Tag Archives: Tiffany Haddish

Pleased to Meet Me

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

by George Wolf

It’s not just that it’s the role he was born to play. It’s also that it feels like precisely the right moment for him to be playing it, as if the cosmos themselves are aligning to deliver us some rockin’ good news.

How good? Well, for starters, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent gives him about a minute and a half just to name check himself as “Nic f’innnnnnnnnnggggggggow!WoahCage!”

It’s a film that nails a joyously off the rails tone early and often, as Nic goes after the role of a lifetime with a public rage reading for David Gordon Green, but comes up short. The letdown has Nic considering walking away from the business altogether, until his agent (Neil Patrick Harris) calls with an attention-getting offer.

Attend one birthday party for a superfan, collect one million dollars.

So it’s off to Spain and the lavish compound of Javi (Pedro Pascal), where Nic is blindsided by two federal agents (Tiffany Haddish, Ike Barinholtz) staking out the place. Seems Javi is actually a drug kingpin who’s holding a young girl hostage in an effort to influence an upcoming election.

Sounds funny, right?

Not really. Which makes it even more of a kick when there’s no defense against giving in to the gleefully meta madness.

Director and co-writer Tom Gormican (That Awkward Moment) taps into the cult of Cage by both exploiting the myth and honoring how it took root. There are multiple, non-judgemental callbacks to the Cage filmography, while the young Nic (via hit or miss de-aging) drops in to remind his older self just who the F they are!

And while we’re loving all manner of Cage, here comes Pedro! More natural and endearing than he’s ever been, Pascal starts by channeling the fan in all of us, and then deftly becomes the film’s surprising heart. Yes, there are nods to Hollywood pretension, but they’re never self-serving, and the film is more than content to lean all the way in to a madcap adventure buddy comedy spoof.

Would it shock anyone if we eventually get a tell-all book revealing that Cage actually was a CIA operative? Or that he won Employee of Every Month? Nope, and Massive Talent is a fun, funny salute to a guy who’s improved a host of movies by never forgetting who he is.

WoahCage!

Tilt

The Card Counter

by Hope Madden

The damaged man seeking redemption — it may be the most cinematic concept, or certainly among the most frequently conjured by filmmakers. When Paul Schrader is on his game, no one tells this story better.

Schrader’s game in The Card Counter is poker, mainly. But if he tells the redemption story differently than others, you should see what he does with a gambling picture.

Oscar Isaac and his enviable hair play William Tell, gambler. Where this film differs from others treading this territory is that, rather than being a man of a somewhat self-destructive bent drawn to the adrenaline, anxiety and thrill of the lifestyle, William is comforted by its mundane routine. When you play the way William plays, gambling is tidy. It is clean. It is predictable.

William learned to count cards — and to appreciate routine — in prison.

His routine is shaken up, as routines must be, by two people. La Linda (Tiffany Haddish) wants to find William a financial backer, put him on a circuit, see him win big. Cirk “with a C” (Tye Sheridan) wants more from him.

The precision and power in Schrader’s writing come as no surprise, but as a director, he wields images with more unique impact here. There are three different worlds in The Card Counter: prison, casinos, haunted past. Each has its own color scheme, style and mood. The haunted past takes on a nightmarish look via fisheye lens, creating a landscape that’s part first-person shooter, part hell.

Schrader’s on point with visual storytelling throughout, even though he relies on voiceover narration from the opening shot. Voiceover narration is rarely done well. It’s often, perhaps usually, a narrative cheat, a lazy device used to tell us something a stronger writer could convey visually. Not when Schrader does it. We learned that in 1976 when he wrote Taxi Driver, and he proves it again here.

It helps that Isaac is a profound talent and essentially flawless in this role. He is the essential Schrader protagonist, a man desperate for relief from an inner torment through repression, redemption or obliteration.

It’s at least the 4th performance of Isaac’s career worthy of Oscar’s attention, which means the Academy will probably deny that recognition again. But you shouldn’t. You should go see The Card Counter.

Funny How?

Here Today

by George Wolf

Billy Crystal is a likable guy, and frequently funny. Tiffany Haddish is a likable gal, and often funny.

So there are possibilities for some odd couple fun in Crystal’s Here Today, but almost all of them are wasted in an overlong, self-indulgent, misguided and unfunny misfire.

Crystal, in his first big screen directing effort since 95’s Forget Paris, also co-writes and stars as Charlie, a legendary comedy writer currently working on a TV sketch show. Haddish is Emma, a singer whose boyfriend wins lunch with Charlie in a charity auction. But when the boyfriend becomes an ex, Emma shows up at the restaurant instead, and an unlikely friendship is born.

Charlie’s memory problems are quickly becoming an issue, as are the flashbacks to a vaguely traumatic event involving his ex-wife (Louisa Krause). Frequent visits to the doctor (Anna Deavere Smith) help Charlie hide his condition from his grown children (Penn Badgley, Laura Benanti), so the speed with which Emma sniffs it out is just one example of the falseness that plagues the entire film.

From phone conversations to reaction shots to skits on Charlie’s TV show, there’s hardly an ounce of authenticity to Crystal’s direction. And because none of these characters feel real, Charlie’s dismissive attitude toward the younger writers’ brands of comedy – complete with an embarrassing riff on Network‘s “mad as hell” speech – comes off as sour grapes from Crystal himself.

The script, based on co-writer Alan Zweibel’s short story “The Prize,” has only enough humor to elicit some scattered smiles. The bigger goal quickly becomes telling us how Charlie comes to grips with his condition and his past, and more disappointingly, showing us how Emma puts her own dreams on hold to pursue her magically healing effect on this white family.

Crystal has enjoyed many high points in a long and legendary career. He may very well have more, which would help everyone forget the lowlight that is Here Today.

Bad Company

Like a Boss

by George Wolf

For years now, we’ve seen Rose Byrne and Tiffany Haddish each be plenty funny.

Three years ago, Salma Hayek and director Miguel Arteta teamed up for the delightful Beatriz at Dinner.

All four now come together for Like A Boss, and what sounds promising quickly becomes a painful 83-minute exercise in tired contrivance and weak sauce girl power struggling mightily to earn its label as a “comedy.”

Haddish and Byrne are Mia and Mel, lifelong friends trying to keep their cosmetic company afloat when they’re tossed a million-dollar lifeline by makeup tycoon Claire Luna (Hayek).

Luna’s true aim is to break up the besties and steal their company (whaaat?), so our heroines must learn some sappy lessons about friendship before they can hatch their plan to turn the tables and show Luna who’s really in charge.

The debut screenplay from Sam Pittman and Adam Cole-Kelly is barely ready for prime time, much less the big screen. What little laughter there is comes courtesy of the supporting cast (Billy Porter, Jennifer Coolidge) while the leads are put through a string of hot-pepper-eating, song-and-dance-routine nonsense.

Entirely forced and sadly wasteful of the talent at hand, this film is less like a boss and more like a mess the CEO tells someone else to clean up.

A Woman’s Place

The Kitchen

by George Wolf

Looking for trouble? You’ll find plenty in The Kitchen. Looking for nuance? Fresh out, suckas.

It’s a 70s crime drama stripped of style and subtext, yet able to squeeze considerable fun out of the exploitation vibe it revels in.

Kathy (Melissa McCarthy) Claire (Elizabeth Moss) and Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) are left with dwindling options when their Irish mob husbands are sent to prison for a botched robbery. It’s 1978 in Hell’s Kitchen, and the ladies realize the meager allowance from their hubbies’ crew ain’t gonna cut it.

Time for these sisters to start doing it for themselves!

And if that song was from the 70s, you’d hear it loud and proud alongside all the other strategically placed picks from that groovy decade. It’s not a Scorsese soundtrack strategy, really, but rather one that makes sure we hear the lyric that can most literally comment on what we’re seeing.

Call it a Berloff maneuver.

The Kitchen marks the directing debut of veteran writer Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton), and from the start, her tone is as unapologetic as her main characters.

Their takeover of the Hells Kitchen action is too easy and their character development too broadly drawn. But just as you’re starting to wonder what this much talent (also including Margo Martindale, Domhnall Gleason, James Badge Dale and of course, Common) saw in this material, the sheer audacity of its often clumsily edited approach feels almost right.

Berloff’s script makes it clear that this is less about the shots and more about who calls them, with some surprises in store by act 3 and a committed cast won over by the comic book source material or Berloff’s vision for it. Or probably both.

Moss, as a meek victim pushed around too long, and Gleason, as the smitten psycho who gently schools her in dismembering a body, elevate the film with every scene they share. Haddish delivers the underestimated street smarts with McCarthy – the two time Oscar nominee whose range should no longer be in doubt – bringing an anchor of authenticity.

There’s an allegory here of strong women fed up with fragile masculinity. There’s also a bloody mess of retro schlocky mob noir tropes (patent pending).

I love it when a plan has some awkward missteps but still kinda sorta comes together.

Off the Leash Again

The Secret Life of Pets 2

by Hope Madden

Illumination, the animation giant behind all things Minion, returns to their blandly entertaining dog franchise for the blandly entertaining sequel The Secret Life of Pets 2.

In the 2016 original, Louis C.K. voiced a neurotic terrier named Max who needed to loosen up a little once his beloved owner brought home a huge, lovable Newfie mix (in a NYC apartment?!). And while life lessons were the name of the game, the real gimmick was to take the Toy Story approach to house pets, giving us a glimpse into what they’re up to when we’re not around.

Because we really don’t want to associate him with children anymore, C.K.’s been replaced by Patton Oswalt, whose Max has all new reasons for anxiety. There’s a new baby, whose presence suddenly reinforces all those fears about the big, scary world.

In a move that’s as disjointed as it is interesting, returning writer Brian Lynch sends Max, Newfie Duke (Eric Stonestreet) and family on a trip to the country, creating one of three separate episodes that will eventually intersect. Well, crash into each other, anyway.

The  main story deals with trying to alpha Max up a bit with some problematically “masculine” training by way of farm dog Rooster (Harrison Ford), who, among other things, disregards therapy as weakness.

Basically, Lynch and director Chris Renaud think we’re all a little too precious (the clear message of the original) and what they’d like to do with their sequel is beat us about the head and neck with that idea.

Meanwhile, back in NYC, Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate) and Chloe the cat (Lake Bell – the film’s deadpan bright spot) train to retrieve a chew toy from a crazy cat lady’s feline-overrun apartment. And separately, Snowball the bunny (Kevin Hart), believing himself to be a super hero, befriends Shih Tzu Daisy (Tiffany Haddish), and together they save a baby tiger from an evil Russian circus.

For real.

That last bit gets seriously weird, I have no idea what they feed this baby tiger the whole time, and on average, the actual lessons learned are troublingly old school (read: conservative).

Teaching boys that pretending they’re not afraid so they can take charge of every situation = literally every single problem on earth right now. So let’s stop doing that.

Otherwise, though, Illumination offers yet another blandly entertaining, cute time waster.

Brick by Brick

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

by Hope Madden

Everything is not awesome.

Don’t tell Emmet (Chris Pratt), though. Try as he might (mainly to please the ever-brooding Lucy/Wildstyle {Elizabeth Banks}), he can’t seem to take on the bleak attitudes of those populating Apocalypseburg.

Wait, didn’t that used to be called Bricksburg? It did, but that was before Dad invited kid sister to share in the Lego fun. Since that day, Emmett and his buds live Fury Road-esque in a smoldering wasteland, forever on the lookout for cute but dangerous aliens from the Sistar System.

When said aliens abscond with all the Master Builders (Lucy, Batman {Will Arnett}, Unkitty {Alison Brie}, MetalBeard {Nick Offerman}, and Benny {Charlie Day}), Emmet will have to find some grit to save his friends.

Returning writers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller update their 2014 tale, this time directed by Mike Mitchell (Trolls), with some pre-adolescent angst that surprisingly mirrors the post-Trump revelation that everything really isn’t awesome.

Out there in the Sistar System, Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish, a hoot) sings in Disney Villain tones that she is definitely not at all evil. Definitely. Not at all. Meanwhile, she manipulates Batman’s inner narcissist to convince him to marry her in a ceremony Emmet is convinced will bring about Ourmomageddon.

Yes, much of the charm of the original has worn thin. To make up for it, the sequel relies too heavily on pop culture references (a good chunk of the film is about funny, chubby Chris Pratt versus chiseled, hot Chris Pratt and his spaceship full of velociraptors). An abundance of live action plus a clumsy Back to the Future gag fail to entertain as much as they do force the story forward.

Still, Lord and Miller nimbly use the “don’t lose your inner child” theme so popular in family films to cast a side glance at the current bleakening of society. Emmet tries harder and harder to lose his sweetness and optimism in favor of the more masculine stylings of his new friend Rex Dangervest (also Pratt, channeling his Guardians co-star Kurt Russell).

Of course, we all pull for the childlike Emmet to survive, just as the film seems to hope that our own positivity can survive our own Apocalypseville.





Indivisible

The Oath

by Hope Madden

The Oath, writer/director/star Ike Barinholtz’s deep, dark comedy of manners and political upheaval, almost feels like a prequel to The Purge franchise.

As Kai (Tiffany Haddish, criminally underused) and Chris (Barinholtz) prepare for the yearly celebration of family dysfunction that is Thanksgiving, pressure within and outside the house builds around the US government’s new Patriot’s Oath.

This oath is a pledge of unfaltering dedication to the president. It is voluntary—and anyone who loves America would certainly volunteer. Deadline for signing is Black Friday.

The premise allows Barinholtz to mine the old dinner table comedy concept for insights about a divided nation. As lead, he creates a self-righteous liberal who’s quick to judge, blindly passionate and dismissive of other opinions.

Chris’s opposite this holiday season is not exactly his conservative brother Pat (played by actual brother Jon Barinholtz) as much as it is Pat’s Tomi Lahren-esque girlfriend, Abbie (perfectly played by Meredith Hagner). The rest of the family —played by Nora Dunn, Carrie Brownstein, and Chris Ellis —fall somewhere between the two on the political spectrum. Mainly, they’d just like some quiet to enjoy their turkey.

The Oath exacerbates tensions with an all-too-relevant and believable horror, but makes a wild tonal shift when two government officials (John Cho, Billy Magnussen) arrive on Black Friday to talk to Chris, who hasn’t signed.

Barinholtz’s premise is alarmingly tight. Equally on-target is the tension about sharing holidays with politically opposed loved ones, as well as the image of our irrevocably altered news consumption. But beyond that, The Oath doesn’t offer a lot of insight.

It makes some weird decisions and Barinholtz’s dialog—especially the quick one-offs—are both character defining and often hilarious. But as a black comedy, The Oath can’t decide what it delivers. A middle class family comfortably in the suburbs faces the unthinkable: potential incarceration and separation with no true justice system in place to work for their freedom.

Unfortunately, this actually describes far too many immigrant families for the film to pull that final punch. Barinholtz settles, offering a convenient resolution that robs his film of any credibility its first two acts had earned.





School of Hart Knocks

Night School

by Hope Madden

The endlessly likeable Kevin Hart and the undeniably talented Tiffany Haddish join forces, which sounds like a solid plan except that Night School is a Kevin Hart movie, and when was the last time one of those was any good?

Sure, Jumanji had some laughs. In fact, Hart’s films almost always boast a few chuckles, mainly because of the actor’s infectious energy and self-deprecating humor. But they’re not good.

Neither is Night School which, even with Haddish and a handful of other proven comic talents, isn’t funny, either.

Hart plays Ted, a good-hearted hustler, talking big and spending bigger, pretending to be more than he is to compensate for his own insecurities. Of course he is, it’s a Kevin Hart movie.

Haddish is Carol, the overworked, underpaid night school teacher here to believe in Ted and the collection of losers in her class. It’s tough love, though, because Haddish is funnier when she’s mean.

What the film does well could have been packaged into an enjoyable 15-minute short. Hart gets off a few laughs working for a Christian fast food chicken joint, and the camaraderie among his late blooming classmates sometimes draws a giggle.

The actors portraying those night school chums work hard to establish memorable, funny characters with limited screen time and an even more limited script. Still, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Rob Riggle, Al Madrigal, Anne Winters and especially Romany Malco work wonders. Taran Killam amuses on occasion as the uptight principal with a grudge.

But there’s only so much they can do. Director Malcolm D. Lee (Girls Trip) drags every gag out about 8 minutes longer than necessary. The script, penned by Hart and five other writers, does Lee no favors. Even Haddish struggles to be funny with flat dialog and pointless, contrived physical comedy bits.

While you’re not laughing you might notice that Night School does make a few surprising choices. Its comedy is good hearted. This is a film that likes all its characters—the females, the losers, those with success and even the parents whose coddling and/or verbal abuse may or may not be to blame for the whole night school problem.

Those are small successes in a film that squanders a lot of talent and all of our time.





Senior Buckets

Uncle Drew

by George Wolf

So Kyrie Irving has parlayed his Pepsi commercial into a full-length Uncle Drew feature?

As a Cleveland sports fan I’m conflicted, I ain’t even gonna lie.

A little history: when Irving first put on the old man makeup and schooled some unassuming playground ballers, he was a Cleveland Cavalier.

Then he hit the shot that propelled the Cavs to The Land’s first championship in 52 years. Mad love for you Kyrie!

Then he demanded a trade out of Cleveland. (Al Pacino voice) Kyrie, you broke my heart.

The point is, I need to get over it, I mean the point is, what made the original Uncle Drew work was the prank. Like the Jeff Gordon version when the NASCAR champion put on a disguise, took a test drive and nearly gave his car salesman a coronary, the fun was being in on the stunt.

That jig is up, and expanding a marketing idea to feature length means filling the void with more basketball stars in disguise, a few reliable comedians, and some warmed-over attempts at warm fuzzy life lessons.

Dax (Lil Rel Howery) has dreams of winning New York’s legendary Rucker Park street ball tournament, taking the 100K prize money and vanquishing his longtime basketball nemesis, Mookie (Nick Kroll).

But just before tourney time, Dax loses his team and his girl (Tiffany Haddish), leaving playground legend Drew as his only hope.

In true Blues Brothers fashion, Drew reforms his (very) old band (Shaq, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson) to break some ankles and get some buckets.

With a cast light on actors and a script light on substance, director Charles Stone III (Drumline) has his hands full. He tries to balance the athletes’ often painful emoting with the solid timing of the actual comics, and a few good laughs come out in the process (mainly in the first act and the closing blooper reel).

Basketball fans will appreciate a few self-aware inside gags (Chris Webber is a good sport), but with the novelty of the superstar-in-disguise long gone, Uncle Drew feels like little more than the corporate branding love child of Pepsi and Nike.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some 2016 NBA Finals highlights to cue up….