“Top Five” Review

Top Five is the third film Chris Rock has written, directed and starred in. Now at age 40, Rock has crafted a comedy that is a rather personal story. It’s not quite his autobiography picture, but it rings with so many awkward truths and concerns for a comedian who pines for the better days. His character of Andre Allen is a comedian who no longer feels funny as he directly tells some hecklers on the street. And yet everyone seems to want him to be funny as they call him out for his highest-grossing film character which he woefully regrets playing.

There’s a definite comparison between Rock’s role as the zebra Marty in the Madagascar pictures and his Top Five persona’s notable performance as Hammy the cop bear. He probably feels the same aggravation with bystanders shouting “Afro Circus!” as they spout his Hammy catchphrase “It’s Hammy time!” in this movie. The biggest difference being that his Madagascar character doesn’t have a beer named after him (I hope). He desperately tries to distance himself with more serious roles as he plays the lead in a Django Unchained revision of history. But all any of the radio interviewers seem to want to talk about is when there will be a Hammy the Bear 4. He cares so little for these interviews he actually plays video games while delivering one over the phone.

But then New York Times reporter Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson) manages to be the most honest person he’s met. After some squabbling about their interview, they soon hit it off big with true stories of their similar paths. Both of them have been alcoholics and have some stories to tell about their experiences. The sex they’ve had has been strange and awkward which they don’t feel as embarrassed sharing with one another. These two are destined for one another, but still have a few more disclosures to get out of their system before they can make that leap. Namely, Andre has to find a way to deal with his staged marriage to a power-hungry celebrity.

Though very meta in how the story mirrors Rock’s feelings about stardom, the movie is still very funny in its own right for hitting several notes. When Andre hangs around a crowded room of his family, they crack all sorts of rips on each other about their shortcomings that they all seem to take in stride. When Andre talks with Chelsea about his past, he leaves in every nasty detail about his most awkward parties. There’s even some dropping of the curtain as when Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler and Whoopi Goldberg appear as themselves to give Andre some marriage advice. The best they can muster is don’t get caught cheating and have the wife sign a prenup.

Speaking of such stars, there are plenty of surprise cameos that include Kevin Hart, JB Smoove and Tracy Morgan amid many more. All of them get their moments to shine without feeling too out-of-place for the story. Though I have to admit one of the most hilarious moments was watching DMX try to sing outside his comfort zone in a horribly off-key manner. But the pleasing cap to the film is seeing Chris Rock finally get back on a stage and perform some stand-up comedy. He certainly hasn’t lost his touch as a thought-provoking and edgy comedian who pushes buttons and makes you laugh. If there were any doubt that Chris Rock is losing his true sense of humor that made him an icon of Saturday Night Life and the stand-up circuit, Top Five is proof that he is still alive and well.

Top Five is some of Chris Rock’s best work in a long time, due in part to writing what he knows best: himself. It harkens back to a sense of classic Chris with the type of comedy he should be doing more of. If you miss that version that was buried after years of Madagascar sequels and Adam Sandler romps, this is the movie to renew your faith in the comedian.

“The Interview” (2014) Review

After all the controversy over the Sony hacks and North Korea threatening America if they released The Interview into theaters, is this comedy any good? While it’s certainly nowhere near the level of controversial buzz it generated, yes, it was a funny picture. It will not be fondly remembered as the satire that stabbed violently at the ordeal of North Korea with telling wit, but did manage to be humorous for what it wanted to be. Given Seth Rogen’s previous comedic projects (This is the End), it wasn’t exactly aiming for the furthest heights of satire.

That being said, there is some cleverness given to its semi-meta premise. James Franco plays Dave Skylark, a talk show host that thrives on the most scandal-worthy conversations with celebrities. Eminem comes on the program to reveal that he’s homosexual and his lyrics were acting as clues for these years. But all these interviews to little satiate his producer/friend Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen) and his thirst to produce better television. Seeking to be more professional, the two end up landing the most exclusive of interviews with North Korean leader Kim Jung-un (Randall Park) in his native country. Of course, acquiring such exclusivity attracts the CIA that want Dave and Aaron to act as secret agents and take out the dictator.

The humor for this let’s-kill-a-dictator plot is on par with Rogen’s line of comedy. There are no shortage of weed and penis jokes in stock to please the most bro-worthy of college boys. Foreign objects are placed inside rears and limbs are severed in the name of shock. But when the script can pull itself away from a-typical low-brow, there are a few nuggets of insightful satire on North Korea. The Korean children bred and conditioned for entertainment play guitars for their guests with disgustingly perfected smiles. The grocery store Kim stages for his visitors is a fake which makes for a great reveal once James Franco finds himself wronged. Throughout their stay, Franco believes all of Kim’s words while Rogen politely nods along being aware of all his tricks. It’s a predictable, but playful enough dynamic for the dolt and the straight man.

The comedy is somewhat grounded by an arc for Dave and Kim. The two find themselves developing a friendship in their manchild lifestyles of too much play and a want to be taken seriously. I was rather surprised at how much the movie held back in transforming Kim into a goof – thanks to both the script and Randall Park’s performance. He’s certainly silly the way he favors Katey Perry as his music-to-drive-tanks-to, but rarely over the top with emotions and secrets. If the real Kim Jong-un favors the presence of Dennis Rodman, being in possession of a Katey Perry song seems very plausible.

There’s a romance between Seth Rogen and a female NK soldier, but it’s mostly background dressing for Rogen to get in a few laughs as the nervous spy. As Franco is laid back and easy-going as he grows to love Park’s Kim, Rogen gets to do most of the spy work with his mishandling of secret weapons. He even wedges in a few fight scenes since I swear it must be a requirement in his contract that he does some slapstick.

Perhaps it’s just all the controversy surrounding the movie’s release, but it felt as though the satire should have gone a bit further. Seth Rogen and his co-director Evan Goldberg spent a large amount of time doing research on this subject from as far back as when Kim Jong-ill was still alive. It’s a little disappointing that after all that work and a desire to make something a little more relevant of the times, the end result is one that fills in most of its blanks with toilet humor. Rather than have more fun with focusing on the culture of North Korea, Franco and Rogen spend most of their time bickering in a guest room about (what else?) weed and penises. Maybe they secretly knew they were treading in hot territory and wanted to play it a tad safe.

While The Interview doesn’t redefine Rogen and Franco’s comedy careers, it’s good for a few laughs both insightful and dumb. Most of its base humor is deserving of a chuckle and the few digs at North Korea are well-thought. For not having as much bite, there is enough satirical bark at media and dictators to offer more than I expected. To think that a nuclear war could’ve broken out over such a comedy is more laughable for how there was such a big stir over such a low-brow farce. There’s also of bit of reflection in the character considering North Korea has made a multitude of propaganda films, but one suggestive piece of satire on our end causes outrage. Art reflects life – not that I’d considered The Interview a piece of art. It does rhyme with fart though.

“Birdman” Review

In the very first shot of Birdman, we see a fireball descend from the sky. The movie then cuts to Michael Keaton’s character Riggan Thompson levitating in his dressing room in nothing but his underwear. His grisly voice can be heard and although his back is to the camera we can tell it is not his natural voice. The voice remarks “How did we end up here? This place is horrible; smells like balls.” As we soon learn, Riggan is in a terrible place: a theater filled with people just as egotistical as himself. But this is his own grave that he dug so deep he can’t help but laugh to the bottom when the dirt entombs him. And we the audience are taken along on this rollercoaster of a maddening ride through his messed up mind and the destructive personalities surrounding him.

Riggan Thompson is a washed up actor who used to be well known in the 1990’s as the star of the Birdman superhero movies. The poster of him in the Birdman costume looms over his dressing room as a painful reminder of what he used to be. On his TV, an entertainment report focuses on Robert Downey Junior’s Iron Man franchise being a billion dollar success. It’s another life Riggan loathes, regrets and envies. Birdman now haunts his mind as another character, beating down his own ego as he tries to force Riggan back onto the easy street of doing superhero movies.

Birdman is the little voice of Riggan’s doubt that he is not a stage actor, writer or director. He constantly questions why he bothers trying to create a stage production of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. Riggan is constantly at battle with this aspect of his psyche that has made him so far gone he starts hallucinating superpowers. In private, we see him fling objects around his dressing room with his mind. On the streets of New York City, he soars above the masses like a graceful bird. The next thing he knows, his dressing room is in shambles or he’s standing on top of a building ready to plunge. He doesn’t relay his personal demons to anyone he works with and the few he does brushes it off as jitters.

Having once been admired in the spotlight, Riggan’s respect has diminished in his inner circle. His daughter turned assistant (Emma Stone) has a bitter disrespect for being ignored by her dad as a child and into adulthood. His new lead actor (Edward Norton) looks down on Riggan being a man of the stage directed by a man of the silver screen. His lead actress and love interest Laura is bitter and torn about them not being able to have kids. His lawyer Jake is so angrily concerned with the bottom line that he is more than willing to lie his ass off to Riggan just to get the show off the ground. And even the local critic Tabitha despises the man so much she flat-out tells him she’ll write a scathing review of his play before she witnesses one scene.

Why does Riggan surround himself with such detrimental characters to his psyche and bank account? He needs them. Without them, he would have no reason to climb, no reason to bleed and no play to create. They are the challenge that reminds him of how alive he needs to be for the greatness he hopes to achieve.

The cast of the movie is perfectly playing to their personal strengths. One has to wonder how much of Keaton’s performance is based off his personal experience playing Batman in the Tim Burton movies. While arguing with his Birdman persona about how he cannot return to the superhero movie game, he shouts “it’s not 1992 anymore” referring to the last time Keaton portrayed Batman in Batman Returns (1992). He then lifts up his shirt in the mirror to display everything that he’s become from his scalp to his belly comparing himself to a “turkey with Leukemia.” He even mentions to interviewers in the film his reasoning for passing on Birdman 4, possibly referring to Keaton’s true reasoning for not going along on with the other two Batman films of the 1990’s.

Edward Norton also plays a bit of a meta character in the way he nearly destroys the production with his backstage and onstage tempers. He challenges Riggan in rehearsals, throws a drunken tirade during a preview showing, wrestles Riggan to the floor in the break room and even goes so far as to nearly rape one of the female actors on stage in a bedroom scene. And yet he seems to merely be playing the role of the diva until he retreats to the roof for a cigarette where he unloads his honesty on Riggan’s daughter. He laments how he’s never himself until he’s on stage. It’s possible he’s never himself similar to the way Peter Sellers joked that he had his true personality surgically removed.

Birdman was directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, best known for his “trilogy of death” that included Amores perros (2001), 21 Grams (2003) and Babel (2006). All three of those films were told in a non-linear, anthology format of connecting stories. While those were emotional journeys of trying to find life after death, Birdman attempts to find some life before death. Or maybe life during death as there are many who theorize Riggan officially kills himself at several points in the picture and that the final act is his own purgatory vision. Whatever your theory, Birdman is an infatuating and dizzying character drama that I will absolutely love examining and dissecting for years to come.

“Dear White People” Review

Dear White People is one of the best films of 2014 because it tackles a new form of racism. The safe Ivy League campus of which the story takes place breeds the type of racism that is more subtle and creeps into your skin where it festers into an almost invisible hate. It’s easy to spot racism when it presents itself in the form of the Klu Klux Klan, Nazis, blackface, old-world stereotypes, slavery and “the big N.” Those are big targets easy enough for any reasonable person to nail with a palpable hit. It’s quite another thing to find a way to deal with racism in the form of media, elections, tribalism and romance. These are not so easy to spot and even harder to resolve. Perhaps they can never be resolved.

This becomes painfully apparent when one of the school chairs remarks that there is no more racism in America anymore (“except for Mexicans”). From his perspective, racism is dead especially for these privileged kids. He doesn’t spot any lynching, fragrant uses of the N word, banning others for their skin color or a vulgar play of stereotypes in sight. But racism doesn’t come in such simple packages and cannot be dismissed simply because the biggest issues have been quelled.

The film takes a look at the subject from a micro level, following four very different black students on campus. The centerpiece is Samantha White, the loud and proud racially-motivated radio host and filmmaking student. She writes a book of black people observations on what makes a positive African American role model and what constitutes a walking stereotype. Her initial film project is The Rebirth of a Nation, a modern role-reversal of D.W. Griffith’s blatantly racist film The Birth of a Nation (1915).

Sam’s tactics on the subject are strictly eye-for-an-eye. But her path is built on a shaky foundation. When she applies to be the head of a local fraternity, she only does so to rile the masses. She does not expect to win and when she actually does so there is panic in her mind just as prominent as her opponent’s. The added burden coupled with her school work, radio show, secret white boyfriend and medical issues at home start to make her pillars crack. When she’s on the radio, ranting and classifying the racist world she perceives, Sam is calmly and casually in control. When she receives news about her dad’s illness or is challengingly questioned by her caucasian partner, she’s a mess and the us-versus-them mentality begins to display its ugliness of separation.

Other characters we focus on go to the other end of the spectrum not so much by choice, but by design. Colandrea Conners, or Coco as she would prefer to be known virally, is obsessed with becoming a celebrity achieving reality show status. But Coco is not exactly what a hunting producer is seeking. Namely, the black producer wants somebody more in-your-face with the culture and Coco tries too hard to shun her ghetto roots. He finds himself more interested by Sam’s speeches than Coco’s talking head videos on YouTube. Jealous and willing to do anything for the attention, she rants against Sam White and immediately generates a favoring with both the producer and white college students. We can see this is not entirely what Coco wants to say or do, but she carries on believing it’s the only way to get anywhere in the lime light.

The most interesting character to examine in the movie is Lionel, a gay black student with a large curly afro (which curious white girls can’t help but play with). Lionel does not choose a side in the racial debate and is just not sure of his place in the world yet. Fraternities lock him out of the house and treat him as both the outcast nerd and the gay mascot, both titles he sighs at with disappointment.

An enigmatic editor takes notice of Lionel’s writing and hires him for the local paper. But is the editor interested in him more as a writer or just the color of his skin? This question is raised even further when the two of them enter into a relationship. Does he see Lionel as a boyfriend or his black boyfriend that he can tout as a point for the qualifications of racially tolerant white people? In one of the most hurtful moments for him, one of the editors earnestly refers to Lionel as being black, but “not really black.”

Dear White People tackles modern racism in a way that is intoxicatingly honest, smart and uncompromising. It shares an undeniable similarity to Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing (1989) not for its subject matter, but for its characters. There are no good or bad characters in this film; just ignorant ones. The ignorance goes all the way around displaying characters who would seem politically correct discovering the big kinks in their armor when the bullets of racism fly.

Director Justin Simien makes his debut with this feature and he proves that he not only has a lot to say, but a knack for placing all those thoughts and commentaries up on the screen. The college life is perfectly portrayed in the awkward quiet moments in addition to the hustling and bustling of campus activities. Sam argues with her white boyfriend all the way back to her dorm room and even continue the conversation when they’re alone, kissing and undressing. There plenty of beautiful shots in the bedroom that capitalize on the young intimate experience. Brief shots of the clothes on the floor or a ripped open condom wrapper stick out as we witness the characters basking the afterglow letting their inner thoughts leak out.

This is not an easy comedy, a simple examination of racism or a one-note societal commentary. For being so daring and off-beat, it strikes a genuine chord as an awkward picture that may make you squirm, but also make you more thoughtful and vocal about race. The film ends with real photos of “black themed” parties at college campuses featuring white college students in rapper garb, donning gold chains and even covering themselves in black face. These are present to remind us that this is not just an isolated incident within an Ivy League microcosm that racism is still alive. The racism that plagues these upper-class colleges may be lesser than that of the inner city or ghettos, but it still exists and is just as ugly in the way it eats away at individuals.

“Space Station 76” Review

The awkward indie comedy scene need not be relegated to the hipster landscape. ‘Space Station 76’ defies that sub-genre by injecting a similar writing tone into the setting of an isolated space satellite, ala ‘Space: 1999’. Rather than filling this retro vision of the future with stock characters constantly flipping switches and speaking technobabble, this is a collective of bitter and tired people bred from the sterile and lonely environment they occupy. It’s that harsh light of insecure reality shining down an otherwise whimsical location which gives the film its very weird and watchable charm.

Introduced into the hive of silent turmoil is the new co-pilot Jessica (Liv Tyler), a genuinely sweet personality that does her best to make friends on the station. She tries to maintain the station’s safety, but the drunken Captain Glenn (Patrick Wilson) dismisses her words as he struggles to deal with his closet homosexuality. She does seek some kinship with residents Ken and his daughter Sunshine, but is viciously despised by Ken’s drugged up wife Misty. While the trio of good-natured individuals struggle to keep a stiff upper lift, the adulterers of the station battle their own personal demons through drinks, smokes and robot-operated psychiatry. They hate their jobs, their relationships and the lives they find themselves saddled with out in space.

This is the type of film that sort of catches you off guard luring you in for what may seem like a campy satire of  ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ that ends up being a rather peculiar dramedy. You can feel seething hatred and jealousy emitting from this group within the hospital-style interiors.  Even within the characters that seem more pure like Ted, there is an almost haunting presence of temptation. He looks out into space and fantasizes about a naked woman within a star. Sunshine discovers a pornographic magazine in her parent’s dresser and begins to have doubts about her body. These scenes may make the film seem like a depressing journey, but I found it more intriguing for the fact that in a wondrous future people still have the same social problems. A space station free of alien monsters and looming intergalactic threats breeds its own difficulties. It doesn’t help that the robot they all rely on for psychiatric help is only programmed to respond to certain key words and doesn’t actually help them.

With so much vitriol, it doesn’t seem like the best idea for a comedy. In fact, it’s almost hatable for the first act. There are some redeeming factors that prevents it from being completely soulless as with Sunshine’s anti-gravity game in which her dad cheers her on as she float around the room. And the inevitable climax which could’ve easily taken a disastrous turn winds up being a more touching ending that brings the characters back to what’s really important. This is a very strange type of genre blending that I can’t exactly say I loved, but didn’t really despise all that much either. I got a few laughs even though it was mostly that awkward kind of amusement that comes from dark improv. I had some fun following these flawed characters even though most of their issues seem to pile up too quickly. The real deal breaker for me were the special effects and set design of a space station that embodies the 1970’s era. Popped collars, brown wallpaper and Beta tapes litter the halls of a very familiar looking design for a livable space environment. It’s those moments that give the film its true edge of speculating a future with more advancements in everything except people.

“School Dance” Review

I may have been out of the schools for over a decade, but I sure don’t remember any school dances like the one in this film. Actually that title isn’t even accurate as the key event is a school lock-in. That being said, I’ve been to school lock-ins as well that were nothing like this. Even within the cartoonishly satirical world weaved around this event, this is a movie that defies logic on such a ridiculous level that even over-the-top high school comedies of the 1980’s would blush at such a product. That’s to say nothing of the fact that it is disgustingly vulgar, sexist and racially backwards for what is supposed to be a comedy. This is a film that demands you not only check your brain at the door, but your sanity as well.

The only character who seems to be sane is Jason, our teenage protagonist seeking to be initiated into a popular clique while at the same time trying to acquire his true love. And, wouldn’t you know it, his two issues happen to collide as the only way to be accepted by the social group he seeks is to retrieve a woman’s panties. Who better than your true love, right? The best time for swiping a pair of female undergarments happens to be the school lock-in in which all the students drink, smoke and have sex. The teachers don’t give two damns seeing as how they’re very poor stereotypes of adults drowned in the rap lifestyle. The principal does nothing but talk about women as bitches and the white, female teacher is constantly talking about rap music.

What makes matters worse is that the movie tries to capitalize on typical high school plots without any rhyme or reason for getting from point A to B. The school lock-in happens to have a rap battle where the grand prize is $2000 which works out nicely for a student who desperately needs that exact amount of cash. Where did the money come from and why is the school holding such a contest? Beats me. The female love interest also happens to be the relation of a rival Mexican gang of Jason’s would-be clique. I’m sure this was intended to give a sort of Romeo & Juliet angle to the love quest, but it’s treated more as a comical turf war as if it were from another terrible movie. At one point the gang of Mexicans smash a man hole cover on a black gang member’s face repeatedly while he calls for help from his wimpy gang members. The assaulted man ends up with little more than a few cuts on his face. This is when the movie crosses over from a real high school comedy to a pure cartoon. Nothing seems at stake until the final act where somebody gets shot on school grounds and it’s apparently a laughable moment.

The most insulting thing about the movie is that it’s a mess of stereotypes. All the girls at school are highly sexualized, the black characters are all seen as slanderous gangsters and the white cops are dumb racists who fall for easy traps like pot brownies. It’s moments like this where I have to ask myself if this sort of dated perception of the world is still funny. It’s certainly not challenging. The way the movie was directed is almost like MTV vomited all over the cut which seems to randomly insert rap music videos. And I don’t mean to imply that the film is a musical because it’s not. The movie has far too many long stretches where everything will stop for one rap song that comes out of nowhere with hardly any relation to the story. The high school tropes are just awfully inserted as well when Jason does the tired narration of the high school cliques from the sexy ladies to the nerds. What importance does introducing the nerds have on the plot? Nothing since they’re never used. So why introduce them? And why does Patrick Warburton constantly show up in Jason’s head as his mental coach? The reasoning is just baffling.

Why include any of these elements if they’re not expanded or developed properly enough? The failure of the film to find reasoning in anything makes it feel more like a machine than a presentation. Rap music, gangster speak, sexy teens, dumb cops, gang war, high school dance, clique initiation, cut, print, grab the money, next film.

“A Million Ways to Die in the West” Review

‘A Million Way to Die in the West’ is written by, directed by and starring Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane. He chooses a decent concept for his second feature film which focuses on the nasty reality of the old west. Seth MacFarlane plays the straight man providing commentary for how this era was a terrible time for disease, corruption and violence. It’s not a bad idea for some gags, but the problem is MacFarlane grows bored of it very quickly and switches the film over to a barrage of childish gags involving bodily functions, curse words and sexual acts. But even in that arena, Seth still fails to deliver anything clever or amusing about the level of comedy. I’m trying to figure out what other project he was working on at the time that made him turn in such an uninspired script.

The story itself is nothing special. MacFarlane’s character falls for an outlaw played by Charlize Theron who helps him learn to shoot a gun so he can best a mustache salesman played by Neil Patrick Harris who is now dating his ex. And then eventually he has to face off against the ruthless traveling bad guy played by Liam Neeson. Much like the gags there is plenty of potential here that is never once tapped and he’s given nothing to work with. Much of the humor is also rather baffling and it seems like some of them may be in jokes we are not let in on.

MacFarlane even manages to find ways to completely waste cameos. Several actors reprise their roles from previous films and don’t really have anything funny to say or do. They just sort of show up to make a movie reference and then leave. Is this really what passes for comedy? I suppose it has to since the dialogue jokes meander and the physical gags are just flat. What is so funny about Neil Patrick Harris pooping in to various hats for an extended period of time? Is it the length that’s funny or the punchline where he trips over one of the hats spilling excrement all over the road?

‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’ is vulgar, low-brow and sometimes offensive as it struggles to whip up some laughs. But what’s more offensive is that this is a film that didn’t feel the need to try. It didn’t want to try to stick with the satire of the old west. Instead it just wants to make some toilet jokes and that’s supposed to be enough. The devoted followers of MacFarlane’s comedy work deserve so much more than what this film has to offer. You can live a long and healthy live if you never see this sad excuse for a Western comedy.

“A Haunted House 2” Review

‘A Haunted House 2’ is the biggest middle finger of a sequel I’ve ever seen. It refuses to take any new chances, try out new material or even write something different. The term rehash would be too kind in describing this “horror satire” which struggles more than any other film of this sub-genre for a laugh.

Marlon Wayans returns as the overly-talkative protagonist once again thrown into a creepy house where haunted hijinks ensue. The plot plays out as a direct sequel with his character dumping his previous love interest for a new white wife. I mention she’s white because his character will not shut up about how taboo it is to have an interracial relationship. Even though she tries to reassure him that it’s not a huge deal in the 21st century, he keeps harping on it. Here is a perfect opportunity missed for comedy as Wayans could’ve been seen as a backwards man alone in his misconceptions of the world he bases on stereotypes. Sadly, he is entirely justified by the usual tired and often racist depictions of different races in this picture.

The horror parodies are nothing all that special. There’s a running satire of the plot from 2012’s ‘Sinister’ with the killer from that film failing at his murders and getting assaulted by his victims. It’s mildly amusing as a sort of revenge against horror films, but then again this is nothing new for the sub-genre. The longest running joke involves the creepy doll from ‘The Conjuring’ which Wayans has a strange love affair with. This is a film where for five minutes we watch Wayans go off on an inanimate object and have sexual relations with. I never once cracked a smile during these scenes as they just never seemed to end despite the quick-cut editing style. That’s an even creepier thought to imagine there is more footage of Wayans making out with a wooden doll. This is the cry of someone who desperately needs a writer since he clearly can’t handle improv comedy.

The cherry on the top of this awful mess is the heavy racism. Wayans has written an extremely backwards world where Mexicans are gardeners, white people refuse to even acknowledge black people and African Americans are depicted either as gangsters or drug abusers. Needless to say, this is not biting or challenging comedy. Most of the film just seems to be improv from Marlon Wayans flopping around set with his loud and often annoying mannerism. The result is a film that is unfunny, tired, offensive and just not an enjoyable experience making it one of the worst films of 2014 by far.

“Blended” Review

Adam Sandler’s new romantic comedy Blended is a cliché and formulaic romp with that touch of Sandler’s juvenile wit. To his credit, this film isn’t anywhere near as offensive as his earlier works like That’s My Boy, but that’s hardly a glowing recommendation. I guess I’m just pleased that there was nothing heavily racist, sexist or foul this time around. That still doesn’t excuse the tired comedy and sitcom level writing for this feature film.

Sandler and Drew Barrymore both play single parents with multiple kids who are somehow able to have such easy jobs as being a closet designer and working at Dick’s Sporting Goods. I’d love to know which retail position there allows you to afford such a large house. Not only do they apparently have enough to support their families, but apparently enough to whisk themselves away to an African vacation for seemingly no reason! But they just happen to end up together at a couples themed family resort where the reluctant parties have to share a romantic suite. Thus begins their African adventure where Sandler and Barrymore learn to connect with the kids and each other through some painfully written resort activities intended to be romantic.

Blended was actually shot in Africa in which we are treated to some beautiful locations, but the movie fails to take full advantage of that. Why would go to all the trouble of filming in Africa with real animals when the film resorts to computer generated monkeys to play musical instruments. Come to think of it why would you even want to have computer generated monkeys playing music in the first place? I guess it’s just a-typical of Sandler’s blend with his trademark sight gags and verbal wordplay. And of course it just wouldn’t be a Sandler film without some potty jokes.

Sandler and Barrymore are decent as the cute couple we know that will end up together, but the rest of the characters are all gimmicks and cartoon characters. The kids are okay actors, but they only really serve one purpose to push to the two leads together and then just sort of disappear. Several of Sandler’s usual troupe of actors pop up as well for some moments of awkward and ineffectual bits. Terry Crews keeps popping up as the singing narrator that everybody can see and hear. The first two times it happens is mildly amusing. The fifth time it happens is tedious. After all these attempts at making the film funny, ‘Blended’ tries to turn itself around by making the relationship more emotional for the kids. But since it doesn’t play this card until the third act, you feel nothing for this new development so late in the game.

What perplexes me most about this movie is just who is its target audience. It’s far too childish for a romantic comedy and too adult to be a family comedy. I can only assume that it was intended for young adults and college kids to see on a date night. But, I don’t know, I’d like to think that those audiences are smart enough to know that this film is bland, tired and not challenging or entertaining enough for what they want out of a movie. It’s not the worst film Sandler has ever made, but it’s far, far, far, far far away from being a film I’d want to come back to again.

“Zero Charisma” Review

While shows like The Big Bang Theory seem to emphasize that geek is chic, Zero Charisma doesn’t shy away from the destructive personalities of the culture. It may seem like a dated perspective, but the truth is anyone who frequents comic & game shops is aware of this exact individual. He’s the self-righteous game master who thinks so highly of himself that a mere pebble thrown at his towering ego will unleash a storm of dork fury. We may choose not to acknowledge him in the “cool geek” crowd, but he still exists and makes for the perfect destructive character in this film.

Scott doesn’t have much to look forward to in his life. He works part-time at a Chinese take-out joint, lives with his bitter grandma and his flaky mother is attempting to sell her house to pay off her debt. The only thing Scott lives for is his original tabletop roleplaying game which he spends the majority of his time assembling each week for his gaming group. When one of his members departs due to marriage problems, he seek to bring a new player into the fold. Enter Miles, the hipster geek who happens to be an outgoing journalist and comic artist. He is charming enough to work his way into the hearts of the D&D group and begins taking the gaming group in a different direction. It isn’t long before his warm personality and talent breed jealousy within Scott turning him into his rival. And with everything else in his life going downhill, Scott’s rage boils over into insanity as he alienates and attacks everyone in his wake. He can start fights so effortlessly over the most trivial of matters. This soon turns into a battle of the casual geek versus the hardcore geek.

This film is essentially a portrait of a self-destructive individual born within the realm of basement dwelling fantasy lovers. He has become so dedicated to his craft and routine that any altercation sparks his own personal war. This makes him both frightening and hilarious. You hate to see somebody go through such anguish, but you also feel that he’s painted himself into this corner. And you just can’t help but laugh at the fact that Scott lacks the proper mentality to deal with these issues. His life is a mess and he lacks the tools to clean it up. This does, however, provide an interesting enough conclusion that doesn’t take the Taxi Driver way out. Rather, it brings an air of uncomfortable truth and resolution to social relationships in these small-knit communities. Scott is given some heart, but just enough so he doesn’t make any wild leaps in personality.

The script for this project has a biting and insightful wit as when Scott grows irritated by Miles showing him up with his geek knowledge. Scott claims that arguing over starship speeds is irrelevant, but Miles brings references and math into the equation to solve it. Scott at one point claims he was the original writer of The Matrix to which Miles buries his statement in the dirt with several sources. There’s even some strange and uncomfortable bits as when Scott attempts to pop a zit on his pal’s forehead in a rape-esque moment. Scenes like that took me out of the picture, but the hilarious dialogue that goes on at these D&D gaming sessions kept winning me back over. In its own morbid little way, Zero Charisma is a triumph of nerd depiction that I sure hope echos within the various communities to which it plays off of.