Archive for the Comedy Category

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

Soul

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family with tags on December 29, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The meaning of life is a pretty grandiose idea for any movie to tackle and perhaps even more uncommon for a cartoon. However if any studio could rise to the challenge, it’s Pixar. Every release is always highly anticipated. This one is decidedly different because it’s being made available on Disney+ as many theaters are closed. For those who wish to keep track, this is Pixar’s 23rd feature. It takes on some major subjects. This isn’t new for the animation company. Both Coco and Inside Out dealt with similar themes but I’d say that Soul attempts something much grander.

The legendary Pete Docter has yet to fail as a director: Monsters, Inc, Up, and Inside Out are all classics. Here he directs for the fourth time and co-writes the script (with Mike Jones and Kemp Powers). I’m happy to say Docter comes through again — so successfully that I’m willing to bet Soul will be a Best Picture nominee when the Oscars are announced on March 15, 2021. Only three animated films have ever been nominated for the highest honor: Beauty and the Beast, Up, and Toy Story 3 are the others.

Soul is fascinating because it deals with a lot of abstract beliefs. The saga concerns jazz musician Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) who feels unfulfilled as a middle school music teacher. Then one day, a former student (Questlove) invites him to sit in on his jazz band led by respected saxophonist Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). Unfortunately, while leaving the successful audition he’s so preoccupied with the opportunity that he falls down a manhole and slips into a coma. His lifeless body lays in a hospital room but his soul is taking an escalator ride upward toward the Great Beyond. However, since he just got his big break, he resists by running away in the opposite direction. Joe plunges to another region called the Great Before. Understandably Joe is confused. “Uh hey, is this heaven?” he asks. That is the first and only time the word is ever uttered. “This isn’t the Great Beyond” a counselor (Alice Braga) informs him. “It’s the Great Before” — a place where other souls currently exist before being conceived as human beings . This is where personalities and interests are assigned before going to Earth. Oh, they’re calling it the “You Seminar” now. Rebranding.

There is a lot to unpack here. The screenplay has a definite worldview that it’s promoting. The ancient Greeks and Islam maintain a pre-existence, but it is generally denied in Christianity. For the most part, the filmmakers portray the afterlife without referencing the theology of any denomination. For example, the concept of God is not mentioned. Neither is religion. This is understandable as the teachings have been workshopped to please as many viewers as possible. Instead, we meet counselors all named “Jerry” that manifest as shapeshifting entities. They appear like cubist doodles that Picasso might have drawn. It is here that Joe is paired up to mentor a disagreeable unborn soul named 22 (Tina Fey) who has never left the Great Before. Adults who have well-established convictions about what life after death means will easily acknowledge these designs as a construct. This tale will most definitely inspire questions about heaven in the very young. Parents can use this as a springboard for further discussion with their children.

Soul eventually bestows an admirable moral with universal appeal. The ultimate reveal is a warm fuzzy thought that everyone can enjoy. That universality is guaranteed not to offend. Nevertheless, it keeps the chronicle from offering anything particularly deep or controversial. What the narrative lacks in profundity, it more than makes up for in visual grandeur. When Joe descends into the Great Before, my heart leaped at the sensational marriage of sight and sound. The percolating synthesizer score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is supremely affecting. Pixar has pushed their artistry once again. Their efforts elevate this production in ways that are hard to explain, but easy to appreciate: Joe’s fingers as they grace a keyboard (playing compositions by bandleader Jon Batiste), the judgmental facial expressions of Dorothea Williams regarding a new addition to her musical combo or simply the physical realm of New York City rendered in breathtaking detail. Thematically it aims higher and so the bar is raised to a new level. Soul is an ambitious statement and it delivers some but not all of the spiritual enlightenment it initiates. The story is still endlessly compelling throughout and I enjoyed the film as a spectacle. It’s one of the best of the year.

12-25-20

The Croods: A New Age

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family with tags on November 23, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I wasn’t especially fond of The Croods back in 2013 when I saw it. I railed against its modern attitude and the antagonistic relationship between father and daughter. I still gave it a passable review because it was mostly pleasant. Now I haven’t re-watched it since, so I’m not sure if I’ve changed or if The Croods: A New Age is indeed a better movie. Don’t get me wrong, this is not deep. It basically coasts on physical comedy. Nonetheless, it’s such a sunny upbeat delight that it was enough to charm me into believing this is an improvement.

It helps that the story is more elaborate than merely “daughter butts heads with an overprotective father.” Everyone in the Crood household is back including Guy (Ryan Reynolds) — the boyfriend of Eep (Emma Stone) — who now lives with the clan. This time the so-called “threat” is a seemingly innocent family who has advanced beyond the Croods in intelligence and evolution. They’re the Bettermans. Psst…..their name is allegorical. Get it? Actors Peter Dinklage and Leslie Mann really bring their A-game in voicing these fussy characters. There’s something acutely absurd in the contrast. Grug (Nicolas Cage) and Ugga (Catherine Keener) Crood are so thoroughly unrefined while Phil and Hope Betterman are upscale types that act like they’re ready to lead a yoga class. They welcome the Croods into their beautiful home and Grug brings the havoc. Grug can’t seem to understand the concept of a wall.

This is a very funny movie. There are plenty of laughs to be mined simply in that dichotomy. Then the narrative develops a little further. The adventure revolves around the Betterman’s daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran) who is comparatively down to earth for a Betterman. She admires Eep and they forge a fast friendship. The fact that they aren’t depicted as rivals is a refreshing surprise. Also, the Bettermans already know Guy. That previous connection makes relationships a bit complicated. The New Age is still a slapstick affair at heart but the zaniness is intelligently introduced and then focused. There’s a glee here that recalls the work of animation legend Tex Avery for Warner Bros and MGM. For example, when Dawn’s hand is stung by a bee it swells to such a puffy cartoonish size it looks like an inflatable balloon. It’s not a profound film. I’ll probably forget the details in a week or two. However, I frequently laughed while watching this, and in 2020 that counts for a lot.

11-20-20

On the Rocks

Posted in Adventure, Comedy, Drama with tags on November 10, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Has anyone noticed this? As the sheer drama of the everyday news gets more fantastical and bizarre, the storylines in movies seem more and more rooted in reality. On the Rocks reflects that trend to the point that it is merely a chronicle that details someone with a suspicious feeling. Hollywood has long relied on science fiction and fantasy for its big-budget tent-poles. The New Mutants and Tenet are recent examples. I get that Hollywood hasn’t released much over the past nine months but where are the low-cost science fiction and fantasy flicks? Vivarium, Sputnik, and Possessor immediately come to mind, but those are the exception in an industry where it used to be the rule. Ah, but I digress. On the Rocks came out in October to AppleTV. Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, it stars Bill Murray and Rashida Jones. Coppola famously worked with Murray in Lost in Translation back in 2003, so devotees of that film may appreciate this as a reunion of sorts.

A simple deliberation on humanity can be refreshing. The story concerns Laura (Rashida Jones), a wife who suspects that her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) is cheating. Bill Murray portrays her father Felix who wants to trail the husband detective style with his daughter by his side and determine beyond any doubt whether Dean is in fact disloyal. Laura is a sweet and likable novelist who is struggling to finish her latest book. Felix is a successful art dealer and a bit of a lothario. Perhaps Laura’s husband is somewhat like her dad? The script gets a lot of humor from the exasperated reactions from his daughter. Murray and Jones have lovely chemistry together. They do indeed make a nice team. The New York locations add a cosmopolitan feel to the narrative and Philippe Le Sourd’s cinematography beautifully exploits that.

This is a slight account built around an extremely thin storyline. Not a lot happens. It essentially coasts on the considerable charm of its stars. I’m not saying it’s bad. However, the wistful but conventional tone wasn’t enough to captivate this particular viewer. It’s never a good sign when a 96-minute movie is so inconsequential that you have to watch it in two parts. I watched a full hour before checking out and returning the next day to finish it up. On the Rocks has gotten positive reviews. It’s unquestionably well-acted. Both Murray and Jones imbue their characters with genuine pathos, but the subject is surprisingly mundane for a Sofia Coppola screenplay. She directed the less old-fashioned Somewhere back in 2010. I suppose if you’re a fan of that film and its leisurely pace then I’d recommend this one to you as well.

11-05-20

Over the Moon

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy with tags on November 5, 2020 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Over the Moon is an early frontrunner for Best Animated Feature at the 2021 Oscars. The hype doesn’t help. Unrealistic hope can affect your enjoyment and this set mine unnecessarily high. Netflix has made it a habit of buying up animated movies and releasing them as originals. Recent titles include The Little Prince, I Lost My Body, Klaus, The Willoughbys, Fearless, A Whisker Away, Animal Crackers, and Pets United. They run the gamut in quality, so I usually temper my expectations.

The production has a pedigree too. It’s co-directed by Glen Keane, the legendary Disney luminary who worked on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and many others. He won the Best Animated Short Film Oscar for the fawning Dear Basketball co-written and narrated by Kobe Bryant. This release is actually put out by Shanghai-based Pearl Studio who brought us Abominable in 2019. Given the talent involved and the positive buzz, I expected a lot more.

The story sounds culturally adventurous and otherworldly. The tale is adapted from a fable about the Chinese goddess of the Moon. It concerns a 14-year-old girl in China named Fei Fei (Cathy Ang). She believes in the Moon goddess Chang’e (Phillipa Soo) because of stories her mother (Ruthie Ann Miles) told her. Unfortunately her mom is terminally ill. After Ma Ma passes on, Fei Fei yearns to travel to the heavens in a rocket ship and prove to everyone that Chang’e is not a myth and that she does truly exist.

Over the Moon is a mixed bag. On the plus side, this is a beautifully animated saga full of colorful designs and expressive creatures. The impressive spectacle is the production’s greatest asset. Fei Fei does indeed fly to the moon. There she meets a wacky world of alien critters. Yet their personalities would be more at home on an American sitcom. It heavily relies on successful works of the past too. There’s goofy sidekick Gobi (Ken Jeong) with the temperament of Olaf the snowman from Frozen. Meanwhile, the Moon goddess is revealed to be less of an ethereal being and more of a spoiled pop princess. Can you feel my disappointment?

The account begins as sensitive handling of death and remarriage, then presents an unrelated adventure that tidily resolves complicated emotional issues at the end. It’s not hard to see the DNA of other films. The aforementioned Frozen, but also Up, Alice in Wonderland, Mulan, the Pixar short Bao. Chinese culture has been superficially inserted as atmosphere to infuse a very bland and generic screenplay. I sound like a broken record because I made the same “Americanized” critique of Abominable. It’s worth noting the voice cast is Asian American. Representation in storytelling and casting is more important than ever. However, Mulan supported Asian actors (Ming-Na Wen, Lea Salonga, BD Wong, Pat Morita, James Hong, George Takei) way back in 1998 and still managed to promote unique and interesting characters as well. Mulan highlighted some very catchy songs to boot. I appreciate the effort it took to make this a musical. There is a smattering of tunes but nothing is memorable. This is a passable time-filler for adults and a 100-minute babysitter for young kids.

10-16-20