Archives for posts with tag: comedy

Northanger Abbey is perhaps Jane Austen’s least appreciated book, at least by me, for much of my life. I thought it would be like the others, but it’s not. It’s even spoofier, and it’s a spoof of Gothic novels. Now, Gothic novels are kind of bad. The Mysteries of Udolpho is remarkable chiefly because absolutely nothing (and nothing shocking) happens in it.

Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) has read too many novels, and she thinks life resembles them. When she ends up in an old country house, she nearly ruins her life by treating it and its inhabitants as if it were a castle in a Gothic novel.

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This TV adaptation is near-perfect. The younger son of the Tilney house, Henry (JJ Feild), likes her, and is tolerant of her many faults. He calls her on them, but not insultingly. His sister, Eleanor (Catherine Walker), is gentle and mature. If they were the only three people in the novel, you might observe, it would be very boring. But Catherine also encounters less virtuous and much dumber people: Isabella Thorpe (Carey Mulligan), who is an insincere fortune-hunter who tries to entrap both Catherine’s brother and Henry’s; John Thorpe (William Beck), Isabella’s brother, who is a blowhard and wants to marry Catherine for her (nonexistent) money; Captain Tilney (Mark Dymond) and General Tilney (Liam Cunningham), who are cold-hearted and generally unpleasant.

My only real quibble with it is that John Thorpe is not good-looking enough to be a plausible alternative to Henry. He’s unbearable and he looks like the back end of a cab. It’s not charming for Catherine to be taken in. But everyone else is great–JJ Feild is exactly handsome enough for Henry, Felicity Jones is adorably but not irritatingly naïve, and all the adults are hilariously one-dimensional dramatic types. Carey Mulligan is hateful.

Of this run of made-for-TV Austens, this is the most pleasant. It’s like a small gelato of period cuteness.

Director: Jon Jones
Rating: so delightfully light
Length: 84 minutes
Score: 4/5

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Ugh. Ugh.

Iris (Kate Winslet) works in publishing in England and is in love with a fancy author, Jasper (Rufus Sewell, and no, the names don’t get less precious). He is not in love with her but he does enjoy keeping her around. She needs a change.

MV5BMTI1MDk4MzA2OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMjQ3NDc3._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Amanda (Cameron Diaz) makes movie trailers in Los Angeles, and her live-in boyfriend (Edward Burns) both is running around on her and thinks she’s bad at sex. She is unable to cry. She also needs a change.

They swap houses over Christmas, back in a time when the internet was fairly new and this seemed interesting and strange. Amanda goes to stay in Iris’s ludicrously adorable country cottage, where she is (not) hilariously bad at driving on the left. She nearly runs down several people. It is contemptible. Iris goes to stay in Amanda’s enormous automated house, where she is amazed by the pool and cannot figure out how to work the gate. So, yes. Both of these women are literally stupid.

Fortunately, of course, there are men. Graham (Jude Law) is Iris’s brother, and stumbles drunkenly to the cottage. He is mostly delightful, and for some reason falls heavily for Amanda. He is a widower with small children, wears sensible spectacles, and cries a lot. Miles (Miles! seriously!) (Jack Black) is around Amanda’s old house and he helps Iris out of her sad repressed self. He has some help from a bunch of elderly Jewish screenwriters (principally Eli Wallach), who teach Iris about having feelings and also Chanukah.

It’s Nancy Meyers, so the interiors are gorgeous. They are the best thing about this movie. Seriously, you have to watch Kate Winslet jump in the air and shout “yippee!” or something. She seems no more convinced than you are.

Director: Nancy Meyers
Rating: PG-13
Length: 138 minutes
Score: 2/5

Jane Goodale (Ashley Judd) is a talent-booker for a nationally syndicated television talk show that for some reason desires to book, on the one hand, Hillary Clinton and Fidel Castro, and, on the other, a batty old lady with theories about male infidelity.  Her boss, Diane (Ellen Barkin), speaks in smug clichés and sits with one foot tucked up under her. On TV. In a skirt. At her job as a hot-shot talk show host.

MV5BNWIwMGYzOGYtMDY2Yy00NDk5LWI5MTItMDI2YzExMzI4ZDQ0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTE0MDY4Mjk@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Also working on the show is Eddie (Hugh Jackman), who wears black Levis and mock turtlenecks and too much hair gel but apparently gets all the ladies. It was 2001. And, to be fair, he still looked like Hugh Jackman. And then there is Ray (Greg Kinnear), who is sensitive and has glasses and a girlfriend but they’re having problems. So Jane falls hard and digs her diaphragm out of a shoebox, in a touchingly hilarious moment.

Of course Ray goes back to his girlfriend. And, instead of drinking heavily or eating all the ice cream or something else hackneyed but cathartic, Jane dances on the career implosion tightrope! She decides, having read an article about how bulls don’t like to mate with the same cow twice, that this is why Ray left her, and she creates an entire fake person whose research is about this “new cow theory.” And then, because fact-checking was not a thing, she manages to fool the world into believing this woman is real, and she gets booked on her own show! It is insane.

But, otherwise, the movie is cute. It has annoying voiceovers, sure, and annoying intertitles, sure, presumably because Tony Goldwyn was trying to be Richard Curtis, but I’ll allow it. And this is because the other stuff is nice. Jane’s best friend, Liz (Marisa Tomei), is nutty but supportive in classic Marisa Tomei fashion. They pass the Bechdel test. And Jane’s sister (Catherine Dent) is trying to get pregnant, and she and her husband (Peter Friedman) are an unsubtle but still pleasant contrast to Jane’s wackiness.

Stray observations:

  • Fashion was terrible. Jane deliberately wears a tank top and some kind of sport…skirt? Like, basketball shorts, but a miniskirt. And she has a coat that resembles nothing so much as a silk dressing gown.
  • Seriously. Jane thinks they can book Fidel Castro. But this is a show that does not do the very simple digging that will reveal that the new cow theoretician does not exist. Ah, 2001, and careers in movies.

Director: Tony Goldwyn
Rating: PG-13
Length: 97 minutes
Score: 3/5

MV5BMjMyNDkzMzI1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODcxODg5MjI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Or, Thor: Ragnarok.

So. The Thor movies might be my favorite, as an oeuvre, because the Iron Man movies start out over-written and the Captain America movies become tedious. The Thor movies are just kind of joyously bad.

Except this one, which is joyously rather good.

Odin (Anthony Hopkins) dies, which depresses his sons and releases his daughter, Hela (Cate Blanchett), from imprisonment. She is the goddess of death, and she wants to take over Asgard. She manages to banish both Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to a garbage planet on which Thor becomes an enslaved gladiator and Loki becomes a member of the local dirtbag elite, because of course. This planet is managed by Jeff Goldblum (Jeff Goldblum), who runs the fights and has a hilarious and bloodthirsty assistant, Topaz (Rachel House). Also there is Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), an angry drunk lady (Tessa Thompson), and a sentient walking rock called Korg, who is voiced by Taika Waititi and exists solely for comic relief. He is terrific.

Naturally much of the film is the attempt to get back to Asgard and deal with Hela, but, unlike other Marvel movies which would take the “dead dad” and “goddess of death” and “fraternal friction” tropes and go to a miserable place of tiresome angst, Ragnarok keeps it light. That is not to say that this film does not take things seriously–it does, but with Waititi’s deft touch it does not get bogged down in the gravity. The movie is a little too long, but the pacing is sufficiently frenetic that this rarely grates.

And the soundtrack is great. It’s not trying too hard to motivate a specific kind of nostalgia (Guardians of the Galaxy, I’m looking at you), but is instead humorously on-the-nose: Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” for Thor’s theme or “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka during what seems like an acid trip.

Stray observations:

  • “I’m not a witch.” “Then why are you dressed like one?”
  • Is Loki ever going to get a real person haircut? Also: this was a return to the original Thor‘s endless string of squirrelly Loki faces and I am at home for that.
  • I’m glad that Idris Elba isn’t too proud to continue being in these movies. A soupçon of Heimdall is very welcome.

Director: Taika Waititi
Rating: PG-13
Length: 130 minutes
Score: 4/5

Do you think that Chris Evans is cute and charming enough that you want to watch a version of Before Sunrise that he directed and in which he stars? Because then you should watch this, but probably for no other reason.

Brooke (Alice Eve) is an art dealer in Manhattan possibly cheating on her husband, and her handbag is stolen, so all she has is her phone and a train ticket. She misses the last train. Nick (Evans) is in town for a band audition, but is busking in Grand Central to avoid running into an ex at a party. He is bad at paying credit card bills. They spend all night having various misadventures trying to get Brooke back to Boston.

They’re both attractive, but they talk about their feelings a lot and it’s irritating. And, frankly, it’s evident that the facet of this movie that involved the most thought was stranding them. In 2014, it’s tricky to be truly stranded, between phones and credit cards, MV5BOTMxNzE0NjY4NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjIxNjIzNjE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_and the film does a lot of work to make sure you know they’ve tried everything. If only the writing had involved that much effort.

And I hope it doesn’t bother you that we are asked to believe that somebody spends a night in a hotel with Chris Evans and doesn’t sleep with him.

Director: Chris Evans
Rating: PG-13
Length: 95 minutes
Score: 2/5

Sometimes you’re in the mood for bad romantic comedies. It’s like bad Chinese food. You know there is good Chinese food, and you could eat that, but what you want is greasy General Tso’s and an extremely dodgy egg roll. These movies are that, but for the eyes and brain.

MV5BNmRjYWE3OTQtYzEwOC00OWM4LTk3MzktZTUyZTgzNjY4NDc0L2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Ostensibly, the premise–four young women who are best friends forever, share a magical pair of jeans, and support each other through all of life’s vicissitudes–is charming. Bridget (Blake Lively) has lost her troubled mother, Carmen (America Ferrera) discovers that her father is about to remarry into a perfect family in the Carolinas, Lena (Alexis Bledel) puts her foot into unexplained family nonsense in Santorini, and Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) is an irritating so-called rebel with terrible dress sense. She makes films, obviously. Some of these are real problems, and some of these deserve sympathy, and every single one of these people acts like a total dickhead.

It doesn’t help that only America Ferrera, of the four, is able to deliver her lines with any hint of conviction. At least we’re mostly used to that. She, however, is saddled with the worst nonsense. Her parents are long-divorced, and her dad (Bradley Whitford) has failed to tell her that he’s going to get married to a lady with two kids of her own. Which isn’t great, but, honestly, what can you expect of Bradley Whitford? So she goes to visit, and the new family is a little dippy and clueless, but Carmen’s self-involvement borders on the solipsistic. Because the new family is skinny and blond, Carmen decides that their lives are perfect and that her dad is trying to pretend she doesn’t exist. And this, after she learns that the son goes to visit his dad in a rehab facility every month. She throws a hissy fit and then a rock at their window.

Elsewhere, Bridget works out her daddy issues in the most hackneyed way possible, Tibby has to deal with mortality (but finds a very cute boyfriend in the person of Leonardo Nam’s Brian), and Lena makes out with Kostos (Michael Rady).

MV5BMTMwNDYyMTY5Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzAwMjY2MQ@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_In the second movie, they’re all at fancy colleges (two Ivies, RISD, and NYU for Tibby because rebellion; she also works in a video store). This has not lessened their gyroscopic tendencies. They all have increasing secret pains which they don’t talk about and then scream at each other for not knowing about, and it is tiresome to a degree.

And then, movie-style, unearned rewards are thrust upon them.

Director: Ken Kwapis (1) & Sanaa Hamri (2)
Rating: PG & PG-13
Length: 119 minutes & 119 minutes (for reals)
Score: 2/5

MV5BNjM1M2Y3NWUtOWM1MS00YjUzLThiNmEtNjdiMTZmMzg3NTY3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_UY268_CR1,0,182,268_AL_An ancestral curse gives Penelope (Christina Ricci) a pig face, and she therefore struggles to find love. Especially because, by the terms of the curse, it is assumed (particularly by her mother, played by the inimitable Catherine O’Hara) that she must marry a rich man. So she needs someone from old money, still rich, who doesn’t mind the pig face. Tricky.

People are bigger assholes than you’d expect, though. The deformity is pretty mild (especially on Christina Ricci, where it’s a bit…on the nose*), and she comes with a lot of money. You’d figure someone would be happy to cope, even if Penelope weren’t fairly interesting and nice, which, of course, she is. Also Richard E. Grant is her dad, which is a 10/10, dad-wise. But Edward Vanderman (Simon Woods) is cartoonishly appalled by her face, and he runs off to a reporter (Peter Dinklage) who’s been trying to get a glimpse of Penelope for years.  The usual shenanigans lead to a mistaken identity gambit in which Edward and the reporter hire Max (James McAvoy) to pretend to court Penelope.

It’s cute. It’s not careful, or especially clever, or particularly original, but it’s cute.

Stray observations:

  • Nigel Havers is in this movie.
  • Reese Witherspoon is also there, to teach Penelope a little sass.
  • Ostensibly, Penelope takes place in the States. But it is very obviously filmed in England, and nearly everyone in it is British.

Director: Mark Palansky
Rating: PG or so
Length: 104 minutes
Score: 3/5

* I am so, so sorry.

There are at least three movies called Sparkle, and this is almost certainly the least well known. And justifiably so. For one thing, there’s absolutely no reason to call it “Sparkle.” For another, it is tripe.

Well, that’s not entirely fair. It’s actually often rather sweet, and it’s quiet enough that you’re not too fussed about the improbabilities. But it is also essentially a light take on The Graduate, and that’s hard to do for a range of excellent reasons.

Sam (Shaun Evans) is a waiter somewhere in the north of England. He has a terrible haircut and prominent ribs. His mother, Jill (Lesley Manville), is a slightly delusional singer of the never-was variety. She’s close enough to real that it’s touchingly sad. Sam does not have a father. One night, Vince (Bob Hoskins) comes into the restaurant where Sam works, and MV5BMTQ5NDg2MDI2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzQ0NzkwMzE@._V1_UY268_CR9,0,182,268_AL_perhaps because Jill notices his father having a stroke before anyone else does, Jill and Sam end up moving to London and putting up in a flat Vince owns.

So Sam gets to be a waiter in London! And that’s the end.

Haha, no, obviously not. He’s passing out cocktails at some party run by Sheila (Stockard Channing), and sleeps his way into being her personal assistant. Her hair is glorious; her accent is execrable. She has no edibles in her flat besides Cheerios and Moët. Her parties are apparently good, though, and at the next one, Sam meets a politically active young woman whose name is Kate (Amanda Ryan, who slots into this part just as well as she did as Holly Dartie in The Forsyte Saga, which is impressive).

Now, because you’ve seen a movie, you know that Kate is Sheila’s daughter, but Sam doesn’t know he’s in a movie, so he doesn’t realize this. There will be bumps on this road, but on the way you meet Kate’s uncle Tony (Anthony Head) and his boyfriend, Jill finds love, and Sam steals a stuffed dolphin.

Could be worse, and you get to see Anthony Head do dolphin impressions, so.

Director: Tom Hunsinger, Neil Hunter
Rating: M? ish?
Length: 100 minutes
Score: 2/5

You know how New York in movies now is always clean and, even if people aren’t rich, everything is nice? This was not always the case. New York used to be gross, and housewives from Fort Lee might get amnesia and be mistaken for prostitutes.

Our titular Susan (Madonna) is the sort of person who keeps all her possessions in a hatbox and mooches shamelessly off her friends. They find this charming. In fairness, it is the early 80s and everyone has a completely fake job (magician’s assistant, cinema operator) but a giant apartment, so maybe that’s just how things were. Through a completely absurd sequence of events, another small blonde ends up with Susan’s distinctive jacket, and then gets hit in the head, so everyone thinks she’s Susan and she doesn’t know any better. This small blonde, Roberta (Rosanna Arquette), is married to a jacuzzi salesman, Gary Glass (Mark Blum), and he is the worst. His sister Leslie (Laurie Metcalf) is gloriously insane in the Joan Cusack mold. In a crisis, when everyone is stress-eating, she yells, “Take a Valium like a normal person!” They get involved in mix-ups but are largely off-stage.

mv5bmtizmza5njizof5bml5banbnxkftztywota2nti5-_v1_uy268_cr20182268_al_So: Roberta has no memories, Susan’s clothes, and only her own common sense. That is not much. She is like a polite woodland animal, caught in 80s New York and surrounded by people who think she’s a wild free spirit. Fortunately, both onstage and sympathetic is Dez (Aidan Quinn), who lives an enormous loft in Tribeca and works in the projection room at the Bleecker Street Cinema.

It is delightful nonsense. There is both antiquities theft and a murderer on the loose, but that doesn’t detract from how surprisingly appealing Roberta’s cluelessness is. The movie is well encapsulated when Dez asks Roberta if she wants a drink, and she says Diet Coke or Perrier would be fine.

“There’s Miller Lite, or Heineken,” he deadpans.

Director: Susan Seidelman
Rating: PG-13
Length: 104 minutes
Score: 4/5

PS OMG SO EIGHTIES

It’s that time of year, when it’s too cold to go out and it’s dark all the time, and people like me find favorite movies as comforting as soup or cocoa. And Moonstruck is funny, clever, and hopeful.

Loretta Castorini (Cher) is 37, and a bookkeeper. She was once married, but he got hit by a bus, so now she lives with her parents and accepts the proposal of a total schlemiel, Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello). He has to go to Sicily to look after his mother, so he asks Loretta to repair the bad blood with his brother, Ronny (Nicolas Cage), a one-handed baker, opera buff, and lunatic. Meanwhile, Loretta’s father Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia) is running around on her mother Rose (Olympia Dukakis) with some trash.mv5bmjiwmdy0nzyymf5bml5banbnxkftztcwote5ndk0na-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_ But then Rose gets to tell Frasier’s dad (as an NYU prof) what he’s doing wrong with his life, and she is masterful.

So Loretta ends up going to the opera with Ronny, and she gets a makeover, a really fabulous dress, and the last word in the excellent exchange: “You waited for the right man the first time, why didn’t you wait for the right man again?”/”He didn’t come.”/”I’m here!”/”You’re late!” And in fact that’s why you watch the movie. Sure, everything Olympia Dukakis says is pure gold, but the conversational sparks between Ronny and Loretta flash amazingly. There’s some implausible 80s nonsense, but you laugh and you feel, and that’s really all you can ask.

Also, this is probably Nicolas Cage’s greatest rôle. (Yes, I’ve seen Raising ArizonaLeaving Las Vegas, and Adaptation. I have seen The Rock and National Treasure as well, which are solid candidates, too, even if they’re not serious.) He’s young and thin and intense–borderline crazy, but it’s on purpose and it works. His hair is terrible but plausible, and he really works some black jeans.

Stray observations:

  • Yes, of course I’m listening to La Bohème now.
  • Loretta has the greatest walk of shame: she’s not ashamed, she looks glorious, and both the soundtrack and the view are tops.
  • I ain’t no freaking monument to justice!

Director: Norman Jewison
Rating: PG
Length: 102 minutes
Score: 5/5