Tag Archives: Keegan-Michael Key

Rocky Road

New ‘Vacation’ a raunchy retread of a comedy classic

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Vacation

Starring Ed Helms & Christina Applegate

Directed by John Frances Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein

R

Thirty-two years later, it’s time for another Vacation.

The first one, for those of us who remember it fondly, was National Lampoon’s Vacation, and starred Chevy Chase in the now-classic tale of a family’s cross-country misadventures on their trek to visit the wacky theme park Wally World.

The “National Lampoon” is gone from the title, but the basic structure remains in this raunchy reboot. Ed Helms stars as Rusty Griswold, the now-adult son of Chevy Chase’s character. Rusty wants to recapture the memories of his childhood by giving his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and their two kids the same vacation experience he had as a youth.

His idea: Pack up the fam and head to Wally World!

“You just want to redo your vacation from 30 years ago?” asks Debbie, doubtful.

“The new vacation will stand on its own!” declares Rusty, rarin’ to go.

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Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo

If only. Everything about the new Vacation invites comparison to the old—and not for the better. The setup is the same, gags in the new movie are throwbacks to the original—a sexy babe in a convertible, the Griswolds’ uncool monstrosity of a station wagon—the peppy “Holiday Road” theme song from Lindsay Buckingham opens and closes the show, and Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, his co-star in the 1983 Vacation and three sequels, make appearances.

The new Vacation has moments of mirth, yes, but the most distinctive “stand” it takes, alas, seems to be in its determination to get dirtier, darker, grosser and more all-around ickier than any Vacation before. When the Griswolds take a dip in what they believe to be a natural hot springs and it turns out to be something much nastier, you’ll giggle, but you’ll also gag. And you’ll only get cold chills when a creepy truck driver (Norman Reedus from TV’s The Walking Dead) explains why he keeps a dirty teddy bear tied to the grill of his rig.

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Chris Hemsworth

At a stopover in Texas to visit Rusty’s sister (Leslie Mann) and her cattleman-stud husband, Chris Hemsworth hams it up with a prosthetic body part that can barely stay in his jockey shorts (and doesn’t, later). Rusty’s youngest son (Steele Stebbins) continuously pelts his older brother (Skyler Gisondo) with sexual putdowns.

Pop-up appearances by a host of celebrity guests—Charlie Day, Keegan-Michael Key, Nick Kroll, Michael Peña, Collin Hanks, Ron Livingston—are brief zaps and zings of gonzo electricity. And they’re the best things about the movie, which forces so much indignity and so many crass jokes upon its headliners, and which has so little of the wildly subversive sparkle that made its predecessor a classic.

It took two directors and a pair of writers to roadmap this rocky retread. It’s just too bad that, after all these years, it gets such disappointing movie mileage.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Disney Dreams

George Clooney goes back to the future

 

Disney's TOMORROWLAND..Casey (Britt Robertson) ..Ph: Film Frame..?Disney 2015

Britt Robertson stars as an idealistic teenager who gets a ticket to ‘Tomorrowland.’

 

Tomorrowland

Starring George Clooney, Britt Robertson & Hugh Laurie

Directed by Brad Bird

PG

Walt Disney always wanted his parks to be “magical.” Here’s a movie that takes that idea and really runs with it. Actually, Tomorrowland takes that idea and flies with it—with rocket packs, no less—into the teeming, gleaming futurama of Uncle Walt’s dreams more than half a century ago when he opened the gates to Disneyland.

Disney's TOMORROWLAND..Young Frank (Thomas Robinson)..Ph: Kimberley French..©Disney 2015

Young Frank (Thomas Robinson) tests his rocket pack prototype.

 

In Tomorrowland, George Clooney plays the modern-day, grownup version of a bright young lad, Frank, who lugs along his homemade jetpack to an invention competition at the 1964 World’s Fair—where Disney unveiled four major attractions. Frank and his contraption are rejected, alas, but he gets a special invitation to hop aboard Disney’s new ride It’s a Small World, which turns out to be much more than just a poky boat cruise through an international chorus of singing animatronic children: It’s a secret portal to the future!

Frank has a glorious time in the splendid world-yet-to-come, a fabulous sky-tropolis called Tomorrowland. But he can’t stay there forever. We eventually find out why he must leave, and why, decades later, he’s compelled to return.

Director Brad Bird, who’s shown his skill in both animation and live action with The Iron Giant (1999), The Incredibles (2004), Ratatouille (2007) and Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol (2011), mixes brisk, old-school adventure and a spirit of boundless idealism onto a palette of gorgeous, eye-popping visuals. The script, which he co-wrote with Damen Lindelof (Lost, Prometheus, World War Z, Cowboys and Aliens) and Jeff Jensen, crackles and pops mystery and suspense, wit and whimsy, and deeper, more passionate themes about science, technology and ecology.

Britt Robertson—recently seen saddling up in The Longest Ride—plays Casey, the spunky teenage daughter of a NASA scientist (country singer Tim McGraw) “chosen” for her own trip to Tomorrowland. British actress Raffey Cassedy is Athena, a mysterious young girl who connects both Frank and Cassidy across time. Hugh Laurie plays Tomorrowland’s top dog, who turns out to have quite a bite. Keegan-Michael Key from Key and Peel and Kathryn Hahn, who stars in Showtime’s Happyish, have a Men in Black-ish scene as a couple of space-oddity souvenir-shop owners.

Disney's TOMORROWLAND..Frank Walker (George Clooney)..Ph: Film Frame..©Disney 2015

George Clooney visits a famous international landmark…which is much more than just a famous international landmark.

The movie doesn’t note it, but Disney fans will certainly be aware that Tomorrowland was one of the five original “lands” of Disneyland, opening in 1955 to give visitors an imaginative taste of the future and outer space. Its silent “background” presence in the film deepens the movie’s make-believe mystery about just how forward thinking the House of Mouse might have really been.

There’s quite a lot happening, sometimes almost too much, and the cartoonish violence—aliens blasting people away, humanoid robots being bashed and decapitated—may unsettle some little ones. Plot points become muddled in the rush to keep moving, and the movie’s message gets a bit preachy.

But, like Frank says at one point, “Can’t you just be amazed?” Any movie that can get young people thinking about the future—the future of the planet, their future, our future—and about not giving up, even in the face of doom and gloom, is pretty amazing in itself. Maybe it really is a small, small world, after all. And now I’m super-curious about the secret purpose of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Second Verse

Tuneful reprise picks up a cappella tale, reunites cast

Pitch Perfect 2

Pitch Perfect

Starring Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson & Hailee Steinfield

Directed by Elizabeth Banks

PG-13

A musical comedy that costs under $20 million to make and racks up more than three times that much at the box office will likely get another chance to sing.

That’s exactly the case with Pitch Perfect 2, a tune-filled reprise of the its 2012 predecessor that picks up the tale of a fictional all-female collegiate a cappella group, the Bellas, and reunites almost of all of the original cast (Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Skylar Austin, Adam Devine, Anna Camp, Ben Platt and Ester Dean).

Pitch Perfect 2

Das Sound Machine

This time, the Bellas are headed to a world championship sing-off against new rivals, an über-haughy German group called Das Sound Machine. But a major wardrobe oopsy during a performance attended by Present Obama and the First Lady has caused a serious kerfluffle, throwing off the Bellas’ musical mojo. And their senior member, Beca (Kendrick), is ready to move on to life beyond the group.

Forget—and forgive—that most of the actors and actresses (playing college coeds) are pushing 30, or just beyond it. Don’t worry that the plot is a shoestring of jokes and songs stretched 10 to 15 minutes longer than it really needed to be. Let slide the fact that Wilson’s roly-poly character, Fat Amy, would never be called that name by any group of good friends—unless it’s in a movie like this one.

Pitch Perfect 2

Hailee Steinfield

Pooh to all that, because Pitch Perfect 2 just wants to make you laugh—which it certainly does—in between silly cooing about the bonds of sisterhood and the awkwardness of young love. The jokes fly fast and flip, and the humor gets spread throughout the big cast, which includes Hailee Steinfield, who plays a fresh-faced Bella newcomer; Keegan-Michael Key, of the Comedy Central sketch show Key and Peele, as a cocky music producer; and rapper Snoop Dogg, who gets laughs just as himself, singing Christmas carols. (Also watch for Katey Segal; Comedy Bang Bang’s Reggie Watts, bandleader for The Late Late Show with James Cordon; and members of the Green Bay Packers, riffing on Beyoncé’s “Bootylicious.”) Of the returning cast, Wilson, in particular, steals every scene in which she appears, and the writers know it, giving her optimum setups, plum punch lines and plenty of room to improvise.

Pitch Perfect 2

John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks

Some of the funniest bits, however, belong to John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks, who play the commentators covering the various singing competitions at which the Bellas appear. Higgins’ character’s snarky, sexist, racist observations may be politically incorrect, but they strike comedy gold.

The real “star” of the show, however, is its director. Making her feature debut behind the camera, Elizabeth Banks joins a very exclusive club—alongside Angelina Jolie and Jodie Foster—of actresses who’ve moved successfully into an almost wholly male-dominated domain, taken control of a major motion picture and made all the pieces fit—and work—together. Bravo, Ms. Banks!

It’s not quite as fresh as the original, but Pitch Perfect 2 is still a bright, light, fem-centric frolic of music and goofy fun for anyone who likes their laughter with a peppy soundtrack of razzle-dazzle a ca-showmanship.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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