Archive for the ‘Comedy Films’ Category

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MARGOT AT THE WEDDING (2008)

September 11, 2008

Margot at the Wedding Review


Adam:

Length: 93min

Taglines:
One family. Infinite degrees of separation.

Review by Adam:

This movie was recommended to us from some good friends but I would be loath to do the same. It wasn’t until we put it on that I realised that Nicole Kidman was in it. I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel like ‘our’ Nicole has become all ditsy over the years, something that now I can’t shake from whatever role she takes (except maybe Dogville).

The plot revolves around a reunion between two estranged sisters for a wedding. All the personal issues that had driven the sisters apart eventually resurface, causing everything to fall apart. Everyone in this movie seems to have some major personal interaction malfunction. In Jack Black’s character at least, it is mostly funny. His wonderful no-hoper attitude is the only thing that makes this movie bearable.

Since there isn’t much plot, and the focus is on character, it’s a shame that every character is largely unlikeable. Nicole is particularly horrible. So self-righteous but so hypocritical. Jack Black’s character sums it up best by saying something like this to Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character: “you’re fucking crazy, your sister’s fucking crazy. No I’m not overreacting, when people look back they’ll see that this is a completely normal response”.

He also said that he would punch Nicole in the face, something that would have made the film more interesting.

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HANCOCK (2008)

September 6, 2008

Hancock Review


Adam:

Length: 92min

Taglines:
There are heroes. There are superheroes. And then there’s…
Bad Behaviour. Bad Attitude. Real Hero.
Meet the superhero everybody loves to hate.
He is saving the world whether we like it or not.

Review by Adam:

I wanted this movie to be good. I don’t know why really. Maybe I’m just sucker for hype, and apparently the Fresh Prince is now one of the most bankable and successful (in terms of ticket sales) stars around. That, and I love a good story of redemption.

Hancock (Will Smith) is an alcoholic super hero who spends his time being jaded, getting wasted, and seemingly only responding when people call him an asshole. He’s despised by the local population for his reckless acts of kindness, that is, smashing everything in his way to stop criminals. As the only one of his kind, he’s built some pretty distant people skills, which haven’t been helped by the vicious serves he receives from the general population. Eventually Hancock saves a struggling PR man (Jason Bateman) who offers to help him change his “public interfacing”. Thus a story of redemption starts…

The characters in this movie are as shallow as anything we would have seen on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. The plot is about the same depth, save for one nicely unexpected twist. Smith manages to crack some good jokes, but it all gets swallowed up by the weak storyline. By trying to get a balance between action hit and comedy hit, the filmmakers managed to avoid them both. Even the ‘baddies’ are pathetic in this film (and everyone also knows it’s the PR people that are pure evil, not the Hispanic gangsters!).

Before I saw Hancock I wondered what would be the evil counterbalance to Smith’s superhero. This is the film’s problem. There’s no great rivalry. No Superman and Lex Luther. No Spiderman and the Green Goblin Family. No Keanu Reeves and Anthony Kiedis from Point Break. There’s only a weak love story that moves this film forward, and even then it doesn’t move it very far.

We can only pray that there is no sequel.

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HELLBOY 2: THE GOLDEN ARMY (2008)

September 5, 2008

Hellboy II Review

Matt:
Adam:

Length: 120min

Taglines:
Saving the world is a hell of a job.
Good never looked so bad.
Believe it or not – he’s the good guy.
From the visionary director of Pan’s Labyrinth.

Précis: Lighthearted action fantasy about a grumpy hellspawn and his mutant friends, battling to save humanity from a magical evil threat.

Review by Matt:

There’s a big red demon, a looming threat to humanity, and scary gun-toting freaks all around. Is it the 2008 Republican Convention? No, it’s Hellboy 2, the new film written and directed by much-admired Mexican filmmaker, Guillermo Del Toro. He’s dropped the nightmarish atmosphere that characterised his recent films. Hellboy 2 is a fluffy action/fantasy flick about FBI-employed mutants saving the world from a mythological army of death robots.

Ron Perlman is Hellboy, a macho, half-human hellspawn who is a bit like a bigger, redder Han Solo. He’s out to save humanity from the villainous Elf Prince Nuada (played by Luke Goss, who has already endangered humanity once, as part of the awesomely rubbish 80’s band, Bros). Hellboy is helped by key team mates: his pyro-kinetic girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair), and a psychic creature called Abe (Doug Jones), who has an uncanny resemblance to C3PO in a fish suit. Further assistance comes from a German ectoplasmic spirit called Krauss (voiced by Seth McFarlane, emulating Klaus from American Dad) and the beleaguered human minder of the group, Agent Manning (Jeffrey Tambour, who is wasted in this excisable role).

Robots, monsters, Bros. It might sound great to you. But be clear about what you’re getting here, because Hellboy 2 won’t be for everyone. There are things to enjoy. Most noticeably, the film has a hammy likeability, unselfconsciously displayed in Arnie-like one liners and other silly, sometimes funny, dialogue. It also sports an impressive visual style; Del Toro has a talent for composition, and a rich imagination. You get a sometimes crazy mesh of towering monsters and flashy fights, and even a liberal promotion of interspecies marriage (there goes the Republican Convention comparison). You have to admit that in some respects, this is a film that has got it going on.

But the film’s bad side soon engulfs the positives. Hellboy 2 just lacks the qualities to make us invest in its story. The plot is recycled, rushed and disjointed. In some places it is jarringly sloppy. Behind the characters’ striking appearances, they are truly shallow, and most of the acting is accordingly stilted. The romances and conflicts are annoyingly clichéd, and may as well have been left out. The more it goes on, the more it feels over-busy and self-indulgent, as if Del Toro was obsessed only with his scattered ideas and ingenious style.

When even Guillermo Del Toro’s fantastical style starts to appear decidedly undazzling, you know there is something missing. I am an enthusiast of monsters, robots and other curiousities. But Hellboy 2 is a reminder that you’ve got to put them in the right vehicle before you have a winning film.

Review by Adam:

I didn’t even know this movie was coming out until I saw it previewed at The Dark Knight. My company immediately complained about how lame it looked. From that moment I was convinced that this would be awesome, and it kinda is. I was hanging to see this movie and at the end of a busy weekend. I even ended up dodging a dinner invitation with a visiting foreign celebrity so that I could see it with an old flatmate.

So the story doesn’t really pick up from the first movie. There is no reference to the previous happenings, or to the fate of the previous human agent assigned to Hellboy. Maybe he just died of an obscure disease.

The plot happens all very quickly and you’re guaranteed to think that it went from the first instance of slaughter to the final battle with very few events in between. The beauty of the film is in the characters, or better put, the creatures. If you’ve seen Pan’s Labyrinth you’ll know the beautifully creative mind of Guillermo Del Toro. This film gives him plenty of opportunities to showcase that. Kind of like that Tatooine bar scene in Star Wars Episode 4 (you know, the one where that dude tells Luke what all of us are thinking – “I don’t like you” – and then Obi Wan sabres him). It’s also nice to see that not everything these days is computer generated and some nice work has gone into the costumes.

Despite the supernatural realms and the whole threat of total destruction of humanity, this film is pretty light on. It never seems to take itself too seriously, and that’s a strength. The love stories are hammed up in all the right places (including one unforgettable sing-a-long) and only at a few moments are a bit over the top. The theme to the love story is that the destruction of the earth is fine, just as long as you are with the one you love. Easy to say if you have super-awesome mutant powers I guess…

Basically, go and see Hellboy 2 if you want something light. Don’t expect much and you’ll be delighted with a film that is entertaining, funny, sometimes beautiful, and has guns and big red dudes. Apparently there is another one planned – I can’t wait.

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BE KIND REWIND (2008)

August 2, 2008

Be Kind Rewind Review


Matt:

Length: 101min

Taglines:
You name it, we shoot it.
Sometimes the best movies are the ones we make up.

Précis: Oddball and friendly film about amateurs remaking blockbusters and discovering the creativity and community spirit around them.   

Review by Matt:

Mike (Mos Def) is an affable clerk left to mind Mr Fletcher’s (Danny Glover) old-school video store for a few weeks. Things go slightly haywire when the store’s main patron, Jerry (Jack Black) – a loopy conspiracy theorist who lives in a nearby trailer – becomes magnetised, resulting in the erasure of the store’s entire catalogue. In a kind of child-like panic, Mike and Jerry decide the best approach to the problem is to recreate the videos by shooting their own versions, starring themselves, a randomly recruited laundry-lady (the ever-cheery Melonie Diaz), and a bunch of home-made special effects.

It sounds pretty weird, and it is. Be Kind Rewind is one of those films that will divide audiences. Some people are going to shake their heads and complain that it is chaotic and half-baked. They’d be right. It seems a bit like writer/director Michael Gondry (who whatever happens from now will be remembered for his stellar effort in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ) hurried his cast onto a set with a script scribbled on the back of an envelope. What stands out initially is the film’s disconcerting ‘low-key’ feel and the air of randomness. It makes you wonder if they’re making it up as they go along. Even the name the boys use for the process of re-shooting the films – “sweding” – seems invented on the spot, and Mos Def’s mumbling suggests he may not have rehearsed too much.

But the other half of the audience is going to think Be Kind Rewind has a unique comic charm and a freeing originality. This is true too. Where else can you see a couple of doofuses recreate Ghost Busters, complete with giant pipe-cleaner protonpack weapons? The same randomness that alienates some viewers is going to delight others. The film’s central theme, amateur creativity, has already inspired a hoard of backyard filmmakers to go out and remake everything from Jurassic Park to Predator.  To cement its point about creative community power, the villains of Be Kind Rewind are representatives of the powerful orthodoxy – movie studios and building developers.

My conclusion is that Be Kind Rewind is a better film than it first appears. It’s got something special going on in its weird whimsy, and before you’ve really figured out what you’re watching, it’s delivered a sneaky little celebration of community and creativity. It’s a bit syrupy, but I ended up liking the way it used a wacky vehicle to deliver a touching message.  Just that the delivery itself is kind of untidy. For a film crackling with comic potential, it doesn’t manage to elicit many laughs. It also should have traded some of the more banal moments to show us more of the creative and comic ‘sweded’ remakes, which are the best parts of the film. I ended up smiling because I was touched, but I didn’t smile outright at the film’s humour. So it’s missing a bit of polish and sparkle, but Be Kind Rewind is still is a friendly and original little film.

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FUTURAMA: THE BEAST WITH A BILLION BACKS (Futurama Movie 2) (2008)

June 28, 2008

Futurama Movie: The Beast with a Billion Backs Review


Matt:

Length: 89 min

Précis: Futurama movie number two of four is focused on the theme of love … examined through a plot about an inter-universe rift and a planet-sized tentacle monster.  Most importantly though, it’s funnier than the first Futurama film!

Review by Matt:

Good news everyone! Futurama, the animated sci-fi comedy show created by Matt Groening, continues its afterlife with the release of the second of four post-television movies: The Beast with a Billion Backs. The Futurama fan base is large and diverse, so some of you will inevitably dispute my assessment – but let me tell you: The Beast with a Billion Backs is much better than the first Futurama movie. To quote one high profile film scholar, Bender’s Big Score was a “weak, boring disappointment”. Inexplicably, Beast with a Billion Backs is just a whole lot cleverer and funnier. The difference between the two is like watching a bad Futurama episode (like, say, The Deep South or That’s Lobstertainment!) and watching a pretty good one (like, say, Godfellas or The Farnsworth Parabox). Who knows what changed in the well-populated Futurama team – but it was the right thing. Beast with a Billion Backs is like the good old days of Futurama again. The jokes come frequently, they’re a combo of slapstick, black, offbeat and witty, and it’s all couched in the kind of sci-fi action that tickles your nerd centre.

Hopefully viewers know the premise of this show already. The movie doesn’t take any time to bring outsiders up to speed. No help from me – read the premise of the show if you need some background. Beast isn’t as “fans only” as the first Futurama Movie though, and there are less in-jokes. You’re also fine to watch this movie without having seen Bender’s Big Score.  The Beast With a Billion Backs gets straight into it: within the first five seconds, space has ripped open leaving an inter-universal portal hovering above New New York (presumably this was caused by Bender’s careless time-hopping in the previous film). Terrified earthlings are beginning to grow exhausted from pointing at it and screaming. It’s the kind of parallel-universe premise that Futurama loves (I also love it). But, in case the title didn’t already alert you, you’ll soon realise that this second Futurama film is mainly a big riff on the topic of love and sex. Despite the hovering gash in their universe, our main characters are largely concerned with romance:  Fry is preoccupied with his new girlfriend’s fancy for polygamy and Kif and Amy are headed to Kif’s home world to take part in a swampy, otherworldly marriage ceremony.

Meanwhile, Professor Farnsworth – aided by arch-rival Professor Wernstrom and the super-powered head of Stephen Hawking – investigates the anomaly.  In a typical Futurama parody, scientific efforts are brushed aside by the brash American president (the delightfully cantankerous Nixon’s head) who launches an all out military assault on the parallel world.  “Hell of a thing to send a universe to certain doom… “, philosophises mission leader Zap Brannigan, “Fun though! Makes a man feel big!” Of course, incorrigible robot Bender also has a primary plot thread, as he plays with his fellow robots (including one of my favourites – the pompous soap-star, Calculon) searching for a mythical cult called “The League of Robots”. He’s in fairly good form in this film, irascible and amoral as ever.

That’s just the beginning really. Messing with the anomaly soon unleashes an almighty universe-altering adventure, featuring a tentacled Casanova, voiced by David Cross. I won’t go into detail, but it’s another one of those extravagant sci-fi ideas for which Futurama is well known. This one adds a little dash of philosophical weirdity too, which I quite enjoyed. Potentially it has a level of absurdity that might not gel with everyone. Me? I love the absurdity. It’s kind of a War of the Worlds meets Everybody Loves Raymond caper that allows the love/sex theme to take centre stage. As you’d expect, the background to the film is also bustling with neat, nerdish ideas and parodies of modern life.

But the only reason these traits actually shine is that they are housed in 90 minutes that mostly stays sharp and funny. For me, that’s where the previous movie lost it. Beast with a Billion Backs is not off-the-scale funny – not all the jokes hit home – but there are still enough winners to make it pretty enjoyable. My biggest struggle was with the film’s meandering plot. I think it might be hard to stretch the Futurama style over 90 minutes, and the plot sometimes clunks forward a bit awkwardly. After so many jokey sidetracks you might start to wish there was something sturdier at the core. But there’s the rub: which do you want? It’s difficult to pump out constant irreverent humour and still maintain intricate plotting and deep characters. So, hey, overall I’m satisfied.

I lamented in my last review that the Futurama movies could do better than Bender’s Big Score. Effort number two, The Beast with a Billion Backs is a decent step up. It’s at least made sure it’s delivered on its core promise: there are plenty of moments to make you laugh!

(Note: Add your favourite lines from Beast With a Billion Backs in the comments section)

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PERSEPOLIS (2007)

June 22, 2008

Persepolis Review


Matt:

Length: 95 min

Précis: Creative and likeable “coming of age” story set against Iran’s modern history.

Review by Matt:

Persepolis is an animated cartoon version of Marjane Satrapi’s popular autobiographical graphic novels about growing up in Iran.  You might already be dubious, especially if you prefer the cinema to be a place for an entertaining escape and have been burned before by contemporary Iranian films (many of which are fine films but, oh so painful!) Don’t worry, Persepolis filters this potentially depressing subject through Marjane’s idiosyncratic viewpoint and tells a story with a refreshing wit and whimsy. Iran’s modern history, dominated by the deposition of the Shah and the consequent rise of the current fundamentalist regime, becomes the backdrop to a personal tale about rebellion against repression and the search for identity. It’s a touching and funny story whose messages are universal.

The story begins when Marjane is a small girl living with her family during the last days of the Shah in the late 1970s. It’s evident from the start that she’s a feisty non-conformist, obviously influenced by her liberal family, some of whom are even imprisoned as dissidents. Part of the delight of these early scenes is the way events are filtered through Marjane’s childish viewpoint. A story about the Shah, for example, unfolds on the screen as an animated fable. As she becomes older and the regime more repressive, Marjane’s indomitable free spirit leads to trouble and a self-imposed exile to Europe. More animated adventures confront her there, but special prominence is given to her search for identity as an Iranian living in the west.

There is a lot of enjoyment to be found simply in the film’s style of storytelling. The animation is almost anti-Pixar in its grey, un-glossy, two-dimensionality. Yet it is used creatively and evocatively, sometimes reminiscent of German expressionism, and it is ideal for animating flourishes from Marjane’s active imagination. Marjane also has an uplifting joie-de-vivre that shines through the oppression; she’s the kid who would sneak into backstreets Tehran to buy contraband Iron Maiden tapes, or who just has to ask the fundamentalists insolent questions about God.

The film’s autobiographical frame means that personal experiences trump political comment, but a humorous personal account is quite an interesting way to look at a foreign history and culture, and of course it makes the politics easier to swallow. A lot is said about indoctrination and martyrdom, for example, simply by Marjane’s brief encounter with her young cousin, who has been promised a key to a Heaven full of women in exchange for military service. Some of Marjane’s other digressions seem a bit indulgent and the film meanders slowly for a while, but Persepolis maintains an entertaining ability to poke fun. The focus on everyday details of life also reminds us nicely that people everywhere are really the same – even if they hail from the ‘axis of evil’.

It’s not a surprise that Persepolis has become so popular. It scooped the Jury Prize at the Cannes festival in 2007,  was nominated for the Best Animated Feature at the 2008 Oscars, and is still touring the world, having just played at the 2008 Sydney Film Festival. It’s a likeable, unexpected gem that celebrates strength and spirit and proudly represents everyday people faced with dark times. Marjane Satrapi produced Persepolis outside of repressive Iran – she now lives in France. We’re lucky that protestations from Iran have been ignored and that we get the chance to see this exile’s unique picture of life in her former home.

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LEATHERHEADS (2008)

June 15, 2008

Leatherheads Review

Matt:
Tracy:

Length: 114 min

Taglines:
In the beginning, the rules were simple. There weren’t any.
If love is a game, who’ll make the first pass?

Précis: Mediocre modern ‘screwball comedy’ about 1920’s American football.

Review by Matt:

George Clooney’s directorial catalogue is taking us backwards in time through the 20th century. His debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, took us into a colourful 1960s and 70s. Good Night and Good Luck put us in the stifling black and white of McCarthy’s 1950s. His latest film, Leatherheads, mimics 1940s Hollywood comedies, but is set in 1920s America. These were the days when the American football league was rules-free and carefree. Clooney plays smooth, fast-talking football-wizard, ‘Dodge’ Connelly. Encouraged into entrepreneurship when his ailing team disbands, Dodge manages to kick start the trend of professional, overpaid stars by recruiting football champ and war hero, Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski). Meanwhile, feisty reporter Lexie Littleton (Renée Zellweger) is on Carter’s trail. She’s got the inside word that Carter’s war heroics are greatly exaggerated and she’s determined to uncover the truth and write the story of the year.

Clooney has lovingly made his film in the old fashioned ‘screwball’ style of comedy. Swinging Randy Newman numbers accompany scenes of slapstick football antics and bar room brawls in underground prohibition-defying nightclubs. It’s the kind of film where Dodge and Carter can punch each other’s lights out, bickering over Lexie’s affections, and then hop up, rubbing their jaws, and have a drink together. The film looks great, it has a bouncy comic feel, and it’s pleasant, oh so pleasant. But, while it is devoid of things that will actively rankle you, unfortunately Leatherheads is missing something as well. It’s just not that enjoyable. Like an expensive, exotic meal that is disappointingly tasteless.

Why is it so? You can tell that Clooney really loves this genre and Leatherheads is finely crafted. But perhaps it suffers from too much love. It becomes indulgent and a bit dull. There are a few too many of scenes of 1920s atmosphere, and not enough comic material. Partly blame the script as well, which doesn’t deliver the interest and impact that the triumphant directing deserves. The best scenes, as with the old screwball comedies, are when Carey-Grant-like Clooney and Katherine-Hepburn-like Zellweger engage in their argumentative banter (which really of course just masks their unexpressed love for each other). But they’re only a rare smattering in a jumpy script that lingers too long in nowheresville and then rushes through when it reaches somewhere more interesting.

There are still plenty of things to endear you to the film, if you’re impressed by individual parts. The acting is roundly excellent. George Clooney is in full ‘loveable rogue’ mode and his frenetic eyebrow-raising and smirking helps energise the pace when it flags. He and Renee Zelwegger have nice comic timing in their verbal jousts. American football fans will probably find some curiosity the tale of the origins of their sport, which in 1920 certainly didn’t look anything like the serious super-business it has become today. Fans of old screwball comedies will also probably appreciate Leatherheads more than I did, recognising a familiar 1940s freshness usually missing from films today; even the romance plot stays ‘moral’, burying references to sex in ingenious clues, as if the old Hollywood censorship code was still around (such as the romantic leads finding themselves sleeping in the top and bottom of a bunk bed).

So Leatherheads is generally charming and pleasantly nostalgic about things we’ve lost from football and films. It’s not a film to deride. However – and maybe I’m from a generation that is more distracted and demanding – I really would have preferred a film with a bit more zing.