The Long Deserved Goodbye

 It looks like a quick easy payday for a troupe of aging English grumps and sounds like an old rock band playing their greatest hits to play it safe. But sometimes, a warm revival of comedy gold can be as unexpected as the Spanish Inquisition.

            On July 23rd, legendary British comedy troupe Monty Python completed their 10-night reunion run at London’s O2 Arena, which was also broadcasted to numerous movie theatres around the world. It was the (supposed) final showcase of the combined talents of John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, and Terry Jones on stage. The remaining Python members (Graham Chapman died in 1989) hadn’t performed together in over a decade and there have been many reports about conflict within the group.

            Not that you’d know that by their on stage demeanor. All five men, all over 70 years old, were as jolly and silly as they were when they started in 1969. Idle, the songsmith of the group, never missed a note on classics like “Bruce’s Song,” “The Llama,” and “Every Sperm is Sacred.” Palin looked ageless as he took the stage in his shiny jacket and slick black wig to play “Blackmail,” the game everyone still wants to get off. Gilliam, known now for his groundbreaking directing skills, kept his lower lip uptight as he performed “Gumby’s Flower Arranging.” Jones sounds as enthusiastic about the varieties of Spam, especially as the old lady shouting out the various Spam dishes. And Cleese is still complaining about his deceased, stone dead, passed on, ex-parrot. It was very refreshing to know that age hasn’t affected the energy and commitment of these fine performers to their craft.

            The show itself wasn’t some quick restaging of set pieces from “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” either. Instead, almost every sketch was accompanied by a live orchestra and costumed dancers to help keep the energy up. Idle’s performance of “I Like Chinese” included dancers twirling giant flags and singing backup, while the family friendly “Sit On My Face” featured the male and female dancers proudly thrusting their genitals out into the audience (and occasionally on each other). This had the delivery of a Broadway musical more than a sketch comedy show, but the performers are more than capable. Cleese and Palin would ad-lib on occasion, most notably in the “Dead Parrot” sketch when they note that the parrot had gone up to meet “Dr. Chapman,” which received rousing applause and the two performers giving thumbs up to their silly friend in the sky.

            The show fittingly concluded with all five men, in white dapper suits no less, inviting the crowd to sing along to “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life,” the most heartwarming middle finger to mundane life you’ll ever hear. It was a lovely sentiment to send off the chaps known for snark and sneer in their step. One would think these guys would leave on one last insult to…well anyone they could think of, but maybe Python deserved this warm final bow.

In fact, the entire show is like an overdue victory lap for the men who have influenced everything from “Saturday Night Live” to “South Park.” Monty Python inspired the concept of silliness and sharp wit coexisting in comedy, and think of how many other movies or TV shows still do that today. In the end, Monty Python deserve to know that the world loves them after being damned by government and religious groups in their heyday. This is where Python take a bow without turning over and sticking their asses out in front of establishment. Now the audiences are applauding them out of love and adoration, even after Monty Python’s signature phrase flashes on screen one last time: “Piss off.”

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So…….Who Cares?

Wow. That is the word that is primarily associated with the work of director Michael Bay. Bay’s action scenes are meant for “wow.” The actors (or more specifically, actresses) in Bay’s films are meant for “wow.” The special effects are meant to bring out the biggest “wow” possible. Michael Bay has been the champion of “wow” for almost two decades. However, Bay has brought out a new form of “wow” in his films. For example, his 2009 film “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” brought out reactions like “wow, this is incredibly stupid,” “wow, there is nothing interesting going on here,” or even “wow, this is one of the worst movies ever.” Similar reactions have been following Bay ever since his debut in 1995 with “Bad Boys,” but Bay’s films have been losing their “wow” factor gradually since he first signed on to bring Hasbro’s robots in disguise to the big screen in 2007. So now Bay has decided to give his cash cow franchise a spit-shine polish, despite not being super interested in making another “Transformers” film. The good news is that Bay has successfully eliminated the negative “wow” factor his films have garnered recently. The bad news is that it’s been replaced with an annoyed “ugh,” as in “ugh, this crap again.”

To be fair, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” does fill out the basic requirement of Michael Bay moves in that it looks cool. Sunsets and sunrises flood the Texas sky as muscular mechanic/inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg, replacing Shia LaBeouf as the human hero) tries to scrape together cash to put his daughter Tessa (the unspeakably attractive Nicola Peltz) through school. When Cade and his employee Lucas (T.J. Miller, an actually funny comic relief) find an old truck that looks like it’s been through more than just road rage, Cade brings it home to discover that it’s actually Optimus Prime. Prime, along with the rest of the Autobots, are on the run from the governments of the world that are hunting down the robots after the Chicago attack seen in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” But when a government special ops team, commanded by Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer, stone faced and barely breaking an octave in his voice) infiltrates Cade’s farm, Optimus springs into action and reunites with the four remaining Autobots he can find (yes, Bumblebee is one of them). The Autobots then discover a high tech corporation, led by sophisticated but sleazy Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci, replacing John Turturro as the “weird, spastic old guy played by a credible actor” character), have harnessed the metal of the Transformers (called “transformium,” of course) and are starting to create their own army of Transformers.

I’m starting a new paragraph here because the previous dissertation is only half of the entire plot of the movie. In fact, “Age of Extinction” could be split into three separate movies instead of being (very poorly) put together for a nearly three-hour bonanza of boom. There is terrible pacing and transition between scenes, with nearly nothing to make moments gel together. The acting is either forgettable or just bland, especially from Nicola Peltz and Kelsey Grammer. Mark Wahlberg does his job of saying silly lines as serious as possible, which almost makes his lines enjoyably ridiculous. The Transformers themselves, Autobots and pseudo-Decepticon alike, are mostly forgettable despite being voiced by the likes of John Goodman and Ken Watanabe. No matter how many times the robots pull out a gun from nothing, transform, or ride robotic dinosaurs (which did tug at the heart of the 8 year-old in me), the new robots are better off as toys than they are as memorable characters.

In fact, the problem with “Age of Extinction” is that it has lost whatever lasting impression the previous films have left. Sure, the “Transformers” movies have left good and bad tastes in the mouths of others, but at least there was something to talk about when leaving the theatre. Even when “Age of Extinction” travels to China for its climax, has a cool looking spaceship, and tries to incorporate the robots’ involvement in the dinosaur extinction on Earth, it does nothing to make the viewer shift closer to the screen. While there may be some awe-worthy scenes for the young boys seeing the movie, anyone else will find “Age of Extinction” dead on arrival. It’s certainly not Michael Bay’s worst film (“Revenge of the Fallen” or last year’s “Pain & Gain” are tied for that dishonor), but it’s certainly the blandest film Bay has ever done. Think about that for a second: the man who is known for monstrous robots fighting each other in front of beautiful women and explosions made an extremely boring film about monstrous robots fighting each other in front of beautiful women and explosions. If one dares to view “Age of Extinction,” this question should be brought up after the movie’s over: Who is less interested in Transformers, the viewer or the director?

 

Final Verdict: 1.5 out of 4 stars

“Jump Street” Tells Sequels to Suck It

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            I’ll say in all honesty that I didn’t buy “21 Jump Street” for a second. The late-80s teen mystery TV show Johnny Depp starred in turned into a comedy? With Jonah Hill and the pouty dancer from “Step Up” as buddy cops undercover as high school students? It sounded like a throwaway that didn’t look a bit funny. Fortunately, the movie itself knew that not a lot of people would bet on it, so they mocked itself and other action clichés while stepping to its own silly beat. The result: a hilarious, freewheeling, and fresh comedy not seen in a long time. It showed viewers how good of a writer Jonah Hill is, how funny Channing Tatum can be when he embraces his inner idiot, and how far the anger of Ice Cube can go. It gave me great pleasure to tell others that this was a remake that actually worked, and now it gives me even more pleasure to report that Hill, along with returning directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, have delivered a comedy sequel that actually works.

            “22 Jump Street” follows undercover cops Schmidt (Hill, now with 2 Oscar nominations) and Jenko (Tatum, still with multiple abs) blowing another assignment. Therefore, their deputy chief (the always reliable Nick Offerman) passes them back to their now highly funded and upgraded Jump Street division, which no one saw to be successful at first and now, thanks to said success, has more money to spend (wink, wink). Jenko and Schmidt are assigned by their captain (Ice Cube, still angry and funny) to go undercover as college students to infiltrate a new drug being passed around campus. Schmidt is still an insecure nerd and Jenko is still a dumb jock, so Schmidt blends in with the art majors while Jenko becomes a football star.

            The main joke in “22 Jump Street” is the fact that this is a sequel, so the film acts like a sequel. Similar problems arise (Schmidt and Jenko get in too deep and have issues with each other), action scenes pop up here and there, and bromances blossom. What “22 Jump Street” executes is being so Meta about being a sequel that you’d think Abed from “Community” was behind the camera. There are subtle hints to “The Benny Hill Show,” along with the obligatory genital humor. There is a drug trip and the return of characters from the previous films, along with some great new supporting characters (specifically the droll but sharp Jillian Bell). The old parts are shined up and the new parts added on make the machine work all the more.

            Hill and Tatum are still fantastic as the physically mismatched but personally in-sync duo. Hill throws in more of a physical element to his work, whereas Tatum gets to burn his bro-tastic image more than ever. It really is satisfying to know Tatum can have fun with himself, and he bounces around like a kid on a sugar rush.

            Not every joke is a homerun, but it’s easy to smile or nod at the efforts the film makes to really knock this movie out of the park. “22 Jump Street” is funny, but not as funny as it wants to be. It’s more commendable for having the guts to both be an overblown sequel and step on the toes of other overblown sequels. It’s unclear if a trip to 23 Jump Street would be worth it, but take comfort in the fact that there is a comedy sequel that still wants to have fun instead of fill a quota (looking at you, Ron Burgundy).

Final Verdict: 3 out of 4 stars