Comedy

GOOD OMENS: THE NICE AND ACCURATE PROPHECIES OF AGNES NUTTER, WITCH by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman –and– “GOOD OMENS” (2019)

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When the Anti-Christ arrives in the unassuming Oxfordshire village of Tadfield, and the countdown to the apocalypse begins. Although most of the Earth’s inhabitants are unaware of the Anti-Christ’s presence, the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley are more than a little unhappy that the Earth will be ending so soon. After 6,000 years or so, they’ve gotten attached to certain Earthly comforts and the humans they live with. And although they’d never admit it to their respective Head Offices, they’ve gotten more than a little attached to each other as well. So they decide to do what they can to influence the Anti-Christ’s upbringing and avert the apocalypse altogether. But due to a mix-up, partly due to chance, and partly the incompetence of certain Satanic nuns in the Chattering Order of St. Beryl, the Anti-Christ does not end up in the family of an American diplomat as Satan intended, but rather grows up in a typical English family in Tadfield. Of course all of this was predicted by Agnes Nutter, witch, centuries ago, before she exploded at the stake, and her own ancestor, Anathema Device, is searching for the Anti-Christ as well. With the end of days only days away, Aziraphale, Crowley, Anathema, and a couple of barely-competent witch-finders scramble to find the boy who may be bringing about the end of the world.

If you’re a Pratchett or Gaiman fan, you’ve probably already read this one, and you know it is a hilarious, witty, occasionally poignant work of pure genius. I am reviewing it now due to the recent Amazon mini-series adaptation. Could it possibly be as good as the book, you ask? Yes. Incredibly, yes. I did not like the adaptation of Stardust nearly as much as the book, but somehow with this quirky, insane, erratic novel, Neil Gaiman has produced an equally brilliant screen adaptation. Through use of a narrator, it mimics the style of the book beautifully. The characters are perfectly cast, the dialogue in most cases taken directly from the text to preserve each character’s personality. The somewhat scattered writing style in the book actually works perfectly for cross-cut scenes in the series.  Obviously some changes are made to bring the book into the 21st century. Added characters (such as Jon Hamm’s Gabriel) and added scenes tracking Aziraphale and Crowley through the centuries are incorporated so authentically that they merely enhance the satire of the celestial war and the characterization of Aziraphale and Crowley.

In short, the screen adaptation is as perfect as the book. Loved it!

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (2012)

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Director: Joss Whedon
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 109 min.

Finally got to watch this adaptation of one of my favorite Shakespeare plays by one of my favorite directors!  There were things I loved and things I found uninspiring, but overall, I liked it.

Since their one-night-stand, Benedict and Beatrice can’t seem to see one another without slipping into a biting, witty banter, until someone’s feelings get hurt.  Unfortunately, when Benedict and his friend Claudio return from the war, they will be staying in the same house as Beatrice and her uncle.  What’s more, Claudio falls in love with Beatrice’s cousin, Hero, and suddenly everyone is planning a wedding.  But Claudio, Hero, and their friends devise a plan to trick Benedict and Beatrice into falling in love with one another.  Meanwhile, the Prince’s rebellious brother, Don John, decides to get revenge on his brother by spoiling the marriage of his right-hand-man, Claudio.

What I liked about this adaptation:

I am willing to own that this might be a Firefly bias (though I do think I’m being reasonably objective) . . . but two of my favorite things about this adaptation were Nathan Fillion’s Dogberry and the dynamic between his deputies and Sean Maher’s Don John and the dynamic between his minions.  I often find Dogberrys to be overdone and Don Johns to be boring–hence my delight at Nathan Fillion’s understated, deadpanned comedy and Sean Maher’s petulant, hedonistic villainy.  Favorite moment of the movie: Don John swiping a cupcake off the display after defaming Hero at the wedding.  Because a) it was hilarious, and b) it helped show his immaturity, opportunism, and self-indulgence.  Making Conrade female also provided significant opportunity for this character development.  Even Boracchio got more character development than I often see, by making his motivation for plotting against Claudio revenge for love of Hero.  As for the fools, Fillion’s Dogberry emphasized the humor of his malapropism (severe language confusion) by leaving most of the physical comedy to Verges.  I have frequently seen that done the other way round, making Dogberry entirely ridiculous.  But this interpretation allowed us to truly pity Dogberry as he works through his hurt and confusion at being called “ass” (when he may or may not know what the word means or even if it is an insult…).

My other favorite thing about this adaptation was the scene in Act V between Benedict and Beatrice where they publicly declare their non-love for each other.  Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof did this perfectly.  It was obvious how unsure they both were–unwilling to publicly declare their love if they weren’t sure the other was going to do the same, each trying to determine if the other was really sincerely in love without betraying his/her own feelings and while keeping up the proud facade their friends had come to expect.  Very well done.

What I did not like:

Despite the awesomeness of the final scene, I was overall uninspired by Alexis Denisof’s Benedict.  His delivery was too understated for me.  He did not use much inflection, and I felt a lot of the humor in his lines was lost.   There were definitely moments I enjoyed (his dramatic “stretching” display for Beatrice was pretty great).  But a lot of his soliloquies and even his banter with other characters fell flat.

Definitely an enjoyable adaptation, though, and one I will certainly watch again!

THE IRON GIANT (1999)

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Director: Brad Bird
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 86 min.

Hogarth Hughes loves collecting unusual pets.  Unfortunately, his pets have a habit of getting loose and wreaking havoc—like the squirrel at the diner.  But when Hogarth discovers a giant alien robot in the woods behind his house, he is a little afraid to bring this particular creature home.  What would his mom say, after all!  The robot is determined to follow him, however, and once Hogarth discovers that a ruthless government agent is tracking the robot to destroy it (fearing it to be Soviet spy technology), Hogarth is determined to protect his giant friend.  With the help of a friendly junkyard artist, Hogarth is able to hide the iron giant for a time.  But the persistent government agent has no intention of backing down…

Although the animation leaves something to be desired, this story is sweet, suspenseful, and filled with the Brad Bird humor that made his later film The Incredibles (2004) so great.   It is not as good as The Incredibles (but then, few films are), but kids and parents will all find something to love in this great family film.  I highly recommend it!

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (2013)

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Director: Ben Stiller
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 114 min

Walter can’t think of anything interesting to say on his eHarmony profile that might catch the attention of his creative coworker Cheryl; his life is just too ordinary.  But in his imagination, Walter has incredible adventures—adventures like the ones photographed by the legendary Sean O’Connell for Life magazine.  For over a decade, Walter has worked at Life collecting and developing Sean’s negatives.  But when new management puts an end to the printed Life magazine, Sean sends Walter one last roll of film.  In a telegram to the management, Sean announces that negative 25 is the best photograph he has ever taken and should be used as the cover for Life’s final issue.  The only problem: Walter can’t find negative 25.  It seems to have been left out of the roll.  And Sean O’Connell has no phone and no permanent address.  The only clues to Sean’s whereabouts are the other negatives on the roll.  Inspired by his affection for Cheryl and a desire to live the kind of life he’s been dreaming about, Walter boards a plane to Greenland in search of Sean O’Connell and adventure.

I loved this movie!  I wouldn’t indiscriminately recommend it to everyone (it may be too artsy for some), but I thought it was hilarious and beautiful.  It felt to me like a cross between Office Space (1999) and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004).  There was a lot of humor (witty, slapstick, and quirky), but the plot focused on Walter’s personal journey of self-discovery.  The filming style deliberately called the viewer’s attention to the camera techniques—which seemed appropriate for a film about photography.  If you enjoy kind of artsy films, but also like the type of humor in films like Office Space, definitely give this one a try!

LAST VEGAS (2013)

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When one of four elderly friends announces that he is getting married (to a much younger woman), two of the group decide that this is a perfect opportunity to get away from their monotonous routines and have a bachelor party in Las Vegas.  They convince the fourth to join them, although he is still in mourning for the loss of his wife, who passed away several years ago, and has never forgiven Billy (the groom) for skipping her funeral.  As the four friends hit the casinos, they must work through friendship tensions and come to terms with the reality of aging.

Basically this movie is Grumpy Old Men meets The Hangover.  I saw it on a plane, and it was entertaining.  Most of the humor arises from the situation: a bunch of old guys in Vegas.  But there is a little bit of a philosophical side to the film, as the characters look back on their lives, think about where they are now, contemplate their own mortality, etc.  Funny, a little bit sweet—but definitely not in the same caliber as many of the comedies that De Niro, Kline, Freeman, and Douglas have done in the past.

SAVING MR. BANKS (2013)

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Director: John Lee Hancock
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 125 min

With her finances in a desperate state, eccentric English author P.L. Travers finally must consider doing the unthinkable—selling the rights to her novel, Mary Poppins, to the American animator Walt Disney, who has been pestering her about it for twenty years.  But Mrs. Travers will not sign the contract unless she is sure the film will meet her standards.  First and foremost, it cannot involve any animation, and it certainly cannot be a musical.  (Mary Poppins would never, ever sing!)  Mrs. Travers flies to Los Angeles to meet with Walt and his writing team, and while the Disney crew struggles to please the demanding author, Mrs. Travers struggles with the painful memories that the story stirs.

I couldn’t stop smiling after watching this film.  It was funny, nostalgic, and overwhelmingly heartwarming.  Emma Thompson was perfect (as usual).  I was surprised at how little the real life “Mary Poppins” figure appeared in the back story, but I suppose that was somewhat the point; the aunt was not really Mary Poppins, and the story wasn’t really about Mary Poppins (at least not in the author’s mind).  So the focus on Helen and her father makes sense.  And while some of the subject matter was a bit dark, the film as a whole was not heavy.  It was sweet and touching—and funny.  It was a very good script; I laughed a lot.  I highly recommend this to anyone who grew up loving Mary Poppins, and/or anyone who likes based-on-a-true-stories about the lives of eccentric people (and has seen Mary Poppins at least once).  I loved every minute of it!

 

WRECK-IT RALPH (2012)

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Director: Rich Moore
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 101 min.

As I was blogging Frozen (2013), I realized I never blogged Wreck-It Ralph!

In the arcade game Fix-It Felix, Jr., Felix is always fixing things, getting medals, and partying it up with the rest of the game’s characters in his penthouse.  Wreck-It Ralph, on the other hand, lives by himself in a pile of garbage—literally.  In their support group meetings after the arcade closes, the bad guys from other games are always encouraging Ralph to embrace his badness and be happy with who he is.  But on the 30th anniversary of his game, Ralph decides that he can’t take being the bad guy anymore.  He is determined to win a shiny gold medal so that the other characters in his game will be forced to accept him.  So Ralph infiltrates the science fiction war game Hero’s Duty in an attempt to win a medal for defeating the evil Cybugs.  But when his plan goes wrong, he and a rogue Cybug wind up in Sugar Rush, a candy-themed racing game, and Ralph’s only hope to win his medal back is to help a sarcastic young Vanellope—a “glitch” in the game—to sneak herself into the race against King Candy’s orders.  Meanwhile, Felix and the Hero’s Duty commander, Calhoun, have followed him into the candy world to get Ralph back and exterminate the rogue Cybug before both of the games are declared Out of Order.

Wreck-It Ralph was definitely one of my favorite things that Disney has done lately.  First, it has the “Toy Story” appeal factor—how fun to imagine what arcade game characters do when the arcade closes!  Second, the animation was really cool.  The style of the characters varied depending on the era and animation of their video game.  Third, this movie is hilarious for kids and for grown-ups.  Bad guys anonymous? Homeless Q*bert?  Obscure reference to the Konami Code?  There is a lot for adults to love.  Add to that a great cast of voice actors and a solid message about being yourself and true friendship, and you have a great family film!  I highly recommend it!

THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997)

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Director: Luc Besson
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 126 min.

For decades, an ancient priesthood has kept the secret knowledge of the Fifth Element—the perfect being—that will save the universe from destruction by an alien foe.  But when the Fifth Element arrives in the world’s hour of need, a group of alien mercenaries destroys its ship; the government only recovers one of the Fifth Element’s hands.  Using that hand, they reconstruct the perfect being in their lab, who turns out to look remarkably like an ordinary woman.  But the Fifth Element is not eager to operate on the government’s terms.  Confused and frightened, she escapes from the lab and winds up in the back of Korben Dallas’ cab.  Korben has gotten out of government service after he was the only survivor of a botched mission, and now he is just trying to make ends meet.  Unfortunately, with the arrival the Fifth Element, he is thrown back into the crazy world of government secrets, militant aliens, and . . . luxury cruises?

I think The Fifth Element is the most ’80-sish movie I have ever seen that was not actually made in the ‘80s… Amazing!  It is hilarious, suspenseful, and also touching.  I highly recommend it to all lovers of quirky ‘80s sci-fi!

THE WORLD’S END (2013)

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Director: Edgar Wright
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 109 min.

The greatest moment of Gary King’s life was the night he and his four best friends did the Golden Mile—12 pubs, 12 pints, from the First Post to the World’s End.  Well, almost to the World’s End.  They never quite made it to the last pub before collapsing on the hill to watch the sunrise.  A decade later, Gary’s friends have moved on to careers and families, but for washed-up Gary, that high school moment still stands out as his greatest almost-achievement.  And he is determined to “get the band back together” for another go at the Golden Mile—this time to the World’s End.  With his friends reluctantly joining him, Gary returns to his hometown, but he is sure something strange is going on.  No one remembers him.  He was Gary King—the one and only!  But the people act as though they have no recollection of him at all.  As his friends begin to get frustrated with his self-centered immaturity, Gary may be on the verge of having to confront certain truths about his life and grow as a person.  Until he discovers that the whole town has been swapped out with deadly alien robot creatures. . . .

I have been involved in some pretty fierce debates over which is more awesome: Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz.  Unfortunately, The World’s End falls short of the earlier Wright-Pegg-Frost collaborations.  Don’t get me wrong—it was hilarious.  I laughed pretty much the whole hour and a half.  But it lacked the emotional depth and cleverly incorporated social commentary that made its predecessors great.  The emotional stakes in The World’s End were really low.  When friend turned robot, there was none of the emotional angst of Shaun vs. his mum or Danny vs. his dad.  We never got to know Gary King enough to understand him and root for him, and there was very little character development overall.  In contrast to Shaun of the Deads smooth and clever real world/zombie apocalypse parallels, the surface level social commentary in World’s End was poorly integrated throughout the film, causing the ending to fall kind of flat.

All that said, it was still hilarious.  Though I was never emotionally invested, I still enjoyed the movie.  Don’t clamber to see it in the theaters, but if you enjoy the traditional Wright/Pegg/Frost blend of wit, slapstick, and absurdity, The World’s End is sure to keep you laughing.  Just don’t be expecting another masterpiece.

ARTHUR (1981)

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Director: Steve Gordon
MPAA Rating: PG (rated before PG-13 rating existed; today, may be PG-13)
Running Time: 97 min.

Arthur Bach has always relied on his family’s fortune to make him happy.  He spends most of his money on alcohol and women and is famous for being a drunken playboy.  When his father and grandmother threaten to cut him off unless he marries heiress Susan Johnson, Arthur reluctantly agrees—for although he does not love Susan and although Susan’s ex-convict self-made-millionaire father threatens to kill him if he does not clean up his act, quit drinking, and go to work, Arthur cannot imagine a life without his family’s money.  But that is all before he meets Linda, a neck-tie stealing, penniless, waitress from Queens with whom Arthur immediately falls in love.  Encouraged by his elderly butler and father-figure, Hobson, Arthur must decide whether his love for Linda is worth forfeiting the comfortable lifestyle he has known all of his life.

This relatively light, hilarious comedy is one of my favorites.  True to Dudley Moore’s style, the comedy is a mixture of witty lines and slapstick humor.  My favorite character is John Gielgud’s Hobson, who delivers all of his hilariously sarcastic lines with a perfect deadpan.  The relationship between Arthur and Hobson is quite touching and grounds the otherwise silly, light comedy.  I highly recommend this film to viewers who like British comedies (although the film is American) and/or both witty wordplay and slapstick humor!

If you like Arthur, you might like the 1967 Dudley Moore/Peter Cook comedy Bedazzled.