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Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)
Better than its reputation
Beverly Hills Cop is my favorite comedy of all time, and its reputation as a classic of 1980s cinema is well earned. Its two sequels, however, are not held in as in high regard. The two follow-ups are often lumped together as lackluster efforts, which isn't fair since while Beverly Hills Cop II isn't a comedic masterpiece like the first one, it's the definitely the much stronger sequel. Having just watched the film for the first time in years, I found it to be a whole lot better than I remember. In fact, I'd say it's a quite an underrated sequel.
The best decision made by director Tony Scott and the creative team behind Beverly Hills Cop II was to bring back almost all the actors from the first movie. Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, John Ashton, Ronny Cox, Gilbert Hill, and Paul Reiser are just as great here as they were in the original. Unlike with most sequels, nobody on screen appears to be phoning in a performance for a paycheck. The main trio of Murphy, Reinhold, and Ashton are together for a good 80% of the film, and are absolutely perfect together. The three actors share amazing chemistry as a group, making every scene with them a blast to watch. The fact that their friendship feels real is what elevates Beverly Hills Cop II from ever feeling like just an unnecessary sequel.
Beverly Hills Cop II has some of the same story beats as Beverly Hills Cop, but it never comes across as a lazy retread. The best parts of Beverly Hills Cop II are the noticeable differences from the first film. Rather than having to solve the murder of a friend, Axel must discover who shot Bogomil (Cox). Tony Scott gets a bit of suspense out of whether Bogomil will live or die, and there's a few surprisingly touching scenes between Axel and Bogomil's daughter. These scenes could have felt out of place in what is mostly a comedy, but they work quite well. What really separates Beverly Hills Cop II from the first one, as well as from most action movies in general, is that the main villain is a very intimidating woman, Karla Fry (Bridgitte Nielsen). There has been some criticism that the treatment of her character is misogynistic, though I've never seen much to support that argument. She may not be the most three-dimensional character every written, but the fact that we don't learn all that much about her makes her even more menacing. One of the best aspects to the story is that there is a hierarchy of villains. In addition to Karla, there's also the memorable Maxwell Dent (Jurgen Prochnow). The scene where Foley, Rosewood, and Taggart track down Max at the Playboy Mansion is the film's highlight, and one of the funniest scenes in any movie ever. Almost every single line in the scene is hilarious, Chris Rock gets a cool little cameo, and the scene somehow manages to be feel completely relevant to the plot.
However, the Playboy Mansion scene also draws attention to the one major flaw of Beverly Hills Cop II that keeps it from being a truly great movie: the noticeably rough editing. Martin Brest has been quoted as saying that Beverly Hills Cop was saved in the editing room, and that he was amazed at how well everything cut together. Beverly Hills Cop II should have been looked at more closely in the editing room, because it is far from seamless. Several scenes seem to end randomly without any much sense of transition or rhythm. In some instances, the editing is just downright awkward. The best example of this is in the Playboy Mansion scene. Once Foley, Rosewood, and Taggart have left the mansion and the narrative of the scene is effectively over, the camera lingers on a random party-goer dancing enthusiastically to some music. The guy's dance moves are mildly amusing, but there is no real reason for the shot to be in the movie, and it feels extremely disconnected from the rest of the scene. Beverly Hills Cop II is filled with moments in which scenes don't cut at a logical endpoint. There are three credited editors, no doubt the result of a rushed post-production schedule to get the movie out by a certain release date. None of the bad editing kills my overall enjoyment of the film, though it's impossible not to be distracted by its shoddiness at times.
With the exception of the poor editing, it's clear there was actually effort and care put into Beverly Hills Cop II, something that can't be said for sequels made in today's era. Just like with the original Beverly Hills Cop, this sequel has tremendous replay value. Though it might not be as well put together as its predecessor, Beverly Hills Cop II still works way, way better than 95% of sequels to classic comedies. 8/10
SNL Sports Spectacular (2014)
Great for fans!
One of the great advantages of being on as long as "Saturday Night Live" has is that it's pretty easy for SNL producers to put together 'best of' and themed specials without much effort. Over the past few years, these compilation specials have become increasingly common, although the quality of these compilations often varies. Out of all of the themed specials, SNL Sports Spectacular is among the best ones. It's made up of mostly great football sketches, though there also a few sketches about basketball, baseball, and other sports thrown into the mix.
SNL Sports Spectacular is a bit longer than it needed to be with Seth Myers' hosting padding out the running time. That said, there are very few sketches that are outright flops with the exception of the "Outside the Lines" sketch with Melissa McCarthy which just goes on far too long. However, for the most part, this contains some of the best sports-related sketches the show has ever aired, including Locker Room with Jason Sudekis as Jesus, the Peyton Manning United Way sketch, and Chris Farley doing Olympic Figure skating with Nancy Kerrigan (one of the more underrated Chris Farley sketches). Some of the other highlights are sketches that are only vaguely related to sports but are great to see here like Charles Barkley's MacGruber clips and the Schmitts Gay Beer commercial. Even though the the majority of the material contained here is from the past ten seasons or so, there is just enough from the 1990s and earlier to keep fans from any decade of the show happy. The only strange and extremely disappointing absence is that there are no clips of Tim Meadows as O.J. Simpson, something that seems like it would be mandatory in an SNL compilation with sports in the title.
SNL Sports Spectacular is unlikely to be released on DVD, as there aren't many new SNL DVDs put out anymore, which is a shame. This is the best SNL special to be produced in quite some time, and definitely worth watching for fans of the show. Even people who aren't sports fans will probably find a lot to laugh at here. Recommended. 8/10
About a Boy (2014)
"About A Boy" is easily one of the best, and most underrated, sitcoms of the last decade. Having watched most of the series when it originally aired, and having just watched the unaired episodes on Netflix, I can safely say that while it's not a perfect show by any means, it's still tremendously enjoyable throughout both seasons. Some of the usual sitcoms are present: the contrived situations pop up here and there, the characters are occasionally too over-the-top, and everything is very conveniently wrapped up in 22 minutes, but it's very easy to look past those flaws just based on how funny the majority of the episodes are.
The basic premise of the show, which is that a 35-year-old man child becomes becomes best friends with his 11-year-old neighbor, could come off as both creepy and incredibly sad with the wrong people behind it. Showrunner Jason Katims managed to make the premise work, not only by making the whole thing more believable than it should be, but most importantly, by casting exactly the right people. David Walton is perfect in the role of Will Freeman, a man who has never quite grown up. Walton doesn't play the character as a goofy Adam Sandler type. He's more of a regular guy who just happens to be a bit immature and carefree. Walton is great with one liners and incredibly charismatic, which makes it easier to forgive his character's dumb mistakes. His chemistry with both Bejamin Stockholm and Minnie Driver (as his neighbors) is what drives the show. Some would argue that the sentimental nature of the relationship between the three of them make the show too overtly sweet, though I never had a problem with it. The sentimentality is part of what the show is, and it's genuinely touching at times. Even though the show was canceled after two seasons, the last episode functions as a good enough series finale that leaves viewers with a strong indication of the direction the show was likely to go in.
It's not hard to see why the show didn't last. The ratings were really low, and some fans of the novel and previous film adaptation didn't think the show measured up. I can't really compare "About A Boy" to the novel its based upon, or the 2002 film adaption since I only have vague memories of both. If nothing else, the show makes me want to check out both again. "About A Boy" is well worth watching even for those who don't usually like sitcoms. Recommended. 9/10
The original "Archer" pilot is one of the funniest pilots that I have ever seen. What I expected to be just a lame James Bond parody was far funnier, smarter, and more interested in its characters than I could have guessed from the way the show was promoted. From the first episode, I became hooked on the show. I have watched every season, often re-watching the best episodes over again multiple times. It's one of the rare shows that seems to get better with each season.
Like the best cartoons for adults, "Archer" thrives on being both crude and smart at the same time. The language and jokes are almost always vulgar, but the episode plots are often way more intelligent than a cartoon probably deserves. The surprising amount of plot twists that occur in a variety of episodes are often quite unpredictable, and make the show more interesting. "Archer" is first and foremost a comedy, though most episodes are filled with enough cool espionage missions and action sequences that even when an episode isn't laugh-out-loud funny, it is never boring to watch. The show isn't afraid to get bloody during its action scenes, which occasionally feels tonally off, though it's never any more graphic than anything seen on some episodes of "South Park".
While the animation certainly looks better than the animation on "South Park" or other adult cartoons, the animation isn't anything mind-blowing. But even when some episodes seem like they could look better, it hardly matters since the show is almost always highly entertaining since the voice cast is probably the best ensemble on television. H Jon Benjamin has a very unique voice, one that is both hilarious and absolutely perfect for deadpan delivery. Aisha Tyler is great as Lana, the character who is often the only person using common sense. She has fantastic comic timing, but also very convincing on the rare occasions when she has to have sincere moments. The supporting cast is also fantastic. Judy Greer and Amber Nash are howlingly funny as Cheryl and Pam respectively, two characters that have the potential to be super annoying but end up seeming more endearing than they should.
In addition to the main voice cast, "Archer" gets tremendous value out of it guest stars. My favorite episode has Archer meeting his idol, Burt Reynolds. Like the best guest stars, Reynolds is completely in on the joke. Recent great guest stars have included Christian Slater, Kenny Loggins (as himself), and Gary Cole. Sometimes the actors' voices are immediately recognizable, and sometimes they are less obvious (Ron Perlman's reoccuring character comes to mind). There may come a time where the guest stars start to feel gimmicky, though that hasn't happened yet.
"Archer" is a show that seems that it can go on for years. After six seasons, the series has yet to grow tiresome. The stories are well written, the laughs are consistent, and the show seems to always find a new way to reinvent itself. Alongside "Mike Tyson Mysteries", "Archer" is the most entertaining and hilarious adult cartoon on television. 8/10
Daddy's Home (2015)
One of Ferrell's best!
My expectations for Daddy's Home were pretty low. Even though the trailers and TV spots made me laugh, it had been a few years since a Will Ferrell film made me laugh like his work on "Saturday Night Live" or his earlier movie roles did. Having expected a mediocre comedy with a few bright spots, I was pleasantly surprised. Daddy's Home is one of the rare comedies where the best gags/lines aren't given away in the trailers and TV spots. In fact, the trailers and TV spots actually give away a lot of the weaker jokes. The movie itself is one of the funniest to come out in the past year, and definitely one of Will Ferrell's best flicks.
What separates Daddy's Home from the typical Will Ferrell comedy is that Ferrell's character, Brad, isn't arrogant or pompous. Like all Ferrell's characters, Brad is stupid and somewhat goofy, but he is a bit more likable than the regular Ferrell protagonists. Even at his goofiest and dumbest, Brad is a fairly sympathetic character, and Ferrell's portrayal of a middle-aged man who has never learned to stand up for himself is fairly interesting to watch from a story perspective. Brad gets increasingly more fed up as the film progresses, and waiting for him to eventually erupt like a volcano (in a comedic way) is one of the highlights of the movie. The basketball scene alone is worth the price of admission.
As funny as Will Ferrell is, and as fun as it is to see him play off of Mark Wahlberg, the most memorable characters in Daddy's Home are the supporting characters played by Thomas Haden Church and Hannibal Buress. Almost every single line delivered by Church and Buress is hysterical. They don't seem like the first two names that would come to mind when casting a Will Ferrell picture, but the casting was a brilliant move. A lot of Church and Buress' best lines could have easily winded up on the cutting room floor since they have rarely move the plot forward, though I'm glad they didn't. I would love to watch a longer cut with even more of these characters. They completely steal the movie away from the stars of the film.
Daddy's Home isn't a perfect comedy. As much as I enjoyed myself throughout, I couldn't help but notice how restrained it feels at times. Like almost all Ferrell comedies, Daddy's Home works desperately to maintain its PG-13 rating to reach the widest possible audience (and highest box office potential). An R-rated version wouldn't have necessarily been a better movie, but it wouldn't feel watered down like the final cut feels at times. Some of the lamer slapstick-style gags also seem like they were thrown in to appeal to younger audience members, and seem a bit more over-the-top when compared to the comedy in the rest of the flick.
Minor quibbles aside, Daddy's Home is the strongest comedy Ferrell has put out in the last ten years. It probably won't reach the cult level that the Anchorman series has, or be as profitable as Ferrell's biggest hits, though it should please most of his fans. Even for people that aren't Ferrell fans, Daddy's Home is worth checking out for those that enjoy dumb, goofy comedies. 7.5/10
The Transporter Refueled (2015)
Delivers what is to be expected from a Transporter film
If there has been one action franchise in the past decade that has gone criminally under-appreciated, it's the Transporter series. While never gigantic hits at the box office, the series has continually made just enough to justify producers keeping it going. The previous three Transporter movies (and to a lesser extent, "The Transporter" television series) have all been stylish and entertaining, and best of all, knowingly tongue-in-cheek. The first Transporter movie will always remain the best, but subsequent sequels, even with their many faults, have still been amusing and had their moments.
I guess that's why I find the apparent hate for Transporter Refueled somewhat undeserved. It feels exactly like what a Transporter movie should be. Despite having a different actor as Frank Martin, the tone remains the same. Thematically and stylistically a lot of the film is very similar to the previous films, but I don't see that as a problem. With The Transporter Refueled, I got exactly what I expected out of the movie, no more and no less. To me, nothing other than the lead actor is a significant departure from from a typical Transporter flick. There are well shot car chases aplenty, gunfights, hand-to-hand combat, beautiful women in almost every scene, some good jokes, some great cinematography, and a solid score. Most importantly, the character of Frank Martin remains consistent. He's still pretty much the perfect action hero: a flawless driver, an expert fighter, and total ladies man. The character is the embodiment of cool, and is always fun to watch on the big screen.
The flaws of The Transporter Refueled are very apparent. The script isn't fantastic. The story has holes in it for sure. Additionally, some of action scenes are definitely over-edited, and the some of the cutting to get the all-important PG-13 rating is super obvious. These problems weigh the movie down at times, yet these are the same problems that have plagued every single Transporter film. The only real difference between this one and the others is lack of Jason Statham. Ed Skrein is no Jason Statham, but there's no one in Hollywood like Jason Statham. No one was ever going to match Statham's level of charisma. That said, for what he had to do and knowing he had big shoes to fill, Ed Skrein makes for a good replacement as Frank Martin. His chemistry with Ray Stevenson is the probably the best part of the film, and their father/son banter is something I hope is carried over if there future sequels (though based on the poor box office, I highly doubt there will be).
The Transporter Refueled isn't going to win any big awards. It's not going to re-energize the franchise the way Luc Besson had hoped it would. It's not going alter how anyone feels about action cinema. However, for fans of the Transporter series like myself, it will entertain. I've seen it twice now, and both times I enjoyed it from beginning to end, despite its faults and stupidity. Even without the presence of Jason Statham, The Transporter Refueled is a satisfying entry in the franchise. Recommended. 6/10
Best film of 2015
By all accounts, the Rocky series came to a satisfying conclusion with 2006's Rocky Balboa. Critics called the film one of the best in the series, there was a higher box office total than one should have expected, and fans (myself included) were, for the most part, generally happy with the picture as a final chapter. When Creed was announced, it seemed likely that the final product would be little more than a cash crab, or a desperate attempt to bring back a series best left in the past.
To almost everyone's surprise, Creed is just as great, if not even better, than Rocky Balboa. It may even be the best in the series. If nothing else, Creed is, without a doubt, the best seventh installment of any film series. Everything from the writing to the production design is impressive, made with love and care for a franchise that is almost 40 years old at this point. It would have been easy for co-writer/director Ryan Coogler to essentially remake the first Rocky with a new character, but he's too smart to just shoot a lazy sequel. Creed may share a few story beats from the original Rocky here and there, although 90% of the film is an original boxing story that just happens to feature Stallone as an aging, tired Rocky Balboa.
Stallone gets a lot of criticism for some of his acting and career choices, and some of it may occasionally be justified but there's nothing to criticize in Creed. Stallone is as impressive here as he's ever been, delivering an absolutely knockout performance as the legend who has seen almost everything good in his life disappear. It is a sad, at times beautiful performance that makes Rocky feel like a more realistic character than ever before. Stallone has nice chemistry with Michael B. Jordan, playing Adonis Creed, Apollo's son. Even taking a backseat as a supporting character, Stallone could have completely overshadowed Jordan--it is, after all, still a Rocky movie--but both share the screen and are electrifying to watch together. Jordan has to display a wide arrange of emotions throughout: sadness, anger, grief, and they are done in such a way that he always remains a sympathetic character even when he's being a less than likable guy.
Creed is so great that the only real disappointment is that it doesn't run slightly longer, which is something that I never say about a film. It's an amazing accomplishment from such a young director, and an absolute delight for anyone who has ever been a Rocky fan. Creed is by far the best movie to have come out in 2015. 9/10
Most memorable Christmas comedy of the past decade
When A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas was originally released four years ago, I was kind of disappointed with it. Being a huge fan of the first movie and having enjoyed the second one well enough, I had surprisingly high hopes for this one given that it was an R-rated Christmas comedy, something that is not particularly common. Upon first viewing, I was left with the feeling that the movie was just more of the same. Harold has to stand up to himself again. Harold and Kumar get chased again by guys who are after them. Harold and Kumar run into Neil Patrick Harris again. I laughed enough, but I didn't think the film was anywhere near as funny as the first two.
Having now seen the movie a few more times since,I can't say that all the repetition bothers me anymore. Yes, the repetition some of the repetition is obvious and unnecessary, but not nearly to the degree of 90% of other sequels. Truly, the one real major story problem in the movie is that for a film with Harold & Kumar in the title, the duo spends a bit too much time apart in the first act. The focus on Harold and Kumar's respective roommates is a little frustrating at times, especially considering how intentionally annoying the roommate characters are. When Harold and Kumar do finally reunite, the film really picks up speed, and remains quite consistently entertaining throughout with lots of memorable moments. Some of the highlights of the highlights include Jake Johnson as Jesus, the claymation freak-out sequence, and any scene with Wafflebot, maybe one of the dumbest yet funniest things ever captured on film. There's such a great energy to the proceedings that even when a scene isn't laugh-out-loud hilarious, it's always pleasant/enjoyable to watch.
One of the more interesting aspects of each Harold and Kumar entry is how different the tones of each installment seem to be. Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, while featuring a scene in which the title characters ride a cheetah, was fairly realistic for most of its running time. Harold & Kumar Escape Guantanmo Bay was pretty much a full-blown cartoon, and over-the-top to a fault. A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas has perhaps the most interesting tone of the trilogy. The film takes Harold and Kumar's friendship seriously with real heart, yet at the same time has fantastical elements, such the inclusion of Santa in the finale. Despite all the raunchy elements and occasional comic gore, the tone genuinely seems to capture the tone of an old holiday special, one that is definitely not for children. The tone of this movie alone makes it fairly unique as I can't think of any other comedy with a similar feeling to it.
Obviously one of the main selling point was that it was originally presented in 3D. There are few comedies that are in 3D, and I must admit that the 3D was the best part of seeing the film in theaters. The filmmakers obviously had a blast making fun of the gimmick of 3D while exploiting its very nature. Some of this is quite funny. The Bobby Lee scene alone always makes me laugh more than it probably should. Occasionally though, the 3D technique comes off as distracting at times when watched in standard format. This doesn't destroy any scenes entirely, but it does stick out like a sore thumb on a handful of occasions. The overall film itself at least has a distinct visual style even without the 3D aspect, which also helps gives the stoner sequel more atmosphere than the lowbrow material probably deserves.
I highly doubt there will ever been another Harold & Kumar flick as John Cho and Kal Penn are both probably too old to play these characters, not that such a fact would stop me from wanting to see a fourth installment. Cho and Penn have made Harold & Kumar the best comedic duo of the modern era As a final chapter for the characters, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is a satisfying conclusion, and is the most memorable Christmas comedy of the past decade. 7/10
A dumb, fun comedy
Pixels will perhaps best be remembered for being one of the biggest flops of 2015. While not as big a money-loser as something like Fantastic Four, it nonetheless didn't gross what it was expected to in the U.S., and therefore has a bit of a stigma attached to it. This is quite a shame, since Pixels is absolutely one of the better Happy Madison productions to be put out in the last decade. I'm not going to argue that Pixels is a masterpiece, or even anything close to being a great movie, but Pixels is, if nothing else, simply lots of fun.
Pixels is a film that shouldn't even really appeal to me. I don't play video games, and I'm pretty much completely unaware of the history of any games past or present. As a result, I'm sure there are tons of video game references that I missed out on since I don't play video games, yet it never stopped me from enjoying the movie. Director Chris Columbus, who put together one of the best casts ever with Home Alone, fills the film with enough stars and solid actors that I was able to forgive the fact that the premise is beyond stupid. Columbus even manages to get what is probably a career best performance out of Kevin James as the president of the United States, who may or may not have been modeled after Chris Christie. Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad, and Michelle Monaghan are great in supporting roles that easily could have been nothing characters. Brian Cox and Sean Bean, known more for their dramatic work, have enjoyable small parts here. But, as expected, the real star of Pixels is Adam Sandler, which is the real reason this film has been dumped upon so heavily by critics.
If Pixels had starred almost anyone else other than Sandler, it would have received more positive reviews. For whatever reason, Sandler attracts the worst kind of venom from critics, more so than any other modern day movie star. In Pixels, Sandler is Sandler, which for some people might seem torturous, but was great for me since I love him. As per usual, Sandler plays an underachiever who could do a lot more with his life, though he's not much of a man-child like he is in most of his other flicks. Being the star of the film, Sandler gets the very best lines and most amount of screen time, yet this doesn't feel like a vanity project. Everyone in the cast gets to have their moments. Even with everyone in the cast getting to have key moments, the movie never feels overstuffed. Chris Columbus keeps the comedy and rhythm moving at a smooth pace. Not every joke hits, though even if I wasn't laughing out loud at a scene, the movie was always pleasant to watch.
I can't deny that Pixels is dumb. However, the movie is about as good as any movie about aliens disguised as video game characters attacking Earth could have been. This easily could have become an over-budget mess filled with just non-stop destruction and noise. The fact that it works at all is somewhat miraculous. Pixels may find more of an audience on DVD, and will perhaps be viewed more favorably in a few years. The film is certainly way better than its current reputation as a complete dud. Recommended to Sandler fans. 7/10
Perfect for fans
As a huge Tim Meadows fan and a fan of "Saturday Night Live" in general, I've been looking for a copy of Saturday Night Live: The Best of Tim Meadows for a very long time. The 70-minute special, which aired on NBC in 2000 but was only ever released on VHS, has been quite hard to find. After finally finding a cheap copy last weekend, I was finally able to sit back and enjoy the compilation. It did not disappoint.
For fans of Tim Meadows, this is about as good of a 'Best of" one could expect. It's appropriate that the first sketch on the special is a Ladies Man sketch, since Leon Phelps is the most famous, and most hilarious, character Meadows portrayed during his tenure on "Saturday Night Live." The producers of 'The Best of Tim Meadows' could have easily filled the special with a number of Leon Phelps sketches, but there are only two included here, and they are two of the very best. Other highlights include the "Princess and the Homeboy" (a great "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air parody featuring Terri Hatcher), a "Taxicab Confessions" sketch starring Christina Ricci with Meadows as a understandably distracted cab driver, and the Eager & Jones sketch with Meadows and Chris Farley as singers. To me, there's not a single bad sketch in bunch. Some sketches are better than others, though there isn't one that's difficult to sit through.
The only downside to Saturday Night Live: The Best of Tim Meadows is one that plagues a bunch of SNL compilations, which is that there's the occasional sketch that's presented in truncated form. Context is everything in comedy, and by presenting only a few seconds to a minute of a sketch, the overall impact of certain jokes seems to be lost in certain instances. I understand why sketches are edited down for time constraint reasons when aired on NBC; however, they could have been presented uncut for the home video release. It would have also been nice to see such sketches as "The Princess and the Homeboy" uncensored without the annoying bleeps, but the sketch itself is funny enough as is.
Saturday Night Live: The Best of Tim Meadows is not one of the more popular SNL specials available out there, which explains why it has yet to be released to DVD some fifteen years after its original airing. For fans of Tim Meadows or SNL in the 1990s though, this is definitely worth tracking down. Watching this made me laugh as hard as I've laughed all year. Highly recommended. 9/10