How to Be Single (2016)

 

Released: February 12, 2016. Directed by: Christian Ditter. Starring: Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann. Runtime: 1hr 50 min.

Based on Liz Tuccilo’s book of the same name, How to Be Single is a totally mixed bag on tips of living the single life and an occasionally hilarious story.

It concerns Dakota Johnson’s Claire, who right out of college jumped into a relationship with Josh (Nicholas Braun) and being a woman of New York, she wants to try out the single life for a brief spin to know if she truly wants to be with Josh the rest of her life.

When she’s done with her flings with a bartender named Tom (Anders Holm, The Intern), she tries to go back to Josh but he’s found someone else. So now she has to navigate through life with her trusty party hardy sidekick Robin, portrayed by Rebel Wilson, on an adventure in learning that she doesn’t need a man to define who she is as an independent woman.

By no means a terrible film, How to be Single simply suffers from a plaguing lack of comedic momentum, or gaining any, for that matter.

The seriously big laughs only come on occasion without succession, but the sentiment of the picture is still in the right place.

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Rebel Wilson and Dakota Johnson in How to Be Single (Source)

Dakota Johnson is an awkward delight as Alice, where she often charms and rarely bores. Rebel Wilson is a good addition, as well – even though a late storyline feels random. The screenwriters also leave her character out for long periods of time when I was just begging for her comic relief.

A big problem of the film is just how many characters the film thinks it needs to tell its story.

Throughout the film Alice is sexually involved with three men, and we don’t really need that many characters to make her realize she doesn’t need someone to make her happy.

At certain points, when a story-line gets introduced and then continued later, it ends more abruptly than feels at all natural. It just wraps a tiny bow on it and then boom, we’re done with that character.

Alice’s sister, Meg (Leslie Mann) represents the single woman who wants a relationship but is terrified of it. Because… Reasons. She’s a bit frantic and nutty, and forgettable. She seems to be shocked that a young buck, Jake Lacy’s Ken, is attracted to her and she assumes it’s a joke or he just likes the novelty of being with an older woman.

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Rebel Wilson, Leslie Mann and Dakota Johnson in How to Be Single. (Source)

She’s frankly more annoying than anything. Her significant other, in turn, is rendered annoying and expendable by association – but admirable for putting up with her insanity.

Alison Brie also makes a frequent appearance, representing the online dating addict. She doesn’t fit into the narrative quite as smoothly as the others, not sharing any dialogue with the three other primary actresses, but she’s fine for her role.

The plot is muddled because of how many characters there are. The cast is attractive and fine as the characters, but the scope of it makes a simplistic premise into something that is needlessly complex. Because of this, it squanders a lot of potential.

It definitely has the laughs intact because of the original novel’s clever humour, but it should retain the simplicity of something like 2014’s That Awkward Moment, but that one forgot the laughs. At least that film knew not to have a huge character list like Valentine’s Day, and kept it simple, stupid.

Instead, we are left with an occasionally funny, run of the mill comedy that says it’s okay to be single.

It can be the best times of your life. The laughs are all there, but it trips over itself too much in an overlong anti-romantic comedy.

2.5 out of 4

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Mr. Peabody and Sherman (2014)

Mr. Peabody and ShermanReleased: March 7, 2014. Directed by: Rob Minkoff. Starring: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter. Runtime: 92 min.

Let’s take this into consideration right off the bat: Mr. Peabody and Sherman won’t win best in show. The filmmakers don’t have the aspirations to make the greatest animated film out there – their intention is to entertain all ages with colourful animation and clever humour. This pleasant surprise succeeds with a sweet-natured flair. The main character is Mr. Peabody, voiced by TV’s Modern Family star Ty Burrell, who is one of the world’s greatest minds – winning Nobel prizes and holding knowledge close to his heart. He does all this, even though he is a dog. (That’s why the ‘best in show’ joke is so funny!) 

He adopts a boy named Sherman (voiced by Max Charles), and he goes through the struggles of parenting. This dynamic makes it mildly similar to Despicable Me; at least its messages of parenting, and it makes me think of it because Peabody is an adoptive parent. (Some additional messages in the film: Acceptance and understanding each other’s differences, like being adopted by a dog.) On 7-year-old Sherman’s first day of school, he has a run-in with a bully; saying that sadism starts fairly early. The bullying is given by a young genius in her own right named Penny Peterson (voiced by Ariel Winter, who is also well-known for Modern Family). She’s angry at Sherman because he shows her up with a fact on George Washington that is not particularly common knowledge. He found it out by actually hearing it from George Washington himself. You see, Peabody built a time machine called the WABAC that allows a very cool form of parenting where he can teach his son history first-hand. I think it’s a cool way to teach history, even though it offers historic events in a simplistic way to its audience. It still must appeal to kids, correct? To solve the bullying issue, Penny and her parents (voiced by Leslie Mann and Stephen Colbert) are invited over to dinner. Young Sherman shows her the WABAC and they go on a fun adventure, but also leads to a created time rift that they must fix.

I must assume some of you are already turned off by the premise itself – a time-travelling dog. (A.k.a. my Mom who also doesn’t like talking LEGO minifigures, but has nothing against a singing snowman.) Truthfully, it is a little funky – but it’s part of the film’s charm. The film is clever in the way that it solves that whole “butterfly effect” issue. Peabody makes a rule that they are only allowed to travel back in time – for educational purposes, because who wouldn’t want to go on field trips like this? It seems that Sherman learns better if here’s there when it happens. The film does have a simplistic and somewhat formulaic narrative, but a thoroughly entertaining one. Keep in mind this is a film made for children so fans of time travel flicks are not going to get much complexity. 

Older audience members will find clever, jokes that rely on pop-culture; referencing films like Runaway Bride and My Big Fat Greek Wedding, to name just a few. The events they travel to (French Revolution, Ancient Egypt, Trojan War) does give children a much simpler and basic way to learn history and learn basic and mildly accurate facts about these historical events in the process. For instance:  The film depicts that the people of the French Revolution revolt because Marie Antoinette loved cake way too much – and they don’t have bread because they are “exceedingly poor,” and they are angry because Antoinette is eating all that she can.

I think fans of Ty Burrell’s will enjoy his work in this film a lot because this sarcastic and often punny (“I think women get married too old in Egypt, but maybe I’m just an old Giza!”) sense of humour fits his comedic delivery to a tee. It is similar to his character on Modern Family, to be perfectly honest. He fits this role perfectly, which originated as a character on the television show Rocky and His Friends from the 1950’s. 

I must confess that there is one recurring joke that gets tired, where Sherman laughs at one of Peabody’s jokes and then says “I don’t get it.” That might be purposeful in more ways than to try to get the audience to laugh – it could represent kids who actually don’t understand the joke, whether it just be a historical fact they just don’t know. Another miss at humour which runs into excessive grounds is where Colbert’s character is trying to show Peabody up and asks him to play a series of instruments after another – so there just a whole bunch of Peabody’s on-screen at one time. It could be working as subtle foreshadowing; but it just runs on a bit too long. Colbert has fun in his role. The other voicework ranges from okay to great. I think Max Charles is just alright as Sherman. Allison Janney is good in a role that is uninspiredly evil. She represents those against dogs adopting children. Stanley Tucci has some brutally funny voicework as Leonardo Da Vinci, and his likable comedic styling is worth the watch in itself – as far as I’m concerned. 

The creative film is a ridiculously fun, fast-paced adventure flick that has a quick narrative. The animation is just stunning, even if it seems to have taken character designs out of The Incredibles handbook – as Sherman has subtle similarities to Dash, which isn’t bothersome; but it gets strange when baby Sherman has an uncanny resemblance to the baby Jack Jack. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – and I wouldn’t be surprised if director Rob Minkoff attended that A113 software class for animators.

Score: 80/100

The Other Woman (2014)

The Other WomanReleased: April 25, 2014. Directed by: Nick Cassavetes. Starring: Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Kate Upton. Runtime: 109 min. 

The Other Woman is a story about strange friendships and adultery. It raises ideas that monogamy just never works out, and one character is legitimately surprised that Carly (Cameron Diaz), is sticking to one man. Nicki Minaj is occupying one of those secretary roles who are moral compasses for their boss even though this one has questionable morals. She doesn’t consider it cheating if the partner is a fat Canadian with no sexual charisma. Minaj’s character Lydia isn’t featured prominently (she’s present for three or four scenes) so we should count our blessings for that. Minaj’s comedic delivery needs work. I might be treating her unfairly because I hate her. I must admit that she’s a talented rapper, though. Anyway, the film follows Lydia’s employer Carly who is dating a great guy named Mark King (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who is good at playing the falsely charming douchebag), or at least she thinks he’s a great guy. When she finds out he’s married to Kate (Leslie Mann), they become friends, even though Diaz says they better not braid each other’s hair and drink cosmos. Don’t they know tequila is a gateway drink to that sort-of bonding? They set out on a slow-moving plan to put Mark in his place, in traditional ways – sometimes to the sound of the Mission: Impossible theme.

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My response to the humour that REALLY missed

This is a chick flick through and through, one that firmly believes men suck. On paper this could be some decent entertainment, because I like movies like this once in awhile – and I think the director, Nick Cassavetes, is talented. But this is his worst film to date. He’s no stranger to the so-called chick flick – director of My Sister’s Keeper, which could be tagged as one – but he is a stranger to comedy. He directed it well enough to get a counted six laughs from me, but half of those are because I’m a sucker for poop jokes. It also relies on other gross-out “gags” which are more gross than funny at all. That’s most notably the fact that Kate’s huge dog (who, in a running gag, has huge balls) is shown taking a shit on Carly’s carpet. (This is not the poop joke that got a big laugh from me, I assure you.)

That’s just a little taste of the grossness. There’s different comedy styles for everyone – gross-out-jokes, tame raunchy jokes, slapstick humour and jokes that just aren’t funny. In the test screenings, one would think they would have checked which one the audiences reacted the most to – and leaned towards one style, or at least tried to make all of those styles funny. This might be funnier if it got an R-rating. It’s essentially an awful version of John Tucker Must Die, where the cheating monster is married instead of just a guy in high school – and the victims are mid-20s to middle age. If it were made to be an update just with older stars – wouldn’t it make more sense to make it with an R-rating? A better writer than first-timer Melissa Stack would help, too. Too often the humour misses, and the film is too often extremely boring and predictable. The film’s also bereft of any romance that feels natural, which I think is odd for Cassavetes, director of The Notebook.

Haha nope, he won't notice us...

Haha nope, he won’t notice us…

The “comedy” that gets tailored for Mann’s talents is unfunny crying (because her husband is cheating on her) a nonsensical bit of why her husband shouldn’t eat bacon, and a thing where she wants to go to brain camp to become smarter. She really needs it since she doesn’t know it’s called college. Mann does get one big laugh. A cast member that is enjoyable is Don Johnson, even if his presence feels random. Cameron Diaz is here because of her charming smile, but she doesn’t muster any big laughs. She’s sexy but the sex appeal is more-so Kate Upton’s boobs. Upton comes into the film a bit late, and that’s really when they start sabotaging Mark; which makes the pacing issues more obvious, as she doesn’t appear until at least an hour in.

This is a brutal attempt at comedy with characters that you just won’t care about. Mann’s character is a somehow more whiny version of her character in Knocked Up, but at least that film is funny. Diaz’s Carly is a bit too unlikable at times, even with that lovely smile, as she practices tough love. It’s sometimes nice to see the plain lawyer, who seems to dedicate all of her time to this operation, open up to these people, though. Upton’s Amber is cute, she says cute things like “Let’s kick him in the balls!” It just seems to me that she doesn’t have many brain cells in her pretty little head. She can join Kate at “brain camp.” And while they’re there, Cassavetes and writer Melissa Stack can go to comedy camp.

Score: 38/100

The Bling Ring (2013)

The Bling RingRelease Date: June 21, 2013Director: Sofia CoppolaStars: Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma WatsonRuntime: 90 min.

“The Bling Ring” completes the trio of 2013 social commentaries on the stupidity of the human race. The first is “Spring Breakers”, Harmony Kormine’s reality check for today’s youth, and the way that their decisions on their spraaaang breaaaak vacation will have consequences. The second is Michael Bay’s true-crime movie, “Pain & Gain” that expressed how far people are willing to go to achieve the American dream. I love both of those movies, because they’re entertaining and well-written. The same can be said about Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring”, even if it is my least favourite of the three.

Inspired by actual events (occuring between 2008 and 2009), a group of fame-obsessed teenagers use the internet to track celebrities’ whereabouts in order to rob their homes.

“The Bling Ring” highlights the stupidity of some younger people and their obsession with fame, and their want to experience the celebrity lifestyle. This movie is fascinating. It shows the stupidity of people because the characters who do the robbing fail to wear gloves, so they’re just smothering their fingertips all over the house. Smart thinking, right? They also use all the slang of today’s youth – grimy (meaning dirty), lates (instead of later), and totes (instead of totally) – which isn’t exactly an ode to the intelligence of my generation, but I guess it is how we talk. (I, for one, try my hardest to keep my language formal – even if I am guilty of dropping the occasional ‘Just chillin’.) But that’s just the point of these characters: They’re dumb.

One shows enough remorse, but they’re dumb for stealing merchandise, and not knowing how to keep their mouths shout about it. I guess they’re clever enough to steal merchandise the celebrities wouldn’t notice is missing, for awhile. That also just indicates how off the wall consumer society today is, and how much we own that we don’t actually use. It’s also insane how everything is on the internet now, and it’s surprising how easy one could find a celebrities’ home by just searching for it on Google. The kids aren’t the only stupid ones; as it’s truly hard to believe how many celebrities leave their doors unlocked, and don’t bother to use an alarm when they’re out of town.

Even though most of these characters are stupid, they are intriguing. Rebecca (Katie Chang) is the sociopathic ring leader of the group. Mark (Israel Broussard) is the best written of the group, because he’s one of the only almost appealing characters of the gang of criminals. He’s a trendy guy who knows the difference between Muumuu and Prada. (What the f*ck is a Muumuu?!). He’s only ever found one true best friend. He’s unfortunate enough that the one person is Rebecca, and that is his motivation for going along with the crimes.

The real scene-stealer here is Emma Watson, who is hilarious as Nicki. Her performance is truly impressive, and you cannot hear a trace of a British accent in her prissy, stuck-up, L.A. dialect.  The director, Sofia Coppola, really knows how to get laughs out of the audience. One scene has Watson saying “I wanna rob”, and it immediately cuts to a scene of her saying “I just went along with it” (or something like that). It’s such a simple, but effectively genuine way to get a big laugh out of the audience. It’s also funny Nicki is being interviewed, and has to constantly tell her Mom (Leslie Mann) to shut up because it’s her interview. (Her Mom seems to just love fame as much as her daughter, because included in her home-schooling curriculum is a class called ‘Celebrity Role Models’.)

The casting is truly spot-on, because the primary cast is mostly made up of great, but generally unknown, actors (Katie Chang; Claire Julien; Israel Broussard in his first leading role). The casting is clever because well-known celebrities playing fame-obsessed characters seems far-fetched. Leslie Mann is a well-known actress, but she isn’t part of the group. Your eyes might go to Taissa Farmiga, because she’s a great performer who steals a few scenes, and she is a spitting image of her much older sister, Vera Farmiga. (Was anyone else reminded of “Spring Breakers” when she had that gun in her hands?) Emma Watson is inarguably the best known of the primary gang, but her character is supposed to be played by a celebrity, as some of the character’s lines are delivered like a true celebrity. Plus, she’s only a supporting character and she’s freaking hysterical. (If her a character like hers really did “rule a country one day”, I’d be so done with the human race.) Your eyes will probably keep going to Emma Watson because she’s as great as ever, and her character is well-written. Even though she is stuck up (that’s the point of her), she’s very amusing. She believes in Karma and believes this is a learning experience for her, and she seems destined for celebrity life.

Ms. Sofia Coppola really knows how to handle this screenplay. Her style, the cinematography, the movie’s sense of realism, and the energy makes the movie more appealing than it might be in any other director’s hands. I dig her style, and this is my first experience with the director. Although, I’m not sure how entertaining I’d call one specific scene with Mark trying on lipstick and dancing in front of a camera for a minute or two. If it were Emma Watson doing that instead, I would not be thinking that the young man would grow up to be Buffalo Bill from “The Silence of the Lambs”. (Seriously, you’ll be waiting for him to put on a robe, turn around and say, “I’d so f*ck me.”) This film is a fascinating true-crime tale, and its analysis of obsession with celebrity life and fame is endlessly intriguing. The memorable performances and the film’s energy makes me want to watch it again in the future. It’s well-written, often compelling, and a great adaptation of the article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins”. (What the hell are Louboutins?!)

Score80/100

This Is 40 (2012)

This is 40This is 40

Release Date: December 21, 2012

Director: Judd Apatow

Stars: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Megan Fox

Runtime: 134 min

Tagline: The sort-of sequel to ‘Knocked Up’

What a great step up from 2009’s Funny People.

It may not be the best feature for a family movie day this holiday season, but it’s a great choice of comedy to see with a few buddies. It’s certainly a better choice than The Guilt Trip. It’s good enough to see with your mother, that is if you’re mature enough to sit through a sex scene or some other inappropriate content.

This follows the relationship of Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) five years after the events of Knocked Up (don’t worry folks, Katherine Heigl isn’t in this). As expected, their relationship is still facing a lot of issues. Their two daughters don’t enjoy each other’s company and Pete’s father Larry (Albert Brooks) is always asking for money while they’re facing some financial troubles themselves. Pete’s band (Graham Parker) for the record label isn’t selling that well, and the sexy employee (Desi, portrayed by Megan Fox) is probably stealing from them. Will the pretty couple overcome their problems and stick together through thick and thin?

Probably. It’s a Judd Apatow flick, and it’s around the holiday season, so it has to be feel-good. It usually is, albeit numerous conflict. Though, it’s Apatow and he has the fine ability to write in a stellar amount of humour to their long list of issues. It is a comedy, right?

While it is hilarious through and through, the issues that offer voids in their relationship are sometimes loud and obnoxious. There’s hardly a second where either Pete and Debbie aren’t wanting to bite off each other’s heads or their oldest daughter, Sadie (Maude Apatow), isn’t telling to the youngest daughter Charlotte (Iris Apatow) to take a hike. Preferably on Mt. Everest. The conflicts are vast – but the characters are great and they’re brought to life with each charming comedic presence. There has to be conflict, though, as this is an honest observation of what being a parent is all about.

The conflict between the two daughters is mainly irritating, but it doesn’t mean it gets in the way of enjoyment. At least, that much. It’s sadder than anything. Sadie is just going through those tough teenage years and she doesn’t have the time for a younger sister always bothering her. Charlotte just wants a little attention and she’s adorable, so she should just give it to her. Unfortunately, each sibling knows how hard that has the tendency to be.

It’s nice to watch Pete and Debbie try to overcome their differences because it’s a ride that doesn’t overstay its welcome, thanks to the real charm of the cast and the great incorporation of large and hearty laughs. This feature is around for the right time of season because Christmas is all about coming together as a family.

Pete and Debbie try their hardest as parents, but they’re not perfect. They also blame some of their troubles on their own parents for being such screw-ups. Pete’s pretty upset by his father for making him lend him $80, 000 over a few years – and Debbie’s upset with her own because he, Ollie (John Lithgow), is hardly there for her. This conflict is attacked during Pete’s big 40th birthday celebration. There, the great Jason Segel and Chris O’Dowd fight over the sexy Megan Fox.

Those supporting characters are awesome, but the real scene-stealer is the great Melissa McCarthy, playing a potty-mouthed and angry mother who goes a little crazy after Pete and Debbie offend her and her son.

While this is driven by pure and fresh comedy, the not-so subtle conflicts make it feel a bit too over-dramatic in areas. Though, Apatow does have to get the point across somehow. The film is a perfect analysis of how a family should try to overcome their differences and stick together, in this modern society that has really high divorce rates. Oh, and get through it during a mid-life crisis, especially. The message does get across finely with many laughs and conflict, and an advertisement or two for iPhones, other apple products, and TV’s Lost. It’s entertaining through and through, and your face may just hurt a little in more than one scene. It’s no Knocked Up, but it’s a satisfying little sort-of sequel. It finishes as the third best comedy of the year, just behind Ted and the best of the year, 21 Jump Street.

80/100