Category Archives: Genre: Comedy

Movie Review: Hot Rod (2007)

Box office flop 'Hot Rod' has become a cult classic

Every now and then comes a motion picture that appears to be absolute trash to the naked eye, a film so horrendously crap that it’s awesome, a movie so stupid that it may actually be a work of genius.  2007’s Hot Rod is one such film.

Hot Rod was one of those films that came out with little fanfare – low budget, no-name actors and poor marketing.  It also had a poster that was unfortunately very similar to a much more expensive film released just a year before – Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.  Consequently, Hot Rod bombed at the box office.  To be fair, the fact that it received some scathing reviews might have had something to do with it.

(Click on ‘More…’ to read the rest of the review!)

Continue reading Movie Review: Hot Rod (2007)

DVD Review: I Love You Man (2009)

I usually only review new movies out at the cinemas, but I Love You, Man is recent enough so I’ll make an exception.

Paul Rudd has unexpectedly become one of my favourite comedic actors (who would have thought that after Clueless he’d still be around 15 years later, while Alicia Silverstone never did anything noteworthy since?) and Jason Segel really grew on me after Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  Throw in these two funny dudes in a film written and directed by John Hamburg (who co-wrote Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers and Zoolander and directed Along Came Polly), and the outcome is a wild and hilarious ride!

I Love You, Man is a highly unconventional movie.  It’s essentially a romantic comedy with two guys as the leads, but with no homosexual overtones whatsoever (not that there’s anything wrong with that) – a bro-mantic comedy, so to speak.  Paul Rudd plays Peter Klaven, a regular guy, a recently-engaged real estate agent who has invested all his time and effort into his relationships with women that he has no real male friends.  Enter Jason Segel’s character Sydney Fife, a carefree dude with a take it or leave it attitude to life that turns Peter’s life upside down.

I know, that sounds like a pretty crappy, cheesy premise, but I Love You, Man really works, probably in ways you wouldn’t expect.  It’s not a gross-out or stupid comedy – it is surprisingly honest and realistic (for a comedy of this sort, anyway), but the laughs are by no means second rate.  Rudd’s brutally awkward performance and his chemistry with Segel provide most of the funny moments, but the supporting cast – which includes the lovely Rashida Jones, the always welcome JK Simmons, and The Lonely Island’s Adam Samberg – are also extremely solid.

I Love You, Man is not without flaws, and it is, after all, a romantic comedy, so expectations need to be kept in check.  That being said, it is a lot funnier than a movie of this kind should be.

3.75 out of 5 stars!

Movie Review: Jennifer’s Body (2009)

Talk about a letdown.

You have Diablo Cody, the creator of cult favourite Juno, which just won her the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay (and also the award-winning TV show The United States of Tara).  You have Amanda Seyfried, the up-and-coming star of Mean Girls and Mamma Mia!.  You have director Karyn Kusama, who was at the helm for Æon Flux (I know), but also the critically acclaimed Girl Fight.  And of course, there’s Megan Fox, who is widely regarded as the most desirable woman on the freaking planet.

On paper, Jennifer’s Body looks like a sure winner.  But somehow, the film received a lukewarm reception and totally bombed out.  It will go straight to DVD in Australia early next year.

After seeing it, I can kinda understand why.

As per usual, I’m not revealing the any more of the plot than necessary.  Just know it is set in a high school and is a horror comedy about two teenage girls.  One good thing is that the previews are somewhat misleading and don’t give away too much.

In a way, I can see where the movie was coming from.  At its heart, Jennifer’s Body is a very dark black comedy which pays tribute to the old school horror movies (and has a certain 80s feel to it).  There are parts that are genuinely funny if you appreciate dark humour (I certainly do), and there are a couple of scenes which may give you a fright, or at least make you cringe in disgust.

However, watching it, I got the distinct feeling that Cody deliberately set out to make a ‘cult’ movie – and that just doesn’t work.  Movies are given the distinguished ‘cult’ status by the fans.  When you try too hard to make a film quirky and wacky, it just gets weird – but without the accompanying unintended laughs.  There were so many WTF moments in Jennifer’s Body, but they weren’t necessarily good WTF moments.  Don’t get me wrong, Cody is a skilled screenwriter who writes witty, crisp dialogue and creates great characters, but it feels all too polished and packaged.

It’s a difficult film to rate because it has some great elements to it.  It’s sexy, hip and stylish and knows how to manipulate the audience, especially teenage boys (whom they probably thought would flock to see Fox and Seyfried get it on).  The performances are solid, especially Seyfried, who manages to pull off an ‘average’ teenage girl convincingly.  And Megan Fox surprised me with her acting ability.  Yes, she was playing a skanky, bitchy slut of a girl so it might not have been a stretch for her (think Eminem in 8 Mile), but she was actually very good.

On the other hand, Jennifer’s Body just wasn’t that enjoyable.  There are solid moments but it’s not particularly scary nor particularly funny.  It was a little all over the place (though this was probably intentional).  It’s unfortunate because I think they had something going here with the premise and the concept, but the pieces just didn’t fit together for some reason.

2.5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Zombieland (2009)

If I had to sum up the zombie comedy Zombieland in five words, it would be “Pretty good but not great”.

Directed by Ruben Fleischer (no previous work worthy of noting), it has a premise we’ve seen a few times before – the country (America) being overtaken by zombies and an unlikely hero trying to survive against all odds.  That’s about as much as I want to give away.  As with most films, try and avoid the previews if you can.  Plenty of great scenes, lines and jokes were unnecessarily ruined by the previews I had the misfortune of coming across.  If I hadn’t seen them in advance I probably would have liked the film more.

What sets Zombieland apart from other zombie movies of late is that it is more comedy than horror, and what sets it apart from other zombie comedies is that it is actually pretty funny.  It’s definitely more Shaun of the Dead than 28 Days Later, but the laughs aren’t as silly or outrageous – not quite, anyway.  Much of the humour stems from the quirky character traits of, and the witty banter between, the two leads, played by Jesse Eisenberg (from Adventureland, who seems forever destined to battle Michael Cera for all the goofy, awkward boy roles) and Woody Harrelson (last seen by me in 2012, the movie not the year).  Rounding out the main quartet are Emma Stone (Jules from Superbad) and Abigail Breslin (My Sister’s Keeper, Little Miss Sunshine), who both put in solid performances without stealing the show.

Zombieland knows exactly what kind of movie it is trying to be.  Extremely gory (no shortage of over-the-top blood and guts), tongue-in-cheek, and nonchalant about the fact that the whole country (and probably world) has been overrun by zombies who just want to eat human flesh.  And yet, Zombieland does have charm and it does have heart, though it never steps over the line into melodrama as that would mean caring too much – and that would just be too uncool for a movie like this.

That said, Zombieland is far from perfect.  There are a number of slower bits strewn throughout the film, far more than there should be.  And while it is funny, not all the jokes hit the mark, and sometimes it even risks trying too hard to be amusing.  And of course, though it is technically a comedy/horror, the film is not particularly frightening.  The zombies are there more for the laughs than the chills, and you never get the sense that there is any real danger.

Weighing up all the pros and cons, I’d probably say Zombieland is a 3-star movie that is worth watching, but to be honest I wanted it to be much more than just a sweet, mildly enjoyable film.  However, there is a special surprise in Zombieland that is worth a whole half-star by itself – hands down the most unexpected, insane, hilarious cameo I’ve seen in…possibly ever!  Accordingly…

3.5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Julie & Julia (2009)

When I first saw the poster for Julie & Julia, I literally went ‘meh’.  A drama with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams as the two leads?  I enjoyed Doubt (which they starred in together in 2008) but this so didn’t look like my type of movie.

However, I later found out that the film was about food.  And that it was based on not one, but two intertwining true stories.  And most of all, the book upon which the film was based arose out of a blog!  That was when the aspiring writer inside convinced me I had to watch it.

I don’t like to spoil the plot, but in this case it helps to provide a bit of background.  Julia Child (Meryl Streep) is a famous American chef and author (pardon my ignorance), and Julie Powell (Amy Adams) is an average woman who attempts to cook every recipe in her cookbook in a year while chronicling her experiences in a blog.  The movie somehow manages to switch seamlessly between the two women – Julia in the 1950s as she learns to cook and piece together her cookbook, and Julie in 2002 she develops her blog project into a web sensation.

So how was it?

Written and directed by Nora Ephron (who last worked on Bewitched in 2005, but also did Sleepless in Seattle), Julie & Julia is very much a relationship drama that seeks to appeal to a predominantly female audience.  The main male characters, Julie and Julia’s husbands (played by Chris Messina and Stanley Tucci, respectively), are portrayed as virtual saints who are completely devoted to their wives.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it made me wish there was more tension in their lives than just burnt stews in the oven.

To be frank, it still wasn’t my type of movie.  The stories of the two women were somewhat interesting.  The food appeared to be absolutely divine.  The performances were superb (as you would expect from Streep and Adams).  Some bits were quite humorous.  And yet, it didn’t do a whole lot for me.  It’s not that it was bland.  It’s just that I wasn’t as absorbed as I thought I would be.  Maybe it’s just me.

On the other hand, the inspiring climb to success of both women was pretty cool.  There’s just something about watching other writers ‘make it’ that gets me all excited.

So to sum it all up, a good movie, but not really for me.

3 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Couples Retreat (2009)

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Couples Retreat, the new comedy written by and starring Vince Vaughn and John Favreau, gets my vote for the most surprisingly unfunny movie of the year.  How is this possible?  While it is not terrible, it left me wondering how a film featuring a whole cast of brilliant comedians could turn out to be so overlong, tedious and completely devoid of humour.

I’ve been a fan of Vaughn and Favreau since the 1996 hit Swingers, so I had reasonable expectations for this film.  Then when I heard Jason Bateman and John Michael Higgins (two of my favourites from Arrested Development) were also going to be in it, Couples Retreat became a ‘must-watch’.  The rest of the cast wasn’t too shabby either – Malin Ackerman (The Heartbreak Kid), Kristin Davis (Sex and the City), Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Faizon Love (My Name is Earl), Ken Jeong (Role Models), Peter Serafinowicz (South Park) and Jean Reno (The Pink Panther 2) – all actors with comedic experience.

The premise was also very promising – four couples with various relationship problems going to a paradisaical resort.  The opportunities for laughter were seemingly endless.

However, for some unfathomable reason, Couples Retreat simply wasn’t funny.  Sure, some of jokes fell flat, but the bigger problem was that there just weren’t very many jokes in the 113-minute film.  Being Couples Retreat, there was of course a lot of focus on relationships, but it was as though they forgot that this was supposed to be a comedy.  The situations were custom made for laughter, yet the laughs rarely came.  And it was like this all the way through, until the end when the film was reduced to a sentimental mess with painfully forced resolutions.

Without the laughs, it was just a bunch of selfish, annoying, unlikable people being obnoxious in a beautiful place.  Now, being unlikable does not stop a person from being outrageously hilarious or even endearing (eg Homer Simpson, George Costanza, David Brent/Michael Scott, the entire Bluth family).  Unfortunately, not one of the characters in Couples Retreat managed it.  Only John Favreau delivered a few decent laughs and only Malin Ackerman’s character demonstrated mild endearing qualities.

At the end of the day, Couples Retreat was a massive disappointment.  I saw an interview with Vaughn and Bateman when they were promoting the film in Australia and they were absolutely hilarious by just being themselves.  It will forever remain a mystery to me why Couples Retreat couldn’t have channeled some of the hilarity of its wonderful stars into it.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Funny People (2009)

funny_people_poster2

Judd Apatow is a name that gets thrown around a lot these days when it comes to comedies (as writer and producer), but in reality, there have only been three films where he has been the director – The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and his latest, Funny People, starring his former flatmate Adam Sandler and a mid-weight-loss Seth Rogen (I believe he’s lost more since).

Very loosely based on some of Apatow’s experiences as a struggling comedian, Funny People is about stand-up comedians and, basically, their lives, from those battling at the bottom, to those living it up at the top.  I don’t want to reveal much more than that.  If you haven’t seen the previews, then good for you, because as usual, it reveals some of the best parts and spoils the surprises.

You hear the names Judd Apatow, Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen, and you may be thinking ultra-hilarious, stupid, vulgar comedy, but Funny People is more accurately classified as a drama-comedy.  Put it this way – it’s more Spanglish and Punch Drunk Love than Happy Gilmore and Pineapple Express.  That said, the film has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, often coming from unsuspecting cameos, of which there are many.  The film did a splendid job of combining people acting as other characters and people playing themselves (or at least public versions of themselves).  Things such as fictional movies and movie posters (some just in the background) mixed in with real-life archive footage added an extra layer of comedic complexity to the film.

The stand-up routines were also apparently written by the actors themselves, performed and shot in front of live audiences and then edited for the movie.  I suspect there must have quite a bit of improvisation too.  It makes me wonder how many of the actual lines were ad-libbed, because some sounded too spontaneously brilliant to have been scripted.

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However, it is the dramatic elements of Funny People that set it apart from Apatow’s earlier films.  There are some pretty emotional scenes in there, and I was surprised how well Apatow pulled them off.  Not all of them scenes may have worked, but enough did to make Funny People an engaging drama as well as a clever adult comedy.

As for the cast, Apatow employs the usual suspects to support Sandler and Rogen – Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Leslie Mann (his wife in real life) and even  his two daughters Maude and Iris Apatow.  The addition that may seem out of the blue to some is of course Eric Bana, who demonstrates his comedic talents to the world (outside of Australia) for the first time.  To fellow Aussies, his hilarity comes as no surprise (as he was a comedian before he turned serious), but I think those who only know him from Hulk and Troy are going to be pleasantly surprised.  Oh, and I must say, I usually find Jonah Hill rather irritating, but he’s actually funny here.  Jason Schwartzman was excellent too.  I knew Adam Sandler was capable of being a great dramatic actor, but was pleasantly surprised by Seth Rogen.  He was very very good.

My main complaint with Funny People is its running time, which at 136 minutes is far too long, even for a drama-comedy.  The ending was also a bit ‘meh’.  Nevertheless, overall this is still a quality film, definitely worth your time.

4 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: The Ugly Truth (2009)

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Expectation can be a funny thing.  When I first saw the poster for ‘The Ugly Truth’ directed by Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde and 21), I had zero interest.  None whatsoever.  Sure, it had King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and the pretty girl who starred in and then trashed Knocked Up, the film that made her a star (Katherine Heigl), but I couldn’t even care to find out what it was about.

But then a friend told me his wife watched it and thought it was pretty good.  My brother-in-law then recommended it.  A third person (who I can’t recall) suggested I should watch it.  And so I found myself watching ‘The Ugly Truth’, all of a sudden expecting it to actually be a great film!

Well, I came out of the cinema perplexed.  The film wasn’t as terrible as I had expected when I saw the poster for the first time, but it was miles off the superior romantic comedy I had anticipated when I stepped into the theatre.

I don’t like giving away the plot of any film, so I’ll keep it brief.  ‘The Ugly Truth’ (about male-female relationships) is what Gerard Butler’s character spews out unashamedly on his TV show, and Katherine Heigl is a TV producer who tries to prove that his theories are untrue.  Think He’s Just Not That Into You but with only 2 characters (yes, I watched that too…).

The film’s biggest problem is predictability.  Anyone who has seen more than a couple of rom-coms will be able to guess exactly what happens in ‘The Ugly Truth’ several scenes in advance.  Think of the most cliched situations possible and chances are you will see them in this film.  There were definitely a few ‘this better not happen next’ moments, followed by ‘I can’t believe it really happened!’ moments.

It does, of course, attempt to separate itself from other rom-coms with the vulgarity and political-incorrectness of the conversations and jokes.  More sensitive viewers may be turned off, but the younger generation that grew up on American Pie, Superbad and The 40 Year Old Virgin may find the jokes more down their alley.  However, most of the jokes didn’t elicit more than a subdued chuckle from me.  It was no more or less funny than your typical rom-com starring Katherine Heigl (eg Knocked Up, 27 Dresses).

Cheryl Hines and John Michael Higgins
Cheryl Hines and John Michael Higgins

So in the end, a bit of a disappointment.  I do like the leads and I am a  fan of John Michael Higgins (everybody’s second favourite lawyer on Arrested Development, Wayne Jarvis).  Some of the ‘wisdoms’ espoused by Butler’s character also ring true to me, as I am sure they will to many other male viewers (and I believe this is probably where the film’s charm lies).  But at the end of the day, ‘The Ugly Truth’ is an average, somewhat forgettable film with just a passable laugh quotient.

2.5 stars out of 5

[PS: I kept waiting for the moment where Butler would scream ‘THIS – IS – THE UGLY TRUTH!!’ and then kick Heigl down an endless black pit.  Then flex his abs.  That alone would have been worthy of 2.5 stars.]

Top 5 films of 2008!

I was just doing an online poll (www.abc.net.au/atthemovies/) of the top 5 movies of 2008.  The site provides a long list of films released in Australia in 2008 (which means some more recent films may not have made it – eg ALL of the best picture nominees for this year’s Oscars), from which users would first pick a shortlist.  And from that shortlist, the top 5 would be selected.

I was surprised.  2008 will always be remembered as the year Obama became president and the world economy went to hell.  But it also had some very decent films.  Very memorable ones.

So without further delay, here’s the 5 films I ended up with, in no particular order (drumroll please):

  • There Will Be Blood (5 stars)
  • Taken (4.5 stars)
  • The Dark Knight (4.5 stars)
  • Iron Man (4.5 stars)
  • Burn After Reading* (4.5 stars)

* I had picked Lust, Caution first, but switched at the last minute.  I suppose Lust, Caution was the better film, but I enjoyed Burn After Reading more, so there.

The results were totally unexpected.  There Will Be Blood was a classic, so that was a no-brainer.  I don’t usually rate action films that highly, but Taken was the best action film I had seen in a really long time.  I surprised myself by having 2 superhero movies in the list, but these (The Dark Knight and Iron Man) are undoubtedly 2 of the best superhero movies ever made.  Burn After Reading is the type of movie people either loved or hated, and I think to some extent it depends on the mood you’re in at the time of viewing.  I was in one of those moods, I guess, so I found it absolutely hilarious (though I may not get the same result on a second viewing).  Plus I’m a big fan of the Coen brothers and Fargo is one of my favourites of all-time, so there was also a little natural bias.

I should say that this is really more a list of my 5 favourite films of 2008 rather than necessarily the 5 best films.  Nevertheless…

What were your top 5?

2009 Golden Globes Film Reviews

I love watching movies.  I also love writing.  So it’s only natural that I also like to review films.  So far I’ve got 431 reviews and 1202 movie ratings on Flixter, so that says a lot (and that’s just what I can remember).

With the Golden Globe winners announced yesterday, I thought it would be a good time to share a few short reviews on some of the movies I’ve seen that were nominated (taken straight from Flixter). It’s also a good way to give my blog some much needed padding in its baby stage.  I’ll add more if and when I see them (and there’s A LOT I still want to see).  Feel free to agree/berate my ratings, which by the way are out of 5.

Continue reading 2009 Golden Globes Film Reviews