Tag Archives: comedy

Cops & Robbersons

Here’s a concept: The feds camping out in suburbia with annoying Chevy Chase and his annoying family trying to lay down surveillance on the murderous counterfeiter who lives next door. It’s as asinine as it sounds, and as much as I actively avoid Chase (the guy just isn’t and has never been anything close to funny), the film has two redeeming factors: Jack Palance as the cranky, chain smoking veteran agent in charge, and Robert Davi as the scary criminal who has a habit of killing anyone he does business with, and a few watermelons along the way. Palance and his junior agent shack up with Chase’s hapless blue collar simpleton, his wife (Dianne Wiest) and kids. The old grump couldn’t be unhappier about it either, especially when Chase takes it upon himself to do recon all his own, royally screwing up the operation and nearly blowing their cover at every turn. Palance is priceless as always, Davi is reliably menacing and even Wiest has a sunny naivety that’s almost winning… the problem is just Chase. The guy is neither funny nor engaging, and just looks like a thumb with hair sitting there trying every trick to make us laugh and failing. An above mediocre comedy that’s best viewed on cable as background noise.

-Nate Hill

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Office Christmas Party

There’s something about a bitchy Jennifer Aniston telling an eight year old girl to fuck off in an airport lounge that puts me in the Christmas spirit. She also fake calls Santa on her cell and tells him to put her on the naughty list. Such is the stuff of Office Christmas Party, one of those improv heavy, uber raunchy, disposable comedies with a disposable title and a whole host of ‘flavour of the month’ standup talent that despite itself, actually turns out pretty great. Aniston and TJ Miller play rival siblings who squabble over the corporate syndicate they’ve inherited, he wants to have an epic, balls out holiday fiesta and she won’t have any of it. The party does happen, complete with hookers, blow shot through a snow machine, rampant destruction of corporate property, ice sculpture penises and more. And.. that’s the plot, but what more could you ask for in a flick called Office Christmas Party. Jason Bateman plays yet another beta dude who sort of hovers on the cusp of being an alpha, he could probably do the shtick in his sleep by now but is charming enough. Mad Max’s Abby Lee is a persnickety escort, Jillian Bell her pimp with major anger issues, Randall Park another office drone with a kinky fetish, while Olivia Munn and Rob Cordry run about as well. Courtney B. Vance doesn’t so much run as dangerously swing on a Christmas light Tarzan rope when he’s given a Santa sized dose of blow by accident, and Kate McKinnon plays hilariously against type as the prudish HR manager. The film doesn’t have much to say other than ‘lets gets fucked up into oblivion’ (who can argue that this time of year), plus a vague underdog subplot that’s lobbed in and a few notes about taking a stand to save the company from going under, a prospect that Aniston’s cunty pessimist readily embraces. Most of it is just wanton debauchery though, which is what these comedies do best. I enjoyed Fortune Feimster as an Uber driver with some trouble reading social cues, McKinnon scaring the shit out of Vance with by singing a German nursery rhyme out of nowhere and other funny bits. It has that distinctly self aware vibe that R rated comedies often do these days, following the genre pioneering trickle down effect of Seth Rogen and others, which can work or can run amok and feel straight up dumb sometimes. Here it’s a loosely plotted throwaway flick about a party anyways, so it works great and the film is highly enjoyable.

-Nate Hill

Richard Curtis’s Love Actually

Who doesn’t love Love Actually? I know I do. It’s such a sentimental, goofy, overblown pile of mush and I love it even more for being so. It can be sappy, but a lot of the situations and character interactions it entails are blunt, awkward truths made even more hilarious by an even more awkward cast, and encapsulate the meaning of Christmas. Not all the couples work out, not all of the individual stories end well or in satisfaction for characters or audiences. But that’s life, and they make the best out of what they have at this time of year, which is what it’s really about. Some turn out splendidly for the characters, leaving them beaming. Some learn tough lessons that are necessary for growth, some find love in storybook fashion and others are simply there for comic relief. What comedy and tearful drama we get as too, delivered by an astoundingly massive cast of British legends, speckled with a few familiar Yankee faces just to garnish the giant British figgy pudding. Liam Neeson plays a grieving father whose son (Thomas Bodie Sangster) is sick with love. Neeson’s sister (Emma Watson, grounded, real, heartbreaking) deals with her irresponsible husband (Alan Rickman, incapable of a false note). The newly elected Prime Minister (Hugh Grant in full flustered, fumbling glory) is attracted to his cute secretary (Martine Mcutcheon) and aloof writer Colin Firth feels pangs for his Portuguese housekeeper (Lúcià Moniz) who speaks not a word of English. Laura Linney has a steamy office romance with Rodrigo Santoro whilst dealing with an ill sibling, Bill Nighy is hysterical as a cynical Grinch of a pop star with a jaded facade, Keira Knightely, Chiwetel Efjor and Andrew Lincoln are involved in a subtle love triangle, and there’s all kinds of interwoven vignettes including Martin Freeman, Elisha Cuthbert, Ivana Milicevic, January Jones, Claudia Schiffer, Shannon Elizabeth, Denise Richards, Joanna Page, Sienna Guillory, Billy Bob Thornton as the sleazy US President and a priceless Rowan Atkinson as the world’s weirdest jewelry salesman who gives new maniacal meaning to holiday gift wrapping. It’s a big old circus of Christmas spirit with all kinds of different desires, motivations and relationships that reaches a festive fever pitch before erupting into a joyous finale of giddy Yuletide melodrama and cathartic good times that is impossible not to smile at. An annual watch for me.

-Nate Hill

Barry Levinson’s Bandits

Every once in a while a quirky indie style film slips through the studio system disguised as a star powered blockbuster, and usually isn’t met with the best reception. Such is the case with Barry Levinson’s Bandits, a buddy crime flick by way of an oddball love triangle marketed as Elmore Leonard/Tarantino type fare but emerging as something way more stream of consciousness and weird. Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton play two slippery, bickering bank robbers who bust out of prison using a cement truck (that’s a new one) and continue their nationwide spree of larceny and mayhem, but none of that is even close to as violent or intense as it sounds. There’s a schoolboy charm to these two and every hostage they take, every bank they knock over is a breeze, feeling like a pleasant, quaint experience. Eventually a bored housewife (Cate Blanchett) tags along and they both fall for her, causing friction in a few ways. The three actors are perfect for each other; Willis is the cocky ladies man who has tunnel vision and doesn’t think too hard or too far ahead, Thornton ditches his usual alpha male snake shtick for a jittery, sweet natured hypochondriac fellow and their camaraderie is irresistible. Blanchett is never not in top form and it’s easy to see how a girl like her could stray into their lives, eventually becoming very important to both. Now, anyone looking for taut action scenes, an intricate plot or specifically verbose, showboaty dialogue will be disappointed. As penned by Twin Peaks writer Harley Peyton, most of the character interaction has a spontaneous, free flowing aesthetic and feels improvised half the time, which I loved. As for plot, the bank robber framework simply serves to see these guys meander around beautiful Oregon hanging out and talking with each other, with only a few succinct, clear cut set pieces. This is a film about what happens in between the action scenes or the robberies, about quiet situational humour, quirky romance and organic conversation. It’s tough to adjust to and nothing about the DVD artwork suggests how odd and airy the film will be, but if that’s your bag then you’ll love it. It drags a tad in the third act but pulls together nicely for a cheeky resolution to their story, and is overall an enchanting piece of comedic crime by way of impromptu theatrics. Loved it.

-Nate Hill

Harold Ramis’s The Ice Harvest

Harold Ramis’s The Ice Harvest is one of my favourite Christmas films and completely overlooked for the dry, sardonic black comedy gold that it is. It’s one of those dour, gloomy Christmas films where not only do things not go the protagonist’s way, but pretty much spiral out of control for everyone else too and the festive setting serves as an ironic lacing to the wry, nihilistic and comically violent story. John Cusack is laconic boozehound mob lawyer Charlie, who has just embezzled his gangster boss for a couple million, with the help of his scheming guttersnipe of a partner Vic (Billy Bob Thornton at his utmost sleaziest). That’s the jumping point for a deliciously warped, noirish descent into deranged family values, deadpan interactions, double crosses and drunken shenanigans, and really is there any other way to spend Christmas Eve? There’s a femme fatale in stripper Renata (Connie Nielsen, rawr), the specifics of whose loyalties remains gleefully ambiguous until later on, a titty bar bouncer (Ned Bellamy) with serious anger issues, a nasty thug (Mike Starr) dispatched to kill them and the vengeful big city kingpin who has been swindled, played by a blustery, cheerfully psychotic Randy Quaid. Speaking of scene stealing, Oliver Platt does an encore as Charlie’s best friend who is now married to his bitch of an ex wife, the impromptu Christmas dinner scene the entire family shares is some kind of fucking demented, mean spirited comedic genius (“Turkey Lurkey!”). It’s interesting because there is not one single redeemable character in the film, they’re all a bunch of conning, backstabbing, murdering, ill adjusted, jaded criminals and severe alcoholics, especially Cusack, who downs enough bourbon throughout the whole night that it’s a wonder he can stand up for the third act. But somehow… somehow there’s a strange likability to these poor souls, trapped in a perpetually snowy Wichita Kansas trying to outsmart, outgun and out-drink each other. Morality rears it’s head but once among the gunplay and verbal sparring, when Charlie imparts a parable to Platt regarding his two uncles, one of whom was a standup guy and died early and the other a scumbag that lived a long life. His point being that it doesn’t matter what we do in the service of morality because it could all end tomorrow, nothing even matters so why waste time trying to be good and get off the naughty list? I enjoy that cheeky justification, and what better time for it than Christmas? A classic for me.

-Nate

Gore Verbinski’s The Weather Man

It’s always nice when a film as bizarre, unconventional and downbeat as Gore Verbinski’s The Weather Man gets approved by the big studio system, but the flip side of that is that when it inevitably gets a wide release and considerable marketing, score of reviewers and audiences are going to talk shit about it because it’s ‘different’ and ‘depressing.’ It is definitely those two things, but it’s also a painfully funny, insightful piece with fantastic work from Nicolas Cage, brilliantly placed dark humour, the briefest glimpses of pathos and an offbeat indie pulse. Cage is Chicago TV weatherman Dave Spritz, a guy whose swanky six figure salary and cakewalk career hide a disturbed, dysfunctional family life and a deep, cultivated self loathing that Cage pours out from every anguished glance and hangdog piece of inner monologue. His ex wife (Hope Davis) can’t stand him, his kids (Nicholas Hoult in an early career turn and Gemmenne De Le Pena, a great find) have a laundry list of their own issues and their interaction with him is strained for starters, while his Pulitzer Prize winning author dad (Michael Caine trying an American accent on for size and kind of struggling with it) frequently points out his shortcomings with measured acidity (“You don’t even have a degree in meteorology”). In short, his life has become one big absurdist joke punctuated by awkward altercations, passive aggressive jabs, misdirected anger, frequent instances of fast food being thrown at him by angry passersby and an overall blanket of deadly hilarious, glumly enlightening moodiness that you can’t decide whether to laugh or cry about. So who would want to watch a major movie filled with such rampant, cheekily deliberate unpleasantness? I would, and I for one totally loved this film for what it is. You could say it’s an acquired taste or you have to ‘get it’ or whatever smug, flavour of the month platitude that well travelled cinephiles like myself are peddling this week, but the plain truth of it is that not every Hollywood film can be a traditional ‘Hollywood’ film and there has to be room for off killer, weirdly staged stuff like this or the recipe is just too boring. Roger Ebert understood that, he gave this a glowing review and made particular mention of how slightly inaccessible stuff like this needs to be given a chance more often. In any case it’s an excellent film thanks to Cage’s reliably hilarious work, he almost seems to have been tailored for this role and you can tell he’s having a blast with every tortured mannerism and inappropriate outburst. I love and appreciate every single film that director Verbinski has made in his eclectic, unpredictable dervish of a career, the guy has done everything from Pirates Of The Caribbean to slapstick period piece to Hammer horror throwback to south of the border romance end even an animated film for adults which you don’t see too often. He always approaches us with something different to offer, and with The Weather Man he’s come up a winner again, I love this sad, self aware, pathetic yet touching portrait of a man adrift in his own inadequacy, his frequent attempts to swim serving as our entertainment, however much we pity or feel for the guy and his oddball family. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Cats & Dogs

In my household the felines and canines seem to abide harmoniously, but in the hectic alternate reality of Warner Bros’ Cats & Dogs, such is not the case. This is one silly ass movie whose special effects time has not been kind to, but I still kind of partly dig it anyways. Jeff Goldblum plays one of his terminally awkward dudes, a scientist who is on the verge of curing dog allergies in humans, and the ruling body of the cat nation, spearheaded by Sean Hayes persnickety Mr. Tinkles, keeps sending in spies to steal the formula. The dog faction, lead by Charlton Heston’s grizzled General, send in operatives of their own to counter the attacks, including Alec Baldwin’s veteran Butch and an excitable Beagle rookie (Tobey Maguire). The filmmakers used a chaotic blend of real live animals, jerky animatronics and barely passable CGI to bring the whole spectacle to life, but they can be given somewhat of a pass as it was the early 2000’s. I did get a kick out of parachuting ninja Siamese cats, a Russian specialist sent in to infiltrate Goldblum’s household and the variety of voice actors including Joe Pantoliano, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jon Lovitz and Susan Sarandon. Something has to be said for the borderline psychotic nursemaid (Miriam Margoyles) who preens over the villainous Mr. Tinkles like the matron from hell, these scenes do come alive and induce chuckles, but for the most part this is kind of a lame, dated flick.

-Nate Hill