Tag Archives: Keegan-Michael Key

Say My Name

Dolemite Is My Name

by George Wolf

Can’t you just hear Dolemite now?

“I’m so m*&^@f#$@!^*’ bad they got that m*&^@f#$@! Eddie Murphy to play me in a m*&^@f#$@!^’ movie!”

They did, and Murphy could very well ride it to an Oscar nomination in this brash, funny, and often wildly entertaining look at the birth of a cultural icon.

“Dolemite” was the brainchild of Rudy Ray Moore, who created the character for his standup comedy act in the early 70s. Moore’s raw material was much too adult for record companies at the time, but the success of his early underground comedy albums (sample title: “Eat Out More Often”) finally gave Moore the cheering crowds he longed for – and the urge to take Dolemite to the big screen.

Moore’s string of so-bad-their-good blaxploitation classics not only became important influences in the expanding independent film market, but also for rappers and young comics like Murphy himself.

Screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who penned the scripts for The People vs. Larry Flynt, Ed Wood and Man on the Moon among others, are certainly at home fleshing out the stories behind creative legends, and their script fills Dolemite Is My Name with heart, joy and raunchy laughs.

Director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan) keeps the pace quick and energetic, crafting a bustling salute to the creative process that never forgets how to be fun.

Two pivotal and very funny scenes bookend the film’s biggest strengths.

Early on, Moore and his crew leave a movie theater dumbfounded by the white audience’s love for a popular feature that had “no titties, no funny and no kung fu!”

Then, during filming of the original Dolemite, Moore doesn’t feel right about his big sex scene until his character’s prowess is pushed to ridiculous levels. We’re laughing, but there’s no doubt we’re laughing with Moore, not at him. And while we’re laughing, we’re learning how Moore took inspiration from the world he lived in, and why he wouldn’t rest until his audience was served.

At the Toronto International Film Festival last month, Murphy said he wanted this film to remind people why they liked him.

Done.

Leading a terrific ensemble that includes Craig Robinson, Keegan-Michael Key, Kodi Smit-McPhee and a priceless Wesley Snipes as the “real” actor among these amateurs, Murphy owns every frame. This film wouldn’t work unless we see a separation between Moore and his character. Murphy toes this line with electric charisma, setting up the feels when Moore’s dogged belief in himself is finally rewarded.

Dolemite Is My Name tells a personal story, but it’s one that’s universal to dreamers everywhere.

And it’s also m*&^@f#$@!^* funny, suckas!

Hanks for the Memories

Toy Story 4

by Hope Madden

Almost 25 years ago, Pixar staked its claim as animation god with the buddy picture masterpiece Toy Story, where Tom Hanks and writer/director John Lasseter taught the world how to create a fully developed, nuanced and heartbreaking animated hero.

Woody and Buzz returned twice more over the next fifteen years, developing relationships, adding friends, enjoying adventures and life lessons all the while creating the single best trilogy in cinematic history.

And a lot of us wanted them to stop at 3. Is that partly because Toy Story 3 destroyed us? Yes! But also, it felt like a full story beautifully told and we didn’t want to see that completed arc tarnished for profit.

Toy Story 3 made an actual billion dollars.

Profit calls.

Right, so let’s drop in and see how the gang is doing. Woody (Tom Hanks in the role he was born to play) loves Bonnie, the youngster who inherited the ragtag group of toys when Andy left for college and we left the theater racked with sobs. But the cowboy just doesn’t feel the same sense of purpose.

Enter Forky (Tony Hale, who could not be better), a spork with googly eyes, hand-made and much-beloved friend to Bonnie. Forky longs for the trash, and Woody takes it upon himself to make sure Forky is always there for Bonnie. But when Bonnie’s family rents an RV for an end-of-summer road trip, Woody finds it tough to keep his eyes on the restless refuse—especially when a roadside carnival offers the chance to reconnect with old flame Bo Peep (Annie Potts).

Will Woody cast aside Forky, bestie Buzz (Tim Allen) and gang to rekindle something lost and taste some freedom?

Josh Cooley (who co-wrote Inside Out) makes his feature directorial debut with this installment. He also contributes, along with a pool of eight, to a story finalized by Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton (his credits include the three previous Toy Story films) and relative newcomer Stephany Folsom.

The talents all gel, combining the history and character so beautifully articulated over a quarter century with some really fresh and very funny ideas. Toy Story 4 offers more bust-a-gut laughs than the last three combined, and while it doesn’t pack the emotional wallop of TS3 (what does?!), it hits more of those notes than you might expect.

Between Forky’s confounded sense of self and Woody’s own existential crisis, TS4 swims some heady waters. These themes are brilliantly, quietly addressed in a number of conversations about loyalty, devotion and love.

This somewhat lonesome contemplation is more than balanced by the delightful hilarity of new characters Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) and Bunny and Ducky (Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, respectively).

And the creepy yet tender way villains Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and her posse of ventriloquist dolls are handled is as moving as it is funny.

Characteristic of this franchise, the peril is thrilling, the visuals glorious, the sight gags hilarious (keep an eye on those Combat Carls), and the life lessons far more emotionally compelling than what you’ll find in most films this summer. To its endless credit, TS4 finds new ideas to explore and fresh but organic ways to break our hearts.

Monster Squad

The Predator

by Hope Madden

Shane Black loves him some Eighties, doesn’t he? The over-the-top machismo, the sentimentality, the tasteless and insensitive one-liners—the writer/director revels in every opportunity to splash those (and some blood and entrails) on the screen as he reboots The Predator.

This is the sixth installment, if you count the Alien vs. Predator films, so Black has his hands full finding a fresh perspective. First things first: a damaged, hyper-masculine male lead who uses humor to mask his pain. Enter Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook, Logan).

A US Army sniper, McKenna and his men are in Mexico after some baddies and some hostages when a predator ship crashes. McKenna faces off with the nasty before making off with some of his gear. Then he’s in a bar/post office in Mexico. Then he’s in custody.

How did he go from A to B to C? Nevermind that! There are predator dogs this time!

There are a lot of those odd gaps in action logic, but since when is narrative clarity the point of a Predator movie (or a Shane Black movie, for that matter)? In many ways, Black is the ideal candidate to reawaken the sport-hunting franchise.

He clearly loves it, and he should, having played the small role of Hawkins in the 1987 original. Black takes pointed but affectionate shots at the source material and celebrates much of what made it (and most of Schwarzenegger’s 80s output) so fun.

Holbrook is a serviceable lead that Black quickly surrounds with a team of soldiers (Trevante Rhodes, Keegan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane). What kind of bunch are they? Rag and tag!

Olivia Munn jumps in as a scientist who drops f-bombs, Jacob Tremblay is inarguably cute, and Sterling K. Brown (characteristically mesmerizing) plays the villainous military dude.

The story touches on humanity’s path to extinction, as well as our own evolution. That last part leads to some questionably respectful commentary on folks on the Autism spectrum. (Folks with Tourette’s can expect the same level of respect you might find in an Eighties action film. Or a Norm MacDonald interview.)

The FX are good. Not War for the Planet of the Apes good, but way better than the Aquaman trailer that rolled pre-film. The action is fun and sometimes imaginative, but the rest of the film is largely lacking in imagination.

There’s a lot of coasting going on in The Predator. A lot of boxes being checked—sometimes checked with flair, but they’re still the same old boxes.






Oh Baby

Storks

by Cat McAlpine

“Where do babies come from?” Multiple sources, apparently.

Storks have been out of the baby business for a few decades, and Junior is up for a big promotion at CornerStore.com. To prove he’s ready to be the head honcho, he simply has to fire Tulip the Orphan (and human). When Tulip accidentally makes a baby (at the baby factory, of course!) Junior suddenly finds a few more obstacles between himself and his promotion.

The plot becomes increasingly convoluted. The baby is destined for the Gardener family, comprised of two busy parents and one lonely child. There’s a bizarre pigeon character. The talents of Keegan-Michael Key (Alpha Wolf) and Jordan Peele (Beta Wolf) are utterly wasted in a wolf pack that has one joke and runs with it. And runs with it.

To be fair, this is a children’s movie. The children in the audience thought the wolves were hilarious.

Written by Nicholas Stoller and co-Directed with Doug Sweetland, Storks’ greatest strength is its self-referential humor. When Sarah Gardner (Jennifer Aniston) takes out a chimney with one swing of a hammer, she comments to the effect of “Wow. That is… that is not a well-made chimney. I mean, I’m a pretty small woman and that just came right down.”

It’s the talent of Andy Samberg (Junior) that elevates Storks from a middling animated film to something enjoyable. His impeccable comedic timing and improv skills shine through, making Junior complex and a little dark.

It’s hard to tell, with an animated feature, how much comedic timing is in the hands of the voice actors, and how much can be attributed to the animators and sound mixers. But, the general speed of dialogue overall is another defining quirk of Storks. Much of the repartee happens at breakneck speed, which gives the effect of wit, even if wit isn’t present.

Stoller and Sweetland take a stab at diversity that earns a light golf clap at best. In montage scenes babies appear in all colors, but also with an array of unrealistic hair colors (pink, blue, green). All the speaking characters (human), minor or major, are white.

If I had screened this film at home, I probably wouldn’t even raise the issue. Instead I sat in a theatre filled with families and their children infinitely more diverse than those on screen. A little black girl, no more than four, shuffled past me with her father to go to the bathroom, and I wondered “Does she see herself as a background character?”

You can point to Disney’s Home (2015) or The Princess and the Frog (2009) for black lead characters, but two versus a genre isn’t much. You can point to even less for Asian Americans, Indian, Native American etc. The white kids own the industry.

It’s not that an all-white cast is necessarily unrealistic; it’s unnecessary. Only a quarter of the children in the theater were truly represented on screen. In 2016, this makes me very tired.

Parents won’t find Storks hard to watch alongside their children. But, Storks lacks the mastery to rocket into the all-star league with contemporaries like Finding Nemo (2003), Zootopia (2016), or even the same studio’s Lego Movie (2014).

Verdict-3-0-Stars





Yes, and…

Don’t Think Twice

by Cat McAlpine

The three rules of improv are as follows:

1. Say yes
2. It’s all about the group
3. Don’t think

The six members of improv troupe The Commune live, bend, and break these rules on stage and in the green room in Don’t Think Twice. The ensemble dramedy pits the dreams of your 20s against the hard realities of your 30s and asks: When is it okay to be about me?

With the self-awareness of an improv performance, Don’t Think Twice keeps it real and stays grounded. The most recognizable face in the cast, Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele), plays Jack, the guy with a real shot at stardom. Samantha (Community’s Gillian Jacobs), has the skill but not the desire while Miles (Mike Birbiglia, who also wrote and directed) refuses to accept that he just doesn’t have what it takes.

Don’t Think Twice is intentional in its choices that way, inviting the audience to arrive with whatever context they can. Birbiglia never lets the drama spiral too low, either, immediately scooping you up again with jokes and laughter. The Commune develops several inside jokes throughout the course of the film, meaning you’re not only in on it, you understand how this sort of family keeps laughing even when life stops being funny.

At the beginning of each Commune show, Samantha asks “Did anyone have a particularly difficult day?” The ironic part, as most actors and improvisers will tell you, is that the best place to work through your own intimate problems is on stage in front of an audience.

We see this mechanism in action quite beautifully throughout this film, as Birbiglia uses the show-inside-a-show format to explore many themes.

His most powerful visual element, for instance, is the staging of chairs. Before each performance starts, the cast chairs are arranged onstage. In prepping for the performance, all the chairs are lined up neatly in a row, and if a performer is missing their chair is removed. The improvisers drag these chairs across the stage as needed throughout their performance, with the point being there is a chair for each of them. This literal setting of the stage underscores the narrative’s emotional current, and becomes a strong indicator of mood. “Hey, we’re about to work through some shit, and here’s exactly what we’re working with.”

Don’t Think Twice is a film that takes an honest look at “making it” from all sides. It challenges the notions of success and fame, and suggests that it’s okay to love doing something even if you never want to be famous for it.

If you’re invited to go see Don’t Think Twice this weekend, reply “Yes, and…”

Verdict-3-5-Stars





New Jack Kitty

Keanu

by George Wolf

If you’re a bit skeptical at the news of two more sketch comedy stars taking their act to the big screen, who can blame you? The track record is hardly stellar, but one bad ass kitten is here to put a paw print in the win column.

Okay, the impossibly cute feline isn’t the only thing driving Keanu. There’s also sharp writing, fluid action sequences, strong characters, winning performances, and… what else you want? Look at that kitty!

After five solid years on Comedy Central’s Key & Peele, Keanu is the feature team up for Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, who display a keen self-awareness about how to pivot from short sketches to ninety minutes of solid laughs.

Peele, who also co-wrote the script, plays Rell, who’s sulking alone in his apartment after a sudden breakup. By the time his best friend Clarence (Key) arrives to console him, Rell’s frown has been turned upside down by the arrival of a stray cat. Rell names him Keanu, becoming an obsessively doting pet owner until…..Keanu is gone.

Turns out this kitten has more than claws, it has a history with drug dealing gangs, and Keanu has fallen into the clutches of the 17th Street Blips.

“Where are they?”

“17th Street!”

With that, Clarence and Rell go from arguing about who took more beatings in high school to infiltrating the Blips as bonafide gang bangers Shark Tank and Techtonic, aka the “Allentown Boys” who carry a rep as mysterious and legendary as Kaiser Soze’s.

Ridiculous situations ensue, driven by the leads’ multiple shifts from minivan-drivin’ suburbanites to pipe-hittin’ gangstas and back again. Key, in particular, delivers some riotous moments, including a classic sequence where Shark Tank must defend all that George Michael on his iPod.

One or two dry spells aside, director Peter Atencio keeps the inspired bits strung together with a surprisingly engaging narrative, tossing in some clever odes to The Matrix, Kill Bill, The Shining and more, plus a nod to K&P’s TV past with a well-placed”Liam Neesons!”

The best of Key and Peele’s work on Comedy Central was as smart as it was funny. Keanu is proof they haven’t gone soft by going Hollywood.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

 





The Pitch is Back

Pitch Perfect 2

by Hope Madden

In 2012, Elizabeth Banks produced a film that was “an inspiration to girls all over the country too ugly to be cheerleaders.” And now it’s time to return to Barton University to get our accompaniment-free groove on in Pitch Perfect 2.

That’s right, pitches.

The Barton Bellas, having survived power struggles, forbidden romance and intimacy issues, have been the reigning collegiate a cappella champs for 3 years. However, an a cappella-tastrophe during a command performance at the Lincoln Center stripped the group of their title, and their only way to get it back is to become the first Americans to win the World Competition.

To do it, they’ll have to beat the Germans. Just like Rocky, but with singing … and comedy that’s intentional.

Banks returns in her role as one half of a bedecked competition commentator duo, opposite the endlessly hilarious John Michael Higgins. While their hysterical banter punctuates the proceedings, Banks also directs this time around. She shows as strong a sense of comic timing behind the camera as she has always shown in front of it, but really impresses when staging the musical numbers.

The game cast returns for seconds, with a dry, self-deprecating Anna Kendrick leading up the singing sisterhood. Rebel Wilson and Adam DeVine are back, ensuring plenty of uncomfortable lunacy, while a stable of fun cameos including David Cross, Jason Jones and Keegan-Michael Key keeps scenes fresh and funny.

I’m no Green Bay Packers fan, but it’s a lot of fun watching Clay Matthews and most of their offensive line sing Bootilicious.

Plenty of bits feel stale, too. As with any sequel, the novelty is gone and certain jokes have more than run their course by now. The storyline is a bit too predictable and tidy, the new characters are not compelling, and now and again Banks returns to a gag once too often.

Still, Kendrick is a solid foundation. She’s a talented comic performer who sings remarkably well, so a good place to build your movie. Kay Cannon’s script balances silliness, raunch and heart quite well, and those folks looking for lots of exceptionally choreographed numbers won’t be disappointed.

 

Verdict-3-0-Stars