They Came Together (2014)

enhanced-buzz-23519-1389710746-14

I think David Wain is great. He’s been involved in tons of hilarious things – “Stella”, “Wainy Days”, and “Childrens Hospital”, to name a few. Of his directing work, I love “Role Models” and think “Wet Hot American Summer” and “The Ten” had brilliant moments, so I’m right in the target audience for this. With him, Michael Showalter as co-writer, and a cast crammed with America’s best comic talent, it could not tick any more pre-viewing boxes.

At about the twenty minute mark, I paused this, turned to my wife and said “do they need to beat every single joke into the ground?” If you wanted to, you could stop reading there and you’d have all the information you need. The gist of it is, Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler are a couple, relating the story of how they became so to their friends Ellie Kemper and Bill Hader. They mention how it’s like a bad romcom and refer to themselves as those clichés – she works in a charming little sweet shop, and he works for CSR, the world’s biggest sweet conglomerate, and their story has every single roadblock and wacky misadventure you’ve ever seen in a rom-com. And I mean every one.

The cast list is absolutely amazing. Aside from the four of them, we have Max Greenfield, Jason Mantzoukas, Ed Helms, Cobie Smulders, and Christopher Meloni; Michael Shannon, Adam Scott and Jeffrey Dean Morgan have blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos, and Kenan Thompson, Ken Marino and Michaela Watkins pop in too. Among many others. That is close to a comedy dream team, and they all give it their best. Which is why the fact the material gives them no laughs at all is so incredibly disappointing.

A character commenting on the action as it’s going on can work, I think. I feel like it works better when there’s only one or maybe two people behaving like that; when you’ve got the entirety of the cast telling the viewer about the romcom cliché they’re working with at that moment, all the damn time, it becomes so tiring that it eventually just turns into white noise. And there’s a lot of times when that is the only joke, so great swathes of the film go by and I’m sat there in stony-faced silence. Add that to the fact that they’re mocking those romcom clichés at the same time as using them, and you’re left wondering just what exactly the point of this is.

If this entire film had been done, exactly the same, by a slightly less well-known cast and had been written / directed by Friedberg and Setzer (the guys behind all those awful genre spoof movies) then you can absolutely guarantee it would have been slammed by the critics. Yet the entire cast and crew coast on their accumulated goodwill, and a film which my wife didn’t laugh at once and I laughed maybe three times at gets great ratings (currently 69% on Rotten Tomatoes).

9704_043

It treats its “hilarious” observations as if it’s the first film to ever poke fun at rom-coms, when “Annie Hall” and “When Harry Met Sally…” (to name but two) have a lot more to say about the genre itself, operating from inside it, than this does. It seems to think that just noticing a cliché is enough, that you don’t need to bother with funny material or doing something original with the cliché or anything like that. It seems so weird to waste an amazing cast on something like this. It’s almost as if they don’t think you’ll get it, so keep reminding you you’re watching a parody every ten seconds or so.

There are a few good bits, and non-coincidentally they’re when they go off-book and just try to make something funny. Rudd’s encounter with his grandmother and Christopher Meloni’s extended bit about soiling his superhero outfit are fantastic, because they’re not trying to be incredibly tired parodies, and have no-one in them saying out loud “look at this romcom cliché, look at it, this is why you should laugh”.

This film drags. I paused it for a cup of tea, thinking I had maybe 10 minutes to go and it was barely half over. The incessant reminding you’re watching a parody, rather than just doing the parodying, isn’t a good idea for a decently paced film it seems. Wain and some of the cast of this are involved in “Childrens Hospital”, the hilarious Adult Swim parody of hospital dramas. Those shows come in, minus adverts, at 11 minutes and are just about perfect. This film, at 83 minutes that feels like 150, ought to have been a great deal shorter. The blame on this one has to go on Wain (as director / co-writer) and Showalter as the other co-writer, I’m afraid.

Rating: thumbs down

 

Advertisements

The Iceman (2012)

ice1

Directed by: Ariel Vromen

I was disappointed with ‘The Iceman’. Quite a while back the trailer really did wet my appetite, and I got the impression (perhaps my hopes were raised too high?) that it might possibly be a good no holds barred true crime thriller, especially considered the film’s deliciously stellar cast. Many wiser film fans often ignore trailers. I don’t, for me the film trailer is an art form in itself, and the trailer for ‘The Iceman’ led me to believe I was about to witness something truly shocking.

For once Michael Shannon, an actor who has become rather adept at playing unhinged characters, falters. It’s as if he can’t quite get in touch with the role. Playing a real life murderous psychopath that is so far disconnected from the act of murder is of course not an easy task, but it’s as if a personality as sinister and damaged as Richard Kuklinski could not be translated on screen. Shannon really had a thankless task.

The other fault is the film’s timeline which covers several decades. The film begins in the sixties where Kuklinski awkwardly romances Deborah (Winona Ryder) and together the couple have a couple of kids and struggle by in suburbia. Kuklinski keeps secrets from his wife; the biggest perhaps is his turbulent past. Kuklinski endured an abusive childhood, as a teenager he was savagely beaten and like most disturbed young men, in retaliation he tortured animals, and then turned his anger out on people. He did not value human life.

Kuklinski is hired by Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta), an edgy mob boss, who is impressed by Kuklinski’s icy exterior. Liotta, dating back to ‘Goodfellas’ has usually been a dependable mob figure, but for whatever reason like with most aspects of ‘The Iceman’ he doesn’t quite click. His cokehead jitter is tired, and I can’t be the only one who was alarmed by Liotta’s prominent eyeliner. If looking for plus points, and we’re not talking about the sleazy James Franco cameo, then Chris Evans as Robert Pronge is the film’s standout performer. Arguably more psychotic, the wiry Pronge represents an almost cartoonish form of evil.

But aside from the acting, let’s get back to the timeline. We jump a decade pretty quickly, entering the decadent seventies. Kuklinski grows a terrible moustache, and continues to bump off people for DeMeo until he makes an error, ending up on hitman’s gardening leave. This leads him to take work from Pronge. It’s tricky to capture twenty years, and I suppose we’re given the impression that all violence dished out by Kuklinski goes by in a blur. The victims are deliberately faceless. It’s just hit after hit after hit.

‘The Iceman’ tries to humanize Richard Kuklinski, and seems to ignore key real life events. Kuklinski was a serial killer before he became a hitman, one might argue there’s not too much difference, but he killed for pleasure of the hunt long before he killed for pay. This is glossed over. We see Kuklinski killing a guy in a pool hall car park after a disagreement, but we don’t see the stalking, how he mercilessly preyed upon his victims.

To base a film upon a serial murderer it would be assumed that you would need to present the true nature of evil, and the complexities of an upbringing which drove Kuklinski to commit so many violent acts. Those interested in learning about Richard Kuklinski would probably be better off watching the HBO documentary ‘The Iceman Confesses: Secrets of a Mafia Hitman’.

– RJW
4/10

The Iceman on IMDB