Tag Archives: nick kroll

The House

I’m feeling uninspired. I’m not sure I can identify the exact problem with this movie. It has a talented cast and a promising premise – and truth be told, it did make me laugh, sporadically. But its squandering of potential deflated my enjoyment of the film.

Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler play parents who love their kid to death and are deeply embarrassed that they can’t afford to send her to her dream college when a town scholarship falls through. Instead of coming clean they decide to open an underground casino with their shadiest friend, who has just been left by his wife in large part due to his gambling addiction.

TELEMMGLPICT000133626218-large_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqrpfQw2hJyG_yckwxPAr0ggGNY_A2dHyghdflyNWj5P8When The House has the strongest pulse, it’s cutting close to satire: the tragic middle class, the American dream, the panic of empty nesters. But unfortunately it relies too heavily on its stars to do “bits” rather than writing actual characters who could stand up on their own. I don’t know who Ferrell and Poehler were supposed to be as people, and it’s possible they didn’t know either. They just pop up, unformed, clown around, and never even stumble into an arc.

The comedy pinballs from farce to the strangely violent; yes, it’s uneven, but it’s also way darker than it needs to be. It’s trying to be wild and crazy, and adding Jason Mantzoukas to the mix is definitely the right choice as he electrifies every scene he’s in. But it’s not enough. The movie falls flat every time they step away from him, the Ferrell and Poehler characters seeming lost and sending out mixed signals. They seem content within their little bubble, then they rail against, then they profit from it. They pay for their mistakes by taking from their friends and neighbours. It feels unseemly, and it’s hard to root for them. Hectic editing tries to cover for plotting that’s just plain absurd. And the writing’s just lazy. I wasn’t even allowed to turn in a first draft of a seventh grade composition, yet this whole $40M budget movie got made based on a rough draft. A very rough draft.

It feels like we’re overdue for a genuinely laugh-out-loud comedy, but this isn’t it. It cracked me up in a few places, but never without letting me see how hard the actors were working to land the sub-par material. It’s a meh of a movie and easily forgotten.

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Oh, Hello on Broadway

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Remember when they used to make movies based on Saturday Night Live sketches?  Isn’t it weird how that used to be a thing?  And that one of the best of the bunch was the movie about these two guys:

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Even though I grew up during the peak of the SNL movie craze, I was still blown away to see Oh, Hello on Broadway pop up on Netflix, in a “How is this even possible?” kind of way.  But I’m so glad it did and it’s better than I could have hoped.

For the uninitiated, Oh, Hello is one of a boatload of great skits from the Kroll Show, featuring two old men who, in a way, are not that different than the Butabi Brothers.  As the unimaginative name of the Netflix special implies, Oh, Hello then became a Broadway play, because why not?  And now, Oh, Hello on Broadway is a Netflix special that is basically a full-length movie about these two guys.  A flat-out hilarious hour and 42 minutes in the company of these wacky geezers.

tuna.jpgLike Night at the Roxbury, Oh, Hello on Broadway takes a one-note premise and uses it as a gateway to a fully-fledged story that looks behind the premise to the characters themselves.  Absurd as they are, Gil Faison (Nick Kroll) and George St. Geegland (John Mulaney) are surprisingly relatable and human, as we are shown through an insane play-within-a-play structure that works far better than it should.  The background story also is far better than it needed to be, because I would have been satisfied with a few, ‘Oh, Hello’s, and ‘Too Much Tuna’s.   Which of course I got.  Kroll and Mulaney knew why I was watching, but they also showed me how much they love these characters by giving them a proper home.

Because the special is so different from the skit, I don’t think any knowledge of the skits is needed.  Feel free to jump right in, but still, you should watch the skits at some point because they’re funny as hell.

I’m so glad to see stuff like this on Netflix and I hope we get more.  Jay and I had hoped to see this on Broadway but the scheduling didn’t work out, and while seeing it on Netflix is not the same as seeing it live, it’s better than not seeing it at all.  You should definitely add this one to your list.

 

Joshy

Joshy has planned a fun bachelor-party weekend away in Ojai, just him and his buddies celebrating his upcoming marriage with as much booze and drugs and strippers as time and space allows. Except Joshy’s fiancee commits suicide, and the weekend’s now been downgraded to just a “hangout” among friends.

Only a few brave friends arrive, besides Joshy (Thomas Middleditch): stable Ari (Adam Pally), determined to keep things light, neurotic Adam (Alex Ross Perry) whose default mode is wet blanket, and Eric (Nick Kroll), the friend with coke and bad ideas. They pick 2f03a127a57d72e5de9a6d7fb71e9cf5up some hangers-on (Jenny Slate among them) and proceed to have a very weird weekend.

How do men mourn and commiserate with their grieving friend? They mostly don’t. They mostly tamp down their feelings in favour of whatever self-destruction’s close by. The film is largely improvised, making use of all the comedic chops, so the chemistry is crackling even if it feels like the plot goes absolutely nowhere. It’s really about the presumption of our perceptions, and maybe the unknowability of people. The characters disclose things to each other, and expose themselves to us, but we don’t come away really understanding them any better for it.

Joshy has a really ephemeral quality to it, a sense that nothing can last, good or otherwise, and things will inevitably be left unsettled. This may be a comment on closure and its real-life attainability, and that’s exactly when the movie feels the most honest.

This was a humbly entertaining watch for me because I like these guys, but it wasn’t exactly earth-shattering goodness. It’s kind of a cross between a raunchy comedy and mumblecore, so take that admonition with the grain of salt it deserves.

TIFF: Sing

What do Scarlett Johansson, Reese Witherspoon, and Matthew McConaughey all have in common? They’ve all got pipes. And  boy do they use them in the new animated movie, Sing.

Picture this: a cute and cuddly koala, fuzzy in all the right places, adorably attired in a bowtie and sounding an awful lot like Matthew McConaughey. His name is Buster and his theatre is his passion. It is not, however, much of a sing-animation-movie-wallpaper-02living. The theatre’s bankrupt. He hasn’t had a successful show in – well, maybe ever. The bank’s about to swoop in and take it from him, so in a last ditch effort to save it, he plans a singing competition.

Because his secretary is a bit of a dunce, the $1000 prize is advertised as much more, so people desperate for money as well as those desperate for fame all show up to auditions. From a talented pool he selects a chosen few: Ash, a punk porcupine with a penchant for writing her own tunes (Johansson); Johnny, a gentle gorilla trying to escape his dad’s gang (Taron Egerton); 300773_m1455639411Gunther, a flamboyant dancing pig (Nick Kroll) partnered with Rosita, a shy momma pig with a big voice (Reese Witherspoon); an arrogant crooner of a mouse (Seth McFarlane); and a timid teenaged elephant with stage fright (Tori Kelly).

We saw an “unfinished” version at TIFF, as a sneak peak, but to my eye Garth Jennings’s oeuvre looked pretty near polished. The truth is this film is generic and formulaic. The animation is nothing to write home about. But the songs are catchy as hell, and the talent backs it up. It’s fun. It’s fluff but it’s fun. Your kids will like it. And you may resist, but your toes will be tapping too. It’s that kind of infectious.

TIFF: Loving

Director Jeff Nichols quietly tackles the subject of racism by holding up one Loving couple. Richard and Mildred Loving (their real last name) went to jail in Virginia in 1958 just for being married. Well, for being married to each other. For being married to a person of a different race than their own.

loving-movie-posterThe movie’s success lies in what a small, personal story this is. We never feel like the whole south is against them – but it feels worse that it must be one of their neighbours who keeps ratting them out. The police come, guns drawn, to break down their door in the middle of the night in order to catch them in a crime – that of sleeping next to itch other in marital bliss.

Richard Loving is the world’s quietest man, and Joel Edgerton has quite an uphill battle to portray him and not come off as unemotional. Ruth Negga exudes talent beside him as his wife, Mildred, who is also shy and meek but the talkier of the two out of necessity. Neither wants any trouble. You get the sense they’d be happy not to challenge anything if only they could be left alone. But in order to avoid prison they get exiled from the entire state of Virginia for 25 years. 25 years of raising their babies with no parents, siblings, or friends around to watch. Their love of family is what encourages them to push back, with the help of a nervy lawyer from the ACLU (Nick Kroll). He wants to present the case to the Supreme Court. He’s ready to fight against discrimination and prejudice. Richard and Mildred just want to be married.

Jeff Nichols embraces their humble nature and keeps his movie similarly loving-movie-trailer-focus-features-ftrreserved. There’s not a lot of grandstanding. In fact, he turns his back (and his camera) away from the big, sweeping court scene in order to keep it once again in the heart of the family. Easily eliciting a flood of emotions, it’s actually a relief to see them played out so superbly on Negga’s face, and in Edgerton’s shoulders, rather than some melodramatic speech. The restraint here is a credit to Nichols’ directing, but also to this wonderful casting.

The decision in their case, Loving v. Virginia, was not unanimous, but they did declare Virginia’s “Racial Integrity” law to be unconstitutional, which voided similar laws in other states as well. Actually, it’s the Loving v. Virginia case that was cited in the 2015 decision to allow same-sex marriage as well. Richard and Mildred, two humble people who just wanted to be a family, allowed the same for countless others.

It’s the kind of movie you’ll want to applaud.

Sausage Party

This movie is surprisingly well-reviewed for something based on a pun gone wrong, and is poised to usurp Suicide Squad’s tenuous hold on the box office’s top spot.  But it’s probably the summer’s biggest disappointment for me.

It comes as a surprise to absolutely no one that Sausage Party is peppered with f-bombs and exploding with offensive material. The surprise is that I didn’t buy into it. I’m generally a cusser extraordinaire and have a tongue so salty it makes sailors blush and mumble “aw shucks.” But swearing should be unselfconscious whereas Sausage Party just feels so darn deliberate. Like it’s a 19 million dollar excuse to pack in every bad word Seth Rogen knows, and a few he just made up.

sausage party cabageThe basic premise is: what if your food had feelings? Like, every night when the grocery store closes, the food comes alive in almost exactly the same way the toys do in Toy Story. But in Toy Story, the worst thing we do is neglect our old toys. Worst case play with them too roughly. But we flipping eat food! And before we eat it, we torture it: we cut it, mash it, boil it up, set it on fire. At first the food is blissfully unaware of its weird relationship with us, but when they eventually find out it’s supermarket anarchy.

There are mostly two types of jokes in this movie:

  1. Racial stereotypes. Kosher food, halal food, ethnic food. The Canadian beer that apologizes constantly. The bagel and the lavash are sworn enemies. A little homophobia on the side just to keep things fresh.
  2. Graphic sex. As graphic as a juice box can get, anyway. I mean, the whole plot revolves around a bun (Kristen Wiig) and a sausage (Seth Rogen) who can’t wait to couple. There’s a character who is literally a douche (Nick Kroll). Did you ever want to see a sausage penetrate 3 types of bread products at once? I mean, this is the kind of thing that only comes around once, maybe twice in your life. So get it while it’s hot.

The problem with rude comedy is that if it’s all rude all the time, then rude is the new normal and it all becomes dull pretty quick. I prefer my food orgies to be me at an all you can eat buffet in Vegas, with unlimited mimosas, is what I’m saying.

But even critics, who found Suicide Squad so joyless, are on board for this profanity-filled49033034.cached sausage fest. And of course I cracked a few laughs. I absolutely did. But mostly I didn’t enjoy myself much. I feel too guilty to laugh at something so obvious and offensive as a bottle of “fire water” with a Native American accent (provided by white guy Bill Hader). And while that might be the most culturally inappropriate, it’s not the hardest to watch. Not with a used condom sloppily lamenting its fate, or toilet paper experiencing PTSD.

This should have been a movie right up my bum. Er, alley. Right up my alley. But I guess I’m just too much of an old prude to appreciate it. For me it’s a rare miss from Seth Rogen but I guess my tolerance for glutinous cunnilingus just isn’t what it used to be.

Adult Beginners

Some of my favourite people come together in this movie, so I couldn’t resist, but neither could I legitimately build up my expectations since it was just an unvouched-for indie among many on Netflix.

adultAnd it doesn’t have much of a plot that I can summarize for you; it’s an unambitious slice of life. It’s about a guy (Nick Kroll) who shows up at his sister’s  door in suburbia, looking for a place to live. He’s had some major setbacks and he’s feeling way too old to start his whole life over again. She’s (Rose Byrne) not in a much better place, kind of not sure about her job, her marriage, or even where to be or who to be. They’re listless. But the interesting thing about the movie, to me, is that they’re not painted as losers. They’ve just had some bad luck and some hard times, and that’s life.

Not the laugh-out-loud comedy you’d expect, I was caught off guard by how AdultBeginners_2014_BluRay_1080p_DTS_x264ETRG_mkv_snapshot_01_25_59_2015_08_04_17_47_46thoughtful and mature this movie is – maybe one of the more realistic movies about adult family relationships I’ve seen in a long while. Byrne and her on-screen husband, Bobby Cannavale, are a real-life couple, and they play well together. Throwing funny man Nick Kroll into the mix as a more or less straight-man is a bold and surprisingly effective choice. Everyone is some degree of flawed in this movie but we don’t make monsters out of any of them. They’re very relatable, and there’s a adultbeginnersquiet generosity in the characterization, a forgiveness I’m not used to see in movies that was really refreshing and kind of a relief.

While it doesn’t exactly gift-wrap an opaquely happy ending, it does suggest that second chances are possible, and maybe that’s as happy an ending as I really need.

Funny People

Are you familiar with the website Funny or Die? It’s a comedy site developed by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell where people upload uproarious videos that get voted on – those not deemed funny are sentenced to death (or at least the site’s “crypt”). The first video I remember seeing was the Landlord skit featuring Farrell and a barb-tongued toddler, but since then tonnes of celebrities have contributed all kinds of crazy stuff. There are no rules in the interweb, and Funny or Die is where famous people let loose. Like, major looseness.

Funny or Die is such a machine now that it’s actually spawned its own comedy festival, dubbed the Oddball Festival, and it’s been running for 3 years now. I happened to catch it during its inaugural run 3 years ago in Chicago when it was co-headlined by Flight of the Conchords (!) and Dave Chappelle in his return to stand-up. The night before we saw him, he was in Hartford, where the audience literally drowned him out with heckling and shouts of “White power!”. Chappelle walked off and then treated us to quite an anti-Hartford diatribe, including his fervent wish that North Korea would bomb Hartford. It was an epic set.

oddballThis year the festival is being co-headlined by Aziz Ansari and Amy Schumer. There’s a million other brilliant comedians on the bill as well (including Jay Pharaoh, Michael Che, and fucking Nick Kroll!) and we’re lucky enough to see all of them. Amy Schumer is having quite a year (if you haven’t read our review of Trainwreck yet, I assure you, we were entertained) but Aziz is our man.

I first came across Aziz Ansari in yet another Judd Apatow movie: Funny People (although in a little dose of kismet, if I’d only been paying attention, he’d previously appeared in an episode of Flight of the Conchords). Adam Sandler plays a movie star who copes with his illness and impending death by returning to his stand-up roots. He enlists the help of Seth Rogan to write jokes and “assist” him. I like this movie for a lot of reasons. Like seeing Sandler do something with some emotional depth. I LOVED seeing baby untitledSandler doing his earliest bits (he and Apatow were actually college roommates, and guess who filmed heaps of footage! – baby Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo also appear, if you squint). I loved Jason Schwartzman as a sleazy sitcom star, and Jonah Hill as a competitive bitch, and Eric Bana popping up in this after the little ode to Eric Bana in Apatow’s Knocked Up was just the shit, and I really REALLY loved this explosive unknown stand-up act who steals scenes: Aziz Ansari. Well, technically, not Aziz. Aziz developed a character named Randy for the film, but found him to be so well-liked and compelling that he’d often slip into the Randy stuff during his own shows.

Aziz doesn’t do a lot of movies but you may know him as Tom on Parks and Recreation (or will no doubt come to know him through his upcoming Netflix series, Master of None). He did make small appearances in Get Him to the Greek, 30 Minutes or Less (funniest part of the movie, if you ask me), and This is the End, proving just how incestuous the Apatow crew is (and for good measure, he’s also appeared on The League, and The Kroll Show). It’s a small world and Aziz Ansari is getting closer and closer to owning it.

We’ve seen Aziz before and love love love his stand-up. In fact, we saw him serendipitously last month at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal (where we also saw Chappelle). That particular night we were actually there to see Alan Cumming, who was fabulous, but got wind of a surprise pop-up show by Ansari, who wasn’t scheduled to appear. Turns out, he was working on material for the Oddball show and wanted a test audience. It was extremely polished for a so-called dry run, and funny as hell, so we’re totally primed to see him again this weekend, and with so much other talent, there’s no way we can lose.

Which funny people are your favs?