Save Mindy!

The Mindy ProjectAs if cold, dark winter nights aren’t bad enough, this week Fox released the news that, due to low ratings, as of January 28th, The Mindy Project will go on hiatus until April – essentially bumping it from the winter schedule.

This is horrible news for Mindy lovers.  The comedienne’s sitcom is one of the funniest on television and by far the best on Tuesday nights, a night filled with good comedies.

This is my plea to readers to catch up on this hilarious, hero-less 30 minute comedy teeming with celebrity guest stars that actually complement the show.  Trust me, your tv lineup will be better for it.

In case you haven’t checked it out, here are some highlights from this season:

Trailers I’m Obsessed With: The Grand Budapest Hotel

From my favourite storyteller.

I was so caught up watching the trailer, admiring the poster and reading everything I could get my hands on about Wes Anderson’s new film that I forgot to post the trailer here.

If I was a cartoon you would see hearts in my eyes.

Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Ralph Fiennes, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson, Léa Seydoux, Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum and many, many more.

Release Date: March 7th, 2014

Don Jon (2013)

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Directed by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Written by: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlet Johansson, Julianne Moore, Brie Larson, Tony Danza and Glenne Headly.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut is an interesting one.  To its credit it is new, interesting and entertaining.  Gordon-Levitt clearly has a message as he plays the eponymous Jon who escapes into his obsession with porn rather than connect with another person or learn about himself.  I give credit to Gordon-Levitt for making me think during a film that could have been reduced to a romantic comedy with a twist.  At the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a self-indulgent project or a meditation on isolation and the misrepresentation of relationships in a sex obsessed culture.  Where Gordon-Levitt falters is in his character portrayal but, overall, I was impressed with his writing, direction and wit.

What I liked: Gordon-Levitt’s use of repetition works.  His narrative framework is based around a series of mundane events – home, porn, sex, clubbing, the gym, cleaning, church and family dinner – that convey his character’s disconnectedness and masked despair.  Gordon-Levitt also conveys his ideas with an artistic flare that is thought-provoking, witty and fearlessly uncomfortable.

What I didn’t like:  His characters, while at times endearing and relate-able, are no more than caricatures, which is probably why he is being taken to task for what the Italian American One Voice Coalition believes are “racist stereotypes” rather than developed characters.   I think Gordon-Levitt pulls off his Jersey Shore-type character with flare, because it is so outside our perception of him as an actor that beneath his empty façade we recognize the scrawny do-gooder of 50/50, (500) Days of Summer or even Batman.  The rest of the characters offer no such recognizable depth other than Julianne Moore who escapes the stereotype and offers the real soul of the film.  To be fair, Scarlett Johansson has fun with her role and is both convincing and comical as the romance obsessed love interest.  While I imagine creating such extreme characters was the point, I still can’t quite figure out why since many of us ‘real folk’ often feel the same way or limit ourselves to routine so I can see how the message was lost.

My rating:  An admirable first effort and worth watching, because it is new.

My IMDb rating:  7/10      tomato: 83%

Fall TV 2013: New Sitcoms

After a raucous wedding weekend all I wanted to do on Monday night was to curl up on the couch and watch something light.  It turns out I don’t have a Monday watch list and there wasn’t anything that caught my attention.  Instead, I decided to surf the net for some new comedies I’d heard about but had yet to watch and see if there was a hidden gem in the mix – which is rarely the case.

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First, I found Package Deal, a new sitcom about a girl who has to accept her boyfriend’s oddball brothers for the sake of their relationship.  Sadly, it was so bad I turned it off after the first few lead-in jokes that were so hammered by a laugh track that I was cringing before the opening credits.  I say sadly, because it’s a Canadian show and we, as a country, can do much, much better. Canadians are funny. Shame on us.

My rating: I hope it doesn’t last.

My IMDB rating: 1/10.

This also led me to wonder why comedies are still using a laugh track.  Doesn’t everyone find stock laughter annoying by now? Sure, there are a lot of successful sitcoms that used (and I use the past tense purposely because I don’t find The Big Bang Theory or Two and a Half Men funny. At all.) the laugh track to their advantage: Seinfeld, Will and Grace, Friends – but is it still relevant or even necessary as tv enters a new Golden Age of creativity? I think not.  Case and point was the next show I found:

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Mom is also a new sitcom with a laugh track about dysfunctional moms played by two actresses that I really like: Alison Janney and Anna Faris.  Faris is a talented comedian who, I feel, is forever dragged down by bad material.  This happens to be more of the same.  Faris’ performance is decent but completely ill-timed with the laugh track.  Only Alison Janney, a consummate professional, is so natural in front of the multiple camera format and laugh track that she provides the only humourous moments of the show.  I lasted into the second episode because I wanted so much to like it but seriously, the laugh track is  doing the show no favours and I feel it would work better without it.

My rating: I wouldn’t be surprised if this show came into its own but so far I’m not interested.

My IMDB rating: 4/10

DADS

Finally, in typical Seth McFarlane fashion, the laugh track in his new sitcom Dads is used ironically, or at least I hope it is.  The jokes are so Republican (read offensive) or so not funny that the canned bubbles of laughter that burst at the predictable punchlines is almost funny in itself. Almost.  Again, a talented cast, including one of my favourites Giovanni Ribisi, is completely wasted and I couldn’t make it through the episode despite one or two moments that were genuinely funny.

My rating: I expect more MacFarlane.

My IMDB rating: 3.5/10

There are only two new comedies that I have been able to stomach this Fall season and neither of them have laugh tracks.

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The first, The Crazy Ones, from super comedy creator David E. Kelley, stars Robin Williams as an ad agency exec who might be losing his mind or his touch.  The show is funny because Robin Williams is funny and watching James Wolk’s character Zach Cooper try to keep up with him and roll with his frenetic improv is magic.  I have never been a fan of Sarah Michelle Geller’s acting and this show has not changed my opinion.  While I understand that she is meant to be the voice of reason, either it’s her performance that is lacking or the writing because her ‘I can’t believe he just did that’ facial expression was so overused to pass an incorrect judgement on Williams’ brilliance – a trite cliché for storytelling in general – that I hoped for scenes without her.  That said, the show itself and overall cast (that includes an alumni from the Mindy Project and the New Adventures of Old Christine) has the potential to become very funny.

My rating: Wolk and Williams are worth the 30 minutes.

My IMDB rating: 6.5 but I guarantee it will be up to a 7 before Christmas.

brooklyn nine nine

Finally, Andy Samberg’s departure from SNL has led to Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  For me the premise, a sitcom, cop show, is funny.  Andy Samberg is funny.  Some of the characters do a good job of getting some laughs but generally without Samberg the show would falter.  His timing is impeccable and it seems that this is another show that could grow into its skin as the cast becomes better at feeding off each other or as the writing grows stronger so it doesn’t rely so heavily on delivery.

My rating: I’m looking forward to this show getting good.

My IMDB rating: 6.5

Thanks Fall Season of New Pilots but until The Crazy Ones or Brooklyn Nine-Nine have a few episodes under their belt, I think I’ll stick with what I know and love:

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Trailers I Like: Bad Grandpa

This was the funniest part of my evening at the movies, including the movie which was We’re the Millers.


Directed by: Jeff Tremaine
Written by: Spike Jonze, Johnny Knoxville and Jeff Tremaine
Starring: Johnny Knoxville (as an 86 year old grandfather), Jackson Nicoll and poor, innocent Americans.

A Jackass movie that preys on people’s moral and ethical standards for a laugh, a welcome change from self-mutilation and violence. The trailer had me in stitches.

Release date:  October 25, 2013.

Trailers I like: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Feels like magic.


Directed by: Ben Stiller
Written by: Steve Conrad, based on the short story by James Thurber
Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Sean Penn, Kathryn Hahn and Shirley MacLaine

I haven’t been a Ben Stiller fan for quite some time, at least not in anything other than a cameo here and there.  This, however, is the kind of movie I love.  Rooted in reality, the movie unfolds like a dream-scape highlighted by wonderful disparate images of embodied imagination.  Really, who doesn’t fantasize about Sean Penn calling to you?  Fingers crossed it’s as heartfelt as the Of Monsters and Men song that scores the trailer.

Release Date:  Christmas Day

The Heat (2013)

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Directed by:  Paul Feig
Written by:  Katie Dippold
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Demian Bichir, Marlon Wayans, Michael Rapaport, Jane Curtin, Spoken Reasons, Taran Killam and Bill Burr.

I love Melissa McCarthy.  From her turn in Bridesmaids, to her two hilarious gigs hosting SNL, McCarthy had me in stitches.  Admittedly, I shied away from Identity Thief certain I would be disappointed (even though I love the cast) by the excessive slapstick shtick that I assumed would substitute for storytelling (the reviews lead me to believe I was right to avoid it).  With The Heat, I was unsure.  I give credit to the preview for not spoiling the movie’s funniest moments, but at the same time I felt it protected its jokes by solely promoting its cast; so much so that I had little desire to see another buddy cop flick about two mismatched cops forced to work together and take down a drug lord, in what looked like a carbon copy of everything that came before.   I’m happy to report, I was not disappointed.

What I liked:  McCarthy is hilarious, and arguably carries the movie, as the foul-mouthed, salt-of-the-earth cop who enjoys the misfortunes of others.  Bullock is perfect as the FBI agent and McCarthy’s uptight foil.  I commend her for downplaying her role enough to give McCarthy the spotlight, in fact, I found it made her funnier.  The two have great on-screen chemistry and it’s no wonder a second movie is already in the works.

What I didn’t like:  There is nothing new here other than unique performances.  As I expected, the movie is a carbon copy of everything that came before.  What makes it funny is that this time around the two mismatched cops are women, which offers a spectrum of reinvented jokes about the same tired scenarios.   The story takes a back seat to the slap stick humour but Bullock, a seasoned vet at this type of comedy, and McCarthy deftly endear  us to their characters.  I was also disappointed by the limited screen time for the supporting cast which could have been very funny.

Not to be missed: McCarthy’s scene with Buster Bluth (Tony Hale). Priceless.

My rating:  Women cops are funny.

IMDb: 7.1    tomato: 63%

Warm Bodies (2013)

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Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Written by: Jonathan Levine (screenplay), Isaac Marion (novel)
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, Analeigh Tipton, Rob Corddry, Dave Franco, John Malkovich and Cory Hardrict

When I talk about doing something new with a tired genre, this is exactly what I mean.  Based on Isaac Marion’s novel of the same name, Jonathan Levine’s “Zomedy” or “Zom-com” about a zombie who falls in love with a human, and the connection he tries to form with her is endearing and witty and that’s it; but that’s all it needs.   It was a pleasant surprise considering the haphazard trailer left me with no desire to see the film.

What I liked: I’ve been looking for a comedy that does nothing more than entertain.  I tried Movie 43 and turned it off after the opening scene.  I tried I Give it a Year and turned it off after 15 minutes.  But this zombie flick had just enough gore, horror, humour and romance to hook me from the opening right through to the end.  I appreciated the movie’s fast pace and Levine does a good job of keeping the focus on the love story rather than a problematic post-apocalyptic society.   Nevertheless, Levine stays true to the zombie genre but without the gore that could have made it unwatchable.  Nicholas Hoult does a credible job as the zombie R whose character comes alive through minimal facial expressions and voice-over.  Teresa Palmer plays the embattled love interest with charm and strength and the two have great on-screen chemistry.

What I didn’t like:  As I mentioned above, there really isn’t much to this movie. The zombies have no memory so the characters have no past.  The zombies can’t really speak so most of the heart comes from R’s inner thoughts and his inability to express them.  There is no real foil and no real villain but the time the two protagonists spend together moves the romance forward and that is enough to keep audiences engaged.

My rating: A perfect rainy day romance.

IMDb:  7.0       tomato: 80%

Veep (2012 – )

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Created by: Armando Iannucci
Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Anna Chlumsky, Sufe Bradshaw, Tony Hale, Reid Scott, Timothy Simons, Matt Walsh, Kevin Dunn and Gary Cole

Leave it to Armando Iannucci, the man behind the critically acclaimed BBC series The Thick of It, to add some genuine humour to the traditional American sitcom without having to copy the popular mockumentary style that has almost become a prerequisite for success (not that there’s anything wrong with that; three of my favourite comedies follow the style, if not more).  Veep is a 30 min look into the office of the first female, yet innocuous, American Vice President, Selina Meyer, played with characteristic hilarity by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and her fumbling support staff.

What I like: While most critics panned the show’s first season with reason, almost anything Julia Louis-Dreyfus does makes me laugh.  From Elaine, to Christine (in a much underrated and under watched series) and now Selina Meyer, Louis-Dreyfus manages to continually transform herself to suit her characters, an almost impossible feat for sitcom actors.   The show also brings back a loveable face in Tony Hale, of Arrested Development fame, as Meyer’s “bag man” whose character is pleasantly reminiscent of Buster Bluth.  The supporting cast is stacked with eccentric and funny characters who are constantly trying to avoid image catastrophes.  It is a winning combination.

What I don’t like:  Only through my research did I realize that what made Armando’s The Thick of It, so popular was his flagrant use of profanity that, as one critic put it, turned “swearing into poetry”.  He does the same thing here but with a lesser payoff.  The f word often substitutes for, or unnecessarily overpowers, a punch line.  Perhaps the swearing is supposed to add something to a show that fits cleanly within its genre but it does not distract us from the fact that each episode follows a formula of stock characters finding themselves in compromising situations.  However, with the White House as the backdrop the stakes are higher and funnier for each blunder, like a press release photo of a hostage recovery operation that features Meyer distracted by her phone because all the other publishable options were unflattering to the President.

My rating:   Julia raises the bar, yet again.

IMDb : 7.1         metacritic: 72%

Airs: Sundays on HBO.  Season 2 returns June 2.

The Big Wedding (2013)

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Directed by: Justin Zackham
Written by: Justin Zackham, Jean-Stéphane Bron (motion picture “Mon frère se marie”)
Starring: Robert de Niro, Susan Sarandon, Diane Keaton, Topher Grace, Katherine Heigl, Robin Williams, Amanda Seyfried, Ben Barnes

You know a movie isn’t very good when critics use ‘all star cast’ as a euphemism for no plot.  At least that’s what I discovered when I tried to find something to say about this romantic wedding comedy.  Other than the famous faces that populate it, there is absolutely nothing memorable or forgivable about this 89 minute cliche.  The worst part is that they tried to modernize a tired genre that desperately needs reinventing but forgot to update the dialogue and punch lines at the same time.

What I liked: The location is beautiful.  I wouldn’t mind getting married at the lakeside property where it was shot.  Robin Williams was sort of funny.  Topher Grace delivered a couple of funny lines.  I’m curious to know if the original French version had the same punch lines that just didn’t translate well or if Hollywood butchered what could have been a fun romp.

What I didn’t like: Everything.  From the forced story, the clichéd dialogue and expected crises, to the undedicated cast, the sloppy editing and the laboured jokes. I groaned at every new scene and rubbed my forehead with each punch line.  However, in fairness to Zackham, he clearly targeted and reached a certain audience because my theatre was roaring with laughter and I just didn’t get it.  Maybe I’m too young to appreciate the trite sex jokes delivered by Sarandon, de Niro and Keaton and felt they were too old, or respected, to be convincing.  My feeling throughout was that Zackham must cringe when he watches this film.

My rating: I wish I could unsee every minute of it.

IMDB: 5.1

Rotten Tomatoes: 8% (Yup. That’s an 8. Top critics gave it a 4%)