comedy

Comedy photo
Comedy

Key and Peele nail how Gremlins 2 came about


Joe Dante confirms it
Aug 28
// Matthew Razak
Anyone who has seen Gremlins 2 (and that should be everyone) has also uttered the words, "What the f**k was that?" It's a question that's long plagued all of us, but Key and Peele figured it out as you can see in the sketch b...
Ash vs Evil Dead photo
Ash vs Evil Dead

New Ash vs Evil Dead trailer makes the show look like a blast


"That's the spirit!"
Aug 24
// Hubert Vigilla
We're about two months away from Ash vs. Evil Dead, and Starz just released a new trailer for the show. While some of the footage is recycled from the first Ash vs. Evil Dead trailer, the new trailer has some smarmy new gags ...
Scouts Trailer photo
Scouts Trailer

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse Red Band Trailer is full of zombie boobs and cats


Aug 21
// Nick Valdez
Zombie movies are a dime a dozen. Everything and anything you can think has probably been done at this point, so each zombie film is already starting in a hole. The best thing any film can do is be just kooky enough to stand ...
Hell and Back photo
Hell and Back

Red Band Trailer for stop motion comedy Hell and Back is trying way too hard


Aug 21
// Nick Valdez
R rated films are extremely rare films, let alone stop motion animation, so I really wanted this first trailer for Hell and Back to succeed. It's certainly got the pedigree as it's handled by the same animation studio that wo...

Deep Analysis: The End of the Tour - Is it capital-T Truth or capital-B Bulls**t?

Aug 14 // Hubert Vigilla
Although of Course You End Up Being Different Things to Different People"Simple thing: everyone sees him differently." -- David Lipsky, Although of Course...   David Foster Wallace is a person and an idea. That split is impossible to avoid, and more complicated than the Platonic notion that I've seemed to present. There's the person who existed, and then there's this other level, a kind of public version or public perception of the person who existed, or an idea of Wallace through his writing and interviews--a text. While the real Wallace was available to his friends and family, for everyone else there's just a public version or a text. There's something about the intimacy of writing, and I think this is discussed in Lipsky's book, that makes readers think they know an author. That seems to hold true for lots of creatives since so much ineffable stuff about your inner life is communicated through creative acts. Any connection that's made through art might seem more profound because of this ability to articulate a common yet personal feeling of joy, sadness, or affection between people who've never met. Art can make you feel less alone, and it can help you understand someone else. But often only so far or just a facet. There's another layer to this person/persona split, of course. I'm not judging the propriety of it (at least for now), but people can do whatever they want with that public idea of a person. They can find meaning in the persona, impose their own meanings on the persona, reconsider the persona without considering the actual multi-faceted person behind that public idea. It's one reason why David Foster Wallace winds up meaning different things to different people, or being a different person to different people--a literary wunderkind, a rockstar of the book world, the next _______, the voice of _______, a friend, a confidant, a relative, etc. Recently, a piece by Molly Fischer ran in New York Magazine's The Cut considered David Foster Wallace a hypermasculine hub for chauvinistic literary bros. (Sometimes a big, hard novel is just a cigar. A really big, hard cigar.) Kenny in his piece for The Guardian touches on this when he writes, "Something I've noticed since Wallace's suicide in 2008 is that a lot of self-professed David Foster Wallace fans don't have much use for people who actually knew the guy. For instance, whenever Jonathan Franzen utters or publishes some pained but unsparing observations about his late friend, Wallace's fanbase recoils, posting comments on the internet about how self-serving he is, or how he really didn't 'get' Wallace." Kenny and Wallace were friends who met and corresponded regularly or at least semi-regularly. Lipsky, by contrast, was an outsider sent to observe Wallace for a few days and then left. Kenny takes issue with the way Lipsky presented Wallace in the book, writing: In the opening of Yourself, Lipsky describes Wallace speaking in "the universal sportsman's accent: the disappearing G's, 'wudn't,' 'dudn't' and 'idn’t' and 'sumpin.'" Segel takes Lipsky's cue. But in my recollection, Dave spoke precisely, almost formally, the "Gs" at the ends of gerunds landing softly, not dropped. I can't help but feel both of these perceptions and ideas of Wallace were accurate simply given the nature of these respective relationships. People act differently around friends and colleagues than they do around strangers, particularly journalists. There's a constant self-consciousness that Wallace has when talking to Lipsky, mentioning how Lipsky can craft an image of Wallace that may not be the real Wallace. To that I wonder how much of the sportsman's accent was Wallace's own way of maintaining control of his persona, presenting a certain type of David Foster Wallace for this interview. Ditto the various asides to high culture (e.g., John Barth) and low culture (e.g., "movies where stuff blows up"). Wallace suggest he and Lipsky play chess against each other in the book during an early interview. Make of that what you will. (Sometimes a game of chess is just a metaphor for a sword fight with cigars.) These differences in proximity to Wallace, intimacy with Wallace, and personal perception of Wallace don't delegitimize Kenny or Lipsky. It's just pointing out that they each saw facets of a man and each came away with their own assessment. Wallace was Kenny's friend, and Kenny saw more facets of the man over a longer period of time. For Lipsky, he got a glimpse of Wallace at age 34 at the end of a book tour during "one of those moments when the world opens up to you." Although of Course You End Up Becoming a Fictional Version of Yourself"So we've ended up doing Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory in My Dinner with Andre." -- David Lipsky, Although of Course...   So there's a persona, and then there's a movie, and that's where these issues of proximity, intimacy, perception, and propriety become even more difficult. The End of the Tour, even though I enjoyed it, is a recreation and fictionaliziation of real events and real people, all of which is depicted at various divides from the real thing. Since so much of the basis for The End of the Tour is Lipsky's book, the film presents a version of David Foster Wallace as filtered through Lipsky's perceptions. Though Lipsky tried to be unobtrusive in the transcript, there are numerous observations in book, ones that wonder what Wallace is thinking in the moment, that assume certain answers are calculated deflections, that editorialize the nature of Wallace's smile in just the choice of adjectives. On top of that, The End of the Tour is the book as restructured by screenwriter Donald Margulies, tweaked further by director James Ponsoldt, with an additional layer of interpretation by the two lead actors who are reciting the real-life dialogue. While the lines may be straight from Lipsky's book, there is a gulf between the real people and the page and the screen. Lipsky, even in just the book, points out an artifice of a subject and journalist in forced-interaction that occasionally feels like something genuine. He likens an exchange they have to something out of Louis Malle's My Dinner with Andre. (When not engaged in a kind of big brother/little brother semi-envious duel, Lipsky in the film generally plays Wallace Shawn to Wallace's sage-like Andre Gregory.) This series of divides from the real events to the film are less like photo copies of photo copies that become blurrier and blurrier with each subsequent version, but more like interpretations of interpretations that are distorted but perhaps share an amorphous-something in common from iteration to iteration. (This simile might be just be my charity for the film since I liked it.) Short version: real life and the film are a long way apart, and one is left to wonder if there's mostly capital-T Truth between the two or mostly capital-B Bullshit. There may be another layer to all of this that gets a bit more difficult. Anytime a writer writes about writers or writing, there's inevitably a little bit of the writer's own ideas about writing that wind up in there. So while the film is a recreation of conversations between two real writers, the way it's framed seems to allow Donald Margulies to write about his own ideas about writers to some degree. Lipsky gets to represent a type of male writer, Wallace another kind of male writer, and a dynamic of masculine opposition, jealousy, and respect emerges as these personas interact. Margulies introduces a fabricated moment of sexual competition between Wallace and Lipsky, and also a mute hostility or resentment leading into the last act. Both of these fictions play into a larger theme of control and writerly chess that was real in the text at a subtextual level, but mostly they're also just inventions to facilitate a dramatic arc. The moments of The End of the Tour I liked least were the parts that seemed too bent or overshaped, particularly in the framing narrative, which was dominated by certain kinds of writerly cliches (e.g, watching a writer type in a fit of inspiration). It may have been Ponsoldt and Margulies' ways of incorporating an idea from Lipsky's book regarding Wallace's death to lend this wandering conversation a path: "Suicide is such a powerful end, it reaches back and scrambles the beginning. It has an event gravity: Eventually, every memory and impression gets tugged in its direction." To that, while reading Although of Course..., I couldn't help but pause anytime Wallace brought up killing himself in passing, as if it were just some self-deprecating remark. I'm not sure The End of the Tour necessarily needed any explicit or neat emotional arc since these things rarely exist in real life. As a movie, The End of the Tour could have just done the My Dinner with Andre thing (or the Richard Linklater thing, if you prefer) and existed as this peripatetic meeting of minds on the road. And yet I liked some of the invented moments since they reminded me of other exchanges I've had with friends, or experiences with people I know, or trips I've been on, or that secret insecurity when talking with writers I admire who are way further in their careers than I am. Sometimes bullshit feels true even if it's not factual. (This might be a messy but succinct definition of Werner Herzog's "ecstatic truth.") Then again, like Kenny brought up earlier, this justification of invention might ultimately be self-serving. Although of Course You End Up Becoming Impossible to Encapsulate"They already feel as if they know you--which of course they don't." -- David Foster Wallace in Although of Course... by David Lipsky   Eisenberg's portrayal of David Lipsky hasn't gotten much flak, but that's because Lipsky's alive and not a major/mythologized persona in the literary world. (You don't read any essays that reduce his work to dick-wagging.) Lipsky's role, in the book and the film, is predominantly a vessel into the thoughts of David Foster Wallace. Segel's been widely praised for his performance as DFW, though I think Kenny's criticisms of his performance are worth noting since they highlight differences in perception, person, and persona between people: Physically, Segel's got Wallace all wrong too: bulky, lurching, elbowy, perpetually in clothes a half size too small. This, too, contradicts my own memory of Dave as a physically imposing but also very nearly lithe and graceful person. But as Segel's exuberantly horrible dancing at the end of the film practically blares in neon, this awkwardness represents Segel's conception of a Genius Who Was Just Too Pure And Holy For This World. Kenny also wrote that the David Foster Wallace of The End of the Tour is "for those people who cherish This Is Water as the new Wear Sunscreen: A Primer For Life." It's like Kenny's Lloyd Bentsen burn: "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." This comes back to the idea of facets of people and the way The End of the Tour winds up being these layers of interpretation by different parties about a real person. As much as I like Segel in the film and think his performance is strong, it's not David Foster Wallace in the way that all portrayals of real people are not the real thing. Christopher Walken impersonations are generally caricatures of his start-stop vocal rhythm; all Michael Caine impressions are just people just saying, "My name's my cocaine." Segel can't possibly recreate all of the small facial expressions, body sways, or winces of David Foster Wallace, or even the same physiology, but he offers an impersonation suited to the film. (Good vs. good enough. Another writerly concern?) If Lipsky's a vessel into Wallace's thoughts, Segel's Wallace is an interpretation of a persona. People and their personas, while linked, aren't the same. So what to make of the propriety of The End of the Tour? Wallace died less than 10 years ago, and here's a movie that the estate was not involved with in which Wallace's death is a framing device. It's painful, and it may always be too soon for anyone who knew Wallace personally. The End of the Tour aims to be a tribute to a writer, as if that makes the pain more bearable, and yet the movie veers dangerously close to hagiography. David Foster Wallace, the film persona, embodies an idea of a good writer with a troubled soul, maybe too troubled to live in a fallen world. That might not be overstating it either given the way the movie concludes. My friend Leah Schnelbach of Tor.com also liked the movie, but she rightly used the term "St. Dave" to describe some of the uncomfortable fawning over DFW when it's not offset by his depression and underlying sadness. Maybe tributes unintentionally and inartfully stumble into hagiography or near-hagiography as they try to make a final sincere statement about the subject. There's no neat wrap-up to these rambling thoughts on The End of the Tour, because even though I'd meant to write this a while ago, these ideas remain unresolved and half-formed. I still think it's generally a very good film about writers despite some of those weaker bits, but that might be because it's so rooted in the actual conversation of two writers. Even when they're not talking about writing, it sounds like writers talking. As for David Foster Wallace, the persona on film as portrayed by Jason Segel, he's just an interpretation of one part of the real David Foster Wallace during a particular point in his life.While many times removed from the real thing, this persona makes the actual man's absence more apparent.
The End of the Tour photo
The blend of truth, fiction, and reality
I really enjoyed James Ponsoldt's The End of the Tour, which primarily covers the last days of David Foster Wallace's 1996 book tour for Infinite Jest. Wallace committed suicide in 2008 after his antidepressants proved no lon...

Screenings photo
Screenings

See Mistress America early and free


Washington DC screening
Aug 12
// Matthew Razak
Noel Baumbach's latest Mistress America seems damn interesting. The kind of comedy that actually makes you laugh. Plus, it has Greta Gerwig who we should all see more of. You can see more of her for free by grabbing the ...

Review: I Am Chris Farley

Aug 11 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219746:42540:0[/embed] I Am Chris FarleyDirectors: Derik Murray & Brent HodgeRelease Date: August 11, 2015 (VOD & DVD)Rating: NR  I Am Chris Farley is an interesting mix of interviews and video clips, most of which appear to have been ripped from VHS tapes. They span his time at Second City all the way through his various film appearances. It periodically cuts to an interview with David Letterman which is probably supposed to be representative of his success... but looking at his eyes, I only saw fear. The bulk of the film is made up of interviews. School friends, family, other actors. Big names, small names, no names. There were so many of them that I often forgot who the smaller names were. It seems to be intended for TV (made by Spike), as every so often it decides to reintroduce them with new title cards. Every 20-30 minutes or so, after they're back from the commercial break. I wish they'd done that more, honestly. But at some point, it didn't matter if that was the guy who was with him at Second City or the one who played Rugby. They're not there to serve themselves. They're there to help document Chris Farley. The whole thing is pretty straightforward. It starts with his youth and ends with his death. We're walked through the kind of person he was and the near-inevitability that he would end up a star. He was the entertainer, always looking for the spotlight. Of course he was. He was Chris Freaking Farley. And, as I sort of knew but very clearly learned, he was really flipping funny. But even if you know that, there's a lot of interesting stuff to be gleaned from these interviews. He used to be a jock, for example, super into football and rugby. He was an excellent improvisor but he never wrote any of the sketches he was in. He was the mold that everyone else used to make beautiful sketch sculptures. And oh what a mold he was. [embed]219746:42544:0[/embed] You could argue that I Am Chris Farley is a little on the shallow side. It's not until the last fifteen or so minutes that his death even comes up. Heavy on the happiness and nostalgia and then just a little bit of, "Also, the bad." And it's something I'm sort of conflicted about. By virtue of this fact, I Am Chris Farley is not really an accurate representation of who he was. If he was in and out of rehab, then a couple of mentions towards the end are hardly enough to accurately depict his struggle. This is a whitewashed version of Chris Farley. But I can also appreciate the desire to not dwell on the negative. It makes the film less of a historical document, but I also don't think that makes it somehow less worthwhile. Just go in with your expectations in check. This is how people want to remember him, all of the good times they had together and the laughs that everyone shared. This is about the idyllic version of the man – the myth and the legend. I think that's okay. I honestly do. There's something unfortunate about it, perhaps, but this was a man who just wanted to make people laugh. He wanted to be famous so he could go make sick children at the hospital happy. That's the stuff people want to think about and remember. Everyone has their flaws... but sometimes ignorance is bliss. I think this is one of those times.
I Am Chris Farley Review photo
Some version of him, anyhow
When I went into I Am Chris Farley, I couldn't have honestly said that I was a fan of his work. Not because I didn't like it, but because I didn't know it particularly well. I'd seen some stuff over the years, but I miss...

Bill Murray Ghostbusters photo
Bill Murray Ghostbusters

Bill Murray agrees to appear in Ghostbusters reboot because he remembered he likes money


For haunted times, make it Suntory time
Aug 10
// Hubert Vigilla
If you watch Ghostbusters II, you can tell that Bill Murray's heart just isn't in it. It's like he knew the movie was pretty lousy the entire time. Still, Murray showed up, did the job, and spent the next 25 years avoiding in...

Bojack Horseman is the Spec Ops: The Line of TV Shows

Aug 07 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219724:42536:0[/embed] Spec Ops: The Line is probably in my top five games ever. It's incredible, and if you haven't played it, you need to do so. If you have played it and don't understand how incredible it is, go play it again. Maybe read Brendan Keogh's Killing Is Harmless while you do. The game is a triumph, and the bravest thing it did is to convince you it was generic before pulling the rug out from under you. (Much like, you guess it, Bojack Horseman.) Spec Ops: The Line was made with the Unreal Engine. It stars a military man voiced by Nolan North. He looks and sounds like every other Unreal Engine-based cover shooter out there. It feels... fine. The gameplay is completely and totally acceptable. Stop and pop. You're fighting generic foreign militants. The other. It's easy to kill them, because that's what you're used to doing. That's the role that these sorts of people play in video games. (And in movies, as brilliantly profiled by GQ a couple weeks ago.) In Bojack Horseman, you follow a generic former-Hollywoo[d] superstar. He's voiced by Will Arnett, and he's a jackass. He lives in an amazing house overlooking the city, but he's pretty much a worthless being. On his couch lives the "comic relief," Todd, voiced by Aaron Paul. He's dumb, but Bojack keeps him around, because... whatever. Bojack wants to relive the Good Old Days. Perhaps it's not quite your typical animated show, but it's not an uncommon comedy. And for a while, the jokes are funny but the underlying narrative feels a little old. But, of course, that's the point. Spec Ops hits you with big moments several times. First, you go from fighting generic "terrorists" to fighting US military. That's, well, unexpected. And then there's the scene where you have to do something horrible to progress that turns out to be something really horrible. It keeps going down (literally), as we follow Captain Walker into the deep recesses of his mind. And it's not a great place to be. Because Captain Walker is not a good person. He believes he is, or at least that he can be, but he isn't. And he leaves nothing but destruction in his wake. Throughout, the game taunts you, and it taunts hyper-violent games in general. (And yes, it is effectively critiquing the genre by "succumbing" to its tropes.) [embed]219724:42537:0[/embed] Bojack doesn't have that moment in quite the same way, at least in its first season. It's a gradual realization that what you're watching isn't quite what you thought it was. You thought you were getting a comedy-of-sorts about a former star who wants to relive his glory days. What you get is something far darker, and far more interesting. Because Bojack Horseman is definitely not a good... horse. (I'm going to call him a person from now on, because referring to him as a "horse" is weird.) He wants to be good, I guess, but behind him lies only chaos. And in the second season especially, he does some very, very bad things. The Verge posted their review of the show's second season a bit prematurely, I thought. Both the headline – "In its second season, Bojack Horseman quits beating a depressed horse" – and subtitle – "More animal puns, less animal pathos" – prove to be, um, false. Because the second season of Bojack Horseman tricks you again. Sure, watching the first few episodes (which are great, by the way), you might think that the show had changed and become perhaps a bit more whimsical. Watching the episode where Todd creates his own, extremely dangerous Disneyland (and wins a lawsuit allowing him to use that name on a technicality) lulls you into a false sense of security. This is a show that has found its groove, or something like it. That groove may not be as interesting as the previous season, but it's something. And the screeners that Netflix sent to critics beforehand would lend credence to that. The first six episodes, especially in comparison, are fun. They're light and silly.  And then there's "Hank After Dark." "Hank After Dark" is an incredible episode of television. And it's incredible not just because of what it but how absolutely bleak its ending is. At this point, everyone knows about the downfall of Bill Cosby. And it all started because of a joke by comedian Hannibal Buress. He made a joke about public information, and suddenly everything came crashing down. The time since has been incredibly disturbing, and each new bit of evidence has only made it worse. But that's not what happens in Bojack Horseman, because Bojack Horseman isn't just replicating the events that led to the downfall of an icon; it's representing a parallel universe where a woman was the one who brought up the horrors of a beloved TV star as an aside. Diane is on a book tour for Bojack, but she can't shut Pandora's Box once she's opened it. Mr. Peanutbutter asks her to hold off, and everyone else tells her she's a horrible person for defaming a good man's name. She keeps fighting, until she's confronted by Hank Hippopopalous himself. And then she gives up. The season doesn't get cheerier after that. Whether it's the intense discussion on live TV between Mr. Peanutbutter and Bojack about the latter's Diane come-on last season or the thing that happens in the penultimate episode, the back half of Bojack Horseman's second season hits and hits hard. To be sure, the show continues to be very funny. There are more than a few good laughs per episode, but aside from a couple bits here and there, those aren't the things I'll be thinking about in a year from now. Good TV makes you think, perhaps even obsess. But with Bojack Horseman, it's not some communal obsession with unraveling mysteries. It's an introspective sort of obsession. Do you see yourself in Bojack? What about Todd or Mr. Peanutbutter or Diane or Princess Carolyn? These characters are all fleshed out this season, and you learn fascinating things about all of them. (Princess Carolyn has a particularly interesting arc, and I cannot tell you how glad I was when they ended the Vincent Adultman subplot early on.) But, of course, the focus is on Bojack, on his inability to change course. His drive to push forward towards certain doom. And that is truly where Bojack and Captain Walker's journeys converge. Both of them set in motions series of events that can only end badly, but the decision to set them in motion was a choice. Maybe at the time it didn't feel like one, but it was. To point to what is perhaps the most obvious example, Bojack did not have to up and leave to see a girl he was sort of in love with decades ago. He didn't have to stay with her family when he found out she had one. He didn't have to... ya know. He could have walked away. And ultimately, that's what Spec Ops: The Line is about. It's about walking away, or at least the need to walk away (in a meta sense). Walker doesn't do that. He never stops to think about what he's doing or what he's done. Unlike Bojack, he thinks he's helping people (at least at first... by the end? who knows). Of course, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Bojack Horseman matters. It's one of the best shows on television right now. Literally. And that's significant not just because it is in and of itself a significant statement. It's significant because it's a show that, on the face of it, is so easy to dismiss. But once you get past all of that, you're pulled along for a fascinating and often poignant journey through something truly great. It's not the thing you expect, but you eventually realize that it's exactly what you wanted.
Bojack Horseman 4 Lyfe photo
Subversion and sadness
The first season of Bojack Horseman sort of came out of nowhere, at least as far as I was concerned. Back then, I was underemployed and watched pretty much anything that seemed vaguely interesting. I generally trust...

We'll finally see Jerry Lewis' infamous Holocaust film The Day the Clown Cried (in 10 years)

Aug 07 // Hubert Vigilla
Yes, it was supposed to be a comedy, albeit a bleak one. In a 1992 article in Spy Magazine, Shearer said of The Day the Clown Cried: With most of these kinds of things, you find that the anticipation, or the concept, is better than the thing itself. But seeing this film was really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presence of a perfect object. This was a perfect object. This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is. "Oh My God!"--that's all you can say. So, we'll eventually get to watch a legendary, unseen oddity, and I am fascinated by the prospect of seeing it. The Day the Clown Cried is one of those movies I've been aware of since the early 2000s, so the fact it's going to eventually see the light of day took me aback, ditto the fact that the print is from Lewis. Share your thoughts on The Day the Clown Cried in the comments [The LA Times via The Playlist]   YOUR OFFICIAL COUNTDOWN CLOCK TO THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED [embed]219740:42533:0[/embed]
The Day the Clown Cried photo
A notorious unseen oddity of a film
The Day the Clown Cried is one of the most infamous movies ever made. Jerry Lewis shot the controversial Holocaust film in 1972 and never released it. The plot concerns a Jewish circus clown in Nazi Germany who is sent to Aus...

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp Is a Great Fans-Only Follow-Up to a Cult Classic

Aug 03 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219718:42521:0[/embed] The Netflix series takes place in one day at Camp Firewood, the first day (duh) at Camp Firewood, the only day that matters (other than the last day). Teen movie tropes about virginity, pecking orders, and bullying ensue, but it's also clear we're in a different place on the first day of camp than we were by the last day of camp. Coop (Michael Showalter) is timidly dating Donna (Lake Bell) rather than being a timid sadsack, Katie (Marguerite Moreau) is seeing a snooty Camp Tiger Claw guy named Blake (John Charles) rather than cocksure bad boy Andy (Paul Rudd), and, somehow, Ben (Bradley Cooper) and Susie (Amy Poehler) are an item, though a frustratingly sexless item. Also, Christopher Meloni's cook character has hair and isn't batshit crazy. None of the above is inherently funny, but that's what makes it funny. So much of the humor in the Netflix show is contingent on knowing on the first day of camp what happens on the final day of camp. It makes me think that a prequel to Wet Hot American Summer is infinitely funnier than a sequel would have been, at least at a conceptual level. That's the absurd way that movie-time/series-time works--with prequels in particular, real-world chronology matters more than in-story chronology. In prequels, set-up is really punchline. To put it another way, what kind of mook watches the Star Wars prequels before they watch the original Star Wars trilogy? Who pops in Temple of Doom before they watch Raiders of the Lost Ark? I'll tell you who: someone doing everything wrong in life. Since the Wet Hot prequel takes place 15-real-word years after the original film, there are a lot of unspoken gags built around the age of the cast. In Wet Hot, actors in their twenties played teenagers, which is common practice for lots of teen movies and coming-of-age films. In First Day of Camp, the teenage counselors are all roughly 40 years old, give or take, which is uncommon practice anywhere. The cast shows their age--though some have aged better than others (Rudd and Elizabeth Banks must have paintings rotting in rooms somewhere)--and the wigs/hairstyles look even more fake. It all adds to the show's enjoyably off-kilter quality. Showalter looks especially schlubby as Coop. Compare Coop in First Day of Camp to Coop in Wet Hot American Summer and it's a pretty startling before-and-after (or after-and-before). I don't mean that in a mean-spirited way since it's part of the humor and all the performers are in on it. It's actually a smart visual gag that's used effectively as part of the storytelling. Seeing Showalter next to Lake Bell makes the doomed awkwardness of Coop and Donna's relationship more apparent. In those 15 real-world years that separate the First Day of Camp from the last day of camp, some of the Wet Hot American Summer cast have become much more famous. For Banks and Poehler, that means more focus on their characters and what makes them each tick. The backstory they've concocted for Banks' character Lindsay is especially inspired. It's a nod to Just One of the Guys and a wink to Cameron Crowe's real-life adventures as a fake-teen that led to Fast Times at Ridgemont High. With Cooper, by comparison, writers Wain and Showalter have come up with a clever in-story way to accommodate the Academy Award-nominated actor's busy real-world schedule. (Cooper had to shoot all of his scenes in just one day.) The expanded cult following behind Wet Hot American Summer means loads of guest appearances throughout First Day of Camp, including Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Jordan Peele, Michael Cera, Jason Schwartzman, and H. Jon Benjamin. There's another major cameo I won't ruin, though it seems like this particular actor, like Cooper, probably shot all of his scenes in one day. In addition to guest stars, the growing Wet Hot cult translated into a bigger budget (probably to pay all the guest stars). Wet Hot American Summer was shot for $1.8 million, though Wain told people it was $5 million in the hopes it would help secure a better distribution deal. Judging by this 2013 article from Variety, Netflix probably shelled out $1.8 million per episode for First Day of Camp. The scope of the story is larger, and yet there's still a scruffy, raggedy look to the whole thing that fits with the aesthetic of the film. It's as if Wain and Showalter figured out how to make everything look chintzier even though the world of the film has grown. And that's the thing. First Day of Camp is a cult show for a cult movie, and it stays true to its roots: spoofs, the yes-and of improv, the weirdness of 90s sketch shows, the and-then of a feverishly implausible child's story; and it's all fueled by real-life nostalgia for teenage summers as well as nostalgia for certain bits of Gen-X pop culture. Part of me wonders if there'll be a second day of camp. That same part hopes it happens about a decade from now. It would be funnier that way. The Wet Hot American Summer series seems to get better with age.
Wet Hot American Netflix photo
♫ "Taking it higher and higher!" ♫
Netflix's Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp is a great follow-up to 2001's cult classic Wet Hot American Summer. Like the original film, First Day of Camp is rife with anarchic absurdity and chock full of movie ...

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Water is the essence of wetness...
We've known about Zoolander 2 for quite some time, but after its cool release date announcement we never got a look at the film until now. This brief teaser is all too brief since it doesn't give us a look at the actual film...

The Cult Club: Wet Hot American Summer (2001) Awkwardly Flirted Into Our Hearts (and Pants)

Jul 31 // Hubert Vigilla
In a lot of ways, Wet Hot American Summer is a cult movie made by the generation that grew up watching cult movies and cult television. Picture this sign on the treehouse: "The Wet Hot American Summer Cult Club--No Boomers Allowed... Unless You've Seen Zapped with Scott Baio... or Sledge Hammer!" The film takes place in one day at Camp Firewood, the final day at Camp Firewood, the only one that matters. And into this day is poured multiple teen movie cliches: telling your crush you're into them, virgins trying to get laid, bad boys being bad to good girlfriends, exuberant montages, demented staff, friends trying to get their virgin friends laid, a talent show, telekinesis, hidden romances, nerdy kids saving the day. So much happens so quickly that logical notions of time and space have no meaning. An hour-long trip seems to cover a weekend of events, a one-minute training montage seems to cover a week of exercise and self-discovery, a single day carries in it a month-long trajectory of emotions. And that's the whole point. Wet Hot American Summer takes place in a film version of time and space since it's a movie about the culminating plots of other movies. Beneath that meta-layer, there's perhaps a wistful tinge of nostalgia as well--as a kid, summer seems to go by so fast, like the entire summer is just a single day. Mostly it's just funny if you think about it, but also if, in a smart and detached way, you really don't think about it too much. Even though the movie is about the culminating stories of other camp movies, Wet Hot American Summer isn't constructed with a single narrative thrust that climaxes and wraps up neatly. The movie stops and starts as title cards note the passage of in-story meta-movie time. A potential Bad News Bears-style showdown in the middle of the film seems like the big set piece we've been waiting for, and yet it's self-consciously avoided. A camper says that the cliche of the big game is trite, and the counselors agree, because ultimately it is trite. Summers, whether a day or an entire season, rarely have that kind of shape with a solid conclusion. Instead, Wet Hot American Summer is more like a feature-length sketch show that just ends when camp ends. The final shot of the film is suitably unceremonious. [embed]219652:42516:0[/embed] I think Wet Hot American Summer is alive today because some Gen-Xers got the joke--were in on the joke--and are now in power at Netflix.  From their streaming thrones, they're able to dole out the filthy original-series lucre as they see fit. (And good for them.) I can't help but stress the whole Gen-X angle, which bleeds into a millennial attachment to the film. It may also explain why film critics of the time (who were predominantly Baby Boomers) just couldn't get into it. The Boomers weren't really in on the joke; some didn't even get the set-up or that the set-up and punchline were sometimes one in the same. Like other cult followings, there's a sense of exclusivity. When Scott Tobias wrote about Wet Hot American Summer for the AV Club back in 2008, he identified the makers of the film as well as many of the cultists: Here's a movie from 2001 that doesn't concern itself with yesterday's box-office hits, but with a sub-sub-genre of comedies from the late '70s to the mid-'80s, starting with Meatballs and its sequel, and including other disreputable standards like the TV movie Poison Ivy (with Michael J. Fox and Nancy McKeon), SpaceCamp, and the non-gory scenes in their slasher cousins like Friday The 13th and Sleepaway Camp. But it doesn't stop there: WHAS is pitched specifically to Reagan-era latchkey kids who grew up watching these movies on television, and have a certain generalized nostalgia about the fashions, hairstyles, graphical elements, and other minutiae that seeped into their wood-paneled family rooms. Tobias, a Gen-Xer like that first-wave of classic AV Club writers, is a Wet Hot acolyte. (Gooble gobble.) The comedy is so videostore and VCR-based, drawing on a shared cultural memory not just of middle-class summer camp experiences but about movies-about-summer-camp and teen-sex-movies and slashers-at-camp-movies and that-one-joke-I-saw-on-late-night-TV; and maybe to a certain degree, the movie is also about people trying to model their real-life summer camp experiences to match the things they saw in films and TV. The time-space weirdness of the movie seems to suggest that it's impossible to make real life work like the movies; further, if real life worked out that way, it would make reality trite. Wain and collaborators Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black, Ken Marino, and Joe Lo Truglio were all members of MTV's sketch show The State, which is one of the cultiest cult shows that ever did cult-show. A lot of the fondness for Wet Hot American Summer comes from an attachment that many had to The State and the projects that the cast embarked on following The State's cancellation. (Maybe a question to consider in all this: at what point does fondness become nostalgia?) The State was at the forefront of that cult sketch comedy canon, along with The Kids in the Hall, Mr. Show, The Dana Carvey Show, and The Ben Stiller Show (of which camp director Janeane Garofalo was an alum; ditto a brief stint on Saturday Night Live). Thinking about it, you really can't have sketch comedy without grounding that in the improv tradition. Think of places like Second City, The Upright Citizens Brigade, and The Groundlings. These were the places where SNL and SCTV found their players. Improv is often built on discrete scenes with a common theme, all of which abide by a "yes and" mentality between performers in order to keep a joke alive and to enhance it. The "yes and" at the heart of improv might be the adult collaborative equivalent of a child using "and then" as a conjunction while telling a story that they're really excited about. [embed]219652:42519:0[/embed] The State's comedy tradition and the film's roots in home video explain the varied nature of Wet Hot American Summer's humor--a series of personal experiences by way of movie cliches joined together by strange "and then's" with lots of "yes and's." It's also why (again, if you're in on the joke) a lot of the comedy hits. The characters at Camp Firewood are rendered broadly from a collection of tropes, as if hewn from a sketch team's writing room or from an improv team's regular house show. Each character is dropped into situations that play to their strengths as comic figures, and it just keeps going--and then, and then, and then until the end. Beyond that, there's the awkward interpersonal comedy, mostly having to do with flirting and attraction. There's slapstick. There's quotable non-sequiturs mostly from Christopher Meloni as the 'Nam-addled camp cook. The visual gags are there too (e.g., why are they wrestling behind the line for corn?), and ditto some audio ones (e.g., Wilhelm scream). Wet Hot takes its lessons not just from improv and sketch, but also from Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker at their best: keep the jokes coming fast, from different angles, and don't just rely on one type of humor. The Wet Hot American Summer series on Netflix is a prequel rather than a sequel. A sequel would have made logical sense since they tease a 10-year reunion in the film, a snippet of which is seen after the credits. And yet it's a prequel show about the first day of camp rather than the last, and most of the cast looks their age (i.e., comfortably into their 40s). Come to think of it, they're following up a 90-minute movie about the final day of camp with eight half-hour episodes about the first day of camp. But that's the joke. Wet Hot American Summer continues its own tradition of operating in a pocket of movie-space and movie-time, and the set-up and punchline are one. Its driving comedy imperative of yes's, and's, and then's hopefully still abides. [embed]219652:42518:0[/embed] Next Month... We're taking a look at one of the odd moments in American film and popular culture: the time in the 1970s when pornography went mainstream. Known alternatively as prono chic and The Golden Age of Porn, Flixist will focus one of the seminal (now, now) films from that era: 1972's Deep Throat. In addition to looking at Deep Throat, we'll consider the rise and fall of The Golden Age of Porn (blame home video), how the clash over porn led to a division among second wave feminists, and how the ugly side of this pornorific era in American culture was depicted in films such as Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights and, more recently, Lovelace starring Amanda Seyfried. Yup. Porn. I'm sure putting that Philosophy degree to work. PREVIOUSLY SHOWING ON THE CULT CLUB Repo Man (1984) Putney Swope (1969) Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) The Last Dragon (1985) Tromeo and Juliet (1996)
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"I'm gonna go fondle my sweaters"
David Wain's Wet Hot American Summer is one of the least likely movies to inspire a follow-up of any kind. The film was savaged by critics upon its release and barely made a dent at the box office; Universal even denied the m...

Review: Vacation

Jul 30 // Matthew Razak
VacationDirectors: John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. GoldsteinRated: RRelease Date: July 29, 2015 [embed]219710:42514:0[/embed] First off lets give props where props are due. New Line could have geared this film for a PG-13 rating to pull in more people, but they didn't (as Hemsworth's wang below shows). They kept it R like the original and for that they should be applauded because the R-rated comedy is a dying breed. It was a signal that the this new Vacation might just pull itself up by its own boot straps and be funny. The signal got a little diluted. The movie picks up years after the original films. Rusty (Ed Helms) is all grown up, and even more out of touch with his own family than his dad was. His wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate) and kids James (Skyler Gisondo) and Kevin (Steele Stebbins) hate the normal cabin vacation they go on so Rusty decides he'll pack everyone into a car and recreate his family's trip to Wally World. That one went pretty poorly as we all may remember, but they're doing it again. In fairness the film is blatantly forward about the fact that it's a remake and that takes some of the sting out of the copped comedy from the original. There is something refreshingly old school about Vacation's comedy. It feels a bit out of date in its gross out site gags and senseless punchlines. Honestly, it's a bit refreshing in a land of comedies that take themselves too seriously or have forgotten how to properly kick a guy in the nuts for comic effect. Slapstick is a sadly dying art. The problem is that Vacation doesn't really execute its slapstick that well. There are definitely moments when the movie pulls off some solid comedy, but it too often feels forced. The film constantly seems to want to push boundaries with its comedy, but never checks to see if that boundary is worth breaking. The movie works here and there, but never long enough to make it any good. James and Kevin's relationship is actually pretty funny, but it pounds the same joke into the ground for far too long. Helms delivers a solidly oblivious father, but the family relations never feel real thanks to how dumb he is. You never get the connection you got with Chevy Chase's increasingly grumpy Clark Griswold. And not that continuity is something you'd expect in this case, but it's very unclear how the Rusty of the original films turned into the Rusty of this film. Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo's cameo is also horribly wasted making the connections to the original feel more like a cash grab than actual care. The biggest problem, however, is when Vacation goes way beyond where it should. It mocks murder, suicide and sexual abuse of a minor. I'm all for comedy being allowed to make fun of disturbing subjects; it's one of the ways we cope. The problem is when that comedy isn't funny. Vacations jokes in these departments fall horrendously flat meaning they're both offensive and unfunny. They're clearly trying to make themselves edgy, but they stink at doing it. It pushes the old school comedy into the background and turns the film into something more akin to a Scary Movie sequel. Vacation is a movie that no one wanted so its hard to say that it's a major disappointment. It can actually be funny at times, especially thanks the Helms being a funny person, but it's mostly just retreaded jokes and poorly delivered gross out comedy. The vacation from Vacation films really shouldn't have ended. 
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Vacation, all I never wanted
National Lampoon's Vacation is a comedy landmark. A boundary pushing bit of hilarity that stands the test of time and spawned two sequels funnier than the original (and Vegas Vacation). Of course National Lampoon has bee...

Christmas photo
Christmas

Red band trailer for The Night Before full of bromance and vomit


YOU CAME IN LIKE A WRECKING BALL
Jul 28
// Matthew Razak
The first trailer for The Night Before, a film that will hopefully be a new holiday classic for adults, is here and its full of what you'd expect from a film with Seth Rogen. There's plenty of dumb comedy and drug use and cam...

Review: Pixels

Jul 24 // Nick Valdez
[embed]219694:42503:0[/embed] PixelsDirector: Chris ColumbusRated: PG-13Release Date: July 24, 2015 In Pixels, Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler) was a kid who was nearly the Donkey Kong National Champion. After losing the big match against Eddie "Fireblaster" Plant (Peter Dinklage), he resigns to an unfulfilling life of installing televisions for a Best Buy-esque company while his best friend "Chewie" (Kevin James) becomes a down on his luck President of the Untied States. When a probe full of their videogames is seen as an act of war by an alien race, Sam and conspiracy nut Ludlow (Josh Gad) have to step up and save the world from three rounds of pixel fueled shenanigans. Also Lt. Colonel Van Patten (Michelle Monaghan) and her son are there to give Sam something to fight for, I guess.  Pixels may share some troubling similarities with Adam Sandler's recent glut of films (which I'll get to in a minute), but it's also got a faint sense of the good kind of nostalgia. You see, his standard schlub act works well here since the entire film is meant to invoke that 80s "average guy with inane skill becomes big hero" trope. And because it works so well, the rest of the film almost plays out like one of Sandler's early 90s comedies (albeit without the jokes). In terms of overall tone, once the film delves deep into the premise and Sam starts playing against the aliens, Pixels is a lot of healthy fun. Everything's wonderfully simplified. The aliens (who deliver their messages through stock footage of 80s icons) don't have a motive other than to destroy the Earth (or needing a million allowances worth of quarters to do their laundry), the games involved (like Breakout, Centipede, and Pac-Man) aren't filled with complicated rules to weigh the fun down, and the pixelated monsters themselves are gorgeous. But that's unfortunately where the positive stuff ends.  Pixels may be a reminder of the fun these kinds of movies used to be, but it also reminds you of how much movies have evolved since then. Because Pixels leans so heavily on the past, it can't help but trudge up all of the problematic elements of the era it wants to embody. For example, there are only two women featured in the film and they're treated horribly (which doesn't reflect well on the current perception of gaming culture as a whole). Lt. Colonel Van Patten is meant to be this "strong" female character, and she even gets one well choreographed bit toward the end, but her first introduction is belittled by Sandler's character. After he compliments her looks, he finds her crying as a result of her sudden divorce not two minutes later. And the second character, a videogame heroine named Lady Lisa, is literally a trophy the aliens give the Earth for winning one of the games which one of the characters ends up marrying. She gets no dialogue, and ends up with most mentally unstable of the "Arcaders" Ludlow, the conspiracy nut who lives with his grandmother and worships the character.  The lack of agency just feeds into the old mindset of gamers being older white males with social misgivings. One of the running jokes is these guys are only acknowledged as "the nerds." In this day and age where every literal kid and grandparent is able to play games on some kind of device, it's jarring to go back to hearing such close mindedness. Especially from a film that wants to celebrate these games (going so far as to have Sam explain why arcades were so important, and feature a scene where he decries the current violent nature of videogames). It's totally a "cake and eat it too" situation where Pixels definitely wants to mirror classic films like Ghostbusters, yet have a cynical eye toward the folks who might enjoy themselves while watching. It's that kind of self loathing that brings the whole film down.  There's just so much more to talk about, yet so little time. That's why I was so confused when I initially started writing this review. Even after all of this, I still have idea who Pixels is meant for, nor do I know who to blame for its existence. I can't even say Adam Sandler did a bad job because he actually wasn't his usual self. Lacking his usual lethargic attitude (which he starts off with then hastily has to change out of thanks to some well placed dialogue degrading his love of shorts), Sandler's never been more physical. There's also a lack of the standard poop and fart jokes you'd expect because the film's not really for kids (there's no way they'd appreciate seeing Paperboy and Joust sprites on the same screen).  Oh right, I guess I should mention there were zero jokes that appealed to me. While there is fun in the way sequences are set up, none of the fun is stemmed from the dialogue. Also, I saw in 3D and would definitely recommend seeing the pixelated monsters in that fashion. Then again, maybe you should avoid this altogether so you don't end up feeling the same confusion? I don't know.  Pixels plays so poorly, it doesn't even get to put its initials on the high score screen. 
Pixels Review photo
Insert coin to ignore
I really have no idea where to start with this. Usually when I sit down to write a review I'll have an angle by which to tackle a film, but with Pixels, I'm at a loss. I don't really know who the film is for. Is it a comedy a...

Review: Trainwreck

Jul 17 // Nick Valdez
[embed]219680:42492:0[/embed] TrainwreckDirector: Judd ApatowRated: RRelease Date: July 17, 2015 In Trainwreck, Amy Townsend (Amy Schumer) is a woman who's just enjoying her life. She's got a good job writing for a magazine and doesn't see the need to get into a monogamous relationship any time soon thanks to her father's (Colin Quinn) teachings ("Can you imagine playing with the same toy the rest of your life?"). One day she's assigned an article about Dr. Aaron Connors (Bill Hader), a sports medicine practicioner who's about to go through an intense surgery. Then through some ups and downs, the two eventually fall for each other. Through the synopsis you can't really gauge why Trainwreck is great, and that's one of the biggest drawbacks. You have to be willing to accept the film's traditional style in order to enjoy its personality. But this film's been about personality from the beginning.  I've seen so many romantic comedies over the years, I've been able to break them down into four main components: quirky girl is an outsider for some reason, quirky girl meets guy who changes her life, random man candy to oggle, and the quirky girl becomes the most important person in the film's world by the end. Unfortunately, Trainwreck has all of these components. It's completely predictable from beginning to end, but the film would rather you enjoy its components rather than the package as a whole. That's not necessarily a bad thing by any means when all of the individual pieces are as well put together as they are here.  As Schumer has proven in the past, she's a comedic dynamo. Couple that with an amazing cast for her to bounce off of, and we've got a romantic comedy more grounded than anything in years past. Her charm just oozes off the screen and effects the rest of the cast. Everyone in the film has such a natural chemistry it makes Apatow's tendency to run his films a bit long all the more bearable. In fact, I wish there was more of her conversations with Brie Larsen as Amy's sister. There are a bunch of scenes between the two where Brie cracks a laugh, and you can tell that it wasn't an intentional one. It's the little things like that which give the film a lot of character. Something that's always hollow in these romantic comedies. Speaking of chemistry, Schumer and Hader are magnetic. While Hader's character could use more development, Hader fills the role with enough quirk that it elevates it from the material. Schumer's script is amazingly put together too. While there're some jokes that don't work, and Judd Apatow's direction does seep through and you notice a few bits that could've been cut for time (and because they weren't really funny), when the two meet in the middle they knock it out of the park. Like John Cena and Lebron James, for instance. A typical quality of an Apatow directed film are the numerous celebrity cameos from folks you wouldn't usually see in a movie like this. While a bunch of unfunny cameos are here in spades, Cena and James are almost too perfect. As the two fill the conventional "bad bro date" and "quirky guy's best friend," Schumer's writing mixed with their surprising talent completely blindsides. James' acting may be a bit stilted, but he gets the best lines in the film (my personal favorite being a Kanye West riff), and I can't tell you how many times I laughed at John Cena. That guy has a future in comedy. Also, if you wanted to see him naked here's your chance.  Trainwreck is somehow both traditional and unconventional. I don't know how the film managed to find a perfect balance between being an entertaining comedy while still dealing an effective romantic push, but there's so much charm it's easy to write off a lot of the film's technical issues. Normally I'm so jaded with films like these, so I would've torn into how much like other movies it is. But it's not. It's sort of the anti-27 Dresses.  Maybe it's Amy Schumer's persona, or maybe it's how down to Earth it all feels, but when I saw Schumer dancing as a grand romantic gesture at Trainwreck's end (so predictable, I told you), I couldn't help but fall in love with her myself. 
Trainwreck Review photo
John Cena has a great ass
Whether or not you're a fan of her comedy, Amy Schumer is not going anywhere. Comedy's current "It" girl, Schumer's earned all of the accolades through her comedy specials and often hilarious television show, Inside Amy Schum...

Screenings photo
Screenings

See Vacation early and free


Washington DC screening
Jul 16
// Matthew Razak
When we heard about the Vacation sequel we were very, very, very skeptical, but the trailer actually looks pretty funny. I'm not saying it's gong to be a classic, but you could laugh... and you could laugh for free. We've got...
Ash Vs. Evil Dead Tailer photo
Bruce Campbell's still bad-Ash *rimshot*
The first full trailer for Starz's Ash vs. Evil Dead is out, and it looks way better than it has any right to look. Bruce Campbell is back as Ash, and they're playing up his schlubbiness, age, and cult persona to great effect...

Goosebumps Trailer photo
Viewer beware... (doo be doo doo doo)
I've been interested in the Goosebumps movie for some time. When it was first announced, it sounded like a neat but very weird idea. In the film adaptation of R.L. Stine's popular line of children's horror novels, Stine (Jack...

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Poster for the New Goosebumps Movie is Surprisingly Badass


Jack Black is R.L. Stine
Jul 07
// John-Charles Holmes
Apparently, there's a Goosebumps movie coming out soon-- You know, those books they always sold at your school book fair that were equal parts cheesy, weird, and occasionally horrifying? Columbia Pictures released the poster ...

Review: Ted 2

Jul 06 // Nick Valdez
[embed]219625:42462:0[/embed] Ted 2Director: Seth MacFarlaneRated: RRelease Date: June 26, 2015 In Ted 2, Ted the Teddy Bear (Seth MacFarlane) gets married and wants to start a family. But when he and Tammy-Lynn file for a potential surrogacy, Ted learns he's legally defined as property. Since he's not a person, he loses his job, his marriage is annulled, and he loses all manner of rights. He and his "Thunder Buddy" John (Mark Wahlberg) decide to fight the decision, enlisting the help of newly licensed lawyer, Sam Jackson (Amanda Seyfried). Then the film is filled with some marijuana infused shenanigans. dick jokes, and the occasional court scene as Ted tries to prove that he's truly human.  We try our best at Flixist to keep you folks out of the back end, but I've got to come at this straight on. Somehow, in some weird way, I'm always the one reviewing comedy sequels. Time and time again, I end up making the same point that one person's comedy trash is another person's comedy treasure. But I think I don't have to reiterate it with Ted 2. I'm sure everyone, regardless of taste in humor, will universally find the humor lacking. While most comedies will mine the humor from the story as the plot finds the funny in interactions between characters, this film relies on non-sequiturs. I'd hate to once again compare this film to other stuff MacFarlane's done, but like A Million Ways, Ted 2 has a lot of Family Guy sensibilities. Very little plot tied together with jokes that don't really belong. In fact, there's even a sperm donor joked ripped right from that show.  What's most unfortunate is there are definitely a few core concepts that would've worked wonders for the film had they been explored a bit further. Sure, I'm not supposed to expect some grand dissection of civil rights in the US but you can't present the idea as a major theme of the film and not elaborate on it further. It makes every tangent even more egregious. But I'm not sure how we wasted so much time since the film far out runs its course about two thirds of the way in. There are plenty of unfunny bits that could've been trimmed for time (most notably the scene in the trailers where they try and masturbate Tom Brady in order to steal his sperm), and lots of random side characters that could've been axed for brevity (like the overly bro gay couple that never go deeper than surface level "I hate nerds" jokes). And those corporate sponsorships? Did we really need a Hasbro executive as one of the villains or a final climax set at New York Comic Con?  If you were a fan of original like I was, I'm sure you're wondering whether or not the rapport between John and Ted is still strong. I'm happy to report that it's stronger than ever. One of the film's few redeeming qualities, Mark Wahlberg and Seth MacFarlane have settled into a groove that rarely feels forced. Although the writing between the two was better the first time around, the new routines the two show off are pretty funny. Although they're more examples of jokes that don't pertain to the plot (like the Law & Order or improv heckling gags), it doesn't matter when they're entertaining. Besides, Ted trying to get John back into the dating scene is a better fit for their quasi bro relationship. It's a shame that Amanda Seyfried gets dragged into this (I'm sure it's because of some favor or she genuinely enjoys working with MacFarlane for some reason) since all her character amounts to is a weed smoking failure who needs to ask for help from men more established in their careers.  With Ted 2 you get what you expect. Don't have expectations, and you won't be disappointed. I'm just tired of that criticism being an easy out for lazy comedy. This film just reeks of the same kind of absentmindedness you'd get from using the drug Ted loves so much. Caught in a haze of thick smoke, the humor struggles for air as joke after joke fails to land. Sure, you'll get one or two laughs overall but Ted 2 seriously lacks the humanity it wants you to believe it has.  There better not be a Ted 3 in the works. 
Ted 2 Review photo
No humanity
Say what you will about Seth MacFarlane, but the man knows how to stay in business. Despite many critics noting a decline in all of his television programs and his last effort A Million Ways to Die in the West died a million ...

NYAFF Review: Meeting Dr. Sun

Jul 01 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219608:42457:0[/embed] Meeting Dr. Sun (Xingdong daihao: Sun Zongshan)Director: Chih-yen Yee Rating: NRCountry: Taiwan  Everyone knows the rule of threes. You can do a joke three times before it becomes grating. If done well, that repetition can make it amazing, but going beyond that just becomes frustrating. I don't know who who it came from, but I've heard it said that the trick to Family Guy's humor is that things become funny again after you've done them for the 27th time. It's funny, funny, funny, not funny, not funny, infuriating... kinda funny, funny, amazing. And that's kind of accurate. I'm sure there's something in our brains, probably a fear response, that tells us that eventually this thing that is making us uncomfortable with its repetition is actually something to be laughed at (again), lest we drive ourselves actually crazy. Whatever it is, it works. Sometimes. Meeting Dr. Sun really wants that to be true. Or at least, its editor does. Because apparently he left the editing bay after he put together his rough cut and someone walked by and shouted, "It's perfect!" Every single scene is too long. Every. Damn. One. You could cut at least 10 seconds from the end of every sequence in the film and it would only benefit the film. Most shots go on too long, and every joke definitely goes on too long, but sometimes they become funny again. Meeting Dr. Sun is a heist movie, of sorts. Some kinds can't afford to pay their class fees, so they decide to steal a statue and sell it for scrap. But they have to steal it. But because they're children (end of middle school/beginning of high school (or the Taiwanese equivalent of that), if I had to guess), everything is inherently very silly. As it's presented, there are no great stakes, and there are no serious dangers. It's not even really clear what it would mean if the kids didn't pay their class fees. (Here my American ignorance is probably at issue, though the film's dialogue makes it seem like it's not a necessity to get through the year.) The whole thing feels appropriately childish, and on some level the humor actually works like that as well.  Some years ago, I was having dinner with a friend and his extended family. His very young cousin wanted to be the center of attention, and so he said to said to his dad, "Hi mommy!" and everyone laughed. And then he went to every single person around the table (nearly a dozen of us) and said, "Hi mommy!" to all the men and "Hi daddy!" to the women. The first couple of times, it was adorable. By the time he got to me? It was infuriating. But the kid thought he was the cat's pajamas, and he kept doing it until his dad (thankfully) stopped him. He would have done another round of the table, I'm sure, because he didn't understand what actually made it funny, just that other people were laughing. And that's what the humor in Meeting Mr. Sun is like. I laughed pretty hard on multiple occasions, and some of the people around me laughed so hard I literally (not figuratively) thought they were going to die, but then once I'd moved on, the young kids onscreen wanted to keep doing the joke. They keep pantomiming or dancing or talking or moving or doing any of those other things that kids do, because... they're kids. What else are they gonna do?  That said, there's a weird, dark undercurrent about issues of socioeconomic class structures throughout the film. And while it's always there, it doesn't come up explicitly until the end, when it hits in a fascinating, mood-wrecking kind of way. And thinking back on the film through that lens, it's actually pretty seriously depressing; a (very) long sequence involving two characters trying to prove that their family is worse off is played for humor, sort of, but it's really very sad. At the time, that was in the back of my mind, but it didn't snap into focus until that moment near the end. But this theme seems so at odds with the comedic intentions of the film. Director Yee wanted us to laugh. But here was this grand theme about poverty and what it forces people to do, even on a small scale. And... we were supposed to laugh at it? I mean, I definitely did. I'm just not sure how I feel about having done so.
Meeting Dr. Sun Review photo
Child's play
In the two hours leading up to the US premiere of Meeting Dr. Sun, I saw director Chih-yen Yee speak twice. First was at a reception hosted by New York Taipei Economic and Cultural Office. The second was just minute...

Uneeded Sequels photo
Uneeded Sequels

Arnold says that Twins sequel, Triplets, is still coming


It should be Tw3ns
Jun 29
// Matthew Razak
Every time someone brings up the proposed Twins sequel, Triplets we just kind of nod our head and smile. It really isn't clear if anyone outside of Arnold and Danny DeVito want it to happen so the assumption was jus...

How to Do It BETTER: Howard the Duck

Jun 22 // Sean Walsh
1. Send Howard to Earth When we last saw him, our stalwart protagonist (who would be voiced once again by Seth Green) was hanging out in Knowhere with Benecio del Toro's Collector and Cosmo the Space Dog. That's all well and good, but Guardians really has captured the market on Marvel's space-y real estate, and with Captain Marvel's Kree background, we'll assuredly get more space stuff there. Howard would be swallowed up surrounded by other extra-terrestrial characters and locales. So, naturally, we need Howard "trapped in a world he never made." That world, of course, is Earth. A surly, walking, talking duck on a planet of talking mammals is full of potential humor.  2. No Origins, Please Why spend two and a half hours dealing with where he came from when you can tell a wacky story (more on that below) out of the gate? Just do like The Incredible Hulk did and get that all out of the way in the opening credits. Even his trip to Earth can be told during the opening titles. Hell, Guardians 2 could deal with that. The film should start like a film noir, with Howard staring out the window of his crappy private eye's office drinking a glass of scotch, doing his best Jon Hamm from Mad Men. If you have to do an origin, have him narrate it to the audience during this opening scene. 3. Cast the Right Redhead If we're going to go the private duck (ha!) noir direction, you need a dame. In walks Beverly Switzler, played by gorgeous redhead Jane Levy (Suburgatory, the Evil Dead remake). Levy is funny, sharp as a tack, and certainly worthy of the "of all the run-down private eye offices in New York, she had to walk into mine" treatment. We'll remove the 'nude' from 'nude model' on her resume, but make her pretty enough for Howard to recognize and even lust after. You see, Beverly's photographer boyfriend Chuck has gone missing down in Florida and she needs help finding him. But why come to Howard the Duck all the way in New York? Well, you see, there are some weird circumstances to his disappearance. Something about a swamp, a monster...something a normal private eye wouldn't take seriously. Howard So you came to the one PI in New York City that's a talking duck? Beverly nods. Beverly Yeah, exactly.  Howard looks down at his feet. Howard (exasperated) Waugh... 4. Give Them Their Very Own Groot! So, Beverly pays Howard's fees and the two set a course for Florida, flying first class (jokes abound). They arrive in Florida, drive out to the small, backwoods town where Beverly's boyfriend was last seen and Howard does his detective thing. Naturally, it is an uphill battle as he is a talking duck in a small swamp town. But eventually, he gets a lead and they make their way to the swamp where Chuck vanished. Of course, not before an old man warns them both of the swamp monster that protects his territory. Crazy Old Man It's some sort of...thing...that walks like...like a man! Howard rolls his eyes. Howard Like, a Man-Thing? The old man eagerly nods, his eyes wide. Crazy Old Man Just like a Man-Thing! Disregarding the old coot, the two make their way to the swamp. It isn't long before they come upon the Man-Thing in all his mossy glory. Howard quacks in fear and pulls out his pistol, which causes the creature to reach out for him. Beverly, she of the steel nerves, puts herself between them. The creature isn't there to hurt them, she tells Howard. Its simply there to protect something. She explains to the Man-Thing that they are looking for her boyfriend, Chuck. The creature, it seems, understands her, and leads them further into the swamp. Think Groot, just without the whole "I am Groot" thing. Also, if you're wondering what the connection is betwixt our feathered friend and a giant plant golem is? Well, fun fact: Howard the Duck first appeared in issue #19 of Man-Thing's original comic, Adventure Into Fear, and the two have crossed paths on numerous occasions. It seems only right to bring them together for the first time on the big screen. 5. Expand the Universe(s) Now, I'm sure Dr. Strange is going to make the MCU a little bigger, but if there's one thing that Marvel has in spades (besides Spider-People, line-wide crossover events, and D-list villains), it's alternate realities. Deep in the heart of Man-Thing's swamp lies the Nexus of All Realities. We don't know what it's called yet, of course, but that's what it is. Before they discuss what it is, something comes out through the other side. Something weird. A vampire ninja, maybe. Or a cybernetically-animated superhero corpse (a la Deathlok, specifically from the Uncanny X-Force arc full of Deathlok heroes). Man-Thing quickly dispatches of the visitor with its massive strength and corrosive touch. Beverly Does that...happen a lot? The Man-Thing nods. It would seem, Beverly deduces, that Chuck fell into the Nexus. Howard informs her that he is not getting paid enough and that his own reality is weird enough. Beverly offers to triple her fee and our hero gracefully accepts. Howard, Beverly, and their new friend Man-Thing step through. Things get...weird from here. 6. Give Them a Familiar Bad Guy in a New Context The trio of unsuspecting heroes find themselves smack-dab in the middle of a war zone. A paltry resistance is crushed by giant war machines, all of which are marked with the HYDRA insignia. HYDRA troops surround our heroes. Howard H-hail HYDRA? A HYDRA trooper tazes him into unconsciousness. When Howard awakens, he and Beverly are in a high-tech prison cell. Man-Thing is gone, but who should be locked in the cell next to theirs but Chuck (played by someone hunky and relatively popular, like Robbie Amell or the Teen Wolf guy)! Reunited at last, but under fairly dismal circumstances. A guard comes to take them away. But not just any guard. It's Ward from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.! That son of a gun. He has come to take Howard to HYDRA's labs to be dissected. It is at this point, upon the cell being opened, that Howard is finally able to display one of his greatest talents: Quack-Fu. He quickly and easily dispatches Ward and frees Chuck. Beverly is clearly impressed by his martial arts prowess but Howard shrugs it off, the consummate cool cucumber. He wants to escape, but Beverly insists they can't leave Man-Thing behind. Howard goes to object, but she points out that it's their ticket home. Guessing that the monster is in the laboratory, the three make their way there. Along the way Chuck tells them about the reality they're in. Back in the 40's, the Red Skull successfully defeated Captain America, and using the power of the Tesseract, took over the world. There are no heroes (even the Asgardians had fallen to the might of the Tesseract) and aside from pockets of resistance like the one we saw upon their arrival in this reality, HYDRA is the world of the day. But Red Skull is not in charge anymore, no sir, his most trusted adviser, Arnim Zola (the ineffable Toby Jones), betrayed him, killed him, and took control of HYDRA and subsequently the world. Now, obviously this is to get around the Red Skull, Cap, and the rest. But that's not to say that Ward would be the only cameo, no sir. 7. Make It a Great Escape Their suspicions are correct: Man-Thing is on the cutting table. The two scientists operating on him? Why, Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons, also from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In this reality, they, like Ward, have German accents as a result of HYDRA's global control. The trio watch them bicker briefly before taking them out and freeing the Man-Thing. Unfortunately, Simmons triggers an alarm before Beverly can knock her out. A whole squad of HYDRA goons storms the lab and it looks like our heroes are done for. But then the Calvary arrives, literally. The wall explodes and The Resistance has arrived, led by none other than Phil Coulson himself. With him are Melinda May (possibly having become Deathlok herself), Antoine Triplett, Alphonso "Mack" MacKenzie, Inhuman Daisy Johnson (Quake, if you're nasty), and her father Cal, along with a whole squad of rag-tag resistance members. Howard Who are you? Coulson We're S.H.I.E.L.D. Howard What's that stand for? Coulson Been a little busy trying to liberate the world from HYDRA, haven't had a lot of time to think up acronyms. With Daisy's abilities, Howard's Quack-Fu, Man-Thing's brute strength, and Coulson's leadership, they make short work of the HYDRA forces they come up against. But it isn't long before they come up against the big man himself, Zola, and his number two: an unscarred Crossbones (total badass Frank Grillo). Zola has taken on his familiar form in the comics, a face on a monitor on a robot body. Zola and Coulson exchange words and a big climatic fight ensues. In the fracas, Crossbones is scarred by Man-Thing but left alive (mirroring his fate in Cap 2), Howard very nearly sacrifices himself to save Chuck and Beverly from Zola, and finally, Zola is defeated. However, the war against HYDRA isn't over. This was just one of Zola's many bodies and as a digital consciousness ("cut off one head" and all that), he's already up and at them elsewhere. The only way to truly defeat him is to find his central consciousness and destroy it. On the bright side, S.H.I.E.L.D. has a Helicarrier now. Coulson offers Howard, Chuck, and Beverly spots in S.H.I.E.L.D. Howard and Beverly decline, but Chuck accepts. Beverly pleads with him to change his mind, but Chuck says he found his calling. They share one last kiss and everyone says their goodbyes. Man-Thing teleports Howard and Beverly to that reality's swamp and they go through the Nexus. Howard Wait...you could teleport this whole time? Man-Thing shrugs its shoulders. Howard (frustrated) WAUGH! 8. Give It A Happy Ending Howard, Bev, and Man-Thing are back home. Howard and Beverly bid farewell to their jolly green friend and make their way back to civilization. Beverly is obviously still very broken up about Chuck. Howard tries to find the words to comfort her, but gives up and takes a different route. Howard Hey, Bev? Beverly (sniffles) Yes, Howard? Howard You wanna grab a drink at that bar we stopped at earlier? Beverly The one you almost got murdered in? Howard shrugs. Howard After almost getting turned into roast duck by a Nazi robot with a TV for a face, a couple'a bikers don't seem so scary in retrospect. Beverly thinks about it. Beverly You know what, Howard? That sounds really nice. My treat. She reaches out a hand as they walk. Howard stares at it for a moment and then takes it in his. He looks at the screen and smiles. Howard (happily) Waugh. 9. Get the Tone Right We're talking about a sarcastic, angry duck-man here. If anything, Howard the Duck should be a dark comedy first, with action and adventure thrown in to give the audience what they want. People can accept a super-soldier, tech genius, and hunky Norse god. A talking duck detective is going to have it a little harder. There's all sorts of humor and pathos to be found in Howard's trials and tribulations, and sticking him in the middle of a warzone is sure to have plenty of comedic opportunities. 10. Get the Right Director Obviously, James Gunn would be my first choice but he'll probably have a pretty full dance card by the time Avengers: Infinity War Part II has come and gone. It would be important to have somebody fully capable of big, over-the-top actions scenes, humor, and noir. Honestly, there's only one name on my least: the unlawfully handsome Robert Rodriguez. He has pretty stellar range and experience with the aforementioned areas between films like Planet Terror, Machete, and Sin City. Sure, next to Edgar Wright he is my favorite director, but there are plenty of good reasons for that. 11. Make the Mid and Post-Credits Scenes Matter  Sure, this is a Howard the Duck movie, but it can still lend itself to good world-building. I think it's more or less universally agreed that Iron Man 2 is one of the weakest links in the Cinematic Universe's chain (I, myself, liked it just fine), but I'll be damned if people didn't lose their minds when they saw Mjölnir in the desert. For the mid-credits scene, show us the result of Howard and Bev returning the the bar. Have them both looking exhausted with their beers, then slowly pull away to reveal a bar-full of unconscious bikers. That's Quack-Fu, baby. Then, after the credits? Maybe return to the other reality. Arnim Zola blinks to life in a new body, as predicted. He reflects to himself that maybe his time on Earth has come to an end and activates a device. A wormhole opens. Zola smiles. Arnim Zola Next stop: Dimension-Z. He enters it and the wormhole closes behind him. Cut to black. Dimension-Z is a world dominated by Zola in Rick Remender's Captain America, where Steve Rogers ends up in for over a decade. Of course, Rogers won't be Cap anymore by the time Howard the Duck rolls around, but there's no reason we can't adapt the storyline to accommodate for Buck Barnes, the new Captain America (with an 11-movie contract, it's pretty obvious he won't be the Winter Soldier forever). It's a fun dystopian story full of action, adventure, and mad science. We certainly haven't seen anything like that yet from Marvel Studios! Just imagine: Captain America: Escape From Dimension Z! 12. Can't Forget the Stan Lee Cameo! Since Stan the Man is immortal, obviously he will make a cameo complete with requisite one-liner. Maybe as a drunk biker in the first bar scene or the guy in the cell on the other side of Howard and Beverly's! I can see it now: Howard looks over at the cell on the other side of his. An OLD MAN with a black eye sits on the prison cot. Howard What happened to you? A grin washes over the man's face. Old Man You should see the other guy! So, there you have it. That's how you make a Howard the Duck movie. Lots of laughs, lots of surly sarcasm, lots of action, a liberal dose of easter eggs (Howard: Yeah, we're on an adventure, alright...an Adventure Into Fear!), and Marvel makes another few hundred million. Aside from Howard's CG, there's not a whole lot in the way of budgetary drains, especially working largely with television actors. Despite his decades of relative obscurity, people are already aware of Howard courtesy of Guardians, which is a big step in the right direction. In the hands of a capable director like Rodriguez, with a cast consisting of Green, Levy, and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and Kyle Maclachlan, that beautiful son of a gun), Howard the Duck could be Marvel's next Guardians.  Did I just write the pitch for the first new movie of Phase Five? Am I way off base? Think your Howard the Duck idea is better than mine? Sound of in the comments.
HTDIB: Howard the Duck photo
WAUGH!
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