Tag Archives: comedy

Failure to Land; ‘Baggage Claim’ (2013).

15 Oct

Baggage Claim posterWatching Baggage Claim is kind of like being slapped in the face with an insultingly wet fish. First off, it expects you to buy the carved-out-of-marble-gorgeous Paula Patton as a hopelessly single spinster. Secondly, it offers a selection of such innocuous jokes, only a toddler might mistake them as comedy. But it’s the film’s odious and distasteful ridiculing of its predominantly female audience that brings Baggage Claim’s crashing out of the sky, not even thirty seconds into flight time.

Montana Moore (Patton) is an incredibly beautiful flight attendant who finds it impossible to get a date. And, to compound Montana’s fuckless life, her younger sister is getting married in a month’s time, thereby beating her to the altar of heteronormative happiness! So, using her airline connections, our drop-dead gorgeous heroine ‘accidentally’ runs into all her past boyfriends in a last-ditch effort to track down the elusive ‘Mr. Right’ and get hitched before her little blister.

If the premise of a thirty-day time limit sounds ridiculously arbitrary, that’s because it is. Nonsensical and dripping with conceit, the self-imposed challenge is so artificially contrived, it’s doesn’t even tick the Looney Tunes comedy box. Why is it thirty days? Dreadful writing, that’s why, complete with unfortunately, frivolous and clunky plot devices that are merely the tip of the iceberg of wrongness that haunts this film.

Baggage Claim compounds all its silliness with an air of childish innocence. Take the character names, for instance: Jill Scott plays Montana’s sexually liberated bestie, Gail (because every black woman’s best friend is named ‘Gail’), whose surname is none other than ‘Best’; while the calm and collected neighbour (Derek Luke) is known as… wait for it… Mr. Right. It was genuine surprise to this writer that the obligatory male flight attendant was called ‘Sam Gay’.

While we’re on the subject, Sam (Adam Brody) is the sole believable character of the whole affair, which speaks volumes because he’s a walking (nay, mincing) stereotype. He remains eminently watchable, which is an achievement in itself given that everyone else, down to the extras, is a cartoon character. When Patton’s not convulsively twitching her face or gesticulating weirdly, she’s running to catch a flight, swinging her roller-bag in the air; just as air hostesses really do. Don’t they?

All of the goofiness would be fine if Baggage Claim was in any way funny. However, the only laughs stem from Taye Diggs’ would-be congressman character. Trying and failing to be the quintessential politician’s wife, before storming out Patton yells: “I don’t trust black Republicans!” A lump of satire floating in a sea of doltish buffoonery, it’s a welcome deviation from the gag-inducing gags that abound in this misfiring comedy.

At best, Baggage Claim is a moronic, profoundly dumb exercise in how to bore an audience for 96 minutes. At worst, it’s an offensive dose of misogyny, hammering home every archaic, outdated and plain ole bad cliché about single women Hollywood ever trotted out. Rest assured, total racial equality in making pointless, terrible romantic comedies has been achieved.

Simon says: Baggage Shame.

[Written for GCN]

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Time to talk about ‘About Time’ (2013).

6 Sep

About Time posterMuch like 2007’s Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, 2013’s About Time takes two genres that seemingly have nothing in common with one another and splices them together for the sake of originality. The amalgamation of romantic comedy with science fiction is aimed squarely at entertaining both the traditionally female rom-com fanbase as well as their legions of reluctant male company, but don’t be fooled: this movie is far closer to something like Love, Actually than say Looper or 12 Monkeys.

Richard Curtis (who has worked on the majority of British rom-coms of recent years) returns with another tale of hapless romance, moral quandaries and wealthy people with problems. Though this time there’s time travel! Domhnall Gleeson plays Tim, a shy guy who’s about as successful with women as he is in maintaining a decent haircut. Once his dad (Bill Nighy) informs him of a certain familial secret, his life is turned upside-down as he tries to balance using his “powers” for good while also serving his own interests in the relationship department.

What I like most about this movie is that, for the most part, balances the ‘rom’ with the ‘com’ quite well. For the first half of the movie, the two are seamless: as Tim’s hopelessly awkward attempts at romance prove futile, so they inspire fairly consistent laughter from the audience. But by the second and third acts, and especially towards the end, the humour beings to alternate between Curtis’ trademark brand of dramatic hoopla and funny scenes as opposed to weaving them together, and the switch can be rather jarring.

As with most romantic comedies, the result is notably cheesy and hokey, and will doubtless prove too saccharine for many to stomach. Though I have a fairly low tolerance when it comes to these movies, this particular one never made me as queasy as typical romantic comedies tend to do.  As with any movie featuring time-travel, logical inconsistencies abound (a plot twist involving babies makes absolutely no sense), but these are to be expected.

On the Venn diagrams of potential movie lovers, one would think there would be little intersection between the groups that love time-travelling science fiction and those that enjoy hokey romantic comedies. But About Time achieves what it set out to accomplish; it’s a quirky and funny if extremely forgettable Richard Curtis movie about white people and their problems. But if that’s your thing, you might love it, actually.

Simon says: It’s not even about time… It’s about MELODRAMA.

Awkward adolescent angst: ‘The Way, Way Back’ (2013).

31 Aug

There’s something to be said for films that adhere to the standard tropes and archetypes of a choice genre, that disregard any and all notions of innovation, but also manage to churn out something memorable. The Way Way Back is a total ‘formula’ movie in this regard, yet what it does with the established recipe is so marvellous that it’s impossible to criticise its lack of originality.

The directorial début of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (two intelligent and very funny Groundlings whose repertoire includes Community and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story), The Way, Way Back stars Liam James as Duncan, a quiet and unassuming teenager who keeps to himself. At the behest of his unhelpful mother (Toni Collette) and awful stepdad Trent (Steve Carrell), Duncan is forced to spend the summer at a beach house. He escapes the unfolding drama at home by landing a job at the local waterpark, and making an unlikely new friend in the form of Owen (Sam Rockwell), the park’s manager.

What sounds like a clichéd and potentially dull film is bolstered by actors who really play to their strengths. Liam James personifies awkward, and now that he finally has a great movie under his belt I’m curious as to where he’ll go next. Steve Carrell plays his second douchebag of the year (following Burt Wonderstone), espousing the acting range he clearly has. Maya Rudolph is as charming as ever, but it’s a draw between Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney (Duncan’s soul-brother and the waterpark and his awful neighbour, respectively) for the comedic highlight; virtually every line from each conjured a giggle.

Probably my favourite aspect of this film is that Faxon and Rash realise and empathise with the plight of the introvert. Duncan’s parents, their friends and the insufferably low-functioning beach girls all endeavour to coax him out of his metaphorical shell in many different ways: forced socialising, teasing and general prodding only serve to make things worse. The directors know that the problem isn’t his shyness; it’s the seemingly endless amount of unsympathetic people Duncan’s surrounded by, which is exemplified upon his discovering the waterpark.

In flogging the tired tropes and clichés of “that one summer than changed everything” movies, Faxon and Rash have hit a homerun with The Way, Way Back. Sprinkled with just the right amounts of sweetness and melodrama and garnished with sterling performances and deft writing, this is one of the better movies you’ll see all year.

Simon says: Adventureland for the new generation.

‘Kick-Ass 2’ (2013): Too much Ass, not enough Kick.

18 Aug

Kick-Ass 2 posterIf the original Kick-Ass was the perfect blend of extreme comic book violence with awkward teenage humour, then its follow-up is what happens when a different director takes the reigns, adds nauseatingly gratuitous shaky cam, several framed pictures of Nicholas Cage and a below-par Mean Girls subplot. While newcomer Jeff Wadlow is not exactly inexperienced (his directorial curriculum vitae includes Never Back Down and Cry_Wolf), as he is also head writer of the whole shabang the blame lies entirely with him for the litany of problems that plague Kick-Ass 2.

Set in the aftermath of its predecessor, Kick-Ass 2 again revolves around title star Dave Lizewski, aka Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), though this time Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) plays a much bigger part. Tracking their parallel lives in the build up to a rather explosive final act, the movie is essentially two intertwining storylines: Kick-Ass’s return to fighting crime through an Avengers-like consortium of “superheroes” (led by Colonel Stars And Stripes, or Jim Carrey), and Hit-Girl’s descent into high-school cliquery in an effort to leave her darker, more awesome life behind. But soon a new foe, The Motherfucker, rears his unimposing head, and they must unite once again.

Inconsistencies of tone plague this film like something from the middle-ages. Wadlow very unartfully juxtaposes the 14 year-old toilet humour (mass puking, bathroom sex etc.) with eye-gouging and hand-severing, but his worst crime is the injection of a tired and shockingly out of place school drama. Riddled with post-Mean Girls cliché and featuring a stomach-churning Union J cameo, it’s near total anathema to the outstanding and random violence, which the director juggles with about as much skill and talent as a double-arm amputee trying to do so with his head. On a treadmill.

Although Kick-Ass's character graces the title, this movie really focuses on Hit-Girl.

Although Kick-Ass’s character graces the title, this movie really focuses on Hit-Girl.

All of this could be forgiven if the film was fun, but it’s simply not. Aside from several goofy moments involving Jim Carrey (whom I only recognised through a mental process of cast elimination; he looks so different), the verve and panache of Kick-Ass’s first adventure has been surgically removed by Wadlow. The action sequences, which are probably very well choreographed, are near-totally obscured by the cameraman having some sort of medical episode; he may as well twirl the damn thing on a rope. Extreme violence endeavours to ape the provocative and audacious nature of its precursor, but in the end Kick-Ass 2 is ugly and kind of stupid.

This movie left a fist imprint on my face. Not from assault, but from my dedicated struggle to stay awake. The last twenty minutes are fun, but it’s too little too late. The performances are all great, but it’s too tonally confusing and nonsensical to take seriously.

Simon says: I was promised ass-kicking, not ass-scratching. Lazy.

A lesson in fossil preservation; ‘Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa’ (2013).

10 Aug

Alan Partridge Alpha Papa posterDirector Declan Lowney knows full well that his latest filmic endeavour, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa will only appeal to a very select body of people. Such a group includes fans of Partridge’s many appearances on BBC Radio 4, general appreciators of Steve Coogan and those who enjoy the sorts of syndicated television shows that appear on Dave and G.O.L.D… That’s about it, really. The director made famous by his managing of the immortal Father Ted is all too aware of this, and caters accordingly. As a fan of such homely British comedy, I found this film to be an absolute hoot.

Just to be clear; Alan Partridge is a fictional character portrayed by Steve Coogan. He is a ridiculous, hilariously uncool yet strangely endearing disc jockey for North Norfolk Digital FM, who hosts a drive-time talk show, with the odd Fleetwood Mac or Willie Nelson tune thrown in for good measure. As the radio station is bought over by some shallow business-types with the intentions of making it trendier and more ‘cool’, the evening show run by Partridge’s colleague Pat Farrell (Colm Meaney) winds up as collateral damage and is cut altogether. The disgruntled Farrell goes AWOL and besieges the station, shotgun in hand; but if Alan Partridge can’t save the day, then who can!?

Steve Coogan's Partridge manages to be simultaneously repugnant and charming.

Steve Coogan’s Partridge manages to be simultaneously repugnant and charming.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is a quintessentially British affair that relies on good ol’ fashioned wit, funny facial expressions and situational comedy to deliver the laughs, rather than inflicting us with a tirade of swear words or unlikely slapstick. When compared to the two other comedic movies out right now, it (thankfully) lacks the scatology of Sandler’s catastrophic Grown-Ups 2, and there are no foul-mouthed Melissa McCarthys or awkward Sandra Bullocks to be seen, as in The Heat. Rather, this is the sort of film that uses actual jokes to tickle our collective funny bones. From the comically obtuse to his beleaguered assistant Lynn (played by Felicity Montagu) to the demented Farrell, this movie seldom lets up in the humour department.

However, that said, I know for a fact I’ll forget everything that happens in this movie in a week’s time. It brings absolutely nothing new or shiny to the comedy table, and to call it unoriginal would be an understatement. Sure, the juxtaposition of hilarity against the backdrop of a siege is doubtless entertaining, and some of the writing displays flashes of absolute genius (the assorted pokes at the Irish are unanimously hilarious), but in the end this is the sort of film you’ll see on Netflix in a few months and say “Oh yeah, I think I saw that”. But while you’re in the cinema, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa is breezy fun. Just make sure you’re into this sort of humour.

Simon says: one for the fans.

‘This Is The End’ (2013), my only friend.

3 Jul

This Is The End poster“It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I’m feelin’ fine!” the godly Michael Stipe once sang. But among those who may not be feeling so great include James Franco, Seth Rogan, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson and a host of other movie stars and celebrities. Why? Because it’s the end! The apocalypse is nigh! But what’s surprising is that the whole situation is really rather funny.

In what must be tiringly common practice for such A-list names, Seth Rogen and his buddy Jay Baruchel are invited to a house party, at the behest of none other than James Franco. Upon reaching the eccentric man’s eccentric mansion, the guys don’t have long to wait before fissures open up, cars burst into flames and people are sucked up into the sky. Rogen, Baruchel and Franco are forced to team up with Craig Robinson and Jonah Hill in a desperate effort to fend off Balrogs, mythical demons, and Emma Watson. How long can they survive?

I had a blast at this movie. The star-studded cast is tough to criticise – the film itself even jokes about how impossible it is not to like Jonah Hill. All of the actors have wonderful chemistry together, and each one of them is hilarious for different reasons; Franco is the uptight yet petrified homeowner, Rogen is armed with a battalion of toilet humour jokes, Baruchel is the introverted, misanthropic hipster, Hill’s boundless optimism demands laughter and literally everything Craig Robinson says or does had me in hysterics.

This Is The End is undoubtedly geared towards a particular audience: namely, those who enjoy apocalyptic horror-comedy, movie trivia nerds and, most importantly, fans of the lead actors themselves. Much of the film’s humour derives from self-deprecating pokes at the stars’ own filmography. Between Hill introducing himself as “Jonah Hill… From Moneyball” and Franco knocking his own Oscars presentation skills, that these guys are more than willing to make fun of themselves adds a refreshing layer of honesty that many similar films lack.

Every single one of this men made me laugh.

Every single one of this men made me laugh.

While the comic aspect of the film is obvious given the cast and subject matter, what surprised me the most about This Is The End is the fact that it is actually scary at times. The claustrophobic setting feels very Night of the Living Dead at times, while the unsettling feeling that bad things are lurking in the hazy fog brings to mind The Mist or Silent Hill. The movie straddles that fine line between horror and comedy with perfection; it manages to be funny without being too horrifying, while also definitely tense throughout.

At its core, This Is The End is a study of male friendship, and the anxiety that results from having to maintain a macho, alpha-male charade in a world where gay people exist. Although their huddling together in one tiny cubbyhole of the house out of pure terror is played for laughs, one gets the impression that virtually any other close group of male friends would do likewise in a similar situation.

You can read this far into it if you wish, but regardless This Is The End is a hilarious yet quite frightening film with great music (Black Sabbath and Cypress Hill fans should be pleased) and superb acting from all fronts. As apocalyptic films go, this one is a hoot.

Simon says: if this is the end, at least we’re going out with a bang.

7%?! ‘The Big Wedding’ (2013).

17 Jun

The Big Wedding posterOn the face of it, The Big Wedding doesn’t promise much. First of all, the super-generic title sounds about as exciting as eating Ready-Salted crisps at an accountancy convention. Secondly, Katherine Heigl is in it; her cinematic résumé is dotted with horrendous rom-coms and the sort of god awful  family-friendly dirges your mother would enjoy (Knocked Up, The Ugly Truth, New Year’s Eve – you get the gist). Thirdly, it has Robin Williams reprising his role as a clergyman from License to Wed, a molten turkey of a film. Finally, it’s impressively low score of 7% on Rotten Tomatoes inspires only fear.

But hold the phone, stop the cavalry, and don’t drop the bombs just yet – The Big Wedding is a surprisingly OK movie! Perhaps it was the abysmally low expectations going in, unavoidable given the above information, but the fact that this film didn’t wound me in any shape or form is nothing short of a miracle.

Yet another ‘White People With Problems’ movie, this time round several of the lead characters are noticeably more tanned than usual. Al (Ben Barnes) is marrying Missy (Amanda Seyfried), but the couple are hounded by a cacophony of problems convoluted enough to make Jerry Springer blush. Though Missy’s parents have issues, Al hails from a litany of oddballs: his crazy adoptive father Don (Robert De Niro) dumped the rather dull Ellie (Diane Keaton) for the hippyish Bebe (Susan Sarandon), even though the former bore him two children; a celibate doctor (Jared, Topher Grace) and an aggressive lawyer (Lyla, Katherine Heigl). Amidst it all, both his birth mother and Father Moinighan (Robin Williams) demand they undergo a traditional Catholic ceremony.

Don't fall for the apparent innocence; this movie is disgusting.

Don’t fall for the apparent innocence; this movie is disgusting.

So yeah, it’s a fairly big wedding alright. As you can probably gather from the synopsis, this movie is as hokey one can be, pelting us as it is with the traditional ‘family is important’ and ‘love is good’ cheese. Also, ‘non-American people are weird’, but we can let that one slide.

But where The Big Wedding works lies not in its story, dialogue, characterisation; from a technical standpoint, this film is fairly dreadful. What I enjoyed most about the movie is that it’s an R-rated comedy that actually deserves its label. A quick stroll past your local cinema will reveal nothing but the usual suspects – a laughably safe ‘comedy’ starring Owen Wilson or Eddie Murphy, the ‘hilarious’ family-friendly hijinks Ben Stiller and co., or another expansion of the tumour that is Adam Sandler.

The Big Wedding, on the other hand, is an American attempt at the antiquated ‘French Farce’ sub-genre of comedy that, for the most part, totally nails it. This is a bawdy, naughty, rowdy movie ridden with innuendos and under-the-table masturbation. Cunnilingus is explored in-depth within the opening scenes, nine-hour orgasms are discusses and everybody is having lots of sex with everybody else – they work the blue material. It’s also refreshing to see the typically mellow faces, such as Katherine Heigl or Susan Sarandon, play such unusual roles for them (a borderline demonic woman full of rage and a horny pastry chef, respectively).

Look, it made me laugh. Perhaps not for the duration, but often enough to ensure a fairly consistent grin on my part. A chimp could have written the script, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy myself immensely.

Simon says: don’t judge a book by its cover – or a film by its RT score.

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