nobody touching me. Now, any of you homos touch me, and I’ll kill you.
Sergeant Hulka: Lighten up, Francis.

 

John Winger: Cut it out! Cut it out! Cut it out! The hell’s the matter with you? Stupid! We’re all very different people. We’re not Watusi. We’re not Spartans. We’re Americans, with a capital ‘A’, huh? You know what that means? Do ya? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We’re the underdog. We’re mutts! Here’s proof: his nose is cold! But there’s no animal that’s more faithful, that’s more loyal, more loveable than the mutt. Who saw “Old Yeller?” Who cried when Old Yeller got shot at the end?
[raises his hand]
John Winger: *sarcastically* Nobody cried when Old Yeller got shot? I’m sure.
[hands are reluctantly raised]
John Winger: I cried my eyes out. So we’re all dogfaces, we’re all very, very different, but there is one thing that we all have in common: we were all stupid enough to enlist in the Army. We’re mutants. There’s something wrong with us, something very, very wrong with us. Something seriously wrong with us – we’re soldiers. But we’re American soldiers! We’ve been kicking ass for 200 years! We’re 10 and 1! Now we don’t have to worry about whether or not we practiced. We don’t have to worry about whether Captain Stillman wants to have us hung. All we have to do is to be the great American fighting soldier that is inside each one of us. Now do what I do, and say what I say. And make me proud.

Best Moments: Sarge, does this mean we’re through for the day?

Odds and Ends:  The script was originally written for Cheech and Chong, but when they asked for the world, he moved on.  Ramis rewrote it, with he and Murray in mind.  All of the pot jokes were then placed into Reinhold’s character.  So, yeah, this movie would have sucked if Cheech and Chong had not been greedy.

ShaunofthedeadShaun of the Dead – 2004

Director Edgar Wright
Starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Penelope Wilton, Bill Nighy
Screenplay Wright and Pegg

Review: I hate British comedies.  Until 2004 I hated zombie movies.  This all changed with Shaun of the Dead.  Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright make every single move a winning one, especially with one of the best endings in cinematic history.

Nick Frost is sublime as Pegg’s lazy friend, Ed.  The relationship between the two is second only to Bridges and Goodman in brilliant comic energy.  And by energy, I mean a complete lack thereof.  These folks are like every slacker duo ever created, but with a resilience and dedication to remaining so, even while facing the end of the world.

Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy head an effective supporting cast that helps to paint a picture of a monotonous life without being boring in the least.  Well, everyone except for that guy David (Moran), who looks a lot like a dickish Harry Potter.

Fun abounds as the group follows the lead of the hero, Shaun, back to their favorite pub.  From there we get to see nothing go the way it should.  This could have just been average, but whip smart dialogue and great acting push it into one of the greatest comedies ever.  British Zombie movie or not.

Best Lines:

 Ed [To Shaun’s Mom, Barbara]: We’re coming to get you, Barbara!

Ed [To Shayn, as he goes in to get his Mom]: Don’t forget to kill Philip!

Shaun: Do you want anything from the shop?
Ed: Cornetto. [Coining the phrase what would eventually become The Cornetto Trilogy]

Shaun: David, kill the Queen!
David: What?
Shaun: The jukebox!

Ed: [pulls the car up] What’s up, niggas?

[As they look through Shaun’s LPs for suitable records to throw at two approaching zombies]
Ed: ‘Purple Rain’?
Shaun: No.
Ed: ‘Sign o’ the Times’?
Shaun: Definitely not.
Ed: The ‘Batman’ soundtrack?
Shaun: Throw it.

Best Moments: 

The ending is perfect.  No I won’t give it away.

Odds and Ends:

If you click trhe above link, you can read all about the Cornetto trilogy.  There is no way the other two can measure up to the first film, but they are both pretty good.

The Internship: …and we learned so much about ourselves going to the nudie bar

internship

The Internship -2013

Director Shawn Levy
Starring Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Rose Byrne, Max Minghella, Joanna Garcia, Josh Brener, John Goodman, Dylan O’Brien, Tiya Sircar, Jessica Szohr, Aasif Mandvi, Josh Gad
Screenplay by Vaughn and Jared Stern

The Internship plays like a mixture of the worst elements of every college film ever made.  This time the college is the coolest place to work in the world.  Or so they say.  From what I can tell, it’s a place where old comic actors and young no-names working the local improvisational scene get together and see if they can get some of the words – any of the words – to work.  Truly, I cannot picture what kind of person would decide that they would pay to see this futile attempt.

The Internship works on a personal level.  Vaughn and Wilson are good at incorporating worldliness with geekiness, and making those things represent the rebel nature of Google.  When taking the gentle approach, there are some real laughs.  Showing how many skills can go into a co-operative venture shows inspiration.

Showing how much a bunch of young dweebs learn by going to the local nude bar shows that one watched too many dumb comedies in the 80’s, 90’s or really any decade.  One can’t escape feeling a kinship to Stuart (O’Brien) as he is cajoled by Wilson’s Nick into admitting he had a good time.  It reminds one of any time an older person has introduced a younger one that it’s fun to chew tobacco, even when they choked on some of it.  It’s the beginning of a bad habit, but at least they’re doing it together, right?

There is more of this kind of stupidity in The Internship than there should be for it to be considered a good film.  Vaughn and Wilson are extremely likable in the right role.  Their earlier effort, Wedding Crashers, bursts with energy and imagination that is lacking here.  There are flashes, but not enough to sustain any amount of interest, even when dealing with such an engaging and cool place as Google.

Byrne is wasted here, given only a few typical scenes.  She needs to be unimpressed, then slightly amused, then impressed and congratulatory.  She hits ever point with a thud.  Manvi and Gad are utilized effectively, though.  The kids are alright, even if Brener’s character doesn’t know whether he works for Google or if his ass is on the line.

This film is by the numbers, taking a few bunt swings for singles and investing too much time and effort with the passe T&A jokes.  The conclusion of the competition is a pleasant surprise that reminds the viewer how little effort is put into the rest of the script.

The receipts show that the U.S. is willing to go for another Wilson and Vaughn effort.  If they can keep from wallowing in the blue, they might see even better results.

(**1/2 out of *****)

The Hangover Part III and Kick-Ass 2: Delightful if not so funny

The-Hangover-3-2013

The Hangover Part III – 2013

Director Todd Phillips
Starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, Heather Graham, Jeffrey Tambor, Justin Bartha, Jamie Chung, John Goodman
Screenplay Todd Phillips, Craig Mazin

kick-ass-2

Kick-Ass 2 – 2013

Writer and Director Jeff Wadlow
Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloë Grace Moretz, Jim Carrey, Clark Duke, Olga Kurkulina, Lindy Booth, John Leguizamo, Morris Chestnut, Donald Faison

Two notable comedies had sequels in the summer of 2013, and both were considered disappointments to many in the press.  One who actually viewed the previous entries had every reason to be excited.

Kick-Ass (***1/2 out of ****) was one of the pleasant surprises of 2010.  Its lack of pretense was as surprising as it was enthralling.  The best things about it, Moretz’ effortless lethality, Johnson’s clueless and unbounded enthusiasm and Nicolas Cage is his normal lunatic self.  And Cage dies in the end!  How could it be any better?  Mintz-Plasse is how.  His brash coming out party lights up the last act.

In the time since, he’s fussed and fumed.  Complaining to his mom, he inadvertently kills her and rechristens himself a name I will not use, but you can see in the poster above.  Dave has time to retire, then come out of retirement and begin training with Hit Girl.  The young orphan Mindy has moved in with her dad’s friend Marcus (Chestnutt) who wants her to start her freshman year of high school with a clean slate and, you know, stop maiming and killing elements of the underworld.

All of these moving parts create a chaos in which new characters emerge, some recede and some manage to do both.  Jim Carrey gives a brave, unsung performance as Colonel Stars and Stripes.  He does not come across as heroic as one would expect someone of his past star power.  It was as unexpected a turn as Cage’s from the first film.  Whatever it was that allowed him to condemn that performance and the movie itself (come on now, he had to know there was gun violence before he made it), he shows an inability to understand the irony of the film. It’s a sad point when the comedian is the one who laughs last…because he doesn’t get it.

To Carrey’s point, the violence is numbing, as it makes it hard to invest much into the characters.  It’s hard to like Dr. Gravity (Faison), when one thinks he’s going to end up on the wrong side of that bat.  At the same time, how is it that Duke’s Battle Guy could even joke about apprehending anyone as Battle Guy?  On the one hand, we have such incredible brutality, and on the other we have dunces with no physical prowess in the slightest.  We get that this is the filmmaker’s way of making the film one big “don’t try this at home,” but the message is lost in the fantastic luck the protagonists have when it comes to battle.

The energy of the film is driven mostly from the childish energy put forth by Mintz-Plasse.  It’s mindless, dark and ruthless.  Meaningless too.  It would seem a strong commentary on the aimless youth, but it doesn’t resonate as any sort of truth.  Seeing the bad guys being truly bad makes their demise that much more fun to watch, though.

What is true is the development of the two leads.  Moretz’ is a genuine star.  She’s growing into a strong young woman by now, and her command of the screen is that of an actor twice her age.  Watching the ever so gradual development of her relationship with Johnson is moving gradually from cute into something truly interesting.  It’s the one thing that makes me hope the film becomes a trilogy.

The Hangover III (***1/2 out of *****) starts promisingly for no other reason than no one is drugged and wakes up disoriented.  The 2nd time was enough for the formula, but the characters deserved a 3rd try.   The try is a success for reasons beyond The Wolf Pack, but let’s not kid ourselves.  Todd Phillips has struggled to come up with a truly successful storyline since the original blew the doors off conventional comedy in 2009.

This story’s engine is turned, like the second story, with the manic and intentionally stereotypical energy of Jeong.  We still get a steady dose of Galifianakis’ obtuse Alan.  Their relationship is unconventionally affectionate and really kind of adorable.  Cooper’s Phil and Helm’s Stu still fill in the gaps, making the recurring journey to recover Bartha’s Doug feel like a genuine even, no matter how many times we have to head back the same road.

Part of the appeal to the series is the lens through which it is filmed.  The sepia tint is sharply drawn and looks beautiful.  This beauty shows the desperation of their circumstance even more sharply.  3 movies in, it’s still fun to watch the desperation creep over the face of Cooper while Helms submits to his worst fears.  It’s just not all that funny any more.

There are some laugh out loud moments, like the crude freeway “mess”acre on the freeway and Chow’s flight through the night-time Vegas skies.  The rest of it, though, is mainly just smirk worthy.  By the time we get to the end, one comes to the realization that this is the third movie in a row where we get hugging and learning for Alan.  This would have been a disappointment, were it not for the post credits scene.

It’s over for The Wolf Pack.  I suppose it’s just about time.  They could do this forever and, given the over all financial success of the franchise, they have every reason to do so.  They called it quits while still slightly ahead.  On the power of the first film and two decent following films, it’s one of the best comedy trilogies in history.  I would have to say it ranks behind Back to the Future, The Cornetto Trilogy and just in front of The Naked Gun (thanks for ruining it, O.J.).  It’s not a crowded field, though.  I am not sure I could name more trilogies than those.  American Pie and The Jersey films don’t count.  The first  went to 8 films (4 direct to video).  The second featured Ben Affleck.  Hopefully The Hangover won’t ruin what they’ve accomplished by doing either.

Monsters University: Didn’t know we needed this

Monsters University – 2013

Director Dan Scanlon
Starring Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Sean Hayes, Joel Murray, Dave Foley, Peter Sohn, Charlie Day, Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina, Nathon Fillon, Aubrey Plaza, Tyler Labine, Bonnie Hunt, Bill Hader, John Ratzenberger
Screenplay Daniel Gerson, Robert L. Baird, Dan Scanlon

It took 29 films for Disney to come up with its first sequel (Rescuers Down Under).  It wasn’t until Return of Jafar in 1994 that one was considered unworthy of being released in theaters.  For Pixar, the first sequel was only 3 movies in (Toy Story 2).  Cars 2 should have been its first direct to video, given the weakness of its material.  In Monsters University, there is a first Disney and Pixar prequel.  Thank goodness it’s not as poor and uninspired as its premise seemed to be.  

Do you like Mike Wazowski (Crystal)?  Do you love Sulley (Goodman)?  Did you have a wish to see Randall (Buscemi) again?  Yes, yes, and not all that much for me.  Monsters, Inc. is my wife’s favorite Pixar film, and she wasn’t busting down doors to see it.  My mother has a stuffed Sully doll in her bed and she fell asleep when she took my nephew to see it.  Indeed, only my youngest, Elyse seems to love this movie.  She sat down for almost the entire film, twice.  She never does that.  

Why did they make this film a prequel?  The first attempt at developing a sequel was tantamount to a threat from Disney to Pixar when they were squabbling over the next contract.  The stupidly titled Monsters, Inc. 2: Lost in Scaradise, it was going to be a rehash of the second half of the film, but in the human world.  Thank goodness a contact was signed before they put it in motion.  

Instead we get the prequel no one was asking for.  It would have been something if there had been some sort of scare war referenced in the original.  We hear that Scully’s family name has some prestige, and Waternoose got to be CEO for some reason.  But really, who cares?  Somebody did at Pixar, and somehow they pulled it off.  Monsters University manages to expound on the characters of the two protagonists, even making Randall seem somewhat decent.  They even throw in a few lessons that actually resonate with kids, while not being cheap, in the “very special Blossom” kind of way.  

The story centers around Mike and his desire for a career in Scaring.  Anyone who’s seen or even heard Mike knows that will be a challenge.  In a relevant reference to the original, we also find that Mike has all of the initiative.  Scully  has the skill, but no desire to work.  Add to this all of the traditional trappings of your typical college movie, subtract the gratuitous sex, and you have the premise.  

Crystal does a good job ramping down from his usual histrionic self.  Incredibly, Goodman’s Scully is the boorish one for much of the film.  It works within the framework of the story, especially once the two find themselves in a fraternity of oddballs, eloquently played by Murray, Foley and Hayes, among others.  The gentleness with which the script exhibits the outcasts is stirring.  In a start contrast, Helen Mirren is the picture of wicked grace in her presentation of Dean Hardscrabble, who has seen it all and is not afraid to prejudge without impunity.  

 The best treatment of character is the one least expected.  Buscemi’s Randall is reset as Randy, a rather shy and somewhat similar student to Mike.  The first half of the film is a readjustment to expectations.  Even if he is not used as much in the second half, his progression is amusing and believable.

Two major points resonate in the script.  First of all, we find that even if individuals might not have what it takes, there is no “one way” to do things and teamwork has a better chance to prevail.  Secondly and more importantly, my youngest held onto the lesson about cheating, and admitting when you are wrong.  

The result is very good, even if it’s not necessary.  It certainly is not the embarrassment that the Cars franchise has become.  Extra points for the development of characters, the responsible messages portrayed eloquently and the fact that it was smart enough to appeal to kids that normally have a hard time sitting.  They hit this one almost directly on the nail, even if it’s on an extension of the house we did not realize we needed.  

(****1/2 out of *****)

Argo: It’s that few rotten million…

Argo-Movie-Poster

Argo – 2012

Director – Ben Affleck
Starring – Affleck, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Tate Donovan, Clea Duvall, Victor Garber, Philip Baker Hall, Kyle Chandler, Michael Parks, Chris Messina, Titus Welliver
Screenplay – Chris Terrio

Alan Arkin is remarkable.  He’s been doing the same shtick for 50 years.  You would think it’d get old by now.  It hasn’t.  It’s a credit to him that he has pulled it off, but it’s as much a credit that directors believe in him.  The director of the real movie of Argo, Ben Affleck, has not only placed his faith in Arkin, though.  He has shown, in the span of three films, that he is willing to place his career in the hands of many.  The key for him is his ability to stay silent in front of the camera and let everyone else fill the screen.  In Argo, the talent behind the screen is equal to the talent in front of it, this includes the director and actor Ben Affleck.

A story about the embassy diplomats that were not taken hostage in Iran, it was the less famous of the stories coming out of the revolution, even if they already made one movie about it.  The story is weighted by significance, yet the transitions from scene to scene is constantly tense in the most invigorating way.  Given that, in typical Hollywood fashion, only about 35% of the film is correct, it still stands for entertaining fare, and a Reader’s Digest Drama In Real Life snippet of history.

What we get to see is, in essence, the American version of the story, where most of the heroes and ideas come from the U.S., with a Canadian Ambassador holding the house open for guests for one long weekend.  For this, the film deserves some fair criticism.  There is glossed over and downright misleading  representation for some countries (Britain and New Zealand), to an extent that New Zealand’s representative government wasted time condemning the way they were treated.  There are several invented close calls, including a downright silly trip to the Bazaar which only could happen to ramp up the drama in a film.  The amount of contrivances are enough to push the film into ABC Movie of the Week category…if not for that sterling cast and the sense of space in the film.

Most of the dramatic license is for the economy of making movies.  You have to want to watch.   If every country other than Iran is nice, and the close calls aren’t close, and the U.S. isn’t the underdog, then who would want to waste their time?  It would be like watching the Hobbits make their way to The Prancing Pony.  Sure, there was a little tension, but they made it relatively unscathed and in, like, one day.  We need Ben Affleck the director to throw a spanner in the works, and the actor to stand there, looking pensive, wondering how he is going to remove that spanner from, you know, the works.

He does both things well.  One of my favorite aspects to Argo is watching Affleck’s voiceless countenance watching, really watching, the other talent on the screen.  The ability to look like one comprehends the information in front of them is the hallmark of a good actor.  He is getting there by leaps and bounds, and I really think this is due to the time he spends framing things in the lens.  We get to see Ben’s CIA Agent Mendez watching, while Goodman’s John Chambers, Arkin’s Lester Seigel and a few rotten million Iranian revolutionaries chew up real estate.  The effect is chilling, and it makes his few words well worth hearing, even if they are not all that remarkable on paper.

Affleck smartly relies on Goodman and Arkin to carry the momentum of the remarkably chilling opening chapter of the film, providing a one-two punch that allows the last half of the film coast through clichéd crisis after clichéd crisis.  And we buy it, for the most part, without question.  The saddest thing about this is once you are past that part of the film, you realize that even though the depiction is based on the true risking of life of real people, it is effectively the meringue on top of the pie.  The escape, in and of itself, is not enough to thrill an audience, according to the studio research.  Well, either that, or its too hard to tell the story intelligently and truthfully both.  This is where good acting can usually win the day, and this is where Argo succeeds.

Affleck has made an American staple story here, and one can see why it won the awards that it has.  Hollywood, just like Seigel says to Klein, wants to be bullshitted.  In that respect, we all got our money’s worth with Argo.

(**** out of *****)