Tag Archives: comedy

Way late review: Gremlins

A classic. Gremlins is so much fun that even when there is an (odd) quiet moment of contemplation it is filled with a dark sense of humor:

Kate: Now I have another reason to hate Christmas.
Billy: What are you talking about?
Kate: The worst thing that ever happened to me was on Christmas. It was so horrible. It was Christmas Eve. I was 9 years old. Me and Mom were decorating the tree, waiting for Dad to come home from work. A couple hours went by. Dad wasn’t home. So Mom called the office. No answer. Christmas Day came and went, and still nothing. So the police began a search. Four or five days went by. Neither one of us could eat or sleep. Everything was falling apart. It was snowing outside. The house was freezing, so I went to try to light up the fire. That’s when I noticed the smell. The firemen came and broke through the chimney top. And me and Mom were expecting them to pull out a dead cat or a bird. And instead they pulled out my father. He was dressed in a Santa Claus suit. He’d been climbing down the chimney…his arms loaded with presents. He was gonna surprise us. He slipped and broke his neck. He died instantly. And that’s how I found out there was no Santa Claus.

I’m still not sure if writer Chris Columbus was trying to add a somber moment or one of the more slyly written pieces of comedy. I tend to think the latter. It’s become my favorite scene not starring a gremlin or Gizmo in the 80’s icon.

I’ll take the nostalgia hit on this one and keep on going. The film holds up, as my seven year old daughter and eleven year old son can testify. They both love and hate this film. They hate the scary hatching of the gremlins after the multiplied Mogwai eat some nasty looking fried chicken after midnight. The scene with the mom discovering she’s in a house full of green devils scares them every time but they also find themselves laughing and cheering as mom disposes of each one in her own determined and creative manner. For each moment my daughter hides her eyes, she can’t help but peek, lest she miss the next funny, action packed sequence. My son yells at the characters for foolishly not realizing their demise is only footsteps away; footsteps the characters take because curiosity is not just for cats but also for the bulk of comedy/horror film casts. Of course, we all cheer when Gizmo finally gets his chance to mimic Clark Gable in To Please a Lady and takes the Barbie mobile for a spin in order to hunt down the leader of the pack, Stripe.

The numerous gags and references to past films makes Gremlins feel like a bit of an homage to cinema all while being an action packed comedy. Director Joe Dante’s love letter to cinema is a lot different than say Martin Scorsese’s with Hugo. Call me silly, but I much prefer the antics of Dante’s Gremlins. They just don’t make movies like Gremlins anymore, which is a shame.

 ★★★★★ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

Way late review: Jeff, Who Lives at Home

I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone like Jeff (Jason Segel). A thirty years old, smoking pot, living in his mom’s basement, waiting for his destiny to come to him and magically control his life. I also didn’t expect to like Jeff, Who Lives at Home as much as I did.

Jeff finds great significance in the movie Signs. The M. Night Shyamalan film has deep meaning for the man who seems to have little purpose in life other than to mooch off mom and get high. He’s fascinated that the little girl in the film has a hard time drinking water and leaves full glasses all over the house. He marvels at how those very same glasses of water play a major role in saving the girl and her family’s lives. Jeff desperately wants to find his glasses of water in life.

Pat (Ed Helms), Jeff’s older brother, is not living at home. He’s married and in place of passively seeking his destiny he tries to make it happen in the form of purchasing a brand new Porsche Boxster against the consent of his wife, Linda (Judy Greer). While Linda has been saving for a home, Pat has been dreaming of living a life he can’t afford.

Jeff and Pat’s mom (Susan Sarandon) is a widow. She makes it clear to Jeff that she’d like for him to take even the simplest steps in becoming a productive member of society. For her birthday she sternly asks Jeff to get wood glue to fix a shudder in the house. She realizes this is not asking a lot, yet it is. She knows her son.

If there are any missteps it’s likely with the mom’s story line. She plays an important role, as she struggles with being alone, being a widow. The sadness and bitterness towards her own life carries over in her sons’ lives. All of them miss the same man who they all clearly loved very much. However, mom’s actions towards the end seemed forced to move the plot forward, as we never get to know her well enough to believe the path she chooses.

The passive pursuit of discovering his destiny leads Jeff off his mission to purchase wood glue and on a journey that leads to no shortage of comedic situations. Along the way, Jeff and Pat cross paths, where we discover the brothers do not like one another. No matter, Pat has more pressing concerns when his attempt to show off the power of the Porsche to Jeff backfires and, in a strange way, leads the brothers to find Pat’s wife potentially cheating on him. The pursuit for the truth has the brothers in a smashed up Boxster swerving through traffic trying to tail Linda and her mysterious male companion. Jeff plays the part of the Flinstone’s Dino, as he pops his head out of the sunroof so he can act as the human Google Maps. The comedic chase and awkward, yet funny, detective work by Jeff and Pat goes on until it meets a rather predictable conclusion. Yet that’s not the end. The small comedy turns into something more.

I was at first convinced Jeff, Who Lives at Home was going to be another vulgar and cynical comedy; one that treats its characters with disdain by putting them through painfully awkward situations, only to watch them dangle in despair until the bitter end where there is a weak attempt at redemption. And while it is vulgar at times, there is a genuine care for these characters, all of whom are easy to make rash judgments about. The story is more than just a setup for laughs, though there are plenty of those. Jeff’s obsession with his destiny may not jive with reality but it makes for a surprisingly compelling story with an emotional payoff.

 ★★★★½ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

Way late review: A Little help

The independent dramedy. So full of cliches and quirkiness. And yet, I tend to have a soft spot for them. Enter A Little Help. A small film with some laughs and some tender moments.

Laura (Jenna Fischer) is not having her “best life now” as a famous (ahem) preacher in the states would probably put it. Far from it. She seems immature and desperately looking for something to numb the pain in her life. She drinks beer, lots of beer, when she’s not at work serving as a dental hygienist. Her son Dennis (Daniel Yelsky) and her do not have a close relationship. In their first scene together, Laura picks up Dennis from summer camp. Her conversation screams desperation as she cops the attitude of “I want to be your best buddy” rather than being a mom. Dennis is having none of it. He wants his dad (Chris O’Donnell). The problem is that dad (Bob) has been working late a lot recently and is rarely around for his son or wife.

In order to save face with the family, Laura pleads with Bob to make it to a family BBQ to celebrate her sister’s teenage twins’ birthday. It’s apparent Bob hasn’t made many of these family gatherings and Laura can’t stand the thought of yet another without her husband present. Not that it matters much. Mom is overbearing and sister, Kathy (Brooke Smith), follows in mother’s footsteps.

There are a number of laughs watching these family dynamics take place during a forced gathering. It’s evident that no one wants to be at the birthday celebration, including the twins whose birthday is being celebrated. The acting is solid overall and makes a mostly unlikeable cast of characters at least bearable if not always laugh out loud funny.

Laura and Bob get into a loud argument in the kitchen which leads Laura to run out of the house with Bob in tow. Bob runs down his sister-in-law’s driveway only to fall to the ground clutching his chest. Bob goes to the hospital and the doctor tells him it’s likely a panic attack since this, according to Bob, is the first time this has happened during a physical activity. Later that evening Laura feels bad and tries to make it up to her husband only to have him have another attack and die. Yes, he dies. And, no, that’s not a spoiler.

Life without husband and father changes things for both widow and son. The humor becomes darker as Laura and her son do little to actually come to terms with their grief. In a sense, both were grieving just as much before so not much has changed for them. But the realities sink in for both. The sadness they felt before becomes greater as they realize just how much life is changing, whether they want to deal with it or not.

There is a revelation in the later half of the film that isn’t unbelievable but felt forced. And while the acting overall is solid, most of the characters tend to sway towards indie quirkiness for the sake of laughs. That is forgivable when the laughs come, but harder to accept when the dramedy wants to put emphasis on the drama.

I enjoyed A Little Help for what it is and respect it for not trying hard to be what it is not. It doesn’t make attempts to be a laugh fest nor does it try hard to delve deep into the psyches of its characters, taking itself too serious. The situations and people in them are sometimes funny (albeit in a sad/awkward manner) and sometimes not. Kind of like life can be at times.

 ★★★½☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

Way late review: Midnight in Paris

When we look back on the year in movies of 2011 we might see it as a pinnacle year for nostalgia. There were numerous super hero movies that have a long history in comic books. Super 8 was nothing if not a call back to the “good old days” of the 1980’s. We even saw a new muppet movie that valiantly tried to revive our felt covered friends. Enter Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, a film that is all about nostalgia.

Gil (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams) are an engaged couple tagging along with Inez’s mom (Mimi Kennedy) and dad (Kurt Fuller) in Paris. Gil is an author who makes his money writing screenplays for Hollywood films. Gil’s real passion is to become a great writer. He stopped writing Hollywood scripts he wasn’t proud of and started writing a novel centered on a nostalgia store owner. Inez and her parents think this is ridiculous. Gil should go for the money. From early on it’s made clear that Inez and her parents are all about the money. In fact, they’re so much about the money and themselves that it’s hard to believe that Gil would tolerate the trio let alone be engaged to the daughter.

Gil is all about the 1920’s. He not only knows it but he longs for it, so much so that he believes he was born too late. His romantic ideas of Paris in the ’20s cause him to roam the streets at night. He wants to take long walks in the rain and absorb every ounce of the city. All is normal until one evening an antique Peugeot pulls up, an overly friendly gentleman from another era pops out and invites Gil to hop in. Gil no longer dreams of another era, he’s in one. All his heroes from the ’20s are there. Great writers, artists and musicians. He can’t believe it. When he rushes out the door of a pub to get a draft of his novel for Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), he’s shocked to discover that the pub is no more. In it’s place is a laundry mat.

Gil struggles to convince his fiancée of the previous evening’s events. He himself isn’t completely convinced. He tries taking her to the spot where the car picked him up the night before but no one shows. Inez has little patience for Gil’s escapade so she goes back to the hotel. The clock strikes midnight and the car arrives on cue. Gil is transported back to 1920 again. This repeats every night. Inez tires of Gil’s disappearing acts each evening so she starts going out with an old friend who she still has feelings for. Inez’s father has a private investigator tail Gil. He’s convinced Gil is cheating on his daughter.

Owen Wilson’s performance makes this movie enjoyable. The actors playing the famous icons of yesteryear are also compelling. Inez and her parents however are close to intolerable, intentionally so, but that doesn’t make it any easier to understand why Gil spends a moment with them. There is no need to make these characters so unlikeable. The theme of the movie doesn’t need it and the attempts at humor feeding off the trio’s pompous behavior barely registers. Regardless, the meat of the film is spent with Gil and his time in the ’20s, which saves the film from getting mired in the less interesting dynamics between Gil, his fiancée and her parents.

The lesson Gil learns about the trap that can be nostalgia is a bit obvious but forgivable. After all, if the movies of 2011 are any indication, it’s a lesson that many of us need to be reminded about. Thankfully the lesson only takes a 90 minute runtime. You’ll rarely hear me complain about that.

Overall Midnight in Paris was an enjoyable film. It’s neither a full blown comedy nor is it ever a drama. In other words, it’s a Woody Allen film – with just enough quirkiness to make me like it but not love it.

 ★★★½☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. Read more reviews here.

Way late review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

I work in tech. I know far more about pop culture than I’d ever like to admit. I’m not a gamer but I enjoy video games occasionally. Based on all of this, I should, at the very least, be OK with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. I too was surprised to find my disdain for the movie. Had it been as exciting, funny, and enjoyable as its own trailer I would have given it four stars. Unfortunately, Scott Pilgrim isn’t 2 minutes long. It’s 113 minutes long and a chore to watch.

Despite all its 16-bit video game flash, comic book visuals, and rocking soundtrack, Scott Pilgrim manages to be a downer of a film. The sarcastic, hard to tolerate characters (yes, all of them) make it difficult to enjoy the deliberately quirky elements. Even worse is a plot that drags us through seven dreadful video game inspired battles between Scott Pilgrim and the exes of the girl he has his sights on. The battles are highly stylized to the point where there is never any sense of danger. I’ve felt worse watching Mario take a beating at the hands of Bowser.

Everything about Scott Pilgrim felt cold and distant. The characters were caricatures always ready with rapid fire snide remarks that were neither funny or smart. Caricatures are hard to root for, hard to feel emphathy for, hard to muster up the energy to care about. Put caricatures in a video game tinged, comic book fueled setting and the results are emptiness. Worse than hate is apathy and Scott Pilgrim generated much apathy.

I would dare to give Scott Pilgrim vs. The World a half star if it weren’t for the innovative visuals. I’ll give director Edgar Wright credit for that. Bump it up 1/2 a star for the interesting visuals. They play well in the trailer. Too bad the rest of the film is almost two hours of sludging through long repetitive scenes of shallow characters making it to an end that doesn’t matter all that much.

 ★☆☆☆☆ 

This post is part of my Way late reviews. See more reviews here.