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Josh Reviews Paul Feig’s Rebooted Ghostbusters!

Let’s cut right to the chase: the original Ghostbusters is one of the all time great movies, definitely in my top ten.  Paul Feig’s rebooted Ghostbusters can’t hold a candle to the original.  But this new film is still a ton of fun, very funny and very enjoyable from start to finish.  Mr. Feig is one of the great comedy directors working today, and mixed with this tremendous cast he ‘s created a great movie that is funny and exciting.  Ignore the haters who were all bent out of shape at the idea of an all-female Ghostbusters: this is a solid movie that is definitely worth seeing.

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The idea of rebooting/remaking one of the all-time great movies is a foolhardy one.  I have been saying that for years, ever since rumors of a new Ghostbusters began floating around.  Remake BAD movies that you can improve upon!  Why hobble yourself by forcing audiences to compare your new movie, at every turn, to one of the greatest movies of all time?  It just seems insane to me.

Equally insane?  The crazy, misogynistic anger that has been out there, across the internet, at the idea of an all-female Ghostbusters.  What year is this??  Who cares whether the new Ghostbusters are male or female or whatever??  The questions should be: are they funny?  Does this new cast have a great dynamic together?  Do they create interesting new characters who you care about and root for?  Those are the questions that you should be asking.  And by the way, the answer to all three of those questions is YES, which is why this new Ghostbusters works as well as it does.

But getting back to my original point, I have been saying all along, and I still feel this way now after having seen the new Ghostbusters, that rather than remaking one of the all-time-great films, I’d have preferred had Paul Feig and this cast come together to make an original film.  That would have been more interesting to me, and in my opinion it would have given this project a better chance for greatness (rather than my constantly thinking about, while watching it, the ways in which it falls short of the original Ghostbusters).

However, that being said, this is probably as good a version of a rebooted Ghostbusters as I can imagine seeing.  I have a few quibbles, of course, but overall the movie works very, very well.  The cast is great.  The jokes work.  The visual effects are terrific.  The film successfully walks a fine line between telling the familiar type of story we expect from a rebooted Ghostbusters film while also finding some new twists and new spins to put on … [continued]

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The Top 20 Movies of 2014 — Part Three!

My journey through the Best Movies of 2014 continues!  Click here for Part One of my Top 20 Movies of 2014 list, numbers 20-16.  Click here for Part Two, numbers 15-11.

And now we enter my top ten.  Here we go:

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10.  Top Five Chris Rock has finally found a movie that equals his comedic potential.  Guess what, he wrote and directed it himself!  Rock stars as movie star Andre Allen, famous for acting in the hugely successful “Hammy” comedies in which he wears a big bear suit.  But Allen is sick of that, and is attempting to redirect his career by starring in a serious movie about a Haitian slave rebellion.  On the eve of that movie’s opening, Allen agrees to be interviewed by a New York Times reporter, Chelsea Brown, played by Rosario Dawson.  The film follows the two through that one tumultuous day, and both go through life upheavals before the day is done.  Top Five is a wonderfully loose, funny, heartfelt story.  It’s hugely funny, and a number of famous comedians pop in for cameos, each more gut-busting than the next.  Kevin Hart, J.B. Smoove, Tracy Morgan, Jay Pharaoh, Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, and so many others fill out an extraordinarily rich ensemble.  Mr. Rock uses each performer to comedic perfection.  The film is led by Mr. Rock and Ms. Dawson, who have magnificent chemistry together.  They are both alive when on screen together, funny and compelling.  Top Five is a wonderful concoction, one I am eager to revisit.  I’ll have more to say about this film on the site soon.

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9. Bad Words Jason Bateman knocks it out of the park with his directorial debut.  He stars as Guy Trilby, a forty-year-old man who exploits a loophole in the rules of the National Quill Spelling Bee to enter the national children’s spelling bee.  If you don’t think you’re going to laugh at a grown man gleefully defeating little kids in a spelling bee, then this might not be the film for you.  For me, I found it to be absolutely hilarious and tremendous fun in its just-on-the-edge of bad taste transgressive comedy.  Most astonishingly, for all the fun to be had watching Guy torture innocent kids, Bad Words is surprisingly sweet in the end.  Jason Bateman is at the top of his game, Kathryn Hahn kills it, and Allison Janey & Philip Baker Hall are tremendous.  I love this movie.  (Click here for my original review.)

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8. The Drop This crime film, written by brilliant novelist Dennis Lehane, is a brutally intense slow burn.  It features James Gandolfini, who is phenomenal in his final role.  He plays Cousin … [continued]

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“Who the hell is Julius Caesar? You know I don’t follow the NBA!” Josh Reviews Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Comedy sequels are incredibly hard.  Don’t believe me?  Name your top five favorite comedy sequels.  Go.  Having trouble coming up with five?  Having trouble coming up with ONE great comedy sequel?  I rest my case.  (For the record, I have some love for Ghostbusters 2, The Naked Gun 2 1/2, and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, though all three of those films are, in my opinion, markedly inferior to their predecessors.)  Adding to the challenge of a successful Anchorman 2 is the long decade that has passed since the first film’s release.  In that ten years, the modestly successful Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy has grown ino a huge cult hit, beloved by many and joyfully quoted ad nauseam. Now that the longed-for-by-fans sequel has finally arived, it is hard to imagine any actual filming living up to all those expectations built up over the last decade.

I didn’t enter into Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues with too much of an attachment to the first film, which might make me something of a rarity.  Truth be told, I didn’t much care for Anchorman the first time I saw it.  While its pleasures and sublime silliness have grow on me over the years (I laughed quite a lot when I re-watched the film last week, in preparation for seeing the sequel), and I certainly think it’s a very funny film, I wouldn’t rank it amongst my favorite comedies.  My tastes tend to range towards the goofy comedies of my youth (films like Airplane!, Fletch, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, National Lampoon’s Vacation, The Naked Gun, LA Story, etc).  I also unabashedly love the work of Mel Brooks (particularly Young Frankenstein, The Producers, Blazing Saddles, and Spaceballs), Albert Brooks (particularly Modern Romance), Christopher Guest (particularly A Mighty Wind), Kevin Smith (Clerks through Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) and Judd Apatow and Mr. Apatow’s circle of collaborators (including films like Superbad, I Love You, Man, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Tropic Thunder).   I love Monty Python (particularly The Holy Grail) and Woody Allen (particularly Annie Hall, Bananas, Zelig, and Crimes and Misdemeanors, though I could go on).  I love Waking Ned Devine and My Blue Heaven and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Aristocrats (the most profane film ever made) and Bull Durham and The Frisco Kid and Shaun of the Dead and High Fidelity.  Have I established my comedy leanings sufficiently?  Even among the sillier films headlined by Will Ferrell (which I tend to enjoy, though not as much as any of the other films I have just listed), I have always found Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby to be a far funnier film than the … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Bridesmaids!

When you combine the two main creative forces behind Freaks and Geeks (one of the greatest television shows ever made) with some of the funniest actresses working today, is it any result that the resulting film is an uproariously funny, ferociously entertaining comedy from start to finish?

Kristen Wiig stars in Bridesmaids as Annie, a young woman whose life is on a bit of a downturn.  Her boyfriend left her, which would be painful enough if the withdrawal of his financial backing didn’t also cause her bakery business to go under.  Annie is at first happy to hear that her life-long best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph), has gotten engaged, but soon that happy news turns bitter as Annie begins to feel that Lillian has found a new best friend in one of her bridesmaids, the wealthy, perky Helen (Rose Byrne).  As she feels Lillian slipping away from her, Annie tries ever-harder to plan perfect wedding-related events for her friend, but those efforts wind up exploding in increasingly spectacular fashion.

In addition to starring in the film, Kristen Wiig co-wrote Bridesmaids with Annie Mumolo.  No one could possibly survive and thrive on Saturday Night Live for as long as Ms. Wiig did without clearly having a strong comedic voice and some writing skills, but this film firmly establishes her as a powerhouse talent.  She and Ms. Mumolo have crafted a script that is screamingly funny but also endearingly human.  There is some exaggeration in the film, to be sure, and there are some characters who drift closer to comedic archetypes than they do to real people.  But the central story-line of the film is very real and very honest.  The description of the film’s plot in the above paragraph could just as easily be the plot for a somber, depressing drama.  Obviously, Bridesmaids is anything BUT a depressing drama!  But the idea of a life-change driving a wedge between long-time friends is a story that rings emotionally true, and that gives the film a weight that many other raunchy comedies don’t have.

Having a potent, real emotional story at the core of the craziest of comedies has been one of the reasons why the films directed by and produced by Judd Apatow over the last several years have been so terrific.  Mr. Apatow produced Bridesmaids, and I can see immediately why he responded to the script by Ms. Wiig and Ms. Mumolo.  It’s also easy to see why this story appealed to Mr. Apatow’s former Freaks and Geeks collaborator, the amazing Paul Feig.  (Mr. Feig created Freaks and Geeks, while Mr. Apatow served as the executive producer.  Mr. Feig directed Bridesmaids, which was produced by Mr. Apatow.)  You might not … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Paul!

It seems to me like Paul, the new film from Simon Pegg & Nick Frost, has been flying far under the radar.  That’s too bad, because the two men (who, along with Edward Wright, were responsible for Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, and Hot Fuzz) just might be the finest comedy duo working today.  They’re each great individually, but there’s something magical that happens when the two get together.  Paul doesn’t reach the comedic heights of Shaun of the Dead, but it’s pretty great nonetheless.

Pegg plays Graeme and Frost plays Clive, two geeky Brits who have traveled to the US to attend the San Diego Comic-Con and then take a driving tour of the locations of famous UFO sightings.  The last thing they expect is to actually encounter a real-live extra-terrestrial: the fast-talking, good-times-loving alien named Paul who is on the run from mysterious government forces.  Will the nerds be able to help Paul escape the men in black and meet up with the space-ship sent to take him home?

The movie hits the geek jokes a bit hard in the early-going (making fun of the costume-wearing crazies who attend Comic-Con is a pretty easy joke) but the film quickly settles into a nice rhythm… and then builds towards a frenetic, hilarious finish.  I like comedies that are also able to get audiences to invest in the adventure story being told (I hold up Ghostbusters as a prime example of this), and I was quite pleased by how engaged I was by the film in the third act, when the chase was really on.

Although I missed Edgar Wright, it’s hard to complain with someone as talented as Greg Mottola at the helm.  Mr. Mottola directed Superbad and Adventureland (a vastly underrated film that I just re-watched last week and loved as much as the first time I saw it).  The man is a keen comedy director, giving his cast room to play but also keeping the film moving at a fast clip.

One could play a fun game connecting the dots from Mr. Mottola’s past work to see how he assembled such a terrific ensemble to surround Frost and Pegg.  From Superbad, he brought in Seth Rogen.  Mr. Rogen voices the alien Paul, and it’s brilliant, inspired casting.  Once you hear Mr. Rogen’s voice emanating from the short, big-headed alien, you know what type of a film you’re in for.  Rogen really sinks his teeth into the role, and his line delivery is impeccable.

By the way, I should also note that the visual effects work on Paul himself are incredible.  This isn’t a movie that I expected to dazzle me with state-of-the-art visual effects, but … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Extract

September 28th, 2009
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So let’s get this out of the way:  Office Space is one of the greatest films ever made.  Just a phenomenal movie.  Writer/Director Mike Judge’s second film, Idiocracy, was much, much weaker (although not so horrible that it deserved the way it was basically dumped direct-to-DVD by 20th Century Fox).  Judge’s new film, Extract, falls somewhere in between those two films in terms of quality.

Jason Bateman plays Joel, the sad-sack owner of a small plant that produces flavored almond extract.  His wife (Kristen Wiig) doesn’t want to sleep with him, he lives next door to an extraordinarily annoying neighbor (David Koechner), and his factory workers are all, well, morons.  To make matters worse, Joel’s plans to sell the plant are put into jeopardy by a freak accident that causes an unfortunate injury to his plant’s wannabe-floor manager, the fairly-clueless Step (Clifton Collins Jr.), AND Joel has just mistakenly hired a money-chasing con artist (Mila Kunis) who is after the money that Step will probably make if he sues Joel’s company.  Oh, and Joel really needs to stop listening to the terrible advice doled out by his bar-tender, Dean (a very hairy Ben Affleck).

What follows is an amusing look into the lives of a group of powerfully ordinary Americans, most of whom are either very unhappy or very dim.  I enjoyed the film, but it’s not at all the laugh-riot I was expecting from Mike Judge and a cast of that pedigree.

The beauty of Office Space is that, while most of the main characters are unhappy (as they are in Extract), we completely feel for them in their unhappiness because of all the cubicle bullshit that we see they have to put up with on a daily basis.  Furthermore, while exaggerated, all of that office-life nonsense rings true.  That core of truth is, I think, critical in the audience being swept along by all of the silliness that then transpires in the film.  But much of the set-up of Extract feels slightly false to me.  For instance, the major issue between Joel and his wife (that she won’t have sex with him after 8 PM, and he can never get home before then) is good for a few laughs but also seems rather ridiculous.  Kristen Wiig plays Suzie as a decent person who does seem to like her husband — so it seems like the type of thing that they could easily work out with a simple conversation.  Of course, if they did, there’d be no movie, but I’m always bothered when I notice characters only acting a certain way because that’s what the plot demands.

Still, there is some good fun to be … [continued]

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From the DVD Shelf: Walk Hard

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is one of the few films from the past several years that Judd Apatow has had a hand in (he co-wrote the film and was one of its producers), that, despite his involvement, did not receive a lot of love from audiences upon its release.  My own recollection of seeing it in theatres was that it was sort of funny but not fantastic.  However, upon a second viewing on DVD last month, I must say that I have fallen head-over-heels in love with this film!

Walk Hard is, first and foremost, an evisceration of a very specific type of film: the Oscar-bait musical bio-pic (like Ray, Walk the Line, etc.).  In scene after scene after scene, the film mercilessly sends-up every single ridiculous cliche of those types of movies.

We meet young Dewey growing up in a ramshackle farm down South, enjoying an idyllic life.  But a day of fun with his brother (“ain’t nothing horrible gonna happen today!” the doomed tyke promises) ends in tragedy after a machete-fighting accident.  Out of that grief, Dewey discovers his musical ability, playing the blues (“I got the blues… cut my brother in half…”).  A few years later, a nervous Dewey performs at a High School concert.  (Starting here, Dewey is played by John C. Reilly, despite the fact that the character is only 14 in this scene.  As Apatow and Director/co-writer Jake Kasdan note in their DVD commentary, they were interested in poking fun at  “just how young the lead actor THINKS he can play” in these sorts of movies.)   Despite the innocuousness of the pop ballad Dewey performs (entitled “Take My Hand”), the concert erupts into a frenzy of sexualized dancing (as, you know, Rock and Roll is wont to cause).  After being condemned by the local priest (“You think we don’t know what you’re talking about when you say take my hand?!”) and his father (“The wrong kid died!”), Dewey decides to leave home and set out on a musical career.

What follows reads like a crazy check-list of the types of scenes one could expect in these sorts of films, charting our hero’s rise and fall and eventual redemption.  Dewey gets an opportunity to perform his music for a disinterested record company executive (played brilliantly by John Michael Higgins, who proclaims: “You have failed conclusively!  There is nothing that you can do, here in this room, to turn that around!”) but, of course, once Dewey plays one of his own songs (the titular “Walk Hard”), the executive is blown away, as are his Hassidic Jewish backers (Harold Ramis — yes, Harold Ramis — Phil Rosenthal, and Martin Starr in delightfully over-the-top Hassidic get-up … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Adventureland

Set in 1987, Adventureland takes place over the course of one summer in the life of James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg), just out of college, whose dreams of traveling Europe with his friends have been dashed by his family’s financial problems.  Seeking a summer job instead, Jesse quickly discovers that his degree in literature doesn’t really qualify him for any sort of employment back home in Pittsburgh.  Thus, he winds up working at Adventureland, a somewhat tired old local amusement park.

Jesse befriends Joel (Martin Starr, who, as with most of the talented alumni of Freaks and Geeks, I would happily watch in anything), an intellectual loner, and quickly becomes smitten with the mysterious Em (the terrific, beguiling Kristen Stewart).  The self-contained universe of Adventureland is fleshed out by a variety of other interesting, quirky characters: park owners Bobby (Bill Hader) and Paulette (Kristen Wiig), handsome park mechanic Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), Jesse’s not-as-funny-as-he-thinks-he-is childhood friend Frigo (Matt Bush), the flirty Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva), and many others.

Taking place in the eighties, Adventureland is a “period piece,” but it never beats you over the head with obvious references.  Rather, the movie uses the setting to lend the story a sweetly nostalgic feel.  I love the care with which the movie explores the sub-culture of the summer staff experience at Adventureland, with all of its unique peculiarities.  I’ve never worked at an amusement park, but I certainly have spent many summers working at a summer camp.  And while the specifics of my summer camp jobs didn’t resemble in any way the specifics of working at Adventureland, I did really connect with the way the film captured the way in which these summer jobs can be transformative experiences for young people, and the way a short summer can be an epic of highs and lows and experiences of all kinds.  I have warm feelings for my summer camp experiences, and the film creates a similarly warm glow around Jesse’s experiences, even the painful ones.

Credit writer/director Greg Mottola (who also directed Superbad) with doing a terrific job in setting that tone.  The film is funny, but I wouldn’t call it a comedy.  However, the shifts from humor to drama never feel out-of-place.  Rather the film feels like a true-to-life picture of the ups and downs of a kid’s summer.  I never seem to get tired of a good coming-of-age story, and this is definitely a winner in that category.

The film only makes one teensy tiny misstep, in my mind.  I don’t want to spoil anything about the ending, but suffice it to say there’s a dramatic moment between two characters in the rain that is the only moment in … [continued]