Ep. 106 – American Made, Battle of the Sexes, Gerald’s Game, Fantastic Fest recap, and home video reviews of Wonder Woman, The Big Sick and A Ghost Story

October 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Podcast

After some technical difficulties, The CineSnob Podcast is back for the 106th time with reviews of “American Made,” “Battle of the Sexes” and “Gerald’s Game.” Cody also fills us in on his time at Fantastic Fest, and reviews home video releases of “Wonder Woman,” “The Big Sick” and “A Ghost Story.”

Click here to download the episode!

Battle of the Sexes

September 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough
Directed by
: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (“Little Miss Sunshine”)
Written by: Simon Beaufoy (“Slumdog Millionaire”)

With a story as relevant today as it was in 1973, it’s easy to see how a dramatic portrayal the Battle of the Sexes tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs could strike a chord and bring to the forefront the relevancy of the lack of equality between men and women in areas from respect, to wages, and how those battles are still being fought today. It’s a shame that the film has no interest in doing that.

In protest of the pay gap between men and women for tennis tournaments, Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) breaks from the professional tennis association and forms her own tennis circuit that tours the country. Meanwhile, tennis hustler and former champion Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) is struggling to pay off debts and deal with a gambling addiction. In an effort to drum up money and publicity, Riggs devises a plan: to take on King in a tennis match to determine the superior gender.

Though Stone and Carell are certainly good in the film, both suffer from a lack of well written characters. Carell’s Riggs is particularly one-dimensional and never fully feels like a fleshed out character. Instead, he seems like a desperate man who is either drunk or perpetually out of it, trying to drum up controversy for a big pay day. King, on the other hand, is subdued and struggling internally with her sexuality. It’s certainly an interesting take, and a complex story, yet it somehow feels out of place given the setting and early design of the film.

Rather than focusing on the pivotal Battle of the Sexes tennis match and the events that led up to it, screenwriter Simon Beaufoy chose to frame the movie through following a love-triangle of sorts, with King struggling to maintain her marriage with a man, while becoming involved with a woman. So much screen time is devoted to this plot line, that it’s almost easy to forget what movie you are watching. Stone and Andrea Riseborough are good here, but the film never really commits to this relationship hard enough to feel like a movie about King’s sexual awakening.

The biggest problem, however, is the way in which it treats the driving force behind the match itself, which is the attitude of Riggs and his persistent attitude that men are superior to women. By treating Riggs’ sexism as a publicity stunt to promote a tennis match, “Battle of the Sexes” severely undercuts any and all impact it makes as a statement of inequality. There is no context or worse, consequence, to any of his sexist statements or chauvinist attitudes and, subsequently, it all comes across as one big joke. It’s made even worse by having King partake in the publicity frenzy, having fun with Riggs and focused in her own world which makes her moment of catharsis completely unearned.

But beyond that, “Battles of the Sexes” is just a dull film that is more interested in telling a lustful love story than it is talking about equality, gender gaps or even tennis. The tone never sets in comfortably, leaving the film feeling disjointed and dispassionate. Worst of all, in a time where this story could draw a striking parallel to present day issues, it takes a route that virtually ensures that can’t be done. Ultimately, “Battle of the Sexes” feels like a missed opportunity.

The Big Short

January 8, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale
Directed by: Adam McKay (“Talladega Nights”)
Written by: Adam McKay (“Ant-Man”) and Charles Randolph (“Love & Other Drugs”)

Filmmaker Adam McKay, best known for directing and writing broad and silly comedies like “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights,” takes a swing at something a little more serious than Will Ferrell running butt-naked on a racetrack. Set a few years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, the self-important drama places audiences at the center of a three-ring circus where a group of stock market experts (Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale and pals) find out the housing market is about to implode and that they can make a lot of money on the misfortune of others. What McKay creates here is his version of an exaggerated “The Wolf of Wall Street” that registers as phony and too shallow for its own good. Maybe that’s the point, but when the script spews out confusing financial jargon and then backtracks to explain economics by breaking down the fourth wall, it’s about as entertaining as listening to a comedian do a stand-up routine on predatory lending.

Foxcatcher

December 19, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo
Directed by: Bennett Miller (“Moneyball”)
Written by: Dan Futterman (“Capote”) and E. Max Frye (“Where the Money Is”)

When the buzz-worthy true story film “Foxcatcher” was pushed from its December 20, 2013 release date citing the film not yet being completed, you couldn’t blame film fans for being a little concerned. Normally when a film’s release date gets pushed back, (see “The Great Gatsby” being pushed from December to May) it could be the sign that a movie isn’t quite as good as believed and has fallen out of awards contention. But in an act of faith and belief in the films merits, Sony Pictures Classics shelved the film nearly an entire year to have it ready to compete for the 2014 awards season. It’s too bad “Foxcatcher” falls short of being worth the wait.

Seeing a way to escape out from under his brother Dave’s (Mark Ruffalo) shadow, Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) accepts an invitation to train at the estate of billionaire heir John du Pont (Steve Carell). As the training facility at Foxcatcher Farm grows, so does the ego of du Pont as he insists on being heavily involved in the training and referred to as “coach.” As the pressure mounts, du Pont’s behavior spirals out of control, the relationship between him and Schultz becomes strained and Schultz must fight to keep himself and his career together.

When the first promotional materials came out for the film, displaying the comedic actor Carell wearing facial prosthetics, breathing heavily and speaking with an odd tone, it was clear that this was a character meant to be chilling and dark. This is exactly what is brought forth in the film, albeit with a striking lack of nuance. Even though certain elements of Carell’s performance can certainly be unsettling, it can’t help but feel a little one-note. It may be that the prosthetics were so obvious, but the performance also felt distracting and unfortunately, Carell never fully disappears into the role. Tatum, on the other hand, is extremely underused. Spending most of the film sulking, he rarely gets the chance to do anything beyond subtle character work and the occasional hulking out scene.

In this case, the faults of the films characterization should not be placed entirely on the actors. One of the biggest flaws of the film is that its screenplay provides so few arcs for its two lead characters. In Carell’s case, there’s almost no arc and with Tatum, the character turns are so quick and jolting, often changing from scene to scene. Ruffalo, who plays Mark’s brother Dave is given the most to do character-wise and it is no coincidence that he gives the best performance of the film.

“Foxcatcher” is a film that is somber, moody and unquestionably dark, yet it is slow moving to the point of feeling labored, cold, and quite often subdued to a fault. It is beautifully shot and there are without question scenes that display the kind of talent that Miller has as a director. Still, the event that the entire movie is clearly building towards often lacks the necessary tension and never quite seems worth the journey. There are some themes like sibling rivalry and the quest to be lauded that are at play here, but for such a rich and interesting story, “Foxcatcher” is all mood and atmosphere and not much else.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible…Very Bad Day

October 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxenbould
Directed by: Miguel Arteta (“Cedar Rapids”)
Written by: Ron Lieber (debut)

Stretching short books meant for children to feature-length films has always been an exercise in deciding what would make for adequate filler between hitting the beats of the original short story. Few have pulled it off successfully; think 2012’s adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax,” a movie over-stuffed with meaningless fluff that ends up contradicting the original story’s anti-consumerist message. That film is rendered into some strange monster concocted just to sell cotton candy pancakes and leave everyone confused.

The filmmakers behind the new film version of author Judith Viorst’s book “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” have the same hurdle to overcome—the book is only 32 pages long—but, unlike their peers, they mostly pull it off. Refocusing the story (in the book we’re centered solely on Alexander) to feature the rest of his family (namely parents Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner) makes this kids’ movie more enjoyable for adults in the crowd than most movies featuring a computer-generated kangaroo kicking a man in the face typically do.

On the day before his 12th birthday, Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) experiences the worst day of his life. He wakes up with gum in his hair, spills a bowl of cereal, and opens up his computer to find a more-popular classmate is having his birthday party the same night as his, assuring that no one will be there, including Alexander’s best friend and the girl he has a crush on. When the rest of his family–wrapped up in their own concerns like a job interview, a book release, a part in a school play, and prom with their shallow, bitchy girlfriend—seem to offer Alexander no sympathy, he makes a birthday wish that they all know how it feels to have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Needless to say, the wish comes true, and the next day finds the family suffering calamities like pimples, being set on fire, and a misprint in a book that leads to national treasure Dick Van Dyke telling a group of children to take a dump in the swimming pool.

With fun performances from Carell and Garner, “Alexander” manages to avoid the usual pitfalls these movies aimed at 10-year-old boys seem to suffer from: being unwatchable to anyone over 10. Strangely, though, Alexander is basically a supporting character in his own movie, watching as the chaos unfolds around him. While usually films aimed at kids overstay their welcome, this one feels oddly truncated. At barely an hour and 15 minutes long, the movie doesn’t give the story enough room to breathe at times, wrapping up in a party that somehow comes together with little effort from the frazzled family. Yeah, like I said, there’s a damn CGI kangaroo that lays out Carell in the third act, but don’t hold that against “Alexander.”

Anchorman 2

December 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd
Directed by: Adam McKay (“Step Brothers,” “Anchorman”)
Written by: Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (“Anchorman,” “Step Brothers”)

My day job puts me in a bonafide local TV newsroom every day, wherein 2004’s “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” is held sacred. Hardly a day goes by that doesn’t feature some anchor or reporter or producer throwing out one of the many absurdist quotes that turned the comedy into a true cult classic. Will Ferrell’s mustachioed, buffoonish newsman has become his most endearing creation, yet it still took nine years of studio wrangling to get a sequel up and running. After months of Ferrell doing in-character talk show appearances, SUV commercials, and genuine local newscasts, Ron Burgundy and the Channel 4 News Team has finally reassembled on the big screen in “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.”

Picking up several years after the first film, “Anchorman 2” opens with Ron Burgundy and Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) anchoring the network news as the first-ever husband and wife duo. When veteran anchor Mack Harken (Harrison Ford) decides to step down, he taps Corningstone as his replacement and fires Ron. When Ron’s jealously toward Veronica boils over, the couple splits, sending a drunken Ron back to San Diego, where he hosts dolphin shows at Sea World in between sexually harassing the trainers. Burgundy is offered a second chance, though, when Freddie Shapp (Dylan Baker) shows up offering Ron a new job in broadcasting: reading the news on the world’s first 24-hour news network.

Moreso than the first go-round, “Anchorman 2” has a definite satirical edge. All the affronts to real journalism that 24-hour cable news showcases—wall-to-wall coverage of car chases, rampant speculation in place of facts, mindless jingoism—are the creation of Ron Burgundy in this universe. Thankfully, though, Ferrell and co-writer/director Adam McKay understand that the audience isn’t there just for a “Daily Show”-style takedown of the news media. The duo (and the rest of the cast, by virtue of on-set improv) have packed the movie to the rafters with jokes which, of course, are hit and miss. As can be expected, jokes that became cultural touchstones in the first film, like the epic battle featuring rival news teams and tridents, are rehashed here with the absurdity turned up to 11, and Ron Burgundy belts out even more quotes that will dance around in your brain for years to come. “By the hymen of Olivia Newton-John!” is a early personal favorite.

While Ferrell and McKay could have coasted on pure goodwill generated by the original movie, its clear they shot for the moon with the sequel which, after one initial viewing, is extremely funny…but short of legendary. But, as with the first film, more viewings are likely to change that.

Grade: B

The Way, Way Back

July 19, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney
Directed by: Jim Rash (debut) and Nat Faxon (debut)
Written by: Jim Rash (“The Descendants”) and Nat Faxon (“The Descendants”)

In 2011, writing partners Jim Rash and Nat Faxon burst onto the scene by taking home an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for the film ‘The Descendants.” Known mostly for their bit parts in TV and film, the two collaborated with veteran director Alexander Payne (“Sideways”) and became a hot Hollywood commodity following their success. Going behind the camera for the first time, Rash and Faxon unleash their directorial debut, the coming-of-age summer tale, “The Way, Way Back.”

In the film, 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) goes on a summer vacation with his mother (Toni Collette) and her annoying boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) who criticizes Duncan whenever he can. When they get to their beach house, Duncan feels out of place, finding only a little bit comfort when talking to his neighbor, Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb). While exploring the beachtown, Duncan stumbles across Water Wizz, a waterpark  run by a fun-loving and mildly lazy man named Owen (Sam Rockwell). As Duncan begins secretly working there, he finally finds a true connection with Owen and a hide out where he doesn’t feel like a complete loser.

Led by James, who is in nearly every scene the film, the young actor seems far less experienced than his past screen experience would indicate. His delivery throughout the film is incredibly unnatural and although his character is clearly meant to be an awkward teenager, James’ performance seems more on the side of a poor performance. While some of the secondary cast like Rash and Faxon are decent, the ever-reliable Rockwell keeps the film at a watchable level. Even though Rockwell’s character isn’t the strongest written, his on-screen charisma, which has become so consistent in his career, works like the film’s life vest and keep it’s head above water. His overgrown laziness and wit really work in some of his scenes with James. As one of the most under-appreciated actors working today, Rockwell simply needs somebody to give him the opportunity to shine in a bigger role.

As a whole, there is a certain unpolished sense that lingers through “The Way, Way Back.” Much of the dialogue is cliché and jokes frequently miss their mark. The film is also filled with half-hearted relationships that are never fleshed out or explored beyond surface level. Duncan’s relationship with Susanna and particularly Trent ring completely untrue. In fact, the only believable relationship is between Duncan and Owen, who really find their chemistry when they share the screen.

The film wraps up with a scene involving a waterpark legend that ends up being anti-climatic and lame rather than the larger than life moment it shoots for. When all is said and done, one really wonders how much work Payne did on his own for “The Descendants.” “The Way, Way Back” is in dire need to have someone else go through it with a finely-toothed comb. Rash and Faxon’s hearts may be in the right place, but even with Oscar statues in hand, their work as storytellers on their own is average at best.

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.

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.

Crazy, Stupid, Love

July 29, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore
Directed by: Glenn Ficarra (“I Love You Phillip Morris”) and John Requa (“I Love You Phillip Morris”)
Written by: Dan Fogelman (“Tangled”)

Forget marriage counseling. If you really want to know the status of your relationship, pay attention to what’s happening under the dinner table during a romantic evening out. Playing footsies means there’s still some spark. Flatfooted and aloof? You might as well start drawing up those divorce papers.

At least that’s where loving husband and father Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) finds himself during the opening scenes of the surprisingly pleasant albeit conventional and ineffectively titled romantic comedy “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” There’s no footwork here. In fact, his wife and high school sweetheart Emily (Julianne Moore) fesses up to an affair and pulls the plug on 25 years of marriage. Screenwriter Dan Fogelman (“Tangled”) doesn’t give much explanation as to how their marital problems have reached criticality, but you know things are extremely broken.

Drowning his sorrows at a posh local bar,Calbecomes the pet project of smooth-talking ladies man Jacob (Ryan Gosling), who takes pity on him and his middle-aged lameness. Their goal (besides referencing “The Karate Kid” and inventing the verb “Miyagied”): to rediscover Cal’s manhood and – most importantly – get him laid.

Fogelman doesn’t end his matchmaking venture with Cal. As in 2003’s British rom-com “Love Actually,” the narrative in “CSL” is layered with smitten characters and sometimes-underwritten secondary storylines. Here, Cal’s 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) is infatuated with his babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton) who actually has a crush on Cal; aspiring lawyer Hannah (Emma Stone) hopes her nerdy boyfriend (Josh Groban) will pop the big question before she falls prey to Jacob’s charm.

While clichés are no stranger to “CSL,” the all-star cast is able to class up the situations to make them feel as funny and original as possible. Most of the film’s emotion hinges on Carell’s dramatic turn now that he’s proven he can be both hilarious and poignant in dramedies like “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Dan in Real Life.” In CSL, Carell trades barbs with Gosling and tears withMoore, but through subtle dialogue and gesture.

Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (the team behind the gay jailhouse romantic comedy “I Love You Phillip Morris”), “CSL” doesn’t offer anything on the marital front we wouldn’t have learned from watching a rerun of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” But like Cal, there’s something genuinely refreshing about its soft heart, honesty, and squareness, even while our hero mismatches tennis shoes and khakis with a straight face.

Dinner for Schmucks

July 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis
Directed by: Jay Roach (“Meet the Parents”)
Written by: David Guion (“The Ex”) and Michael Handelman (“The Ex”)

It would have been torturous enough if the movie “Dinner for Schmucks” had remained truthful to its title and only forced us to sit through a single meal and maybe a couple of drinks. Instead, director Jay Roach (“Meet the Parents,” “Austin Powers” trilogy) extends the idiot-filled evening into a collection of unbearably tacky scenarios that might have worked better as an episode of “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

Sure, it’s obvious certain things need to lead up to a dinner with a bunch of sad-sack morons, but what Roach and screenwriting partners David Guion and Michael Handelman (“The Ex”) come up with makes the hilariously daft “Dumb and Dumber” feel like a thinking-man’s movie.

Cast in the least of these cartoonish roles is Paul Rudd. Rudd plays Tim, a bottom-feeding analyst in the corporate world who sees an opportunity to climb the totem pole when his company fires one of their top executives. When Tim makes an impression on his boss Lance (Bruce Greenwood) by introducing the company to a potential billionaire client, Tim is invited to attend a top secret dinner held every month for the company big wigs.

At these dinners, executives are asked to bring the strangest guest they can find so he or she can be insulted throughout the night. While the idea goes against Tim’s strict moral code, he decides he can’t pass up a chance at a promotion especially now that his girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak) is at the brink of finally accepting his marriage proposal. When she finds out about the dinner, however, she isn’t pleased.

The schmuck himself comes in the form of Barry (Steve Carell), a normal-enough looking guy whose remarkable qualities come from his taxidermy work. Basically, Barry stuffs dead mice, dresses them in costumes, and places them into dioramas for display. Barry calls his creations “mousterpieces.” Although Tim finds his odd hobby disgusting, he also sees it as a way to impress the execs and invites Barry to his dinner for dummies in hopes of landing a corner office.

Barry, however, misunderstands dinner plans and shows up at Tim’s apartment a day early. This is where the botched comedy of manners begins as Barry manages to muddle up Tim’s life in less than 24 hours. He starts by inviting Tim’s psycho one-night-stand to his apartment and continues by talking Tim into thinking Julie is cheating on him with a ridiculous artist (Jemaine Clement of TV’s “Flight of the Conchords”). Who knew schmucks could be so influential?

Like Jim Carrey’s Lloyd Christmas and Jeff Daniel’s Harry Dunne in “Dumb and Dumber,” Barry lacks an awareness of his idiocy, but does so less convincingly. In “Dumbe,r” when Harry thinks Aspen is located in California, it’s funny. In “Schmucks,” when Barry drags out a joke about believing Tim invented the saying, “Everything happens for a reason,” it’s not. Even if someone could be that clueless, “Schmucks” begs us to have sympathy for these characters and learn something from the mean-spirited narrative.

At times unbearable to watch, “Dinner for Schmucks” is disguised as a movie with profound life lessons about friendship and acceptance. If you really get swindled into believing this comedy has heart, please raise your hand. There’s this dinner I’d like to invite you to.

Despicable Me

July 9, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand
Directed by: Pierre Coffin (debut) and Chris Renaud (debut)
Written by: Ken Daurio (“Horton Hears a Who!”) and Cinco Paul (“Horton Hears a Who!”)

While the cuteness factor is at an all-time high in the new animated feature film “Despicable Me,” the elimination of any real conflict between characters is bothersome. Sure, a collection of likeable toons can offer a gleeful experience especially to those of a certain age, but important as it is to have someone to cheer for, it’s also kind of fun to have someone to root against. In “Despicable Me,” everyone is either just so gosh darn adorable or wacky, you might as well be watching an episode of the “Teletubbies.”

The happy-go-luckiness begins with the yellow, scene-stealing, Twinkie-shaped characters known as the minions, who will probably grace every lunchbox and backpack once the new school year starts up next month. The minions, who take on the same type of role as the claw-loving, squeeze-toy aliens in the “Toy Story” franchise, work for the darkly sophisticated Gru (Steve Carell), a supervillain who cuts in line at the coffee shop and hogs the road while driving his oversized, jet-powered vehicle.

When Gru finds out another supervillain known as Vector (Jason Segel) is outworking him by successfully executing high-profile crimes (his latest is stealing the Great Pyramid of Giza), Gru decides he will not settle for being second best. His plan: to steal the moon, a plan that first requires him to get his hands on a shrink ray gun retained by Vector so he can simply pluck a miniature moon right from the sky.

To do so, Gru adopts a trio of orphans – Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnus (Elsie Fisher) – to infiltrate Vector’s lair by peddling cookies at his front door. In return, the girls, who make up a major portion of the good-natured spirit of the animation, show Gru that being a supervillain doesn’t mean he can’t also be a loving dad.

And so goes Gru’s transformation from a coldhearted evildoer to compassionate father figure. It’s part of the basic and mostly cliché script by “Horton Hears a Who!” screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul. Aside from Carell’s awkwardly inconsistent voice work as Gru, most of the character’s problems come during his transition from baddie to daddy. “Despicable Me” digs for some sentimentality, but ultimately comes up short.

Left to fill space: the minions, who are bound to be a crowd favorite by the end of the summer. They scuttle, chatter incoherently, and earn their laughs mostly when getting bopped in the head or knocked to the ground. “Despicable Me” deserves a chuckle or two here and there, but the safety net it seems to be working over gets in the way of producing any authentic animated dramedy not found on Nickelodeon.

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