Tag Archive for 'Comedy'

Get Smart

Get Smart (8/28/15) IFC (2008 **) Directed by Peter Segal, based on the TV show created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, starring Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin and Terence Stamp. A top-secret spy agency analyst named Maxwell Smart is promoted to field agent and teamed with an experienced female agent named 99. Prior to this film being released, I’d looked forward to it. Steve Carell seemed ideally cast for the role made so memorable on TV by Don Adams. But then I read the reviews, which were not kind, settling at a not particularly fresh 51% on Rotten Tomatoes. My personal experience matched that rating pretty accurately. To be honest, more than anything it made me want to watch the original show which ran from 1965-1970, then played in syndication in the after-school block of programming, which is where I watched it. It’s a real shame, too, because I think it could have been an excellent film, worthy of a sequel, if not two. As evidence, I humbly point you to This year’s Spy (2015), starring Melissa McCarthy, which had the same exact premise.

Happyish, Season 1

Happyish, Season 1 (8/26/15) SHO (2015 ***) Created by Shalom Auslander, starring Kathryn Hahn, Steve Coogan, Carrie Preston and Bradley Whitford. 10 episodes, originally aired 4/26/15- 6/28/15. A 44-year old advertising executive spends much of his commute to and from his Woodstock home contemplating the concept of happiness. The real question this show asks its audience is this: “Even with everything we have to be thankful for, why are we still so chronically unhappy?” That is certainly a question I can relate to more than I wish were the case. There is also no small irony, especially given the show’s theme and some of its content, that the main character was originally supposed to be played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who committed suicide on February 2nd, 2014 at the age of 46. Ultimately, there was much to like about this show, but given its “existential angst” premise, it comes as no surprise to me that it was canceled after one season. And seriously, how fucking hard is it to get canceled on Showtime? This show’s final legacy may be to offer examples of what it “feels like” to use well-known advertising icons like the Geico Gecko, the Keebler elves and Coca Cola in pretty subversive ways. Two final notes: (1) The show addresses the obvious comparison with Mad Men (2007-2015) in its first episode and (2) I was delighted by the Bewitched (1964-1972) reference in the fictional ad agency’s name: “McMann Godsmith & Tate.”


Bernie (8/12/15) Netflix (2011 ***1/4) Directed by Richard Linklater, based on an article by Skip Hollandsworth, starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey. Based on a true story, a well-liked assistant funeral director reaches out to and befriends the nastiest widow in Carthage, Texas… with tragic consequences. This is a cute movie with a quirky performance by Jack Black, but I honestly didn’t find it anything beyond that. I’d been meaning to watch it for some time, but my interest was piqued by its segment in the “career retrospective” documentary I watched not long ago, 21 Years: Richard Linklater (2014). Berrnie features an interesting pseudo-documentary technique, and as I watched it I thought: “I’ll bet this film had a very short shooting schedule.” Sure enough, according to its Wikipedia page, it was shot in only 22 days and something tells me McConaughey was able to knock out his scenes in about 3 of them. Adding to the project’s uniqueness was the fact that the interviewed folks were a mix of professional actors and actual townspeople. The film’s real claim to fame is undoubtedly that its theatrical release led to a re-opening of the case (with the surprising support of prosecuting D.A. Danny Buck Davidson), which eventually resulted in the release of Bernie Tiede himself in 2014. And not only that, but the judge ordered him to live under the care of the film’s director! It’s like something out of a movie! Believe it or Not!

Better Off Ted, Season 2

Better Off Ted, Season 2 (8/9/15) Netflix (2009-2010 ***) Created by Victor Fresco, starring Jay Harrington, Portia de Rossi, Andrea Anders, Jonathan Slavin and Malcolm Barrett. 13 episodes, originally aired 12/8/09 – 8/24/10. Handsome, capable R&D supervisor Ted Crisp continues to do his darnedest to maintain his dignity at the evil corporate empire known as Veridian Dynamics. Like the first, the second (and final) season was pleasant and perfect for half-watching while working on art, and I didn’t notice any perceptible change in quality. The show apparently struggled to find an audience, and I’m not particularly surprised. While many viewers (like yours truly) can probably relate to the show’s corporate setting, I’m sure that much of America probably wondered “Why should I give a crap about these people?” Ultimately, the show offered some mildly clever diversions but mainly empty calories. Here are two final notes: (1) There was a clear similarity between Better Off Ted and Scott Adams’ Dilbert cartoons; In one of the second season episodes, Portia de Rossi finds a cut-out Dilbert cartoon on an employees desk and makes a comment about how it satirizes her own familiar workplace environment in a relatable way. How meta! (2) One of the side-effects of binge-watching this show was that the more I watched, the more I noticed how repetitive its music was. It started to drive me a little mad, honestly, and when I’d watched the final two episodes (which had gone un-aired in the U.S.), I breathed a sign of relief.

Better Off Ted, Season 1

Better Off Ted, Season 1 (8/1/15) Netflix (2009 ***1/4) Created by Victor Fresco, starring Jay Harrington, Portia de Rossi, Andrea Anders, Jonathan Slavin and Malcolm Barrett. 13 episodes, originally aired 3/18/09 – 8/11/09. Ted Crisp, head of R&D at Veridian Dynamics, has his hands full with his mischievous daughter, ungainly subordinates and a boss who is a borderline sociopath. A friend recommended this easy-to-digest sit-com, and it made the perfect companion while I worked on an art project. Having worked in a corporate project-driven culture for the past 25 years, it was easy to relate to the sit-com’s workplace setting. The writing was consistent throughout, though never particularly brilliant. However, I did enjoy the little stock footage-based Veridian Dynamics “commercials,” each linked thematically to the episode in which they appeared. Which brings up a certain central paradox of the show: We’re supposed to care about all the central characters, and yet they have all chosen to work for a company that is… well, evil. Probably best not to think about that too much.

Wet Hot American Summer

Wet Hot American Summer (7/31/15) Netflix (2001 ***1/2) Directed by David Wain, written by Michael Showalter and David Wain, starring Janeane Garofalo, Michael Showalter, Marguerite Moreau, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Paul Rudd and many others. You won’t believe the madcap antics that happen to the Camp Firewood kids and counselors on the last day of summer camp in 1981. I first reviewed this film back on 4/1/08, but having recently watched the Netflix prequel set on the first day of summer, I knew I wanted to go back and watch the film again. The first time around I gave the film three stars, which was undoubtedly an honest reflection of my enjoyment. This time I’m raising my rating, because I think I “get” the film more, adding to my appreciation of it. In particular, the film’s comedic tone wasn’t just a single note, but instead was a number of different styles of comedy, sometimes jumbled together. The obvious question is what the proper watching order should be? Film first or the Netflix series? Though it violates chronological “first/last day of summer” order, I would recommend watching this film before the series.

What We Do in the Shadows

What We Do in the Shadows (7/31/15) Amazon Streaming (2014 ***1/4) Written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, starring Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi and Cori Gonzalez-Macuer. A documentary crew is given the special privilege of spending time with four British housemates who just happen to sustain their immortality by drinking human blood. I watched this film at a pajama party hosted by a friend. He’d seen the film months ago and raved about it. I certainly enjoyed it, but was probably too tired to watch it properly; it had been a long day and I was still struggling with jet lag from spending a month in Europe. And if I’m being completely honest, I’ve grown so accustomed to being able to watch movies at home with closed captioning enabled and I missed that. Still, it was a bloody (sorry) good sendup of vampires in general and the Twilight frachise in particular, with werewolves getting some screen time as well as their blood-sucking supernatural brethren. One thing I particularly appreciated about the “mockumentary” was the integration of certain visual effects like flying and transformations to and from bat form into the cinema verite-style footage.

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (7/31/15) Netflix (2015 ***1/2) Created by Michael Showalter and David Wain, starring Elizabeth Banks, Janeane Garofalo, Michael Showalter, Marguerite Moreau, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Paul Rudd and many others. 8 episodes, released en masse on 7/31/15. This “Day 1” prequel reveals the madcap antics of those Camp Firewood kids and counselors from Wet Hot American Summer (2001). In the annals of crazy and audacious projects, this Netflix series has to rank pretty freakin’ high up. The idea of having actors, all of whom were in their late thirties at least, playing the same teenage characters they played fifteen years previously? Absolutely freakin’ nuts! But somehow they pulled it off, recapturing the same comedic tone as before. Considering the star power that some of these players (notably Bradley Cooper) had gone onto in the intervening years, it’s an absolute miracle they were able to get everyone back. I imagine there was a lot of creative scheduling to make that magic happen. As for the project itself, the “safe” thing would have been to do a prequel as a 90-minute feature, but I’m very glad they opted for the roughly four-hour version. There were plenty of fun and games as they provided the back-story for characters and elements from the original film. And yes, you will learn the story behind the talking can of vegetables! Also, by presenting it in all in episodic form, it allowed for something structurally I’ve never seen before: Each of the last three or four episodes offered its own dramatic climax, based on something that had been established previously.


Ant-Man (7/30/15) Glendale Pacific 18 (2015 ***1/4) Directed by Peyton Reed, starring Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll and Evangeline Lilly. An ex-convict with a talent for breaking and entering is recruited by a scientist with a talent for miniaturization… and talking to ants. As Marvel Universe movies go, it was a given that Ant-Man was going to be relatively lightweight fare, no pun intended. I understood that, and was prepared to accept it for what it was, and not reject it for what it wasn’t. I was also well aware of the film’s production difficulties, with Shaun of the Dead‘s Edgar Wright’s departure as director. In the leading role, Paul Rudd was likable as ever, and he was well cast. I kept thinking of how he will “fit in” with the other Avengers down the line, and something tells me he’ll do just fine, providing ample doses of comic relief. As superheroes go, miniaturization is a pretty bizarre power. Not much was really made of that fact in the film, which was probably for the best.

Dark Shadows

Dark Shadows (7/29/15) Norwegian Airlines: OSL -> LAX (2012 ***) Directed by Tim Burton, based on the characters created by Dan Curtis, screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith, starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Bella Heathcote and Helena Bonham Carter. A construction crew releases 18th Century vampire Barnabas Collins into the futuristic modern world of… 1972? For reasons I won’t go into, I saw this film previously on 5/13/12 in the company of the loudest group of Hawaiian residents you’d ever hope to meet. This time around I saw it on a plane’s in-seat entertainment system. Neither were ideal ways to watch a movie, but there you are. Oh, Tim Burton, you have disappointed me once again. I remember how much I looked forward to this film adaptation of one of my childhood treasures. And yet you failed in the same way you did with Planet of the Apes (2001), in the same way you always do. You are simply not a good storyteller, Mr. Burton. And it’s such a shame. You had a lot of great material to work with, and I did love the guts it took to set the film in the early 1970s. But no. Such sadness I feel.