Zach Galifianakis

Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014, Alejandro González Iñárritu)

The funniest thing in Birdman is, surprisingly, not when Michael Keaton and Edward Norton get into fisticuffs and Norton’s in nothing but speedos. The funniest thing in Birdman, which is about former superhero movie megastar Keaton staging a pseudo-intellectual comeback stage production of a Raymond Carver adaptation, is–after Norton makes fun of Keaton’s character’s overly wordy adaptation (Carver wasn’t a wordy writer, as published)–how pointlessly wordiness of director Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo’s script.

There’s also a huge gaffe when Emma Stone talks about Carver’s story being sixty years old (unless Birdman takes place in 2041 and, given the constant references to social media networks, it isn’t).

Birdman is a pretentious, Hollywood “indie” melodrama. Iñárritu’s fake single shot style, expertly manipulated by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, brings nothing to the film except a distance from the audience. Iñárritu uses the style–and Antonio Sanchez’s drum score–to keep up the film’s energy, because otherwise, there’s nothing but Batman references, superhero movie jabs, New York condescension of Hollywood, trite father-daughter problems and expository dialogue.

Oh, and Keaton being haunted by Birdman, the superhero his character played to great financial success.

There’s nothing in the script for Keaton to do. He does it all pretty well, but his part’s exceptionally shallow. The “deep” scenes with ex-wife Amy Ryan suggest Keaton and Ryan could make a good film. Not this one.

Norton’s great, Stone’s awful. Nice supporting work from Naomi Watts.

Birdman’s gallingly light stuff.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu; written by Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo; director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki; edited by Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione; music by Antonio Sanchez; production designer, Kevin Thompson; produced by Arnon Milchan, John Lesher, James W. Skotchdopole and Iñárritu; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Michael Keaton (Riggan), Edward Norton (Mike), Emma Stone (Sam), Naomi Watts (Lesley), Zach Galifianakis (Jake), Andrea Riseborough (Laura), Amy Ryan (Sylvia), Lindsay Duncan (Tabitha), Jeremy Shamos (Ralph) and Merritt Wever (Annie).


Puss in Boots (2011, Chris Miller)

CG animation has, much to my surprise, gotten to the point of disquieting reality. In Puss in Boots, Zach Galifianakis’s Humpty Dumpty has such real facial expressions, it makes the entire experience uncomfortable. The face, on the alien form, is too real.

Galifianakis is Puss’s weakest casting choice. In fact, he might be the only weak casting choice. He doesn’t bring any, you know, acting to the part. He’s reading lines, maybe exaggerating his tone occasionally, but he’s not acting. Everyone else is good. Except Amy Sedaris, for the same reason.

Antonio Banderas is great—but Puss is kind of perfect… it’s a cat as Zorro. Who better to do the performance than Zorro? Salma Hayek, Billy Bob Thornton, both are strong.

The film’s constantly delightful, which seems to be everyone’s goal, so picking at it doesn’t seem fruitful. But it would also be difficult.

My biggest gripe, besides the two weak performances (which aren’t bad, just not up to the film’s standard), has to do with scale. When the cast goes from the spaghetti Western setting to fairy tale setting, the two cats and the giant egg-man aren’t around any recognizable size landmarks. In fact, they’re in a giant’s castle… so the scale gets disconcerting.

But it’s a very small gripe. Puss holds it together for a difficult finish too.

By not failing the narrative, director Miller succeeds. Though the lead and the amazing CG help.

Puss in Boots is a very charming, just smart enough amusement.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Chris Miller; screenplay by Tom Wheeler, based on a story by Brian Lynch, Will Davies and Wheeler and a character created by Charles Perrault; edited by Eric Dapkewicz; music by Henry Jackman; production designer, Guillaume Aretos; produced by Joe M. Aguilar and Latifa Ouaou; released by Dreamworks Animation.

Starring Antonio Banderas (Puss in Boots), Salma Hayek (Kitty Softpaws), Zach Galifianakis (Humpty Alexander Dumpty), Billy Bob Thornton (Jack), Amy Sedaris (Jill), Constance Marie (Imelda) and Guillermo del Toro (Comandate).


Due Date (2010, Todd Phillips)

It would have been nice if they had credited Planes, Trains & Automobiles as the source material, since Due Date lifts the concept—high-strung guy on the road with an annoying, but secretly lovable fat guy.

Due Date stays close to the pattern; the fat guy has a lot of melodramatic angst fueling his actions. It does add Facebook references, American Pie-style humor and stunt casting. Wait, Planes, Trains had stunt casting too.

So, it’s hard to look at Due Date as original and harder to discuss it as such. Phillips treats it like “The Hangover on the road;” it bellyflops when too outlandish. It’s too real a situation not to wonder why Robert Downey Jr.’s character isn’t on the FBI’s most wanted list for causing an international incident.

Some of the problem is Downey. He’s funny, but inappropriate for an absurdist comedy. Even here, when he’s giving one of the most rote performances of his career, he’s stellar. He does stumble through some of his character’s worst scenes, but the writing there is so false, it’d be impossible for him to succeed.

Zach Galifianakis is an amiable fat guy. Dumb but lovable.

The supporting cast is made up of former Downey co-stars—Michelle Monaghan (who has absolutely nothing to do), Jamie Foxx (ditto) and Juliette Lewis (who is funny). Again, hard to think of it as an original film.

The ending is pretty good though. I just wish Phillips would realize he’s not a Panavision auteur.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Todd Phillips; written by Alan R. Cohen, Alan Freedland, Adam Sztykiel and Phillips, based on a story by Cohen and Freedland; director of photography, Lawrence Sher; edited by Debra Neil-Fisher; music by Christophe Beck; production designer, Bill Brzeski; produced by Phillips and Dan Goldberg; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Peter Highman), Zach Galifianakis (Ethan Tremblay), Michelle Monaghan (Sarah Highman), Jamie Foxx (Darryl), Juliette Lewis (Heidi), Danny McBride (Lonnie) and RZA (Airport Screener).


The Hangover (2009, Todd Phillips)

Huh. Either blockbuster comedies are getting better or I’m getting stupider. The Hangover is actually a rather neat narrative–it’s kind of like Memento if Memento wasn’t like a concept episode of “Miami Vice.” There are some questions of the film’s sexual politics–apparently going to Vegas and carousing with strippers is okay for certain married men to do, but not others (the more callous the man, the more permissible), but whatever. It’s not like there’s a joke about physically abusing spouses or anything.

Oh, wait, yeah, there is.

But it’s hardly anymore despicable than its peers and it does have that neat narrative structure, kind of like a film noir, only sunny and a gross-out comedy.

I’d heard a lot about Bradley Cooper, but he really doesn’t seem like much other than a less creepy, more greasy version of Ralph Fiennes. A more commercial Ralph Fiennes. He’s fine and he can get some of the jokes done, but it’s Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis who deliver actual laughs. Cooper’s role could have been a standout, but he’s just not dynamic.

Helms and Galifianakis, while funny, don’t exactly deliver a lot of solid acting either (Helms isn’t believable as a dentist–he’s the “Office” guy, nothing more) and Galifianakis is doing a bit. So, strangely, Heather Graham comes off as the most professional actor in the film. She’s utterly fantastic.

Phillips is an okay director. Not sure if he needed Panavision for anything but his ego, but who cares?

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Todd Phillips; written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore; director of photography, Lawrence Sher; edited by Debra Neil-Fisher; music by Christophe Beck; production designer, Bill Brzeski; produced by Phillips and Daniel Goldberg; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Bradley Cooper (Phil), Ed Helms (Stu), Zach Galifianakis (Alan), Heather Graham (Jade), Justin Bartha (Doug), Rachel Harris (Melissa), Mike Epps (Black Doug), Ken Jeong (Mr. Chow), Jeffrey Tambor (Sid) and Mike Tyson as himself.


G-Force (2009, Hoyt Yeatman)

I’m not a fan of the popcorn movie argument–it’s the one where people tell you you’re just supposed to enjoy the movie and not think about it–Stephen Sommers uses it in his defense and so does, somewhat more interestingly, Cameron Crowe (I think he called it populist to prove he’d been to college). Except if you aren’t supposed to think about something, why is it there? Don’t put it there if you don’t want someone to ask about it.

There is nothing to think about in G-Force. Not a single thing. There are fart jokes and there are cute little animals running around. They’re secret agents. Or commandos. It’s never clear. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention when Zach Galifianakis was explaining them (he created them) to boss Will Arnett because Galifianakis’s performance is the worst thing I’ve ever seen (not really, but close–he’s not having any fun and if you’re not having fun in G-Force, why are you in it?).

So these smart, talking, spy guinea pigs have a huge James Bond adventure. It’s fantastic. There’s never a suggestion anyone should think about anything after it’s happened–I’m not even sure there’s anything the viewer has to remember later on in the running time. It’s all present.

All the voices are good (it’s probably Jon Favreau’s best performance), but Steve Buscemi’s the real standout. And Tracy Morgan, he’s great.

G-Force also has excellent special effects, but they aren’t the point. There is no point.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Hoyt Yeatman; screenplay by Cormac and Marianne Wibberley, based on a story by Yeatman; director of photography, Bojan Bazelli; edited by Jason Hellmann and Mark Goldblatt; music by Trevor Rabin; production designer, Deborah Evans; produced by Jerry Bruckheimer; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Sam Rockwell (Darwin), Penélope Cruz (Juarez), Tracy Morgan (Blaster), Nicolas Cage (Speckles), Jon Favreau (Hurley), Steve Buscemi (Bucky), Bill Nighy (Leonard Saber), Will Arnett (Kip Killian), Zach Galifianakis (Ben), Kelli Garner (Marcie), Tyler Patrick Jones (Connor), Piper Mackenzie Harris (Penny), Gabriel Casseus (Agent Trigstad), Jack Conley (Agent Carter), Niecy Nash (Rosalita) and Justin Mentell (Terrell).


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