Comedy

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

(screenshots from JoBlo.com)

Disney’s 52nd animated feature is essentially a Toy Story for the digital generation, Wreck-It Ralph. In it, characters from video games in an arcade inhabit a connected electronic world and live their lives after all the humans have left. They are able to visit the individual games by passing through the arcade’s surge protector, which acts as their central station. Their respective games function as both a career and a home world for them to live in.  Their actions during gameplay are like theatrical performances, their lives essentially a reality show with some human interference. It’s a brilliant concept and full of references to classic games. More than that, Wreck-It Ralph features a very funny (if by-the-numbers) script and a wide appeal that should leave everyone satisfied.

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Jack and Jill (2011)

Film #29: Jack and Jill (2011)

Last year, a gentleman by the name of Adam Sandler made a movie called Jack and Jill. Though Sandler gave directing duties to his longtime collaborator Dennis Dugan (who has directed Sandler films from Happy Gilmore to Just Go With It), he made sure to have his fingers in every other aspect of production: Producing (alongside two others), writing (alongside three others), and, most noticeably, starring in not one but both title characters. That’s right, Adam Sandler plays both Jack and his incredibly lewd twin sister Jill. When I first saw the trailer for this film, I thought it was a joke, like something Sandler’s character from Funny People would have made during the nadir of his career. Unfortunately for all of us, Jack and Jill is not a joke. It’s easy to tell, since the movie’s excruciatingly unfunny.

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50/50 (2011)

Film #27: 50/50 (2011)

50/50 is a movie about cancer. Well, a movie about cancer and coping with cancer. Written by Will Reiser, who based the script loosely around his own experiences with the big C, and directed by Jonathan Levine, 50/50 takes a comedic-dramatic approach to the story of Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a 27-year-old journalist who finds out he has a rare form of spinal cancer. It’s a total shock, of course. Not only does Adam not smoke or anything, he’s so safety-oriented that he waits for crosswalks to turn white before jogging across the street. This huge disruption shakes him, as well as everyone around him: His almost live-in girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), his best friend and co-worker Kyle (Seth Rogen), and his worrisome mother Diane (Anjelica Huston), already burdened with taking care of his father who has Alzheimer’s (Serge Houde). Adam begins to undergo treatment for his affliction, but his survival is pretty much a coin toss: The survival rate is 50%.

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Cyrus (2010)

Film #25: Cyrus (2010)

Cyrus is a comedy-drama written and directed by the Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark, and released in 2010. With the exception of its professional actors, the film has all the hallmarks of the indie “mumblecore” movement that the Duplass brothers partake in: Low-budget filmmaking that’s character-based and dialogue-driven. The tenets of mumblecore can be divisive enough for a movie-going public more acclimated to high-concept films; Cyrus doubles down on its disconcertion by featuring a nearly incestuous Oedipal relationship. Plenty of people are probably interested in this movie based on its cast. Many will probably end up disappointed.

Personally, I absolutely loved it.

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21 Jump Street (2012)

Film #24: 21 Jump Street (2012)

21 Jump Street is an action-comedy film loosely based off the TV series of the same name that ran on Fox from 1987 to 1991. I never saw the show, but apparently all the 2012 film takes from it is the premise: Youthful-looking police officers are placed undercover as high school students. The two youthful cops that the film follows are Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum). They’re much the same as they were in high school – Schmidt intelligent but awkward, Jenko athletic but an idiot – but this is 7 years later, so even though they were at odds in their schooling days, they quickly become the best of friends during training. They’re terribly incompetent cops, though, and are stuck patrolling a park on bicycles. They get reassigned to the 21 Jump Street program after Jenko irresponsibly detains a perp, eschewing reading the Miranda rights in favor of humping the drug dealer while telling him to suck it.

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Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

Film #22: Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

Despite some of my best friends in high school making constant reference to the cult film Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, I had never actually seen the movie until a week ago. It was… pretty much exactly the way I expected it to be. To be honest, I don’t know how anyone could watch this movie for the first time without the whole thing seeming familiar. Pee-wee Herman, the indelible man-child played (for a decade straight) by Paul Reubens, is so intractably entwined in American popular culture that it’s impossible not to know his antics. What I wasn’t aware of, however, is that this movie was the first time Pee-wee hit the big or small screen (I just assumed that his television show “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” had preceded the film); nor was I fully aware that this was the very first feature-length film directed by Tim Burton. Knowing these things puts the film in an interesting historical context. Oh yeah, and it’s a pretty enjoyable watch in and of itself.

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The Descendants (2011)

Film #20: The Descendants (2011)

George Clooney starred in two films last year: The Ides of March and The Descendants. While the former has a special place in my heart since it was filmed in Ann Arbor while I was at school there, the latter received far more critical attention. In director Alexander Payne’s film, Clooney plays Matt King, a lawyer in Honolulu who is the sole trustee of a large plot of land on the island of Kaua’i. He and his huge network of cousins are on the verge of selling the land to a native Hawaiian for development, but his life becomes complicated when his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) has a boating accident that puts her in a coma. All of a sudden, “the back-up parent”, as he calls himself, is in charge of their two daughters, 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and 17-year-old Alex (Shailene Woodley). As if things weren’t complicated enough, Alex tells Matt that Elizabeth had been cheating on him.

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Midnight in Paris (2011)

Film #19: Midnight in Paris (2011)

Midnight in Paris is, impressively enough, Woody Allen’s 41st film. A three-and-a-half minute opening montage of Paris leads the viewer to believe that this will be a heartfelt dedication to the City of Love, similar to how Allen’s 1979 classic Manhatten was a love letter to New York. Although the film does make a point that Paris is a magical place, and protagonist Gil (played by Owen Wilson as Woody Allen’s proxy) is, indeed, infatuated with the city, Midnight‘s sentimental story has more commentary about nostalgia than anything else, along with Allen’s ever-present self-awareness of art and the artist.

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Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

In 2006, Steve Pink made his directorial debut with Accepted. His sophomore effort is a high-concept comedy with a premise contained entirely within its title: Hot Tub Time Machine.

Hot Tub follows three middle-aged friends whose lives are all unfulfilling. John Cusack’s girlfriend has just moved away (leaving him with his geeky nephew played by Clark Duke), Craig Robinson is domineered by his controlling and unfaithful wife, and Rob Corddry is an alcoholic wreck. The latter three actors (and, to some extant, Cusack as well) have established characters that they are strong at playing, and nobody ventures outside their comfort zones here. Robinson is sarcastic and vulnerable, Duke is an acerbic nerd, and Corddry is vulgarity incarnate.

Despite his Daily Show roots, I’m not often a fan of Corddry’s shenanigans. I find him crude and loud, and he cranks that up to 11 for this time-traveling romp. He’s homophobic, bombastic, obscene, and pretty much the worst kind of person there is. Luckily, Hot Tub plays these characteristics properly. The movie doesn’t glorify his ridiculous behavior; instead, the other characters all feel a mutual disgust for their past-his-prime party animal friend who may have just attempted suicide.

To raise his spirits, the quartet go to an old ski lodge that they used to frequent in their glory days. It’s here, in the decrepit present of Kodiak Valley (there are literally burning trash cans on the streets), that they find their magical hot tub TARDIS.

The guys travel to 1986, the height of the worst decade in human history (one of them shares my opinion as to why – “Reagan and AIDS”). The movie’s humor could have been based entirely on anachronisms if they wanted to play it safe. But the movie’s various screenwriters go to other wells for laughs. Luckily, they get a principal cast with excellent comedic timing. The four main characters are excellent when hanging out together. Though the situations they find themselves in may be implausible or straight up silly, they still seem like old time pals. I especially enjoyed Duke, who helps dismantle the stereotype of nerds as weak and inept. Surrounded by childish adults, Duke takes charge and drives the effort to get back to their hometime.

Unfortunately, Hot Tub revels in the raunch as well. The movie actually opens with a poop joke, and proceeds to crank out humor based on piss, farts, semen, and vomit. A couple of instances of vomit, actually. The low brow jokes are frequent enough to be distracting, and they take away from an otherwise decent display of humor.

Since it’s mostly a vehicle for comic actors to mock and pay homage to the 80s, there’s nothing stellar about the story. The characters lazily move from one plan (“We have to relive everything exactly as it happened”) to another (“F*ck it, let’s do what we want and be candid about our time traveling”). Side characters are one-dimensional: Lizzy Caplan is the cute and quirky girl who challenges Cusack’s fatalistic viewpoint, Collette Wolfe is Duke’s future mom and a complete caricature of a party slut. A flatulent Chevy Chase pops up a few times, and Crispin Glover plays along like a great sport as a bellman who may be destined to lose his arm.

They weren’t trying anything new when they made this movie, and their elements were almost enough to form a good comedy. Somewhere along the way, though, gross-out humor got in and diluted the quality of the film. As it stands, it’s not a bad movie to throw on and laugh at, but it could have been better if it had held itself to a higher standard.

(Also, I have to give the movie props for having Bowie and the most appropriate use ever for The Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime”)

Final rating: 6/10

–James A. Janisse


Sunshine Cleaning (2008)

Sunshine Cleaning follows sisters Amy Adams and Emily Blunt as they try their hand at a new business. That business is cleaning up after crime scenes and accidents, involving a lot of gross messes and bodily fluids. They’re unlikely candidates for the job, and at first their inexperience shows, but eventually it becomes more than just a source of income to them.

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