Film Review: Mascots (2016)

Release Date: September 10th, 2016 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Christopher Guest
Written by: Christopher Guest, Jim Piddock
Music by: Jeffrey C.J. Vanston
Cast: Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Christopher Guest, Fred Willard, Ed Begley Jr., Christopher Moynihan, Don Lake, Zach Woods, Chris O’Dowd, Bob Balaban, Jennifer Coolidge, Michael Hitchcock, John Michael Higgins, Jim Piddock, Maria Blasucci, Oscar Nunez, Harry Shearer

Netflix, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Well, my name is A.J. Blumquist, and I’m a former mascot, Danny the Donkey, and uh, I’m a judge this year for the Fluffies. For the two people that don’t know, uh, Danny the Donkey, my mascot alter ego, was the first one to have an anatomically correct costume.” – A.J. Blumquist

When you have something really good, you can ruin it by having too much. This can be said about cheesecake, high end whiskey, cocaine, sex with street walkers and well, sadly… Christopher Guest mockumentaries.

One could say that this isn’t Christopher Guest’s fault, he’s just making what he knows and he is a master of the genre. He can’t help that there has been a huge over-saturation of films like this and really, a lot of that could be due to how good his movies have been. But on the flip side of that, this falls flat in just about every way and there are recent mockumentaries that are much funnier than this: What We Do In the Shadows, for instance.

Guest rounds up his typical group of stars minus a few key people, most notably Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara. He spends more time using newer actors in main roles and most of his great collaborators take more of a backseat here. John Michael Higgins, Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge and Michael Hitchcock were severely underutilized and even Jane Lynch, who got a good amount of screen time, deserved more.

Out of the newcomers, I didn’t really connect to any of them except for Zach Woods. I liked Woods in this. But even Chris O’Dowd, who I usually find funny, didn’t hit the mark here.

It’s not that this picture is unfunny, it has some funny bits, but it doesn’t keep you as amused as Best In ShowWaiting for Guffman or A Mighty Wind. It’s nowhere near as incredibly as This Is Spinal Tap and it falls short of living up to Guest’s previous weakest film, For Your Consideration.

I’m not sure what this means for Guest’s future, as other reviews I’ve seen aren’t too fond of this film and feel the same way that I do. But if he sticks with Netflix he’s probably fine, as they’ll pump out anything with a famous name on it.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Christopher Guest’s other mockumentaries but this is the worst one so all the others are better.

Film Review: Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (2016)

Also known as: Ghostbusters (original title), Ghostbusters 3 (working title), Flapjack (fake working title)
Release Date: July 9th, 2016 (TCL Chinese Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Paul Feig
Written by: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig
Based on: Ghostbusters by Ivan Reitman, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis
Music by: Theodore Shapiro
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Neil Casey, Andy Garcia, Charles Dance, Ed Begley Jr., Michael McDonald, Zach Woods, Toby Huss, Bill Murray (cameo), Dan Aykroyd (cameo), Ernie Hudson (cameo), Sigourney Weaver (cameo), Annie Potts (cameo), Ivan Reitman (cameo), Ozzy Osbourne (cameo), Al Roker (cameo)

Columbia Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, The Montecito Picture Company, Feigco Entertainment, Pascal Pictures, Ghost Corps, Sony Pictures Releasing, 116 Minutes

Review:

“I will not let the 12-year reputation of this fine institution be besmirched by you!” – The Dean

I was a massive fan of the original Ghostbusters movies. However, even with rumors of a Ghostbusters 3 for years, I never really wanted a follow up. It had been such a long time since the second film and franchise movies that go on multiple decade hiatuses never seem to recapture the magic. The sequel idea was eventually abandoned in favor of this reboot, however. But still, I didn’t want it.

The only way that I thought a modern Ghostbusters could work is if it was to introduce a new generation and for it to exist in the same universe with the original guys passing the torch so that they could finally retire. Instead, this was just a flat out reboot with no continuity shared with the original two films.

But then there was also the gender twist element to this film. It seemed to be the latest Hollywood franchise to do a full gender swap for the sake of just swapping gender. Do I care that these four characters are women? No. But Hollywood (and all of entertainment, really) is sort of forcing diversity on the masses just because they can and apparently we’re all sexist, racist, homophobes if we don’t just accept what they are making the new normal.

In any event, this film came out with a lot of backlash because people are sick of the forced diversity shtick. Was that fair to the actresses in the film? Probably not. I felt that it should stand on its own merits but I also wanted to separate myself from all the social and political commentary for a long while before giving it a fair shot.

Let me first say that this sequel was unnecessary. Had it been made to build off of the already existing mythos and served to enrich it, then that would have made this more worthwhile and given it a point beyond just appearing like Hollywood attempting to gender swap fan favorite characters.

The thing is, I like most of the people in this film and that’s the main reason why I wanted to finally check it out. That being said, I enjoyed these women, their characters and I also thought that most of the supporting cast were better than decent. I also enjoyed the cameos from the original Ghostbusters cast members.

In the end, this film worked for me. There are several reasons for this but the biggest positive was that the writers didn’t try to just rehash what the first film was. This movie had it’s own original story with some cool ideas that served the narrative well. I liked the story, I thought it was pretty creative and even if the villain was weak when compared to Gozer and Vigo, his plan was still interesting and worthy of a first outing for this team of Ghostbusters.

Additionally, this film had a lot of fan service moments. They weren’t necessary or even really expected but the studio did a good job of not using these elements to sell the film in trailers. These surprises weren’t spoiled ahead of time for me and I was glad to see them worked into the movie, especially that major homage to The REAL Ghostbusters cartoon series.

I also loved the special effects and the whole visual style of the movie. The ghosts looked cool and there was a great variety of ghost styles. While the “ghosts unleashed on Manhattan” segment from the original film is one of the best moments in film history, I felt that this film’s take on that beloved moment was executed spectacularly.

The only ghost I really wasn’t a fan of was the demon dragon thing and the whole segment trying to capture it at the rock concert was one of the film’s lower points. But surprisingly, there weren’t a lot of other low points.

I was pretty sure I wouldn’t hate this like many people seem to. But I also didn’t expect to like it all that much either. I was lukewarm to this film and didn’t have the biggest urge to see it. I’m glad that I did though. It was entertaining enough, made me laugh a few times and I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel even though they probably won’t make one and will most likely just reboot the film series again, sometime down the road. That one will probably star four overweight paraplegic lesbian Fijians, one of which will be Muslim too.

But seriously, social political agenda aside, this made me laugh and had some good positives.

Also, Andy Garcia’s mayor character was damn good.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Just about any other Melissa McCarthy movie, as well as GhostbustersGhostbusters II and Bridesmaids.

TV Review: Silicon Valley (2014- )

Original Run: April 6th, 2014 – present
Created by: Mike Judge
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Cast: Thomas Middleditch, T. J. Miller, Josh Brener, Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, Christopher Evan Welch, Amanda Crew, Zach Woods, Matt Ross, Suzanne Cryer, Jimmy O. Yang, Stephen Tobolowsky

Judgemental Films, Altschuler Krinsky Works, Alec Berg Inc., 3 Arts Entertainment, HBO Entertainment, 28 Episodes (so far), 30 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Mike Judge is mostly known for his animated shows Beavis & Butt-HeadDaria and King of the Hill but when he does live-action stuff, it is still pretty darn good. Just look at Office Space and Idiocracy for examples.

Silicon Valley is almost a spiritual successor to Office Space but with a tech industry spin. It also benefits in ways that Office Space couldn’t, as that film was confined to just 90 minutes. The episodic format and now multiple seasons of Silicon Valley gives it more wiggle room and lots of different ideas can be explored in more depth. We have time to get to know our characters more intimately and the story of their company (and rival companies) is allowed to flourish in a broader way.

The cast is literally an all-star team of talent, many of whom have been on the scene for awhile but never really had the right project to shine in a long-term sense.

The cast is led by Thomas Middleditch, who had bit roles in a lot of television shows and movies but never had much time to stand out. He is backed by T.J. Miller, who would go on to be awesome in Deadpool but also worked in Cloverfield as well as a slew of other projects. Then you have Josh Brener, who I found to be hilarious in Maron but never got to see much else from him. Kumail Nanjiani may be recognized from small roles in Portlandia, as well as some commercials, but this too, is his first real long-term project. Martin Starr, who has probably had the most success, started his career in the cult classic television show Freaks & Geeks and went on to be integral to another cult show Party Down. Starr has really found the perfect role for his personality. You also have Zach Woods, who is mostly known as the unlikable character Gabe from the later seasons of The Office. Woods’ Jared is the antithesis of Gabe however, as he is one of the most likable characters on Silicon Valley. Finally, you have Amanda Crew, who should probably be featured on the show more than she has been in the first three seasons because she is great and adds a needed feminine element to the show’s male dominated cast.

The show also boasts a good supporting cast. Matt Ross is great as the dastardly villain of the series. Jimmy O. Yang is great as the Chinese roommate of the main cast. Christopher Evan Welch was enigmatic as the bizarre Peter Gregory but he unfortunately passed away during production of the first season. Chris Diamantopoulos is perfect as the douchebaggy rich guy Russ Hanneman. One of my favorite actors in any role he plays, Stephen Tobolowsky is fantastic as a short-lived CEO of the main characters’ company. Lastly, Milana Vayntrub, best known as Lilly in those AT&T commercials, plays Starr’s girlfriend in a few episodes and I wish she was in more.

The show is stellar and it is consistent throughout its first three seasons. I’m glad to see it coming back for a fourth but the show could run its course pretty soon and hopefully it doesn’t stick around longer than it should, like most successful shows these days.

Everyone is fairly likable and the contrast in personalities is what makes the show work. The show is perfectly cast, the funny look into the tech world is executed brilliantly and the balance between its lightheartedness and more dramatic parts is handled well.

Silicon Valley is one of those shows that is a perfect storm. While it isn’t a perfect show, the scale tips much more towards positives than negatives and it is hard not to care about the characters and appreciate the talent of the actors that bring the show to life.

Rating: 7/10