Tag: bill hader

It: Chapter Two

It: Chapter Two (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

For a movie with elaborate set pieces and a willingness to experiment with different types of horror, “It: Chapter Two” is only entertaining parts. Perhaps the problem can be attributed to Gary Dauberman’s screenplay. It spends far too much time communicating how the Losers, now adults (James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Hader, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, Andy Bean), have become traumatized from their encounters with Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgård) twenty-seven years ago. Not one of their plight is particularly compelling or original and so it is a curiosity why the material feels the need to spell out the psychological underpinnings of their behaviors. I found it needlessly expository.

The opening scene is most promising because it underscores the idea that people around us can be just as evil—if not more—as the supernatural kind. A romantic date is turned into something so awful, the events linger in the mind for a while. One is led to believe, if one is not familiar with the source material, that perhaps we will learn, in detail, about Pennywise’s history, why he—or it—is driven to terrorize this particular town. Is it solely for its own survival or are the people’s behavior in this place (homophobia, racism, xenophobia) directly tethered to his bloody rampage? However, as the film goes on, we learn only one bit of critical information about the villain. Pennywise is pushed to the side until climactic special and visual effects extravaganza.

It is not without good performances. Hader stands out as Richie, a man with a secret, whose life is so sad and lonely that he became a comedian in order to utilize humor as armor. I am familiar with Hader’s more dramatic roles but never have I seen him as effective as he is here. At times I caught myself looking in his direction while sharing the same frame as powerhouses like Chastain and McAvoy—highly efficient performers who can do next to nothing and yet remain in control of the screen. It helps that Hader gets some of the best lines. He sells every single one with conviction; we believe this character exists out there in the world. An argument can be made he is the heart of the film.

The movie offers fewer terrifying moments than the predecessor. Part of it is because we are following adults instead of children; there is a natural instinct for us to want to protect children and get them out of harm’s way. But the more interesting part is a lack of effective build-up to the scares. I can think of one exception: Beverly’s return to her childhood home when she is welcomed by the current tenant, an elderly lady whose father joined the circus. Other than this standout, a deliciously devious sequence, the rest of the Losers’ encounters with their pasts feel as though these were taken from other generic made-for-TV horror pictures.

Of particular annoyance is the numerous hallucinatory sequences. I felt as though these comprise the majority of the second act. Sharp writers should recognize that events surrounding hallucinations suffer greatly from diminishing returns. And yet it remains adamant in employing this approach without sudden, genuinely shocking left turns to keep us invested.

Both “It” chapters are based on Stephen King’s novel. His works are notorious for being a challenge to put on screen so that the movie is just as effective or even better than its source material. It is because many of his work are so pregnant with imagination that even the most expensive special and visual effects are not able to match the images formed in our minds. Despite the yelling, screaming for help, and terrorized expressions, “Chapter Two” feels like just another scary movie. It is a disappointment because “Chapter One” is a killer springboard.

The Angry Birds Movie

The Angry Birds Movie (2016)
★ / ★★★★

In its desperate and intolerable attempt to appeal to as many people as possible, “The Angry Birds Movie” ends up becoming just another forgettable animated picture that is supposed to be entertaining solely because the birds look cute, the computer animation is consistently colorful, and the so-called jokes—which rarely land or do not even bother to have a punchline—are based on popular culture. Look closely and realize that what we have here is not bottom-of-the-barrel material. Rather, it offers rotten, ugly, insulting underneath-the-barrel detritus masquerading as an innocuous animated flick. Worse, it is targeted for children. Warning: They will lose brain cells.

The first hour drags because the screenplay by Jon Vitti lacks a sense of urgency. Countless times we are shown Red (voiced by Jason Sudeikis) exhibiting a short temper and prone to having fits of rage, but the emotion is not given complexity. As a result, each encounter Red has, even though it is with different characters, tends to deliver the same result. It is boring, uninspired, and one gets the feeling that those involved in writing and helming the script do not have grand imaginations or even exciting inspirations.

The voice cast offers nothing spectacular. Since the material is so bland, they all begin to sound the same eventually. The talents of Peter Dinklage, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Sean Penn are wasted for the most part. A standout, however, is Josh Gad, giving life to Chuck, the bird with a gift for speed. Although the character is almost always turned up to eleven, I enjoyed the way Gad is able to tap into different kinds and levels of excitement. His talent rises well above material that is essentially a waste of energy and time. I hope he was paid handsomely.

Perhaps the lowest point of the picture is what could have been the most compelling had intelligent, clever, humanistic writers were at the helm. It involves Red, along with Chuck and Bomb (Danny McBride), discovering that the figure that he and fellow flightless birds in the island looked up to as children, the Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage), is just another flawed, disappointing bird who had let himself go. There is a line in the script that is merely thrown away when it should have had genuine, powerful emotional impact. It involves the eagle being the only bird on the island that is able to fly but actually chooses not to.

So who is the “Angry Birds” for? It is not for children, despite it being superficially lively and colorful, because it does not challenge them intellectually or emotionally. On the contrary, one can construct an argument that it teaches them to fear the Other, given that the pigs are from another land and they only befriend the birds so they can steal and eat their eggs. But that aside, is it for adults? No, it is not because the entertainment value is so low, one would have to scrape the floor for morsels.

This film is for the movie studios simply wishing to capitalize on a brand. While the games are entertaining and require a bit of thinking in order to solve the puzzles, the movie is the exact opposite: stultifying in its dullness, stench, mediocrity, and lack of innovation. If you dare to turn an app into a full feature film, there better a good reason. The material here offers none.


Trainwreck (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

“Trainwreck,” written by Amy Schumer and directed by Judd Apatow, is a comedy that could have benefited from discipline. There are laughs to be had here, especially during the first thirty to forty-five minutes, but there are also a lot of downtime where characters bemoan problems that are neither profound nor very amusing. It feels forced, tired, desperate for would-be character development. Thus, what results is a two-hour film that feels much longer. This is an example of a comedy that should have had a running time of only eighty to ninety minutes.

“Monogamy isn’t realistic,” is a mantra that stuck with nine-year-old Amy after her father (Colin Quinn) and mother separate. Years later, adult Amy (Amy Schumer), who works for a magazine in New York City, finds it difficult to maintain a relationship although she is quite capable of no strings attached hookups—so capable that she has developed quite a reputation. But when Amy is assigned to write a scathing piece about a sports physician on the rise (Bill Hader), something in her feels the need to reevaluate her current lifestyle.

The first third is strong, a joy to sit through, because there is an aggressiveness to the humor. It is—at least initially—a sex comedy that prides itself as one. Profanity is abound and there are guest cameos that surprise but do not distract. We learn about Amy as a woman with a healthy sexual appetite, as a co-worker in a cutthroat industry, as a sister to a more traditional Kim (Brie Larson), and as a person who might just have a problem with alcohol. It is daring and refreshing until the expected machinery of the romantic comedy genre begins to take over a very promising piece of work.

Schemer and Hader share some physical chemistry, but their characters are a bore together most of the time. Perhaps this is due to the weakness in the script. It does not seem to understand the labor that goes into real relationships. However, it is well-versed in the sort of exchanges that only happen in the movies. Just about every time Amy and the doctor disagree or get into an argument, the material shirks from showing the real truths, pains, and hardships of trying to make a relationship work. Notice the sheer inanity and lightness of the final scene. Is that how real couples mend their wounds?

Thus, what results is picture that lacks dramatic gravity. Notice that when Amy and Dr. Conner break up, it is difficult to care. Of course we know they must end up together in the end—this is not the point. The fact that we root for them all the way and the couple tries to sustain what they have together is what matters.

Someone needs to tell Apatow that films are rarely able to sustain a two-hour running time. “Trainwreck,” like its heroine, is at its best when it gets right to the point of what it wishes to communicate. And just when we are convinced it is defiant in following an established formula, the refreshing elements begin to wither away as Amy finds her man.

The Skeleton Twins

The Skeleton Twins (2014)
★ / ★★★★

“The Skeleton Twins,” written by Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman, is a bore of a movie—pointless, disingenuous, forced—because it is about two depressive individuals who have no good reason to be depressed. Spending time with them is like being stuck in a claustrophobic coffin and all we can do is one of two things: nap until the exhausting experience is over or pay attention and scream into a pillow because the main characters have the tendency for making the most idiotic decisions. No wonder they’re unhappy.

Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig) are reunited after the former’s failed suicide attempt. They have not seen in each other in a decade so, naturally, it is a bit awkward at first especially given the circumstances. Maggie offers Milo a place to stay for the time being because she is afraid he might try to kill himself again. Milo, reluctant, accepts the offer eventually—partly because it is a chance for him to be near a former lover, his English teacher (Ty Burrell) when he was fifteen.

The subject of depression is not handled in a realistic or even a thoughtful way. Instead, the script and the acting lean on what we come to expect: characters looking unkempt, mumbling when talking, looking as if they have not gotten a good night’s rest in weeks. Notice that these are behaviors because the writers fail to unearth what really makes these two specific siblings tick. Sure, we see them struggle to connect with other human beings—Milo with his former instructor and Maggie with her husband (Luke Wilson)—but there is no depth in their interactions, just lines to be uttered until the next scene begins.

A convincing relationship between Milo and Maggie is not established. While we get glimpses of the past when the duo were kids, the images are most uninformative. We see them playing together but that is nothing special. Effective dramatic pictures tend to provide a relatively clear sense of its characters’ history—especially ones that have something to do with relationships in a state of stagnancy or decay.

Instead, the material rests on showcasing interiors and exteriors that look drab. The technique, I suppose, is supposed to inspire an atmosphere of gloom. However, more discerning viewers are likely to notice that the screenplay is inconsistent when it comes to giving us substance. If these characters were so interesting—thereby their story worthy of being heard by us—almost each scene would have given a new piece of information, critical and not-so-important, thus allowing us to become active participants. We learn who Milo and Maggie are together as well as apart.

Directed by Craig Johnson, “The Skeleton Twins” is a family affair with minimal flavor and verve. There is only one good scene which involves Hader and Wiig lip-synching to Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” Even then it’s supposed to be amusing. By the end, it is clear that the material has no dramatic gravity.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

The aftermath of the Flint Lockwood Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator, FLDSMDFR for short, creating too much food—not to mention of epic portions—has left Swallow Falls in desperate need of clean up. When Chester V (voiced by Will Forte), a renowned scientist, offers his services, Flint (Bill Hader) is ecstatic. Chester V, after all, is his childhood hero—the man who inspired him to become a scientist. Unbeknownst to Flint, however, Chester V has another plan: to find the FLDSMDFR, exploit it, and sell food bars with rather… unique ingredients.

“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” is an unnecessary but tolerable sequel. It has plenty of puns for those entertained by them, colorful characters for young kids, and energy to somewhat distract from the story’s lack of depth. The key word is “somewhat” because when the film reaches slower moments, like when a character is required to do some soul-searching, it is all too obvious that there is nothing much behind the sugary confections.

There is imagination put into the images on screen. When Flint and his friends (Anna Faris, Brent McHale, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris, Earl Devereaux) visit a deeply vegetated island that is once their former home and discover that the place is filled with creatures that are a combination of food and animal, we are inspired to be as excited as the protagonists. Creatures like “sushrimp,” “watermelophants,” and “bananostriches” are fun to look at. The directors, Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn, are wise to not linger on the creatures too much.

The approach is usually drawing attention to a specific food-animal hybrid, from cuddly cute to downright bizarre, and onto the next one just as quickly. That way, it leaves us wanting to see more and appreciate the subtleties of the animation in terms of appearance and movement. When some of them appear later, it is usually a welcome surprise.

Aside from a sense of wonderment, the picture lacks real human emotions. It tries to inject some conflict involving Flint and the way he treats his father as well as Flint’s increasing distance from his friends because he so wants to impress his idol. But these are not explored in any meaningful way. When supposedly sad moments arrive, they do not feel a part of the natural progression of the story. The harder it tries to be touching, the more frustrating it becomes. It might have been better off without a typical dramatic arc—jokes from end and to end, quick, solid, and fulfilling.

Perhaps if the screenplay had aimed to be sharper, it might have tackled the subject of blind ambition. It would have been perfect: Flint the scientist who considers the people in his life as a source of strength versus Chester V, also a scientist, who has no one other than an orangutan (Kristen Schaal) who he refers to as a monkey and holograms of himself. Flint values not only his friends and family but also his creations. He feels responsible when things go right and when things go wrong. Chester V, on the other hand, is all about the final product—it doesn’t matter how it is achieved. If such had been established more firmly, there probably would have been a more potent conflict.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

Based on the children’s book by Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, was a visual treat for the whole family. A scientist named Flint (voiced by Bill Hader) had many inventions that led to disasters and over time lost the respect of his community. But when he accidentally sent a machine that had the ability make food from water to the sky, it began raining all sorts of delectable food. At first the citizens of the island enjoyed the strange weather patterns, covered by a colorful reporter (Anna Faris), but the food started to get bigger as time went on, it turned into a disaster flick with food as weapons of destruction. There were times when I thought the picture was trying too hard with the jokes. The slapstick irked me especially when the target of the joke was a smart (sometimes too smart) and awkward lead character. I wish the directors had toned down the physical comedy and really played more with the double meanings of certain words, phrases and puns. A lot of kids (even younger kids) out there do understand play on words which is not common knowledge. I also thought that the movie had a chance to really bring up and tackle social issues such as world hunger and obesity. There were some images thrown in here and there but such moments were too brief. With those criticisms aside, I really did enjoy this animated film because it was creative and imaginative. The surreal images it offered such as giant rolling doughnuts threatening to squash people like bugs, pasta tornados, and palace made entirely out of jello were definitely a sight to behold. It made me think about how magical the film would have been if it was live-action. The movie’s energy level was manic, everything was colorful and there were some really good jokes on the background. I also appreciated the fact that it had a plethora of film references from other disaster movies to strange sci-fi mysteries to dramatic space adventures. Even though the movie had so many random elements, I thought it worked because there was madness happening on screen. Lastly, I thought this was the kind of film that would have benefited with a longer running time. It tried to be so many things, including a bit about father-son relationships, but none of them were fully realized. “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” was a smogasbord of colorful delights and energy that never seems to run out when it really could have used more heart.