Buffaloed

Release: Friday, February 14, 2020 (limited)

→Hulu 

Written by: Brian Sacca

Directed by: Tanya Wexler

Buffaloed is a great example of why I love Zoey Deutch. I haven’t always loved the movies she’s been in — Why Him? (which I’ve seen) and Dirty Grandpa (which I make my life goal to avoid) I like to think are good examples of her good sportsmanship. On evidence of the last several movies the 25-year-old can kick it with just about any crowd, whether it’s slumming it with Robert DeNiro, getting super nostalgic for the 80s with Richard Linklater or turning stereotypes of the valley girl airhead into one of the most memorable aspects of Ruben Fleischer’s zombie apocalypse.

In Buffaloed, a rare kind of comedy that manages to be both crass and endearing, she takes the reins of the leading woman and wields them with such fervor the reins almost break. She plays Peg Dahl, a recent high school grad highly motivated to get out of her rust-belt hometown of Buffalo, a blue-collar community in upstate New York that takes pride in having the best hot wings in the world. And then of course there’s football, which here is a religious event attended by all in the ceremonial garb of blue and red jackets, sweaters and ball caps. As any self-respecting Buffalonian would, she still roots for the home team — scalps tickets, even — but she’s outgrown this place.

In pursuit of her American Dream to make a name (and lots of money) for herself, Peg is overjoyed to learn she has been accepted to an out-of-state college. There’s just the small issue of covering the astronomical cost of tuition. When her initial plan falls apart through a series of unfortunate events, not least of which being the actions taken by the world’s least helpful defense attorney (Adrian Griffin), Peg has to reinvent herself. She does this by becoming the very thing that has been hounding her family for decades, taking a job at a shady collection agency run by a guy named Whizz (played by Jai Courtney, who just oozes sleaze).

While there is certainly an air of Jordan Belfort about the way her character’s lack of scruples funds her meteoric rise from boiler room to head of her own competing agency — a move that puts her squarely in the crosshairs of Whizz and his cronies — the arc that’s most familiar is that of Andrew Garfield in the 2015 economic drama 99 Homes. Director Tanya Wexler makes sure that, even when Peg’s bullheadedness finally catches up to her, she remains a character worthy of redemption despite all the damage she causes.

Wexler, a native Chicagoan, and writer Brian Sacca, himself a born and bred Buffalonian, off-set the familiarity of their themes by creating an experience overflowing with personality and idiosyncratic charm. The spirited performances, not just from Deutch but from a strong supporting cast including Judy Greer as mother Kathy and Sorry to Bother You‘s Jermaine Fowler as a socially awkward detective, often triumph over the movie’s flaws, namely its abrupt tonal shifts and questionable logic.

In attempting to be many things all rolled into one 90 minute package — a critique of capitalism, a farcical family drama, a comedy of criminal ineptitude and an underdog story — Buffaloed isn’t always a smooth ride. Serious scenes often smack up against moments of pure farce in a way that’s jolting. Ultimately it functions best as a showcase for Zoey Deutch’s talents. She does so well with this true-blue New Yorker you totally forget she’s a Cali girl at heart. At the same time, there’s something endearing, almost intentionally meta, about the movie’s lack of refinement. Like the best hot wings, Buffaloed has a good, spicy zing to it that makes it quite enjoyable.

“Sir, I’d like my money back, please.”

Recommendation: For fans of the cast, particularly Zoey Deutch, Buffaloed is kind of a must-watch. This small-town Wolf of Wall Street story is couched in a distinctly female perspective, without going overboard on political correctness or comedic crudeness. It is occasionally a subversive movie, particularly when it comes to certain relationship dynamics. Most all though, director Tanya Wexler should be credited for making a movie about debt collection really entertaining! 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 95 mins.

Quoted: “I had a dream. That John Travolta took off his wig and on his scalp was another John Travolta face. Double Travolta. I could never get that image out of my mind.”

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

Photo credits: IMDb 

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

Man Up

'Man Up' movie poster

Release: Friday, November 13, 2015 (limited)

[Netflix]

Written by: Tess Morris

Directed by: Ben Palmer

Man Up plays out like the self-help book on dating that you never knew you needed. Or wanted. It’s a romantic comedy where the romance is neither obnoxious nor saccharine and where not everyone is all LOL-ing up in your face because they’re having a jolly good time in a movie regardless of whether or not you the viewer are.

No, Man Up is actually pretty good fun and while the fates of our two star-crossed lovers aren’t anything surprising at least they make sense and can be believed. It doesn’t deal with perfect people with perfect smiles, even though stars Lake Bell and Simon Pegg are far from unattractive, and the story doesn’t aim to aggrandize anything. (Sure, be negative and call it an unambitious movie but I won’t say that, even though I technically did just say that.)

Ben Palmer directs a story written by Tess Morris about a woman in her mid-thirties, Nancy (Bell), who hasn’t had much luck in love lately and is utterly fed up with the awkward blind dates her family keeps setting her up on. When she finds herself at the right place at the right time, standing underneath the clock at the bustling Waterloo train station where Pegg’s Jack is supposed to be meeting a blind date, Nancy can’t quite bring herself to say who she really is and instead plays along as his ‘date.’

The eminently likable actors make it easy to buy in to the awkwardness of the situation. With a little bit of serendipity thrown in for good measure — Nancy is mistaken for Jessica (the would-be date) in part because she happens to be holding the same book Jack has been reading — our adventure plods onward through the streets of downtown London and into pubs. Meanwhile, it’s the night of Nancy’s parents’ 40th anniversary and she is expected to be giving a toast at the party.

The movie is titled Man Up but the farce ultimately revolves around Nancy and her inability to make decisions, good or bad. Well, she’s more naturally drawn to the bad ones, hence the irony of the title (I guess it’s ironic?). What makes it fun playing along as third wheel here is watching the actors adapt to the shift in dynamic when Nancy finally does own up to her actions. The nervousness of the initial meet-cute stage quickly gives way to bitterness, jealousy, even open hostility. Pegg nearly dissolves in the acidity of his own sarcasm as he begins to rue the moment while Bell adopts a more serious tone, simultaneously feeling bad for Jack while pitying her own hopelessness. Why can’t she just be “normal?”

After a slow start Man Up finds renewed energy following a heated exchange (not the kind you’re thinking you perv) in the men’s room at a smoky London dive. The film relies perhaps a little too much on the spontaneity of its performances as the stakes aren’t exactly high and you’d have to be blind drunk not to see how this night ends. Fortunately the characters have our sympathy as these are good-hearted people who have clearly paid the price for the mistakes they’ve made in the past, though Nancy is the more interesting character as all we get for a backstory concerning Jack is an all-too-brief cameo by Olivia Williams as his bitter ex-wife.

Man Up is lightweight fluff but it’s not forgettable fluff. Few and far between are the romantic comedies that play out quite so naturally, the ones that don’t suffer because of the strict parameters that make up the rom-com blueprint — we’re of course reminded of those limitations within the final scene, that grand gesture that just has to happen in front of as large a crowd as possible. The tears of joy. The awkward first-time introductions for maximum dramatic effect. But Man Up gets away with it, the cheeky little bugger.

Lake Bell and Simon Pegg in 'Man Up'

Recommendation: Fun, energetic and well-acted, Man Up is a modest romantic gesture that earns its laughs and even its more sappy moments. Not without its flaws, this is certainly one to watch if you’re a fan of either Bell or Pegg. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 88 mins.

Quoted: “I met a man today. For the first time in ages, I put myself out there. And I took a chance. Blah, blah, blah, the end.”

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.youtube.com

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Release: Friday, August 14, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Guy Ritchie; Lionel Wigram

Directed by: Guy Ritchie

In The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the stylish new action comedy from Guy Ritchie, Henry Cavill looks short compared to Armie Hammer. So I had to go look up the listed height of his less debonair co-star. Hammer stands a towering 6’5″. . . The size difference is notable, but more importantly it defines the film’s running sight gag — two larger-than-life men stumbling their way around a terror plot steeped in 1960s Cold War paranoia.

At the risk of re-opening fresh wounds, may I remind everyone that Cavill is no physical slouch. At 6’1″ he made for a pretty intimidating Kryptonian in the much-maligned Man of Steel (oooh, careful there, Tom), yet here he’s set up on more than one occasion as the submissive one, the American spy Napoleon Solo versus Hammer’s short-tempered Russian secret agent Illya Kuryakin. The two must join forces (but only after overcoming that awkward phase of being former sworn enemies on the streets of a Berlin torn literally . . . or, rather, politically . . . in half in the aftermath of World War II) to thwart the efforts of an international crime syndicate hell bent on global destruction, an organization led by the beautiful but dangerous Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki).

Solo appears first. He briefly interrogates a young car mechanic named Gaby (Ex Machina‘s Alicia Vikander) who happens to be on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. With her cooperation in providing some personal background (e.g. the nature of her father’s work) Solo assures her he can help her escape the Iron Curtain. An exciting chase throughout the ruins of the city ensues when the pair cross paths with Kuryakin, initiating one of several impressively choreographed stunt sequences that Ritchie has by now mastered. It isn’t as quickly paced or as vicious as those featuring in his signature early works. If anything, U.N.C.L.E.‘s suavity is antithetical of the behaviors of those brazen British blokes of the late ’90s and early 2000s. But don’t make the mistake of equating Ritchie’s tempered approach with a boring film.

In fact his style might never have been better. His ability to generate comedy out of the sheer physicality of his leads trumps the familiarity of the screenplay (written by Lionel Wigram and himself). Cavill and Hammer get along great but there’s something more striking than their chemistry, a chemistry that makes sequels seem all but inevitable. How ridiculous are these guys in the roles of secret operatives? Even with dark pasts, the likes of James Bond, Jason Bourne or even Big Chris don’t occupy the same kind of space. Hammer, who, once again, has four inches on Cavill’s imposing frame, takes on a character simmering with intensity and anger who must stuff his emotions down for the sake of the mission; Cavill, considerably more charming and well-adjusted, can still be a brute when push comes to shove. And yet, if Ritchie allowed the pair to play it straight the film would be bleaker and less enjoyable.

Ritchie also judges his female characters well, effectively emboldening any skeptical future director with the idea that it is, in fact, okay to cast curvaceous females in well-written, anti-damsel-in-distress roles. Vikander, though not quite as luminous as she was earlier this year as Ava, offers strong support in the form of a deceptively complex role, one that comes to bear the narrative’s crux — who exactly is an agent to trust in this time of turbulence and . . . erm, distrust? But it’s Debicki’s sinister Victoria, a descendant of tyrannical rule of some description, that is going to stand up to scrutiny. With what little screen time she is given Victoria is a true sadistic. A femme fatale if there ever was one. Of course, the film has a duty to provide more general entertainment so she’s not untouchable. Her demise is actually one of the movie’s missteps, but hey, now I’m just being picky.

Familiarity with the 1960s TV series isn’t a requisite, nor is experience with the director’s previous outings. Ritchie appeases with a Sherlock Holmes-esque touch — it isn’t probably what die hards are going to be looking for but even they are likely to come to accept this for what it is — and crafts a story that, while not wholly original, steadily absorbs through its key players’ charisma, slick cinematography and gorgeous production design. Expanding beautifully on the backs of a well-established core of enthusiastic performances, U.N.C.L.E. is as ridiculously enjoyable as it is ridiculous.

Recommendation: It’s not the most original story you’ll see this year but it’ll be a challenge to find a more enjoyable thrill ride, especially one dressed in the style of the 1960s. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is one of Guy Ritchie’s best films, and if you call yourself a fan of his brand of filmmaking you owe it to yourself to go pick up a ticket for this right away.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 116 mins.

Quoted: “I was briefed on your criminal career. Your balls are on the end of a very long leash, held by a very short man.”

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

Ted 2

Release: Friday, June 26, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Seth MacFarlane; Alec Sulkin; Wellesley Wild

Directed by: Seth MacFarlane

Ted 2 turns out to be ridiculous, which in itself is ridiculous. . .because it’s ridiculous to think the first was ridiculous enough to justify something ridiculous like a sequel.

Everyone’s favorite foul-mouthed stuffed teddy is growing up in the follow-up to Seth MacFarlane’s surprisingly successful debut about a child who wishes for his favorite cuddly toy to one day come to life. Now Ted’s getting married to his bear-boo, Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) — who barely gets to show any, boo!

As predictable as an episode of Family Guy, a conflict materializes out of rather contrived circumstances, where we see their relationship falling on emotional hard times only shortly after nuptials were made official. Desperate to make Tami-Lynn happy again, Ted suggests they have a child, reasoning that if they learned to love a kid they might remember how to love each other again. Of course the epiphany has probably come right on the heels of what may presumably have been Ted’s fifth or sixth Bud Light. Still, it’s . . . it’s whatever. It works, leave it alone and let’s move on.

When finding sperm donors proves to be more of an issue than the couple expect, they turn to adoption as their last resort. Sadly it’s a move that brings the crushing blow of reality down upon them when their applications draw attention from the state government. Ted and Tami-Lynn’s marriage becomes annulled when officials declare Ted isn’t human, rather just a piece of property. He then finds himself enlisting the help of his thunder-buddy-for-life John (Mark Wahlberg) in his quest to prove both his status as a human being and a citizen of Boston, and that his marriage should be recognized as legal. It may not be a voice many are expecting to hear, but MacFarlane does contribute something to the conversation surrounding marriage equality and it’s welcomed.

What the film lacks in MacFarlane’s signature, perfectly choreographed musical interludes it makes up for with a surprisingly sensitive story. Suffice it to say, there have been far worse comedy sequels before; MacFarlane could have also chosen to build upon his western comedy concept. He shows restraint by not going that route. Not that this film is going to go down as a particularly memorable comedy. MacFarlane still can’t help but sketch outlines of supporting characters who do nothing more than function as signposts, convenient for when you inevitably get lost in this meandering little tale. Amanda Seyfried, while likable enough, seems to be twiddling her thumbs with her throw-away role of a pot-smoking attorney. Morgan Freeman is all but wasted as a more reputable civil rights attorney they all hope will help them after failing to get the courts to rule in favor of Ted and Tami-Lynn in the first of several courtroom scenes.

Beyond failing to justify such big names in such insignificant roles MacFarlane struggles to shape all the events into a cohesive whole. Although it feels slightly less episodic than the last outing, and certainly less so than A Million Ways to Die in the West, this narrative does its fair share of aimless wandering as Ted and John befriend Seyfried’s Samantha Jackson. As their legal representative she has the appearance of being book-smart, but then she smokes a ton of weed in her office so she’s obviously not too street smart. Do we need a 10-minute scene to get that point across, though? Freeman gets to have his moments (hearing him deliver the line “After I’m finished fucking myself. . .” is for some reason very satisfying), even if they, too, contribute far more to a bloated running time than to this campaign for emotional resonance. Indeed, the first time we even meet Freeman’s character it turns out to be nothing more than a wild goose chase. But hey — more time spent with this adorable teddy bear and his likable Bostonian pothead friend, the better, right?

There’s plenty of time to spend, too. At five minutes shy of two hours Ted 2 runs a risk of overstaying its furry little welcome. There’s this whole other subplot involving Hasbro toys and the company’s evil underbelly — John Carroll Lynch’s money-hungry executive and a creepazoid janitor named Donny, played once again with unbridled enthusiasm by the one and only Giovanni Ribisi. These men are after the teddy bear, determined the court will rule against Ted and declare him property, thereby making it legally safer for Hasbro to abduct the toy and use him in experiments to see if they can recreate his lifelikeness in other bears. It’s up to, who else, the stoner lawyer and her newfound friend John to save the bear from danger and then also get him legally declared a person before the film reel runs out. Ted 2 stuffs a lot in and not all of it works, but on the whole this sequel charms just as much as the stuff(ing) upon which it is based.

Recommendation: I never would have thought I’d be here justifying another round of teddy-bear-related hijinks but here I am doing just that. Ridiculous. On that ground alone, MacFarlane’s third feature film directorial effort should be labeled a success. If you laughed at the first one, you’ll likely have a good time with this, even though it in no way demands to be seen in theaters. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 115 mins.

Quoted: “Did you hear that? You’re covered in rejected black men’s semen. You look like a Kardashian.”

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 

What We Do in the Shadows

wwdits-movie-poster

Release: Friday, February 13, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Jemaine Clement; Taika Waititi

Directed by: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi

It’s once again cool to bust out your vampire get-up for the next Halloween party because these guys have just made being an ugly, putrefying member of the undead so totally hip. Even I, one of Dracula‘s biggest naysayers, wants a sweet cape.

If you’ve been entranced by musicomedy duo Flight of the Conchords, a televised show/live performance featuring the inseparable Kiwis Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie this film has your name written (in blood) all over it. Their brand of humor runs amok in this mockumentary about several vampires struggling to just get by in the 21st Century, all while anticipating and preparing to attend the annual Unholy Masquerade hosted in their fair town of Wellington, New Zealand. This film is such an amusing spin on the vampire legend that being a dedicated fan isn’t a matter of eternal life and death.

What We Do in the Shadows sucks-eeds on a number of levels. Aside from that being possibly this blog’s worst pun yet, it’s also paramount to understanding why you’ll walk away from this fangtastic comedy feeling completely refreshed and satisfied with how you’ve spent your money. Consistency is difficult to find in comedies, much less those of the contemporary variety, but there is no better word to describe Shadows, apart from echoing critics’ chosen adjective: hilarious. From the performances to the frightful wardrobe; the subversion of vampiric lore to the commitment to being ridiculous, this is a product that delivers on its promises from the opening frame of being a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

The film invites you in with a frank discussion between two roommates attempting a diplomatic approach with a third, much lazier roommate, the 183-year-old Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), who hasn’t done the dishes in at least five years. Clement’s Vladislav and Taika Waititi’s Viago, both several centuries Deacon’s senior, are understandably upset. Tensions have literally risen to the ceiling and added to this the fact that their fourth roommate, 8,000-year-old Petyr (Ben Fransham) doesn’t exactly try to voice his concerns. Quickly the tone of the film is set, although direction is a little harder to nail down.

Shadows, while thoroughly ridiculous, knows not to forsake tradition, however. Some of its funniest moments come from demonstrating the “mild inconveniences” of having to suck blood to stay alive. Because they cannot expose themselves to sunlight the gang has to prowl the streets at night looking for new “friends,” and also because of other technicalities, they often find themselves denied the chance to enter night clubs since they’re never invited in. A friend of Deacon (a human female, as it so happens) tricks her ex-boyfriend Nick into coming over to their house to eat what he thinks is a hearty bowl of spaghetti. Uh, it’s not. It’s actually pasghetti, thank you very much, and it looks remarkably similar to a bowl of live worms. A chase ensues when the guest refuses to eat and Nick, despite his best efforts, may never be the same again.

Several other humorous vignettes transpire before we get to the main event: the Unholy Masquerade, and I refuse to reveal anything more about those sequences. While tensions among the roommates are being documented in each scene, this is where things really start to unravel for Vladislav in particular. As he’s expecting to become the featured guest of this year’s Unholy Masquerade, it’s no surprise he is crushed when he hears that not only is he not the guest of honor but instead it’s none other than his ex, whom he describes — in a scene that had me crying from laughter — as “that damn Beast.” All hell breaks loose at the dance when Pauline (a.ka. “The Beast”) quickly sniffs out the human members among Vladislav’s crew — Nick’s computer engineer/dorky friend Stu is one such individual, as are the people filming the documentary — but luckily enough our gang escapes the angry mob of undead.

Shadows may be loosely strung together in terms of plot, but when the gags come in such rapid succession and the characters are this entertaining, basic structure fades into the background. It’s easy to sit back and eagerly anticipate the next twist in the adventure. The addition of human Stu is a brilliant reflection of our own wide-eyed reactions to these bloodthirsty drama queens. He’s also someone the vampires actually take kindly to, as he introduces them to the conveniences of Skype and smart phones, assimilating these creatures slowly into the modern age.

It’s a pretty difficult world to get by in if you’re a mere mortal, but if you’re a vampire good luck trying not to go insane figuring out what the point is of things like Twitter and Instagram.

wwdits-2

4-5Recommendation: What We Do in the Shadows pulls off an impressive feat of remaining funny, engaging and clever from beginning to end while creating several interesting riffs on the vampire genre. For fans of anything Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi have done this inspired documentary is an absolute must. It basically is for anyone in search of one of the year’s better comedies. The sun hasn’t come up yet, but this has a good chance of staying alive for a long, long time. Fantastic bit of creative energy out of New Zealand. Check it out.

Rated: N/R

Running Time: 86 mins.

Quoted: “What are we?” / “Werewolves, not swear-wolves . . .”

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 

Kingsman: The Secret Service

kingsman-poster

Release: Friday, February 13, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Matthew Vaughn; Jane Goldman

Directed by: Matthew Vaughn

Thuffering thuccotash, itth Thamuel L. Jackthon! Again!

For those bothering to thtick with me through this review, be advised that one of the most prolific black actors of all time is the height of the appeal of Kingsman: The Secret Service. It’s also a thymptom of a dithappointing outing.

I know, I know. I’m pushing it a little bit here, but I don’t think I’m being any more offensive than Jackson. The man — and give him credit, he does work hard (so does his agent!) — is difficult to get over when he’s the only one trying to stand out in this mildly-amusing riff on the irreverent James Bond franchise. It’s a film with bigger plans, even, attempting to capitalize on the silliness that the casual observer associates with the spy genre, but in an ironic twist the fun devolves into a farcical spoof of itself in the final half hour. However, that’s not the issue at large.

It’s not that Colin Firth (that’s actually not a lisp, thank you very much) tries too hard playing Sean Connery-lite, clean-shaven and with a swagger perhaps more consistent than Jackson’s butchered pronunciations of the letter ’s.’ Firth is good here, his own amusement apparent in the way he parades across the screen, umbrella in hand, treading a tricky line between sophistication and aloofness. As Harry Hart, code-named something hilarious — oh, I don’t know, say ‘Galahad’ — Firth is cool and confident, even especially under pressure. He’s a spy who’s experienced his fair share of whoopsie-daisies working for a boutique secret service agency tucked away in the back of a posh clothing store. One downfall of being in this profession is seen at the film’s open when a fellow agent is killed by a grenade, or something.

It’s not that the emotional heft of the film strays into sentimentality so far that the overriding story makes little sense. Harry/Galahad finds it his duty to help a wayward youth named Gary (a.k.a. ‘Eggsy’), the son of the fallen Kingsman, avoid a life of crime and hardship on the streets (the upturned ball cap and padded jacket pegs Taron Egerton as a rude-boy in-the-making) by drafting him into the secret service. It’s better to walk into the path of a stray bullet as a youngster than die an old and miserable sad-sack, amiright?

It’s not that Jackson parodies the speaking-impaired until the bitter end, nor the fact that Gazelle (Sofia Boutella)’s legs are an odd choice for villainous material. It is refreshing seeing someone not play up a lack of legs as a disability, though. I don’t take the racism, fear-mongering and general hatred towards all of mankind as a sign either. Kingsman suffers from tonal shifts — one moment it’s all fun and games; the next we hear racist/homophobic slurs delivered with no other purpose than to inject some shock value, as if we need to have any more reason to cheer on Harry/Galahad — but these are aspects one can get over in a hurry if they’re intent on switching off their brain and enjoying a good showdown (or ten).

No, what’s most offensive about Kingsman is that despite its few quirks and charms — the chemistry between Firth and Egerton is undeniable, while Big Macs make for an exquisite, product-placement-friendly dinner with the villain — is the genericness. As a send-up of the spy genre, this mostly falls into disarray. To reiterate, the only thing the movie manages to send-up is the Q-branch and maybe Thamuel L. Jackthon.

In between extended moments of interminable blandness, Matthew Vaughn’s wannabe-James Bond occasionally finds moments of inspired lunacy and Jackson is admittedly hilarious. This was the most fun I’ve had in a movie that seems to like stealing ideas from others. Maybe the ultimate issue is that the most vivid memory I have of this film is a speech impediment. Either way, there’s a lot here that blows Kingsman‘s cover, but I believe Matthew Vaughn really was on to something here.

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2-5Recommendation: Can I call this movie boring? No. Can I call it dumb? Yes. Can I call it inspired? Mehhhhhhyesss . . . ? It’s an amalgam of James Bond with soft-core thriller material. It doesn’t have enough going for it to be that memorable yet this movie has proven to be very popular. Who knows. I’m probably off on this one. If you haven’t seen it already, you’re likely better off by not listening to me and seeing it for yourself. Wouldn’t be the first time on this blog that that’s happened! 😉

Rated: R

Running Time: 129 mins.

Quoted: “This whisky is amazing. You will shit.”

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

Land Ho!

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Release: Friday, July 11, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

As much a gorgeous postcard from the Icelandic coast, Land Ho! also serves as a warm, sentimental comedy about taking advantage of time we can almost measure out in handfuls. In a perpetual disappearing act, it is a hell of a precious thing.

Fittingly, this neat and trim 90-minute package is mindful of that fact. Land Ho!, the cumulative effort of co-writer/directors Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens, neither taxes viewers’ patience nor does it overwhelm the senses unnecessarily. Conversely, you would also have to be knocked-out cold to not appreciate the pragmatism on display — there are no frills here. Growing old may be the natural way of things, but it sure ain’t easy, as this geriatric odd-couple will attest.

Meet loud and audacious Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) and meek and mild-mannered Colin (Paul Eenhoorn), formerly brothers-in-law but recently removed after Mitch’s sister divorces Colin, an occurrence that happens before the film starts rolling. We first see the two convening at Mitch’s humble abode where the two catch up after whiling away many an hour on their lonesome. To get Colin’s mind off of things — not only has he recently been divorced, his wife prior to that passed away much too soon — Mitch has a trip to Iceland planned where they will get away from everything.

The goal is complete detachment from their former selves, to openly embrace whatever comes next. In a sense, this is a send-up of a desire to live fast, die young and worry about the boring stuff we missed later. The irony’s captured in all aspects of this adventure, especially with a 60-something-year-old Mitch whose number one priority seemingly is getting laid. But really though, shouldn’t it be these older gents who earn the right to openly embrace “YOLO” as an actual fact of being?

Earl Lynn Nelson, in his break-out performance is an infectious spirit that perpetuates Land Ho!‘s energy and boundless optimism. He is positively compelling as the geriatric go-getter, even if his commentary at times can fall on the side of sleazy when it comes to talking about women. On offer as well are breathtaking vistas and an absolutely sublime soundtrack, but the chemistry between the pair of “elderly” men reigns supreme. (Although, it’ll be difficult to exit the theater without humming some of the tunes that also happen to strengthen this picture via being laid over several richly visual interludes. Likewise you’ll be forgiven for immediately Googling Iceland when you return home from seeing this one.)

Beginning at the capital port city of Reykjavík our map sprawls outward, encapsulating some classic tourist destinations like the black sand beaches, towering geysers and of course, the hot springs as made famous (and slightly dramatized by) this particular movie poster. Our protagonists make friends with a few locals: a couple who are honeymooning in the quaint bed-and-breakfast Colin and Mitch are inhabiting inadvertently become the direct recipient of Mitch’s advice on successful long-term marriages. Meanwhile, Colin strikes the iron hot with a Canadian photographer while taking a dip in the hot spring-fed rivers nearby Landmannalaugar.

While conversation strictly adheres to matters of practicality and even fatalism — the duo’s rumination on loneliness and wondering where this path ultimately takes them very much mirrors our own — atmosphere and musical selection will distract just enough to never allow the moment to settle too heavily. At times Land Ho! possesses an air of fantasy, as its almost too difficult to believe the turns of fate these two share.

Yet the laughs spill forth freely and come at times at the expense of these good people. Sight gags are in abundance, as are those of an intellectual, buy-into-the-rapport variety. We experience a range of emotion in good old Colin who eventually learns to embrace his surroundings. Watching him cave and take a hit off a joint the size of something Bob Marley would roll isn’t exactly revelatory but it’s the kick in the pants this character needs. There’s also somewhat of a comfort in knowing this would happen sooner or later. Yes, extensive character development is something you will not find but the changes that occur are sufficient enough.

In the end, you must embrace this film in the same way Mitch is embracing a new life as a retired doctor; as Colin, a wounded soul still reaching out for something to make him strong. Dispense with the over-thinking and just go with the flow. I’m not exactly sure how that applies to your viewing habits or how you approach this film but the less you think about Land Ho! and its constant retread of the tracks laid down by road trip movies that have come before, the better you will be for it.

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3-5Recommendation: If searching for truly unspoiled territory, the quiet musings of Land Ho! will not be the trip you need to take. Avoiding it on that basis is a choice that will dismiss this film entirely too prematurely, however. You should see this film for a stellar first lead performance from Nelson and the absolutely killer scenery he treads across with his bestest buddy. Its thematic presentation is perhaps a tad overwhelmed by said gorgeous visuals, but I find that one of the most acceptable issues to have in a film.

Rated: R

Running Time: 95 mins.

Quoted: “You know that a lighthouse looks just like a hard cock but with no balls. . . ?”

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

Hercules

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Release: Friday, July 25, 2014

[Theater]

I think everyone who sees this one ought to go out and show their support by buying a Dwayne ‘Hercules’ Johnson action-hero figurine, complete with brown undies and epic flowing hair and redonkulous chest-piece. I don’t care what it takes, just get it done: “Hey kids, get in the van ‘cuz we’re going to Mickey-D’s to get Happy Meals just for the toy!”

Abundant are the gimmicks churned out by Hollywood that seem to attract a much wider audience than they should. You can tack Dwayne ‘The Rock’ (or wait, should it really be ‘Hercules’ now?) Johnson’s most recent summer romp onto that ever-growing list. But this, the Brett Ratner-directed and shameless harkening back to Dwayne’s glory days of dropkicking motherf*ckers left and right, has a zing to it. The former wrestler clad in prehistoric undergarments and a lion’s head as a skull cap. Tell me precisely how that doesn’t sell tickets.

Well, it did. But not an incredible amount. With its inane sci-fi competitor debuting the same weekend, Hercules took a slight slap in the face with a second-place gross opening of $28 million. (Oh, Lucy, you’re such a bitch!) But I suppose all’s fair in. . .what is this, guilty-pleasure entertainment. . .right? Lucy touted a sexy cast and some gee-golly-willickers special effects. If you were at the theater that weekend, there’s a 50-50 chance you found yourself giggling over ever-so-slight hints of homoeroticism in a professional wrestler-turned-actor, one of the (physically) biggest dudes to ever put on the acting cap, now fleeing from his clothes one badass adventure at a time.

Rumored to be the demigod son of Zeus, Hercules is somewhat burdened with beyond-legendary status throughout the land, and the word has been spreading of his completion of the Twelve Labors, a series of impossible tasks intended to separate the mortal from the. . .well, the ones who can’t die. Like, ever. But Hercules, in the wake of his refusal to accept his all-too-mythical conception and duties as a demigod to this mortal world, insists he be treated as another man. In his humbleness, he has accepted the assistance of several skilled personnel who surround him at all times.

There’s Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), a man who most often resists his temptation for wealth and gold to fight the good fight alongside his fellow man; Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), a woman warrior no man would ever dare to cross; Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), a hideously ugly man born in the midst of battle who knows only violence and bloodshed; and everyone’s favorite off-his-rocker prophet, Amphiaraus (Ian McShane) whose visions of his own death are not so impending as they are enlightening and help him in battle each and every time. Together this gang helps to dispel the myth that Hercules works alone and is anything more than a large man with titanic strength. Oh, but is he?

Brett Ratner pushes the pace of his story at quite a fine rate as we move along a series of spectacularly scenic action set pieces including grassy battlefields, murky swamplands, dank temples and vast, sweeping plains backed by towering majestic peaks. The scenery no doubt helps off-set the trademark-Ratner clunky dialogue and awkward tonal shifts. In fact it’s one of the more pleasant surprises with Hercules that nothing ever slows to such a crawl we’re allowed to over-think what’s being laid out before us. There’s every opportunity for the more cynical of us to do so anyway, and that’s all well and good but to do so too frequently would be to invite arguments as to why you are even sitting in this theater in the first place. The film dispenses of realism and opts not to take the legend all that seriously.

As if we were going to accuse Ratner of fraud with this guy in this role. What does feel a little fraudulent here are the occasional detours into full-blown drama territory. The basic plot hinges on Hercules’ muscle-for-hire and his band of dedicated warriors. When they are informed of a particular Greek province, Thrace, coming under attack by a ruthless warlord named Rheseus (Tobias Santelmann) they instantly focus their lifelong camaraderie into converting the legions of Thracian farmhands into merciless killing machines. They will be rewarded handsomely for their efforts, but alas, a caveat: King Cotys (John Hurt), the man whose daughter, Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson) made them the offer to become local heroes, isn’t all he seems to be. Bulging with desire to be supreme ruler of all the Greek territories, it is the conflict once inside Thrace that puts a strain on Hercules physically, emotionally and ethically. Is he just another peasant after his pot of gold, or is there something more lurking underneath those bulging biceps and tattered-ass loincloth?

Ratner attempts to draw those conclusions but under the umbrella of a summer action flick, tongue held firmly in cheek because he knows what he is getting away with here. The crossover into profundity not only feels awkward but its handled somewhat heavy-handedly, making for some unnecessarily stilted monologues and admissions of guilt. Changes of heart feel more like changes in the script, conveniently edited clips that pander to the perfect Hollywood ending rather than one befitting of a demigod struggling to find his true identity.

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Rawr . . .

2-5Recommendation: Hercules is exactly what any reasonable person might expect. Often times you’ll find the movie poster that doesn’t reveal a great deal about its content other than its impressive cast or maybe even a particularly striking shot from one moment in the film. In this case, in one glance you virtually know the entire ordeal. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 98 mins.

Quoted: “F*cking centaurs!”

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

Guardians of the Galaxy

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Release: Friday, August 1, 2014

[Theater]

I wish I could say I am hooked on this feeling, but I’m not high on believing that indifference is what I should be feeling right now. Especially for a movie that hasn’t even made it through opening weekend, yet is already being touted as Marvel’s masterpiece.

At the very least, such lofty praise seems just a little capricious given the source material wasn’t widely accepted as anything close to ‘cool’ until about. . .oh, I don’t know what an accurate estimate is — say, two or three weeks ago? Listen, I’m no hipster; I won’t not like Guardians of the Galaxy just for that very particular thrill of not liking something most everyone else, in our universe anyway, does. Sitting in a sold-out showing at 11:45 on a Friday night kind of proves that enough people have invested interest in this, and it’s reached the point where I no longer need to worry about me shouting into the wind with this review. Indeed, it’s more like a hurricane and really, I’m just whispering.

Maybe my fate had been sealed long ago, before this project was even announced. I, like millions, hadn’t known a thing about the Guardians of the Galaxy aside from that one teaser attached to that one Marvel movie. Yours truly was never moved enough to give their comic book roots an exploration. Obscure Marvel to me is not lesser in quality, its just more obscure and interests me, personally, less.

As such, I hadn’t received the proper introduction to any of these characters. Forgive me, but Chris Pratt’s recent success in The Lego Movie isn’t quite enough to make me want to go shouting the fact his next character’s name will be Peter Quill/Star-Lord from the rooftops. Nor is Vin Diesel’s muscular physique as ironic as it maybe could have been if I knew Groot before. This kind of unusual casting certainly pops the characters up off the page from one-dimensional drawings and into three-dimensional bodies, but I’m emotionally invested in their plights insofar as the music is shoehorning my feelings in, one classic ’70s track at a time. In other words, the story structure is pretty manipulative.

The picture begins inauspicious and in a Missouri hospital room as Peter’s mother lies on her deathbed, making her last wishes known to a small group of family and close friends. Peter, unable to deal with everything, runs outside where he is quickly abducted by — and get this — a band of space pirates known as the Ravagers and who are led by a very blue dude named Yondu (Michael Rooker, hamming it up nicely). The Ravagers “raise” Peter, though Peter doesn’t allow much of the miscreant creatures’ general shittiness to rub off on him, though early on in the movie he’s a far cry from what he will become. Peter indeed has an arc and he does improve as time goes on, never stooping to the level of the likes of Yondu and his redneck friends. (Yes, there are even redneck aliens on display.) He spends his time roaming the galaxies, bedding multi-colored women and stealing. .  .things. Hardly a noble life. His journey becomes slightly more interesting when he discovers a small round object, whose power he clearly is ignorant to.

This, the infinity stone, will be responsible for magnetizing the film’s meandering plot from one corner of the galaxy to the next, as Quill and a ragtag group of other equally curious individuals attempt to avoid the wrath of the mighty Ronan (Lee Pace), the murderer responsible for the slayings of millions of families throughout the universe. (When I put it like that. .  . . . damn, that’s pretty heavy.) We ought not think too highly of Ronan, though, nor his crazy anger nor his impressive army of ships and bald-and-blue Karen Gillans (still not as sexy as Jennifer Lawrence). Nor the super-jaw of Josh Brolin in his fittingly hammy turn as Thanos, a supervillain with skin the color of Welsch’s Grape Soda. These jerks are just mere bumps in the road in what’s mostly a thoroughly enjoyable, if too casually diverting, journey throughout the cosmos.

Director James Gunn and Marvel studios together go for broke in this spectacularly colorful and silly affair. On more than one occasion the film manages to strike a precarious balance of being simultaneously jaw-droppingly gorgeous and hilarious. Rare are the films that find both pleasures combining against such a dramatic backdrop. Still, it’s hard not to become distracted from much of the epicness. The goofiness becomes a plot unto itself. Between Star-Lord’s nobility post-narrow escape from death, or Ronan’s confusion at seeing said character bust out a few dance moves mid-battle, the film treads an awfully thin line between being taken seriously and being dismissed as comedy.

Maybe it’s late-stage MCU Phase 2 burn-out I’m navigating through at the moment. Perhaps I’m simply lost in Knowhere, scrambling for something that could possibly appeal to my sensibilities in this landscape of comic lore. I guess, shouldn’t the entire movie, because after all it’s all one big inside-joke, anyway. Guardians of the Galaxy was once obscure and now it no longer isn’t. Seems there really ain’t no mountain high enough for Marvel Studios to get over.

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3-5Recommendation: I am probably going to be alone on this. May I recommend this one less to devoted fans of the comic than to fans who loved the atmospheres of The Avengers and Thor. Although Guardians does appear to be upping the ante on every front. It’s bigger, sillier and louder than both those films and its far more obscure. I’m not sure where this lands the film in terms of placing it on a scale from Marvel’s least successful to it’s most heralded. I actually do not care. This was such an odd experience, even beyond the source material that it’s hard to really define who this really is geared towards. This is just one to go to if you find yourself curious about what the big deal is all about.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 121 mins.

Quoted: “I’m pretty sure that the answer is ‘I am Groot’. . .”

“I’m gonna die, surrounded by the biggest idiots in the galaxy.”

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