JT Film Review

A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982)

A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy Review
Review #147

3.5/5 stars

Director – Woody Allen

Cast – Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Jose Ferrer, Julia Hagerty, Tony Roberts, Mary Steenburgen, Adam Redfield

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Beside his unique look on life, Woody Allen is known for being both prolific and inconsistent. It seems that for every Annie Hall or Match Point there is a Whatever Works.

A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy lies somewhere in between those examples. It is not a Great Film to be sure, but not every movie has to be. Here we have a breezy, light, slightly fantastical take on romance, all done in Allen’s unmistakable style.

The story concerns a group of friends, three couples, who rent a house out in “the country” to spend a small vacation together. Of course each person finds themself desiring a member of another couple, and hijinks ensue. People climb out of windows, meet in wooded glades, and deal with the inevitable confusions and mixups that it all entails. It is all very laid back, but has a dry wit and enough imagination to keep it flowing nice and smoothly.

Allen also adds some strangely fantastical elements. A subplot which becomes a bit more relevant towards the end of the movie concerns spirits, and Allen’s inventor character even has a bicycle powered flying machine. Does it all quite fit? No, but we don’t care. Ferrer is funny in a strangely funny and sympathetic “old leche” role, and the cinematography is lush and vibrant. Woody Allen doesn’t normally do movies in natural settings, and purposefully wanted to try something different here, despite his self-professed hatred of anywhere outside of a city.

All in all, the movie is best described by its title. It is as relaxed, warm, and modest in ambition as a lazy, hot summer late-afternoon. It aspires to nothing more, and while it may not achieve too much, it is comforting and pleasant. I wish there were more movies like this.

OVERALL

Don’t expect a huge amount from A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, but it is a sweet 90 minutes. Woody Allen has made better, to be sure, but he has also made much worse. This may not be a ringing endorsement, but is in no way an insult. Pleasant is the best word for this movie, just pleasant.

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March 25, 2012 Posted by | 3.5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Comedy, Year - 1980-1989 | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

136 – In the Loop (2009)

In the Loop REVIEW

4.5/5 stars

Director – Armando Iannucci

Cast – Tom Hollander, James Gandolfini, Mimi Kennedy, Chris Addison, Peter Capaldi, Gina McKee, Steve Coogan, David Rasche

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In the Loop is a pitch black political satire, partially based on the TV show The Thick of It (and starring most of the same actors, playing the same or similar characters). There is not a particular lead character, as it is more of an ensemble nature, but the plot follows Minister for International Development Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) as he blusters his way through the political mire of British-US relations. A comment about war with Iraq being “unforeseeable” starts a chain reaction of events, involving the discovery of an American secret war committee, the destruction/alteration of a paper advising against war, and all sorts of political shenanigans. And swearing. Lots and lots of very creative swearing.

There could not be a bleaker view of politics, this ain’t The West Wing. There are only two people in this movie who are in politics to make positive change, and one of them (Simon) is a bumbling near-incompetent. Neither one achieve their goals; I think that is a main theme of the movie. You can’t win, and you don’t want to end up “in the loop.” The less you know, the less you will get caught up in it all.

The characters in the movie are rich, despite the proportionally small screen time they get. James Gandolfini, probably the best known actor to American audiences, shows up half way through as an American general, and is very funny. Everyone here is, really. In the Loop gives us shocking things to laugh at, and we do end up laughing. This is the kind of movie optimists call pessimistic, and everyone else calls realist.

I plan on re-watching this soon, and I think it will hold up to many repeat viewings. It also makes me want to look up the TV series to which this is a spiritual sequel, The Thick of It. There have been many comparisons between that and the 80’s series Yes, Minister, of  which I am a big fan. Bring it on!

OVERALL

In the Loop is fast-moving, smart, and devastatingly funny. This isn’t a movie for everyone, but anyone who likes dark humour and their politics in satire form will love this. This is a political satire Ricky Gervais would make. (That should tell you right away whether you’d be able to tune in to this movies sense of humour.)

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January 9, 2012 Posted by | 4.5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Comedy, Year - 2000-2009 | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

127 – 50/50 (2011)

50/50 Review

4/5 stars

Director – Jonathan Levine

Cast – Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Gordon, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Angelica Huston, Serge Houde

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A cancer comedy? ……..really? Well, kinda, yes.

50/50 follows Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, Adam, as he deals with the fact he has cancer. His friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) is his main support, but he looks also to his girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard) and his young therapist Katie (played admirably by Anna Hendricks). His mother (Angelica Huston) tries to help, but Adam finds her unhelpful, and his father has an advanced form of Alzheimers, and doesn’t remember who Adam is.

His girlfriend cheats on him… that would be a hard pill to take under any circumstances. Kyle witness it and provides proof to Adam while Rachel is in the room, in a hilarious scene that is one of the movie’s best.

As I think about that scene, it seems to me that the comedy in the movie seems mainly to stem from Rogen’s character. He definitely is funny here, but to give him all the credit for this films comedy would be to undervalue the naturalist comedy we get from Godron-Levitt and Hendricks. In other words, Rogen may get he dick-jokes, but the richness in personality and humanity come from the interaction between Adam and Katie. You come for Rogen, stay for the “romance”.

An interesting point is that the character of Adam is a very reactive one. He is someone whom things happen to, and the movie mainly deals with how he deals with the difficult events he encounters. At first this bugged me, I must admit. I wanted Adam to go out and initiate some plot points, to start some stuff himself. Then I realized that this is the strength of the movie; as this is the very nature of cancer it only makes sense to have the character reactionary. When it comes to cancer, there is not much one can do… just go with it and hope.

50/50 is really a “dramedy” I suppose, mixing Seth Rogen style yucks with some fairly serious drama. Cancer is a serious matter of course, and some people may have been turned off by the identification of this as a “cancer comedy”. One can’t really blame them. They needn’t worry here, though, as cancer is treated with respect, but its own type of respect. The way this movie treats cancer is the same way these guys do… they avoid talking about it, and if they do they laugh about it. It is its own way of dealing with things, but not a less valid one.

OVERALL

50/50 is a dramedy that deals well with potentially problematic subject matters. Rogen is funny, Gordon-Levitt is grounded, and Hendricks is awesome. I would recommend this to almost everyone, as long as they can take a bit of Rogen-style comedy.

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November 12, 2011 Posted by | 4 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Comedy, Year - 2010-2019 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

125 – The War of the Roses (1989)

The War of the Roses

 4.5/5 stars

Director – Danny DeVito

Cast – Michael Douglas, Katherine Turner, Danny DeVito, Dan Castalenetta

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There hasn’t been a darker comedy made about marriage than 1989’s The War of the Roses. It is deliciously evil in its view of love; it would make an awful date-movie (or, to a discerning couple, perhaps a great one). This is essentially the anti-When Harry Met Sally.

Danny DeVito’s brilliantly twisted movie follows the Roses, a married couple whose relationship, for one reason or another, falls apart in dramatic and spectacular fashion. Turner’s character finds herself bored with her status as housewife to a rich business man, while Douglas feels shackled by a wife who doesn’t understand the financial game. When she admits to feeling relieved when he goes to the hospital after suffering a serious heart attack, the tension comes to a head. She files divorce papers, but he digs up an obscure law with the help of his lawyer friend (DeVito), that says he may stay in the house if he wants. They divide the house in half, and start to make each others life hell. It is here that the movie really takes off.

The back and forth between the two slowly builds up, until they are doing absolutely awful things to each other; she locks him in the sauna, so he urinates in a soup she is serving to distinguished friends… he (accidentally) runs over her cat, so she crushes his small foreign car with her truck… and so on and so on. It is a testament to the gradual crescendo brought about by careful direction that we don’t question the increasingly absurd lengths the couple goes through.

The movie is told through the eyes of Danny DeVito’s lawyer character, who tells this story to a client (a silent role played by Dan Castalenetta) who is contemplating divorce. This framing device helps greatly with the tone of the story. If we were shown the “war” after getting to know the Roses we might feel more attached to them. Having the story recited keeps the whole affair at a comfortable arms length. If we were too close to them we would cry, not laugh. Not that there are a huge amount of laughs here, the humour is too dry for that. Like the best of British comedy, it’s really too good laugh at.

OVERALL

The War of the Roses is a darkly comic movie, well acted and directed. It may come across as bitter toward the concept of marriage, but it really is against couples who don’t fight to keep their marriage, and instead fight to get the better deal after the relationship. It does this in an endearingly twisted way.

Douglas and Turner’s third outing together (after the Romancing the Stone movies) is a great way to end their on-screen pairing. I definitely recommend this to anyone who can enjoy a bit of dark comedy.

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August 24, 2011 Posted by | 4.5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Comedy, Year - 1980-1989 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

124 – Spaceballs (1987)

Spaceballs REVIEW

2/5 stars

Director – Mel Brooks

Cast – Mel Brooks, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Bill Pullman, Daphne Zuniga

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I had always heard of Spaceballs as one of those movies that, while not exactly critically well received, had a great cult fan base. With quotable lines, the trademark Mel Brooks sense of humour, and a shameless willingness to parody, lampoon, and generally mock the great science fiction epics, it is supposedly tailor-made for a nerds love.

Now, I consider myself a nerd. I have seen most, if not all, of the movies referenced in this movie. I like many of Mel Brooks movies. I love Blazing Saddles, and even the musical version of The Producers. Having said all that, I have to say Spaceballs is one of the most distressingly unfunny movies I have ever seen. It has a couple funny bits, I suppose, but nothing on par with the absurdist “Telegram for Mongo!”, or the satire of “Springtime for Hitler”. Heck, it doesn’t even have anything on par with the Blazing Saddles farting scene…

This movie mainly relies on what I call the “Sound-alike Joke”. An example of this dreaded beast is when we see an oozing mass of melted cheese and pepperoni slide into frame and announce himself as “Pizza the Hutt”… or when Lord Dark Helmet says he is a Master of The Schwartz. I suppose we are meant to laugh because Pizza the Hutt sounds like Jabba the Hutt, and The Schwartz like The Force… well, it’s supposed to be funny.

I did find a couple of scenes mildly funny I guess… John Hurt’s chest-burster scene was nice, and there was a fairly well done scene where the bad guys located the good guys by bringing out their own VHS copy of Spaceballs and fast forwarding it to the correct part; and anytime spent riffing on Princess Vespa’s (Leia’s) hair is well spent.

John Candy and Rick Moranis appear, apparently because it’s the 90’s and, well, future archeologists have to be able to date it somehow. Bill Pullman (Paxton? Something like that…) is there as well. Joan Rivers does the voice of Dot Matrix (C-3P0), and this is a blessing; mainly because if you didn’t see her in the credits you might not think of sullying her reputation with this.

Mel Brooks, where have ye gone!? Oh, there you are; walking out on your knees in green face paint and floppy ears, proclaiming yourself to be the great and wise Yogurt…

OVERALL

 To put it bluntly I found Spaceballs to be lazy, reliant almost entirely on tired jokes, and it just felt bland and dry. Brooks seems to have lost his energy, his impeccable timing, and apparently his sense of humour. Well, at least we still have The Producers!

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July 28, 2011 Posted by | 2 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Comedy, Year - 1980-1989 | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

84 – Date Night (2010)

Date Night REVIEW

3/5 stars

Director – Shawn Levy

Cast – Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Whalberg, Taraji P. Henson, William Fitchner, Mark Ruffalo, Mila Kunis, James Franco, Common

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Date  Night is a hit-and-miss little comedy from the director of Cheaper by the Dozen, The Pink Panther (2006), and Night at the Museum. With credits such as these, I guess you can’t hope for too much, but I was reasonably optimistic as I went in. Steve Carell is a remarkable talent (probably the premier comedian of our era), and Tina Fey has certainly proven herself through her TV projects.

Overall the movie is no more or less than what you would expect. The setup is neat and well-played, with some quite humorous touches and surprisingly deft sequences. Then the plot is introduced, and our heroes must fight their way through numerous over-the-top predicaments. With lesser actors this probably would have become a drab and utterly excruciating affair, and to be honest the material they started off with isn’t all that great. However their absolutely wonderful chemistry and amazing improvisational skills really lift this movie out of its crappy roots and into fairly watchable territory. When these two were riffing on each other or doing awkward dirty-dancing routines the movie hums along wonderfully.

The movie unfortunately falters when it awkwardly tries to mix its humor with the romantic problems of the main characters. This element of the movie is long and overdone, rearing its ugly head once too often and staying for too long when it arrives. Once, in the middle of a (fairly) tense chase sequence, they literally pull the car over and talk about the failure of the love life. It felt like a ten minute sequence, in which there was not one joke, not one witticism, or even one sentence that hadn’t been said three times already. This happens a couple of times too many throughout, unfortunately holding the movie back.

This being said, the performances in Date Night are all decent at the very least, with Carell and Fey absolutely lighting up the screen. I don’t mind saying that I laughed myself hoarse more than a couple of times. Stay after the movie for some of those (usually lame) “blooper reel” gags too, they just prove how good Fey and Carell are. I can’t wait for them both to get some really quality material in the future. Carell has had a couple good ones so far, lets hope Tina Fey gets a chance to prove herself on the big screen in a movie worthy of her considerable talent.

OVERALL

Date Night proves that great acting can elevate a lame script and half-assed direction into a fairly likable movie. You should perhaps not go in expecting a Great Movie, and maybe get up to use the bathroom during the “romantic” scenes too, but when Date Night wants you to laugh, you will, and you will laugh hard. Despite the huge flaws in the movie, I found myself quite enjoying myself. Recomended, only barely, but still recomended.

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“Date Night” on other websites:

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April 11, 2010 Posted by | 3 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Comedy, Year - 2010-2019 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

81 – Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

Hot Tub Time Machine REVIEW

2.5/5 stars

Director – Steve Pink

Cast – John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, Chevy Chase, Clark Duke, Crispin Glover, Lindsy Fonseca, Lizzy Caplan

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The latest man-child comedy to hit us is Hot Tub Time Machine, featuring John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, and Clark Duke. The story is exactly that of the title: a hot tub transports three friends and one of their nephews back in time to the 80’s, where they relive one night of their childhoods. Guest stars include Chevy Chase and Crispin Glover.

The movie is a remarkably tired and lackluster affair. For what is supposed to be a Hangover type comedy, there is largely no energy in the movie whatsoever, with none of the actors doing much to help, except possibly Craig Robinson and Rob Corddry. Jokes are few and far between, and instead the plot concerns itself with dull and repetitious “dramatic moments” full of the awful, pop-psychology meandering that would make Oprah Winfrey blush. The movie tries to hold interest, I will give it that, but in the end fails.

There are a couple funny jokes, to be sure, with Craig Robinson being the main source of what little fun there is in the movie. The other actors try to hard to create a sense of empathy toward their characters that they forget to be funny. A plain stupid cameo role by Chevy Chase just digs the movie down further in the hole it creates for itself. A couple attempts at running gags are made, (one which concerns a one-armed man almost makes it) but they invariably fall flat. With a better script and director, this movie could have been great . As it is… not so much.

OVERALL

It’s such a pity that Hot Tub Time Machine fails to live up to the potential of its plot and preposterously great title. John Cusack, who normally picks decent material, was hopelessly misguided when he decided to act in (as well as produce) this movie. Dying is hard, but comedy is harder, as George Bernard Shaw (?) once said. It is so rare to have a good comedy come out. Those looking for the next The Hangover will be disappointed here.

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April 5, 2010 Posted by | 2.5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Comedy, Year - 2010-2019 | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

74 – Youth in Revolt (2009)

Youth in Revolt REVIEW

3/5 stars

Director – Miquel Arteta

Cast – Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Jean Smart, Steve Buscemi, Ray Liotta, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Long, Adhir Kalyan

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Michael Cera continues his run of awkward teen roles with Youth in Revolt, a comedy based on the 1993 book of the same name by C. D. Payne. The book, by all accounts, has quite a cult following. The movie may get a cult following of its own I think, as it certainly has its own unique brand of charm. Michael Cera is his usual self, but the rest of the cast performs well.

The movie has a great opening and a good last half, but the middle is uneven and stunted. There are moments where it seemed that they were trying hard to earn its R rating (although here in Canada it is just a PG 14.). There would be some hard swearing that would really throw us out of the relatively light hearted tone of the movie. It threw me a couple times, as if it seemed out of place.

This charming tone is helped by a few animated segments, done in a “claymation”/Robot Chicken style. These sequences are mainly when the main character is traveling, etc. The little figures don’t look exactly look like Cera and Co., but they have are absolutely irresistible.

With all the comedic talent in this movie (Michael Cera, Zach Galifianakis, Steve Buscemi, etc.), the standout performance to me was by an unknown, Adhir Kalyan. His mastery of accents and subdues comic timing is impeccable. He switches with ease from what I think is his native British accent to an Indian accent with lightning speed and wonderful clarity. I personally hope to see this guy get more roles.

OVERALL

While Youth in Revolt has some great stars and a story rich in potential, it just doesn’t quite come together as well as it should. It is draggy, and seemingly without focus, even though the story is quite simple. With some things that should have been played for laughs and aren’t, it is very hit and miss.

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January 26, 2010 Posted by | 3 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Comedy, Year - 2000-2009 | , , , , | Leave a comment

53 – Zombieland (2009)

Zombieland REVIEW

3/5 stars

Director – Ruben Fleischer

Cast – Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Bill Murray

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zombieland-greyedposter-medsizeZombieland is being described as America’s answer to Shaun of the Dead, and it certainly has some similarities to the (better) British zom-com (to coin a phrase.) The movie abounds with gore and violent light hearted decapitations. However due to the extremity of said violence and gore I think it has more in common with the stylings of Hot Fuzz, the other movie made by the Shaun of the Dead team.

Woody Harrelson is the main attraction here, although Jesse Eisenberg is technically the main character. Eisenberg does very well, and his character is well written, but nonetheless gets overshadowed somewhat by Woody and his antics.

The main problem with the movie is the random sacharine moments inserted mainly in the second act. The voiceover by Eisenberg (which is quite funny at times) gets bogged down in navel gazing moments; all essentially variations of the classic line “I then realized that what I wanted was in front of me the whole time.” or such B.S. However when there are funny moments, they are extremely funny. It’s just that in the second act those moments are few and far between.

This movie gets through on guts alone really. No matter what happens we are just pushed through on sheer ballsyness. Woody Harrleson just pushes through with comedic violence and Eisenberg does his nerdly opptomistic observer schtick. We are never presented with anything new when it comes to the humour, but what there is is done stylishly and with great energy.

OVERALL

I’d recommend this movie if you need a night out with a few laughs and a movie that doesn’t challenge you much. It is a fairly fun ride, but in the end is pretty forgettable afterwards. And most of the surprise cameo that everyone is gabbing about really doesnt work. The end of it is funny, but the rest of it is just prolonged “Oh look a guest star playing himself!” stuff that would make The Simpsons blush.

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October 4, 2009 Posted by | 3 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Comedy, Year - 2000-2009 | , , , , | Leave a comment

49 – A Christmas Story (1983)

A Christmas Story REVIEW

5/5 stars

Director – Bob Clark

Cast – Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Peter Billingsley, Ian Petrella, Scott Schwartz

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A Christmas StoryI’d always heard of A Christmas Story. My fiance grew up with movie, as did many others, and has been nagging me to watch it for ages. I gave in today, and I couldn’t be gladder that I did. This movie is touching and frikin hilarious; but most of all its so true! I think most people watching this movie will see some close to home moments here (played as humour of course). The voiceover by actor Darren McGiver (playing the older main character) is calming and reassuring, and again, hilarious. He portrays perfectly the sense of weight and importance which every kid sees his world.

The cast is all around great; Peter Billingsley as the lead, (Ralph Parker) is exceptionally good. Ralph is a young boy whose only wish for Christmas is a BB gun. He tries hinting every way he can think of to get his wish across to his parents. Will he get the gift of his dreams? Gee, I don’t know. You’ll just have to watch this absolute gem of a movie to find out.

The themes touched on in this movie are dead on, and as I said, will bring back memories of childhood to most viewers. We see bullying in the character of uber bully Scut Farkus; there is a great scene where Ralph beats up the bully and then fears punishment from his father; and another classic scene where Ralph meets Santa; and a scene where Ralph discovers the true meaning of Chritmas: Advertising Dollars. It is billed as  a “family movie” to be sure (because, I suspect, it is about a family and they didn’t know how else to market it), but this is truly a movie to be seen as an adult, looking back on your younger days. A Christmas Story is set around 1940, yes, but it is about everybody’s Christmas. The years may change, but some things don’t. This movie is timeless.

Though  for a movie billed as a family film, there sure is alot of swearing…

OVERALL

This movie is a timeless classic. Its crazy energy, touching humour, and nostalga make it irresistable. There is alot of swearing in it, so I personally wouldn’t let anyone too young watch it. But otherwise, this is a movie not to be missed.

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“A Christmas Story” on other websites:

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September 27, 2009 Posted by | 5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Comedy, Year - 1980-1989 | , , , , | 2 Comments