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Non-Review Review: Between Two Ferns – The Movie

Between Two Ferns: The Movie offers an abstract take on cringe comedy.

The film is an adaptation of the cult web series, which finds Zach Galifianakis planning a fictionalised version of himself. The basic set-up involves Galifianakis inviting on a particularly famous guest, and the interview coming very quickly off the rails. It often descends into awkward silence, although occasionally exchanges get a little punchier. The whole premise is a riff on the absurdity and tedium of celebrity interviews, which very rarely result in something so skin-crawlingly embarrassing, but can still feel deeply uncomfortable for both audience and participants.

At a crossroads.

The Movie wraps a framing device around that set-up, expanding the world of its fictionalised Galifianakis by offering a broader context for the viral web interviews. In the world of the film, Galifianakis is a small-town public access television host whose work has been distributed online by a cocaine-addled Will Ferrell. Ferrell has exploited this “grotesque” as a twenty-first century freak show, which has become a runaway success according to the click counters that Ferrell keeps on his office wall or even carries around in his pocket at all times.

The Movie adopts a familiar enough plot structure for this kind of adventure. It escalates the stakes while providing a framework for episodic encounters. After one particularly disastrous interview, Ferrell sets Galifianakis a challenge. If Galifianakis can land ten celebrity interviews on a road trip, Ferrell will secure his top seller a Lifetime (not life-time) chat show slot. So Galifianakis sets off on a road trip in the style of David Brent: Life on the Road, with a band of misfits sidekicks for a collection of broad comedic set pieces that run the gamut from genuinely hilarious to disappointingly repetitive.

That sinking feeling.

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Non-Review Review: The Hangover, Part III

There was a time when The Hangover seemed like a breath of fresh air. It wasn’t so much an original story or set-up. Rather, it was a devil-may-care attitude and unrepentant immaturity. It was bold and it was willing to do absolutely anything it needed to in order to get a laugh. It worked because of that sheer commitment and energy, energy that is mostly absent from this final instalment. “Leslie Chow is madness,” a character boasts at the climax of the film, talking about one of the franchise’s popular recurring characters – but he may as well be talking about the film itself. “You don’t talk to madness,” he insists. “You lock it in your trunk…”

It’s a nice call back to the very first film and the first time we met Ken Jeong’s “Mr. Chow”, but it also speaks to the weaknesses of The Hangover, Part III. Somewhere along the way, the madness was lost. The high-octane “anything can happen” spirit of the original film leaked out of the two sequels. I’m fonder of The Hangover, Part II than most, but it is a cheap imitation, a repeat of a joke that was hilarious the first time and passable a second.

It’s to the credit of Todd Phillips that he doesn’t try to emulate the same formula a third time. I appreciate that a few efforts are made to push the trilogy into a shape resembling a circle, but it feels so much more contained and so much more rote than it did all those years ago.

I wouldn't get too excited, Alan...

I wouldn’t get too excited, Alan…

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Non-Review Review: The Campaign

The Campaign is hardly the most complex piece of political satire ever written. In fact, the movie suffers a great deal because its observations about political corruption feel fairly superficial. The relationship between donors and politicians, and the sway that what the movie terms “big money” has over elected officials, are hardly cutting insights into the way that lobbying and electioneering actually works. To be fair, there is something in the way that the movie parodies the tendency of US elections to get incredibly dirty incredibly fast, but The Campaign ultimately winds up feeling a little superficial.

That’s not to say that there aren’t moments of wit to be found here. Both Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis are skilled comedians, even when the material isn’t necessarily up to scratch. And in order to make fun of the extreme rhetoric that such campaigns may involve, the movie occasionally pushes itself into the realm of the surreal. However, its observations and its targets seem so obvious that the movie can also be remarkably frustrating.

A candid(ate) look at the electoral process?

A candid(ate) look at the electoral process?

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Non-Review Review: Puss in Boots

Puss in Boots is a fun film. It’s a very fun family film that works because it never takes itself too serious. Breaking free of the increasingly irrelevant Shrek films, which devolved into exactly the type of feel-good fairy tale stories they originally savagely lampooned, Puss in Boots benefits from the freedom to define its own identity. Of course, it retains the trappings (after all, Puss inhabits a world with Jack and Jill and Humpty Dumpty and Little Boy Blue), but it doesn’t carry the same level of baggage that its parent series does. It’s not a vicious parody of Disney values, and in fact feels remarkably straight-forward. However, the simplicity of its approach is remarkably endearing, and means it’s easy to sit back and enjoy the ride. Puss in Boots is solidly entertaining family fair, arriving perfectly in time for the holidays.

Here, kitty kitty kitty...

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Non-Review Review: Dinner for Schmucks

The real problem with Dinner for Schmucks is that it’s not really that funny. I can talk for quite a while (and probably will) about how the movie takes all the flaws with unsympathetic comedic protagonists demonstrated by films like Due Date and turns them up to eleven, but that will ignore the fact that the laughs in the film are relatively few and far between, which is a shame when one considers the sheer volume of talent involved. Paul Rudd, in particular, is a talented and charismatic actor who really needs to make better choices in films.

No funny business...

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Non-Review Review: The Hangover, Part II

“It happened again,” Phil whines over the phone to his buddy’s wife during the opening sequence of The Hangover, Part II. Of course it did, that’s the entire point of the sequel. The movie unashamed offers fans pretty much what they might expect from the sequel to a relatively high concept comedy: “more of the same.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing – moments of the film had me rolling around from side to side to side, attempting to figure out if it was hilarious or just plain wrong – but it does mean the film lacks a lot of the originality and sense of freshness that made the first one such a beloved comedy classic.

Bangkok Dangerous?

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Non-Review Review: Due Date

I have to admit that I quite enjoyed Due Date. It’s a straight-forward comedy road movie – nothing more, nothing less. It’s the standard template: two unlikely comrades find themselves embarking on a cross-country journey where they learn a lot about each other and themselves. As such, Due Date is the younger sibling of films like Trains, Planes and Automobiles or Midnight Run – it’s also a genre which hasn’t, to be honest, been played entirely straight in quite some time. Sure, there have been variations on theme – Little Miss Sunshine, for example, played the road movie with far more subversive comedy; Get Him to the Greek was this concept with rock stars. As such, perhaps the simplicity of Due Date is part of the appeal – it’s a tried and tested formula, so why tinker with it?

What does Robert Downey Jr. bring to the table?

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