Sunday, June 25, 2017

Rough Night (2017)

Rough Night is a hot, as in sometimes good and funny, mess.

Considered by some to be another female-equivalent of The Hangover, Rough Night fits the mold, but doesn't break it. While The Hangover, and Bridesmaids, wrote their characters as people first, Rough Night writes them as stereotypical women first, and characters second. Sometimes it works well, but often it doesn't.

In Rough Night, Jess's (Scarlet Johansson) bachelorette party is derailed because of the accidental death of the stripper that, of course, she did not ask for or want her friends to order. Because of the circumstances of his death, she and her friends Alice (Jillian Bell), Frankie (Ilana Glazer), Blair (Zoe Kravitz), and Pippa (Kate McKinnon) try to cover it up, and plot contrivances make the situation go from bad to worse.

Tonal shifts, personally, are rarely an issue when watching a movie, except this time. This death scene is one of the more jarring ones in a movie because it feels so disconnected from the rest of the film. It's played completely straight by the cast, but attempted humor is sprinkled in over screams and panic. The jokes are good, like one about a much-needed YouTube video on CPR being pre-empted by an ad, but everything else about the scene is saying, "if you laugh now, you're a bad person, and other people in this will look at you in disgust." What may have helped is if the director (Lucia Aniello) had the composer (Dominic Lewis) step in and leave a hint. One thing about the music, the soundtrack is less on the nose than Bad Moms.

As mentioned, the plot is lacking, and some things make no sense, like how Jess's fiancee is unable to contact Jess for part of the film. Does he really not have any of her friends' numbers? However, Rough Night tries to make these issues its strength, relies on its actors instead, and plays on the audiences expectations of new humor in the continuing R-rated comedy revolution. So, moments like a tame bachelor party, where Jess's fiancee Peter (co-writer Paul W. Downs) is being consoled by his bros, work really well in the post-Apatow world. Downs, by the way is one of the standouts on-screen.

The entire cast is great, after a rocky start, but only given so much to work with. McKinnon's is the shining example of that. She must have trusted Aniello and Downs when they said, "do that thing you do, and we'll give Pippa something real the audience can hold onto." Pippa is almost exclusively comic-relief and is only as strong as McKinnon's crazy eyes and Australian accent. She's more than a plot device, McKinnon is having a blast playing her, but because she owned the role.

Rough Night is a much needed film, for the cast, for the genre, for its audience, but its success will only come from the similar movies that surpass it...I'm certain some of them will be better attempts from this group.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Road to El Dorado (2000)

Just before the dark times of DreamWorks Animation, and animation in general, during the mid 2000s, there was The Road to El Dorado, a film that is only wounded by its Disney-isms but not destroyed because of them.

The Road to El Dorado follows two partners, Tulio (Kevin Kline) and Miguel (Kenneth Branagh) in their quest for gold. When they discover the city, they inadvertently become “gods” and must keep up the charade until they can escape back to Spain.

El Dorado’s biggest strength is in the life breathed into Tulio and Miguel, two of DreamWorks most fleshed out characters. While they work best playing off each other, it’s incredible how the screenwriters (Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio) kept the two independent of each other. This film easily could have been good if it only featured one of them, and the script wouldn’t be that affected. Instead, something great happens, as Kline and Branagh seem like they were cast together because they’ve been a team for years. The dialogue is sharp and fast, and the animation pushes the “show don’t tell” subtleties of Tulio and Miguel’s friendship.

The other major characters are Chel (Rosie Perez), Chief Tannabok (Edward James Olmos), Tzekel-Kan (Armand Assante). They’re all fairly well-written, and fun, and bring a lot to this film, but Tzekel-Kan is part of where the Disney-isms start.

Besides being a bit of a musical, which wasn’t requested and wasn’t needed, DreamWorks needed to import a Disney villain into this film. As the film goes on, he gets better, but the film is too clear too fast about who this man is. Hearing that he’s basically the interpreter for the Gods is enough of a tip-off for teenagers watching this film, and El Dorado is meant for all ages, but his Scar-like face and manner of speaking feel unnecessary. Having said that, his later scenes may have inspired The Princess and the Frog’s Shadow Man, so that’s a beautiful shout-out from The Mouse nine years later.

Saying the film is meant for everyone cannot be overstated. It’s smart, it dips into the brand of humor has been trying to balance for years (“adult), without going overboard, and El Dorado doesn’t shy away from some tense scenes (human sacrifice) or playing with film tropes and clich├ęs. In fact, the movie handles religion in a very mature way, demonstrating how being a god isn’t all fun and games, but not bashing people over the head with what a responsibility it would be. While it’s fitting from the studio behind Prince of Egypt and Antz, it’s potentially unexpected today, when religion is such a major topic.

The second act may not be for everyone, although pacing in the film is hardly an issue, but the final act and climax are a breath of fresh air compared to what’s been the norm for decades.

El Dorado knows when to think small, and honestly, it could have been smaller. It could have even been a television show or even a radio play, but on the screen just about everything concerning money and time is budgeted just right, (apart from the musical segments that aren’t for everybody) and it shows when these two goofballs, and Chel, are just speaking effortlessly.