Tag Archives: Joel McHale

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).


Ted (2012, Seth MacFarlane)

Ted has a number of successes; it’s a little hard to identify its most extraordinary one. Is the CG teddy bear, voiced by director MacFarlane, who seems entirely real throughout? Or is it the script, which makes it feasible for a magical, living teddy bear to exist in the real world? Or is it simpler–Ted shows MacFarlane can bring the pop culture references and hilarious inappropriate jokes to live action from adult cartoons?

It’s a good movie, with some major third act problems (mostly revolving around Mila Kunis, whose character arc isn’t believable); Ted goes between being a heartwarming Rob Reiner picture Reiner never made and mocking Rob Reiner pictures. MacFarlane’s direction is surprisingly strong and confident, though he does have a cinematographer (Michael Barrett) who can’t shoot video.

And while MacFarlane and his fuzzy little alter ego are the “star” of Ted, leading man Mark Wahlberg does the film’s heaviest lifting. He makes it believable he’s acting opposite, for extended periods, this talking stuffed animal. There’s an absolutely astounding fight scene between Wahlberg and Ted; it’s too amazing in fact, because one can’t help but wonder how they were able to do it. The special effects technicals overpower the scene’s effectiveness.

The script has a lot of great jokes–the best humor sequence is probably the first one, which had me choking for air–and the supporting cast is strong.

Only Kunis, as Wahlberg’s love interest, falters. She can’t pull off the sophistication required.

Ted‘s an outstanding comedy.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Seth MacFarlane; screenplay by MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, based on a story by MacFarlane; director of photography, Michael Barrett; edited by Jeff Freeman; music by Walter Murphy; production designer, Stephen J. Lineweaver; produced by Jason Clark, John Jacobs, MacFarlane, Scott Stuber and Wild; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Mark Wahlberg (John Bennett), Mila Kunis (Lori Collins), Seth MacFarlane (Ted), Joel McHale (Rex), Giovanni Ribisi (Donny), Patrick Warburton (Guy), Matt Walsh (Thomas), Jessica Barth (Tami-Lynn), Aedin Mincks (Robert), Bill Smitrovich (Frank) and Sam J. Jones as the Savior (of the Universe); narrated by Patrick Stewart.


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The Informant! (2009, Steven Soderbergh)

How does Steven Soderbergh pick projects–more, what kind of artist’s statement would he make? The Informant! is his best film–among all his other rather good films–in a while and it owes more to what he learned on Ocean’s Eleven 12 and 13 than on any of his other films. It’s a great time, but it’s a great time with a bunch of humanity. I think I’ve said it before, but one can look at a Soderbergh film and see where he’s learned something from a previous effort but this identification doesn’t hinder the work at all. It’s still brilliant, even if it’s clear he developed some approach or method from, say, Solaris.

I knew, off the bat, The Informant! was going to be amazing for a couple reasons. First, the opening titles. It looks like The Conversation, only with the titles in this goofy font. Then, the music. Marvin Hamlisch. The score’s this amazingly fun, vibrant, colorful thing of its own. It’s incredible to see a nearly mainstream picture with this kind of approach. It makes up for Matt Damon wasting his time in those Bourne movies.

Damon’s performance in the film probably has to be his best, if only because he too is mixing genres. He’s creating a real person, but with all the humor stuff he learned in the Ocean’s films. And Soderbergh’s use of Scott Bakula against type as a sensitive FBI agent.

Or Melanie Lynskey’s outstanding performance as Damon’s wife.

A fantastic film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Soderbergh; written by Scott Z. Burns, based on the book by Kurt Eichenwald; director of photography, Peter Andrews; edited by Stephen Mirrione; music by Marvin Hamlisch; production designer, Doug J. Meerdink; produced by Gregory Jacobs, Jennifer Fox, Michael Jaffe, Howard Braunstein and Eichenwald; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Matt Damon (Mark Whitacre), Scott Bakula (Agent Brian Shepard), Joel McHale (Bob Herndon), Melanie Lynskey (Ginger Whitacre), Thomas F. Wilson (Mark Cheviron), Allan Havey (Dean Paisley), Patton Oswalt (Ed Herbst), Scott Adsit (Sid Hulse), Eddie Jemison (Kirk Schmidt), Clancy Brown (Aubrey Daniel), Richard Steven Horvitz (Bob Zaideman) and Tony Hale (James Epstein).


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