Tag Archives: Tina Fey

Sisters (2015)

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Anyone who considers themselves a fan of Tina Fey and/or Amy Poehler (as I do) should be disappointed with Sisters. Partly because of high expectations and partly because of its uneven tone, extremely conventional narrative, weak plot and shades of racism. At the end of the day, as the long-awaited collaboration between two of the finest comedians of this generation, Sisters is simply not funny enough.

The film actually starts off with a lot of promise. As the title suggests, Fey and Poehler play sisters. They are close, but their personalities could not be further apart. Fey is Kate, the wild, irresponsible one who doesn’t even know where her much more mature daughter (Madison Davenport) has been hiding the entire summer. Poehler, on the other hand, is Maura, the sweet Good Samaritan with a penchant for inspirational quotes.

As fate would have it, they are both brought back to the family home in Orlando where they grew up, and decide to hold one final massive party with all their old high school friends. Think Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion meets Project X, with some Parenthood thrown in there (Dianne Wiest does play their mother, after all, and she’s fantastic as always).

I understand the tendency to want to like this film because Fey and Poehler are such likable people in real life. I enjoy their sassy brand of comedy and quirky wit, and thought it was a smart idea to toss up their personalities for this film to give audiences something different and to showcase what they can do. And to be fair, both of them have their moments of hilarity — Poehler in particular — and if we’re being strict about the six-laugh rule of thumb for a good comedy I believe Sisters hits that threshold.

However, that’s as far as I can go with the positivity. Sisters suffers from a multitude of problems, beginning with the fact that neither Kate not Maura are particularly likable people — that is, if you can separate the characters from the actresses who play them. There are times when their inner charm shines through, but when they are forced to stay in the characters written for them they simply aren’t as likable — or as funny.

That’s my way of saying it’s not all Fey and Poehler’s fault. They didn’t write or direct the film — those honours go to Paula Pell (best known for her sketches on Saturday Night Live) and Jason Moore (Pitch Perfect), and I blame them for not making the most of their opportunities. They seem to be quite good at introducing characters, but aren’t nearly as good in sustaining our interest in them. Case in point: pretty much all the supporting characters in the movie — from John Leguizamo’s dropkick former classmate Dave and Maura’s love interest James (Ike Barinholtz) to Kate’s nemesis Brinda (Maya Rudolph) and super awkward Alex (Bobby Moynihan), and even Korean nail salon worker Hae Won (Greta Lee) — are funnier and more endearing when they first appear, but become boring and much obnoxious the more screen time they get.

The exceptions are probably John Cena’s buffed drug dealer Pazuzu and the time-sensitive and depressed Kelly (Rachel Dratch), though in general I got the feeling that the film is really just a series of sketches filled with caricatures (eg, the wacky Koreans, the butch lesbians, the highly sexualized couple, etc). They are good for a joke or two, but once all the best jokes are used up they don’t really know what else to do with them.

As a series of sketches, Sisters also suffers from other problems, such as tonal inconsistencies and a weak narrative thread. The comedy is a strange mix of Fey and Poehler’s witty humour, modern vulgar humour, stupidity humour, saccharine rom-com humour and annoying yelling and screaming humour. At the same time, there are detours to sweet romance and family drama, and Moore can’t seem to quite figure out how blend all of these elements properly to find a comfortable equilibrium.

There’s also not much of a plot. The vast majority of the movie is hijacked by this long and tedious party that would never end. It just goes on and on, resulting in a ridiculously long 118-minute running time that should have been at least 20-30 minutes shorter.

I sound harsher than I mean to, but that’s because I wanted so much more from the film. Sure, Tina and Amy are great when they’re allowed to work their magic and have amazing chemistry, as we all expected, though I couldn’t avoid the sneaking suspicion throughout the movie that everyone involved in the making of it was having way more fun than the people watching it.

2.5 stars out of 5

2014 Movie Blitz: Part VII

The Forger (2014)

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It feels like John Travolta hasn’t done anything in a while, or at least anything worth mentioning. His latest effort, The Forger, is unlikely to alter that perception.

In this moody crime drama Travolta plays a master forger of masterpieces (I know, he looks just like one, right?), who strikes a deal with nasty gangsters to get out of jail earlier. Of course, it’s because they want him for his skills so they can commit a robbery, but you could forget that watching this film because most of the time is spent on the relationship between Travolta and his son (Tye Sheridan), who sadly is dying from cancer. Christopher Plummer plays Travolta’s dad and Abigail Spencer (from Suits) plays a detective on his track.

As a crime thriller The Forger is terrible. There’s no suspense and no feeling that any of it even matters. It’s no wonder the film is universally panned for how boring it is.

As a father-son drama, on the other hand, I think there are some nice moments stemming from this wish-granting subplot Travolta gets into. Consequently, I don’t think the film is as bad as it has been made out to be.

Travolta is pretty much always the same as he’s always been, though I believe the tragic death of his teenage son a few years back may have prompted him to take on this role and given his performance an added layer of emotion. Christopher Plummer is always good, but it’s Tye Sheridan who stands out by proving once again (after Mud with Mr Alright Alright McConaughey) that he has a bright future ahead of him.

It’s obviously not great, and most critics seem to disagree, but I don’t think The Forger is a bad random DVD hire.

3 stars out of 5

The Loft (2014)

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Every now and then you get a film like The Loft — a forgettable B-grade thriller with a roster full of recognisable names and faces. In this case we’re talking Karl Urban, James Marsden, Wentworth Miller, Eric Stonestreet and the Transformers blonde Aussie duo of Rachael Taylor and Isabelle Lucas.

It’s hard to give you an idea of what the film is about without a little detail. Basically, the loft is a sleaze-pad shared by five married friends (the above four actors plus Matthias Schoenaerts) to use for rendezvous with girlfriends, mistresses, one-night stands and so forth. Classy, I know.

But of course, something terrible happens and they have to figure out how to resolve the problem and solve a mystery while they’re at it. It’s actually a remake of a Dutch-language Belgian film from 2008 that must have done well enough to get Hollywood’s attention.

On paper it looks good. Respectable, good-looking cast, a locked room mystery of sorts with flashbacks and a whole load of twists and turns that will kind of keep you guessing. I can see the attraction of such a project.

However, The Loft has a fatal flaw: the characters are just so sleazy, so disgusting, so despicable and such degenerates that they are completely unworthy of sympathy and incapable of invoking any empathy. They’re more than just people with loose morals — some of them are genuinely sick.

As a result you’re just watching a bunch of dickheads get what they deserve and a couple of cardboard female characters act like a couple of cardboard female characters.

That said, you don’t necessarily have to like or care about he characters for a movie to work. Unfortunately, The Loft doesn’t have the requisite elements to qualify as a guilty pleasure. It’s just not satisfying enough, not intelligent enough, not campy enough and not so-bad-it’s-good enough.

Despite all this, the film passes as a watchable DVD or VOD experience owing to its star-studded cast and having just enough intrigue to not be boring. Just don’t expect too much.

2.5 stars out of 5

The Gambler

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I really wanted to give The Gambler its own individual post, but sadly it doesn’t deserve it. I was naturally partial to this film given that it is the follow-up effort of Rupert Wyatt, director of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and I desperately wanted The Gambler to be awesome.

However, while the film does have some intriguing aspects and nice moments, I can’t in good conscience proclaim it a good movie.

A remake of the 1974 film starring James Caan, The Gambler is the tale of Marky Mark Whalberg’s Jim Bennett, a literature professor with a crippling gambling addiction. He’s one of those “all or nothing” guys who never knows when to quit, and the self-destructive habit pushes him to the edge after he begins borrowing money from the wrong people (John Goodman, Michael K Williams, etc), much to the disappointment of his wealthy mother (Jessica Lange, who is excellent in her few scenes).

Wyatt infuses the film with a lot of style and a deliberate pace that results in a completely different type of experience to Apes. It’s not unentertaining and never gets dull, but there’s ultimately not enough substance to elevate it to what it could have been.

Part of the reason is that Bennett isn’t a very likable character. He’s interesting, but he’s also a complete asshole, making him hard to root for or sympathise with. Marky Mark is pretty good, so it’s not his fault.

I’m also deducting some points for the film’s depiction of a basketball game, which is so ridiculous and unrealistic that it saps much of the tension of what is supposed to be a climactic part of the film. Thankfully the gambling scenes were executed much better.

I really wanted to like The Gambler more, but unfortunately it’s just an average and somewhat forgettable remake.

2.5 stars out of 5

This Is Where I Leave You (2014)

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This Is Where I Leave You is a “light and nice” family drama film (ie, about a family, as opposed to for the family) bolstered by one of the best ensemble casts of 2014.

It’s based on the novel of the same name by Jonathan Tropper and is directed by Shawn Levy, best known for the Night at the Museum films, Date Night and The Internship. This one is better than all those films because of its depth and cast, but the overall feel is somewhat similar — some humour, a dash of gentle drama, and a sugary vibe that takes the heaviness off its life lessons.

Jason Bateman plays Judd Altman, who returns to his hometown following a death in the family and amid person turmoil in his life. There he is reunited with his three siblings (Tina Fey, Corey Stoll and Adam Driver) and their liberal mother (Jane Fonda), and the film follows their lives over the next few days as they deal with their personal issues and relationships.

Rounding out the amazing cast are names like Rose Byrne, Dax Shepherd, Timothy Oliphant, Connie Britton, Kathryn Hahn and Abigail Spencer.

They laugh, they cry, they fight and they reflect on life, pondering what could have been and where they are heading. Everyone is at a different stage in life and has problems and regrets they must face.

It is, however, nothing like August: Osage County, another recent family drama with a huge cast. That was heavy stuff and full of emotionally-draining drama; this is much mellower and aims for sweet poignancy and sentimental reflection. Some moments work, very well even, while others feel like it’s trying too hard.

The result is a mixed bag. It’s not my type of film, to be honest, but the cast is so spectacular that you can’t help be drawn in. Each actor plays to their strengths when it comes to the comedy, and you can see their respective personalities shining through. The humour is light but it’s funny enough for the most part, and the drama is sufficiently engaging though ultimately fails to offer anything new. It’s unfortunate, because it’s a waste of the massive pool of talent squeezed into the film.

This Is Where I Leave You is not bad, but it’s certainly nothing special. I quite liked it despite feeling underwhelmed by its failure to come close to reaching its full potential.

3.5 stars out of 5

Recent Movie Reviews: Part III

Admission (2013)

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Two of my favourite people in the world, Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, together at last in a comedy about America’s university admissions process — sounds like a winner to me.

But unfortunately, Admission is just OK. Fey plays an admissions officer at Princeton and Rudd plays a teacher desperately trying to get one of his unusual but gifted students into Princeton. The student also may or may not be Fey’s long lost son.

Admission is a fairly average rom-com with a somewhat unusual premise and is driven by the charisma of its two stars. Fey’s character has a personality similar to Liz Lemon’s and Rudd’s character is like Rudd in every movie he’s in — which is awesome. The jokes are clever and provide some fascinating insights into how the admissions system works at prestigious US universities, but at the end of the day the film just isn’t funny enough. Amusing in spots but too bland and flat overall, which is a shame given the potential it had to be something memorable.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie 43 (2013)

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The rule of thumb for ensemble movies these days is the greater the number of stars the worse the movie. Movie 43 stars Kate Winslet, Hugh Jackman, Naomi Watts, Liev Schreiber, Anna Faris, Emma Stone, Richard Gere, Kate Bosworth, Justin Long, Uma Thurman, Kristen Bell, Halle Berry, Stephen Merchant, Johnny Knoxville, Gerard Butler, Sean William Scott, Chloe Grace Moretz, Elizabeth Banks, Josh Duhamel, among others. I guess that tells you how good it is.

Seriously, I have no idea how this film was made. What did the producers have over all these stars to force them to be in this turd? And calling it a turd is really a compliment.

The film is essentially a collection of comedic sketches strung together by a forced narrative. There are apparently two versions, the first of which is a pitch made by Dennis Quaid to Greg Kinnear, a film executive. The version I watched was the British one, which is about a bunch of kids searching for the most banned film in the world, Movie 43, which they are stunned to discover actually exists.

As for the sketches, let’s see…there is the one where the whole joke is Hugh Jackman having a scrotum on his neck, another one making fun of home schooling, one about a team of black basketballers being terrified of their white opponents, and so on and so forth. And those are the less offensive ones. There’s also the Anna Faris one about her wanting her boyfriend to defecate on her during sex, a really pathetic one about a young girl getting her period, and a really boring and lame one about superhero speed dating. The only sketch I found mildly amusing was the one where Stephen Merchant and Halle Berry dare each other to do a bunch of crazy things, but that was probably only because the rest were so utterly unwatchable.

I’m just dumbfounded by how bad this movie is. I don’t believe in zero star films, but this one tempts me. I don’t wish the experience of watching this monstrosity on my worst enemy.

0.25 stars out of 5

Mama (2013)

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One of my most anticipated horror movies of the year, starring Jessica Chastain and Jaime Lannister (I mean Nikolaj Coster-Waldau or whatever his name is). The main reason is because visionary Guillermo del Toro served as an executive producer, and del Toro seldom disappoints (The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth both rank high on my list). I mean, did you see that trailer with those two freaky little girls scampering around?

Perhaps my expectations were too high, but Mama wasn’t quite as scary or different as I wanted it to be. Basically, a dude in financial ruin plans to kill his two young girls and himself, but before he gets the chance he is “terminated” by an unseen force. Years later the freaky ass girls, who somehow survived on their own, are found and put under the care of the dude’s brother, Mr Lannister, and his girlfriend, Chastain.

The freaky girls kind of become more normal but they keep referring to someone as “Mama”, who you and I both know is very scary and loves hanging around doing spooky things. Much of the movie is about Chastain learning to accept looking after the girls and finding out just who the heck Mama really is.

There are plenty of old school scares in this one — a combination of “boo” moments and atmosphere — but as usual it’s when Mama begins to appear to us on screen that things become less frightening. Still, it’s much classier and well done than your average horror flick these days, delivering on a decent ending whereas most such films tend to crumble and self-destruct. I don’t know how much del Toro influenced the film but I believe there are some nice touches of eerieness that can be attributed to him.

Mama didn’t scare the crap out of me like I wanted it to, but it will probably still be one of the standout horror movies of 2013.

3.5 stars out of 5

The Last Stand (2013)

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Here’s a shock. Arnie is still acting (and I use that word in a very loose sense).

The former Californian governor is back as a sheriff of a small town that happens to be the final stop before a highly wanted fugitive makes his away across the Mexican border. Arnie and his gang of local cops and a couple of misfits must dig deep and stop this guy because no one messes with Arnie. That’s the story in a nutshell.

As bad as that sounded, The Last Stand, which received almost no buzz in the lead up to its release, is actually a very solid action flick. I was surprised how effective it was in creating entertaining action sequences and even the humour was pleasantly unexpected. Lots of guns fights, explosions and “holding down the fort” type activity, like an adult version of Home Alone. It’s fun.

Arnie might be closing in on 100 years old, but his charisma as an action hero seems like it will never fade. The supporting cast is pretty decent too, and includes Johnny Knoxville, who manages to keep his obnoxiousness under control to everybody’s amazement.

I suppose credit has to go to Korean director Kim Ji-woon, who made a nice little action movie out of practically nothing. The Last Stand will likely be forgotten in a year or two, but I’ll remember that I had a good time watching it.

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: Date Night (2010)

I like both Steve Carrell and Tina Fey.  More correctly, I admire their talents, but I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of either comedian.

That’s kind of the way I felt with their collaborative effort, Date Night.  It’s pretty good and I liked the jokes, but it’s not a film I’d really want to see again.  There was nothing wrong with it, but for some reason I just don’t like it as much as I thought I would.

Date Night is directed by Shawn Levy, who was at the helm of one my most hated movies of all time, Just Married, though he did do better with Night at the Museum.

It tells the story of the Fosters, a married couple (Carrell and Fey) with two kids who find their lives becoming too routine, predictable and boring.  But then, on a night out in an attempt to spice up their old romance, the couple become the victims of mistaken identity, which then spirals into a wild and ridiculous ride with hilarious consequences.

It’s one of those films with a decent premise that is more revealing about human nature and real life than we would like to think (with all the stuff about married couples becoming “roommates” over time), but at the same time so many of the jokes are just so outrageous and insane that it’s impossible to take the film seriously.  I won’t ruin the jokes by hinting at what they are, but there were more than a few sequences when I laughed hard and loud.

Date Night’s biggest strength is the comedic pairing of Carrell and Fey, who are both experienced and charismatic performers with the ability to improvise.  As evident from the credits scenes, these two ad-libbed a lot of their lines and a lot of them were probably better than the scripted dialogue.

The second biggest strength of Date Night is the awesome supporting cast.  I absolutely loved all the names in there, from James Franco and Mila Kunis to Leighton Meester, Mark Ruffalo, Ray Liotta, William Fichtner, JB Smoove, and of course Marky Mark Wahlberg.  Each added a different comedic element to the film and elevated the film several levels above what Carrell and Fey would have been able to do on their own.

Having said all of that, I don’t think Date Night will go down as a particularly memorable film in the annals of comedy cinema.  It is very funny at times, but there’s nothing about it that stands out as especially outstanding.  Maybe it’s because I simply don’t like Carrell and Fey enough, and I don’t know why.

3.5 stars out of 5