Aziz Ansari: Buried Alive

Aziz Ansari: Buried Alive

Aziz Ansari: Buried Alive

The core aspect to Aziz Ansari’s standup, from his previous specials Dangerously Delicious and Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening, is his ability to create random tangents. Here is the structure: 1) Aziz encounters something absurd or silly. 2) He deconstructs it with logic. 3) He then expands the absurd concept on imaginary random tangents. For his last special, this got repetitive and I distinctly remember zoning out until he changed it up. They’re funny anecdotes, but the core message under his bits don’t hold water because we know these imaginary tangents he exits his jokes on never happened. More importantly, they never could happen.

He has improved upon this for Buried Alive, no longer relying on anecdotes of meeting strange people or talking about his oddball cousin Harris or Kayne West stories. Instead he focuses his logic and ability to create imaginary scenarios onto real life. In Buried Alive, it’s mostly centered upon the subjects of dating, marriage and raising a family. The difference is, he has a point of view and uses his humor to highlight his fears and trepidations about marriage, the massive responsibilities of marriage and raising a child and how strange dating has become in the day of modern technology.

My two favorite segments where Aziz does crowd work, a considerably risky move for a comedian taping a comedy special. He interviews a couple on how they got engaged and another woman about receiving obscene penis photos from men. It’s in these segments where he displays his immediate comedic reflexes, quickly spinning jokes out of people’s answers. He probably has performed this a thousand times touring the country with this hour, but it still had a raw quality to it that brought genuine surprises. These were the highlights of the special.

There’s one portion where Aziz boasts how many white women he beds to argue how pointless it is for people being against interracial dating. I agree with his point. I don’t even like the word ‘interracial’ as a concept. But the fact that he put himself above the audience for a laugh seemed off color for a moment.

Part of the fun of following an artist is watching them grow. For that reason, fans that have watched Aziz’s two previous specials will probably enjoy this one more. This is Aziz Ansari’s best comedy hour thus far and he knows it. He has found meaningful things to say and more clever ways to deliver them.

Related Links
Jim Norton: American Degenerate
Louis C.K.: Oh My God

The Heat by Paul Feig

The Heat by Paul Feig

An uptight FBI Special Agent is paired with a foul-mouthed Boston cop to take down a ruthless drug lord.

The Heat is a comedy that brings both familiar and fresh genre elements. The buddy cop movie elements are the familiar portion, but what’s fresh is the comedy pairing of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. Most notably, it’s a buddy cop movie that stars two women.

Melissa McCarthy is a living comedy engine. The key to her performance is that she’s not approaching the part as a comedienne, but as a dramatic actress as well. She delivers every line like her character is totally serious. The story is partly about the social classes in Boston and it is established that McCarthy’s Mullins comes from a tough Boston neighborhood. She incorporates that into her performance. In a lesser actress’s hands, it would have been raunchy for the sake of being raunchy.

Sandra Bullock plays social awkwardness well and a good straight man to McCarthy. Again she brings her charming personable star quality and it’s hard not to like her for being so self-deprecating. This role has a similar arc to her character in Ms. Congeniality – an uptight by-the-book cop who needs to learn to let go. Suffice to say, Bullock and McCarthy make a great comedic duo.

The action scenes take a back seat and comedy is the main priority. The entire cast is full of comedians and comedy-capable actors. Standup comedian Bill Burr, Jane Curtin and Marlon Wayans add a variety of comedy dimensions with their supporting roles. Thomas Wilson, famous for being Biff in the Back to the Future films, as Melissa McCarthy’s emasculated police captain brought a huge gaping smile on my face. It was like watching Biff being upstaged in an alternate timeline.

Bridesmaids 
director Paul Feig understands that there is no moral barometer for comedy and isn’t afraid to risk bad taste for laughs. They hold nothing sacred here. There’s a running gag with an albino that had me in stitches. Underneath all the comedy, the movie is subtly about women working in a male-dominated workplace. I like how the film stays true to this concept. There’s no love subplot with a male suitor and it even draws comedy from women dealing with misogyny.

A great deal of improvisation was done in the comedic scenes. Despite of that, the film is well edited. The comedy never stops the story from moving forward and it seems a lot of comedy babies were killed in the editing room. I laughed consistently throughout the entire film. It’s a well made comedy by people that like and understand its workings. Now that they’ve announced a sequel, I look forward to that as well.

Thor: The Dark World by Alan Taylor

Thor: The Dark World by Alan Taylor

Faced with an enemy that even Odin and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor must embark on his most perilous and personal journey yet, one that will reunite him with Jane Foster and force him to sacrifice everything to save the universe.

The Avengers aside, the first Thor was my favorite single hero film out of Marvel Phase One. Before Thor, all the Marvel superheroes established were all real world and based in scientific reality. There was a lot of uncertainty to whether Thor would work cinematically. It carried the most risk and was Marvel’s quintessential make-or-break point of expanding its cinematic universe into the realm of magic and aliens. Thankfully director Kenneth Branagh delivered. He balanced the ridiculousness of the Norse Gods with light comedy, done fantastic world creation with Asgard and provided the most interesting villain out of the Marvel cinematic universe.

Thor: The Dark World properly continues the story after The Avengers (sorry, Iron Man 3) and Thor. It retains the things that I liked about the first installment without repeating them. The plot moves fast and it’s intense. Things never gets too grim and has a genuine sense of adventure and awe. Dry witty humor is used again effectively to balance out the ridiculousness of Norse gods walking amongst humans. The fights look tough and grueling, more so than in The Avengers. Partly because everybody’s physically melee fighting and the Dark Elves are actually physically challenging to Thor and the Asgardians.

The Nine Realms are explored more thoroughly and the audience gets to spend more time on Asgard, which is a much more interesting place to be than Earth. The designs and world creation are impressive, particularly in the disaster sequences. It shows how brilliant an idea it was in the first film to imply that magic is unexplainable science, thereby combining and justifying both.

Chris Hemsworth owns the role of Thor with his presence. Thor is a character whose depths are only shown when interacting with other characters, which served as a disadvantage in The Avengers. In his own movie, there’s an immense cast to give him that depth. I liked his arc in this story. Natalie Portman gets to be the fish out of water this time around and it’s an entertaining reversal.

Tom Hiddleston again oozes charm as Loki. It’s a great actor relishing a great part.  He plays the audience like an instrument as we intermittently love and hate him. The writers put a lot of work in designing the twists and turns in Loki’s infinite mind games, truly earning the character the title of “God of Mischief”. Loki fooled me again and again throughout and I kept wanting to trust him.

The Warriors Three gets wrecked a bit. It seemed like there was some scheduling problem in which Tabanobu Asano’s Hogun had to be reduced. Also, I prefer the Joshua Dallas as Fandral, who had to be replaced by Zachary Levi from Chuck. Levi by comparison seems to struggle channeling Errol Flynn. Both cases are unfortunate.

The new villain Malekith played by Christopher Eccleston is buried under a lot of Dark Elf make-up and speaking an alien language in his own scenes, which removes any chance of proper scenery chewing. His presence as a villain is ultimately functional on par with Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull. Malekith exists for the main characters to grow and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it is noteworthy. Marvel seems to be ensuring that their villains never are more interesting than their heroes. The heart of the story is still the central relationship between Thor and Loki. In fact, it’s probably the most interesting relationship in the current Marvel cinematic universe. Director Alan Taylor knows this and competently moves their story forward.

The numerous Stan Lee cameos is starting to get creepy because it means there are a growing amount of Stan Lee lookalike clones in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And is it me or has Anthony Hopkins been playing the majority of his roles like a Norse god all this time? I am just kidding.

Depending where Captain America: Winter Soldier goes with Captain America’s story, I wonder how many more solo movies Marvel actually needs to plan out. It doesn’t look like they’re planning any solo Hulk films and Iron Man seems to be up in the air right now. Who knows how Guardians of the Galaxy is going to turn out. But they can really just start doing more Avengers movies at this point. That said, I do want to see what happens with Thor and Loki in a third installment. Actually, a third Thor is very necessary.

Related Links
Iron Man 3 by Shane Black
The Avengers by Joss Whedon

Captain Phillips by Paul Greengrass

Captain Phillips by Paul Greengrass

 

Captain Phillips tells the real life story of merchant mariner Captain Richard Phillips, who was taken hostage by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean during the Maersk Alabama hijacking in 2009 led by Abduwali Muse.

The most noteworthy aspect of Paul Greengrass’ canon is his ability to create immediacy, which is the key ingredient in Captain Phillips. The surface explanation behind Greengrass’s crackling visual style is simply that he shoots handheld. The truth is much more complicated than that. What’s behind Greengrass’ method is not merely the shaky cam, but his ability to create reality and punctuate immediate tension in his dramatic filmmaking. He understands that people receive information in fragments all the time and has found a way to incorporate that human reflex into a cinematic experience. So even with the fast cuts and shaky photography, the audience is able to follow what’s going on. It is emotionally connective.

The set pieces in the first half of the film are visceral and tense. They feel like they’re happening right before us and we are immersed into the crew’s helpless dilemma. There’s a significant genre shift in the second act, as the film becomes a rescue mission procedural. It goes on a bit long by the end. The first half is definitely more fun than the second half, if only because the crew members become less active in the latter portions.

Tom Hanks plunges into the title role in a way I haven’t seen in years. The trademark Tom Hanks movie star charm is removed and what remains is Hank’s everyman quality. Captain Richard Phillips comparatively is a relatively colder character compared to Hank’s past roles, which frees him up to embody the role. The last few moments of Hanks’ Captain Phillips in shock dealing with the aftermath is breathtaking. It’s a great human moment, though overall the entire performance is probably not Oscar worthy.

The Somali pirates are well casted. It’s baffling how the filmmakers found these actors in a cating session in North Carolina. They rise above their skinny appearances and rough-hewn looks and each individually play dimensional characters. Greengrass builds an interesting group dynamic between them and gives them a backstory that suggests that they are not intentionally evil people.

Something noteworthy is how Greengrass depicts the military in a cold neutral fashion that doesn’t take political sides. They aren’t glorified like they are in Michael Bay films. The military here is functional and follows procedures to get the job done. There’s a lot of room for audiences to bring in their own views about the response time of the coast guard, the military’s handling of the rescue or the harsh circumstances of the Somali pirates. Although interested in world issues in a journalistic fashion, Greengrass isn’t overbearingly preachy in any sense. His focus is the drama and fully delivers on that.

The Call by Brad Anderson

The Call by Brad Anderson

The Call by Brad Anderson

When a veteran 911 operator takes a life-altering call from a teenage girl who has just been abducted, she realizes that she must confront a killer from her past in order to save the girl’s life.

The Call is a tense thriller that fully explores and delivers on its premise. Everything feels like it’s happening before us. Solving one problem creates another and time always seems to be running out. I watched this with my family and it was so gripping that they became totally responsive to it. They were covering their eyes, flinching and screaming at the television at different points.

Thriller movie elements aside, director Brad Anderson brings the audience inside the world of police procedures and emergency call centers. It is well researched and minute with its real world details. The things that we don’t like to know or look at in real life crimes and murders are drawn as a source of tension. The stress and emotional detachment that is required in being an emergency operator is incorporated dramatically into the story. Together this washes away the genre conventions of a typical cop film and instead feels like we are looking into the lives of real-life police officers handling crime.

This is not Halle Berry’s most demanding performance but she does effectively transport the audience into her plight. Berry plays a lot of emotions despite being confined at a desk for a majority of the film. It’s a very pronounced performance. Morris Chestnut seems too aware of himself to really convince me of his character. It seems like he’s always detached from his own environment. There’s a bit of a sick pleasure in watching Abigail Breslin being kidnapped because she was so profoundly annoying in Definitely Maybe. That’s probably me being mean. But here, Breslin plays the situation very real. Michael Eklund is convincingly creepy as the scene-stealing villain. The scariest thing about serial killers or murderers in real life is that nobody ever looks like a serial killer. They all appear as normal people and are protected by the benefit of the doubt. Eklund’s character practically shifts the film into horror film territory.

As it moved toward to the finale, even on the very edge of my seat, I was still secretly wishing for something to really wow me at the end. I don’t know if it was because I liked The Machinist and developed an expectation from Brad Anderson. There were about two three ways the story could have finished that would have been fine, but nothing mind-bending. But it did deliver. My secret wish was fulfilled. The finale to The Call is a gutsy, left-turn ending that pulled the rug right under me. As it went to black, my mouth went agape pondering about what the fates of all the characters.

With the current trend of long running two-hour films, any film that has the discipline to wrap up around 90 minutes is praiseworthy. There is no fat to be trimmed here. The Call might be a film that goes unnoticed under the radar with its lower budget and hype. I saw it on DVD myself. It is the tensest movie I’ve seen this year. Hopefully there’s less lag time from now till Brad Anderson’s next project.