279 posts categorized "Comedy"

July 16, 2017

THE LITTLE HOURS

Colesmithey.comIf you’re the kind of person who likes to nap through summer movies in the air conditioned comfort of your neighborhood cinema then “The Little Hours” presents an ideal opportunity for a 90 minute nap. As comically flat as a glass top table, writer/director Jeff Baena’s would-be comic take on Giovanni Boccaccio’s “The Decameron” is nothing but a snooze from start to finish.

This filmmaker wouldn’t know slapstick from satire. Baena sets a mordant tempo for inert comic set pieces that never come together to form a coherent storyline. Talk about someone in need of binging on Mel Brooks and Sacha Baron Cohen movies for a year or two, Jeff Baena requires some serious immersion in humor because he hasn’t got a single funny bone in his body. There isn't an inch of comic depth to be found. Even scenes that have obvious opportunities for layers of comic suspense and multiple pay-offs get a one-note treatment. It's as if there wasn't a director on the set.

The narrative setup of a bunch of horny bitchy nuns living in a medieval convent might sound like great comic fodder but you come away from “The Little Hours” scratching your head as to why anyone in their right mind thinks Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, or Kate Micucci has any gift for making people laugh.

Of course, if Baena had really wanted to liven up the humor factor of this snooze-fest he could have picked up the phone and called, wait for it, yes, the one and only Amy Sedaris. I can never understand why Amy Sedaris isn't in every comedy made since 1990. Sedaris is the funny sauce to any filmic Hamburger Helper. But I digress. Amy Sedaris, Amy Sedaris, Amy Sedaris! I feel better now. 

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Dave Franco fares little better as Masseto, a servant whose cuckolding services send him on the run and into the clutches of a nunnery where he must pretend to be deaf and dumb if he is to survive dominatrix-inclined nuns such as Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza). Fernanda is into verbal humiliation, knife play, and witch rituals involving male sacrifice. Plaza's twisted character comes across as too sincerely mean to laugh at. Too bad Fernanda forgot to wear a strap-on under her habit; that could have been funny.

This R-rated lame duck doesn’t begin to go far enough in its ostensible bawdiness. For that divine pleasure you’ll have to revisit Pier Paolo Pasolini’s far superior 1971 adaptation (properly entitled “The Decameron”). Talk about bringing "Kool-Aid" to the grown-ups party; there isn't even one comic gross-out bit in the whole movie. Remember "There's Something About Mary"? Now, there was one guffaw-inducing comedy.

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I chuckled once during “The Little Hours” in a cinema occupied by one other person. If only I could have let myself fall asleep like I wanted to.

Rated R. 90 mins. (D-) (Zero stars — out of five / no halves)

August 18, 2016

WAR DOGS

Large_war_dogs_ver2“War Dogs” belongs to the same category of tone-deaf comedy as “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Venomously despicable white thieves are celebrated for their blind lack of ethics and integrity because these characters are oh-so [hilariously] gangsta, except they’re neither amusing nor badass. They’re people for whom no well-deserved ass beating is enough because they’re so smug it makes you want to throw up. You can tell a lot from this film’s tagline, “Money, Corruption and the American Dream.” We already know that those are all the same thing.

But I digress. If you don’t know the 2007 era tale of David Packouz’s and Efraim Diveroli’s adventures in making millions from the U.S. military by selling illegal guns and ammunition, you should read Guy Lawson’s March 16, 2011 piece for Rolling Stone. This film is not an appropriate way to wrap your head around the depth of incompetence and greed at play in U.S. Military’s halls of power and the rogue’s gallery of shysters that feed on America’s endless wars.

Miles Teller plays David Packouz, the posited good-guy of a duo rounded out by Jonah Hill’s lying-and-stealing Efraim Diveroli. While Ellen Page has built her career on playing outsiders, Jonah Hill is carving out his thespian livelihood as an eternal frat boy with a taste for skank and cocaine. Lou Reed said there was a justice in this world. Perhaps.

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This film is inundated with Miles Teller doing such a carbon copy of Johan Hill’s speech patterns that the audience gets tripped up every time the disembodied voice-over narration comes on.

Directed and co-written by Todd Phillips (of “The Hangover” franchise fame) “War Dogs” is political satire lite. It’s a far cry from “Lord of War,” Andrew Niccol’s scathing 2005 satire about an arms dealer played by Nicolas Cage.

Packouz hates George Bush; Diveroli just pretends that he does too. Diveroli habitually mirrors his mark’s beliefs in order to swindle their money away, and oh what a filthy swindler he is. If anything, this is an anti-buddy movie. The narrative follows our dippy protagonist Packouz — he’s a masseur — as his former best friend from Yeshiva high school, returns to Miami to rope him into going into the arms business for a 70/30 split. Money flows but the biz is doomed from the beginning because neither of these guys understands the first thing about [illegal] arms dealing. Not that there is any other type of arms dealing than that of the illegitimate variety.

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Bradley Cooper turns in the laziest performance of his career as arms terrorist Henry Girard. Cooper appears in all of five scenes with a laughably phoned-in performance. Ana de Armas provides the eye-candy as Packouz’s Cuban wife Iz, but even her portrayal feels remarkably thin due to yet another by-committee script. Like Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” this film is tailor-made for Trump supporters. Regardless of how stupid, reckless, wrongheaded, and uninformed they might be, most of those people aren’t making the mistake of selling Chinese ammo to the Pentagon.

The reason for these schmucks getting caught is the only funny piece of a movie that makes you feel dirty for having seen it. Do the right thing. Skip “War Dogs, and see Werner Herzog’s Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World” instead. At least there you can feel equal parts bad and good.

Rated R. 114 mins. (D+) (One star — out of five / no halves)

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July 27, 2016

GHOSTBUSTERS [2016]

GHOSTBUSTERS POSTER

This predictably stagnant Hollywood reboot picks up a little entertaining momentum from its talented four female leads. The movie is worth watching if for no reason other than witnessing Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones turn on their comic charms. It might make you wonder why there aren’t more female-dominated movies coming out of Hollywood.

Co-writer/director Paul Feig’s vague attempts at splitting the difference between the '80s era of Ivan Reitman’s original story, and modern day New York, fail. Promising cameos from Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd tease at what could have added comedic texture to a paranormal adventure movie that goes through the motions when this comedy should obviously go over the top.

Scene-stealing credentials go to Kate McKinnon, whose winking character Jillian Holtzmann’s clear-cut lesbian tendencies provide comic jolts whenever she’s on screen. McKinnon's bold creation is one fun and funny character to watch.

An inspired dose of social satire rolls through the story. A clever reverse sexism subplot finds Chris Hemsworth playing Kevin, a straight man assistant to our lady scientists. Kristen Wiig plays the offending boss molester with masculine glee. Sadly, the filmmakers don’t exploit the set-up’s comic potential enough to make an impact.

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Although the movie fails to connect its obligatory big spectacle sequences with the barely existent arc of its characters, the performances elevate the movie enough to keep you chuckling. It is a kids' movie after all. The Halloween costumes are already in production.

Rated PG-13. 116 mins. (B-) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)

May 28, 2016

PATERSON — CANNES 2016

Paterson
Cannes, France —Jim Jarmusch has grown as a filmmaker over the course of his rich and studied career. “Paterson” is his finest film to date. Everything about it resonates with a distinctly human scale. Every emotional expression carries the weight of patience. If there’s one thing Jim Jarmusch understands, it is poetry. Visual poetry. Filmic poetry. Poetry of thought. Poetry of intention. The list of ways that the auteur explores his subject’s sublime mundane reality, expands.

Adam Driver plays Paterson, a city bus driver from (where else?) Paterson, N.J. Paterson lives with his ingenious pixie of a wife Laura (Golashifteh Farahani). A Luddite sensibility provides the audience with a welcome escape from technology overload. Paterson doesn't even own a cellphone. Laura works solely in black and white, painting on textiles to create curtains, dresses, hats, and whatever strikes her fancy. She dreams of becoming a country singer. Perhaps a "harlequin" guitar by "Estoban" can help her dream come true. 

The compatible couple live in a just-so single lot cottage-style house with her dog Marvin. We know it’s Laura’s dog because Paterson never talks to Marvin; Laura does all of the people/animal communication. Still, Paterson takes Marvin for his nightly walk to a neighborhood bar populated by mostly black patrons. Paterson brings in a newspaper clipping about Iggy Pop being voted sexiest man alive after a gig in Patterson back in the late ‘60s.

Paterson

The joint’s kindly owner/bartender Doc (Barry Shabaka Henley) adds the document to the Paterson Wall of Fame, which he keeps as a shrine over the cash register. It’s a poetic moment in a film gushing with emotional resonance. The ever-evolving filmmaker uses onscreen handwriting graphics to show Paterson’s beautiful poems flow from his hand.

“Paterson” is the kind of movie that you walk out of the cinema a changed person as a result of having seen it. The movie purifies the viewer in a gentle and loving way. It reminds us that we are all poets if we invest a little of our experiences into words. Welcome to Paterson.

Not Rated. 113 mins. (A) (Five Stars — out of five / no halves)

 

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May 01, 2016

KEANU

Keanu-posterKey and Peele (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) have become household names as a result of their hilarious and trenchant brand of comedy exhibited on their Comedy Central television series (“Key and Peele”). Their droll chemistry together is tighter and more magical than anything you’ve seen. Both comedians came from multi-racial families, and their innate connection shows in everything they do.

So it is that “Keanu” delivers laughs and sly social commentary with plenty of room set aside for kitten-cuteness from the title character. “I hear it means cool breeze in Hawaiian.”

You know going in that the movie is a riff on “John Wick,” the Keanu Reeves action film where he goes on a revenge/retrieval mission to get his stolen dog back from a band of ruthless gangsters. All of the bloodshed here is played up for its artificial nature. Characters are shot (apparently to death), only to pop up again later.

Rell (Peele) is a pot-smoking dude whose unseen girlfriend has abandoned. Rell’s soul-crushing heartbreak is quickly relieved when a kitten, formerly owned by a drug lord, shows up at his door. Rell’s best friend Clarence (Key) accurately describes his pal’s feline as the cutest kitten he’s ever seen. Indeed, slow-motion sequences of the freshly christened Keanu running across bodies and grass with equal ease prove the point.

Keanu

At this film’s rollicking heart is a filmic discussion of code-switching, a topic that Key and Peele have addressed from various angles on their series. For the uninitiated, the practice of code-switching relates to “switching back and forth between two dialects or languages.” In this case the switching occurs between black slang and white-speak. You could call it “flipping” in the context of this film’s violence-prone action sequences that sometimes call for characters to run up walls and flip over backwards to land on their feet. At one point Rell accuses Clarence of sounding like Richard Pryor mocking white people. Clarence replies that Rell sounds like John Ritter. Funny stuff. Screenwriters Alex Rubens and Jordan Peele don’t hold back. N-bombs fall like hale on a clear day. In order to survive Rell and Clarence have to prove their street cred, and talking the talk is essential to their cause.

“Keanu” doesn’t approach high cinematic art, but it is an enjoyable and entertaining movie that features a slew of fun performances from the likes of Tiffany Haddish, Method Man, Darrell Britt-Gibson, and Will Forte. Naturally, the kitten steals the movie. All is as it should be.

Rated R. 98 mins. (B) (Three Stars — out of five / no halves)

March 13, 2016

The Brothers Grimsby

BROTHERS GRIMSBYSacha Baron Cohen has set a high bar of comic expectations for his loyal audience. “Borat” is probably the funniest film of the 21st century. Ali G is one of the greatest pop culture creations of social satire to come along. Cohen’s “Dictator” was a significant piece of political satire. But where Sacha Baron Cohen excels as poker-faced satirical personalities engaging the unwitting targets of his humor before the camera, the comic mastermind stammers when it comes to doing straight comedy.

“The Brothers Grimsby” is a lazy spy action-comedy that feels like the Farrelly Brothers made it. Gross-out taboo humor arrives in rare guffaw-inducing spasms during extreme set pieces involving the interior of an elephant’s vaginal canal, and one having to do with a poison dart that strikes a brother in his testicle. Incest, crack addiction, and HIV-AIDS are some of the low-hanging fruit that Cohen pulps with every comic approach he can muster. You can’t help but think that Sacha Baron Cohen should be doing more sophisticated jokes. He’s better than this.

Cohen plays Nobby Butcher, a soccer-loving native of the port village of Grimsby. The Noel Gallagher wig that Cohen wears gives his working class character an appropriately whimsical appearance of impoverished style sense.

The pot-bellied Nobby has been prolific in the baby-making department. He and his wife Julie (Rebel Wilson) have nearly a dozen children. Still, Nobby keeps his long-lost brother Sebastian’s room in the family home reserved for the day he returns. Now, 28-years since the brothers last saw one another Nobby reunites with Sebastian (played gamely by Mark Strong), who has become a secret MI6 agent. Considering that Sebastian looks like a well-heeled skinhead, and Nobby looks like a soccer lout, the brothers share an idealogical corollary.

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The film’s spy plotline is merely a MacGuffin-fuelled enabler for slapstick comedy bits that arrive at infrequent intervals. That said, the film’s large-scale rib-tickling climax, set inside a soccer stadium where South Africa and Chile face off, is as silly as anything imaginable.  

When the second meepy flashback of Nobby and Sebastian when they were boys arrives, you know this movie isn’t going to live up to Cohen’s self-imposed hype. Louis Leterrier (“The Transporter”) is not a good fit for a Sacha Baron Cohen. It’s doubtful that Cohen’s regular director Larry Charles could have done much better, but I suspect the results would have been funnier. Nonetheless, mediocre is not good enough for a talent like Sacha Baron Cohen. We’ve come to expect more. It’s time for Cohen to create a new character.    

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Rated R. 82 mins. (C+) (Two Stars — out of five / no halves)

February 18, 2016

Zoolander 2

Zoolander-2Everybody knows sequels suck. But if you’re the father of an 11-year-old son, there is no way you’re getting out of seeing this PG-13 movie. Sadly, “Zoolander 2” is an example of what has become a Hollywood bread-and-butter picture. No matter how reliably awful they are, sequels turn a profit.

The problem is that “Zoolander 2” sucks so much worse than your average mediocre sequel that you don’t even feel like you’ve seen a movie. Inert, hollow, and void of all but the thinnest plotline, “Zoolander 2” is similar to drinking dirty dish water with grenadine and a few cherries tossed in to make it look colorful if nothing else; indeed, there is nothing else. It might look almost drinkable, but the taste will make you spit it out.

The comedy (or posing, in this case) provokes intermittent chuckles that wane as the unmotivated cartoon characters pose in whatever goofy setting that was available on the day of shooting. A blink-and-you-miss-it sight gag involving Derek Zoolander’s boner is as good as the humor gets — brief and small.

A silly espionage plot involving the Prime Minister of Malaysia drove the first Zoolander installment 15 years before this travesty was made. This time around, reuniting with his long lost (and overweight) son Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold) is the primary motivation, if you don’t count an obtuse subplot about Mugatu (played in a few scenes by Will Ferrell). Mugatu believes he has discovered the secret to eternal youth, but the film’s convention of screenwriters can’t be bothered to see beyond the glitter in their navels.

A whiff of a subplot (featuring cameos by Tommy Hilfiger, Marc Jacobs, and Anna Wintour) comes across so comically flat that it's an embarrassment to the fashion industry. 

Since neither actor seems capable of getting a laugh, it’s probably time for Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson to retire or at least take a lengthy break from making movies. At this point neither actor seems able to make a decent movie. I don’t know how much worse they could do than “Zoolander 2,” but I don’t want to find out.

Rated PG-13. 100 mins. (D-) (Zero Stars - out of five / no halves)

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