Rewind Review: Dinner for Schmucks

Introduction

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

Dinner for Schmucks

As per usual one thing you will not find in this review is a comparison to the original, The Dinner Game. It was a film I was unaware of before this release. I will be sure to look for it. Now for the film at hand.

One of the things that this film does rather effectively is that it puts its cast in a position to shine. Steve Carrell is at his Brick Tamland best in this part, though clearly brighter. Paul Rudd is most at home as a straight man and does a fine job here. Zach Galifianakis shows a different kind of character than he brought to the screen in The Hangover. Jemaine Clement brings his offbeat, irreverence in a role tailored for him and in an inspired piece of casting it was good to see Ron Livingston, of the soon-to-be-classic Office Space, play the kind of character he despised in that film
One great thing this film does is that it manages to avoid Sorry For Him Syndrome. This is a risk that comedies like this face and that Jay Roach has failed at on occasion. When dealing with a protagonist in a comedy who has the world come caving in on him usually through unfortunate coincidence there is a chance that it will be taken too far and thus you start to feel sorry for him and it ceases to be funny. It’s a bullet the director didn’t quite dodge in Meet the Parents but does here. How that happens is that ultimately you realize that Tim (Paul Rudd) is in the wrong for putting Barry (Steve Carell) in this situation.

dinner_for_schmucks_12

Another thing that is rather surprising is that even in a film that typically gravitates towards lowbrow humor it does manage to create a lovable loser and build his character through a few montages. It uses his unusual taxidermy art to show who he is. Which is crucial with a character who is so seemingly socially inept and unintelligent it is necessary to make the audience understand him and give him some dimension.

Similarly, the building of Barry’s nemesis is also deft as Therman (Zach Galifianakis) is first just his workplace nemesis and then permeates Barry’s whole existence.

The only danger the film ever really runs into is just becoming too convoluted in the number of ways Tim’s life gets messed up by this one chance encounter. However, the film does have the predictability that allows you to know that things will resolve themselves and all you’re really anticipating is the dinner itself which thankfully dominates the third act though it could’ve gone a bit longer.

DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS

With many technical positives going for it that brings us to the crux of the matter: How funny is it? It’s pretty funny, it’s not hysterical but definitely good for a laugh and worth checking out.
It is a film that may grow on replay value but is unlikely to ever reach any sort of classic status on that basis like Anchorman did.
In the end this is a return to form for Jay Roach as one of the better comedy directors around. It’s a funny, wacky good-natured romp.

7/10

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Review – Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Anchorman 2 has been perhaps one of the more unrealistically anticipated sequels in recent years. What I mean by that, and I don’t claim to be not among them; is that over the years the reputation of Anchorman grew such that perhaps the bar started being raised a bit much.

My own experience with the first Anchorman was not love-at-first-sight. Sure, I laughed. I laughed a lot. However, I felt that the feminist theme while appreciated was handled clumsily and overtly. Yes, it’s a silly movie but the rest of it felt far more assured. My appreciation of it grew over time.

Fast-forward to this Anchorman and one thing that stood out before I saw it was the extra running time. Then you see Judd Apatow’s name attached and you wonder if it might be tremendously bloated. At nearly two hours as opposed to just scraping past 90 minutes last time. I don’t think it did feel extraneous, just a touch too much perhaps. I also think the commentary on corporate synergy and news media, while very on the head is more neatly folded in. Thankfully, there were also many new gags, and a lot more weirdness, as the riffs on the old jokes that worked because they were new didn’t really hit it.

To be brief, I didn’t expect a second coming of Ron Burgundy, he’s a character so perfectly buffoonish you can’t manufacture the surprise of first meeting him all over again; but I did think I’d be glad to see him again in a new story. I was and the fact that this story had point to make loudly that had more do with the modern day than the era it was set in is fine by me too.

8/10

Review- Boy

Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu, James Rolleston and Taika Waititi in Boy (Unison Films)

That Shakespeare line about names comes up often when I think about films, because at times a title can either say it all or say very little. A film entitled simply Boy can be seen as kind of a middle ground, it invites further investigation. A seemingly nondescript word for a title it turns out that Boy is actually what our protagonist is most commonly referred to, hence the title is eponymous.

What stands out in the early-going, as Boy (James Rolleston) introduces us to his world with an embellished front-of-class presentation, is that the film can be said to have some flair and originality. There are flashes of a fantasized life both in live action and in child-like animation. What it brought to mind was Submarine, which made me cautious. There are great things going on in the first half of that film (a film too many callously over-simplify) but that spark and originality only carries it so far as I feel it gets bogged down. Here quite the opposite happens, while the quirkier elements are more intermittent as the film progresses the elements do get to the heart of the characters, and help to develop the comedy and drama inherent in the story. They are a boon to the film and a segue into the world.

The film is a tale of a father’s estrangement from his family, his son’s desire to have him around, to reconcile with him and coming to terms with the realities of one’s family. Given some of the facts of the story it could be too easy to take the story to a melodramatic or maudlin place but this film never does that. This is, of course, a credit to the screenplay but also to the actors. The first of note being Taika Waititi, who not only plays the father but is the film’s writer and director, what makes this fact even more impressive is that I didn’t know that beforehand and found that not only was his comic persona a rival to a Paul Rudd character but he also plays the more dramatic portions of the story very well. Add that to all the behind the scenes work he did, being the heart and soul of the film, and it’s truly brilliant and awe-inspiring.

The equilibrium of tone allows this film to have quite a brisk pace, which makes it an enjoyable watch regardless of the tonal shift in the story. Things time out just right and no section of the film seems disproportional.

While the film is about Boy and it very much focuses on his character’s arc, his younger brother Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu) has a very significant subplot. Eketone-Whitu’s performance is one which is much more silent than Rolleston’s but every bit as effective. He is quiet because he feels like an outsider and due to certain facts about his character is struggling to embrace not only his place in the family but also who he is.

Which leads me to another brilliant touch this film has, Rocky’s conflict is with his past and his brother, in part it makes him quieter and kinder and also leads him to bond with a character they refer to as Weirdo (Waihori Shortland). To not discuss it too much, part of what makes it so great is not just the natural, logical connection they share but it takes a character that seems like he’ll be excess and makes him essential. Similarly, Boy has quite a journey in his tale but his certain isolation and conflict with his father makes him a bit angrier, so his personal connection is to fantasy and his idolatry of Michael Jackson, which considering it’s set in 1984 is a logical choice.

I’ve written quite a bit about endings, not in the broader sense as in happy or sad, open or resolved; but rather in the minute sense of picking the precise moment and the precise note. This film ends perfectly. It ends with a punchline but also with the realization of who their father is and embracing that for better or worse. The tale is truly complete and the film is over. Both boys have gone through very different reactions to their father’s return to their life and their emotions have run the gamut, but they’ve reached a peace with what the unchangeable status quo is.

Boy is an excellent film, which illustrates best how specificity translates to universality. This is a film set in 1984 on the east coast of New Zealand about a Māori family yet you can be on any continent in any corner of the world and enjoy this film and take something away from it. Why? Because it’s true and connects to something innate in all people, which makes it great.

10/10

Review- Our Idiot Brother

Paul Rudd in Our Idiot Brother (The Weinstein Company)

Our Idiot Brother through its marketing gives you the impression that it’s just going to be a laugh-a-minute-comedy about a slacker brother and his more well-off family’s interactions, while it is funny there is more than meets the eye with this film. That can go both ways but it truly ends up being a good thing in this case.

First and foremost this is a showcase for the comedic talents of Paul Rudd, who rarely finds a vehicle like this where he can really showcase what he can do. From beginning to end in this film Rudd is in top form and there are exchanges whether it’s scripted or he went off-book that only he could make that funny. One of his confrontations with his ex-girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn) comes to mind.

Not to say this is a one man show, quite on the contrary. The aforementioned Kathryn Hahn is hilarious in this film as is her new beau, the good-natured Billy (T.J. Miller). In the family there are strong performances that show a good deal of range from Emily Mortimer, Zooey Deschanel, Elizabeth Banks, Rashida Jones and Steve Coogan. While playing a relatively simplistic character on the surface Rudd displays a different side of himself with each of the aforementioned characters as well as with Jeremy (Adam Scott), his sister Miranda’s (Banks) neighbor/potential love interest, they both share an affinity for Sci-Fi and with River (Matthew Mindler), his nephew, he can see what it is he really wants but never tells his parents.

This film toes the line of drama and comedy very well and in doing so manages not to be overly long. It keeps things funny but also keeps real world consequences involved but doesn’t let the bad things that can and will happen to people put a damper on things. The film like life goes on and it chooses to laugh at it.

Having said all that it is a very funny film indeed and you will likely walk away from it quoting one or two things there are some very good exchanges and some memorable, witty dialogue.

It also has one of Those Scenes. Meaning one of those great scenes by which you will remember the film and Paul Rudd’s performance. I refer to it as The Charades Scene and it is a perfect calling out of all the characters in the film without being too heavy-handed it shows just enough restraint and achieves brilliance due to the writing and performance of it. Naturally, it is also a crucial scene.

The film takes all of its narrative strands and subplots and deals with them rather neatly. Then at the end it meanders a bit and you don’t quite know why. When you find out it’s good for a laugh and a truly happy ending but you’re left wondering if that was truly needed.

Our Idiot Brother
is a good comedy with some very good dramatic moments thrown in. Though in the end the results a re bit mixed in some areas, not just the very end, it’s very much worth viewing.

7/10