The House: Movie Man Jackson

Welcome to their house. Scott and Kate Johansen (Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler) are two good parents who have a lot to be proud of. Their daughter, Alex (Ryan Simpkins), has been accepted into the prestigious Bucknell University. And the best thing about it is that she happens to be a straight-A student, a virtual lock for the town’s full ride scholarship.

At least, that’s what they thought, until city councilman Nick Kroll takes away her award immediately upon granting it to her, claiming “budget cuts” as the reason. After an unfruitful trip to Las Vegas with friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) to win the money needed to support Alex’s college bills, the three concoct a plan to raise her money by running an underground casino in Frank’s home. The House always wins, but the house also attracts unwanted clientele that can make life very miserable for the Johansens.

Does Hollywood have a mid/big-budget comedy problem? Obviously, the genre is the most subjective there is—one person’s laughing trash is another’s laughing treasure. Still, since 22 Jump Street and possibly Trainwreck, there hasn’t been that big pure comedy that audiences and critics agree upon and flock in droves to see and spend money on. Even with the comedy stalwarts in Ferrell and Poehler, The House, proven by its box office results as of this writing, definitely isn’t that comedy.

Any enjoyment of The House may likely come down to how much one enjoys the typical antics of Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler. A good chunk of their interactions, both together and with others, appear to be improvised, for better and for worse. Out of the two, Ferrell delivers more consistently with the laughs; two running gags involve his character struggling with the most basic of math problems and channeling a dark alter ego known as “The Butcher.” Still, both have been better before.

It’s probably Mantzoukas who has the best parts tied to his character. His total arc comes up pretty flat, but he absolutely steals scenes as the gambling addict Frank, the divorcee trying to win back his love by…running a casino. Nick Kroll is amusing playing the shady councilman, but others in the cast are pretty worthless, even Alex, who the story is supposed to revolve around.

The House suffers from predictability. This isn’t a bad thing in of itself—especially in a comedy—but when the jokes are folding at the table, it can be. Additionally, The House takes a long time to set up the opposition, often shifting between villains in its last act. The SNL skit feeling is hard to escape when watching. First-time director Andrew J. Cohen (writer of Neighbors) makes a basic, standard-looking feature that takes story and scene inspiration from Casino. Nothing shoddy or praiseworthy particularly stands out.

And ultimately, that last sentence sums up The House pretty succinctly. It’s an average hand in a genre in desperate need of a flush.

C

Photo credits go to theplaylist.net, movpins.com, and slashfilm.com. Article credit to Variety.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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Sisters: Movie Man Jackson

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“A house is just a building. A home is a feeling.”

Luther Vandross, take it away. Sisters Maura and Kate Ellis (Amy Poehler, Tina Fey) have made many memories in their family home, most of which were parties growing up. While older and irresponsible sister Kate’s memories are more wild, younger and dependable sis Maura’s memories are more non-eventful. Regardless, the house has meant a lot to them.

Which is why it is a shock when they discover that their parents are not only selling the house, but have, for all intents and purposes, sold it when the two return to Florida. Efforts to talk them out of the decision are unsuccessful. But, with the house still in the family’s possession for another day or two, the siblings decide to go out in a blaze of glory by throwing the ultimate rager for old friends and potential new ones.

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With the rise of female comedians ascending to superstardom like Melissa McCarthy and Amy Schumer, it almost feels like stalwarts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, even with the massive success had in hosting the Golden Globes and appearing in other comedies, have taken a backseat when it comes to silver screen features. Reunited in a film for the first time since 2008’s Baby Mama, Fey and Poehler show that even with an average script, they’ll still draw laughs out of an audience more times than not.

It’s Fey and Poehler! Which means that their chemistry is just about second to none. The ladies are completely believable as sisters, and so is their banter. Hearing the two go back and forth is going to be comedic heaven for big-time fans of the two, but for others who aren’t complete diehard fans, it can be very much hit-and-miss, especially in the first 30 or so minutes. The only people they are allowed to play off of in the early goings, aside from each other, are esteemed actors James Brolin and Dianne Wiest, who happen to do OK with being the butt of jokes, but nothing to truly split the sides.

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Like any good party though, Sisters starts picking up until after some time has passed and the patrons start rolling in. Honestly, it’s like Project X-lite with all of its structural destruction, directed by Jason Moore (Pitch Perfect), but with better talent/characters, better production, and an actual plot. That doesn’t mean it is a great plot, it just does what it needs to do as the party escalates beyond containment. Like quite a few comedies, the length of the runtime is felt in the third act. And, the themes of growing up/being responsible, and learning to live a little are, on a frequency scale of 1-10 for commonly used themes, about a 9. But, they work, and some people will surely connect with them.

But again, it’s the numerous other characters that drop in that give Sisters most of its hilarity. Maya Rudolph is wonderfully over-the-top and plays Fey’s foil perfectly. The appearances by those who have starred/are starring in other well-known comedy sketch series doesn’t stop there, with Greta Lee (Inside Amy Schumer), Rachel Dratch and Bobby Moynihan (SNL), and Ike Barinholtz (MAD TV) getting ample time to add to the hijinks.

John Cena fans, rejoice! Just like in Trainwreck, Cena’s appearance is one of the funniest scenes in the entire film; unfortunately, his screentime is less than what he had in Schumer’s feature. It’s a shame, too, because there’s potential to be had with both Fey and Poehler. Still, the old “Doctor of Thuganomics” has proven in 2015 that he’s game for bigger roles in comedies should he get tired of the WWE thing.

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In a nutshell, Sisters is essentially like any other comedy that revolves around a huge shindig, save for the older attendees and the strong sisterly chemistry Poehler and Fey bring to the party. Sisters ain’t the party of the century, but spending two hours at it is far from the worst thing in the world.

Grade: C+

Photo credits go to youtube.com, theguardian.com, and lamag.com.

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Inside Out: Movie Man Jackson

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“Crying helps me slow down and obsess over the weight of life’s problems.”

Inside Out proves that Randy Orton isn’t the only guy who hears voices in his head. Eleven-year old Riley is more than content with her family, life, and friends in Minnesota. As life would have it though, her father’s new job forces the family to move out west to San Francisco. Quite the change for a young adolescent.

As such, her emotions, previously centered around Joy (Amy Poehler), make themselves more prominent. Riley begins to experience more Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black), and especially Sadness (Phyllis Smith). As much as Joy so desperately wants to make things happy again, all of the emotions have their own ideas as to help Riley through this transition.

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Emotions are cool to talk about, think about, and analyze. And yet, it kind of is surprising that they have never truly been featured in film. Obviously, we know when someone is unhappy, frightened, ecstatic, and enraged, but that is because they are thespians doing their jobs. To my knowledge, there has never been something that does what Inside Out does, which is actually take a look at these respective states of consciousness and how we function as a result of them. It doubles as both profound and rudimentary, but in both scenarios, it is as close to, if not perfect as one could likely want out of a film focused on highlighting emotions.

Speaking to the profound part, Inside Out still carries the second week TV spot and certain home media cover comment stating (paraphrasing) that “it’s fun for the whole family!” Rightfully so, but that doesn’t mean that one age group will not appreciate the thoughts and ideas more than another. With this, it may be easier for people who have lived to at least their teens years to get some of the wonderful complexities, thematic heaviness, and allusions. On the “lighter” end, simple jokes are interspersed, and both visually and technically, the color-scheme is a wonderful aid to distinguish the respective emotions. There is also a nice touch seamlessly done to show how an emotion is loaded more or less and how it comes out through Riley. This is a gorgeous animated feature co-directed by Pete Docter (Monsters Inc., Up) and Ronaldo Del Carmen.

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Not only directed by Docter and Del Carmen, they are credited with writing as well. The two have created a story where it isn’t so much the destination, but rather the journey that is so intriguing. Honestly, most will know how this generally will end. For what the film is hitting on in its message, it is a fitting resolution, just not anything unexpected. But, the voyage to get to there is where most of the fun is had, with the aforementioned allusions and ideas to concepts that PhD.’s probably struggled with during their studies. There is a real attention to detail found throughout the story.

The same can be said for the voice-over work. As Joy, Amy Poehler is a choice without fault, as she almost always seems to be cheerful and positive in real life, just like her character. Lewis Black gets some great lines as Anger, Mindy Kaling is perfectly sassy as Disgust, and Bill Hader injects Fear with a constant anxiety. But for yours truly’s money, the real scene stealer is Sadness, voiced by Phyllis Smith. Phyllis, of The Office fame, always had some of the more underrated moments in the series as the motherly figure of the Scranton paper company. While she isn’t a big name, she is asked to do a lot here, from comedy to the more…sad and touching moments. You’ll want to give her a warm hug, and you’re soulless if you don’t feel that way.

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If all of this sounds like a very light take, that’s because it is. Inside Out is easily one of the best animated films done in recent years, and I honestly don’t know much more that can be said by myself that hasn’t already been mentioned in better detail by others in the cinema blogosphere. There’s a smart and authentic adventure that deserves to be left up to the viewer to experience, whether inside of the theater (preferably), or outside of it.

Grade: A

Photo credits go to nola.com, pixarpest.com, and designtaxi.com.

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