Vacation

July 31, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Skyler Gisondo
Directed by: John Frances Daley & Johnathan M. Goldstein (debut)
Written by: John Frances Daley & Johnathan M. Goldstein (“Horrible Bosses”)

The “Vacation” series of movies have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Before “Star Wars,” even before “E.T.” I remember watching “National Lampoon’s Vacation” at what must have been five years old on VHS, all because my dad has a soft spot for raunchy comedy.  Hell, he took my younger sister and me to see the sequel, “European Vacation,” in the theater during his day off from work, and that movie had boobs in it! The last movie I can remember my entire family watching at once in a movie theater is “Christmas Vacation,” long before it became a beloved modern holiday classic. And “Vegas Vacation,” the too-late 1997 sequel, is something I have a fondness for when no one else seems to, even going so far as to say as much to the film’s self-deprecating director Stephen Kessler, who then proceeded to tell me how that movie’s Rusty—Ethan Embry—could have been the next Leonardo DiCaprio, had casting directors given him something more to do that be “the boy next door.”

I don’t know about that, but I do know that with all the variations in quality and cast members over the years, the “Vacation” series isn’t some tight-knit epic that a recast, semi-reboot would upset too much.  The movie even plays the series’ weird cast changes for laughs, opening with an adult Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) looking through old family vacation photos featuring pictures of previous Rustys Anthony Michael Hall, Johnny Galecki, Embry, and, uh, whoever the guy is from “European Vacation.” Hold on; let me look…Jason Lively. Anyway, the film kicks off with Rusty deciding to take his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and sons James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins) on a road trip vacation to Walley World, just like he and his family did more than 30 years ago. An off-putting car is purchased, weird family members are visited, and stops at roadside attractions go horribly wrong along the way, in much the same fashion as Chevy Chase encountered time and time again. And you know what? It’s pretty damn funny.

First-time directors John Frances Daley and Johnathan M. Goldstein stick close enough to the formula so the film feels like it fits in the loosey-goosey “Vacation” universe (ugh, thanks Marvel), but update the style and delivery of the jokes so it doesn’t feel like a relic from the ‘80s—meaning there are less boobs but more foul-mouthed kids and references to dicks. Helms plays Rusty as if he’s Andy from “The Office” in witness protection, and while he can’t match the simmering lunacy Chevy Chase delivered as the elder Griswold (he and Beverly D’Angelo cameo here), Helms’ clueless, positive Rusty running afoul of the universe is some funny stuff. Throw in sharp cameos from comedy ringers like Tim Heidecker, Charlie Day, Nick Kroll, Kaitlin Olson, and Michael Peña and you’ve got a road trip comedy more enjoyable than most.

The Hangover Part III

May 24, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis
Directed by: Todd Phillips (“The Hangover,” “The Hangover Part II”)
Written by: Todd Phillips (“Due Date”) and Craig Mazin (“The Hangover Part II”)

In a classic episode of “The Simpsons,” the hyper-violent cartoon show enjoyed by Bart and Lisa Simpson, “Itchy & Scratchy,” has begun to fall in the ratings. In an effort to salvage the show, network executives hold a focus group and, based on the answers they receive from viewers, decide what the show needs is a new character to shake things up. And thus Poochie the rockin’ dog with attitude is born. The viewers, however, immediately hate Poochie and the show deteriorates even further. Desperate to stop the bleeding, the executives hastily kill Poochie off, crudely animating his return to his home planet, a journey that ultimately claims his life.

If only the creative team behind the series of “Hangover” films had taken Poochie’s crucifixion to heart, we would have been spared what Ken Jeong’s insufferable Leslie Chow becomes in “The Hangover Part III.”

After the first film in the series went on to become the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time, sequels were inevitable. When “The Hangover Part II” proved to be little more than a carbon-copy of the original, it was a huge letdown, especially since director Todd Phillips had a blank check with which to push the boundaries of his trademark brand of destruction-filled comedy. Phillips apparently listened to detractors, seeing as how “Part III” is nearly a complete departure from the first two in the series. And not in a good way.

“Part III” opens in a Thai prison in the middle of a riot. As the warden cuts his way through the crowd, it becomes evident that the melee was meant to mask prisoner Leslie Chow’s escape. Meanwhile, eternal man-child Alan (Zach Galifianakis) loses his father and devolves even further socially. In an effort to help Alan, his fellow members of the Wolfpack, Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms), agree to escort him to a treatment facility in Arizona. Along the way, though, the group is hijacked by criminal kingpin Marshall (John Goodman) who needs the Wolfpack to track down the man who stole $21 million in gold from him: Leslie Chow.

To say “The Hangover Part III” isn’t funny is a true statement, but for the first hour it really isn’t trying to be. The scenes with Goodman and Mike Epp’s returning “Black Doug” are seemingly ripped from any number of generic action thrillers, with Goodman playing his part so straight you have to wonder if he even realized this was supposed to be a comedy. On the flip side, Jeong’s Chow, having already worn out his welcome all the way back in the second film, becomes the center of attention (seriously, he might have more lines than either Cooper or Helms) and the focus of nearly every joke, each one landing with a dull thud. If only his home planet needed him, we’d all be better off.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

March 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon
Directed by: Jay and Mark Duplass (“Cyrus”)
Written by: Jay and Mark Duplass (“Cyrus”)

As basement-dwelling stoner Jeff (Jason Segel) opens the film waxing philosophical, relating life to the film “Signs,” we know exactly what kind of person he is. He believes in fate; that everything happens for a reason; that there are no coincidences. Of course, at first we might think it’s the pot talking. But as the new Duplass brothers’ film “Jeff Who Lives At Home” progresses, we see that Jeff truly does believe in fate and audiences are taken on his journey to find whatever his destiny may be.

After he gets a call from a wrong number from someone looking for “Kevin,” Jeff curiously ventures out to run an errand for his mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon). When he sees someone on the bus named Kevin, he takes it as a sign from above and lets this mysterious name guide him throughout his day. Along the way, Jeff runs into his elusive brother Pat (Ed Helms) who is in the midst of a fight with his wife Linda (Judy Greer) over among other things, frivolous spending. Meanwhile at work, their mother Sharon is dealing with an online secret admirer who is showing a romantic interest in her.

Segel is the heart of the film, which is hardly unimaginable for anyone who has seen his fantastic performance in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Segel creates a character that is strangely vulnerable, but beyond that, a character that moviegoers will really want to see succeed. Helms’ character is the polar opposite of Jeff and a somewhat different turn for an actor who has spent a lot of his recent career doing goofy things in a totally different type of comedy. His chemistry with Segel is clearly evident, especially as a source of subtle wit. The Duplass brothers rely more on throwaway lines, facial expressions or strange situations for their laughs and Segel and Helms prove to be a great team for this brand of humor. Although it’s a smaller role, Greer is having a great last few months with solid dramatic turns in both “The Descendants” and now “Jeff.” Although there is nothing wrong with her performance, the B-story of Sarandon at work is the one storyline that seems a tad misplaced and disruptive to the flow of the film.

With the frequent documentary-style zooming in and out and heavily improvised dialogue, the Duplass brothers don’t stray far away from what they have become known for. It is a unique style that is likely to be polarizing and might come down to personal preference on whether or not it bothers the individual viewer. However, while their style remains unchanged, it is evident that with both “Jeff, Who Lives At Home” and with 2010’s “Cyrus,” the Duplass brothers are maturing as filmmakers. While their debut “The Puffy Chair” is raw and emotionally powerful, their latter two films come off as more polished with bigger named actors and an obviously bigger budget. But even further, there is far more charm to their last two films, especially with this last contribution.

While the film does meander and take a while to develop, the final act of “Jeff, Who Lives At Home” is blindsiding and beautiful as everything culminates in one fantastic sequence. It is a film that may not immediately connect with viewers, but those who stay with it may find themselves surprised as to just how much it grows on them. Perhaps what Jeff is experiencing throughout the film isn’t fate, but rather a random string of coincidences. But Segel brings such sincerity to the character that audiences are inclined to just let Jeff believe whatever he wants if it brings purpose to his life.

The Lorax

March 4, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift
Directed by: Chris Renaud (“Despicable Me”) and Kyle Balda (debut)
Written by: Ken Daurio (“Despicable Me”)

Look, we’ve been getting adaptations of Dr. Seuss books for the better part of 70 years, so what’s the use in complaining now? After all, Seuss’ collaborations with animation pioneers like Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, and Friz Freleng produced some charming little shorts that brought Seuss’ pictures and poetry perfectly to life. These efforts even produced a bona fide classic in Jones’ “How The Grinch Stole Christmas!” TV special, which on its own earns enough goodwill to make you forget someone thought it was a good idea to make a punishing 104-minute live action version of the same story.

With Seuss’ widow putting the kibosh on any more flesh-and-blood adaptations of her late husband’s work, a return to animation, now of the three-dimensional computer-generated variety, was in order. After all, there’s money to be made and plenty of Seuss’ books not yet clumsily stretched to feature length. In a move that comically echos the Once-ler’s desire to make mass-market garbage nobody needs at the expense of something beautiful, the filmmakers gleefully chopped down one of Seuss’ literary trees in order to summon this Lorax.

Directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda (both veterans of “Despicable Me”), “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” is a cinematic exercise that simply misses the point. No doubt the movie is visually exciting, having been given the full candy-colored 3D-CGI treatment. This version allows each bright Truffula tuft and dingy mustache hair to pop off the screen and sway gently in the digital breeze. But the story, which wraps an inflated version of the tale told in the book in a heavy-handed anti-corporate/love story framing device, commits the cardinal sin of children’s entertainment: it’s boring.

The film opens with a musical tribute to the perfect artificiality of Thneedville, a “Truman Show”-esque walled compound ruled by corporate overlord O’Hare (voice of Rob Riggle), an evil capitalist with a stature and hair style reminiscent of Edna Mode from “The Incredibles.” Thneedville is home to Ted (voice of Zac Efron), a young boy in love with Audrey (voice of Taylor Swift), the artsy girl across the street who wants nothing more than to see a real tree, proclaiming she’ll marry the first boy who can deliver one. Ted is inspired and, after a tip from his grandmother (voice of Betty White), sets out to find the Once-ler (voice of Ed Helms), the mysterious man who knows what happened to all the trees. The Once-ler has a shameful secret, a troubled past he recounts to Ted, namely how he came to know the creature known as the Lorax (voice of Danny DeVito).

The strain of extending Seuss’ fable to feature length begins to wear on the viewer, primarily in the middle of the movie as we’re mired in one of the Once-ler’s extended flashbacks. More than once the story shifts away from the Once-ler’s point of view, recounting details he was not present/conscious for. Did The Lorax fill him in later?  And while the movie’s over-arching environmental message is noble, “The Lorax” does not exist in a vacuum. One can’t help but wonder how audiences might reconcile the conservation/anti-consumerism mindset on display in the film with the mustachioed visage of The Lorax being used to sell SUVs, disposable diapers, and candy-sprinkled breakfast foods once they leave the theater.

The Lorax speaks for the trees…and also for Truffula Chip Pancakes, available for a limited time, only at IHOP!

The Hangover Part II

May 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms
Directed by: Todd Phillips (“The Hangover”)
Written by: Craig Mazin (“Superhero Movie”), Scot Armstrong (“Semi-Pro”), Todd Phillips (“Due Date”)
 
Trying to top the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time probably would’ve been a difficult task for director Todd Phillips to accomplish no matter what angle he took with the anticipate sequel “The Hangover Part II,” but at least he could have done something with the least bit of imagination.
 
Instead, Phillips and screenwriters Craig Mazin (“Superhero Movie”) and Scot Armstrong (“Semi-Pro”) have taken the blueprint of the original “Hangover” from 2009, moved the story from Las Vegas to Thailand, and hoped no one in the audience would know it was the same exact movie just with fewer reason to laugh.

Back for a second round of full-frontal male nudity and man-child humor are Phil (Bradley Cooper), Alan (Zach Galifianakis), Stu (Ed Helms), and Doug (Justin Bartha), four best friends who take a little trip out of the country for Stu’s wedding. Stu’s fiancée Lauren (Jamie Chung) asks the boys to hang out with her little brother Teddy (Mason Lee) so he won’t feel left out.

Flash forward to the following morning and Phil, Alan, and Stu wake up in a seedy Bangkok motel. While Doug is safe and sound back at their hotel ready for the wedding, it’s Teddy who has gone missing. Searching for clues, which include a drug-dealing monkey, a severed finger, and Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) naked on the floor, the wolf pack must find Teddy before the city claims him as its own.

Lazily written and with more of a mean streak than the original, “The Hangover Part II” will indulge fans who are fine with the same jokes and set-ups of the first movie. It’s a shame Phillips and screenwriters didn’t take advantage of the free reign to outdo themselves and their first outing. But when a script is filled with punchlines you already know, there’s not much to look forward to except a few special moments with Galifianakis and his shaven head.

Cedar Rapids

March 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche
Directed by: Miguel Arteta (“Youth in Revolt”)
Written by: Phil Johnston (debut)

Making morons out of men isn’t some innovative concept in the comedy genre. If anything, man’s link to his Neanderthal ancestry has been magnified by the big screen ever since The Three Stooges in the ’30s (Chaplin did slapstick, but wasn’t an idiot). Just last year, Steve Carell in “Dinner for Schmucks,” Zach Galifianakis in “Due Date,” and the entire cast of “Grown Ups” and “Jackass 3D” proved the male species hasn’t evolved much, cinematically speaking.

Still, there are levels of stupidity and naivety that can make or break a character depending on the comedic execution and, of course, the joke itself. It doesn’t take a genius to see the differences in humor between Steve Martin bumbling around as Navin Johnson in “The Jerk” and Steve-O launching through the air in a shit-filled Port-O-Potty.

In “Cedar Rapids,” small-town insurance salesman Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) is the kind of hopeless buffoon you wouldn’t mind getting to know. His rite of passage comes when he is sent to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to represent his company at an insurance convention, a sizeable step for Tim, who has never left his own backyard.

Playing an easily impressed, inoffensive man-child (much like Carell in 2005’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”), Helms’ deadpan wit is far from shtick. When Tim befriends a few convention veterans (a spazzy John C. Reilly included), Helms delivers some dialed-down, hilarious moments that never feel like second-rate gags. There is also never a point in “Cedar Rapids” where Tim grinds your nerves or overstays his welcome, which propels the story a couple tiers above a “Saturday Night Live” skit.

Sure, the film, which is directed by Miguel Arteta (who helmed last year’s underappreciated “Youth in Revolt”), is like watching a group of uncool adults on a lame high school senior trip they’re decades late for, but its Midwestern charm has a lot more going for it than most dummy comedies out there.

The Hangover

June 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis
Directed by: Todd Phillips (“Old School”)
Written by: Jon Lucas (“Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”) and Scott Moore (“Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”)

If you were to make an educated guess on which director could get close to recreating the type of comedy Judd Apatow has become famous for over the last four years, Todd Phillips’ name would not be near the top of that list. With popular albeit pointless comedies like “Road Trip,” “Old School,” and “Starsky & Hutch,” it’s never been Phillips’ forte to reach for anything that resembles cleverness. (Crotch pancakes, yes, witty dialogue between two main characters, not so much).

Maybe that’s why for his newest film, “The Hangover,” Phillips takes a step back and relinquishes his screenwriting duties to a couple of young scribes who also have a history of unimpressive comedies (“Rebound,” “Four Christmases,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past). Why take two lumps when you only have to take one, right?

The funny thing is, for whatever reason, the Phillips-Lucas-Moore combination works oddly well when Phillips isn’t pretending he’s still working with Will Ferrell and actually buys into the idea that less is always more. It doesn’t always happen in “The Hangover,” but the mostly unknown leading men keep the raunchy comedy from going into Tom Green-mode. And while it’s considered a dark comedy, it never crosses the line into the abyss like 1998’s “Very Bad Things,” another Las Vegas-based bachelor party movie.

As unbalanced as “The Hangover” is, actors Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis manage to keep the story grounded most of the time even when they’re running amuck in Sin City trying to find the friend they lost the night of his bachelor party.

When soon-to-be-groom Doug Billings (Justin Bartha) is no where to be found the morning after a drunken night in Las Vegas, his best friends Phil (Cooper) and Stu (Helms) and his awkward, grizzly-like future brother-in-law Alan (Galifianakis) attempt to sort though the clues left throughout their trashed suite and locate Doug before his wedding in two days.

Evidence of their wild night, however, only leads them to more questions. Why does the valet driver think they are police officers? Why is Stu married to a stripper (Heather Graham)? How the hell does former heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson know who they are? It’s all very mysterious in a sort of silly way until the third act when the whole misadventure slowly wears out.

Nevertheless, there’s still a shockingly hilarious pay off just when you think “The Hangover” can’t dig itself out of its dark-comedy hole. Add to that a strong dynamic between the three main leads and Phillips has suprisingly given us his best work to date.