Archive for August, 2011


Posted in Biography, Documentary, Sports with tags on August 30, 2011 by Mark Hobin

Riveting documentary on the life and career of Brazilian Formula One racecar driver Ayrton Senna. Formula One or F1 is the highest class of single seater auto racing sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). Senna, who in his ten years of F1 competition won the world championship three times, is widely regarded as one of, if not the greatest F1 driver of all time. The film builds a fairly convincing case of Senna’s importance in the pursuit of racing.

We are presented with an organized and interesting story, enjoyed by the fanatic as well as the casual spectator. Make no mistake, however, it will help to have some interest in auto racing to truly appreciate this biography.  A motorsport enthusiast will find more to love here. Filmmaker Asif Kapadia uses archival footage to show what it’s like to race from the driver’s perspective. These scenes are exhilarating. Formula One cars race at speeds of up to 220 mph (360 km/h). I, not knowing anything about Formula One Racing, gained a real appreciation for the talent and skill needed to be successful. You have to essentially memorize the racetrack because the twists and turns come so fast, it’s impossible to navigate without having some prior knowledge of what’s coming.

Where the picture truly shines is in the narrative which is built entirely from existing footage from Senna’s life. Director Asif Kapadia pored through thousands of hours of film to assemble the brilliantly edited piece of filmmaking here. Senna initially began his career with racing go-karts as a teenager. It clearly was a pivotal time in his life because it laid the groundwork for his life’s passion. He refers to kart racing as the purest form of the sport where politics played no part. He wistfully recalls those days a couple times during the story. We get to know the man directly and his own words largely form the structure of his story. When new narration is inserted, it’s underlying original footage of the era. Through brilliantly assembled archival footage we are introduced to the man and offered a window into his personality. He often comes off as surprisingly humble. Given his triumphs I would have expected a much more boastful individual.

His fierce patriotism is emotionally affecting. It’s inspiring to behold what he meant to Brazil, where he remains a national hero. Brazil didn’t have the greatest image as it was suffering through terrible times. But he reflected his Brazilian roots with joy. He brought honor and acclaim to his nation. After every victory he would take his lap of honor waving the Brazilian flag. Perhaps his most emotional race was the 1991 Brazilian Grand Prix. Surrounded by his countrymen, it was an event Senna was overjoyed to win. His pride is infectious.

Director Kapadia has a respectful almost fawning reverence for Senna that sometimes gets in the way of an impartial depiction. This is where the biography falls short.  We’re invited to side with Senna in his intense rivalry with French World Champion Alain Prost. Of course what would his story be without a nemesis? But Prost, with his smooth, relaxed style, doesn‘t seem particularly hateful. He was rather successful however, ultimately becoming a Formula One Drivers’ Champion, four-times. Also Senna’s clashes with Jean-Marie Balestre, president of the FIA from 1985 to 1993, contribute to his grievances. It‘s during these moments Senna appears aloof and frustrated with the pastime. All of these controversies flesh out the profile of a man essentially in love with, but occasionally disheartened with the sport. It’s a stunning portrait and the documentary overall is absorbing from beginning to end. The tension climaxes to a momentous event at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. It’s an emotional conclusion, one you won’t soon forget.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Posted in Horror, Thriller with tags on August 26, 2011 by Mark Hobin

A young girl moves into a Rhode Island mansion that her father and his girlfriend intend to renovate and resell. But wouldn’t you know it, the 19th century house is infested by some nasty little monsters. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a remake of the 1973 ABC made-for-TV horror film of the same name and not the more well known anthology series “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” that first aired on Nickelodeon in the 90s. Dated old school flick has some style, but the drama suffers from a mundane storyline.

The biggest problem is just that this tale isn’t very frightening. While there are a few bursts of violence scattered throughout the picture, the R rating is perplexing.  Aimed at kids, the script relies more on the kinds of things a toddler would find fearful, like weird looking goblins, than in building genuine suspense. The creatures like to talk in exaggerated whispers. At first their appearance and voices are subtle and hard to make out, but then their dialogue grows more and more distinct and their appearances, more aggressive. The longer you see them, the less interesting they become. They scare at predictable points and don’t terrify like they should. After a while, they’re kind of hokey until matters get almost laughable. They can’t even function in the light so dealing with them seems pretty obvious to the audience. Unfortunately the characters don’t behave with much intelligence.

There are too many times in the film where you’ll be shouting at the screen because of the stupidity of the cast. At one point, little Sally is taking a bath when the creatures turn off the light switch in the bathroom. She chooses to remain in the tub shivering when she could have simply turned it back on to make them go away. One stupid cliché after another piles up until the narrative buckles under a pile of ridiculousness. Like one of those B movies made in the 50s where none of the adults will believe the knowledgeable child trying to warn them. Why won’t her parents listen?  The handyman ends up in the hospital after he is beaten within an inch of his life by the beasts. The father dismisses it as an accident. Huh? Finally the little girl has the good sense to take a photo of one of the creatures for her father. She holds the picture in his face and he pushes it aside saying “Not right now honey.” C’mon, seriously?!

Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce are acceptable, but unmemorable. Their performances never really register beyond anything more than actors for hire. Even young Bailee Madison who plays daughter Sally is too sullen and depressed to engage the viewer. She has the lion’s share of the acting, however, and she admirably outshines her much more experienced co-stars.

In the end, the failure can be attributed to the fact that the action just isn’t scary. The formulaic plot actually drags in parts. The conventional nature is rather surprising given this was written and produced by Guillermo del Toro of Hellboy and Pan‘s Labyrinth fame. Things haven’t been going well for the talented auteur as of late. He resigned from directing the two movies based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit last year. Then the release of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was delayed from January to August due to Disney’s sale of Miramax, the film’s beleaguered distributor. What can you say when the most frightening shock was already revealed in the trailer? Give credit to the brilliant editors that cut that prevue. It does an impressive job of making the picture appear like an inspired work of terror and excitement. Too bad it wasn’t.

Point Blank

Posted in Action, Crime, Thriller with tags on August 23, 2011 by Mark Hobin

Samuel Pierret is a nurse who walks in on the attempted murder of Hugo Sartet, a gunshot victim at the hospital. His quick thinking saves  the man in question. Later while bragging how he was a hero to his spouse, Hugo’s henchmen invade his home, knock him out cold and kidnap his pregnant wife. They are now holding her hostage until Samuel goes back to the hospital and frees Hugo, a man now under police surveillance, so they can finish the job. Apparently the heavys  are finished with the guy. Well paced suspense is a non-stop race through the subways and streets of Paris. It never lets up.

At a lean and mean 84 minutes, this thriller moves quickly and efficiently, providing excitement at a serviceable pace. Despite the French subtitles, this isn’t art house cinema. It’s about thrills, not script. Director Fred Cavayé’ clearly has one eye on Hollywood. The story unfolds very much like one of Liam Neeson’s recent vehicles like Taken or Unknown. The director’s debut, 2008’s Anything for Her, was even remade as The Next Three Days. Ironically that remake actually featured Liam Neeson in a supporting role.

There is little doubt in my mind that this picture will be remade as well, but don’t wait for the substandard remake. See the original in all it’s glory for the cast is quite good here. There’s a surprising amount of character development for a genre movie of this sort. Actor Gilles Lellouche stars as the likable protagonist pushed to break the law to save his wife. Roschdy Zem, a French actor of Moroccan descent, is Hugo Sartet, the thief he is forced to secure. I kept seeing Vin Diesel in the part, but Sartet is no indestructible action hero, his part is more subtle than that. Their interaction is a big part of what makes the plot so compelling. Also rounding out the main roles is Spanish actress Elena Anaya as his wife/damsel in distress and Gérard Lanvin as crooked Paris police commander Patrick Werner.

Point Blank is an above average action thriller. It’s not the first time you’ll watch an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances, but it’s always a solid basis for a script. Director Fred Cavayé started as a fashion and advertising photographer. His training imbues the operation with style and flair. It’s probably only a matter of time before he’s invited to the U.S. to start making pictures there. Based on his first and only two films, I’d say sooner is better than later.


Posted in Biography, Drama with tags on August 21, 2011 by Mark Hobin

Based on fact, this is the true story of one Betty Anne Waters who decides to get her GED, then complete college and law school in an effort to exonerate her brother who has been condemned to life in prison. Kenny Waters was convicted and sentenced in 1983 for the 1980 murder of Katharina Brow in Ayer, Massachusetts.

In many ways this your standard potential miscarriage of justice drama. A docudrama, slickly mounted, well acted and produced. Initially, what lifts the study above “fighting the system” background is the ambiguousness of it all. Whether her brother committed the crime, is a question up for debate through most of the picture and wisely not answered until the very end. Kenny is good to Betty Anne, but he isn’t particularly likeable. The evidence, though circumstantial, relies on three witness that greatly tip the scales toward his guilt. Actresses Melissa Leo, Clea DuVall and Juliette Lewis are the testimony that form the foundation against her brother. They’re all excellent, but Lewis gives a particularly kooky scene stealing performance. Uncovering the hows and whys of the case are a big part of what keeps the action interesting.

But what ultimately raises Conviction beyond your conventional “triumph over adversity” account, is the acting. Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell are Betty Anne and Kenny, respectively. As siblings they convey a deep bond as family who have grown up together and remained close into adulthood. We see them as kids and then as adults, willingly supporting each other at various points throughout. Their portrayals are genuine and engaging. Betty Anne’s devotion to her brother is the emotional connection that causes the viewer to be invested in this material.

Director Tony Goldwyn will always be best remembered as playing the villain, Carl Bruner, in Ghost. But he has also directed a significant number of TV shows including The L Word, Grey’s Anatomy and Dexter. He’s a workmanlike director and his comfortableness with TV often pushes the proceedings here into Lifetime movie territory . At times the plot can appear a bit simplistic in the way it unfolds. Great performances are what elevates the melodramatic script to something much more powerful. Impressive depictions from a talented cast make Conviction a film to believe in.

Fright Night

Posted in Horror with tags on August 19, 2011 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketFlat remake of the fondly remembered 80s classic. A mysterious neighbor moves into a Las Vegas subdivision and raises the concerns of a high schooler next door who slowly learns the new resident is not what he appears to be. The intense and more serious tone is surprising in this age of the self-aware horror film. The original could use a reinvention, but this chronicle is pretty conventional stuff. Unexpectedly straightforward, the script’s idea of an update is to ratchet up the gore to earn an R rating.

The proceedings feel more like a glossy Hollywood production that lacks (excuse the pun) bite.  Not much innovation or soul was invested into the formula.  There’s little to set this apart. We get yet another film in 3D, but the full splendor of the graphics are only used intermittently. On several occasions, vampires burst into flaming dust and the particles float into the air and towards the audience. Nice effect, but other than that, little reason to justify the more expensive process. The creature morphing visuals suffer from muddy CGI. It begs the question, why was this remake necessary?

The movie does get a few things right. Las Vegas is an inspired setting. What better place for a vampire to make his home than in a city where people sleep all day and work all night? Also impressive is the cast which is strictly A-list. Colin Farrell makes a seductive vampire. He’s a great choice, but he’s not given that much to do. His performance hinges on squinty male model stare and sexy poses. David Tennant portrays the Criss Angel-style magician (and vampire expert). Our protagonist Charley needs his assistance in defeating his neighbor. Making Peter Vincent a magician is a creative rewrite on the B movie TV host that Roddy McDowall played in the 1985 version. But the script is overzealous in its attempt to make the character quirky . Vincent just seems silly, a lazy imitation of comedian Russell Brand. Christopher Mintz-Plasse plays Charley’s nerdy former best friend. Charley has ditched him for a couple of douche bag friends that are representative of his new cool status. His inexplicable desire to hang around them is confusing though. Charley’s dating the beautiful popular girl and she likes him BECAUSE he’s different, so the rejection of his nerdy friend to court their favor doesn’t make sense.

There are moments where the story rises above the ordinary, but for the most part this version lacks the amusing details and heart of the original. The pacing is lethargic. The plot is a series of one generic action set piece after another, none of which are particularly memorable or exciting. A battle during the second half in Vincent’s penthouse of the hotel almost put me to sleep. Even the climatic showdown in the basement of Jerry’s house is pretty by the numbers. The scene of earthy catacombs under the house with a giant mound of dirt on the floor is like the lair in Silence of the Lambs. Not the worst redo of a horror film. It’s pleasant enough while you’re watching it, but you probably wont remember it a week later. From a cast as notable as this, that’s a big disappointment.


Posted in Comedy, Drama, Horror with tags on August 17, 2011 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketBizarre tale of a rubber tire that inexplicably goes on a murderous rampage. In the beginning he can barely roll without falling over. The he begins destroying things. He starts slowly, first crushing only an aluminum can, then later a scorpion. The tension builds until he starts killing people, causing their heads to psychokinetically explode. Anthropomorphizing something as nondescript as a tire is no easy task. It has no discernible face, legs or arms. It can only roll around to convey personality and intent. In this case it also visibly shakes whenever it’s about to strike. The cinematography is stunning, the music is vibrant. The production certainly has style.

Director Quentin Dupieux originally made a name for himself under the pseudonym Mr. Oizo. A French techno musician, he had success with an instrumental track called “Flat Beat” in 1999 which went all the way to #1 in the UK. In fact the multi-layered variety of music is one of the movie’s best features. Here he teams up with Gaspard Augé of electronic music duo Justice to create the genre hopping soundtrack. The director appropriates a 70s ethos that recalls Steven Spielberg’s 1971 made-for-TV classic, Duel. Part horror, part comedy, the cinema is probably best characterized as experimental. The type of offering a college student majoring in film studies might submit as their senior thesis. It’s rather offbeat and absurd.

An interesting idea could have been brilliant but the story wears out its welcome with a lack of story and self conscious artistic touches. You see some of the participants are aware they are in a picture. Actor Stephen Spinella as Lieutenant Chad address the audience early on and expresses a “no reason” philosophy of many movies (including this one, I presume). Other actors are members of a crowd watching from the sidelines with binoculars commenting on the action. Those conceits are less successful than when the tire is just acting under its own power. Confusion, anger, despair, even love – the tire feels all of these. It’s simply 82 minutes of surrealism. The brilliance of the script is that you actually believe it has these emotions.

Final Destination 5

Posted in Horror with tags on August 16, 2011 by Mark Hobin

When the last episode of a horror series is called THE Final Destination, you’ve got to admire a franchise that actually has the chutzpah to follow it up with another entry. The story, such as it is, concerns a new group of young adults that work for a paper company. They’re about to go on a business retreat. Our protagonist Sam Lawton has been offered a cooking internship in Paris and he doesn‘t know whether to take it or remain in the U.S. with his girlfriend. Actor Miles Fisher, who bears more than a passing resembles to a young Tom Cruise, plays his best friend and co-worker. There are several other characters too, but honestly it isn’t even worth your time getting to know them. Anyone who has ever seen just one of these films will understand our relationship with them will be short lived.

Fifth installment in the Final Destination canon is a solid effort of frights and chills. By now, the workmanlike approach to eliminating teens in creative ways is predictable. The audience knows THAT they’re going to die. But the entertainment rests on anticipation. The plot becomes a guessing game in just exactly HOW someone is going to perish. The deaths unfold like a Rube Goldberg contraption. There is something almost Zen in the clever method with which each person is eliminated, often in situations where death seems impossible. A massage parlor? Really?! A scene involving LASIK surgery in an ophthalmologist’s office, visually recalls both the 1929 short film Un Chien Andalou and 1971’s A Clockwork Orange. There are a few additional inspired touches for fans. Chapter number 5 brings back actor Tony Todd as the creepy mortician who appears to know a little too much about death’s grand plan. You may remember him as the Candyman in that other horror movie anthology of the same name. The ending also will have special meaning for people who have seen the original. I don’t purport to claim the script is deep or innovative in any way. It’s essentially the Mouse Trap of terror movies. I admit it’s a guilty pleasure. But I am ok with that.

Attack the Block

Posted in Action, Comedy, Horror, Science Fiction with tags on August 12, 2011 by Mark Hobin

PhotobucketThere’s something altogether original about Attack the Block, the genre mashup between science fiction, horror and comedy. The story seems simple enough. A young woman is mugged by a gang of urban teens. At that same moment, creatures begin raining down on our small group. Only one at first, but others follow. Here’s where the story takes off and it doesn’t let up until the end. It’s difficult to explain just what it is that makes this movie so inventive. After all, alien invasion flicks are a dime a dozen in Hollywood. However the film’s success may lie in its blending of multiple genres and doing each one equally well. This amalgamation combines imaginative science fiction, fast paced action, genuinely humorous bits, and a brilliant character study.

Lets start with the environment. The setting is a council estate in South London, a public housing development designed to supply uncrowded, well constructed homes at reasonable rents to primarily working class people. As with many forms of public housing, they often suffer from urban blight. The block in this case is a large apartment building. The narrative has a distinctly English spirit that infuses every scene with style. But this isn’t the England of tea and crumpets. This is an urban landscape with young British hoods that speak in a slang that permeates the dialogue with a hip flavor. It invigorates the script with originality. I’ll admit I was perplexed on a couple occasions as to what specifically they were saying. However the language is more fun than incomprehensible. Most of it makes sense in context. It certainly never threatened a clear understanding of the simple plot: invaders kill, heroes fight back.

It also stars a talented cast of unknowns that bring a unique persona to their parts. Yes they’re adolescent thugs, but they’re all fully formed individuals with engaging personalities. The fact that Sam, the young woman initially mugged by the hooligans, must now join forces with them against a common enemy is surprisingly believable. It’s doesn’t feel like a screenwriter’s device, but a plot point that is a major strength. These are not stock archetypes you see everyday. There is an unexpected sense of warmth that emanates from the genuine camaraderie amongst these characters. That’s a rarity in horror movies. You LIKE these people and don‘t want to see them die. When was the last time you gave a care for one of the victims in a Saw film?

Also of note is the electronic score.  The soundtrack is composed by Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe of English house music duo Basement Jaxx with additional assistance from composer Steven Price.  The suitably pulsating orchestration underscores the action perfectly.  Dear Academy,  For your consideration, the instrumental song “The Ends” that plays over the closing credits, a “big brooding slice of bagpipe dubstep”.  It’s a winner and the kind of innovative music from a film that should be (but never is) nominated.

In the end, it’s sheer originality that puts this over the top. English comedian, Joe Cornish makes his directorial debut with his self penned script co-produced by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World). Despite the production’s indie status, it has an impressive pedigree of people involved. Actor Nick Frost the lone recognizable name in the cast, has a supporting part as a drug dealer. The budget is decidedly small. The creature designs might even be called amateurish. They look like oversized wolves with huge claws and light-emitting teeth. In reality they appear as if they’re played by people in furry costumes with some creative special effects. But it’s precisely that lack of expensive CGI that forces the filmmakers to be ingenious. They are both visually compelling and scary. The plot unfolds intelligently and develops logically. Hollywood take note! It bubbles with a joy of moviemaking that is artistic and energizing. Attack the Block is well wicked innit. So believe, bruv! Oops. Guess listening to all the slang rubbed off on me a little.

The Help

Posted in Drama with tags on August 11, 2011 by Mark Hobin

Well-intentioned period drama concerns ‘Skeeter’ Phelan, a young white aspiring writer who interviews black maids working in her town of Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s. The aftermath is controversial. Racial unrest is not a subject often taken lightly. However the tone here is certainly much more lighthearted than you would expect. We get a simplified version of civil rights in the 60s. A CliffsNotes primer that sheds precious little insight into the troubling struggles of blacks in the south during this era. Director Tate Taylor’s heart is in the right place. But he does his friend, author Kathryn Stockett, a disservice in adapting her book by reducing the themes to the lowest common denominator. We are pitched a trivialization of good vs. evil to serve a drama that says, racism is bad. It’s an idea presented shallow enough for a 2 year old to follow.

This is a superficial retelling of what life was like in a community governed by the restrictive conditions of Jim Crow laws. These were state and local regulations in the United States enacted between 1876 and 1965 that mandated racial segregation in public facilities, with a supposedly “separate but equal” status for black Americans. In reality, this led to treatment and accommodations that were usually inferior to those provided for white Americans. For anyone born after 1965, it’s hard to believe there was a time when such laws existed. A film granted the urgency this subject deserves, would have been a welcome contribution to the cinematic landscape. Unfortunately we are delivered a glossy, beautifully photographed world with rich digitally enhanced colors. The south portrayed here is decidedly one-dimensional. Apparently white women of the region had little to do besides play bridge and ruin people‘s lives with a carefully worded condemnation. The script asserts this view in each frame with all the subtlety of a four alarm fire. These aren’t people, they’re easily recognizable symbols with intolerant attitudes on race and class.

The most artificial of all is Hilly Holbrook. She is single-minded in promoting her cause, something called the Home Help Sanitation Initiative. In her words it would be “a bill that requires every white home to have a separate bathroom for the colored help.“ She’s not just racially biased. She’s a seething bigot, a sneering caricature without a sensitive bone in her body. The Wicked Witch of the West was played with more restraint in The Wizard of Oz. Why a reactionary woman like Hilly and a forward thinking one like our hero Skeeter, would have been best friends since childhood is a baffling mystery that is never justified. Regardless, Hilly is a galvanizing performance guaranteed to elicit hisses and boos as she smiles sweetly beneath a facade of well manicured hate. Howard gives the part her all, but by making her such a cartoon, we are denied the opportunity of an intelligent indictment of these reprehensible opinions that were institutionalized as law. The character is such an exaggerated depiction, we can only laugh and shake our head at her utter buffoonery.

There are some nice touches. Actress Viola Davis is mesmerizing as put-upon maid, Aibileen Clark. Davis is a powerhouse of acting talent. She brings a nuance to every line she utters even when the script fails her. She wrings genuine emotion from those words with a distinction and grace that is missing in the picture. Her experience feels real and when she finally reaches her breaking point, it emerges from honest pain. By and large, the maids are more fully formed individuals than the rest of the regrettable lot. In particular, the plot demonstrates the black maids are still capable of raising white children with affection despite being humiliated on a daily basis. Also in another more upbeat scene, social outcast Celia Foote appeals to maid Minny Jackson for cooking help due to her lack of homemaking skills. As played by actresses Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer respectively, they breathe life into these roles and their performances are memorable.  Minny teaches an amusing first lesson about Crisco, “the most important invention in the kitchen since jarred mayonnaise.”

The story ultimately attempts to tackle too many issues in a sanitized manner without doing justice to any of them . Race relations is the main focus, but it’s hardly the only topic the movie addresses. Negligent mothers, abusive husbands, social classes among whites, self esteem, sexism, and strained mother daughter relationships are all touched upon throughout the long 137 minute running time. Simplistic and clichéd, there are few surprises here. The journey is surprisingly conventional. The good people roll their eyes whenever something prejudiced is uttered. Then someone gets their revenge. Cue laughs, applause and the Mary J. Blige song on the soundtrack. The situation largely remains unchanged for everyone, everyone except for perhaps white writer, Skeeter. In fact life actually threatens to get worse for the maids because of her work. The history of the deep south during the early 60s deserves a much more detailed examination than the cursory simplification presented here. If not for Viola Davis’ heartfelt and sincere performance, the film would have been utterly lacking in depth.

The Guard

Posted in Comedy, Crime with tags on August 11, 2011 by Mark Hobin

Dark comedy from Ireland about a vulgar Irish cop and an uptight FBI agent who form an unlikely pair while investigating a drug-smuggling ring. Predictably the humor comes from the interactions of the mismatched combo. Actor Brendan Gleeson is probably best known as Alastor “Mad Eye” Moody, the one eyed wizard in the Harry Potter films. Here he gets a rare opportunity to be the star as an unorthodox policeman. It’s nice to see Gleeson get a chance to shine in his own film . Sergeant Gerry Boyle is sort of an Archie Bunker for the new millennium. “I’m Irish. Racism is part of my culture,” he offers. Don Cheadle is an investigator named Everett who is the straight man to Gleeson’s unpolitically correct character. A lot of the amusement is based on the culture clash between a strait-laced black American detective and an irreverent white Irish policeman. The set up is so obvious that the quips need to be creative. But the jokes don’t really go far enough. “You’re thinking, these men are armed and dangerous, and you being an FBI agent you’re more used to shooting at unarmed women and children” – a typical insult.  If put downs like that are your idea of the ultimate dis then you might find this entertaining. I found the one-liners to be mildly acerbic, but not especially funny.