Archive for the Comedy Category

Mistress America

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on August 25, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Mistress America photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgNoah Baumbach’s latest character drama is a slender abstraction in search of a meaningful narrative. This isn’t a story but a series of witticisms strung together as entertainment. Actress Lola Kirke is Tracy Fishko, a drab artsy college student. She is starting her freshman year at Barnard, that oh-so-selective liberal arts college for women in Manhattan. She has no friends, flirts unsuccessfully with Tony, a potential boyfriend turned buddy, and is rejected by the school’s elite literary society. Then her life takes a turn for the better when she calls her soon-to-be step-sister. Brooke Cardenas is a bubbly Times Square resident who “does everything and nothing”. That’s according to Tracy’s assessment. She wavers between spin-class instructor, math tutor, freelance interior designer and whatever else strikes her fancy. Brooke is larger than life, a gal about town. Our tale centers around their night of unbridled whimsy. Tracy seems to idolize her. Or does she?

These individuals don’t talk to each other, but rather at each other knowing full well we the audience are eavesdropping on their affected conversation. These aren’t people as we know them, but models of pseudo-intellectual posturing. A chum photographs Brooke in a club and she loudly proclaims “Must we document ourselves all the time? Must we?” The sheer volume at which she makes this declaration ostensibly so that everyone within earshot can applaud her specious display of modesty. She never stops, constantly in motion, incessantly talking. On several occasions I was compelled to simply shake this woman free from her all-encompassing fog of self-interest. It’s inexhaustible. “Could you please just shut up for 2 seconds?! Seriously, please.” Brooke never stops to take a breath for fear that she might actually hear something other than the sound of her own voice.

Good grief, Brooke Cardenas is incredibly self-absorbed. You’ll snicker. You’ll smile occasionally, but the sum total adds precious little value. Noah Baumbach has been making movies for 2 decades now. Mistress America is his 9th directorial effort and his 3rd collaboration with Greta Gerwig. They’re a couple in real life and I will admit the relationship has actually made his characters more pleasant. Brooke has a sunny disposition at least, but she’s too self-indulgent to truly embrace. The whole shebang climaxes (a most charitably chosen verb) over an act of betrayal. The acrimonious finale takes place in the upscale home of Brooke’s ex-fiance (Michael Chernus) and his wife, Mamie-Claire (Heather Lind). She was once Brooke’s best friend, now mortal enemy. A coterie of supporting players present weigh in on Brooke and Tracy’s friendship. The mixed message of the piece leaves the viewer in a state of flux. Is Brooke life-affirming? Is Brooke a disorganized mess? She’s got moxie, sure, but inherently flawed as well. So what’s the point? To worship at the altar of an individual who is shamelessly narcissistic apparently.

08-23-15

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Posted in Action, Adventure, Comedy with tags on August 18, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgConfession time. I’ve never seen an episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – the dated mid-60s TV show starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. The two worked as ancillary superspies for a global covert intelligence agency during the Cold War. The series lasted a mere 4 seasons but apparently it made enough of a lasting impression to inspire this movie. In my jaded estimation, turning a TV show into a feature film seems like another lazy attempt to start a franchise. Perhaps the motivation of the producers is a bit calculating, but I found this to be nothing less than an effervescent cocktail of a spy thriller. It’s a handsome production.

Speaking of handsome, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. stars Superman and the Lone Ranger. That’s Brit Henry Cavill as American Napoleon Solo and American Armie Hammer as Soviet Illya Kuryakin. It’s debateable, but I dare say neither actor has ever been more charismatic on screen than they are here. The two trade wisecracks with flair and panache, each one playing a game of one-upmanship that’s so delightfully fun you can’t help but smile. Cavill also banters with Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki as Victoria Vinciguerra, a devastatingly beautiful but icy Italian villain. Cavill tosses off quips with compelling insouciance. The words delivered with such clarity they sound almost too lyrical to be coming from an American, but the fantasy works nonetheless. This is how we wish we spoke. Like some long lost conversation between Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, their flirtatious exchanges are captivating.

What sets this apart from today’s bombastic assaults is that the approach is breezily elegant. This bright, sparkling concoction is a period piece mixture of swanky espionage, jazzy lounge pop instrumentals and chic fashions. James Bond author Ian Fleming contributed to the original concept of the TV show and that’s immediately obvious when watching this film. It oozes the aesthetic of that British Secret Service agent in every frame. Daniel Pemberton’s light snappy arrangements should be recognized. His pop music selections suggest Hugo Montenegro’s work on the TV series as well as Henry Mancini and Lalo Schifrin with stirring élan. Surprisingly he excludes Jerry Goldsmith’s popular theme song. The omission isn’t missed however as the dulcet tones present effectively transport viewers back to the bossa nova of another time and place.

Costume designer Joanna Johnston also deserves a special mention. Henry Cavill’s Napoleon Solo is the most nattily attired secret agent I’ve ever seen. In one scene he sports a large blue windowpane plaid suit inspired by Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair. He’s talking with nemesis Victoria Vinciguerra in a black and white number that’s an homage to Cruella de Vil. The two look marvelous. Let’s not forget Swedish Alicia Vikander as the equally stunning but spunky Gaby, an East German mechanic recruited to be an unlikely ally. At one point she models an orange and cream wool camo-print mini-dress that is utterly Twiggy-esque.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a pleasant refreshment. It’s not the most urgent story you’ll see at the multiplex this year but it is entertaining. Guy Ritchie has directed this flick with the same swagger he brought to Sherlock Holmes. Robert Downey, Jr. And Jude Law were a dashing pair and Ritchie extracts that same palpable chemistry between Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer. They have never been better. 2015 has seen its fair share of undercover thrillers. There was Kingsman: The Secret Service, the comedy Spy and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. All saw decent success. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. proves there’s room for one more. Its sexy take is a satisfying addition to the mix. Granted it’s superficial, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless. This should be a welcome diversion to tide the spy fan over until Spectre, the 24th Bond film, is released on November 6th.

08-17-15

Shaun the Sheep Movie

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family with tags on August 11, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Shaun the Sheep Movie photo starrating-4stars.jpgDelightful confection about a sheep who simply dreams about having a day off at the farm. Shaun (Justin Fletcher) is the de facto leader of a flock of sheep. He hatches a scheme so they can have a break from their daily routine. Naturally things don’t go quite as planned.

Despite the title, Shaun the Sheep is actually an ensemble piece. There’s the oblivious bespectacled Farmer (John Sparkes). His odyssey after accidentality winding up in the Big City is just as important as Shaun’s narrative. There’s the rest of the flock too, some of whom get distinct personalities. This includes Nuts, Hazel, Shirley, the largest member and little Timmy, Shaun’s nephew. There’s Bitzer the Sheepdog, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Gromit, another Nick Park creation. Bitzer is loyally devoted to the Farmer and the calm yin to Shaun’s wild yang. Their adventures allow them to meet a variety of animals including Slip, a lovable little stray dog with the longest eyelashes ever. But it’s not all fun and games. They must contend with Trumper (Omid Djalili) an animal control officer who is the traditional nemesis of any stray pet.

Shaun the Sheep is the sixth feature from Aardman Studios and based on the BBC television show. The production almost exists in another world apart from other animated films. However the visual and comedic stylings are very much in line with the British animation studio’s other pictures. Located in Bristol, they are best known for using stop-motion claymation techniques. The company first gained fame with several shorts starring the adventures of Wallace & Gromit. In 2000 they released their theatrical debut with Chicken Run and it was a huge success.

Shaun the Sheep is warm, clever, witty, hilarious, touching, sweet, cute.  I could go on. A delight for those who appreciate a whimsical romp. It’s refreshingly slight clocking in at a mere 85 minutes. For those whose tastes run toward more electrifying fare, this placid tale may seem a bit soporific. There’s nary a word of spoken dialogue. Everything is expressed through gestures and vocal cues. I, on the other hand, truly appreciated this undemanding tale’s lighthearted take. It’s rather impressive how much story be conveyed through mutters and grunts and baas and bleats. As such, witty sight gags abound. Gentle G rated humor references Inception, Silence of the Lambs, Taxi Driver and The Terminator. Stick around for an end-credits homage to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Early on, the sheep lull Farmer to sleep by continuously jumping over a fence. But my absolute favorite interlude is a disguise sequence where the sheep dress up as humans and go out to a fancy French restaurant. It’s so visually brilliant it could only be described as Chaplin-esque.

08-06-15

Tangerine

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on August 2, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Tangerine photo starrating-4stars.jpgA girl inadvertently reveals the philandering ways of her pal’s boyfriend during a casual conversation in an LA doughnut shop The news compels the deceived to get to the bottom of the situation. Sounds like a rather pedestrian plot, right? Now add that the parties are 2 transgender prostitutes working in a seedy part of Hollywood. Her beau earns a living as a pimp and the whole production was shot on an iPhone 5s. Are you still with me? OK well yes, Tangerine is gonna be a rough journey for some. This is LA, raw and uncensored, right in the heart of where N. Highland Ave. intersects Santa Monica Blvd. Yet deep down, heart is what this picture is all about.

A great story is highlighted by meaningful characters. This diverse ensemble is headlined by a plethora of memorable people including an Armenian taxicab driver (Karren Karagulian), his wife (Luiza Nersisyan) and her mother (Alla Tumanian). Tangerine stars Kitana “Kiki” Rodriguez as Sin-Dee Rella and Mya Taylor as her BFF Alexandra. Both make their acting debut here. The two unite in gritty L.A. during Christmas Eve. Sin-Dee has recently gotten out of LA county jail and she’s looking for her boyfriend/pimp Chester (James Ransone). She has just been informed that he has been less than true. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. That there is still space to present Alexandra and her dreams of becoming a singer, only adds to the depth of the narrative.  In keeping with the Christmas period, her rendition of the song “Toyland” from the Victor Herbert operetta Babes in Toyland is moving.  The myriad of individuals ultimately descend at Donut Time for a confrontation at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Highland Avenue.

Tangerine is an important film. Not simply because of content. Plenty of movies have dealt with challenging adult subject matter. What sets it apart is uplifting proof that cost is no longer a prohibitive factor when setting out to make an entertaining flick. The fact that the entire drama was photographed on an iPhone 5s is clearly the result of an autonomous mind. The idea that anyone with a unique point of view can make a movie is an exhilarating concept that lies beneath every frame of Tangerine that illuminates the screen.

Director Sean Baker is an American film and TV director and co-creator of Greg the Bunny, an American television sitcom that originally aired on Fox in 2002. Tangerine is actually his fifth feature but perhaps the first to achieve any modicum of fame. In it, he provides an insider’s view of the sordid and dangerous lives of streetwalkers in Los Angeles. Yet it’s not entirely doom and gloom. It’s marked by a light touch. Some of the most laugh-out-loud moments in all of 2015 occur in this production. The screenplay is accentuated by some flippant one liners that are sure to be oft quoted lines of dialogue as the movie undoubtedly makes its way into the pop culture mainstream in years to come.

Tangerine pulses with the unique voice of independent film. The narrative beats with a vitality rarely seen in contemporary cinema. An evocation of LA’s current essence, perfectly captured as any I’ve seen.  It’s vibrant and funny and yes at times pretty bleak.  The humorous touch sometimes undone by the grim truth in the ongoing predicament of the two protagonists. Perhaps that’s being authentic but it also shocks the viewer. One minute we’re laughing at an amusing aside, the next we’re slapped into harsh reality by dead seriousness. Along the way, the script straddles the line between dignifying the two leads and exploiting them. That’s no easy feat. Their fierce attitudes consistently at the fore as the chronicle emphasizes their sassy personalities.  Yet it never resorts to caricature. There’s an inherent sadness within these characters too.  The humanity on display is pretty heartbreaking. Tangerine encapsulates the atmosphere of LA 2015 and distills this into a poignant chronicle for the present generation. The sensibility is clearly the product of our modern time. Like Boyz n the Hood (1991), The Player (1992) & Mulholland Drive (2001), Tangerine is the quintessential LA movie for the current era.

08-02-15

Minions

Posted in Animation, Comedy, Family with tags on July 11, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Minions photo starrating-4stars.jpgIt was only a matter of time before the Minions, those breakout stars from the Despicable Me movies, got their own picture. You already know whether you’re going to enjoy this. If you appreciated their antics in the aforementioned films, then you should find this to be the bee’s knees. On the other hand, if you walk in begrudgingly detesting those lovable rapscallions, then you’ll undoubtedly just go on hating them with clenched fists and a closed heart. Theirs is a physical comedy part of a rich tradition that is an evolution of slapstick and farce. Buster Keaton begat The Three Stooges who begat Jerry Lewis who begat Benny Hill who begat the Minions.

The word evolution is particularly apropos in this case. Minions commences with the very dawn of time. Starting as single-celled organisms, we see the Minions evolve through the ages. In every era they unceasingly serve a litany of only the most despicable of masters. From Tyrannosaurus Rex to Dracula to Napoleon, they go through one boss after another, accidentally killing off each one due to their own clumsiness. Our proper adventure begins when the Minions (all voiced by director Pierre Coffin) find themselves without a master to serve. Then one Minion named Kevin decides to change things. He has a plan to find a new master. He’s taking two buddies, Stuart and Bob. These three, who bear a striking style similarity to Gru’s 3 daughters, travel cross the ocean. They visit New York City first – circa 1968 or 42 years B.G (Before Gru) – before winding up in swinging mod London.

The setup lays the groundwork for a nonstop silly fun fest. Granted, the Minions are not known for their sophisticated wit. In fact most of their communication is a dialect that is mixture of English words peppered with foreign phrases. It’s a creative amalgamation of vernacular where syntax is key. Humor is derived from being able to interpret their Minionese within the right context. Although you don’t understand the vocabulary, you feel what they’re saying. It’s not hard to grasp. Kids in particular appreciate their lighthearted ability to adapt to whatever situation they must face. It’s an admirable quality.

Their business takes them to something called Villain-Con in Orlando. The city is presented as swampland in 1968 but it’s perhaps no small coincidence that the studio responsible for this, built a resort there in 1990. Villain-Con is clearly based on San Diego’s Comic Con but functions as sort of a delegation for the most evil supervillains ever assembled. Look carefully and you’ll notice Dr Nefario from the previous films. Gru and his mother are there too. With a nod to female empowerment, the undisputed leader in the field is Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), the baddest criminal of them all. With her perfect 1960’s flip, she recalls Mary Tyler Moore. Her husband Herb (Jon Hamm) suggests Ringo Starr…or is it Pete Townshend? I’m not too sure. The rocking 60s soundtrack features both The Beatles (“Got To Get You Into My Life”) and The Who (“My Generation”) so I suppose it could be either. Which leads into my next point.

On the surface Minions is silly fun, but the narrative highlights a lot of delightful in-jokes that should entice hip viewers. Kids won’t get them and frankly many adults won’t either. The floor in Scarlet Overkill’s abode resembles the carpet in The Shining. Stuart greets the fire hydrant he fancies with “Papagena” which sounds like nonsense unless you realize it’s a character in The Magic Flute. Kevin whistles a tune from Mozart’s opera later. Scarlet Overkill’s bedtime story about a big bad wolf is underscored by Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. But it’s not all classical music. Baby boomers should dig the 60s fan service. Minions pop up out of a manhole cover just as the Beatles are crossing the street à la Abbey Road. The minions sing “Revolution”, the “Theme from the Monkees”, and “Hair”. They watch TV while flipping past The Saint, Bewitched & The Dating Game. Alas there are instances where toilet humor shows up like an unwelcome house guest. In those brief moments, taste takes a regrettable detour. However, more often than not, Minions is a feast for savvy pop culture aesthetes and their children as well.

07-09-15

The Overnight

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on July 9, 2015 by Mark Hobin

The Overnight photo starrating-2stars.jpgYoungish parents Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) have recently moved to Los Angeles. Trying to fit in, they are longing to make some new friends. One day while out at the playground with their son (RJ Hermes) they meet slightly odd but seemingly genial Kurt (Jason Schwartzman), whose own son (Max Moritt ) has quickly made friends with the couple’s boy. Kurt invites them over for pizza. They tentatively accept.

Using “slightly odd but seemingly genial” to characterize Kurt also kind of describes this film. At Kurt’s grand estate, they meet his French wife, Charlotte (Judith Godrèche) whose smiley demeanor is particularly welcoming. As the evening progresses, the conversation is pleasant. The kids grow tired of playing. The parents agree to let them sleep over. They put them to bed. Then things really get weird.

For a while, you question what is the point of all his. Then it becomes clear. Writer/director Patrick Brice has fashioned a whole comedy around male insecurity. It’s the squares vs. the swingers. Their night of discussion highlighted by an escalating series of outré moments: Charlotte’s acting career, Kurt’s paintings, a dip in the pool, a wine run excursion. I’ll admit there are a few mildly amusing bits here and there. It’s sort of like if Woody Allen directed Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Unfortunately, what this ultimately leads to doesn’t justify the entire evening that we have endured with these people. The punchline of an ending is pretty limp. This is a comedy skit, not a movie.  Size doesn’t matter. Yet it’s only a mere 79 minutes.  Still I wouldn’t have even spent that much time in their house. Honestly I wish I hadn’t even attended in the first place.

07-02-15

Infinitely Polar Bear

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on July 7, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Infinitely Polar Bear photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgWriter Maya Forbes’ (TV’s The Larry Sanders Show) directorial debut is based on her reminiscences of her father — who had bipolar disorder. Set in 1978, our saga focuses on a period when she was 10 years old. He was the primary caregiver for Forbes and her 8 year old sister while their mother was studying for an MBA at Columbia Business School in New York City. Two free spirited daughters being raised by a parent with mental illness, proves to be a formidable task.

The cast is likable. In the movie, the young Maya Forbes is portrayed by her actual daughter in real life (Imogene Wolodarsky). Although the character is fictionalized as Amelia Stuart. Her younger sister China, is named Faith here (Ashley Aufderheide). Both actresses are making their feature film debuts and both are warm and natural. They give the film a genuine, unaffected element. Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana are parents Cam and Maggie Stuart. They’re pleasant enough but their performances are a bit more studied. In particular Mark Ruffalo’s manic depressive father alternates between wacky dad and weird dad. One minute he’s telling his daughters to join him in the forest to pick mushrooms.  The next, mother is locking herself in the car with her daughters to escape his scary behavior. Unemployed Cam never gives the slightest indication he is capable of raising two daughters alone, so it makes Mom’s decision to leave them in his care perplexing.

Infinitely Polar Bear seeks to put a smiley face on dad’s affliction. That colors this account as a very shallow production. The lives of Father and his 2 daughters are presented as a series of highs and lows with little insight into any of it. As the filtered recollections of a child, that would explain the lack of sense.  Obviously the autobiographical tale is a personal project for Maya.  Her husband, Wally Wolodarsky, even co-produced. She presents this earnest drama as a sugarcoated valentine to her father who passed away in 1998. I’ll give the chronicle points for heart and sincerity. But Maya Forbes can’t seem to make the events in these people’s lives seem like anything more substantial than quirky gimmicks. The production is merely a whimsical roller coaster of contrivances designed to tug at your heartstrings. Infinitely Polar Bear comes across more like a sunny sitcom called My Goofy Dad than a thoughtful portrait of a man suffering from a serious mental illness.

07-03-15

Dope

Posted in Comedy, Crime, Drama with tags on July 3, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Dope photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgMalcolm (Shameik Moore) is a straight A high school geek constantly pushed around at school. His dream is to get into Harvard after graduation. This coming of age story sounds familiar right? OK now let me add that he lives in the Darby-Dixon neighborhood of Inglewood nicknamed “The Bottoms”. He loves 90s hip hop and desses like the 4th member of Bell Biv DeVoe. That’s different because this is 2015. He lives with his single mother (Kimberly Elise) and he’s never known his father. His two best friends are Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) with whom he has formed a punk band called Awreeoh (pronounced “Oreo” because…oh do I even have to explain it?).

Life is tough for Malcom. He’s picked on by bullies who want his shoes, harassed by neighborhood thugs who want his bike, and belittled by the school counselor (Bruce Beatty) for his Harvard dreams. The playful tone is shattered when the drug dealer’s (rap star A$AP Rocky) party they’re attending, ends in a shower of bullets and a police raid. They escape. However back at school Malcolm discovers several bricks of Molly (MDMA in powder form) and a gun have been stuffed in his backpack. Now he and his friends must find a way to get rid of the drugs without getting killed or locked up.

Dope is one of those movies that really demands a lot from its audience. Smart viewers will think of easier ways out of this mess, but the screenplay doesn’t see it that way. It’s a progression of convoluted occurrences with a hodgepodge of zany gags bolstered by glib racial commentary. Shootings played for laughs and kamikaze disrobings by a sexually promiscuous coke fiend (Chanel Iman) are clumsy attempts at humor. Her filmed outdoor embarrassment becomes a social media meme because well “the Internet”. The script works hard throwing all sorts of random bits at the viewer. It’s a desperate attempt to be funny but the awkward mix of violence and lighthearted shenanigans are tonally off putting.

Dope is highlighted by a game attractive cast. There are moments, mostly in the first half, that had me laughing at its amusing view of nerds in the ‘hood. But the narrative is sloppy. The film vacillates between subverting stereotypes almost as often as it exploits them. I liked Dope when it did the former and not so much when it succumbed to the latter. Malcolm’s college application essay for Harvard is literally spoken at the end as a kind of justification for his actions. It’s a risky (business) move because Malcolm has done many questionable things. Oh and I must fault a script too oblivious to point out that the black male used blackmail.  Talk about a missed opportunity. The author (read screenwriter) has clearly fashioned the moment as a call to stand up and cheer. I suppose life is a series of choices and not everyone is faced with the same ones. Fair enough. Still it’s hard to hang your hat on a movie where the apparent moral is “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”.

06-29-15

Magic Mike XXL

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Music with tags on July 2, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Magic Mike XXL photo starrating-3stars.jpgOn paper, a sequel like Magic Mike XXL shouldn’t work. It has no plot and no conflict. The director of the original surprise hit has changed (Steven Soderbergh is editor and cinematographer), and major star, Matthew McConaughey, is gone. This is simply a road trip movie with a bunch of guys hanging out, who also happen to strip for a living. They’re on their way from Florida to Myrtle Beach for the annual strippers’ convention. They have conventions? None of them are getting any younger, so this is seen as their last hurrah together. Their vehicle, an old ice cream truck, makes stops along the way. Friends are made in different locales.

Magic Mike XXL stars men, but it’s really about the women. Those they meet on the trip and those for whom they entertain. There’s Nancy (Andie MacDowell) who hosts a group of well-to-do Southern ladies sipping wine at her luxurious estate or Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), the proprietor of a ladies’ club that caters to an African American clientele. At a beach party Mike meets Zoe (Amber Heard), an acerbic love interest in a truly expendable character. In between getting from point A to point B they perform shows.

The gang’s routines relied on the “classics” in the first film – the fireman, the cowboy, the military number. This time Mike (Channing Tatum) seeks to reinvent their show so that it’s more fun for them to act. He hopes their renewed passion will invigorate the show. Joe Manganiello as Richie steals the spotlight, not once, but twice. In the finale, Joe Manganiello outfitted in a tux, mock proposes to a girl in the crowd. He walks her through a wedding ceremony while Donald Glover sings Bruno Mars’ “Marry You” in the background. (Oh Matt Bomer sings a couple times too and it’s shockingly good.) Then comes the wedding night and “Closer,” by Nine Inch Nails plays. The performance is prurient, but it’s also creative. There are some genuinely hilarious moments too. The guys dare Richie to walk into a gas station and make the unhappy plain jane behind the counter smile with a dance routine to the Backstreet Boys. The scene has a sexual bent but its overall gist is one of sweetness. The scene is shot to amplify the energy of the club.

Star Channing Tatum is charismatic and he can dance. Now I’m not talking the smooth elegance of Fred Astaire or the dazzling technique of Gene Kelly. But Channing exhibits an athleticism that draws on the bump and grind mentality of the tradition. The choreography employs enough gravity defying flair with physical lifting to make what he does seem difficult. His earnest “let’s-put-on-a-show” ethos is infectious and he heads up a cast of dudes that really just want to entertain. Their heart is in the right place, even if their chosen profession is a bit salacious. They enjoy hanging around each other almost as much as they enjoy being onstage. It’s their friendship that unites the spaces in between musical numbers. These are nice guys who happen to be in great athletic shape. In most movies they would be stereotyped as greasy jerks. But these buddies don’t put anybody down and they never act in a mean-spirited fashion. The boys have a relaxed, easygoing camaraderie that is contagious.

What elevates the production is the utter feeling of positivity. Good vibes surround the film. The boys are charming. They have big hearts and they want to make the audience feel good about themselves. Their performances are highlighted by spectators that are average everyday women. These are not gorgeous models picked out of central casting, but average girls who are missing something in their lives. The analogy is made that the dancers are like shrinks catering to “queens who need to be worshiped”. They’re selling a fantasy. The bros are manipulative, but so is the drama. The picture never pretends to be anything less. Magic Mike XXL is such a pure film, it’s practically revolutionary. It’s a surprisingly lighthearted production given the subject matter. The whole thing has an uplifting view of humanity that I wasn’t expecting. Yes the narrative is a (ahem) skin deep examination of this lifestyle, but it’s still a better movie than it has any right to be.

06-30-15

Ted 2

Posted in Comedy, Fantasy on June 29, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Ted 2 photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgFor those unaware, Ted was John’s childhood teddy bear that came to life when he wished for it. Now he’s getting married (the bear not John) to his girlfriend, Tami-Lynn. Ted 2 begins with a wedding. The nuptials climax in a big splashy Busby Berkeley production number that rivals the choreography of those classic pictures. It’s an elegant beginning of well dressed dancers in tuxes and gowns in a choreographed spectacle on a wedding cake. The classy beginning kind of stands in direct contrast to the scene that follows. Time flash forwards 1year and Ted and his once happy bride are now a bickering couple fighting over money. What’s a bear to do?  Following the advice of a co-worker, Ted decides that he and his wife need to have a baby to save their marriage. But Ted lacks the (ahem) reproductive organ needed to get the process started so they decide to adopt. However, and this is where the real story get started, their decision is blocked because Ted isn’t human.

Ah so Ted 2 is a civil rights drama. Well no, it‘s not that socially high minded. I mean the drive to get him legally recognized as a person does underlie the flow of the narrative and it does give it some heft. However the construct is really just an excuse on which to drape a lot of gags. The story is best appreciated as a selection of amusing jokes and naughty shtick. As before, Seth MacFarlane is writer/director/voice star. He remains a clever guy as evidenced by his ability to intelligently poke fun of convention. Even his musical tastes lean to decidedly old fashioned preferences like swing and traditional pop. But his mind is so clearly in the gutter. This is lowbrow comedy about lowbrow people. Ted and his human owner are pretty despicable. They curse, smoke marijuana at every possible moment, hurl abusive epithets and literally hurl apples at passing joggers. But they are crusaders for human rights too so I guess that gives them a purpose.

Ted was a serendipitous success. What made the original so unique was the idea of an anthropomorphized toy that had a cute cuddly exterior but with the personality of an adult in a state of arrested development. Ted 2 feels like your witty party guest that continues to hang out even after 2am. The innovation isn’t new anymore so the novelty is gone. What we have is more of the same. Are the jokes funny? Yes they are. The script is still intelligent. The chronicle is a window into the mind of Seth MacFarlane. Once again he uses the opportunity to make pop culture allusions. For the most part it’s pretty incisive. There are plenty of gags and most of them hit their target. Tom Brady, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and Amanda Seyfried not only add support as actors, but their personas are fodder for some of the funnier laughs. A few guest stars miss though. Michael Dorn and Patrick Warburton play a couple that bully attendees at New York Comic-Con. They’re just insufferably nasty people without any redeeming qualities. But that’s the exception. For most of the running time, Ted 2 offers more hilarious high jinks in the same manner as the first. Nothing more, nothing less. If you’re OK with that, then Ted 2 should satisfy your humor cravings.

06-25-15

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