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Comedy

As close to a musical as you can get without anyone actually singing, Edgar Wright’s (The Cornetto Trilogy) crime joyride is a mixed bag, but what is good is very good. Baby, (Ansel Elgort) a virtuoso wheelman who appears to be just under the drinking age, owes his respectable but lethal crime boss (Kevin Spacey) services for a prior boost of Spacey’s merchandise.  There is a semi father-son relationship going on here, but Spacey is a harsh father, forcing Baby to drive with increasingly erratic and dangerous robbers (Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Eiza Gonzales, Jon Bernthal, and, inevitably, Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers).  Baby, of course, just wants out, and his desires increase when he meets just the most adorable diner waitress you’ll ever come across (Lily James).  Things, however, go terribly wrong.

Did I say musical?  Baby suffers from tinnitus, which is tempered by his ear buds, which are always inserted, providing him  – and the audience –the soundtrack to his life.  For the most part, this gambit works, and is particularly effective during the driving scenes.  Other times, it’s overstretched.  Baby is a bit of a cipher, and it adds little to his meager backstory to have him Astaire his way to get coffee.

This is mostly a crisp, canny flick, but it still falls a little short, and after the initial euphoria of viewing, it dropped from a 4.5, settling in at this score. Wright has abandoned his comic glee for a foray into Tarantino Land, and he produced a pretty good facsimile.  Still, I miss the unbridled fun of the Cornetto Trilogy.

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Wow.  Somebody remade the goddawful Sisters.  But instead of unfunny sisters, it is unfunny moms.  A lot of slo-mo partying, over use of the words “tits” and “vagina” by women – FOR WOMEN- some celebs (JJ Watt, Martha Stewart), and a weird veering between cartoonish and melodramatic.  In the midst of this asinine film, we get real tears from Mila Kunis’ daughter and an alt-something duet as defeated Mom Kunis breaks down JUST BEFORE THE BIG PTA VOTE!  But don’t worry.  She gives a big speech to all the other moms and . . .  well, I won’t spoil it.  But one word: uplifting.

My family took me to this yesterday, and while it lacks the fresh inventive feel of the original, quintessential summer flick, it is still a treat. The sense of humor is intact, the characters remain winning, Dave Bautista’s hilariously literal Drax again steals the picture, and Groot is now Baby Groot, so darling that the most vicious murderers in the galaxy cannot do him in because, as their leader freely admits, “it is too adorable to kill.”  The story is a bit ragged – Peter Quill’s father (Kurt Russell) is introduced and his plan is both overly apocalyptic and not necessarily reliant on the involvement of the Guardians.  The sentiment is also a bit heavy; a lot of pain is expressed within the theme of family interrupted, creating one too many lumps in the throat for a damn Marvel movie.  Still, a lot of fun.

A funny and wry comedy about an improv group in New York City that is splintered when one of its members makes it to “the show”, a stand-in for Saturday Night Live called Weekend Live. The elevation exposes fissures within the group, eventually sealing its doom . Nonetheless, through the process of promotion and disintegration, the members realize how integral the group is/was to their lives and how their involvement fits into their ambitions.

This is a sweet movie, written and directed by Mike Birbiglia, who also stars as one of the improv group members. Some of the drama is beyond the talents of the actors, almost all of them are immediately recognizable from some Comedy Central or other endeavor, and it is on occasion a little gooey. But, otherwise, this is good clean fun, bettered by a biting, almost cruel caricature of Lorne Michaels as the head honcho at Weekend Live.

I want to applaud and encourage ambitious filmmaking, and this picture is certainly an example of that.  A man (Colin Farrell) whose wife leaves checks himself innto a facility resembling a hotel, where he is given 45 days to find a new life mate amongst its inhabitants.  If he fails to do so, he will be transformed into the animal of his choice.  Hence, the title.

When the film stayed in the hotel, it maintained my interest.  Writer-director Yorgos Lanthrimos created an increasing feel of dread and desperation as the guests jockeyed for position, and while it was blackest of the black, there was comedy to be found.  But Lanthrimos attempts to mesh this strange land of the bargain into a wider society, with loners (individuals who are as zealous about being single as the hoteliers are about coupledom) hiding out in the woods while the city enforces duos to such an extent that security personnel will harass lone shoppers.  The picture becomes more and more ridiculous and yet, the tone gets darker rather than more whimsical.

It’s all too clever by half, and ultimately, casually cruel, to no real end.  Lanthrimos’s obvious talents are wasted on this lame social satire.

But don’t listen to me.  My tastes for this sort of thing are vanilla to an almost disabling degree, the critics adored it, and it cleaned up at Cannes.

 

Jane Austen has been treated well and often by Hollywood, but – with the exception of the recently humorous but underwhelming Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – she has been treated with a reverence which also brings with it a certain torpidity.  How often have we seen that same dour, tortured Mr. Darcy; the loyal, suffering Elinor Dashwood; or the quick-witted but headstrong Elizabeth Bennet?  Don’t get me wrong.  I love them all, but their portrayals tend to be so bleeding earnest, and of the same stripe, that it begins to feel very rote.

Whit Stillman has written and directed three modern Austenian pictures- Metropolitan (essentially, Mansfield Park), Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco.  When he gets his hands on an actual Austen short story, it is no surprise that Stillman shakes it all up with an original and witheringly funny adaptation.  Rather than dally with dialogue establishing the Austen archetype – handsome rogue, lovestruck hysterical wife, scheming social climber, etc . . . – he gives us the actors in poses, drawing upon the audiences’ presumed familiarity with Austen, so as to get the ball rolling more quickly.

And in the hands of the most vicious and hilarious of all Austen protagonists, Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), what a ball it is.  An elegant bloodsucker, Lady Vernon flits from household to household, leaving each in tumult as she wheedles her way into the most advantageous social position she can find.  Her dexterity when she encounters obstacle is noteworthy and her aplomb when thwarted is near winning.  In Beckinsale’s hands, Austen’s wit crackles, and the repartee is fast and furious.  I won’t ruin any of the fun, save to offer my favorite line from the film:  “Americans really have shown themselves to be a nation of ingrates, only by having children can we begin to understand such dynamic.”

Austen’s work always delivers us a fop, a fool, or both, but Beckinsale is almost upstaged by Tom Bennett who plays the utterly unflappable, cheery, and utterly clueless James Martin, one of Lady Vernon’s many targets.  I laughed out loud in all of his scenes.

One of my top five for the year thus far.

It sounds silly to say, but I’m compelled – they just don’t make movies like this anymore.  Shane Black’s (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3) noir-ish 70s buddy crime comedy pays homage to the genre by faithfully adhering to many of its precepts while updating the form in ways that are progressively more clever.  It’s late 70s LA.  Russell Crowe is a burnt out “enforcer” making his dough in the protection racket with brass knuckles and dogged determination.  Ryan Gosling is a private investigator rip-off artist with a drinking problem, a mouthy (but not precocious) pre-teen daughter, and an air of intelligence, if not actual smarts.  Crowe is hired to beat up the person or persons (one of whom is Gosling) looking for a young femme fatale, and the two team up as the semi-serious, but not really serious plot – which melds porno and corporate skullduggery – thickens.

The banter is first rate, the look primo, and the tone just right.  Black writes cynical yet hopeful, and while he makes all his station stops on time, the rides in between are a gas, made even more enjoyable by his crackling script and brilliant physical comedy.  Gosling is particularly adept at slapstick, giving Leonardo DiCaprio’s turn in The Wolf of Wall Street a run for its money.

The chemistry between Crowe and Gosling is so strong that I hope the broad hint of a sequel at the end of the film is genuine.  I was reminded of Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours , Alan Arkin and James Caan in Freebie and the Bean, and Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin in Midnight Run.  These guys are having a blast together

Yet, Black never fully commits to the “buddy pic” requirements.  When Crowe, in a moment of reflection, reveals his tender side or Gosling seemingly rises to the occasion by exhibiting theretofore hidden mental gifts, the payoffs are unexpected and laugh out loud funny.  A dream sequence is inserted that is truly ingenious, and there are more than a few other moments when Black’s detours enhance the humor.   One of the best films this year.