Tag Archives: Danny DeVito

Matilda

Matilda is a precocious little girl who just doesn’t fit in with her family. Her father’s a crook, her mother’s a bingo hound, and her brother is a bully and a dullard. Six year old Matilda is mostly left to her own devices, which is probably for the best. She devours books from the local library but isn’t sent to school until the elementary school’s principal buys a lemon from her sleazy salesman father and her fate is sealed. Now poor Matilda’s got three adults on her case: her buffoon of a father (Danny DeVito), her flighty mother (Rhea Perlman), and the horrid Mz. Trunchbull (Pam Ferris).

It turns out Principal Trunchbull doesn’t just terrorize the students at her school, but the teachers too, and Matilda’s sainted teacher Miss Honey (Embeth Davidtz) in particular because it turns out Trunchbully is also the mean old aunt who raised her. So Miss Honey and Matilda have loads in common, aside from the fact that they both read at the same level. They’re both looking to replace the misfit families they were born into.

As a story for children, Matilda is a bit of a weird one. It turns out that Matilda has special powers that come in handy when an adult in her life treats her unfairly. And objectively, the adults in her life are deserving of her scorn, but they’re wildly drawn caricatures, sadists and criminals. I suppose Roald Dhal wanted to acknowledge that sometimes children feel powerless and small and Matilda gets to confront this imbalance in a way that most little kids never will. They’ll simply wait to grow up and hopefully do it to their own kids one day. Such is life. Matilda gets to exact her revenge now, and it’s exactly the kind of revenge a 6 year old would think up.

Danny DeVito directs this little ensemble and though the effects have aged incredibly poorly, it must be said that the casting of Mara Wilson as the eponymous star was a stroke of genius. She is believable as a little know it all but somehow always sweet, never obnoxious. She never seems like a brat. She’s the kind of kid you might just want to scoop up and take home – so it’s almost understandable when the lovely Miss Honey does just that. Okay, not really. In real life I think it’s much harder to adopt a kid who has two living parents. But in the movie, both Matilda and Miss Honey get their happy ending, and it’s hard to argue that.

However, it’s easier to argue other things. Like when Miss Honey confides in Matilda that her father’s suicide was actually probably murder, and Principal Trunchbull the murderer. Which is a weird thing to unload on a kid. And to not share with the authorities for decades. But Miss Honey isn’t exactly the angelic teacher we’re led to believe she is. She rather passively stands by and watches her wee tiny students get abused on a regular basis. She actually seems a bit like an idiot. But who’s counting?

The Lorax

Once upon a time, a lovely young woman named Jay flew first class. Yup, all those travels, and it was just the one time. I don’t even remember where we were going. What I do remember: 1. it was an early morning flight 2. the breakfast was good 3. I had a mimosa 4.The Lorax was playing 5. I almost immediately fell asleep and missed the whole thing. I think we got a pretty good deal on the upgrade but still, it was disappointing to have slept through all the luxury. Of course, it was probably only because of the luxury (read: space) that I could sleep. Still. I kicked myself. I kicked Sean too; he also slept, though it’s a less a rarity for him.

But all this time, I’ve wondered: is The Lorax boring, or did I just fall asleep because it was a 6am flight and I was incredibly tired?

The Lorax is based on a Dr. Seuss story in which a 12 year old boy, Ted (Zac Efron), decides to impress a girl, Audrey (Taylor Swift), by bringing her a tree. A real, live tree. Which no longer exist. They live in a place where the trees were replaced long ago by sculptures of plastic lit up by dozens of C batteries. Their whole town is utterly devoid of nature. They’ve been denuded. But Ted has a pretty big crush on this chick Audrey so he treks out to an isolated home where he meets the elderly Once-ler (Ed Helms), the one responsible for the world’s current problems. As a young man he was so determined to have his company succeed that he thought nothing of cutting down all the trees. He butted heads with the guardian of the forest, The Lorax (Danny DeVito), but he wouldn’t change his mind until it was too late. And the thing about too late is that it’s true to its name: too late.

Sean asked me how heavy-handed the environmentalism theme was, but I actually consider it to be more anti-capitalist than anything. The Onceler’s greed costs them everything. And yet this kid-friendly, animated family film is basically one long commercial, replete with product placement, basically neutering its message.

The animation is lovely. Illumination has done several Dr. Seuss adaptations at this point and they’re pretty adept at the translation. Their trees look like swirls of cotton candy. The town is fairly bursting with brilliant details. And yet once again this film has failed to truly grab me.

Jumanji: The Next Level

I admit I was pleasantly surprised to have genuinely laughed during Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle. Even the first (Robin Williams) one didn’t appeal to me but I was happy to take the win. I was expecting significantly less this time around and that’s exactly what it delivered – but The Next Level wasn’t entirely without its charms.

Now, you would think that after last time, Spencer (Alex Wolff) would have learned his lesson: a very definitely do NOT play Jumanji. Don’t look, don’t touch, don’t keep it around for a rainy day. But there’s one little flaw in the plan. Spencer is a dude. And you won’t have failed to notice that every single person who has played and failed at Jumanji is, in fact, a man. Men are stupid. They do not learn. Spencer’s tenuous reason is that life was going just a little too swimmingly, which caused him to lose confidence. As you do. So to cure his insecurity, he goes back into the game. What, it doesn’t make sense? Doesn’t matter! He’s a white male: he doesn’t need one, no one will ever really question him, and don’t you dare to start to think you’ll be the first.

The thing is, last time Spencer got to be Dr. Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) but this time his avatar is Ming (Awkwafina), a master cat burglar even though Spencer’s an anxiety-riddled little mouse. And once his loyal friends jump into the game to save him, they too will get assigned avatars they aren’t prepared for and never could be. And it’s not just the original foursome, but Spencer’s arthritic Grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his longtime frenemy Milo (Danny Glover) as well. It’ll be a real challenge to survive the game with these two dead weights slowing things down, but what choice do they have? The game’s afoot.

Jack Black is very good at pretending to be inhabited by all manner of teenager. Kevin Hart does an entertaining Danny Glover impression. Even Nick Jonas does a passable Colin Hanks. But The Rock? Poor Dwayne Johnson, he CANNOT do a DeVito. Like AT ALL.

The movie attempts to justify itself by being more, and it is – more characters, more whackadoodle scenarios, more adventure – but it’s also considerably less – less funny, less sensical.

By all rights Sean should be reviewing this movie but the poor guy had to leave the theatre at exactly the film’s climax (our sweetheart dog Gertie has been ill, and we were expecting a call from her vet; Sean held his phone in his hand the whole film, waiting for the merest vibration, whereupon he dashed out of the cinema to get the news). If you think it was difficult for him to tell me her results, you don’t know how hard it was for me to tell him how the movie ended. I’ve never felt more idiotic reciting simple facts.

Anyway, there are a few laughs to be had in this Jumanji, but not even enough to fill a 30 second trailer, so multiply that level of discomfort by 246 and you’ll have a general idea of your tolerance for this film.

Dumbo (2019)

Since the original Dumbo is only 60 minutes long, it was inevitable that Tim Burton’s 2019 update would veer from the scant story line of the first.

Max Medici (Danny De Vito) is the owner of a rinky dink circus where little Dumbo is born and immediately considered a monstrosity, despite the fact that our eyes tell us that between his big, sad, blue eyes and his soft, floppy ears, CGI Dumbo is perhaps even cuter than his hand-drawn cousin. A couple of kids, Millie and Joe Farrier, befriend Dumbo and together they discover he can fly. Their father Holt (Colin Farrell), a former trick pony rider and current one-armed vet, cares for the elephants but isn’t particularly warm to them, or to his own motherless children. When Dumbo’s mother, Mrs. Jumbo, is in the middle of an incident, she is labelled ‘mad’ and sold away. This is the straw that broke the circus’s back. It gets eaten up by a new amusement park called Dreamland, owned by Vandevere (Michael Keaton) and featuring the beautiful Colette (Eva Green).

As you can tell by cast alone, all the trappings of a Tim Burton movie are there, but sadly, almost none of the magic.

MV5BMTk3YzY3NmEtODExNy00ZGY5LTk3ZGYtMGUxOTlmN2Q2MTcxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzk5MTY4MTU@._V1_The first thing working against it, at least in my mind, is a circus scene in the movie Big Fish. It’s only a small part of the movie but it’s completely wonderful. Shouldn’t the wonder just multiply when set entirely at the circus? But no. Things start off relatively well at DeVito’s flea circus, but once it gets swallowed up by the soulless Dreamland, things go off the rails.

Second, I despised seeing Dumbo ridden. Dumbo is a flying baby elephant. Isn’t that enough? But no: 2019 needs to subjugate his whimsy by physically climbing aboard. It also doesn’t help that the sight of Eva Green on Dumbo’s back is some of the worst CGI work in the movie.

Mostly though, the movie just doesn’t feel coherent. Dumbo isn’t really even the star. Burton decided against the whole talking animal schtick, and while that makes sense for a live-action remake, it means a lot of improvised human characters and actor egoes who need screen time and dialogue and character arcs.

But when Dumbo himself is on the screen, the movie puffs its little chest and feels bigger for just a moment. Dumbo is irresistible, particularly in his clown makeup. My heart practically grows arms that yearn to embrace the poor little guy. Unfortunately, this little heart of mine just can’t quite make its way to liking this movie. It has everything going for it but the sum isn’t more than the parts. The sum is messy, and a little cold. Burton’s Dumbo is BYOH – bring your own heart.

Smallfoot

Shocking information of the day: Smallfoot is actually quite charming.

Also shocking:  I heard Milli Vanilli on the radio this morning. Unironic, unabashed Milli Vanilli from start to finish. Girl you know it’s true. I told Matt, of course, which obligated us to watch all their (3) videos and tumble down the rabbit hole of shoulder pads and dance moves. Which had us thinking about all our favourite cheesy 90s music, and that moment we discovered what sampling was (looking at you, Will Smith) and that embarrassing time in my life when I’d hear the opening beat and pray to Zeus that it was about to be Vanilla Ice and not that annoying song by Queen & Bowie. Can you imagine? Even being 6 doesn’t excuse that level of ignorance.

But back to the movie.

Migo is a BIGfoot, a happy-go-lucky guy, excited to be the next gong ringer in his bigfoot village above the clouds at the top of the mountain. They’re a rule-abiding, no-question-asking society until one day Migo (Channing Tatum) sees a plane crash (“flying thingie”) and a human (“smallfoot”) tumble out, and all the things he believed to be true were called into question. The Stonekeeper (Common) wears a robe that’s inscribed with all MV5BM2ZkM2MwYTQtYTNhNi00MWRjLThjMWItZDljNDg2ZjE5ZDFkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,744_AL_the village laws, and the robe says Smallfoots don’t exist. For once in his life, Migo disobeys the stone laws and gets cast out of town for sticking to his guns. Only the village crackpots\conspiracy theorists believe him, but they turn out to have a beautiful leader, Meechee (Zendaya), so Migo is persuaded to jump either to his death or his edification on behalf of the Smallfoot Evidentiary Society, over the mountain and through the clouds. Down, down he goes. He falls so far he can’t sustain his scream; it falters so he can rest his voice.

Below, he finds the Smallfoot (James Corden) but would you believe that only gets him in a whole whack of trouble?

Smallfoot has some delightful animation. Dozens of Bigfoots mean millions of hairs to animate, but they add up to a metric fucktonne of cuteness. There are some pretty good songs too – the first two numbers are poppy and catchy, the numbers choreographed with maximum fun. They burst with happiness. And then a third song. The opening beat…sounds familiar. Wait, is this about to be Ice Ice Baby, or Under Pressure? You’re wrong either way. James Corden changes up the lyrics so that fans of both are equally appeased\disappointed. But even when the musical numbers dissipate, the action and the story hold up. Our no-nosed yeti friends are a lot of fun, even if they have to learn some hard lessons about truth and who exactly it protects.

Smallfoot makes us wait longer than usual for the requisite fart joke, and it has some beautiful messaging integral to its story. Common tells us “the only thing stronger than fear is curiosity.” Once that curiosity is unleashed, the Bigfoots learn to put a dicey past behind them and overcome their fear to take care of each other despite their differences. I had no expectations for the movie Smallfoot which perhaps made it even sweeter when it turned out to be cute and funny and nearly everything you’d want from a kids movie – plus or minus a few pooping yak jokes.

Jim & Andy

The official title of the documentary is Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton and it’s ‘about’ how Jim Carrey became Andy Kaufman in order to portray him in the 1999 movie Man in the Moon.

Andy Kaufman was a comedian who defied definition. There wasn’t and hasn’t been anyone like him before or since; Kaufman existed outside the normal conception of stand-up comedy. For a lot of people he was simply too much – so who better to play him than this generation’s over the top comedian, Jim Carrey?

Having watched the documentary, it’s hard to decide who’s crazier. Maybe Andy MV5BMjM3OTY1OTAxNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTI0MTUxNDM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_Kaufman just didn’t give a fuck – but Jim? The documentary has a tonne of footage from the set of the movie, which was filmed 20 years ago. A documentary was planned at the time (shot by an old girlfriend of Andy’s) but Universal pulled the plug, for fear that the public would discover their beloved Jim Carrey to be an asshole. Cut to 2017 and the cat’s pretty much out of the bag. And maybe asshole’s not even the right word, but there is no one right word: he’s a space cadet, a depressive, a nonsensical philosopher. And those things are all apparent in the documentary, which also features an interview with him present day. And it’s hard to know who to detest and pity more: the Jim Carrey on the set of Man on the Moon was was never Jim Carrey at all because he was so deep in the character Jim never showed up to work, or the Jim Carrey today who at times seems downright bewildered even in his own skin. He talks about fugue states and telepathy, but bottom line, he believes that the spirit of Kaufman inhabited his body during filming. When director Milos Forman or colleagues like Danny De Vito or Paul Giamatti tried to address Jim on the set, “Andy” would be angry and\or defensive. “Andy” was always on, and always creating a ruckus. You can see how that would wear thin. The real Jim Carrey, whoever that is, has recently claimed to have had a spiritual awakening, and depending how woke you are yourself, what he spouts is either enlightened or crazy.

Either way, it’s hard to watch. And while it starts out to be fascinating in a voyeuristic, train wreck kind of way, my tolerance for it eroded before the 94 run time was up. And I’m a little uncomfortable eavesdropping on the scattered thoughts of a man who is perhaps not mentally at his best. Having battled depression for years, he has lately taken to ascribing meaninglessness to everything, coming off loopy in red carpet interviews. And he’s still staring down the barrel of a wrongful death lawsuit, accused by his dead girlfriend’s mother and estranged husband of having introduced her to hard drugs, prostitute, and at least 3 STIs. Carrey maintains the the lawsuit is simply a shakedown. I don’t know who’s right, but I do know that the whole method acting thing was nutty to begin with and is downright unhinged the way he does it. Maybe it’s the counsellor in me talking, but watching this just made me think: this man needs help.

 

The Comedian

Jackie (Robert DeNiro) played a beloved sitcom character at the very beginning of his career, and it seems his fans only want to remember him for that one thing. He’s a stand-up comic now, desperate to rebrand himself, but audiences turn nasty the further he pulls away from his more iconic stuff. So in the style of hot-headed comedians, he allows a heckling fan to draw him into a fight, and of course it’s Jackie who winds up sentenced to community service (among other things).

At the soup kitchen, he meets fellow assaulter Harmony (Leslie Mann), an otherwise 2-h_2016docile woman who is pushed to do violence when she finds her man in bed with another woman. This unlikely pair bonds over their mutual sentence, and agree to do each other a solid: she’ll attend his niece’s wedding with him – he owes money to his brother (Danny DeVito) and his sister-in-law (Patti LuPone) never quits breaking his balls – and he’ll attend a birthday dinner for her disapproving father (Harvey Keitel).

After decades as an insult comic, Jackie is looking to reinvent himself, but the people in his life keep him from doing so. DeNiro trained with real-life comic Jessica Kirson, who also appears in the movie. DeNiro adopts one of her signature moves, in which she whispers to herself while turned away from the audience. Lots of other comedians lend an air of authenticity to Jackie’s world: Brett Butler, Billy Crystal, Jim Norton, Gilbert Gottfried, Hannibal Buress, and more. Unfortunately, the comedy is just about all this movie gets right. I’m not even sure what kind of movie it’s supposed to be: some sort of May-December rom-com? Aging comedian comes of age? Light social commentary?

It doesn’t matter because it doesn’t work on any level. It feels dated, immediately. Cringe-worthy at times. It’s bloated, meandering, and has some pretty bizarre and inexplicable subplots over which I’m still scratching my head. It’s misguided. It’s tired. It has its charming moments but then there’s also a song about poop so I’m just not in a forgiving mood. DeNiro’s choices lately are a betrayal to his talent. Remember him as he was, not as he appears in this stinker.