Dolemite is My Name

Release: Friday, October 4, 2019 (limited)

→Netflix

Written by: Scott Alexander; Larry Karaszewski

Directed by: Craig Brewer

The way Craig Brewer captures the response to Dolemite, the movie-within-his-movie and at least part of its raison d’être, is so warm and uplifting. Yet it’s also quaint if considering today’s cinematic landscape. Cynics like me are tempted to dismiss the ending as too pat and Hollywood but the movie was indeed met with a serenading of sorts from audiences. Dolemitea pulpy, outrageous story about a pimp who breaks out of prison to take revenge on those who set him up, made $12 million on a budget of $100k. It’s gone on to become a cult classic of blaxploitation.

Yet if this heartfelt tribute to pioneering showman Rudy Ray Moore (or Dolemite, if you like) were to be rolled out in a wide theatrical release you wouldn’t struggle to find a good seat today. You can thank superhero movies for your extra leg room and more than the usual choice of good seats. Superheroes (and villains) rule and everything else drools at the numbers they are putting up at the box office. There isn’t a damn thing Eddie Murphy can do about this, even if he is as good as he’s been in years — maybe ever — in Dolemite is My Name, a ridiculous(ly) entertaining ensemble comedy available almost exclusively through Netflix.

Ironically, and despite actually earning a limited run on the big screen (the likes of which won’t draw crowds like you see here, sadly), Dolemite is My Name has perhaps found its ideal stage on your TV screen. Streaming is the ultimate in consumer catering because it gives you a more intimate, “customizable” experience. Imagine sitting in a 200-seat auditorium where everyone has a remote control to rewind their favorite moments in a Peter Jackson epic. Or to back up to try and understand what in blue Hades Sylvester Stallone just mumbled.

I say all of this because this is the kind of movie you’re going to rewind and pause just to bask a little longer in the triumphant return to Delirious-era Murphy. I must have inflated the runtime to something close to two and a half hours as I rewatched his Rudy Ray Moore enthusiastically chop the air around him as he envisions himself not just a star, but a kung fu master in his own movie. The energy Murphy brings and the riffing he does as he becomes his character, a pioneering, wig-donning, cane-wielding motormouth and eventual big-screen star whose name bore the fruit of not one but four Dolemite-centric adventures, is something to behold. And behold again.

Set in 1970s Los Angeles Dolemite is My Name examines the rise of a self-made man as he goes from lowly record store assistant manager by day/MC by night, to the maker of three crass but hugely popular comedy albums, to, yes, “f-ing up motherf–ers” on the big screen. The film divides neatly into two equally intriguing halves. The first hour or so is devoted to the birth of his stand-up persona and his intelligent if profanity-laced sketches that would earn him a substantial fanbase. And credit where credit is due: the writers don’t turn a blind eye to “toastmaster” Rico, a vagrant played by Ron Cephas Jones, who periodically drifts in and out of the Dolphins of Hollywood record store, spitting rapid-fire rhymes about an urban legend named ‘Dolemite,’ an identity Moore assumes as his own alter ego.

The second half focuses on our increasingly spectacularly besuited hero’s ambitions growing beyond touring the Deep South along what was called the “Chitlin’ Circuit.” The narrative blends business and production reality with Moore’s insatiable appetite for nationwide recognition. He gains an entourage, establishes a production facility in the famous Dunbar Hotel and even convinces a big name to direct and co-star in his project-in-making in egotistical yet accomplished actor D’Urville Martin (a scene-stealing Wesley Snipes). Yet it’s not exactly smooth sailing as he attempts to get his ultimate dream realized. Walter Crane (Tip “T.I.” Harris), a film executive, denies Moore’s creative ambition (in appealing to the masses, black actors don’t do camp comedy; they do heart-warming dramas about overcoming their ghetto roots) while the business-savvy Bihari brothers warn him of the grave financial risks of failure.

The major developments unfold in a breezy if occasionally lackadaisical way. It’s a pretty familiar underdog story where obstacles are by and large steamrolled over. That’s in part by design, as an homage to the force of sheer will that was Rudy Ray Moore, but it’s also due to the script by Ed Wood writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, one that prioritizes entertainment over profundity. Their story tends to glide over the surface rather than dive into the depths of Moore’s unhappy and impoverished childhood, providing a line or two about his burning desire to be better than his father. Yet (and I’m just guessing here) this is a more fundamentally sound production about the making of a legend — the so-called “Godfather of Rap” — than its namesake movie was. And unlike its namesake, the performances, not big boobs and kung fu, define this one.

While Murphy is going to get much of the attention (and deservedly so) I have to single out Da’Vine Joy Randolph as well. She plays Lady Reed, a former backup singer who rediscovers her mojo when Moore drops into a night club in Mississippi. Her relationship with the former is integral to the story’s focus not just on confidence but identity in a time when Hollywood was not only overwhelmingly white but upheld that only one body type was “beautiful.” Randolph is never less than convincing and inspiring as she becomes not just a confidante to Moore in his lower moments, but entirely comfortable in her own skin — breaking past her fear of having her figure captured forever in celluloid and simply owning her identity in ways she previously thought impossible.

As stylish as it is raunchy, this 70s-throwback is mostly a testament to the indefatigable spirit that erected a movie star out of a stand-up comic. It’s also an amusing, even insightful look into the moviemaking process, compacting several scenes from the Dolemite franchise into a collage that goes to show what can be done with limited funds, some good friends and an abundance of self-confidence.

Pimp daddy deluxe

Recommendation: Safe in terms of its narrative structure but bold in dialogue (families take note: Dr. Dolittle isn’t catering to your kiddies here) Dolemite is My Name is never less than a pure joy ride to the top, especially alongside an endlessly entertaining Murphy, who comes flanked by a number of highly recognizable names, including but absolutely not limited to Craig Robinson, Mike Epps, Keegan-Michael Key, Titus Burgess and Kodi Smit-McPhee. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 117 mins.

Quoted: “Dolemite is my name; f-ing up motherf-ers is my game.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Table 19

Release: Friday, March 3, 2017

[Theater]

Written by: Jay and Mark Duplass

Directed by: Jeffrey Blitz

This is awkward for me because Table 19, a “dramatic” comedy written by the inimitable Duplass brothers about being low-priority wedding guests seated at the least desirable table at the reception, belongs at a rejects table of its own. Awkward because I want to like all Duplass-related films always but now I’m faced with the prospect of hating one.

Objectively their new, jointly penned blah-medy is a real misfire. It’s directed by Jeffrey Blitz, most notable for his contributions to latter seasons of The Office, which might have something to do with Table 19 having no personality whatsoever resembling anything Duplass-y. To their credit, the filmmakers assemble quite the impressive team of funny people —  Anna Kendrick, Craig Robinson, Lisa Kudrow, Stephen Merchant, Tony Revolori, Wyatt Russell and June Squibb — and then, somewhat counterintuitively, they set about finding ways to make every one of them as unfunny as possible.

Eloise (Kendrick) was going to be the maid of honor at her “oldest” friend’s wedding but after being unceremoniously dumped via text message by Teddy (Russell), who happens to be the best man, she’s become persona non grata. She decides to attend anyway, finding her place at the dreaded back table, a table so far removed from the action “you can smell the bathroom.” Having been intimately involved in the planning of the reception, Eloise knows what being relegated to this table means. It means you are either a liability or you just suck. At being a person.

She shares this inside information with the other guests at the table, a decidedly oddball collection: There’s the Kepps (Robinson and Kudrow), a boring couple who run a diner together; Walter (Merchant), a weirdo who may or may not have just come straight from prison; Renzo (Revolori), a horny teen who can’t help but take terrible advice from his mother; and Jo (Squibb), a retired pot-smoking nanny. While none of them seem to have legitimate connections with the happy couple, only for the recently scorned does becoming a potential distraction seem like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Table 19 skulks about the banquet hall looking for something interesting to talk about, but finds precious little. The Duplass brothers have staked their reputations on an unusual ability to create something of substance out of what at first appears to be nothing. A film shot largely in a banquet hall tends to stretch the term ‘cinematic’ but then that’s the Duplass’ forte. What their screenplay doesn’t do is take risks. There’s nothing revelatory about any of the character’s backstories and Kendrick’s chemistry with Russell is the kind of bad that we just don’t need to talk about. Plus the comedy is incessantly forced — uncertain and ineffectual at the best of times. The whole thing plays out like a father-of-the-bride toast that goes to some awkwardly inappropriate places, remains unfunny for the majority and that ultimately drags on for too long.

Recommendation: Utterly forgettable farcical comedy forgets to pack the comedy. There’s good reason you probably have not heard of Table 19; it’s the movie no one invited into their area cineplexes. (Now, if you’re wondering where my Kong review is, blame it on three consecutively sold-out screenings for the delay. I hope to have one up sometime in the next decade.)

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 87 mins.

Quoted: “Hello my god. Hi, I’m Renzo. I have achieved puberty and I am in a rock band.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Sausage Party

sausage_party_ver2_xlg

Release: Friday, August 12, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Seth Rogen; Evan Goldberg; Kyle Hunter; Ariel Shaffir

Directed by: Greg Tiernan; Conrad Vernon

Sausage Party represents Seth Rogen’s strongest screenwriting effort since Superbad. It’s been even longer since he’s been this charming in a lead role as well, and he plays a six-inch-long frankfurter. Or sausage, wiener, whatever. He’s a real hot dog in this outing, a riotous, deliriously perverse bite of modern satire that will in all likelihood cause you to think twice the next time you’re thumbing through greens-turning-brown in your local Wal-Mart.

In the world of Sausage Party, Wal-Mart would be the Warsaw ghetto for perishables. In the world of Sausage Party the Food Pyramid takes on an entirely new meaning, a reality that’s manifested brilliantly via anthropomorphic food groups. There’s hierarchy and a universal belief system that shoppers are Gods. Food items believe they’re destined for great things once they’re Chosen, that they’re headed for a place called The Great Beyond where they’ll enjoy an eternity of being loved and treated like royalty by the human that rescued them from their prisons/shelves. A place where a sausage like Frank (Rogen) looks forward to slipping inside a nice, warm bun. A place where an Arabic flatbread named Kareem Abdul Lavash dreams of being greeted by 77 bottles of extra virgin olive oil that will help him stay lubricated and not dry out and be nasty and shit.

Broader arcs, involving Frank’s quest to save his sweet friends (and even salty foes) from continuing to be blinded to a horrible reality — food gets eaten, not laid — and Brenda’s determination to not act on her own sexual urges in fear of upsetting the Gods, are not exactly revelatory. Nor are the main beats delivered en route to one of the most ridiculous afterparties you are likely to ever see. (Yeah, This is the End may have been blessed by the Backstreet Boys but you’ve never seen food porn until you’ve watched this movie.) Because the story is rather store-brand generic, you’re left sort of worrying if there is a way Rogen and company can wrap things up without cooling off completely or melting down or some other food metaphor that suggests deterioration.

But there is no need to worry. At all.

And broad arcs be damned by the way. Getting lost in this supermarket is just way too much fun. There’s so much to see and do. Rogen, once again reunited with Evan Goldberg and aided as well by Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir (the latter two co-wrote The Night Before with Goldberg, a rare case in which Rogen did not share writing duties), has crafted a genuinely hilarious and heartfelt film that manages to strike a near-perfect balance between satire and sobriety. One wouldn’t necessarily think Sausage Party has any right to be stepping into arenas like proving the existence of God, thereby the purpose of religion, or that packaging certain foods into certain aisles could be viewed as segregation but we should never downplay Rogen’s creativity.

In this adventure there is strength in numbers. That applies both to the mission Frank and friends find themselves embarking on as well as to how we’re able to connect with this strange little world. Frank is joined with varying degrees of hesitation by fellow wiener Barry (Michael Cera), who suffers from serious confidence issues; Frank’s love interest, the curvaceous bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig) and two squabbling neighbors from the International Foods Aisle in David Krumholtz’ Lavash and Edward Norton’s argumentative bagel Sammy (I still can’t believe that was not the voice of Woody Allen). The diverse selection of characters makes the watch more dynamic and energetic. Nevermind the fact that mainstays like Ketchup, Mustard, apples and oranges are wholly unoriginal, they don’t really lend themselves to comedy. And even though a hot dog does take center stage, brilliantly the summer grilling classic is broken down into two distinct characters. And of course we know why.

Food puns abound and as is expected, ethnic, gender and religious stereotypes play a role in deciding which items we are going to spend time with (for example: the non-perishable items are colored as wizened old Native Americans who have seen it all and it’s no coincidence that the film’s primary antagonist is a Douche named Nick Kroll. Er, played by Kroll, rather . . .). Incensed after Frank cost him his chance to go to The Great Beyond during a shopping cart collision, Douche sets out on a murderous vendetta to take out the wiener (and bun) responsible for not only the missed opportunity but his new physical deformity. (In this reviewer’s opinion we venture a little too deep into TMI territory when watching him mentally breaking down, mourning his lack of purpose. And we really could have done without 90% of Kroll’s brutal dude-broisms.)

It wouldn’t be a comedy from the Rogen-Goldberg school of puerility if it doesn’t make you feel at least a little guilty for laughing at some of the things you end up laughing at. Even still, Sausage Party (hehe) finds a number of ways to justify genre-defining tropes like making sex jokes out of literally everything. Wiig brings strength, courage and conviction to the part of a sexy piece of bread. Some things will never change though, as even here Rogen’s every bit the pothead we’ve come to love him for being as he finds room for a scene where a wiener gets roasted with a can of water and a gay Twinkie, and he does it without disrupting the flow of the narrative. The characters are well-defined and each have individual motivations for survival, which is critical in helping us actually “buy into” the situation at hand. (Let’s get real: we never take any of this seriously but we take it far more so than we thought we would when the project was first announced.)

Sausage Party is classic Seth Rogen-Evan Goldberg. It’s rib-ticklingly funny from start to finish, with only a few brief moments where all action comes to a halt in favor of more somber reflections on the state of life in a grocery store that’s about to erupt into civil war. You’ll find almost every alum from previous Rogen-Goldberg offerings here, and, hidden behind the guises of ordinary foods, they become icons. This is far too fattening a meal to keep having, but damn it all . . . why does fat have to taste so good?

Stephen fucking Hawking gum and Michael Cera the wiener

Recommendation: Irreverent, profane, over-the-top, delirious, and bizarrely heartwarming. Sausage Party uses anthropomorphism to its advantage and then some, creating memorable characters out of mundane food items and giving them distinct human personas that we can identity with and care about. (Obviously some more than others.) The rules of course still apply: fans of Seth Rogen’s sense of humor need apply while all others who aren’t big on the guy probably won’t find much mustard to squeeze out of this one. Visiting the supermarket will never be the same again, and I think that more than anything is the mark of an effective comedy.

Rated: R

Running Time: 89 mins.

Quoted: “Banana’s whole face peeled off, Peanut Butter’s wife Jelly is dead! Look at him, he’s right there.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Hot Tub Time Machine 2

httm2-movie-poster

Release: Friday, February 20, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Josh Heald

Directed by: Steve Pink

I, along with six other brave souls, ended up in a theater that was playing a film titled Hot Tub Time Machine 2 because apparently the original had that kind of effect on me. I’m now doubting all kinds of things about myself.

Steve Pink picks up where he left off in 2010 with a superfluous sequel to a comedy that many have deemed rather silly to begin with, and I’m in no position to argue against that. We’ve lost John Cusack in the transition, though. But what’s this — Adam Scott is in as an utterly useless replacement character? I suppose it’s fitting, as the boys in this slightly outrageous misadventure soon discover that going further into the future doesn’t always mean things improve. They do quite the opposite, as a matter of fact.

With the end results of their traveling back in time in Hot Tub Time Machine rendering Lou (Rob Corddry), Nick (Craig Robinson), and Jacob (Clark Duke) much wealthier, superior versions of themselves — particularly Lou after the advent of his “Lougle” conglomeration — we are introduced to the same characters who are now much less likable. Corddry steps up the obnoxious a notch or two, resulting in his being blasted in the crotch with a shotgun by some agitated partygoer. As he begins to die in the most humiliating of fashions, his time-traveling pals come up with a plan to save him. They’ll use the hot tub to once again go back in time to prevent quite possibly the most unnatural castration ever.

Instead of going back to the past, the buffoons wind up jettisoning themselves ten years into the future, and things have changed seemingly in favor of young Jacob, who now is the proud owner of a ballin’ crib and has a hottie for a wife. She’s only one in a parade of beautiful women who serve as scenery/distractions from the fact that these guys just aren’t as funny this time around. Of course, saving Lou/Lou’s penis isn’t going to be as simple as it sounds and the narrative diverts into territory that is neither useful nor effective. I saw this film a matter of hours ago and am struggling to recall anything significant about minutes 20 through 90.

I do recall a steady decline into boredom, however. Adam Scott plays Cusack’s son, Adam Jr., but what the hell happened in that gene pool, exactly? A character devoid of dimension, most notably in the humor department, and a stiff at that — he is getting married very soon, as he repeats over and again, and he can’t afford to party like an animal as the others wish to — Adam Jr. represents a new low in a decidedly low-brow franchise. A brief flash of Community‘s Gillian Jacobs as his bride-to-be only compounds that problem.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2, when not falling flat with misfirings of all colors, shapes and sizes (and flavors) takes some rather dark turns and oversteps boundaries, making light of suicidal acts well past the point of mockery. I’m actually not sure if making fun of suicide is that bright of an idea to begin with. You might not believe me after all this, but the film isn’t exactly all for nothing; there still remains the camaraderie between the threesome. We experience the commitment Nick and Lou have to their friendships during a ridiculous and smirk-inducing game show sequence circa mid-movie.

Oh, but wait — didn’t something similar happen five years ago? Yes, yes it did. But repeating old jokes isn’t that offensive when compared to the new stabs at funny mostly failing. Pink’s follow-up asks some interesting questions about how we might govern our present-tense lives if we had any inkling of what today’s actions will lead to later, but the more interesting question really is how can a somewhat reliable formula produce such a different result? If you are bothered enough to try and answer that for yourselves, go ahead and see this. Personally, I’d rather get my own . . . ah, never mind. I won’t go there.

so-lame

1-5Recommendation: Neither funny nor that fun to spend time with, the gang has fallen on hard times indeed. What worked for the original was a sense of nostalgia for the ’80s (if you get nostalgic for that sort of thing). But for those who are fans of good comedy, seeing this one through just may make you nostalgic for the good old days of a John Cusack-led bubbly-tub bacchanalia.

Rated: R

Running Time: 93 long mins.

Quoted: “. . . that smells like hatred.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

This Is The End

103349_gal

Release: Wednesday, June 12, 2013

[Theater]

God creates the world in seven days; Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen create a worthwhile comedy about the destruction of it in an hour and forty-five minutes.

Of the many comedies that revolve around pot-smoking, penis-joke telling, and other appropriately inappropriate gross-out gags, This Is The End seems to be a “Best Of” all of that, plus some. Set against a Los Angeles that is getting torn apart by apocalyptic events, it displays the behavior of six friends who become trapped together in the same house (that of James Franco, as it so happens) as they try desperately to survive.

The film is a regular Ocean’s Eleven of jokesters. Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride and James Franco make up the first-billed, and are all cast as themselves. Ordinarily I would have thought that idea to be relatively distracting from the plot but in this case it really works and actually enhances the experience, when you consider how the first third of the film is written and performed. Beyond them, This Is The End finds room to squeeze in the likes of Michael Cera, Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart, Emma Watson, Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, David Krumholtz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Aziz Ansari and even Rihanna.

Alright, well that’s enough name-dropping to last the next few posts, despite the fact that there are even more than that in the big party in the beginning. The biggest surprise beyond this impressive list of names is that each one of these characters are hilarious for the limited time they have before things go completely crazy; before things go from funny to hilarious.

Jay is in town visiting Seth when Seth decides he will give his best buddy another chance to get to know some of his Hollywood friends and acquaintances. Jay plays a very awkward version of himself (which I’m not sure how much acting was really going on here; I see this guy as awkward to begin with — even though that doesn’t rule out the fact that I’d still love to meet him), so he doesn’t give the huge party at James Franco’s new mansion much of a chance and soon wants to duck out to buy some more cigarettes. When the two depart, strange things start happening and before they know it, everything (and almost everyone) are on fire and they get back to Franco’s posthaste.

The second act largely revolves around what I’m henceforth referring to as Franco Manor — an exquisitely designed concrete building with iPads built into the walls and large televisions popping out of the floors, not to mention a few pieces of artwork James is particularly proud of. As the outside world continues to fall apart, the massive party is broken up, leaving only but our six main guys to fend for themselves — armed with only what they have inside Franco Manor.

Food and water are of course in short supply since making trips into town is no longer a viable option. The guys embark on both a physical and mental journey that will reveal both damnable and redemptive qualities to each person who is still alive.

This film is satisfying on two levels: as an outrageous comedy and as a rather intriguing story. I thought that after the likes of Superbad, the directing duo of Rogen/Goldberg could not possibly outdo themselves. This Is The End may not be a revelation in terms of its comedic material but the heartfelt acting and constantly subversive tone works in it’s favor, especially when it’s set against something as ‘serious’ as the end of days. There’s really no limit to how much fun the characters are making of one another’s careers. The self-references include everything from their early days to the latest ‘sell-out’ phases they’re going or have gone through. We have seen bits and pieces of this kind of awareness in Rogen and Goldberg movies before, but nothing quite to this level. Best of all, it doesn’t really get old because it is so ironic that in this time they are able to still have the most insignificant of quarrels with one another.

As far as the plot goes, it too is worth mentioning. In referencing their 2007 hit, Superbad, I was doubtful any effort afterwards would be as compelling as the story of teens on the cusp of early adulthood, who fight to know their place in a world that doesn’t make much sense outside of high school. Superbad, as perverse and sexist as it may be, is a classic coming-of-age tale. It may arguably be the best thing that these two will ever do, but in 2013 Rogen and Goldberg seem to have yet again struck gold.

Contrasting movie star vanity with the sudden need to repent and do good things in the face of (damn near) certain death serves as solid commentary on the human condition.

the-end-1

4-0Recommendation: Here is a very strong entry into the hilarious, if short, canon of Rogen/Goldberg gross-out/stoner flicks. Even though it is jam-packed full of their signature comedic tastes, it will likely appeal to a wider audience since there is far more going on than what at first meets the eye. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 107 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com