Category Archives: Comedy

The Hustle (2019) Blu-Ray Review By D.M. Anderson

 

 

The Hustle Review

Director: Chris Addison
Writers: Stanley Shapiro (screenplay by), Paul Henning (screenplay by)
Starring Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp, Ingrid Oliver, Emma Davies, Nicholas Woodeson, Dean Norris, Timothy Simons, Rob Delaney, Tom Blake Nelson.

Holding up my screening copy of The Hustle, I asked my daughter, Natalie, “Did you wanna check this out with me? Your wife is in it.” Natalie often jokingly refers to actors she considers attractive as her ‘wife’ or ‘husband.’ In this case, it would be Anne Hathaway.

“Nah,” she replied. “I  can’t stand Rebel Wilson.” No wedding bells there, I guess.

I never found Wilson particularly funny, either, but at least in the other films I’ve seen her in, she’s been just a supporting character. In The Hustle, not-only does Wilson share top billing with Anne Hathaway, she’s essentially the main protagonist, meaning her brash brand of it’s-funny-because-I’m-fat humour is here in abundance. Fans will probably enjoy her performance; others will find it obnoxious and interminable.

The Hustle is an inferior remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (which was also a remake, by the way). Other than swapping genders, it doesn’t bring anything new to the table that might justify its existence. Hathaway & Wilson are no Caine & Martin, but you probably knew that already. And while there’s an occasional chuckle here and there, this is another case where all the truly laugh-out-loud moments appear in the trailer.

Hathaway can be quite funny but isn’t given much of an opportunity here, mostly playing straight-man to Wilson’s buffoonery. Speaking of which, the film often coasts on the assumption that being overweight is inherently amusing. And I suppose many people think it is. But even when she isn’t trying to milk laughs based on her size, there’s something about Wilson’s delivery and performance that feels kind-of desperate. In that respect, she’s more Chris Farley than Melissa McCarthy: Laugh with me or laugh at me, as long as you’re laughing.

I didn’t laugh much either way, not at anything Rebel Wilson says or does, anyway. Hathaway looks like she’s having fun, but the best moments belong to supporting characters, particularly Nicholas Woodeson as one of Hathaway’s con-game cohorts. As for the rest of the film, the story is completely free of surprises, its four writers unable to come up with a unique spin on a familiar tale. That might make The Hustle a reheated dish of comfort food for undemanding viewers. It still tastes like leftovers, though, including Wilson’s schtick.

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What Men Want (2019) Movie Review By D.M. Anderson

What Men Want Review, A woman is boxed out by the male sports agents in her profession, but gains an unexpected edge over them when she develops the ability to hear men's thoughts.

The Good & Bad of WHAT MEN WANT

Director: Adam Shankman
Writers: Tina Gordon (screenplay by) (as Tina Gordon Chism), Peter Huyck (screenplay by)
Stars: Taraji P. Henson, Kristen Ledlow, Josh Brener, Tracy Morgan, Aldis Hodge, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Tamala Jones, Phoebe Robinson, Max Greenfield, Erykah Badu, Brian Bosworth, Auston Jon Moore, Shane Paul McGhie.

Taraji P. Henson is an interesting actress. Whether her characters are assertive or reserved, strong or vulnerable, bitchy or congenial, she regularly delivers convincing performances. And whether she’s the star, supporting character or part of an ensemble, Henson tends to stand out (in a good way). She’s even rendered bad films at-least watchable. Well, maybe not Acrimony.

It’s nice to see Henson finally getting her due as an A-lister, and What Men Want seems tailor-made for her, which is both a good and a bad thing.

It’s a good thing because this gender-switched remake of What Women Want allows her to demonstrate her considerable comedic talents as Ali Davis, an abrasive, headstrong sports agent whose sudden ability to hear all men’s thoughts turns her life upside-down. At first, she uses it to her advantage as she tries to sign a young NBA hopeful. But later, when it begins to complicate her life and relationships, Davis begins to engage in the usual self-reflection that comes with movies like this (a shift in tone Henson adapts to quite well).

It’s also a bad thing because the film itself coasts almost entirely on the performances of Henson and her co-stars. What Men Want is the working definition of formulaic. There isn’t a single character we haven’t seen before, nor one plot turn we don’t see coming from miles away, much like the original (though, as the trailers suggest, this one is far raunchier).

But that doesn’t mean the film doesn’t have some great moments, mostly thanks to the cast (Henson, in particular). After a woefully shaky opening act, the film improves considerably once Ali awakens from a blow to the head with her new ability, leading to some hilarious situations. None of it is particularly clever – or surprising – but the film is generally funny enough that one might forgive the deja vu that hangs over every scene.

Just like the original was a form-fitted vehicle to cash in on Mel Gibson’s charisma, What Men Want does likewise for Taraji P. Henson. As such, it delivers exactly as expected, though nothing more. We’ve seen it all before, but for the most part, the film is congenial, undemanding fun. However, you should probably put the kids to bed, first.

The Sisters Brothers (2018) Movie Review By Justin Aylward

The Sisters Brothers Review, In 1850s Oregon, the infamous duo of assassins, Eli and Charlie Sisters, chase a gold prospector and his unexpected ally.

Director: Jacques Audiard
Writers: Jacques Audiard (screenplay by), Thomas Bidegain (screenplay by)
Stars: John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal

The western genre is largely a relic of a bygone era, but when we do see a new incarnation on our cinema screens there is much to admire. Recent films such as The Assassination of Jesse James…, 3:10 To Yuma, Bone Tomahawk, and Hell or High Water have shown how the dusty landscapes and fatalist attitudes of the Wild West are still ingredients for exceptional films.

The new film by Jacques Audiard (A Prophet, Rust and Bone) stars Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly as Charlie and Eli Sisters, a ragtag gun-toting duo in 1850s Oregon. The pair, who are as much chalk and cheese as drunk and sober, are recruited by The Commodore, (Rutger Hauer) a brutish, wealthy landowner, to pursue and kill a gentle prospector named Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed). Warm has allegedly stolen a special formula for uncovering gold and is set on keeping the riches for himself. Although Eli is unmoved by The Commodore’s sorry tale, Charlie is willing to take on the job, and the two bickering brothers set out on the trail.
Also on the trail of Hermann is a measured and erudite assassin called John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal). Morris gets a head start over the Sisters Brothers, and keeps a diary along the way, leaving letters at each stop-off point to inform Charlie and Eli of his progress.

French director Audiard, has shown again how sometimes it is with a foreign eye that old American mores are best dissected. From Douglas Sirk with All That Heaven Allows in the 50s and Wim Wenders with his film Paris, Texas in the 80s, European directors have used their outsider prospective to parse out the diverse ways of living in America.

In The Sisters Brothers, four disparate people in conflicting pursuits – the hunter and the hunted, the gold seeker and the taskmaster – are thrown together in a tornado of incompatible desires. Despite the obvious route he takes, Charlie is emotionally adrift. He drinks to get drunk where he then empties bars and picks fights. He sleeps with as many women as he can pay for, and abuses his brother at every turn. Eli, on the other hand, knows exactly what he wants but the ties that bind him to his errant brother grow tighter around him. Charlie relishes the danger in the job, but Eli has had enough and wants to put away his gun and return home to their estranged mother.

John Morris, the dogged assassin, is locked down by his obligations. Despite all his thoughtfulness for the surroundings, he has never asked himself what he is really doing. The working life seems to be the only one he thinks exists. When he finally catches up with Hermann – who basically presents himself to Morris – he finds a young man who is thoughtful, idealistic, and bright. Hermann wants to set up a community in Texas, free from the toxicity of the broader American society. When Morris realises that Hermann is not the craven individual he was told about, he decides to accompany Hermann to San Francisco in search of gold.
Within the unfolding story are many well-crafted, cinematic elements. The cinematography by Benoit Debie captures the celestial skylines and mountainous peaks of the West Coast. Some of the scenes following Eli and Charlie on horseback as they ride through fields of hay and tall grass are exceptionally eye-catching. Audiard directs with a special confidence a foreign director in an alien genre has no right to have, but his command over the material is obvious in the multitoned moods of the film. Also, John C. Reilly stands out as a gifted and thoughtful character actor who can perform through many layers of complexity. Look at the scene where he solicits with a prostitute, although not for sex, but just to play out a harmless but heartfelt fantasy; a husband saying goodbye to a grief-stricken wife. Joaquin Phoenix proves yet again that he is perhaps the best American actor of his generation, or at least the bravest and most unpredictable. He has the great ability of the famous method actors; you never know what he will do next, but it promises to be emotional.

Throughout, the Sisters’ Brothers journey to San Francisco is fraught with turmoil and the travails of the dangerous territory. Between night-scrawling spiders, duplicitous bordello owners, and dying horses, they can’t catch a good break. Charlie is just about ready to puke his guts up once and for all, while Eli seems to be on the verge of a hopelessness he may never outlast. Eventually they cross paths with Morris and Hermann Warm, and the ties of the plot come undone in scenes that are equally tense and sad.

I will not spoil the final act of the film. But I will say that the Homerian journey ends with all the appropriate beats that the film has been orchestrating throughout its running time. In the end we have a Western as charming as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, as melancholy as Unforgiven, and as unforgettable as The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. The Sisters Brothers is the best film of its type in many years and shows much promise for the director Audiard. Let’s hope he continues to make films away from home where it’s dusty, dangerous and the gun blasts ring long into the night.

Cherokee Creek (2018) Movie Review By Gianni Damaia

Cherokee Creek Review, A bachelor party in the woods gets crashed by the ultimate party animal.

Director: Todd Jenkins
Writers: Jarrett Bigelow (original story concept), Billy Blair (original story concept)
Stars: Billy Blair, Todd Jenkins, Justin Armstrong

Horror and comedy have always gone hand in hand. Like salty and sweet, opposite flavors tend to bring vibrancy to each other. The 80’s defined a generation of film in many ways, but its footprints on the horror industry have been especially prevalent today. Craven, Romero, Carpenter each had major strides with 80’s hits in the horror genre. And today, with things like Stranger Things, people are eager to capitalize on such a pivotal nostalgia inducing era. Enter Cherokee Creek, an 80’s inspired, horror/comedy that feels like the perfect blend of Van Wilder and Friday the 13th with Bigfoot in place of Jason. To say this is a ‘wild ride’ doesn’t do Cherokee Creek enough justice. Gratuitous nudity, gore, and general depravity is customary in this genre, but Cherokee Creek manages to take all of these traits to their ultimate conclusion. In turn, I feel it is no exaggeration to claim that Cherokee Creek is the quintessential B-Horror film of this generation. It’s absurd, deranged, and occasionally fun. The unfortunate reality is that this vibe is established in spite of itself, and Cherokee Creek is often void of sympathetic characters and logic.

Cherokee Creek revolves predominantly around a night in the woods for a ragtag group of morally bankrupt friends celebrating a bachelor party. Of course, due to an elaborate introduction, we know that this celebration is bound to turn sour considering a large creature, in the vain of a Sasquatch, is lurking in these same forests.

On what I imagine to be a modest budget, the practical effects are shockingly effective. Whether used entirely for slapstick comedy or more conventional showcases of flesh and blood, the effects team manages to deliver grotesque visuals that imbue the film with vitality. If you’ve ever wanted to see a man franticly trudge through the woods holding his best friend’s dismembered hand and genitalia, congratulations! You found the perfect movie for you! The most pleasant surprise, for me, was how much of the effects work is kept prominently in frame. Todd Jenkins and his team know their ace in the hole and use it entirely to their advantage. Conversely, this may not appeal to viewers that are squeamish or faint of heart (more on that later). While Cherokee Creek certainly owes its identity to slaughterhouse 80’s films, it finds equal roots in 90’s and early 2000’s comedy. The fraternity style humor is given a lot of love when establishing relationships in Cherokee Creek. As an avid fan of That 70’s Show, I’d mark the campfire, pot brownie session as a particularly effective comedic high point in the film. The camera flicks from character to character with precision that perfectly juxtaposes the fluid ramblings showcasing each person in their descent into lack of lucidity. Bodily fluids and genitalia are discussed with an odd regularity, and improvisational performances are highlighted with an intense amount of screen time. Granted, I was not given access to the script for Cherokee Creek, but if I was a betting man, I would estimate that a majority of the film is improvised or loosely scripted to allow actors free rein. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Occasionally, Jenkins and company find genuinely entertaining beats of banter. It may not be striking your funny bone as consistently as something that may have inspired it, but Cherokee Creek is charming enough in the way it gives its actors ample time to flex, even if they aren’t always saying something of note.

Which brings me to my negatives with Cherokee Creek. The dedication this film has to its genre is commendable, but it also makes it inaccessible. In a world designed to inevitably feature characters fighting for their lives, there isn’t anyone worth rooting for in Cherokee Creek. Of course, this isn’t a comment on performances so much as it is the way these people navigate the world of the film. Side characters leave hardly any impression, the female lead is awfully hypocritical, and even the ‘heroes’ bicker over mundanities to the point of exhaustion. Not to mention the general depravity on display. In the opening minutes with our main characters, we see one of them masturbate while the other two discuss recent hook-ups. The inclusion of female characters feels particularly tone deaf in current political climates, with characters often openly commenting on their sexual appeal, and even going as far as to have two characters decide which girl they get to sleep with via a coin flip. Of course, politics is not what I’m interested in when it comes to reviewing film, but the statement is made to give clarity to my opinions on the characters. They’re hard to root for, and I can’t see any evidence in the film of arcs among them. It seems deliberate to make the audience excited for character deaths, but the bulk of the 2 hour screen time in Cherokee Creek is given to establishing relationships between the odd members of this group. Often times, we get repeated information regarding a scene that happened prior, or bizarre revelations about plot devices introduced in quick glances to give context for future events in contrived ways. This is all to say that Cherokee Creek doesn’t spend a lot of time actually building character traits so much as it spends time giving people whacky things to talk about before they’re eventually hunted. As a result, Cherokee Creek is overlong and wrought with inconsistencies in logic building to an ending that feels forced and outrageously frustrating.

As stated before, this is not an easily digestible film for anyone not accustom to the slasher genre. Cherokee Creek is gratuitous, for better or for worse, in both its drawn out comedy bits and its strikingly graphic visuals. To my knowledge, this film was banned from Amazon streaming services due to graphic content. Given the amount of blood and nudity, I am not particularly surprised by that fact. At this point in the review, I imagine an unfamiliar reader will know whether or not Cherokee Creek is for them.

Jenkins clearly invests a lot of love into Cherokee Creek, as does the rest of his cast and crew. Combing through the credits and seeing exactly how many odd jobs each person had on set (even watching the intro and outro thanking me for watching this film) genuinely made me emotional. Critically, I don’t hide that I have a lot of issues with Cherokee Creek, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I respect the team for not only making a movie, but for making their movie. After watching, I went ahead and rented Cherokee Creek on iTunes to support the creators, and I encourage anyone reading this to do the same. Even if Cherokee Creek is not your particular cup of tea, it’s worth supporting.

Cherokee Creek features genuine moments of fun, inconsequential horror/comedy, but it’s unfortunately riddled with halfhearted motivations in place of character arcs. Jokes drag on, characters squabble about petty nonsense, and Bigfoot lurks in the darkness with little-to-no backstory. Even still, I find myself excited for Jenkin’s next work. I enjoyed my time with Cherokee Creek, more than I may have if it were in less ambitious hands. And while my scoring of the film reflects my objective opinions, I stand by my sentiment that Jenkin’s and his company are commendable for their efforts. 5.5/10

Vice (2018) Movie Review By Gianni Damaia

Vice

Director: Adam McKay
Writer: Adam McKay
Stars: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell

Adam McKay has always been one to watch. His transition from an inspiring bro-comedy director to the creator of an Oscar winning educational, political dramedy has been astounding to observe and grow with. From the second The Big Short ended, I was eager to see his next move. Sticking with the latter of his skill set, McKay has followed up with Vice, a political satire with a dash of lunacy and frenetic drama. Unfortunately, I didn’t find Vice to have nearly the same level of appeal as McKay’s previous works.

Vice follows the story of Dick Cheney, the famed enigmatic political mastermind, so to speak, behind the Bush administration. Of course, by the movie’s own admission in the opening title card, liberties had to be taken. The lines between historical accuracy and fiction are blurred, with the approach aiming to use its self awareness to its advantage in order to separate itself from your typical biopic. From the jump, McKay guarantees a polarizing experience, knowing full well his political leanings will influence the story. I only mention this to acknowledge that certain biases exist. Some audiences will appreciate them while others won’t, but in terms of objective criticism (if such a thing exists), I believe it bares no weight on my review of the film. What does, however, is McKay’s incessant need to make his film chaotic to avoid it being boring.

Vice utilizes an ‘objective’ narrator, title cards, and even voiceover from the inner monologue of Cheney himself. It has several sequences of entirely satirical circumstances, poking meta textual fun at the real life events. If you ever wanted to watch Cheney and his wife spontaneously bust into Macbethian soliloquy’s, you can find it in Vice. If you ever wanted to see an entire sequence of fake final credits, you can find it in Vice. And hell, if you want to see Christian Bale stare straight into the lens of the camera and talk directly to the audience in a way that would make you wish House of Cards had been remade and recast, then you will get that in Vice. The point I’m making is that McKay utilizes a lot, and I mean A LOT, of storytelling devices to keep his film new and entertaining, but it doesn’t mean it makes his film better. I’d argue it makes it worse.

The frenetic pace established early in Vice has no identity. The aforementioned opening title card hints at a comedic opening, but it takes nearly 20 minutes for another joke to land. Why? Because Vice can’t decide whether it wants to be a straight political satire or a dramatic character study. The occasional display of satirical showmanship detracts from the credibility of the storytelling. McKay’s previous work, The Big Short, played its hand similarly. In fact, it’s fingerprints are all over Vice. The difference is that The Big Short wisely separated it’s self referential moments from the story at work. It used those meta conversations to propel and strengthen the core narrative. Vice can’t separate the two, and as a result the audience can’t either.

Perhaps my biggest contention with the film is that by its end, I don’t really understand Cheney. Dick Cheney is intimidating and calculated, but he’s constantly being resorted to a figure as opposed to a character. I never get to watch him think because I’m busy being told by the narrator that Cheney is thinking. Despite him dominating the screen time, I don’t exactly know much about him beyond what he’s done according to the film. As far as I can tell, the moments and decisions that propel Cheney in this film are little more than a strong desire for power.

Rarely do characters ever sit and have a straight conversation because McKay is constantly playing with the frame, throwing images at it to see what sticks. The timeline is another point of contention. There is a flippancy to which Vice works with Cheney’s past. At any given point, we are constantly being tossed from one period in his political career to another. Sometimes, McKay finds life and significance in this choice. For example, Cheney looking upon the Oval Office after being elected Vice President juxtaposed with a memory of Cheney getting his first ever office, essentially a desk and walls and no windows. Other times, the story changes timeline with no discernible rhyme or reason and detracts from the storytelling and momentum of whatever previous scene came before it.

My contentions with Vice aside, this isn’t a film void of impressive features. It should come as no surprise that Christian Bale is immersive and utterly brilliant. Not only is it a role with intense focus on the nuance of Cheney’s mannerisms to capture his persona, Bale also finds plenty of opportunities to pursue the character’s wants and desires with little more than a glance. This is a performance that completely elevated the character beneath it. With Bale at the helm, Cheney becomes almost appealing, despite being a villain for much of the film. This may be the most intimidating presence Bale has ever portrayed, and I’m including Bruce Wayne in that hot take. Generally, I avoid performance bashing in my reviews, because actors are so often front facing and have such little to do with the larger picture, so all I’ll add is this: The other performers do relatively well, but Bale is undoubtedly the highlight. For all that I have to say against McKay’s frantic display, he does make impressive storytelling choices. Tethering themes of fishing and heartlessness into the greater narrative takes a bold, ambitious mastermind. The handheld camera work adds to the story, creating an atmosphere of intimacy for a character that can seem so ‘larger than life’.

The most important thing to note is that despite all my gripes, Vice still managed to keep me entertained. I enjoyed Vice more than the rating I’m giving it, and while I can’t argue that my enjoyment makes it better, I can argue that it might still be worth your time. Maybe. But Christian Bale is definitely worth your time.

6.5/10

The Happytime Murders (2018) Movie Review By Stephen McLaughlin

The Happytime Murders

Director: Brian Henson
Writers: Todd Berger (screenplay by), Todd Berger (story by)
Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Bill Barretta, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph

The Happytime Murders reminded me so much of Who Framed Roger Rabbit in many ways. Instead of “Toons” being the second class citizens of the world, it is the puppets who are disrespected and when the cast of a ’90s puppet TV show begin to get murdered one by one, a disgraced LAPD detective-turned-private eye puppet Phil Philips (Barretta) takes on the case.

Released in late Summer 2018 the movie was already receiving bad publicity as the Sesame Workshop sued the team behind The Happytime Murders for the tagline, “No sesame. All street,” claiming that the film tarnished their reputation. Interestingly the lawsuit was rejected by the courts and soon after, the studio issued a statement, saying they were very pleased that the ruling reinforced what the studios intention was from the very beginning and that was to honour the heritage and memory of The Jim Henson Company’s previous creations while making a clear distinction between any Muppets or Sesame Street characters and the new world Brian Henson and team created. Personally I feel the tag line was pretty weak to begin with and wasn’t worth the hassle of a law suit.

The storyline is a classic whodunnit template and I think this is probably the only negative I had with the film. The plot was a little predictable and the so-called twist you could see a mile off. Now I have that out the way I can honestly say that I actually enjoyed most of the film. Melissa McCarthy’s performance as Detective Connie Edwards, a former police partner of Philips is great. McCarthy in her mannerisms and delivery remind me so much of John Goodman. Edwards is very similar to Philips in beliefs and police protocol. I think the chemistry worked when both former partners were at loggerheads with each other the most. The in-house fighting and line delivery made me laugh and I don’t mind admitting that.

Voicing Phil Philips was Bill Barretta. A veteran voice actor who has a long line and history with a lot of Jim Henson made productions. I’ll be honest and say although I was a massive “The Muppet Show” fan growing up in the late 70’s and early 80’s I didn’t care too much for the cinematic exploits of the Muppet gang and the name Bill Barretta wasn’t that familiar with me. Hey we didn’t have IMDb back in the day to check the cast to see who voiced who. Barretta is terrific as the ex-Cop. Grumpy, bitter and carrying a massive chip on his shoulder towards his ex-partner Edwards was good to watch. 

The Happytime Murders is a technically successful movie. Back in the day of the muppets or to be fair most puppetry on TV we had to accept our favourite characters had to be behind a desk and we only saw the top half of their body. Throw into that, we could clearly see the rods controlling their arms. It didn’t bother us watching them entertain but that was then and this is now. The film boasts some very clever techniques in making us believe puppets live amongst us. We witness them crossing the road, walking down the street, eating in restaurants. It’s all here and shot beautifully. The tone of the film is also a plus point. The humour is evidently adult orientated and possibly in the same vain as Ted or Team America. Very close to the bone humour and at times very surreal but always funny. The characters whether puppets or human connect well and this is another element of the film that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Put it this way, if the puppets weren’t so obviously puppets you would forget that they aren’t real to begin with. 

Brian Henson as Director will probably feel a little disappointed in the audiences reaction and feedback to this film in regards to plot. There is no hiding from it. The fact is you can carry a film with great acting from a good cast and enjoy the delights of the technical aspects to a degree, but if the storyline is weak then people aren’t going to connect with it or for that matter go back to it time and time again. Overall I wasn’t going into the film with high expectations. I liked most of what I witnessed in comedy, performance and visuals but felt the filmmakers missed a trick by not investing too much in the story. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t recommend giving it a watch. In fact I think it has enough in it for a one off enjoyable experience. Recommend.