REVIEW: This Is 40

31 12 2012

Judd Apatow is quite a curious entertainer, and I’m fascinated by the trajectory he’s taken to put his stamp on comedy.  Lately, he’s been using his tremendous power to advance women’s voices in comedy through Lena Dunham‘s HBO series “Girls” and Kristen Wiig’s “Bridesmaids,” quite a noble thing to do.

Yet otherwise as a producer, he makes comedies largely by the status quo, albeit with a slightly Apatowian (is that the proper term?) spin of vulgarity opening up on a big heart.  Some are hits, and others are flops.  Some work; others, absolute disasters.

However, as a director, he’s on the cutting edge.  2009’s “Funny People” and his fourth feature film, “This is 40,” are bold experiments in genre.  In these two movies, Apatow is probing the boundaries of comedy and attempting to make sense of the murky gray area that is dramedy.

These two movies are flawed but noble ventures into the great unknown.  Both films attempt to find the kind of tender human drama that defines the works of Alexander Payne and Jason Reitman, two directors who make serious works with touches of levity.  Apatow strives to find that same pathos without losing his films’ firm rooting in comedy, and though he doesn’t find it in “This is 40,” I’m willing to sit and watch him decipher it out.  Because once he finds that balance, a true masterpiece will be the inevitable result.

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REVIEW: Friends with Kids

22 12 2012

The title “Friends with Kids” sounds an awful lot like “Friends with Benefits,” the 2011 Justin Timberlake-Mila Kunis sex-friends comedy. Though the two differentiate themselves over the course of their respective films, they actually share quite a bit in common.

Both begin with a ridiculous premise: here, it’s the idea that two people can have sex once, procreate, and be parents without forming any sort of emotional connection to each other. It’s an idea that Jason (Adam Scott) and Julie (writer/director Jennifer Westfeldt) hatch one night after seeing how miserable their once happily married friends become when they have kids. And those same friends, like us in the audience, laugh at their foolishness and know it can only lead to disaster.

Their friends, by the way, are essentially a “Bridesmaids” reunion 15 years early for their People shoot. Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm are Ben and Missy, a sex-crazed couple whose kids take a toll on their marriage. And on the more reasonable end, Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd are a couple coping with the same issues but on a more authentic scale. All that’s missing is some Wilson Phillips (and perhaps a little defecating in sinks just for fun).

Yet just about every time you think it’s going down the path to predictability or genre, Westfeldt surprisingly turns the tables on you. She’s written a very thoughtful movie in “Friends with Kids,” one that makes some insightful revelations about marriage and parenthood. Though Jason and Julie move on to other people – him Megan Fox’s Broadway dancer Mary Jane, her Edward Burns’ family man Kurt – they find each other and their real feelings through those people. It might seem slightly cliched, but with all the laughs and the honesty, I didn’t really mind. B+ / 3stars





REVIEW: The Dictator

24 06 2012

The first time Sacha Baron Cohen lost himself in a character for a full-length theatrical release was 2006’s “Borat,” and it hilariously exposed American xenophobia while also providing a rollickingly good comedy for those unwilling to see what the humor was meant to reveal.  He did it again in 2009 for “Brüno,” and its lack of success (and arguably humor) may have shown how much less ready America is to deal with pent-up homophobia.

Now Sacha Baron Cohen is at it again in “The Dictator,” this time not as a personality from his outrageously funny “Da Ali G Show” from HBO.  Admiral General Aladeen, the dictator of the fictional Republic of Wadiya, is every bit as politically incorrect and outlandish as his previous three (if not more so).  He makes jokes about 9/11 and being friends with Osama bin Laden, executes just about anyone who disagrees with him, sleeps with actress/underground escort Megan Fox, and asks his pregnant wife (Anna Faris) if she will be having “a boy or an abortion.”  Yeah, he went there.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still a few jokes that Cohen can squeeze out of his boundary-pushing routine.  “The Dictator” has plenty of brilliant comedic moments, although the ones that succeed seem only giggle-worthy and the ones that fail appear to have been ripped straight from the Adam Sandler playbook.  However, the laugh gap isn’t the movie’s biggest problem.

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Random Factoid #503

13 12 2010

If you check out my page listing reviews by letter grade, you’ll find that I often dislike movies vehemently.  I never lose my faith in the movies in the face of all these terrible movies, though I do wonder if the directors, producers, writer, and/or actors of these movies know when they are making something that it is total garbage.

Turns out, Michael Bay was man enough to admit “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” was a failure.  It took him a year and a half to admit what bloggers and normal audiences have been saying, but it’s still nice to hear it from the man himself.  He said:

“We tried to learn from the second movie. On the second movie we got burned. We had a writers strike, we had to agree on a story in three weeks, and then we knew they were going on strike. It was a f***ed scenario all the way around; it wasn’t fair to the writer; it wasn’t fair to me; it wasn’t fair to anybody. It was still an entertaining movie, but I think we failed on certain aspects. What we did with this movie is I think we have a much better script, and we got back to basics. … It’s more serious. I got rid of the dorky comedy; I mean we’ve got two little characters, that’s it, but the dorkiness is not there. Dork-free Transformers. It’s much more serious. It’s still entertaining; it’s big looking.”

This is somewhat reassuring as I actually loved the first “Transformers” and still watch it every so often.  I wouldn’t say I’m hotly anticipating “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” but this is a small boost in its favor.

Although I will say, I can never forgive Michael Bay for scaring Megan Fox away from the movies.





Random Factoid #326

19 06 2010

I don’t watch much late night TV, not even the talk shows.

How does this tie in with the movies, which I tie everything into?  Well, I watch Letterman, Leno, Jimmy Fallon, and Jimmy Kimmel whenever there is a big comedic movie coming out with a whole lot of stars doing the promotional parade.  The campaign has to take them to late night, so I buy in and watch them talk.  It’s pretty entertaining stuff.

The last time I made a concerted effort to watch a lot of guests was at the release of “Funny People” last summer when Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Jonah Hill, and more were doing the rounds.  This summer, I’ll be watching around the release of “Grown Ups” with its five stars that will most likely be lighting up the late night circuit.  It kicked off last night with David Spade on Leno, and I’m sure it will be in full force next week.

But let me share the three top moments of the “Funny People” cast’s appearances from last summer.

3. Seth Rogen gets rejected by Megan Fox

2. Jonah Hill and his fake Twitter account

1. Leslie Mann likes to Google herself





REVIEW: Jennifer’s Body

18 01 2010

Jennifer’s Body” may be from the Academy Award-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody, but this is not a movie that will be contending for any awards. It is still laced with the stylized dialogue that made Cody a star, but surprisingly absent is any sort of narrative creativity to make the movie feel exciting. I imagine that “Jennifer’s Body” is to Diablo Cody what “Inglourious Basterds” is to Quentin Tarantino: a project that tickles their own fantasies. The difference is that the latter provides a rush of excitement while the former gives us little more to marvel at than star Megan Fox.

Fox is pretty – pretty unqualified to handle Cody’s rich dialogue. It rolls off her tongue with absolutely no energy, and she almost manages to make it boring. Fox has been given such a fun role, yet she seems to be thoroughly bored throughout the whole movie, displaying a mere fraction of the spunk that Ellen Page showed in “Juno.”

I’m not under the mistaken impression that Cody was trying to reinvent or innovate the high school film, and I recognize that she merely wanted to pay her tribute in the form of a very black comedy. “Jennifer’s Body” doesn’t stop at evoking them; the movie itself feels like a page ripped from their textbooks. I couldn’t get “Heathers” out of my head while I watched the demon Jennifer (Fox) sink into some teenage flesh. Her mismatched best friend, “Needy” (Amanda Seyfried of “Mamma Mia”), notices something a little abnormal in Jennifer’s behavior and investigates. As their small town of Devil’s Kettle mourns, Jennifer is feasting and Needy is trying to figure out a way to stop her.

There is still plenty of entertainment to be had in “Jennifer’s Body.” It’s a self-conciously bad movie, and you can still enjoy yourself laughing at the movie itself, not the jokes. Megan Fox might match the requirements to play Jennifer in looks, but she proves to be little more than a pretty face. She just doesn’t seem to get it – this is really dirty, funny stuff that she gets to handle, and it comes off as dull and uninspired. Although I like a little eye candy, “Jennifer’s Body” definitely would have benefitted from the casting of an actress who has the ability to fully realize the character. C /





Random Factoid #20 / An Experiment

17 08 2009

A major plus about the WordPress platform is the ability to see how people got to your blog.  I am often amused by the searches that send people my way, and I check it multiple times each day.  For instance, someone searched “Pee in Sink” and ended up here last week.  So, to see what people really search for on blogs, I am going to be tagging this post with some very random things that have nothing to do with what I am saying.

My inspiration for this is Judd Apatow for writing Leo Koenig in “Funny People.”  Leo records a YouTube video with him playing with cats because anything with “Cute Cuddly Kittens” in the title gets millions of views.  He attaches it to his account, and he postulates that people will click on his profile and check out his comedy clips.  It was one of the funniest parts of the movie, and thankfully they posted it on YouTube.

I’ll post the results of what got me the most searches in a week or so.  What’s your vote for the tag that will get me the most hits?  Comment, please!