Archive for the Comedy Category

UP :: COMEDY :: 039

Posted in Animation, Comedy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 02/23/2010 by joycereview

Since I was little, Disney movies always held a sense of magic and wonderment.  As the animation became more detailed, it has come to the point where it hardly feels like your watching something designed for children.  If it weren’t for the brilliant colors, a house being carried away by balloons and a pack of dogs with voice translators, one would never know.

As the 82nd Academy Awards rolls around; now only 12 days left (Sunday, March 7th), I am desperately trying to see each title up for Best Picture.  UP, the Disney/Pixar sensation, is the only animated film in the listing and although the underdog to win (up against Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Precious, The Blind Side, Up In The Air, A Serious Man, Inglourious Basterds, An Education, and District 9), it is certainly in my Top 3 personal choses to win.

BEAR BONES

Up is the story of Carl Fredricksen, a 78-year-old whose dream it has always been to visit and explore the wilderness of South America (like his childhood idol Charles Munts).  Thwarting his “capture” by the Shady Oaks Retirement Village, Carl heeds his late wife’s words of “…go have an adventure of your own” and sets sail to the sky via house and helium balloons.  Little did Carl know that wilderness explorer Russell (age 8), still looking to earn his “Assist The Elderly” badge, is along for the journey.  There are snipes, dogs, and enough fantastically cute moments that you will may feel a bit light-headed from all the laughter.

Similar to Pixar’s other brilliant work, Wall-E, the first act of the film is almost entirely bereft of dialogue.  For Up, we see the meeting between two young, like-minded and playful souls and it builds cements (quite delicately) an emotional foundation that carries the audience “up”, “up” and beyond most animated films of today.

The folks at Pixar are geniuses.  I’ve been convinced of this for a long time (even as I am getting older and more critical).  I was surprised, however, to see them break the mold and have as its main character, a crotchety old man named Carl.  Every generation believes that, when they were young, people respected their elders.  “Elders” are definitely looked over these days, until Christmas & birthdays roll around.  This movies shows that, although life gives hard lessons, the spirit of adventure seldom dies completely.

Remember all!

A wilderness explorer is a friend to all, be a place or fish or tiny mole!

I’m off to explore!  I hope you’ll explore your thoughts about this movie and write them below*.

*Your chance to win a FREE DVD.  Simply comment on the review of your choice and you’ll be instantly entered into the month’s random drawing.

JUNEBUG :: DRAMA :: 038

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Indie with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 02/21/2010 by joycereview

I’ve been lucky the past few weeks.

I say “lucky”, because as a film buff,… as someone who loves to dive into the gigantic pool of cinema (often daily), I watch many films that lack substance.

Away We Go wasn’t like that, and Junebug certainly isn’t either.

JuneBug was absolutely a joy to watch from the moment George Johnsten uttered his character’s first words, “I’m from Pfafftown, North Carolina.”

As many of my readers know, I’ve lived and grown up in the city of Winston-Salem, not fifteen minutes away from where this story takes place.  And although North Carolina is the host state for many movies (primarily Wilmington, NC), very few have had stories so closely affixed to our “Southern ways,” not-to-mention the universal complications within families, Life, and our place in them.

BEAR BONES

Meet George Johnsten (Alessandro Nivola) a charming, near-perfect Southern gentleman.

It’s been three years since he’s been home to visit his family, and it just so happens that his wife, a passionate and career-driven Chicago art dealer, Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), must visit a reclusive artist in Pinnacle, North Carolina (not far from where George grew up).  Seeming like the perfect opportunity to meet her hubby’s family for the first time, her visit creates a windstorm of emotion and uncovers more than could ever have been perceived, about her in-laws, her relationship with George and herself.

Strangely enough, my celebrity crush of Amy Adams, who plays George’s doe-eyed, child-like and very pregnant sister-in-law didn’t  officially begin until I saw this film.  Nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Supporting Actress (2005)” for her role as Junebug’s “Ray of Southern light,” is an inquisitive and perpetually “sunny” character that says (virtually all in one breath):

[Ashley; about Madeleine] I wonder what she looks like.  I bet she’s skinny.  She probably is.  She’s skinnier’n me and prettier too.  Now I’ll hate her.  I can’t wait!

But obviously she never does (hate her)… as Ashley doesn’t seem to hate anyone.

Ashley’s clearly the “creme-filled center” of Junebug (if you find the “creme” to be the yummiest part of the doughnut), however this film’s sugary-goodness comes from the remaining cast.  Peg (played by Celia Weston), the matriarchal mother-in-law to Madeleine, does two things: voices her opinions and looks after her young’ns.  Her husband, Eugene (Scott Wilson) plays the role of the tight-lipped father… a common trait among spouses of brazen, out-spoken, women.  Even though through most of George and Madeleine’s visit Eugene’s looking for a lost screwdriver (a “Phillips head”), his character shines with the reality of what many good ol’ Southern boys become (especially with a wife such as Peg).  Sometimes what Eugene says is for his benefit only, mostly he keeps quiet, and (like many of us) conveys a Buddhistic wisdom.  Consider for a moment a tense moment in the film when Madeleine walks in on a private conversation between Eugene and Peg.  Maybe she heard what Peg had said about her; maybe not.  Peg gets up from the table and leaves the room.

[Madeleine] She’s a very strong personality.

[Eugene]  That’s just her way.  She hides herself.  She’s not like that inside.  (pause) Like most.

Where the story comes up short is through the character of Johnny (Ben Mckenzie), Ashley’s frustrated and tantrum-giving husband.  He’s a torrent of anger and self-loathing; second-rate when it comes to his successful brother, and emotionally handicapped when it comes to showing affection (this is, perhaps, because he feels that he is undeserving of it).  This is evident in the scene where Johnny desperately scrambles to tape a television show on meerkats.  He knows Ashley loves them.  But like everything in his life thus far, he fails.  Either the acting of Ben Mckenzie was over-done, or it was poor directing on  Morrison’s part,… but it was very hard to believe that Ashley; adorable and pregnant – quite plumply of a bump with his child, could ever arouse such anger and internal discord.

The only other sour point, comes by way of the mentally-challenged, heavily accent, “sought after” genius artist, David Walk.  He lives in Pinnacle, NC (which gives us sentimental Carolinians a beautiful shot of Pilot Mountain) but paints lurid, allegorical pictures of American history.  Madeleine, intent on signing and representing him in the art world, comments over a particular piece –

I like all the dog heads and computers,… and scrotums.

I know very little of art, but the art that I do have an appreciation for… makes sense.  People look like the people they are drawn after.  Picasso, someone whose work I wouldn’t pay for (if I never knew the value) seems more like art than the shallow and jejune “art” described as “breath-taking.”

Junebug, written by Angus MacLachlan and directed by Phil Morrison, is…above all else… a story that shows that the problems of Life can seldom be solved within the scope of a single film.  The evolution of the character’s relationships with one another, the deep undercurrent of emotion and pain, and any sort of resolution or understanding cannot be deciphered in 106 minutes (nor could it be solved in 300).  I can’t wait to personally own this film, not only to watch again, but to pass amongst my fellow North Carolinians as a relatable, highly-authentic story about real people… living, loving… and dealing.

AWAY WE GO :: COMEDY :: 035

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Indie, romance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 02/02/2010 by joycereview

I like funny movies about 30-something couples, partly because I’m 30-something, and partly because I’m finding it hard to relate to anything else.

After a jaw-dropping revelation of what America finds “entertaining & hilarious” (see The Hangover), I felt what most suicidal people might describe as “the great sadness.”

As I picked myself off the floor and the pulled the 9mm revolver from between my teeth, a sense of hope came when I saw that Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road) directed an independent film with our much-loved, “Jim Halpert” (from The Office) and  Saterday Night Live vertern, Maya Rudolph.

BEAR BONES

Romantic and charismatic Burt Farlander (John Krasinski) and pessimistic, nuptially-reluctant and 6-months-pregnant Verona De Tessant (Maya Rudolph) are a loving couple.  While visiting Burt’s parents (played by Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Daniels), Burt and Verona discover that they’ve made other plans.  Realizing that there isn’t much to stay around for, they embark on a road trip to visit family and old friends in a quest to find the place they will call “Home.”

Seeing this movie makes me realize, “Hey. I like movies about nice people.”

Burt and Verona are intelligent, corky and “nice” people and I will say here – their relationship and chemistry binds this movie together (like so much maple syrup).  Their odyssey takes them to places like Phoenix and Montreal where they meet old acquaintances and family, and on each meeting discover just what they don’t want to become as lovers and as parents.

The physical and charming style of Krasinski compliments the expressive and uniquely-beautiful* Rudolph superbly.  Their characters, Burt and Verona, give us movie-goes a glimpse at the life of a real couple.  Some people may argue that when they rent a movie they want to be swept away by the unreal.  To this, there is always a time and place.  The best stories… the ones that truly make an impact come not from the Hollywood standard, but from the creation of “real” people.

For one, there is this “real” scene in which Burt and Verona are lying in bed:

[Verona]  Burt, are we F#$@-ups?.  [Burt] No! What do you mean?  [V] I mean, we’re 34… [B] I’m 33. [V] …and we don’t even have the basic stuff figured out. [B] Basic, like how? [V] Basic, like how to live.  [B] We’re not f&$%-ups.  [V] We have a cardboard window.  [B] (looks at window) We’re not f@#%-ups.  [V] (whispers) I think we might be f#$%-ups.

Lots of couples wonder this.  Lots of couples talk about this.  Their life feels flat… that they don’t match up to everyone else and/or their life doesn’t match up to everyone elses.

Watching a film like Away We Go makes me feel a great and powerful connection to Burt and Verona, not just because I feel like “we’re in the same boat” but because the alternative of where we think we are is seldom where we’d like to be [and that is something I’ve always felt strongly about].  Especially if we knew what we’d become or have to give up in order to get it.

I felt “pure and clean” again after watching this film.

The Hangover taste is gone.

Away we go was the dose of Listerine I need so very badly.

THE HANGOVER :: COMEDY :: 034

Posted in Comedy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 01/20/2010 by joycereview

Comedy is a genre with wide-swinging extremes.  Certain films obviously cater to different camps.  My particular style of comedy lies within the witty and satirical, but I can appreciate my share of potty humor.  Somehow I’ve never outgrown that.

This movie reminds me of when I first heard the boyhood stories from Lake Wobegon on NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion.  My two best friends insisted it was funny and when I listened, I had the same reaction that Homer Simpson had, to strike my radio and demand that it “be more funny.”

The Hangover is the evil twin brother of A Prairie Home Companion. But instead of fond stories surrounded by nice Minnesotans, The Hangover was raised in the Animal House (considered by Bravo to be the number 1 comedy of all-time) and fed mind-numbing drugs.

HERE, THE BAREST BONES…

Doug (Justin Bartha), the groom-to-be, and his friends; Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) drive to Las Vegas for his bachelor party.  Their rooftop toast is drugged and they spend the movie trying to piece together the ludicrous and idiotic shenanigans that transpired that night.  In their search for answers, they discover a bengal tiger in their bathroom, a stripper’s baby in their closet, and find that Doug is missing (to name just a few).

This movie completely turned me on my head, but not because it was funny.   Roger Ebert (Ebert & Roeper), Peter Travers (Rolling Stone Magazine), my sister and a handful of friends thought it was a riot of laughs and thus, it leaves me feeling like I’ve been served a joke that  I’m too “square” to understand.  However, since I laughed in this film as much as I laughed in Schindler’s List, [zilch] I feel compelled to uphold my integrity as an honest reviewer and give this film the worst rating (1 bear claw) in the history of The Joyce Review.  I’m sure there will be more (horrible reviews), but nothing quite so surprising [since The Hangover just won the 2010 Golden Globe for Best Comedy]!

After this trashing, I can foresee hoards of movie-goers, respected readers of The Joyce Review, suddenly picking up their torches and pitchforks in a boisterous and bloody revolution.  My peeps, I beseech you,…have mercy.  All I wish is for a friendly debate.  Forget for a moment that I find this movie absurd, and those that like it, a smidge nutty.  We are still family, you are still loved, but till this Hangover hoop-la passes, I’ll still be looking at you a bit funny.  It can’t be helped.

A few questions if I might?  Seeing as if you answered “yes”:

  1. When did absurd (not-to-mention extremely unrealistic) circumstances become not just funny, but (Golden Globe caliber) hysterical?
  2. Do you think (as I do) that The Hangover was written, in its entirety, using Mad Libs?
  3. Do you think, perhaps, that The Hangover won it’s Golden Globe (as I do) by being the only full comedy, amidst a line-up of quasi comedies (i.e. Julie & Julia, It’s Complicated, 500 Days of Summer) and a musical (Nine)?  Where was Bruno or Zombieland?

I’m confused (not “hungover”).

The lines are open…

FOUR CHRISTMASES :: COMEDY :: 029

Posted in Comedy, Drama, romance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 12/25/2009 by joycereview

It’s Christmas Eve… Santa’s probably airborne (he usually gets an early start) and come Christmas morning, everyone should have something in their stocking.  Now, if I were one of those “snippy” critics, I would reference here that those that worked on this movie shouldn’t expect Santa’s good graces.

Let me say from the start, that I have a fondness for Vince Vaughn.  Truth-be-told, I didn’t like him in the beginning; not because he was a bad actor or anything, but because he seemed like a bit of a wise-guy.  One of those guys that always had a witty come-back and who you’d wish would just be “normal” for once.  But he’s someone that has really grown on me, and has turned into someone I look forward to seeing time and time again.  If it weren’t for him, this movie would barely make a track!  Four Christmas barely comes across with 5.

Here’s the “bear” bones-

Brad (Vince Vaugn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon) look to be the modern version of the perfect couple; lovingly self-centered, but getting all that they want from their relationship (for now).  Under the ruse of charity work, Brad and Kate escape the family obligations and the ensuing stress of the holidays by flying to Fiji; only to discover that the flight is cancelled due to heavy fog.  To make matters worse, a tv reporter and camera shows up and exposes their failed getaway.  Four Christmases in one day can be trying for anybody, but with Brad and Kate, the secrets, humiliations and the physical abuse might more than their relationship can handle.

When watching this movie, I kinda wished I had a lower I.Q. just for the fact that it would have boosted my enjoyment of it.  While it certainly had its fun moments (which was inevitably caused by Vaughn’s comic leadership), and gave us the split family dynamic rather than just the one, crazy household, it sank on the basis of character.

Comedy works best when the laughs are allowed to well up from within the material, the situation, and/or the nature of the character.  It isn’t a 10-year old child ,with his boney fist posed at your defenseless face, asking “What’s my name bitch?” that makes the scene funny- it’s the reaction of Vince Vaughn, who undoubtedly channels his emotions from the “near rape” scene from Wedding Crashers, and who’s pitched pleads of mercy are both hilarious and real.  If it weren’t for Vaughn’s brilliance, that scene would have been completely wasted on me.  The supporting cast, however, if not saved by or made funny by Vaughn, falls silent.  Reese Witherspoon did a decent job, even though her wrestle-mania in the “jump jump cage” was a immature and needy.

Screen legends Sissy Spacek, Bobby Duvall and Jon Voight provided a bit more (name) weight to the film, but only propped up it’s status to a movie like,  Meet the Fockers. One line from Duvall (who played Brad’s biological dad), was quite side-ripping though;

Boys, I don’t want to speak ill of your mother on Christmass, but she’s nothing but a common street whore.

I long for a Christmas movie that will take the place of my beloved National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, but I’ve yet to find it.  Vaughn could be my next Chevy, if only he had his Eddie… and Jon Favreau, you’re not him.  Owen Wilson is a terrific comedic partner but we’ll just have to see what the future holds.  For me, something like that would surely make my Christmas wish list!

BURN AFTER READING :: COMEDY :: 027

Posted in Comedy, Crime, Drama with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 12/11/2009 by joycereview

Burn after Reading is just another Coen brother’s film that begs the questions, “Does Joel and Ethan ever make a bad movie?”  It’s obvious once the credits roll that it doesn’t have the re-watchability of say, Fargo or The Big Lebowski, however, it has a special, quality all its own.  And I mean “special” both in, like, “it has a warm place in my heart” and in the fact that is was cute, you know, in a slightly handicapped sort-of-way.  Hmmm… is that too insensitive?

This film reminded me of a story I heard as a child about the blind men and the elephant.  You ever heard it?  You know, the story where each blind man was given a side of the elephant- one got the tusk, one the side, and the other the rear.  The one sightless chap at the front thought it was a spear, the visually inept guy #2 thought the side was a wall, and the final, sightless scoundrel thought the tail was a rope.  The point of the story was not that these blind men were morons (oh no), but that they had a different interpretation of what they thought was reality… and they were all wrong!

Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich- Of Mice and Men, Being John Malkovich) begins to construct his memoirs after being fired by the CIA.  His wife Katie (Tilda Swinton- The Chronicles of Narnia) is messing around with Harry (George Clooney- Solaris, Up In The Air), a State Department marshal, and they bed-talk about divorcing their “other halves.”  A compact disk of “highly-sensitive CIA shit” is found by local fitness gym employees Chad and Linda.  Chad (Brad Pitt- Interview with a Vampire, Fight Club) is the high-energy, affable HardBodies trainer who goes in cahoots with Linda (Frances McDormand- Fargo, The Man Who Wasn’t There), a woman who’s bent on using the disk to fetch her some elective cosmetic surgery money.  When Chad and Linda’s sales pitch blows up in their faces, they decide to take it to the Russians.  And from there… you could say things get pretty loco.

The fun part of this movie is that everyone is eccentric, going mach 5 in the wrong direction.  Brad Pitt is at the top of his game (not that he’s a great “game-player”), in a role that I can easily say, “you’ve never seen him in before.”  He is a complete cartoon of a character, but one that is so darn like-able that you can’t stop grinning.  And boy does he have some good lines!- my favorite being when Chad calls Osbourne Cox.

[ Chad on the phone] Osbourne Cox? I thought you might be worried… about the security… of your shit.

It might not read (right away) as funny, but much of the movie is situational – it’s people trying to get away with stuff, it’s false accusations, it’s misconceptions…(sigh)…it’s a fun time is “what it is!”

Burn After Reading definitely has the Coen brother’s signature idiosyncrasy, similar to O Brother Where Art Thou, but with a meandering story-line and (what seemed to me as) a premature ending.  Following one of my favorite films of 2007, No Country For Old Men, it seems that Joel and Ethan were not just looking to return to their comedic roots, but were wanting to “get moronical.”  Ben Stiller shouldn’t have the monopoly on that!  And since I’m kinda tired of his movies, it’s nice to be able to sit down with another film, a different film, and not have to think much.

Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN :: FOREIGN :: 025

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Foreign with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 12/03/2009 by joycereview

I was given the nod to see this by my best friend in 2008 (a year and change before I started The Joyce Review).  The 5-out-of-5 star rating from both the Chicago Sun-Times and the Washington Post gave the definitive gesture; my mind was set, this was the next film to see.

Everything appealed to me; the foreign title, the vibrance of the dvd and the two guys sandwiching the hot girl in the dress! Grin, grin, wink, wink, say-no-more!  But all of this is superficial, and so was the film.

Y Tu Mama Tambien ensnares you from the opening scene which features a youthful couple doing what they do best, the horizontal (and slightly to the right) bop!  We also learn how insecure (and naïve) the little humping-bird (Tenoch) is as his post-coital talk boils down to “Please don’t bang other guys.”  [You see, her and her girlfriend are going on vacation to Italy… where the agreed-upon plan is to be faithful. -yeah. and monkeys might fly out of my rear!]

When we meet the other “strapping gentleman” (Julio) [cough, cough]  he’s giving his lovely-lady-friend the quick “do-over” in her bedroom just before the mom walks in. Whoah!… almost an American Pie moment there!  Then, after sending a bon voyage to their “virtuous” [snicker] girlfriends, we see the boys as they truly are [when they are not trying to get laid.  At least I hope not!]: holding their breath under water, masturbating in swimming pools, talking about each other’s wangs in the shower, smoking pot, and eloquently (scoff) and frantically discussing the female anatomy.  Later they meet up with Luisa, whose married, 10 years their senior and a distant cousin of Tenoch’s.  This, of course, doesn’t stop the two horny toads from inviting her on a road-trip to the beach, Heaven’s Mouth.  When Luisa discovers her husbands infidelity she calls the boys up and the adventure begins.

First and foremost, if this had been an American-made movie, it would have been nominated for jack-nothing.  Once the trip finally gets underway, you don’t really care for the “masturbating twins” and the only thoughts that go through your mind at this point are: when is Luisa going to tickle their monkey, will it be one after the other or all together, and whose “mama” (referring to the title) is going to be included in the romp-fest?  But I’ll go ahead and quell the momma jokes right there and say that no “momma” joins in- it was just a title referring to a line in the movie that was just as mature and tasteful as the movie itself.  If I wanted to watch a movie about going to the beach, I would have watched Back To The Beach (Frankie Avalon & Annette Funicello).  At least that movie had Pee Wee Herman in it! – someone with enough taste to jerk-off off-screen and not on.

I give this movie several bear claws for honesty (if this is indeed the way teenagers from Mexico City conduct themselves), for great performances (just the non-sexual ones) from Gael Garcia Bernal (The Motorcycle Diaries), Diego Luna (Milk) and Maribel Verdu (Pan’s Labyrinth) and above-par screenwriting.  I would have applauded the sexual scenes also, if sex wasn’t the better half of the plot, and if perhaps the character’s sexual endurance could have lasted more than a blink of an eye.  Shame, shame my poor lads.