Tag Archives: comedy

Movie Review: The Other Woman (2014)

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There are bad movies. There are horrible movies. And then there’s The Other Woman, the latest romcom “effort” from director Nick Cassavetes starring Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kate Upton and Game of Thrones sisterf*&%er Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

The story is more or less an adult version of the atrocious 2006 flick John Tucker Must Die. In the most predictable of predictable plots, a wronged wife (Mann), a wronged mistress (Diaz) and the new mistress (Upton) must work together to give their philandering man (Coster-Waldau) his comeuppance. And of course, in the process, they all become BFFs. Girl power!

I won’t say that there are zero laughs in the entire movie — I giggled maybe once or twice at some of the cheap slapstick jokes — but the vast majority of the gags are obvious and contrived. And those are the better jokes because at least they are not offensive, which could very well be the opinion of many movie-goers. The three women in this film don’t start off that way, but by the end of it all I just found them so moronic, annoying and unlikable, and I actually don’t mind any of them in real life. It’s strange that a film that’s supposed to be empowering for women is being accused of being misogynistic.

I’m sorry, but Cameron Diaz looked nasty in this film. I’ve never found her attractive anyway, so let’s just say her appearance in this was…bad. She does have some comedic chops, though the fact that she plays a high-powered lawyer saps out any semblance of realism this film might have had.

Leslie Mann, aka Mrs Judd Apatow, is the strongest of the trio. And even though she’s supposed to be at the bottom of the pecking order in terms of attractiveness the three women, I actually thought she was by far the most attractive. Unfortunately, she just rambled on too much and went crossed the line from endearing to insufferable.

As for Kate Upton, I’m not going to be too harsh on her because she’s not an actress and the only reason she was cast was so men forced to watch the movie with their partners could ogle at her bouncing jugs on the beach. In any case, the deer-in-the-headlights look she embraces for all her time on screen was actually perfect for her bimbo character.

The King Slayer, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, does his best as the cheating douche, though he was arguably not “hatable” enough for the final comeuppance scenes to feel as rewarding as they should be. And I actually thought Don Johnson, who plays Diaz’s dad, comes across as the bigger creep.

I don’t know what it could be apart from money that enticed Cassavetes to take on this movie. The dude is a solid director, having previously punched out hits such as The Notebook and Alpha Dog, and I shudder at the thought of a lesser director taking on this hopeless project.

The only thing The Other Woman really has going for it is super-low expectations. No one expected it to be any good, so I guess it is possible that some might come out of it pleasantly surprised. I was not one of those people, though I think I could be overstating its awfulness. It is what it is: a predictable, run-of-the-mill girl power romcom with a strong cast but is not particularly funny, adds nothing new to the genre, and is best forgotten, ASAP.

1.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Walk of Shame (2014)

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The nicest thing I can say about Walk of Shame, the new Steven Brill comedy starring Elizabeth Banks, is that there’s nothing about it that makes me loath the film with a vengeance. The same can’t be said about Brill’s last directorial effort, which is the appallingly toxic iBabe segment in the venom-inducing Movie 43 from last year. The worst crime Walk of Shame is guilty of is being criminally unfunny, and I suppose that’s an improvement.

Elizabeth Banks, who got into great shape to fit into the snug yellow outfit she dons for the majority of the film, is Meghan Miles, a news anchor and a “good girl”, the safe option in a safe relationship. A series of unfortunate events befall her, and a dispirited Meghan goes out on a wild night with her girlfriends, only to wake up in the bed of sexy stranger Gordon (James Marsden). The rest of the film is all about Meghan running into one outrageous situation after another as she tries to make her way to the news station so she can cash in on a new job opportunity. 

It’s a fairly typical comedy premise where nothing seems to go right for the protagonist, and all efforts to resolve the situation only lead to more misunderstanding and mayhem.

In this case, the central gag is that Meghan is repeatedly mistaken for a prostitute, which gets her involved with both the police and gangster drug dealers. It doesn’t sound like a hopeless idea, but I kid you not when I say there was not a single laugh to be found in the entire 95-minute film. Not a tee-hee, not a chuckle, and nary a smile. (OK, so the introductory sequence with real-life news blooper footage WAS funny, but that’s just collected from YouTube, so you can’t give the movie credit for that.)

The jokes are either obvious, typical or stereotypical. I don’t want to say misogynistic because that is a term that gets thrown around too liberally these days, but much of the humour in Walk of Shame is definitely sexist and racist. That’s something I don’t usually mind if the film is actually funny. When it’s not witty or funny, however, it’s just pathetic, and that’s what this movie ultimately is.

And I haven’t even mentioned how incoherent the plot is and how little sense any of it makes. It’s really hard to get into a film — any film — when its central premise is that flimsy. There were about a million ways Meghan could have resolved the situation, but of course she keeps choosing the most moronic, implausible option just so she could extend her misery, and ostensibly, ours.

Elizabeth Banks tries her hardest but can’t even come close to salvaging this disaster. I doubt even Meryl Streep could have. Is Banks a likable protagonist? I dunno. She certainly is a stupid one and not really worthy of our sympathy. 

As for James Marsden, the poor guy still can’t catch a break. I don’t get it. He’s a good-looking guy and not without charisma or acting ability, and yet he seems to always get the worst roles. He was the guy Rachel McAdams ditched without reservation in The Notebook. He was the guy who turned Cyclops, the leader of the X-Men, into an afterthought. Even when he gets a leading role, such as in the remake of Straw Dogs, the film never gets any traction. And the romantic comedy roles he gets appear to be those Paul Rudd would not touch with a 10-foot pole. I last saw him in The Butler as JFK, and we all know what happened to him. Poor bastard.

As bad as it is, Walk of Shame is at least not one of those films that left me spewing vitriolic profanities by the end if it. It’s just one of those really unfunny romantic comedies you wonder what possessed the studio to make and will forget a couple of days after watching it. In this case, that’s a good thing.

1.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Blended (2014)

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It has become almost customary to trash every Adam Sandler film that comes out these days. And let’s be honest: he has no one to blame but himself. Once one my my favourite farce-comedy hit makers with classics like Happy Gilmore and The Waterboy (notwithstanding all the panning from critics), Sandler has somehow devolved into the ultimate dud maker. His last five live-action feature films before Blended  in which he has a major role are Grown Ups 2, That’s My Boy, Jack and Jill and Just Go With It. All five have undoubtedly featured on annual “worst of” lists for critics and movie-goes alike.

Which is why I am almost excited to proclaim that Blended will NOT be on my worst of list for 2014. Now that is not to say that it is in anyway a good film, but it does represent a step in the right direction for Sandler, who returns to the idiotic roots that made some of his earlier films so memorable.

Unfortunately Blended only takes us half way. Despite doing an excellent job in the first half of the film with some nostalgic stupidity, Sandler could not help himself, eventually resorting back to the trite, predictable and corny drivel he tries to pass off as meaningful “drama.”

In other words the film’s title is apt — it’s a “blend” of Sandler’s earlier, more effective comedy, and his later, insufferable crap. Having said that I am still very happy overall that there is finally one Sandler film in recent years that does not make me want to stick my thumbs in my eyes and keep pressing until my entire head explodes.

The film begins with a blind date at the fine establishment known as Hooters between our two protagonists, a father of three girls, played by Sandler, and the mother of two boys, played by Drew Barrymore. Needless to say, it does not go well, but by chance the two families end up on a safari together in Africa. And so it begins.

The strength of Sandler’s humor has never been witty observations or sharp dialogue. This is a man who rules when it comes to saying and doing things so moronic that you cannot help but laugh — and for the vast majority of the first half of this movie, Sandler is in blistering form.

Achunk of the credit has to go to Drew Barrymore (now starring in her’s third film with Sandler after The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates), who is very difficult to dislike and has solid chemistry with Sandler. Kudos also have to go to the director, Frank Coraci, for once again  giving us the best of both actors after having guided them so well in The Wedding Singer back in 1998.

Their five kids in the film also play a major role in bringing the laughs. On Sandler’s side there’s the obviously pretty teenage girl being brought up as a boy (Bella Thorne), her weird younger sister who keeps interacting with their dead mother (Emma Fuhrman), and the youngest sister, who is all cuteness (Alyvia Alyn Lind). On Barrymore’s side there is the sexually awkward geek son (Braxton Beckham), and the younger brother with serious anger management issues and considerable gymnastic prowess (Kyle Red Silverstein).

The one major downfall of Sandler’s films in recent years is that they come across as mean spirited. In Blended, however, it doesn’t feel that way even though he is clearly making fun of these children’s quirks, and I think that has a lot to do with him knowing where to draw the line with children and being aware that ultimately he needs to place the emphasis on how innocent and adorable they are rather than what a dick he is.

The rest of the supporting cast is pretty solid too. There is the legendary white chicks actor Terry Crews as a raunchy resort performer, Kevin Nealon from TVs weeds, and even a cameo from Shaquille O’Neal that has nothing to do with basketball!

Sadly, after doing so much good in the first half of the film, Blended makes the fateful decision to go full steam ahead in turning into another typical, predictable, sappy family drama down the stretch. It’s bad enough that we already know exactly how it’s all going to end; what makes it worse is that the film starts becoming less and less funny the more conventional it tries to be. I don’t remember exactly when I lost interest and started to get bored — I just know there was still too much of the 117-minute running time left for me to be feeling that way.

Having said all that I understand I might not be the target market for the film, which was clearly aiming for more family-oriented audience. I’m not going to say it achieves what it’s aiming for because there is plenty to pick on in such a politically incorrect film (it has been accused of everything from racism to misogyny) — I’m just saying I don’t really care. In any case, I just can’t help but be disappointed after experiencing, in the first half of the film at least, the closest thing to a vintage Adam Sandler I’ve seen in more than a decade, only to watch it all fall apart before the end.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

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The original Anchorman, released 10 years ago, is remembered as a classic of random laughs and weirdness, hilarious political incorrectness, memorable characters and masterful improvised dialogue. It’s not actually as funny or as good as you remember it to be, but that’s the way it goes sometimes with movies that end up developing its own legend.

In all likelihood, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, will not be as revered as its predecessor, but the truth is that it’s probably just as funny and irreverent. If you enjoyed the zaniness of the original and developed an affection for the characters, then there’s a good chance you’ll have a great time with this one too.

The “legend” picks up several years after the end of the first film, with Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) sharing anchor duties with his now-wife, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate). Their boss, played by Harrison Ford, drops a bombshell on Ron and his ego is too fragile to take the hit. Just when he’s down in the dumps, he gets a visit from an exec played by Dylan Baker (I’ll always remember him as the deranged dad from Happiness), who offers him a job on a new 24-hour news network that no one in the industry thinks will succeed. The story really begins from here, as Ron starts to track down his own team of misfits including Champ Kind (David Koechner), Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and Brick Tamland (Steve Carrell), and together they head to New York to challenge the big boys of national TV.

The bizarre absurdity of Anchorman 2 is no doubt an acquired taste. If you get it, however, chances are you’ll love it. Without giving too much away, there are some brilliant sequences that will either have you clutching your gut in laughter or shaking your head at the stupidity of it all. There are also some skits that pay homage to some of the classic moments in the original, including a really epic climax that keeps rolling in one huge surprise after another (best to avoid spoilers). You have to give props to Ferrell and his crew for not sticking to conventions and really going for the weirdest, most non-nonsensical shit they could come up with. While it’s still often hit and miss, the hits are usually big hits, and the misses can be swept aside rather quickly because the gags keep coming at a furious pace.

Even if you take all the randomness aside, Anchorman 2 still has some clever satire and witty social commentary weaved into its narrative tapestry. Again, I don’t want to play spoiler, but let’s just say it takes a fairly sharp stab at the state of Western media networks today and makes intelligent use of information we know in the present but won’t be known to the characters for a decade or two.

For me, Anchorman 2 is still never quite as funny as it should be or thinks it is. I kept feeling like the actors were having a better time than I was, and I sense the reason they even made the sequel in the first place is because they all loved hanging out with each other so much. The chemistry between the characters is definitely there, but if you’re not in the right mood then some of the gags will come across as lame and unfunny. Steve Carrell’s mentally challenged Brick, for example, is more creepily insane than ever, and this time they’ve paired him up with a female version of his character, Chani, played by Kristen Wiig. It was one of those things where you’re thinking, “This should be really hilarious,” but in the end turns out to be “meh”.

That said, Anchorman 2 still probably has one of the highest laughs per minute ratios of any film released in 2013. Part of the reason is that there are so many strong characters that you’ll likely find at least a couple of them funny. My personal favourites were Paul Rudd’s sex-obsessed Brian Fantana and, surprisingly, Ron Burgundy himself, who seems somehow both wiser and dumber than he was the last time around. James Marsden, who plays the new network’s douchebag poster child, and Greg Kinnear, who plays Christina Applegate’s lover/psychologist, are the highlights from the supporting cast. And if you like seeing a lot of A-list stars doing things you wouldn’t expect of them, you’ll love all the great cameos in this too.

Ultimately, despite its flaws — including the excessive running time of 119 minutes — I think there is enough quality stuff packed into Anchorman 2 to call it a worthy sequel. It’s never easy living up to expectations following a cult classic original, but even after 10 years the story and the characters’ goofy charm have not waned. Not everything works, but when things occasionally fall into place the result is comedy magic.

3.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Last Vegas (2013)

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The idea’s not too bad: a bunch of old friends (emphasis on “old”) catch up for one final hurrah in Las Vegas. Throw in four huge stars — Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Klein — as the leads, toss in a few old jokes (again, emphasis on “old”), and that’s Last Vegas in a nutshell.

I didn’t have a huge problem with Last Vegas, but there was really nothing to like about it either. Directed by Jon Turteltaub (Cool Runnings, National Treasure 1 & 2, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), it’s a very safe, mildly amusing comedy driven by the star power of its four leads. On the other hand, there’s not much to sustain the film apart from the gimmicky old jokes, and the result is a frequently lame, utterly forgettable experience that you’ll likely erase from your memory in a hurry. It’s a film that wouldn’t have been contemplated without its stars, and is in any case probably best reserved for the straight-to-DVD rack.

Douglas, De Niro, Freeman and Klein are childhood friends who grew up on the tough streets of Brooklyn and remain in touch today as seniors dealing with their own separate problems. De Niro’s character is still mourning the loss of his wife, Freeman’s character is battling an array of physical ailments and his overbearing family, and Klein seems to have lost interest in life. In comes Douglas’s character, seemingly the most charismatic of the group, who is about to get married to a woman less than half his age, and decides to throw a bachelor party in Vegas with his three oldest friends.

So as you might have guessed, the whole fish-out-of-water scenario is designed to put four old guys in a place they’re not expected to be comfortable with, and having us watch them have fun drinking, dancing, splurging and having the time of their lives. The Hangover for Geriatrics is essentially the idea, and it’s not a bad idea, except that it doesn’t work for very long. The running joke throughout the film is that old people are clueless and not cool, a schtick that just keeps getting rehashed again and again. But given that they are the protagonists, the film then tries very hard to convince us that they are, after all, very cool indeed, and young punks who disrespect them will come to regret it. And of course, all four of our heroes will learn important life lessons when it’s all said and done.

I’ll have to be brutally honest here. After a nice setup, the film devolves into cliches and becomes painful to sit through. The jokes are obvious and repetitive, and despite the best efforts of its stars (including the adorable Mary Steenburgen as the love interest), the film is inescapably bland and predictable until its merciful conclusion. It’s not horrible, it’s just…meh.

I am probably making Last Vegas sound a lot worse than it actually is. If you are in the mood for a streamlined plot, obvious jokes and 105 minutes of stereotypical icky Hollywood feel-goodness, then Last Vegas is borderline enjoyable. If you expect more than that from a film with four screen legends, like I did, then chances are you’ll end up bitterly disappointed.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

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I had no idea The Wolf of Wall Street was a comedy until it won the Best Motion Picture in the Musical or Comedy category at the recent Golden Globes. Leo DiCaprio plus Martin Scorcese usually equal serious, violent, gritty flicks like The Departed or Gangs of New York, but this time, they’ve teamed up to give us one of the funniest movies of the year, an epic black comedy with a bite that goes right down to the bone. Oh, and it’s a supposed true story based on a memoir of the same name.

It’s 1987. Leo plays Jordan Belfort, a handsome, charismatic and ambitious young man with a natural gift for sales. Give him anything and he will sell it. After taking a few life lessons on Wall Street from his boss, played by Matthew McConaughey (in a small but hilarious and memorable role), Belfort grabs a few mates and branches out to start his own firm, Stratton Oakmont, which is more or less a scam — but one that will make them loads and loads and loads of money.

The Wolf of Wall Street is without a doubt a polarizing film. It has earned the dubious distinction of the motion picture with the most “F bombs” in cinematic history, topping the list with 569 times (or 3.18 times per minute!). It is also full of debauchery and morally corrupt behaviour, including but not limited to fraud, alcohol abuse, drug-taking, extra-marital relations, mass orgies, beating off in public and tossing midgets around for office amusement. I can understand why a lot of people have been turned off this film and accuse it of glamourising the excess it depicts and painting douchebags like Belfort as heroes while completely ignoring the pain and suffering of his victims. On the other hand, the cast and crew of the film will argue otherwise, saying that it is a cautionary tale about excess. It’s a valid debate, and at the end of the day, it is up to the individual viewer to decide what the message of the movie is — for them.

For me, the underlying message is not a big deal. The Wolf of Wall Street is just a really really funny movie that I enjoyed immensely. The film’s comedic tone is pitch black; seeped in satire. The pace is frenetic and the dialogue is edgy and razor sharp — and more often than not incredibly and unapologetically politically incorrect. I’m sure some critics have already labelled it misogynistic. But importantly, it does not come across as mean-spirited. It’s just a bunch of smug, self-righteous dickheads who think they are smarter than everyone else boasting about their success through excess. They’re certainly not likable but they’re also not so unlikable that you find their antics unfunny. It comes as no surprise why so many people back in the late 80s and early 90s wanted to work for them and be like them.

Much of the credit goes to Scorsese’s masterful direction and the witty screenplay adaptation from Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos). Excess in itself is not funny. Debauchery in itself is not funny. F bombs in themselves are not funny. Doing stupid things after getting drunk and getting high in itself is not funny. That’s why I thought Project X was one of the worst movies ever made, Get Him to the Greek was really bad, and The Hangover was overrated. But put it in the hands of Scorsese and Winter and get talented actors like Leo to act it out, and all of a sudden it becomes freaking hilarious.  They key, I think, is that the characters are not in on the jokes. They are dead serious about the stupid things they do and do it with such bravado and conviction — which is why we, the audience, can find the humour in it.

Granted, you probably need to be in the right mood for a lot of the jokes (the scene where the discuss hiring midgets for office amusement is a prime example), though if you are, you might get stomach cramps from laughing so hard. That sequence where Leo and Jonah Hill take these precious banned prescription drugs to get high is, in my opinion, an all-time classic.

Leo won Best Actor — Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes and is one of the favourites to capture his first Oscar next month. I’m not sure if he will win with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance in 12 Years a Slave blowing everyone’s socks off, including mine, but if he does it will be a deserving victory. Leo has had some wonderful performances in the past, though I don’t think anyone ever expected his comedic chops to be this strong. Here he was utterly convincing as the Wolf of Wall Street, a narcissistic smooth talker and salesman, a little naive when he had to be at the beginning, electrifying when giving motivational speeches to excited crowds, and downright pitiful when he hit rock bottom — and he did it all with a stoic straight face. I was particularly impressed with the passion, energy and extent to which he was willing to go to embarrass himself, which is completely at odds with the heartthrob Leo we’ve become accustomed to over the years.

The supporting cast was also excellent. I’ve said many times that I don’t care much for Jonah Hill or Matthew McConaughey, but even I can’t deny that both guys were awesome in this. The rest of Leo’s founding partners in his scam, including The Walking Dead alumnus Jon Bernthal, were also solid, as was Kyle Chandler as the smuggish FBI agent determined to bring the Wolf down. Like everyone else, my eyebrows were raised when the smoking Margot Robbie came on screen as Leo’s future second wife — little did I know she’s yet another Aussie from Neighbours! Anyway, she’s got a great future ahead of her. And I haven’t even mentioned a bunch of other big names, such as Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau and Jean Dujardin.

The Wolf of Wall Street is an acquired taste. At 3 hours it is of course too long, but not by as much as you might think. There’s too much golden material for this to be a  2-hour film, but I think a 15-20 trim could have been beneficial as the film becomes more serious and less funny as it nears its conclusion. There were times when I almost felt like I should dislike the film on principle because of all the nasty people doing nasty things in it. The story is messy (though I think by design), dirty and just plain wrong on so many levels, and it makes you guilty for laughing at some of the jokes. But in the end, I loved it. I think it’s one of the best movies of the year.

4.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

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I love Ben Stiller’s best work, but his resume has been a little mixed in recent years. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a loose modern adaptation of the 1939 short story by James Thurber, is very much a Ben Stiller project (he directs, produces and stars), and it’s definitely some of his best work.

Stiller plays the titular character, a negative assets manager who manages photographs for Life magazine. He’s a meek and mild mannered introvert, a bit of a loner, someone who escapes the banality and drudgery of his existence by “zoning out” into one of his elaborate and vivid daydreams. Without giving too much away, Walter finds himself on an adventure which requires him to track down legendary photographer Sean O’Connell (wonderfully performed by Sean Penn) through a series of clues. Helping him out is his secret crush (Kristin Wiig), whom Walter has joined an online dating service for despite working together in the same office.

As his journey gets crazier and crazier, Walter’s fantasies diminish in frequency, and the film’s simple message become apparent. But getting to that point is a lot of fun because you never really know what to expect next, and Walter is such a likable character that he infuses the film with plenty of warmth (despite the freezing conditions) and heart.

Walter Mitty is a grand adventure, a big, epic physical and spiritual journey that takes Walter to several isolated and extremely beautiful places around the world. The film is filled with amazing special effects, not only during Walter’s fantasies but also throughout his travels. Conversely, it’s also an odd, quirky little film that is only loosely attached to reality, with plenty of serendipitous occurrences and strange coincidences, and a slightly surreal feel that brings up memories of The Truman Show (incidentally, they originally wanted Jim Carrey for the lead role).

The result is an ambitious film doesn’t always work, but enough of it worked for me to make Walter Mitty a special experience. And make no mistake, the film is very funny. There are moments of comic brilliance scattered throughout the 114-minute running time, with a few generating some real belly laughs, though arguably it could have been a more consistently hilarious movie had they focused more on the comedy rather than the poignancy of the drama.

The performances are really strong. Ben Stiller plays the kind of character we’re used to from him (by that I mean closer to There’s Something About Mary than Dodgeball or Tropic Thunder), and he’s very affable here, while Kristen Wiig provides an attractive love interest who is believable because she’s borderline in Walter’s league. A bearded Adam Scott is also very good as the office dickhead, and he seems to relish the opportunity to play such a role. Shirley MacLaine and Kathryn Hahn have small but important roles as Walter’s mother and daughter, while Sean Penn is brilliant as the enigmatic O’Connell. There are some very interesting minor characters, such as an online dating services rep (Patton Oswalt) who strikes up an unusual phone friendship with Walter, and the nutty Greenlandic helicopter pilot (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) who provides some of the best lines of the movie.

The ending of Walter Mitty was perhaps a little too neat and predictable for my liking, but apart from that I found myself captured by Walter’s imagination and his struggle for a more fulfilling life. The film has received mixed to polarising reviews, and I can understand that because it’s the type of movie where you either get caught up in the adventure and its characters or you don’t. I certainly did, which is why I think it’s one of the most likable and memorable movies of the year.

4.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: This is the End (2013)

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While I’m not the biggest fan of Seth Rogen, I was really looking forward to This is the End,  an apocalypse movie featuring a bunch of comedic actors as parodied versions of themselves. The list of celebrities in the film is long — the leads include Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride, with cameos from the likes of Emma Watson, Michael Cera, Rihanna, Paul Rudd, Kevin Hart, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, David Krumholtz, Channing Tatum and Aziz Ansari. The film has received mixed reviews, and I can see why. It’s undoubtedly a good time and funny, albeit a little too hit-and-miss, and could have and probably should have been a lot funnier.

The central character of the whole thing is actually Jay Baruchel (She’s Out of My League, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and How to Train Your Dragon), who arrives in LA to catch up with his buddy Seth Rogen as they head off to a house party at James Franco’s house attended by all the above stars. Midway through the party the biblical End of Days (as depicted in the Arnie movie of the same name) descends upon them and the surviving celebs must find a way to deal with the terrifying aftermath, one that involves demonic monsters and possession.

It’s such an obvious idea, but as you can imagine, it’s also brimming with potential for laughs. I imagine the writers, Rogen and buddy Evan Goldberg, were likely stoned when they wrote this loose script, and it shows. There isn’t much of a plot, and the majority of the movie involves moronic, childish and sexually explicit banter and one-liners from the cast that serve to lampoon themselves.

Each of the actors plays a version of their real-life persona, one that corresponds with the public perception of them. Rogen, for example, is the same goofball you see in all his films, while McBride is the obnoxious slacker he portrayed in Your Highness. James Franco is interesting as a pretentious, sexually ambiguous nerd, though the funniest (and also most obvious) one is Michael Cera, whose has played this over-the-top douchebag version of himself so many times now that it has to make you wonder…

With so many comedians given free rein to show what they can do, you can expect at least some laughs, though how funny you find This is the End will likely depend on how much you like the particular brand of comedy of the six lead characters — ie, loud, profane, occasionally sharp, random, politically incorrect stoner comedy. I’ve always found this type of comedy a bit of a mixed bag. For instance, I really enjoyed Pineapple Express but hated Your Highness and thought films like Superbad and Knocked Up were overrated. I would place this film near the higher end the spectrum, mainly because no particular actor dominates and it was fun watching them play off each other. A couple of clever ideas had me laughing out loud pretty hard.

That said, I think it could have been funnier — perhaps with more scripted jokes, or less, or more editing to refine the material down to just the best parts. There were just too many jokes wasted for missing the mark or being too obvious.

Still, This is the End has enough quality stuff packed into it to make it one of the more memorable comedies of the year. Strangely, even though the story becomes more farcical as it progressed, it did not feel as though there was a mismatch with the “reality” TV style of comedy they were trying to make. That probably says more about reality TV than it does about this film.

3.5 stars out of 5

PS: Excellent ending sequence, so stick around for the surprise.

Movie Review: We’re the Millers (2013)

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We’re the Millers is another one of those crude comedies where the idea is way way way better than the actual film itself.

Jason Sudeikis (from Horrible Bosses and Hall Pass) is a low-level drug dealer who gets into some strife and accepts a job from Ed Helms (of The Hangover fame) to be a drug mule importing marijuana in from Mexico. To limit suspicion from border authorities, he enlists the help of a stripper (Jennifer Aniston), the local runaway (Emma Roberts, niece of Julia) and the neighbourhood geek (Will Poulter, whom you might remember from the second Narnia film) to disguise themselves as one big happy family on vacation.

It’s a premise that holds a lot of potential, but We’re the Millers squanders most of the opportunities with uninspiring jokes and bland storytelling. Instead of witty, edgy stuff, what we ended up with was a lot of sex and genitalia/body part-based jokes telegraphed from a mile away. Even if you haven’t already seen them in the trailers, many of the laughs are so obvious you can sense exactly when they are starting to set it up and can predict when and how they will deliver it.

Granted, there are some decent moments, mostly involving the geek kid and some random moments of improv (as seen in the outtakes at the end), but most of the jokes in this film elicited barely a chuckle from me. I smiled from time to time but did not laugh out loud once. Occasionally amusing but not particularly funny is how I would describe it.

The narrative progression was also disappointing because it was so cookie-cutter. We have the set-up: four people from different walks of life who are thrown together for a common purpose. We are told they don’t get along, but we know they inevitably will by the end, with a few life lessons about selflessness and doing the right thing learned along the way. Nothing unexpected, nothing surprising.

I’m pretty indifferent about him as an actor, but I think Sudeikis was a good choice to play the immature guy who refuses to grow up. He had a bit of that Ben Affleck-in-Argo floppy hair going on at the beginning but settled well into the goofy husband role as soon as he got that stiff haircut. On the other hand, I wasn’t so hot on the selection of Ed Helms to play his drug lord, as small of a role as it was, because to be honest I’ve always got these two guys confused either each other.

Ed Helms, Jason Sudeikis

My lack of passion for Jennifer Aniston as an actress is well documented, and her performance in this film did nothing to persuade me to change my mind. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with her (and she seems like a wonderful person by all accounts), but I just don’t like…whatever it is about her I don’t like. She’s really the only character with any brains in the movie, but still, I didn’t like it. And I have no idea why she’s trying so hard to shed her good girl image by playing a stripper (who gets an opportunity to do her thing) not long after she did the whole sexual deviant thing in Horrible Bosses. It’s her prerogative, but it doesn’t feel authentic to me.

Emma Roberts is pretty in a girl-next-door kind of way, but she’s given the least to do out of all four main characters. She’s your typical naive runaway who likes the wrong guys and likes to swear. That’s it. A lot more effort is put into Will Poulter’s character, and he clearly steals the show as the affable geeky virgin, though even he feels kinda cliched. That said, he is still by far the best thing in the movie.

So as you may have gathered, I’m not overly enthused about We’re the Millers. It’s less irritating and offensive than films like The Hangover and Horrible Bosses — where everything is constantly loud and obnoxious — but it’s also a lot more bland. I didn’t like it and I didn’t hate it. All I can say is that I guess there are far worse ways to spend your time if you have 110 minutes to spare.

2.5 stars out of 

Post-Oscars Movie Blitz: Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

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I’m not usually a fan of romantic comedies or romantic dramedies or comedic dramas or whatever you want to call them, but Silver Linings Playbook easily tops my list of “whatever they are” for 2012. Funny and odd yet warm and heartfelt, not to mention powered by possibly the best ensemble cast of the year, it is a worthy Best Picture nominee that ticks the right boxes and pulls the right strings.

The slant of Silver Linings Playbook is mental illness, a risky angle that paid off when it could have easily backfired. Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a seemingly regular dude who has lost a lot of weight while being in a mental institution after suffering a breakdown (for reasons that are later explained). He returns home to his parents, played by Robert De Niro and Aussie Jacki Weaver, and continues to hope to rekindle his relationship with estranged wife Nikki. He sees his shrink and goes about making people uncomfortable until he meets kindred spirit Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence, who won the Best Actress Oscar for this role), a young woman battling her own mental demons. And so begins an unusual, quirky and volatile friendship that directs both damaged characters onto a journey of healing.

It doesn’t really sound like enthralling cinema, but the sharp script (based on the book of the same name by Matthew Quick) and direction by David O Russell (The Fighter) elevates Silver Linings Playbook far above your average comedy or drama. It is a rare feat when both the jokes and the drama are spot on, and I can’t remember the last time I saw a film that was hilarious but not crude, dramatic but not melodramatic, sweet but not saccharine. Silver Linings Playbook achieves all of these.

This film, as is the case with all good films, is driven by its characters and their relationships. Of course, Pat and Tiffany dominate, but all the supporting characters have a story to tell as well. Pat’s father is a superstitious wreck, while Pat’s friends Ronnie and Veronica are in a struggling relationship that I’m sure will ring true to a lot of couples. Even Chris Tucker, who plays Pat’s friend from the mental institution, is an interesting fellow I wanted to see more of.

The characters and their relationships are driven by the phenomenal performances. I never thought of Bradley Cooper as much of a thespian, but he’s really convincing and makes Pat a likable protagonist you want to root for. I think it is by far the best performance of his career.

Jennifer Lawrence (sigh…). Just when I thought I couldn’t like her any more than I already do, she pulls off last year’s best performance as Tiffany, a beautiful, seductive, explosive and manipulative woman who has no idea how to deal with her pain. She’s that good, and with all due respect to the other Best Actress nominees, Lawrence is absolutely a deserving winner. Kate Winslet’s spot as my fave actress is in grave danger.

I don’t even need to mention the typically brilliant De Niro, though Weaver, whose role is smaller than I expected, struck me as a weird Best Supporting Actress nominee. Sure she’s good, but she wasn’t really given much of an opportunity to shine. This wasn’t like Animal Kingdom where she would grab you by the balls and never let go.

Anyway…I don’t need to say much more except that Silver Linings Playbook  is worthy of all the critical acclaim. Some may be put off by the mental illness aspect of it, others by the quirkiness or the more predictable elements of the plot (and I admit, there is a sense of inevitability about the outcome, especially as it draws closer to its conclusion), but it’ll be a tough task to find a better 2012 romantic comedy or romantic dramedy or comedic drama or whatever you want to call it.

4.25 stars out of 5