Goof Troop

In my last entry, I talked about a pretty serious trio of movies. They were all good, but none of them could be accused of being a bundle of laughs. Let's switch it up today, and talk about a trio of movies meant to tickle the funny bone. How successful were they? Read on!

The first was the new Pixar movie, Finding Dory. Once I finally get around to seeing The Good Dinosaur, I'll have to put them into the Rank and File project, but for now, let's just consider it on its own. Aside from shifting its focus from Marlin to Dory, Finding Dory has pretty much the same rhythm as Finding Nemo. Character sets off on a personal quest and is pursued across the ocean by concerned friends/family, all of whom have adventures along the way. Though the new movie borrows heavily from the old, it doesn't mean it worked just as well. Ellen DeGeneres is as winning as ever as the unfortunate fish with short-term memory problems, but the side characters aren't as compelling, and there are too many scenes that take place far from the aquatic atmosphere we've all come to love. A scene on a crowded highway is particularly egregious in its out-of-placeness. That's not to say it was a bad movie; it was perfectly enjoyable, and Sigourney Weaver's cameo was particularly awesome. But sequels often don't measure up to their predecessors, and this one is no exception.

Wanna hear about a sequel that does measure up? It's called Pee-Wee's Big Holiday. OK, maybe "sequel" is a stretch, since the character of Pee-Wee in this movie doesn't seem to have any connection with the Pee-Wee of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. Still, it's essentially the same structure. In this universe, Pee-Wee is a beloved member of a small town community, who has never ventured outside his own small corner of the world, and doesn't feel any particular need to. That all changes when charismatic actor Joe Manganiello stops by for a milkshake and invites Pee-Wee to his upcoming birthday party in New York. Pee-Wee sets off on a road trip, and encounters all kinds of odd sorts, from a farmer with nine love-starved daughters to a trio of leonine bank robbers who can't help but be charmed by him to an aviatrix who's better at small talk than at staying aloft. I couldn't stop giggling throughout this whole movie. Paul Reubens' sense of childlike humor is still a delight, and every actor in this movie is totally game to share in the silliness.

OK, that brings us to the final movie, about which more internet ink has been spilled than every other film of the year combined. I'll avoid retreading all of the hubbub about the new Ghostbusters and just concentrate on the movie itself. It's funny. Good night, everyone!

Fine, I suppose I owe you more than that. Reboots of classics are always a challenge, and this update doesn't come close to capturing the hilarity and chemistry that the 1984 movie does. It's got structural issues, and there are parts that drag. Rating it PG-13 was good for getting families in the door, but it also meant that actors like Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig couldn't cut loose as much as they usually do. That said, I laughed plenty, which is all I can really ask from a comedy, right? Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones all have a chance to show off their comedic chops, with Wiig somewhat unfortunately relegated to the straight-woman role. Flipping the gender dynamic by casting Chris Hemsworth as a dumb himbo receptionist was a real treat, and most of the cameos by original cast members were cute (Sigourney Weaver was still better in Finding Dory, though). Was this a genius piece of cinema destined to grace the Hall of Fame forever? No. Was it a dumpster fire that ruined anyone's childhood? No. Sorry to disappoint anyone in this culture of thinking everything is either the best or worst thing ever, but Ghostbusters is a perfectly capable, middle-of-the-road comedy. I'm guessing nobody's going to write a thinkpiece with that title, but it doesn't make it any less true.

Finding Dory: B
Pee-Wee's Big Holiday: A
Ghostbusters (2016): B

Summer Catch

There's no escaping it now. We're in the sweltering days of summer, where I'm drenched in sweat by the time I get to work, to say nothing of that state I'm in by the time I get home. Truly, these are the days best spent indoors, watching the movies I should have seen last year, when they were being critically praised and given all sorts of awards. Now the cultural conversation has moved on, but I've finally found enough time to get some of 2015's hits under my belt, though there are still plenty to go. Today, though, let's breeze through a trio of movies that really deserve to have more than a short little blurb written about them, but that I'm just now getting around to.

Not that movies like Spotlight didn't get plenty of ink devoted to them. I had zero interest in The Revenant, and so I took a degree of smug satisfaction when Spotlight beat it out for Best Picture, even though I hadn't seen either one at that point. Thankfully, Netflix added it to streaming, so I happily set aside an evening to take in a lighthearted flick about child molestation. I took an almost anthropological interest in Spotlight. I have no personal experience with Boston, with the Catholic Church, or with sexual abuse, so it was up to the filmmakers to convey just how entrenched the first is, how powerful the second is, and how terribly transformative the third is. To me, priests aren't anything special. Reporting them for misconduct would be no more difficult than reporting a plumber. To families in Boston, though, a priest showing personal interest in you can be like getting attention from God himself, so when that trust is abused, feelings of guilt and shame can set in. The Church and law enforcement didn't help, shuffling the few priests that were accused around, but taking no real steps to discipline them or change the system.

That finally came to public light with the investigative reporting of the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe, who dug up all the details, and published a series of earth-shattering articles about the abuse the Church allows. In a way, this is a very quiet film. It deals with a very serious topic, but it had to make scenes of reporters finding old newspaper clips or interviewing sources exciting. That's a tough feat, but director Tom McCarthy makes it a very compelling journey. The movie is chock full of terrific actors, but ironically, the one I would single out for not quite fitting in is one of the two to get a nomination. Mark Ruffalo is a shade too hammy in his role as one of the reporters, but everyone else, from Michael Keaton to Rachel McAdams to the always-wonderful Stanley Tucci shines. Spotlight is not a movie that I feel like I'll want to revisit in future, but it certainly accomplished everything it set out to do, even if the problems it elucidates still persist.

Speaking of problems, how about an apocalyptic desert dystopia? My only excuse for avoiding George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road until now was that I was afraid it might be too gory for me. This is where having good friends comes in handy. They explained to me that there was really only one scene I should avoid, and if I watched the movie with them, they'd tell me when to hide my eyes. That sounded good to me, and it worked out incredibly well. I'm not a huge fan of the original movies. The first one was okay, I fell asleep during the second one, and the only other thing I remember from the series is Tina Turner looking awesome and singing an amazing song. So even with the rapturous critical praise and audience adoration this movie received, I went in with measured expectations.

Well. Finally, a Mad Max movie I truly enjoyed. The plot is extremely sparse, but somehow, that seems to work in its favor. A woman named Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is trying to get back to her home, but must rebel against the tyrant who runs the settlement she works for. She also is working to break a group of female prisoners out, and though she is reluctant to work with the drifter named Max (Tom Hardy), he eventually wins her over, and they work together to outrun their pursuers. It's a gorgeous movie, it's full of thrills, and it doesn't put its female characters on the back burner. Now I can see what all the fuss what about.

Finally, it's back to another quiet movie. I always enjoy movies that try something new and show some ambition, even if the results are mixed. "Trying something new" is a phrase that can definitely be applied to Charlie Kaufman's animated movie, Anomalisa. On the surface, you'd think it's pretty well-worn territory: A visiting motivational speaker meets a woman who sparks his interest, and he pursues a romantic relationship with her, only to discover complications. So what makes this different? A look at the cast list should give you a clue. David Thewlis as Michael Stone. Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lisa Hesselman. Tom Noonan as Everyone else. Michael Stone is so bored by his family and his life that everyone seems to have the same voice. When he meets Lisa, she strikes him as different, so he's naturally enchanted with her.

That's the aspect of the movie that intrigued me most, but if you've heard of this movie, you've probably heard about the other draw: Explicit puppet sex. Yeah, that was strange. Not off-putting or out-of-place, but... Well, it's just tough to contextualize explicit puppet sex when you're not watching a farcical comedy. That said, it was a really interesting movie that I enjoyed a lot. Kaufman is one of the most imaginative filmmakers working today, and this is a character study that is well worth your time. Even with that puppet penis.

Spotlight: B+
Mad Max: Fury Road: A-
Anomalisa: B+
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