Masterminds

September 30, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson
Directed by: Jared Hess (“Napoleon Dynamite”)
Written by: Chris Bowman (“Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life”) Hubbel Palmer (“Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life”) and Emily Spivey (debut)

Whether or not you’ve even seen 2004’s “Napoleon Dynamite,” chances are its self-consciously weird aesthetic has touched your life in one way or another even to this day. Some dipshit you know still exclaims “GOSH!” or wears a “Vote For Pedro” ringer tee. You’ve likely flipped past dozens of copies of the DVD at used bookstores, going for a lowly buck because everyone seemingly owned that DVD at the height of the medium’s powers. That movie (briefly) put its director, Jared Hess, on the map in the mid-2000s. But a stab at the mainstream with “Nacho Libre” and an attempt to recapture the quirk with the awful “Gentlemen Broncos” has left Hess in the clearance bin with “Napoleon Dynamite” with people wondering why anyone liked it in the first place.

Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that Hess’ latest, “Masterminds,” feels like it came from 2005, when the prospect of the director of a weird cult favorite and a cast featuring Owen Wilson was enough to open a movie.

“Masterminds” is said to be based on a true story, wherein a dim-bulb South Carolinian named David Ghant (Zach Galifianakis) works for an armored car company. Even though he’s engaged to be married to Jandice (Kate McKinnon), David is sweet on coworker Kelly (Kristen Wiig) and sort-of expresses his feelings toward her when she is fired. After taking up with dirtbag criminal Steve (Owen Wilson), Kelly sees David as the perfect patsy to set up a robbery. Soon, he’s convinced to steal $17 million from the armored car company and flee to Mexico, waiting for Kelly and the rest of the money to arrive when the heat dies down. But since David forgot to take all of the security tapes with him, a hitman hired by Steve (Jason Sudekis) and an FBI agent (Leslie Jones—yes, this movie reunites three of the new Ghostbusters) are on his tail.

Sporting a He-Man bob cut and an effeminate sweet tea accent, Galifianakis feels like he’s trying too hard from the get-go. Gifted at playing a weirdo, the added affectations only distract from the okay-enough humor on display. Some nice moments of absurdity creep in here and there, from Sudekis’ ruthless-turned-affable hitman and an all-too-brief appearance from Ken Marino, on hand for one cheapo (yet effective) visual gag. While never looking to plumb the depths of wood-paneled quirkiness dredged up by “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Masterminds” still wears the influence of that passing fad too proudly on its sleeve.

 

Ep. 86 – Sausage Party, Gleason, and a whole bunch of rambling

August 16, 2016 by  
Filed under Podcast

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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, a hyper-lucid Cody chats with Jerrod about “Sausage Party,” “Gleason,” “Stranger Things,” Kyle Chandler, and a whole lot of other random stuff while Kiko is enjoying the Olympic games somewhere.

 

[00:00-36:41] Intro/South Park tease/random chatting

[36:41-48:58] Sausage Party review

[48:58-55:54] Gleason review

[55:54-1:04:42] Wrap up/tease

Click here to download the episode!

Sausage Party

August 12, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: voices of Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Nick Kroll
Directed by: Greg Tiernan (debut) and Conrad Vernon (“Shrek 2”)
Written by: Seth Rogen (“Neighbors 2”), Evan Goldberg (“This is the End”), Kyle Hunter (“The Night Before”) Ariel Shaffir (“The Night Before”)

Ever since the arrival of “Toy Story” two decades ago, computer animated films have routinely included jokes that were arguably just meant for the inevitable adults in the audience. Essentially this is to keep parents entertained while the kids enjoyed whatever Pixar or DreamWorks pumped out, occasionally catching a joke lobbed over the heads of the children in the audience—nothing outright offensive ever makes the cut, but something slightly naughty isn’t off the table.

Perhaps sensing an opening in the market, Sony and frequent collaborators Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg set out to fill the void (heh!) and have whipped out (giggle!) an animated movie that adults with a hankering for something filthy they could come to (chortle!) in “Sausage Party,” a movie you definitely shouldn’t take your kids to. Or do, what do I care?

As the inhabitants of a grocery store, various foodstuffs, led by a hot dog named Frank (Seth Rogen) and his hot dog bun girlfriend Brenda (Kristen Wiig), await their being chosen by the gods (read: humans) to being taken to The Great Beyond (a.k.a. outside the store) to live in paradise. With July 4th rapidly approaching, now is the prime time for hot dogs and buns to make it to eternal salvation. Frank’s faith is rattled, however, when a bottle of honey mustard (Danny McBride) is returned to the store with tales of horror from The Great Beyond. It’s not paradise, it’s a hell where food gets eaten by the gods. Frank and Brenda, along with some Palestinian flat bread (David Krumholtz) and a Jewish bagel (Edward Norton), set out to enlighten the food in the supermarket that the afterlife isn’t like the tales they’ve been told.

While undeniably laugh-out-loud hilarious at times, “Sausage Party” is never quite as funny or quite as edgy as it thinks it is. Viewers could be excused for thinking the film would feature wall-to-wall food sex, thanks to the marketing, but that stuff is saved for after the climax (ha!). What we get instead is vulgar language coming from the mouths of anthropomorphic food and, most unexpectedly, a commentary on the societal dangers of both blind faith and militant atheism—which is a little jarring if you thought you were just coming to watch a movie where a hot dog fucks a bun, you know?

That aside, even at just around 90 minutes, “Sausage Party” starts to drag thanks to a limp (resigned chuckle!) second act that finally gives way to all out weirdness and brutality in a subplot featuring Michael Cera’s Barry, a deformed hot dog who finds out firsthand what happens in The Great Beyond. It’s during a sequence involving a burnout human, a ragtag bunch of junk foods, and the hallucinogenic power of bath salts that the film really turns into the naughty version of a Pixar film promised all along. This sensibility informs the rest of the movie, thankfully, turning the third act into a gleefully demented battle before petering out into some weird stoner shit. That a movie exists where animated grocery items curse, have sex, and engage in racial stereotyping (from a major studio!) is amazing, frankly. With a little more stamina leading up to the climax (heh—wait, used that one) “Sausage Party” could have been legendary.

Ghostbusters

July 15, 2016 by  
Filed under Brian, Reviews

Starring: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones
Directed by: Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”)
Written by: Katie Dippold (“The Heat”) and Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”)

“’Ain’t no bitches gonna bust no ghosts,” intones bewildered and hurt paranormal-hobbyist-turned-physicist-turned-“Ghostbuster”-2.0 Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), reading aloud a reaction to a YouTube video of her team’s extra-normal exploits. It’s a line that elicits a knowing, involuntary bark of a laugh, not least because it’s an example of art not so much imitating life, but rather faithfully — if painfully — reporting it.

Following an historically inauspicious trailer reception (it’s the “most disliked” movie trailer in YouTube’s decade-plus of existence), and the widespread denunciation of that reception as virulently sexist, and the repudiation of that denunciation by commenters claiming defense of a treasured classic, and so on — all months before the first press or preview screening — Paul Feig’s female-fronted “Ghostbusters” reboot could be forgiven for rolling into theaters this week with a sizable spectral chip on its wearied shoulder.

To wit: If the aforementioned “bust no ghosts” scene is the most pointed of the film’s fourth-wall-chipping glances at its own pre-detractors, it may not be the only one. Subtle (or not-so-) moments in which a male villain taunts our heroes (or heroines?) for “shooting like girls” or opines that they’re late to a showdown because (1) women “always” are and (2) they probably couldn’t pick out the right coveralls to wear, or Cecily Strong’s purposeful emphasis, as a tight-smiling mayoral assistant, in complaining about “these women” are all about as jarring and uncomfortable as they sound, but skate by(?) as paper-thin, self-aware, psuedo-Swiftian satire.

Which assessment brings us more directly to the rightful point: the film. Is it good? Is it funny? How does it fare, pushing distractions and comparisons aside?

Well, that depends.

Structurally (and in many other ways, as it turns out), we’re in strikingly familiar territory — on paper, at least. Wiig’s Gilbert is an about-to-be-tenured professor at Columbia University whose enthusiastic/eccentric/scientific-genius former colleague Abby Yates (McCarthy, introduced sporting decidedly Stanz-ian headgear) is on the verge of a breakthrough in super-spooky studies, assisted by the even-more-enthusiastic/eccentric/scientific-genius-y Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon). When Gilbert’s association with Yates leads to a chain of events that outs her as a supernatural-believer to her no-nonsense dean (the wonderful Charles Dance, in what sadly amounts to a cameo) and leaves all three women out of a job, she joins forces with Yates, Holtzmann, and Patty Tolan (Jones), a subway worker with an encyclopedic knowledge of New York City architecture and history, to catch and study incorporeal entities — and, ultimately, save the city from a neon ghostly apocalypse.

The talent here assembled is considerable: Wiig and McCarthy are proven and reliable comedic tentpoles; “Freaks and Geeks” creator Feig has delivered with female-led hits “Bridesmaids,” “The Heat,” and the uproarious and tremendously fun “Spy;” McKinnon, Jones, and Strong are breakout “SNL” stars (McKinnon and Strong, in particular, are capable of unleashing a dizzying array of simultaneously realistic and gut-busting characters; expect big things from them). Hemsworth is undeniably winning (if perplexingly written) as a brick-stupid receptionist, and even Andy Garcia shows up to fill out a small role as an unapologetic rat-sleazehole of a mayor. The ingredients are present, then, for these Ghostbusters to stride confidently in a new direction all their own, exorcising the hulking and formidable spectre of their phantom-fighting forebears.

One significant problem, it turns out, lies precisely in the film’s own reluctance to do just that, instead allowing said spectre to loom unavoidably overhead like a monstrous, anthropomorphic, sailor-suited partial S’more. That is to say, “Ghostbusters” (2016) invests so very much time and energy nodding to and hammer-winking at “Ghostbusters” (1984) in so very many multifarious ways (plot points, art design/visual references, locations, audio cues, déjà-vu-ish characters, a glut of cameos, lines lines lines lines lines) that it does itself a number of great disservices. Not only does this significant a volume of repeated hat-tips (literally, repeated: Annie Potts’s beloved “Ghostbusters, whaddaya want?” squawk is quoted not once, but twice) constantly pull its audience out of the story to remind us that we’re watching a movie (and a contentious remake, at that), not only does it refuse to allow us to to forget the original (and, in fact, all-but-force us to compare the two), but, arguably most damaging of all, it causes the film itself to seem strangely insecure — almost as if, for all the filmmakers’ railing against and dismissal of cage-rattling trolls and hatescream fanboys, they don’t ultimately feel worthy of the mantle without concerted pandering or appeasement. It’s like Cary Elwes’s pitiable-but-understandable attempt at Jim Carrey’s “The Claw” in “Liar, Liar” — no one wants that, man. Just be yourself.

That may seem uncharitable. I apologize, if so. The truth is, I’m frustrated, because the thing could have worked. If this were the film’s only pervasive misstep, Feig and co. might’ve pulled it off — and what a success it would have been.

Let’s pause, though. Because here’s where the “that depends” part comes in.

The (other) truth is: If you’re a child aged 9-14, or if you haven’t seen or aren’t especially fond of or aren’t looking for a tonal successor to the seminal 1984 hit, chances are good you’ll like this “Ghostbusters” very much. You might, in fact, love it. That isn’t a dig. It’s a sincere distinction. This film, with its bright colors, lighter tone, and somewhat scaled-back scares, feels a bit more like a kids’ movie than the original — or even like “The Real Ghostbusters” cartoon I very much enjoyed as a kid (I dug Filmation’s, too). No demon dogs, no monster-hands bursting from the recliner, no eidolic Ackroyd-fellating. Some of the inconsistencies in the universe (particularly those presented by the panoply of cameos — a nod to one character suggests we’re in the original Ghostbusterverse, while other actors are clearly new characters and one seems to have a foot in both) or departures in tone (’84 was quirky-but-subtle, and, though ghosts feature prominently, set in an otherwise “real” world; ’16 presents us with a parade of sketch-comedy characters [and there’s no telling what dimension spawned Hemsworth’s absurdly airheaded Kevin]) or issues with pacing or writing or chemistry or character or performance (a heavier premium on “funny” or “wacky” than “convincing” or “deep”) may not bother a younger viewer, and some of these may not bother an older viewer not beholden to cockle-warming memories of Peter/Ray/Egon/Winston. It is, in some ways, a “fresh” take. Kind of. When it isn’t trying desperately not to be.

And that, finally, is the death-knell. Or is it? On the one hand, you’ve got an exciting team of comedic performers seemingly hamstrung by a script that seems more interested in dutifully bowing to its elders every five pages than in making its own mark, and a film whose first cut was reportedly four hours and 15 minutes (which is palpable, in retrospect). On the other hand, you’ve got that magical viral photo of Kristen Wiig, clasping hands with a positively beaming young girl in a Ghostbusters outfit while another, identically attired down to the unutterably joyous expression, looks on. And that’s when you can’t help but think: “Huh — maybe my opinion isn’t the one that really matters here.”

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

August 28, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgard, Kristen Wiig
Directed by: Marielle Heller (debut)
Written by: Marielle Heller (debut)

In 1970’s San Francisco 15-year-old Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley) finds herself going through a sexual awakening. Documenting her experiences on a tape player, Minnie finds herself in an affair with her mother’s 35-year-old boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard). Through her experiences, Minnie sets on a mission to find out who she is as a person and as a women in “The Diary of a Teenage Girl.”

The subdued performance of lead actress Powley is almost to a fault, creating some shaky acting bits and shoddy narration that never truly works. Part of “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” takes place through animations, largely from the mind of its main character, an aspiring cartoonist. Generally speaking, live-action blended with animation is a bit of a hit or miss proposition and it doesn’t work very well here. Rather than being an enhancing look and providing depth and insight to the character, the animations feel ill fitting and distracting. The entire plotline of being a cartoonist, in fact, spawns from a single throwaway scene that’s sole purpose is to give the character an eccentric hobby and a new plot device.

If director Marielle Heller wanted audiences to be uncomfortable or feel like the central relationship in the film was wrong on a level, it isn’t something that is conveyed with any strength. In fact, many of the sex scenes, if not all of them, are shot in ways that are meant to titillate. Does she want this to be a normal sexual awakening with little consequence? It is likely that this sort of cognitive dissonance was purposeful, but it’s difficult to shake the moral gray area that “Teenage Girl” spends most of its time in, especially given the age of its protagonist.

Moral ambiguity aside, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” is the type of independent film that feels like it is trying far too hard to be quirky and different. Its nonchalant attitude and subdued tone make for a slow driving narrative that lacks any real substance. As a coming-of-age film, it certainly doesn’t resonate with any real meaning or hit the ever-important nostalgia area. At times, there are underlying themes of not only female empowerment, but also the lessons learned by a teen trying to grow up too fast. While the latter hits successfully a few times, the former has its legs taken out too many times and makes for an experience that is frequently grating and wholly unsatisfying.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

December 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott
Directed by: Ben Stiller (“Tropic Thunder”)
Written by: Steve Conrad (“The Pursuit of Happyness”)

In “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Ben Stiller plays the title character, a man with a menial job working in the photo department of Life Magazine. Walter spends much of his time daydreaming about grandiose and heroic scenarios, mostly involving Cheryl, (Kristen Wiig) a co-worker he has a crush on. When the decision comes down to discontinue the hard-copy version of the magazine in favor of an online format, Walter must go on a journey to places he never expected (including inside his own imagination) to try and save his job and the integrity of the magazine.

One thing that can be said for “Walter Mitty” is that there is not a lack of ambition from a filmmaking aspect. Acting as both star and director, Stiller uses the budget to his advantage and creates a large scope, complete with big set pieces and visual effects. Regardless of the content, the film can at times be extremely beautiful to look at, especially during the portions shot in the Icelandic mountains.

The main issues with “Walter Mitty,” however, lie in the heavy-handed screenplay. The film has a clear message and has no problem whacking you over the head with it, losing any and all subtlety it could have had. One particular message that gets overplayed is the slogan of Life Magazine, which, of course, turns into the film trying to define “the meaning of life.” Not only is this slogan read over and over again, but it is actually visually presented to audiences. In these scenes, text is spread in various ways across the screen in sequences that lacks any sort of restraint. Stiller and screenwriter Steve Conrad (“The Pursuit of Happyness”) toy around with other themes like someone going through an adult midlife crisis and the lack of satisfaction with lifestyles that go along with those moments in someone’s life, but these messages are too obvious and are approached with kid gloves.

There’s a few moments of decent comedy throughout the film. Comedian and actor Patton Oswalt has a particularly humorous small role as a representative of the online dating company e-Harmony (one of the many not so subtle instances of product placement throughout the film). Still, “Walter Mitty” is an underwhelming, yet often picturesque tale of a man looking for more out of his life. Stiller and Kristen Wiig, who both bring in the reigns of their usual over the top performances, are both good here but nothing can save a screenplay lacking grace.

Despicable Me 2

July 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt
Directed by: Pierre Coffin (“Despicable Me”) and Chris Renaud (“Despicable Me”)
Written by: Ken Daurio (“Despicable Me”) and Cinco Paul (“Despicable Me”)

Other than uttering the word Minions with a goofy smile, not much more has to be said when attempting to persuade someone to go see the animated sequel “Despicable Me 2.” There simply hasn’t been a more entertaining group of interrelated sidekicks since the little crane-praising green aliens from the “Toy Story” franchise. Not only are they extremely marketable, something Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment are sure to continue to bank on in the toy aisles, they’re easily the funniest characters to come out of the series since the original hit the big screen in 2010.

Besides the Minions stealing the show, “Despicable Me 2” is just about on par with the storytelling of “Despicable Me.” The creativity behind in the screenplay written by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul is passable and Steve Carell giving voice to lead character Gru once again is just as mismatched as it was the first time around. Carell may be the big name on the marquee, but there’s something about the weird accent he gives Gru that feels forced. The same can be said about Illumination Entertainment’s other lead voice actors like Russell Brand in “Hop” and Danny DeVito in “The Lorax.” They have yet to find a way to connect the right voice with the right main character like Pixar Animation has done even with small-name actors like Patton Oswalt in “Ratatouille.”

There is also much to be desired from an ineffective villain in this sequel. Benjamin Bratt voices El Macho, a chubby Mexican who salsa dances and is planning world domination. Two secondary love stories could have benefited from some serious polishing, too. One involves Gru and his new lady friend Lucy (Kristen Wiig). The other features El Macho’s charming son Antonio (Moises Arias), who catches the eye of Gru’s oldest daughter Margo (Miranda Cosgrove). Neither of them have any real relationship value.

But forget lacking love stories, the defective villain and the return of the ill-conceived fart gun. The Minions, who unsurprisingly will get their own movie next year called “Minions,” are given tons more to do in “Despicable Me 2” and don’t disappoint. Along with their hilariously rambunctious behavior and cuddly cuteness, the Minions reel in the laughs with some dorky film and music references tossed in by Daurio and Paul just for the adults in the theater. These include a stroll back in time to the 1978 version of the horror/sci-fi film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and a musical interlude from 90s R&B group All-4-One. Leave it to the Minions to turn a song as romantic (cough) as “I Swear” into a riotous parody.

Friends with Kids

March 13, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Adam Scott, Jennifer Wesfeldt, Jon Hamm
Directed by: Jennifer Wesfeldt (“Kissing Jessica Stein”)
Written by: Jennifer Wesfeldt (“Kissing Jessica Stein”)

These days there are so many ways to have a family that hardly anything could really be classified as “unconventional.” But when long-time best friends Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (Jennifer Wesfeldt) devise a plan to have a child without subjecting themselves to the pitfalls of marriage, their friends cannot believe they could follow through with such a crazy scheme.  This experiment of essentially going halfsies with the responsibilities of a child sets the stage for “Friends with Kids,” a dramedy that starts off uniquely funny but ultimately loses steam in its familiar dénouement.

Scott remains one of Hollywood’s best-kept secrets. Although not as dynamic as his stunning role in 2009’s “The Vicious Kind,” he shows he is perfectly capable of anchoring a movie in a lead role. He has a very natural and understated comic delivery and he is no doubt at his best when he is being a little abrasive. The rest of the cast is somewhat of a reunion from the film “Bridesmaids,” as four principal cast members from that film are in “Friends with Kids.” While Jon Hamm has a couple of great scenes to work with, the rest of the “Bridesmaids” alum doesn’t contribute much. For example, Chris O’Dowd sports a very strange accent that is hard to distinguish and Maya Rudolph’s character exists only to nag. It’s hard to believe director/writer Wesfeldt couldn’t even give the versatile Kristen Wiig something more to do other than drink wine and give piercing stares.

The set up in “Friends with Kids” is respectable, with a unique spin on the romantic comedy with two platonic friends agreeing to have a kid. It continues to be unique when just about everything goes perfectly smooth and there aren’t any problems. Of course, nobody would want to watch a movie about a situation working flawlessly and things inevitably begin to crumble. And as with the events on screen, so goes the structure of the film as it begins to feel formulaic and familiar.

“Friends with Kids” is certainly not a “laugh-out-loud” type of comedy. The humor is predominantly subtle and largely thanks to Scott’s knack for biting sarcasm. The film is certainly at its best when it hits its dramatic beats. One especially fantastic scene in particular is when Scott and Hamm’s characters have a war of words at a dinner table. In this scene, we get to see Scott’s acting chops on full display. When the film displays the chaos and strain having children can create in a relationship is when things get authentic.

The film ends with Wesfeldt uttering a strand of six utterly unromantic words that is almost certain to rub a good portion of the audience the wrong way. With the triple duty of acting, writing and directing, Wesfeldt probably should have focused her attention on making just one of those elements stand out instead of providing three so-so efforts spread around. It isn’t a terrible movie, but one can’t help feel like “Friends with Kids” could have been so much more.

Bridesmaids

May 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Kristen Wiig, Rose Byrne, Maya Rudolph
Directed by: Paul Feig (TV’s “The Office”)
Written by: Kristen Wiig (debut) and Annie Mumolo (debut)

No one can take a tennis ball to the tit quite like comedienne Kristen Wiig. Her threshold for pain is only one of many admirable traits she possesses in “Bridesmaids,” a bold and bawdy comedy that proves having balls isn’t just for boys anymore.

While the movie’s generic title might scream Kate Hudson rom-com horror, those looking for more than the usual cliché girls-night-out fare will find plenty of genuinely side-splitting scenes in this raunchy Judd Apatow-produced chick flick, as they did in the Apatow-directed “Knocked Up.” Personal favor: When recommending it to your friends, please don’t refer to Bridesmaids as the female version of “The Hangover.” It deserves better.

In “Bridesmaids,” director Paul Feig (TV’s “The Office”) puts Wiig in charge of her own sinking ship as the whip-smart albeit insecure (and very single) heroine Annie, a failed thirty-something entrepreneur stuck in a rut. Despite the occasional roll in the sack with sleazy tool Ted (Jon Hamm), Annie doesn’t have any real relationship prospects nor does she care much about her depressing job (peddling jewelry to happy couples) and equally depressing home life (her roommates are ungrateful sibling albinos).

Annie is forced to suck it up when her lifelong BFF Lillian (Maya Rudolph) asks her to be her maid of honor, a role in movie world aching to basically be dragged through the mud while everyone else enjoys the pre-wedding festivities. She’s pitted against Lillian’s newest gal pal Helen (Rose Byrne), a character so perfectly annoying she rivals Cameron Diaz’s bubbly Kimberly Wallace in “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”

The claws come out with hilarious result as Annie and Lillian – along with the three other bridesmaids Becca, Rita, and Megan (underwritten Ellie Kemper and Wendi McLendon-Covey and scene-stealing Melissa McCarthy) – try and get through the coming weeks without gouging anyone’s pretty little eyes out.

Sharply written by Wiig and Annie Mumolo, “Bridesmaids” veers into overly traveled territory at times but never replaces wit with kitschy humor (aside from a well-executed diarrhea gag that feels misplaced in the grand scheme of things). She may just be a glorified bridesmaid, but this is Wiig’s big day. The “Saturday Night Live” alumna has written a lead role for herself with some great awkward moments usually regulated for fools of the male variety. It’s nice to see women can be just as boneheaded when the situation calls for it.

Paul

March 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen
Directed by: Greg Mottola (“Adventureland”)
Written by: Simon Pegg (“Shaun of the Dead”) and Nick Frost (debut)

In the hands of anyone else but Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and “Paul” might’ve been a disaster on any intergalactic planet. As it is, the alien comedy written by the stars of the incredibly funny zombie rom-com “Shaun of the Dead,” has just enough originality to keep the nerdy movie references and obvious extraterrestrial gags from turning into a shameless sci-fi parody.

In the film, Pegg and Frost play Graeme Willy and Clive Gollings, best buddies on a road trip that starts at Comic Con in San Diego and sends them trekking through the heartland of America in their RV in search of the geekiest landmarks they can find. The boys hit the motherload when they come upon a living, breathing alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), who has escaped a military base after spending the last 30 years kicking back and working as a consultant to help create many of the science fiction classics the world has come to love. Sure, the story is a stretch, but at least a Steven Spielberg voice cameo makes up for some of the narrative’s weaker plot points.

On Paul’s trail is a crack team of the FBI’s finest, led by Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman) who is looking to recapture the pot-smoking alien before he finds a way to get back home. Actors Bill Hader and Jo Lo Truglio round out the agents with little panache. Kristen Wiig also can’t seem to find her footing as the religious daughter of a trailer park owner who is forced to go along on the harmless misadventure.

Directed by Greg Mottola (“Superbad,” “Adventureland”), raunchy humor takes a backseat to the jokes and scenarios fanboys will be glad to see pop up on screen, including references to “Star Wars,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and “E.T.” It’s not nearly close to the laughfest the Pegg/Frost combo has been in the past, but it is passable entertainment for those moviegoers who would throw a fit if someone misidentified Jango Fett for Boba Fett. If that last sentence made any sense, “Paul” will probably play to perfection in your personal geekdom.

MacGruber

May 21, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillippe
Directed by: Jorma Taccone (debut)
Written by: Will Forte (“Extreme Movie”), Jorma Taccone (“Extreme Movie”), John Solomon (“Extreme Movie”)

It’s no secret that for the last 18 years film adaptations of “Saturday Night Live” skits have been as embarrassing for the long-running TV show as an Ashlee Simpson hoedown. From the pathetically unfunny gender-bending of “It’s Pat” to the irksomeness of Catholic school girl Mary Katherine Gallagher in “Superstar,” not much of anything has worked since the original “Wayne’s World” hit theaters in 1992.

That might be the reason it’s taken “SNL” a whole decade to try again. The show’s last attempt was transferring the Courvoisier-drinking radio show host Leon Phelps to the big screen in 2000’s dreadful “The Ladies Man.” Ten years, however, seems to have made a world of difference. While it doesn’t mean much to call “MacGruber” one of the best “SNL” movies ever made (for obvious reasons), it’s still rather funny even on its own merit.

In “MacGruber,” comedian Will Forte stars as the title character, an American war hero whose impressive military resume is second to none (it includes 16 purple hearts, three Congressional Medals of Honor and seven presidential medals of bravery!). Laying low in Ecuador after the murder of his fiancée by his archenemy Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer), MacGruber is called back to action when Von Cunth (the name loses its luster after the third or fourth joke kind of like Alotta Fagina and Felicity Shagwell in the “Austin Powers” franchise) steals a nuclear warhead with plans to blow up Washington D.C.

After a major mishap with his first team of renegade soldiers, MacGruber enlists Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) and his wife’s best friend Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig) to help him avenge his fiancée’s death.

Based loosely on the 1980s TV show “MacGyver,” which followed the adventures of a resourceful secret agent working for the government, MacGruber doesn’t sport as many miscellaneous objects one would imagine him to have at all times. Instead, most of the gags in “MacGruber” come in hard rated-R form from multiple crass sex scenes to the occasional Ramboesque ripping out of a throat.

What makes “MacGruber” the most enjoyable, however, is how aware it is of its own stupidity, which often times makes for the best parody. While the movie might feel like a dragged out “SNL” skit at times, in this instance it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Jokes might hit more often than not in first half and veer off in the second, but you can count on MacGruber to always have a few tricks up his plaid-patterned sleeves.

How to Train Your Dragon

March 26, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Gerard Butler
Directed by: Dean DeBlois (“Lilo & Stich”) and Chris Sanders (“Lilo & Stitch”)
Written by: Dean DeBlois (“Lilo & Stich”) and Chris Sanders (“Lilo & Stitch”)

While most animation studios will probably be restless until June when Pixar unleashes the goliath that is “Toy Story 3,” that doesn’t mean any of them should raise their white flag just yet.

Sure, Pixar might still be considered the leader in its field (it’s picked up the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature the last three years in a row), but over the last few years other animation studios are getting the hint: no matter how spellbinding the computer-generated characters are, the narrative also has to be first-rate.

While DreamWorks Animation has had its ups and downs since branching off as its own entity in 2004,  the studio proved to have the talent necessary to deliver something as invigorating as 2008’s “Kung Fu Panda.” Of course, the “Shrek” franchise is still the studio’s moneymaker, so when something comes along like “How to Train Your Dragon,” a series of British children’s books that could possibly spawn a new string of movies, it’s not surprising that DreamWorks heads wanted to make sure they got the first one just right.

And to be quite honest, these fire-breathers definitely have some bite.

In “Dragon,” one of the books in a series written by Cressida Cowell, geek-for-hire Jay Baruchel (“She’s Out of My League”) lends his voice to the lead character, Hiccup, a scrawny little Viking who doesn’t look like his burly father Stoic (Gerard Butler) or any of the other savage warriors that make up his colony.

Hiccup might dream to one day slay a dragon (they’re apparently as rampant as roaches and destroy everything) but without the upper body strength to lift a sledgehammer or do anything else that makes a Viking a conquering force in medieval times, Hiccup is better left to tinker with his brainy inventions and teenage self-consciousness. He is, however, able to prove that enthusiasm is just as important as talent when he does the impossible and captures his own dragon.

Despite doing it in an unconventional way (and without anyone noticing his feat), Hiccup has done more that just bring down the beast; he has netted the most feared and mysterious dragons in all of the land: the Night Fury. This is one of the treats in “Dragon.” Not all of the dragons are designed in the same mold. Adapting Cowell’s story, directors/writers Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders give each breed of dragon their own distinct traits and personalities.

As Hiccup bonds with his new friend, who he names Toothless, he realizes dragon are not the horrible creatures Vikings thought they were. When the colony decides they should allow Hiccup his chance to demonstrate his warrior spirit by going through dragon training, which will later lead to making his first kill, he finds himself at a crossroad.

Now, with a deeper understanding of the species, Hiccup must find a way to make his father proud without bringing harm to the misunderstood dragons. With a team of misfit Viking peers training beside him, including love interest Astrid (America Ferrera), it’s only a matter of time before Hiccup’s secret becomes far too massive for him to keep silent.

While many of the elements are familiar, “Dragon” is a lively family action-comedy that shines especially when both Vikings and dragons share the screen. Whether it’s Hiccup and Toothless creating a friendship or the “Gladiator”-like sequences of fire-breathing dragons and risk-taking teenage Vikings fight it out on the battleground, “Dragon” is a neat adventure.

The 3-D animation also works in “Dragon” especially for those exhilarating scenes where Hiccup and his pet dragon sail across the infinite sky like the protagonists in “Avatar.” It’s a sight to behold for children and adults alike who are tired of unoriginal animation that barely flutters off the ground.

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