The Comedian (2017)


Robert De Niro kills it in an entirely different context.

(2017) Dramedy (Sony Classics) Robert De Niro, Leslie Mann, Harvey Keitel, Edie Falco, Danny DeVito, Patti LuPone, Charles Grodin, Cloris Leachman, Lucy DeVito, Billy Crystal, Veronica Ferres, Lois Smith, Jessica Kirson, Jim Norton, Jimmie Walker, Brett Butler, Gilbert Gottfried, Hannibal Buress, Bill Boggs, Nick Di Paolo, Freddie Roman, Greer Barnes, Sheng Wang, Aida Rodriguez  Directed by Taylor Hackford

 

The life of a stand-up comic is nothing like you might think it is. Glamour is rare for one of those worthies; while someone like a Kevin Hart might work arenas and stay in first class hotels for the most part when stand-ups tour at all they play small clubs and stay in fairly cheap hotels or worse. Sometimes they get a sitcom and things get better but what happens when the sitcom is canceled?

Jackie Burke (De Niro) is living that particular dream. Once on top of the world in the successful sitcom Eddie’s Home back in the 80s, he is back to doing club gigs in his native New York and mostly what audiences want to hear are his signature Eddie catch phrases. At this point Jackie wants to distance himself from Eddie as much as possible but when hecklers push him into a corner and it turns out those same hecklers are trying to goad him deliberately for a vlog, Jackie loses it and ends up getting charged with assault and battery.

Jackie does 30 days jail time and then is given community service at a soup kitchen. The video of his blow up has itself blown up so his long-suffering agent (Falco) can’t get him a bar mitzvah let alone a paying gig. Still, things are looking up – he meets a young woman named Harmony (Mann) who is a co-worker at the soup kitchen. The two hit it off as friends and he takes her to a comedy show where he is asked to go on stage when a comedian cancels at the last minute; his set is one of the best of his career and that starts going viral. Suddenly, things are looking up.

Being Jackie Burke however means that if things are looking up, he must find a way to sabotage himself. It doesn’t help that Harmony has a father (Keitel) who wants her to come back to Florida and work at one of the homes for the elderly that he owns; dad is a bit of a jerk to put it mildly and, well, you can guess the rest.

In fact, that’s a big problem here; you can guess the rest and often do. De Niro remains one of the great actors of his generation and I don’t think he’s ever disgraced himself in a single performance; he is solid enough here and is convincing as a stand-up performer with an anger issue. He is almost always the best part of any movie he’s in and that’s surely the case here.

Mann is herself a capable actress whose appearance in her husband Judd Apatow’s films have been stepping stones to better and more noticeable roles. Some of her dramatic range is hinted at here and I sure wouldn’t mind if we saw her in a wider variety of roles than we’ve heretofore seen her in. Considering the age difference portrayed on screen, the romance feels a bit awkward and at times unbelievable but Mann’s a pro and you can see that there is some chemistry between her and De Niro. She performs more than capably in a movie where she deserved a little better; count me as a fan.

The relationship between colleagues in the stand-up community is very much love-hate. They are competitors often for the same jobs, but at the same time they have the bonds of going into the trenches together, the shared experiences of deprivation, disrespect and dysfunction. They can all relate to one another and there’s often mutual respect but they also heckle each other mercilessly backstage. The movie captures this bond (with a number of working stand-ups playing themselves) beautifully.

The movie falls apart at the end. I won’t go into details but all the good will the movie manages to build up through the first hour plus is wasted with an ending that is equal parts ludicrous and demeaning to the audience. When the lights came up I saw more than one gape-jawed expression on an audience member’s face and I’m sure my own expression wasn’t too dissimilar. Sadly, Hackford and company ignored one of the first rules of comedy; never ever squash your own punchline.

REASONS TO GO: A really terrific cast that for once isn’t wasted drives the film. The depiction of the lives of stand-ups is convincing.
REASONS TO STAY: Some of the scenes feel a little bit awkward and overly familiar. The ending is preposterous.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of profanity including some fairly crude sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: De Niro received stand-up comedy training from Jessica Kirson, whose signature move – talking to herself sotto voce – is one he adapted for the movie.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/19/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 25% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Punchline
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: I Am Not Your Negro

The Secret Life of Pets


Just one big happy family.

Just one big happy family.

(2016) Animated Feature (Universal/Illumination) Starring the voices of Louis C.K., Kevin Hart, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Ellie Kemper, Albert Brooks, Lake Bell, Dana Carvey, Hannibal Buress, Bobby Moynihan, Chris Renaud, Steve Coogan, Michael Beattie, Sandra Echeverria, Jaime Camel, Kiely Renaud, Jim Cummings, Laraine Newman, Tara Strong. Directed by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney

 

We all lead busy lives. We spend most of our waking hours at work or school, hanging out with friends, being everywhere but at home. Those of us who own pets know that one of the best things about leaving the house is coming back home to our beloved fur babies (and scale babies and feather babies). Dogs, with their over-the-top “I thought I was never going to see you again” greetings, cats with their indifference – it doesn’t matter. We are always happy to see our pets. But have you ever wondered what your pets are up to while you’re out earning a living?

Wonder no more. The filmmakers behind the Despicable Me franchise have figured it out for you. Max (C.K.) is a pampered terrier living in a New York apartment with his sweet owner Katie (Kemper) to whom he is absolutely devoted as only a dog can be. Elsewhere in the apartment complex are a menagerie of pets – a fluffy Pomeranian named Gidget (Slate) who has a major crush on Max, the good-hearted but not-bright bulldog Mel (Moynihan), the punk poodle Buddy (Buress), Chloe (Bell), a cat with the kind of appetite that would put a competitive eater to shame and Norman (C. Renaud), a guinea pig lost in the air ducts for two weeks.

Max’s world is turned upside down though when Katie brings home Duke (Stonestreet), a shaggy bear of a dog who is a rescue pet. She introduces him as his new brother, but Max isn’t so sure. The ginormous Duke quickly takes over all of Max’s creature comforts from his plush doggie bed to his bowl of kibble. For his part, Duke sees Max as a rival for Katie’s affection who needs to be put in his place. The two begin to conspire against each other, which leads to the two of them after a somewhat unlikely series of events being stranded outside of the apartment.

Chased by animal control and a group of pets who had been abandoned or flushed out into the sewers, led by a manic bunny named Snowball (Hart) who has a thing against pampered pets, the two flee through the streets of Brooklyn, trying to find their way back home to Katie. Forced to work together, they develop a grudging respect for one another. However, Gidget isn’t letting Max down; she organizes the rest of the pets into a rescue team. Aided by Tiberius (Brooks), a hawk who is trying to keep his appetite under control, and Pops (Carvey), a partially paralyzed beagle who has “connections,” will they find their friends before one of the two groups chasing them do, or will Max and Duke make it home on their own? Or will everyone fail, leaving the two “brothers” at the mercy of animal control or the homicidal bunny?

I was a little bit disappointed by the movie. The animation is top notch and is definitely a love letter to New York, which is rendered with charming detail. It’s the idealized New York of Gershwin and dozens of sitcoms since, and it works as a believable environment for the characters. The cast of some of the best comedians working in the business today deliver their lines with snap and patter and there are plenty of moments that are laugh-out-loud funny for both parents and their kids.

The problems are however that you feel that you’re watching a bunch of other movies. There are a ton of references to other films, stylistically, subtly, sometimes in your face and through little Easter Eggs. It’s the kind of pop culture deluge that made some of the later Shrek films kind of a slog. While I liked the concept just fine, the execution was where it fell down. The middle third – which commences once Max and Duke leave the apartment – goes at a bit of a crawl. Yes, the animation is wonderful but I found it a bit of a bore to be brutally honest.

In a summer where it seems family movies are king, The Secret Life of Pets has been a blockbuster and a sequel has already been greenlit. I don’t know that I liked this as much as some of the other animated features I’ve seen this year – to be honest few of them have really been better than average – but there is enough to satisfy the target audience nicely and not be too difficult for a parent to sit through multiple times. I certainly have no difficulty imagining that this will be a regular request for kids once it hits the home video market. Still, I would have liked it to be a bit less pop culture-oriented and a bit more timeless, like some of the films it paid homage to. The Secret Life of Pets had all the ingredients it needed to be a classic and at the end of the day, it’s just a decent kid-flick. That’s not nearly good enough given what it could have been.

REASONS TO GO: There are some really funny sequences here. The animation is superb.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie drags quite a bit over the middle third. It’s a little too derivative for its own good.
FAMILY VALUES:  A little bit of rude humor and cartoon action.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  This is the first film to gross over $100 million in it’s opening weekend that isn’t a sequel or based on previously released material.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/7/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 75% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Toy Story
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Equals

The Angry Birds Movie


Flipping the bird.

Flipping the bird.

(2016) Animated Feature (Columbia) Starring the voices of Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, Peter Dinklage, Sean Penn, Keegan-Michael Key, Kate McKinnon, Tony Hale, Hannibal Buress, Ike Barinholtz, Tituss Burgess, Ian Hecox, Anthony Padilla, Billy Eichner, Danielle Brooks, Blake Shelton, Jillian Bell, Charli XCX. Directed by Fergal Reilly and Clay Kaytis

 

When does a movie become a marketing tool? In the case of The Angry Birds Movie, right now. It’s based on the stupid popular Rovio Games smartphone app Angry Birds which has spawned a crapload of sequel games, a cartoon series and enough merchandise to fill in the Grand Canyon.

Bird Island is a kind of idyllic place where hugs are for sale (but the first one is always free). The birds here all have special abilities but for Red (Sudeikis) that ability seems to be losing his temper. Orphaned before he hatched, he simply grew up with a chip on his shoulder…err, wing. Working as a clown for kid’s parties was probably the wrong career choice for him. After encountering a client who irritated him, he gets into trouble with the law.

Once he gets into court, the Judge (Key) sentences him to anger management classes. The classes are conducted by Matilda (Rudolph) who has her hands full with Red’s classmates. Chuck (Gad) is a mile-a-minute talker who is the Angry Bird counterpart to Speedy Gonzalez. He doesn’t do well with authority figures and has a bit of an attitude problem. Bomb (McBride) is a bit nicer but he has a habit of exploding (literally) whenever he gets angry. Finally there’s Terence (Penn) who’s huge and intimidating (and looks like he could be Red’s father) but only communicates in a series of grunts and snorts.

Into this idyllic paradise comes a huge ship that crashes right into Red’s house (typical). It is manned by a bunch of green pigs, led by King Leonard (Hader) who sounds like a Southern football coach but is all ham. He is bringing all sorts of entertainment and fun for the island, in return his people get to enjoy the benefits of visiting as tourists. The leadership of Bird Island is all for it but Red is much more suspicious. He can’t believe that these guys can’t be up to no good. And he’s right.

They’re after the eggs of the Birds – the unborn children. And when they take the eggs back to their own island with the intention of eating them, it means war. But who will lead the birds in their hour of need? Need you even ask?

The animation is a little more sophisticated than what you get in the game, but lovers of the game will appreciate that lots of the game play elements can be found in the movie, some of which are disguised in sneaky ways. Even casual players will get a kick out of it and I’ll admit that these little insides work well overall in the movie.

Now full disclosure – I saw this movie in France and in French and so I can’t comment on the voice performances of the American version. I can say that the movie was a lot funnier than I expected – quite frankly my expectations were pretty low, but there are some sequences that are pretty Loony Tune-ish to the max. There is no higher compliment can I think of for an animated feature than that, by the way.

On the flip side, the plot is essentially an explanation as to why the birds are so angry and quite frankly, it’s a bit weak. Parents may also want to consider that this is a movie that promotes violence as a solution which may not necessarily be a lesson they want to pass on to their kids. Then again, the old Looney Tunes did the same thing and it didn’t do my generation any harm…what, almost 15 years of unceasing war? Never mind.

REASONS TO GO: Incorporates elements of the game in clever ways. A lot funnier than I thought it was going to be.
REASONS TO STAY: Kind of a weak plot. Mean-spirited.
FAMILY VALUES: Some rude humor and a little animated action.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Terrence doesn’t say a single line of dialogue during the movie, other than an occasional grunt (voiced by Penn). However, he does sing (not Penn).
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/14/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 42% positive reviews. Metacritic: 43/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Bug’s Life
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Alice Through the Looking Glass

New Releases for the Week of January 15, 2016


Ride Along 2RIDE ALONG 2

(Universal) Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, Tika Sumpter, Benjamin Bratt, Olivia Munn, Ken Jeong, Bruce McGill, Michael Rose, Sherri Shepherd. Directed by Tim Story

The two polar opposite cops are back. One is preparing for his wedding – to his partner’s sister, which still makes him throw up in his mouth a little. However, the two are being sent from Atlanta to Miami to stop the flow of drugs into their city from South Florida. They take on as partners members of the Miami PD Narcotics squad, and it won’t be easy for the two of them to avoid getting shot by the drug gang – or the Miami cops.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Cop Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence, sexual content, language and some drug material)

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

(Paramount) John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman. Most of us are aware of the tragedy of the assault on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya in which a U.S. Ambassador and several others lost their lives. However, most people aren’t aware the death toll might have been much higher if it wasn’t for the heroics of a group of security operatives. This is their story, based on their personal accounts of the events that took place that night and directed by Michael Bay.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong combat violence throughout, bloody images and language)

Band of Robbers

(Gravitas) Kyle Gallner, Adam Nee, Matthew Gray Gubler, Hannibal Buress. A modern retelling of the stories of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn shows Huck newly released from prison and hoping to mend his ways. However, Tom (a corrupt cop here) has other plans, obsessing over a childhood fantasy of a lost treasure that he’s sure he and his criminal pal can still find.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall

Rating: NR

Lamb

(The Orchard) Ross Partridge, Oona Lawrence, Jess Wexler, Scoot McNairy. When a man is hit by the end of his marriage and the death of his father within the space of a week, he tries to find some sort of meaning in his life. Encountering an unpopular and awkward 11-year-old girl, he sees something in her that might allow her to avoid his own fate of an empty, meaningless life. He decides to take her on a road trip from Chicago to the Rockies to show her how beautiful the world can be, but the trip doesn’t exactly go to expectations.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, AMC West Oaks

Rating: NR

Mustang

(Cohen) Gűnes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Elit Iscan, Tugba Sunguroglu. Five spirited sisters living in a remote Turkish village play an innocent game with a group of boys. When they are observed by a religiously conservative neighbor, the consequences change their lives radically as their strict grandmother and uncle begin to impose limitations on the girls. They also begin to arrange marriages for them, and slowly the young girls begin to break. Nominated for both a Golden Globe and Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, a review for this film will appear in Cinema365 tomorrow.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material, sexual content and a rude gesture)

Norm of the North

(Lionsgate) Starring the voices of Rob Schneider, Heather Graham, Ken Jeong, Bill Nighy. A polar bear by the name of Norm is dismayed at the influx of tourists to his Arctic home. However, when a land developer threatens to build condos on his beloved land, enough is enough and he heads to New York City to have a word with the money-grubbing builder.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for mild rude humor and action)New Releases

Neighbors


Are you talking to Zac Efron?

Are you talking to Zac Efron?

(2014) Comedy (Universal) Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jerrod Carmichael, Brian Huskey, Carla Gallo, Halston Sage, Craig Roberts, Ali Cobrin, Kira Sternbach, Steven Michael Eich, Hannibal Buress, Jake Johnson, Lisa Kudrow, Jason Mantzoukas, Liz Cackowski, Randall Park, Natasha Leggero. Directed by Nicholas Stoller

Before the Second World War, the desirable places to live were in the cities. After all, they were close to jobs and all the cities had to offer in terms of entertainment and culture. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Postwar era – people began to move out of cities and into the suburbs. They wanted yards. They wanted families. They wanted space.

Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Byrne) Radner want all that. And, at last, they have it. With a beautiful baby daughter named Stella, a gorgeous house in the ‘burbs of a small college town and a bright future ahead, they have everything they’ve always wanted and more.

Then their new neighbors move in and it turns out to be a fraternity house. Gamely, they decide to meet their new neighbors and show how “cool” and “down with it” they are which is the reality of a 30-something trying to impress a 20-something with how knowledgeable they are about current trends, slang and culture which, as everyone who’s ever been a 30-something knows, is doomed to fail miserably. The president of the frat, Teddy (Efron) is amiable enough and advised by his best bro and right-hand vice-president Pete (Franco) decides to make nice with the neighbors, inviting them to a blow-out party. They leave the next morning, promising to call Teddy first if they get too loud.

Of course, the next time they get too loud Mac and Kelly’s repeated phone calls go unanswered and they are forced to call the cops in the form of perhaps the most incompetent policeman ever, Officer Watkins (Buress) who rats out the chagrined couple to the frat. From then on, it’s war.

It becomes an endless barrage of escalating pranks. It gets to the point that the couple desperately attempt to sell their house but as the supercilious real estate agent (Cackowski) informs them, nobody will buy a house next to a frat. They even go to the university for relief, but the snooty dean (Kudrow) is more concerned with headlines than actual issues and the headline “Frat keeps couple and baby awake” isn’t likely to cause problems for the University. Finally, Mac and Kelly decide to go on the offensive with the emphasis on “offense.” They become aware that the frat has two strikes against them and should there be another incident, they’ll be dissolved. It’s time to pull out all the stops.

Seth Rogen has been making a career out of playing the amiable, good-hearted stoner and there’s no reason for him to deviate from that course here. What’s different is that he’s a little older now and that guys of his generation are becoming husbands and fathers and are having to forego the life of partying that is part of being young and without responsibility.

And that is the crux of the matter here. Both Mac and Kelly are facing a turning point in their lives; they have a life and a responsibility to provide for someone completely dependent on them. They are moving kicking and screaming into adulthood and they are taking one last wistful look at the life they once had. It is to their credit (and the filmmakers) that they end up embracing their responsibilities rather than running away as is often the case in Hollywood (and in life as well). The frat represents freedom to a certain extent and who wouldn’t be tempted?

The lion’s share of the funny stuff go to Rogen, Efron (who shows surprisingly deft comic touch here) and Byrne. Franco and Teddy’s inner circle – Scoonie (Mintz-Plasse) and Garf (Carmichael) – have little to do except look…er, stoned. And therein lies some of the movie’s great failings.

The movie can be funny and some of the pranks, although not always realistic as in the case of the funniest one involving an automotive safety feature. The problem here is that it’s a bit of a one-trick pony – Rogen consumes enough weed to make Bill O’Reilly’s intake look like both Cheech and Chong. I’m okay with stoner humor but one of the issues I have with it is that there is such an overreliance on repetition. It’s a whole lot funnier when you’re baked.

Some critics have been giving this a pass and far be it for me to dispute matters of personal taste but I don’t see anything really innovative here. I’m one of those killjoys who think that a good comedy shouldn’t only be funny when you’re stoned. Call me a philistine if you like.

REASONS TO GO: Some really funny moments. Captures the moment of maturity nicely.

REASONS TO STAY: Overkill on weed humor. One-trick pony. Adds nothing new.

FAMILY VALUES: All sorts of crude content, foul language, sexual content, drug use and graphic nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Real life couple Megan Mullaly and Nick Offerman filmed a cameo as Scoonie’s parents but it was left on the cutting room floor.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/20/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The ‘Burbs

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Dom Hemingway