DADDY’S HOME (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Thematic Elements, Crude and Suggestive Content, and for Language

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Directed by: Sean Anders

Written by: Brian Burns, Sean Anders & John Morris

Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini, Scarlett Estevez, Owen Wilder Vaccaro, Thomas Haden Church, Hannibal Buress & Bobby Cannavale

Like any other big comedic actor, Will Ferrell has gone through highs and lows. His highs have been hilarious (TALLADEGA NIGHTS), hugely entertaining (MEGAMIND), and surprisingly emotional (STRANGER THAN FICTION). His lows have been bland (GET HARD), disappointing (ANCHORMAN 2), and outright terrible (BEWITCHED). DADDY’S HOME made a splash in last year’s box office and is now Will Ferrell’s highest grossing live-action film. That’s a bit depressing, because this lame comedy is nowhere near Ferrell’s best and actually falls near the bottom of his output. DADDY’S HOME is confused about whether or not it wants to be light-hearted family friendly comedy or the usual crude PG-13 Ferrell fest. The film’s tone suggests the former, while the sex/penis jokes suggest the latter. As a result, DADDY’S HOME is a dull mess that isn’t really aimed at anyone in particular.

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Brad Whitaker (Will Ferrell) is a dorky stepfather, who’s overly polite and a total pushover. Despite being happily married to his wife Sara (Linda Cardellini), Brad’s stepchildren Megan and Dylan are understandably reluctant to accept him as their dad. Just when doors seem to be opening up between Brad and the kids, they receive a phone call from their biological father Dusty (Mark Wahlberg). Through a misunderstanding, Dusty invites himself to visit for a week and Brad begins to engage in a full-blown “dad off” between himself and Dusty. Wild and crazy antics ensue, except they really don’t because these jokes feel a bit tame, far-fetched, and outright stupid.

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DADDY’S HOME reveals a big problem in its first ten minutes. Brad seems like a sociopath, even though the movie is trying to portray as a lovable clumsy doofus. Through his opening narration, Ferrell’s stepfather protagonist all but directly tells us that the main reason he even married Sara was because she had kids. Remember, we’re supposed to be rooting for this guy. The script also goes too far in showing us what a geek Brad is. Of course, he works at a slow jazz radio station. Of course, he has uncomfortable conversations with his boss. Of course, he keeps misunderstanding what his step-kids want from him. He’s a dork…but ain’t he lovable? Yeah, not really.

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That’s not to say that Mark Wahlberg’s character is likable either, but at least Dusty is set up as one-dimensional antagonist from the start. The film’s characters act like he has charisma that simply wasn’t evident to me and then slowly pulls back layers to reveal Dusty’s true intentions…like they weren’t obvious from the start. The underhanded tactics that Dusty uses make him completely unlikable, but Brad and Sara still keep him around out of misguided reasons. Even when Dusty invites a random guy (played by Hannibal Buress) to start living with the family, they still allow him to stay in the house…because the film wanted it that way. Dusty also accompanies Brad to work and warms up to his boss…solely because the script called for it.

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Many events in this movie only occur because the script called for them and not out from believable character decisions or a natural story flow. I know these might sound like dumb complaints for a PG-13 Will Ferrell comedy, but there has to be a level of consistency to make any story work. TALLADEGA NIGHTS was far funnier (I truly love that movie) and has more believability than DADDY’S HOME. This bland comedy simply moves from crude set-piece to even cruder set-piece and also tries to maintain a family friendly atmosphere by having the story bring would-be heartfelt messages into the final third. This mix doesn’t work because it’s not well written, particularly funny and the characters are all unlikable scumbags.

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At the end of the day, DADDY’S HOME is bland, forgettable, and not particularly funny. Adding insult to injury, this film tries to shoe-horn in a forced message about what it truly means to be a family and constantly feels like a jumbled mish-mash of two very different movies. To make matters even worse, the wife and children are merely regulated to game pieces that will be won by either scummy Wahlberg or sociopathic Ferrell. Even if it weren’t already a tonally confused mess, DADDY’S HOME would be seen as reprehensibly stupid, unfunny, and intelligence-insulting comedy thanks to a sloppy script. DADDY’S HOME might just be down there with BEWITCHED as one of Ferrell’s very worst films.

Grade: D

SIDEWAYS (2004)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 6 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language, some Strong Sexual Content and Nudity

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Directed by: Alexander Payne

Written by: Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor

(based on the novel SIDEWAYS by Rex Pickett)

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen & Sandra Oh

Alexander Payne has a very distinct style to his work. His films usually offer strong characters worth emotionally investing in and leave the viewer laughing or crying or both. There’s something about his serene sense of honest human emotion that manages to capture a realistic slice of life on the screen. That’s definitely the appeal for some people and may cause others to steer clear. I found myself split almost down the middle on my opinion of the hugely acclaimed, award-winning SIDEWAYS while watching it. By the time the credits began roll, I understood why this movie is so beloved. Aside from some minor pacing issues, SIDEWAYS is pretty much the perfect combination of heartfelt drama and charming comedy.

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Miles Raymond is a deeply depressed writer struggling to get his first novel published. In addition to this character trait, Miles is also a huge fan of wine, a middle-school English teacher, recently divorced, and an alcoholic. Life might be looking up when he goes on a week-long trip through wine country with his soon-to-be-married best friend, Jack Cole. The two of them meet up with two fellow wine-loving women. Reluctant Miles finds himself falling for a waitress named Maya, while Jack is more than a little eager to cheat on his fiancé. Needless to say that both newfound relationships have their rocky points and the pair of friends wind up in hijinks aided by wine.

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It should come as no surprise that characters are extremely important in a movie mainly centered around conversations and relationships. SIDEWAYS excels in bringing to life a group of people who feel too real for the screen. Thomas Haden Church plays the two-timing asshole Jack, but he’s not a one-dimensional scumbag. Jack seems to really care about Miles and tries his best to cheer him up throughout the film (albeit, most attempts backfire). Sandra Oh and Virginia Madsen are convincing as gals who could be on the lookout for love. The best performance comes in Paul Giamatti’s stellar Miles though. This is easily the most realistic portrayal of someone suffering from Depression that I’ve ever seen in any film. Miles may fly off the handles and cope with his problems in a damaging way (getting drunk seems to be his solution to everything), but he’s totally relatable to most people going through a severe rough patch in their lives. There’s something instantly likable about him, aided by some of the better comic relief moments throughout.

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This may seem odd, but I think SIDEWAYS almost comes off as a more dramatic feature-length episode of SEINFIELD. That’s not mean to be a disparaging remark in the slightest. There isn’t really a story to be had. The plot is that these two friends go on a trip through wine country and meet some gals. There’s almost a quasi-sitcom like structure to be found within the film. It’s a film that’s technically about nothing, but winds up being emotionally about everything. The banter between Miles and Jack are mainly of the comedic variety, while Miles interactions with Maya lean heavily on the dramatic side of things. There are moments in SIDEWAYS where the film almost seems to lose focus, but then another scene or conversation comes along that snapped me right back into the film. The last 30 minutes or so of this movie are absolutely stellar containing the funniest scene of the entire film and an ending that hit my deepest emotions.

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For a film that boils down to a group of friends tasting wine and talking with each other, SIDEWAYS packs a lot of emotion and humor. This is definitely a dramedy that starts off as a comedy, strikes a balance between the serious and funny scenes before ending on heartfelt drama. Paul Giamatti’s performance alone makes this film worth viewing. Add in witty dialogue, other smartly written characters (Thomas Haden Church is great as well), and a powerhouse final third, then you’ve got yourself a winner. SIDEWAYS does have a couple of small pacing issues, but there’s something so honest and touching about this film that I couldn’t help but love it! Like a fine wine, SIDEWAYS will only get better with age.

Grade: A

EASY A (2010)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Mature Thematic Elements involving Teen Sexuality, Language and some Drug Material

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Directed by: Will Gluck

Written by: Bert V. Royal

Starring: Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Cam Gigandet, Lisa Kudrow, Aly Michalka, Dan Byrd, Stanley Tucci & Malcolm McDowell

Plenty of teenage movies come out every year. Most of them feature an overly cheesy romance full of unconvincing 20-somethings portraying high school kids. Every now and then, a rare film comes along that captures the joys of being young and the adolescent drama that teenagers face on a daily basis. It’s easy to forget how tough times seemed as a high school student. It’s easy to forget how painful insults from your peers could be. Well-done stories about teenagers can perfectly encapsulate all of those feelings in a meaningful and entertaining way for any age group. EASY A is not only one of the best teenage comedies I’ve seen in the new millennium, but one of the best films in that specific subgenre ever.

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Olive is a seemingly invisible good girl in a California high school. After a little white lie about losing her virginity escalates, Olive finds herself as an unwanted center of attention. Using her completely untrue reputation to her advantages, she banks on spreading more rumors about her false sexuality with classmates she really doesn’t sleep with. It’s the ultimate meaning of the term “Let’s not and say we did.” However, the realization of just what sort of trouble she’s getting herself into dawns after losing friends and becoming the ultimate outcast. Needless to say that Olive will do whatever she can to clean up her name.

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Narrated by Olive through a webcam, EASY A feels like a solid young adult novel turned movie. It’s an awesome teenage comedy that has authentic characters. The dialogue doesn’t feel scripted in the slightest. This scenario being shown isn’t exactly out of the ordinary either. It’s about as everyday as a group of kids being stuck in detention together or a girl turning sixteen. Therefore, it’s easy to get emotionally involved with a character as likable as Olive. Emma Stone delivers her A-game as the teenage protagonist. Though her filmography ranges from quality to questionable, Olive is the best role she’s been given thus far and showcases all of her talent as the lead.

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Besides Emma Stone, the entire cast of side characters are great too. Though some of these performers aren’t given a huge amount of screen time, the smallest of roles are memorable in some way. Malcolm McDowell plays the school principal for about five minutes in three brief scenes. Recently I had some girls get on me about my criticizing of Gus from FAULT IN OUR STARS (another good teenage-aimed movie). No guy is as perfect as that one-note character, but Penn Badgley plays Stone’s romantic interest as someone who I believe exists. Meanwhile, Cam Gigadent and a surprisingly tolerable Amanda Bynes are fantastic as Jesus freaks that tick off the viewer. There are plenty of other notable performances (Thomas Haden Church as a teacher, Aly Michalka as Olive’s best friend, etc.), but Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson play the best parents in the world. There’s real chemistry between the two. Their delivery is hysterical but also touching.

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The sense of humor in EASY A is as great as the dramatic angles being presented. Everything is funny but believable. The movie hearkens back to the good old days of John Hughes’s prime and comes as the ultimate homage to 80’s teen movies. Emma Stone’s Olive references these flicks in some of her dialogue. Bert Royal’s script also includes a whole lot of self-aware dialogue poking fun at the clichés in every teenager-aimed flick, but does so in a way that’s fresh and enjoyable. One thing that should also be highly praised is that EASY A is endlessly rewatchable. I’ve seen it about six times since its release in 2010 and it’s just as excellent during (if not improving with) every viewing.

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Through down-to-earth writing, great performances, and genius comedic sensibilities. EASY A is as funny and entertaining as it is emotionally involving. EASY A easily earns a grade higher than the one already in the title. This is an amazing comedy that happens to revolve around teenagers, but will entertain every demographic. There’s no other way of saying this, but EASY A is a must-see!

Grade: A+

IDIOCRACY (2006)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 24 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language and Sex-related Humor

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Directed by: Mike Judge

Written by: Mike Judge, Etan Cohen

Starring: Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Dax Shepard, Terry Crews, Anthony Campos, David Herman, Justin Long, Thomas Haden Church, Stephen Root

Idiots. The world is full of them. Turn on the news, read a blog, or (God forbid) do a search on YouTube if you want some recent examples of stupidity that pops up in our society again and again. IDIOCRACY (Mike Judge’s third feature film) was promptly shelved and then dumped into an extremely limited theatrical release by the studio that financed it (Fox). This is a pity on so many levels. One of which being that this sci-fi comedy has some startling, funny, and depressing points to make about the future of mankind. It’s not without faults, but I guarantee you haven’t seen anything quite like this film before and you probably won’t see anything like it again.

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In the present day, Joe Bauers has been selected for a top-secret army experiment. The reason he’s been chosen isn’t that Joe is a genius, but he’s the most average man in every category and doesn’t have any pesky living relatives to ask questions. He’s frozen in cryogenic sleep and through human error, wakes up 500 years in the future. Joe makes the shocking discovery that everything has been dumbed down to ridiculous levels. Joe is now the smartest man in the world and must deal with this whole new stupid society.

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The depiction of why humanity’s IQ suddenly dropped is terrifying, because it’s so true. Smart people think things through before they decide to have kids, dumb people don’t. How many huge white trash families do you see with tons of kids running wild around the supermarket? It’s altogether depressing to think about and director/writer Mike Judge knows this. He tends to keep things as upbeat and wacky as possible, despite the arguable accuracy of his vision of the future. A whole lot of creativity permeates through every frame. Careful attention has been paid to small details that bring this world to life. Shameless product placement has been turned into a punchline, rather than obvious marketing towards certain companies. I can’t imagine that you’ll want to visit Costco, Starbucks, or Carl’s Jr. after watching IDIOCRACY, because of how the movie portrays each of these chains. Also, I doubt you’ll want to chug an energy drink (which is preferable to water in this future) either.

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With all of the scathing satire taken into account, IDIOCRACY comes dangerously close to wearing out its welcome. Some of the characters and humor are a little too obnoxious. Luke Wilson is a decent enough leading man here. I always seem to get the impression that he’s the less talented or charismatic Wilson brother. His performance didn’t do much to change my mind. However, seeing as his character is a perfectly average guy, it seemed like ideal casting (no major disrespect to Luke Wilson). Dax Shepherd also overplayed his role of an idiotic lawyer to the point of teetering on the annoying side, rather than a lovable doofus that the script tries to make him out to be. Maya Rudolph is the worst character here and the less said about her performance, the better. A few big name actors do pop up in short roles as the future morons, these include Justin Long, Stephen Root, and Thomas Haden Church. Finally, there’s Terry Crews and he’s without a doubt hilarious to watch. As a wrestler-elected-president, Crews is having a blast and it’s infectious to the viewer as well.

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The finale also falls into a predictable territory, where the viewer is pretty much just waiting for things to follow the exact manner that they do wind up playing out in. With all of this being said, Mike Judge does hit the nail on the head very well in little details and lots of scenes are scathingly funny. We’ve all met people who resemble some traits of this future folk and it’s horrifying accurate to think that the planet might some day wind up in an idiotic dystopian world. Again, I did like how fleshed out this world was. Tone wise, the film feels like a 70’s sci-fi film that’s been injected with a good dose of humor alongside the relevant social commentary.

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IDIOCRACY is far from Mike Judge’s best work (OFFICE SPACE and KING OF THE HILL), but it’s also earned the cult status surrounding it. What’s even more telling is that the studio dumped this film in a terrible manner and yet movies like TRANSFORMERS still get huge releases. This move could be viewed as another step closer to IDIOCRACY’s predicted future of people paying to see a 90-minute movie titled Ass or watching “Ow, My Balls!” on TV every evening. As playful as it is satirical, IDIOCRACY is recommended for those wanting out of the ordinary laughs or are curious about taking a look into a possible terrifying future where smart people are an endangered species.

Grade: B

DEMON KNIGHT (1995)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Gore, Horror Violence, Sexuality and Language

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Directed by: Ernest Dickerson

Written by: Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris, Mark Bishop

Starring: Billy Zane, William Sadler, Jada Pinkett Smith, Thomas Haden Church, John Kassir, Dick Miller

In the 1950’s, William Gaines took over his father’s comic book business and began a line of well-known horror comics. Eventually, parents, an idiot child psychologist, and church leaders got on the company’s ass about this so-called form of fun, stating that comic books were the cause of juvenile delinquency (because the excuse of blaming the media was being used way back then). The joke was on them though when the generation reading those morbid illustrated stories turned out just as well as anybody else did. In fact, a HBO series was constructed around these horror comics. Spawning seven seasons of memorable episodes and a ghoulish host with the most, TALES FROM THE CRYPT was a smashing success. So much so, that two big screen movies were produced out of this series. While I have not seen the second film, DEMON KNIGHT pretty much plays out like a feature-length episode from the hit anthology series. This is both a blessing and a curse.

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The film opens with the essential introduction of going through the Cryptkeeper’s haunted home and a lot of bad puns from the decaying puppet. The story being told follows two men on a chase that will decide the fate of humanity. Frank (played by William Sadler, who starred in the very first episodes of TALES) is carrying an artifact that The Collector (played in a delightfully scene-stealing role by Billy Zane) wants. After making his way into a former church turned hotel, Frank is found by the cops and The Collector, who reveals himself to actually be a demonic presence. The residents of the hotel, a cop, and Frank find themselves fighting for their lives against the forces of Hell that are trying to make their way inside the newly condemned hotel.

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From the show’s introduction to the credits done in the exact same way that an episode of TALES would have presented them, this feels like it would be right at home playing as a Halloween special for the series on HBO. This being said, it does deliver what fans enjoyed about the show, just done for about triple the time-length that an episode of the show ran. I really don’t know how I would have felt if I had paid money to see it on the big screen though. I would probably expect something a little more big and grand than what HBO was giving every week. The budget may have been bigger, but everything still seems at about the same level as a regular episode of TALES.

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The effects are cheesy and the look of the demons themselves almost seems like someone took the Cryptkeeper and tried to make him a little more….well, demonic. I enjoyed William Sadler’s performance as the hero, which was a nice change of pace from his last appearance in TALES as an insane electric chair operator. Billy Zane chews the scenery like it’s going out of style. He was clearly having a blast playing this goofy demonic force that spouts one-liners and is constantly going over-the-top. This could have come off as annoying, but for the most part, Zane is a lot of fun to watch. Genre vet Dick Miller (who appeared in BUCKET OF BLOOD, which I reviewed earlier this month) shows up as the obligatory drunk. Thomas Haden Church (Sandman from SPIDER-MAN 3 and Ansel from KILLER JOE) plays a good redneck scumbag too.

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There are multiple times where it feels like DEMON KNIGHT is padded for time. It is also surprising how much the film feels like it would have been a solid hour-long special of TALES FROM THE CRYPT, especially when you consider that the script was floating around (passing from the likes of Tom Holland to Mary Lambert) before the HBO program even existed. The effects are mostly practical and cheesy, much like one would expect from the series. The macabre sense of humor and fun is a constant too. I just feel like the movie was really stretching itself out to make a feature far too many times.

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It’s cheesy, fun, and silly. This everything one might expect from a standard episode of TALES, but it just goes on for an hour longer. Worth a watch on a late night when you’ve got nothing to do, which is not meant as a huge insult to the film either. It’s just like an episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT. If you’re a fan of the series (like I am), you’ll dig it for the most part. If you’re not, then it’s probably not for you. Make of that what you will.

Grade: B-

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