Tag Archives: Elizabeth Banks

The Happytime Murders (2018, Brian Henson)

The Happytime Murders is exceptionally foul and exceptionally funny. It’s set in a world where animate puppets and humans co-exist, with the human bigotry eradicated because they’ve all decided to hate on the puppets instead. There’s no explanation of how the puppets came to be or when they came to be or whatnot; they just exist. In the past, before the humans started hating on them, the puppets were entertainers who loved to dance. Now they’re all hooked on sucrose, which gets them high. It’s such intense sucrose it’d kill a human to ingest it, which both is and isn’t important to the story.

The first act sort of sets up the world—the lead, a disgraced ex-cop puppet private investigator (performed by a fantastic Bill Barretta), narrates. He’s in the City of Angels, he works out of a crappy office, he’s got a loyal human girl Friday for a secretary (Maya Rudolph, who’s also really good), and he’s trying to make things right for the downtrodden puppets. The movie opens with him getting a case from a fetching nymphomaniac puppet (Dorien Davies); it initially seems like a somewhat crude riff on a film noir, down to Barretta’s office looking like Sam Spade’s.

However, once Barretta gets to the puppet porn store, it’s clear Happytime is going a very, very, very different route. In fact, Barretta’s going to end up forgetting about client Davies because he gets wrapped up in a spree killing case where someone is targeting the puppets who used to be on a popular primetime sitcom, “The Happytime Gang.” Barretta’s involvement starts wrong place, wrong time, but then his old boss (a likable but dreadfully miscast Leslie David Baker) forces Barretta to work the case—as a consultant—with his old partner, human Melissa McCarthy.

Barretta and McCarthy used to be the best of partners, then there was a shooting gone wrong and McCarthy had Barretta not just drummed off the force but also got a law passed puppets can’t be cops. It’s unclear if the no puppet cops thing is nationwide or just L.A. The movie gives up on relevant exposition once McCarthy shows up, which is kind of fine. Todd Berger’s script has constantly hilarious moments but it’s not a good script, it just knows expertly executed puppets (by the post-Muppet Henson company no less) being inordinately obscene is going to be funny. Any deeper and Berger wouldn’t be able to handle it.

So it’s up to Barretta and McCarthy to get over their past history and solve the case. Or just survive the case, as they don’t just have to the bad guy to ferret out, they’ve also got to contend with jackass human FBI agent Joel McHale sticking his nose in. Oh, and Barretta’s ex-girlfriend, human Elizabeth Banks; he didn’t leave things quite right with her.

Mostly the movie is McCarthy mugging through scenes with puppets, aptly delivering filthy dialogue, with some nods at legitimate character development for Barretta as he reclaims his previous potential. While also delivering filthy dialogue.

It’s hilarious. McCarthy’s really good with the puppets. So good it doesn’t even matter she’s a barely shaded caricature who gets less personality in the script than Rudolph. More than Banks though, who initially seems like stunt casting, then not, then stunt casting again. Meanwhile McHale is… in a miscasting boat similar to Baker’s, but with less likability.

As far as Henson’s direction goes… well, the puppet work is outstanding. He does a great job directing the puppets. Otherwise, it’s a fairly bland effort on his part. Every shot seems constructed to be as simple as possible, which might be requisite given the puppets—the end credits show just how much work went into the production—but it’s nowhere near as enthusiastic as the movie needs. Maybe if Henson hadn’t shot it wide Panavision aspect ratio without any idea how to fill the frame; though Mitchell Amundsen’s similarly bland photography doesn’t help things. The puppetry is no doubt inventive, imaginative; the direction is neither.

The Happytime Murders isn’t a very good movie, but it’s still a somewhat awesome one. Barretta, McCarthy, and—to a smaller, but significant degree—Rudolph, make it happen.

It’s so exceptionally foul-minded, it has to be seen to be believed.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Brian Henson; screenplay by Todd Berger, based on a story by Berger and Dee Austin Robertson; director of photography, Mitchell Amundsen; edited by Brian Scott Olds; music by Christopher Lennertz; production designer, Chris L. Spellman; costume designer, Arjun Bhasin; produced by Ben Falcone, Jeffrey Hayes, Henson, and Melissa McCarthy; released by STX Entertainment.

Starring Bill Barretta (Phil Philips), Melissa McCarthy (Detective Connie Edwards), Maya Rudolph (Bubbles), Leslie David Baker (Lt. Banning), Dorien Davies (Sandra), Joel McHale (Agent Campbell), Victor Yerrid (Larry), Kevin Clash (Lyle), Drew Massey (Goofer), and Elizabeth Banks (Jenny).


Magic Mike XXL (2015, Gregory Jacobs)

Every once and a while, Magic Mike XXL throws in some vague nod towards having character development. It doesn’t. And the movie knows it doesn’t need any, but it still pretends it does. All of the characters have the same arc, with the exception of “lead” Channing Tatum. He’s only the lead because he’s Magic Mike and because he’s got the biggest romance subplot; he keeps running into Amber Heard and they awkwardly flirt. Awkwardly but with chemistry. There’s no narrative purpose to them flirting and the script doesn’t pretend there’s enough material, but XXL’s scenes run… well, extra long and so instead of witty banter, there’s charismatic silences and pauses. It’s cute. Magic Mike XXL, when it’s not being raunchy (in an adorable way), is adorable in not raunchy ways.

Anyway. Tatum. He’s the wise man of a group of male entertainers–Joe Manganiello, Kevin Nash, Matt Bomer, and Adam Rodriguez. He’s the only one who’s gotten out of the male entertaining (stripper) life, while the rest of them are all immediately going to be getting out of it. They’ve got one more big stripping convention to attend and then they’re done. It’s never exactly clear why it’s their last weekend (though Bomer at least seems like he’s sticking with it). Manganiello is going into landscape architecture, but wants to come up with trendy products. Nash wants to be a painter. Rodriguez is going to run the frozen yogurt half of a frozen yogurt slash mobile block party van (Gabriel Iglesias is his partner and the group’s emcee). Bomer wants to be an actor. All of them are terrified of their futures, but Tatum is there to assure them they need to believe in themselves.

All that backstory is just to give them banter while the movie road trips. While Magic Mike XXL is, technically, a road movie, it’s more about where they stop. Where they stop and strip. Whether it’s a convenience store–when the guys are all tripping on ecstasy and Tatum is trying to convince them to strip to what they love, not what’s commercially viable–or Andie MacDowell’s living room, once the movie gets going, the road tripping is just to get them to one dancing engagement or another. Except when it’s Jada Pinkett Smith’s party house; there it’s usually other guys stripping (for a while) while Tatum and Pinkett Smith flirt.

There are narrative reasons for most of these things. Usually to enable the next move for the guys. They have some trouble on the road trip and need help. Along the way, they resolve their leftover issues with one another from the last movie and fret about their non-male entertaining futures.

It’s cute. And fun. And often really funny.

Tatum’s an appealing lead. He doesn’t have to do much, except dance. He can definitely dance. Only Nash and Rodriguez lack in the dancing department. Otherwise all the dancing is good; the choreography, depending on the guy dancing, can be excellent. But it’s not like Tatum’s got a character arc. He’s entirely altruistic and entirely divested. He’s not even really pursuing Heard, just trying to convince her to enjoy guys stripping in her proximity. The movie never wants to be taken too seriously; it often demands not to be, in fact.

Makes it even more likable.

Manganiello’s good. Heard’s fine. Bomer’s annoying. Nash is all right. Rodriguez makes little impression. Pinkett Smith goes–gloriously–all in, like she’s auditioning her character for a spin-off. MacDowell and Elizabeth Banks–both in extended and obvious cameos–are all right. XXL could do better with the cameos. It doesn’t have enough fun with them. Donald Glover seems rather lost, even if his singing contributions are solid.

Jacobs’s direction is okay. He’s got a Panavision frame but mostly just uses the center of the screen to showcase the dancing. He mixes it up a bit with the dialogue, which is a lot better. Executive producer, cinematographer, and editor Steven Soderbergh does entirely competent work in all his roles… but none of it’s particularly exciting. XXL doesn’t want to get ahead of itself and profess ambition. Other than being fun.

And it works out. Magic Mike XXL’s usually fun.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Gregory Jacobs; written by Reid Carolin; director of photography, Steven Soderbergh; edited by Soderbergh; production designer, Howard Cummings; produced by Carolin, Jacobs, Channing Tatum, and Nick Wechsler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Channing Tatum (Mike), Joe Manganiello (Big Dick Richie), Matt Bomer (Ken), Kevin Nash (Tarzan), Adam Rodriguez (Tito), Amber Heard (Zoe), Jada Pinkett Smith (Rome), Gabriel Iglesias (Tobias), Donald Glover (Andre), Elizabeth Banks (Paris), and Andie MacDowell (Nancy Davidson).


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Wet Hot American Summer (2001, David Wain)

One of the best gags in Wet Hot American Summer is having the twenty and (some) thirty somethings play teenage summer camp counselors. One big problem? Not making the gag clear until the end of the movie. It would have gotten a lot more mileage throughout.

Summer goes out on an awkward note–almost an homage to “M*A*S*H”, which is cute (director Wain loves the eighties homages) but it can’t disguise the lack of an ending. There’s no great finish; instead, there’s a weak exit for erstwhile protagonist Michael Showalter. He’s not the most compelling part of the film, though he’s a fine enough (erstwhile) protagonist, and Wain needs a stronger closer.

Showalter’s story arc involves lusting after Marguerite Moreau and trying to win her from her dolt of a boyfriend (an awful Paul Rudd). It’s nothing compared to Ken Marino’s crazy wilderness trek to meet up with a girl or Janeane Garofalo and David Hyde Pierce saving the camp from a falling piece of Skylab.

Other great little arcs include Molly Shannon’s divorcée getting life coaching from her charges and a camper “running” a radio station.

Moreau is okay. She’s better without Showalter or Rudd. Garofalo and Hyde Pierce are both excellent. Their skill works a little against Summer‘s absurdist nature, however. It’s just not as funny when it’s so well-acted.

Marino’s great, so are Bradley Cooper and Amy Poehler. Christopher Meloni’s fantastic as the deranged cook.

Summer isn’t completely successful, but it’s close enough.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by David Wain; written by Michael Showalter and Wain; director of photography, Ben Weinstein; edited by Meg Reticker; music by Theodore Shapiro and Craig Wedren; production designer, Mark White; produced by Howard Bernstein; released by USA Films.

Starring Janeane Garofalo (Beth), David Hyde Pierce (Henry Newman), Michael Showalter (Gerald ‘Coop’ Cooperberg), Marguerite Moreau (Katie), Michael Ian Black (McKinley), Zak Orth (J.J.), A.D. Miles (Gary), Paul Rudd (Andy), Christopher Meloni (Gene), Molly Shannon (Gail von Kleinenstein), Ken Marino (Victor Kulak), Joe Lo Truglio (Neil), Amy Poehler (Susie), Bradley Cooper (Ben), Gideon Jacobs (Aaron), Liam Norton (Arty ‘The Beekeeper’ Solomon), Marisa Ryan (Abby Bernstein), Elizabeth Banks (Lindsay), Gabriel Millman (Caped Boy), Kevin Sussman (Steve), Kevin Thomas Conroy (Mork Guy), Christopher Cusumano (Medieval Kid), Cassidy Ladden (Mallrat Girl), Madeline Blue (Cure Girl), Nina Hellman (Nancy), Peter Salett (Guitar Dude), Judah Friedlander (Ron von Kleinenstein), Jacob Shoesmith-Fox (Bert ‘Moose’ Flugelman) and Michael Showalter (Alan Shemper).


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Role Models (2008, David Wain), the unrated version

Role Models is shockingly good. It fuses the inappropriately blunt comedy genre with a listless thirties white men growing up genre. The result is a constantly funny film–I mean, it’s Seann William Scott swearing at kids… from the two minute mark–with a solid emotional core. And it’s never artificial.

Scott isn’t the lead (though he gets top billing), rather Paul Rudd. Rudd plays a miserable thirty-something, depressed over the lack of substance in his life (of course, he’s ignoring having a grown-up relationship with lawyer girlfriend Elizabeth Banks), who lands he and Scott in trouble.

Their punishment? A Big Brother program.

The film overcomes its occasional contrivances–besides Banks being a lawyer to represent Rudd and Scott, the midsection has a painful juxtaposition of both men realizing they aren’t being the best Big Brothers they could be. But Wain, whose strength as a director is making the absurdities wholly believable, keeps the sequence going until it works.

Scott is hilarious–he’s playing his American Pie role aged–but Rudd makes the film. He doesn’t worry about being appealing, since Scott fills that function, instead selling the character’s developing self-awareness.

As their charges, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Bobb’e J. Thompson are both good. Mintz-Plasse probably gives a better performance, but Thompson is funnier.

Banks is solid too, grounding the film.

The supporting cast is excellent, Jane Lynch and Ken Marino in particular. Especially Lynch.

Role Models is earnest and thoughtful. It’s a fantastic grown-up comedy.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Wain; screenplay by Paul Rudd, Wain, Ken Marino and Timothy Dowling, based on a story by Dowling and W. Blake Herron; director of photography, Russ T. Alsobrook; edited by Eric Kissack; music by Craig Wedren; production designer, Stephen J. Lineweaver; produced by Luke Greenfield, Mary Parent and Scott Stuber; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Paul Rudd (Danny), Seann William Scott (Wheeler), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Augie), Bobb’e J. Thompson (Ronnie), Jane Lynch (Sweeny), Elizabeth Banks (Beth), Ken Jeong (King Argotron), Joe Lo Truglio (Kuzzik), Ken Marino (Jim Stansel), Kerri Kenney (Lynette), A.D. Miles (Martin), Matt Walsh (Davith of Glencracken), Nicole Randall Johnson (Karen), Alexandra Stamler (Esplen), Carly Craig (Connie), Jessica Morris (Linda the Teacher) and Vincent Martella (Artonius).


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