Blind Spot 17: Duck Soup

Ah how great it is to see terrific comedy! It’s the best to sit back, relax and heartily laugh at a good movie. Unfortunately it’s an experience that doesn’t happen too often these days. Now most comedies are so raunchy that I either chose to not watch them or they aren’t my style of humor. So, you can imagine my enjoyment when I put on this month’s blind spot pick, Duck Soup, and laughed good and hard! Duck Soup is a classic comedy and with good cause. Especially if you like physical comedy it doesn’t get better than this.

Duck Soup stars the Marx Brothers- Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo and evidently this is their crowning achievement. I read dictator Benito Mussolini took the movie as a personal insult and banned it from Italy! You know you are doing something right if a dictator bans your movie!

The plot for Duck Soup is pretty basic. Groucho plays a man who is put in charge of a small country named Freedonia. They are a nation of great pomp and circumstance and much is made about their need for decorum. Meanwhile Chico and Harpo are sent as spies to look into the situation and see what Freedonia is up to. Zeppo plays Groucho’s secretary and kind of the straight man role in the story. Quickly all kinds of mayhem erupts involving war, love and politics.

You don’t see a movie like Duck Soup for the plot. It’s about the hilarious gags. What’s impressive here is they manage to be funny with both physical comedy and political commentary. I love how expressive each of the brothers are and how you can read so much through their eyes and facial expressions.

This scene with a lemonade vendor is hilarious:

I particularly like Harpo and how innocent and sweet he is. Don’t you just want to hug him? What he is able to do with a simple hat to get laughs is remarkable.

But Duck Soup can also be very funny in the political commentary especially if you think about its release date in the 1933 when trouble was brewing in Europe. The insanity of such political negotiations and the egos involved is skewered so well in scenes like this one-

It’s so funny when he goes in seconds from welcoming the idea of diplomacy to ‘who does he think he is? That he come here and make a sap out of me in front of my people’. I have a feeling it might not be that far off of actual diplomacy (I try to not think about that too hard these days! Politicians and the egos involved is a scary thought).

Duck Soup is only an 69 minutes so it’s not much of an investment of time but boy is it rewarding. I laughed from start to finish and it wasn’t the kind of mean spirited raunchy comedy you get today. It can be a little bawdy but all in good fun. I have seen one other Marx Brothers movie Monkey Business and I think Duck Soup is much funnier than that.

I know some children might be intimidated by black and white but comedies can often be good ways to introduce them. Duck Soup would be great for that. I think they will love it especially Chico and Harpo as the 2 spies. Hilarious.

I just loved this movie!  The only flaw I suppose is maybe 2 of the musical numbers go on a little long. Other than that one of the great comedies without question.

Overall Grade- A+


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Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 Review (Spoiler Free)

Before diving into my review of Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 let me give you some context into my feelings on the first film. I LOVED it! For me it was a new Star Wars film before we got Star Wars back. It wasn’t a typical Marvel movie but it was a space opera and I loved seeing our team of misfits form and search for their orb/infinity stone. I loved the humor, action, charismatic actors and bright color palate. Just a great movie. 9/10 or A grade from me.

So let’s talk about this sequel. Naturally loving the first film I was very excited for the follow up but I still tried to enjoy it as its own film and not compare it too much. In the end, I feel Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 is at best a mixed bag. It’s not awful but I had major problems with it.

At the outset of the movie  our team is commissioned by a leader Ayesha to guard a series of batteries. This leads to a great opening that heavily features the world’s favorite adorable creation- Baby Groot! Of course, we have seen Baby Groot all over the marketing for the movie and he did not disappoint. Soooo adorable!

This scene also features everything you like about the first film. It has witty banter from the entire team, fun action as they fight a monster and a catchy song. I thought ‘Oh boy! This is going to be awesome!”

Unfortunately just a few scenes later they make a massive mistake that had a large impact on my enjoyment of the film: They divide up the team!!! Peter meets his father and half the crew go with him while half stay behind and end up with Yondu and his crew.

This was such a terrible choice for a number of reasons:

  1. Hurts the humor- When you have a large group of characters the humor can be a mixture of all their types of comedy. So you will get one Groot joke mixed in with Drax, Peter, Rocket etc. When you have just Rocket and Groot then their type of jokes become repetitive and tired very quickly.
  2. Hurts the emotion- It’s the same with emotion. We are with a character and they have an emotional moment. Then they leave that character for a long stretch hurting their story and emotional arc.
  3. Hurts the team- Characters aren’t able to feed off each other and create that winning chemistry I loved so much in the first film. Sometime this can help you get to know characters better like in Star Trek Beyond but that was not the case here.
  4. Hurts the action- Because they are all split up the action is pretty sparse. For instance, Drax is sitting talking almost the entire movie. He’s Drax the Destroyer for goodness sake, and he doesn’t destroy anything.

I guess all of this would be fine if the story was compelling but it is not. They try to set up several different family dynamics. There is Peter and his father, Peter and Gamora, Gamora and Nebula, Groot and Rocket and Yandu and Peter. While I appreciated the message of family, the film became too cluttered with relationships that they weren’t as developed as they could have been.

The villain is another surprise villain. About the 10,000th one I’ve seen in recent years and I’m tired of it. It was so obvious and the plan for world domination makes no sense unless he or she wants to be completely alone in the whole galaxy. Even if he or she did, it still strains credulity to believe this insane plan (and the way it is explained is hard to follow or feel invested in).

I was also disappointed in the Nebula/Gamora storyline. I liked Nebula in the first film when most people didn’t. I thought she had a wounded quality to her that I wish had been more developed. Well, unfortunately she is seen more here but Karen Gillan overcooks it in the villainy department. Also she flips around from good girl to bad in ways that didn’t work for me or feel authentic.

So, from all that it seems like I had a miserable experience at this movie. No. I didn’t but I’d be lying if I didn’t share those major problems I had. However, there are some things I liked.

First, like I said, I liked Baby Groot and a lot of the comedy did work. It would have worked better if they hadn’t divided the group but a lot still made me laugh. Drax gets some funny lines with a new girl named Mantis. Rocket has a lot of humor including a hilarious sequence with Baby Groot getting him things for a jailbreak.

Second, Michael Rooker is great as Yondu. I didn’t think Yondu would be the most fleshed out and interesting character in the film but he was. We learn about his association with a band of ruffians called The Ravagers. He has upset them and we get to find out why through the course of the movie. We also learn about why he took Peter and his connection to Peter’s father. Yondu also has the best action scene in the movie with an arrow thing he uses to take out a fleet of men (Sorry I don’t know what the arrow thing is called).

Third, even if it could have been more focused, I still loved the overall message about family. I think Vin Diesel might have carried this over from the Fast and the Furious movies because they are all about family. I particularly appreciated the focus on alternative families- that families are not always about blood but so much more.

Fourth, it is a beautiful looking movie. James Gunn has done it again with amazing cinematography and special effects. The planet Peter’s father lives on was beautiful and lush. I loved all the bright colors and dazzling world building. The special effects on Rocket and Baby Groot are flawless. You forget they aren’t actual talking raccoons and walking baby trees.

There also is a joyous feeling to the picture which makes it pleasing to watch. While some of the jokes grow tired it never made me angry or annoyed like other fantasy films.  I mostly wasn’t bored although there were a few moments that dragged.

The soundtrack was a bit of a mixed bag. There are some great songs but a few of them felt very on-the-nose Also, I didn’t like that characters mentioned the songs so much. In the original they are this awesome background gift to enjoy (aside from Peter listening to them they don’t work into the story and he doesn’t repeat lyrics or talk about the individual songs). Here there is even one song where the lyrics are repeated verbatim and the life experience fits perfectly into the situation at hand. It makes the song choice feel uncreative and obvious when they were so great in the original. Still, there are some good songs. Cat Stevens and Electric Light Orchestra are used particularly well.

In the end, Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 is a mixed bag leaning towards the negative. I have really struggled with what grade to give it and whether to make it smile or frown worthy. Other films I have given smiles to like Ghost in the Shell feel less worthy than this film but this is way more of a disappointment and downgrade from the original film. It’s really tough…

I’m torn but I think my disappointment is going to rule the day:

Overall Grade- C (It is without a doubt in my bottom 5 Marvel movies. No question)

Also  this is pretty raunchy for a Marvel movie. It definitely earns its PG-13.

You can all hate me now…

Check out my podcast with my friend Trevor from How to Love Comics where we break it all down

 

Fate of the Furious Review

In Furious 7 there is a scene where Hobbs announces he is leaving the hospital and he focuses on his broken arm until the cast falls off in pieces. There was never a moment that campy and fun in Fate of the Furious.

In Furious 7 there is a moment where we see Brian and he waves and drives into the distance. There was never a moment with such heart in Fate of the Furious.

You get the idea. This film was a significant step down from the previous 3 films.

It’s not like I am expecting Shakespeare in Fast and the Furious. I know it will be stupid stunts and lots of talk about family. My main problem with this movie is it wasn’t enough stupid stunts or talking about family.

The first big mistake they make is splitting off Dom from the family. He is manipulated by Charlize Theron’s character and it did not work having Dom as this quasi-villain for most of the film. Dom is the core of the team. He brings everyone together and reminds them of what is important. Without him I didn’t care as much about the characters. And I thought Charlize Theron was a complete miss as a villain- extremely flat and boring.

The second big mistake is way too much talking and staring at screens. There were so many scenes of characters scheming and planning and staring at screens. I have no idea why action movies think this is a good idea. We saw it last year with Jason Bourne which was even worse. In a Mission Impossible movie or good James Bond we don’t see him staring at screens talking about hacking and plans for long stretches. We seem very little planning and lots of butt kicking. That’s what we want!

One of the big action scenes is mostly people staring at screens because it involves unmanned cars. At one point it is literally raining cars, which with no people is  boring. I honestly got kind of drowsy during sections of this movie- something I never thought I would say about a Fast and Furious movie. Even Tokyo Drift wasn’t exactly boring.

The ending starts to get wacky and fun with them chasing a submarine but it wasn’t as enjoyable as it would have been if the entire movie had been that kinetic fun tone. Instead, it felt like a reminder of the kind of movie I wish I had gotten all along.

My favorite scene in the movie was when Jason Statham’s character has to protect a baby. This was funny and tense, which is just what I want from this franchise. He also has some funny dialogue with Helen Mirren (who is underused but funny in few scenes she’s in).

In the future it seems like we may want to get back to the drawing board of what made 5, 6 and 7 so much fun. This entry unfortunately wasn’t.

Overall Grade- C-

Dreamworks 4: Over the Hedge

One of the frustrating things about reviewing Dreamworks films is many of their movies come close to being good but can’t quite pull it off. Particularly their comedies often have great casts, promising premises, inviting animation but the jokes fall flat leaving me annoyed. Over the Hedge, made in 2006, is no exception to this rule.

In fact, Over the Hedge is particularly frustrating because it starts out with such potential! I kind of wish it had just been a 30 minute short because that first 30 minutes is great. Unfortunately,  it can’t hold that momentum for the 83 minutes run-time and becomes a generic at best kids movie.

The set up is a raccoon named RJ becomes indebted to a bear for stealing his food. To pay the debt he must replace the food in a weeks time. He stumbles upon a bunch of forest creatures waking up from hibernation and begins to school them on the glories of human food consumption. This sequence is the highlight of the movie:

This food glory sequence is funny because it is relevant social commentary. It still makes me laugh how it shows driving and dressing like food. From an alien perspective (or animal) we really do focus way too much on food in America. There’s no doubt about it and that is funny.

However, once this setup is over the rest of Over the Hedge becomes a Toy Story rip-off. Verne the turtle is Woody and RJ is the new hip Buzz. You have a ton of other characters voiced by famous comedians but they aren’t really given anything to do (Plus they repeat the same jokes over and over again). Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, Steve Carell, William Shatner, and Wanda Sykes are all wasted in their roles.

The last act of the movie is the animals trying to steal food from a woman who has a heavily fortified house. Why wouldn’t they just pick another house? It’s a subdivision so they have lots to chose from. It’s clearly just to manufacture tension and a dramatic car chase scene at the end. Instead, it all feels like filling time, like they were stretching 30 minutes of an idea into over an hour, which is probably accurate.

It is very predictable and nothing really engages the viewer. We know RJ is lying to the crew and exactly when he is going to feel bad, be exposed and make up with everyone. Formula movies are fine but there needs to be more to entertain than in this.

I also think it is a little weird the characters spend the entire movie stealing from the humans and are never really punished for this. Not the greatest example for kids!

As a plus the animation is pretty decent and kids will be moderately entertained by it. It’s not awful but not very memorable either.  I would say watch the first 20 minutes and then find something else to do with your day!

Overall Grade- C-

Review Rewinds 5/1/2017

Hello friends! I have a new monthly series I am finally going to announce to you.  This is something I have been wanting to do for a long time. Today I bring to you Review Rewinds. This is where I take a look at previous reviews and how my opinions have changed on the rewatch both for good or bad.

What? I can hear you say.  How can we trust you if your reviews change? Well, I’m a human being and my experience at a film can be impacted by a variety of factors. I could be tired, annoyed, sick of a particular actor or director. There could be a number of similar films coming out at the same time which might make me more critical and on the rewatch when I’m separated from that experience I appreciate it more.

The other factor is I often struggle to come up with a grade that adequately expresses my feelings. This is why I am very happy about my new smile and frown worthy approach. I don’t think very many movies go from being smile to frown worthy on the rewatch. They just might drop from an A to a B or a B to a C+.

Anyway, I thought this would be fun and show my history with a film not just an initial viewing.

Avengers: Age of Ultron- Original score A-. Rewind score- B-

From my original review “Got to see Avengers Age of Ultron and loved it!!  It’s a great movie and right up there with the original”. That was how I felt at the time so it was an honest response. I still love the first Avengers movie and I admire the sequel but the two movies aren’t close on the rewatch. The original film has Loki as the ideal villain and the death of Agent Coulson to gather the gang together. In Avengers: Age of Ultron you have Ultron who is fine but fairly basic. I still like James Spader as the voice of Ultron, but there’s not much to him.

But the biggest difference is they try to create emotion with Hawkeye and his family and it doesn’t work nearly as well as Coulson who we’d gotten to know in all of these other Marvel movies. I love the party scene in Ultron and the banter between the characters. That still holds up but certain scenes are bit boring like the Hulkbuster scene. Speaking of the Hulk, Bruce should put way more of a fight up against Tony’s insane ideas but he doesn’t. Especially with all Bruce has been through with the gamma radiation he should be very hesitant to do all these experiments.

Oh well. I still enjoy Age of Ultron but not as much as I did when I first saw it. Review Rewind!

Rio- Original Score C+. Rewind score- B

From my original review “They are entertaining to watch, pleasant to look at, but in the end kind of forgettable.” To my surprise I gave Rio 2 a C despite admitting it is “weaker than the original”, so that must have been some kind of mistake. I watched Rio for family movie night last summer and I found it quite charming. It’s not the greatest movie I’ve seen in my life but I enjoyed it and felt I was too hard in my original review.

One of my main problems with the film was the voice acting. I said “Of all the voices the only one I liked was Jermaine Clement as the bad Cockatoo named Nigel.” On the rewatch I didn’t have a problem with the voice acting. Sure Anne Hathaway doesn’t sound like someone from Brazil but I guess I’ve been worn down so I didn’t care. You don’t need the celebrity voices but they do fine. None of them are annoying like Kevin Heart in Secret Life of Pets.

I say the “extended musical numbers that don’t do anything for the story and are just kind of average.” Again on rewatch I like musical sequences. I think they have color and life and are a lot of fun to watch. It’s so weird because I’m usually won over by musical sequences!

I certainly think Rio is much better than Rio 2, which has a main appeal of the insane frog in love with the bird. I think if Rio came out now I would probably treat it a lot like Smurfs: the Lost Village and be dazzled by the pretty animation. I’m such a softee…

Edge of 17– Original Score B+, Rewind Score- C-

This was a mini review and I admitted ” it is expertly crafted but I found it kind of unpleasant to watch”. Sometimes this happens with a film. I will walk away saying ‘boy they did a good job…and I never want to see that film again”. I can honestly say the makers of Edge of 17 did a great job doing what they were trying to do. However, I can also say it left me depressed for the rest of the day and I never want to see it again.

It goes back to the lead character Nadine who is the quintessential surly teenager. It’s very well done. The problem is I have no desire to spend 2 hours with a surly miserable 17 year old. It reminded me of my surly days and honestly I called my Mother and apologized after, so I guess it was positive on that level. The performances are all good but it left me feeling cold and sour.

In the review I said “Everyone is comparing this to John Hughes and I guess it is like 16 Candles the most but I prefer this”. I’m not sure what I was thinking there because at least 16 Candles has some joy and goofiness in it. This is just so caustic and I found it even more so on the rewatch.