Category Archives: Humor

Christmas Dad-o-Rama

Wahlberg & Farrell double down on the doofus dad jokes in sequel

DADDY'S HOME 2

Daddy’s Home 2
Starring Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson & John Lithgow
Directed by Sean Anders
PG-13

If two feuding fathers are funny, four’s gotta be even funnier…right?

That’s the movie math behind the holiday hijinks of this sequel to the 2015 comedy, which starred Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as a stepfather and a biological dad battling for the attention of their kids.

At the end of the first movie, sweet, sensitive Brad (Ferrell) had rubbed off some of the rough, raw edges of brusque, macho Dusty (Wahlberg) and they had made their peace with each other as “co-dads.” Daddy’s Home 2 opens with a warm, fuzzy scene of the two of them sharing carpooling duties, happily swapping off their kids at the park and chatting about the school’s upcoming Christmas pageant.

Ah, Christmas!

The kids, it seems, love all the presents they get from two sets of parents. But they’re not so happy about being so split apart, shuttled between homes and houses, at the one time of year when families are supposed to be together. So Brad and Rusty come up with an idea: one big “together Christmas” with all the kids and all the parents and stepparents in one house, at one time!

Brilliant! Then both Dusty’s dad and Brad’s dad (Mel Gibson and John Lithgow) show up for last-minute Christmas visits, which really makes it a together Christmas—and kick the movie into high comedy gear.

DADDY'S HOME 2

John Lithgow plays Don, the father of Brad (Will Ferrell).

Both old pros, Gibson—famed for starring in the original Mad Max franchise, three Lethal Weapon flicks, The Patriot and Braveheart, and for his directing as well—and Lithgow—whose 100-plus acting credits include the acclaimed current Netflix series The Crown, in which he stars as Winston Churchill—are hoots and almost steal the show from the top-billed franchise stars. Gibson’s character, Kurt, is an old-school, sarcastic, alpha-male-bulldog Lothario, a former astronaut who tries to warm up to his grandkids with a joke about dead hookers. And you can certainly see where Brad got all his warmth and thoughtfulness: Don (Lithgow) is yappy, ever-happy optimistic, super-sentimental, always ready with hugs, kisses, corny jokes and a pocket full of homemade cookies.

DADDY'S HOME 2

Scarlett Estevez, Owen Vacarro and Didi Costine

This holiday cocktail of a mismatched family—as dads, stepdads, granddads and step-granddads all learn to get along—also features kids from the first film. Young Scarlett Estevez, Owen Vacarro and Didi Costine have their own little step-sib subplot that involves young love, getting into forbidden eggnog and switching up traditional gender roles.

Writer-director Sean Anders also directed the first film (along with Horrible Bosses 2) and wrote screenplays for We’re The Millers, Hot Tub Time Machine, Dumb and Dumber To and Mr. Popper’s Penguins. He knows funny, and Daddy’s Home 2 has a lot of it. An inventive sequence with a snow blower and Christmas lights ends with a comedic thud that will have a familiar ring to anyone who saw the first movie. Appropriately enough for a comedy about dads jockeying for attention, position and pecking order, a scene with the whole “together” family in a live-nativity manager riffs on who’s going to play Joseph, and how he wasn’t Jesus’ real father.

DADDY'S HOME 2

John Cena

John Cena, who made a surprise appearance at the end of the original film, makes a reappearance as Randy, another stepdad—the uber-cool, muscle-bound, truck-driving hunk Randy. And stay until the very end for another surprise stepdad!

There’s also some commentary about learning to compromise, a surprising venture into gun control and a poignant scene—in a comedy club—in which we find out something heavy, and heartbreaking, about Brad’s dad. And there’s a running joke, with a funny flashback, to the 1984 Band Aid song “Do They Know It’s Christmas” and its all-star cast of international singers, each getting a line.

The wives/moms, Linda Cardellini (of TV’s Bloodline) and Brazilian-born former Victoria’s Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio, don’t really have much to do, except look pretty and deliver an occasional quip—and Ambrosio doesn’t even get many of those. The movie is just too crowded with guys and cute kids.

And in a bit of a Hollywood in-joke, everyone ends up snowstorm-stranded in a movie theater. The big holiday release is an action-family holiday hybrid about Liam Neeson and a bunch of adorable kids traveling with a nuclear warhead cross-country to keep it out of the hands of terrorists. It’s called Missile Tow.

After strings of edgier, R-rated fare for both Ferrell and Wahlberg, the Daddy’s Home flicks let both actors settle into a more-or-less family-friendly, PG-13 groove, and still find a very festive comedic mojo.

This cheery, comical, dads-travaganza of a Christmas carol won’t win any major holiday awards. But it will certainly keep Scrooge at bay—at least until those Christmas bills start to roll in! Then you’ll know it’s Christmas, for sure.

In theaters Nov. 10, 2017

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Laughing All the Way to the Bank

Melissa McCarthy stars in raunchy rags-to-riches tale

The Boss

Starring Melissa McCarthy & Kristen Bell

Directed by Ben Falcone

Rated R

Steeled and shaped by a childhood of rejection in an orphanage, Michelle Darnell grew up to become a she-wolf of self-made business savvy. Now she’s a superstar investment titan and motivational-mojo guru who descends to the stage of frenzied fan events atop a giant golden phoenix in a spray of dollar bills, celebrating her brazen, competition-crushing excess like a carrot-topped combination of Donald Trump, Suze Orman and Richie Rich.

But the bigger they come, the harder they fall. And Michelle (Melissa McCarthy) tumbles with a titanic thud when she’s arrested for insider trading, loses her company and her home and has to serve a stint of white-collar jail time. When she’s released, with no friends and no family to call on, she bullies her way back to her former assistant, Claire (Kristen Bell), and her young daughter, Rachel (Ella Anderson).

Since making her film breakthrough as part of the ensemble in Bridesmaids (2011), McCarthy moved confidently into the lead for Identity Thief, Tammy, The Heat and Spy, proving her comedic bravura and her raucous adaptability for broad physical humor. She’s a cherub-faced spark plug who’ll go to just about any lengths for a laugh. The Boss is the second of her movies directed by her husband, actor-comedian Ben Falcone, who also makes a brief appearance (as he’s done in several of her films).

Film Title: The Boss

Claire (Kristen Bell) gets some unwanted fashion advice from Michelle (Melissa McCarthy).

Hollywood has always loved a good rags-to-riches tale, and McCarthy and Falcone (who also collaborated on the screenplay, along with Steve Mallory) wring this one for raunchy, R-rated guffaws and give it some crisp contemporary pops that seem deliberately, satirically timed and tuned for the Age of Trump. But it’s also a bit of a flopping mess, a hammy hodgepodge of crude jokes, awkward slapstick gags and sometimes mean-spirited, vulgar humor that just isn’t funny.

As Michelle plots her comeback, she poaches Rachel’s Dandelions scout troop to spin off her own group, Darwin’s Darlings, and creates a bustling new enterprise—built on Claire’s homemade brownies—to compete with the Dandelions’ cookie sales.

Forget Batman v Superman. When it’s Dandelions v Darlings, things get really ugly. If you ever wondered what a Quentin Tarantino-inspired, Kill Bill-esque tween cookie-brownie street brawl might look like, well, The Boss has it.

Film Title: The Boss

Peter Dinklage (from TV’s Game of Thrones) gets chuckles as Michelle’s spurned lover, now himself a preen-y mini-mogul obsessed with samurais. Saturday Night Live’s Cecily Strong plays Claire’s quirky supervisor at her depressing new office job. Kathy Bates has a scene as a wealthy mentor from Michelle’s past.

There are underlying themes about family and belonging, about rebuilding and reconnecting, about trust and ethics. But mostly The Boss is about laughing—all the way to the bank.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Hooray for Hollywood

Coen Brothers deliver a splendid spoof of movies’ golden era

Hail, Caesar!

Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson & Alden Ehrenreich

Directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

PG-13

“People don’t want facts—they want to believe!” says Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a 1950s Hollywood studio “fixer” in the new Coen Brothers comedy Hail Caesar!, a sprawling, star-studded spoof of the golden age of moviemaking.

Josh Brolin

Josh Brolin

What people believe, and what they make-believe, are the building blocks of Hollywood itself. And they’re certainly the cornerstones of the Coens’ lavish, multi-tiered parody that takes satirical shape around the production of a fictional studio’s major new movie, Hail, Caesar!, A Tale of the Christ, a Bible-based saga a la Ben-Hur, Spartacus and The Robe.

When the film’s lunkheaded leading man, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), is kidnapped, Mannix has to find him and get the money-train movie back on track.

But in the meantime, he’s also got his hands full with other problems, and other films. His job is keeping the machinery of Capitol Pictures Studios whirling, keeping its numerous stars in line and out of trouble, and keeping the whiff of scandal away from prying gossip columnists, particularly twin sisters Thora and Thessily Thacker (Tilda Swinton).

Scarlett Johansson

The studio’s twice-divorced “innocent” aqua-starlet (Scarlett Johansson) is pregnant with an out-of-wedlock child. Capitol’s prissy British prestige-picture director (Ralph Fiennes) is at wit’s end trying to wrangle the company’s riding, roping singing cowboy (Alden Ehrenreich) into more refined roles. And a tap-dancing song-and-dance hotshot (Channing Tatum) glides across the set of a new musical, but his light-on-his-feet moves may be hiding heavier secrets.

Look: There’s Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand and the guy (Wayne Knight) who played Newman in Seinfeld! Even if you don’t know anything about Hollywood’s “Red Scare,” you’ll still get a chuckle out of a boatload of Commies bobbing off the California coastline. And Alden Ehrenreich’s young sodbuster charming his studio-arranged dinner date (Veronica Osorio) by twirling a strand of spaghetti like a lariat will rope your heart, too.

Channing Tatum

Channing Tatum

For many viewers, the quirky movies of writer-director Joel and Ethan Coen have always been a bit of an acquired taste. Sure, most everybody now falls in line to applaud the genius of Fargo, No Country For Old Men, True Grit, The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou. But where was the box-office love for The Hudsucker Proxy, Barton Fink, The Man Who Wasn’t There and Inside Llewyn Davis?

There may be more commercially successful filmmakers, more mainstream filmmakers or filmmakers who win more awards. But you’d be hard-pressed to find many filmmakers who love movies, and making movies, more than the Coens. And that love is evident in every carefully crafted frame of this gloriously goofy homage to the glory days of big studios, big stars and the big wheels that churned out the spectacles of Hollywood’s dream factory from a bygone era.

While Hail, Caesar! is looking backward with such comedic affection, however, it’s also making a sly, playfully subversive statement about our “need” for entertainment, the importance of escapism and how movies have always been—and hopefully will always be—a “potion of balm for the ache of all mankind.”

“What a waste of talent,” a woman behind me groused as the credits rolled, somehow disappointed. Not me, and not a chance. Strike up another win for the Coens, I say. I’m a believer. Hooray for Hollywood, and “Hail, Caesar!”

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Saints Alive

Bill Murray shines as a grumpy-golden coot-next-door

ST. VINCENT

St. Vincent

Starring Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts and Jaeden Lieberher

Directed by Theodore Melfi

PG-13

Bill Murray has carved out a comfortable three-decade movie niche playing sweet-natured troublemakers, loveable oafs and world-weary wiseasses. So the grumpy old coot-next-door he now portrays, at age 64, in St. Vincent seems like a perfect fit, a natural progression.

Murray’s character, Vincent, becomes the caretaker of a 10-year-old boy, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), after Oliver and his stressed-out single mom, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy) become his new neighbors—Vincent is strapped for cash and Maggie’s in a bind. Not knowing anyone else, she enlists Vincent to watch Oliver after school and evenings while she works.

“He’s sort of cool, in a grouchy sort of way,” Oliver tells his mother after a few afternoons in Vincent’s care. “Too old to be dangerous, but not too old to be too dangerous.”

ST. VINCENT

Melissa McCarthy, Jaeden Lieberher & Naomi Watts

Vincent is hardly any mom’s dream babysitter; he drinks, he smokes, he gambles, and he takes Oliver along to the bar and the racetrack. He teaches Oliver to fight and to stand up to the bully at school. It’s no real surprise when Vincent becomes a surrogate father figure to the scrawny, sensitive lad, whose own dad, we learn, is contesting his mother for Oliver’s custody.

It’s a familiar, often sitcom-ish setup, one that most viewers will recognize from a long parade of TV and movie characters who’ve marched before, from W.C. Fields to Uncle Buck. But Murray and his fellow cast members elevate the material far above the basics, giving the story a rich, lived-in texture with grit, laughter, warmth and an easygoing dramatic groove that cuts through the script’s clichés.

We learn why Vincent seems to have given up on almost everything, why he’s out of money, and why he’s willing to gamble away what little he has left. We watch Oliver emerge from his shell, moreST. VINCENT enabled and emboldened to take on the world. And we understand the connection between Oliver’s school assignment about saints, the title of the movie, and a school assembly where everything comes together.

Murray is a gem, the scruffy, gruff-y glue that holds it all together and keeps it from flecking off into granules of sugary-sweet cuteness. It’s a treat to see McCarthy in a role where she gets to play it straight, freed from comedic slapstick and shenanigans. Watts is a hoot—and seems to be having one, too—as Vincent’s pregnant Russian stripper girlfriend. And Lieberher, as Oliver, is a natural in front of the camera who can hold his own, even when sharing the frame with the formidable funnyman.

St. Vincent, in limited release but gaining in popularity, may not be playing “in a theater near you.” But it’s well worth going the extra mile if you have to seek it out; you’ve probably heard Bill Murray’s name cropping up for some awards at the end of this movie year. And by all means, stay until the end—the very end. The extended sequence that plays under the credits, with Murray (as Vincent) singing along to Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From the Storm”—the whole song—as he blithely waters a forlorn-looking potted plant with an uncooperative garden hose, is a sublime bit of blissed-out backyard karaoke that is itself almost worth the price of your ticket.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Shakespeare in Space

Another masterful mashup of the Bard and ‘Star Wars’

William Shakespeare's The Jedi Doth Return

William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return

By Ian Doescher

Hardcover, 168 pages $14.95 / $8.52 Kindle edition (Quirk Books)

 

Continuing the ultimate literary arc of geek-speak high homage, this third installment of author Ian Doescher’s parody of the entire Star Wars movie canon, re-told in the florid iambic pentameter “signature” of William Shakespeare, continues the interstellar adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and other familiar characters from “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”—all to a masterful mashup of English lit and pop culture that’s hilarious, dramatic and downright mesmerizing.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Red, White & Snoopy

Charlie Brown & Co. reanimate American history highlights

This Is America, Charlie Brown

This is America, Charlie Brown

DVD, $26.99 (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

Originally airing in 1988 as an eight-part CBS miniseries, this delightful animated roundup of recently remastered 24-minute TV specials features a crash course in American history as Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus and the rest of the beloved Peanuts gang sail on the Mayflower, discuss the U.S. Constitution, watch the Wright brothers take wing at Kitty Hawk, dream of space travel, meet several presidents, explore the roots of American music and its composers, and bring other red, white and blue milestones to educational and entertaining cartoon life.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Nut Case

Classic Jerry Lewis Jekyll & Hyde parody celebrates 50th anniversary

The Nutty Professor 50th_contents

The Nutty Professor: 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition

Blu-ray $54.99 (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

 

Jerry Lewis co-wrote, directed and starred in this 1964 parody, based on the tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, about a bumbling chemistry teacher, Julius Kelp, who invents a magic potion that turns him into a smarmy nightclub singer named Buddy Love. A comedy classic that’s even been recognized by the Library of Congress, it now celebrates its half-century milestone with a load of bonus features, including a CD of Lewis’ private prank phone calls; a 44-page script with Jerry’s notes; a recreation of a 96-page “inspirational” booklet Lewis made to rev up his disgruntled cast and crew; bloopers, outtakes and screen tests; and two complete additional Lewis movie comedies of the era, The Errand Boy and Cinderfella.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Potty All The Time

Adam Sandler’s new comedy can’t find its way out of the bathroom

BLENDED

Blended

Starring Adam Sandler & Drew Barrymore

Directed by Frank Coraci

PG-13, 113, min.

 

You might get a sense of where Adam Sandler’s latest movie is headed as the first scene opens to the sound of a toilet flushing and the sight of his co-star, Drew Barrymore, exiting a public restroom stall.

Blended marks the third time Sandler and Barrymore have worked together, after The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates. This time around, they play a couple of single parents whose blind date—at a Hooter’s—is a disaster, but who later end up, in one of those only-in-the-movies contrivances/coincidences, “blended” together with their respective kids at a luxurious African resort.

Sandler’s tastes in humor have never exactly been hallmarks of high refinement, and by now even most of his fans realize that he seems somehow incapable of evolving to a more enlightened state. BLENDEDThere are a lot of things wrong with Blended, but the biggest is that it drags so many younger actors down to Sandler’s crude, bathroom-humor level, all in the name of a “family” comedy about family togetherness.

Sandler’s character, Jim, has three daughters; Lauren (Barrymore) has two sons. So when they all end up together in the Dark Continent, it’s like an episode of the Brady Bunch, only with cutaway shots of rutting rhinos and jokes about cleavage, buttholes and crotches.

It’s hard to hold the “children” in the movie responsible for the actions of the adults, particularly Sandler, director Frank Coraci (who also directed him in The Waterboy, 50 First Dates and Click) and the writers, who concocted not one scene, but two, in which Jim’s youngest daughter (six-year old Alyvia Alyn Lind) gets to chirpily mispronounce a certain feminine body part as “bagina.” Isn’t that adorable?

Sandler, 47, plays the same wisecracking, goofball man-child schlub he’s basically played in every movie. Barrymore is adorable, but given little of substance to do outside of being his secondBLENDED banana, filling the necessary “female” role. The two of them do have a natural, relaxed chemistry, and some of their scenes together in this rom-com reunion, especially when Sandler’s not gobbling every punch line in sight, have a warm, unforced sweetness that almost feels like something from another movie entirely.

It’s just too bad that those little seeds of sweetness are buried beneath such a heaping mountain of comedic crap. For every genuinely funny, clever line, there are three dozen moaners. Technically, the movie’s a mess—it looks like it was shot, staged and edited in a mad rush. And it’s depressing to see such a big cast, including Shaquille O’Neal, Saturday Night Live alum Kevin Nealon, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Joel McHale and Terry Crews, yukking around in such muck.

“Is this a sick dream?” ask Sandler’s character at one point. After watching a movie that begins with a flushing toilet and ends with kids singing a song about poo, pee and “juicy farts,” it sure might feel that way for his audience.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

Xs & Os

This sassy little book wants to beat you at Tic Tac Toe

Tic Tac Tome

Tic Tac Tome

By Willy Yonkers

Softcover, 1,444 pages, $12.95 (Quirk Books)

 

Are you pretty good at Tic-Tac-Toe? Well, this saucy little “interactive” book thinks it’s better—and wants to prove it. Forget about the messy old traditional pencil “marking” game; this ingenious format asks you start on any page, then go to other pages according to the choices you want to make, up, down or diagonally. Chances are, the book will be one move ahead of you, every time—guaranteeing you’ll stalemate, if not lose. As you’ll learn in the book’s cheeky introduction: “I’m an artificially intelligent expert system with one purpose: to totally dominate you in Tic-Tac-Toe.” Think you can beat the book? Perhaps—and you’ll have hours of fun trying, regardless.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Oh, Magoo!

The theatrical roots of the TV cartoon grumbler-bumbler

Layout 1

The Mr. Magoo Theatrical Collection 1949-1959

DVD $34.93 (Shout! Factory)

Fans of the Golden Age of cartoons have been waiting for this roundup of all the cartoon “shorts” (made to be shown in movie theaters) starring everyone’s favorite bumbling, grumbling, visually impaired misanthrope. Voiced by actor Jim Backus, Mr. Magoo became an audience favorite who went on to have his own TV series in the 1960s. This generous collection, however, takes him back to his movie-house roots, with 53 original shorts, plus the 1959 animated feature film 1,001 Arabian Nights, two documentaries, an interview with film critic Leonard Maltin, and commentaries.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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