Tag Archive | comedy

The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a magical misfire

As Ben Affleck has resurrected his career post-Bennifer implosion with a series of increasingly impressive directorial efforts, it’s easy to speculate that the Gigli star has learned a thing or two about the perils of working alongside romantic partners.  So whilst Jennifer Garner’s husband wows critics with his latest release, Argo, the former “Alias” leading lady is left to take on a seemingly endless stream of lacklustre big screen projects.  With a résumé that already includes the maligned Arthur remake, an odious Valentine’s Day and the *ahem* unforgettable Elektra, Garner can now add Disney’s The Odd Life of Timothy Green to her growing list of movie mistakes.   

The Odd Life of Timothy Green focuses on a couple (Garner and Warrior’s Joel Edgerton) who are unable to conceive a child.  Of course, as this Disney-fied fantasy film is a U-certificate, such weighty issues are never addressed specifically or even by name.  A scene explaining that the stork has lost broody duo’s address would be less patronising than the actual one that depicts the pair’s sterile discussion with their doctor.  The film itself is a series of prolonged flashback sequences, as Garner’s overly wholesome Cindy and Edgerton’s energetic pencil-producing hubby, Jim, reveal their unbelievable tale during an interview with an adoption agency.  What follows is, essentially, the story of a Cabbage Patch Kid who grows out of the Green’s garden following a magical rain storm.  Taking on the name Timothy (CJ Adams), the young boy embodies all the hopes and dreams within Cindy and Jim of a child they’ll never have via natural means.  So thrilled is the remarkably accepting couple that when Timothy asks “Please don’t ask about my leaves”, as he has unexplained foliage on his legs, they dutifully ignore the sheer insanity of the situation and quickly begin to take on typical parental roles.  It’s all utter nonsense delivered with straight-faced sincerity that never has much fun with sugary-sweet concept.
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Ruby Sparks is real movie magic

Finally following up on their hit feature film debut, 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine, with Ruby Sparks, it’s fair to say that the married directorial couple of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris have been highly meticulous in finding the right film for their sophomore effort.  Of course, the pair has years of experience behind the cameras, having directed music videos for some of the biggest rock acts on the planet (R.E.M., The Smashing Pumpkins and Red Hot Chili Peppers to name a few).  Taking on actor Zoe Kazan’s first screenplay may appear to be a surprising choice for Dayton and Faris to make their return with, but any question as to “why Ruby Sparks?” is emphatically answered by this masterful exploration of insecurity, idealisation and manipulation wrapped up in a truly magical premise.

Kazan’s film centres on the lonely life of novelist Calvin Weir-Fields (as played by Kazan’s real-life long-term boyfriend, Little Miss Sunshine’s Paul Dano).  Unlucky in (or is it unequipped for?) love, Calvin has no close relationships beyond those with his older brother Harry (Chris Messina coming up big in a fairly ordinary role), his therapist (Elliott Gould) and his new Border Terrier, Scotty.  When repeated dreams of his ideal woman (Kazan) inspire Calvin to break through his writer’s block, he begins his new novel around this fantasy figure, who he dubs Ruby Sparks.  When the fully fictionalised creation of Calvin’s suddenly appears in his home, seemingly in entirely non-fiction flesh and blood, the troubled author questions the state of his sanity, where Dano delivers his strongest contribution to the film.  Once convinced of her existence, Calvin and Ruby continue the relationship he had begun to bang out on his trusty typewriter.  However, Ruby Sparks isn’t about what happens when a dream comes true, but rather, why relationships go wrong once reality replaces the fantasy.
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Clarke’s latest is (The K)not suitable for anyone

Another week, another Noel Clarke film inexplicably released across the UK.  Yes, someone’s (surely) favourite actor/screenwriter is back with romantic (supposed) comedy The Knot, featuring the weird-looking woman from Inception and Mena Suvari, as the once promising career of the American Beauty star continues to circle the drain.  In a desperate attempt to emulate the successes of both The Hangover and Bridesmaids, The Knot somehow rips both films off without providing a single laugh along the way.

The plot follows both halves of a couple on their wedding day.  Matthew McNulty is the groom, Peter, surrounded by a handful of truly moronic lads, led by Clarke’s dope-smoking Peter.  Talulah Riley is the blushing bride, Alexandra, who prepares for the big day with her accident prone bridesmaids.  For no good reason, wedding photographers film both parties in the run up to the nuptials.  Terribly unfunny antics between Peter’s mates vie for the title of “Biggest Waste of Time” with brainless gross-out humour from the ladies’ side.  Predictable, idiotic, insulting and insipid, the chaos of Peter and Alex’s wedding day couldn’t be a more painful experience to watch.  When the wedding ring inevitably makes its way into a toilet bowl, it joins the careers of Clarke and Suvari at the very bottom of it.  The Knot ensures that only one of those three things makes its way out of the porcelain crap container.
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The Campaign is almost better than the real thing

When it comes to easy comedy targets, ducks don’t sit around asking for it more than US politicians.  Will Ferrell, star of The Campaign, is certainly no stranger to lampooning political figures.  The “Saturday Night Live” alum’s George W Bush impression has been fine-tuned to comedic perfection.  It’s this knack for mocking the Republicans’ finest that has provided the inspiration for the frivolous election farce of The Campaign.

As the conservative incumbent Congressman from North Carolina, Ferrell adopts a Southern drawl for his portrayal of the womanising Cam Brady.  When the evil, capitalist brothers Motch (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd, looking mostly out of place and happy to have a paycheque) hope to sell the local district to China, the would-be puppet masters back Zach Galifianakis’ goofy family-man, the moustachioed Marty Huggins, as their candidate to take Brady’s seat.  Beyond the throw-away plot that sets up the electoral race, the vast majority of The Campaign is little more than each man attempting to sling more mud than the other.  Vulgar jokes and physical gags abound, as The Campaign perseveres in light of its own misfires in delivering a largely entertaining 86 minutes of absurd laughs, which are often funny because they’re not far off of the truth.
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Taken 2: life of Bryan

For the sequel to 2008’s hit action-thriller Taken, writer/producer Luc Besson has doubled down the dumb of the original film’s rather daft, but enjoyable nonetheless, premise.  Had this been the worst of Taken 2’s problems, the result may have still been a passable Mills family holiday in Istanbul full of fisticuffs, shootouts and all around Liam Neeson bad-assery.  Unfortunately, Besson and co-scripter Robert Mark Kamen have, along with Twentieth Century Fox’s unabashed greed, Taken 2 testicles from former CIA agent Bryan Mills (Neeson), leaving both the character and this film a mere shell of the predecessor that electrified fans in the first place.

The set-up of Taken 2 see Bryan invite both his ex-wife, Lenore (Famke Janssen), who he is now on sweet-as-sugar terms with, and their formerly “taken” daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) to join him on a trip to Istanbul for a bit of quality time together.   Meanwhile, the patriarch of those nasty Albanians Bryan dispatched of in Taken looks to avenge his family’s losses.  This time it is Kim who must help to rescue her parents after they, too, are taken.  This may sound fairly ludicrous, but rest assured it seems like pure genius when compared to how Taken 2 actually plays out and the dialogue it employs in doing so.  Despite coming from the same team (other than Olivier Megaton replacing Pierre Morel in the director’s chair) that produced the adrenaline pumping tomfoolery  of Taken four years ago, the follow-up doesn’t just feel like it’s been written by someone else; it is so bad that one wonders whether Besson and co decided to just spoof the original.  How else can the sheer stupidity of Bryan asking his daughter if she can “get out of the closet safely” be explained?
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Classy French comedy is Untouchable

As the world’s most successful non-English language film, Untouchable (known as Intouchablesdomestically) has little left to prove.  News that the French smash-hit of 2011 will be the country’s submission for next year’s Academy Awards foreign language category has come in the immediate run-up to its UK release; providing it with further momentum as the Weinstein Company looks to find a big audience west of the English Channel.

Untouchable reaches cinemas this side of the Channel 21 September

Of course, film studios don’t come any shrewder than the Weinstein’s, so it should come as no surprise that Untouchable’s accomplishments are not incidental.  Based on the true story of a wealthy quadriplegic and the unlikely carer that showed him how to start living life again, Untouchable offers razor-sharp humour without ever breaking from a genuinely warm-hearted perspective.  François Cluzet is Philippe, a rich, adrenaline junkie who suffered neck-down paralysis following a back-breaking paragliding accident.  His recurring search for a full-time carer brings Omar Sy’s Driss, a Senegalese immigrant and petty thief, into his life.  Despite Driss’ inexperience as a carer, his naïve, unpitying approach invigorates Philippe.  The rapport between the unlikely pairing organically grows onscreen as Cluzet and Sy mesh perfectly.  There is an element of fun being had at the disabled Philippe’s expense, but the directing/scripting partnership of Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano ensures that this is never borne of cruelty, but rather from the simplistic ignorance that is all too common in society.  Plus, Philippe tends to give as good as he gets and his circumstances are never exploited for the sake of an emotional response from the viewer.  No one, either those in the film or those watching, is ever patronised and Untouchable is all the better for it.
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Cockneys vs Zombies goes easy on the brains

In the spirit of classic British zom-com Shaun of the Dead comes Matthias Hoene’s Cockneys vs Zombies.  Swapping a pub for a retirement home, the premise is largely similar: infected victims, better known as zombies, rampage through London leaving a group of unlikely heroes to fend them off whilst rescuing their loved ones.  Shakespeare it ain’t, but Cockneys vs Zombies is good fun at the expense of the undead.

Cockneys vs Zombies doesn’t waste time on setting up what little plot there is.  An East End construction site is the scene of the unearthing of a tomb from 1666, which happens to be inhabited by more than just skulls and bones.  The hows and whys are of no importance, so James Moran and Lucas Roche’s screenplay quickly moves on to introduce the eclectic ensemble cast.  Rasmus Hardiker and Treadaway twin Harry are Terry and Andy Macguire, who set out to save their grandfather’s care home from demolition via bank robbery.  It’s not long before their highly flawed plan is interrupted by a zombie outbreak that rapidly sweeps across East London.  Luckily, their gramps, Ray (Alan Ford), is a former war hero; so while he may be a pensioner, he’s not about to cower in the face of a zombie blitz on the care home.  Cockneys vs Zombies is easily at its best when the living dead face-off against the almost-dead (because they’re old, get it? *sigh*), as the absurdity levels delightfully spike right off the chart.  It’s just too bad that such goofy excellence isn’t sustained throughout the film’s slight runtime.
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Laika’s amazing ParaNorman isn’t just zombie-fun and games

For their follow up to debut feature, Coraline, stop-motion animation studio Laika have created one of the most fascinating children’s films in years.  On the surface, ParaNorman sounds entirely straightforward: a young boy must save his town from a zombie uprising.  Yet, ParaNorman‘s plot is largely a brilliantly crafted method of delivering a progressive message to young, impressionable minds.  While writer/director Chris Butler has a clear agenda, his ulterior motives never derail the enjoyment of the narrative.  ParaNorman is as smart as it is sneaky, resulting in a true celluloid marvel.

Kodi Smit-McPhee voices Norman, a young boy who is a bit different from everyone else.  For anyone who has seen The Sixth Sense, the premise here may appear to be suspiciously familiar, but worry not; things get a lot more interesting. Norman’s parents (the excellently cast Leslie Mann and Jeff Garlin) are divided over how to deal with their son’s “gift”, with his father refusing to believe it’s true to begin with.  At school,Norman is ridiculed for being a “freak”, as fellow outcast, the rather plump Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), pushes him into an alliance- so they can be alone together!  This may sound ordinary enough, but once Norman proclaims “I didn’t ask to be born this way” the subtext becomes crystal clear.  It wouldn’t be fair to reveal how Butler and co execute this allegory, but trust that they do so masterfully.  Characters who have cast judgement are duly chastised, but without being villainised.  Despite presenting such a resounding case for tolerance, acceptance and understanding,Butler has ingrained it so effortlessly into Norman’s story and his efforts to counteract a witch’s curse, that it somehow feels both obvious and remarkably implicit at the same time.  It’s quite an impressive trick.
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Agonising cinema has a name: The Watch

What’s black and white, has eight legs, four heads and sucks continuously for 100 minutes?

Anyone guessing “the lead cast of The Watch” gets a gold star and the assurance that the above “joke” is funnier than 97% of anything Ben Stiller’s new flick has to offer.  Partnered with Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade, it’d be difficult to believe that Stiller’s ensemble of truly funny actors could be this groan-inducing were the evidence of this extended Costco commercial not so remarkably overwhelming.  Masquerading as a science-fiction comedy, The Watch never comes close to convincingly representing either genre, as the stars sleepwalk through its listless plot.

The Watch is immediately and unrelentingly stupid, as Stiller’s Evan Trautwig proclaims to be on the look-out for a black friend.  Yes, The Watch is that kind of movie.  Following the suspicious murder of a colleague, Evan decides to form a neighbourhood watch in order to find the killer, because that’s exactly how those groups work.  He resorts to delivering a recruitment speech during the half-time break at a local football game.  Unfunny fart noises and Vaughn desperately attempting to play a Russian nesting doll for laughs ensue.  It’s all as much fun as it sounds and things get no better once the four stars team-up.  Unless, of course, the idea of a guy in the backseat of a car peeing into a beer can sounds appealing.  While the boys have their meetings and stake-outs, ensuring that Costco gets plenty of shop-front face-time, an alien presence is quietly terrorising their formerly quiet suburb.  Once the two factions come face-to-face, the sounds of barrel scraping can be heard in the distance while The Watch goes from bad to worse.
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Jones and Streep dazzle in Hope Springs

One lesson learnt from 2012’s box office is to not take the drawing power of a pensioner-aimed romantic comedy lightly.  The perfectly pleasant, if underwhelming, Brit-flick The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel rode the mobility scooter all the way to the bank, earning over £54 million internationally.  So whilst studios primarily target younger crowds with superhero flicks and action thrillers of all varieties, an aging baby boomer generation seems eager to jump at quality films they can more easily relate to.  Fitting comfortably into this niche is Hope Springs, a dramatic rom-com anchored by two of the finest actors over-60 (or of any age, to be fair) Hollywood has to offer: Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones.

Hope Springs in the UK 14 September

Screenwriter Vanessa Taylor’s impressive first feature film puts the marriage of Streep’s Kay and Jones’ Arnold under the microscope, as the unhappy housewife drags her husband to an intensive couples therapy retreat.  With grown-up children and 31 years of marriage behind them, this is a couple who would typically be relegated to supporting players in a film about their younger, sexier offspring.  Instead the audience here is treated to some terrifically grouchy resistance from Jones, who has become disinterested in his wife.  Though he initially seems to be playing Arnold as if he were a certain man in black, once therapy sessions with Steve Carell’s relationship specialist begin, Jones’ character dramatically and endearingly expands; stealing the show from Streep in the process, not exactly a mean feat.  For her part, the three-time Academy Award winner is typically dependable as the shunned and lonely, yet loyal partner who’s desperate to repair their floundering marriage.  At times riotously funny whilst tinged with sorrow, Hope Springs may not be entirely unpredictable, but the results feel well-earned thanks to patient scripting and first-rate performances.
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