Comedy

9: Game Night Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated and live-action films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

One of the worst parts about comedy as a genre, is that due to the changing of the times with every decade, comedies age faster than most genres, maybe outside of romance films.  Some people will argue that political correctness is killing comedy because people are too sensitive. I 100% disagree, because that’s simply not the case. What is killing comedy are directors and writers doing things like letting actors improv too long, not telling actors to stop going off script, doing shock humor for shock sake, and not having a point to their humor. Why do you think people still watch films like Groundhog Day, Caddyshack, Animal House, Back to School, The Great Outdoors, Ghostbusters, The Blues Brothers, Airplane!, Life of Brian, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Producers, Space Balls, and so on? It’s because while having some elements that probably don’t hold up as well all the way through, they had great writing and characters. People laughed because they made fantastic jokes. This is why comedies from 2018 have been rather impressive, because they focus on what makes good comedies. This is why this review will be of the underrated Game Night, directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein.

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The story focuses on a competitive couple named Max and Annie Davis, played by Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams. They are trying to have children, but Max is having trouble due to stress and the upcoming visit from his brother Brooks Davis, played by Kyle Chandler. Sadly for Max, that visit happens on one of their famous Game Nights that the couple has with their friends Ryan, played by Billy Magnussen, and Kevin and his wife Michelle, played by Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury. Unfortunately for Max, Brooks decides to offer the idea that he will host the next game night. A week later, Max, Annie, Kevin, Michelle, Ryan, and Ryan’s co-worker Sarah, played by Sharon Horgan, go to Brook’s house that he’s renting for his visit, and find out that they are going to be doing a murder mystery game. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the game turns out to not be a game, and Brooks is kidnapped, and it’s up to Max, Annie, and their friends to try and get Brooks back and find out what the heck happened, and what is going on!

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The strength of this film is definitely in its writing and characters. Instead of letting actors improv their lines, the directors and writers gave the actors actual characters and personalities. When you have a large group of characters who have to all be in the same scene, you have to make that work, and we have seen line-o-rama destroy that with scenes going on too long, talented people thinking they can improv, and the director not telling them to stop or to cut that scene. Luckily, Game Night is focused, and you enjoy the characters’ comradery when they are separated and together. You can tell what kind of person everyone is by their mannerisms, dialogue, and actions. Gee, when you have a focused goal and identity, it sure seems to make for a much better comedy than say, Holmes and Watson, Sisters, or Wine Country. Not only is the comedy really funny in this film, it does not focus on too many of the lazy tropes you find in comedy films like pop culture references, “hip” lingo, and so on. They had good jokes that were funny, because, well, they were funny.

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On top of the great comedy in the movie, the film looks good! Another major problem with comedies is that when they have low budgets, or lackluster teams working on them, the lighting and set-up can make everything look too made-for-TV or look like a Netflix film release. It’s a major problem with a lot of Tyler Perry films and comedies like Night School. Luckily, the cinematography and the locations they go to look like there was some elbow grease put into them. They even have shots and locations set up that look like model landscapes or board pieces, which gives the film a nice touch and a pinch of personality. It might be a comedy, but it’s a comedy that’s shot like a crime thriller. It’s funny, but it’s also exciting and intense to watch the gang put the puzzle pieces together and try to figure out the overall plan. It has very entertaining action set pieces that also helps bring more to the table than other comedies.

Of course, a good comedy wouldn’t be successful, if the cast didn’t work. You have Jason Bateman, who already had a stacked resume with Zootopia, Arrested Development, and Ozark, and it was nice to see Rachel McAdams get a good boost from the disaster that was True Detective Season 2. The entire cast is good, but special mention has to go to Jesse “I’m going to be in everything you love” Plemons as Max and Annie’s neighbor Gary. He steals every scene that he is in, and always got the biggest laughs whenever he was used in the story. It just shows how versatile of an actor he is.

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Now, no movie is perfect, and while I loved Game Night, I have a few complaints about it. I found the main antagonist to be pretty dull. He’s a generic British bad guy, and I wish he was written to be funnier. I also found that when everyone was separated, Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury had the weakest story arc together. They had a few good lines and sequences, but their subplot was the weakest of the couples in the film. I also wish the finale had the others involved. It just cuts to Jason and Rachel’s character doing the last bit, and while it is fun to watch them work together to get Chandler from the grasps of the villain, it would have been fun to see what the others would have done to help.

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Even with those complaints, Game Night is probably the best comedy of 2018, and while that year also had The Death of Stalin, Blockers, and films with comedic elements like The Favourite and Upgrade, Game Night is still the one that I enjoyed the most. It’s funny, well-written, entertaining, timeless, and it’s one of the few comedies that I bought on Blu-ray, and I don’t really do it that often. Game Night was a lot of fun, and I would be glad to come back to the next Game Night and say Play it again!

8: Moonstruck Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

This has been a year in the making. Last year, I felt badly that I didn’t get to do a review for Valentine’s Day that was a romantic comedy, but I got lazy and didn’t do one in time. It’s a bummer, because I love the genre, but don’t find myself really wanting to rewatch or own many of those types of films. Seems like today that we’ve got to have more romantic dramas, but sometimes, I just want a good earnest rom com. I can’t really think of a better one, than to talk about one of my all-time favorite movies, director Norman Jewison’s Moonstruck.

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The story takes place in New York as we follow the life of Loretta Castorini, played by Cher. She is a widow that lives with her family and works as a bookkeeper. She decides that it’s time to get married again, and to get hooked with her boyfriend Johnny Cammareri, played by Danny Aiello. Unfortunately, they run into some trouble as Johnny has to go overseas to be with his dying mother. Johnny requests Loretta to go find his estranged brother to get him to come to the wedding. His brother’s name is Ronny Cammareri, played by Nicolas Cage. After meeting Ronny at his bakery, she tries to convince him back at his apartment, only to end up making love to him. It then turns into a dramatic love story of Loretta’s situation, Loretta’s father having an affair, and Loretta’s mother coping with what’s going on with her family.

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The most standout feature of this film is how likable everyone is. You end up getting invested with everyone fairly quickly. I think it’s because of the sharp writing in the script by John Patrick Shanley. Everyone from the major characters to the minor characters have so much personality that while they might not always do good deeds, they pull you into the film’s world as you watch the story unfold. I have found myself quoting this movie along with my family multiple times a day, and that’s because the performances are incredible. I know it’s easy to look at Cher and poke at her other film experiences like Burlesque, but she is so good in this role! You feel for her being worried about getting married again, and watching her realize that getting married for the sake of it is not a good idea! I know we live in this society that cherishes marriage, but if you are getting married because that’s what your parents did, and not because you love your significant other, then that’s wrong. Nicolas Cage is also wonderful as the lead. Again, it’s easy to look at his recent film outings and laugh at how big of a nosedive his career took after a certain time period, but when he’s good, he’s incredible. While definitely playing up the overly dramatic side of his character, he does pull back and show his acting range. The entire cast is great. On top of Nicolas Cage and Cher, you have Olympia Dukakis, Vincent Gardenia, Julie Bovasso, Louis Guss, John Mahoney, Feodor Chaliapin Jr. and Anita Gillette. One of my favorite moments in the movie is actually between Olympia and John Mahoney’s characters. The entire film feels genuine with its emotions, writing, and development of the characters. It doesn’t feel forced, or take any weird twists and turns that would shatter the tone of the film, or have two unlikable characters get forced into loving one another. You don’t really see this in more modern romantic comedies, and it’s why I was so happy to see films like Crazy Rich Asians do well.

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Moonstruck is simply one of the best rom coms of all time. It’s even one of the few that I know of that has major Academy Award recognition. I love watching it with my family every year, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a good romantic movie. Sure, it can be a bit cheesy with the accents, but it’s so touching, endearing, and joyful to watch, that any nitpicks I have for the film are easily ignored. It’s a film I’ll never get tired of watching, and I’ll be here next year to say Play it Again!

3: The Death of Stalin Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

A comment I see in my line of writing/work is that people want politics to stay out of their video games, shows, and movies. Well, hate to be that guy, but politics are in everything. Every artistic decision has some kind of leaning or belief behind it. You literally can’t escape it, and there is nowhere to go when you are watching a political comedy. These are films that I tend to not really want to watch, because I want to be engaged with the jokes, the writing, the characters, and the story. Yes, I’m expecting a political point of view in the writing and directing, but if that’s all I’m seeing, then you are going to simply get labeled as propaganda, which sadly happens more than you would think. Thankfully, I recently watched a really funny comedy that I wish more people could see, The Death of Stalin, directed by Armando Iannucci.

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It’s the 1950s, and the tyrannical Stalin, played by Adrian McLoughlin, is the big cheese in Russia. Well, that is until he has a stroke and falls to the ground dead as a door nail. This causes all of his close personal co-workers/friends, like Nikita Khruschev, played by Steve Buscemi, Laverntiy Beria, played by Simon Russell Beale, Vyacheslav Molotov, played by Michael Palin, Gorgy Malenkov, played by Jeffery Tambor, and so on, to panic. I mean, their leader is dead! It then becomes this mad dash to see who becomes the leader of Russia, who get what position of power, and who they need to sway to get on their good side. Let’s just say that this leads to some clever and well-written shenanigans.

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I think what really gels about this film is how its political comedy works, and how the film survives as its own comedy. I mean, what’s funnier than to see a tyrannical government lose its head like a chicken, and run around in a panic, as they all try to get ahead of one another and backstab whoever in order to get the job done? I mean, yes, a lot of what people have said is true, that the buffoonery from the entire committee is very telling in how it mirrors our current political climate, but even if you took that part out, it’s still really funny. I mean, it’s almost too comical in how obvious they are trying to get ahead of one another, trying to make sure they still get their nice seat on the committee, and not end up on one of the infamous kill lists. Another aspect of the comedy I liked is that it also has other bits of humor, like having little background gags from time to time. This film has probably the most consistent laughs that I have seen in a comedy from 2018. Everyone delivers great lines, there are fantastic performances, and it finds a way to balance out the laughs and the fact that these are people who have done some unquestionably horrible things. It does not shy away from the fact that this government has kept their people under an iron fist, and have either banished, tortured, or killed whoever they needed.

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I like the actors chosen for the roles. While I definitely love Steve Buscemi as the calm-headed middle man, Simon Russell Beale as the power hungry individual, Rupert Friend as Stalin’s constantly drunk son, Jeffery Tambor as the bumbling incompetent right hand, and a lot of the major cast, I have to pinpoint that the best character in the film was Jason Isaacs as Georgy Shukov. Isaacs plays this macho foul-tempered man, and he steals every scene that he is in. He has the best lines, the best introduction to his character, and it was simply fun to see Jason Isaacs again. Really, the best thing about this film is that everyone had a good role, a funny line, a humorous sequence, and no one felt like dead weight or was unnecessary.

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My one major complaint about the film is that the last third, while still entertaining, doesn’t balance out the comedy and drama as well as the first two-thirds of the film. It tends to lean more on the dramatic side of things, and while I definitely understand why the film went that way, I wish it was more like the first two-thirds. Then again, when you are about to cause a mutiny with one of your longest standing co-workers, filling out the sequence with jokes probably would have been in bad taste. I almost forgot to put this in, but after what has been going on in Hollywood, it is awkward to see Jeffery Tambor in the film. He’s funny and he plays his part well, but like TJ Miller in Ready Player One, it’s unfortunate timing to be seeing him in this film.

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I really loved The Death of Stalin. It was a comedy I was not expecting to enjoy, and it was a film I came out of smiling from ear to ear. Unlike some comedies, I think The Death of Stalin will still hold up years from now. While it can definitely be connected to our current political climate, with who’s in office and our conflict with Russia, I feel like you can take the film and place it during different points in history, and somehow find a way to connect the characters and actions to certain points in time. I have seen this twice as of writing this review, and I definitely will want to see it again. It’s a political comedy that aims for a home run, and hits it out of the park. You will definitely want to play it again!

2: The Big Sick Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Parental Warning/Heads Up!: This film has a good chunk of adult jokes, cursing, and might not be suitable for younger viewers. Viewer’s discretion is advised. Thanks for reading this.

A genre I find struggling and stumbling across the finish line many times are films of the comedy/romance genre. Sure, there are plenty of films with great romantic chemistry between characters, but films in the comedy/romance genre don’t tend to have a lot of variety to them, and while there are plenty of classics in the genre, not many know how to keep it fresh and interesting. At worst, most romantic comedies tend to come off very cookie cutter, and on the rare occasion, unintentionally come off as the characters being really terrible people. It’s tough, since you want to have an amazing story, or a very well-executed story with characters you want to invest your time into and want to get together. I definitely don’t find romance-focused films to have a lot of rewatchability, but I have definitely found a few that make me want to say “play it again!” What films am I talking about? For this review, it’s the 2017 hit The Big Sick, which was directed by Michael Showalter, produced by Judd Apatow and Barry Mendel, and written by Emily V Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani.

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The Big Sick talks about the real life story of how our star Kumail Nanjiani is a Pakistani standup comedian in Chicago. While trying to get his big break, he meets who would be his future wife Emily V. Gordon, who in this film is named Emily Gardner, played by Zoe Kazan. They hit it off, and become romantically connected, while he has to deal with his family trying to hook him up with Pakistani women. One day, Emily gets dangerously ill, and ends up in a coma. Kumail not only has to deal with that, but also her parents played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. Will Emily make it out alive? What will happen when Kumail interacts with her parents?

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This might sound clichéd and film snobbish, but The Big Sick’s greatest offering is how much heart and soul is in this story. When you hear about a movie coming out that is based on a real life story/event, you get thoughts of the studio romanticizing the entire event or turning it into propaganda for a certain group of individuals. Thankfully, this is not the case with this story. Everything from the acting, the writing, the jokes, to the arc of the story felt genuine. No one is acting like caricatures of the tropes you see in romantic-comedies. Even the members of Kumail’s family in the film would normally be played as the butt of the joke, but are not.  It’s refreshing to see a romance story that’s more grounded. Yes, I love films like Moonstruck that have more comedic characteristics and expressive characters, but playing it grounded was needed for this story.

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The actors all worked off each other well, and the comedy was really funny. I mean, I wasn’t holding my sides or out of breath, but the jokes were legit hilarious. So many comedies these days want to have the comedy stars adlib their lines, and it gets tiring when the director doesn’t tell them to stop or try out different takes. I think what makes it all work is that the film isn’t trying to make some out-of-touch fantasy setting like The Back Up Plan. Everything from the small talk to the awkward words of wisdom all connected to me while I was watching. I have been in situations where good comedy came out of small talk, and talks of wisdom ended up not sounding as good out-loud. I also think the story works because of the actors themselves. I am not fully familiar with Kumail, besides some voice-over roles in films like LEGO Ninjago and his guest appearances on HarmonQuest, and I was curious if he could hold the film as the lead. To my happy surprise, Kumail was funny, charming, kind, and incredibly likable. This is definitely one actor in Hollywood that you should be following.  Of course, the actress playing Emily, Zoe Kazan, does a great job with a believable quirkiness to her, and as many people have pointed out, Holly Hunter and Ray Romano nail it as Emily’s parents. Both have some of the best acting in their careers. Don’t worry, Ray, your performance here makes up for the last couple of Ice Age films. Seriously though, this film has some of my favorite performances of 2017. They do a great job balancing out the comedy and the drama. When the characters are feeling good, you can feel that, and when they are hurt or in pain, again, you feel that.

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It’s good, as a film critic, to point out the pros and the cons for every film, though, I can’t really find anything that would be considered a deal breaker. Maybe the film is a touch long at almost two hours? Then again, I can’t really think of any scenes I would cut out. While this film does expand on a familiar formula, some of the more “predictable” sequences did come up, but due to how the overall film was executed, the story had me hooked. I’m trying to find something that I could really say hurt the film, but The Big Sick set out in its goal to tell a compelling and loving story about how Kumail met Emily, and it did a fantastic job at what it set out to do.

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The Big Sick was wonderful and charming. I was so happy it was a case of a good trailer that ended up with an amazing movie, and one of my favorites from 2017. I have to hand it to Kumail for taking a genre of film that is hard to make good these days, and make a real-to-life story about him from his days as a stand-up comedian, his relationship with his family, and Emily, to even her parents. It’s widely available on Amazon Prime for free, but even if you don’t have Prime, buy the movie. Kumail and Emily hit it out of the park, and they made a movie that will definitely make me want to play it again!