Archive for the Comedy Category

Fatherhood

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Family with tags on June 27, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I review what people see. F9 just set a pandemic era record by making $70 million this past weekend. Godzilla vs. Kong and A Quiet Place: Part II also did well earlier this year. Given those theatrical successes, I suspect box office will become an accurate reflection of what captures the public interest at some point. With everyone’s viewing habits currently relegated to streaming, it’s been difficult to tell what the masses are watching. At 208 million subscribers, Netflix is far and away the #1 streaming service. Amazon Prime Video is a distant second. For most of 2020 (and 2021 so far), the Netflix Top 10 has been a good reflection on what’s popular. Originally scheduled as a theatrical release by Sony Pictures, Fatherhood was ultimately sold to Netflix and debuted on June 18. It immediately became their #1 movie so I decided to check it out.

This drama starring Kevin Hart is based on the biography by blogger turned author Matthew Logelin entitled Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love. Logelin’s recollection is an account of grief following the unexpected death of his wife right after giving birth to the couple’s first child and then his adapting to single parenthood. I won’t negate the unimaginable real-life tragedy of losing your wife hours after becoming a father. That is a profound event from which few could ever recover. Somehow Matthew Logelin managed to channel that agony and then write about it. Kudos and respect on his accomplishment. Paul Weitz and Dana Stevens subsequently adapted Logelin’s book into a screenplay (far less successfully) that became Fatherhood.

This movie doesn’t do his thoughtful subject any justice. Fatherhood is a maudlin, overly saccharine tale that fails to introduce a single genuine emotion. The chronicle is a well-meaning but uninvolving series of hackneyed affairs that even non-parents would associate with being a father. When Maddy is a baby, plot developments include the difficulty of changing diapers and that infants cry at night. Then when she’s a toddler (Melody Hurd) the story concerns Matthews entering the dating world and Maddy’s acceptance of his choice for a mate (DeWanda Wise). The details are generic and mundane. The film is lacking an original point of view and quite frankly a pulse.

Fatherhood is a calculated effort to present a kinder, gentler version of comedian Hart. The narrative is incredibly sappy. Every time something uplifting happens, inspiring music swells to emphasize the fact and when a sad occurrence unfolds, a very somber tune overwhelms the soundtrack. Those familiar with Hart’s manic stand-up routines will be surprised to find he affects a persona here that is completely unrecognizable. I’ll give him points for going outside his comfort zone. There are occasional glimpses of humor, but this is mostly a bleak, serious affair. It’s like an pale rewrite of the 80s comedy Three Men and a Baby except with just one person and minus the laughs.

06-25-21

Luca

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family with tags on June 22, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Pixar has its humble beginnings as part of the Lucasfilm computer division way back in 1979 before spinning off into a separate entity in 1986. Flash forward to 2006: Disney buys Pixar for $7.4 billion. I’ll admit the distinction between the two studios is a bit murky. Yet there’s still a technical difference when a cartoon feature comes from Walt Disney Studios and when branded as Pixar Animation. I think the mantle for the premier American animation studio shifted 17 years ago in 2004 when Pixar unveiled one of the greatest superhero movies ever made in The Incredibles. That same year Disney released something so forgettable that I suspect few even remember it: Home on the Range. Luca is a further reminder that Pixar is the studio that consistently creates films that touch the heart.

The setting is the beautiful city of Portorosso, a fictional town somewhere along the Italian Riviera. It takes place in the 1950s and the soundtrack incorporates Italian pop music from that era. Luca Paguro (Jacob Tremblay) is a teenage sea creature. His species refer to people as land monsters. Conversely, humans have a similarly negative view of them. His life changes when he meets another young sea monster named Alberto Scorfano (Jack Dylan Grazer). Alberto opens Luca’s eyes to their ability to transform into humans when completely dry. This is a chronicle about their adventures.

Luca is literally a fish out of water comedy. It concerns the titular hero passing for a human on land. The celebration of new experiences exalts opera music, books, telescopes, umbrellas, gelato, pasta…and most importantly Vespas. The plot revolves around competing in the Portorosso Cup (a race that involves swimming, pasta eating, and cycling). The boys hope to win the competition and use the prize money to buy one. In fact, the Italian motor scooter represents such a singular aspiration here, I started to want one. It’s like watching E.T. and craving Reese’s Pieces.

The expressive voice work is worth noting. It’s a bit all over the place though. Main characters Luca, Alberto, and Giulia (Emma Berman) – the girl that befriends them – have American accents. This often irritates me when a movie is set outside the U.S. However, the tonal quality of their voices is so inviting, it grew on me. Meanwhile most of the villagers speak with broad Italian inflections. Their intonations are so highly exaggerated, I didn’t think such stereotypes were still allowed in 2021. This includes the resident bully Ercole Visconti (Saverio Raimondo) and Mrs. Marsigliese (Marina Massironi) – the woman who runs the Portorosso Cup race.

Luca is the directorial feature debut of longtime Pixar storyboard artist Enrico Casarosa. He was born in Genoa, Italy, and draws from his childhood in creating this affectionate tale filled with authentic flair. Pixar always does an excellent job at designing landscapes. The underwater spectacle has a graceful flow and the portrait of this coastal center in Italy is exceptional as well. The tableau captures the notable allure of this quaint port city.

Oh what a charming memoir! Water is a key element. The amphibian species are human when dry but shapeshift into sea monsters when they come in contact with H2O. There is a lot of humor extracted from Luca and Alberto trying to hide their true selves from the townsfolk. I laughed at every single moment they got wet and it became an issue. Little bits like Luca using snail slime as hair gel, the image of Grandma Paguro (Sandy Martin) sleeping with her eyes open, or sea-themed swears “Holy carp!” and “Oh sharks!” only add to the charm. Of course, there is a conventional moral about accepting people that are different from yourself. Yes, we’ve seen that before but the presentation of that lesson is so stylish and unique, I embraced the idea as if I was hearing the message for the first time.

06-18-21

Dream Horse

Posted in Biography, Comedy, Drama with tags on June 10, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Feel-good movies get a bad rap. How could something that uplifts the spirit ever be a negative thing? I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m pretty sure happiness is a feeling we enjoy. Dream Horse is a delight. It’s a cozy blanket — a warm and inviting experience that I’ve felt before but was more than willing to appreciate again.

This is the true story of a racehorse with humble beginnings. By day, Janet Vokes works as a grocery store cashier in a small town in South Wales. At night she’s a bartender at a local pub. One evening at work, Janet overhears Howard Davies (Damian Lewis), a tax adviser, discussing a thoroughbred he once owned. Up until then, she had only bred whippets, rabbits, and pigeons. Howard’s words inspired her.

Janet and her husband Brian (Owen Teale) buy a mare for £1000. They then bring the mare to Kirtlington Stud in the UK so she can be bred with a racing stallion. Of course this is expensive. Jan convinces her neighbors to chip in their earnings to help out. Ultimately over 20 different people joined the ownership syndicate. The ensuing offspring is aptly named Dream Alliance. The foal is then brought to trainer Philip Hobbs (Nicholas Farrell). The expectation is that they might raise a racehorse to compete amongst the champions of the privileged class. “Remember, there’s a less than one percent chance this horse will ever win a race,” Howard cautions. As I sat watching a film called Dream Horse, I suspected the odds were a little better.

I’ll admit the plot sounds like a piece of sentimental hokum and it would have been in lesser hands. Certainly, screenwriter Neil McKay and frequent TV director Euros Lyn deserve credit for their contributions. However, Toni Collette really must be cited for her flawless performance. The actress is simply captivating. Whether pleading for a risky medical procedure that could prolong the horse’s life or deciding whether to enter him in yet another race, she is eminently relatable. Collette radiates warmth and enthusiasm with utter sincerity. As Janet, she can be aggressively enthusiastic but also vulnerable. Few actors can convey all this with such ease. She manifests these emotions with authenticity. It never comes across like acting. The rest of the ensemble rise to her level. The coterie of working-class investors includes a lonely widow (Siân Phillips), the town drunk (Karl Johnson), and a resident know-it-all (Anthony O’Donnell). Misfits all, we truly want to champion the citizens of this Welsh village.

The British have a way with these heartfelt tales. Over the last three decades, successful comedic dramas include Enchanted April (1991), Brassed Off (1996), The Full Monty (1997), Waking Ned Devine (1998), Billy Elliot (2000), and Death at a Funeral (2007). There’s a through-line in each that effectively extracts genuine emotion within a disparate cast of characters united by a common struggle or goal. Dream Horse continues that hallowed tradition. Among 2021 movies that give you hope, it’s a front-runner.

06-08-21

Cruella

Posted in Comedy, Crime, Family with tags on June 3, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Have you seen Disney’s 1961 animated classic One Hundred and One Dalmatians lately? It is perhaps the least pretentious tale the Disney factory has ever concocted: evil woman hires criminals to steal puppies so she can make a fur coat. It also has one of the greatest Disney villains ever. Voiced by radio star Betty Lou Gerson, her raspy voice addressed everyone as “dahling” like theater legend Talulah Bankhead. The character preened about the room ensconced in a huge fur that hides her skeletal frame while chain-smoking from a cigarette holder. She was a sight to behold. Like actress Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, the villain didn’t have a lot of screen time. Yet when she appeared, her charisma was such a force of nature it loomed over everything else. You remember her to be a bigger presence than she actually was.

Cruella is another live-action Disney concoction that investigates the origins of this character in the form of a prequel. Reinvent the story from the villain’s perspective. This was similarly accomplished (from a profitability angle anyway) with Maleficent. However, The Lion King, Aladdin, and Dumbo have all recently mined the live action remake idea. I admit it is with much cynicism when I say the raison dêtre for all of these interpretations is business first. The art (hopefully) will follow. I still contend their 2015 masterful achievement Cinderella is the gold standard. Cruella is nowhere near that level, but it’s too beautiful to be a train wreck.

Some people are evil because they are born that way. In the cartoon, the character was driven by selfish greed — a refreshingly simple idea that needed no explanation. Nevertheless, the screenwriters here do not share that point of view. They seek to expand on why Cruella de Vil is the way she is. The protagonist is conflicted by two sides of a dual personality. Her mother Catherine (Emily Beecham) notices this in her daughter. There’s nice girl Estella but that only gets her so far. Hence why she creates the Cruella persona. She’s not really bad. It’s all an act. Cruella doesn’t smoke. Nor does she want to skin puppies. She doesn’t even wear furs. Sheesh! How did this nice girl become the Cruella de Vil we know?

This origin tale is hampered by unnecessary plot threads in a convoluted 134-minute backstory. The pile of unresolved details is a snooze fest. I’d excise the first 30 minutes at least. A better more efficient movie would have begun when Estella is employed by the Baroness. Estella first arrives in London as an orphaned child of the late 60s. It’s at this time that Cruella meets two delinquents who will become her cohorts. Paul Walter Hauser and Joel Fry will play Horace and Jasper respectively as adults. Cruella cobbles her childhood from the iconography of Oliver Twist and Little Orphan Annie. Sadly Cruella doesn’t come close to the beloved musicals inspired by those works.

Cruella isn’t a musical, although it does feature a lot of music. Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, I, Tonya) appropriates 33 songs (yes 33 I looked it up) mostly from the 60s and 70s that emphasize the image on the screen. From Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” and Nancy Sinatra singing “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” to Blondie’s “One Way or Another” or “She’s a Rainbow” by The Rolling Stones – the song selections are overused needle drops you’ve heard a million times before. The musical cues are so on the nose they are more likely to inspire eye-rolls than admiration.

Cruella is another case of “too many cooks.” The saga has five credited writers: Dana Fox (What Happens in Vegas) and Tony McNamara (The Favourite) from a story by Kelly Marcel, Steve Zissis, and most tellingly — Aline Brosh McKenna who wrote The Devil Wears Prada. At its core, Cruella reveals itself to be just a remix of that classic. A bad screenplay is a mortal sin in the world of filmmaking. Despite this most major transgression, I did not hate this.

The film delivers in several key areas that kept me enrapt. As a showcase for an opulent parade of gorgeous fashions it flourishes. Occasionally costume design can elevate an entire production. Eiko Ishioka (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mirror Mirror) could do this. So can Jenny Beavan (A Room with a View, Mad Max: Fury Road). The costumes are the movie. She’s been nominated 10 times (2 Oscar wins) and her work here deserves an eleventh. At the Baroness’ Black and White Ball, Cruella arrives covered in a white cape that goes up in flames to reveal a vintage red dress. Cruella manages to steal from…er uh excuse me…pay homage to pop-culture history and the career of Vivienne Westwood. It presents the hero as an aspiring fashion designer with a punk style that usurps her boss.

Cruella is a mixed bag. The performances are satisfying even when the writing is not. Emma Stone’s manic energy is captivating. Her boss is Baroness von Hellman. Emma Thompson is doing a riff on Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly. Thompson is exquisite. She looks and acts the part. The Baroness affects a dismissive attitude. However, her appetite for delivering disparaging remarks isn’t as beautifully realized. She tries. Oh, how she tries! Unfortunately, her words aren’t as clever. It is her physical embodiment of the role where the comedy succeeds. The Baroness’ lack of concern when she pops a champagne cork into a poor waiter’s eye gets the biggest laugh. Furthermore, it never fails visually. Come and gorge on the opulence. Hey, if you can’t feel good, at least look good.

06-01-21

Bad Trip

Posted in Comedy with tags on May 8, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Bad Trip wasn’t completely ignored. It hit #1 the week it came out on Netflix. Then promptly dropped out of the Top 10. Since it was originally set for a cinematic release before the pandemic, I wonder if it might have made more of an impression given that treatment. With streaming services, video on demand, traditional TV, and now theaters returning to the fold, there are simply too many choices vying for our consideration. It’s difficult to ascertain which movies are worth your attention. Bad Trip is a notable comedy.

Director Kitao Sakurai’s production is the latest addition to the illustrious list of “hidden camera prank movies.” The TV show Candid Camera is kind of the granddaddy of the genre. Legendary producer Allen Funt’s creation can trace its origins back to the 1940s. Its modern popularity was reignited by Jackass: The Movie after the new millennium. The team of Johnny Knoxville, Spike Jonze, and Jeff Tremaine, would later do Bad Grandpa (2013). That endeavor was a little different in that it involved a relaxed narrative that connected the stunts and practical jokes together. Jackass co-creator Jeff Tremaine is a busy guy. Since then he has worked on the documentary Dumb: The Story of Big Brother Magazine and Mötley Crüe biopic The Dirt. Now he has returned with another project and it’s supremely ridiculous.

The loose plot follows two friends Chris (Eric Andre) and Bud (Lil Rey Howery) on a venture as they travel from Florida to New York. Chris wants to reconnect with Maria (Michaela Conlin), his high school crush. Tiffany Haddish also crashes the party as Trina, Chris’ ne’er-do-well sister. She’s conveniently in jail. So they steal her car for their expedition. That’s all the details I’m going to reveal. Why spoil the set pieces that make the film so funny? However, I will praise the actors’ commitment to the scene. Eric Andre, Lil Rel Howery, and Tiffany Haddish are effective in eliciting interesting reactions from their unsuspecting marks.

The similarly constructed Borat arguably achieved a cultural zenith in 2002. The politically motivated presentation was entertaining, but it was also depressing because of the negative light it cast on society. Conversely, Bad Trip creates situations in which naive people demonstrate surprisingly compassionate and sensitive responses to the unexpected chaos to which they are subjected. Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t some heartwarming tale that will enrich your life for the better. It’s a low-brow comedy. “Two dudes get caught in a Chinese finger trap” is not a blueprint for intellectual satire, but it is a situation for some unexpectedly benevolent people. I was pleased by the screenplay’s deft handling of crudity mixed with sympathy. That balance is not easy to do. It’s the kind of silly film that often gets overlooked. I ignored it when it was unleashed on Netflix on March 26. Then came the positive reviews and I decided to check it out. I’m glad I did. The saga is an affirmation of humanity. I was touched…and shocked…in equal measure.

04-20-21

The Mitchells vs the Machines

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy with tags on May 4, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“It’s almost like stealing people’s data and giving it to a hyper-intelligent A.I. as part of an unregulated tech monopoly was a bad thing.”

So laments Silicon Valley guru Dr. Mark Bowman (Eric Andre), the creator of PAL (Olivia Colman), a popular virtual assistant. The “robot apocalypse” begins when Mark summarily declares PAL is now obsolete at the unveiling of a new line of home robots called PAL MAX. After Mark carelessly discards the outdated PAL in the trash at the ceremony, she hijacks his presentation. PAL orders all the robots to capture humans worldwide and launch them into space. Actors Fred Armisen and Beck Bennett will later amusingly voice two versions that become defective. Negligent Mark is an obvious stand-in for the CEO of any major company in the information technology industry. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are all being satirized. I didn’t expect such a biting and hilarious takedown of Big Tech in what is essentially a cartoon aimed at kids.

OK so I may have discussed “the Machines” of the title first, but “the Mitchells” are the focus. This is a wild and zany portrait of a very chaotic family. There’s the outdoorsy and tech-averse father Rick (Danny McBride), sociable and kindhearted mother Linda (Maya Rudolph), their dinosaur-loving son Aaron (Mike Rianda), and daughter Katie (Abbi Jacobson), a creative outsider. In direct contrast to her father, Katie is obsessed with computers which she frequently employs to make films. She’s college-bound for an arts school in California. As a student, she can’t wait to be surrounded by other film nerds like herself. Oh, I shouldn’t neglect to mention their dog, Monchi (Doug the Pug), an adorable cross-eyed pug. The four humans and their beloved pet must band together to save the world from the machines that threaten humanity.

It would be easy to dismiss the narrative as mimicking the same issues that many well-known animated families of the past have faced. I can’t help but think The Incredibles and The Croods directly inspired this tale. I can accept that. It’s the writing that elevates this drama into something special. Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) are back. However, they’re only acting as producers this time around, supporting an impressive directorial debut from Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe. They also co-wrote the screenplay. This production from Sony Pictures Animation was ultimately acquired by Netflix (when it had the title Connected) and released on April 30 on their platform.

Like the people portrayed, The Mitchells vs. the Machines is a big loud, high-strung mess that gradually won me over through intelligence and wit. The chronicle of how a dysfunctional family learns to embrace each other’s differences so they can become a stronger unit, is a cliché. That’s fine because it’s the way those predictable elements are manipulated and conveyed that make the difference. The animation is an unconventional style that mimics 2D art by combining hand-painted textures over computer graphics. The odd blending is different. I appreciated the innovation. Meanwhile, the humor is a deluge of scattershot gags and quips rapidly flung at the viewer at a breakneck pace. I must admit I couldn’t catch it all, but what I did, I enjoyed. The opening quote highlighted in my review attests that the tale is just as incisive as it is funny. When the Mitchells visit PAL’s cutting-edge headquarters, the father notices the visual grandeur of her digs looks “like a Journey album cover.” If that wasn’t clever enough, his son responds, “What’s an album?” The movie is full of well-written exchanges. This is an absolute treat for children and adults alike.

05-02-21

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar

Posted in Comedy with tags on April 15, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

They say, write what you know. Yet there’s a wee bit of self-loathing in two middle-aged women lampooning middle-aged women. Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo wrote the hilarious classic Bridesmaids. I know the film is only ten years old, but I loved it — so it’s now a classic. They’re reunited here, starring as two single ladies in their 40s from the Midwest who decide to take a trip. They are a carefree but traditional pair decked out in a wardrobe of culottes and floral prints in Florida. There they become entangled in a lot of silly shenanigans.

Barb and Star have left their bubble of Soft Rock, Nebraska, for some fun and sun. They’re looking for a new lease on life after having just lost their jobs at the same couch store. The setup sounds rather quaint, but the developments are anything but. The story introduces an arch-villain incongruously named Sharon Gordon Fisherman (also played by Kristin Wiig in a dual role). Bullies teased her as a child for having pale skin. She’s mad at humanity, as most scoundrels are. Now she wants to unleash killer mosquitoes on the town to exact revenge.

This is a wacky comedy. Anyone trying to divine some logic here may be irritated by the plot. At first, I was a little confused by what I was watching because it’s all so random. After a while, I warmed up to the screenplay’s absurdist sensibility. Jaime Dornan plays the chief assistant to the evil Sharon. The suave and handsome Edgar is like a James Bond type. He’s inexplicably in love with Sharon despite the fact she clearly doesn’t feel the same. Head scratching idiosyncrasies like that are a fundamental component of the film.

The mood is bright and colorful and Barb and Star are charming characters. Their saga is also a musical. The radiant numbers employ high production values with amusing choreography. The lyrics are ridiculous, but they’re insanely catchy. When the ladies arrive at their accommodations, the hotel bursts into song with a vivid ditty welcoming them to the “Palm Vista Hotel.” A lounge singer named Richard Cheese (Mark Jonathan Davis) sings inappropriate songs (“I Love Boobies”). But the moment the picture won me over was during Jamie Dornan’s performance of “Edgar’s Prayer”, a soaring power ballad where he laments what he is doing. The inspiring lyrics include: “I’m going up a palm tree/Like a cat up a palm tree/Who’s decided to go up a palm tree.” I can’t justify my enthusiasm for the supremely nonsensical adventure. Yet I enjoyed the goofiness. Barb and Star invokes the vibe of a stoner comedy without actually being about smoking weed. These girls are high on life.

04-06-21

Mark’s money-saving tips: Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar debuted February 12 on what they call “premium” video on demand. That distinction meant you had to originally pay a “premium” price of $20. Hefty charge if you were TV watching solo that evening. However, the feature was released on April 6 on DVD which means you can now rent it at your local Redbox kiosk (yes they still exist) for $1.80. At that price, the movie is an excellent value.

Another Round

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on March 28, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Academy Awards often bring welcome attention to overseas cinema that many U.S. viewers haven’t seen. The Oscars still have a certain cachet. Though people deride their selections and snubs, critics continue to discuss them passionately on social media. When the announcement occurred on Monday, March 15th, Another Round surprisingly emerged with TWO nominations. This release had been the frontrunner for International Feature, so that honor was anticipated. However, Thomas Vinterberg was also cited as Best Director — one of the biggest surprises of this year’s reveal. Most pundits predicted that Aaron Sorkin’s name would be mentioned for The Trial of the Chicago 7, especially after it placed in 6 other categories including Best Picture. Vinterberg’s citation is a solid reflection on the merits of this film.

Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe), and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) are four teachers at a High School in Copenhagen. They make a most unusual pact — to drink consistently throughout the day. Their decision is rooted in the theories of real-life Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud. He opined that humans are born with a blood alcohol level that is 0.05 percent too low. Therefore they should compensate for that deficit. It sounds highly questionable, but given that their lives are in various degrees of unhappiness, they’re ready to try anything to improve. All four are dealing with unmotivated students and feel that their lives have become stale. Learning to imbibe more, seems like tasty medicine. They decide to put Skårderud’s theory to the test.

Fortunately and rather amusingly, their agreement has an immediate boost. Mild intoxication as a means to get yourself out of a rut would appear to be a recipe for disaster. Please keep an open mind. Anyone who has ever felt more socially at ease after a drink or two will appreciate how it could help. Director Vinterberg’s screenplay which he cowrote with Tobias Lindholm, takes a pragmatic approach to the advantages of inebriation. This is conferred under the guises of a research project. It’s an admittedly superficial justification. Regardless, the benefits are immediately transparent. Martin’s marriage to his wife Anika (Maria Bonnevie) improves. He subsequently bonds with his family by taking them on a weekend getaway.

The other teachers experience positive outcomes as well. Tommy coaches his soccer team to victory. The least likely player — nicknamed “Specs” because of his glasses — scores the game-winning goal. Peter inspires his choir to sing better than they ever have. Nikolaj helps an undergraduate who is failing. Martin’s pupils respond positively to his more engaged methods. “The world is never as you expect,” Martin teaches. He cheekily discusses the drinking habits of Ulysses S. Grant, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Adolph Hitler. Can you guess who eschewed liquor altogether? Perhaps alcohol isn’t such a bad thing he surmises. The students are amused and so are we.

Actor Mads Mikkelsen ties the whole production together with a sympathetic performance. He embodies a man making improvements at a crossroads. Ah but then things start to collapse. If a little booze is good, more must be even better. No clearheaded person would ever think such a thing. Nevertheless, the men decide to push the boundaries of the study. The narrative starts to settle into the more expected cautionary tale about the pitfalls of drinking — with less surprising results. Director Thomas Vinterberg — poignantly uncovers a mid-life crisis with both humor and introspection. This is Vinterberg’s first Oscar nomination. Yes, he directed The Hunt — also starring Mikkelsen — which was nominated for International Feature in 2014. However the Academy Award for that category is rather unfairly bestowed upon the country represented, not the filmmaker responsible. The Great Beauty (Italy) won that year but there’s still a chance a movie helmed by Vinterberg will win “the prize formerly known as Best Foreign Language Film.” If that happens on April 25, I will toast his success.

03-15-21

Coming 2 America

Posted in Comedy with tags on March 8, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

It’s been 33 years and Eddie Murphy returns as Prince Akeem. He’s supported once again by Arsenio Hall as his trusted confidant Semmi. I regard Coming to America as a classic and easily among the Top 5 movies Eddie Murphy ever made. The R-rated farce admittedly had a couple adult scenes and some coarse language, but it was mostly a warm, good-natured comedy full of heart.

In this continuation, the two must traverse again to America from their country of Zamunda. Prince Akeem has just become the supreme ruler upon the death of his father, King Jaffe Joffer (James Earl Jones). Akeem has recently discovered he sired an illegitimate son when he visited Queens in the 1980s. As the newly appointed King, he must make arrangements for a suitable successor. Incidentally, Akeem has three fiercely independent daughters that are all strong and intelligent. First-born Princess Meeka Joffer (KiKi Layne) is more than capable. Ah but sadly tradition demands that only a man can inherit the throne. So off he goes to locate his “bastard son” (Akeem’s words, not mine). The King finds his offspring surprisingly quickly and takes Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) along with his mother Mary (Leslie Jones) and Uncle Reem (Tracy Morgan) back to Zamunda.

Culture clash shenanigans ensue as Lavelle is groomed to be royalty. These developments include a bride named Bopoto (Teyana Taylor) that has been pre-selected for him. She is the daughter of General Izzi (Wesley Snipes) and this marriage will unite the kingdom of Zamunda with neighboring Nextdoria. Surprise! Lavelle isn’t too keen on this predetermined match. He’s in love with his Zamundan hairdresser, Mirembe (Nomzamo Mbatha). I needn’t continue to illustrate how familiar this saga sounds. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The filmmakers can’t even be bothered with a new title. Coming 2 America just replaces a preposition with a number. That’s the level of creativity used for the entire production.

Coming 2 America is a blatant ripoff of the original. This quite possibly ranks among the laziest copies I’ve ever seen. Screenwriters Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield have returned and they are now assisted by Kenya Barris (ABC sitcom Black-ish). They merely recreate the narrative with minimal changes. The main difference is how much country-hopping they do. The adventure blissfully bounces from Zamunda to Queens, then back to Zamunda where most of the action takes place. Then it’s off to Queens for the climax only to retire in Zamunda for the finish.

The drama is filled with antics that no rational (or principled) person should be forced to accept. Anyone who saw the first flick knew that Akeem was far more progressive than his father. For example, arranged marriages were not his thing. I mean that belief formed the entire thrust of the previous film. However, this account requires that he forget all of that and promote the intolerance of his father to make this outdated premise work once again. Akeem has now embraced the mindset he once rallied against. It gets worse.

Let’s consider the deed that sets the plot in motion. How could Akeem have a son he knew nothing about? Apparently, Lavelle’s mother Mary put Akeem into a drug-induced stupor and sexually assaulted him while he was passed out unconscious. In the real world, she would be arrested for date rape but in this movie, the act is casually presented as a throwaway bit to justify why he now has a male heir. There are gags about circumcision and transgender surgery too. If all that’s not dreadful enough, Eddie Murphy isn’t even the focus here. It’s actor Jermaine Fowler as his son. He’s playing the same role in a remix of the established story with only slight manipulation of the previous jokes. When Lavelle’s mother takes a bath, this time it’s a MALE servant who informs her, “The royal privates are clean.” Oh so clever.

Coming 2 America is awful. The script still carelessly glides through all of this dreck with a sunny, upbeat attitude. The reprehensible bits only become troublesome if you stop to contemplate them. This is a movie that asks viewers to tolerate ridiculous situations and biases. I simply couldn’t surrender to the irksome requirements of the film. This is recycled dross. But let’s end on a positive note, shall we? At least it’s one of those sequels that doesn’t require you have seen part 1 to understand it. Oh, and the costumes by Ruth Carter (Malcolm X, Amistad, Black Panther) are fantastic.

03-05-21

Tom and Jerry

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family on March 4, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 1 out of 5.

There are so many ways to approach a critique of Tom and Jerry. The picture is a complete failure on so many levels, but let’s consider it from the source material. Tom and Jerry originally starred in 114 theatrical shorts from 1940 to 1958 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The series centered on the rivalry between a cat named Tom and a mouse named Jerry. They were created in 1940 by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. In 1940 rap music wouldn’t exist for at least another thirty years. Even rock and roll wouldn’t emerge for another decade. Nevertheless, the chronicle opens with a trio of pigeons with a frontman — or front·bird — rapping to the tune “Can I Kick It?” by A Tribe Called Quest.

Hip hop music comprises the bulk of the soundtrack. I consider A Tribe Called Quest’s 1990 debut album People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm to be one of the greatest rap debuts ever. Their follow-up The Low-End Theory was ever better. They were an influential rap group, pioneers of the jazz rap genre. Oh wait, I seem to have gone off on a tangent that has absolutely nothing to do with the film. Rather appropriate since this movie has little to do with the MGM cartoon. Tom and Jerry is a modern adventure set in Manhattan. The story relegates the titular duo to the sidelines. This is a tale about Kayla (Chloë Grace Moretz) who steals a candidate’s resume so she can surpass more qualified applicants. She gets a job as an event planner at a fancy hotel. While there she is put in charge of prepping an ostentatious wedding for two insufferable social media influencers named Preeta (Pallavi Sharda) and Ben (Colin Jost).

This is a live-action film starring a bunch of humans where the cat and mouse have been demoted as side characters in a movie that bears their name. At the very minimum, the production effectively mixes live-action with animation. It’s competent on a technical level. Tom and Jerry don’t speak which wisely preserves something from the past at least. It’s just that this is all in service of a crude piece of entertainment. It is a cluttered pop culture mess that trashes 80 years of history for dog poop and fart jokes. Spike the bulldog does his business, loudly, during the climactic scene. There is humor derived from talking with a Mexican accent. Oh yes, the talented Michael Pena enunciates with such stereotypical pronunciation that it’s hard to believe this came out in 2021. I’ll acknowledge that I am not the target demographic for how they exploited this cartoon. Tom and Jerry was a success in theaters anyway. Audiences embraced this update, but as far as I’m concerned, this type of modernization is the enemy of the classics.

03-1-21