Tag Archives: Arrested Development

Movie Review: The Duff (2015)

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Say hello to the surprise comedy hit of the year. At first glance of the title, everything about The Duff— which stands for, classily enough, Designated Ugly Fat Friend — suggested lame, unfunny and even disastrous. I certainly didn’t expect very much at all.

The only thing I was banking on was its lead actress, Mae Whitman, best known to me as “Her?” (Ann Veal, aka Egg) from Arrested Development. Whitman showed real comedic chops from that performance and shined in supporting roles in Scott Pilgrim vs The World and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (her first cinematic role was actually as Bill Pullman’s daughter in Independence Day).

In The Duff, Whitman established herself as a bona fide star capable of carrying a film from start to finish. She plays Bianca, a smart but frumpy high schooler with two attractive best friends, “hot” blonde bombshell Jess (Skyler Samuels) and “spicy” Latino Casey (Bianca Santos). Her next-door neighbour, the spunky jock Wesley (Robbie Amell, cousin of Arrow‘s Stephen) tells Bianca that she’s a Duff, a term she had never heard of before but suddenly makes a whole lot of sense and turns her life upside down.

The plot takes a turn when Bianca and Wes make a deal — she would help him pass chemistry, while he would help her win the affections of her crush, the hair-swinging school musician Toby Tucker (Nick Eversman). The amount of time Bianca and Wes spend together, however, does not go down well with his on-off girlfriend, mean queen Madison (Bella Thorne).

I know what you’re thinking: it doesn’t sound that great. And yet, The Duff somehow turns out to be a fantastic teen comedy with some real laughs and a valuable message or two for its target audience. Most of the credit goes to Whitman’s energetic performance, which makes her believable regardless of whether she’s being silly or sad.

Whitman completely elevates this film above that of an ordinary teen flick. She’s not a classic beauty by any stretch but she’s got a magnetic charm and a fearless confidence about her that makes Bianca easy to like and root for. She is at her absolute hilarious best when she just goes for it in a scene without the slightest evidence of self-consciousness.

While the sassy Whitman carries the film, she is supported by a very strong cast. Amell has a goofy charm even when he’s being a douche, and while Thorne’s mean girls impersonation is spot there is still humour to be found in her nastiness. Even Eversman delivers as the man of Bianca’s affections with a nice-guy routine that works perfectly with her overt insecurities.

Also fantastic are the “adults” of the film, led by the legendary Ken Jeong (you know, from The Hangover) as a teacher. I also really liked the performances of Romany Malco (from TV’s Weeds) as the principal and the brilliant Allison Janney as Bianca’s single mother. None of them have big roles, but each are given the freedom to wield the personality quirks that make them so funny.

It’s unfortunate that The Duff likely won’t be remembered in the same breath as revered generational classics of the genre like Clueless, Mean Girls and Easy A, because it totally deserves to be in their company. Sadly, it probably even won’t be remembered alongside the second-tier films like Never Been Kissed. Sure, the film is far from perfect and falls prey to typically cringeworthy moments, teen flick tropes and rom-com cliches, but at the end of the day I hope it will go down as a cult classic. It’s genuinely funny, it’s timely (given that its plot is intertwined with the social media age), it has a positive message for teens (about self image and cyberbullying), and it’s driven by a star-making performance. I think it’s a film that will age really well.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

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They’re the world’s most fierce fighting team. They’re heroes in a half-shell and they’re green.

That’s right, I still remember the song words. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as encapsulated by the 1987 cartoon series, will always have a soft spot in my heart. I’d watch it every morning before schoo. I collected all the toy figurines, and distinctively recall lining up outside the department store and rushing in as soon as it opened to get the latest additions. I had Ninja Turtles stationery, I played Ninja Turtles video games, and I even bought a whole bunch of crap just so I could collect these stupid complimentary Ninja Turtles coins. Those were the days, and Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo were the shit.

And so I’m not ashamed to say that I was kinda looking forward to the new live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, even though I have not followed the franchise for a couple of decades and did not watch the new cartoon series nor the 2007 computer animated feature film. And dammit, even if Michael Bay was involved and Megan fox plays April O’Neil, I was still determined to see it.

If I could sum up the film in one word, it would be: underwhelming. I don’t think it is as bad as some critics have made it out to be (must be the automatic bias from knowing that Michael Bay produced it), but everything about it is too “by the book.” From the plot to the action to the humor, there is absolutely nothing to get excited about. Director Jonathan Liebesman, who doesn’t have a terrible track record with a CV that includes Battle: Los Angeles and Wrath of the Titans, treads too lightly to make waves. As a result, the film is cookie-cutter. It’s pure vanilla. If not for the CGI, motion-capture turtles, the film doesn’t add much, if anything, to the legacy of the franchise.

The story could not be more conventional, even by Hollywood standards. It’s an origins story, so you’ll get the whole spiel about how the turtles mutated and were turned into martial arts experts by a mutant rat named Splinter. There’s the evil Shredder, there’s his Foot Clan, and there’s the reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and her cameraman Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett). They made a few minor tweaks around the edges of the script and added the new character, Eric Sacks (William Fichtner)– whom I initially and erroneously thought was Shredder — but apart from that everything stays quite close to the cartoons I watched.

The action generally lacked creativity. With martial arts movies taking it to the next level these days, it’s disappointing to not see something with a little more flair considering that the turtles are CGI. Yeah, I know they are motion captured, but it doesn’t hurt to give them some additional enhancements. The only time the action tried anything daring was in an extended snow sequence that reminded me a lot of the river scene from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. And like that scene, this one also felt somewhat cartoonish — yes, even for a film largely based on a cartoon.

As for the turtles, while I liked the idea of CGI motion capture, I wasn’t a huge fan of the designs. I didn’t mind the Kanji characters and little bits and pieces added to their respective bodies, but they looked way too big and muscular (the original Ninja Turtles were supposed to be only about five feet tall). And they’re ugly fellas too, with the beady nostrils and menacing faces. They looked more like villains than heroes, to be honest, and the performances from the actors (Alan Ritchson, Shawn Kavanaugh, Pete Ploszek/Johnny Knoxville, and Jeremy Howard) didn’t make them any more likable. Too much cheese, not enough charm.

Fortunately, my favorite turtle, Michelangelo, looked at least semi-normal. But the glasses thing with Donatello made him look like a freak, while Rafael, who for some reason always get special attention in the movies despite being an angry, unreasonable douchebag, just looked gross.

And Splinter, strangely voiced by Tony Shalhaub of all people, was just weird. I thought the turtles generally looked realistic enough, with the exception of a couple of close-ups under bright lighting conditions, but with Splinter, he looked too CGI almost all the time and came across as more of a creep than the trusted and loving sensei of my childhood.

I’m a fan of William Fichtner and thought he would excel as the villain Schredder, whom they more or less turned into Edward Scissorhands with a helmet. I actually thought it was a nice modern adjustment to fuse the look of Schredder’s traditional samurai armour with advanced weapons technology, but unfortunately, Fichtner was not Schredder, who turned out to be some lame Japanese guy whose face you barely saw for the entire movie. Honestly, it would have been so much better had they just made Fichtner Schredder. It would have made more sense too, plot-wise. Maybe he could fulfill that destiny in the planned sequels.

The one thing the film got right was making sure the turtles, rather than the humans, were the stars of the show. Megan Fox is not someone I had pictured for the role, but she’s actually not awful here. She’s OK, and that’s good enough for a supporting actor.

The film’s biggest asset turned out to be Will Arnett, who provided all the jokes in the movie — at least the jokes that were funny anyway. and he did it by unashamedly channeling GOB Bluth from Arrested Development. Not that I am complaining, because GOB is one of the funniest TV characters of all time. AD fans will get a kick out of his performance, as well as the AD Easter eggs they put into the movie.

Perhaps I’ve become too cynical of a moviegoer after all these years, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, despite not being a complete failure, didn’t do much for me. Granted, it is better than the recent Transformers entries. It’s less loud, less obnoxious and less long (101 minutes), and for some, that’s probably enough. The 1990 film was most likely not very good either, but I loved it as a kid. Accordingly, I think it’s possible that younger viewers could enjoy the 2014 version a lot too. Sadly for me, no amount of nostalgia can make me come to the conclusion that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is anything more than average.

3 stars out of 5

DVD Review: Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010)

Man, then end of the year is almost upon us and I still haven’t had time to review all the movies I’ve watched over the last couple of months.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World is another one of those movies that I’ve heard great things about, though the reactions have been somewhat mixed.  After all, it is based on a ‘graphic novel’ and it runs more like a video game than a conventional movie.

Being a fan of graphic novels and video games, I thought I would no doubt fall in the category of people that thought Scott Pilgrim was one of the best movies of the year.  But as it turned out…well…it is funny, fun, original and unlike anything you’ve ever seen before (and I really mean that), but as a piece of entertainment it doesn’t quite get there for me.

The premise is simple.  Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a young unemployed dude in a band, dating a high school girl and living with his gay best friend.  He meets the girl of his dreams (literally), Ramonda Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and seeks to win her heart — but to do so, he must defeat her seven evil exes.

And man, there are some good ones, from former Superman Brandon Routh to Chris Evans to Jason Schwartzman to my personal favourite, Mae Whitman (who coincidentally played Cera’s girlfriend/ex-girlfriend on Arrested Development as Anne/Egg/Her?).  Each opponent is set up like a round from a beat ’em up like a Dragon Ball video game or something, with points scored for blows, etc etc.

If that’s turning you off already, then Scott Pilgrim is probably not the movie for you.  But if you have an appreciation of video game culture, then Scott Pilgrim could potentially blow your mind.

For me, the action and fight scenes were clever and fun, entirely and outrageously over the top, as they are intended to be — but it’s the pop culture references and the witty jokes and one-liners that kept me interested.  Even if you peel back all the crazy stuff, Scott Pilgrim is still a very good comedy.

Michael Cera is essentially the same in every movie, but he’s actually pretty suited to the role.  Everyone else is fairly decent too, and I know Chris Evans is constantly ridiculed for his acting, but the truth is, he’s not that bad.  I found him adequately funny in this one.

My problem with Scott Pilgrim is that there’s not enough real substance for a 108 minute film.  You know he has to battle through the exes — he just has to — and even though they attempt to mix things up a little (instead of having the same fight every time), it does get a little tedious after a while.  Maybe I’m just getting too old.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed Scott Pilgrim for what it is — a quirky, action-packed romantic video game movie based on a comic.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Megamind (2010)

I’m not usually the biggest fan of animation, but Megamind, featuring the vocal talents of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt, is one rare animated film that I’ve actually been dying to see. A story where the anti-superhero villain is the protagonist seemed like a perfect opportunity for lots of laughs, and the trailers certainly delivered. The only thing I was afraid of was that the trailers had shown all the best bits.

Well, the trailers did show a lot of the funniest parts of the movie, as expected, but Megamind has enough gas in the tank to make it probably the second best animated film of the year (behind Toy Story 3, which I am yet to review). That said, I can’t really think of any other animated films off the top of my head right now…

The strange thing with Megamind (the character, not the film) is that even though he’s kind of the reversal of the archetypal superhero, the film is still rather formulaic. There aren’t many surprises here, and just about everything that happens in the movie follows a familiar pattern — from the set-up to the twists to the romance to the redemptive finale.

But it’s still very funny — even some of the jokes I had unfortunately seen in the trailers were still funny, which is a rare and special attribute for a comedy. Much of the humor comes from the kind of random silliness we’re accustomed to from Will Ferrell, but the film also does a hilarious job of making fun of the superhero stereotypes.

Ferrell is of course fabulous as the titular character, with a voice that is, at least to me, not immediately recognizable. The same can probably be said for Fey and Pitt, though Hill and David Cross (the man who was both an analyst and a therapist, ie, the world’s first ‘analrapist’ — Mr Tobias Funke from Arrested Development) are dead giveaways.

Megamind isn’t a pioneer or classic in the animated space, but it’s wickedly funny and plenty of fun. A good one for both adults and the kids.

3.75 out of 5!

PS: I watched the film in 2D because I refused to be ripped off by the 3D prices and endure the crappy glasses.

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.]