Game Night

February 22, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman, Jesse Pleamons
Directed by: John Francis Daley (“Vacation”) and Jonathan Goldstein (“Vacation”)
Written by: Mark Perez (“Accepted”)

What happens when a seemingly normal evening goes awry? It’s a trite comedy formula that has lived through plenty of cinematic reiterations over recent years, many of which center around an adult-orientated party, the heavy consumption of hard liquor and a lot of poor decision making. When all is said and done, movie characters usually end up doing something stupid like accidentally killing a prostitute or stealing a tiger from Mike Tyson.

The so-so 2010 comedy “Date Night” starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey attempted to put more of a nerdy, everyday spin on the subgenre and ask what would happen if an ordinary, middle-aged married couple went for a night out together and got caught up in some seedy activities. The new “Game Night” aligns more with this pair of square characters than it does with those looking to snort coke off strippers. “Game Night,” however, takes the idea of average couples doing average things and runs with it. With broad strokes of self-awareness, a screwy screenplay that sometimes crosses the line into parody, and one specific supporting character that steals the entire movie, “Game Night” is more gratifying than hearing an opponent say, “You sunk my battleship!”

In “Game Night,” Oscar nominee Rachel McAdams (“Spotlight”) and Jason Bateman (“Bad Words”) star as Annie and Max, a married couple that share a love for competitive games. The two meet-cute when they simultaneously answer a random question about Teletubbies during a trivia event at a bar. Although their lives are more fun than a barrel of monkeys, Annie and Max are having trouble conceiving a child. Max’s stress-related fertility problems are stemming from the issues he has with his hotshot brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler). The only way to overcome his shortcomings is to confront him head on.

Luckily, with Brooks back in town, he can join the regular rotation in Annie and Max’s weekly game night where some of their friends come over to partake in games like charades and Pictionary. Little do Annie and Max know that Brooks has planned a special surprise for them during one of their game nights when he hires a local entertainment company to pull off a simulated murder mystery, so everyone can search for clues and play along. When Brooks, however, is actually kidnapped by masked men who break into his house during the game, Annie and Max think the incident is all part of the elaborate contest until they finally realize it’s not. With a pair of armed criminals making demands, the friends find themselves wishing their lame night ended with some warm wine and Yahtzee instead.

Although they failed in their attempt to reboot the Chevy Chase vehicle “Vacation” in 2015 with Ed Helms in the lead role, don’t hold it against directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein for too much longer. The filmmaking duo, who also wrote both “Horrible Bosses” movies, turn a real corner with this dark comedy partnership that feels edgy without going into places that are out of sync with the tone. Yes, “Game Night” is rated R, but it really isn’t a full-throated hard-R like some might imagine. Instead, the film leaves room for some heart and internal exploration, although it might be difficult to think too deeply with all the well-earned laughter, especially in the film’s first half.

Although it’s McAdams and Bateman leading their cast of misfits through the story, a major secondary player in the game is actor Jesse Plemons (“Observe and Report,” “The Master”). Plemons plays Gary, the couple’s creepy police officer neighbor who once attended game nights with his wife at Annie and Max’s house before their divorce, a fact that doesn’t deter him from making things awkward by asking when the next game night is and ultimately forcing Annie and Max to avoid contact with him. Make no mistake; as a character, Gary’s got the goods and Plemons delivers a perfect comedic performance in only a few short scenes. In a dry, dour and unsettling kind of way, he’s that impressive.

All in all, the raucous comedy is more enjoyable than, well, a traditional game night. With sharp jokes and queasy-worthy violence, some nicely timed movie and celebrity references, and a lively electronic score by Cliff Martinez (“Contagion,” “Drive”), “Game Night” scores.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

July 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr.
Directed by: Jon Watts (“Cop Car”)
Written by: Jonathan Goldstein (“Horrbile Bosses”) & John Francis Daley (“Vacation”) and Jon Watts (“Cop Car”) & Christopher Ford (“Cop Car”) and Chris McKenna (“The LEGO Batman Movie”) & Erik Sommers (“The LEGO Batman Movie”)

No one wanted this, the third different Spider-Man film franchise from Sony in 15 years. Most of us liked the first two films starring Tobey Maguire from director Sam Raimi. I guess someone liked enough of Marc Webb’s first film in the 2012 reboot starring Andrew Garfield and a pre-Oscar Emma Stone to warrant the sequel that killed that franchise.

Spider-Man’s origin story, like Batman’s, should be etched in stone somewhere on a list called “Things We Never Need to See Depicted On Screen Again.”

But of course, in this golden age of comic book films, the most popular, kid-friendly hero can’t stay benched. Marvel came a-calling, offering Sony a deal they couldn’t refuse: let Spider-Man (which the studio has the film rights to) join Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe and we’ll let you borrow elements for the MCU for stand-alone Spider-Man films, which sputtered out after “Amazing Spider-Man 2,” just as Marvel was kicking things into overdrive. This marriage begat the latest film featuring the wise-cracking web slinger, “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

Picking up just after the events of 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” which is recounted by Peter Parker (Tom Holland) via social media videos, “Homecoming” focuses on Peter’s high school life while he awaits another call from Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to join up once again with the Avengers. Meanwhile, Peter dons his Stark-made Spidey suit—filled with tech, natch—to stop petty crime around New York. When Peter runs across some criminals using salvaged Chitauri tech, he inadvertently stumbles into the path of arms dealer Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton), a once-honest man driven to the underworld when the government and Stark muscle him out of the salvage business. All this while he’s trying to win the affection of cute older girl Liz (Laura Harrier).

I don’t know  that “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is the best Spider-Man movie—a distinction that still belongs to Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2”—but it’s certainly the most fun. The movie is a genuine laugh riot at times, shamelessly aping the ‘80s output of John Hughes to mine hilarity from teenage awkwardness. Holland’s Peter feels like the first real “teenaged” Spider-Man we’ve ever gotten, and his clumsy pining over Liz and his nerdy goings on with best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) are fun enough even without the web swinging. Alas, this is Marvel movie, though, and previous viewing of damn near everything that came before it, though not absolutely required, is highly advised. Though not as hefty a presence as marketing may have implied, Tony Stark hangs heavy over the film, especially in the suit, which at times makes Spider-Man seem more like a kid version of Iron Man that swings from webs instead of flying than the webhead everyone loves (also, where’s the spider sense, or the super strength?)

Still, “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” almost improbably, delivers an essential, delightful version of a movie no one wanted in the first place.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

March 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, Steve Buscemi
Directed by: Don Scardino (TV’s “30 Rock”)
Written by: Jonathan M. Goldstein (“Horrible Bosses”) and John Francis Daley (“Horrible Bosses”)

It used to be that magic was something as simple as a few card tricks, pulling a rabbit out of a hat or in the case of the most famous magician of all-time Harry Houdini, performing death-defying escape acts. Somewhere along the line, however, acts like Criss Angel and David Blaine showed up, who while maintaining the traditional sense of magic, began injecting large-scale, often endurance-based stunts like being trapped under ice or standing on things for long periods of time. With this came the transition from Vegas acts to TV specials. The landscape of magician-related entertainment was changing. As a very loose social commentary of sorts, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” shows the exaggerated difference between old-school and new-school magicians.

As people get tired of watching the recycled acts of Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi) they begin to flock to street magician Steve Grey (Jim Carrey) who performs absurd stunts. When Wonderstone and Marvelton have a falling out, Wonderstone is forced to come up with a magic act on his own for the first time. When Burt has a revelation that he isn’t the same on his own, it is up to him to try to reconnect with a partner to win back his audience.

Though “Burt Wonderstone” has its comedic moments that work, it is surprising how little of the laughs come as a direct result of the seasoned comedic cast. Carell’s character is brash, annoying, and has character traits that seem to come and go at random (his accent, for example). Buscemi disappears halfway through the film, having failed to make a true comedic impact. His return later on doesn’t provide much humor either. Carrey’s appearance winds up being more of an extended cameo. He will periodically appear on the screen to do his wacky trademark Carrey stuff and then just disappear for large chunks of time. Simply put, nobody in the cast is particularly funny despite some of the scenarios they are involved in hitting their mark.

Most of what works in “Burt Wonderstone” comes from sight gags, both subtle and occasionally overtly goofy. Things like Wonderstone trying to perform a magic trick after the separation between him and his partner are legitimately funny. Other magic tricks performed during the film are actually amusing.  That isn’t to say all of them are. Carrey’s character, which is the most obvious Criss Angel exaggeration possible, makes his living off shocking stunts that are too grotesque to be considered magic. The first of his stunts involving a card trick and a knife is particularly funny, but the concept of stupid stunts wears out its welcome fast. It is definitely not helped by the over-the-top performance Carrey is know for delivering.

The final act of the film is absurd, but thanks to a pretty funny epilogue, is somehow acceptable. Mainly, “Burt Wonderstone” wastes its strong comedic cast. The subject matter is a little outdated with traditional magicians and magic shows seemingly weaning in popularity. But perhaps even cloaked in irony, the goal of “Burt Wonderstone” is to reignite people to that type of entertainment.