Greetings again from the darkness. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is in its 18th year, having aired 165 episodes, not counting endless reruns in syndication. A huge part of the series’ success is the comedic talent and writing ability of Charlie Day. That success has put him in a position to direct his first feature film, and how does he proceed? By attempting to skewer and mock the same Hollywood system that has made him rich and famous. Fortunately for Day, many of his friends have joined in, and most of the mocking falls pretty flat. So, he hasn’t jeopardized the likelihood that he will, in fact, work in this town again.
Our first glimpse of Day’s character is in a mental hospital where he has been diagnosed as non-verbal with “the mind of a Labrador retriever.” With no means to pay and no government plan to compensate the hospital, he is unceremoniously dumped on the street. Before trouble strikes, he is picked up by a Hollywood Producer (the late Ray Liotta) due to his striking resemblance to a temperamental and troubled movie star (also played by Day). Despite having no comprehension of what’s being asked of him, he ends up with a whirlwind acting career and a new name … Latte Pronto.
It doesn’t take long for us to realize Day has attempted to blend the comic (and silent) genius of Charlie Chaplin with the ‘oddity’ of Chauncey Gardiner in the Hal Ashby classic BEING THERE (1979). Those friends of Day who make appearances include Jason Sudekis as a big-time director, Common as an action hero, John Malkovich as a backroom power broker, Jason Bateman, Glenn Howerton, Edie Falco as a super-agent, Mary Elizabeth Ellis (Day’s real life wife), and Dean Norris. In more substantive roles we find Adrien Brody as an alcoholic actor prone to wild times behind the wheel, Kate Beckinsale as a movie star attracted to Day’s overnight fame, and Ken Jeong as Lenny, the struggling publicist who latches onto Latte Pronto as his only client.
Day certainly has a knack for physical comedy and it’s on full display during his “Wipeout” dance, however, without the use of his trademark scratchy, whiny voice, he lacks the charm of Chaplin (who doesn’t?). More significantly, the script lacks the sharpness needed to effectively poke fun at the lure of celebrity, and the greed, self-interest, and insecurities tied to the fluff of Hollywood. There is an attempt to make this about friendship and human connection, but maybe what it does best is remind us how most people would rather talk, and are therefore attracted to a listener … even if he doesn’t understand the words coming out of their mouth.
Greetings again from the darkness. It all happens in the first three minutes. Peter gets dumped by Anne, and Emma gets dumped by Noah. We haven’t even had a chance to form any opinions of these two long-term relationships, and just like that … they are both kaput. Director Jason Orley and screenwriters (LOVE,SIMON collaborators) Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger toss us a curveball by having the dumpees form an alliance to help the other win back their dumpers. It’s an unconventional approach in this genre and it works due to some sharp writing, and the extraordinary comic timing of the two leads.
Nice guy Peter (Charlie Day, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) loves kids, loves the elderly, and loves Anne (Gina Rodriguez, ANNIHILATION, 2018). She abruptly dumps him because he’s a bit boring and she wants a “bigger life” … her dream is to be a Broadway star. Peter is crushed when she dumps him. Emma (Jenny Slate, OBVIOUS CHILD, 2014) works as a receptionist at an orthodontist office, and Noah (ScottEastwood, THE OUTPOST, 2019) appreciates her humor, but is turned off by her lack of career ambition. Mind you, he’s a fitness trainer. Emma is crushed when she dumps him.
Peter and Emma have a sobbing meet-cute in the stairwell of the office building where they both work, and soon, drunk karaoke and lots of alcohol lead to quite an intricate scheme. Emma will seduce Anne’s new boyfriend Logan (Manny Jacinto), while Peter will befriend Noah and talk him out of love with new girlfriend Ginny (Clark Backo). The expected results find the appropriate exes crawling back into familiar arms. It’s a plan seemingly doomed to failure, but certain to provide many opportunities for laughter.
The scenes featuring Charlie Day and Jenny Slate are easily the film’s best. These are two talented and funny actors who play off each other beautifully. Of course, we presume to know where all of this is headed, and it may involve a threesome and a balcony jump into a hot tub … or it may not. The concept of sabotaging someone else’s happiness in hopes they will return to you is a bit psychotic to say the least. But it’s all handled with kid gloves and plays off the old adage, “misery loves company.” A bit of truth and relatability occurs as both Emma and Peter dread the idea of starting over in love – a quite common dread. The film kicks off with Jimmy Durante singing “The Glory of Love”, and though you’ll likely laugh a few times, you’ll likely notice the lack of glory in the behavior of Emma and Peter.
Exclusively on Amazon Prime Video February 11, 2022
Greetings again from the darkness. The feature film directorial debut of Drew Pearce is original and clever, while teasing with hope for a bit more than it delivers. Mr. Pearce is best known for writing the screenplay for IRON MAN 3, and now as a first time director, he shows enough promise to leave us interested in what comes next.
The film is set in dystopian Los Angeles a mere 10 years in the future. The streets are flooded with desperate rioters after a mega-corporation shuts off the clean water supply. The company is the film’s real villain, and the only one that The Nurse (Jodie Foster) can’t treat. See, she runs Hotel Artemis, an underground hospital for top tier criminals – the element that can’t just pop into the local community clinic for treatment on the latest bullet hole or knife wound. These patients follow a subscription plan and must stay current on their dues to gain admission.
The Nurse forgoes any attempt at personal vanity and is instead an agoraphobic, booze-chugging, (mostly) stick-to-the-rules type, who pops in anti-anxiety tapes and ear buds whenever her pulse quickens. She has run the place since it opened 22 years prior and is assisted by a mountain of man named Everest (get it?) played well by Dave Bautista. He’s a combination bodyguard, bouncer, handyman and assistant healthcare professional (check his badge).
The set design by Ramsey Avery deserves special mention as the Hotel Artemis is quietly housed in the shell of a former grand art deco hotel, now a victim to the city’s carnage – though the neon sign remains illuminated. Its vacation spot-themed rooms are a sight to behold, despite the frustratingly low lighting. Occupants are incognito and use their room names as identifiers. Sterling K Brown is Waikiki, a philosophical bank robber who dragged his brother Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry) here for treatment after a heist went wrong. Acapulco (the always energetic Charlie Day) is a crass, motor-mouthed arms dealer, while Nice (Sofia Boutella, THE MUMMY) is a freakishly skilled assassin.
The stress level picks up when the biggest crime lord of Los Angeles shows up seriously wounded. Known as The Wolf King, an admittedly bad choice for a nickname, Jeff Goldblum brings some smooth-talking toughness, humor and twisted class to the proceedings. More than a few tentacles are attached to The Wolf King and other folks we’ve previously met, not the least of which is a very special ink pen stolen by Honolulu. Mix in an injured cop (Jenny Slate) with a personal link to The Nurse and her constantly alluded to tragic backstory, and the movie puts off a Graphic novel vibe … missing only the off-the-cuff insanity. It’s just a bit too grounded for its own good.
The high tech/low rent feel forces us to recall BLADE RUNNER and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, but of course, this film isn’t at the level of either, as it lacks top tier suspense. It is a terrific reminder of what a talented actress two-time Oscar winner Jodie Foster is, and what a shame that we haven’t seen her in such a substantial screen role since 2013’s ELYSIUM. She really sinks her teeth into this odd character, and more than the action scenes, she keeps us interested the entire run time. The score is a bit too heavy on the droning electronic bass line, and while the Florida joke and nod to John Phillips (The Wolf King, “California Dreamin’”) earns some bonus points, it’s really the performance of Ms. Foster and the set design that saves a too-safe script.
Greetings again from the darkness. John Krasinski’s second film as a director mines the all too familiar territory of dysfunctional family life … only the script from Jim Strouse takes it a step further by burdening each character with their own special form of advanced personal dysfunction. The saving grace here is the always dependable Margo Martindale who anchors the gaggle of struggling men in her life.
Richard Jenkins plays Margo’s husband – a husband quick to cry and slow to recognize most any situation. Sharlto Copley plays their oldest son who is living in their basement and going through life rudderless ever since his divorce. Lastly there is John Krasinski who relocated from their Midwest hometown to NYC pursuing his dream of making it as a graphic novelist.
One morning Margo collapses and is diagnosed with an advanced brain tumor. Krasinski rushes to her bedside to discover that Dad has recently fired the oldest son from the family business that is rapidly approaching bankruptcy. Additionally, big brother is super jealous of his ex-wife’s (Ashley Dyke) new relationship (Josh Groban) and takes to stalking and bad-mouthing. Of course, Krasinski is toting his own baggage. He is whiny and depressed about his job, and has cold feet towards marrying his 8 months pregnant girlfriend (Anna Kendrick).
The film is loaded with familiar faces and talented actors. Charlie Day shows up as Margo’s nurse and Krasinski’s insecure former high school nemesis who is now married to Mary Elizabeth Winstead … oh yes, she still has the hots for her high school sweetheart (Krasinski). Randall Park is Margot’s doctor, and Mary Kay Place has a (very) brief role as Jenkins’ sister and employee.
Unfortunately the familiarity extends beyond the faces and into the clichéd characters and story lines. Most of the conversations are predictable, though there are plenty of laughs throughout. It may be the only film to feature punchlines utilizing Jenny Craig, Rod Steiger and Indigo Girls. It’s also interesting to see how all three of the lead male characters are wandering aimlessly when the women aren’t guiding them. This is a theme that could have been better explored and helped set the film apart from so many similar type films.
Despite the negatives, any movie that offers up a few laughs to go along with Margo Martindale at its core, does have some value.
Greetings again from the darkness. Plain and simple … this is not my kind of movie. I fully understand there exists many movie-goers who are thrilled that director Guillermo del Toro‘s latest has finally hit theatres, but I really struggled with this mash-up of Transformers, Battleship and Godzilla, as well as what I believe to be a new world record for noise level. That being said, I do have some positive comments to make.
The technological aspects of the movie are exceptional. It has a unique look with some of the best CGI ever seen. There is no shortage of action, which is typically good for an action movie … but here, it seemed that one monster vs robot fight led right into the next one, and the next. The cast is very talented and represent some of the most entertaining shows on TV: “Sons of Anarchy”, “True Blood”, “Homeland”, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “Justified”. The downside is many of them don’t seem overly excited to be spouting some of the worst dialogue of the year.
The basic story is a war between mankind and the Kaiju – monsters from another world. World leaders work together to develop the Jaeger program … fighting robots co-piloted by two people who are drift-compatible (a kind of mind meld that let’s them fight as one). After years of struggling against the Kaiju, the world leaders decide instead to build a security wall around the main cities. Clearly they had not seen World War Z or read any of the “fence” stories from the US/Mexico border. No surprise, but the robots have to be reactivated for the climactic battle scene.
Iris Elba runs the Jaeger program and commands the pilots that include Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Max Martini, and Robert Kazinski. Hunnam is battling inner demons after the death of his brother (Diego Klattenhoff). For some reason, Hunnam plays his part with an overdose of bland. He seems to have been cast for his effectiveness in his shirtless scenes. Martini and Kazinski stand out here, probably because competition is so uninspired … oh and they have a dog. Ms. Kikuchi seems to be under the impression that her scenes were rehearsals as she can’t quite hash out a consistent approach (translated: she is painful to watch). The usually great Elba alternates between a mumbled whisper and a full-out yell … neither working too well. His “canceling the apocalypse” speech seems to be right out of Independence Day.
The comedy relief is provided by the shared scenes of Charlie Day and del Toro favorite Ron Perlman. Day is at his screechiest and Perlman at his most flamboyant, but it’s not enough of the story to salvage much hope. Instead we get an endless number of hand-to-hand combat scenes the Jaeger and Kaiju. And they mostly all look the same fight: waist deep in water while its dark and rainy. Unless they happen to be completely underwater, where it’s even darker.
For all the negatives tossed out here, it must be ended with the reminder that the movie is a technical marvel to look at. I much prefer del Toro in the Pan’s Labyrinthmode, and I would even prefer the old Japanese Godzilla monster-fests to this, but he has raised the bar for robotic and monster CGI. Maybe that’s enough for your eyes and ears.
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are fan of CGI and prefer your movies BIG and LOUD!