Category Archives: Comedy

‘Cruella’ Review

I really think I like these live-action Disney remakes more when they add onto the original stories and aren’t just shot-for-shot remakes like “The Lion King.”

“Cruella” is the origin story for the “101 Dalmatians” villain, with Emma Stone in the titular role as the criminal mastermind obsessed with fashion. Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, and Mark Strong also star, with Craig Gillespie directing.

You can just engrave the 2021 Oscars for Hair & Makeup and Costume Design to this film already, because from the opening frame to the closing shot they steal the show. Taking advantage of London’s 1970s fashion scene, Jenny Beavan (a two-time Academy Award winner herself) creates elaborate dresses and detailed jackets, and has each character leap off the screen.

Aiding them greatly is Emma Stone, who continues to somehow impress and surprise me despite already being an Oscar winner. Stone makes the character of Cruella her own and in a way gets to play dual roles, since the film presents the black-and-white haired Cruella as a mysterious alter-ego to Stone’s timid Estalla, a product of the streets growing up. Stone carries her normal charm and wit, and gives one of the better performances of these Disney remakes.

I also really liked Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser as Jasper and Horace, Cruella’s (somewhat reluctant) partners in crime. Fry has good comedic timing and Hauser has shown he can play a likable buffoon, and the pair play well off Stone’s energy. It is also always a treat to see Emma Thompson in anything, much less getting to have her chew scenery as a bad guy.

The film has a great energy about it, and for the most part you don’t feel its 134-minute runtime. Full of incredible music and snappy direction, the film moves along well, only really struggling in the third act where things get a little too repetitive. It could also be argued that this is not a kid’s film (it is rated PG-13), but there isn’t anything too crazy here that a 10+ audience couldn’t handle.

As we start to get back to normal and theaters return to the forefront, it is good to see we will have some quality pictures to check out. “Cruella” plays out like “Joker” and “The Devil Wears Prada” had a lovechild, but I really enjoyed myself during it and recommend supporting your local theater by seeing a film so vibrant on the big screen.

Critics Rating: 8/10

‘The Independents’ Review

“The Independents” is a semi-true story of the formation of the band The Sweet Remains, and stars the real-life members of the band Rich Price, Greg Naughton, and Brian Chartrand as fictionalized versions of themselves. Naughton also writes and directs, with Boyd Gaines, James Naughton, Keira Naughton, Kelli O’Hara, Chris Sullivan, George Wendt, and Richard Kind also starring.

I typically like these small films that feel “real,” with the best way I can describe this is a mix between “Sideways” and last year’s “The Climb.” We have seen the “struggling artists come together for one last shot at fame” story a hundred times before and this doesn’t make any attempt to break the mold, but thanks to some genuine performances, humorous writing, and toe-tapping songs, this film mostly works.

The three main stars each play a different stereotype we typically find in the genre, with Greg Naughton playing the stoner with marital problems, Rich Price acting as a man who thinks he missed the boat and is stuck teaching a college course, and Brian Chartrand as the care-free spirit (who may or may not be close to homelessness). The three share some solid chemistry (they are real-life friends, after all), and when they do have conflict it is not overtly contrived.

The three-man harmony isn’t a genre of music we hear too often these days (a point made in the film by Richard Kind’s agent character), and the melodies are soft and warm.

The film shows the emotional toll that trying to chase your dreams can take on a person and their relationships, and even if it is a bit rushed and open-ended by the end of the film, sometimes it isn’t about the destination so much as the journey. “The Independents” is an independent film that is easy to watch and forgive the flaws, because you can sense the passion the crew had while making it. In a world where capes and creatures dominate our screens, sometimes a small-scale humanistic story is refreshing, even while familiar.

Critics Rating: 7/10

‘Freaky’ Review

Sometimes it is wonderful when a movie is exactly what its trailer made it out to look like.

“Freaky” puts a twist on the body-swap tale, when a notorious serial killer (Vince Vaughn) switches places with one of his teenage victims (Kathryn Newton). Katie Finneran, Celeste O’Connor, Misha Osherovich, and Alan Ruck also star as Christopher Landon co-writes and directs.

2020 has been weird and full of ever-changing situations, but I really don’t know why Universal wouldn’t release this film back in October. I get they want to have the Friday the 13th tagline for the posters, but for whatever amount of theaters are up and operating this would have been a fun film for spooky season to see with an (albeit socially distanced) audience (if they really wanted to milk the Friday the 13th thing then put it on PVOD on November 13 instead of December 4). But I am rambling; point is, this film is fun.

The body-swap gimmick is nothing new, it’s been done from “Freaky Friday” (and arguably perfected by Jamie Lee Curtis playing Lindsay Lohan in the 2003 remake) to the “Jumanji” reboots. Here, Vince Vaughn gets to tap into his inner teenage girl, akin to Jack Black in “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” From flamboyant hand motions to acting awkward around his (her) crush, Vaughn is clearly having a blast in the role, and even manages to be intimidating in the few scenes where he is his normal killer self.

Kathryn Newton is given a little less to do as a killer trapped in a young woman, she mostly just moves around silently before striking her victim. She is definitely solid in the role, but is outshined by Vaughn and her supporting cast (Misha Osherovich as the stereotypical gay best friend is a blast).

Christopher Landon is quietly one of my favorite people working in the slasher field, having written the fantastic and nostalgia time-capsule “Disturbia” and the very fun “Happy Death Day,” among others. Much like “Happy Death Day,” Landon gets to play around with the horror-comedy genre and come up with some pretty creative kills. Some are over-the-top, but that is what makes them all the more fun; it may take a bit away from the scary aspect of the story, but it is never not entertaining.

“Freaky” does sag a bit leading up to its climax and then not exactly know when to end, but thanks to fun direction and a fantastic Vince Vaughn performance it is just a fun time at the movies. I will revisit this out again next October for sure, and even though we’ve traded jack-o’-lanterns for wreaths on our porches you should still seek this one out (whether that be in theaters or VOD).

Critics Rating: 7/10

‘The Climb’ Review

“The Climb” stars Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin as two lifelong friends, and glimpses into their lives over several year. Covino and Marvin also wrote the script, as Covino directs and Gayle Rankin, Talia Balsam, George Wendt, and Judith Godrèche also star.

I hadn’t heard much about this film until recently (it premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, and May 2019 seems like a lifetime ago), but my friend described it as “’Sideways’ with bikes.” A decent endorsement (“Sideways” is one of the better films of the 2000s), and upon seeing “The Climb” I can attest that this blend of exaggerated farce and intimate human interactions, while not as good as “Sideways,” is part of the Two Best Friends Argue Over Women & Wine Cinematic Universe.

Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin are real-life best friends, and that connection is felt on-screen. Both of their characters go through waves of being the rock in the relationship, and even when one should hate the other their mutual admiration shines through. Covino is a bit better and more believable with his comedic timing than Marvin, but thanks to the script the two penned together there are a lot of deadpan chuckles to go around.

More impressive than the performances is the cinematography by Zach Kuperstein. The film is told in vignettes, each lasting about 10 minutes or so, and they are almost exclusively done in one long take. Sometimes the scenes feature characters moving through a house or riding bikes along twisting roads, which makes it all the more impressive from a technical perspective, but it also makes you appreciate the work being done by the actors, too. Much like in “Birdman” the pressure is on them to get their lines right, or risk having to start a 10-minute-long scene over from scratch. It helps create a sense of authenticity to the story and each scene, and as a fan of oners I never felt like it reached the levels of simply being a gimmick.

There are a few abstract and fourth wall-breaking moments that may be awkward for some viewers, and the simple storytelling may not gel for everyone. But just like “Nomadland” I think sometimes simple direction is the best way to handle a film, and “The Climb” gets enough laughs and heart out of its two characters to be worth the trip.

Critics Rating: 8/10

‘Bill & Ted Face the Music’ Review

A most excellent sequel, indeed!

“Bill & Ted Face the Music” is the longtime coming threequel to the original “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” from 1989. Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves reprise their titular roles, as the duo must write a song to save the universe and reality as we know it. Kristen Schaal, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, and Holland Taylor join the cast, while Dean Parisot directs.

Long-delayed sequels rarely work out, and even less with comedies. You have to look no further than “Zoolander,” “Anchorman,” or “Finding Dory;” at worst these are abysmal follow-ups with no justification for their existence, at best they’re amusing sequels to an IP from 10+ years earlier in hopes of grabbing some nostalgia dollars. However sometimes delayed reunions can play out in a film’s favor, like “Die Hard 4,” “Scream 4” or this year’s “Bad Boys for Life” (I wasn’t a huge fan but many were). And as someone who really enjoyed my recent watch of the original 1989 film (I haven’t seen 1991’s “Bogus Journey”), I’m pleased to say “Face the Music” brings the same dumb jokes and lovable positivity to the table.

Ever since their last team-up in 1991, Keanu Reeves and Alex Winters have taken different Hollywood paths. Reeves exploded into a star, leading blockbusters like “Speed” and “The Matrix,” while Winters slowly backed away from acting to pursue documentary filmmaking. You could never tell the pair had been apart for 29 years, much less that one of them hadn’t done any serious acting in years. The two still play their guitar-shredding “excellent!” surfer bro selves, and while they can say dumb things it is never overtly off-putting; it’s meant in good nature, and feels like something a human genuinely would say. At a few points Winters’ deliver seems off (he did take acting classes to fine-tune his craft before this), but Reeves often looks like a kid in a candy store returning to this role, and taking a break from killing men with pencils in the “John Wick” franchise.

The rest of the cast is a who’s who, mixing cameos from previous cast members (like Hal Landon Jr.) with new faces (like Kid Cudi). At points it feels like an actor’s directorial pet project that their friends decide to shoot a scene for, but the film uses everyone enough (mostly).

The plot is simple yet strangely convoluted, with Bill and Ted needing time find a reality-saving song from their future selves, their wives (Erinn Hayes and Jayma Mays) looking at possible futures for themselves, and Bill and Ted’s daughters (Samara Weaving and a perfectly-cast-as-Keanu’s-daughter Brigette Lundy-Paine) have to collect famous musicians from throughout history to play the song.

For what it is, there’s not much wrong with “Bill & Ted Face the Music” if you know what you’re getting into. If you never liked of the originals then this won’t be the one to convert you, but fans (especially those who grew up on this series and are now essentially revisiting an old friend) will be pleased, and fans of silly and light humor should get a kick, too.

Critics Rating: 8/10

‘Irresistible’ Review

In case you didn’t have enough politics in your daily life, here comes Jon Stewart with a movie about it.

“Irresistible” stars Steve Carell as a top-Democratic strategist who takes interest in a small right-wing Wisconsin town’s mayoral race. Chris Cooper, Mackenzie Davis, Topher Grace, Natasha Lyonne, and Rose Byrne also star as Jon Stewart writes and directs.

It goes without saying, but it’s hard to avoid politics in our modern lives. When you’re not watching the news you’re on Twitter or Facebook, either reading articles that take place in your echo chamber or seeing contrasting views from that old friend you went to high school with pop up on your feed. It’s become a lot for many people to handle, so the idea of watching an entire film that revolves around red-vs-blue may not exactly be the idea of entertainment. And while Stewart’s second directorial outing has some interesting and entertaining takes on our current political climate, it isn’t sharp, funny, or consistent enough to be worthy of a recommendation.

I’ll start with the cast, as they all are solid. Led by quirky and bubbly as usual Steve Carell, and with supporting work from the likes of Will Sasso and Chris Cooper, the characters in this film make the setting feel lived-in and genuine with small town charm, while Carell and Rose Byrne pass as the out-of-touch big city pundits who pander and spew BS for a living.

After spending years running “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart is no stranger to politics. He has even spoken on Capital Hill and called out elected officials, so it makes sense that he would want to make a film that satirizes our increasingly corrupt (but also parody-friendly) political system. And there are more than a few good jokes and bits of commentary here (there is one quick shot of an NRA information booth shutting down when they get approached by an inquisitive group of Black Lives Matter activists that had me chuckling hard). However, for every one of those bits that works, there is an off-putting, tone-deaf, and/or tonally jarring attempt at humor that just does not land at all (Byrne licks pasty crumbs off Carell’s face and I was deadpan staring at the screen).

Stewart clearly watched “The Big Short” and “Vice” in back-to-back viewings, taking inspiration for some on-the-nose analogies and a few cutaways to B-roll footage. Just like Adam McKay, Stewart isn’t shy about which way his politics (and ipso facto, his film) lean, and his message at the end is admirable but somewhat shallow.

“Irresistible” is fine, and if it didn’t have one or two completely random sequences then I would say it may be worth checking out. But it doesn’t really say anything most Americans don’t already know and agree upon (there’s too much big money in politics, the mainstream media is a joke, the flyover states feel disenfranchised), and the comedy isn’t any better than what you can find for free on YouTube. Fans of Carell or Stewart may get their kicks, but the rest of us are better off sitting this race out.

Critics Rating: 5/10

‘The King of State Island’ Review

More than any other director working today, you know exactly what you’re going to get when you sit down for a Judd Apatow film.

“The King of Staten Island” stars Pete Davidson as Scott, a 20-something with a case of arrested development who is still coping with the death of his firefighter father 17 years earlier. When his mom (Marisa Tomei) begins dating a new guy who is also a firefighter (Bill Burr), it forces Scott to begin to get his life together. Bel Powley, Maude Apatow, and Steve Buscemi also star as Judd Apatow directs a script his wrote with Davidson and Dave Sirus.

Like “Scoob!” and “The High Note,” this film was originally supposed to get a theatrical release before COVID shut down all theaters, and the studio opted to try the demand for streaming rentals out (Universal, the company distributing this film, also made waves by doing it with “Trolls World Tour”). It’s an interesting venture to be sure, and some of the enjoyment of seeing a comedy in a crowded theater will surely be missed, but like most Apatow films “The King of Staten Island” has heart and laughs, even if it is longer and at times a bit more aimless than it has to be.

Pete Davidson has gone from the babyface on SNL to somewhat controversial(?) tattooed ex-fiancé of popstar Ariana Grande in three short years. He has shown up in several films in small supporting roles (including Apatow’s last directorial effort “Trainwreck”), but besides “Big Time Adolescence” has never been asked to shoulder the leading load. Davidson surely relates to Scott, as when he was young Davidson lost his firefighting father on 9/11, and also has a lot of tattoos. I’m sure the role was somewhat therapeutic to him, and his portrayal of a man-child with several mental issues is done with a nice balance of respectful and honest. I’m not a huge follower of Davidson (I think he’s funny but just sometimes swings and misses), but he does a good job here crafting the character and delivering some funny lines.

The supporting cast are all solid as well, although none of them are truly given any arcs or development.
“Hot Aunt May” Marisa Tomei is always a welcome presence in anything, and Bill Burr does a good job as “mom’s new boyfriend.” A few other people pop up here and there that will make you go “oh, I like that person!” like in most of Apatow’s films, but this is Davidson’s show.

Like with every single one of his films, Judd Apatow’s problem is he refuses to trim the scope of his narrative and/or dare cut out anything he wrote. This film is 137 minutes long, which isn’t bad in its own right but just seems excessive for a studio comedy. What’s more is there is a subplot in here that takes up minimum ten minutes and leads absolutely nowhere, and I don’t think produces enough laughs to even justify keeping it in. Still, aside from that, Apatow does craft a pretty decent pace, and even handles a few dramatic and intense scenes with good skill.

I really enjoyed “The King of Staten Island” and is another solid entry into the “perfectly solid” filmography of Apatow. It has its random and at times out-of-place vulgar humor, but there are a handful of hearty laughs to be shared and Davidson turns in solid work in the lead role (if there are even award shows next year this will hopefully land him a Golden Globe nod).

Critics Rating: 7/10

‘The High Note’ Review

Sometimes you can’t think of a witty way to begin a review and just need to get into it, and this is one of those times.

“The High Note” stars Dakota Johnson as the personal assistant to a famous singer (Tracee Ellis Ross), who aspires to be a music producer of her own. Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Ice Cube also star as Nisha Ganatra directs.

Dakota Johnson is one of those actors who if you think of for just a second you may not picture her as charming simply because of the franchise she launched her career with is so bland (“50 Shades of Grey”), but she has since proven that she is likable and bubbly, and a welcome presence in any film she’s in (“How to Be Single” is fantastic fun). She again warms the screen with her dorkable simplicity here, and is sometimes enough to elevate a familiar story and sometimes aimless direction.

Johnson stars as Maggie, the personal assistant to Tracee Ellis Ross’ Grace Davis (for the uninitiated, Ellis Ross is the real-life daughter of Motown singer Diana Ross). Johnson, along with the scenes she shares with rising star Kelvin Harrison Jr., has a comforting screen presence about her that shines through, and despite being a beautiful movie star can sell the everyday normal girl.

Playing a middle-aged singer, Ellis Ross may be channeling some of her mom’s real-life career (a subplot involves her wanting to become just the second black woman over 40 to have a number one hit song). Ellis Ross is solid enough in the role and is able to bring some of the deadpan chuckles that has made her a standout in “Black-ish,” but her role and issues almost feel like afterthoughts to Johnson and her pursuit of a producing career. Nothing inherently wrong with that, however until the third act when the obligatory drama has to come to a head, Ellis Ross’ existence in the film doesn’t really feel necessary.

Shot by Jason McCormick who was the DP on “Booksmart,” the film looks warm and crisp, and the Los Angeles setting offers some beautiful backdrops and fun landmarks. There are a few nice color pallet choices, too, which keep some of the shot-reverse-shot dialogue sequences (some of which are witty and others bland) engaging.

With a film like “The High Note” I feel Joe Pesci said it best in “The Irishman:” it is what it is. It’s a light early summer rom-com that you’ve seen done before, and if you miss it then your life will continue on without any interruptions or love lost. But if you have two hours to kill (and right now, who among us doesn’t?) then you can do worse. Take that recommendation how you will.

Critics Rating: 6/10

‘The Lovebirds’ Review

“The Lovebirds” follows a couple on-the-run (Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani) after they witness a murder. Michael Showalter directs Paul Sparks, Anna Camp, and Kyle Bornheimer also star.

Originally scheduled to be theatrically released by Paramount in April, this film was delayed because of the coronavirus (maybe you’ve heard it it?) closing theaters around the country. Netflix then swooped in and purchased the rights, and chose to release it digitally (not unlike Tom Hanks’ “Greyhound” which was bought by Apple TV). An interesting choice to be sure (this by-default becomes one of the cleaner-shot comedies put out by the streaming service), but despite the charm and comedic timing of its two stars, “The Lovebirds” runs out of jokes and steam too quickly, despite only running a brisk 87 minutes.

The “trying to escape the cops in a single night because of a misunderstanding” storyline has been done before, finding success in both the comedic (“Date Night”) and dramatic (“Run All Night”) genres. To succeed you have to be able to justify so many events in such a small window and have actors who can carry a thin concept, and while the other two films I mentioned have those things, “Lovebirds” only has one.

No one seems to be working harder in the industry right now than Issa Rae, starring in numerous films like “Little” and “The Photograph” and continuing to write, produce, and star in her HBO show “Insecure.” Her winning smile and sharp timing are benefits here, taking even the most basic line of dialogue and adding a glance or under-the-breath comment to it. She has some nice back-and-forth with Kumail Nanjiani, an Oscar nominee for his “The Big Sick” script (also directed by Michael Showalter), and he is his normal hit-and-miss self. When Nanjiani is on, he has great delivery and the perfect amount of over-acting; but he can also swing and miss at jokes, and that happens in several scenes here.

The script (written by Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall) has some clever jokes, but so many of them come in the first 45 minutes. By the time Rae and Nanjiani have made their second or third pitstop, the film begins to run on fumes. Showalter seems content to just let things play out in a basic way, and while the film moves pretty quick (again, it’s less than 90 minutes), there is no true sense of momentum or energy.

“The Lovebirds” is a perfectly watchable film that did make me chuckle on several occasions (I even laughed out loud hard at one joke), but its script and premise never fully commit to the possible zaniness, nor does it have enough jokes to last its runtime. While at this point I would kill to be able to see anything in a theater again, “The Lovebirds” is a quintessential Netflix film; quick, simple, and easily forgettable. I didn’t hate myself for watching it, I just wish that I came away feeling… something.

Critics Rating: 5/10

‘Scoob!’ Review (and everything I thought about while watching it)

OK so instead of a traditional review, I thought it would be for for me to keep track of everything I thought about while watching “Scoob!,” the new animated film from Warner Bros. based on the classic cartoon. There will be massive spoilers ahead, so only read this if you have seen the film or do not care about ruining the surprises (of which there are randomly many). Overall, long story short, I enjoyed the hell out of this film, both actually and ironically, and recommend it, especially for kids or fans of Scooby-Doo like myself. I’d give it a 7/10. Anyways, on with the post! 

-this kids movie starts with “California Love”, an explicit song from gangster rappers Tupac and Dr. Dre

-kid bullies care about blood sugar and steal Shaggy and Scooby’s candy to… help them?

-this bad guy is hanging out in a closet in his own house dressed as a ghost in order to scare people on the off chance someone comes in?

-Simon Cowell is here

-oh god, Shaggy and Scooby are singing “Shallow” from “A Star Is Born” (keeping it in the Warner Bros. family, I see) 

-Daphne says to Shaggy “wait, have you not been paying your taxes?” to which Scooby replies “I handle our books” (I laughed)

-“he’s not smart, he just sounds intelligent because he’s British” “good point, Shaggy” (I laughed again)

-I really don’t like Will Forte’s Shaggy voice

-Mark Wahlberg’s Blue Falcon character is introduced to “All I Do Is Win” by DJ Khaled and I. am. CACKLING.

-there’s a line about how Shaggy says “like” in every other sentence because that’s how middle aged writers think teenage hipsters talk. Meta or lazy, you decide

-the bad guy Dick Dastardly has a bunch of little tiny cute minions who only he can understand (yeah yeah, I have also seen “Despicable Me”)

-the bad guy’s plan is to get the three skulls of Cerberus aka Fluffy from Harry Potter

-seriously, why couldn’t they invite Matthew Lillard back to voice Shaggy?

-“stop right there you filthy animal! And your dog too!” (I laughed again)

-they just said “hashtag” out loud.

-this script was written by a kids YouTube algorithm

-Shaggy told Wahlberg to drop a meth bomb and Wahlberg goes “whoa whoa man, let’s keep it PG!” and I let out the UGLIEST cackle

-the bad guy said “I’m a Dick” cuz it’s his name

-“meters, Velma? I don’t even know what that means. What are we, in Europe?”

-there’s a hot California Highway Patrol officer. Reminds me how awful “CHIPS” was

-the bad guy was the hot officer in disguise and Fred is disappointed; nice reference to “Scooby-Doo 2”

-Wahlberg’s robot dog is being hacked by Velma and he says “stay out of my search history!”

-90% of this film’s budget went to the hair design

-as an ancestor of Alexander the Great’s dog, Scooby-Doo has a genetic ability to open the Gates of Hell

-Bad guy kidnaps Fred and goes “Poor man’s Hemsworth stays with me!” and Fred goes “no let go of me-wait, Chris or Liam?”

-they’re in the center of the earth Jurassic Park place from “Aquaman”

-Scooby got scared and tried to jump into Wahlberg’s arms to be caught like he does to Shaggy and Wahlberg just stood there. I wheezed.

-Tracy Morgan voices a caveman and it’s just the most obvious Tracy Morgan appearance ever

-scientifically accurate dinosaur poop

-someone shouted “toxic masculinity!” whileWahlberg and Fred were fighting, who is this movie for lmaoo

-Shaggy said “let’s get out of middle earth!” and Wahlberg said “copyright infringement”. This film is simultaneously meta and oblivious to itself.

-opening the Gates to Hell also rebuilds ancient Greece

-demon Fluffy is here

-Shaggy got locked in the underworld, big dramatic moment, blah blah, but Scooby just says “come home” to a statue of Alexander the Great and Shaggy comes back

-the bad guy Dick Dastardly was Simon Cowell in disguise all along

-oh just kidding, it was Dick Dastardly disguised as Simon Cowell disguised as Dick Dastardly

-Wahlberg is a DJ now

-Wahlberg’s female partner said she needs a raise; who is paying their superhero salaries?

-this film was written by four different people

-this film is so random, I loved it