Tag Archives: Zach Galifianakis

The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

In all honesty, I thought The Lego Movie would suck. Instead, it turned out to be one of the craziest, funnest and funniest movies of 2014. A big part of that is the character of Batman, voiced by Will Arnett, and so it was no surprise that the first spin-off film Warner Bros decided on was The Lego Batman Movie.

Given how funny The Lego Movie was, I went into Lego Batman with heightened expectations, but also wary that it could turn out to be another Minions situation (ie, good in small doses as a side character, annoying and incapable of sustaining its own film). I shouldn’t have been worried.

Lego Batman is, like its predecessor, loads of irreverent, stupid fun, It again delivers relentless, rapid-fire jokes from all directions, some misses but mostly hits, and this time, with the added bonus of many inside jokes poking fun at not just the Batman franchise throughout its long history but also the entire DC universe — including the current cinematic universe. Actually it goes even beyond that and borrows characters from other franchises too (that’s the great thing about Lego), but I’m not going to spoil the surprises here. All I’ll say is that at least one real-life counterpart of one of the characters from another franchise voices a different character in the film.  I’m sure I missed a whole bunch of the jokes, references and characters, and I wouldn’t mind checking out the film again when it comes out on DVD to catch all the Easter eggs.

Conversely, as it centres around Batman, Lego Batman is more limited in scope than The Lego Movie, and as a result, most of the jokes are more confined in subject matter. Accordingly, I have to say I did laugh less this time around, though another reason could also be because I was on the ONLY person in the theatre watching the movie (it was a Thursday matinee session)!

I would say it’s both good and bad — if crazy, silly laughs are all you’re after, Lego Batman is arguably a step down from The Lego Movie, but if you prefer a more structured story (yes, there is actually a story and character development and all that), then Lego Batman might be more up your alley.

As you would expect, the action is fun and inventive and the visuals are bright and colourful.  I would say the quality all the non-humour elements are on par with The Lego Movie. The idea of rapidly “building” things with Lego pieces on the run is still pretty cool to watch every time.

Will Arnett is perfect as Lego Batman. He pretty much speaks in a Batman voice as Job on Arrested Development anyway, so this performance came naturally for him. Joining Arnett is his nephew from AR, Michael Cera, who plays Robin with the same wide-eyed innocent as George Michael (by the way, there might be a George Michael joke or two in there — and you can interpret that however you want). Ralph Fiennes is also terrific as Alfred the butler, while Zach Galifianakis is a solid Joker and Rosario Dawson is cool as Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Commissioner Gordon. There are loads of other big names on the cast list, including some familiar returning names from The Lego Movie such as Channing Tatum as Superman and Jonah Hill as the Green Lantern. Billy Dee Williams, Mariah Carey, Chris Hardwick, Zoe Kravitz, Adam DeVine, Conan O’Brien — the list goes on and on.

On the whole, I personally preferred The Lego Movie just because of the sheer range of the jokes and because it was fresher and more surprising, but Lego Batman is not very far behind. I would say there were less laugh-out-loud jokes but more witty bits and pieces that will keep you smiling and giggling. Anyway, if you enjoyed one you will absolutely enjoy the other. I’ve said countless times that I’m not usually a fan of animated films, so when I am this positive it usually means it’s pretty, pretty good.

3.75 stars out of 5

Keeping Up with the Joneses (2016)

Think of True Lies, the greatest spy action-comedy every made. Then think of the complete opposite of that. That’s essentially Keeping Up with the Joneses, a film so bland and unfunny that it’s actually baffling.

Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher play the Gaffneys, a couple whose children are away at a camp when an attractive couple (the Joneses) played by Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot move into their close knit neighbourhood. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the Joneses are not who they claim to be, and soon the Gaffneys find themselves thrown into the world of espionage.

Not the most interesting premise, but definitely potential for laughs. And yet, Keeping Up with the Joneses is so low on the humour that I honestly cannot think of another movie I’ve seen this year — not just comedies but any genre — that generated less laughter. I’d probably have to think back to a movie about the holocaust to find anything as unfunny.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying either. I actually like all four of the actors in the film, but none of them could squeeze a drop of decent humour of the movie. The jokes are so lame and uninspiring that I don’t think they even worked on paper. With the exception of one gag about teeth near the end of the second act, I honestly did not chuckle even once. No laughs, no smiles.

Sadly, there are no other redeeming qualities about the film. The action is very tame and uninspiring, and the plot is ridiculously predictable. The only positive things about the movie I can say is that it appears the actors at least tried (well, except for Jon Hamm — he totally mailed it in), and that there’s nothing offensively terrible about it.

So no laughs, crap action and lame plot. No matter how appealing the actors may be, Keeping Up with the Joneses might very well be the worst comedy of the year.

1 star out of 5

Masterminds (2016)

Masterminds is one of those films that seems like a good comedy premise on paper. Based on the 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery, the true story is about a bunch of dim-witted hillbillies who decide to steal US$20 million from a cash vault at a Loomis Fargo office one of them worked at. Throw in Napoleon Dynamite filmmaker Jared Hess and an SNL-heavy cast featuring Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Jason Sudeikis (that’s essentially three-quarters of the new Ghostbusters), and the potential for laughs was obvious.

In practice, however, the film is forgettable, sporadic and not quite funny enough. Given the directors and the comedians involved, you should have a good sense of the type of humour the film goes for — it’s dominated mainly wacky character traits, awkward moments, and loads and loads of stupidity. The entire film revolves around the idea that these robbers are far too stupid to carry out this multi-million-dollar heist, and they were even more stupid in how they carried themselves afterward. They are portrayed as low-class, uneducated trailer-trash hicks, and sometimes the film treads a little close to the line of making fun of such people.

It’s farcical, outrageous stuff that’s only loosely based on fact and stretched to maximum idiocy for entertainment purposes, but if you are in the right mood or are a big fan of any of these actors, it’s possible you could find Masterminds fun and enjoyable. I admit that I laughed and giggled a few times, especially during the Kate McKinnon scenes, though on the whole, the comedy was simply too all over the place. It’s like throwing a bunch of skits at the audience and hoping something sticks. 

Unfortunately, far too many of the jokes fell flat for me, and at some stage the stupidity meter was so high that it made me begin to question just how much of the movie is actually true (Answer: Not that much). Stupid is funny. Too stupid can be lame. This is particularly so when these same characters sometimes show that they can actually be quite clever when the plot calls for it.

Zach Galifianakis is good in small doses, such as an episode of Between Two Ferns or a supporting role in The Hangover. As the lead of a feature-length film, however, he can be a little too much to stomach. As I noted earlier, the stand out for me was Kate McKinnon has his weirdo fiance. Kristen Wiig also had some good moments early on, and Jason Sudeikis plays to his strengths as a creepy contract killer. Owen Wilson and Leslie Jones, on the other hand, don’t get to demonstrate their comedic chops as much as I would’ve liked.

Ultimately, Masterminds is yet another one of those comedian-driven, ad lib-heavy comedies where the amount of fun the cast had making the movie did not translate properly to the finished product. Despite a few fleetingly funny moments, it just doesn’t have enough charm or deep belly laughs to do either the cast or the premise justice.

2.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Birdman (2014)

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I was real amped up to see Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). I had zero idea what it was about and had only seen the poster and flashes of the trailer — but I was convinced it would be brilliant from all the critical acclaim and award nominations. Even word-of-mouth reviews were overwhelmingly positive, with only one claim of apparent “pretentiousness.”

And so it saddens me to say I found Birdman a relative disappointment. It’s indeed a remarkable film that deserves the accolades — whether it is the stylish and complex direction of Alejandro González Iñárritu, the worthy Oscar-nominated performances of Michael Keaton, Emma Stone and Edward Norton, or the ridiculously impressive script (co-written by Iñárritu) — but the totality of the viewing experience felt ultimately hollow. It’s a technically amazing work of art that didn’t connect with me at a deeper level for whatever reason.

Birdman is a coal-black comedy; a filmmakers’ film for Hollywood and Broadway insiders. Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a former Hollywood star who once found fame as the masked superhero Birdman but now finds himself fading into obscurity in the internet age. To regain relevance and self-respect, he writes, directs and produces an adaptation of a Raymond Carver story — with himself in the lead role, of course — on Broadway. That’s the core of the film, though there are always subplots spiralling around him, from his feisty rehab-returned daughter (Emma Stone) and ex-wife (Amy Ryan) to his undermining new star recruit (Edward Norton) and occasional fling (Andrea Riseborough). Also in the all-star cast are Naomi Watts, playing a first-time Broadway performer, a slimmed-down and surprisingly serious Zach Galifianakis as Riggan’s lawyer, and Lindsay Duncan as a theater critic out to get him. On top of all that, Riggan has his old character Birdman talking in his ear all the time, AND he might have actual superpowers.

It’s a delicious mess of interesting ideas and characters that moves around at neck-breaking pace, but the script and direction of Iñárritu manages to keep Birdman a very tight and controlled experience where everything is by design. One of the most noticeable things about the film is the deliberate lack of cuts. Apart from a few minor exceptions, most of the movie rolls along as though it was filmed in one long continuous take, with the camera moving around from one set piece to another and following one character after another. On the one hand it keeps the pace up and the action fluid without breaks, much like real life, while on the other it provides a nice contrast to the stage production depicted in the film. I was impressed by it (as I was when I saw Gravity the year before) and didn’t find it a distraction, though at times it felt like a decision intended to add to the “wow” factor of the film’s technical superiority as opposed to something that adds substance to the film’s narrative.

The film also weaves multiple ideas and techniques in a clever way by embracing traditional movie cliches — the aging actor’s last hurrah, the rebellious offspring, the egotistical performer trying to steal the limelight, the biased critic, etc — and putting a twist on it. The choice of Michael Keaton as Riggan/Birdman was obviously intentional, given that Keaton hasn’t exactly done much since he played another masked crusader all those years ago, and I doubt it’s a coincidence that Edward Norton was chosen to play an actor with a reputation of being difficult to work with. Yet both guys run with the roles and deliver arguably two of the best male performances of the year to nab well-deserved Oscar nominations.

With all these established names in the cast, it’s probably more difficult for the acting to be poor in this film than for it to be absolutely terrific, and even watching it you get the sense that the actors are having a lot of fun showing off what they can do.

I actually think Birdman is in some ways very similar to The Grand Budapest Hotel (review here), coincidentally another Best Picture nominee leading the Oscars pack with nine nominations. Both critically-acclaimed films are tightly wound and have bold, supremely confident scripts filled with rapid-fire dialogue that will probably be used as examples in screenwriter classes around the world. Both are also clever comedies, though the humour in Birdman is darker and more subtle.

Just like The Grand Budapest Hotel, however, I also found Birdman difficult to form an emotional connection with. In both cases I was in awe of the production — the script, the direction and the acting — and yet I wouldn’t consider either one as a film I loved, a profound experience, or something I would want to watch over and over again. To put it another way — I can point to truly great things about the films rather than point to the films as truly great. The individual components of Birdman are undoubtedly top-class, but the whole came across less than the sum of its parts. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy Birdman or was not entertained by it, it’s just that I found myself more impressed by it than being genuinely fond of it.

3.75 stars out of 5

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 9

This latest tranche has a political flavour…kind of…

Act of Valor (2012)

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Just the title alone made me sceptical of this film, essentially a US Army recruitment video starring real-life soldiers. There must be people who lapped up the salty patriotism and corny melodrama of Act of Valor, but I was not one of them.

The plot — and there is a plot — is not important, and to be honest, I don’t remember much of it. The story focuses on a team of Navy Seals who have to shot and blow up enemies who pose a threat to freedom in the United States. Terrorists, that is.

The action scenes are well-choreographed, I don’t dispute that. Apparently they are realistic, but the shaky camera movements were too much for me. I had trouble telling what was happening when they had the helmet-mounted cameras and a few of the scenes made me feel nauseated.

But the main problem with Act of Valor, apart from the cookie-cutter plot, is the unintentional Team America: World Police feel that runs throughout the whole film. Much of it stems from dramatic score and the really really really atrocious lines spewed out by the really really really wooden “actors.” They just didn’t feel like real people. It was so bad that it was often either hilarious or distracting, or both. No offense to the soldiers, but it was akin to letting Stallone and The Rock go fight real terrorists on behalf of their country.

2 stars out of 5

PS: The mix of shaky camera movements and over-the-board heroism was enough to do this to me.

 

Game Change (2012)

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A great film for anyone interested in just how stupid Sarah Palin really is. Game Change is based on the true story of the 2008 Republican ticket of John McCain and Palin, and it’s a ripper. Sharp, funny and at times bewildering, it provides a fascinating insight into US presidential elections and the campaign strategies that direct the outcome. And above all, it reveals just how insane the Republicans were to take on a risk like Palin, who was believed to be a potential game changer — and she was, just not the way they wanted.

I loved the Tina Fey impersonations but Julianne Moore is equally brilliant in this more serious portrayal of Palin, who is depicted as an ambitious, self-righteous but incredibly naive and ignorant politician. Most of her most famous gaffes are repeated in the film, and they’re still just as funny. But it was also easy to see why the Republicans were so enamored with her in the beginning and so frustrated with her by the end. They essentially created a monster and didn’t know how to rein her back in.

Ed Harris was surprisingly good as John McCain, who I’ve always liked and was portrayed as a very decent man who really had no idea what he was getting himself into with Palin. The rest of the supporting cast, headed by Woody Harrelson as senior campaign strategist Steve Schmidt, was also excellent. Just a classy production all round.

Of course, the accuracy of the events depicted in the film have been disputed, but I’d like to think it captured the spirit of the campaign. Besides, both Palin and McCain, who said the film was inaccurate, never even saw it.

I really enjoyed it, even though it did have quite a strong TV-movie atmosphere.

PS: Here’s a scene by scene comparison between Palin and Moore.

4 stars out of 5

The Campaign (2012)

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While we’re on the subject of election campaigns, I’d like to review The Campaign, a pretty stock standard Will Ferrell farce about two numskulls vying for a congressional seat in a small town.

Ferrell plays his usual douche self who expects to earn another trip to DC unopposed, but a semi-retarded man played by Zach Galifianakis is somehow manipulated by corrupt businessmen to run against Ferrell so they can profit from a Chinese company (go figure). Retardation ensues as the two start getting down and dirty with outrageous plots to derail the other’s campaign.

If you know Ferrell’s brand of comedy and Galifianakis’s brand of comedy then it’s likely The Campaign will offer few surprises. It’s a lot of stupidity and randomness for about 85 minutes, a welcome length because the film starts to lose steam towards the end.

That said, there are some decent moments in The Campaign, and if you were lucky to have missed the spoilers in the trailers then you might find it rather enjoyable. Many of the jokes are borderline offensive or just plain offensive, but because they are almost always self-deprecating and take jabs at the usual politician antics they aren’t difficult to stomach or even appreciate. Both Ferrell and Galifianakis are in fine form and they do have nice chemistry on screen together.

At the end of the day, The Campaign is a forgettable comedy, but it’s also a pretty damn funny one (for the most part).

3.5 stars out of 5

The Watch (2012)

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Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn were pretty good together in Dodgeball, so I thought would give The Watch a shot. Without giving too much away (and there are potential spoilers), it’s about a bunch of average guys who decide to form a neighbourhood watch when locals start dying under weird circumstances.

The main foursome who form the neighbourhood watch are Stiller, Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade (an English comedian I’ve never heard of). They get up to stupid, juvenile stuff, predictably, until a discovery that puts their lives in real danger. There’s a lot of screaming in feigned fear and plenty of vulgar and sexualised jokes but sadly not a lot of originality or wit. In fact, I found the whole film strangely dull despite all the energetic stuff that was happening on screen.

Part of the problem is that Stiller and Vaughn (and to some extent Hill) seem to be playing the exact same characters with the same personalities and traits in every movie. Stiller is the bumbling nice guy who wants to be something more, and Vaughn is the deadpan specialist, while Hill is the awkward fatty. There’s just nothing fresh about it and they feel like actors playing themselves rather than characters.

I’ll admit, there were a few times in The Watch where the inner juvenile in me found a joke in the film funny — but these moments were few and far in between. As much I as enjoy these group buddy movies as much as the next guy, this one was uninspiring and forgettable.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Hangover Part II (2011)

I’m probably one of the rare few that didn’t think The Hangover was an awesome film.  A clever premise, interesting characters, and some wild, outrageous and completely insane situations — yes — but personally I didn’t find it all that funny.

A couple of my friends told me that the sequel, The Hangover Part II, was very very funny, so despite my wariness, I went and checked it out.

Mmm…like the characters in the film, I honestly couldn’t remember a whole lot about the original, but even so, this sequel felt eerily similar, almost recycled.  The same bunch of guys have a wild night out before a wedding, get plastered, can’t remember anything the next morning, and have to retrace their steps in limited time to find a missing person.  Like the predecessor, it’s crazy, crude, often disgusting and utterly improbable — meaning if you enjoyed the original you’ll probably like this one too.

Unfortunately for me, it meant another pretty average experience.

Moving the ‘Wolfpack’ to Bangkok was a step up from Vegas, and they sure did exploit the beautiful scenery, the vastly different culture, the squalid parts of the city and the language barrier.  I also thought the three main characters — Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) — provided a formidable trio with distinct personalities that meshed well together.

But ultimately, The Hangover Part II just wasn’t very funny.  Well, perhaps I should clarify by saying that it’s not my kind of humour.  Like the first film, it relied on outrageous situations, gross out scenarios and random/awkard/uncomfortable moments provided by Galifianakis (who shot to stardom after the original).  It’s a formula that obviously worked for audiences the first time, but I could count the number of genuine laughs I had from this film on one hand.  A big reason for that was because a lot of the gags, especially the sexual ones, were telegraphed and you could see them coming a mile away.

The biggest disappointment for me was the Asian gangster Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong), who for me was absolutely the bright spark of the original.  In the sequel, however, I felt his jokes were more scripted rather than ad libbed, and as a result he wasn’t nearly as funny as he was or should have been.  I still love Ken but he couldn’t lift the film this time.

Having said all that, I still maintained interest in the story most of way through because of the curiosity factor — after all, I did want to find out what happened to them that night.  But as was the case with the original, that knowledge didn’t mean much by the end.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Due Date (2010)

Due Date did not appeal to me at all when I first saw the poster and caught a glimpse of the trailer.

Robert Downey Jr as a man trying to head home to his pregnant wife, and Zach Galifianakis as the annoying weirdo that somehow gets stuck with him on this cross-country road trip.  I’ll admit that’s a premise with some potential for laughs, but to be honest it seemed a bit dull — plus the film is directed by Todd Phillips, whose highly rated hit The Hangover was somewhat overrated in my humble opinion.

And so I went into Due Date with relatively low expectations, but at the same time expecting to be pleasantly surprised (if that makes sense).  The verdict?  Well…while there were a few laugh-out-loud moments, Due Date was not particularly or consistently funny.  Fans of The Hangover might like it, but it wasn’t my cup of tea.

Forget the formulaic plot and the gaping plotholes — like The Hangover, the humour in Due Date was very coarse, in your face, over the top, violent, dirty and messy all rolled into one.  Almost all the jokes stemmed from the insane, random and extremely anti-social behaviour of Galifianakis’s character Ethan Tremblay.  He’s essentially a nightmarish twit with, I assume, at least a few personality disorders — and the biggest problem is that there is very little to like about his character.  However, I will have to say that Zach Galifianakis is a much better actor than I thought.

I was a big fan of the Steve Martin/John Candy movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles, which is actually very similar in premise and plot, but I’m afraid Due Date was a waste of Robert Downey Jr’s immense talent.  I did enjoy a couple of moments, but this was essentially two guys being very obnoxious for a very long-feeling 95 minutes.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Dinner for Schmucks (2010)

I’ll admit, the first time I saw the preview for Dinner for Schmucks, I was mightily unimpressed.  To put it bluntly, it looked stupid and unfunny.  I even though the other preview, for The Other Guys, was more promising.  Well, I was wrong.  While Dinner for Schmucks was definitely stupid, it was actually pretty funny too.

Starring Paul Rudd (one of my favourites) and Steve Carrell, Dinner for Schmucks is a farce comedy loosely based on the 1998 French film, Le Diner de cons (The Dinner Game).  It’s framed around this concept of a kind of high society dinner where each guest brings a moron with them, and the guest with the biggest moron wins.

However, the dinner itself only plays a relatively small part of the film, which makes the title a little misleading.  Most of it is centred around the relationship between Tim (Rudd), the immensely likeable financial executive is desperate to climb his way to the top to impress his girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak), and Barry (Carrell), the hopeless tax agent who likes to taxidermy mice for dioramas.

In terms of plot, Dinner for Schmucks is exactly how you would expect.  We’ve seen films like this before.  In fact, Paul Rudd’s I Love You, Man, is eerily similar, just with slightly different characters.  You, Me and Dupree is another.  It’s the classic straight man meets dufus and dufus turns straight man’s life upside down.

However, in terms of laughs, Dinner for Schmucks is very unpredictable, largely thanks to the amazing supporting cast of complete weirdos that makes it one of the most random films I’ve seen in a while.  Not much makes sense, and you can accept that ignore all logic and common sense, then you might find yourself laughing out loud like I did.  Some of it was unfunny, but some of it actually was.

I was particularly pleased to see the hilarious Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords playing a misunderstood artist, and it was great to see his number one fan from that show, Mel (Kristen Schaal) play Rudd’s secretary Susana.  Another standout was Lucy Punch, who plays the obsessive Darla.  Zach Galifianakis (from The Hangover) was a little more uneven as Barry’s boss, but still provided some decent laughs.

The two biggest problems I had with the film were the believability of Steve Carrell’s character (as much as I wanted to believe him he was too inconsistent at times) and the length (114 minutes), which was way too long.  They could have easily cut 20 minutes from it and made it a better, tighter film.

Nevertheless, on the whole, Dinner for Schmucks was signficantly better than what I had expected.  Barry’s taxidemied mice dioramas were done extremely well and were very cute, and the execution of the more ‘poignant’ scenes were handled with sufficient care.  Dinner for Schmucks was by no means perfect, but as far as farce comedies go, it’s one of the better ones.

3.5 stars out of 5