Archive for the ‘Comedy’ Category

Usnavi De La Vega (Anthony Ramos) owns a bodega in Washington Heights, in Manhattan. Usnavi has a suenito, a small dream of going back to the Dominican Republic, and restoring his father’s beachside bar, but he needs money to achieve his dream, so he keeps working at the bodega, with his cousin Sonny. (Gregory Diaz IV)  Usnavi is in love with Vanessa Morales (Melissa Barrera) but is too shy to tell her.  Vanessa works at a nail salon, but dreams of being a fashion designer. Nina Rosario (Leslie Grace) has made it out of Washington Heights, all the way to Stanford in California, Nina’s boyfriend, Benny (Corey Hawkins) is not happy that Nina is so far from home. Benny works for Nina’s dad, Kevin, (Jimmy Smits) as a dispatcher.  Nina isn’t sure she wants to stay at Stanford, does she tell her father how she feels?  Does Usnavi tell Vanessa how he feels, does he achieve his suenito at go back to the Dominican Republic? 

 Is In The Heights an instant classic?  No, but it comes close.  Here’s why it could be a classic.  The music, written by Lin Manuel Miranda is fantastic, and lifts the rest of the material higher than it should be.  The Latino diaspora in the US is well represented, Dominicans, Cubans Puerto Ricans and Mexicans are all represented, or at least sung about.  There’s a very effective scene where Usnavi sends a shout-out to different Latina heroes, like Chita Rivera, Rita Moreno, Celia Cuz and even Sonia Sotomayor, but why no Tito Puente or Carlos Santana?  The film, even though it’s a musical, never loses sight of reality. The jobs that these recent immigrants have are very real, and so are the daily monetary struggles they bring. 

However, the plot elements come together much too slowly.  Some of these elements are either unnecessary or emotionally manipulative, which leads to the second critique, the movie is much too long. A running time of 2 ½ hours is long for any film, for a musical, it’s much too long.  In contrast, the film’s denouement, or resolution, conversely comes much too suddenly, and undermines the reality that the film seeks to portray.  The romance between the main characters, Usnavi and Vanessa falls flat, there is no spark between the characters, and it’s actually overshadowed by the Benny/Nina romance. 

The acting is very good.  Anthony Ramos gives Usnavi an understated, self-deprecating charm with lots of humor.  Melissa Berrera did a fine job portraying a woman with big dreams and small paycheck.  There is no chemistry between Berrera and Ramos, and that really detracts from the main storyline.  Much more convincing as lovers are Leslie Grace as Nina ad Corey Hawkins as Benny.  The have the chemistry that Ramos and Berrera lack. Leslie Grace is also very good in illustrating the pressures of being an overachiever, while Hawkins does a solid job of reflecting the angst of a long-distance relationship, and working for his girlfriend’s father.  Jimmy Smits portrays Kevin as a hard-charging entrepreneur who has tasted a bit of success, and wants even more for her daughter.  Olga Merediz reprises her role as Abuela Claudia, the guardian angel of the neighborhood, who watches over everyone, she also conveys the hardships of a first-generation immigrant well.   

The direction is pretty good.  The musical numbers are staged extraordinarily well, with Busby Burkeley type crane shots thrown in for added effect.  But the pacing of the non-musical scenes drags and thee many disparate plot points come together much too late.  Director Jon Chu gets good performances from a young cast, but he should have cut the 2 ½ hour running time and made the whole movie as fresh and exciting as the musical numbers. 

In The Heights:  The director bites off more than he can Chu 

Sargeant Manfredi (Michael Moore) and Seargeant Johnson (Peter Baldwin) are planning to break out of Stalag 17, a German POW camp filled with U.S. and Allied sergeants.  Sergeant Sefton (William Holden) draws the ire of all the other POW’s, because he bets against Johnson and Manfredi making it out. Especially irate are barracks chief “Hoffy” Hoffman (Richard Erdman) and Security chief Price. (Peter Graves) Sefton is right, Manfredi and Johnson are killed, and that leads the other men in the barracks believe that Sefton is a spy.  Suspicions intensify when the men hear of all the trades that Sefton has made with the Nazi guards. 

When Manfredi is replaced by Lieutenant James Dunbar, (Don Taylor) Dunbar begins to brag about blowing up a supply train to the men in the barracks.  Soon, word gets back to Oberst Von Scharbach, (Otto Preminger) who interrogates Dunbar for three days without sleep, and plans to send Dunbar to Berlin where he will be charged with sabotage.  Who informed on Dunbar, and on Johnson and Manfredi?  was it Sefton?  Or someone else in the barracks? 

Stalag 17 is not The Great Escape.  Both were set in a POW camp during WW II, that’s where the similarities end. While The Great Escape is concerned with breaking out of a prison camp Stalag 17 is concerned about a spy in the prison camp.  Stalag 17 has a lot of comedy, The Great Escape has very little.  They are both great movies, just very different. 

The theme of Stalag 17 seems to be don’t jump to conclusions.  The film could have been a sweeping indictment of violence against German Americans, suspected of being collaborators, simply because of their ethnicity, or Japanese internment camps, but that might have been too radical a theme for 1953. Actually, it is about a serious theme, McCarthyism, which was ravaging Hollywood during the 50’s, but even that theme is somewhat undercut by the ending, which is satisfying, but could have been more daring. All the same. it is a riveting spy story and whodunnit, with plenty of jokes. 

Was there too much comedy?  Maybe Animal’s Betty Grable fixation was a bit over the top or Sgt. Shapiro in a blonde wig is over the top.  Maybe Billy Wilder should ask himself why he made two movies with men dressed up as women?  Never mind, the comedy serves to ease the tension of the spy drama, and it’s natural for people to joke when they’re in a high-pressure situation. 

The acting is superb.  William Holden is magnificent as Sargeant Sefron, who seems to specialize in getting under his fellow POW’s skin. He’s a smooth-talking, deal-making, jerk, who seems far too chummy with the Nazis, Sefton even gets on the wrong side of Lieutenant Dunbar, who’s a hero to the other POW’s. Holden wasn’t Director Wilder’s first choice or his second. Charlton Heston and Kirk Douglas were offered the roles, but Holden was the perfect anti-hero, and took home an Oscar. Don Taylor and Richard Erdman play the more conventional hero types, and do a convincing job, but they have the easier roles to play.  Peter Graves also gives a standout performance in a very complex role.  This was well before his fame on Mission Impossible, or the Airplane movies. Harvey Lembeck and Robert Stauss, provide the very broad comic relief, and break the dramatic tension quite nicely.  Fellow Director Otto Preminger does a good job playing both a serious and tongue in cheek role, but never missing an opportunity to taunt the American in his camp. 

The direction by Billy Wilder is also very good.  He balances comedy and drama very well in this film, the pacing is quick, and the set piece or climax is perfect.  He gets great performances from everyone un the cast, both the serious roles and comic ones.  

Stalag 17: POW! A hard-hitting drama with lots of comedy. 

Joe (Jamie Foxx) is a disgruntled music teacher, who just got a full-time job as a music teacher.  He should be happy, but he dreams of getting an audition with a jazz musician.  Joe gets his shot when an ex-student of his named Curley (Questlove) gets Joe a chance to sit in on piano a saxophonist named Cassandra, (Angela Bassett) This is Joe’s dream gig.  But Joe falls down a manhole, and dies.  Joe ends up on a conveyer belt, and his way to the afterlife, but escapes, and becomes a mentor to Soul 22, (Tina Fey) a soul in the Great Before who hasn’t gotten her spark, despite the attempts of many famous mentors.  Does Joe help 22 find her spark?  Does Joe get another chance at life? 

Animation is a great palette to discuss metaphysical issues.  An animator can draw anything a writer imagines, so the sky is literally the limit.  So, what do Disney’s writers give the audience? A rehash of Heaven Can Wait, a plot twist out of Freaky Friday, and the ultimate insult, the viewer is made to think that the story is about one character, when it’s about another.  The ending doesn’t even let the supposed focus of the film make the most important decision of his life.  There are two or three endings that are better than the one the writers decided on, it was a cop-out and it was incomplete, and that’s the worst of both worlds.  Inside Out was a much better look inside a person’s emotional makeup, and a much better film overall.  There are some laugh out loud lines, but overused premises and an all too conventional ending ruin what could have been an extraordinary film. 

The acting is very good.  Jamie Foxx did a very good job a playing a man who tries to please everyone but himself.  He is believable as a musician, maybe because he’s played one before in Ray.  He conveys Joe’s love of music well. Tina Fey transfers her annoying character from 30 Rock to this movie pretty effortlessly, the character is a bit edgy, Fey seems to want to indulge the edginess, but the writers don’t.  Phylicia Rashad is very good as Joe’s mom, she should have had a bigger role. Angela Bassett is good in a small role.  And New Zealand actress Rachel House stands out as irritating human calculator, Terry. 

The direction is not that good.  The animation of the afterlife is gorgeous, even though the features of the black characters seem a bit exaggerated.  The music by Jon Baptiste and Trent Reznor is very good and differentiates the movie from other Disney Pixar films. However, the plot device is old and hackneyed.  The ending is the real problem, the writers and director played it too safe, instead of going for the meaningful ending, and director Pete Doctor doesn’t let the movie play out, he cuts off the movie before revealing an integral part of the film, leaving the audience hanging. 

Soul:  Fails at its sole purpose. 

Cassandra (Carey Mulligan) had a promising career as a medical student, until she drops out of medical school after something traumatic happened to her best friend Nina. Now, Cassie spends her days working at a coffee shop with her friend Gail (Laverne Cox) and her nights going on strange dates with even stranger men. It is at the coffee shop where Cassie meets Ryan. (Bo Burnham) Ryan used to go to medical school with Cassie and had a crush on her. They date, but their relationship gets off to a rocky start because Cassie is keeping secrets from Ryan about her nighttime activities.

Through Ryan, Cassandra befriends Madison, (Allison Brie) who went to medical school with both Cassandra and Nina, but she doesn’t remember what happened to Nina. But after Madison finds herself on a compromised position, she remembers some very important information about what happened to Nina, and passes it on to Cassie. What does Cassie do with the information. Do Ryan and Cassandra smooth out the bumps in their relationship?

This is a weird movie. It is undoubtedly a vigilante movie, but it tries to be a strange mashup between revenge porn and a romantic comedy. Imagine a movie that mixes Death Wish, Say Anything, and Misery. As strange as that combination sounds, this movie is oddly dependent on the romantic relationship between Cassie and Ryan. The relationship with Ryan and the romantic tone serve at least three purposes, it serves to normalize the Cassandra character, instead of making her the obsessive, compulsive loner she appears to be, second it gives Cassandra a way to get in touch with old acquaintances in medical school, and third, it lends credence to the movie’s predisposed views about men. But the viewer gets whiplash from the tonal shifts in this film. There is a twist, and it almost saves the film from being another predictable vigilante film, but not quite.

The acting is adequate. Carey Mulligan is nominated for an Oscar, she’s asked to play two roles here, a world-weary woman who has seen the worst of what men have to offer, and a woman waking up to the possibility that she might be in love. It’s a tall order playing two distinct roles in one character, and she pulls off the world-weary woman very well, but doesn’t really pull off the woman falling in love too well. Her American accent is quite heavy, and slips a few times. Bo Burnham is quite convincing as the pediatric surgeon and possible love interest for Mulligan’s character. Laverne Cox, most known for her role in Orange Is The New Black is mostly used as comedy relief and is absent from most of the serious potions of the film.

The director, Emerald Farrell, is also an actress, is also nominated for an Oscar, she shouldn’t win. The pacing is uneven, sometimes recalling a horror movie, sometimes sluggish and slow. She doesn’t control the narrative either, which is all over the map. The set piece, or climactic scene is much too reminiscent of the film Misery, and even though she pulls off quite an imaginative plot twist, it’s not enough to save the movie from its multiple personalities. Regina King should have been nominated for best director and was not.

Promising Young Woman: Carrie’s Mulligan Stew performance doesn’t work for this viewer.

Ariel (Jodi Benson) is a strong-willed mermaid, the 16-year-old daughter of King Triton. (Kenneth Mars) Ariel collects human nick knacks from the surface, even though neither she or her seagull friend Scuttle (Buddy Hackett) knows what they are. King Triton is annoyed that Ariel missed a musical performance, because she was on the surface. Triton asks the royal composer, Sebastian (Samuel E. Wright) to keep an eye on Ariel, but she goes up to the surface again, and sees Eric, (Christopher Daniel Barnes) strapping, young seafaring lad, and Ariel subsequently saves Eric’s life.

When Triton finds out that Ariel has been to the surface multiple times, he gets angry and uses his Trident to destroy Ariel’s collection of human paraphernalia. This rash judgement plays right into the hands of the Sea Witch Ursala, (Pat Carroll) who has been plotting to extract King Triton’s power, and usurp his throne. Ursala approaches Ariel and asks her to make a deal. Ursula will give Ariel human legs in exchange for her voice. Ariel impulsively takes the deal, can she attract Eric without her greatest gift, her voice?

The Little Mermaid is a classic movie for two major reasons, animation, and the music, The animation is beautiful, bright and colorful and makes the underwater look very inviting. After such animated and semi-animated flops in the 70’s like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Robin Hood, and Pete’s Dragon, the animation was refreshing and looked like Disney’s classic animation. The characters were interesting and had their own personalities. King Triton was regal and strong, Scuttle seemed confused, Sebastian was only interested in his position in the royal court, and Ursala was scheming and manipulative, much like Cruella De Vil, she even bears a passing resemblance to Cruella, as well as Pat Carrol, the actress who portrayed her The music takes this movie to another level, “Under the Sea” “Part of Your World” “Kiss The Girl” among others, are not only very entertaining, but they move the story along as well.

There are flaws, Ariel is only 16, she shouldn’t plan to be marrying anyone. Ariel and Eric don’t really get to know each other, Ariel literally can’t speak when they are dating, not a basis for a good relationship, and a lyrical reference to a blackfish in the Under the Sea song, is accompanied by an unflattering caricature of a black female fish. Even with some flaws, this movie became a template for many other Disney classics, a little romance, a little comedy, lots of songs, that’s the current Disney formula, and it’s working. Beauty and The Beast, The Lion King, and Aladdin, to name a few, have all followed a similar formula, without seeming formulaic. There was a sequel to The Little Mermaid, not nearly as good, and there will be a remake, because Hollywood has no new ideas.

The acting is good, especially by the character actors. Jodi Benson gives Ariel that teenage rebellion and stubbornness that Ariel needs and she has a great singing voice. Christopher Daniel Barnes gives Eric a happy go-lucky attitude, and there’s not much else to the character. Samuel E Wright gives Sebastian a Trinidadian accent and a haughty air about him. Buddy Hackett makes Scuttle funny and endearing all at once. Pat Carroll oozes evil just as much as her character oozes black ink, and Carroll seems to enjoy playing the scheming, vindictive Ursula, maybe a little too much. Ursula even gets her own song. Rene Auberjonois almost steals the film in his one major scene as a psycho French chef.

The direction is good, the pacing is fast, the musical numbers are staged well, the animation is stunning. The set piece is set in a storm, which makes the scene much more dramatic, and the directors get very good performances, both directors are veterans of the newer Disney animated films, Hercules, Aladdin, The Princess and The Frog and Moana. A flashback and a small backstory involving Triton and Ursula would have added a lot to the story, but the Little Mermaid made over 200 million, and probably saved Disney as a studio.

The Little Mermaid: Get hooked on it.

Beautiful socialite Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert) is in the middle of a hunger strike on her father, Alexander’s (Walter Conelly) yacht. Ellie refuses to eat unless her father lets her marry King Westley. (Jameson Thomas) Ellie’s father thinks King is a golddigger, marrying Ellie for her father’s money, and tries to annul Ellie’s marriage, Ellie responds by jumping in the ocean and swimming away. She ends up in Miami on a bus to New York to meet King Westley.

On the bus, Ellie meets newspaper reporter Peter Warne (Clark Gable) who initially doesn’t know who Ellie is. But Ellie loses her luggage, and then Peter finds out her true identity. Ellie also realizes that without her suitcase she has no money, so she and Peter masquerade as husband and wife to stay in a hotel room, while the bus stops overnight. At the hotel, Peter has a proposal, Ellie tells her the story of her and King’s whirlwind romance exclusively to Peter, or he will tell her father her whereabouts. This bit of blackmail makes Ellie think even less of Peter. Peter thinks Ellie is spoiled and childish. But as they spend more time together, they start to enjoy each other’s company. Is Ellie falling for Peter? Is Peter falling for the spoiled little rich girl?

Why is It Happened One Night a classic? Because the time-honored romantic comedy formula started with this movie. The man and woman initially hating each other, the snooty woman, the fiancé or husband being a jerk, a road trip, these were all elements that have been repeated for the last 86 years, with varying degrees of success, but this movie gets credit for being the first. In fact, Rob Reiner’s The Sure Thing borrows a lot from It Happened One Night. Watch the two together and note the similarities. Secondly, It happened One Night is very funny, it is part romantic comedy part screwball comedy, with lots rapid-fire banter between the two leads. The hitchhiking scene with Gable and Colbert has become legendary, and it’s laugh out loud funny. The ending is somewhat predictable, but with movies like this, it’s not the destination, but the journey, and this journey is an enjoyable one.

Most moviegoers wouldn’t picture Clark Gable as a working-class hero, but in this movie he’s a booze guzzling, wisecracking, out of work newspaper reporter, and he is very believable in this role. Mist people wouldn’t think of Gable as a comedic talent either. No, he’s not doing pratfalls, but his comic timing is flawless. He handles the high-volume dialogue effortlessly, and turns himself into a likeable know-it-all. He also puts a lot of male chauvinism into Peter Warne, which was expected at the time, women were expected to sit and take it. A viewer can see elements of this performance, humor, misogyny, playing a regular guy, in another iconic role, Rhett Butler. Gable won the only Oscar of his career for his role of Peter Warne. Claudette Colbert was perfect in the role of snobby socialite Ellie Andrews, she plays a giddy coquettish type at first, but then the writers get wise and give Ellie some snappy comebacks, and Colbert handles the role just fine. Colbert also handles the emotional rollercoaster of the ending quite well. Ironically Colbert did not want to sign up for this movie, as Universal was considered a B-movie studio at the time, so Universal had to give her the ungodly figure of 50,000 dollars to play Ellie Andrews. She also had a bad experience with director Frank Capra in an earlier film, but in the end, she agreed to work on the film. Like Gable, she also was rewarded with an Oscar for her work.

Director Frank Capra had no dramatic set pieces in this film, as he had in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington When Senator Smith embarks on a filibuster, or It’s a Wonderful Life when George Bailey contemplates suicide. But he did try to spruce up the bus scenes with lots of singing, and it works, the singing adds a lot of cheer to those scenes And of course the hitchhiking scene, which Colbert initially balked at, is the scene that movie fans remember. The pacing is good, he gets great performances, even though Gable and Colbert don’t need much help, and Capra does a pretty good job at keeping the audience guessing throughout the film and holding the ending, until the last possible minute. Capra also won an Iscar for this film.

It Happened One Night: Frank-ly, Capra is a great director.

Episode 1: Pilot

Nora Lin (Awkwafina) lives in Queens with her father, Wally (BD Wong) and her grandmother. (Lori Tan Chinn) Nora doesn’t have a job, and her room is a mess. But things are looking up, she got a job with a ride share company, and Nora’s friend, Chenise (Mekeda Declet) says she can stay with her. Are things turning around for Nora? Is she on her way to independence from her dad?

Slacker comedies are nothing new. Kramer was the king of the slackers in Seinfeld, and Chris Elliot played a newspaper boy living with his parents in Get A Life, so this is Awkwafina’s take on a slacker comedy, Awkwafina can be hit or miss, she was way over the top in Crazy Rich Asians, but she gave a sensitive and understated performance in The Farewell, so this tv show is anyone’s guess.

The first episode is very funny. She has to compete with her cousin, Edmond, (Bowen Yang) who she can’t stand. Her roommate is not who she appears to be, and she is a lousy driver. There is a universality to Nora, even though there are telltale signs of Asian overachievement lurking, Nora is someone everyone can relate to. Lori Tan Chinn is very funny as Nora’s grandma, but she has some touching dialogue as well. The surprising part of this comedy is how sincere the emotions are.

Episode 2: Atlantic City

Nora is talked into going on a bus trip to Atlantic City after her grandma gives her a guilt trip. While there. She runs into an old friend from her high school days, Melanie. (Chrissie Fit) How is Melanie doing? Grandma wants to have a quiet time in Atlantic City, does she get her wish?

Awkwafina almost doesn’t get caught up in the Asian gambling stereotype, but then she does. Both Nora’s storyline and grandma’s storyline are meandering, and they are ultimately pointless. This whole episode was not nearly as funny as the first one. Awkwafina seems to have fallen into another comedy writing trap, the precocious elderly person. Instead of having a precocious child saying all the smart, witty, outrageous things, an elderly person says those things. An elderly person saying and doing outrageous things may seem like a fresh twist, but it goes back to characters like Granny in the Beverly Hillbillies, or Sophia on the Golden Girls. Hopefully, Awkwafina will make her Grandma character multidimensional and not just a human punchline. She did a good job of humanizing all the characters in the first episode. Let’s hope the multidimensional characters continue in future episodes.

Episode 3: Savage Valley

Wally is tired of Nora’s video game obsession, so Wally and Grandma help Nora land a job as an assistant with a real estate friend named Nancy. (Deborah S Craig) Nora goes from slacker girl to overachiever with a little pharmaceutical help. What happens when the pills run out?

This episode has the feel of an after-school special. Remember kids, just say no to prescription drugs. The whole episode is predictable and not very funny. It’s somewhat strange that Nora is hanging out with kids a lot younger than her. Awkwafina is 32, and she’s playing someone who seems like a recent high school graduate, and playing video games with children. It’s not cool. Again, grandma is used as a human punchline. But BD Wong is consistently solid as Wally.

Episode 4: Paperwork

Nora looks to cash a check from Nancy and gets drowned in a sea of paperwork. When she tries to get into a cash payment only business, will it work or will Nora get in even deeper over her head?

This is more like what the show should be about a slacker facing difficulties with things that most people take for granted. This episode is reminiscent of the Honeymooners. Ralph always had good intentions, but the results didn’t always turn out well. The resolution of Nora’s issues showed Grandma’s sensitive side. Good writing.

Episode 5: Not Today

Nora decides to dye her hair, and finds out that cousin Edmond is back in New York. Wally goes to a single parent coping group, on the anniversary of his wife’s death.

The hair color routine is a comedy trope by now, but the rest of the episode is solid. Another strong performance by BD Wong as a parent dealing with grief and Edmond is humanized in this episode, not just made the object of scorn and jealousy. Good writing again, from Awkwafina’s staff writers.

Episode 6: Vagarina

After her New Agey aunt Sandra’s (Ming Na Wen) son Arlo (Zihan Zhao) turns hyper on sugary drinks, Nora suffers a vaginal injury which causes vaginal flatulence. Melanie’s new boyfriend, rap producer Rat Lung, (Peter Mark Kendall) wants to sample Nora’s sound, but says he won’t use It publicly.

This episode gets an A+ for creativity, but an F for too much information, and oversharing. No one needs to know what vaginal flatulence is, and other than Wally meeting Brenda in the middle of a bad Tinder date with another woman, this episode doesn’t advance the main storylines at all. Ming Na Wen is wasted in a superfluous role, as a hippie type. Arlo is a precocious kid, another sit-com trope.

Episode 7: Grandma Loves Nora

Edmond and Nora start out competing for Grandma’s affections, but when Edmond can’t come up with a new idea for his app, and does a lousy presentation, he turns to Nora for help. Does she help? Wally tries to get on Instagram to impress Brenda, one of them turns out to be embarrassing, what does Wally do?

This episode has two storylines which feed into each other well. There is nice synergy in the writing and that helps this episode. Everyone is working towards the same goal.

Episode 8: Grandma And Chill

While Nora is sick, Grandma tells the story of how she met Grandpa. In China, Young Grandma (Jamie Chung falls in love with Garbage Boy. (Simu Liu) After escaping China for America, Young Grandma falls in love with Doc Hottie (Harry Shum Jr.) When Garbage Boy reappears in America, who will Young Grandma choose?

This is a very funny episode with a Chinese history lesson thrown in for good measure. It has all the twists and turns of a good soap opera, with a few cliches, and many twists and turns. Jamie Chung is very good as the superficial Young Grandma, but Stephanie Hsu steals this episode as Grandma’s best friend Shu Shu.

Episode 9: Launch Party

Edmond and Nora hold a launch party for their new app Scubbr, which quickly goes south. But is there a silver lining? Wally has a bad first date with Brenda, but what does Grandma think is going on with Wally?

This was more pf a conventional episode, like Ralph as the Chef of the Future, on the Honeymooners, or Lucy doing Vitameatavegimin on I Love Lucy. And the bad first date is a standard comedy premise, but there is a twist in the Scrubr storyline, which leads directly to the final episode.

Episode 10: China

Scrubr is bought out by a Chinese company, and Nora goes to China without Edmond. In China, Nora meets Grace, (Celia Au) her translator and assistant. Meanwhile, back in America Grandma adopts an injured pigeon, which embarrasses Wally.

This was not the way to end a season. Grace was clingy in an uncomfortable way, but her devotion to Nora was sweet as well as sad, but the writers weren’t happy with Grace, so mid episode, they change her and not for the better. The grandma storyline was a sloppy metaphor for Nora leaving and coming home. The china storyline resolves itself messily, and the grandma storyline is overly sweet and sentimental.

My Impression of Season 1:

Season one of Nora from Queens is surprisingly funny. At its best, it’s laugh out loud funny with caustic wit, it even tries to be educational about Chinese culture, at its worst, it’s derivative, slow and unfunny. Luckily, for the most part, the good outweighs the bad in this show. It’s somewhat disappointing that the last two episodes are two of the weaker episodes. Awkwafina only wrote the pilot, but her staff writers are pretty funny, and very culturally attuned to the character’s voices. It was also disappointing that there was so much drug use, Nora smoked a lot of pot, but she also inadvertently used coke and Ecstasy and there’s nothing funny about hard-core drug use. There were also times where the show went for shock-jock humor, but for the most part, the writing was funny, and not shocking.

The characters are well-developed. Yes, Nora is a slacker, but she is really trying to be an average person, get a job, earn some money, it is that earnestness that honestly saves the character because if she was just on the couch smoking weed, Nora would be a boring one-dimensional character. The grandma character says and does a lot of outrageous things, but they also gave her a backstory, friends, rivals, and a good relationship with her granddaughter. The key character in this show is Wally, a hard-working straight-laced help desk guy, who tries to keep Nora on the straight and narrow while mourning for his wife, and trying to build a new relationship. It’s an important character in the show, because Wally is the one grounded in reality. The only recurring character that hasn’t been developed at all is Edmond, who is still as annoying as he was in episode 1.

The acting is great. Awkwafina is essentially playing herself, but she’s good at it, she’s done it in two movies and now her own tv show. She has obviously struggled cashing a check and keeping a job, so she draws on what she knows. But she tries to play a version of herself that’s younger than herself, playing video games with much younger kids, and talking about high school much too often. Her voice is somewhat grating, so she is smart enough to share this show with many talented actors. Lori Tan Chinn doe a fantastic job playing Nora’s grandmother, she could have easily been a one-dimensional wisecracking granny, but the writers were smart enough to give her a more three-dimensional character, complete with a backstory, and the viewer feels the sincere affection that she has for the Nora character, and that’s what makes Chinn’s performance complete. The best performance in Nora From Queens is by BD Wong, he injects a healthy dose of reality into Nora’s slacker life, and challenges her to do better. What Wong does better than that is convey a sense of loss over his wife, and they awkwardness of trying to meet someone new as a widow, it’s really convincing. If Nora From Queens was a network show or an HBO show, BD Wong would e up for an Emmy, he should be anyway, his comedic timing is flawless. The guest stars were ok, Ming Na-Wen is wasted as a flighty New Agey type, the writers should have written a better role for her. Jamie Chung fared better as Young Grandma, a spoiled little rich version of Nora’s grandma. Chung had a role with better writing and she made the most of it.

There were little to no directorial flourishes in this show. It’s a low budget comedy that aired on Comedy Cental, which means no money for visual trickery.

Nora From Queens: Hard to Ignora

Movie Review: Get Duked! (2019)

Posted: April 12, 2021 in Comedy

Three rowdy British high school students, DJ Beatroot (Viraj Juneeja) Dean, (Rian Gordon) Duncan (Lewis Gribben) and a shy home-school student, Ian (Samuel Bottomley) are sent to the Scottish Highlands to compete for the Duke of Edenborough award. Ian thinks it would look great on his high school transcripts, but the other three just want to smoke, drink and have fun. DJ Beatroot fancies himself a rapper, Dean is a pot head, and Duncan isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. Their teacher, Mr. Carlyle (Jonathan Aris) gives them a map and tells them to meet them at a designated campsite, but Dean uses the map as rolling papers and makes a huge joint. On their way to the campsite, they get shot at by someone dressed as the Duke of Edenborough (Eddie Izzard) starts shooting at the four boys. Somehow the panicked boys make it to the campsite, and Duncan suspects Mr. Carlyle, and calls the police. The local police department thinks the perpetrators are a terrorist drug gang who listen to hip hop. Can they find the real shooter before he kills the boys?

Get Duked aspires to be Shaun of the Dead, a vastly superior satire about a slacker, who springs into action when his favorite pub is under attack by zombies. It aspires to be a coming-of-age movie but the camaraderie of the four kids is an open question. It aims to be a satire of rural police, sort of a Highlands Hot Fuzz, but the barbs aren’t sharp enough. The writer tries to do a lot of retroactive exposition and revision to make up for earlier blunders in the script, but that rewrite is too little too late. Instead of the backing and filling at the end, there should have been a backstory about the Duke, and why he was the way he was. What Get Duked tuns out to be, is a stoner comedy about dumb guys doing dumb things an facing no consequences. There is nothing in this movie that Cheech & Chong’s Up In Smoke or the Harold and Kumar movies haven’t done first and better. And it breaks the cardinal rule of comedy, it just isn’t that funny.

The acting isn’t great. Eddie Izzard who was the only good part of The High Note, gave a flat, lackadaisical, uninterested performance. Viraj Juneeja overplays DJ Beatroot so badly that he tries to force himself into a starring role. His acting and comedic timing seems rushed, his rap skills are mediocre at best. Samuel Bottomley does his best with a poorly written character. Lewis Gribben plays a dumb guy quite affably. But no one really stands out in this film as particularly funny or likeable.

Director Ninian Dorf, who’s also the writer, tries mightily to add visual excitement to this film, like doing multiple crane shots and even a psychedelic scene, but what should have been the set piece, the confrontation between the boys and the Duke was filmed in the dark, making it hard for the viewer to see what should be the climax of the film. Dorf gets a lackluster performance from the biggest star in the film, and that’s inexcusable. And Izzard was an executive producer, which means he paid himself to give a lousy performance. Tobey Maguire was also a producer.

Get Duked! A Knight to Forget

Robert (Richard Jenkins) and Theresa (Debra Winger) are con artists, and are raising their daughter Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) to be a con artist too.  The couple usually does small time cons, like stealing gifts from the post office, and trying to pay rent with these gifts.  But they owe 1,500 dollars rent, and they need to come up with it fast.  They decide to take a trip that they won on one of their cons, and they try to pull the missing luggage con, and try to get the airline to pay for Old Dollio’s missing luggage, but that check might take six weeks to come, so Old Dolio and her parents have to keep conning. 

Robert and Theresa meet Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) on the plane ride and she is not dissuaded when she hears that they are con artists, in fact she wants in on the con.  Melanie introduces Robert and Theresa to some of the elderly people she knows, and Robert immediately goes for their checkbooks, which make both Old Dolio and Melanie uncomfortable.  But then, the airline check comes in and Old Dolio will give her the whole check if she says one word.  Instead, Melanie says the word, takes the check and heads for her apartment with Old Dolio.  Days later, after an earthquake tremor, Robert and Theresa want to mend fences, they bring Old Dolio presents and say they want to take her out to dinner.  Is there affection genuine or is this just another con job? 

It’s obvious that the focus of this movie is the lack of intimacy that Old Dolio has as a result of her relationship or lack thereof with her parents. But in making a story about emotionally distant characters writer Miranda July forgets that emotionally distant characters aren’t very likeable for the audience.  Whiters have made conmen likeable in the past, but July doesn’t even give Robert and Theresa one redeeming characteristic.  The emotionless cipher that results from these two parents is even less appealing to watch than the parents.  What’s most disappointing, however is the objectification of the Melanie character, from the way she dresses, to the proposals she hears, to the sexual tension as a subplot.  It was really unnecessary.  A person can gain emotional fulfillment without physical intimacy, but this film lacks the nuance to recognize that.  It’s about as subtle as a jackhammer. 

There’s an affectation that Even Rachel Wood adds to her voice, it’s partially robotic and partially Napoleon Dynamite, and that makes the character even less likeable, if that’s possible.  She’s saying with this performance ‘Look at me acting.’  That’s not the point of acting. Good acting is so natural that the viewer hardly notices it.  This was the opposite. There are a lack of good roles for older actresses, that would explain why Debra Winger would play such a nasty, vindictive, small character. Richard Jenkins is very good at playing mild, inoffensive, people, plays an offensive person so in love with his own explanations and justifications of everything, that it’s hard to watch.  Gina Rodriguez tries to give this death spiral of a movie some life, but her character’s inability to say no to anyone or anything limits the character’s effectiveness. 

The direction is poor, the pacing is slow, the viewer is bludgeoned with the same idea over and over again ad nauseum, and then the story zig zag into each character’s idiosyncrasies and that slows the pace even more, and if one is expecting something profound at the end of this muddled lump, don’t wait too long. 

Kajillionaire:  An air of pretentiousness wafts through it. 

Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) is bored with his royal trappings in Zamunda, the kingdom to which he is heir.  He is about to get married to Imani Izzi (Vanessa Bell) a woman he barely knows, who is willing to do anything Akeem commands.  He wants more of a challenge from a woman, he tells his father he wants to go to America to find a suitable wife. The King, Jaffe Jafar (James Earl Jones) thinks Akeem just wants to sow his royal oats, and so he lets him go to America for 40 days, 

Akeem goes to America and tells his servant, Semmi (Arsenio Hall) that he intends to find a wife, in Queens New York.  Akeem finds the worst apartment in Queens, because he wants a woman to love him for himself and not his wealth, and settles in with Semmi. iAfter striking out in the bar scene, Akeem and Semmi go to a Black Awareness program, where Akeem meets Lisa McDowell, (Sheri Hadley) who is doing fundraising for underprivileged children.  Akeem falls for her immediately, and gets a job as a floor cleaner in Lisa’s father Cleo’s (John Amos) fast food restaurant McDowell’s, but Cleo wants Lisa to marry Jheri Curl magnate Darryl Jenks. (Eriq La Salle) What chance does a poor floor washer stand against Prince Jheri Curl? 

There is some good material here.  A sweet love story, some good satire about McDonald’s, some very inside humor about a particular hairstyle in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and even a Trading Places reference, which John Landis also directed.  But all that talk about finding a girl who challenges Akeem is severely undercut by the actual selection process.  Akeem makes a face when he thinks that the African princess is heavy, he literally makes Imani bark like a dog to prove how subservient she is, Akeem rejects Patrice, Lisa’s sister, for no other reason than being dark skinned and sexually aggressive.  So, there are all these little hints about what kind of woman Akeem wants, and it’s not someone who challenges him, it’s a light skinned, skinny woman, who is on the rebound from a bad relationship.  The problems with the script are manifold, the blatant sexism and colorism is bad enough, but the script was redundant, and sometimes seemed like a series of disjointed comedy sketches instead of a movie.  The club scene could have been an SNL sketch, the barbershop scene may have been an SNL sketch, the black awareness program could have been a sketch.  It seemed whenever the writers were stuck for an idea, they’d say Eddie do a character. 

Eddie Murphy is a very talented stand-up comic.  But sometimes his talent gets the better of him.  In this film Murphy plays too many characters, when he plays the singer at the Black Awareness pageant, that’s one character too many.  Richard Pryor did multiple characters much earlier and much better in Which Way Is Up.  At least Murphy has talent, Arsenio Hall plays what he is in real life, a hanger on, a friend of the star.  Thar’s how he got his talk show, that’s how he got this role, sure he does some voices, but he is Semmi in real life.  Some of the casting was inspired.  Who else could play an African King but James Earl Jones, that voice oozes regality.  John Amos is hilarious as the owner of a McDonald’s rip-off restaurant called McDowell’s.  Calvin Lockhart had a small role a General Izzi, but both Lockhart and Amos played gangsters in Let’s Do It Again, so it was nice to see them on-screen together again.  Shari Headley was pretty good as Lisa, but her character was kind of bland.  Allison Dean gave the role of Patrice, a lot of energy, and Patrice seemed like a more interesting character, but the script disposes of her quite neatly.  My sympathies to Vanessa Bell, who had to literally bark like a dog for two minutes on the screen, she later said colorism was the reason that she didn’t get the Lisa role.  Given how Allison Dean’s role was handled, it gives Bell’s claim more credibility. Proving he’s in every movie ever made since 1988, Samuel L Jackson has a bit part. 

The direction was horrid.  The pacing was incredibly slow.  It took 45 minutes for Akeem to meet Lisa.   That’s the crux of the movie.  Here’s a theory of why this movie is so slow.  Director John Landis had a huge star with an equally huge ego, so Landis just let Murphy do what he wanted, he wanted 3 bathers, he got three bathers, he wanted three flower petal ladies, he got three flower petal ladies.  But appeasing an actor, even one as popular as Eddie Murphy was in 1988, is not the same as making a cohesive movie.  So what results is a bloated, lumbering film that should have been a love story but became much more, and not in a good way.  There is no way that this movie should be nearly two hours long, but Landis’ inability to control the narrative, or his stars, turns this into an undisciplined work that doesn’t age well.  He doesn’t control Murphy or Hall, and they run roughshod over the other actors in the film.  Landis seems to have used kid gloves on John Belushi too, and the resultant messes, Animal House and Blues Brothers were largely unfocussed disjointed movies.  Animal House gets away with its lack of focus, because it’s about fraternity life, but the Blues Brothers is simply unwatchable. 

Coming To America:  Not the Lion King, Instead The Lyin’ Prince.