The Boss (2016)

Released: April 8, 2016. Directed by: Ben Falcone. Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage. Runtime: 1hr, 39 min.

R-rated comedienne Melissa McCarthy and hubby-and-director Ben Falcone take a second shot at co-writing a screenplay together with The Boss after their first botched attempt in 2014’s Tammy. The good thing is this is a much funnier collaboration.

The basic story follows Michelle Darnell (McCarthy), the (fictional) 47th wealthiest woman of America. The film glosses over how Darnell makes money, simply billing her as a CEO of three Fortune 500 companies. It’s a poor-to-rich story, as Darnell grew up in the foster home system.

Her life gets ruined after she’s imprisoned for insider training. All of her belongings are seized and her house foreclosed, she learns when she’s released. She then stays with her former assistant and single mother Claire (Kristen Bell), basically the only person on who will give her a place to stay because no one is answering Michelle’s calls.

The story feels like Darnell is on a path to make money again, rather than redeeming herself as a person – which just comes out naturally. Her new business venture is a brownie company called Darnell’s Darlings.

She gets the idea after knowing the demand of Dandelions girl guide cookies, after taking Claire’s daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson) to one of the meetings. Claire is the baker for the company because she has a good recipe – and her motivation for helping is to get Michelle off her couch.

Michelle gets more likable throughout. But that’s easy considering her obnoxious introduction at a sold-out arena show about telling people how to make money – where she comes down on a golden phoenix to sing “All I Do Is Win” with DJ Khaled.

TheBoss2

Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Bell in The Boss. (Source)

The Boss is great example of how the essential falling-out of characters can ruin a film’s momentum. The clichéd moment arises because of Michelle’s lack of a family and fear of getting close to people.

The poor narrative is the film’s worst aspect. It feels like the jokes were written first, and then a story was shaped around them. To the credit of Falcone, McCarthy and Steve Mallory, there are many clever jokes and laugh-out-loud moments. That’s the redeeming part that makes this an entertaining film.

A flaw of the film is the fact that Melissa McCarthy gets almost all of the funny jokes. The film suffers when she isn’t on-screen. The character who misses the most is Peter Dinklage’s Renault, an aspiring samurai, or something. He’s obsessed with ex-girlfriend Michelle, where revenge is mostly on his mind, but he still has the hots for her even after she screwed him over.

His banter with his assistant Stephan (Timothy Simons) is simply awkward, but sometimes so stupid it’s almost funny. The character’s so poorly written that Dinklage just has to do his best with the crappiness he is given.

Kristen Bell’s Claire is simply boring – she only has a few good laughs to offer. She’s the set-up for McCarthy’s Darnell, characterized as a single mom who works hard for her daughter. We’re supposed to see Darnell as a really mean boss, but she’s not as bad as any boss in the Horrible Bosses franchise. Maybe we caught her on a nice week?

But Claire just keeps getting stuck with bad bosses, getting stuck with Dana Dandridge (Cecily Strong) when Michelle goes to prison. She’s supposed to be mean, but she’s cringe-worthy and awkward, ribbing Claire for being three minutes late at one point. Tyler Labine as Claire’s love interest is supposed to add a layer in Claire, but all it does is set up a funny scene when Claire prepares for a date.

The characters don’t work, and McCarthy is the best part about this. That’s high praise from me – since I’m not a McCarthy fan. Since everyone else is lackluster, it should be blamed on bad writing and directing from Ben Falcone. It feels like the next time the couple write something together – they should just hire a competent director.

Despite my problems with The Boss, I enjoyed myself and laughed a lot. That’s what counts here. While it may be weaker than any of the three McCarthy and Paul Feig collaborations – Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy – it’s a lot better than Tammy or Identity Thief.

Score: 65/100

 

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Blended (2014)

BlendedReleased: May 23, 2014. Directed by: Frank Coraci. Starring: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Wendi McLendon-Covey. Runtime: 117 min.

Adam Sandler and co bring us a rom-com that’s heavy on the romance, light on the comedy. Six or seven good laughs throughout the feature is no impressive feat, but is okay for Sandler’s current streak, considering six laughs is around my personal combined tally for how many times I laughed during That’s My Boy, Jack and JillGrown Ups 2 and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. You could say the film is funny on occasion. Sandler portrays Jim, a family guy with no wife and three daughters. He goes on an awful blind date with Lauren (Drew Barrymore), as his first attempt at dating since his wife passed. When Lauren’s best friend Jen (Wendi McLendon-Covey) breaks off her relationship with Jim’s boss, Lauren pounces at the opportunity to take her kids to Africa. Jim does too, and the trip is conveniently a getaway just for blended families! 

Blended is pretty much Just Go With It with a twist: the characters hate each other at first, but everyone’s still just bonding on vacation in an exotic place. Writers Ivan Menchell bring so many components of Sandler’s previous films to get Blended, which is a film that just steals from stronger movies. At least Sandler knows what works to still get work. Some of the laughs that hit are amusing song choices, at least when they’re not completely obvious. Before I get onto what jokes do work, I’ll say what doesn’t make this a family-friendly movie. There are so many sex jokes and some of this is just plain gross. Some of it’s even worse than a deer pissing on Sandler’s face in Grown Ups 2. Take this for example: A giraffe’s very long tongue goes down a character’s throat, practically, when a character is going in for the kiss. This abysmal attempt at comedy is cringe-worthy.  

What work best are some cameos and bit roles. Shaquille O’Neal shows up in a not that funny cameo, because his acting is as strong as his free throwing ability. Terry Crews constantly shows up to sing a song about blended families and whatever else is on the caricature’s mind. He is funny at first, but the film gets a bit desperate to use him so many times during the film. It’s somehow amusing on a minor level throughout, even after his signature titty dance. It’s partly due to his energy, and partly due to the fact that the film gets boring and energy is welcome. I’ll keep the most amusing cameo under wraps. 

It seems to me that Sandler is trying to get laughs by channeling aspects of his comedies that have worked in the past. I counted seven occasions where characters channel aspects from his other films. I guess if it works, many people won’t notice – but those who do, it’s going to seem a bit lazy. Sandler brings slapstick humour and adult-oriented jokes that get the bigger laughs, while parents will think “As if this looked family-friendly.” Kevin Nealon portrays one half of a strange Canadian couple. He channels his character from Happy Gilmore at times. His wife is a bimbo named Ginger; a character who doesn’t get one laugh. She shimmies a lot, which makes Lauren’s eldest son Brandon horny. 

He’s a walking joke; as he resembles Frodo, he’s a masturbating fiend, and he calls his mom hot on two occasions – which might be a subconscious reason for his hostility against Jim. I detect an Oedipus complex. Lauren’s other son Tyler is a temperamental kid who might only have few lonely brain cells left, due to the amount of times his mother hits his head on walls in one week’s span. Barrymore can’t save this because she gets only about two laughs. Her chemistry with Sandler is only able to give audiences so much enjoyment because it’s gotten old. It also doesn’t help that they don’t like each other for the first half. Wendi McLendon-Covey is cast in a lame sidekick role where she can’t exhibit much talent, and Joel McHale portrays Lauren’s ex. He’s been largely unfunny in every film I’ve seen him in thus far. I think he’s funny on TV’s Community, but now that it’s been cancelled – he needs to be picking stronger roles to star in, now more than ever. His schtick seems to be asshole characters, but he’s just not funny as them. 

Bella Thorne’s character Hilary is a tomboy who only sportswear and is nicknamed Larry by her father. Can you tell he wanted a boy? She experiences an ugly duckling arc, which isn’t believable because even with that hideous curly bowl cut wig, she’s still mildly pretty. Put some extensions on her and slap on some make-up, and wow, she now has confidence because no one will mistake her for a boy or an ugly lesbian! The song choices for her transformation are obvious and just not that funny. Sandler’s middle daughter Espn (idiotically named after his favourite network ESPN) has a strange arc: She carries on conversations with her dead mom. Emma Fuhrmann’s performance helps it ring true occasionally, and it adds sincerity to the film, but it’s weird throughout. I guess there’s a big problem when the weird girl’s arc is the strongest. 

Elsewhere, there is sporadic sweetness in the film – but the film’s attempt to tackle realities of today’s day and age are forgettable, and the writers stretch it when they attempt to show that even in nature, families are blended. (A tiger and lion proceed to eat a baby hippo.) For Blended, predictable is fiercely boring and all the extraneous crap makes this run at nearly two hours. Films like these just shouldn’t be that long, unless it’s entertaining.

Score: 45/100

Neighbors (2014)

NeighborsReleased: May 4, 2014. Directed by: Nicholas Stoller. Starring: Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron. Runtime: 96 min. 

Nicholas Stoller, a graduate of the so-called Apatow school of comedy, directs Neighbors, a film that is uncharacteristically short for Apatow’s brand of filmmaking. In this way, Stoller makes this film his own. The film follows a couple, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne), who are severely bored, and are experiencing arrested development because of their extremely amusing new-born baby Stella. Soon enough, some spice in their life moves in next door, but it’s keeping them up at night. It’s a frat house, led by a charismatic Zac Efron. When Mac “violates the circle of trust” (as Dave Franco puts it at an inconsistent Robert De Niro party – which is the joke) by calling the cops to file a noise complaint, the war is on – which consists of the family trying to get the frat to get enough strikes to get them out of the neighborhood, among other things.

The film has a quick pace and the falling-out is mildly realistic. Rogen and Efron bond initially – sharing joints (a Seth Rogen comedy essential), impressions of Batman, and even talk about getting walkie talkies – but Efron’s Teddy doesn’t like it when people break promises. He takes it as a form of extreme disrespect and an act of war. It could be perceived as a bit of a childish reason, but the war of comedy that ensues is insanely entertaining. And not to mention very funny. While some of the humour misses, like the frat repeatedly saying a line of dialogue (“Standing around with our dicks in our hands”) seems a bit nonsensical at the time and not that funny, but the accuracy rate of humour hitting is a good 90 per cent. 

For the comedy genre, that’s great – because there are so many comedies that are just not that funny these days. This is memorable and hilarious, and its raunchiness potent. So avoid seeing this one with your parents, boys and girls. Because, like Apatow, this director doesn’t fear to show the penis. The film’s raunchiness is apparent with a running joke that Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s character’s penis is very large. McLovin is surprisingly under-utilized otherwise, and he’s literally just there for that running joke – which does get some big laughs. Though, that joke might come to you as a selling point to get you to see this film, or as an aspect to make you avoid this. A few comments on the visuals: The cinematography looks pure, which is nice for a comedy – and some of the visuals are interesting. The party scenes might be hard on the eyes because of all of the lights, but they’re still very fun. I was a fan of the set design and I was a personal fan of a “Carpe that f**king diem” pillow.

This is a funny movie to watch with a few friends. If you’re Under 25, you’ll really enjoy this – but anyone older, it all depends on your sense of humour. The film is evident that the older crowd still knows how to have fun with the younger crowd, shown through Rogen and Bryne. Rogen didn’t have to prove that with this film though, because we’ve already known it for awhile. Byrne holds her own incredibly well, and even though her character is awkward at times, it’s the point. With this and Get Him to the Greek (and Bridesmaids), she has proved again and again that she could find a lot of success as a comedic actress. She uses improvisation with everyone else well, and so does Zac Efron – whose funny performance is as much of a discovery role as Channing Tatum’s was in 21 Jump Street. Dave Franco is funny in his role. A newcomer named Jerrod Carmichael is funny in his role as Garf, a primary frat member. The only person who feels like a stranger to the chemistry of everyone else is Ike Barinholtz. It’s nice to see the MadTV alum (who does do a fun Mark Wahlberg impression), but it was hard for me to buy into the fact that he’s supposed to be best friends with Rogen’s character. He gets a laugh or two, but his role is only sporadically useful.

Some good characterization is found in the film. Some themes of the fear of the future and trying to make your mark in history is nice. It’s nice to see that this situation is actually mildly beneficial to both parties. When the film threatens to all gooey, it jumps back with raunchiness. It might annoy some, but it helps the film stay true to its conflict-filled plot and raunchy tone. 

Score88/100

In Secret (2014) Review

In SecretReleased: February 21, 2014. Directed by: Charlie Stratton. Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Felton, Jessica Lange. Runtime: 101 min.

Note: I saw this way back in September at the Toronto International Film Festival premiere, I just forgot to post my review of this.

“In Secret” is a period piece that has a lot of history behind it. It is classical French literature written by Emile Zola, and this version is adapted by Charlie Stratton, from that novel and the play by Neal Bell. It’s great to see a movie that feels so fresh, yet has so much history behind it – it’s been around for ages!

Elizabeth Olsen takes on the challenging role of Therese, a woman who is haunted by her own personal demons after an unspeakable act. She is forced into a marriage to her cousin Camille (Tom Felton) by her despicable aunt, Madame Raquin (Jessica Lange). When they move to Paris to open up a shop, Therese meets Laurent (Oscar Isaac), someone who might just be her way out. What happens next introduces themes of betrayal, murder, adultery and guilt.

“In Secret” is a fascinating character study. I can see why it’s such a cherished novel; compelling yet deeply unsettling. Therese is sent to live with Madame Raquin and Camille after her mother dies, and she is basically treated as a servant girl, but perhaps near-servant girl was the role of young women in 1860s Paris. Camille tries his best to make her happy. It makes for some incredibly uncomfortable, yet HILARIOUS, scenes. It’s great to see such comic relief in such a sordid ordeal. Since I am not familiar with the source material, I have no idea if this is an adaptation that stays true in tone. All I know, it’s immensely enjoyable.

The comic relief mostly comes from two characters: Olivier (Bridesmaids’ Matt Lucas) and his wife, Suzanne (Shirley Henderson), and the humour is just priceless. Interestingly enough, Henderson was the oldest woman to portray a student in the “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” (and “Goblet of Fire”) as the ghost who haunts the first floor girl’s lavatory, Moaning Myrtle. Her voice is very distinctive. It’s a bit of a reunion for Malfoy and her.

Initially, the character of Therese gains our sympathies, because this seems like a horrible life. After the acts she commits, she wrestles with receiving the audience’s repulsion and sympathies. At the beginning, it was a bit gross to see her marrying her cousin – but she was forced. For the half of the film, Madame Raquin gains more of our sympathies than Therese. Jessica Lange is such a powerful actress, she can easily portray emotions through her eyes – that’s talent. Some of the comic relief members of the cast portray characters that aren’t bright enough to understand the look of fear. It’s a clever way to get a few big laughs. Jessica Lange is a strong supporting, but Elizabeth Olsen brings such power to the role of Therese. It’s such a treat to watch an Olsen who can truly act.

Stratton’s vision is impressive. The primary cast is all around impressive. There are surreal scenes that are as compelling as they are terrifying. Their roles are fascinating, and it’s a great tale of how guilt can eat a person alive. It does raise one primary question in my eyes: How far would you go to live a possibly happier life? It brings other poignant and eerie thoughts to mind, but I better not spoil them.

Score88/100

The Heat (2013)

The HeatRelease Date: June 28, 2013

Director: Paul Feig

Stars: Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Marlon Wayans

Runtime: 117 min

The comedy genre is one of the most popular genres out there, but it’s very hit-and-miss. The comedy gem of the year so far is This is the End, but The Heat will produce more than a few laughs. And in a year of mostly mediocre laughfests, we have to take all the near-greatness we can get.

Uptight FBI special agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) is teamed up with foul-mouthed Boston street cop Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) in order to take down a ruthless drug lord, Larkin. Things might go a little awry, because neither of these women have ever had a partner or a friend.

Sandra Bullock has always been a funny screen presence, and a talented one. Whatever she is called to do, she can do it well. Melissa McCarthy is also a funny screen presence, even if I prefer her on TV’s Mike and Molly. She has basically been playing the same roles in the movies ever since 2011’s Bridesmaids. (First Megan in Bridesmaids, then Diana in Identity Thief, and now Shannon Mullins here.) While that works for some actors, I’d really like to see her mix it up a little. That dirty, vulgar role might get old in a hurry. As her character of Shannon, she is funny, but even a sailor might be offended at some of the things she is asked to say. Most do produce laughs, and that’s just the point of a comedy; it makes you laugh.

The humour is raunchy as hell, but usually funny as hell. When I wasn’t laughing at the jokes, I was at least smirking a little. When it isn’t being hilarious, the likeable chemistry between Bullock and McCarthy really carries it along. The presence of Bullock really balances out the humour as well, and she isn’t just milking a straight man role. Both of these girls have lots of fun together joking around. There’s some quotable lines with a few memorable supporting turns. It’s great to see so many TV personalities on the big screen (most notably MADtv alum, Michael McDonald). Paul Feig knows how to bring it as the director as well, and I like the general story more than Bridesmaids, even if it isn’t anything special.

It’s really just your traditional buddy cop comedy. They’re trying to take down a drug lord, and blah blah blah, you know the rest. It’s one’s traditional, somewhat predictable ride. It’s a formula that works, and the Bullock/McCarthy team produce a lot of laughs. There’s lots of fun action and memorable jokes, even if they’re all vulgar and not all that clever, but they’re not repetitive or lazy, either. I appreciate the sweet core and sentiment underneath its mean spirit. It’s interesting how each character’s loneliness is shown; Ashburn only hangs out with a fat cat who has to go back to the neighbour’s when she comes-a-lookin’; and Mullins has basically been disowned by most of her family, for a reason I won’t spoil. It gives these characters depth, and you’ll probably like these characters a lot. The plot flows well and there’s a good comedic momentum – with a chuckle-worthy scene here, and a hilarious scene there. There’s one particularly gross and superfluous scene, though, that does nothing to advance the story. It feels as if they could get the message across a lot better in a much better way.

The movie balances out to a fun, somewhat predictable, but hysterical time at the movies. You’ll laugh out loud quite a few times, and that’s all that matters with a comedy. This isn’t the most memorable thing out there, but you could spend your money on a lot of worse movies. Check it out if you don’t mind your comedy often raunchy and incredibly vulgar.

75/100

Bridesmaids (2011)

BridesmaidsRelease Date: May 13, 2011Director: Paul FeigStars: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose ByrneRuntime: 125 min.

This film is usually very, very funny and features a breakout role from the charismatic Melissa McCarthy. However, I think it pans out like a traditional romantic comedy, with room for originality. Melissa McCarthy and other select characters really make the film. Honestly, I don’t like how McCarthy got so much recognition for this role. Let me explain. She’s hilarious in this, but I think this has restricted to her to dirty and crude roles in the cinema universe. She’s still hilarious, but I just wish she would be able to play more tame comedy roles, or not play such dirty characters, because she’s really quite pretty. She still is a great screen presence, but this type of character might get old really quickly. Anyway, it’s usually extremely funny, but I get bored when it’s not being funny. The main conflict between Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne’s characters becomes tedious to me. And that’s what drives the film, so that’s a problem… The runtime is just exhausting. I really think 50/50 should have received the Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards instead of this. I respect this for what it tries to be, and I do laugh a lot when I’m in the mood for it. I might re-watch it, take notes of when the funniest jokes are, and just watch those scenes.

Score69/100

The Five-Year Engagement (2012)

The Five-Year EngagementThe Five-Year Engagement

Release Date: April 27, 2012

Director: Nicholas Stoller

Stars: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt

Runtime: 124 min

Tagline: A comedy about the journey between popping the question and tying the knot.

One year after meeting, Tom (Jason Segel) proposes to his girlfriend, Violet (Emily Blunt), but unexpected events keep tripping them up as they look to walk down the aisle together.

It’s that classic boy gets the girl, boy loses girl, boy probably gets girl back situation. It just plays out a little longer than most romantic comedies. That’s okay though, because it’s funny enough to stick around for a while. Some characters are quite great, but others are just trying too hard at being funny, or they’re just really hit-and-miss. Tom, Violet and Suzie (Alison Brie) are quite funny. Secondly, Alex (Chris Pratt) is quite hit-and-miss. Also, the characters of Tarquin (Brian Posehn) and Vaneetha (Mindy Kaling) try a bit too hard at being funny, and it doesn’t quite work half the time. Some characters like Ming (Randall Park) and Doug (Kevin Hart) were pleasant surprises.

While this is very much a comedy, there’s some drama here and there. Tom and Violet’s relationship is threatened by Tom’s lack of success. Violet thinks that Tom blames her for that; and that adds some development to them. A lot of the other characters don’t get well-developed, and they’re just there for some comedic support. That happens in the majority of comedies, so one could not trash this flick for that.

The Five-Year Engagement does have a better comedic momentum and laughs-per-minute than Bridesmaids. The laughs that Bridesmaids generate would be louder and harder than that of Engagement, but it doesn’t have the greatest momentum. Bridesmaids doesn’t necessarily overstay its welcome, but it’s pretty long. The real strong suit of that film is that it may not be hilarious every ten seconds, but when it tries to be funny, it’s hilarious – and when one scene wants to make you laugh, it makes you laugh throughout the whole thing. When Engagement makes you laugh, sometimes you may give a good hearty laugh, and other times it may make you cry from laughter. It all depends on the scene.

The plot of Bridesmaids feels more fresh and original than this does, but this still does have its fair share of originality.

The Five-Year Engagement has its fair share of good characters, bad characters, great laughs and British accents. The great comedic presences help make it stand out. Fans of Jason Segel or fans of romantic comedies will really appreciate it, because it’s pretty freaking funny.

75/100