Why Him?


Talk about a generation gap...

Talk about a generation gap…

(2016) Comedy (20th Century Fox) Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Zoey Deutch, Megan Mullally, Cedric the Entertainer, Keegan-Michael Key, Griffin Gluck, Zack Pearlman, Jee Young Han, Tangie Ambrose, Mary Pat Gleason, Kaley Cuoco (voice), Steve Aoki, Richard Blais, Elon Musk, Adam Devine, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Andrew Rannells, Casey Wilson. Directed by John Hamburg

 

The father-daughter relationship is a very special one. A man’s daughter is always his princess; the light of his heart, the twinkle in his eye, she inevitably has him twisted around her little finger. It goes without saying that no man will ever be good enough for Daddy’s Little Princess.

Ned Fleming (Cranston) is by all appearances a successful guy. He’s a pillar of his Michigan community and runs a paper company that has been one of the most successful in the Midwest for years; he has put his daughter Stephanie (Deutch) through college at Stanford where she is nearing graduation and his life is generally going just swell.

His bubble is on the verge of bursting though; his company is in serious financial trouble and there isn’t much of a future for it anyway – paper is going the way of horse and buggy given that most communication is electronic these days. His wife Barb (Mullally) and son Scottie (Gluck) are mainly unaware of this. However, the biggest blow is that Stephanie has a boyfriend that they don’t know about and what’s worse they’ve been together for more than a year. This disturbs Ned who had always assumed that his daughter told him everything. It seems she has a whole lot of secrets that he isn’t aware of. With the holidays coming, Stephanie invites her family to spend them in Northern California.

Said boyfriend is Laird Mayhew (Franco) and rather than being a doe-eyed college boy he turns out to be a 30-something tech magnate who earned his billions developing videogames. With a chest full of tattoos and absolutely no filter, he is a bit of a handful and a lot for the conservative Fleming family to take in. Most parents would be overjoyed that their daughter had caught the eye of a billionaire and seemed to be very much in love with him besides but not Ned. He’s suspicious of Laird and is positive that he’s up to something and Laird, to be honest, is a fairly manipulative guy. His high-tech Palo Alto mansion is full to the brim with all sorts of gadgets and toys, including a Japanese toilet/bidet combination that doesn’t quite work right (and hilarity ensues), a Siri-like house computer whose voice is that of Kaley Cuoco from Big Bang Theory and who tends to get cranky from time to time (more hilarity ensues) and a brand new bowling alley that Laird installed because he heard that Ned loves to bowl. Midwestern, right?

There is also a stuffed moose preserved in an aquarium full of it’s own urine which you just know is going to get all over someone sooner or later (not a spoiler: it does) and a valet named Gustav (Key) who is about every Eastern European goofball that populated sitcoms and movie comedies in the 80s and 90s and who, like Kato in the Pink Panther movies, attacks Laird with martial arts without warning (although to be fair the movie does name drop the series for additional laughs).

Laird means to marry Stephanie and wants Ned’s blessing, a blessing that isn’t forthcoming. It’s Christmas though and miracles can happen – although it might take several miracles to make this happy ending come true. Stephanie tries to make her father see that beneath the cursing (Laird drops F bombs constantly, a product of having no filter) and the sometimes bizarre behavior Laird is really a very nice guy, but that will be a tough sell to a father who already thinks that no guy is good enough for his princess.

In many ways this movie perfectly illustrates the disconnect between Hollywood and Mid-America which in turn spotlights why Donald Trump won the 2016 Presidential election. Ned and Barb as well as son Scotty are portrayed as extremely naive particularly about pop culture sexuality, not knowing what either motorboating or bukake mean – not that those are common terms but certainly the way that it is portrayed here is that they’re the only ones not in on the joke and quite frankly it’s a bit cruel. The West Coast hip tech types, standing in for the elite liberal crowd, are condescending and a little put off by the squares. It may interest the left to know that there is Internet in the Midwest and most of the people living there are a lot savvier than given credit for.

Cranston and Franco are no strangers to each other and it shows here. The chemistry between them is letter perfect and both exhibit a lot of give and take in terms of who gets the laughs and who is the straight man. Both perform beyond what you’d expect for what is essentially a holiday comedy which often tend to be just paychecks for big name actors. Cranston and Franco earn both of theirs.

But all the good intentions and strong performances can’t save a script that has little bite and feels more like a sitcom than a big screen comedy. There are some really funny moments (like when Laird brings in Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley from KISS for Ned and Barb who are avowed members of the KISS Army) and a few cringe-worthy moments (the aforementioned moose piss gag) but by and large there’s nothing truly offensive here. Neither is there anything truly noteworthy either.

REASONS TO GO: Cranston is on point as always and he has some terrific chemistry with Franco.
REASONS TO STAY: The plot is a little heavy-handed and riddled with clichés.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a fair amount of foul language and some sexual innuendo throughout.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Ape Assassins game that made Laird Mayhew famous is available for download on the iTunes App Store.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/30/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 39% positive reviews. Metacritic: 39/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Father of the Bride (1991)
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: 13th

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The Five-Year Engagement


The Five-Year Engagement

Emily Blunt thinks Jason Segel’s pointy head is cute.

(2012) Romantic Comedy (Universal) Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Rhys Ifans, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Mimi Kennedy, David Paymer, Lauren Weedman, Jacki Weaver, Jim Piddock, Dakota Johnson, Brian Posehn, Mindi Kaling, Randall Park, Kevin Hart, Molly Shannon, Tracee Chimo. Directed by Nicholas Stoller

 

Planning a wedding is a tricky thing. Making it work requires organization, patience and sometimes, a lot of time. Even small weddings can require some juggling skills, particularly when you have to find the right venue, a date that’s  available and make sure it works within everybody’s schedule, at least the main participants. A good sense of humor is a must.

Tom Solomon (Segel) is a sous chef at a fine San Francisco restaurant working for a frenetic and uptight chef Sally (Weedman).  His closest friend is Alex (Pratt), a fellow sous chef who is a cheerfully gross womanizer.

He is dating Violet Barnes (Blunt), a doctoral student in behavioral psychology. Since the moment he laid eyes on her at a New Year’s Eve costume party he knew she was The One, and she knew likewise. He also knows it’s time to propose and although the proposal doesn’t go exactly as planned (why is it that marriage proposals have had to become such production numbers, both in real life and in the movies – are men so insecure that they think that a woman who wants to marry them will change their minds if the proposal isn’t staged elaborately enough?) she still says yes.

They get to planning but Violet is awfully distracted; she’s applied for a position at UC Berkeley that would advance her career greatly but it’s fallen through. When she gets accepted at the University of Michigan for a similar position, the two arrive at a crossroads. Tom decides to give up his position in the prestigious kitchen to follow his fiancée to Ann Arbor and become a chef there. Of course, he finds out only after giving his notice that Sally was planning on making him head chef at her new restaurant. Instead, that job goes to Alex. Things are looking pretty rosy for Alex, who had sex with Violet’s sister Sue (Brie) at the engagement party, knocked her up and is now married to her.

When Tom moves up to Michigan he’s in for quite a culture shock. There’s snow everywhere; on the cars, on the streets, and hiding fire hydrants when he wants to jump into an inviting drift. There’s also no work; some restaurant chefs just laugh at him for giving up a job in San Francisco and he’s forced to get a job at a sandwich shop run by the blunt and profane Tarquin (Posehn).

In the meantime, Violet is taking to her new position like a duck to water. Her charismatic boss Dr. Winton Childs (Ifans) and his lunatic crew of the masturbation-obsessed Doug (Hart), the bitchy Vaneetha (Kaling) and the whack job Ming (Park) have become close friends and a support group. Her career is taking off and her two year contract has become five. The wedding plans are on hold because the pressure is getting to Tom, who has grown Chester Arthur mutton chops and has taken to hunting with a sweater-wearing househusband, while Alex has grown to be a great success in his new restaurant.

What I really like about this movie is that the couple in question don’t face contrived situations based entirely on mis-communication like most of Hollywood’s recent rom-coms. Things happen but because things happen in real life; frustrations that take effect because of situations that could and do happen to anyone.

The chemistry between Blunt and Segel is crucial to making this film work. Their relationship, their love is central to the movie; if you don’t believe in the relationship that is at the crux of the film, you are not going to be sucked in by the story at all. Fortunately, that’s not a problem here.

Segel is one of the most naturally likable guys in Hollywood. He’s easygoing, sweet-natured and perfect for this role. He’s not as over-the-top as say Seth Rogen but he’s still plenty funny. Here he runs the gamut of emotions; he can be giddy, sexy and frustrated. At times his character loses his temper but never in a threatening or obnoxious way. Segel makes Tom a likable guy – and frankly I’d love to have some of his tacos.

Blunt is rapidly becoming one of Hollywood’s busiest actresses. She’s done yeoman work on a number of pictures in the last couple of years, most recently Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. She’s sexy as well as funny but projects a sense of decency. Violet takes some missteps which people make; she’s not perfect but there’s no doubt that Violet loves Tom very much and Blunt makes that very apparent. It’s hard to realistically portray a deep, lasting relationship onscreen but Segel and Blunt do just that. The chemistry between them is undeniable.

They aren’t the only impressive actors here. Pratt, last seen as a relief pitcher in Moneyball, tears it up here. He steals nearly every scene that he’s in. and he has a terrific chemistry with Brie. The two of them prove themselves able in this film and I foresee big things ahead for both of them, particularly Pratt.

Yeah, there are a few moments that made me wince; unfortunately, that seems to be part and parcel with Hollywood romantic comedies. Still, while this is a Judd Apatow-produced  film and thus has its share of raunchiness it is as sweet-natured as any rom-com you’re gonna see from America. I was pleasantly surprised by it in that sense; I was expecting something rather formulaic and instead got something that felt like we were watching a real relationship. And that, my friends, is priceless.

REASONS TO GO: Really good chemistry between Segel and Blunt. Sweet to the core.

REASONS TO STAY: A little bit contrived in places.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of sexual content as well as plenty of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Segel and Blunt have appeared together in two other movies; Gulliver’s Travels and The Muppets. This is the first time they’ve appeared as romantic partners however.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/6/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 64% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100. The film has gotten some pretty solid reviews.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Knocked Up

WOLVERINE LOVERS: Much of the film is set at the University of Michigan and there are plenty of U of M accoutrements and a couple of jokes at Ohio State’s expense. Michigan fans will be in heaven.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Blue Valentine

Gulliver’s Travels (2010)


Gulliver's Travels

You think YOUR day is going badly - Jack Black is getting a wedgie from a Transformer.

(2010) Comic Fantasy (20th Century Fox) Jack Black, Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly, Chris O’Dowd, T.J. Miller, James Corden, Catherine Tate, Emmanuel Quatra, Olly Alexander, Richard Laing. Directed by Rob Letterman

The dreaded updating of a classic usually spells utter disaster. When moving Jonathan Swift’s iconic novel into the 21st century, will the filmmakers retain its essence or go for the cheap laughs?

Score one for the cheap laughs. Lemuel Gulliver (Black) – and I find it unbelievable that not a single joke was made about someone with the unfortunate first name of “Lemuel” – has been working in the mail room of the New York Tribune for ten years; for nearly that long he’s had a crush on the comely travel editor Darcy Silverman (Peet). He’s been content to worship from afar and play Guitar Hero on the job. When he trains a new young buck in the mail room (Miller), he is mortified to discover that his trainee has been promoted to the Mail Room manager, which sucks big time.

Then again, Lemuel is too afraid to even talk to other employees at the paper, let alone approach them about career advice. On the spur of the moment, he picks up an application for the position of travel writer and Darcy urges him to submit some samples. Lemuel spends the entire night trying to write some scintillating prose – only to discover that he has no game. Desperate, he plagiarizes sections from Frommer’s Guide and other travel icons and gets the job. Darcy sends him out to Bermuda to check out a tour into the legendary Bermuda Triangle.

He falls asleep at the wheel of the boat (apparently this tour comes sans guides) and is steered directly into a gigantic waterspout. When he awakens, the boat is wrecked and he has been tied up by lots of tiny little people, led by a tiny little General Edward (O’Dowd) who takes him to the King of Lilliput (Connolly) and his MILF queen (Tate). The giant Lemuel is chained in a cave along with Lilliput’s only other offender, Horatio (Segel) who had the effrontery to glance soulfully at Princess Mary (Blunt) who happens to be Edward’s betrothed.

When the sworn enemies of Lilliput, Blefuscia, attack, it is Gulliver who comes to the rescue. The grateful king pardons Gulliver and makes him “vice-general” of the army which doesn’t sit well with the pompous Edward.  He plots to allow the entire fleet of Blefuscia attack but Gulliver inexplicably saves the day again. Edward defects in disgrace and guilds a giant robot which he defeats Gulliver with. Gulliver reveals himself to be a lowly coward and a liar (having told the Lilliputians outrageous tales of his life) and is exiled to the Island They Dare Not Travel To, which turns out to be inhabited by giants (by Gulliver’s standards – to the Lilliputians everyone’s a giant). However, Darcy has washed up on the shores of Lilliput having set out after Gulliver. Can the disgraced protector find his inner giant?

If you loved the Jonathan Swift novel, keep walking when you get to the box office; other than having a Lemuel Gulliver wash up on the shores of Lilliput and be tied up by its army, there is almost no relationship between the book and the movie. What this is mostly is a Jack Black vehicle, designed to showcase his talents as a comedian and his usual shtick. The jokes are mainly unfunny; playing foosball with Lilliputians, having Lilliputians re-enact scenes from Star Wars and Titanic and claiming that these are moments from his own life; hardy har har har.

While I was a big fan of Black in High Fidelity, I have to admit that he was a bit tiresome here. When you look at comedians who inhabit a certain persona (like Jim Carrey and Robin Williams), they become like one-trick ponies, constantly reprising the same role in movie after movie. It works for the first few films of their career but eventually the audience gets tired of it. Sometimes, as in the case of Williams, they broaden their range and make movies that are more mature but when they don’t, they tend to fall by the wayside much faster.

I have to admit the visuals here are pretty good. Lilliput has a quasi-Victorian feel. In some ways, it’s almost steampunk and that’s not a bad thing – I kind of wish they had pushed in that direction a little bit further.  However, and I must emphasize this, what they have works just fine as it is.

Besides Black, you have the very likable Segel as the second banana and the lovely Blunt and Peet both make fine romantic foils, but this is clearly Black’s show. Even Connolly, one of the most brilliant comedic minds of the past decade, is curiously humorless in his role.

As comedies go this is pretty mediocre stuff. I can’t really recommend it with too much enthusiasm, although I can’t really say “avoid it at all costs” either. It’s just kind of there as an alternative when you want something light and brainless and seeing Tangled for the umpteenth time is not in the cards.

REASONS TO GO: It’s a nice-looking movie and there are some funny moments as well as some heart-warming moments.

REASONS TO STAY: Jumps the shark with the musical number at the end. Too much mugging from Jack Black and not enough real human emotion. The film felt more like a product.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of crude humor (Jack Black is not going to get any points from firefighters) and some mildly bad words but otherwise, pretty much suitable for everyone.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Emily Blunt was originally cast as the Black Widow in Iron Man 2 but backed out to do this movie.

HOME OR THEATER: I imagine the scale of the visuals looks better on a big screen than a small one, but hey, they’re little people – on a smaller TV screen they still look little.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: RocknRolla