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No better than the show
All a Baywatch movie had to be in order to qualify as a success, in my eyes, was to be better than the show. While "Baywatch" was a show that lasted over a decade, very few would call it a quality television series. It was ridiculous, dumb, and always just borderline watchable. The movie version of Baywatch somehow manages to be all those things, and yet somehow even slightly less fun to sit through at times. While no one is going to mistake this version of Baywatch for anything other than a comedy, the attempts at actual comedic scenes are shockingly few and far between. To the great detriment of the entire cast, director Seth Gordon has made a Baywatch film in which the actual "plot" and investigation take up the majority of a bloated 116-minute run time. The result is a tonal mess. The movie feels as if the producers took a PG-13 script for a police procedural then decided at the last minute to make it a Baywatch feature with terribly misplaced gross-out humor shoved in just for the benefit of getting an R-rating. To Gordon's credit, there are great individual moments courtesy of Dwayne Johnson, Hannibal Buress, Rob Huebel, and Alexandra Daddario, as well as a great cameo by David Hasselhoff. The first 20 minutes contains the best material that the film has to offer, but it soon becomes apparent that nobody put a ton of thought into what people actually wanted out of a comedy version of Baywatch, which first and foremost should have been an abundance of jokes. In the end, this movie version of Baywatch isn't any better than the show. While not a complete waste, it's ultimately a missed opportunity. Those who enjoyed the show will get a kick out of the Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson cameos, though I can't imagine anyone else getting anything out this. 5/10
Best new show of 2017
I've never really followed baseball in real life, but, for whatever reason, I've always loved baseball comedies with The Bad News Bears being one of my favorite movies of all time, and "Eastbound & Down" being arguably the funniest television series of the past decade. Although "Brockmire" has yet to air an entire season yet, it has already come close to surpassing "Eastbound & Down" in my mind. Like "Eastbound & Down", "Brockmire" features a hard-to-love protagonist with self-destructive tendencies, but it's also smarter and better written. Hank Azaria, who I've never really particularly loved in anything other than Gross Point Blank, is simply amazing Jim Brockmire, a baseball announcer famous for losing his mind on the air upon learning his wife cheated on him. Such a scenario could just be an excuse to go for cheap laughs at every turn, and although "Brockmire" certainly goes for cheap laughs at times, it's also surprisingly moving and even a little philosophical at times. The main question of "Brockmire" is whether peoples' lives are defined by only their worst moments, and what it means to change as a human being in order to have a meaningful legacy. While "Brockmire" never approaches becoming a drama, Azaria's performance carries a fair amount of dramatic weight, as the hurt and sadness of Brockmire are as much a source of conflict as they are for dark humor. Ultimately, "Brockmire" is only partially about baseball, though the baseball scenes tend to be the funniest. The show has proved to be a big hit for IFC, and it will be interesting to see how both the character and the show grow in its second season. For its fantastic first season, I'd give it 9/10 so far. Highly recommended.
Best monster movie of the decade!
Colossal is a fascinating mix of black comedy, monster movie science fiction, and drama. Despite having a trailer that presents the film as simply an offbeat comedy, the movie is actually way darker and way more interesting than one might expect from the marketing material. Anne Hathaway (one of the many credited executive producers) stars as Gloria, a recently unemployed alcoholic writer, who moves back into her childhood home after her life falls apart. Soon, she finds herself drawn to a playground from her childhood, and seemingly connected to a monster wrecking havoc halfway across the world in Seoul. Consistently hungover, Gloria easily could have been an unlikeable, annoying character, though Hathaway, in probably the best performance of her career, makes Gloria not only sympathetic but also relatable and human.
What makes Colossal work so amazingly well is that even if all the super cool monster material was cut out of the film, it would still function as a great, coming-of-age way too late story. It also helps that the story isn't always predictable, as best exemplified by Jason Sudeikis' fantastic performance as seemingly nice guy Oscar, a friend of Gloria's from elementary school. Sudeikis' performance here is unlike anything his fans have seen him do before, and his transformation in the film is nothing short of electrifying to watch. There are those who are not going to like the dark turns that Colossal takes, but for those who are willing to go along with the ride, the movie is surprisingly deep and worthy of discussion.
Colossal isn't entirely flawless. Supporting characters like Tim Blake Nelson's Garth and Austin Stowell's Joel don't get quite enough screen-time that their characters probably deserve to entirely serve the story, although both actors are good in their respective roles, especially Nelson in what is his best part in years. I'd love to see if there are any deleted scenes on the DVD to fill in some missing character moments. Overall though, Colossal is as entertaining, funny, sad, and engaging as any film released in 2017 so far. It's unlikely to make a ton of money, but it's as unique a monster movie as one is likely to find this decade. 8.5/10
Considering that movie versions of such popular 70s shows as Starsky & Hutch and The Dukes of Hazzard were successful in the mid-2000s, it's a bit surprising that it took this long for a CHIPS movie to come along. I've never seen a single episode of the "CHIPS" television series that ran from 1977 to 1983, so I had no expectations, good or bad, when the announcement was made that a big screen version of the show would be coming out. As the buddy comedy genre is my favorite, and I've always liked Dax Shepard and Michael Pena, I decided to check it out, despite the bad reviews and minimal box office results. While no classic, CHIPS delivers what one expects from a standard R-rated action buddy comedy: lots of gunfire, bickering and bantering, swearing, and good lines along the way.
I'm not going to deny that CHIPS is a juvenile movie. A lot of the sexual humor seems pretty forced, although some of it, like the yoga pants jokes, had me laughing out loud. It's easy to see why critics are tearing the film apart. The film is often little more than crude jokes and motorcycle chases. However, when the movie works, it is as entertaining as any film I've seen so far this year. The chemistry between Dax Shepard as Baker and Michael Pena as Ponch goes a long way in terms of making up for some of the flaws in the script. Without any chemistry between the two leads, this could have been a disaster, but Shepard and Pena seem to genuinely like each other, and their characters' eventual friendship feels genuine. It also helps that, although there are certainly over-the-top situations and sequences in CHIPS, the characters themselves are never treated as completely cartoonish or overly heightened just for the sake of comedy.
When action does take place in CHIPS, there is bloodshed and people get hurt. This could have easily created an awkward, uneven tone with all the comedy and cheap jokes, but as the writer/director, Dax Shepard somehow keeps the whole thing afloat. He avoids making the entire affair turn into a total mess, something that it could have if put into the wrong hands. The action scenes aren't particularly bombastic or even that long, probably a result of a lower budget than most action pictures have. That said, the action and chase scenes are well shot. They are also thankfully not dependent on over-editing and shaky cam like so many action pictures are today. Maybe the movie could have had a few more action beats with a larger budget, though what's on screen should please fans of car chases, stunts, and shoot-outs.
CHIPS sometimes feels like footage has been edited down from a longer running time. Kristen Bell, featured prominently in the advertising and opening credits, is in the film for what seems like little more than an extended cameo. Additionally, there seems to be sub-plots focusing on other CHIPS officers that have been cut down. I don't know if there is a large amount of deleted scenes missing from the final cut; there just seems to be a few gaps in between certain spots. Maybe this is the result of some bad editing, but none of this takes away all that much from my overall enjoyment of the film itself. It will be interesting to see whether the DVD/Blu Ray release contains much additional footage.
CHIPS is not perfect. It's probably not going to end up as my favorite comedy of 2017, though it is good fun for those who enjoy buddy movies. All the cop comedy clichés are here. No one is going to accuse CHIPS of being original or ground-breaking. It's simply an entertaining 100 minutes of action and comedy. Recommended. 7/10
Making History (2017)
Too good to last
"Making History" is basically the result of what would happen if one were to put Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and Hot Tub Time Machine in a blender. A mix of inspired stupidity, occasional brilliance, and blue humor, the show is feels like something that would be right at home on Comedy Central following "South Park" where it would likely run for several seasons. Unfortunately for "Making History" and its fans, it is being on broadcast on Fox in a competitive Sunday night timeslot. If the series is on past April, I will be amazed. Its ratings are dire, yet the show itself couldn't be more fun to watch. The premise is simple: Adam Pally plays Dan, a thirty-something slacker, who discovers he can travel back through time in a college duffel bag. Along with his nerdy friend, Chris, the two find themselves in trouble from messing with time. It's not quite as enjoyably stupid as traveling back in time via magical hot tub, but "Making History" makes the most of its ridiculous plot at every opportunity. Despite having the chance to make the future a better place, all Dan really cares about is making sure Paul Revere's daughter, Deborah (Leighton Meester), fall in love with him. Like the Bill & Ted and Hot Tub Time Machine movies, there is plenty of subtext on the meaning of friendship and loyalty amongst all the silliness and dumb jokes. Maybe it's not for everyone, but "Making History" is definitely my favorite new show of 2017, and one that is probably too good to last. 8/10
Bill Burr: Walk Your Way Out (2017)
Worth watching just for the McDonald's bit
I'm relatively new to Bill Burr's stand-up material, having only just having discovered him around a year or so ago. While I haven't seen all his specials or heard all his albums, I've seen enough to appreciate his voice and, more often than not, I find him to be a pretty funny guy. Bill Burr: Walk Your Way Out, his new Netflix special, has some of the better material of his I've heard, but also some dead spots as well. Burr's routine here on McDonald's is one of the best comedy bits I've heard in a while. McDonald's is an easy target for comedians, though it absolutely to Burr's credit that he's able to make jokes about McDonald's feel not only fresh but also hilarious. My sides hurt from laughing at the routine, and I rewound the special just to watch those few minutes again. Unfortunately, the best jokes are in the first 20 minutes of the special. While there are certainly other good, smart bits throughout the rest of the running time, a lot Burr's rants go on for far too long and become somewhat repetitive. Even so, there's enough funny material here to recommend 'Walk Your Way Out'. 6/10
Fist Fight (2017)
Could have been a lot better
There's a really solid comedy that could have been made out of Fist Fight. As dumb as the main premise is--two adult teachers getting in a fight in the parking lot at the end of the last day of school---there is plenty that could be done with the material. There's ample room for social satire on the education system here, many opportunities for funny scenes of teacher-student interaction, and a chance to comment on masculinity and fighting. Unfortunately, the filmmakers behind Fist Fight rarely take the time to realize any of this potential and are more interested in making sure every scene plays out as cartoonish and over-the-top as possible. There's rarely a single scene in which a character acts like an actual human being and cartoon logic doesn't apply. The film makes the mistake of most sitcoms in thinking that outlandishness is automatically funny, and the quality of the movie suffers greatly as a result.
When Fist Fight is able to rise above its dumber than dirt script and general brain dead nature, it's entirely due to the talented and funny cast. Charlie Day has been doing great comedic work on "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" for twelve seasons now, and even with the weak script and questionable direction, he's able to show why he needs more leading man roles. His character, English teacher Andy Campbell, is the only character that is in any way recognizable as a person that could exist in the real world. Maybe it's because I can kind of relate to his character, but Day is somehow miraculously able to get the audience to sympathize with his nervous, trying-to-be-a-nice-guy role even when the script itself treats him as a joke half the time. The best scenes in the entire movie are the ones in which Day gets to interact with Tracy Morgan and Jillian Bell, who like Day, deserve more to work with. Morgan and Bell provide the few laugh-out-loud moments, and give the film sparks of energy when it needs them the most. The scenes of Day, Morgan, and Bell show the potential of what Fist Fight could have been had it not been obsessed on becoming a farce at every turn.
Ice Cube, as the second lead and instigator of the fist fight, does what he can, though Cube is the person who is let down the most by the script. His character is so full of rage that it's really hard to understand how he would ever be able to get a job working in a school, let alone be considered a good teacher. The fatal flaw of Fist Fight is that the audience is never able relate to his predicament, and his character absolutely deserves to get fired, even in the cartoon world set up by the director and screenwriters. JoAnna Garcia, Dennis Haysbert, Christina Hendricks, and Dean Norris are ultimately also wasted in throwaway, undeveloped roles.
On the plus side, Fist Fight is quite short. It runs barely 85 minutes before the ending credits, and it never drags. It just doesn't work a lot of the time. It's never a chore to watch, though it's never even close to what is should be either. For fans of Day, Morgan, or Bell, Fist Fight is probably worth a rental at best. There are some laughs to be had, just not nearly as much as there should have been. It's possible it's the type of film that gets better on repeat viewings, and is likely to be a movie that reruns on Comedy Central over and over again in coming years. It's unfortunate a comedy with this cast couldn't be something more memorable. 5/10
Best film documentary in a long time
Out of all the famous comic book titles that have gotten the deluxe big screen adaptation treatment the past fifteen years, none have been critically unsuccessful as The Fantastic Four. With two pretty dismal big budget installments in 2005 and 2007 respectively, and an absolutely unwatchable "reboot" in 2015, one might come to the conclusion that a decent, faithful Fantastic Four film is just impossible to make. However, the most faithful Fantastic Four adaptation occurred circa 1993 via Roger Corman's production company. Shot for a just a few million bucks, quickly assembled, and then mysteriously locked away never to be officially released to the general public, the film more or less disappeared, only showing up as a bootleg at comic book conventions. Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman's the Fantastic Four entertainingly and honestly tells the story of how such a film came to be shot, completed, and then seemingly locked away forever.
As everyone involved is speaking of a film that presumably may never get released, there is no sugar-coating anything here. No one is out to protect anyone's feelings or keep quiet out of fear of a lawsuit from the film's rights holders. Even Marvel legend Stan Lee gets insulted and called out a few times here. The cast and crew all agree that every person involved in the production were betrayed after putting their hearts and souls into something that, while not a perfect product, was absolutely a labor of love. Some cast members seem slightly more bitter than others, and it's hard to blame them. 'Doomed' may ostensibly be a film about an unseen Fantastic Four film, but it is also a documentary about the dark side of business: what it means to feel like your work has gone unappreciated, fear of uncertainty about one's future job prospects, and how to make it through those difficult times.
This isn't a documentary about big Hollywood actors complaining about how they were treated. These are working actors that saw this film has a potentially huge break, a turning point in their lives. To hear them describe what it was like to have their work go unseen is sad, at times bordering on mildly heartbreaking. But its a true testament to the filmmakers and the actors that 'Doomed' doesn't just revel in bitterness towards those who did them wrong. Those involved are actually forgiving and, to a point, even understanding of what happened and why. They aren't happy about what happened, but, with time and perspective, there is acceptance that sometimes things just don't work out.
One doesn't have to have seen the 1994 version of The Fantastic Four to appreciate what 'Doomed' is about. It's an absolutely fantastic film documentary, although it's also so much more than that. Even for non-comic book fans, 'Doomed' is a solid recommendation. 9/10
Live by Night (2016)
A bit of a letdown, but worth checking out
Live by Night is a really hard movie to review. There's certainly a lot, and I do mean a lot, that can be written about Ben Affleck's latest directorial outing. There's more than enough interesting, well shot scenes with great acting, fantastic action, and some decent ethical questions throughout. The problem is that the version of Live by Night currently playing in theaters, despite by all means looking like a finished film, feels very much like it could be only a temporary version. With an awkward pace that is sometimes sluggish and sometimes fast, characters that are mentioned but never actually seen, and a time-line that spans a lengthy period, Live by Night is a movie that seems like it was, at one point or another, a much longer and detailed film.
If there's a movie that I've seen in the past ten years that just seems to be waiting for a Director's Cut, it's this one. That's not to say that there isn't a ton to enjoy or be impressed at here, it's just that there's an overall feeling of compromise that hangs over a majority of the proceedings. As expected, writer/producer/director/star Ben Affleck gets the most screen time as super cool gangster Joe Coughlin, but seemingly vital characters like his wife (Zoe Saldana) and his best friend (Chris Messina) are barely developed and aren't given the proper amount of screen time that they need or deserve. Elsewhere, there are places where important scenes seem to have been shortened or gone missing. The movie is never hard to follow, but, at the same time, it's hard to ignore where the obvious missing gaps are in the story. This could have clearly been Ben Affleck's best work to date as a director, and indeed Live by Night contains his most memorable action scenes, though the overall feeling is that there is important footage missing in the theatrical cut.
The question then becomes whether or not Live by Night, in its current theatrical version, is worth seeing. I would say yes. While not perfect or the epic that Affleck and Warner Bros. wanted to deliver, the film is still much better than the majority of movies that get released in theaters these days. There's some great acting, beautiful cinematography, and some pretty memorable set pieces. It's the type of period piece that isn't likely to draw in younger viewers, though older audiences are sure to get more out of the overall viewing experience. Hopefully the disappointing box office won't prevent Affleck and Warner Bros. from releasing a longer version in the near future. 6/10
Best sci-fi movie in years
Arrival seemed to kind of come out of nowhere. Released at the end of the year without a ton of promotion and publicity, the film has nonetheless had tremendous staying power and has continued to build its box office gross through word of mouth, becoming one of the surprise hits of the past year. While not a mega Blockbuster like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (also a solid recommendation), the success of Arrival proves that audiences still respond to stories that aren't dependent on wall to wall action and explosions. Some may see Arrival as boring. The marketing, after all, made the film seem more action-packed than the final cut actually is. But even if the movie isn't always super fast paced, it's always at least interesting and intriguing to watch. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner give probably the best performances of their careers, giving life to characters that might not have seemed completely three-dimensional on the page. Renner and Adams share great chemistry and absolutely sell moments that could have come off cheesy or schmaltzy. The selling point of Arrival may be the alien story line, but Renner and Adams are the movie. This is really an actors' movie. However, my only one complaint about Arrival is there could have been one or two more scenes developing Renner's character and his motivations/relationship with Adams. Doing so would have been the finale slightly stronger, even it still an extremely effective ending. There are those who will be split on the ending of Arrival. Some will love it, others will absolutely hate it. I found it to be the most memorable ending of any movie of 2016. The ending begs audiences to rewatch the movie again, something I'll have no problem doing in the near future. Arrival is the best sci-fi film to come out in years. 9/10