Tag Archives: buddy comedy

Sideways – Review

17 Aug

I like to think of myself as a pretty open minded guy when it comes to movies. I try to soak in all sorts of films from all around the world and from different points of view. That being said, some genres just don’t impress me as much as others. I like comedies as much as the next person, but I’d much rather watch a mystery or a crime thriller. Comedies have to work really hard to win me over, and a good place to look is the work of Alexander Payne. Throughout the years, Payne has walked a thin line between comedy and drama and has garnered a lot of respect. The first movie I’ve seen of his was Nebraska, and I have to admit that I really couldn’t get into it. I’m revisiting his work with an earlier movie from 2004, Sideways, which was also met with many accolades. While I do like this one better than Nebraska, I still just don’t think his movies are for me.

Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church) have been best friends since they were room mates in college. They’ve been through various ups and downs together and, despite their efforts, haven’t really made much of an impact on the world. With Jack finally getting married, Miles sees this as a time to take him on a trip through California’s wine country where they will spend quality time together and drink a whole lot of wine. Along the way, the two come across Maya (Virginia Madsen), a waitress at one of Miles’ favorite restaurants, and they also meet Stephanie (Sandra Oh), a wine pourer at a local vineyard. Jack immediately starts an affair with Stephanie who is oblivious to the fact he’s getting married that weekend. Meanwhile, Miles becomes close with Maya, but has a hard time holding in the secret that Jack is keeping from Stephanie. This affair in the middle of wine country will force these best friends to examine who they are, what they are becoming, and how to finally feel fulfilled.

I want to go ahead and talk about what I really loved about this movie, and it has more to do with the way the characters are written than the actual story. Paul Giamatti’s character has been through a lot of terrible things, and a lot of it has to do with decisions he’s made. By the time this movie starts, he’s a broken man trying to find something special to hold onto, which is why this week long trip with his best friend means so much. Thomas Haden Church’s character is the exact opposite. He’s a loose cannon who feels like he hasn’t lived his life to the fullest, and he doesn’t realize that his bad decisions are the same things that completely ruined his friend’s outlook. It’s an interesting friendship that I don’t think has been explored this well in movies like this. I feel like Payne really fleshed out these two characters to the point where I understand their feelings without them needing to vocalize them, which is a very strong film making technique. Miles sees a lot of his past in Jack which scares him and Jack sees a potential future in Miles which also scares him. I really can’t stress enough how much I enjoyed these two characters and the depth of their connection.

The setting for this movie also really helped put me into the story. Road trip movies now seem to always go for the extreme party cities where shenanigans are bound to happen. The fact that shenanigans occur in the California wine country is certainly different. While the setting is fun and different, I can’t really say the same thing about how the story progressed. While there are things that set Sideways apart, at it’s core it still follows the same formula set down by buddy and romantic comedies. The movie didn’t really throw me any curve balls or offer me any sort of dramatic surprises, which is weird considering how deep Payne worked to make his characters seem unique but he couldn’t really do the same with his story. There are some good moments of humor that do feel very original and that helps the story from becoming too stale. While I did chuckle at the movie and laugh out loud pretty hard once, it didn’t really strike me as hilarious. I can’t help but look at Sideways as a drama more than it is a comedy.

As far as the comedy did go, Giamatti was spot on as always. This is the kind of actor that can naturally find the perfect tone for a movie and strike it without even seeming to try. I wish the same could be said for Thomas Haden Church. I can’t really tell if his character annoyed me or his performance annoyed me. He just seemed over the top at times and, while it was a good foil for Giamatti’s character, he just didn’t have the same effect on me. Virginia Madsen is good in her role although there is one scene where the writing felt a bit too unnatural. Unfortunately, Sandra Oh’s character exists solely for an affair to happen. We get glimpses into her life, but she’s never really fleshed out to her potential, unlike Madsen. For a movie that’s so focused on character development, it’s easy to notice when one of them gets next to none.

Sideways is a good movie. I don’t think anyone will say otherwise. My only thing is that it isn’t really my cup of tea. I found it easy to find flaws because it just struck me as pretentious quite often and unfortunately predictable. Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen are excellent while Thomas Haden Church has moments of brilliance but also moments of over the top annoyance. I can’t say much for Sandra Oh since she didn’t have much to really contribute. Sideways works best as an examination of friendship, aging, and trust while also being a strong character study. It doesn’t really hold up quite the same way in the narrative department. As a comedy/drama it still holds up better than many.

Final Grade: B

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Swiss Army Man – Review

12 Jul

Listen, I’m all for big budget Hollywood productions. If there’s a movie that’s a sequel or another comic book adaptation, chances are I might be in that theater seat adding to what some people might call “the problem.” That being said, it is mighty refreshing to come across a new movie that is overflowing with imagination, creativity, and though provoking content. The movie I’m referencing right now is Swiss Army Man, a film circuit gem that has finally gotten a wider release. I’ve seen a lot of great movies this year, and I’ve also seen some garbage, but Swiss Army Man will more than likely remain in my top picks of 2016.

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After being shipwrecked on an island for who knows how long, Hank (Paul Dano) has decided he’s had enough and creates a makeshift noose to help him end it all. This plan abruptly comes to an end when a dead guy who Hank names Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) washes up on the beach, and through the power of extraordinary flatulence, whisks Hank away to the mainland. Still trapped in the middle of nowhere, Hank and his new deceased friend start their trek back to humanity, but soon it becomes clear that Manny is slowly coming back to life, even though he has no memories of his life or customs that humans hold so dear. As this odd couple makes their way through the woods, Hank gives Manny some lessons about what it means to be human, which includes some of our positives and lots of our negatives.

I have to give all the credit in the world to Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan for having the guts to actually write and direct this movie. When you think of all the movies out there right now, none of them really compare to the absurdity that is seen in Swiss Army Man. It takes a lot of imagination and skill to actually pull this movie off. While it is a fantasy, it also works as a social commentary. Might I just remind everyone that this social commentary is discussed between a guy that’s been stranded on an island and a dead guy that washed up on the beach and is slowly coming back to life. What a ridiculous concept, and yet it is pulled off so well. There’s a lot of overt criticisms, but the ones that are more subtle are the ones that work the most. I don’t want to say it’s a pessimistic view of the world we live in and the rules we are “forced” to follow, but it kinda sorta is.

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So, yeah this is a pretty pessimistic movie that I would argue continues throughout the entire story. Paul Dano’s character has a backstory that is pretty upsetting, even though what can be interpreted as upsetting is actually pretty minor. This is because we can all relate to those little things that always seem to bring us down the most. In that way, Dano’s character is extremely relatable and I really just wanted to see him finally find something to be happy about. On the flip side, Swiss Army Man is also an incredibly funny movie. I laughed a lot at things I never thought I’d ever see. There’s humor as low as fart jokes all the way to some really clever satire. The way Radcliffe’s character is used adds a lot to this humor as his corpse seems capable of pulling anything off. What I’m trying to say is that this movie works well at making you feel sad one moment and then making it seem impossible to stop laughing the next.

Throughout most of the movie, the only characters we see are Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. Needless to say, this movie wouldn’t have worked it their chemistry wasn’t exactly on point. Thankfully, it was and now we have one of the most hilarious odd couples to ever grace the silver screen. Dano is great as Hank, the straight man, who is forced to explain even the most basic things to the screwball corpse, Manny. Radcliffe really steals the show, though, as he brings Manny to life more and more as the story progresses. He’s absolutely hilarious and gives one of my favorite performances of the year so far. The only other person worth mentioning is Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who is only really in the movie near the very end. She’s fine, but she doesn’t really have much to do. If you wanna see Winstead really show what she’s capable of, just watch 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Swiss Army Man is packed to the brim with ideas, imagination, and adventure. It’s certainly a one of a kind movie in every sense of the word, and might sit pretty well in my top 10 movies of the year. Of course, it is only July, but on the other hand I loved this movie a whole hell of a lot. This is normally the part where I would say that this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that may be true, but I can’t really see how. This is a movie with characters that anyone can relate to, and a premise that is guaranteed no one has ever seen before. It’s independent film making on a grand scale.

The Nice Guys – Review

2 Jun

The first time I watched the original Lethal Weapon, I knew that the person behind the screenplay was a truly original voice who has to have more work. Of course, I was a bit late to the party and Shane Black already achieved what I wanted him to. This guy can write some of the funniest, action packed screenplays and I honestly envy the wit that he has. As if the envy wasn’t strong enough, now we have The Nice Guys, which is without a doubt one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a long time and possibly the best written movie of 2016 so far.

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Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is an “enforcer” who was hired by a young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) to stop the man who has been looking for her. Thinking this man to be some sort of stalker, Healy goes to the home of Holland March (Ryan Gosling), a private detective who was hired to find Amelia, and is intimidated into dropping the case. Meanwhile a porn star that went by the name Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio) is brutally murdered, and all signs point to Amelia being the next victim. This coincidence brings Jackson and Holland together again, but this time to find and protect Amelia while also digging up the conspiracy as to why all of her known associates are turning up dead.

When it comes to comedy, I can be pretty hard to please. One of my favorite comedies is actually a Shane Black movie from 2005, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, so based on how much I love that movie, The Nice Guys had a lot to live up to. Luckily for me, it’s absolutely hilarious and contains all of the whip smart dialogue I’ve come to expect from Black’s writing. This movie walks a fine line between over the top slap stick and a more sophisticated, quick kind of humor. These two blend very well together, and there were only a few times where the jokes fell a little flat. We still get a perfect blend of action, comedy, and some pretty heavy hitting drama. A lot of this is due to Black, but a lot of credit also has to go to the two stars that absolutely knock it out of the park.

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There’s no doubt that Shane Black has a certain kind of formula he uses to make his movies. In Lethal Weapon, we have Murtaugh as the straight man and Riggs as the wild card. In Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Perry is the straight man and Harry Lockhart is the wild card. Pretty basic comedy right there, except these guys are detectives. Crowe’s Healy is the straight man and Gosling’s March is the wild card. What I love about these two, however, is that I know them as being very serious actors. Watching Gosling have a complete freak out in the middle of a gun fight is absolutely hilarious, but what’s just as funny is Crowe reacting in the mellowest of ways to what he’s doing. The chemistry between these two feels like it’s been forged on the Mt. Olympus of film, and I’d love to see these two as these characters again. I also have to give a major shout out to Angourie Rice, who plays Holland March’s daughter. She has a really fun part in the movie, and this kid plays it very well and is very believable. She’s just as much a memorable character as March and Healy.

I think I’ve emphasized enough how funny this movie is, but there’s a lot more to it than that. The Nice Guys also works great as an action film, a mystery film, and in some scenes as a nice character drama. The action in this movie is an absolute blast, and while it does get silly at times, I was so roped into what was going on. Our protagonists are also detectives of sorts, which means there’s a huge trail of clues they have to travel on until they uncover what big conspiracy is going on. When a movie can make me laugh while also keeps me completely invested in the story and the bigger picture, I consider it a huge success. I love me a good mystery, and this one was very satisfying. Finally, the characters in this movie feel very complete, with all of their flaws, successes, and shady pasts. Part of the reason I want a sequel is so these characters can be examined more. Their situations are so unique and they feel so organic that it’s hard not to care about them.

I had high hopes for The Nice Guys, and not only did it meet my expectations, it also exceeded them. The bottom line is that this is just one hell of an entertaining movie however you look at it. There’s plenty of action, loads of humor, and also a nice mystery sprinkled with some real human drama for good measure. It simply has everything I could want in a movie. If you hate having a good time, then stay clear away from this movie. If you’re like everyone else and enjoy having fun, it’s guaranteed entertainment.

Ted – Review

27 Dec

Seth MacFarlane has established himself as one of the front runners of comedy. He has multiple shows on television, but his first show Family Guy has become ridiculously popular. It’s a little surprising that it has taken him so long to make a live action movie, but he finally did with his live action film, Ted.

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John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) made a wish when he was a kid that his favorite teddy bear would come to life and be his best friend. Miraculously, his wish comes true and he names his bear Ted (Seth MacFarlane). For years they are the best of friends, but when John’s long time girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) expects him to take their relationship to the next level, John has to choose between her or his best friend. Trouble also arrives in the form of Donny (Giovanni Ribisi), and obsessed fan of Ted’s who wants him all for his son.

Fans of Family Guy, like myself, should have no problem liking this movie. That being said, people who hate it will not be converted by this movie. In fact, they will probably hate this movie more than the show. MacFarlane’s signature humor is put into overdrive in Tedwith nostalgic references, crude potty humor, and of course the jokes that push lines of decency and political correctness. I can say that this combination made me laugh the entire way through the movie when I saw it in theaters and when I re-watched it yesterday. I’m sure I’ll laugh just as much when I watch it again.

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Ted’s animation looks fantastic. Instead of recording the audio and the motion capture separately, before or after shooting, Macfarlane recorded his lines and the movement live on the set with the actors. This adds a nice level of realism in the timing of the dialogue and helped the actors really get into the scene a lot better. It can’t be easy acting with nothing to act with, so MacFarlane providing his dialogue and movement must have really helped the scenes come along. Not to mention, he did all of this while directing the movie. It really shows the talent that this guy has and the reaches he’s willing to go to to make his movie perfect.

The writing is sharp and witty, and the actors all play it off perfectly. You can tell that they went off script from time to time and just let their comedic imaginations run wild. Hilarity ensues, of course. The only detraction that I really have for this movie is the plot’s predictability. Most buddy comedies that you’ve ever seen follows the same exact formula as this one. I knew exactly what was going to happen and how it was going to be resolved before the movie even started. There is a nice curve ball with Donny, the obsessed fan. That adds a nice layer is surprise that really helps the film get out of its groove.

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A lot of people aren’t going to like Ted, but I can say that about any comedy. Seth MacFarlane has his own kind, though, that seems to bother a lot of people, but at the same time others think it’s the funniest stuff ever. I don’t think Ted is the funniest movie ever made, but I will say that it’s funnier than most movies that have come out in the past ten years. I had no doubt that I was going to enjoy this movie, and I really did. If you’re a fan of MacFarlane’s tv shows, than chances are you’ll get a kick out of Ted.