Tag Archives: Keegan-Michael Key

The Predator

In light of recent events, I feel obligated to point out that the title of this film refers to the fictional species of intergalactic trophy hunters, not director Shane Black’s real-life registered sex offender pal who was somehow cast in a bit role here (whose scene was then removed from the final cut when his sex offender status came to light).  With that major misstep remedied, though not forgotten, the latest entry in the Predator franchise arrives with the theme of evolution underlying the on-screen battles between humans and giant fang-faced aliens.

thepredator_02The ever-evolving Predator crash lands on earth and interrupts a U.S. sniper’s top secret Mexican mission. After ejecting from its ship, the Predator kills the sniper’s support team but the sniper (Boyd Holbrook) manages to escape, mailing a few pieces of the Predator’s gear home as evidence of the encounter. The gear finds its way to the sniper’s son (Room‘s Jacob Tremblay), who figures out how to activate it and in doing so becomes the Predator’s target. The army is no help in containing the Predator so the only ones standing between the Predator and the rest of the world are the sniper, a biologist (Olivia Munn) and a misfit group of soldiers. And the fight is on!

In addition to being a key plot point, the concept of evolution looms large for me as I reflect on this film, because the Predator series has definitely evolved. It’s so much different than the cheesy action/horror nostalgia trip I expected to see. The Predator is a gleeful, self-referential comedy that takes more pleasure in delivering quick, clever banter than it does in splattering the screen with gore.

Make no mistake, though. The Predator is an exceedingly gory film. Faces will be ripped off. Bodies will be sliced into pieces. Internal organs will ooze out of gaping wounds. That, more than anything, illustrates how consistently funny the Predator manages to be, because comedy is the film’s dominant element even in the presence of buckets and buckets of gore.

Black is known for his action-comedies, and his script for Lethal Weapon is rightly recognized as a standout in the genre. An evolution, even. Thirty years later, Black is still rolling along. A bit player in the original Predator (his character lasted all of seven minutes), Black now directs and co-writes (with Fred Dekker) the 2018 version, which is not a reboot of the original. Instead, it revisits what has come before to tell a new story and, by the end, sets a whole new course for the franchise that is as intriguing as it is ridiculous.

thepredator_04Of course, ridiculousness is a Black staple and while Predator does not quite measure up to Black’s best (namely, the amazing Lethal Weapon), it is a wonderfully entertaining film thanks to Black and the extremely solid cast. The standouts of the teriffic ensemble are Tremblay as the protagonist’s code-cracking son and This Is Us’s Sterling K. Brown as a scenery-devouring special agent whose motives are never clear but always nefarious. The Predator keeps up a steady stream of action and laughs from start to finish, and as a result, I’m now waiting eagerly for the even-more-ridiculous sequel that the Predator blatantly and shamelessly promises.

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Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

In my opinion, the Hotel Transylvania franchise is completely devoid of charm, wit, imagination, or life. It’s the barest of bare minimums. It treats children like nitwits and may actually be worsening their little attention spans by assuming they have none.

But if your kids are already attached to this hotel full of monsters, chances are you’re going to have to sit through this one too, so here’s what you’re dealing with: Drac (a vampire voiced by Adam Sandler) manages a hotel for monsters. His daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) shocked the monster community by marrying a human, Johnny (Andy Samberg) and producing a half-human, half-dracula child they inexplicably named Dennis. So that’s basically the first two movies, distilled into two sentences, and let’s faceMV5BY2ZiMWFkZDEtMTgxNy00ZDdkLTlkYzgtYWNlYTcxN2M0NDcwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_ it, with some clever punctuation, it could have been just the one. Anyway. The hotel is populated by various monsters such as Frankenstein (Kevin James) and his lovely wife Eunice (Fran Drescher), Mr & Mrs Werewolf (Steve Buscemi and Molly Shannon), the invisible man (David Spade), and a mummy called Murray (Keegan-Michael Key). And in this third installment, Mavis gets it in her head that her dad has devoted his life to perfecting other people’s vacations and deserves one of his own. So somehow the whole gang schleps off to a monster cruise, helmed by the beautiful captain Ericka (Kathryn Hahn). Only problem is: Drac has already “zinged” once (“zing” being the monster version of love at first sight, and true love forever, and love being once in a lifetime). So he’s nervous about it, and Mavis is unexpected not that cool with it. But even more worryingly, Drac’s old nemesis Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) might still be after him after decades of cat and mouse. So that’s disappointing.

Spelling it out like this actually makes it seem like this movie has a plot, and I guess it does in the very vaguest of terms. But plot in this case is just filler in between out of the blue musical numbers \ dance sequences where it is clear that a) Sony isn’t shelling out for good or current music and b) the animators are super duper lazy and praying we won’t notice.

Anyway, Hotel Transylvania is as big a snore as the first and second. The only thing it has going for it is a giant puppy named Tinkles, even though he’s criminally and surprisingly effectively disguised by a small hat for most of the movie (which manages to confound all of the grown-ups until it falls off and his true identity is revealed). I was never in danger of laughing. I had low expectations for this movie and it met them – good thing it was the only thing playing at the drive-in.

Teacher of The Year

Amazon tempted me into this one with the promise of some pretty funny dudes: Keegan-Michael Key, and the Sklar Brothers, who I didn’t even know acted. Turns out, they don’t. But they do do their stand-up act in front of a camera in “character” as a couple of funny brothers. Actually they play high school counselors – their job is to help kids get into college and they are spectacularly bad at it. Keegan-Michael Key teacher-of-the-year-movieplays the principal and he’s pretty darn at that too. But Matt Letscher plays the titular “Teacher of the Year” and though his character has the bonafide ribbon, you kind of have to take their word for it that he’s good at his job. Although we see quite a lot of him in the classroom, he rarely seems to be more than competent, and sometimes quite a bit less. Even so, this Teacher of the Year is being lured out of teacher. And if this is the best they have, they cannot afford to lose him. The rest of the school seems to be populated by teachers who are either oblivious or crazy with jealousy. It’s a sad state of affairs.

Anyway, as I should have guessed from a movie that’s hired stand-up comedians rather than actors, it’s hella-funny in some very small, contained parts, and mostly not at all funny in all the others. It’s sort of a mockumentary and sort of just a failed movie.

Why Him?

Ned is a sweet, hard-working family man who loves to bowl. His wife, Barb, is a supportive and involved mother of two, an art professor and photographer on the side. They have a 15 year old son who makes loving slide shows and a daughter at college who is dearly missed. Imagine their surprise when a Face Time with her reveals the unadorned ass of her secret lover.

Rendywhy-him-01-trlr-9204Cut to: Ned (Bryan Cranston) and Barb (Megan Mullally) fly to California to meet their daughter’s new boyfriend, Laird (James Franco). He’s a “free spirit” which is code for guy who makes worst possible impression on parents so they immediately hate him, which is unfortunate because he’s terribly in love with their daughter. It’s always awkward when someone tries too hard to be liked. It’s a thousand times more awkward when that someone is a tech millionaire who has unlimited means to make all his awkward dreams come true.

I was pretty sure I could write this review without even seeing the movie, and I was half right: this movie has very little to add to the overprotective dad vs odd duck fiance trope. We get it, dads: you hate your daughter’s boyfriends. But I have to admit that a charming cast goes a long way with this movie. Franco continues to endear himself to me. Cranston makes the implausible feel plausible. And Mullally has space to shine. The truth is, this dumb movie did make me laugh.

If you’ve seen Why Him? then you know that Bryan Cranston plays a not-very-hip dad who doesn’t relate to new technology in any meaningful way, which has already alienated him from his kids, but opens a wide chasm between himself and his daughter’s Silicon Valley boyfriend. Laird’s mansion is “paperless” and Ned learns the hard way that WhyHim_.0this includes toilet paper. Laird has the latest in toilet innovation but since its instruction manual has not yet been translated from Japanese, his weird assistant (Keegan-Michael Key) gets to show Ned live and in person how to properly “wipe” his ass. In order to celebrate the release of this movie, Why Him? brought a suitably fancy porta potty to SXSW. This, ladies and gentlemen, is officially the weirdest way I’ve ever seen a movie promoted and it worked. How could I not find out what’s up with that? I did, however, resist the temptation to stick my arm through a hole that would apparently provide me with a James-Franco-inspired temporary tattoo.

SXSW: Win It All

Eddie’s friend asks him to babysit a duffel bag for him, while he’s in prison. He’s not to touch it, not to open it. Just house it for the duration of the prison sentence, and he’ll be handsomely rewarded. But Eddie’s an addict. He’s not good at resisting temptation. He certainly doesn’t resisit this one, at least not for long. And when he finds loads of cash inside it, it triggers his gambling addiction, never exactly dormant, always waiting for a cash infusion.

Cut to – you guessed it – Eddie’s lost everything. He’s deeply in debt. He is drowning in regret. Win-It-All-MovieAnd also debt, duh. Eddie (Jake Johnson) takes his sob story to his older brother Ron (Joe Lo Truglio) who’s heard it all before but takes pity on him, and offers him a job in the family business. If Eddie works as a landscaper for the months remaining on the prison sentence, Ron will make up the difference in whatever else he owes. It’s a great deal, and Eddie throws himself into the honest work for the first time in his life, extra determined to turn things around because of a new woman on the horizon. But guess what? Prison buddy is getting out early! So the months-long plan to make the money back is now completely fucked, and so is Eddie. What shall he do?

Director Joe Swanberg is known for his low-budget, genre-blending stuff. He had such a good time doing Drinking Buddies that he decided to keep the mojo going with its star, Jake Johnson, and the two became a writing team who eventually came up with the script for Win It All.  Jake Johnson is extremely charismatic, which helps sustain his losery character through lots of personal ups and downs. Pairing him with Joe Lo Truglio is the real stroke of genius. He’s affable and earnest, the exact opposite of the sleaze that pops up in Eddie’s other life. Keegan-Michael Key also pops up as his sponsor, who is sometimes shockingly and hilariously very un-sponsor-like.

The script is true to addictions without getting lost in their seriousness. It does go to some dark places, inevitably, but you can feel Johnson and Swanberg always tugging the reins back toward the light. It’s the little field trips from expectation that elevate this material about the normal schtick. Win It All ends up being a little slice of human nature with room for some character work. Falling into this film is a heady experience; it keeps subverting its own subversion, which keeps you on your twinkle toes. And possibly casting some side-eye to whatever duffel bags are in your closet.

 

Catch this film April 7 on Netflix.

Storks

As everyone knows, storks used to delivery babies. It was hard work, gross work, and no one is more relieved than storks that they’ve since gotten out of the baby trade and gone into delivering packages instead.

The boss stork, Hunter (Kelsey Grammer), the kind of dick who made his office out of glass thumbnail_24123even though birds can’t see it, is stepping aside, leaving room at the top for Junior (Andy Samberg) to fill his shoes (well, birds don’t wear shoes, though they seem to occasionally wear ties) on the condition that Junior get rid of “the orphan Tulip,” a baby who was undelivered 18 years ago and has been a thorn in their sides ever since. She’s about to turn 18, and Junior’s first job, if he wants the new title, is to return her to the human world.

I’m watching this movie because of a junkie. My sister’s SUV was broken into last month, and aside from the 85 cents in change in a cup holder, the thief got away with their DVD player, used to entertain my 3 year old nephew on car rides. When I was a kid we had to listen to tapes, and play I Spy, or Mad Libs on car rides but apparently these days commuting is unbearable unless everyone has a screen to stare at. My sister, suspecting the thief might be the drug addict across the street (she lives in a very comfortable suburban neighbourhood), magnanimously said “You don’t know his circumstances” and left it at that. Possibly she was just tired of hearing the same 10 minutes of Peppa Pig every day. Anyway, that’s how I came to be watching Storks, even though I firmly turned down the press screening a year ago when offered because it was at 10am on a Saturday morning when in fact I prefer to pretend that there isn’t an “am” on weekends.

Back to the movie: There’s a little boy named Nate who dreams of having a little brother or rawsister. His parents (Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell) are busy realtors who are basically “one and done.” Nate decides to circumvent their fertility plans and appeal to the storks directly himself. Junior is already fucking up after just one day as the boss so of course there’s a spare baby, but he fucks that up too and accidentally delivers her to wolves (Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key) instead.

This movie is perfectly serviceable. It’s not memorable or good in the way we’ve come to expect from Pixar, but it’s colourful and frenetic and will have some appeal for children if not their parents (although I admit I was pretty charmed by the wolf versatility and voice cast). I do wonder if this movie will inspire some follow-up questions about where babies DO come from, so you parents out there will have to let me know. All I have is a Sean, and he prefers not to know. 😉

Don’t Think Twice

Don’t Think Twice is a comedy about an improv troupe, written and directed by a very talented stand-up comic named Mike Birbiglia. His previous film, Sleepwalk With Me, was ripped right from a popular stand-up routine of his, but Don’t Think Twice is really its own story, and while Birbiglia plays a role, he also shares screen time with a talented cast.

The improv troupe, who call themselves The Commune, consists of Matt (Birbiglia), Sam (Gillian Jacobs), Allison (Kate Micucci), Lindsay (Tami Sagher), Bill (Chris Gethard) , and DON'T THINK TWICE, back, from left: Tami Sagher, Mike Birbiglia, Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci, 2016.Jack (Keegan-Michael Key). They’re a really solid group who perform really well together, but their NYC theatre is struggling to stay open, and everyone’s chasing their own dream of performing on Weekend Live (an exact replica of SNL).

The movie is quite smartly written. Sam and Jack, a couple, are chosen by Weekend Live’s people to come in for an audition. Their friends, filled with achy jealousy, do their best to support and congratulate their luck. But how long can that tenuous brave face hold, especially if one of them is actually cast, and realizes the one thing that every one of them has been yearning for?  Don’t Think Twice is bittersweet. It’s about pursuing your dreams, but also about the cost of actually having them come true.

The cast really sells this stuff. They trained in improv together (Gillian Jacobs was a complete noob) for weeks in order to then be filmed in front of audiences. The result is spontaneous and often quite funny. But the movie itself is not full of “jokes” but finds it laughs in the webbing of the characters.

Chris Gethard is an improv junkie, a member of the Upright Citizens Brigade since 2000, and as an offshoot of that, the host of his own show, aptly named The Chris Gethard Show, which is wildly chaotic and fun. He was a guest writer on SNL for one episode.

After performing with legendary improv troupe Second City (Chicago), Keegan-Michael Key appeared on MADtv, cast against Jordan Peele with the intention that FOX would choose between them and only have one (token) black cast member. Both were riotous and proved their worth, and so they both stayed on, creating a lasting partnership. They produced Key & Peele sketches for Comedy  Central for 5 seasons, and wrote a movie together this year, called Keanu.

Tami Sagher was also a member of Chicago’s Second City. She’s been nominated for 4 dont-think-twice-99ddb592-9a20-4056-aa36-ced9ae9ea4dfWriters Guild of America Awards; 3 for MADtv, and 1 for 30 Rock. She’s also written for Psych, How I Met Your Mother, and Inside Amy Schumer, and produced for Bored to Death, Girls, and The Michael J. Fox Show.

Kate Micucci you  may recognize as one half of the musical-comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates (she’s Oates, if that’s not obvious). They perform everywhere, including regularly on your television (and on Netflix!), and the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in L.A. (beginning to see a theme here?). She’s been on Scrubs and The Big Bang Theory.

Gillian Jacobs is along for the ride. You may have a softer spot for her if you watched her on Community, but I know her from the Netflix original series Love, where she played the world’s most obnoxious character (or possibly the second most – the guy she plays opposite is just as bad and I could never decide who was worse), and I continue to hate her for it to this day.

Together though, they coalesce into a strong unit that makes this movie feel real. Birbiglia is showing aptitude in his direction, and the writing backs up a talented cast. There’s an intimacy here that can’t be faked, and a truth that elevates this film from just laugh-out-loud funny to heartfelt honesty at times, and biting satire at others. Don’t Think Twice currently enjoys a 99% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes, which makes this movie higher rated than La La Land (93%), Fences (95%),  Manchester by the Sea (97%), or Moonlight (98%). Is it actually better than those movies? No. But it’s well done, funnier than most big-release comedies this year, and it’s made with a clear love of a uniquely American art form.