Tag Archives: Ed Helms

Womb to Rent

Together Together

by George Wolf

It takes a full two minutes to get a really good feeling about Together Together.

Writer/director Nikole Beckwith delivers witty, engaging dialogue from the jump, defining characters and setting the stakes in a beautifully organic manner. This is much more difficult than Beckwith and her two leads make it appear.

Matt (Ed Helms) is interviewing Anna (Patti Harrison) to be the surrogate mother who’ll deliver his child. Matt, a forty-something app developer, is single but wants to be a father. 26-year-old Anna needs the money and wouldn’t mind the healthy deposit in the bank of good karma.

So if you’re keeping score, the film boasts a fresh premise, crisp writing and likable personalities before you’ve sipped your beverage of choice. And as we follow Matt and Anna from first trimester to labor, Together Together is never less than warm, insightful and lovely.

With no romance and only a few laugh out loud moments (most of those delivered by Sufe Bradshaw’s sarcastic medical tech and Julio Torres as an over the top barista), you can’t really call this a rom-com. But even that seems to fit. Just like Matt and Anna, Beckwith (helming her second feature after 2015’s Stockholm, Pennsylvania) is proudly going her own way.

Helms adds important layers to his usual nerd persona, slowly revealing more detailed reasons why Matt is choosing to be a single father, and why Anna is challenging his perceptions on nearly everything.

Harrison, whose resume sports mainly TV and voice work, delivers a fantastically understated breakout performance. Anna is pleasantly frank and sarcastic, but guarded. She’s hiding some scars, and Harrison reveals them with ease and authenticity.

Beckwith fills nearly every frame with a tender empathy that has us pulling for this offbeat pair as a matter of course, making it that much easier for her to reach us. From surrogacy and masculinity to Woody Allen, Friends, and the proper use of tampons, the film drops its insight in ways that are consistently fresh.

There’s love and family and funny stuff here, and though none of it is quite the kind we’re used to seeing, all of it is wonderfully real. Together Together is a delivery that somehow feels comfortable and unique, both overdue and right on time.

Polar Pop


by George Wolf

Temperatures have finally started warming up.

So why would we take a trip to the coldest, windiest place on Earth, where there ain’t no sunshine for half the year?

Because Antarctica is where the Penguins are, and they’re the focus of Disneynature’s latest Earth Day doc for the family!

You might know the drill by now. Expect incredible nature footage, an approach geared more toward accessibility than science, with some easygoing humor and gentle reminders about the harshness of predators and prey.

Ed Helms narrates this adventure, starring an Adelie penguin we’ll call Steve, who’s finally ready for his first mating season as a single-and-ready-to-mingle adult male.

On his long trek to the hookup point Steve passes through a tribe of his Emperor cousins, which reminds us that 1) this is like March of the Penguins, except different, and 2) Steve is a bit of a laggie.

But he catches up to the rest of the migrators, and after impressing a young coldie known as Adelene, Steve finds a mate and a new family. Together, Steve and Adelene must keep their chicks safe until they’re able to fend for themselves in the open sea.

The writing for this installment is less forced, with many of Helms’s asides for Steve (“She smells great! I gotta start working out…”) drawing chuckles without the added weight of manipulation that has hampered previous Earth Day episodes.

Directors Alastair Fothergill and Jeff Wilson (both Disneynature vets) hit all the right benchmarks in their 76 minutes: a penguin adventure that will delight the kids told through often breathtaking footage plus, for the adults, nostalgic odes to parenting and classic hits (Whitesnake! REO!).

And, per usual, stay through the credits for some nifty peeks behind the icy curtain.

Don’t Touch Me


by George Wolf

The premise is ridiculous. It’s also attention-grabbing, and mostly true.

A film could have worse starting blocks, and Tag makes sure they’re put to good use. TV vet Jeff Tomsic flashes sharp directing instincts in his feature film debut, blending a snappy pace with sharp characterizations, some effective physical comedy and just enough heart for a solidly funny good time.

Five years ago, a front page Wall Street Journal article hipped the world to a group of 10 friends who’d been playing the same game of tag for over twenty years. Adhering to their original rules, and then amendments to those rules, they’d stalk each other every February.

For the film version, the month has changed to May and the group scaled down to the four (Jon Hamm, Ed Helms, Hannibal Burris and Jake Johnston) that think they finally have a plan to tag the fifth (Jeremy Renner), who has never, ever been “it.”

The WSJ reporter who tags along (Annabelle Wallis) becomes an effective device to organically handle the questions we’re wondering about, and the entire ensemble quickly establishes a chemistry that feels true.

Hamm, Johnston and Renner carve out layered characters with ease, while Helms and Burris are basically leaning on their usual, but reliably funny, personas. Nice assists come from Isla Fisher as Helms’s highly competitive wife, and some assorted memorable weirdos (Steve Berg, Nora Dunn, Thomas MIddleditch).

The script, from Rob McKittrick and Mark Steilin, stays funny and hip throughout, pausing just long enough to reflect on friendship and adulthood without getting sappy. It’s more than enough fuel for this likable ensemble to play with and come out a winner.



Kevin Likes a Big Room

Kevin Hart: What Now?

by George Wolf

Maybe you’ve heard the claim that, back in the 80s, pop balladeers Air Supply could in fact “make all the stadiums rock.”

But did they really?

Hard to say, as we never got that live footage which may have provided the elusive evidence of the Supply, a stadium and that aforementioned rocking.

Such unanswered questions will not haunt Kevin Hart. What Now? takes us to Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, where in August of last year Hart sold out his hometown stadium for a standup routine featuring rock concert ambitions. A football stadium sold out for a comedy show. Impressive, and though Hart’s third concert film takes a little time to hit its stride, it eventually delivers steady and sometimes gut-busting laughs.

As with 2011’s Laugh at My Pain and 2013’s Let Me Explain, What Now? buffers the standup with additional footage directed by Hart favorite Tim Story (Think Like a Man, both Ride Along films). The opening checks in with Hart some three hours before showtime and mixes parodies of both 007 and The Equalizer (Denzel version) that rate more clever than funny, earning bonus entertainment points courtesy of cameos from Halle Berry, Don Cheadle and Ed Helms.

Once Hart trades his tux for leather and hits the stage, Leslie Small takes the director’s chair, leaning a bit too heavily on quick cuts and overly manipulative audience reaction shots. I get it, there’s only one performer to frame and you’d like to avoid ninety minutes of Chris Rock-style stage stalking, but letting Hart’s set, adorned as it is with jumbo video screens and changing backgrounds, breath a bit would better feed an in-the-moment atmosphere.

The film, like its star, is always likeable, consistently funny and sometimes hilarious. Now that Kevin Hart has rocked a stadium harder than Air Supply, What Now? answers one question while it’s asking another.




Holiday Road Revisited


by Hope Madden

Reboots are too often tiresome and they frequently taint beloved childhood memories, but you have to admit that the trailers for Vacation are hilarious. Each different clip offers funny bits and clever dialog, but to be honest, they had me as soon as the kid in the back seat put a plastic bag over his brother’s head.

The writing/directing team of Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley bring the John Hughes/Harold Ramis road trip classic into this millennium. The now middle aged Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) decides to relive his childhood vacation by driving his own wife and children across the nation: destination, Walley World.

The cast is very strong. Helms, playing the mild mannered but lovable nerd he does so well, anchors the film and also immediately alters the tone set in the ’83 original. His wholesome dork of a dad delivers plenty of punch lines, but he does as much work as a set-up man, which affords the rest of the ensemble opportunities to shine.

Christina Applegate capably navigates the conflicted mate space, but it’s Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins who kill as the next generation of Griswolds. Stebbins’s psychotic bully of a younger brother is the single funniest thing about this movie, and Gisondo not only establishes a unique character all his own, he’s also an outstanding comic foil for Stebbins.

Charlie Day’s a riot in one of a dozen or more very funny bit parts, while Leslie Mann and Chris Hemsworth are a hoot as Rusty’s sister Audrey and her husband Stone. Aside from them, though, the nods toward the original only manage to slow the movie’s pace.

The writing feels scattered and leads toward too many dead ends, and though the humor often hits the mark, it’s far safer than what they were getting away with back in ’83. Like any road trip film, Vacation uses a highway to string together a series of sight gags. Some work, some fall flat, but thanks mostly to the very solid cast, there are plenty of laughs. That shouldn’t be a surprise, though.

Moose outside shoulda told you.


Fewer Tigers, More Zach

by George Wolf


Yes, Virginia, there is a hangover in The Hangover Part III, and it’s a funny one, but the madcap adventure-filled road that leads to it is a bit uneven.

Following a bona fide classic like The Hangover was always a tough assignment. The crazy freshness that film brought to the what-happened-last-night-formula just can’t be cloned, and the attempt to do just that in part 2 came off as a disappointing inside joke. The third installment gets some of the original mojo back by giving the Wolfpack a new reason get their Vegas on.

That reason is one Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong), whose trail of enemies includes Mr. Marshall (John Goodman), a vengeful crime boss that eagle-eared moviegoers might remember from a quick mention in part one.

Seems Marshall wants the millions that Chow stole from him, so he kidnaps the Wolfpack, threatening to kill (who else?) Doug (Justin Bartha) unless Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) can bring their old pal in to face the music.

Director Todd Phillips returns, co- writing the script with his part 2 collaborator Craig Mazin. Together, they craft a tamer, quieter romp, replacing bathroom tigers and hooker weddings with healthy doses of Galifianakis and Jeong.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Those guys don’t need much help to be funny, and Phillips may have realized they were his best chance at newly found laughs. The reason  part 3’s “morning after” scene works so well is because it runs during the credits, sending the trilogy off with a quick reminder of the fun we had discovering the first film. Another entire episode of retracing the Wolfpack’s steps, though, would be pointless, so instead we get a little heist adventure with a side of zany.

There are slow spots, to be sure, but there are laughs as well, maybe just enough to erase that bad hangover from part 2.